The 2019 Cleveland Marathon is a weekend I will never forget.
The local running community suffered a devastating loss and I think we are all still reeling from it. About a quarter mile from the half marathon finish, a young woman, Taylor Ceepo collapsed and ultimately lost her life running her first half marathon. Taylor was 22 years old, a former college athlete, a local runner, and a recent graduate with a degree in biology. While I didn't know Taylor, the loss stuck me hard as a member of the running community and also because when I ran my first half marathon, I also did it at the Cleveland Marathon when I was 22 years old, a former college athlete, a local runner, and a recent graduate with a degree in biology.
I still don't exactly have the words to process the loss, other than to realize that we have to live our lives like there is no tomorrow and make the most of every moment. I'm still trying to figure out how best to honor Taylor since I am resting post-marathon and cannot participate in the #runforTaylor movement.
What I do know is that in the hours and days since the race, I have seen the best of the running community, locally and across the globe, come together to honor a person that the majority of us did not know, simply because she is one of us. There is truly no other community like the running community and I am so grateful to be a part of it.
While I'm still processing the events of the weekend, I think it's important that amidst the tragic loss, we can still celebrate our own accomplishments from the weekend. For me, that is celebrating my 8th Marathon finish and a strong performance on a tough day. For those who don't know, the weather gods dealt us a pretty unfair hand on Sunday. Although most days this year have been cool and we haven't even seen much weather in the 70s, race day was 86 degrees, full sun and about 80% humidity. No one was really prepared for that. I personally had done all my long runs and hard workouts in cool or cold temperatures with my hottest long run being about 45-50 degrees. To say I was nervous during the week when the forecast started trending towards the 80s would be an understatement. As we got closer to the race, my only choice was to accept it and prepare the best I could with hydration, electrolytes and proper attire.
Friday evening I headed downtown for the expo and a dinner with the Cleveland Marathon Ambassadors and race staff/organizers. It was a nice way to de-stress before the race and to eat pretty much every form of carb that I could find. I chatted with my fellow ambassadors, ate good food, and called it an early night to make sure I got a lot of sleep, since I knew I'd be more restless the following night.
On Saturday, I woke up and got my shakeout run done. The temperature was cool and the humidity was pretty low. I thought to myself how the weather would have been perfect for Sunday's events, compared to the hot and humid weather in the forecast. I made sure to wear extra layers to give myself an idea of how warm I would feel on Sunday. Everything felt good and my legs had a spring in them making me feel confident about the race the next morning. I lounged around the rest of the day, monitoring my hydration, making sure to take in a lot of electrolytes (I was doubling up my dosage of Nuun Hydration and eating salty foods), and eating foods rich in carbs, iron, and other nutrients. Around 3:45 I picked up my pad thai and headed downtown to check into my hotel. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing, carbing up and hydrating, and reviewing my race strategy. The plan was originally to go out slow and speed up from there, but with the heat, we decided I would go out even slower and pick it up more in the later miles. I laid out my race outfit and everything I needed and called it an early night.
I was restless most of the night and once my alarm went off at 5am, I was wired and jittery. I ate my prerace breakfast, popped some salt tabs, and downed a bit more Nuun before heading off to the start. When I got outside, I could tell it was warm already. But there was a breeze and it was overcast, which helped me stay calm about it. I dropped my drop bag off, met up with my running partner and then headed to the corrals to meet the ambassadors for a photo. Time flew by between chatting with ambassadors, seeing other friends, and getting a place in the corrals. Before I knew it, the national anthem was playing and then the gun went off and we were moving forward as Cleveland Rocks! started playing.
I settled into an 8:45 pace for the first mile, right on my goal. I was so proud of myself for sticking to the plan and not getting caught up in the excitement of other runners taking off fast from the start. I let people go away from me and pass me and for once I wasn't all stressed by the tight pack of runners and people cutting in on me. The clouds had moved out and the sun was in full force but I didn't pay much attention to it. My watch clicked the first mile at 8:44 (as did all of those around me) but I didn't see the mile marker anywhere in sight. Nearly a quarter of a mile later we passed the mile marker. "Ok that was a bit long, but you can make that up later." For once something uncontrollable like that didn't stress me out. Miles 2-3 were supposed to be 8:40. I picked up the pace ever so slightly and the miles flew by. I appreciated the easy pace as we climbed the hill up from Browns stadium. 8:41 and 8:39 respectively on my watch - the course was still measuring long at this point, but I was still unbothered by it. "This feels great! Look how controlled you're being!" I could feel my confidence growing.
Miles 4-5 were supposed to be 8:35s and we were down in the Flats. We climbed a few hills and I started noticing people around me struggling in the sun and heat. "People are walking already? Oh wow that person is stopping. Am I ok in this heat? I don't run well in the heat. Wait, Heather do a body check. Do you actually feel that hot? Well no, I actually feel fine. I know it's really warm but I'm not uncomfortable and I feel strong. Ok then focus on yourself." This internal dialogue would reoccur every time I caught myself worrying about how I felt because of how other runners were handling the heat. It was something I learned from reading Deena Kastor's Let Your Mind Run. The miles both clicked at 8:34. Mile 6 was supposed to be an 8:30 and I clicked at 8:29.
