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When I started running four years ago, I followed a fairly natural progression. At first I trained for a sprint triathlon. I enjoyed all three disciplines of swimming, biking, and running. While I continued to train for triathlons, I also ran a stand-alone 5K, an 8K, a 10K and a half marathon over the course of the next year. Once I had trained up for the half marathon and liked it, I figured if I was ever going to run a marathon, that would be the time to do it. Five months later I ran my first marathon and was hooked. And so began three solid years of marathon training:

4:02:39 at the Santa Barbara International Marathon – Fall 2012
3:57:29 at the Mountains2Beach Marathon – Spring 2013
3:52:42 at the Long Beach Marathon – Fall 2013
3:44:26 at the Santa Rosa Marathon – Summer 2014 (BQ minus 34 seconds)
3:36:58 at the Phoenix Marathon – Winter 2015 (BQ minus 8:02)

Those last two races took a tremendous amount of physical and mental energy as I raced to qualify for Boston. When my qualifying time at Santa Rosa did not meet the cutoff to register for Boston 2015, I felt a huge sense of disappointment. I dedicated myself to training for the Phoenix Marathon six months later. It took an incredible amount of focus and commitment to finish that race strong and not give up on qualifying with several minutes to spare. I accomplished that goal, and yet I felt an odd sense of letdown. I think I burned out on training 10-11 hours a week with three runs (a 4-5 mile speed workout, an 8-mile tempo run, and a long run) and two bike rides (20-30 miles each) and strength training (40-60 minutes per week). The training worked, but it left me ready to take an extended break from regimented training.

So, I took the month of March off formal training. I went skiing with my family at Whistler (where I still took advantage of the trails to get a few runs in) and I engaged in marathon housecleaning sessions rather than marathon training sessions.

Rest is great, and there’s lots of research that says muscle memory and endurance make it easier for you to get fit again after a break than it was the first time you got fit. However, I have to say that it took me a good two months of regular training before I felt back on track again, so to speak. I held off signing up for my next race because I just wasn’t sure it was worth putting myself out there. Finally I decided I was just being chicken and I signed up for the Downtown Anaheim 5K a week from tomorrow.

After that, I will start training for my sixth full marathon, the REVEL Canyon City Full Marathon on November 7, 2015. I had such a fantastic run at the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon in 2014 that I couldn’t resist putting the full on my calendar this year. The challenge now is to train for the net -5,134 feet of downhill on the full marathon course. I take that very seriously and I plan to do at least a couple of long runs on the course to make sure I can handle the pounding on my quads on race day.

What’s up next for you? Have you ever taken a break from running? Do you like to have a training plan in place or do you enjoy the flexibility of some time off from formal training?

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Me ready for spin class this morning in the cute race tank top (the men got short-sleeved shirts in the same color), minus the blue arm sleeves we also received.

Me ready for spin class this morning in the cute race tank top (the men got short-sleeved shirts in the same color), minus the blue arm sleeves we also received.

On Saturday, February 28, 2015, I joined the 1,881 men and women who conquered the Phoenix Marathon in beautiful Mesa, Arizona. I had trained for five and a half months for this race. I felt ready physically, and yet as I took the 30-minute bus ride from Mesa Riverwalk up to the full marathon starting line, I felt like I had my feet and hands braced against the open door of an airplane as a skydiving instructor tried to shove me out the door against my will. The thought of taking on my fifth full marathon intimidated me to the point that my teeth chattered with nerves and not just the cold.

After a 3:15 a.m. wake-up call (that’s 2:15 a.m. for this California girl), I’d hopped a bus at 4:45 and arrived at the staging area by 5:15. Conditions at the starting line turned out to be perfect in spite of the prior threat of rain. The temperature was in the 50s and the pre-dawn sky was overcast. The staging area boasted firepits and propane heaters to keep the runners warm, but I opted to find a place to sit and rest my legs after my first trip through the porta-potty lines. I hopped back in the burgeoning lines at 5:45 and tried in vain to will the lines to move faster. Only when the first set of fireworks went off did the line get moving, much to my relief. By 6:10 I was back out and changing out of my sweats, then slathering on sunscreen. I dropped my gear bag at the truck and walked to the starting line by 6:20. There were no corrals and I placed myself behind the 3:30 pacer but in front of the 3:35 pacer. The race started on time and we were off in the dark just as the sky started to lighten.

Miles 1 through 4 (Pace in minutes per mile: 8:01, 7:49, 8:07, 7:57)

The runners started out more slowly than I would have liked but that probably was a good thing, reining in my enthusiasm and adrenaline-fueled nerves. The course starts on a downhill grade but nothing that tempted my legs to really fly (it’s much less steep than the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon, which I loved). The pack of runners thinned after mile 2 or so and everyone settled into their own race.

