Monthly Archives: May 2013

I just ran my first race!

so5k-flagThis past Monday I took to the streets with 358 other runners to celebrate Memorial Day by participating in the first annual Special Operations 5k race hosted by Boston Street Running.  It was my first race (ever!) and my first athletic competition since playing soccer in eighth grade, so I had no idea what to expect.  I knew about my fitness from training, but I didn’t know how I’d deal with the stress of race day.

Adam has been racing for over a decade now and I’ve been to many of his races, but I never felt inclined to participate myself.  I certainly had no chance of making the podium and didn’t see the point in paying to do what I could do for free.  The idea of racing was never motivating for me like it seems to be for some people.  You know what I mean – sign up for a race so you have to train for it.  No, I would rather just keep running because I enjoyed getting faster and feeling strong.  In fact, the thought of racing had the opposite effect on me: rather than inspiring me to train, it would make me feel uneasy about my current fitness (I’m not fast enough or training hard enough) and make running feel like a chore.  No thanks.

So what changed?  Well, the race was sponsored by a local minimalist shoe store that I fully support and the registration money would go to the Navy SEAL Foundation.  The race also pitted the police against the firefighters in a friendly cross-country-style competition.  Adam’s brother, Shane, is a firefighter and was really excited about this.  I also knew a number of people who would be racing with me (below from left to right: me, Adam, Abbey, Anysia, and Shane).  It sounded like fun so I signed up.

so5k-group-preI knew of the race six weeks ahead of time, so I was able to run the course twice as part of my Sunday long runs.  It’s straight and flat and mentally challenging since it has long lines of sight – you can see the turn-around point from a mile away.  The first time I ran the course was on 04/21 at the end of my eight mile run.  I really pushed it and was able to finish in just over 29 minutes.  The second time I ran the course was on 04/28 at the start of my long run.  This time I wanted to save enough for the following five miles, so I cruised the 5k in 30 minutes.  After running those times as part of a longer run, I was hoping I could sneak under 27 minutes for the race.

The big question I had was this: how would I handle running in a crowd on race day?  I’m good at pacing myself when I’m alone on the road (or with Adam), but would I still be able to gauge my pace with the confusion of the crowd?  I was worried I would go out too hard and break halfway through the race.  And if I did go out too hard, would my asthma act up?  My asthma has stopped me in my tracks multiple times when running.  It’s almost always when I get stressed out about something, and it thankfully passes within minutes once I stop to calm down and catch my breath.  But who wants to do that in the middle of a race?  Not me.

I decided this race was a good time to answer that question and I was prepared to deal with my asthma if it did act up.  It was going to be a learning experience.  In the two weeks leading up to the race, I made sure to run a few 5ks to get used to the distance.  The times surprised me – they were fast.  I was excited about the upcoming race, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.

Everything was going according to plan… until the weekend before the race.

On Friday, our research group went to a nearby Japanese/Korean place for lunch.  I’d eaten there multiple times before, but I’d recently cut out much of the salt and sugar from my diet.  That lunch was just too much for me.  I don’t know if it was salt or sugar or MSG, but I had a terrible headache and stomach ache for hours afterwards.  I was barely functional.  Overall, not a great start to the weekend.

Friday evening my family arrived for the weekend!  They came into town for Adam’s and my engagement party the next day.  Saturday was a wonderful day of fellowship and food – lots of food.  I’m sure I overdosed on sugar and salt, but I wasn’t too worried about it.  It was a special day.  In fact, it far exceeded my expectations.

family-baltimoreAs Saturday night came to a close, though, my asthma started acting up.  I laid in bed for an hour before I fell asleep, just fighting with my breathing.  It was just bad enough to keep me awake – not enough to be real cause for concern.  I didn’t feel stressed at all.  No, this time the trigger was either alcohol or allergies (probably both).  Eventually I fell asleep and I hoped everything would be better in the morning.  Well, I was half right.  I wasn’t wheezing in the morning, but my chest was still tight.  In fact, it remained that way for most of the day Sunday.  I was also feeling a bit shaky – probably due to more sugar than I’m used to the day before.  With my family in town, I was determined to put it behind me and make the most of the day.  I made sure to drink a lot of water and appreciate every minute I spent with them.  If the race didn’t work out as planned, then so be it.

