The Benefit of Tune Up Races

Do you ever run tune-up races while training for a marathon (or a half)? They can be a good tool to sprinkle through a training cycle for several reasons: to evaluate progress, practice nutrtion, and see how your pace and/or race times equate to the marathon goal.

I usually have at least one or two half marathons in the lead up to the marathon I’m training for, but this year has been a little different. Partly because of family plans and partly because I wanted to focus more on the longer runs this time around, I haven’t raced a half marathon since Cowtown in May. Other than the Paris Pair 25k, I had not run any other races. But I kept seeing ads for the Fort Worth Marathon on my social media, and checked to see where the 20 mile race would fall in my training. It was a good fit. It would be a good gauge of my marathon goal pace, and a nice way to break out of the training rut. Also, races add that spark back into training and tend to energize me.

The race was on a Sunday, and since most long runs have been on Saturday, we adjusted the week for an extra rest day. Other than that, there wasn’t really any taper for this one. Race morning was cool – starting temperature was around 48 degrees. I was in a tank and shorts and felt amazing. The sun was coming up, and I was glad I remembered to put on sunscreen. My friend and I started the race together, as we usually do, and settled into a rhythm over the first several miles. The pace was faster than I planned (9:30s instead of 10:00s) but I felt like I was holding back and conserving energy, so I stayed with it.

The 20 mile race follows the out and back lap for the half marathon (and marathon) but on the second loop, there is an earlier turnaround. On the return path after the first turnaround near mile 7, I started to feel the heat of the sun on my shoulders. There was no breeze and I was heating up. I managed to maintain the same pace through mile 10, and then it slipped a little closer to 10:00s. At mile 14, I started to feel just icky. I had made the pass by the finish to end the first lap and was headed out on my second (shorter) lap, when I took a walk break to lower my heart rate. I had started feeling a little nauseous and woozy at times. I continued to hydrate but noticed I was going through my bottle faster on the 2nd part.

At one point, a guy running next to me said something. I took out my earbud. “Do you want to chat?” he said.


He was running his 10th marathon, he told me, and he had Parkinson’s. My mind instantly went to my mother-in-law who passed in October after a 10 year battle with Parkinson’s. I didn’t say anything about her, but I thought about how I admired his mindset, and his drive to keep moving. His goal was to qualify for Boston with the 6 hour time limit. We chatted for a few minutes about marathons, but I lost him at the aid station. That moment was a good perspective shift for me. Here I was just trying to finish this race, perfectly healthy, and kind of whining about the heat, and this guy is fighting a terrible disease and chasing a huge goal. It was humbling.

When I tried to take my gel at mile 16, I couldn’t stomach it and tossed it in the trash before I finished it. With four miles to go, I was out of fuel, but I had my electrolytes covered at least. I settled into a run/walk to cover the distance. I would walk anytime I felt nauseous and pick up the pace to run when it subsided. In the last mile, my stomach went crazy, and I darted into a porta-potty as soon as I came across one.

When I finally crossed the finish line, I was just barely under my time from last year. It felt good to be done! A 29 second PR and 2nd in my age group was the result, along with a renewed plan to stick to my goal pace at Dallas darn it. I will also be playing around with my nutrition for the next couple of weeks to get it right. I don’t know if it was the heat or what, but I can’t be having gels that make me sick. It actually took me a while after the race before I could take in any calories at all. That’s not normal for me. I usually can at least stomach the banana.

I’m also super grateful for the many training miles the two of us have put in together. You know you have a great training partner when you can be okay running side by side sometimes and not feel the need to say anything at all.

Keeping it Easy (Training Update)

My training cycle for Dallas Marathon just hasn’t had a lot of excitement. Tune up races haven’t been a part of the schedule, mostly to keep building stronger legs for the long runs. It’s been kind of boring actually, with the exception being the friends I get to run with. Lots of easy runs by minutes instead of miles (10:30s-11:30 paces are the norm). Strength and mobility (SAM) work after every run. Easy paced long runs on Saturdays and hard (speed) workouts once a week.