In the middle of the next mile there was a large hill. I knew this hill well. It was where all of my symptoms started the previous year on the course which led to me collapsing a little under halfway through the race. I was little afraid of the hill and as I approached, the memories of the previous year came flooding back and I started wondering if it would happen again. The previous night, I had talked to a Ashlee, a member of my run club, who had given me advice for taking on the hill. She told me embrace the fear rather than fighting it. To acknowledge it, process it, and then let it run out through my feet onto the pavement. I did just that as I approached the turn to the hill. I hung a right, headed up the hill and before I knew it, I was at the top and happy crying about how good I felt. I got some strange looks but I was too happy to care and screamed when I saw my friends Michelle and Leah spectating shortly after the top. The mile clicked at 8:24 (goal 8:25). The one after clicked at 8:22 (goal 8:25). I felt so good.
Miles 9-14 were supposed to be 8:20and I knew it was time to settle into my rhythm, especially since we would be losing the half a little before mile 11. I went back to my body checks and found I still felt good in the heat. I focused on watching my hydration and nutrition. Taking two cups of water at the stops (one to dump on my head and one to drink) and ate a salt tab every 2-3 miles. At 11.7 miles we passed the point where I collapsed last year and I thought about how completely different I felt this year in much more extreme conditions. Shortly afterward we turned onto Clifton Ave and we entered Lakewood. I was pumped because I knew this is where I would see a lot of my friends and run club members. I waved to people I knew, high fived some kids, and before I knew it we crossed the half marathon mark. My watch said I went through around 1:51 (which was right on the plan) and the clock had be at 1:53since it was measuring over 3/10ths of a mile long at that point. Either way I felt confident about cutting time off because I felt strong. After the half, there were a lot of people walking, sitting on the curbs and stopping at waterstops. On the other side of the road, I saw pacers and elites that had dropped out. Again I wondered if I was feeling bad but my body check reassured me that I was ok and I kept moving forward. 8:17, 8:15 (oops), 8:18, 8:18, 8:17, 8:17.
At mile 15 it was finally time to drop into my goal marathon pace (8:15) and maintain through mile 19. I noticed I was getting a slight cramp in my side and that I could feel the gel I took back at mile 13 in my throat, but I worked on deep breathing and felt a bit better and hit the mile in 8:13. The next mile though, the feeling returned and I ultimately pulled over to the side and threw up my gel (something that happens to me when the temperatures soar and at this point we were at about 83 degrees). I started running again after and managed to still hit the mile in 8:25. "Ok well I feel better again, so try to get back on pace." I did and was able to click at 8:16, but then immediately had to pull over and throw up the rest of my gel. I took off again a bit slower and tried to get the nausea under control. I still didn't feel bad overall, but I could tell the cramp in my side was still there. I saw my run club members at 17.5 and they handed me a full bottle of water. I chugged half, poured the rest on my head, and then tried to take another gel. I knew it wasn't a great idea but I also knew in the heat and distance I needed nutrition. That gel ultimately came up too and I was severely cramping in my side and at about 18, with the mile being close to on pace, but a bit slow, I decided that if I wanted to finish the race without feeling completely horrible and risking getting into a worse state, I would need to back off.
I spent 19-21 alternating between an running an 8:45 when I felt ok and walking when the cramping would start. I took more salt tabs which I think helped make the cramping more manageable and I decided I was done with gels (which was the right call for the nausea). I relied on the spectators who had set up makeshift water stops, those who brought out hoses and sprayed us down, and the truly amazing humans who handed me an ice pop at 20 (it was a great way to get sugar in that actually stayed down). At 21 I met up with Michelle and Leah again who were on bikes and went with me from that point. They made me laugh and I was able to focus on the positives -- "Hey you're 2x as far as last year, you still feel pretty decent overall, you made it really far before the heat hit you - usually it gets you immediately."
Once we turned onto the Shoreway in mile 23, I got a pretty bad cramp in my side and had to slow to a walk again. I walked a bit with another runner who was getting sick and was pretty emotional (I think she was in a pretty bad state of heat exhaustion). We stayed with her a bit and calmed her down and encouraged her on. I started running again and Leah went with me but Michelle stayed with her to make sure she was ok.
Mile 24 was pretty much all uphill and I took it pretty easy, figuring there was no real point to overdoing it, especially knowing that once I reached the top, I was home free. I got in some water and really worked out the cramp in my side. At the top of the hill, Michelle caught us (the runner was ok to continue on her own) and I told them they could go ahead of me to find our other friends. I kept the pace easy through 25, knowing my plan (even from the beginning of the race) was to give that last 1.2 miles hell. I crossed mile 25 and took off. At first I eased into it, just above 8:00 but then I got Michelle and Leah in my sights. "Go get 'em". I took off and watched the pace drop. I powered up the bridge and past them, waving as I went by. Leah went with me, and Michelle stayed with our other friend who they had been next to. The top of the bridge came quickly and it was a kind of surreal feeling because it was just me and the other half marathon walkers on the downhill portion of the bridge with no other marathons around. As I crested the bridge my watch was showing a 7:36 avg. "Make it drop lower." I pushed it down the hill with Leah cheering. When I hit the bottom I was in the chute and being the only marathon coming in and coming in fast the crowds were screaming at me. "Use the crowds to push harder" I had about 2/10ths to go and just gave it whatever was left. I threw up my arms in celebration and crossed the finish. My Garmin would later tell me I averaged 7:11 for that last 1.2 miles - my fastest finish to date.
