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.

“Sure”

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.

Marathon Training, a 5k, and the Paris Pair

Marathon training for Dallas has been rolling along, and the long runs are getting longer. But that didn’t stop me from finding a way to participate in a few races the past couple of weeks.

First up was my favorite local 5k – the Sherman Arts Fest run. I’ve run this race every year since I started running in 2010 (virtual for 2020) and it was somewhat of a family tradition. All four kids ran the mile fun run the first year, and the picture of them with their ribbons is one of my favorites.

Their first fun run!

Every year, except for the virtual 2020 and this year, I’ve had at least one child participate in some way. Mostly, it was my youngest son who ran the 5k several of the years. I would run my race and go back to run him in to finish. So I was kind of sad that it was just me running, but at least my husband came to watch and I had my running friends to hang out with too. My friend and I are training together for Dallas, and we had a long run of 16 miles planned for the weekend. We decided to knock out most of it, and finish up with the 5k. When I lined up at the start, I had 11.5 miles in my legs already for the morning, and I told myself I could not get mad about my performance. The marathon is the end goal, not a fast 5k. Of course I went out too fast, and almost tripped over several middle school cross country kids in the first mile. I finally had to school them on race etiquette. If you’re going to stop and walk, move over and look behind you first. I’m too old to be tripping over kids. My first mile was around 8:15. Not bad.

In the second mile, I started to feel all of the earlier miles in my legs. My pace was around 8:30. I tried to pick up the pace to finish strong for the last mile, but I was hot and my legs were tired. I remembered how hard 5ks are (especially when you go out too fast)! My 3rd mile was around 8:45. As I crossed the finish in one of my slower times for this race, I reminded myself I could not get mad. My finish time was under 27 minutes (what I thought I could run) and I was okay with that. After a short run for a cooldown, I was at 16 miles for the day. Oh, and an age group win to boot. 🙂

The following weekend, I ran the 25k at the Paris Pair. It was a good long run distance, and a chance to break up the monotony of long runs. New locations are good for that – and a medal with snacks are a nice bonus.

The weather that morning was actually cool compared to what we have been running in. Under 60 degrees at the start, and a shady course. It was an out and back course, so my plan was to run steady and comfortable on the way out, and gradually pick up the pace on the way back. I wanted to finish with the last couple of miles as my fastest. I hoped to average at least under a 10 minute pace per mile. It’s hard to know what my fitness is when all the long runs have been slower and in warm, humid weather.

A few miles into the race, we were under a 10 minute pace, but I told my friend it felt too fast. She reminded me that it usually takes 4-5 miles before we start feeling good on a run. Marathon training does that.

At the turnaround at 7.75 miles, I made a mental note of the overall time on my Garmin. (1:17:xx) I started to pick it up a little bit, but mostly stayed steady until the aid station around mile 10. I filled up my bottle here, and it was the only mile over a 10 minute pace. At mile 11, I took my caffeinated gel to get through the last few miles. I started to pick up the pace, because I was feeling good. It did start to heat up some, but it wasn’t until the last couple of miles that I started to notice the warmer weather. At the 10k turnaround, I had exactly 5k to go, so I started picking it up. My final mile splits were: 9:24, 9:21, 9:01, and 8:57 (.5 mile).

Yes! That’s exactly what I wanted to do, and I ended up coming in way under my expected goal pace of 10 min, and had a finish time around 2:30 with an average pace of 9:39. The best part was that it gave me a mental win I needed going into the heavier part of marathon training. It’s been years since I ran a strong race that was longer than a half marathon. It’s not as fast as I could run in the past, but it was what I needed for where I am now.

The race organization was top notch. We got to start and finish under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas, and I got to spend some time with friends there too. I would definitely do this race again, especially as the project for the NETT continues to make progress.

As of today, I don’t have any other races planned until Dallas Marathon weekend. But actually, it’s really not that far away.