A Week of Running Firsts

The final hill of the 2015 Jacobsburg 5 & 10-mile Trail Race.

The final hill of the 2015 Jacobsburg 5 & 10-mile Trail Race.

Last week was a week of running firsts.

I ran my first trail race, first track race, and first mile race. (The track and mile first were the same race, obvi.)

There’s something so exciting about doing something for the first time. You’re anxiously nervous, you don’t know what to expect, and conversely you don’t know what goals to set.

I tend to be very conservative in my goal setting. Setting a much-too-lofty goal increases the risk of failure. But setting a goal too shallow can leave you wondering what could have been.

I had two goals for these races. For the trail race, there was a 5-mile and 10-mile option. I registered for the 5-mile because I thought it would be a good starting point for a trail race. I knew the race was going to be much slower than my regular 5-mile time (which took some getting used to) but I chose to not look at my watch and just run by feel. I also wanted to finish the race not hating trails.

The race turned out to be a really fun adventure. I say adventure because: 1. I had no idea where I was going most of the time, 2. It was beautiful, and 3. I came in third female overall, which was fun!

More than anything I was happy to finish the trail race not hating racing on trails which was my ultimate goal.

Finishing time at the LV Mile Series.

Finishing time at the LV Mile Series.

Just five days later I had another race on tap—a mile on the track, a.k.a. the exact opposite of a trail race. This was going to be the first time I’ve ever raced a mile (in fact my first all-out mile effort ever) and my first time racing on a track. To say I was nervous heading into the race would be the understatement of the year. I think all of my coworkers at Runner’s World were absolutely sick of hearing my angsting all week leading up to the race. (Sorry!)

The angst didn’t stop until the gun went off on Friday evening. Luckily, I work with some pretty experienced runners who helped answer all of my questions like: how should I fuel for a nighttime race? How do I pass on a track? How should I pace each lap? Will I poop myself? So, going into the race I felt pretty confident with all the knowledge I had picked up over the week but that didn’t make me any less nervous.

I raced in an open heat that was comprised of all abilities, ages, and both male and female runners. My goal was to run a 6:40 mile so I knew if I could manage even splits of 1:40 per quarter, I’d be set.

I went out too fast in the first quarter, which was to be expected and ran a 1:35. I reined it in a bit for the second quarter and ran about a 1:37ish. I don’t really remember the third quarter (also to be expected) and before I knew it I was on the fourth quarter with the single goal to catch the girl a few steps ahead of me. I caught her on the final straightaway and crossed the line in 6:40 on the nose.*

I was pretty pleased with my time because I hit the goal I set at the start but I don’t think 10 minutes passed before I started analyzing my race and feeling like I could have run much faster.

Luckily, the mile races are part of a series this summer in the Lehigh Valley so now that I have a baseline I can refocus for next time.

So trail race vs. track race? I’d choose track. While the trail race was relaxed and a great community event, I liked the speed of the track and the excitement (OK, nerves) leading up to it. Since I’ve started focusing on shorter distances I’ve become a bigger fan of speed over distance. I like challenging myself to get faster and it’s just so different from distance. Plus, sometimes different is better!

*All of my splits and finish time were based off of my watch. My chip time got messed up so the race website was a little off my actual finish time.

St. Luke’s Half Marathon & 5K

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I’m not one to bury the lead so I’m happy to say I set a new 5K PR by running 22:37 at the St. Luke’s 5K!

This was the first time I’ve run sub-23:00 and I broke my previous PR by about 30 seconds. I am so incredibly ecstatic to have finally broken through what seemed like a barrier for the past couple races and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

The race itself was really solid. I ran the half marathon last year and didn’t have such a good time but the 5K was perfect. In hilly Pennsylvania, the St. Luke’s 5K is known to be a fast course. I knew it started with a pretty significant downhill, followed by rollers on the out-and-back course, and finished with a slight (kind of steep but short) uphill before dumping runners onto a track where you run about 300 meters into the finish line.

