Friday, May 28, 2010

All hail the PlankMaster!

That would be me. *beams proudly*

It will not be necessary for you to kiss my feet. Bowing and scraping will not be required. You don't even have to call me "your highness". Not that I would complain if you did...

Just hand over the Starbucks gift card. *looks expectantly at Coach Bekah*

Maybe now's a good time to explain how I became The PlankMaster. You see, last night's FAST workout was just like any other FAST workout.

We did our warmup to the cemetery and back, and then we headed to the track for our workout. The workout consisted of 4 x (400m half-marathon pace, 100m recovery, 400m half-marathon pace, 100m recovery, 400m half-marathon pace, 100m recovery, 400m 5k pace, 100m recovery). Got all that? Basically, it was half-marathon pace 400m repeats with a 5k pace one thrown in every 4th repeat. Fairly tame as FAST workouts go... although my fellow FASTies were not so lucky - the 5k and 10k runners in the group, which was everyone except me, had to run their 400m repeats much faster.

This would have been a great workout if not for two things: (1) the sun was hot and beating down on me relentlessly and (2) my Garmin was dying quickly. The heat really started to get to me after the 2nd set of 400's - I felt overheated and lethargic. I made it through a 3rd set, but I just didn't see myself being able to do a 4th set. And then as I was stopping for water after the 3rd set, my Garmin died completely. I took that as a sign to stop my workout. I had logged 5 miles for the night, and that was okay with me. And after cooling down a bit and getting some water, I felt much better. I cheered on the rest of my FAST teammates as they finished their workouts and watched my husband run the fastest 400m of the entire night (4:56 pace!).

My workout data - the 400m fast laps highlighted in blue (lap 19 includes a recovery jog - I forgot to push the lap button)

Then the fun really started. Coach Bekah had a good (read: torturous) core workout planned for us. We all got out our blankets and beach towels and spread out on the grass for some crunches and bridges and all that fun stuff. And then she presented a challenge. Whoever could hold a plank the longest would receive a $5 Starbucks gift card....

And eternal glory.

*rubbing hands together* Oooooo, I loves me some eternal glory!

And so the timer started and we all got into plank position. Everyone was looking strong. The competition was fierce.

30 seconds ticked by...

...and then 45

And Coach Brad, who had so generously volunteered to be the timekeeper (I think he did this mostly to avoid having to hold his plank for longer than about 30 seconds), told us "You've only been holding for 10 seconds!" And so I glared at him in an evil sort of way.

And then people started dropping off. Niki. Tim. Kristi. Kris. Caleb. They were dropping like flies!

Soon it was down to me, Kelly and my husband, Matt. We had been holding for over 2 minutes.

Kelly was looking visibly tired. Matt was starting to shake. I gave them both dirty looks and willed them fail.

Soon, Kelly gave out.

It was down to me and my husband. The competition had suddenly become much more significant. Whoever won this would be King or Queen of the house. Whoever won the Starbucks gift card would not be sharing it with the other. This was a competition for eternal glory and SO MUCH MORE.

I looked back at Matt, who was shaking like crazy, but still managing to give me dirty looks. Hmph. At least I wasn't shaking. No, I was steady. Calm. Unruffled. I could wait there all day if I had to.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

And then he went down.

And victory was mine!

Turns out I had held my plank for nearly 3 minutes. And I felt the effects of that immediately as I tried to stand up and felt the extreme tightness in my lower back. Yeeeeeouch! Small price to pay for eternal glory, right?

As for my husband... he has challenged me to a rematch with side planks. I'm not as good at those, so it's quite possible he will claim victory in that competition. And then we will just have to agree that we are equally awesome and celebrate by splitting a Frappuccino and a blueberry scone at Starbucks.

All Hail The PlankMaster!

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alright... Who fartleked?

Oh. Wait. That was me. Sorry about that. But it was only because my coach told me to! And it wasn't just me. All of my teammates were fartleking too. I swear!

Okay, I'm done with the stupid fartlek jokes. For now.

Yesterday in central Illinois was a real treat - we got hit with some major thunderstorms which, aside from soaking all the upholstery in my car because I left my windows cracked, had the pleasant effect of cooling things down around here. So instead of the predicted 90° at FAST time, it was only about 76°. Of course, it was also 249% humidity, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.

We had a huge turnout for FAST last night, which was quite a difference from last Thursday when only five people showed up. Coach Brad's eyes were alight with anticipation and evil. He definitely had something "fun" planned for us. And when he says "We're going to have fun", what he means is that HE'S going to have fun watching us suffer.

Coach Brad has been doing this sneaky little thing lately where he tells us to do our warmup into the cemetery and then he will tell us what the workout is. Is it just me, or does anyone else find it disturbing that the workouts are being kept secret until we're in the cemetery? Of course, that didn't stop us from doing what he told us. But the air was thick with a sense of foreboding. Well, that and humidity.

When we arrived in the cemetery he told us flat out "We will not be running 800m repeats up that hill", pointing to the Hill Of Devastation.

"We will not be doing any repeats up that hill." Well, that was a relief. But I just knew he had something equally sinister up his sleeve. We weren't going to get off easy.

"Tonight we will be exploring the cemetery with a timed fartlek." Ah ha! I knew it! And that meant that even though we wouldn't be running up the Hill of Devastation, we would be doing plenty of other hills. This cemetery, as I have mentioned time and time again, is one of the hilliest places in Peoria. This would indeed be "fun".

We were instructed to run 7 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy (repeat 3-4 times for a total of 30-40 minutes) through the cemetery. So there would be a nice mix of speed work and hill work, and in some cases, speedwork on hills.

This was a tough workout. The humidity was insane. It felt like 249% humidity before we started running, but once we started running, it felt like 2300% humidity. The sweat was just pouring off of me, but the cooling effect was nil. There was very little breeze. Interestingly enough though, once I got going, I felt relatively strong. Maybe because the weather was still way better than during my Monday run?

So after running around the crazy cemetery roads (note the convoluted map below), everyone gathered together at our usual meeting spot and Coach told us he had a "surprise" for us. If his definition of "surprise" was anything like his definition of "fun", this was going to involve more sweating.

One by one, he asked each of us how fast we thought we could run a mile right that moment. And he wrote it down. Uh oh. At first I told him 8:45. But after thinking about it some more, and considering the humidity and how tired I was from the workout, I changed it to 9:15. I would come to regret that choice later.

Here's why: We were going to do a pacing exercise where we would all run a mile, and Coach would time us and whoever came closest to their predicted time would win a Starbucks gift card. And as it turned out, I would have been closer (close enough to win) to my predicted time had I stuck with the 8:45 prediction. I ended up running it in 8:54, which was 21 seconds off of my 9:15 prediction (but only 9 seconds off of 8:45!).

But huge congrats to fellow FASTie, Cathy, who was the best predictor and won the Starbucks loot!

So without any further ado, here's the workout graph. The fartlek hard intervals are highlighted in blue. The elevation chart is positively atrocious - please take a moment to appreciate it. We climbed a total of almost 300 feet last night. How's that for "fun" and "surprise"?

