Race Report: Spring Thaw 2014

I’m beginning my third week of Pittsburgh half-marathon training, and already it’s off to a helluva start.  We’ve been maintaining the runstreak (X days and counting!), and with it, a lot more cross-training. We planned in some 1-mile-minimum days to keep the streak alive, and given the weather this winter, it’s often preferable to just get it done on the treadmill and then get in a weights workout, rather than bundling up to go outside for less than 10 minutes.

So here’s where I stand so far:

Week 1

Monday:  Easy 6 miler in crazy snow with my guy to kick off training. Wore trail shoes – best idea ever.

Tuesday:  Easy 4 on the treadmill. Would have done a weights workout, but this began a couple of insane weeks at work, so I went to the office early instead. Extremely core-focused pilates class after work – my abs hurt for days.

Wednesday: 1 miler on the ‘mill, followed by squats-heavy legs workout. I’ve been doing a circuit type workout where I intersperse squat sets with calf raises and other ankle/balance exercises to keep my body moving and work different muscle groups. Minimal rest, and I get through it faster, but never overwork one muscle group in too short a period.

In the evening, we ran to True Runner to check out the Brooks Transcend wear test – the wonderful PGH Brooks rep Ally (pictured below) did her darndest to get a pair of size 15s to have NF try – they didn’t come in in time, unfortunately, but we had a nice 3+ mile loop with Danielle, and I tried the shoes out. They are AWESOME. I don’t need that “much” shoe, and they’re expensive and I already have three shoes regularly in rotation (four if you count trail), but for such a big shoe, they didn’t feel heavy or cumbersome. It was like running on clouds.

Thursday:  With the sidewalks a mess, I brought my tempo run inside again. And absolutely crushed it. I’m still concerned since I  haven’t done a real outside tempo in literally months, but these treadmill tempos are still a confidence boost. I’ve been starting with an easy 9-ish minute mile (slowly seeding to 8:30s since jumping up that much on speed on the console is a little intimidating to look at), then did the first two tempo miles @ 7:24, dropping to 7:13 for the last one, before easing into a cooldown. I finished up the long workout with biceps/triceps and a short but hard core workout.

Friday: Easy 1-miler on the ‘mill, followed by back/shoulders and more core.

Saturday: Well, we were PLANNING on going to the store runner at True Runner, but when we woke up, the roads and sidewalks were a MESS. Absolutely ridiculous. Not sure if the store run happened, but we bit the bullet and went to my gym, running side-by-side on the treadmill while watching USAvRUS hockey. Our treadmills stop at an hour, so I stopped at 6 miles to reset, then restarted to do the last 2 at half-marathon race pace (7:47 on the treadmill) per our training plan. I threw some hills into the workout and slightly altered the speed during the first six, but not much – just enough to keep me from getting totally bored.

Sunday:  1.6ish mile run to cap off the week.

Week 2

Monday: The sidewalks were a bit better, thogh still fairly covered and slick, but NF and I braved an 8-mile loop that took us up and up and up Shady, before looping back down Beechwood and into Shadyside. It was frigid – single digits – but an absolutely clear morning. At one point, near the top of the climb, we were running in a more open area, and the moon was just waning gibbous and everything was glittering all around us. I soaked it all in.

Tuesday: A warm-up started last week, so Tuesday morning was wet snow/rain and squishy slush everywhere – Danielle and I ran 6-ish together. Our toes were wet within the first five minutes, and on one main road we were running through ankle deep slush on the sidewalks. Yuck! But cars were kind enough to avoid splashing us (though we failed to dodge a couple buses that doused us). It was one of those runs where, had we been running alone, we’d been in pretty foul moods, but together it was just humorous and ludicrous.

Wednesday: 1-mile treadmill + legs workout

Thursday: We had a track workout schedule (4 miles with 2×1600), but despite the thaw, the track was still covered! I suppose when it looked like this only a week before, it was inevitable.

It was actually pretty solid, though. We warmed up 3/4 of a mile, cranked 2×1 mile with half mile rests, and cooled down 3/4. I did about 7:03/6:50ish for mine, fighting a stitch during the first one, but better on the second. I know the treadmill belt drives you a bit, but there’s not much to be done when the track is still frozen.  We then powered through a short workout with NF’s buddies Matt and Devin: back and shoulders, plus a short but painful core workout I led them through.

Friday: 1-miler near home – rough week and pre-race, we took it easy, and did a 20-minute yoga video (that was more meditative than we expected, but we probably needed that, too)

Saturday: Race day!

We’ve run this race the past few years, and for the first time, NF and I were BOTH using it as a half-marathon pace training run. Part of me was pretty pumped – I felt like I could make a strong showing at my goal pace for 10 miles. The other part of me wondered if I was foolish to think I could manage that this early in the training cycle. Kim and I had been talking a few weeks prior about running it together, since she was targeting a similar pace, and having a pacer buddy makes everything better. It took a bit of the weight off my mind, but I made it clear to her that if I wasn’t feeling it that she should let me go. Her A race is next month, and I did NOT want to be that person who dragged her down when she was kicking ass.

All that aside, I was psyched for this race – in addition to Kim, our friends Mark and Kelly were going to be there – with Mark pacing NF at 7:30 for 10 miles – and I was going to get to meet Oiselle runner and new twitter pal Jen Bigham! The day also dawned bright and sunny and warmer than it had been – starting in the 30s and creeping into the 40s, though gusts of wind were not our friends. We couldn’t complain, though – usually the name of the race, Spring Thaw, is more irony than anything else. This time it really was a thaw, however temporary.

