Thursday, June 28, 2012


The plan - 10 miles with the last 10 minutes at 10K race pace.  The result = BONK.

The predicted high was 103 today, so I decided to get out in the morning before the high temps really set in. I hoped to do this run at around a 9 minute pace.  It was 77 degrees at 9am when I planned to head out the door, but Jack was unbelievably fussy so I ended up not leaving until 10.  By that time it was 85 degrees, which sadly feels pretty cool compared to what we've had out there lately. 

I set out to do the first part of the run on pavement, and my legs felt like lead.  Sometimes this happens in the first mile, but I usually feel better after that.  Not so.  I glanced down at my watch and the pace was still nearing 11.  Ugh.  I was listening to a book on tape which I often do to slow my pace when I'm supposed to be in "easy run" mode, but this felt hard.  My heart rate was up to 130 which was higher than where it was was two days ago when my pace was 8:30.  The sun was beating down, and I was thrilled when I got into the park and was able to run on trail in the shaded woods.  

My parents live on Eagle Creek, which is an amazing park/ lake/ wildlife refuge.  The trail is stunning, and I was able to go a little faster once I got out of the sun, but I still wasn't feeling great.  The views were beautiful --  that was the best part about today.  I had to stop to take this picture, party because I saw a deer and partly because I was tired of running.  (The deer ran away but you can kind of see him behind the big tree.)  

Eagle Creek Park - Ornithology Center

Finally the last ten minutes came.  Time to book it.  My heart rate climbed to 165 but I couldn't get my pace much below 9.  Then I started cramping, possibly due to dehydration.  I had stashed my Gatorade behind a tree at the park's entrance because I didn't feel like carrying it; a bad idea perhaps?  When I arrived at that tree I was still a half a mile from my parents house.  I tried to run.  My legs didn't want to run anymore.  So I walked instead.

Total.  Bonk.

I don't have runs like this very often, but they put me in a tizzy.  I'm not quite sure why I felt so terrible.  I only biked a couple of hours yesterday, I ate a decent breakfast, I got more sleep than normal since I didn't have to wake up at an insane hour to run before the kids woke up (thank you Grandma and Grandpa!)  I get scared that this will happen on race day.  I'd love to say it was all mental but my heart rate monitor begs to differ.  10 minute miles were in zone 3, not zone 1 like they normally are.

Since we have the Louisville Tri-Camp this weekend and the predicted temperatures are 106 for Saturday (when we swim and bike the entire 112 mile course) and 103 for Sunday (when we run one of the 13.1 mile loops) I am declaring tomorrow a rest day.  Perhaps I just haven't been getting enough recovery time in.  I also was "supposed" to swim and do weights today, but opted instead to go to the Children's Museum with my children and take a boat ride at sunset.  Jamie made salmon on the grill.  It was 103 degrees at 7:30 but we ate on the deck anyway.  And it was good.

Sunset at 9:00 p.m!  I LOVE the end of June!

It's been a great week at my parent's house and I'm sad it is coming to a close.  We love to visit them any time of the year, but summer is especially lovely as we can spend time with them AND swim/ boat/ kayak/ bike/ trail run.  Can't summer last forever?!?

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Admittedly I have an obsessive personality.  It's a trait that has it's pluses and minuses.  For example, when I was 18 I got obsessed with the Kodaly method of music education, to the point where I was extremely annoying and didn't think or talk about much else.  I learned everything I could about it, sought out some pretty amazing mentors, scouted out a school in Australia (which I was also obsessed with, but that's another story...) that used the Kodaly method exclusively and student taught there, and after my first year teaching I took a year off to go study at the Kodaly Institute in Hungary.  Of course, this is how I met my wonderful (Australian) (Kodaly Teacher) husband, what shaped my teaching style, and something that continues to inspire me in the classroom each day.  However, one of my very best friends from graduate school (Masters in Music Education with an emphasis in the Kodaly method....surprise surprise...)  told me later on that our first year in the program she kept her distance from me because I was so hardcore and intense about it.  I like to think I'm passionate about things, but that might be an understatement.