I wonder what sort of "fun" and "surprises" the coaches will have for us on Thursday...

Peace. Love. Train.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How To Be A Crazy Runner, Part One

Crazy Runners. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who are out there running in the most adverse conditions, seemingly oblivious to it all. They take the United States Postal Service motto to heart, as if it were there own personal motto: Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. I know this because not only do I run with crazy runners, but I am a crazy runner, and I've been known to run in all sorts of less-than-ideal conditions.

There are some (okay, many) who would ask "Why bother? Why not just hop on a treadmill when the weather is bad?" There are times when a treadmill or indoor track is a better choice - when the weather is dangerous (lightning, heavy storms, extreme heat or cold), or when the roads are bad (heavy snow, plowed snow along the sides of the road, or ice on the roads). But for the most part, it's really preferable to run outside in all sorts of conditions for the simple reason that whatever race(s) you're training for will not be postponed or canceled for anything short of dangerous conditions. To be well-prepared for anything that is thrown at you on race day, it is important to train in all sorts of conditions. Even if you don't run races, there are training benefits to running in adverse conditions - it can provide an increased training effect, similar to running at high altitude.

Given that the temperatures here in lovely Central Illinois have soared to over 90°F in the last few days, I think now is an appropriate time to talk about running in the heat and humidity of summer. These are difficult conditions to run in, no doubt about it. And there's a fine line between being just a crazy runner and being a crazy runner with heat stroke, so it's especially important to train smart when it's hot.

Let's start with a discussion on what happens to the body when it's hot and humid. As soon as you step outside, your body's core temperature begins to rise. Then as you start to run, your temperature increases more rapidly, and your body responds by increasing blood flow to your extremities and skin, carrying heat away from your core. This means there's an increase in heart rate over and above your normal exercising heart rate. Since blood is being diverted to your skin, that means less blood is reaching your working muscles, so they aren't able to work as hard. Additionally, you begin to sweat sooner and in greater quantity, quickly depleting your fluid stores and expelling electrolytes from your body. As you lose fluid through sweating, your blood becomes more viscous (thicker) and therefore more difficult to pump, so your heart must work even harder. The net effect of all of this is that, all things being equal (pace, route, elevation changes, etc), your run will feel significantly more difficult on a hot day than on a cool day.

Let's look at an example of this. I run 3 miles every Monday afternoon. It's an easy run (or at least it's supposed to be easy), and I generally don't worry about my pace so much as keeping my heart rate low. Let's compare the run data from my 3 mile run yesterday (when it was 95° with the humidity factored in) and a week prior to that (when it was 60 and cloudy).

May 17, 3-mile run
Weather: 60°F, cloudy, occasional light drizzle
Average Pace: 11:06
Average Heart Rate: 152

May 24, 3-mile run
Weather: 91°F, sunny, humid, heat index of 95°F
Average Pace: 11:24
Average Heart Rate: 162

As you can see, when it was hot, I ran slower and with a higher average heart rate than during the cooler run a week ago. I typically try to keep my heart rate under 155 for easy runs. Yesterday, I just couldn't seem to do that. I could have slowed down even more, but I was torn between wanting to keep my heart rate down and wanting to get the run over with faster. So I allowed myself to run at a slightly more elevated heart rate just so I could get back to my wonderfully air-conditioned house sooner. Even though it was only a 3-mile run, it was exceptionally difficult, especially the last mile or so. The good news is that the more I run in the heat, the easier it will get. Maybe "easy" isn't the right word. Running in the heat is never really easy. But it becomes more tolerable as the body adapts (and the body does adapt over time, by increasing sweat production, decreasing electrolyte concentrations in sweat, and retaining more water over the course of the day in anticipation of hot-weather activity).

And there are steps runners can take to ensure a safer and more comfortable hot-weather run. Here are some tips I've gathered from various sources:

1. Hydrate! This should be pretty obvious, but not only is important to hydrate while running, it's important to be well-hydrated before you even set foot out the door to run. It's also important to replace electrolytes, particularly on long runs. Sports drinks, gels, chews, etc are all good ways to do this.

2. Go easy. Especially the first few times you run in the heat. Acclimating to hot-weather running is gradual, so it's important to ease into it. This will probably mean slowing down, perhaps substantially. If you monitor your heart rate, focus on staying below a certain heart rate rather than focusing on pace. Don't go out on the first 90° day of summer and do a 6-mile tempo run with 6 sets of strides. In fact, super-hard workouts like this should be avoided completely on hot days. If you must do speedwork, go indoors. The risks of running hard in the heat outweigh the benefits.

3. Dress appropriately. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting running clothes made of moisture-wicking technical fabrics. Remember, cotton is the devil. Avoid it. Wear a wide-bill hat or visor to protect your face, and sunglasses to protect your eyes.

4. Wear sunscreen. Studies have shown that runners logging as few as 25 miles per week are more likely than non-runners to develop malignant skin cancers. This is likely because a lot of us think we are immune to such things (I run marathons! I can't get cancer!) and fail to protect our skin from sun damage. Olympic marathoner Deena Kastor has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma three times - and as much as I'd like to be like Deena Kastor, this is one way I do not! So let's all vow to slather it on. Sunscreen has an added benefit in that it provides a mild evaporative cooling effect - every little bit helps when it's really hot outside! Use a sweatproof sunscreen designed for athletes, such as Bullfrog Marathon Mist.

5. Run early in the morning or later in the evening. It may still be hot, but it may be more bearable if the sun isn't beating down on you. In the morning, it is usually cooler, but more humid. In the evening, it's generally hotter, but less humid. It's not always practical to run at these times, but I think it's particularly important during long runs to avoid the hottest time of day (typically around 4pm) and the peak hours for UV exposure (11am - 2pm).

6. Bring water, but not just for drinking. Pouring water over your head, face and neck during a hot run can bring immediate and wonderful relief. Try it. You'll thank me.

With all that said, it's most important to listen to your body. As you become acclimated to the heat, you may be able to dial up the intensity or pace of your runs, but always be mindful of your hydration, sweat rate, respiration, heart rate, etc.

As for How To Be A Crazy Runner, Parts Two and beyond... well, at some point, I suppose I'll address the other facets of the Postal creed: rain, snow and gloom of night. But I don't think I'll be talking about running in the snow anytime soon. *fans self vigorously*

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Singin' in the rain...

And by "singing", of course I mean "gasping for air". And by "in the rain", of course I mean "on the track". Which is not to say there wasn't any rain, because there was. It was a perfectly cruddy night for running last night - cold, windy and rainy. But that didn't stop five dedicated FASTies from showing up.

Wait a minute, you're saying. Track? I thought you ran the Hill Of Death on Thursdays!

Well, normally that is the case. But our coaches have taken it upon themselves to "mix things up" lately. Forget the notion of Speedwork Tuesdays and Hillwork Thursdays... they're out the window. Now the workout (aka, torture) of the day is anybody's guess.

So five brave souls showed up last night in the cold rain and we set out for a short warmup to the cemetery entrance and back. And then we were directed to The Track.