I got to the race with not a whole lot of time to spare but began my warm-up immediately with a few loops around the block near the finish line. I only managed to do about three strides before heading over to the starting area but I wanted to make sure I’d be able to line up closer to the front so I felt that was enough.

I might have been a bit ambitious with my self-seeding but it’s always tough to gauge, especially when there’s a significant amount of younger kids running the race. Regardless, I decided it would be better to get closer to the front than to get jammed up in the middle.

Instead of getting nervous before this race I decided to take a Shalane Flanagan approach to my racing and just go balls to the wall from the beginning. I figured if I blew up later on, at least I tried. My mantra for this one was the same as Shalane’s—f–k shit up.

When the starting gun went off, I did just that and raced down the downhill letting my legs take me at whatever speed they felt was right. Turns out racing a downhill at the very start of a race is hard. With all the excitement and adrenaline pumping I felt almost as if my legs were getting ahead of me but I tried to keep up as much as possible. Once the road flattened out a bit, I reined it in and settled into a steady pace.

I decided again not to use my watch during this race. I feel like this helps me focus on how I’m really feeling instead of worrying about pace. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing this every 5K I race but I really like the feeling of tuning into my body and listening to what it’s telling me instead of what my GPS says.

I kept a steady pace until the turnaround when I decided to try to pick it up a bit. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to pick off a few runners on some of the rollers. Hills are usually not my specialty but I think I’ve gotten strong enough where I can really charge up them.

By the time I passed the 2-mile marker on the out-and-back the half marathoners had begun their race and were coming towards the 5Kers. This was a bit tough because it really squeezed the 5K into almost a single file lane, which made any passing or surges hard. Soon enough though the course took us up the final hill and onto the track. At this point, Adam—who was volunteering in the medical tent—was waiting at the top with the rest of the St. Luke’s medical volunteers and I started hearing them cheer my name which gave me a boost of energy for the final trek around the track. I tried for one last surge and as I was coming up on the finish I saw the race clock and knew I was going to break 23 minutes.

I crossed the line at 22:35 (although the official results list me at 22:37) and was thrilled with my time! I feel like breaking 23 minutes has remained elusive to me in the past two 5Ks I’ve done. It always felt in reach but either conditions weren’t great or something was off and it didn’t happen but today it felt easy. Yes, I said easy. I know I had more left in the tank and I know I probably could have run even faster. I still need to practice on getting uncomfortable in the 5K. I think I’m still a little hesitant to reach that point but I know once I do, I’ll be able to really see some improvement.

Big Hearts Bright Hope 5K

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I won—yes, outright won—a local 5K. WHUT. Here’s the story.

As many of you know, I’ve been training for 5Ks lately. It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience and so far, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done more speed workouts than ever before and my average pace per run has dropped significantly.

The thing I like about training for 5Ks is I’ve been training for a season as opposed to training for a goal race. I actually really like this because it takes the pressure off of one day and one race.

I raced a 5K a few weeks ago (and completely neglected to post about it–sorry!) and was pretty disappointed I didn’t automatically snag a new PR. I came close, but didn’t get it. It was a cold, windy day and I was pretty nervous–like marathon nervous–to start. I ran even splits and my legs felt great but my breathing was way off. I ended up placing third in my age group, which was great, but I wanted more.

Two weeks ago I ran my second 5K race of the season. The weather wasn’t ideal, steady winds at 16-20mph with gusts of 25+ mph. (Wind is my nemesis when it comes to running weather.) Right off the bat I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a PR race. I decided to run sans watch because I knew if I kept checking my pace I’d just get disappointed.

The race started at a local community center which was surrounded by a park. I did my 15-minute warmup trhough the park before heading over to the start line. I wasn’t as nervous as my first 5K of the season, I think because the pressure was off.

I also finally had the balls to line up relatively close to the start and when the gun went off I just went with the leading pack of guys.

It only took about a quarter of a mile for me to realize I was the only woman around. The lead pack went out and got ahead (with Adam leading the group!) and then it was me and two guys. Seriously, no women to be found, anywhere. I kind of assumed there must have been a woman in the lead group but I really couldn’t recall seeing one. I didn’t want to worry about it too much though so I kept focusing on my pace and try to build a gap between myself and the guy behind me.