Miles 5 through 8 (8:26, 8:33, 7:37, 7:55)

Miles 5 and 6 are uphill. I had done at least one hill workout per week in training so I was prepared for the hills and I tried to keep a steady effort and not stress when my pace slowed a bit. Mile 7 was the downhill reward for all that uphill. By then it was fully light outside and I enjoyed taking in some of the scenic desert landscape.

Miles 9 through 12 (7:56, 8:01, 8:03, 8:07)

The slight downhill grade continued through mile 12, and while the course declines in elevation after that I did not notice it. The course felt flat from there on out and unfortunately, we faced some wind on several of the miles in the second half of the race.

Miles 13 through 16 (8:10, 8:06, 8:17, 8:14)

I hit the half marathon mark at 1:45:39, right on pace for a 3:34 finish as hoped. However, at mile 15 I really felt the wind fighting me and I struggled to maintain my target pace of 8:07. This part of the course runs through more residential and industrial areas (meaning that the half marathon race course is not quite as pretty as the full course), but I remember passing many orange trees in bloom and the course smelled heavenly!

Miles 17 through 20 (8:03, 8:12, 8:10, 8:43)

Somewhere during mile 16 I distinctly remember thinking, “Okay, this isn’t fun anymore.” That’s not the kind of attitude that’s going to get you through 10 more miles of running, so I started working on my mental game. I remembered what my sleepy six-year-old had said to me as she asked for water at 3:30 a.m.: “Good luck Mama. You’ll do great because you’re a speedy mom.” I just started repeating “speedy mom, speedy mom, speedy mom” to myself, willing my legs to prove I was indeed a speedy mom. Unfortunately, in mile 20 I developed an odd, pulling sort of pain in my left buttock that made me have trouble convincing my leg to lift up and forward. I managed to work through it, thank goodness, but my pace never quite recovered. I didn’t hit the wall like I did at Mountains2Beach, but it was taking all of my mental and physical energy to keep racing. At some point my brain and my body had a conversation that went like this:

Body: “I would like to walk now.”

Brain: “I know, me too, but we can’t. Don’t give up now. Keep going! You’ve come this far.”

Body, “No really, I want to walk.”

Brain: “Sorry. Just run to the next aid station.”

And that became my mantra. “Run to 21. Run to 21.” When I reached the aid station at mile 21, it became “Run to 23. Run to 23.” Somehow the thought of running two miles until I could walk through the aid station was a lot less intimidating than running the whole remaining 10K. At every aid station (miles 3, 5, 7, 9 etc. until 23 when they were every mile), I took in two cups of Gatorade Endurance, lemon-lime flavor (my favorite!) The aid stations were well-stocked with Gatorade and water, and several stations had Clif Shots and/or oranges although I never took any of those.

Miles 21 through 24 (8:42, 8:45, 8:30, 8:51)

Spectators scattered themselves along the course in small packs. My favorite race sign of the day: “Don’t be the Seahawks. Run it in!” Around mile 21, one of my fellow Boston 2016 Facebook group members recognized me and encouraged me by name. I needed that boost then — there’s just something about someone saying your name that gives you that extra surge of energy and I appreciated that so much! I also loved all the kids on the sidelines who offered high fives, and the guy who had the “touch this spot for power” sign (you better believe I touched it)! He popped up on the course several times and I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad in addition to my husband and three girls waiting for me at the finish line.

During mile 23, the 3:35 pacer passed me. I felt both disappointed and inspired at the same time. I managed to pick up the pace to 8:30 as I chased him, but I soon lost sight of him. As my Garmin clocked mile 24 at an 8:51 pace, I decided to check my overall time: 3:20 and change. I realized that if I could just keep my pace under 10 minutes per mile for the remaining 2.2 miles, I could still break 3:40! My PR from Santa Rosa was 3:44:26 and I felt confident I could beat that.

Miles 24 through 26.27 (9:08, 8:29, .27 at 7:57 pace)

The thought of breaking 3:40 really lit a fire under me (not that you would know it from that 9:08 pace). It was clear that I hadn’t hit the wall and I still had some gas left in the tank if I could just convince my legs to go go go! I always joke that I can pick up the pace in the last mile when I realize that I’m not going to collapse on the course. Sure enough, I brought mile 25 in at 8:29. As I approached the final turn on the course, I came up on a girl who was pacing her friend to a Boston Qualifying time. She cheered her friend on as she called to the spectators, “This girl is going to qualify for Boston! Boston Qualifier, right here!” I smiled at her exuberance for her friend, and my cheeks flushed with pleasure as I knew at that point that she could be talking about me, too. As I picked up the pace in the final straightaway, I heard the announcer call my name and say that it looked like I was going to qualify for Boston, “Yes, yes indeed, we have another Boston Qualifier, Angela White!” I threw my hands up in the air with joy and relief!

