Monday, April 27, 2015

New Rules of Lifting for Women - Introduction

(Side note - I decided to skip doing a weekly recap this week since I sat on the couch the whole time! Not exactly the most interesting topic, but I do feel fully recovered from Blue Ridge now.)

One of my first exposures to regular exercise was watching my dad lift weights about six times a week at home when I was little. Sometimes I would grab the two or three pound weights and join in too. I didn't really get the purpose of what we were doing, but I thought it was pretty fun.

Flashing forward to college, I started taking group fitness classes to try to be more active. I tried some step classes that totally kicked my butt, and I really liked the instructor. She also taught some weight lifting classes, and I gave them a shot one summer. The classes, while open to everyone, ended up being only women and were really non-intimidating. It was a great introduction to weight lifting, especially for learning proper form for a lot of staple exercises.

Eventually, I felt like I would need heavier weights if I wanted to improve. (The dumbbells provided only went up to 15 pounds.) I also started getting a little turned off that our instructor always preached about how we shouldn't lift heavy because we would "bulk up like the guys in the weight room across the hall." I wasn't very educated about lifting at that point, but that seemed like fear-mongering to me.

However, I had no idea what I would do in the unstructured weight room. I really like having a specific training plan for running, so I tried to find something similar for lifting. After doing some research, I came across the New Rules of Lifting for Women book. Luckily, it was in stock at the local bookstore, so I was able to peruse it pretty thoroughly before committing to buying it. The book was laid out with exactly what exercises to do and exactly how to do them. I was sold!

The plan is broken into eight stages, though one of those is optional. I will admit I've tried following the plan before, and even made it to stage three once, but I've never gone any further. I think my downfall was not striking a balance between running and lifting, as well as not really holding myself accountable. I have also been following it recently, but there have been large breaks, what with three spring marathons, plus my move. (I also find slightly different machines for the same exercise cause me to use vastly different amounts of weight, which makes it hard to track my progress!)

I've done a lot of thinking about my training recently, and I believe I've set myself up for success (aka not getting burned out), by limiting lifting to twice a week. (NROLFW strongly recommends lifting three times a week, but does admit two is fine.) While another move is in our future (hopefully sooner rather than later!), I plan to stick with the same gym. The only remaining problem then is holding myself accountable. If only I had some public mechanism to do that....

Starting today I am committing to completing the NROLFW plan. I will still allow myself breaks when I'm tapering and recovering from races, but otherwise I will stay consistent with two sessions a week. I have been trying to finish up Stage One recently, but I'm going to begin again today. (I figure this will only benefit me in terms of strength.) I also plan to be more faithful than I have been in the past - including the recommended warm-up, for example.

Stage One consists of 16 workouts (plus two optional ones at the end, that I might just skip because of how it falls in relation to Missoula), so it will actually be quite a bit of time before I check back in on my progress. Wish me luck!

Do you have a specific weight-lifting routine?
Have you ever tried NROLFW?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blue Ridge Marathon Recap

A long, long time ago, when I was doing marathon research sessions (pun intended) for the 50 States, I knew picking the Blue Ridge Marathon would mean a very intense race experience. Since I had only run a couple fulls at that point in time, I was pretty nervous just at the thought, but it turned out to be one of my favorite races so far!

Michael and I stayed about 10 minutes away from downtown Roanoke, and we had an easy drive in the morning of. (I heard people complaining later about some huge line of cars waiting to park, I have no idea where that was, since we didn't encounter anything like it.) Packet pick-up closed the night before at 8 PM, and with a 7 hour drive, we opted to just grab our stuff in the morning.

There was a free parking garage about a 10 minute walk from the start, and we arrived an hour before the gun. There was a moderately long line for pick-up, though it moved fairly quickly. Unfortunately, they were out of Michael's shirt size, and I snagged the last bag. (I felt bad, since other people ahead of us missed out, but the pick-up wasn't well laid out, so they missed it.)

I did get pretty annoyed because at one point, during the bag debacle, I got wedged in between a person and some boxes, and a volunteer repeatedly yelled at me to move. She was nowhere as rude as the volunteers at Indiana, but it's still so strange to be yelled at by a volunteer before a huge race, when I'm certainly doing nothing wrong. (I admit, I'm pretty sensitive in general, plus my ear infection was still very painful, so maybe I blew this out of proportion, but still.)

