Race Recap: Carmel Half Marathon

I ran my 7th half marathon this past weekend. And it was the smallest half marathon I’ve competed in so far. Being based in Chicago has its advantages and disadvantages as a runner. Runners in Chicago are lucky enough to have a city that has developed urban spaces that cater to exercise fiends—the lakefront trail is every runner’s haven because it can be difficult to run long distances without being stopped at regular intervals at stoplights. On the other hand, we take a huge hit by suffering through the Chicago winter (luckily, that wasn’t the case this past year).

I’m originally from Zionsville, a suburb of Indianapolis. And nearby is a city named Carmel (no, I did not go to Cali for this race, although that sounds splendid right about now). Last year was the inaugural Carmel Half Marathon and Marathon and it took place in the summer. Race day was a gross, sweaty, humid mess and runners suffered through the heat. Luckily, for the 2nd annual event, they decided to move it to late April in order to avoid the heat.

I registered for the race back in early November when I planned out my spring half marathon schedule. I always like to have a race on the horizon, no matter the distance, because I find that it keeps me motivated and energized on days when I completely and utterly do not want to go running. That’s just the way I work. I felt prepared for this race, probably more so than any other race before. After running a solid PR at RnRUSA last month, I knew I had more life in my legs. I gave that race probably 75 or 80% of what I was capable.

My goal for the Carmel Half was a total run time of 1:36, which is a full 2 minutes 24 seconds faster than my time in DC. (A lofty goal, but one in which I was confident.) As I’ve mentioned before, I try to split half marathons into 5k sections and focus on the mentality of a progressive tempo (in other words, I gradually increase the pace every 3 miles until I max out and kick from mile 12-ish to the finish). It’s worked really well for me in the past and a negative split isn’t as difficult as it sounds once you do it.

I was lucky enough to have two friends come along with me for the race. Chanthana, Tim, and I rented a car for the weekend and drove down on Friday afternoon with plenty of time before the Saturday morning race. We went to the expo (tiny by our Chicago standards), gorged on delicious Italian food at Bravo’s (delicious by anyone’s standards), and returned to the hotel to rest (on comfy Hilton beds, which are comfy by everyone’s standards).

We woke up at 4:30 AM local time to eat, get dressed, and head to the start line. I ate a small bowl (errr…coffee mug?) of oatmeal, drank some coffee, and stressed about my race outfit. The weather was chilly, especially when compared with Chicago temperatures the past few weeks. It was 35 degrees and 13mph winds breezed by in the parking lot as we looked out from our hotel room. I didn’t even decided on my race top until 5 minutes before the race start! With 3 minutes to go ‘til the gun, I still hadn’t pinned my bib on my shirt—which has got to be the latest possible moment I’ve ever done that. (Note to self: don’t do that again).

I decided on Under Armour short compression shorts and a Nike light long sleeve shirt I got at the Chicago Marathon Expo (it probably had some good juju considering the wonderful memories I created that day). I took off  at a 7:40 pace and tried to settle my heart rate into a comfortable zone. –Side note: this race had added pressure for me because it’s a ‘hometown race’. Now, this was completely mental for me, because at the end of the day, no one would be disappointed in me if I had a bad finish. But I felt like I needed to live up to some sort of “expectation” because it was on home turf.

At mile 3, I focused on a consistent 7:30 pace. At this point, I was running a bit too fast. My legs wanted to go faster, but I knew I’d regret pushing the pace once I reached mile 10 or 11. My hands were pink from the cold and I had to shake them several times just to feel them. I settled into a pace with a cluster of runners from mile 4-8. And I was frustrated. I despise running behind the same people for an entire race. It’s my competitive nature—I figure, if I can hold a pace for several miles, there’s no reason why I can’t surge a bit to pass them. And I think it gives me a mental ‘clean slate’ to attack the next 5k of the half. At one point, one of these runners in the cluster started to have a conversation with me. He asked me if I had a goal time to finish and I told him “1:36:00”. He looked down at his own watch and tried to assess whether or not I’d meet that goal, which I had no time for. Then, I turned on my music, shut my mouth, and let the legs go for a few. No time for a friendly conversation, buddy! I have nothing against peer support, but I wasn’t running fast enough if this guy thought I had the energy to carry on a conversation with him.