Phoenix Marathon finish line

I had done it! I had hung on to break my personal best time by 7 minutes 28 seconds and qualify for Boston with 8 minutes 2 seconds to spare, coming in at 3:36:58 (which, let’s be honest, is SO much more satisfying than 3:37)!

My husband and girls had positioned themselves right after the finish line. I got kisses from all of them and they handed me the chocolate milk I’d begged them to bring to the finish (and thank goodness for that, because I got my medal, water, and a hand towel right away, but I didn’t see any food or other drinks right at the finish. I know there were tents with food elsewhere in the finisher’s area, but all I could think about was making my way to my family). We checked my time at the timing tent. I’m always so impressed when a race provides a printout right at the finish line. I learned that I came in 16th in my 40-44 age group out of 150 women. Dang those ladies are speedy! A full 29 women in that group qualified for Boston! That’s a tremendous percentage, and it either means that the course is “fast” and favorable, or lots of runners gunning for Boston targeted this race, or both. Either way, I recommend the Phoenix Marathon. I had a great experience before, during and after the race. Phoenix is beautiful in the winter and my family enjoyed making it a race vacation. And you know what my 10-year-old said when I crossed the finish line? “We’re going to Boston!”

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The ticker on the Phoenix Marathon site assures me there are indeed just 2 days and 14 hours until the race begins. No wonder I have butterflies in my stomach and I am busy shoving carbs in my mouth to try to quell them and carb-load at the same time. This will be my fifth full marathon and somehow it gets harder and not easier, the more I know what to expect from running 26.2 miles. I both love and fear the challenge.

Once again, taper seems like a cruel experiment designed to torture athletes who generally work out their crazy by exercising. Just as you’re going cuckoo in anticipation of the marathon, you reduce the one thing that helps keep the crazies at bay. For my secondary coping mechanism I have turned to making long to-do lists and crossing items off with a thick-tipped black Sharpie. It’s very satisfying and gives me the illusion I’m in control of something, if not my emotions.

I’ll be driving out to Phoenix on Friday, sneaking in and out of the Expo with lightning speed, and cooking my usual pre-race meal in the comfort of my hotel room. If you’re running the race and do not happen to be a hermit like me, you can meet up with lots of social media folks at two events on Friday (BTW the half marathon is sold out now too): 10991246_10153630576554466_4291405724145603124_n

Look for me post-race at the booth where you pick up a special visor for qualifying for Boston at the race (this is not bravado, it’s positive thinking). To qualify for Boston I need a 3:45 or less, however with the Boston Marathon being so popular I would like to get at least 3:42 to be sure to meet the cutoff to register for the 2016 Boston Marathon.

Speaking of time goals, my goals for the Phoenix Marathon are:

1. PR with a time less than 3:44:26 (previous PR set at the 2014 Santa Rosa Marathon).

2. Break 3:40.

3. Break 3:35. I think this is possible if all the stars align — good weather, proper fueling, proper pacing.

You can track me and cheer me on to meet those goals at the following link: Race Tracker (name: Angela White).

Wish me luck! Good luck to all those running Phoenix or any other races this weekend!

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If you don’t know what Yasso 800s are, you can listen to the man himself (Bart Yasso) explain how doing ten 800-meter repeats with 400-meter rest intervals in between can predict a runner’s potential marathon finish time: Yasso 800s.

I’d never done them before until today, when my workout called for 12x800m. After a one-mile warmup, I did 10x800m and called it good based on the time I had to do the 8.3-mile workout. I later determined that my pace averaged out to 3:34 per 800 meters. If you believe the ability of Yasso 800s to predict marathon finish time, that means I could finish the marathon in 3 hours and 34 minutes, which would be a 10-minute PR for me. That time is also what the McMillan Running Calculator predicts I could do the full marathon in based on my half marathon time at Revel Canyon City, and what the Marathon Time Converter says I could do at the Phoenix Marathon based on my 3:44:26 finish time at the Santa Rosa Marathon (which you might recall qualified me for the Boston Marathon but did not meet the cutoff to get me in to the race for 2015).

