Race Recap: 2015 Spring Thaw

The Spring Thaw race was Saturday, February 28 at North Park. It's considered a warm-up race for the Pittsburgh Half and Full Marathon. The course was the five-mile lake loop run counterclockwise, and available distances were 10, 15, and 20 miles. The lake loop is pretty much rolling hills. You paid one fee and then could decide during the race whether you wanted to increase or decrease your distance. I ran the 10-mile distance as a training run. This was my first 10-mile race, my first double-digit training run in this training cycle, and overall a great race that taught me a few things.

Pre-Race: Zero Degrees
The race didn't start until 10 a.m., but Amanda and I decided to meet at 8:30 at the skating rink parking lot a little farther away to get a warm-up walk or jog in before going to pick up our bibs at the Rose Barn. When I left my house it was -1F and when I got to the parking lot it was 0F. The forecast called for 16F at race time, but I didn't think to prepare myself for the temps before the race started. When we got out of our cars and started walking, we realized just how cold it was. I usually wear my face mask if it's in the single digits and, without it, my nose was so cold it stung and felt like it was going to fall off. I had to hold my hand over my nose. Amanda's toes were about ready to fall off too. We regretted not taking the shuttle, but once we started walking we warmed up a bit. But I have to say that in all the cold temps we've had and I've run in this winter, that was definitely the coldest I've felt! Once we got to the Rose Barn to pick up our bibs, we basically just stayed there to be warm until it was time to go over to the start line at the Boat House. We met Chelsea, who was volunteering before running the race herself. She lives close to me on the Northside, so I was happy to meet a fellow local runner! We also ran into Steff, who had decided just that morning to run the race.

Amanda and me staying warm in the Boat House before the race

We could bring bags with a change of clothes and drop them off at the start line. Because I'm always freezing in my sweaty clothes after runs, I brought a full change of clothes and dropped it off. Then we huddled in the foyer of the restaurant at the Boat House until they kicked us out.

At the start line we ran into Steff again and Nichole and briefly talked about our strategies before lining up. Amanda was going to race it, and I was just doing it as a training run, so we wished each other luck and I got in line well behind the 11:00 pacer.

Race Goals
1. One of my goals was to practice nutrition and fueling. I've pretty much always ignored the advice on what to eat the week of and days before a race because I figured I have special dietary needs. If I always eat broccoli and beans, why shouldn't I eat that the night before a race? Ha! This time I'm following advice from the Racing Weight and Hansons Half Marathon Method books, which is also pretty much in line with what Nichole recently wrote about fueling. I've been increasing my complex carbs in general per the Racing Weight strategy, and in the two days before the race I tried to reduce high-fiber vegetables, fruit, and beans and eat more complex carbs from whole grains instead. This was very difficult for me! Vegetables, fruit, and beans are the majority of my diet, so it was like learning a whole new way to eat. I will do a separate post, but basically I think I found some things that worked.

Unfortunately, I was so focused on pre-race nutrition that I didn't give fueling during the race much thought. I couldn't carry a water bottle because the straps don't fit around my heaviest gloves but was worried about not carrying Nuun. My compromise was to fill my small 8-ounce flask with Nuun and carry it in my jacket pocket and supplement with water at the stations. I also brought two Clif energy gels.

2. My other goal going into the race was to run it a bit faster, perhaps at a moderate pace. My pace for long slow runs is anywhere from 12:00-13:30 minute miles, but usually that's putting some effort into going slowly. For this race, I wasn't going to work at going slowly but instead wanted to run a bit faster.

However, right before the race started, I wasn't sure what to do. It was so cold that I did not want to run anywhere close to slowly, and I wondered if I should try to run part of the race (the middle or the second loop) at race pace. Even as I lined up I wasn't sure what to do. 

Race Start and Miles 1-5
Almost as soon as I lined up, Joanna introduced herself. I was so happy to meet her! I read her blog, Next Gen House, and her approach to eating (against caged/confined animals, a clean, whole-foods approach supporting local agriculture) is very similar to mine. Plus, she has chickens! I love chickens and have always wanted to have them as pets, but because I have feral cats in my backyard I can't. Joanna's plan was to do the first loop around an 11:30 pace and then pick it up in the second loop if she felt like it. That sounded great to me, so I asked if I could join her.