The Ring of Ruination.

The Oval of Annihilation.

The Circle of Suffering.

Shall I go on?

*crickets chirping*

Fine, suit yourself. I was just getting started!

The workout (aka, torture) of the day was a pyramid. Heretofore known as the Pyramid Of Pain. Allow me to explain the concept to those unfamiliar. The runner does hard-effort intervals increasing in distance until reaching some predetermined maximum interval distance, and then works his or her way back down the distance scale doing intervals decreasing in distance until returning to the distance of the very first interval.

Allow me to elaborate further with a crappy HTML table with numbers and stuff.

Hard Effort Recovery
200 m 200 m
400 m 400 m
800 m 800 m
1600 m 800 m
800 m 800 m
400 m 400 m
200 m 200 m

Notice that, for the most part, the length of the recovery increases with the length of the interval. The exception to this is on the 1600m (1 mile) interval, where the recovery is only 800m. This was intentional, and is all part of our coaches' plan to make someone puke.

And so we set off on our Pyramid of Pain. Very quickly, it became apparent that fellow foul-weather FASTie, Jose and I were well-matched on the track. We fell into a groove of taking turns pacing and following. We pushed our way almost wordlessly through the tough intervals and chatted incessantly during the recoveries. There's something about suffering with friends that makes it feel a lot less like suffering. Jose was running paces he had probably never tried before. After the 1600 m interval, he said he felt like he was going to throw up. I commiserated with him. After the 800 m interval following the 1600 m interval, I felt like I was going to throw up. He commiserated with me. It was teamwork at its finest.

It's worth noting that nobody actually threw up. The coaches were disappointed to say the least.

For your perusal, I present The Run Graph. I've highlighted the tough intervals in green. Why green? Because that's how I felt while running them. For pace data, check out the lap listing. My interval laps were 4, 6, 8, 10+11 (my Garmin auto-lapped just before I got to the end of the 1600 m), 13, 15, and 17.

I would like to especially point out lap 17 - the final 200 m. We ran a 6:06 pace. For an entire 200 m! There was once a time when a pace like 6:06 was something that only happened to me very briefly. Maybe for three seconds. It was a fluke. An accident. But in this workout, Jose and I held 6:06 for a whole 45 seconds. Oh yeah, we rock. *high fives*

The three other brave FASTies who were in attendance last night (one of whom was my husband) pretty much ran laps around me and Jose. But despite the vast differences in split times and paces, everyone did a great job last night because everyone gave their best effort. And isn't that really what it's all about? Well, that, and the puking...

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Introducing the Hill Of Devastation...

Apparently, we don't have enough crazy hills to run in our FAST group runs. Or so our coaches have determined. Personally, I was fine with the Hill of Death and the Hill of Doom - they were more than enough to meet all my hill-running needs. But the coaches decided that we have greater hill-running needs than we thought. Who knew?

So after our typical one-mile warm-up into the cemetery, we did some useful yet silly-looking form drills, which Coach Brad so nicely captured on video, so that we can all be humiliated on YouTube. The idea behind the video is to be able to see ourselves and make form adjustments to improve our efficiency, speed and power. Fair enough, but I really wish they would've warned us about the video, so I could have worn a nicer running outfit. Or maybe my tutu...

After that rather exhausting round of high-knees, zombie walks and walking lunges, we were informed by the coaches that the workout wasn't over. Indeed, it was just beginning. They had marked off an 800m stretch of cemetery road, and we were going to run 4 x 800m repeats at 5k pace, going back and forth on this 800m stretch of road. That doesn't sound too bad in theory. But smack-dab in the middle of this stretch of road was what shall heretofore be known as the Hill Of Devastation. It's short, but very, very steep. So in the first 800m, we would be running UP the Hill Of Devastation, and in the second 800m, we would be running DOWN the Hill Of Devastation. Rinse, repeat.

Oh that's not so bad, you say. You get to go downhill for the 2nd and 4th repeats - that's EASY!


While the downhill segments were marginally friendlier than the uphill segments, they were by no means easy. Running down the Hill Of Devastation is actually quite scary. Maybe it's because I'm just not comfortable with running that fast. Maybe it's because my brain is telling my legs to slow down, but they can't because of gravity's pull. Maybe it's because I'm running in a cemetery and that just seems a little too convenient during a workout like this.

The natural tendency while running downhill is to lean backward to to try to slow oneself by resisting gravity. The coaches tell us this is counterproductive, wastes energy, and can really tear up a person's quads. They're right, of course. It's always best to try to use downhills to gain a speed advantage with minimal additional effort. The best way to do this is to lean slightly forward and let gravity work its magic, rather than trying to resist. This results in the intense feeling that you will, at any moment, topple forward, curl into a ball, and roll down the hill at breakneck speed.

Fortunately, nobody rolled down the hill last night. It was a very tough workout, but we all survived. Here's the workout data... I'm sure you can find the Hill Of Devastation in the green graph. The 800m repeats are easy to identify from the heart rate graph (red) - just look for the four humps in the middle (and laps 4, 6, 8, and 10 in the lap listing).

I didn't stop my watch between repeats, so I could see how quickly my heart rate recovered. We had about 3 minutes of rest between each 800m segment. That sounds like a lot, but we needed every second of it. Well, maybe not Louisa, who was singing during the repeats, and dancing during the rest periods. I swear I'm not making that up. I have witnesses! Coach Brad doesn't like it when we smile during workouts. He says we must not be working hard enough if we're smiling (although I wonder if he just can't tell the difference between a smile and a grimace of pain). When he sees any of us smiling, he vows to make us work harder next time. I can only imagine what he'll do now that singing and dancing has occurred during a workout. This cannot be good. Not good at all...

I guess I should start thinking of names for the crazy hills that are sure to come...

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I'd like to thank the Academy...

...and my coaches, and my husband, and my fellow runners, my friends and family for helping to make this possible. I couldn't have won this award without you!

*crowd mutters confusedly* Wait. What award? You won an award?

Why yes! Yes I did!

An Oscar???

Well, not exactly.... More of an athletic award.

So you won a race?

In a manner of speaking...

But, we didn't even know you were running a race today!

Um. Well. Me either. Let me explain...

I woke up bright and early this morning with every intention of doing an easy 10 mile run. I ate my oatmeal, banana and green tea. I got all my long run clothes and supplies assembled. And I left the house around 7:20am to head over to The Tower so I could run in my usual long run area (Grandview, Bishop Hill, etc). When I got to the Tower, I noticed there were quite a few cars in the parking lot. That was rather unusual. As I was walking toward the tower, I noticed an awful lot of people milling about, and upon closer inspection, they were all wearing race number bibs. Huh. A race. Interesting...

I texted my husband to tell him there was a race going on, and he replied "Run it and win your age group!" HAHAHA - he's so funny! I've never come close to winning anything in a race. But I was definitely tempted to run it. My watch said it was 7:52am, and I assumed the race probably started at 8:00. Plenty of time! So I moseyed over to the registration desk, where a lady was packing up everything into a box, and asked "Is it too late to register?" She gave me a look of slight disbelief, but quickly opened up her box and pulled out a registration form for me. I got all signed up and pinned on my race number (106, which I think means that 106 people ran this race, since I was surely the last one to register) with just a few minutes to spare. Everyone headed across the street to the starting line.

