Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hello SMARM, My Old Friend

This coming weekend, I'll be running the Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries (SMARM) 5K for the 4th time. I very much enjoy this race, despite the challenging terrain because of my history with it.

I ran the inaugural race as my first 5K back in 2009. Having just finished the Couch to 5K program, I was excited to run the entire race without walking.  I finished in 33:59, and immediately began looking forward to improving my time. A pattern which has continued over the years.

The following year, I ran the race again. With the hills and terrain variations in our area, an apples to apples comparison for race times is practically impossible, save repeating a race the following year. I didn't know it at the time, but I was incredibly anemic for SMARM round 2, and finished slower. My  36:48 time was disappointing and should have been a red flag of my illness.

I skipped the race in 2011 but managed to finally break through to a sub 30 finishing time at a different race. I had high hopes in 2012, but circumstances made this race only a 3 second PR - 29:17. On race day, my friend Christie O. was having cancer surgery, so I wore this tutu (crafted by Mrs. O herself) in her honor.

I'll just tell ya, rain and tutus don't mix. We got hit with a monsoon at the start line, and I lost my fluff. Instead, during the race I fought to keep the tulle from going between my legs and chaffing.

For 2013, the year of the half, I chose to travel to Ohio in quest of the illusive sub 2. No SMARM for me.

I'm excited to be tackling the race again this year. I know I'm a stronger runner than ever, but I'm not sure where my speed puts me in relation to my current 5K PR (25:50). I'm excited to see what I've got! I've ran the hills a couple of times this past week or so. Knowing the course well can't hurt!

Your turn: Do you have any races/challenges coming up? Do you prefer running the same race every year, or tackling something new/different?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rainbow Falls Trail Report + Gatlinburg Shennanigans

With the day off work, I convince Jay to go on yet another hike with me this past Friday (Good Friday). Some friends of ours were in town for their honeymoon, and had mentioned meeting up for dinner. Instead, Jay invited them along on the hike with us.

awww - how cute!

We originally planned to tackle Ramsay Cascades, but upon arriving at the trail head we learned it was closed. The family we met walking back to their car said that a bridge crossing was out. We quickly regrouped and headed into Gatlinburg and toward another falls.

The last time I hiked the Rainbow Falls trail, I was headed toward Mount LeConte on a snowy day. I didn't remember much about the trail, or the falls, so this would be an adventure.

The happy couple aren't use to hiking, so we took the trail at an easy pace - stopping for water and snack breaks on the way up.  Jay had been up late the night before troubleshooting technical problems he was having with wireless Internet, so he had his grumpy pants on to start the day. Its hard to stay grumpy when you are surrounded by beautiful scenery and friends.

The above picture wasn't the falls, but just a pretty place to take a break. The day was cool and overcast. We were blessed with just about perfect weather, save for the handful of sprinkles which hit us at the top.

My favorite part of this trail is the constant scenery. When not passing smaller falls, there are plenty of spots with the creek to enjoy. Then, of course, when we arrived at *the* falls, we find a perfect perch to enjoy our lunch.

The people are hard to notice in the top picture, they are the tiny blue dots for a bit of perspective of the size of the falls. A bit of a drizzle hit us on the way down, but nothing significant. We had a casual, easy pace and stopped for photo ops.

The sprinkles of rain went away as quickly as it came, giving us the opportunity to walk around downtown Gatlinburg. The city is quickly becoming the {legal} moonshine capital, and we hit up 3 different distilleries for free samples.

Then we ended the evening at a favorite local restaurant of ours. I've never been disappointed ordering the El Presidente porter house at Alamo Steakhouse. If all of that fun weren't enough, Jason sprung for balloon animals for us ladies. The balloon artist said it was to raise money for Jesus missions or something of the sort - the ultimate Win/win/win!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Not-Quite Quarter Marathon

File this under "thank you Captain Obvious," but training for a 10K (6.2 miles) is much different than training for a marathon (26.2 miles). While distant training always improves my endurance, which helps for shorter distances, it does present a challenge when trying to come up with a race plan for shorter distances.

In attempting to race the Mountain Man Memorial 10K I found myself conserving far too late in the race. Partially because of the crazy steep terrain, but also because I taught myself all winter how to start incredibly slow the early miles. "Early" in my marathon mind is the first hour. After all, that first hour I wouldn't even covered a quarter of my distance yet.