Per my Garmin, it was 9 degrees when the race started. But at least the sun was out, and it didn't feel like I was going to get frostbite anymore.

I kept track of pace and we did the first 5-mile loop between an 11:20 and 11:25 pace.  My feet were cold and toes almost felt numb for about the first mile, but then I quickly warmed up and was comfortable for the rest of the race. We talked the entire time about being vegetarian when your spouse is an omnivore, healthy eating, chickens, and other fun topics. I did wonder what the runners around us thought of our conversation!

That first loop was very enjoyable. The pace felt easy, and only on hills did my breathing become a bit ragged. I checked my heart rate occasionally and was comfortable with where it was. Unfortunately, I was having so much fun that I completely forgot to take my gel! I typically take a gel every 45 minutes on long runs, and as we completed our first loop I saw the clock was at 58 minutes. Oops!

Miles 6-10
I pulled out my gel right after we passed the clock and was kicking myself for not taking it out earlier since there was a water station right there. That gel was the beginning of things taking a turn for the worse. The gel itself was so cold, even though it had been in my pants pocket, that it was very thick and hard to get out of the package. It seemed like it took forever for me to get it down. Then, my flask was in my pocket, but to get it out I'd have to take off my glove, and by that point my hands were a little sweaty so pulling my big, thick ski glove back on was tough. I swear it took me a good half-mile to get my gel down and get my Nuun out. Joanna asked if I still wanted to pick up the pace. Suddenly, our pace seemed harder, and I admitted that I could try for a little bit of a push but didn't think I could go much faster, and she said that was fine with her.

Right around mile 6, I pretty much stopped talking. I felt like I was having to work hard even though our pace was reading about 11:25. I apologized to Joanna, but I was just not able to talk much from then on out. Every time I checked my heart rate, I saw that it was very high, in my max zone. That flustered me, so I changed my screen so that I couldn't see my heart rate anymore. I was working very hard, which upset me because an 11:25 pace should not feel that hard! I also had a little side stitch and my stomach was a little nauseated, which typically happens when I push hard.

As we started up the biggest hill on the course, on Ingomar Road, I told Joanna I had to slow down but would try to pick it up again on the downhill. I also told her she could go on ahead since I didn't want to hold her back. But she said she was just doing it as a training run, so she stayed with me. At the top she asked me how my heart rate was, and I checked it. It was sky high, near max. But at that point, we had slightly less than 1.5 miles to go, so I was okay with it and knew I just needed to dig in and get it done.

We had walked through all the water stations, and the last water station at mile 9 was a killer because we both said we didn't feel like running again. I walked through the water stations at my last half marathon but am not sure I'm going to do it at the Pittsburgh race. Especially late in the race, it's just so hard to start running after take a walk break.

Also, I'd been working so hard the second half of the race that the effort involved in taking my second gel seemed impossible, so I didn't take it.

We started the final mile and when we got to the smallish hill up Pearce Mill Road, I was so tired that I really felt it and it slowed me down. Next thing we knew, we had only a half-mile to go, and we both picked up the pace. As we turned into the Boat House parking lot and ran around the cones that were set up for the finish chute, I was gasping for air and felt like I was running at 100% max.

We crossed in 1:55:06 for an 11:30 pace, per the official results. My Garmin recorded a 10:13 distance for an 11:22 pace.

Joanna and me crossing the finish line

I picked up my medal, hat, which was the race giveaway, and my bag that I'd dropped off, and we headed over to the Rose Barn where they were serving lunch. Changing out of sweaty clothes is a good idea, but in reality it was about as much work as the race was. Changing out of my bra and tops took so much time and effort that I just left my sweaty bottoms on.

There was pizza, soup, fruit, water, Gatorade, and hot chocolate. I got pizza and scraped the cheese off and had tomato florentine soup. I was starving, so both were delicious! I sat at a table with Amanda, Nichole, and Nichole's husband and adorable son, who literally smiled the whole time. It was nice to relax, chat, and enjoy the food. Amanda (her race recap) and Nichole (her race recap for the 15-miler)  both had really good runs, so I was happy for them.