We did a quick exchange at the car and headed back to the start. It was about 15 minutes before the gun, and they started brow-beating people to get to the corrals. I'm not sure who the emcee was, but he was trying to urge us out of the bathroom line, saying it wasn't that important. Um, I don't know about you, but there's pretty much nothing more important before a marathon. They ended up delaying the race five minutes, so Michael and I had a good amount of time to stand in the corral until we were released.

The race started off hilly, and it stayed that way! Someone running near us mentioned the first three miles are the worst. They must have been talking about the 10K or half, because I don't think it got much better after the first 5K. It was a more heart-breaking lie than being told "you're almost there."

Pictures never adequately show hill grade...just trust me that everything was steep!
I was very excited to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway (because that meant a National Park stamp!). I had to cross a little ditch to get up to this sign, and I guess I was moving pretty quickly, because another runner tried to tell me about a better spot to pee. She seemed disappointed I was just getting a picture.

The first mountain (of three) led us to the summit of Roanoke Mountain. I thought it was very interesting that the half split at mile 3 (and then followed later sections of the marathon course), so those of us running the full made this ascent alone. Michael and I walked almost the whole thing, but the views at the top made it all worth it. I felt strange about chilling up there for a minute, but I wanted to take it all in.

It was also during this climb we saw the lead runners come flying by. I'm always impressed how fast some people are, but watching them cruise the downhills, and knowing how they must have destroyed the uphills, was really awe-inspiring on this course. (I think two of the top three men went sub-3...that just blows my mind!)

After suffering through some incredibly steep downhills, we began climbing our second mountain of the day - Mill Mountain. This is where the famed star is located. (And, let me tell you, Roanoke really gets into being the Star City. So many places incorporated the image or name.)

I believe this mountain was actually shorter than Roanoke Mountain, but it felt a lot harder. I'm sure it was just from fatigue, but it felt like we were never going to get up to the stupid star. Based on finishing times, there were obviously lots of people who must've run these sections. Hats off to them, even power walking was difficult for me!

After what felt like forever, we made it to the top!

Side note - I was reading a Roanoke magazine after the race, and apparently over the summer, each week for four weeks, people race on their bikes up to the star. I nearly fell over running it. I can't imagine pedaling up - let alone willingly doing it four weeks in a row.

Though the view is fantastic!
We descended Mill Mountain and made our way through a short section of downtown. I was surprised how painful the flats were at this point (I think it was about mile 15?). I wanted to walk so badly, but I knew I couldn't actually walk the whole course, plus nothing was truly wrong. I was just beat.

However, there was a nice little treat at the halfway point - mimosas! A candidate had set the rogue aid station up. I wish I had gotten a picture because it was really cute: there were signs in the half mile leading up to it urging us to drink more "moo-mosas," and, when we actually got there, they had a plastic cow and were serving up the promised drinks. I honestly mostly wanted one for the orange juice.

The third mountain of the day was Peakwood. While the first two were located in parks, Peakwood is actually a subdivision. And while there was a true peak, there were lots of long uphills that came afterwards.

Both Michael and I had noticed how slanted the road was in places, and this is the section where I really started to feel discomfort in my knee. Every step was painful, and I couldn't run the downhills. If I gritted my teeth, I could force it, but I was really concerned about tearing something - my knee clearly could not adequately support that much force.

Hobbling sadly down from the top of Peakwood.
It was a flashback to Knoxville, only much sooner in the race and much more painful. However, a rogue aid station around mile 20 had Advil, and I gratefully took one. It kicked in a mile or two later and made a world of difference in my comfort level. I still made Michael walk the downhills, because I didn't want to look the gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, but it was nice not to feel as horrible.

The last 10K of the race took us through some city parks and subdivisions. But don't think these were that flat, however - I believe this is where they added elevation change from 2014 to remain America's Toughest Road Marathon.

We also had an interesting volunteer encounter at this point. At about mile 21, she urged us ahead, saying there were just two more bridges and then we were on the home stretch. We crossed the two bridges fairly quickly, but then came to a turn-off for the full. She made an innocent mistake of assuming we followed the half course, but it still made us a bit sad.

However, there was also a spectator a mile later, who had just completed a color run, that was yelling really motivating things for everyone. (Unfortunately, I guess my marathon brain couldn't retain memories of what they were.) She was a great bright spot in that final section.