So, with 10 days to go until the Phoenix Marathon on February 28, this workout was just the confidence booster I needed. Tomorrow calls for 30 miles on the bike plus 20 minutes of strength training, and Friday calls for an 8-mile tempo run. After that it’s an easy “long” run of 6 miles (one mile warm up on Sunday morning plus the Brea 8K) and then an easy week of taper until the Phoenix Marathon on Saturday, February 28. Whee! After 5+ months of training, it’s hard to believe it’s almost here!

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Please excuse me when I get all dramatic up in here. I’m just being honest about how I felt when I didn’t make the cutoff for Boston. I didn’t exactly handle it with the grace I would like to have had. I felt very bitter. I kinda wanted to shout, “Fine then! I didn’t want to run your dumb old super-expensive race anyway! I already lived in Boston for two years. I don’t need to see it again! You just saved me the cost of airline tickets and a hotel room and now I don’t have to pull my kids out of school to fly across the country!” I thought of boycotting The Boston Marathon, of not even trying to qualify again.

Of course, then I calmed down and admitted that if I was so upset by not getting to go to Boston, it simply meant that I cared a lot about getting to go. And I promptly signed up for full marathon #5, the Phoenix Marathon (hence my oh-so-clever post title about the phoenix rising up from the ashes).

Phoenix Marathon logo

So that’s where I’ll be on February 28, 2015. Believe it or not, the 20-week competitive marathon training plan I chose from Smart Marathon Training starts next Sunday with a 10-mile long run. Today I knocked out an 8-mile tempo run at 8:00 per mile and that felt great, so I feel ready to tackle the plan.

I had the tiniest bit of buyer’s remorse (racer’s remorse?) after hitting the “register” key for Phoenix because it has a downhill profile with nearly 1,000 feet in elevation loss, similar to the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon where I bonked so hard. Downhill running can pound your quads and also trick you (and by you I mean me) into going out too fast and then bonking later in the race. So, I’m trying to learn from my past mistakes and I’m incorporating downhill training into my weekly runs. Most people would call it “hill repeats” and consider the uphill part the part that’s building strength and thus speed, but I’m more interested in the downhill part where I work on keeping my foot turnover light and quick! Last Wednesday I ran a warm-up mile to a perfect, steep 0.4-mile hill. I ran up (and down) that four times and then ran a cooldown mile back to my car. (I would have run more repeats but that was the amount of time I had in the 45 minutes my daughter is in gymnastics class).

To help allay my downhill race worries I’ve also signed up for a downhill half marathon that fits perfectly in my training plan. In place of a 16-mile long run on a Sunday, I’ll race 13.1 miles on a Saturday down Highway 39, a beautiful route through the forests and canyons of Angeles National Forest to the foothills of Azusa. It’s the inaugural REVEL Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon on November 15, 2014. (Tip: if you want to sign up for the race, make sure you go to RaceShed.com for a $5 off discount code, and also snag an extra $5 off for allowing REVEL to share your entry on Facebook). The half marathon has a net loss of 933 feet, close to the amount of the loss over the full marathon course in Phoenix.

So, here I go again! Does anyone have any thoughts or tips on downhill running?

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Four days and 13 hours to go until my fourth full marathon, The Santa Rosa Marathon on Sunday, August 24, 2014. I’ve reached the point where my stomach does a little nervous flip-flop when I think about the race. As usual, it’s ridiculous, and I wonder why I put myself through this. (Answer: The sense of accomplishment after every finish line and every workout).

Taper is going well. I knocked out a 6-mile tempo run on Sunday with five miles at an 8:00 pace. Monday I biked 15 miles and did 30 minutes of core work. Today is a rest day. Tomorrow’s speed workout is just 4 x 200 m with 200 m rest intervals, for a total of three miles with the warm-up and cool-down. Thursday is a rest day, Friday is 10 minutes of drills, Saturday is a rest day and Sunday is the big race day!

I’m busy worrying over a few things:

1. Weather — the race day temperature still looks favorable with the 6 a.m. temperature starting at 54 degrees and not going above the low 60s by 10 a.m. The problem is that in the early morning hours the humidity is nearly 100%, a “dripping fog” as local organizer and legendary ultrarunner Arthur Webb puts it on his very helpful blog. Here in SoCal I train in bone-dry, drought-ridden conditions. I guess it’s a good thing my last long run was in the high 80s and so muggy it felt like I was running through the pool locker room at the gym.

2. Tapering — While I still regret running 18.25 miles of speed workout just 10 days before the race, I am consoling myself with the fact that 9.25 of that was at 10K pace, 2 miles at easy pace, and the rest was walking. I also did a bunch of reading and research on carb loading, and in reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book Runner’s World Performance Nutrition for Runners: How to Fuel Your Body for Stronger Workouts, Faster Recovery, and Your Best Race Times Ever, I saw that he said:

I always recommend doing a final longer run [15 miles] about a week before longer races (half-marathon and up) for maintenance of endurance adaptations.