By mile 6, I was comfortable and pushing to a 7:20 pace. I had settled into a 7:20-7:20 pace from miles 3-6 anyway, so I had to hold it there. The rolling hills made me feel the burn throughout the middle section. I haven’t had any hill training in the past few months but I focused on short strides and consistent cadence to get through them without expending too much energy. At mile 8, I saw my family cheering for me. I didn’t even know they were planning on spectating there and I felt special knowing that they’d taken the time to head out to the course as opposed to waiting at the finish line.

Mile 9—ok, Jenny—7:10 pace or faster. You can do this. At this point, I was focusing on passing as many people as I could through consistent surges. I knew that there weren’t too many females ahead of me and I thought about how cool it would be to get a top 10 female finish. (Again, small ‘hometown’ races are great—if nothing else, for the ego boost!) A dude told me around mile 10 that I was the 5th female runner and that I should catch the girl about 20 yards ahead of me.  I had been watching her for over a mile and a half and knew that I could pass her.

And, all of a sudden, I cross the Mile 12 marker. Ok, only 1 mile to go! My goal pace for this section? ….HAUL ASS! (I know, I’m pretty darn specific when it comes to this kind of stuff). And to be honest, I didn’t have much left but I felt like I could hold a 6:55-7:00 through to the finish. The pack had thinned out around mile 5 or 6, so at this point, I felt like I was pretty much running by myself in ‘no man’s land’. I remember looking at my watch and telling myself that I only have 800 yards left. I told myself that I’ve run 800 m repeats so many times in the past few months that it should be a cake walk. I saw the corner up ahead that led to the final 50 yards to the finish line and tried to surge a bit.

I remember looking forward at the finish banner and hearing Coach screaming at me to ‘kick it, Jenny, kick it!’. (Apparently I made absolutely no eye contact with him because I was totally in the zone. I was all business).

Then I saw the clock tick by 1:36:06 and pushed as hard as I could. And I hoped that I had a finish under 1:36:00, as planned.  It turns out I actually ran a 1:36:08 and finished in a competitive standing as 2nd in my division and as the 8th female finisher (per updated results on the website, of course).

    

Even though this was a small race with only about 1,000 finishers in the half marathon, I feel like I’m getting to the point where I can be pretty competitive. I’ve crossed a threshold this spring in my speed training and I’ve become so much faster by focusing on one workout at a time. At the same time, my distance training hasn’t suffered and I’m actually running nearly as many miles as I did before the Chicago Marathon. I’m stronger and learning more about how I can compete with each race that I participate in.

Can’t wait to run the Bayshore Half on Memorial Day weekend and see how much faster I can get!

-J

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Taper Thoughts: Carmel Half Edition

T-A-P-E-R! You’re finally here. And I like you. I invite you into my life. Bring on the laziness, the hydration, the stretching routine, and the weirdness of running a lower mileage this week. Sometimes I don’t like you, but you’re my friend right now. The legs agree with me. They need a little down time because they want to HAUL ASS at this weekend’s half marathon. They know they can run a personal record, but only with some rest beforehand.

In all seriousness, I am embracing the rest this week. I’ve been eating well and indulging a little bit here and there. Yesterday, I spent the entire day in a Wicker Park coffee shop working and this chocolate croissant was just calling to me.

I couldn’t resist it. Buttery-chocolatey goodness and Intellgentsia coffee? = PERFECTION.

I tend to use a taper week as a time to do things I wouldn’t normally do. Given that I’m dedicating less time to running this week, I’m finding other ways to keep myself busy. A friend asked me if I’d go with him to Fleet Feet to get some running shoes and I, of course, say YES! I love helping others decide on the right gear and the folks at Fleet Feet know their stuff. Plus, I need to stock up on some Nuun and Gu before this weekend’s race.

I’ve also been trying to be consistent in my cross-training so that I can avoid injury as much as possible. I popped in a Rodney Yee yoga DVD (yes, I’m that nerdy) the other night at home and stretched out some muscles that really needed some love. And, in the process, I worked to strengthen others that have gone unused. The Total Body routine seriously worked my back with all of those back bends (upward bow and wheel poses). My arms are even sore from holding myself up!!

Taper’s always a good time to knock some things off the To Do list too. I did 3 loads of laundry the other night, went grocery shopping, and did some other things around the apartment that I’ve been putting off. Ok, so it’s less fun and exciting than eating chocolate croissants and doing yoga, but it had to be done!

Most importantly, I’ve been working on committing my race strategy to memory. I can get pretty technical with a pace strategy, but it seems to work for me and, in general, I don’t have a tough time sticking to the plan.