From Saturday’s perfect weather run

But I feel really good. The SAM work is a game changer and I highly recommend it. Or at least some regular strength and mobility work. I don’t feel the stiffness that usually comes with marathon training and prolonged sitting. Other than my hamstrings, which usually need some extra TLC anyway, my legs feel good and strong. And I don’t feel “fluffy” like I usually do at this point of training. Thank goodness for that!

I’m also putting better effort into nutrition. After struggling to lose a few pounds over the summer, I’m following a different approach. Common sense eating, actually, and it’s helping. My metabolism just hasn’t been kind to me the past several years – honestly, it never really has. But I’d take my 35 year-old metabolism over this one for sure!

I’m making sure I’m taking in calories before the long runs and longer weekday workouts. Last week I ate a Picky Bar about 45 minutes prior to the 800s workout. It was actually 1/2 mile repeats on the road, because our track access disappeared. But still…

It was my best workout thus far in the training. It could’ve been due to the weather or improved nutrition, or maybe fitness, but either way I am feeling good about my progress.

This weekend, I’m testing out my planned marathon pace with a 20 mile race in Fort Worth. I ran this race last year and I’d like to improve on that time. The weather looks great too! I’m excited to see what I can do.

Possum’s Revenge

Sometimes I don’t make the smartest decisions when it comes to choosing races, but over the years I’ve learned that every race provides an opportunity for growth as a runner. That’s exactly what happened with Possum’s Revenge.

Humidity is my nemesis. I can deal with the Texas heat, I know to slow it down, but humidity is the sneaky villain that is kind of like “hitting the wall” in a marathon. I’m fine until I’m not. It will suck the life right out of my run and shoot my heart rate sky-high. So I know better than to expect my best results on humid race days, especially in April or May. Knowing this, I still chose to register for a super long race in our typical “humid season.” It was a trail race though, so it would be different.

The week leading up to the race was full of rain. Lots of rain – the flash flooding kind of rain. We’ve had so much rain in Texas that the grass in our yard couldn’t dry out enough to mow, and the trees leading into our driveway started to look like a jungle. Everything is so green! Thank goodness I was tapering for the race, and didn’t need to run much. But I was starting to worry about slipping and sliding on the trail Saturday. I really didn’t have a clear picture of what the trail was like.

My friend and I left Friday and drove down to stay in a hotel in Graham, about 30 minutes from the race site. We found a local Italian restaurant in a town along the way, and I had the best chicken parmesan. We made it to the hotel early in the evening, and I went through all my gear to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Newsflash: I always forget something. This time I forgot my charger for my Garmin and it was at 49%. I am so thankful my friend and I have the same Garmin, and that she brought her charger.

On race morning, I woke up about an hour before my alarm went off and couldn’t go back to sleep. My brain was wired with the logistics of running a long race. I finally just got out of bed and started my coffee. We checked out of the hotel and got to the race about an hour before my start. She was running a different distance, and her start was 30 minutes later than mine.

The skies were overcast with the threat of rain, and the temps were in the low 70s. I wore longer shorts that have saved my legs from chafing on several long runs and Cowtown, and I wore short sleeves. My running vest with a tank top doesn’t jive well. Learned that lesson the hard way.

My race distance consisted of two 17 mile laps. Each lap had a 4 mile loop, then a crossover and about 13 miles before coming back to the start. I would do this twice. The first loop had a lot of sand, and some rocky places. I didn’t remember the rocky places the first time through, but boy it got me the second time. More on that later. I felt decent going through this section. I don’t feel like I took off too fast and I walked the uphill portions. (That’s a tip I learned from another runner in my first long distance trail attempt.)

The next 13 miles had a few places where runners were passing in both directions. It would get a little crowded at times as the races that started later with shorter distances merged. It was tough to tell who was running what distance, but since I’m only competing with myself, I tried to get out of the way especially for those who bomb the downhills.

Then the big rocks showed up. There was at least one place to climb through, that required the use of my hands because of the height of the rocks. This may be really hard on round 2, I thought. (It was) I also found out that we got to come down through it on the way back to finish the loop. So I hit this place a total of 4 times (2 up, 2 down).

