Marathon Recovery (So Far)

It’s been ten days since the Houston Marathon so I figured I’d try to keep up my semi-regular blogging with a post on what I’ve been up to since the race.  (Spoiler: I haven’t really been up to anything, so feel free to stop reading now.)

tl;dr version:

One of the things that made me finally train for and run a marathon was a somewhat morbid curiosity about what would happen to my body after running that far.  How many toenails would I lose?  (Zero, amazingly, though the toenails I’ve kept are nasty.)  How hungry would I be immediately afterwards?  (Not very but then I inhaled a burger and fries for dinner.)  How sore would I feel?  

My legs cramped up right when I finished.  I kept walking past the finish line but it felt…odd.  And difficult.  I had to walk to get my finisher shirt and then walk to find my boyfriend and then walk even more to get back to the hotel.  Even though it was initially uncomfortable, I think all of the walking immediately after the race was good– my legs generally felt decent for the rest of the day.

On Monday the DOMS set in.  I expected this based on my other hard race efforts but what surprised me was the intensity.  For example, I know that moving from a sitting to standing position the day after a half marathon will be uncomfortable but the day after the marathon it was bad.  I would stand up and then curse myself for forgetting that standing up was terrible.  Walking up stairs was basically impossible, so on Tuesday (my first day back at the office) I took the elevator all the way up to the second floor.

So the answer to the question “How sore would I feel?” was “Ten times as sore as post-half marathon soreness for two days, then regular soreness for two days, then basically back to normal.”

In addition to a bit of walking I did some foam rolling those first few days.  We have a foam roller like this that I usually find too soft; however, it was perfect after the marathon when I was still very sore but wanted a little massage.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-8-19-07-pm Other than that, I basically did nothing for a week and it was fantastic.  In the past I haven’t been great about giving myself real breaks after training cycles.  Usually I’ve taken a day or two off and then resumed easy running.  At some point during my marathon training I told myself that I was going to take at least an entire week completely off from exercise after the race.  Let me tell you: it was so necessary.  I used the extra 8+ hours in my week to get some much needed sleep (I was super tired for several days after the race) and do a lot of reading and binge watch The Crown and eat tons of ice cream and not think about when I needed to run or how fast I needed to run or how far I needed to run.  Clearly I needed a physical break– marathons really do beat you up!– but I think  needed the mental break even more.

Over the weekend I spent way too much time combining my love of Stranger Things with my love for race spectating.  This was the result:

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On Sunday I had a great time cheering at mile 11 at the 3M Half Marathon.  It was fun to see some fellow Stranger Things fans get a kick out of the sign 🙂

After spending my Sunday morning watching other people run I felt a desire to ease back into running again.  I haven’t done very much but so far it’s gone well.  There are a bunch of races I’m interested in running this year (more on that in a later post) but I haven’t signed up for anything yet, which means that I’m looking forward to enjoying a few weeks of running when I feel like it and taking a day off when I feel like it.  It feels good to be a little physically active again but I’m prolonging my break from the confines of a training plan.

Here are this week’s activities (completed and planned):

  • Monday, 23-Jan: 2.6 miles easy running + foam rolling with the more intense foam roller
  • Tuesday, 24-Jan: 25 minutes yoga
  • Wednesday, 25-Jan: 4.2 miles easy running + foam rolling
  • Thursday, 26-Jan: 25 minutes yoga
  • Friday, 27-Jan: Maybe a little running or elliptical or just rest.
  • Saturday, 28-Jan: Group run, mileage TBD
  • Sunday, 29-Jan: Group run of 5-6 miles
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Houston Marathon Miscellany

For a summary of my race experience– written the afternoon of the race, which is why it sounds a bit delirious– click here.

So, the weather was really unfavorable for this race.  (In addition to the warm temperatures and killer humidity, my last mile was in pouring rain!).  But that was pretty much the only negative aspect of the race and generally the weather isn’t so rough in January.

Here are some other random bits and pieces of information that may be useful for anyone considering the Houston half or full marathons:

Expo

The expo was huge.  That shouldn’t be too surprising since the marathon and half marathon (plus the 5K the day before) are enormous races.  But I’ve run comparably sized races in Dallas and Philadelphia with much smaller expos.  I was there on Saturday afternoon and packet and t-shirt pick up went very smoothly.  As with most elements of this race, everything was extremely efficient and well organized.