Sadly, Sunday night eventually came to a close and I had to say goodbye to my family.  Again, I’ll say that this weekend far surpassed my expectations and that Adam and I are incredibly blessed to have such wonderful families.  I wished mine safe travels on their trip home, and I made it to bed well before ten.  The race was just a few hours away.

Adam needed to help set up for the race, so we planned to arrive at the course around 6am on race day.  I laid out my clothes and gear the night before, so I was able to sleep until 5:15 or so.  I grabbed a bottle of water and a bagel for the car ride, and we were off!  We arrived without trouble and I spent an hour reading Smithsonian Magazine in the car while Adam worked.  I finished the bottle of water and nibbled my way through half a bagel before 6:15, so I wouldn’t be thirsty or hungry during the race. I also made sure to use the bathroom well before the race (since there are always long lines right before the start time).  Everything went according to plan.  The weather was pleasantly chilly so I had sweats on before the race, but I knew a tank and shorts would be comfortable once I was running.

As soon as I ventured out from the car I ran into Adam’s family.  Not only were his siblings running, but his 83 year-old great uncle was, too.  And not only that – he rode his bike to the race from Dundalk, MD.  Awesome.  At 7:30, I warmed up with Shane, Anysia, and Abbey by jogging for eight or nine minutes.  My legs felt good, but my breathing was definitely tight, a remnant from the day before.  I let it go and accepted whatever was about to happen.

We lined up ten minutes before the 8:00 start to listen to announcements and speeches.  The weather was perfect.  I was feeling good.  Shane suggested that we run together since we would be about the same pace.  It sounded like a good idea to me, but once the race began, he was off.  Apparently I’m not so great at dodging the other runners.  Plus, I wanted to go out conservatively and do my best to run an even pace.

Throughout the first half of the run I was completely calm.  When I looked at my watch three minutes into the race, I noticed that my GPS and heart rate monitor had turned off some time between my warm up and the start of the race.  All that was left was the time.  Oh well.  I wouldn’t have any data to examine afterwards, but I also couldn’t obsessively check my pace during the race (probably for the best).  By the first turn (about a half mile) everyone had settled into place.  The fast people were way ahead and I had plenty of room to run where I liked.  At this point, to my surprise, I slowly began passing people.  I held my pace steady, monitored my breathing, and freed my mind.  I kept this up until what I would guess was the 2.4 mile mark.  At this point four or five people passed me and running became harder.  Thankfully, I noticed Shane just a few meters ahead.  It took a couple minutes to close the gap, but eventually I caught up – just as we turned back onto Boston Street.


It was only a half mile to the finish.  The end was almost in sight.  Shane and I were both uncomfortable at this point, but we pushed forward together.  We managed to (thankfully!) pass a couple of eleven year-old girls on the way to the finish line.  Other than that and a painful stitch in my ribcage area, the finishing stretch was uneventful.  Shane and I crossed the finish line together and that was it.

I had just completed my first 5k race in 25:14.  That’s 8:07 min/mile pace.  I never would have hoped for a time like that – especially since the fastest I’d run up to that point was 26:54 (8:40 min/mile pace).  I finished 11th in my age group (F20-29), 24th among the women, and 99th overall. (see the results here)

Abbey finished second in her age group (F15-19) in 28:09, and Paulee finished fourth in his age group (M20-29) with an impressive time of 19:05.  All in all, it was a successful run for all of us.

The best part of the whole experience was certainly spending time with people after the race and enjoying the shared celebration of running and of Memorial Day.  The weather was perfect and there were dozens of people I knew.

So will I race again?  Almost certainly, but this race is going to be hard to beat.