Finally, after far more than two bridges, we were close to being done!

Horrendously painful cake.
I'm almost ashamed to admit how much walking went on in the last mile, but we knew we would make the cut-off, and my knee was pretty done with life at that point.

Time: 6:40:51

I think our faces say it all!
Despite all the walking and the pain (my knee only feels 100% better for the first time today!), I'm so glad we did this race! It was a fun new challenge (not that "regular" marathons aren't challenging...), and it felt extra rewarding to cross the finish line and get our medals.

Unfortunately, the post-race area only had bagels (though they were really, really good bagels) and chocolate milk left when we got there, plus the post-race massage teams weren't taking any more runners. We found some shady space and rested a bit before hobbling back to the car.

Mad props to all of you out there that run hills like this regularly. Because let's just say I'm really looking forward to Missoula's one lone hill!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fitting in Races

In my recent post about creating my own training plan for the fall, I discussed how a key component of that plan would be to allow myself to sign up for shorter races. In the past, I felt like if my training plan didn't call for a tune-up race (which basically none of them did), that I couldn't race. While I love marathons, I've really been missing short distance races. (And not just because the suffering is over sooner!)

I finally bit the bullet and signed up for a couple before Missoula. I figure since that the modified version of Hal Higdon's training plan I'm following now is very similar to what I plan to do in preparation for November, I should start practicing adding in races now.

But before I get ahead of myself, I'm really excited to share our fall marathon! Because of the mess at Newport, we have decided to run the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon instead. The race was already on my list for Georgia, but this year the medal will feature Ohio, plus flight availability allows us to do this as a weekend trip, without using up more precious vacation time. (Plus Spirit had flights for $86 per person round-trip...we hopped on that train as fast as we could!). We will be flying out Friday night after work and returning Sunday morning.

But I digress. The real purpose of this post is to discuss the two shorter races I just signed up for. Michael and I had been talking about doing a half some time, but I also wanted to do a 5K as well, so I did the logical thing and signed up for one of each. 

The first of the two will be the Jog into Spring 5K on May 2nd. I love races tied to holidays and seasons (even if the theme is in name still makes me feel festive!), and this one is only about 15 minutes away. As a bonus, it doesn't start until 9 AM, so I can even sleep in to a pretty reasonable hour too.

My weekend originally called for a swim Thursday, an easy 6 miles Friday, and another 12 miles easy Saturday, with Sunday as a complete rest day. I plan to leave the swim on Thursday (since it is a no-impact workout), turn Friday into a rest day, race the 5K Saturday, and do my easy 12 on Sunday. I don't really like to do long runs on Sunday, but I know I need to be open to adjustments to make racing work. 

Right now I plan to truly race the 5K. I'm interested to see where my speed is at right now. I think the last time I raced a shorter distance was a 10K in October! I find my short distance times don't correlate very well to my marathon times, but I would still like to have an idea of where I stand two months out from Missoula, where I'd ideally like to PR.
The second race I signed up for is the New Moon Half Marathon on May 30th. This is an interesting race in that it starts at 6 PM. There's surprisingly few half marathons in Cleveland in the spring (at least that I could find), and the only options are pretty far away, which would make for a very early morning race day. We already have plenty of these for marathons, so I was hoping to find a half at a more reasonable time. Since I prefer to run after work, I think this will actually be an ideal race start time for me!

The original schedule for that weekend was a swim Thursday, a 6 mile run with 4 miles at MP Friday, and a 16 mile long run Saturday, with Sunday as a day of complete rest. I've only done one road half (in 2013), and I know I can automatically PR at my easy pace, but I really want to see how much I've improved - so I want to set myself up for success.

I plan to swim on Thursday - just like with the 5K - rest on Friday, race the half on Saturday, and still keep Sunday as a recovery day. I'll assess my goal when the race draws a little closer and after I run the 5K, but I'm hoping I can break 2:10, which would be a 15-ish minute PR for me. I'm really interested to see what it feels like to race 13 miles again, since at my MP I feel pretty fresh at that distance. Hopefully being used to running twice that distance will make the race easier mentally, but we will see.