The wind was pretty brutal though at some points. It wasn’t a cold wind but it definitely increased my level of effort a lot and made it hard to breathe at points. The course was also pretty confusing though. It was through neighborhoods by the community center but there were tons of turns (which slowed me down) and most of the turns were lacking volunteers telling the runners which way to go. Since I’ve never been so far in front of a race, I’ve never not known where I should be going. Usually you just follow the pack. But not this time. There were at least two points in the race where myself and the two guys running near me totally guessed which way to go. We ended up running the right course which was good but the added stress didn’t help.

Since I didn’t wear my watch, I don’t know what my splits were so I’m not going to do a mile-by-mile breakdown of the race. But, before I knew it I was headed back toward the community center and the cops holding traffic yelled out at me “First female! First female!” That was pretty surreal!! I came into the parking lot where the race finished and Adam was yelling for me (he had already cruised into first place!). I ran around the parking lot and into the finish and asked him, “Was I the first girl?!” And I WAS! It was so incredible.

Now, if I’m being honest, the race was not that competitive but I don’t care. I still was the first woman to cross the finish line and I am damn proud of it!

Running and Racing Fearless

fearlessThis weekend I have my first 5K since I started training to race the 5K—and I’m getting nervous!

About a month ago I started getting coaching advice from our own Runner’s World coach (and 2:13 marathoner) Budd Coates. I needed help because I honestly had no idea where to begin with 5K training. I knew I would need to push myself and I’d be running a lot more speed workouts than I’m used to but I needed guidance as to how to actually construct a training week. And boy did I get it from Budd.

He’s handed me weekly plans I never thought would be possible for me. I’m talking about workouts with paces as low as 6:20. But I’ve surprised myself and I’ve nailed those workouts without a problem. They’re hard. My legs feel it afterwards. But I know it’s working.

Going into Sunday’s race, I know my biggest obstacle won’t be trying to hit my goal pace but rather overcoming my fear. I’m afraid to line up too close to the starting line because I don’t want to be in anyone else’s way. I’m afraid to see those paces flash across my watch in case I don’t hit the right pace. I’m afraid that I’ll miss my goal and be disappointed in the outcome.

But none of that matters because 5K training isn’t marathon training. I only know what it’s like to train hard for a race that is left to chance at the end of the day. I only know what it’s like to follow a plan for four months only to not be able to go to the bathroom on race morning and cramp up at mile 15. Training for a 5K isn’t like that.

It’s hard and more challenging (for me) than training for a marathon but I’m enjoying it so much more. If I can’t overcome my fears on Sunday and really lay it all on the line, it’s not a big deal. I’ll be fully recovered by next Tuesday and have two more 5Ks coming up in the next month to test my fears again.

So far, I like 5K training and I’m just looking forward to running fearless this weekend.

3 Treadmill Workouts I’m Loving

In the fall my boyfriend and I splurged and bought a treadmill for our apartment. It was the perfect addition to our at-home gym in our basement, which we now refer fondly to as “the thunder dungeon” (I did not come up with the name, obvi).

Neither of us are particularly in love with running on the treadmill – and given the option, I’d say we’d both prefer to run outdoors any day – but when the mornings are really dark, and temps drop below zero, it’s pretty sweet having the treadmill conveniently located in our own home. Also, I can run in just a sports bra and booty shorts and binge on as much terrible TV as I want, which I don’t mind!

Lately, as part of training for 5Ks, I’ve been doing a lot of speed workouts on the treadmill. I would much prefer to do most of these on the track but unfortunately the one public track we have access to doesn’t have lights and I can’t get there during the day. Womp, womp.

However, I have discovered some pretty good workouts to do on the treadmill that aren’t completely boring or borderline terrifying (I haven’t fallen off yet!). I usually start each workout with a solid 15 minutes of easy running to warm up – also, my basement is cold.