This past week, I started speed work in an effort to get faster before my goal race. I've got the next 5 weeks to get in the 10K mindset. The first hour isn't for warming up, its for racing. My current PR is 55:19, so come Expo 10,000 I hope I'm already at the bagel table when the clock hits 1 hour.

As we do every summer, my training partner and I are debating the merits of the weights class we take. Muscular endurance is all well and good while we are building stamina, but during our speed focused training we just aren't sure how much it would benefit. Currently on the table are the possibilities of returning to swimming and/or cycling for cross train activities.

My current plan is the Hal Hidgon Intermediate 10K. I'm not incredibly happy with it, but his advanced plan has 6/7 days a week of running. I just don't run that much. The intermediate plan calls for lots of easy miles and only 1 day of speed work per week. The challenge, however, is to actually follow the plan.

I never follow training plans. Typically I'll look at one, decide its not practical and make up my own thing as I go. A fine approach if I were using research to back it up, or if I were okay with sloppy, thrown together result - neither of which is the case.

Its time (past time really) for me to try the revolutionary new training method called stick to the plan stupid! Its sister plan slow down stupid worked marvelously for my marathon.

The part where I ask for advice:
How do I keep the easy runs from becoming boring and monotonous? How do I set a goal, when I believe I can do so much better than a new PR? How do I mentally get it through my head to start fast and get faster?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

West Prong Trail

Typically, Jay and I gravitate toward longer, more epic hikes. We make a day of it, and push ourselves to our physical limits. This past weekend, however, we switched it up a bit. I went to church Sunday morning, and Jay had to work. He didn't get home until a little before 3PM. Without much time to devote to high mileage, we settled on a shorter trail.

Bote Mountain Trail doesn't really have anything special at the end, but does cross through a really pretty camp site. I had forgotten, but he and I did this trail one other time - him carrying fishing gear and me with a book.

The trail is an uphill both ways hike, which truly makes it easier. The steepest part of the climb is in the first mile. Then it gradually descends into the campground. Of course that does mean a bit of an incline for the return but nothing challenging.

Sunday was one of the warmest days we've had so far this spring, so we ran into several different hiking parties on the trail. Thankfully we had the campsite to ourselves to kick back and relax.

We took a few minutes to catnap, look for fish, and enjoy the sound of the water.

On the way out, we had noticed a side trail - the trail description said it went to a cemetery, so we decided to explore it on the way back. We were just short of having 4 miles total and this detour would be a good way to make that up.

Turns out, its a through path, so we still ended up with just under 4 miles (3.75 once i walked around in the parking lot for 0.05 to round up to the nearest quarter). Our total hiking time was under an hour and twenty minutes (moving time). Not bad for an impromptu Sunday stroll!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mountain Man Memorial March - 10K - Race Report

The Mountain Man Memorial March is an event to celebrate members of the military who have lost their lives in combat. To honor them, teams are paired with gold star families so their flag/picture can be carried out onto the course.

I had the privilege of representing "Team Paul" in the ceremony the night before the race. My friend Christal presented me with the gold star flag in honor of her brother, Sgt. Thomason. Then Gretchen, Christal and I hit the streets of Gatlinburg for our prerace dinner and usual shenanigans.

My original goal for this race was to set a training marker to reference for my upcoming goal race, Expo 10K in May. Despite my memory of this difficult course, somehow I had forgotten just how hard it is.

Also, my head is still in long distance training. Despite the large incline at the beginning, I chatted through the first couple of miles with random people along the way. I probably should have been pushing harder, even that early, but I wanted to save some for later hills.

Mile 1 - 9:35

On the downhills of this course, I tried to really push myself. I knew it would be practically impossible to make up the time lost on the ups, but I wanted to give it a good effort. By the time we reached the short, steep up in the second mile, I decided on 30 second run/walk intervals. I didn't want to allow myself to dally, but the hill is practically impossible to run.

Mile 2 - 9:27

Once again, the course rewarded the hard uphill will a down. At this point, I was starting to feel the humidity and the warmth of the morning. The atmosphere of this race is what keeps me coming back. There are members of the military and ROTC dressed in full gear, carrying 40 pound packs. Some travel 13.1 miles. Others complete the entire 26.2. Yet these men and women are some of the first to cheer on the runners.

