Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lessons Learned: Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon

After new experiences and big events, I always like to reflect on how it all went. After committing a lot of time and effort it's always important to decide what went well, what can be improved, and what maybe should be scrapped next time. Seeing as Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon was a whole new type of Marathon racing experience for me, I figured it was a good chance to look back at went helped me get a big PR and what I might need to change moving forward.
I look like a total goof in the photo, but I'm happy, so who cares?!

The Good:

1. I'm stronger than I give myself credit for. Pre-race it had never even crossed my mind that I could run the race in 3:50. In fact, just hitting that 4 hour mark would have been the bees knees in my mind. But come race day, I threw caution to the wind and just went for it. My last two PRs (Hospital Hill Run and Chickamauga) have come in races where I either didn't wear or didn't look at my watch, not even for mileage, the entire race. Throughout the race when chatter about our pace came up in the pace group, I did my best to ignore it. Basically, when I stay out of my head and focus on my body and how it feels, I run a better race. My body is capable of doing more than my mind let's it sometimes and in the future I need to continue to trust my training and run by feel.
The Jayhawk said I can't put this on our Holiday card. Buzz kill.
2. My Fueling strategy. In my first 4 marathons, fueling was a major issue for me both during the race and in the training leading up. I wasn't logging a ton of high miles because of poor fueling and I was having a lot of trouble in the late miles of those races. Last year I started using Island Boost only a month or two before Chickamauga Marathon (marathon #6), and it helped me to a 6 minute PR. This year at Chickamauga (marathon #8), I was able to use it for my entire training cycle, and I've really seen a difference. Not only am I more comfortable during my runs, but I'm less stressed about fueling and more focused on running. I haven't hit the wall and have been able to log many miles at a stronger pace. I'll be the first to admit that there isn't one correct fuel for everyone, but I've definitely found one that works for me. Working out a personal fueling strategy is essential to the marathon (and greater) distance. It's all about metabolic management.
3. The changes I've made to training this year. I've made some pretty big changes to my training this year and it all started with my 50k plan. Previously, I had been consistently running 4-5 days a week with only one weekend run. Starting in May I shifted to 5 days a week, with back to backs on the weekend.  Some weekends they were big back to backs, others not.  I also increased my overall mileage with a focus on balancing it across the week (not just having longer long runs). Both these things really got me use to running on tired legs and being patient during long runs and races.

The Needs-work:

1. Salt. At one point on the drive home from the race, I reach up and touched my hat only to be a little afraid of what I found. It felt like sandpaper: hard, crunchy, and gritty. Though you can't see it in the photos because my hat is white, it was completely crusted in salt from the inside out. I never felt like I was low on sodium during the race probably because it was chilly out and my sweat output didn't feel that heavy, but obviously I was working hard and sweating. Post race I could tell I needed salt as I was craving it (as well as food in general, I ate 3 pieces of pizza before we even got in the car). In the future before long hard efforts, I need to consider pre-loading with salt similar to Snakebite even if the temps not in the 90s. I probably got lucky that it didn't warm up too much on race day.
Also, not going on the Holiday card per the Jayhawk's request.
2. The confidence to do it on my own. I've wondered post-race if I could have run the same time without the pace group dangling in front of me like a carrot. Obviously I was physically able to get it done, but I wonder if I mentally would have pulled it off without that target to focus on.  I'm feeling a lot more confident in my abilities post race and I'm very happy with how my mind stayed positive the entire race, but I need to continue the mental training for days I don't have a rocking pace group to follow.  And big props again to the pacers. I've never seen a group stick so solidly to pace and finish within 2 seconds of their goal.
It was such a lovely day.
3. Training at specific paces. While I've made some good changes to how I train, I still don't really do any pace specific workouts (speed, tempo, etc). Most of my training during this cycle was at small pace window (8:35-8:50/mile), which oddly enough turned out to be my marathon pace.  I guess I got really comfortable with it.  I did have days when I ran faster, but it wasn't because I was planning to, I just felt good.  In the future I would like to set pace goals for certain days and be more aware of planning (not just randomly doing) hard effort days.

Needs to be forgotten:

There wasn't a lot about this training cycle and race I would totally throw away. In fact I'm going to savor this one for a while.

And for those of you wondering about the Jayhawk.....

Not only did he hit his pre-race goal, but he recovered like a champ with minimal soreness and a nice, slow progression back into running. Post-race Chris (who I ran with at last year's 7 Bridges Marathon) asked him if he was hooked yet. It may have all been too new at the time, but it's safe to say this won't be the end of the Jayhawk's running career. He's already talking about his goals for next year and checking out races.  I'll keep you posted.

Do you like to reflect on things after big events? Do you use those lessons for future races?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Race Recap: Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon, Fort Olgethorpe, GA
Field: 1500 combined for both the full and half marathons
Spectators: There are some very passionate fans but also stretches with few.
Start/Finish: 6th Calvary Museum
Course: Double loop course through the battlefield (single loop for the half marathon)
Schwag: Long sleeve tech shirt for the marathoners and full lunch afterward (pizza, soup, cookies, fruit, and of course Moonpies).
Other: This is a great little race with events for the whole family (Junior marathon, 5k, half and full).  It's incredible scenic and well thought out.