Just like with my training plan post, I'd love to hear your feedback on rearranging my training plan to accommodate races. I obviously don't plan to pull this stunt every weekend, but I think adding in short races will put a lot more fun back into my running. The tweaks I've described above seem reasonable to me - but this is all still new to me, so I'm interested in others' thoughts. 

(And feel free to send me some money if you want to help fuel my race addiction!)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Weekly Training Recap: 4/12 - 4/18

Phew - this past week has been draining in all sorts of ways.

First, I found out the most experienced person on my team at work is leaving. (And I heard whispers that the second most experienced person is too, meaning my most knowledgable coworker will have only been there six months.)

Then, some nagging jaw pain became so strong I was nearly in tears. I finally localized the pain to my ear and was up until 2 AM at the emergency room to get diagnosed with an ear infection. I'm feeling much better now, but the very late night combined with the antibiotics sapped a ton of my energy.

And obviously, we still had our trip to Virginia to run the Blue Ridge Marathon, which is the toughest course I have ever run, and I hope it is the toughest I will ever run. I am wiped at this point and ready to catch up on some much needed sleep this week!

Sunday, April 12

I went for a walk, but I don't remember much about it. I think the weather was nice?

Monday, April 13
2 mi easy, 11:12 min/mile

Michael and I actually ran together. I went a little faster than normal, and it was fun to catch up on our days while we ran. Plus Michael motivated me to get right out the door after work, rather than flopping on the couch and wasting time.

Tuesday, April 14
3 mi easy, 10:59 min/mile

Wedding drama has already started (making a guest list sucks!), and I used this run to get some of the emotion out. I still felt just as bad when I was done, but at least my pace was good!

Wednesday, April 15

I went for a walk and enjoyed the flowers. Nothing bloomed until Mother's Day weekend last year, so it's refreshing to have a real spring!

Thursday, April 16

I went for a walk, and as I was finishing, my jaw pain was really bothering me. I took some Motrin when I got home, but I was still about a 7 on the pain scale an hour later, so at 10 PM I went to the emergency room by us. I wasn't released until 1 AM, and I went to the 24 hour pharmacy to get my antibiotics, so I wasn't in bed until 2 AM. It sucked.

Friday, April 17

I ended up using an extra hour of vacation to get some more sleep, but I still ended up with about five hours. On top of that, the pain pills (Tramadol) prescribed to me made me feel absolutely awful. I came close to puking at my desk three separate times. Luckily it wore off by the time I left work and Michael was amazing enough to do the first part of the drive, and I felt so much better when I woke up!

Saturday, April 18
Blue Ridge Marathon, 6:41

I'll obviously be writing a more detailed recap of the race, but let's just say it was way harder than I was expecting, but also way more beautiful. If you're willing to totally throw your time out the window, I can't recommend the race enough.

From the top of Roanoke Mountain
Run Miles: 31.2
Total Time: 7:36

We went for a short hike today, which helped clear some of the junk from my legs, but they still feel really tired. I'm looking forward to having a relaxing week to recover. My goal is to do a few short runs, but I'm also going to listen to my body. The roads were sharply tilted at Blue Ridge, so both my knees are a little cranky. If I need to spend some extra time on the couch to heal them, I will (gladly) do so. Hopefully by next week I will be healed and ready to go!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blue Ridge Marathon Pre-Race Thoughts

In case you've missed me blogging about it incessantly, the Blue Ridge Marathon is two days away. AKA America's Toughest Road Marathon is two days away. I've mentioned in a previous post that I'm actually pretty nervous for this race because it will be so challenging.

I decided the smart thing to do then would be to buck up and create a plan for race day so that I don't end up crawling the second half of the course. The scenery is supposed to be astounding, but we actually split from the half at the three mile mark, so I'm planning for a lot of the race to be pretty lonely - making getting my head straight beforehand even more important. (Though all the reviews I've read said the aid stations and residents along the course are amazing at providing support!)

The race has two cutoffs: 6 hours to get to mile 22 and 7 hours to finish. This is actually a pretty generous pace of 16:21 min/mile for the first cut-off (and the second cut-off requires only a slight increase in pace). Blue Ridge recommends adding 30-60 minutes to your normal marathon finish time to predict your Blue Ridge time. Assuming I haven't lost fitness from Myrtle Beach, this would work out to be between 5:21 and 5:51. (Considering how much slower I ran in Knoxville, I assume I will be closer to the 5:51 end of the spectrum.)