Ironman has become an obsession.  I think about it all the time.  During the school year, as I'd drive to work I'd be thinking about how I could fit in all the required 12+ hours in the training plan.  On Sunday night I'd meticulously map out my week, especially double workouts, and broadcast it on Daily Mile because if I made it public, I'd stick with it (although I'm sure pretty much no one reads my weekly plan.... making it public is just a mental thing.)  I'd know Sunday night that on Thursday I would get my 75 minute bike ride done at on the trainer before the children got up at 6:45, and then I'd get 70 minutes of running in by parking my car outside of the babysitter's house precisely at 4:20, still allowing me to finish up right at my deadline of 5:30.  I would literally spend the last 10 minutes  running up and down her street to make sure I got in all 70 minutes without risking a late pick up.  Then I would log it all on Daily Mile to the second.  And forget about skipping workouts. If it didn't get done before I picked them up, I'd finish up after they went to sleep.  I wouldn't sacrifice kid time, but I sacrificed a lot of sleep time.  

Losing sleep probably isn't healthy.  Or balanced.  

I also have a really hard time with "rest days."  This week the training plan said 16 hours.  I thought I had gotten in all my workouts (much easier to do now that school is out), and today was supposed to be a rest day.  I logged onto Daily Mile and it said I'd only gotten in 14:32.  14:34 is not 16!   I immediately went to the training plan to see where my "deficit" was.  Apparently I was short an hour on the bike and a half an hour on the run.  We are visiting my parents right now, and my kids were asleep in the living room.  Everyone else in my family was watching a soccer game (which I have never enjoyed.)  So I went out and biked for an hour.  Then I ran for 25 minutes.  And then I logged it all and felt better.

I wonder if every endurance athlete has an obsessive personality?  I mean, you have to be pretty obsessive to even consider doing something this crazy.  You can fake your way through a 5K.  Maybe even a sprint triathlon.  An Ironman?  Not so much.  You have to be a little obsessive to get up at 5am and swim for 90 minutes, and then run another 90 minutes sometime after work.  To run 20 miles on a Saturday morning when everyone else is enjoying some extra sleep.  Or bike 80 hilly miles on your first day of summer vacation when it's 100 degrees outside.

Obsessed?  Perhaps.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Race Report: Baltimore Ten Miler - Dedicated to Mr. Stanley

A little over five years ago, my husband was finishing up graduate school in Indiana and we were making plans to move back to Northern Virginia where we began our teaching careers.  As music educators we wanted to live and work in somewhere that not only had high academic standards but also placed value in the arts.  We would not only be teachers, but eventually parents, in this school district.  I sent out my resume and soon received a phone call from a school in Vienna, VA.  I could tell right away from speaking to the principal that this was a man who didn't see children as test scores, but as... children.  I had a great conversation with him on the phone, and was excited until I found out the position was a year long maternity leave.  Did I want to fly out for an interview at a school where I could likely lose my position at the end of the year?  

I looked at some other schools, but something kept pulling me back to that conversation, so one Monday morning in April I sent him an email expressing how much I would love to come out to interview.  Monday and Tuesday  came and went and I hadn't heard back, and I was crushed --- he must have found another music teacher.  Then, Wednesday morning I get this message:  "Sorry I have not responded sooner but I just got back from running the Boston Marathon."  Well, that was that . I had to work there.  

And what an amazing five years it has been (yup, I got to keep the job longer than just that year.)  I have never met anyone who cares mo
re about each child, and about each staff member.  I went into teaching because of educators I had in my life who influenced me profoundly, and I strive to be that teacher for my students.  After finishing up graduate school, I didn't expect to find a mentor for myself.  And then I met Mr. Stanley. He is my role model in so many ways.  There are a lot of administrators out there, and I don't believe they are all in the job for the right reasons.  Mr. Stanley is in there for all the right reasons.  

Oh yeah, and he runs.  A lot.  Not just marathons, but ultras -- 50Ks, 50 miles, even 100 miles!  The first year I taught there, I had signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon, and the week before the race things kept appearing "anonymously" in my mailbox.  A good luck note.  A children's book called  Run Miles Run Some running quotes.  Who does that?  I've run 5 marathons since then and he never forgets.  I also sincerely appreciate the fact that he does not consider me crazy for all the running I do.  When I broke my foot running the Shamrock Marathon and was in an air cast for two months, he got why I was so miserable.  When I ran through my pregnancies and people told me I was endangering my babies (I was not), he cheered me on.  When I was training like a madwoman to break four hours the past spring, he told me I could do it.  When I finished in under 3:55, after my husband and my father, he was the first person I wanted to tell.  