Back for a second year. I really wasn't sure what to expect from this race going in, and after the 50k in August, I hadn't really considered treating this marathon as a goal race. I'd been out of town for work the week before the race, arrived home with sore and tight legs, and run a 5k only 36 hours before. Not your ideal build up to a marathon, but without over thinking it, race day arrived.
Freezing my tail off pre-race. Yes, that's frost.
The weathermen had predict high 30s for race morning with the day peaking in the 60s and I dressed for that. Unfortunately as they got ready to fire the start cannon (yes, I said cannon), they announced that it was only 26 degrees. Dressed in my skirt and knee socks, I was feeling it. In fact my toes were frozen solid from walking through the field and I didn't feel them for the first few miles.
Getting ready to fire the very loud cannon.
I detailed my lack of time goals on Friday and my plan was to see how I felt on race morning and adjust my pace accordingly. I did have a sub 4 hour full of my year's list of goals and I had not forgotten about it. I wasn't sure how possible it was, but my training paces all gave be the gumption to give it a try as long as that pace felt doable. I knew there was a shot of a burn out and I was ok with a slowdown in the second half.  I've never done a good job at taking chances with pace in the marathon, and figured today was a good day to give it a try as long as my body felt up to it. With that, I lined up with the 4 hour pacers at the start to see what the day had to offer. Pre-race I decided never to look at my garmin, and I never did until the finish line.
The Jayhawk looking cold, but ready pre-race.
My least favorite part of this course comes during mile 2, but that's a relative statement. I really like this course. Running through beautiful fields and forests during fall is always a treat for someone living in the city. This course showcases the beauty of north Georgia while highlighting the countless monuments of one of the bloodiest battles of the civil war. But still to say, mile 2 is my least favorite. It is a mix of trail and pavement that connects the start/finish are to the other park roads, and a tough thing to go through with a crowd.  This is where I got ahead of the 4 hour group while searching for sure footing.
The bling. Each year they highlight a different monument in the park.
Once I we exited the trail like component of the course, I realized I had sped up and wasn't far behind the 3:50 pace group and my pace felt fine. With a moment of trepidation, I decided to join them. My rationale was that even if I could only hang with them for 10 or so miles, that might give me the time boost I needed for a sub 4 finish. While with the 4 hour group, I would have to find speed and get ahead of them at some point. I swear this tenuous logic made sense during the race.

So off I went with the 3:50 pace group, learning the names of the pacers and my co-pacees. Slowly carving out my place within the group with the knowledge that I might be the last racer to join and the first one to fall behind. I figured even if I held on for half the race, the experience would give me the benefit of a long tempo run.
After the finish hanging out with the cannon.
And the miles began to tick by. And by. And there I remained, tucked in the back of the group waiting to for it to be too fast, but still running at a comfortably challenging pace. I learned the stories of my co-pacees, enjoyed the conversation that unfolded, tried my best to add to it. I reveled in their companionship, and truly enjoyed their conversation (especially the gentleman running his 50th marathon/49th state), all the while feeling like my identity as a sub 4 hour imposter would be revealed at some point when I would non-ceremoniously hit the wall.

But it didn't. We passed the halfway mark right on time and there I was with no major issues. No reason to break stride and no reason to slowdown, so on I went. 14, 15, 16 came and went without issue. It wasn't until mile 17 that I started to feel that I was slipping back and I was incredibly ok with it. I watched as the group slowly opened up a gap after an aid station, but it never went beyond 100 yards or so. I kept them in my sights knowing full well if I could still see them, I would still be sub 4. Their pack or 6-8 bounded up the gentle inclines and weaved through the curves of the course, and I stalked them like a graceful cheetah little sibling trying to catch up.
Rocking my race shirt on my recovery walk a few days later.
18 passed then 19, and some how during an inclined during the 20th mile, I realized that gap was closing. I made the decision to bridge it (Thank you hill work!) and rejoined the waning group. 20, 21, 22. The group continued to thin, but I stuck with it. Hanging off the back a bit and locking into that mental zone, I was constantly reminding myself that it was actually happening. Then 23 arrived. The lead pacer was running solo and the other pacer was checking around to see who might still be with them. She dropped back to give me a pep-talk (twice), and I appreciated the confidence she had in me. With 5k to go, I pulled in the head phones and hoped that 5k playlist I had was magic. Just 5k. Something I run so often.