Mile 3 - 8:41

Long, gradual climbs are harder for me than short steep ones, probably for more mental reasons than physical. When we finally got out on the main road, we began the longest hill of the 10K section. I tried to break it up with walk breaks, only allowing myself to walk the length of a light pole before starting back. One of my few regrets of this race was not running with my hand-held water bottle. I was thirsty, but the first aid station wasn't until after the turn around.

Mile 4 - 10:05

The course is a lollipop, with the circle part in the beginning. The turn around was just after the 4th mile and also served as the first (and only for this distance) water stop. By this point in the race, I was so thirsty I stopped completely at the aid station. I knew I would be drinking a 2nd cup, so there was no forward motion while I drank. Thankfully the downhill of this mile helped me make up some time.

Mile 5 - 8:39

While the 5th mile clicked over, I looked down at my watch and thought "okay slow and steady." Then it hit me - there are only 6 miles in this race! My brain is still in distance mode, and I didn't make the transition to "almost done" until late in the race.

The last hill is in this mile and I charged up it with all I had. In the process, I passed a lady who looked like she was probably in the 30-39 age group. She was feeling the hills too, and encouraged me as I passed.

Mile 6 - 8:40

The final push was awkward for me. Even as late as mile 5, my garmin was spot on with the course mile markers. Somehow I picked up an extra 0.19 at the end of the race. Also, since the course is open, I had to fight tourists strolling on the sidewalk. At one point a group was 3 abreast - including a stroller. As the runner in front of me approached them, I shouted "runner up!!!"

Of course they stopped, turned, and just looked. The other runner and I had to go off into the grass to pass. Also, I kicked a bit early, thinking I was closer to the finish than I actually was. Coming off the main road, there are 3 turns in the last tenth of a mile.

Final 0.39 - {8:20}

Chip Time - 58:16

 My finishing time was almost 3 minutes off my 10K PR, but given the course I was happy with my effort. Also, it was good enough to earn me 2nd place bling.

Age group - 2/13

 So yeah, the girl I tried to help by shouting to clear the sidewalk? Totally the girl who won my age group. She beat me by 8 seconds (chip time) and crossed the finish only 3 seconds ahead of me. I'm not a very competitive person by nature, but that one hurts a bit.

Overall - 13/82

Still, its hard to be disappointed with my performance. Now to look forward to more runner friendly courses!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Frugal Date Night - Outdoor Movie

As a couple without kids, Jay and I are as purposeful as we should probably be about designating date nights. Sure we spend plenty of evenings just the 2 of us, but just like any couple, we get into a routine that quickly turns into a rut. When I saw a billboard for a free outdoor movie, I knew I'd discovered the perfect date night!

I'm not sure where/why/how, but I thought the movie started at 6pm. Jay (and a coworker) questioned how an outdoor movie could be viewed before dusk but we headed out to Burger King for a quick bite. I get off work at 5, so by the time I got home to pick up my man we didn't have time for slow food.

As Bjay headed to BK, I noticed the billboard again. 

American Graffiti - 8PM - The Island

Not 6. 

We had hurried for nothing. Instead we had plenty of time for goofing around. Phones weren't allowed on the date save for social media picture posting. Given the amount of likes the above picture received, I don't think anyone understood the "date night fit for a King" caption.

The Island will be showing movies every Thursday through May 15th. (Presumably stopping then since the dark doesn't come in the summer until far too late to start a movie.) Since this was our first experience, we took a blanket just in case we had to sit on the ground.

Instead, straight back chairs (with cushion) and inflatable rafts were provided. Next time, I hope to get a bigger raft so we can snuggle, but the individual sizes were comfy for kicking back and enjoying the show.

A vendor was set up selling dinner items as well as movie snacks. Although I didn't notice a sign discouraging people from bringing in their own food.

I'd never seen the movie before, but the plot wasn't so complicated the distractions kept me from enjoying it. That is until a kid stacked rafts up 5 high directly in front of me - nothing a little scootch to the left didn't cure.

We ended up spending $7 in snacks (jumbo hot dog, chips and a drink), but had I a little more self control the outing would have been totally free.

I'm an early-to-bed kinda girl, so the 10:30 movie end time was a bit late for my taste. I'm yawning up a storm this afternoon as I write this. But we had a great time, it was well worth it! 

Do you "date night?" Do you have a budget or do whatever your heart desires? I'd love to steal read some of your ideas!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Training Tuesday - What's Next?

After an epic marathon training cycle, I'm eager to get started on my next quest for a PR. My goal is to hit a PR for each distance. One down, five to go!