Luckily, a shuttle came pretty quickly to take us back to our cars because neither Amanda nor I wanted to walk in the cold back to our cars!

The Stats
Earlier in the week, I'd been playing with my Garmin and took it off auto-lap and completely forgot to reset it. So my Garmin didn't record my mile splits. ARGH. However, I can still see the data--heart rate, elevation, pace--per mile and distance, so I've been able to do a little analysis. The first 5 miles my heart rate was between 80-90%. The second 5 miles it was between 90-100%. The first 5 miles we ran at more of a consistent pace, and the second 5 miles were bigger increases and decreases in pace (between a 10:09 pace and 12:50 pace within .25 mile, for example), though that may be the result of slowing more dramatically on uphills and trying to run faster on the downhills to make up the time. The last half-mile we ran a pretty consistent 10:00 pace.

Per the official race stats, my first 5-mile split was 11:33 and second 5-mile split was 11:29.

What Went Well
1. I met my goal to run faster than my long, slow pace.
2. While just barely, I met the goal Joanna and I set at the beginning to run the second half a little faster. (Note that Amanda knocked out an absolutely awesome negative split, running the second half 42 seconds/mile faster than the first!)
3. I never gave up and kept pushing, even when it got really hard in the second half. I owe a big thanks to Joanna for that. I do much better when I'm running with someone, even if we're not talking. Just having her beside me helped me keep pushing. If I had been alone, I'm not sure I wouldn't have slowed down a lot or even walked.
4. I was able to not only keep pushing when it felt hard but surged for the last half-mile of the course and ended at a 10:00 pace.

Given that this was my first double-digit run since last December and given that I met my pace goals, I'm happy with this race!

What Could Be Improved
But of course there's always room for improvement. At the post-race lunch, I started feeling bummed that the second half felt so hard. If I'm struggling with an 11:22 pace for 10 miles, how am I going to do 13.1 at an 11:00 pace? When I got home I was still disappointed, but I ended up reading this article from Running Times about how to regain your confidence after a poor performance. This especially rung true: "Running a poor race can be devastating because there is an assumption that you're 'just not good enough' despite all of the effort and emotion you've put into your training." The gist is to immediately stop the negative feelings of self-doubt, which can be really detrimental to your next race. Instead, the article suggests listing out what things contributed to your performance, what were out of your control, and what you can do about the ones that were in your control. Here's my list of things in my control I can work on.

1. Fueling during the race. Running for nearly two hours on only one gel is not setting myself up for success. We're all different in how much fuel we need, but I am not a runner who can get by with little fuel. Plus, I was running at a high enough intensity that I was burning through carbs more quickly than on slow, easy runs. So I think one of the biggest contributors to how hard the second loop felt was that I was starting to run on empty. I tend to do best taking one gel every 45 minutes. I should have done this during the race and need to do this for all training runs and races from here on out. Also, I usually take a Salt Stick cap before hard runs, which helps prevent nausea for me. I didn't take one for this race because I didn't think I'd be going at a hard effort, but I should probably just take one before every race or hard run.

2. Running through the water stations. I think it's okay for me to walk through water stations early on, but later on when I'm tired it's just too difficult to start running again. For my next race, I'm going to practice either not walking through any water stations or walking through only the first few and not walking later in the race.

3. Running hills at race pace. I have been running the lake loop every single weekend since last fall with Amanda. But most of the time I'm running hilly routes at an easy pace. I'm going to run more of my race pace runs on the lake loop to practice running my target pace on hills.

Race Management and Swag
This race was organized by Elite Runners, a local shoe store. Their races are always very well organized. I like that they offer pacers, and I was really happy they had bag drop-off for this race. I think this was a really good event with nice swag and a good meal afterwards. Also, I love that they give you free finish line pictures and videos. While we were eating lunch, the race director Kevin Smith got on the microphone and asked us if we enjoyed the event and to feel free to offer him suggestions for future events. You can tell that Kevin and the whole Elite staff totally get what makes a great race and want to make their races as good as they can be.

All finishers got this really cute medal. I love this medal!

All finishers also got this knit hat.

15-mile finishers also got gloves, and 20-mile finishers got gloves and a neck buff. 

Overall, this was a great race that I'll definitely do again.

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