Week 21: workouts

This week was special for a few reasons.  First and foremost was that my family was in town for Adam’s and my engagement party on Saturday!  Friday evening through Sunday night was spent enjoying their company and the fellowship of shared family gatherings.  It was a really wonderful weekend.  It was also the week before my first-ever race – the 5k Memorial Day run hosted by Boston Street Running.  And to top it all off, the gym was closed all week for graduation festivities and maintenance work.

The goal was to run three 5k’s during the week, then take the weekend off to spend time with family and let my legs rest.  On Monday I intended to run a familiar 5k loop around campus, but I hit multiple dead ends due to construction on Charles Street.  I managed to work it out, but at the end of the run I got confused and stopped after 3.0 miles rather than the 3.1 miles that constitutes a 5k.  I didn’t realize it until I was done stretching, so there was nothing I could do.  I ran the 3 miles in 26:30 which was fast for me.  Apparently the increased fitness I experienced last week was still there.

On Tuesday I just did my usual ab workout at home and spent the morning writing last week’s workout week-in-review.

wednesday-runWednesday was another 5k, this time on a route up north – the one I ran in 28:08 last week.  A half mile into the run, another runner came up behind me from a side street.  I decided I’d try to keep the pace strong and stay in front of her as long as I could.  It was fun to imagine I was in a race and to see if I could will myself to go faster – the answer: not really.  I had to work for it, but I finished the 5k in 27:11, close to the pace I ran on the flat, open course at Montebello last week.

Thursday I wanted to take it easy, but I also wanted to join Adam at the track.  Since the gym was closed, I decided to join him to enjoy the fresh air, stretch my legs, and provide moral support.  While he did some really tough intervals, I walked 2 miles around the track barefoot.

Friday was my last day to run before the race on Monday, and I was feeling the pressure.  The past two weeks, I’d put up some really good times and I didn’t feel like hurting the way I did on Wednesday.  Adam convinced me to take it easy and to enjoy the run.  This time I ran to Druid Hill park and back which has a decent hill right before the turn-around.  I kept the pace comfortable and really did enjoy it.  Several people even said good morning as I passed.  At a comfortable pace, I was able to finish the 5k in 28:37.  

After that run on Friday, I was occupied by a visit by my advisor (currently halfway across the world on sabbatical), then my family’s visit.  I didn’t even have a chance to think twice about missing my long run on the weekend.  Allergies were killing me on Sunday, so I was a little worried about the race the next morning, but it all worked out.  I’ll save those details for another post.  All in all it was an amazing week, even workout-wise!

Week 20: workouts

This week marked another turning point in my fitness.  All of a sudden – out of nowhere – I feel fast.  I have an image in my mind of what a strong runner looks like when he or she runs (probably based on Adam), but I never thought I looked like that.  Until this week.

Tuesday morning I went to Montebello with Adam to help him train for an upcoming triathlon.  He wanted to bike 20k then make a quick transition to a 5k run, so I offered to run while he biked then grab the bike from him so he didn’t need to rack it on the car before starting his run.  The weather was chilly – below 40 degrees – so I bundled up with running tights, Underarmour, a fleece, and gloves.  I began my 5k and Adam took off on the bike.  The coarse was flat, the weather was beautiful, and I was feeling good.  After one lap (1.3 miles) I had warmed up enough to drop off my fleece and gloves at the car.  During the second lap I “found my legs” and I felt like I was flying.  It felt great.  I finished the 5k in 26:54 which is a new PR for me (by over a minute!).  The timing worked out perfectly, too, since Adam finished his bike only minutes later.

MontebelloMy heart rate data looked good, too.  It shows that I wasn’t really pushing it for most of the workout.  Below 170 is generally comfortable for me, and my max is close to 185 (which I didn’t see here).  Overall, this run felt

Wednesday was another day at the gym with my standard lifting and abs workouts.  I think the low weight and high number of reps has been a good fit for me so far: I’m building muscle without having to worry so much about injuring myself.  Lifting has also been a nice counterpoint to my running – not only because it strengthens muscles that aren’t taxed much during running, but also because it gets me out of the house in the morning.  I feel good when I work out, but if I tried to run five or six days a week I’d certainly burn out – mentally and physically.