After the finish I chugged a lot of water and headed off to find a cool spot to lay down. Unfortunately, right after I crossed I learned about Taylor Ceepo's passing and that it had happened just a shortly before on the ground that I had just sprinted across. My heart ached for her family and friends. I was also thankful to have finished my race in good health on that day regardless of missing my goal.
While my result may not have been the one I trained for, it was a success in so many other ways. First and foremost because I finished feeling strong, in good health, and with no issues (apart from sunburn). I know that was not the case for so many others out there. On top of that, I had made my comeback from my collapse and DNF the year prior, I made it up the hill at 6.5, I didn't go out too fast and I ran my paces per my plan, the heat didn't affect me until mile 18, I had control of my mind, I listened to my body and backed off instead of pushing into a worse state, my finish was faster than either of my marathons in 2018 (crazy heat and all), I had my fastest last mile ever, I stayed mostly positive in the later miles, and of course because I finished another marathon.
Now it's time to rest up, enjoy the downtime, and shift gears to shorter stuff this summer building toward Chicago this fall.
It's officially April which means there's only a month and a half until the Cleveland Marathon! But there's definitely enough time to sign up and if you want to save some $$, use code HK2019 for 10% off!
I just closed out a big week of training including my first 20 miler of the cycle and lots of goal marathon paced miles throughout the week and in the long run. The entire week went so well. The paced miles felt comfortable and controlled and I really didn;t notice the mileage throughout the week. It was a huge confidence boost and left me eager for the next week of training.
But this week, and the long run in particular, were part of a bigger test in this training cycle and confirming a suspicion I've had about the past few weeks of training.
Ok, let me back up a bit. For the past 3-4 weeks of training, I've been having AMAZING runs. When I say AMAZING, I mean absolutely, completely, wonderfully amazing. Miles would tick by without me noticing, paces and workouts felt effortless, and my endurance was like nothing I've ever experienced. In long runs, I'd finish the run shocked that I ran as many miles as I had. I wasn't getting sore afterwards and I had so much energy. I kept waiting for this feeling to end, but it never did and still hasn't. I knew that my new training program has been great for me and contributes a lot to me recovering better and feeling fresh and confident, but what I was experiencing was on a whole different level from how I'd felt on this program for the past few months. And after about a month of this feeling, I'm pretty confident I know how I've acheived this state and why it's not going to end.
The answer goes back about 2 weeks further than when this sensation of endless endurance started. It goes back to when I had bloodwork done at the end of February in an effort to figure out how I slip into a hyponatremic state so easily because I wanted to confirm if my electrolyte levels are too low. The doctor suggested we test my iron levels as well in an effort to be thorough.
When the results came back, I was shocked. Yes, my electrolytes tend to be at the very bottom of normal, which would suggest it's easy for me to become hyponatremic, but my ferritin and iron saturation levels were scary low. If you take the bottom number of the normal range and divide it in half, I'm still not there. My doctor told me he had never seen ferritin levels that low. What this basically means is that I have no iron in my blood, and I also don't absorb it at all from food, which keeps the level in the blood low. I was advised to get on a supplement immediately and given some suggestions on how to boost the absorption from the supplement.
Last week was a 40 mile week for me with lots of longer runs but with pretty easy paces for every run. Basically we are building up the mileage but keeping the effort easy because I was still recovering from the half last week. And it seemed to be the right way to do it because I certainly don't feel like I ran 40 miles last week and my body felt great throughout the week. So what did my week look like?
Because I was still coming back from the half marathon, the easy paces were harder to hit than usual and I had to rely on checking my watch a lot and using friends and my pup to set the paces and keep them in check. Recovery was key last week which meant nailing the paces on every run. Pacing will continue to be key as I move further into full marathon training especially since I'll have my first marathon speed session this week. Another part of my training I'm looking forward to kicking off shortly will be using half marathons as training runs! It satisfies my need to race and it'll help me with controlling my paces while everyone else around me is doing their own thing. My first half workout will be March 10th and I'm super excited for it! Ready for more miles and hopefully warmer weather!
As I sit here trying to write this post I'm starting to tear up. If you follow my Instagram and/or my blog you know that I have been trying to PR the half since I set my PR of 1:44.49 in 2016. But year after year and race after race I failed to take down that PR. Each race something went wrong. I'd get injured before the race or on the course and my confidence was shot. Meanwhile, my full marathon PR from May of 2016 was also still standing and the same issues were happening in each full I attempted. But this past Sunday I finally put that all to rest when I finished the Rock n' Roll New Orleans half marathon in 1:41.21, with a nearly 3 minute 30 second PR, no injuries, and the confidence I need heading into Cleveland Marathon training (if you want to join me, use code HK2019 for 10% off).
Back in November, after my hamstring injury in NYC, I decided to sign up for the half in Nola in the hopes of running a half PR enroute to a full PR in Cleveland this May. After taking time off to recovery from the injury and slowly getting back into it, I basically had about 6-7 weeks to get ready for this half.