NF and I were up and at ’em at 7 a.m. (10 a.m. start – leisurely!) and left just after 8 a.m. to get to the race after eating some oatmeal, making sure we had all our gear, and changing our minds about what to wear about 10 times (or maybe that was just me). I had an A+ brain morning after two hard work weeks: we got on the bus to the start from the ice rink lot, when I realized I had my headphones but not my iPod, and then realized my bib was also in the car. D’oh! So we stayed on for the bus to circle back.

Photo Feb 22, 9 04 02
I have a tendency to photobomb panoramic shots.
Who's excited to race, guys? Btw, totally broke the rules and wore a new thing on race day - but Oiselle's lux side zip did NOT disappoint!
Who’s excited to race, guys? Btw, totally broke the rules and wore a new thing on race day – but Oiselle’s lux side zip did NOT disappoint!

We hung out at the Rose Barn to stay warm, bumping into Mark shortly before his warm-up,  and after a short bathroom stop, headed over to the boathouse to hang out in the sunshine with Kim and Kelly (actually two Kellys!) – it was kind of a wind tunnel, but when it wasn’t gusting, it was lovely. We got some photos before the start, and I caught sight of Jen as people were lining up to start. She is SO sweet – it was so awesome to meet her in person.

Left to right – new friend Kelly, Kim, Mark, me, Kelly, and NF photobombing/growing out of Kim’s head in the back (Kim’s photo)
Photo Feb 22, 9 56 30
Kim, Jen, and me

The national anthem played, we got our hats back on, and the race was off! The announcer was chattering a bit, but suddenly there was a gasp and silence, and the announcer made a sound of surprise – I figured someone had tripped at the start (as often happens in the tangled crowds) but couldn’t see what it was that happened, and quickly forgot about it as Kim and I maneuvered through the crowd.

We quickly dialed right into pace. The 5-mile lake loop is perfectly rolling, and Kim’s strategy of increasing pace before and after water stops and then power walking trough the stops worked great. I usually just try to jog through them and wind up with water all over myself, so I may have to try this strategy in the future instead. We chatted a little, mostly checking in on things like water stops, pacing, noting hills that were coming and going. We both didn’t really feel “locked in” – we wavered between feeling good and feeling like it was hard (though manageable). Kim really powered up the hills, which I thought I was getting decent at, but man, she pushed them! For my part I think I pulled us down the downhills, so it was a very symbiotic pacer relationship. I was measuring long already by the end of the first loop, but our paces were perfect and gave us wiggle room for GPS measurement issues: 7:43, 7:39, 7:49, 7:45, 7:38. The chip time at halfway had me at a 7:51 pace, to give you an idea of where we really were.

Near the start of the second loop, we caught sight of Mark leading a group, including NF, across the lake. They looked strong and steady, and I sent him good vibes. We kept clicking off perfect miles, though commented to one another maybe 7ish miles in that it was beginning to feel like a bit of a grind. Still manageable, but hard. I was doubting my ability to kick at the end, and thought maybe I’d just maintain. 7:40, 7:46, 7:49, 7:45. But as we approached the last aid station, right before the 9 mile marker, we decided that after the last hill (with just under half a mile to go) we’d see if we could gas it a bit. So we kept each other reeled in until we crested that hill, then I started to fly down the other side, with Kim just over my shoulder.

Up ahead, I caught sight of a guy wearing a Marine Corps shirt from this past year. I put a target on his back – not because of the guy, but the symbol. The race that (okay I know – not really, but kind of) defeated me. I wanted to beat the symbol. It wasn’t my biggest kick ever, and I was pretty gassed, but I kept turning over faster and faster, and flew down through the finish at 6:32 pace for the last bit (last mile split – 7:29), finishing exactly at 1:18 for 7:49 average – my exact target pace.



My flippy right foot is out of control
My flippy right foot is out of control


We were thrilled! Kim and I hugged and thanked each other, and chatted with NF about his race. Mark had already headed out on another loop, so we hung out by the finish for a bit, greeting Jen when she finished, and saying hi to Kelly as she started her third loop, looking strong.

He totally kicked ass - 7:33 average, and in the pain cave. So proud of his fight!
He totally kicked ass – 7:33 average, and in the pain cave. So proud of his fight!
Pacer buddies! Seriously could not have done this without her.
Pacer buddies! Seriously could not have done this without her.
Photo Feb 22, 12 02 15
She won the 10-miler. NBD. Look at our #flystyle! 🙂

We headed inside, chatting with Jen and her husband, Jeff, and grabbing some pizza before they headed out. I was waiting to hear from Danielle, who was running the 15, to see if she and her fiance had time to join us for our Bagel Factory tradition. When she texted back, turned out she had already left with a horrible headache. Turns out that noise at the start was the start line scaffolding and clock collapsing (how did I NOT notice it? I realized I did notice the lack of banner at the loop and finish, but I was in full-on racing mode and it didn’t faze me, apparently), and hit a few runners, knocking some to the ground. She wound up with a big ol’ bruise on her head. She admitted she cried (I would have!) but she kept running! She got in 10 miles and threw in the towel. I don’t blame her.

So NF and I headed back into the city, scarfing down food at the Craig Street Bagel Factory before getting cleaned up at home and lounging for a while. Not too shabby!

Sunday: NF and I ran a very quiet 4-mile loop at a recovery pace – it was cold again, but not bitterly so, and the sun was shining. We felt tired and beaten up, but it was so peaceful out that it was really restorative.

The cold has returned in full, but so far the snow has held off. I’m not holding my breath, but there’s a snowflake’s chance in hell (yuk yuk yuk) that Thursday I can actually do my tempo outside. Let’s see if I can drag Danielle along for it, too. 😉

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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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