There were a ton of vendors, elite athlete meet and greets, photo opportunities, and so forth at the expo.  There were some interesting speakers lined up but unfortunately I was there during the 2-2:30 dead time on Saturday.  I am not sure what the parking situation was at the expo since I walked over from the hotel but it’s at a huge convention center downtown, so I imagine there’s a garage nearby.

Hotel

We drove to Houston on Saturday and spent the night at the Westin Houston Downtown.  This seemed a bit swankier and pricier than necessary (which was my fault– I forgot until late November/early December that oh yeah, I’m probably not going to drive 2.5-3 hours to Houston on Sunday for a 7 AM race start). However, I booked our stay through the marathon website, which meant we automatically had a late checkout time on Sunday.

The Westin also had a pasta buffet on Saturday night for $24.  While I don’t think the food was worth that much money, I was happy to have a convenient option, especially since a lot of places downtown seemed to be closed over the weekend.  The hotel also opened the cafe at 5 AM on Sunday morning so runners could grab coffee and/or food before the race.  I did not visit the cafe because I preferred stay in the hotel room and hole myself up in the bathroom with coffee from the coffee maker, an HEB bagel, and my pre-race neuroses.

The Westin was also 2 blocks away from the entrance to corral A at the start line and within walking distance of the finish line and convention center (where the expo and finish parties were held).  So, in the end I was very happy to have paid a bit more money for extra convenience.

Race Course

The half marathon and marathon courses overlap for eight miles.  Since each race has over 10,000 participants, the course is pretty crowded but it’s all on pretty wide city streets.  Also, the corrals (A-E, plus maybe another at very front for elite athletes) have staggered starts, so there didn’t seem to be an awful bottleneck like I’ve noticed during some of the big Austin races.  The corrals and the routes to each corral were really clearly labeled, which I appreciated– at the Dallas Half I had some trouble finding the entrance to Corral A and narrowly avoided starting back in B.  Also, there are tons of port a potties in each corral.

Most of the marathon race course is flat.  There’s an overpass at mile 12 and then a ~50 foot climb in mile 23 or 24 but that was it for hills.  There are some turns throughout the course– including a weird hairpin one at mile 13 which I assume only exists so the course would meet the exact distance–but other than that it’s very simple.  And that’s why I think Houston is a fantastic choice for a first marathon: it’s not complicated!  You don’t need to worry about massive hills anywhere.  There is crowd support for pretty much the entire course, which is amazing.  It didn’t seem like there were any awful spots where the sun is right in your face or beating down on you but it’s hard to say because yesterday was mostly cloudy.

I was really impressed with the water stops.  There were so many volunteers handing out Gatorade first, water second. Honestly, I usually don’t think too much about water stops because I’m usually not running quite so many miles (:-)) and most of my races over the past few years haven’t been so muggy.  But I really appreciated these volunteers and how well organized the stops were.  There were also quite a lot of medical tents on the course, which I’m so thankful I didn’t have to visit aside from grabbing a water bottle at mile 25.  But again, I was so glad they were there, and unfortunately I think they were very necessary on a day when a lot of people were overheating.

After the finish line runners are funneled into the first floor of the convention center.  There are areas to pick up finisher shirts, get food, take photos, and meet up with friends or family.  I really liked this setup since, as I mentioned, it was pouring rain when I finished.  I imagine it’s also quite nice to be able to move quickly to a heated area on a cold race day .

Swag

I got a cotton t-shirt just for participating (mine is in the laundry, so just picture a blue cotton t-shirt).

For finishing, I got a medal, another t-shirt (in a tech fabric), and a glass mug.  I was super excited about the mug since it’s always cool to get something more useful or unusual  than a medal after a race.

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(My finisher shirt is also in the laundry since it got rained on during my walk from the finish to the hotel.  Here is a random photo I found on Instagram).

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My only complaint related to the race is that the two shirts I received are too big.  I think this was an issue for a lot of the female runners because there was a long line at the shirt exchange area when I finished and by the time I got there they were completely out of anything smaller than a medium.  It’s not a huge issue since I have far too many race shirts already but it would have been nice to keep the shirt from my first marathon in my regular rotation.