So what did I do differently this time around? As I've been hinting in past training updates, I've finally found the key to getting faster: Training slower. Yes it seems counterintuitive but it works. By slowing down my easy and recovery run paces, I'm actually recovering from my harder training runs so that I am fresh when I tackle my workouts. On top of that I've been running appropriate paces for the times I need to hit so that I'm not killing myself. I feel good all the time and I nail every workout. All of that led me to a big PR in Nola--something I was unable to do in the past three years of training despite trying all kinds of different workouts and training programs.
On race morning, I woke up and did a light jog to the start line with the 2 girls I came to Nola with. We hopped into the corrals shortly after getting there and I focused on my music, reviewed my race strategy, and prepared myself for the distance. I was in the back of the first corral so after the national anthem and the elites took off, so did we.
My miles were supposed to go as follows: 7:55, 7:50, 7:50, 7:45, 7:40, 7:35, 7:30, 7:30, 7:30, 7:30, 7:25, 7:25, 7:20. I tried to stay as close to the paces as possible in the early miles, although I ended up running each of the first 3-4 a few seconds faster to make sure I was going through the actual mile markers at the time (as my watch was registering the miles early).
Mile 1-3 felt amazing. I stayed controlled and let everyone else go out too fast. I got into my head a little before I had to drop into the 7:40s for mile 4 but I told myself it was just a hair faster and I relaxed into it. I also saw my friend/coach Lindsey on the other side of the out and back around mile 4 and I rode that high for a while.
As I approached mile 6, I started to get into my own head knowing I was about to drop into my goal half pace. The miles suddenly felt hard and I could feel the doubts creeping in. I reminded myself of all of the times I hit those paces on tired legs and that it was just 5 seconds faster. With that, I dropped to 7:30 and pushed on. Unfortunately, at that point, the beautiful overhanging tree blocked the satellites and my watch couldn't register the paces. I tried to run on feel and keep with runners around me who seemed to be staying consistent.
The lack of the watch messed with my head and I spent most of miles 6-9 fighting my doubts and hoping my paces were close to correct. I still felt pretty good and with each mile, a little more confidence crept in. Around mile 10 I felt myself slipping a bit into that hyponatremic state I've felt at races before, but I was able to do the math and I knew that even if I had to slow down, I'd end up with a PR.
At 11 I could tell I definitely was hyponatremic and backed off just a bit more. While my legs felt that they could have pushed to the goal paces, at this point I knew I had a big PR and didn't want to blow up or collapse and lose it. I went through 11 at a 7:57. For 12 and 13 I knew I could push it to the finish so I picked the pace back up and around 12.7, I could see where the finish was. I had a bit of tunnel vision from the hyponatremia but I knew I had enought to get to the end. I pushed it down the finishing stretch to where I could see Lindsey and my other friend Kati waiting just across the line. I crossed the finish with my arm up and tears in my eyes. The 2016 half PR had finally fallen.
After the race I had a quick trip the medical tent for some broth to get my electrolytes back up but I bounced back quickly. After the panic from that wore off and the PR set in, I felt myself tearing up again. It simply didn't feel real that I finally PR-ed the half. I felt great after the race and found myself quickly feeling anxious to race another half and try to get my sub 1:40 (with proper hydration this time). I celebrated during the rest of the trip with Lindsey and Kati and we ate a lot of good food :).
I'm already back to training for the Cleveland Marathon as the half marathon was really like a big workout in the middle of marathon training and my legs are feeling amazing post- half PR. After seeing what this new training can do in a half on 6-7 weeks of training, I cannot wait to see what several months of training will do for me in the Cleveland full. In the meantime, I will continue to work on my pacing--likely in some half marathons at goal marathon pace--to really lock in my pacing strategies before May, and of course I will be figuring out how to prevent getting hyponatremic again. But for the immediate future, I will continue to ride that PR high!
January is almost over and winter has finally decided to make an appearance (and throw a wrench in training) but I've still managed to log the workouts and miles despite Mother Nature. Winter can be a tough time for training as motivation is low and having to log treadmill runs or layer up to slip and slide your way through the miles can kill the little motivation you may have. One thing that always helps me is to put races on my calendar. If you haven't signed up for Cleveland yet, you can use code HK2019 to save 10% off of any race registration and there are distances for everyone!
While I'm not officially training for Cleveland yet, I am rebuilding my base and logging some key workouts to lock in my goal paces for May and some races that I may or may not have scheduled prior to that point (wink wink). The biggest thing I am working on right now is pacing. I will openly admit that prior to my new training plan, I was not good at pacing at all and had little to no control. Things are different this time around as hitting paces is key to ensure success in my goal races, especially because I intend to use the pacing I've been practicing in those races. Below are some of my training runs so far since I've started working on pacing and control.
The funny thing about pacing is that when you do it well, you hardly have to tell anyone what the workout/goal paces were because it's pretty clear from the splits.