There was a recent pre-race email that had a chart to predic your Blue Ridge finishing time based on a flat 5K time. Unfortunately, for anyone that runs slower than a 28:30, which includes me, we were basically told to grab a spot in the back and hang on. The email also reminded us there is no shame in walking this course...duly noted.

Ok, that might have been a little sarcastic, but I'm going to take their words to heart. I remember when I ran MDI, I felt fine on the hills in the beginning, but I positive split the race by about 20 minutes, so I know the hills really took a toll, even if it didn't feel like it in the moment. I think it's time I finally learn my lesson.

While there are lots of small hills on the Blue Ridge course, there are three major hills, all of which I plan to walk. I initially freaked out about this idea, terrified I would miss the cut-off(s), but then I realized it won't be that many miles of walking, and as long as I make myself power through, my pace should still be below the cut-off pace. (And since it's rolling, I'll have already given myself a cushion.) I also know how high my HR gets running hills on the treadmill, and I'd rather keep it a bit lower to conserve energy.

The first major hill that I will walk is between miles 5 and 6.5. I'm hoping I can really hustle through in about 22 minutes. The second major hill is from miles 11 to 12.5. This one is less steep than the first, so I'm hoping I can walk this in about 20 minutes. The third and final hill is between miles 17 and 18.5. There is a short downhill section in there, so I'm hoping I can also do this section in 20 minutes as well.

If you were to assume there are no downhills (which there are plenty of), I will probably be four to five minutes slower per walking mile than running mile (sad slow panda), adding 20 to 25 minutes to my total time, which seems reasonable based on Blue Ridge's guidelines.

However, like I said, there are some massive downhills to make up for the crushing uphills. I've been reading advice on the course, and I guess deciding how to handle these is the bigger dilemma. Running too fast will trash your quads, but you want to enjoy coasting when you can.

The hills did a pretty good number on my quads in Knoxville, but I think they'll do that no matter what. We have a few very steep (though short) hills I run all the time by our apartment, so now I'm decent at handling them without totally bombing down - or feeling like I'm going to trip and land on my face. My goal for the downhills is to let myself go a little but remain in control.

The three weeks between Knoxville and Blue Ridge has flown by (how is it already mid-April?!), but I feel like the minimal training I was able to fit in went really well. My legs feel well recovered, and my mental and emotional engagement with running is still strong.

Worst case, if my plans blow up in my face, I can take in my surroundings while I suffer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Making My Own Training Plan

I don't know if any of you have been following the drama around the Newport Marathon, but the inability of Rhode Island to get its act together has pretty much derailed our plans to have that be our fall race. Long story short, the race director currently holding our registration fees wasn't permitted for the race and is hoping to put together a random course in the same general area. Michael and I talked about it, and even if we don't get refunds, we're ready to walk away, instead of paying even more to travel to a made-up event. I was looking forward to a very scenic course, I don't want it to be replaced by some random neighborhoods!

However, since our 50 States goal means we're shooting for six races a year, we wanted to find a new fall race to do. I studied the calendar, and I think we've found an ideal one. (I don't mean to vague-blog, Michael and I have not totally finalized our choice yet!)

One of the criterion for my search was finding a race a bit later in the season to allow a bit of a rest after Missoula, while still giving enough time for a more complete training cycle before the fall race. My plan right now is to focus on lots of easy base-building through July, so that hopefully I work off it for another PR in the fall.

Once this timing seemed to be secured, my next choice was to try to decide which training plan to use. I've talked a bit about how I'm going back to basics and using Hal Higdon again (i.e. getting over the fact that I feel like a weak runner for using a "beginner" type style, since it really helps me run faster).

I had originally thought I might do a complete Hal Higdon training plan for the fall, but, while I'm enjoying all the easy runs, I do miss speed work. I figure if I feel like this when recovering from races, it will probably only be amplified when I'm fresh and ready to do some work.

This created a bit of dilemma for me then - which training plan did I want to use instead? I've tried Runner's World SmartCoach (which I think should be renamed DumbCoach), Hanson's (which gave me horrible overtraining syndrome), and RLRF (which worked with modifications, but did lead to injury). I bought Pfitz's book, but I prefer a little more balance during the work week, which I would not get with 10-12 mile weekday runs.