Thursday morning I went for another 5k run, this time from the apartment on one of my usual routes.  I never intend to go out hard on a run – I just go out and do what feels right.  From the beginning of this run I felt strong, so I kept a fast pace.  Again, I felt like I was flying.  Unlike Tuesday’s run, this course had hills and most of the first half was uphill.  It was also 73 degrees (ah Baltimore weather!).  I had to stop at a couple lights and watch for cars on side streets (again, unlike Tuesday’s run) which slowed me down a bit.  My heart rate was pushing high 180s at points, but it felt so good to run fast.  I was amazed that my body could move like that.  Ah, it was amazing.  Overall, I managed to run the 5k in 28:08.


Friday morning I was back at the gym for 20 minutes on the recumbent bike, lifting, and abs.

Saturday was scheduled to be my long run day since Adam had a race on Sunday morning, but my calves were really sore so I opted to swim instead.  Well, more specifically, I opted to swim-kick 1000m using a kickboard.  I believe it took me a little less than a half hour.  Adam and I arrived at Meadowbrook around 7am and used the outdoor lanes to swim.  The weather was beautiful and it felt good to get an early start to the day.

Sunday was Adam’s first triathlon of the season, so we were up before 4am.  Needless to say, my free time later in the day was spent napping rather than working out.

So what contributed to this turning point in my running?  It’s probably impossible to say, but there are a couple things I did differently this week.  First of all, I drank a ton of water all week – by my estimates, 85oz per day.  I also cut out nearly all the dairy in my diet, though this was mostly unintentional.  I don’t know what caused me to feel so good this week, but hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.  My first race is coming up in a week and I would love to feel strong on race day!

Week 19: workouts

This week was a lesson on the importance of staying hydrated – a lesson I would rather not have to face again.  Thankfully, nothing dramatic happened like passing out from heat exhaustion.  No, I just didn’t drink enough water during the week and it made my workouts more painful.  In fact, it made life in general more painful.

It all started last Sunday.  Adam had an early race, so we were on the road at 4:30am.  I had one water bottle, but after my five mile run that wasn’t enough.  I’m generally bad about drinking enough water, but it’s worse when I’m on the road or without my usual schedule.  By Monday morning I had the vague feeling I was dehydrated, but it wasn’t strong enough to really sink into my mind.

On Monday I had my usual 12 oz of decaf coffee at work which made the situation worse.  By the end of the day I felt horrendous – headache, stomach ache, dizziness.  I could barely focus enough to work.  I didn’t know what was wrong and I don’t remember feeling dehydrated, but looking back on it, I know I was.

I attempted a 5k on Tuesday morning, but after 1.8 miles of slow, downhill running my heart rate was pushing 180 (high end for me), my chest was tight, and I had a ton of phlegm in my throat.  I was exhausted and had to catch my breath.  I walked for almost half a mile before trudging my way home at a very slow jog.  I vowed to drink more water so I wouldn’t feel this way again.  I followed through with that on Tuesday and I skipped my usual coffee.

For my Wednesday morning workout, I spent 20 minutes on the recumbent bike with low resistance and high speed (90+ rpm).  My calves felt strained so I did a good bit of stretching after the bike.  I hadn’t run more than usual lately, so I’d be willing to bet that the strained feeling was due to dehydration.  After stretching, I went to the weight room and did three sets of twenty reps for each of the following muscles: back, chest, shoulders, biceps, and triceps.  As usual, I finished up with a short ab workout.  I felt good.  Unfortunately I didn’t learn my lesson and didn’t drink enough water during the day at work.  I went back to the coffee and by the end of the day I was dehydrated again.