He's retiring at the end of this school year.  I've been lucky to have some pretty great principals in my career, but I've never met anyone who genuinely cares about people as much as he does.  We all feel valued because he values how we feel.  The children love him.  I can't tell you how many parents have said to me something along the lines of "Mr. Stanley really is in this for the kids -- he really seems to care about them."   

On to the race report.  BIG TIME PR.  Granted the last ten miler I ran was 8 weeks after Susanna was born, giving me a sum total of about 4 weeks to train, but still... I ran a good 20 minutes faster this time around.  I wasn't sure how fast to go out -- I did that surprise half marathon a couple of weeks ago at an 8 minute pace but had run a fast 11 miles the night before, giving my legs no  recovery time.  For this race I actually did a short taper and carb loaded/ hydrated the day before.  I decided I'd try to hit below an 8 minute pace average and break 1:20. I crossed the start and headed off on what I thought was a pretty easy first mile.  It was downhill most of the way, and when my Garmin buzzed I glanced down and saw I had done it in 7:14.  What?  Okay, too fast.  The next mile had some uphills and I did that one in 7:42.  I tried to maintain that pace for the majority of the race, and as long as I concentrated I could do it - it wasn't hard yet, it just took focus.  I noticed that if I started daydreaming, my pace would slow.  But I wasn't tired.  The midpoint of the race had little rollers but no major elevation changes.  Then I got to mile 9, and it was straight uphill.  I glanced at my watch, and saw my pace was suddenly close to a 9 minute mile.  Then I remembered Mr. Stanley's impromptu speech to the children the day before.  "Let me tell you something, I do love to run, but I've learned a lot from running and sometimes running is tough.  You have to keep moving forward."  Keep moving forward.  Keep moving forward. I gritted my teeth and gave it all I had.  Mile 9 clocked in at 7:51.  Still under 8s!  This was the first race I'd done where all the miles were under 8s.  

My splits:

Race Swag:  Check out our jackets!
Chip Time:  1:17:13
Age Group Place:  16 out of 524
Gender Place:  87 out of 2670

16 out of 524?!?!  Really?  I'm not bragging, I'm just shocked.  

Anyhow... we can now return to our regularly scheduled Ironman training program.

And Tim, thank you for all the encouragement, motivation, and lessons in running, in teaching, and in life. Thank you for guiding our feet on The Hill, and I hope our trails meet again.

Monday, June 11, 2012

90 miles and 90 degrees

First of all, this weekend was insane.  It was a LOVELY weekend, really, but insane.

On Saturday the elementary boys running club I coach had their 5K, so the day began with a 6 a.m. wake up call (which sadly for me is sleeping in) and a trip to Sterling, VA.  It was great fun, my running buddy pulled off a sub-26 time, my husband got third place overall, a few of my co-workers and my boss ran with some of the other boys, and even my dad ran with one of the kids.  I still needed to get in another 90 minutes, and Jack's birthday party was at 3:30 p.m., so I ran 9 miles from the shopping center parking lot as soon as the race was over, picked up the party supplies, raced home and cleaned for two hours straight (er, stuffed everything in the living room into our bedroom and shut the door tightly), then entertained 12 children and their parents until 7:30 at night.  The weather was great for a kiddie pool/ water table/ barbeque party and really couldn't have gone better.

My dad wanted to go on a long bike ride and I needed to get in some good mileage anyhow so we planned to do the W&OD loop beginning in Alexandria, out to Purcelville and back.  Except my dad didn't want to do all 90, so he said he'd do 65 and meet me in Sterling.  Jamie was supposed to do all 90 with me, but in the morning he said he was too tired so I drove the car to Alexandria on my own started the ride at about 8:45.   The men (the hubs and my dad) met me at the 25th mile and we headed up to Purcellville.  The trail was pleasantly quiet and as the temperature rose from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, it became nearly empty of joggers, walkers and leisure cyclists.  Much better than the first Sunday afternoon in the mid-70s when I couldn't go faster than 8mph because half of DC was meandering along the trail.