The humidity was starting to take its toll, but I stayed on top of my hydration, electrolytes, and fuel. I have a timer set to go off every 45 minutes to remind me to take a gel or eat something, and I took Endurolytes every hour. I tend to sweat a lot, and often have salt streaks on my clothes after a hot/humid race. I walked the tricky sections, and ran where I could. I apologized to a guy stuck behind me on a downhill section. “I’m sorry, I’m the world’s most cautious downhill runner.” He said ” Just tuck and roll.” Well, I still have kids at home who need me, and my bones are probably about 20 years older than yours, so nah. (All in good fun.)

I made it back to the start/aid station completing my first lap in about 4:15. At this rate, I would hope to finish around 8 and a half to 9 hours.

I started the second loop, and noticed all the cactus flowers that were closed up on the first lap had bloomed. Oh my gosh, how long have I been out here?!?

So Pretty

This was the toughest part of my day. That first 4 mile loop that I didn’t think was too bad the first time just about took me out. I started stumbling through the rocky sections. I probably displaced about a thousand rocks over the course of my day from kicking them around. Then all of a sudden I stumbled on a rock and went down, landing on my left backside. I looked down at my Garmin to make a mental note. 18.1 miles. There was no one around me, so I probably sat there for at least a minute trying to figure out how to get up. “If I fall in the woods and no ones sees me, did it really even happen?”

I finally got up and started walking. My butt was hurting, but as I walked I started to feel a little better. Thank goodness I went down on my butt and not face forward. It could’ve been a lot worse. As I stumbled and almost fell again, I decided I needed to walk for a bit. I was getting cranky and mad at myself. It was going to take me a lot longer than I expected. As I walked this area of the trail, a really tall guy caught up to me. We chatted for a minute while we walked- he was doing the 69 mile distance, which I cannot even wrap my brain around. His legs were so long, I couldn’t keep up with his walk for very long even when I was run/walking.

I made it to the next section of the trail, and I had about 13 miles to go in the race. I broke it up mentally by aid stations. At one point, I had about 30 minutes where I saw no other runners. It was mentally tough, and I may have cried a little when I came across more rocks.

Smile for the camera (through the pain)

I didn’t linger at the aid stations, because I was ready to be done. So I filled my bottles, grabbed ice when they had it, and took my snacks to go. Oranges at an aid station in a warm race are the absolute best, by the way. I also had some pringles and pretzels at a couple of the stops. The rest of my fuel through the race was from stuff I had brought: gels, shot bloks, and gummy bears. I went back down through the tough rocky section and had one of my slowest miles of the day. I can’t tell you how ready I was to be done.

I got behind a guy who had just seen a fox on the trail, and my friend saw a deer. The only wildlife I saw was a dead raccoon. Of course.

When I hit the last aid station, I had about 2.5 miles to go, so I texted my friend to let her know. One of these miles was a lot of sand and I’m sure I looked like a fool trying to get through it, but at that point I didn’t care. The last mile was mostly runnable, and then you come out of the trail onto the road for the last quarter of a mile or so. Running on asphalt after all the sand and rocks felt strange, but I sure felt like I was moving at a pretty good clip.

There were people lined along the road and they would cheer as someone came through to finish. I’m zoned in on the finish, trying not to ugly cry, and ready to stop moving.

Then, out of nowhere, a girl goes flying by me like I’m standing still. It’s kind of funny, because in the video my friend took, I look over at her, like “what was that?” She was sprinting! Now, good for her having that kind of energy to finish, but I sure as heck didn’t have any gas left in the tank.

I came across the finish mat (right behind her, by the way) and I was done. 54 km (33ish miles) in 9:27:37.

Proof I ran through the finish!

My initial reaction after the race was that was the hardest event I’ve ever done. It definitely took the place of Running the Rose, my first ultra, in my top 3 hardest endurance events. The trail was tougher and it was about 20 degrees warmer. But when I looked back at my pace/results from Tyler, I actually feel I was more prepared for Possum’s and ran it better even with the warmer weather and humidity.

But now, I’m going to take a break from the long stuff. I have some other (non-running) goals to work on through the summer. I’ll definitely enjoy the break.