These are the major training plans I know of, so after a lot of deliberation, I've decided to try something different and make my own training plan. At first I thought I couldn't do it, but then I realized I've learned so much about what I like, don't like, what leads to injury, what makes me happy overall, etc., that I should actually put my big girl pants on and put that knowledge to good use.

My first step was to lay out the things I really enjoy and wanted to include: strength training, swimming, and tempo runs. (I love long runs, but those are a given, so that's the reason I omitted them from this list.) My second step was to eliminate what didn't work for me or what I hated: frequent track workouts, runs over eight miles on weekdays, and running long runs at a fast pace.

I found I really liked doing the lifting and swimming prescribed by RLRF, so I kept that piece of it. I've also found tempo runs to be the most enjoyable speed work, since they're a "comfortably" hard pace, and I don't get flashbacks to middle school track and wanting to die.

I know it probably sounds insane (or like I'm dumb) to say I don't like frequent track workouts, but I find they're really hard on my body, and I'm pretty sure they led to injury during RLRF. I knew I needed something similar, so I've decided to incorporate hill workouts instead. I've been experimenting with them for a few weeks, and they totally kick my butt and get my HR up really high, but I don't feel destroyed afterwards. I know this isn't a 1:1 relationship, but again, this training plan is my grand experiment, so why not give it a shot?

Running mid-week long-ish runs are a standard part of marathon training, but I find running more than eight miles on a weekday just makes me cranky and irritated, so I've capped my runs at that. Maybe this will stunt my times a bit, but I'd rather have that balance than a few minutes off my finishing time.

Another major thing I wanted to incorporate was a willingness to modify the training plan for races. I've avoided short distance races for a long time since they aren't called for specifically in my plans, which I realize is the dumbest thing ever, so I want to add in a few this cycle, though I haven't chosen them yet. Maybe this whole process will make me less anal. (OK, probably not, but we can hope!)

I realized when I was finalizing this on paper, "my" training plan really is just a modified version of Hal Higdon, but considering his plan worked the best for me (when you account for staying healthy, as well as time), I guess this shouldn't have surprised me.

That being said - I have no real life experience creating my own training plan. Considering the marathon is such a beast, I would love to get your guys' input on what I've put together. I'm completely open to constructive criticism! I'm sure I overlooked something and I want to give myself my best shot. You can find the training plan here.

I haven't included all the details yet, including my running paces. I plan to do the long runs 90 seconds slower than my MP, whatever I decide that is, based on how I do at Missoula. I really like the swim plan I'm using now (two swims a week to build up to swimming 1500 yards continuously), but I'm not sure what I want to do for the fall. I plan on using NROLFW for my weights, though I'm not sure what stage I will be doing, so I've left those blanks as well.

Again, I welcome any feedback you might have!

Just please don't be this lady.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekly Training Recap: 4/5 - 4/11

For the 2015 marathon season, the races I scheduled closest together were Knoxville and the upcoming Blue Ridge Marathon, separated only by three weeks. I know I couldn't do much to build my fitness in this time, but I still wanted to get back to the gym and pool a little bit this week, if only to decide what I want my routine to be in the future.

I'm happy to report it was very successful! I joined the Greater Cleveland YMCA when I moved, so I'm able to go to any of their numerous branches. (But they're all priced differently depending where you join? I still don't understand that part....) There is one literally around the corner from our apartment, but it is a dump. Like, a mom admonished her child for sitting on the bench in the locker room while fully clothed dump. I decided to try the other branch by us, which is about 10 minutes away.

Holy modern gym, Batman, it is awesome! There were multiples of the most popular weight machines, two full sets of dumbbells, lots of space for free weights, plenty of cardio equipment, and an indoor track. The pool is also used by the local high school, so it is maintained to USA Swimming standard. I'm pretty sure the other pool would've given me rabies or something.

Getting up in the morning wasn't actually too bad. I think being able to sleep in Monday and Friday really helped, plus it's dawn when I leave, instead of pitch black. The place was completely empty, too, which was a nice bonus. This coming week will be a taper, but I really like the system I tried out this week, and I plan to get back to it when my next training block starts.

Sunday, April 5

We had gorgeous weather, and I enjoyed a nice long walk around the neighborhood. We had a pretty busy weekend, so it was a relaxing way to wrap it up.