As it turned out, the race was to be run on scenic Grandview Drive, where I was going to be running anyway. The course was a simple out-and-back. Having run Grandview a million times, I knew that going out-and-back is anything but simple. It's mostly downhill going out, and therefore mostly uphill coming back. This was going to be a fairly difficult 5k course. Perhaps more difficult than the Susan G Komen Race For The Cure course. Well, I do have a tendency to pick hilly races...

So the race started and off we went. I knew better than to think I'd actually run this at a training run pace. I pretty much gave it everything I had from the get-go. Maybe, just maybe, I could place in my age group. The race was small, which gave me the best opportunity to win an award. Small race = less competition. I knew I was in a particularly difficult age group, though (30-34, where many of the fastest runners are). As we approached the turnaround point on the course, I got to see all the runners who were ahead of me, and in my mind, I was estimating their ages, trying to get a feel for my odds. But my oxygen-starved brain couldn't figure out my own age, let alone anyone else's age, and I soon realized my mental calculations were futile. I was able to come up with just enough neural connectivity to determine that I should just stop thinking and keep running.

And so I ran. And it was uphill. A LOT of uphill. There was a boy, about 12 years old, in a bright yellow shirt in front of me. I kept my eyes on his shirt. He pulled me along. But then he started walking on the uphills. I couldn't walk. If I walked, I wouldn't be able to start running again. So I passed the boy in the yellow shirt. And he didn't like that one bit. He sprinted ahead of me. Then he realized he couldn't hold it, so he walked again. And again, I passed him. And again, he got huffy and sprinted past me. I guess he didn't want to get beat by a girl. As we rounded the corner and the finish line was in sight, I could tell the boy was starting to die off again. So I mustered up enough energy to say "You're doing great kid. You're almost to the finish. Keep going!" And with that, he gave me a polite "Thanks" and took off like a rocket. Sometimes that's all we need... just a word of encouragement.

I didn't have any of that rocket fuel in me after running up those hills, but I pushed as much as I could. Pretty soon, I could make out the numbers on the race clock. 25:54... 55... 56... 57... Wow, this would be a huge improvement over my 5k last weekend! I sprinted for the finish. 26:05... 26.:06... 26:07... DONE!

My PR from Race For The Cure last weekend lasted all of 7 days. And then I smashed it pieces. How I managed to take over 2 minutes off that time, I'll never really know. My FAST teammate, Marj, who was also at the race, said she thinks I did so well because it was a last-minute decision to run it. I didn't have any time to worry about it or plan a strategy or anything. All I could do was just run it. I think she may be on to something.

But wait, the story gets better!

Wanting to see how I did compared to the rest of the runners, I went to the awards ceremony. I don't normally go to these things, because, well, I don't usually a chance at an award (I typically run such large races that my age group is saturated with far faster runners). But I thought maybe I had a chance today. My husband had just arrived at the tower to start his long run, and decided to stop by for the awards ceremony too. I'm really glad he did, because he ended up being a witness to an historical event: I WON SOMETHING! I got 2nd place in the 30-34 Female group. SECOND PLACE! Oh, sure, there are some who would say "2nd place is first loser". But to them, I say "First loser is a lot better than 243rd loser, which is where I usually am! So PPHBBBBBTTTT!"

And here's my medal in all its glory (and me, in all my post-race sweatiness):

It says 2nd Place on it! I have documentation of this momentous occasion!!!

The front of the medal.

The race proceeds benefited Prairie State Legal Services, which provides pro bono legal representation to the needy, elderly and disabled. Don't worry, the race didn't raise money to help personal injury lawyers make more annoying television commercials. I'm not sure anyone would run that race. Except maybe me, because I would have a really good shot at an age group award if nobody else was running it.

And by the way, my FAST teammate and her husband also won age group awards. Go Team FAST!!!

Now, without any further ado, here's the run graph from the race. As you can tell, I struggled a bit during the uphill part. It turned out that this race was actually more hilly than Race For The Cure, at 170 feet of total ascent, versus 140 feet for RFTC.

Oh, and what of my easy 10 mile run? Well, after the awards ceremony, I did run another 6 miles, for a total of 9. Considering the effort I put into that 5k, I think that's acceptable.

Marj tells me there's another 5k race next weekend at the Clubs at River City. I told her I don't think I could do another one next weekend. I'm kind of 5k'd out. And I couldn't possibly set another PR. It's just too much pressure. So she said "Well, then meet me at River City for your 10 mile long run at 7:45 on Saturday..." She's sneaky, that Marj...

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Oh, it's okay, I'll just dive into these shrubs over here...

The Greater Peoria Area has a surprisingly large and diverse population of runners. With this large running population comes great benefits, such as several running groups to train with, and lots of well-traveled running routes to choose from, and many local races to participate in. But there are also some difficulties associated with having so many runners concentrated in such a small area: a local shortage of anti-chafe cream, excessively-spit-covered roads and sidewalks, and a high number of poison ivy cases due to having to dive suddenly off a path when encountering a runner stampede.

Allow me to elaborate on that last point. You see, last night during our FAST run, I was getting toward the end of my warm-up and was happily running (by myself) along the path from the cemetery to the bottom of the Hill Of Death, when I encountered a stampeding herd of runners from another running group coming right at me. I moved to the far right side of the path, as is dictated by traditional running etiquette, so as not to get in their way. They, however, did not do the same. They continued to run four- and five-abreast, taking up the entire width of the path. The path is flanked on either side by large trees, shrubs and general wilderness. So the choice I had before me was to either (a) dive into the wilderness and hope I don't end up in a patch of poison ivy or (b) run directly into the oncoming runners. Since I was pretty sure I saw a rabid squirrel off to the side of the path, laughing at me in a sinister sort of way, I opted for choice (b). I looked right into the eyes of those oncoming runners and dared them to try and beat me in this athletic version of Chicken. I was thinking, "I'm pretty short. I can duck and run between their legs if necessary." Fortunately, the evil eye I was giving them was enough to divert them out of my way at the very last second. I came out of the stampede unscathed and, thankfully, poison-ivy-free.

But it was a close call... And it wasn't the first time I've nearly had to risk life and limb when encountering a group of runners who weren't following standard running etiquette. It really shouldn't be this way. The basic rules of running are easy enough for anyone to follow, whether they run in a large group or alone. They are nothing more than common sense and courtesy. But as the weather becomes nicer and more and more people are out running on the roads and trails, it behooves us to review these rules and keep them always in the back of our minds. (Yes, I really did use the word "behooves".) From the Road Runner's Club of America:

  • Run against traffic if running on the road. If running on the sidewalk or multi-use trails, travel on the right and pass on the left.
  • Never run more than two abreast if you are running in a group. Don’t be a road or trail hog.
  • Don’t run down the middle of the road or trail.
  • Alert pedestrians when you are passing them – don’t assume they are aware of their surroundings. A simple “on your left” warning will suffice.
  • Respect private property along your route. Don’t relieve yourself in the neighbor’s bushes.
  • Don’t litter. If you can’t find a trash can, carry your trash home.
  • Stop at stop signs and ensure oncoming traffic yields to you before proceeding across a road. Don’t assume cars will stop if you are entering a cross walk.