25 arrived. 1.2 miles to go. I can put up with anything for less than 15 minutes, right? Was I feeling awesome? No, but I knew there was no real reason to stop. Nothing was broken, falling off, or in need of immediate assistance. In fact the faster I ran, the faster I could sit down (note: this didn't cause me to run any faster). I could feel the tightening in my quads and hips and knew that I would be feeling it for the next few days, but I also knew I would regret any conscious lightening up on the pace. So on I trudged.
Coming into the finish.  All smiles.
I exited the trail-like element and could hear the finish. This part seemed epically long last year, but this year it was the start of the victory march. Though I couldn't see it, I knew the finish was in reach and I would be far ahead of schedule. I weaved through the last couple turns and emerged at the top of the field. The finish was in sight, and there was no reason not to empty the little that remained in the tank. Rounding the left hand turn into the finish, I could barely contain my smile. I waved to the Jayhawk (furiously trying to take my picture) and set my sights on the wide open finishing stretch. My chip time was 3:50:43 (Note the pacers came in within 2 seconds of their pace time. So impressive!)
Post race, loving lucky bib #26.
To my excitement, Chris who I ran with at last year's 7 Bridges Marathon was volunteering at the finish line and was ready to hand me a medal (so fun to get one from a familiar face). The Jayhawk also had a fabulous day, nailing his pre-race plan and finishing his first half!! As a nice touch, the race gives any first time finish (full or half) a framed copy of their bib with their name on it. Wondering around the finish line we ran into Katie, a teammate of my from Ragnar Trails Atlanta in April. She had just set a great PR as well and qualified for Boston!

I am really proud of this race. I took a big step outside my comfort zone, challenged myself to not settle on my pace, and it paid off. My previous PR was set last year at this race, and I broke it this year by almost 20 minutes this year. Even a few days later, I am still trying to wrap my head around it and convince myself that it happened.
 
Have you ever taken a chance on race day? Have you ever surprised yourself on race day?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Race Recap: Esprit de She 5k

Esprit de She 5k Atlanta, GA
Field: ~600 in the 5k, ~175 in the 10k
Spectators: Minimal. It was a night race.
Start/Finish: Park Tavern in Piedmont Park (Atlanta version of Central Park)
Course: Loop course through Piedmont Park (Double loop for the 10k)
Schwag: Athleta singlet and lots of goodies in the start/finish area including massages, photo booth, yogurt, etc. Post race there were plenty of tapas and glasses wine (2 free per bib) to truly make it a fun girls night out with friends.
Other: With this race being only 36 hours before a marathon, I planned to take it easy and check out the series that I'd heard so much about.
Yep, always looking to run with a smile.
When I originally won a bib for Esprit de She from the lovely Jen over at Hello Fitness, we meet again, I didn't realize the race was only 36 hours before my upcoming marathon. But once I did, I figured it was a great way to shake the legs out, enjoy a nice fall night in the park, and experience my first 'ladies race'.
Pre-race sights. The park is looking lovely with some nice fall colors.
With both a 5k and 10k, Esprit de She bills itself as "a night of fitness and fun" for ladies. A rare Thursday night race, it combines a 5 or 10k with a girl's night out feel. Pre-race there is a market place like expo with lots of free samples, massages, mini manicures, and a photo both. Post race the marketplace continues with the addition of complementary tapas and 2 glasses of wine for each participant. It's a fun way to get together with friends, get in a run, and enjoy happy hour.
3 cheers for the volunteer who was bound and determined to get a good pre-race pic for me. She kept having me pose in different lights.  I loved her optimism and effort! 
Being the well prepared runner that I am, I didn't even think about the fact that a 6:30pm gun time the week after the time change might be in the dark. When I arrived at the race and saw the other runners with their headlamps and the amply distributed glow paraphernalia during bib pick-up, I knew that maybe I should have actually thought a little harder about the race rather than just plotting about how to find a free parking spot during rush hour. On top of that, with the setting sun came dropping temps, another factor I had not considered.
Pre-race enjoying the skyline and trying to stay warm (it was rather windy).
The course was a nice tour of Piedmont park. Weaving it's way around the paved paths, runners had nice views of downtown at night, the Botanical Gardens, and the reservoir. There were a few spot lights set up along the course, but I would have enjoyed having a few more. I started out the race in the middle of the pack and quickly decided to pick up the pace, both to warm up and to get out of the crowd so I could see my footing. I did not run "all-out" due to both the lighting and the constant thought of an upcoming marathon, but I did push the pace more than originally planned. It is well know that the 5k is not my favorite distance and I don't have the foggiest idea on how to run one, so I never really know how to pace them. On this night I was cold at the start leading me to want to run to warm up, and by mid way through I had to pee, so I rushed to the finish. Some amazing race strategy for you.
The Race shirt. Yep, totally closed my eyes in this photo. Nailed it.
I ended up finishing in 24:36 (9th overall, it was a small race), so there were no lines for the port-a-johns or the post race snacks. What could be better? I might use this strategy more often. I enjoyed the event, but wish I'd come with friends to hang out with and share in the happy hour festivities. I would recommend it if you have some running buddies and want a fun and festive, small race with the girls.

Have you done a girls themed race? Do you like to race with friends?
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