I’m really glad I did this race, especially as my first full marathon.  I keep thinking back to the post I read on Texas Running Post  a year ago that got me seriously interested in training for a full.  There are so many little details that make it a great race experience and I highly, highly recommend it!

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Houston Marathon Recap

This post is just a brief summary of my individual race– I’m going to put my thoughts on the race itself and random logistics in another post after I’ve had time to rest up more 🙂

The week before the race I read this post on Texas Running Post.  To summarize, the post (which was written by a coach) lists ways to deal with racing in sub-optimal conditions along with some general marathon tips.  She describes two runners who ran the Dallas Marathon a couple years ago in similar conditions as this year’s Houston Marathon.  One (Mark) stuck to original marathon goal pace, then crashed and burned at mile 9.  The other (Shannon) ran a relaxed race and finished strong.

My attitude going into this race was that I wanted to be run like Shannon (albeit much slower).  Even though I was consistently hitting 8:10-8:30 pace during my tempos and “fast finish” long runs– including workouts done in 60-70 degree temperatures like the race day forecast– I am not accustomed to running in incredibly high humidity.  And, since this was my first marathon, I was also not very accustomed to running 26.2 miles!  I felt like I put too much time and effort into my training only to fall apart mid-race because I started too fast and didn’t respect the distance and conditions.  So that’s how my marathon pace went from “8:10 to 8:30” to 8:56.

Miles 1-3

I started with the 4 hour pace group and felt like I was already having to do some work.  I could feel sweat dripping down my face before we even hit mile 1.  This did not bode well, so at this point I gave myself permission to slow down if needed.  Except, as usually happens, I started to settle into my pace after about 3 miles.

Miles 4-13

Eventually I found myself in front of the 4:00 pace group.  I felt OK running 9:00 minute miles or slightly faster, so I decided to stick with that pace and hopefully end up with a sub-4:00 finish.  I felt really good around the halfway point and dropped an 8:50 mile.

Miles 14-20

After the first 13.1 my master plan was to maintain my 9:00ish minute miles until mile 20, and then pick it up and maybe finish sub-3:55.  There wasn’t really anything notable about miles 14-20 except that I passed one of the 3:40 pacers…because he was walking and had a medic on either side of him.  Did I mention that the conditions were pretty dreadful?!

Miles 21-26.2

My rough goal here was to ease down to 8:45 for 5K and then 8:30 for the last 5K.  Instead I ended up running two miles in the 8:30s, slowed to 8:40s for 3 miles, and then ran mile 26 in 8:29.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it was really important to me to get through the whole race and finish strong, so I’m really pleased that I was able to rally at the end.  Mile 26 was my fastest mile!

Here are the Garmin splits, which were definitely off from the course mile markers because I did a ton of weaving during the first few miles trying to stay with the pace group.

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And here are the official results:

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I should mention that I drank what seemed like an absurd amount of water during this race.  I started with a 23 oz water bottle I’d picked up at HEB the day before.  I’d planned to use that exclusively until mile 8 or so when the half marathoners split off and the water stations got less crowded.  But then as soon as the race started I felt myself sweating a lot and getting thirsty.  So I started grabbing a cup of water at every water stop and used my water bottle when I took a gel.  (I’ve learned during marathon training that I need to drink a lot of water if I’m going to ingest more than two gels over the course of  a run.)  And then around mile 16 my water bottle started to feel frighteningly light, so I grabbed two cups at each water stop.  Around mile 23 I finally felt okay to ditch the water bottle and rely only on the water stops.  However, right after the last water stop at mile 24 I started to feel really thirsty again.  Fortunately, there was one more medical tent at mile 25 where I was able to grab a water bottle (which I carried to the finish line and then the post-race area).  That was really the only spot in the race where I felt bad.  When I stopped running for about 2 seconds (so the medic could hand me the water bottle) I got a serious cramp in my left hamstring!

Anyway, it cracks me up that the few race pictures currently available show me carrying a gel in one hand and a water bottle and empty cup in the other hand.  That was pretty much how I looked for the entire race!