See? Common sense and courtesy. Respect your fellow runners, respect the planet, and respect motorists (especially the ones in the big SUV's). But I'd like to add a few of my own rules, because, well, it's my blog and I can do what I want. You don't have to follow them, but I think the world would be a nicer place if you did.

  • Nod, wave, smile, say "Hi" or do something.... anything... to acknowledge other runners when you pass them. Even if you feel like you're near death, remember, we're all in this together.
  • Look before you spit or snot-rocket.
  • If you must run with music, keep the volume down on your iPod so you can hear approaching cars and other people. Be alert to your surroundings.
  • Run with identification, especially if you're running alone. A Road ID is a great way to easily wear emergency info while running.
  • Be visible! I have noticed an alarming trend of runners wearing all black while running at night. While it's possible they're not actually runners, but ninjas, they should know that even ninjas can be killed by cars.

So now that you've been armed with this arsenal of road rules, go forth and spread the safety and courtesy. Together, we can reduce the incidence of poison ivy and rabid squirrel bites among runners! *begin motivational music* I have a dream... of a world where the Hummer always yields happily to the runner... of a world where nobody gets hit by the wayward snot-rocket... of a world where everyone runs on the right side of a running path... of a world where all runners - young and old, fast and slow, with Nike sponsorships and without - come together as one. Help me realize this dream! *dramatic end of motivational music*

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, maybe some of you are wondering about the FAST workout last night. After tackling the Hill Of Doom on Tuesday, could we possibly have to tackle the Hill Of Death on Thursday? That would be an awful lot of hills in one week! The answer is yes... and no. Yes, we had to tackle the Hill Of Death... but only once. So while we didn't have any crazy hill repeats, we did have to slog up it once. And that was plenty, believe me. It was humid last night. Very humid. And as a result, I felt sluggish. Very sluggish. You'll see this reflected in my graph below. The workout consisted of the following: 2 mile warmup to the cemetery and back, a pickup lasting from the bottom of the Hill Of Death to the entrance to Glen Oak Park, a recovery on the inner loop of Glen Oak Park, and another pickup from the end of the inner loop back to the bottom of the hill. After that, we had an easy jog over to the high school track across the street, and then some speedwork on the track. The speedwork varied depending on everyone's goals. The marathoners, like me, did 4 laps (1 mile) of running the straights hard and the curves easy. The 5k and 10k people did something that looked a lot like 200m race repeated several times. I'm not entirely sure what they were up to, but they were running extremely fast. I think this is part of how they are plotting your demise - by training to run at supersonic speeds. I am pretty sure I heard a sonic boom at some point. And I know it wasn't me! So either they were running really fast, or someone ate too many bean burritos for lunch.

The elevation chart (the green graph) shows the workout breakdown nicely. The first large hill was the warm-up to the cemetery and back. The second (and much larger) hill was the Hill Of Death, running through Glen Oak Park, and then running back down the Hill Of Death (which is not nearly so deadly in that direction). Finally, the flat part was the track. It was quite a variety for one workout, which kept things interesting.

As if dodging a stampeding herd of runners and avoiding rabid squirrels wasn't interesting enough.

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bloodthirsty FAST members are plotting your demise!

So we had some hills last night at FAST. And by "some hills", I mean monstrous towering beasts that rival the Hill Of Death in ferocity and evilness.

My alert readers will have already noted that we don't typically do hill work on Tuesdays. Indeed, that joy is generally reserved for Thursdays. So imagine our surprise when Coach Brad pointed toward the mausoleum (which sits atop a very tall hill) and told us we would be running that way.

Wait. What?

The coaches had mapped out a sort of figure-eight-shaped loop, which included the long hill up to the mausoleum, and instructed us to do an interval workout on said loop for about 30-40 minutes. For some people, the workout was 7 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy, repeat. For others, the workout was 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, repeat. For me and a few others, the workout was a combination of the two variations. I did some 3-2 intervals and some 7-3 intervals. And I tackled the crazy hill, which shall henceforth be known as the Hill Of Doom (evil younger brother of the Hill Of Death) twice. It was plenty. I'm sure it's not hard to pick out the Hill Of Doom in the elevation graph below.

I marked laps at the start of each interval - it should be pretty clear from the lap pace data which laps were hard and which were easy. I think "easy" is a relative term. The entire workout, start to finish, was tough. And two lucky guys from our group had a surprise one-mile time trial thrown at them after that workout. Surprise! Those guys somehow managed to run sub-6-minute miles after that grueling speed-hill workout. I, on the other hand, could barely walk after that grueling speed-hill workout.

So it's a good thing we all went out for a nice sit-down dinner afterward. One of our members is leaving us for the summer to go down south and get married (big congrats to her!), so we decided to have a sort of bridal-shower-slash-going-away party thing. A funny thing happens when you get a bunch of recreational runners together and give them moderate amounts of alcohol. They turn into Olympic hopefuls. Suddenly, runners who were perfectly content to simply beat their own race times, become competitive animals who are hell-bent on beating other people. I actually heard some of my teammates growl last night while discussing who they wanted to beat in a race. Look at this picture of the group. Do they look like a pack of bloodthirsty wolves to you?

Not at all! But looks can be deceiving, my friends. They're out to get someone. Probably you. So watch out. It may be best to just let them pass.

You don't have to worry about me, though. I'm not out to get anyone. Although, if we have another after-FAST party, I will run faster and harder so I can get to dinner sooner. And if you happen to be in my way... well, maybe it's best if we don't talk about that. *growl*

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why set one PR in one week when you can set TWO?

I couldn't decide whether to title this blog post the above title, or "More Evidence Against Me Using Races As Training Runs". When my hubby and FAST friends talked me into (read: guilt-tripped me into) running Race For The Cure less than a week after my marathon, I thought to myself "Self, it's okay. Just run the 5k easy." Indeed, my plan all along was to just run this 5k like any other easy run. But then my hubby and FAST friends (read: evil people who like to push me) started talking about trying to set new PR's with this race, I kinda-sorta got sucked into the excitement.

As we were driving over to the race this morning, my husband asked me "So, what's your time goal? Under 29 minutes?" I muttered something about the fact that it was really windy and the course was hilly, and that I had just run a freaking marathon, for crying out loud! But in the back of my mind, I was thinking "I wonder if I could set a PR today..." My current 5k PR was 29:36, and I set it in April 2009... on a flat course. If I recall correctly, it very nearly killed me to run that time. Could I possibly be that much faster now, that I could beat that time on a hilly course in 20 mph winds?

Well, as it turns out, yes.