Thursday was a day at the track with Adam.  I warmed up with a 3/4 mile jog and drills, then prepared myself for 4x1000m and 4x200m.  I wasn’t feeling great – I almost never look forward to starting intervals – but this felt a little worse than usual.  I just focus on negative splitting (so I don’t have to push super hard on the first interval).  My rest between intervals was 2:00 for the 1000m and 1:15 for the 200m:

  • 4:55  (7:55 min/mile pace)
  • 4:59  (8:01 min/mile pace)
  • 4:54  (7:53 min/mile pace)
  • 4:51  (7:48 min/mile pace)
  • 0:46  (6:10 min/mile pace)
  • 0:47  (6:18 min/mile pace)
  • 0:47  (6:18 min/mile pace)
  • 0:46  (6:10 min/mile pace)

Thursday at work I drank my usual coffee which naturally displaces the water I would be drinking.  When will I learn?

Friday morning was the same as Wednesday, with even more stretching after the bike.  At work it was more coffee and by the end of the day I felt terrible again.  I had a headache and no appetite.  This time I knew it was dehydration so I skipped the alcohol and drank four glasses of water at dinner.

Saturday was another day off, but I was still feeling the effects.  I couldn’t stomach dinner until I downed six glasses of water.

Sunday was my long run, so it was back down to the harbour for another eight miles in 1:23:00 with tons of wind.  With two miles to go I was really feeling the need for water.  I also realized how grumpy I can get when I’m running.  I love being a runner, but I don’t always love running – at least, while I’m doing it.  (A big thanks to Adam for his patience, by the way.)

I’m finally beginning to recognize how coffee (which I love) is becoming a detriment to my training and my life in general.  We’ll see if I can finally say goodbye…

Week 18: workouts

This week was a busy one at work.  My goal for the week was to maintain my fitness for my first 5k race on the 27th.  Overall, I’m happy with how everything worked out.


I needed to get into the office early, so I settled for a quick 1.5 mile run from my apartment.  It was cool and lightly raining outside which would have felt great if I hadn’t overdressed.  The traffic seemed more harrowing than usual, probably because the highways were backed up, so people were using the side roads to get to work.  Add to this the slipperiness of the roads and I’ve officially decided I don’t like it when it rains.  After my run I made sure to stretch well and do my ab workout.


It was another rainy day, so Adam and I opted for the treadmills rather than the track.  The temperature was in the fifties which probably would have been too cold for the hour and a half we would have spent outside.  It had been a while since I’d been on the treadmill for an interval workout, so I wasn’t sure what I could handle.  The plan was five intervals of 4:00 on and 2:15 off.  At the pace I ran, this corresponded to about 800m intervals.  I ran the first four at 7.4mph (8:06 min/mile) and the last one at 7.8mph (7:42 min/mile).  Overall, I’d say this workout was moderately difficult.  As usual, we began with an 8:00 warm up with drills and finished with a 5:00 cool down and stretching.


On Wednesday I made my way back to the weight room for the first time in a short while.  I started with abs, then did the usual lifting routine.  I skipped the recumbent bike in favor of getting to work early.


It was my day off.


On Friday afternoon, I had to give a short speech for a building dedication on campus, so I knew I needed a good morning workout to calm my nerves.  Adam and I went to the track that morning so he could test his legs before his Sunday race.  I did the same and ran 2 miles at race pace, 8:23 min/mile.  I was pretty tired by that point, but I figured I could suffer through another mile at that pace on race day.  We’ll see!


Another busy day with no scheduled workout – just lots of chores and grading homework.


Adam had a race in Frederick that started at 7am, so I was up before 4am and on the road by 4:30am.  We arrived at 5:30am, and I promptly took a light nap while Adam did his thing.  I saw him off at the start before I ran back to the car to drop off the camera and head off on a run of my own.  I figured I’d have enough time to get six miles in before he finished the half marathon.  I managed only five miles since I crossed paths with the race course (by happy coincidence) and realized that if I wanted to see the winner, I’d need to be back early.  I also stopped for a few minutes to cheer for Adam on the course.  I had been to Frederick once before, but I never ventured past the Fairgrounds.  On my run I was able to see the downtown and a couple small parks, and it was beautiful.  The weather was great (sunny and chilly enough for a long-sleeved shirt and shorts) and the town was charming.  Adam had a great race and set yet another PR.  What more could I ask for?  Overall, I finished my 5 miles in 46:22 (9:16 min/mile) – not too shabby!