Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My 2015 Running Lowlights

As with everything in life, there are ups and downs. The off-days in my running life - especially in the races where I struggle but don't accomplish what I set out to do - make me appreciate the days when I hit my goals even more. Even great athletes like Ronda Rousey had a lousy day or two this year. So, after covering my 2015 running highlights in my last post (and there were quite a few of them), here are my lowlights of 2015:

2015 Lowlights

3) Roselle Run for the Roses: All morning, the weather had been fantastic. That is until five minutes before start time when some close lightning strikes threatened to cancel the race. Just before the start horn sounded, the heavens opened up with a deluge of rain. Any hopes for a PR were dashed as my clothes and shoes were waterlogged the entire race. All the water added a few pounds of weight, which probably caused my finishing time to be at least 10 seconds slower than I needed to PR. Typically, I don't mind racing in the rain, especially if it cools me off on a hot day. However, it's not as fun when it's a downpour in a short race that costs me precious seconds. To add insult to injury - in the only picture of me from the race I'm mostly blocked by another dude.
I'm over that guy's shoulder (src)
2) Chicago Marathon: The 2015 version of the Chicago Marathon was my second fastest marathon ever - so this is one of those races that could have easily been placed on my highlights list. However, every single race conversion table says that based on my half marathon times, I should be able to run a sub-3:00 marathon. I ran this one in 3:08 and I did my typical fade over the last three miles. After eight attempts, I'm still trying to figure out how to conquer the marathon distance.
At least I got to run near an Olympian! (src)
1) F^3 Half Marathon: Soon after the race started, this one quickly veered into "struggle bus" territory. It was an unseasonably warm January day and I had over dressed. In addition, I started out too fast and my lungs were not used to the warm air and they started to hurt. Only after walking and letting quite a few people pass me, was I able to rebound, but it was a little too little, a little too late. I signed up for the 2016 F^3 which takes place next month and I'm looking forward to some redemption!
Still doing okay at mile 2 (src)
Enough of my whining about the worst this year in running gave me. Since my highlights far out-weigh my lowlights I can happily smile at this post. Anyway, here's to an even better 2016!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015: Highlights from my Year in Running

2015 was a very good year for me running-wise. I set four PRs and five second fastest PRs. I also finished in the top three of my age group six times. I accomplished all of this over a span of 12 races:
DistanceDateEventPaceAge Place
All Time Dist.
1/2 Mara.11/28/15Schaumburg Half Marathon6:28 /Mi11:24:332nd Fastest
10k11/22/15Lincolnwood Turkey Trot6:17 /Mi339:062nd Fastest
15k11/8/15Hot Chocolate 15K6:24 /Mi359:45PR
Marathon10/11/15Chicago Marathon7:10 /Mi1113:08:062nd Fastest
4 Mile7/4/15Elmhurst 4 On The Fourth5:59 /Mi523:57PR
1 Mile6/12/15Grim Mile5:13 /Mi15:13PR
5k6/7/15Roselle Run for the Roses5:54 /Mi518:204th Fastest
1/2 Mara.5/2/15500 Festival Mini-Marathon6:33 /Mi81:25:523rd Fastest
5k4/26/15Ravenswood Run5:50 /Mi318:10PR
8k3/29/15Shamrock Shuffle6:16 /Mi1431:182nd Fastest
1/2 Mara.1/24/15F^3 Lake Half Marathon7:01 /Mi71:32:0814th Fastest
5 Mile1/10/15S-No-W Fun Run6:49 /Mi334:062nd Fastest

The secret(s) to my success
I had been plateauing with my race times over the last few years. I figured that since running is an athletic endeavor, I needed to think and act more like an athlete to get better at it. So I started strength training about two years ago, and with that I got curious with why chin-ups were so difficult for me. I realized that not only did I lack upper body strength to do lots of chin-ups, but I was also pulling up too much weight (i.e. I was too heavy). I knew that weight correlated to race times according to most articles on the topics I've read. So in order to get more do more chin-ups as well as get fitter for running, I picked up a copy of Racing Weight. Using the simple tips in that book, I shed around ten pounds which I was carrying around for no particular reason - but was definitely slowing me down. I've also been running injury-free for about 18 months in a row. I only do a couple of moderately hard workouts per week, preferring to save the base mileage streak rather than risking injury. Having a base mileage that extends back several months is a nice thing to be able to draw on when things get tough during a run. The funny thing is that I am confident if I can maintain my base mileage and perhaps shed three to five more pounds - I will be even faster next year.

So there you have it, I can run faster because I got fitter. I got fitter by eating better and keeping a nice training base. As Kim said in this post, "When I weigh less, I run faster." I could probably make a list of five other things that have also helped with my running, but these two items top the list.

Without further ado, here are my top five running highlights of 2015: 

5) Shamrock Shuffle 8k:  Way back in March I had very little idea of how my winter training would translate into race speed for the Shamrock Shuffle. Therefore, I decided to start the race fairly conservatively and then see what I had near the end. After running three decent miles, I was able to turn on the afterburners, and to my surprise, my last two miles were at 5k PR pace. I calculated later that I had passed a total of 106 runners over the last 11 minutes and was passed by none. Although I did not PR the race, those last 11 minutes got me stoked that 2015 was perhaps going to be a special year.
Shufflin' near the finish 
4) Elmhurst 4 on the 4th: Since I had a few races under my belt before this 4th of July race, I was able to plug that information into some race conversion tables and determine that I should be able to run a sub-24 minute four miler. It was daunting to think of running four sub-6:00 miles in a row - especially since I'd never done that in my life. However, I trusted my fitness and came in just under 24 minutes thanks to a wicked fast last quarter mile straight uphill. Instant PR!
Going for four under six a piece
3) Hot Chocolate 15k: After three years in a row of 1:02:xx finishes at the HC 15k, I really wanted to see if a change in strategy (i.e. even-pacing) could help me achieve a sub 60 minute finish. Yup it did, and I went kinda nuts with the fist pump when I realized I had my 59:xx.
About to go sub-60!!
2) Schaumburg Half Marathon: The second best race I've had in the last four years. It was a picture perfect day running through sublimely quiet woods. I not only won my age group (out of 86), but I also finished ahead of the second place runner by 2.5 minutes. This race was the icing on the cake of a fun year.

The serenity of Busse Woods
1) Ravenswood Run 5k The best race I've had in at least four years. Just when I thought that perhaps my fastest days were behind me, I beat my five year old PR. As I kicked up Wilson Avenue, it was a fantastic feeling to see that the time on the finish line clock was well within my PR. It was a CARA race and I got to stand on the Fleet Feet podium for the first time. After this race I realized that perhaps my fastest days were still ahead of me.
Podium at a CARA race!
Well, there you have it, the best this year in running gave me. Here's hoping that 2016 is even better!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post: "My 2015 Running Low-lights"!