The grass is starting to turn green!
Monday, April 6
PM - 30 min hills, NROLFW Stage 1A-5

I tried to the new gym after work (so much easier to get to than my actual apartment!). I had no problem getting a treadmill or any of my weights. I did look pretty dumb until I figured out the treadmill was a touchscreen - I could not figure out how to start it!

Look at the average HR. I'm clearly a super athlete!
Tuesday, April 7
AM - 800 yd swim
PM - 6 mi easy (11:24 min/mile)

I could definitely feel my lifting session in my legs during the run, but I still felt pretty fresh. We did get a huge downpour partway through, but it was very warm, so I enjoyed it. It's going to make me sound like a total hippie, but I love running outside to connect with nature - running in the rain just means spring is here!

Wednesday, April 8
AM - NROLFW Stage 1B-5
PM - 3 mi easy (11:08 min/mile)

My legs felt really dead this run from both gym sessions. There was also a really heavy fog out, so I was gently covered in water during the run, even though it wasn't rain. It was a very strange sensation.

Thursday, April 9
AM - 800 yd swim

I was intimidated going into this swim (8x100 at a tempo pace), but I figured I would give it my best shot. I was thrilled when most of my 100's were under two minutes! It was a really good cardio workout without taxing my body.

Friday, April 10
PM - 6 mi easy (11:29 min/mile)

I procrastinated running for quite awhile (I made the mistake of looking at one wedding thing, and then I fell into a black hole), but it was great weather once I got out there. My legs felt good, so I think my slow pace was caused by how windy it was.

Saturday, April 11
10 mi easy (10:56 min/mile)

This run got put off until the afternoon (I spent the morning waiting in the three separate BMV lines to get my Ohio plates - Ohio, I love you, but you are so inefficient sometimes!), but I'm glad I waited, because the evening was the most perfect weather ever. If it could stay like this year-round, I would be happy.

Donuts are necessary after spending three morning hours at the BMV!
I drove out to the Big Creek Parkway (mostly flat) again for this run, but way more people were out this time, so it was less creepy when I was in the rougher sections of the route. Also, I was confused where all these new people came from at first because my runner brain was like: "Shouldn't they have been out here no matter the weather?" But then I figured out most people don't like pulling their kids in wagons in the winter.

Run Miles: 27.5 mi
Swim Miles: .9 mi
Lifting Time: 52:08Total Time: 6:43

While I enjoyed stepping it up a bit this week, I'm looking forward to having a light week. I think my training is working out well with all my life changes, since I haven't had to do a big training block since moving, while I go through all these other transitions. However, I think I'm close to getting my groove now, so I'm getting excited to get in some solid training between Blue Ridge and Hatfield McCoy.

I think I'm also focusing on that training because I'm honestly getting really nervous for Blue Ridge! The elevation change is no joke, and while I've been doing specific hill work and running in a hilly area, hills are still not mountains. That being said, it's exciting to have those butterflies again about a race! I've done enough marathons that I know I can will myself through the pain, but this will be a new challenge. As long as I meet the cut-offs, I will be happy!

This means the goal this week is to focus on keeping my legs fresh and eating well in preparation. And checking the weather obsessively, obviously.

What pacing strategies do you use in a very hilly/mountainous race?
Have you been able to enjoy the spring weather yet?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Knoxville Marathon Race Rating

Race: Knoxville Marathon
Date: March 29, 2015 (will be the first weekend of April in 2016)
Location: Knoxville, TN
Year Running: 11th
Registration: $40 (with the most generous Marathon Maniac discount ever!)
Race Information
Size: 585 full, 2221 half
Course Limit: 7 hrs
Min. - Max. Elevation: 800 - 960 ft
Min. - Max Temperature: 37 - 66
Charity Supported: Knoxville Track Club Youth Athletics, Katerpillar Kids Camp, Innovative Recreation Initiative, Thompson Cancer Survival Center

Airports: Knoxville has an airport, and I think some of the surrounding cities do as well. Flights from CLE, at least, were pretty expensive, so I would recommend driving, if possible. 
Rental car: I would say possible? Packet pick-up, the host hotels, start, and finish are all in a small cluster downtown. Even if none of the hotels had an airport shuttle, a quick cab ride would solve that. Plus, you would still be in easy walking distance of lots of cool stuff!
Host hotel: Several downtown. They're all nice chains, but very expensive because of their location. We stayed 10 minutes away in North Knoxville for a fraction of the cost, and driving in was painless.