The scenery is gorgeous on the western end of the trail and I was having a nice time with my dad and my husband although our paces are completely different.  Jamie was hammering it at 19mph, my dad was going at about 14, and I was somewhere between 15-16.  Despite his fast pace, Jamie said he was "buggered" and decided to pack it up when they passed their car again (giving them a sum total of 40 miles instead of 65.)  I was on my own for the 25 mile stretch back towards the city.

The thing about 94 degrees on the bike is that I don't really notice it until I realize that I am void of all energy.  I went through three entire 42 ounce water bottles by the time I hit 80 miles.  The last 10 miles were basically downhill and still felt tough.  I felt a lot better at the Casa River Century (mid-70s) than I did on this ride, even though it was shorter.  When I got back to the car I still had 40 minutes until my family was supposed to show up at at he Capitol City Brewing Company for a post-long ride meal, and the plan was for me to do a 30 minute brick run.  I packed up my bike and stuck it in the back seat, ate a packet of Gu Chomps, took in some water, threw on my running shoes and headed towards Shirlington.  I ran for three minutes and spotted the Brewing Company.  I really needed to use the bathroom.  I figured I could use their facilities and then finish up my run.

Except then I saw the ice cold beers and the free soft pretzels.  And the $5 chicken wings.  And the outdoor tables.  And it was really just too tempting.  So I used the restroom and asked for a table for 6.  And I sat there for the next 30 minutes and thought about what crazy says they are going to bike not 90 miles in 90 degrees, but 112 miles in the hottest month of the summer, and then run a marathon afterwards.  Because I did not want to run a marathon right then.  Not at all.

The ride alone zapped my energy.  I came home and I fell asleep.  Today was a rest day and it was much, much needed.

Please someone tell me I will feel like running a marathon after my swim and ride on August 26th.  Please.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Race Report: Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

Three days after I returned from my maternity leave in mid-October, one of my DSG buddies decided it might be fun for a bunch of us to run the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon on June 2.  At the time, June 2 seemed very very far away -- after all, it was the week my then very little Jack would be turning 1! -- and I was too broke to pay the $118 registration fee after two months of unpaid leave.  I figured I could sign up later.  Except it sold out.  

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  I was home with a sick Jack and playing on my iphone when an email from Tuan popped up, sent to all of DSG.  Someone in the group couldn't run the race and would anyone like to run it for her?  Free bib to the first to respond.  I needed to check with Jamie so I immediately responded "Maybe!?!?"  Checked, it was okay, so I wrote again "Yes I will do it!"  No email back from Tuan.  So I wrote again.  "Please pretty please?"  No response.  I think I might have sent him one more email.  Then an email from him to all of DSG saying "Bib Taken!  To be fair, I have to give it to the person who responded first.  The special prize goes to one of the newest people on our group ... Kathy. The rest of you folks, sending me 10 emails for the same request won't get you anywhere ... Gretchen! "  Seriously, because I responded like 2 seconds after he sent the email!  And who the heck is Kathy?  (No offense, Kathy.  I'm sure when I meet you, we will be the best of friends.)  I wrote to Tuan and yelled at him for giving the bib to someone he'd never met over me.  He said that yes I was the first responder but I said "Maybe." Lesson learned.  Next time I will lie and say "Yes" even if I still need to check with my family, and then I will renege if necessary. 

As race day neared I tried to ignore the group emails about how much fun they were going to have on race day as they ran through beautiful Virginia Wine Country and enjoyed a free wine festival afterwards.  I really pushed myself in training instead, concluding on Friday with a 45 minute power ride on the trainer in the morning and an 11 mile tempo run that night.  I was feeling pretty good about my 8:25  pace and after getting the kids in bed, sat down with a mojito and figured I'd make Saturday a rest and recovery day and then ride long on Sunday.  Jamie was out of town for his spring choir trip and due home around 11 p.m.  I picked up my phone to check on how far away he was and saw two texts.  The first was from a number I didn't recognize and said "My phone is dead.  Home before midnight."  The second was from Tuan.  "I have a bib for you.  Call me."

Seriously?  After just running 11 miles at a faster pace than my best half marathon?  My legs would have, oh, 11 hours to recover. I started to text Tuan "Maybe" and then remembered what happened the last time I did that so instead wrote "I just ran 11 miles!  But okay... do I get wine?"  Tuan called me.  He would pick me up at 5:10 a.m.  I put the unfinished mojito in the fridge and switched to water and jelly beans.  Maybe not the best carb loading technique but I was improvising.   By the time Jamie got home and settled it was well past midnight.  I set the alarm for 4:55 but of course Jack chose to wake up at 4:18 and after feeding him and getting him back in his crib there was no point in going back to sleep so I got up, showered, and met Tuan on less than 4 hours of sleep.  I was very glad he was driving.