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Almost There

Well hello there.  It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  Four months, in fact, since my last post.  If it wasn’t completely obvious, my desire to blog has dwindled.  There are a few reasons for this:

  • Last spring I started doing some of my easy runs with a group.  Running (and hanging out) with other runners means I now have a live audience for discussions of race splits, sports bra chafing, etc.
  • A lot of weird and scary things are happening in the world and it has felt uncomfortable at times to write blog posts about something as relatively unimportant as running.  (I’m not passing judgement on more active bloggers; it’s just that–even though this is a running blog– I feel strange  writing training recaps while I’m simultaneously having nightmares about geopolitics).
  • Though it’s still Very Much Not A Big Deal, marathon training has been intimidating at times and I’ve come across a lot of conflicting advice.  “Don’t worry about your pace the first time– just train to finish.” “If you don’t have a goal time, you’re lazy and selling yourself short.”  “You should never run more than 5o miles in a week.” “RUN ALL THE MILES.” I’m exaggerating a bit but my point is that I realized I felt better if I hunkered down, following my training plan, and ignored most of the noise (i.e. blogs and social media) because I’ve been doing this running thing for awhile and I generally know what works for me. (With that said, I’ve already come up with a few things I would like to do differently if I decide to train for one of these again.  As I said back in August, this training cycle would inevitably involve some trial and error.)

Since I’m less than 24 hours away from running the Houston Marathon (!!!!!), I finally felt like writing about my training again.  This training cycle has been so long (20 weeks!) that it seems fitting to briefly recap my training in a separate post before I write a race report.  I’m still logging all of my runs on Daily Mile if anyone is inclined to read a lot of mindless drivel.

September

I spent most of the summer running ~40 miles per week with minimal speed work on the treadmill (which basically means if I couldn’t run early in the morning and it was 100+ degrees in the afternoon, I would hit the treadmill after work and do a half-assed workout to liven up my treadmill time).  At the beginning of September I briefly dropped down to 30-35 miles per week but started doing real workouts on the track, though they were generally run by effort because a) half-assed treadmill workouts do not make me fast and b) it is still quite hot in September in Central Texas.

I ran doubles once per week as preparation for the Capital to Coast relay in October.

Longest run was 11 miles.

Ran 150 miles for the month.

October

On October 2nd I ran the Run Free Texas 80s 8K in 37:26 (7:31 pace), which was over 30 seconds slower than my 2015 finish time.  I definitely felt quite slow and out of shape during the race.

On October 14th-15th I ran the Capital to Coast relay with 11 other runners.  We ran the 223 miles from Austin to Corpus Christi!  This really deserves its own post.  I think anyone else who has run a relay (especially one as long as this one) can understand that there is a lot to recap afterwards but I’m going to keep this as short as possible:

  • Woke up at 3 AM on Friday morning for a 4 AM race start
  • I was the 6th runner on our team, so I didn’t start running until around 11 in the morning.  By that point we were outside of Lockhart, I’d been cheering for the other 5 runners in my van all morning, and was raring to go.  My leg was 5.6 miles; I started too quickly and got progressively slower.  It didn’t help that the temperature rose significantly and I ran the last 0.5 miles up a freaking dirt and loose gravel hill!  It definitely brought back memories of high school cross country.
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At the end of my first leg– definitely not running on a road!

  • My second leg was 8.2 miles around 10 PM on a tiny highway somewhere very, very rural.  I felt good for the first few miles but then the exhaustion started to catch up to me.  It was very peaceful running in the middle of nowhere with minimal cars…until I heard some weird rustling in the grass next to me and got freaked out that it was a rattlesnake!  It’s also mentally tough to try to run hard when you’re so isolated– no crowds cheering, only a couple of other runners.  All in all I guess it was good practice for my mental game during stretches of marathons and half marathons when there’s minimal support.
  • After my second leg my van showered and slept for a few hours at a high school that very kindly opened its doors to relay racers overnight as part of a charity fundraiser.  Amazing.
  • My third leg was only 6.5 miles but I swear it was the hardest run I’ve ever done.  On Saturday morning everyone was extremely tired and sleep deprived.  It was also 95 degrees and sunny with zero shade by late morning when I was set to run.  I had also brilliantly forgotten that I am easily prone to motion sickness, so I spent the bulk of the morning sitting in the back of the van until I started to feel ill.  Fortunately, one of our runners was a nurse who was smart enough to pack a first aid kit that included Zofran.  I was so thankful for his foresight and for everyone else in my van who followed me during this run and gave me cold water and ice to stuff in my sports bra.  I was also thankful that I wasn’t running on a competitive team with a time goal.  I racked up a nice number of kills (i.e. people I passed) during the race (10 total, including 3 on my last leg) but this was my slowest race pace ever by a LOT.  I barely managed to finish the 6.5 miles in under an hour!
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ALMOST DONE