Communications: Pretty good. We got some final instructions that were in PDF (annoying to download on my phone whenever I needed it), and it would've been nice if that information was also easily accessible on the website. 
Expo: Very spacious, but it was all basically packed up when we got there. I think I heard other runners during the race comment that they really enjoyed it.
Other Activities: pre-race past dinner
I think the dinner was at least $20 per person, so we opted out. We saw the spread on our way out of the expo, and it did look very well catered by the hotel, so maybe the price wasn't that outrageous.

Race Day
Parking: Plenty, but a little tricky to find. The best place to park is right next to the stadium, where the finish is, but Google Maps doesn't understand where the entrance is. I would recommend checking it out beforehand in the daylight to orient yourself.

Shuttles: None, but not needed (host hotels were within easy walking distance)
Bathrooms: Plenty. We arrived just as the gun sounded, and there was still a huge line, so they probably could've used more.
On Time: Exactly on time.
Corrals: Yes. There were large signs, and people seemed to seed themselves appropriately. There was lots of space at the start, so it wasn't an issue either way.

Type: Loop
Terrain: Concrete, asphalt
Bathrooms: Every aid station
Crowding: None
Highlights: bike paths, downtown Knoxville

Course Support: Awesome. All the volunteers were extremely enthusiastic, even early in the morning. Every aid station had at least one person clearly calling out what was available and where. Later on when more things were available (i.e. fruit, GU, etc.), the volunteers were very vocal about what they had.
Spectators: Lots in the first half and at the very end, though very few in the back half. The neighborhoods that were officially involved were so enthusiastic and had an unbelievable amount of fun signs up! These people were awesome.

Local knowledge of race: I'm not sure, but I would guess pretty good. The ranger at Obed (a good distance away) knew we were running Knoxville when we said we were in the area for a marathon. I guess the people in the square near the end seemed pretty confused, so it's a toss-up.
Food: Great selection! (Though they did run out of pizza before Michael got any, since some people took a whole box to bring home...not cool.) But lots of other unique choices were still available for us.
Atmosphere: Laid-back, but it was so nice to have a private indoor finishing area 

Party: Just what was at the finishing area, I'm guessing it was in bigger swing when the halfers were around
Shirt: Short-sleeve technical shirt. The v-neck is actually normal, and it fits great.

Medal: Really cool. I love the skyline!

Bag: Ok, the bag is a drawstring backpack, but also has handles like a tote bag. I am super geeked about it!

Hat: I've been wanting a technical running hat for awhile, but couldn't justify spending the money, so getting one at the finish was a fun surprise. I've since tried it out, and it stayed put in huge wind gusts and completely sheltered me during heavy rain.

Final Thoughts
  • I loved this race and would probably rate it my third favorite (after MDI and Monument, but I'm very biased towards nature rather than cities). There was quite a bit of nature on the route for a city race, but the skyline views throughout were also awesome. I especially loved running through World's Fair Park and downtown at the very end.
  • Finishing on the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium was super unique. I don't care about the Vols and hate SEC football, but the experience was still amazing. I also loved being able to watch Michael finish on the jumbotron. (Plus you exit via a ramp, not stairs, like other stadium finish races make you do!)
  • The community that comes out to support this race really gets into it. Not only were the spectators so enthusiastic, there were plenty of unique signs put up, and they really helped take my mind of the pain.
  • Yes, the course is very hilly, and my minimal hill training was not enough. However, if you live in a hilly area and/or put the specific training in, I think this could be a really great course to PR on. 
  • The second half of the race does get very lonely. There was a good number of finishers, but I was surprised how much I was on my own. I could almost always see other runners, but we were pretty spread out.
  • This was the best finisher's area, hands down. Having a special indoor lounge was incredible. Nothing feels as good as eating pizza on a couch immediately after finishing.
  • 50 Staters: Yes. This race is so well done and does a great job giving special perks to the marathon runners. Plus it's very scenic and in a fun city! (And there's a killer discount to boot.)
  • Non 50 Staters: I'd say yes if you want to plan a trip to Tennessee. There seemed to be lots to explore in Knoxville, with the Great Smokies nearby, as well as some other cities. Fit this race in if you can!