I lined up for the women's competitive run start, and set my iPod on a pump-me-up sort of tune (a set by Marshall & Prophecy, if you're wondering). The race started silently and we were off. It started off with a short downhill, but then we climbed. This race wasn't nearly as hilly as, say, The Flying Pig, but as 5k's go, it's not exactly easy either. Uphills always slow me down. But I catch serious speed on downhills. So I used every downhill to my advantage. You can see from the graph below that when the elevation drops, my speed spikes. I bet I could beat a lot of people in a downhill race. Not that I'm challenging anyone!

In the last hundred yards or so, my coach passed me. Wow, I was so close to beating my coach - drat! (I'm conveniently not going to mention the fact that the men's race started 10 minutes after the women's, so he actually finished 10 minutes ahead of me, not 10 seconds.)

Somehow, I managed to finish in 28:10. That's an almost 1:30 improvement in my 5k time. Not too shabby, my friends. Not too shabby at all.

Turns out a lot of my FAST friends got PR's in this race too. It must have just been a good day for record-setting.

My friends, my husband and I, all celebrating PR's

Maybe on a flat course, on a windless day, I could break 28 minutes... I'll probably have to run another 5k as a "training run" to find out.

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, May 7, 2010

I've still got it!

The ability to run, that is. Last night's FAST meeting was my first time running since the marathon. It was a nice 4-day rest, but it's time to get back to work. I was pleased to see that I can still run, and that I can run hard, without dying or falling over or throwing up.

We started out last night with a group photo. Everyone who raced last weekend wore their hard-earned medals with pride. Just look at all this bling!

It's a really good thing we took this photo before the run, instead of after, because I think most of us were looking pretty ragged after the run. Coach Brad was in an evil sort of mood when he cooked up our workout. I believe what he said was "After the warmup, we'll do some suicides on the hill, then we'll go up into the park and have some fun *evil grin*" Whenever the coach says "we're going to have some fun", what it really means is he's going to have fun watching us suffer. As if running suicides up the Hill of Death isn't "fun" enough already!

For those of you who might not be sure... suicides are a running drill where there are several equally-spaced markers on the ground, and beginning from the start marker, one runs to the first marker, then immediately back to the starting marker, then immediately runs to the second marker, then back to the starting marker, etc until one has reached the farthest marker - with no rest between markers. Suicides are typically performed on flat ground as a sprint drill. But that's not evil enough for our coach. Instead, we got to do suicide drills on the Hill of Death. Markers were drawn at four points on the hill: the bottom of the hill, a third of the way up, two thirds of the way up, and the very top. We were instructed do our usual 2 mile warmup and then go right into the hill suicides. One suicide round was enough for me, considering this was my first run post-marathon, and I knew Brad had more "fun" planned for us after the hills.

I was surprised to find that the hills weren't that bad. Oh, don't get me wrong, it was still hard. But I was expecting to really drag. Instead, I found that I was able to run the hills strong. After I finished my single suicide round, I ran up the Hill of Death one more time (hey, why not?), since the remainder of our "fun" was going to happen at the top of the hill.

Turns out, the "fun" was a 1-mile timed fartlek run: 30 seconds at 5k pace or faster, 30 seconds easy jog - lather, rinse, repeat for the entire mile. I went to town with my fast segments. Coach Brad later told me I appeared to be running so fast, that time was going backwards around me. *snort* He had to be joking. If you look at my run data in the fartlek section (you can tell where that is because the pace graph is up, then down, then up, then down, etc), I really wasn't going that fast during the sprints. Maybe a 7:30-8:00/mile pace. That's just a warmup pace for the coaches. (And it's worth noting that it is definitely faster than my 5k pace.)

After a mile of that, and having already done hill suicides, I was pretty much toast. But it felt great to put the Lunarglides on again and take them for a ride. My toe blisters are still a little tender, and I could feel that while running (especially downhill), but I'm sure they'll be gone before I know it.

So now that The Pig is over, some of you may be wondering what's next? Well, I've already decided I want to run The Pig again next year... so I've got my countdown clock ----> reset to count it down for May 1, 2011. In the mean time, I've got several other races planned this year, and some new goals to work toward. Tomorrow morning is Race For The Cure, which I don't think I'll be "racing", but we all know how good I am at "not racing" during races. *looks shifty* This summer, I've also got the Soldier Field 10-Mile in Chicago, Steamboat Classic 4-Mile in Peoria, the Warrior Dash in Joliet and the Chicago Half-Marathon. But the piéce de résistance for the remainder of this year will be the Chicago Marathon. If all goes well, I am hoping to run my first sub-5-hour marathon in Chicago. eek! I will, of course, be documenting my training journey along the way - the speedwork, the hill repeats, the 18-mile runs in 85-degree weather. I will truly embrace "sweating like a pig". Bet you can't wait!

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, May 3, 2010

26.2 crazy-hilly miles in the pouring rain = totally awesome!!!

And now the moment you've all been waiting for... the race report! The whole weekend was an experience worth talking about, so I'm actually going to make this a Flying Pig Weekend report. This is going to be a long post. You have been warned.

The Race Expo
We arrived on Friday afternoon and headed over to the expo after we checked into our hotel (which was conveniently located right next to the convention center where the expo was being held). My husband was going to run the 10k and the 5k on Saturday, and I wanted to run the 5k on Saturday too, so we needed to register and pick up packets for those events.

The expo was GINORMOUS. Hands down the biggest race expo I've ever been to. It was a runner's dream come true. The Flying Pig merchandise alone took up a space roughly three times the square footage of my house. I picked up my marathon packet at the Runner's World Challenge booth and had the privilege of meeting some of the editors of Runner's World magazine.

Now, let's talk swag. The standard swag for any race is the old bag full of brochures, maybe a free sample or two, and t-shirt. The Flying Pig outdoes them all. Yes, there's still the bag full of brochures, some free samples, and the t-shirt. But the t-shirt is a wonderful technical fabric with the groovy-colorful "Got My Oink On" logo. And then there was more. A beautiful, framing-quality art poster. And a super-nice Asics gym bag with an embroidered Flying Pig logo. Wow! Not too shabby, especially considering that this marathon only cost $70 to register for.

Saturday Events

Flying Pig weekend truly is a weekend-long event. The running events kick off on Saturday morning with a 10k, followed by a 5k, followed by a Kid's Marathon, followed by the Flying Piglet. Whew! My husband was signed up to run the 10k race, hoping to beat his previous 10k PR of 56:30. Early in the morning, before the sun had come up, we were awakened by the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning. We knew the forecast for the entire weekend was bad, but we were hoping for some sort of weather miracle. I kept checking the official Flying Pig Twitter page for updates and they kept saying "all events will begin as scheduled", so we got up, got our running gear on, and headed down to the starting line. By the time we left the hotel, the thunder and lightning were long gone - there was only rain. Lots and lots of rain. But that didn't stop the 10k runners. Nearly 1,600 people ran the event. My friends and I stood on the sidelines and saw the start, the 4.5 mile mark, and the finish. And what of my husband's quest for a PR? He blew it out of the water with a 51:23 finish. How awesome is that?