Traffic was RIDICULOUS for the last mile of the trip -- I guess that is what happens when you bring thousands of people to an event on a country road all at the same time -- and we barely got there in time for the 7 a.m. start, but apparently neither did the  many shuttle buses that were bringing in the out-of-towners from Leesburg hotels, so the race was delayed by 35 minutes. By the time gun finally went off my legs were itching to move.  I was not planning on really racing this course, seeing as how I had not prepared for the race at all, so I didn't even look at my Garmin for the first mile.  I felt relaxed and easy, so I was guessing I was around 9:30 or so.  The watch buzzed and I glanced down.  8:08.  Really?  My heart rate was around 150.  I decided I'd just try to keep it there and see how things unfolded.  The weather was perfect - low humidity, upper 60s, slightly breezy, and sunshine bathing the gorgeous scenery.  When my watch buzzed at mile 2 and said 8:06, I decided I'd try to keep up this pace to the halfway point and then maybe pick it up if I still felt good.  

Around this time Tuan fell in stride beside me, looking surprised.  
"I thought you were going to take this slow?"  he said.
"We'll see how I feel in a few miles." I responded.  I realized then that talking was taking up too much energy, meaning I was definitely not at an easy run pace.

The course was rolling and I kept a pretty even pace until mile 5, which was almost all downhill.  I read an article recently about using downhills to your advantage -- it suggested leaning forward with your hips, taking smaller, quicker steps, and pretending you were running on hot coals.  It must have worked because that mile clocked in at 7:35, and I still was feeling great.  My heart rate had settled around 162 according to my Garmin report - I wasn't really paying attention to this during the race, but that's about what it should be for the bulk of a half marathon.  

When I got to the 45 minute mark, I grabbed a Clif Shot and took it at the next water stop.  And immediately got a side stitch.  AURGH!  Race nutrition, I hate you sometimes.  I dug my hand into the left side of my abdomen and tried exhaling forcefully. I slowed down a bit and the Garmin registered 8:13.  Still a faster pace than my last half.  At that point I saw the 1:45 pacer off in the distance.  Going sub-1:45 has been a goal for a long time, but not one I expected to achieve today.  My miles up to then hadn't quite been fast enough to sub 1:45. But I was beyond the halfway point and still felt like I had energy.  I decided to ignore my cramp and catch him.  

The eleventh mile had a steep hill and I clocked my slowest mile on the course, but after that I kept my eye on my watch and forced myself to keep the pace under 8, even as the hills rolled on. When we passed the 12th mile marker, I figured I would chase down the pacer like there was no tomorrow.  When we hit the 13th mile marker I gave it everything I had.  (Which was apparently not as much as Tuan had, because he started sprinting there as well and came in a full 4 seconds ahead of me.)  I felt like I was going to throw up as I crossed the finish line, but it was worth it. Final chip time:  1:44:53.  

The medal was amazing.  It is also a wine corker and opener.  Then, they handed me an awesome Riedel wine glass and I headed to the finish festival, a tasting expo with wineries from all over Virginia.  Unfortunately, there was no food of substance other than a Cabot cheese booth giving out samples the size of Yatzee dice.  That and strawberries.  That's right, folks, run 13.1 miles as fast as you can, then drink as much wine as your heart desires on an empty stomach.  I sampled some the whites (Virginia reds don't really impress me) and decided that what I really wanted was roast beef and mashed potatoes.  So Tuan and I headed to Roy Rogers in Leesburg.  

I was on a high all day, even if no one else cared.  I can be proud of me, right?  I ran my first half marathon 7 years ago in 2:26, and it felt hard.  This was a full 41 minutes faster, and I felt great for most of it.  Based on this race result, MacMillan says I could run a marathon in 3:41.  Which isn't quite Boston - it's still 90 seconds off.  But it's close.  A lot closer than it was back in March when I ran a 3:54:53.  Maybe, just maybe, the dream of a BQ will happen one day.  Boston before I turn 40?  We'll see