Up next, I'm tacking the 10K distance.I ran the Expo 10,000 race last year, and set my current PR of 55:19. My speed in that race was leftover from a winter of intense half marathon training. This year, I plan on building from my stamina base from marathon training and adding a bit of speed.

I've tried to be conservative for the past week(ish) to make sure my body is truly recovered from the marathon. Worst thing I could do to hurt my chances at a great race time would be injure myself.

Planned: 26.2
Actual: 26.45
I can't run in a straight line to save my life.

Planned: 30 min walk
Actual: REST

Planned: 30 min walk
Actual: REST

My body was sooooooooooooooo tired, but my legs felt good. I actually took a day off work to lay around and recover.

Planned: 2 mile run
Actual: Walk
My mom called and wanted to meet for lunch. I figured recovery week was the perfect time to walk like we use to. She has a bad knee/ankle, so this wasn't much of a cardio workout but it was good to get the legs moving again.

Planned: 4 mile run
Actual: 8 mile run
Stupid, I know, but this was a "farewell Pete" run. Kelly wanted to do 8 and we went along with it. Hot and miserable. Energy was still low from the race.

Planned: REST
Actual: REST

Planned: CROSS
Actual: Pool walking
Spent the day with my mom and aunt in Gatlinburg. Didn't do any actual swimming, but walked around in the pool and kept the legs moving. Once again not a cardio workout, but got the blood flowing to the ole legs.

Planned: 4 mile run
Actual: 4 mile run
So crazy to me for the weekend "long" run to be 4 miles. I'm doing the Hal Hidgon intermediate training plan, so my mileage will top out at 8 miles the week before the race.


Planned: 4 mile run
Actual: 4 mile run 
Ran a bit fast for my "easy" pace, but the legs felt okay.
Planned: 8X400
Actual: 4 mile run
I'm not exactly 100% yet, so I decided to hold off on speed work until next week. I ran at lunch with Kelly, and our easy paced turned into a 9:03 m/m average (starting at 9:16 and getting progressively faster). This run felt great. BUT

I'm signed up for a race this weekend, 10K distance. One of my Ragnar teammates is participating in the Mountain Man Memorial March in memory of her brother, and has asked us to join her. We're running our own races though. I signed up for the 10K not knowing how recovered I'd be at this point.

 Kelly, Christal, and me - last fall

Since the legs are feeling good, I want to set a baseline for my 10K speed and then work to build on it for the coming weeks. At this point I don't think I'll be able to PR - true to its name, the race has an intimidating elevation gain. Still, I can get a good idea of where I am and translate it into a goal time for Expo.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon Race Report

While it was my 5th race in only 3 months, the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon had been my focus all year. 3 of the races were part of the high mileage series leading up to the race, and the other 2 were social outings which happen to involve running.

In December, I started training with the Saturday morning run group. My Ragnar teammate Amy took the plunge and signed up to the run 26.2 miles and I enjoyed running with her. My plan was to run the half but the full marathon quickly began calling to me. My buddy Johnny was also planning on tackling the distance, as well as Sharon and Brad, who we met on the training runs.

Despite my attempts to put a positive spin on things, I remained unhappy with my performance at the race 2 years ago.  While one goal was obvious – to PR – I hesitated to share the other goals. In 2012 my ambitious goals came back to haunt me. 

Instead, I did some serious introspection. 4:20 was my ultimate race goal, but why? It was an ambitiously realistic pace. Also, to run a marathon at a 9:5X pace seems fast to me. I remember a time in my running career where a 10 m/m was a goal easy 3 pace. 

My 3rd goal, but almost as certain as the PR, was to beat my first ever 5K pace 10:56. The more I considered these goals, I realized ultimately I wanted improvement. Meeting these goals would mean incredible improvement really, given the difference between running 3.1 miles and 26.2 miles.

This training cycle has been all about embracing the negative splits, and working with what is before me. The 10 mile race was an epic fail (spoiler alert: the 10 mile pace was slower than Sunday’s marathon pace). My 2 half marathons and the 30K taught me how to start slowly and finish fast – and the great feeling which accompanies negative splits.

My game plan was to run with my training crew. Amy, Sharon, Johnny, and Brad not only were great peeps to chat with and pass the time, also they helped to keep me from going out to fast. I knew going in I’d have a hard time splitting away from them, but I hoped I felt well enough to run my own race on the back half of the course.  My Kentucky buddy Jay joined us in the corral and we all started off together.