So what's the secret to learning to pace? That's a question I have been getting A LOT since I've started training like this and the answer is something a lot of people don't want to hear. You just have to actually try. Seems crazy right? For me in the past, my pacing went something like "eh, if I'm within :10 seconds or so of goal paces it'll be ok." And then you keep that up for an entire run, especially a longer run, next thing you know you've run the entire run at 10+ seconds too fast and you're working too hard. Now my rule of thumb is that I need to be within 1-2 seconds of the goal and slower than the goal is better than faster. With that mentality, I end up with splits like the pictures above.
But there is another key to pacing that has helped me. Listening to my body and running the right paces for me. When I say listen to my body, I mean really listening. There is a big difference between yeah that feels "ok" and this is actually a comfortable pace for me. When you really tune in to how the paces feel, you learn what the paces actually feel like effortwise. I'm not ashamed to admit that in the past, I genuinely did not know what a 7:30 mile felt like (my current goal half marathon pace). Basically, I'd go out at a 6:xx and slow down throughout the mile until I hit 7:30. And that did not feel good. Now, I go out at a 7:27-7:33 pace, really paying attention to how it feels, and then work to replicate that feeling thoughout the entire tempo session.
My last tip is to check your watch constantly. Is it annoying? Yes. Do you go a little crazy? Yes. But does it work? Yes. I'd say that when I started I was probably checking every 10th or so. But as it becomes more natural, I really only check about 3x/mile. And I'm guessing the more I practice, the less I will need to check.
I do all of the above for all of the paces I run. It's becoming incredibly natural for the paces I hold often (my 7:30 avg. tempos, 8:45 avg. long runs, 9:00 avg. easy runs, and 9:50 avg. recovery runs). When I run paces I don't hold as often, I really have to go back to the basics I've listed above and learn what those new paces feel like, but it works like a charm every time. Maybe its not for you, but it is helping me tremendously to run the prescribed paces and feel good while doing so. And it's a big part of my new training plan to get faster while avoiding injury so that I can make it to the start line healthy. Until next time!
It's a New Year which means that it's the time when everyone is coming up with new goals and things they want to accomplish this year. For me, I finished 2018 wanting more after several race disasters and ending my racing schedule with a serious injury during the NYC Marathon. So for me, setting my 2019 goals was pretty easy because they are exactly the same as they were in 2018. The difference this year, however, will be how I go about acheiving them.
So what are these goals?
1. PR the 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon - seems like a lot, but I actually haven't PR-ed anything but the 10k in the past few years so it's actually pretty realistic to PR all of the distances with the right training.
2. Qualify for Boston - I've been chasing down my Boston time for several years now and I think I finally might be on the right training plan to get it.
3. Stay Injury-free - This one. I have not been successful at staying injury-free since 2015. But my new training plan and style should help me get back on track.
There's definitely a theme to my three goals for 2019: using the right training. I've always thought I was doing the right training for me because I was getting faster in the training and hitting my workout paces. The problem is that all that means nothing if I couldn't get to the start line of my races healthy. So this year will be the year of smart training, staying healthy, and hopefully PRs as a result. I'll be sharing more about the changes I'm making to my training plan once I am able to put it to the test. But for now, I'm incredibly confident that this training will lead to big results based on how I've seen it pay off for many friends over the past year and how I've been feeling after being on my new training plan for a couple months now.
Keeping with the trend of new year, same goals, it seems fitting that I'm targeting the same race as last year to chase down my goals: The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. If you know my story, you know that the Cleveland Marathon was a complete disaster for me. The short version is that I trained my heart out for 5 months and everything pointed toward a BQ and big PR, but I overhydrated and got into a hyponatremic state, leading me to collapse on course at mile 12. It was a heartbreak and a terrifying experience. But it also left me wanting redemption. Sure, I ran the Rock n' Roll Seattle Marathon a few weeks later and finished that one, but it just wasnt' the same as finishing the hometown marathon and the course where I ran my current marathon PR. After debating what distance I would be doing in Cleveland (because I always run some distance during the Cleveland Marathon Race Weekend) I found myself thinking more and more about the full and wanting my redemption on that course. So once I found out I got into the Chicago Marathon and realized that meant my spring full had to be in late May or early June, it was the deciding factor and I knew it was time to sign up for the Cleveland Marathon. And I did just that.
So for the 7th year in a row, I will be participating in a Cleveland Marathon race weekend event and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a Cleveland Marathon Ambassador for my second year (use code HK2019 for 10% off any registration and check out my Instagram the weekend of February 22nd when I will be giving away a registration). Cleveland won't be my first race of the year (more on that in the coming months) but it is the one with the biggest goal, and I can't wait for the training to really take off!
Another weekend, another race! This past weekend was the Rock Hall 10K, an event I participate in every year. This race has a half marathon, relay, 10K, and 5K. The first two years, I did the half, but because it's always so hot and humid, starting last year I started doing the 10K. Last year, it was my first ever 10K, so this year was my first opportunity to set a 10K PR.
Going into the race, I was ready to try for a big PR. My PR from 2017 was a 48:40. Based on my training, I knew a 45:00 10K (7:15 avg) was 100% realistic, and maybe I could even end up a little faster. My race strategy was to run the first 5K at 7:20-7:30 pace, and then run the second 5K at 7:00-7:10.