After the 10k race, my friends, my husband and I all ganged up to run the 5k together. It was to be a fairly easy run for me - just to loosen up my legs and get some blood flowing before my BIG race. My good friend Michele was on a quest to beat her previous 5k time so I wanted to run with her as sort of a pacer. It was very humid and the run was not easy for her at all... but she had an awesome PR.

So far, the weekend was shaping up to be a great one for PRs, despite the yucky weather. Would the luck continue on Sunday?

Later on Saturday afternoon, I did my Pump N Run Challenge. I arrived at the Pump N Run booth at the expo and got weighed, and they used my weight to calculate how much I would have to bench press and curl. As I had predicted, I would have to bench 80 lbs, and curl 45 lbs. I was terrified. Some older women were already lifting and they were busting out 20 or 30 reps, no problem. But because they were older, it meant they didn't have to lift as much. I asked the man in charge how much one lady was lifting, and he said 55 lbs. Well, geesh, no wonder they were doing so many reps! I went to the bench where I was to do my lifting and the big burly spotter guy loaded the barbell up with what looked like a LOT of big plates. I laid back on the bench, gripped the bar, and the spotter guy let it go. Ohhhhh my word, it was heavy! I eked out 4 measly reps before I was toast. Well, so much for getting a bronze medal. The spotter guy then loaded up the curl bar with 45 lbs and I proceeded to bang out 5 curls. Not exactly a stellar performance. I have to admit, I was pretty bummed at first. But the more I thought about it, the more determined I became to come back next year and redeem myself. And maybe next time I'll even train for it properly... by doing actual bench presses!!!

That evening, my friends and I carb-loaded at my favorite pasta joint... Noodles. And after that, we all headed back to the hotel and chilled for the evening. I went to bed pretty early and slept surprisingly well. I figured at this point, it was out of my hands...

The Big Day

It was finally here. The day I had been preparing for for 5 months had finally arrived. And I was beyond nervous. When I got up at 4am that morning, there was lightning and thunder in abundance. The doppler radar map looked horrendous. I simply didn't see how this race was going to happen. But I got ready anyway. I did everything I have been doing for the last 5 months before a long run. I ate my standard pre-run brekkie - oatmeal with raisins, a banana, and green tea from my lucky Harry Potter mug. Incredibly, I was able to eat it all, despite my very nervous stomach. I had already laid out my race clothes and pinned on my bib and timing chip the night before. So I put everything on... including the tutu I had specially made just for this race. Oh right. Did I mention that before? No, I didn't. It was a surprise. Surprise! You'll be able to see it in all its glory in the photos below. Patience.

I met my friends down in the lobby of the hotel. Two of them were running the half-marathon, which started at the same time and place as the full marathon. We all put on rain ponchos and made our way down to the start line. It was pure chaos. The rain was pouring, lightning was lighting up the still-dark sky, and thunder was crashing all around us. Throngs of people wearing ponchos and trash bags were moving slowly down the street. One man even had put plastic bags on each of his shoes to keep them dry. We arrived at the starting area with just minutes to spare, but the crowd had taken a wrong turn and the only way we could get to the start corrals was to climb down a steep, grassy embankment. Great, just what we need - to break our ankles falling down this slope trying to get to the race! But we made it. And not a moment too soon. The announcer called out on the loudspeaker "Two minutes til race start!" We hoofed it through the start corrals, trying to get ourselves properly seeded. It was futile. There were too many people and not enough time. I think we ended up near the 3:20 marathon pace group. Before we knew it, we were counting down the last 5 seconds "FIVE... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE..."

And we were off.

Shelley and I just seconds before the race start (I'm the one in the glasses, giving the thumbs up)... note how completely drenched everyone is

Miles 1 - 6 Downtown Cincy and Kentucky

Incredibly, the lightning and thunder had stopped just moments before the race start. And it never returned. It was truly the weather miracle I had been hoping for. Of course, that didn't stop it from raining profusely for the entire marathon.

The run started out as any other long run. I settled into a conservative pace and let people pass me. I knew I was surrounded by much faster runners, so I just let them go by. I listened to the chatter among them and tried to see out of my glasses as best I could (they were wet and fogged up... a condition which plagued me til the bitter end). The course started off flat for the first half mile or so... but that ended very soon. The first major "hill" was the Taylor-Southgate bridge, which crosses the Ohio River into Kentucky. It was here that I received the first comments about my tutu. I had shed my poncho and now people were noticing it. "Look, she's wearing a tutu!" they said to each other. And more often, they would say directly to me, "I love your tutu!" or "Hey, can I borrow that when you're done with it?"

We entered Kentucky and this is where we had our first really good spectator crowds. It was still dark outside, rainy, and yucky... but these people were out there cheering for us. And they say runners are crazy? There was a small brass band playing music, and another band further along playing Sweet Home Alabama. At Mile 2, I ate my first Sharkies - I was planning to stick to my fueling strategy as closely as possible - three Sharkies every 2 miles.

The 4th mile brought us back into Ohio on the Clay Wade Bailey bridge, which was an even steeper and longer climb than the first bridge. A nice young woman started chatting with me about my tutu, and then admitted that she was sort of following me because she liked my pace. It turned out it was her first half-marathon, and she had only trained for two months. We got separated at a water stop around Mile 5, and I never saw her again, but I hope she finished strong.

The 6th mile brought me right through downtown Cincinnati. Oh the crowds! The spectators were absolutely fantastic here - thousands of people lined both sides of the street and cheered, clapped, rang bells and made lots of noise for us. It was incredibly motivating. Indeed, the 6th mile was one of my faster early miles. Amazing what a little motivation can do for one's running!

Me and my tutu in the 6th mile

Miles 6-9 The Climb

I knew it was coming and I was pretty well-prepared, mentally. But that didn't make it easy. The elevation change was "only" 300 feet, but it was a rolling climb, which meant my accumulated elevation gain was far more than 300 feet. We will talk more about the elevation gain later....

My strategy for the hills was to walk the steep ones, and run others easy, and then let gravity speed me along the downhills. I stuck to this strategy throughout the entire race and I believe I owe much of my success to it. I saw Elvis during this climb and high-fived him while he sang "Return To Sender" to the runners. And they say Elvis is dead - ha!

There was a reward for all that hard work of climbing.: the view from the top of Eden Park. It was so spectacular, I actually stopped, took out my iPhone, and snapped several photos.

View of the Ohio River and Kentucky from Eden Park

Shortly after we came out of Eden Park, the half-marathon runners split off from the marathon runners to make their return to the city. The concentration of runners on the road dropped drastically. (As it turns out, there were more than twice as many half-marathoners as there were full marathoners)

Miles 10 - 18 The Neighborhoods

I loved this section of the race the most. I still felt good and strong, the spectators were out in abundance (even in the rain!), the other runners were still cheerful, and it was a net downhill.