3×1-mile repeats

  • I know some people will scoff at this and say “How could you possibly do mile repeats on the dreadmill?!” Well, my mile repeats aren’t super fast paced so I don’t think I’m going to absolutely eat it.
  • To do the workout: Start off with 15 minutes of easy running for a warmup and then do your first mile. I’ve been running them at 5K pace + 30 seconds, so for me that’s a 7:30/pace. In between each repeat I recover for 800m (or a half mile) at a super easy pace before beginning the next repeat. I’ve been trying to do each mile slightly faster, but I really only increase the speed by one. Finish with a 10-minute cool down jog.

Fartlek – 5-6 x 3:00 at 5K pace

  • Fartleks are a great workout to do on the treadmill because they’re based off of time rather than distance.
  • To do the workout: Start with a 15-minute warmup then jack the speed up to 5K pace for 3:00. Follow each interval with 2:00 of recovery jogging. Repeat this 5-6 times (or more if you’re up for it!). Finish with a 10-minute cool down.

Progression Run 

  • If you do a progression run based on time rather than distance, they aren’t so bad on the treadmill (especially if you have sometime good to watch!).
  • To do the workout: Start with 30 minutes of easy running followed by 15 minutes at steady state and finish up with 5 minutes at 5K pace. My progression looked like this: 30 minutes at 8:49/mile, 15 minutes at 8:06/mile, 5 minutes at 7:14/mile. I finished with a 10-minute cool down.

Remember, these workouts work really well for me, but they might not be the best for you. If you want to try them go ahead, I think they’re fun! But be careful not to push too hard. You don’t want to end up like this:

(Source: giphy.com)

(Source: giphy.com)

Monday Motivation: Make It Count

(Source: Pinterest)

(Source: Pinterest)

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed the holidays and were surrounded by those you love. I also hope your first miles of 2015 were blissful and strong. I ran 10 miles on January 1 to ring in the New Year and they couldn’t have gone smoother. As far as resolutions go, I haven’t set any concrete ones like “I want to set a xx:xx PR in 2015!” or “This will be the year I BQ!” While I think those kind of goals are great to have, I don’t know if they always work for me.

Instead, I have a few things I’d like to work on in terms of running this year.

  • Get stronger with more consistent strength training.
  • Get faster by doing more speed work.
  • Fall in love with running again (I’ve been working on this since my disappointing run in Chicago).
  • Run gadget-less more often.
  • Have fun!

That’s it! Nothing too crazy, just a few goals to keep me on track this year. What are your running goals for 2015?

Training During the Holidays

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I once read on this cool, little website called runnersworld.com (cough, my employer, cough) that to maintain fitness when you’re not in training you just need to run 30 minutes 2-3 times a week.

I kept telling myself this last week as I watched days go by during the holidays and I barely ran more than 5 miles at a time. I ran exactly one speed workout (6 miles with 3×1-mile at goal 5K pace, so nothing to scoff at!) and managed to fit in three other measly runs between the presents, the family time, the cookies, and the wine… all of the wine.

Instead of feeling guilty about missing a long run and consuming about a billion calories, I reminded myself of that nifty running tip from RW. Fitness doesn’t disappear after a week of reveling and enjoying yourself with your family during the holidays. In fact, sometimes breaks like I had last week help to restore your determination in training, whatever your goal might be.

Last week I made sure to check off my most important workout and I planned it so I’d run that workout before heading back to Massachusetts to see my family. Why did I do this? Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to drag myself away from a delicious breakfast with my family in our cozy New England home on Christmas Day to run 3×1-mile. I knew I would be up late, drinking wine, eating delicious foods, and enjoying the company of those I love. Missing out on moments like that to run a workout is not worth worrying about my fitness.

Your fitness will be fine during the holidays. Enjoy time with your family, friends, and loved ones, and worry about your training after New Years and the holidays are just really lovely recent memories. You can hit the roads as hard as all the other New Year’s resolution-ers do every year.

Happy holidays!

Monday Motivation: Stronger Each Day

Last week I hit a new 5K training milestone – I ran six days and 40 miles total. I’ve hit 40+ miles before but that was always when I was training for marathons, definitely never for a 5K. It was the first time I’ve ever run six days in a week. Usually I run five days a week with one cross-training day and one full rest day.