I made sure to get downtown early because parking was a little chaotic last year. But because I tried a different garage this year, it was smooth and I even found portapotties at a construction site so I didn't have to wait in line! Afterwards, I headed over to the start area and met up with friends to relax before go time. The half took off at 7am and shortly after I started my warmup since the 10K started at 7:30. I got in a solid 20 minute warmup with some strides and hopped into the corral with 3 minutes to spare. The game plan was to have my running partner, Mike, pace me for the first 5K since he was aiming to average 7:30 overall.
When we took off, we had a slight uphill from Browns' stadium, and then down onto the Shoreway and onto South Marginal Road. My watch was all over the place with the overpasses and I tried to stay at what felt like a 7:30. When we went through the first mile, I could see my watch had been slightly off because it was a 7:18. It sorted itself out during the next mile because it was much more open. I hung right around 7:25 and I was thinking how good I felt and I was excited that my goal seemed in reach.
During mile 3, I aimed to stay at 7:25 again and I was doing a decent job, but then around 2.75, I started feeling a little nauseous and I tried to shake it. I even backed down the pace a little but it wouldn't go away. At 3.3, we ran up the overpass ramp, across the bridge, and then back down the other side on North Marginal Road to head back downtown. On the down ramp, right around 3.5 miles, there was a water stop, and I grabbed a cup, thinking it would help. I was kind of right. About 15 steps later, I pulled over to throw up. I could not believe that it happened when I was feeling so good in the first couple miles.
Once I was "done" I took off again. I tried to stay right under 8 minute miles, unsure of exactly what to expect. The mile from 3.5 to 4.5 or so was a complete sufferfest but I just urged myself forward. But during that mile, I realized that a PR was still completely in reach, even if the "A" goal was out. So I broke the rest of the race up in my mind. I knew we would meet up with the back of the 5K at 5.1 miles. I told myself to get there and then maybe I could drop the pace. I ended up speeding up to get there. Then when I hit the 5K runners, I felt even better. I wove through them and worked to speed up throughout the last mile.
The benefit of doing the race so many times was that I knew the course. I knew we'd hit mile 6 at the base of a hill, head up it for just shy of .1 miles and then it was downhill to the finish. As soon as I hit 6 miles, I pushed it up the hill and gave the downhill sprint all I had. My watch clocked the last .2 at 6:30 avg. I crossed in 47:13--a 1 minute 27 second PR.
I was pretty happy to walk away with the PR, given the episode at 3.5 miles. I also ended up with a 2nd place Age Group finish. Of course now that I've had time to reflect, I'm frustrated with myself. First of all, the episode was likely the result of me pushing too hard in the first mile. Yes my watch was messed up, but realistically I kinda knew I was moving too fast. Second, I probably could have pushed harder once I got going again. I know it sounds like I'm being too hard on myself, but honestly reflecting on it, I spent 3.5 for 4.5 wallowing in what happened, and from 3.5 until 6, I was trying to stay at a comfortable pace, not a racing pace. So yes, I'm thrilled I PR-ed, but next time, I will run a smarter race and in the meantime, I'll work on toughening up too.
A distance runner racing a mile is always going to be an interesting experience. On August 11th, I took on a different kind of running challenge by racing my shortest race to date, and possibly one of my biggest challenges.
The race was the Guardian Mile in downtown Cleveland. The race started near the West Side Market, ran across the Hope-Memorial Bridge, and ended in front of Progressive Field. Because the race ran up a bridge, it had a decent chunk of elevation gain from .25 to .5 miles. Then it finished with the last half mile down hill.
I made the decision to try an all out mile about 3 weeks prior to the race. My coach adjusted my training to key in my speed work to train for the mile. We started off with :30 hill repeats, then moved to 8x1:00 at the same pace on flat ground, then 8x1:30 repeats at that pace, and finally 8x2:00 repeats. during race week. My goal was to be in the low 6s because my training was indicating that I was capable of that time.
When the gun went off I went with the pack, but quickly noticed that people were going out WAY too fast when I glanced down at my watch and saw a number starting with a 4. I told myself to let them go. They all pulled away from me and I was kind of by myself I felt good and began powering up the hill. With probably .05 to the top, it was feeling like the last part of a hill repeat workout, but I was sure the downhill would be a cake walk so I told myself to just get to the top. I hit the top in 6:03 on my watch, just :02 faster than my coach had recommended.
When I started the descent I was ready to cruise through the second half of the race. But my legs would not turn over. I could not manage more than a 6:40. The .5 mile to the .75 mile was the hardest part of the race. It felt longer than the entire mile combined. Once I hit the .75 mile mark I was finally able to move my legs a little faster, but still not where they were in the first half. The last quarter mile I just stared at the finish line and told myself to hang on until I could get there. I crossed on my watch in 6:25, with an official time of 6:31 because the race had no timing mat at the start.
After the race I could not stop coughing and my lungs were on fire. I wandered back up the bridge to watch the Master's Division to watch the Cleveland West Roadrunners Members compete. Then I met up with then after to watch the Elite races which was a whole different world. The winning female elite ran a 4:31 and the male winner went sub-4 with a 3:59. It was truly crazy and amazing to watch them go screaming by into the finish line.