My pace for the end of the half = HAUL ASS

I segment a half marathon into 5k or 3-mile increments and decide on pace according to my goal time. I’ve consistently run a PR in the half marathon by using a negative-split strategy. And the race itself feels almost like a longer version of the progressive tempo runs that I do throughout my training. Sometimes I made adjustments if the elevation presents challenges at a certain portion of the race. For example, I give myself a target pace range during a hilly part of a race course rather than a hard pace target. That way, I don’t psych myself out and get discouraged that my pace is off target.

I have to say, I get nervous just looking at the pace targets above. I wasn’t nervous for the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon because I had just flown into D.C. from Madrid and I just wanted to run a good race. I told myself that if I ran a PR, I ran a PR but that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t meet that goal. But this time around, I’m setting my sights on a strong 1:36, which is 2 minutes faster that my current PR.

It’s easy to think about these things and bury yourself in nervous anxiety. But then I think about the hard work that I’ve put into this training cycle and how much faster I’ve been running my speed workouts–and I realize, I have it in me.

I’ve worked hard. So here goes!

How do you keep your mind and body busy during a taper week? Do you have certain rituals or superstitions that help you prepare for race day?

The First Step to Finding Motivation

Ahhh yes, Motivation with a CAPITAL “M”. It’s a toughie. Everyone wants more of it and we’re all trying to find ways to get it. We have all of these things we want to do–but often lack the motivation to actually see them through.

[Disclaimer: I do not claim to have all the answers. If I knew the secret to finding motivation, I wouldn’t spend the occasional Saturday in my PJs, eating cookies, and watching movies in bed until 9 pm. So… there’s that.]

When it comes to running, the motivation to be consistent and potentially improve on race times has to come from within. I think it’s important to know why you want to run. Unless you’re running for your life, you’ve likely made the decision to “become a runner” on your own. Spend some time thinking about what running does for you or how it makes you feel. Personally, I run for many different reasons:

I could go on and on. When I was younger, I ran because I was on a cross country or track team. I ran however fast or slow the coaches told me to. I went through the motions and happened to be somewhat successful. I didn’t really know why I was there. Sure, my friends were involved and I liked being part of the team. But running didn’t become a personal passion for me until after I graduated college. I was in that weird post-graduate limbo where you don’t know what you want to do with your life, who to reach out to for help, or how to stop freaking out over things you can’t control.

So, one day I laced up my shoes and I decided I’d go for a run. I had to get out of the apartment and relieve the stress of searching for a full-time job somehow. I needed something to look forward to (other than “we’re not interested” letters or an empty email inbox), so I signed up for my first half marathon. I put the race on my calendar and followed my ‘countdown calendar’ to race day.

I didn’t consider myself strong, but I knew that I would get stronger. I didn’t consider myself a runner but I told myself that I would be once I finished the half marathon. I didn’t have a coach, but I trusted in training plans that I found online and asked others what worked for them. The details didn’t matter, as long as I just put those shoes on and started moving.

Now, I know why I run. I’m not motivated by appearance, but how running makes me feel.

If I feel strong, I feel happy. And happy is wonderful.

The hardest part of running is just showing up. Once you “show up” to run (mentally and physically), you will discover why you run and be more motivated to make yourself strong and happy.

How do you find the motivation to run?

My Favorite Running Gear

Have you ever seen an inspirational running quote that you disagreed with? Everyone has their own opinion and outlook on what makes a runner a “runner” and what the sport or activity provides them in their personal/professional lives, to be sure. I hear this statement from runners and non-runners—and each time someone mentions it, I stop and think about whether or not it’s true.

Anyone can be a runner because all you need is a pair of shoes.

Ok, I get it. At the bare minimum, you need a solid pair of shoes that are appropriate for your body frame. Grab some shorts, a shirt, (a bra if you’re a lady) and strap those shoes onto your feet. You’re all set. But if you’re an avid runner, you have likely discovered that the right gear can make all the difference. In reality, these are just little things we get for ourselves that make us more comfortable and happy.

I’m not an extravagant “I need all the newest, coolest gear out there” kind of runner. But I have invested a pretty penny on shorts, a Garmin, vitamins, singlets, etc. in the past year or so.