Mile 1 - 10:21
Mile 2 - 9:56
Mile 3 - 10:06
Mile 4 - 10:32
Mile 5 - 10:15
Mile 6 - 9:54

I’ve been having foot pain twinges in my foot for the past month or two, but like any good runner I’ve been ignoring it. No real rhyme or reason when it shows up, it just as quickly disappears. During the Sequoia Hills stretch of race, it really started hurting me badly. I always struggle in early miles thinking about the distance ahead, but pair that with foot pain and I really started to freak. Thankfully there was tons of crowd support on this stretch. I acted goofy and distracted myself by snagging high-gives, cheering, and singing.

Mile 7 - 10:15
Mile 8 - 10:21
Mile 9 - 10:01
Mile 10 - 10:21

Noelton and the greenway miles were easy and comfortable. We settled into our pace and just enjoyed the atmosphere. This portion of the race is crowded, and we did a bit of bobbing and weaving to stay on pace. 

Mile 11 - 10:13
Mile 12 - 10:34

The Ft. Sanders area intimidates me, or at least it did. It was that area where my dreams of a sub 2 hour finishing time went down the drain. The long, relentless climb sucked the life out of me. Thankfully we tackled it several times in training. Add that to the slower pace of the marathon (verses the 9:09 I was attempting to maintain for the half last year) and the area was uneventful.

Mile 13 - 10:09 
Crossing the bridge through the World’s Fair Park wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I remember 2012, the split was lonely. Seeing the half marathoners breaking off and heading towards the stadium hit me hard. 

This time not so much. 

Maybe it was because I had several distractions – first Amy saw her kids standing on the sidewalk cheering. She hadn’t even finished crying her happy tears when we heard the sirens – presumably for the marathon winner approaching the end.

Mile 14 - 10:19
Mile 15 - 10:18

My tears came under the bridge and shortly after the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry’s building downtown, but sucked it up as we headed into the 4th & Gill area.  I tried to distract myself by chatting with the crew. They, however, weren’t feeling very chatty at the moment. 

Mile 16 - 9:59
Mile 17 - 10:00 

I’m really not sure at what point I broke away, but I almost immediately hooked into the 4:30 pace group. We chatted for a bit and I started drilling the pacer with questions. How should I feel? When should I push? 

He seemed to think I was feeling too good too late in the race. Before I took his advice and picked it up even more, he gave me a piece of advice which stuck with me to the finish line. At some point its gonna suck no matter what pace you run. Might as well go fast.

Mile 18 - 9:39
Mile 19 - 9:32

Heading over the South Knoxville bridge, I started passing people in earnest. They had started their death slog to the finish while I charged ahead. I mentally calculated my “what if” scenarios and realized if I started walking at mile 19, and held a 15 minute mile over the 7 miles, I would still finish with a PR. That knowledge fueled me to push harder going down the hill and into Island home.

Mile 20 - 9:42
Mile 21 - 9:22 

The only out and back portion of the race is on Sevier Avenue, leading into and coming out of Island Home. Unlike my last go-round, I very much enjoyed this section of the race. I saw quite a few of my buddies, got high-fives and waves. 

Mile 22 - 9:44
Mile 23 - 9:48
Surging past the South Knox bridge underpass (where I had sat down 2 years ago), I felt strong and knew I would avoid the wall. 

Mile 24 - 10:14
Mile 25 - 10:11

I passed my friend Blaik in the late miles, and stopped to walk with him for a bit. He’d been ill earlier in the week and had chosen to run any way. I felt bad leaving him, but he had a buddy sticking with him so I knew he wouldn’t be alone for the final miles. Up the last daunting hill and onto the Gay Street bridge, I allowed myself to slow down enough to look to the left. 

Neyland Stadium – The end was near. 

Mile 26 - 9:44
In the final mile, I passed several more people – including one dude bold enough to wear an Alabama boggin’ to a race ending in the UT Volunteer stadium. When I passed him I couldn’t help but taunt him a little. “Sorry dude, you know I gotta. Rocky Top you’ll always be…”
In the last little stretch, I saw several teammates who’d finished their race and were leaving the stadium. It did my heart good to see so many familiar faces as I gathered up my oomph for the home stretch.

Final 0.45 – {9:51}
Chip time: 4:25:49
49 minute PR