The Guardian Mile was a unique experience and a painful one. Long distance running is definitely my preference, but I think I would be interested in trying the mile again next year at this event or finding a flat mile somewhere to see what I can do with more training on a friendlier course. And as a result, I'm noticing that I gained some speed after training for the miler, which is a benefit with marathon training kicking up! I would recommend this race, especially because of the unique opportunity to be on the bridge in downtown CLE with the road closed and the sun setting.
Well here we are a week after the Cleveland Marathon. I should be resting easy and recovering from my 6th full marathon, but instead, I've been training all week long. Why? Well, if you follow my Instagram, you know that my race ended with a DNF at mile 11.8. It wasn't due to fitness, doubts, or an injury. My DNF was caused by my legs giving out from under me due to hyponatremia. You might be asking, what is that? Believe me, I've gotten this question a lot in the past week. I'll go into more detail later, but the short answer is that it's overhydration. Yes, that can happen. And it's much more dangerous than dehydration.
I was crushed that my race ended early, especially because it was going really well. Honestly I think I was more angry than scared or stressed about what was happening to my body. But after I had time to reflect on how bad of a state I was in, I realized how lucky I was that my body shut me down when it did and how fortunate I was to recovery quickly. So while this post will recap the race and race weekend, the focus is going to be on hyponatremia, what I did wrong, and what I learned.
Race weekend kicked off Friday with a trip to the expo and the VIP dinner with all of the other Cleveland Marathon Ambassadors. It was a great night full of good food and fun in downtown CLE.
Then on Saturday I got in a morning shakeout run and headed downtown to my hotel. I had a lazy afternoon and evening and just tried to stay off of my feet. I went to bed early and set my 8 alarms to make sure I could wake up at 4:30 to get my breakfast in.
In the morning I got dressed and headed to bag drop to meet my running partner. It was lightly raining and humid, but the temps weren't too high. He calmed my nerves and we got in a quick warmup before heading in to the corrals. Before I knew it, it was time to take off.
Miles 1-5 - 8:04, 7:51, 7:57, 7:49, 7:56 - Felt great, tried to keep the pace controlled, and was in the zone
Mile 6 - 7:51 - Felt great, climbed the small mountain at mile 6.5 at about an 8:50 and felt ok while doing it. When I got to the top, my legs felt heavy and I couldn't shake that feeling.
Miles 7-9 - 7:59, 8:06, 8:07 - Still had heavy feeling legs from the hill and tried to shake it off. I was still on pace but it was feeling more difficult. Overall, I just felt kind of odd. Once I hit 9.5 I was at about an 8:25 and it felt way too hard. That's my go forever pace and I knew something was wrong.
Mile 10 - 8:24 - Something was off. I felt slightly uneasy and felt kinda like I was gonna puke. I seriously considered turning with the half.
Mile 11 - 8:31 - I felt my legs wobble. I shook it off, thinking it was a weird step or pot hole or something. Then it proceeded to get worse. I was pretty sure I was gonna puke. I seriously struggled to keep the pace even at 8:30. I knew something was really wrong and I was just trying to stay upright. I told myself just to get to my mom at 12.5.
Last .8 - 9:20 - I was just trying to stay upright until I could get to my mom. I looked at my watch and it said 9:20. I was like woah, what?! C'mon lets push a little faster, and my mind was screaming go but my legs would not move. As I approached the 11.8 mile water stop I saw the medical tent and told myself to just get to them. I motioned to them and yelled I'm going down and collapsed into their arms.
In the medical tent, I sat in a chair while they did some testing for strength. I had no pain, no numbness, no tingling and I was pretty coherent. They said my strength was good everywhere but my quads had very little strength. I sat about 10 minutes and then stood up to try to push to see my mom. As soon as I stood up my legs gave out and I sank back into the chair. At that point they told me I was going to main medical.
They made me take an ambulance back to the main medical tent and gave me oxygen. When I got back to the main medical tent, they laid me in a bed and wrapped me in a space blanket. My vitals were all good. They did a bunch of "can you feel this" tests and I also had more strength testing and everything was good until they asked me to lift each leg. The left moved about 3 inches up and that was it. The right wouldn't move. At that point they decided I needed an IV. About a minute into that, I started violently shaking because the IV was 58 degrees (air temp) so they cocooned me in space blankets and it stopped. After I drained the IV, when they made me try again to lift my legs I raised each about two feet with no problem. At that point they said I was clear although I was still rather pale at that point.
So what is hyponatremia? How do you get it?
Hyponatremia occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Sodium is an electrolyte, and it helps regulate the amount of water that's in and around your cells.
In hyponatremia, one or more factors — ranging from an underlying medical condition to drinking too much water — cause the sodium in your body to become diluted. When this happens, your body's water levels rise, and your cells begin to swell. This swelling can cause many health problems, from mild to life-threatening. In acute hyponatremia, sodium levels drop rapidly — resulting in potentially dangerous effects, such as rapid brain swelling, which can result in a coma and death (why they gave me the oxygen).
Hyponatremia signs and symptoms may include:
So what did I do wrong? Well, a lot. But first let's talk about why I did it. I completely over thought everything about this race. I was an emotional wreck in the weeks leading up to the race. I was so nervous and was having race nightmares. Everytime I had to make a decision about something I always do, I came up with something that could go wrong, and I broke my pre-race routine to avoid that what if. Additionally, I was so nervous that I didn't pay as close attention to other things I was doing (or wasn't doing) and so I broke my routine. Calming these nerves will be critical next time around.