  • The team reached the finish line on the beach in Corpus Christi late Saturday afternoon and I headed back to Austin on Sunday morning.  I took Monday off from work, which was a fantastic decision– it basically took me a week to recover.  I ran all of the mileage in my training plan but changed one workout to an easy run and watered down another workout.  Cap to Coast was SO MUCH FUN but it is brutal.  So I am not sure if I will do it again in 2017.

Longest run in October was 15 miles

Total mileage for the month was 186 miles

November

We spent the first week of November in Seattle and Vancouver– first time in the Pacific Northwest for both of us.  We had two days of really lovely sunshine in Seattle and the typical rain and clouds the rest of the week.  Conveniently, this was a cutback week for me.

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Cloudy but still beautiful Vancouver

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Sunlight and Space Needle in Seattle

I ran the 5 mile Thundercloud Turkey Trot as a “marathon pace” workout.  I ran very controlled at the start thanks to crowds and hills but then got down closer to half marathon pace on the downhill portions in the second half.  Official finish time was 40:37.  Also, this was my race day outfit:

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Gobble gobble

Longest run was 19 miles.  I also ran 17.5 miles earlier in the month.  Before November my longest run ever had been 16 miles way back in 2013 when I got lost during a half marathon training run.

Ran 195 miles total

December

On December 11th I ran the Dallas Half Marathon.

  • I wasn’t sure until the week before the race whether I would race it or run it as part of a long run.  I ended up deciding to run it as a marathon pace tempo with 4 miles pre-race and 4 miles post-race, which would bring me to the 21 miles on my training schedule.  I think this ended up being a good decision because I am a marathon newbie and don’t feel confident rehauling a training schedule on my own like I have done with my half marathon training.  Also, I used this as a Houston dress rehearsal– ate my planned pre-marathon breakfast, took gels when I plan to take gels during the marathon, etc.– which was beneficial since I don’t have much experience with out of town races.
  • On the other hand, I do wish I’d gotten a solid 10 mile or half marathon race effort during this cycle to better gauge my fitness.  Speaking of which, I should note that I really  liked the Dallas Half Marathon, and it is definitely a PR friendly race.  The crowd support was fantastic and it was neat to see areas outside of downtown. The course has a few inclines at the beginning but there were some nice downhills towards the end, including right at the finish.  I finished in 1:49:04 (8:19 average) and felt really good the whole time.  The only hiccup was that I (of course…) got turned around getting back to the hotel and ended up running closer to 22 miles.

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The other highlight (lowlight?) of the month was running my last long run– 23 miles– on Christmas Eve in Philadelphia.  My boyfriend and I flew out to DC on December 21st and spent two days being tourists.  Then we took Megabus up to Philly on the night of the 23rd.  I was in a rear facing seat because I yet again forgot about my tendency to get car sick.  Then it rained for most of my run and my stomach was still messed up from the awful bus ride the previous evening.  But I soldiered through it because hey, the race day weather might be epically shitty!  I finished my run right by the Rocky statue at the foot of the Art Museum.  img_2811

I hit 60 miles that week, which is a weekly mileage PR.  Prior to training for a marathon I think I’d maxed out just shy of 50.  I hit 50+ a few times during this cycle as well.

I ran 204 miles total in December– first month ever hitting 200+!

January

January has been mostly tapering and nothing of note.

I guess I should mention my race plan.  After how I felt during the Dallas Half Marathon, I thought 3:45 might be a reasonable goal.  However, the forecast tomorrow is pretty dreadful– very high humidity with temperatures in the high 60s.  My plan for now is to stay with the 4:00 hour pace group for at least 5K and then see how I feel.  I’m also giving myself permission to drop out if I feel dreadful.  There are always other marathons to run in Central Texas over the next few months.  I’m not a stranger to running in awful conditions (see Cap to Coast, leg 3 above) but a marathon is really long.  At least my finish time (if I finish…) will be an automatic PR.