I really have to hand it to Cincinnati. They are fantastic race hosts. I have never before run a race with such wonderful spectators. And these were just the people who were willing to stand out in the rain for hours! I can only imagine what this race is like when the weather is nice. The specators ranged from college students, to nursing home residents, to nuns (yes, NUNS!), to children, to dogs and everything in between. I received countless compliments on my tutu, which was a huge pick-me-up. (Wearing the tutu was the best.idea.ever.) At one point, I was even voted "Best Dressed Runner" by one spectator.

The course volunteers, known as Grunts, were as supportive and enthusiastic as the spectators - they cheered, the encouraged, and lots of them were dressed in costumes.

The folks in Hyde Park and Mariemont really know how to party - both towns had lots of great music going and the crowds cheered nonstop. Some spectators even set up their own refreshment stops and serve water, oranges, candy... and even beer! That kind of enthusiasm really helps make the miles fly by.

These miles were by no means an easy downhill run, though. The hills were nonstop. The overall trend may have been downhill, but it was rolling (and sometimes steep) the entire way. I stuck to my strategy and didn't let it get to me.

At every mile marker, they had Grunts calling out pace and projected finish times. I found it interesting that with every mile marker I passed, my pace and finish time both shrank. At first, my projected finish was around 5:46. By the time I left Mariemont, it was 5:28. Could I hold on to it?

Mile 19 The Highway

This short section of the race was run entirely on a 4-lane highway. It was.. well... not very exciting. There's not a whole lot to look at. But, thankfully, there were a few spectators. The water station on this stretch was particularly fun - the Grunts were all dressed in tropical garb and handing out "Margaritas" (aka, Gatorade).

Miles 20 - 22 Eastern Ave

This stretch of road was refreshingly flat compared to the rest of the course. There were some very good spectators in this area - lots of cheering and bell ringing. An interesting thing happened to me around the 20 mile mark. A woman on the sidelines asked me "Are you Emily?" Um... yes? And you are...??? It turns out she went to high school with my husband, and her husband was there running the marathon relay. My husband had gotten in touch with her and told her I would be wearing a purple tutu... and lo and behold, she picked me out of the crowd of runners just like that! She and her husband (who had just finished his leg of the relay) actually ran with me for a few hundred yards and chatted with me for a bit. That was an incredibly nice thing for them to do, and it gave me a burst of energy that I really needed to get through...

Miles 23-26.2 The Home Stretch

These miles are, not surprisingly, a pretty big blur to me. At this point I was just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I do remember that I passed an insane number of people during these miles. Probably hundreds. A lot of people had died off and were simply walking. I, on the other hand, was running faster than ever. I was on a mission. There were some hills in these last miles. Some were quite steep. I walked the the steep ones to save energy for my finishing kick. I wanted to finish strong. I knew if I ran up the steep hills, I would regret it later.

I could see downtown Cincinnati from the road I was running. I could practically taste the finish line (or Finish Swine, as they call it at the Flying Pig). The last projected finish time I remember hearing was something like 5:22. That was quite a bit better than my goal of 5:30, so I just wanted to hang on to it.

I crossed the 25.2 mile timing mat (they actually have a fastest final mile award in this marathon - how cool is that?) and knew that it was just one more mile to go. Just one more! I picked up my pace and was all set to cruise in to the finish. But then there it was. The last big hill. Less than a half mile from the finish, there was this short, but steep hill. It wasn't going to ruin me. No how, no way. I walked it as fast as I could and as soon as I got to the top, I took off as fast as I could. I could see the Finish Swine. The cheering crowds on either side were roaring (or at least it seemed that way to me). I saw my husband in the crowd, cheering for me - I ran faster. I started to well up with emotion - the medal I had been working so hard to earn was within my reach. I gave it everything I had and crossed the finish swine exactly the way I had dreamed of doing it - strong.

At Mile 26 - just 0.2 to go

Almost there - the final push

I looked down at my watch and was amazed. Could it be right? 5:15? That was my stretch goal! And these were anything but ideal race conditions. A wonderful finish line Grunt placed the medal around my neck and I cried tears of joy for what I had just accomplished.


The medal I worked so hard for. It was absolutely worth it.


I walked back through the finisher's area and got my space blanket, water, and much-needed food. The post-marathon banana was the best.banana.ever. There wasn't much else I could stomach right at that moment, so I savored it.

I met up with my husband and found out that my friends all missed my big finish because they were expecting me to finish 15 minutes later! Well, I did tell them 5:30. Shows you how much I know!

We walked (slowly) back to the hotel. I wanted so badly just to sit down, but I knew if I sat, I wouldn't be able to get back up. I was, simply put, exhausted. So we walked. And walked. And walked. It seemed like the hotel was suddenly miles away. When we finally got there, my wonderful friends were waiting for me in the lobby, cheering and applauding for me. My best friend's daughter handed me a paper cup full of water - now that was my favorite water stop. My best friend gave me a hug, despite the fact that I was drenched and sweaty.... but she said I didn't smell at all! Maybe it's because I had essentially just taken a 5-hour shower. Nevertheless, all I wanted to do was get out of my soaking wet clothes and get a nice, hot shower.

And so I did just that. And for the rest of the day, I refueled on delicious food, walked around as much as I could, and enjoyed the company of my friends, who were all victorious in their own races.

As for the run data... I know my fellow geeks are itching to see the maps and graphs. So here they are, in all their glory. Lots of detail here - just click on the images to see them larger.

The map

The graphs - check out the elevation graph!

The splits - note total elevation gain. For the record, I have no idea why the moving time is different than the total time. I assure you, I was moving the entire time (except at the top of the big climb, when I stopped to take pictures)

I must say, if I had known in advance that the total elevation gain was over 1600 feet in this marathon, I'm not sure I would have signed up for it. I wasn't really sure what the number was - I had seen figures varying from 538 feet to 1300 feet and I wasn't really sure which was closer to the truth. The Garmin elevation corrections that are now being used are supposed to be quite accurate, so I'm going to trust what it tells me. And just based on feeling alone, I can tell you that this marathon was hillier than any of my training runs. My training runs definitely prepared me for it, though.

Some of you may be wondering how I'm feeling today... the day after. Not too bad, actually. I am definitely feeling the effects of the hills - my quads and glutes are pretty sore. But it's no worse than if I had done a tough lower body weight workout at the gym. It's quite manageable, and as long as I get up and walk around regularly, it keeps me from getting too stiff. My worst "injury" from the whole event is my toe. The second toe of my left foot apparently had been hitting the front of my shoe (presumably during the downhills) and now the whole tip of that toe is a giant purple blister. It's a bit painful (not really bad though), and I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to be able to wear real shoes to work tomorrow (it's awfully swollen). But in the grand scheme of running injuries, this is a pretty minor thing. I'm counting my blessings, believe me.

All in all, I am so glad that I ran this marathon. I absolutely loved it. The hills ended up not being a chore. They actually made the course interesting. And the spectators are the best I've ever experienced in all the races I've run. The entire event was so well-organized, and the volunteers were outstanding. The swag is fantastic, and the cost is extremely reasonable. Cincinnati really knows how to put on a race! I can't wait to run it again next year - as soon as registration opens up for 2011, I'm signing up!

Peace. Love. Train.