What I did:
Week Leading Up - Starting Monday I increased my water intake each day. I was probably drinking over a gallon and a half each day. I was drinking straight water except probably 1, 8 oz glass of Nuun each day M-F (1 tablet). Usually, I eat pretzels throughout race week but for some reason I didn't.
I had probably over a gallon and a half and I actually may not have had any Nuun.
I drank 5 of my Hydroflasks full of water (32oz) and was alternating Nuun performance with water (3 were water, 2 were Nuun). I also had 1 16oz bottle of water, 1 32oz gatorade, 1 8oz glass of water, and 1 cup of coffee.
I had a 16 oz bottle of diluted Nuun before the start. On course I took water from 4-5 water stops. I took my first gel at 8 (over an hour into the race).
Usually I write this all out as I'm hydrating to keep track, but I didn't this time. I also don't eat a ton of processed food or really eat out at all. Which means the salt I take in, is the salt I actually add to my food. And all I really added to was the chicken I cooked for dinner a few times in race week.
You don't have to be a doctor or an expert in this area to see that I drank way too much water and hardly any electrolytes. Hyponatremia is rare for Americans, given the average American usually eats 3-4 times the amount of salt they need. However, if you are like me, and your salt intake is pretty much right on point, even slightly too much water can put you into the hyponatremic state. Case in point: I've finished at least two other races in this state. Likely due to too much water the day prior or even just on course. In those cases it didn't hit me until the end, probably because I wasn't so overhydrated like I was this time. While its less likely for other runners to get hyponatremia to the extent that I did on Sunday, it is very possible for others to get it in mild forms like I have in the past.
My current action plan per my coach:
1. Less fluid intake over the duration of race week. It's unnecessary. I do long runs of 20+ miles on a more more fatigued body with less fluid in me and without drinking this crazy amount all week long. It doesn't serve a purpose to drink that much for the whole week.
2. Increased fluid intake makes sense in the 2 days leading up to the race. Before then I do what is normal, about half my body weight in oz each day plus whatever else to compensate for workout sweat as needed.
3. I will be substantially increasing my electrolyte intake for the 2-3 days before the race, the morning of the race AND during the race.
4. I will be eating more frequently while on course (i.e. gels).
5. I will be revisiting my diet in the week and days prior to the race as well as the morning of the race.
Of all of the ways I pictured my Cleveland Marathon race experience ended, I never could have imagined that I would collapse before even reaching the half way point on the course. Sunday was a learning experience for me and I think the main takeaway is the dangers of overthinking. My coach and I (among others) are confident that everything goes back to me being a nervous wreck and overanalyzing every little detail. Staying calm and relaxed as a key race approaches will be a big focus for me going forward. The other thing I learned is that I probably don't hydrate properly prior to a marathon and possibly in life in general (I was drinking a gallon a day regularly. That's too much water.) So I'm taking the opportunity to change my practices to become better fueled and stay safe going forward.
I'm still heartbroken about Sunday and I'm still pretty emotional. I find myself thinking maybe it was another race nightmare I'll wake up from at some point. But mostly I'm chosing to look forward to the future.
It's finally here! Cleveland Marathon Race Week! Four and a half months of training in the bank leading up to this coming Sunday. It's just about time to put the training to the test.
Race weather is looking ok-ish (rain but not too high temps) but it's Ohio so who knows how much more it will change in the mean time. So I'm trying not to obsess over that...too much. My coach has had me practicing heat acclimation techniques these past few weeks, including running in long sleeves in warm temps, and taking very hot baths right after most of my runs. It seems to be working too because I'm pretty comfortable in my long sleeves now and I'm noticing that even the slightest bit of cold feels frigid to me.
Now that it's race week, the mileage is dwindling and there are no real workouts left on the schedule, except a few minutes here and there just below goal pace. But the taper crazies are in full swing. Last week was fine because I was so busy at work that I didn't have time to think about the approaching race. Now that work has calmed down, my mind is 100% focused on the race which is creating a lot of stress as I overanalyze the past four and a half months. I definitely feel very jittery and tonight's run was a true race week run, completely with phantom aches and pains, doubts, and inability to run anywhere near race pace, until I took my mind off of what I was doing. Luckily my coach has been quite the asset in talking me through my stress this week and I'm working on some techniques of my own to calm down and destress this week.
I'm also trying to do some targeted focusing on the parts of the race that I'm excited about and those that don't stress me out. I'm visualizing parts of the race and I'm getting my race music and outfit picked out. I also have my Cleveland Marathon Ambassador dinner on Friday night to look forward to and the expo that afternoon. Plus I'm staying in a hotel in downtown Cleveland the night before the race which should be fun as well.
Most importantly, all the hard work is done, the miles logged, and the time put in. It's time to enjoy the taper and get pumped for my favorite race of the year, Cleveland Marathon race weekend number 6 and my 6th full marathon! No matter what happens on Sunday, it'll be a great time and I don't regret any time spent training for this race.
Cleveland, let's do this!
There's still time to register, by the way and HKCLE10 will still get you 10% off your registration!