Even if the end result isn’t what I’d hoped for, I really enjoyed training for this thing and I’m sure I will sign up for another marathon some day.  Yes, it was very time consuming (8+ hours of running some weeks) and exhausting but I’m honestly quite proud of myself for making it this far.  I suppose I’ll have more thoughts on this after tomorrow but right now I feel like my training was pretty solid.  I ran over 800 miles in Texas, Washington, British Columbia, DC, and Pennsylvania!  I generally hate pithy quotes like the below but I also think it’s a good reminder that everything that happened in the 5 months before the race is also worth celebrating.

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Houston Marathon Training – Week 3

I ran a little over 42 miles last week, which was a first for me early in a training cycle.  Usually in half marathon training I will peak around 40-45 miles a few weeks before a race.  But right now I’ve completed less than 20% of my training plan!

I’m really glad that I kept my mileage around 40 miles per week over the summer.  This week was tough due to two workouts but the actual number of miles I ran wasn’t a challenge.  For that I think I can partially thank all of the miserably hot and slow miles I ran from June to August.  I’m not confident about my ability to run a fast 8K on October 2nd but I feel pretty good about being able to grind out 20+ miles total on little sleep for Cap to Coast.

The plan:

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The execution (spoiler– I did not follow the schedule at all):

Monday, 12-Sep: I usually work from home on Monday, which makes it a good day for running.  But my schedule was thrown off from the start with a 7:00 AM meeting, which meant no AM run for me.  So I rested and did some yoga in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 13-Sep: 6 miles easy

Wednesday, 14-Sep: I fully intended to do this workout on the track.  However, I did not sleep well at all on Tuesday night and was wide awake before 4:00 AM.  I decided to hit the treadmill at a super early hour since I was already awake and knew I would start to get hungry and tired later in the morning. I ran 7.5 miles total:

  • 1 mile warm up
  • 4 x 1600m @ 10K effort (7:30, 7:30, 7:24, 7:24) with 400m recovery
  • 1 mile cool down

All things considered this was fine, though I am not sure how easily I’d hit those paces on the track, especially with the current heat and humidity.  Also did some yoga at night.

Thursday, 15-Sep: Doubles day.  5 easy in the morning, 6 easy in the afternoon– 11 miles total.

Friday, 16-Sep: Rest because tired and early meeting at the office.

Saturday, 17-Sep: I got up early and met up with some folks from my running group who were planning on 10+ miles.  I figured I would run 9 easy and then drop off.  This is easy to do on our usual route; however, on Saturday everyone wanted to run a different route with more hills, which was concerning since I had a track workout planned the next day.  The run ended up being much less disastrous than it could have been.  The pace (~10 min/mile) felt very easy and it was fun to run a new route even if we got lost and accidentally ran down a smelly alley trying to find our way back to the trail.  We ran up the massive hill on 15th Street– which is around mile 12 on the Austin Half Marathon course– and the hill did not feel bad at all when I was not 12 miles into a half marathon and trying to hold onto a sub-8:00 minute pace.  I ended up running 9.56 miles— not too much more than this week’s prescribed long run– and felt like I had a lot of energy left at the end.

Sunday, 18-Sep:  Since Track Sunday was such a success last week I decided to try it again this week.  I was a little worried about how my legs would feel after nearly 10 miles the day before but I don’t think that was an issue at all since I made sure to keep my easy effort on Saturday easy.  I aimed for 800m repeats in 3:35 and 400m repeats in 1:45 or faster.  Aside from the first 800m repeat I was pretty much on pace:

  • 1 mile easy
  • 6 x 800m @ 5K effort with 400m recovery (3:41, 3:36, 3:32, 3:34, 3:35, 3:35)
  • 800m easy
  • 4 x 400m @ ~7:00 minute/mile pace with 200m recovery (1:44, 1:45, 1:46, 1:43)
  • 1.1 mile easy

Total of 8.18 miles per my Garmin.  Total of 2 breakfast tacos post-workout.  That’s why I hope to keep Track Sunday around.

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