I’ve added in more speedwork and a lot more strength and now I’m starting to see the changes. I’m seeing more definition in my legs than I’ve ever seen before. I’m feeling better and faster on easy runs. And paces that I once thought were impossible for me are starting to become more and more possible. So far, my personal little #5Krevolution is turning out even better than I had hoped!

(Source: Pinterest)

(Source: Pinterest)

What Should My 5K Goal Be?

Photo from Shalane Flanagan's Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

Photo from Shalane Flanagan’s Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

The other day I went on a lunch run. I didn’t have an agenda. I thought I’d go out for a 5-ish-mile easy run.

During the first mile I settled in to an 8:30/mile pace. Lately, this has been my natural “easy” pace. (In truth, it’s probably a little faster than I should be running on easy days but it feels comfortable.) The route I decided to run was an out-and-back and was rather uneventful until mile four clicked off and I looked down at my watch and saw 7:57/mile.

I don’t typically run 7:xx/mile during an easy run and I most definitely don’t run it comfortably. At least that’s been the case until this lunch run. I felt totally comfortable and didn’t notice a change in effort or breathing. Then my fifth mile clicked off and my watch read 7:47.

So what’s the deal?

About a month ago I posted about how I wanted to focus on speed for the winter. I decided to hone in on training for 5Ks because I think it’s a manageable goal, especially once the weather gets really bad. To work on this I’ve been incorporating more speed work into my training week. I’ve been running at least one tempo and one interval run each week and now I’m starting to see the impact.

My only problem is I have no idea how to actually “train” for a fast 5K. Sure, when I started running I did a couch-to-5K program. I ran my first 5K in 28:07 in September of 2012 but then I immediately began climbing the race distance ladder instead of working on speed.

I had never really raced a 5K until a month ago when I decided to test my fitness to see where I should start. I ran a 23:02, a nearly 2-minute PR since my previous 5K. After that I decided my first goal should be to break 23:00 but then my next goal should be… I don’t know?

If I’m running high 7:xx/mile pace at the end of an easy run, I don’t know what a more realistic 5K goal should be. Maybe a 21:xx? All I know is I like this newfound speed and I like the challenge running fast presents to me. Sure running long is fun too but right now, at the risk of sounding super corny, I’ve got the need for speed.

I’m welcome to any suggestions about what you might think would be a good 5K time goal. Share your thoughts in the comments! :)

Back to the Basics

My speedy shoes!

My speedy shoes!

On Sunday I ran a 5K PR of 23:02, good enough for fourth female overall (I thought I was third since spectators near the finish said I was but oh well!), first in my age group, and I won a turkey! Best.Prize.Ever.

Anyway, this was a really small 5K and it was run in conjunction with a larger 10-miler that my boyfriend ran (he also set a PR). The 10-miler goes up and over a mountain in our town and I wanted no part in that. Instead, I registered for the 5K as a way to test my fitness and see what kind of shape my legs were in a month after Chicago.

I was pleasantly surprised to have set a 1:50 PR off of my last 5K which was in April. Like I said, I went into this race just looking to test my fitness, but really, I wanted to set a PR and I wanted to win a turkey.

But, I had some other motives as well. The night before the race I told my boyfriend “it would be really cool to go under 24 minutes.” I think he didn’t want me to get my hopes up too much because honestly, I haven’t been running too much since Chicago. I’ve done a couple speed workouts, two “long” runs, and a bunch of easy runs, but that’s about it.

I had a feeling I might have some speed left and welp, during the race it came out. It felt so good to be running a race, actually racing a race, and moving fast. I don’t think I’ve truly felt that in my running life in the two years I’ve been at it.

So I’ve decided to spend the winter chasing after that feeling. Getting turnover in my legs. Doing speed workouts. Pushing my limits.

I don’t have a time goal or target paces. I just want to get that feeling I had on Sunday.

My next race is on November 29 at Shalane Flanagan’s Back the Track 5K in Marblehead. We’ll see what happens next!