Here are my favorites:

Saucony Kinvaras. I’ve raved about these shoes several times in the past 10 months or so. I have 6 pairs of them (all in different colors) and really don’t anticipate removing them from my small rotation anytime soon. They’re ideal for my bodyframe and stride; I’ve been able to log well over 300 miles on each pair and won’t have a problem adding more to the pairs I currently own. I recently bought the Saucony Mirage for a little additional support when I need it, but haven’t really relied on them much. Keep in mind that it has a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop. If you’re transitioning into a shoe like the Kinvara, do so gradually so that you don’t add extra strain to your lower leg. [ALSO: Keep an eye out for a Kinvara 3 review from me in the next week or so!]


Nuun Hydration. I fell in love with Nuun after seeing several people tweet about it. Running consistently through a hot Chicago summer means hydrating properly and I’m glad I found Nuun. The small tubes are easy to throw in your gym bag, briefcase, or purse. And adding them to a glass of water and waiting for them to fizz is fun. After trying almost all of their flavors, I can honestly all delicious (although tropical fruit could be improved). My favorite is Citrus Fruit. I consistently drank Nuun before my first marathon and didn’t have any hydration issues despite high temps the last 10 miles or so. I will take Nuun over Gatorade any day. Nuun sells single tubes or 4-packs depending on the flavors you want.

Nike Phantom Training Shorts. I bought these 2 days before the 2011 Chicago Marathon and loved them on race day (yes I broke the classic rule of changing gear on race day!). They have a thin compression short layer underneath the outer lining, which makes them super comfy. They also wicked away plenty of sweat during the race, PLUS they come in fun contrasting colors. (Confession?: I may or may not have peed my pants in them that day…)

TruMoo Chocolate Milk. It’s chocolate milk. And it’s delicious. And it’s the appropriate protein-carb ratio for recovery after a tough run. ‘Nuff said.

Trigger Point Foam Roller. I have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Foam Roller. But at least he makes me feel good. He doesn’t always treat me right, but then again I probably don’t treat him right either. I told you it was complicated. But in all seriousness, this foam roller is the best. I’ve tried some other brands’ models and they don’t compare. The inner structure is so strong that I doubt I’ll have to buy a new foam roller at any point in the next 10 years. It hurts so good! (Tip: search YouTube for the proper use of a foam roller so that you know the appropriate positions to focus on certain muscle groups OR just get creative about how you use it!)

Hammer Endurolytes. In addition to drinking Nuun throughout the summer, I also relied on Endurolytes to get my through long runs on hot days. They come in either pill or powder form, but I’ve taken the pills with water (or Nuun) a few hours before a race in order to avoid dehydration. Taking salt tabs doesn’t interest me much for some reason, but popping two Endurolytes before a long run or race is easy.

Pretzel Dipping Sticks and Nutella. Ok, so these items are clearly not ‘gear’, but they make me and my stomach happy. Paired with some TruMoo Chocolate Milk, it’s a great recipe for recovery on the couch. 🙂

What gear can you NOT live without as a runner? What do you splurge on? Do you agree with the statement, “anyone can run because all they need is a good pair of shoes?”

-J

Numbers Can Be Nice

I’m not the type of person to obsess over data. I don’t analyze my runs from a technical standpoint very often and my standard measure of a good run versus a bad one is how my legs felt (or relative effort level if it’s a speed or tempo run). I do, however, follow stats that Dailymile provides. They gather data based on all different types of activity on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

If you are a Dailymiler, you probably get a little twitch of satisfaction every time one of those bars inches upward on your monthly mileage total. I know I do! Given that today was the 1st of April, I checked out my totals:

Week #41 was the Chicago Marathon on October 9th. The two ‘zero’ weeks are due to post-marathon recovery and minor tendonitis recovery. Ever since the 2nd week of 2012, I’ve been running strong. I was able to work on a sufficient base to start and gradually began focusing on speed and tempo work. All of those hard runs paid off a few weeks ago when I crushed my half marathon PR at the Rock ‘n Roll USA Half in D.C.  I think I’m still in shock, to be honest. I need to continue to run smart these next few weeks to prepare for the Carmel Half Marathon on April 21st.

12 months o’ crazy miles. I try not to focus on monthly mileage too much. I’m not one of those crazy people than runs 300+ miles every month (kudos to those of you that are!), but my endurance is slowly building. My body is so much stronger now than it was in March and April of 2011. In fact, I’m running almost as many miles preparing for this half marathon racing season as I did to train for the Carmel Marathon. What a difference a few months of consistent training makes!

Do you focus on your running data? How do you keep track of all of this information? Dailymile, Garmin Connect, running diary?

-J