(p. 131). Bless you Matt Fitzgerald for easing my mind a bit!

3. Health — My three girls started junior high and elementary school last week and two of them have already managed to bring home cold viruses. I find that marathon training revs up my immune system and I rarely get sick during training (knock on wood). The one exception is during the reduced workouts in taper. I am going to be very disappointed if I show up to the starting line with a cold.

4. Bonking a/k/a Hitting the Wall — If I want to come in at 3:45 or under, I need to maintain a steady pace of about 8:30 per mile over the course of 26.2 miles. I looked at my last two big races, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon and the Long Beach International Marathon, to see how I did on pacing. In the half I did a good job of pacing (especially in light of the hills), with an average of 8:10 pace and a 7:54 for mile 13. No problem there. The concern comes when I get to about mile 18 of a full marathon. While I wouldn’t say I hit the wall in Long Beach (I didn’t have to spend time in the medical tent like I did at Mountains 2 Beach), my pace dropped off after mile 18. I averaged 8:30 for most of the race, then 8:59, 8:28, 9:06, 9:31, 9:41, 9:50, 9:57, 10:04, 9:41 and the last 0.2-mile sprint at 8:48. Not exactly the strong finish I’d like to see at Santa Rosa. Now, rest assured, I’m not just crossing my fingers and hoping for a better outcome this time. Here are four things I have done or will do to power myself for an even pace at Santa Rosa:

1. Strength training. My core is much stronger now than it was almost a year ago at Long Beach. I know I can draw on those muscles to help maintain good form throughout the race.

2. Carb loading. I’m paying particular attention to what I will eat over the next three days, increasing carbs to about 70% of my daily diet. That translates to 10 to 11 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight.

3. Starting slow. It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn, but now I understand that going out even a handful of seconds too fast at the start of the race can cost whole minutes at the end of a race. I plan to start slower than marathon goal pace and ease into it over the first four miles.

4. Not carrying my fuel with me. This is the first full marathon where I will rely fully on the aid stations on the course. By not carrying that extra weight with me, I can shave a few seconds off each mile (which, granted, gets balanced out by stopping to walk every two miles through the aid stations). I practiced this at my last half, and I practiced it on my 18.25-mile speed workout. I’m still worried about not getting enough fuel at each aid station, but I have calculated that I need to get 6-8 ounces each time and that seems manageable.

Anyone else have a race coming up soon? What have you done differently during your last round of training?

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I admit it, I’m a little bit of a slave to the training plan. I pretty much commit to and follow the training plan as written. I might juggle a workout here or there, occasionally switching up the days as needed, but they all get done eventually. There’s not much more satisfying than crossing off a workout.

I also don’t look much past the current and next day on the plan. I map out the workouts for the 16 or so weeks of the plan, but then I take them one day at a time, as one must. So I was in for a bit of a surprise.

As you might know, I was happy to embrace the 3-week taper period leading up to my next full marathon, The Santa Rosa Marathon. But then the workouts continued at pretty much the same pace for countdown week 3. Week 3 ended and week 2 began with a “long” run on Sunday of 10 miles, which indeed is long but seemed like a short run by comparison. I thought for sure taper had begun in earnest. But then the plan proceeded as usual with strength training on Monday and a 20-mile bike ride on Tuesday. Fine, I can handle those. I eat 20 mile bike rides for breakfast. <—- Me, poking fun at myself.

Then came Wednesday's workout. Wednesday is the speed workout on the plan. You might recall that sometimes the speed workout from Smart Marathon Training is a long run in disguise.

And this speed workout, scheduled for just 10 days before race day, was the whopper of all speed workouts:

1 mile warmup
400 m, 800 m,
400 m, 800 m,
400 m, 800 m,
400 m, 800 m,
400 m
with 400 m recoveries
(10K race pace) [for me and my I wanna-qualify-for-Boston-ambitions: 7:41, which is 7.8 mph]
Repeat 3 times [<—– Red flag]
1 mile cool down

Okay, do the math people. That adds up to 18.25 miles. I literally thought it was a typo. I could see doing the set of intervals one time, but "Repeat 3 times"? Are you kidding me?

I checked the Intermediate Marathon training plan, and checked again. I checked the Advanced and Competitive Marathon training plans. They all said the same thing for Speed Workout #14. [Edited to add: I later found out from the author, Coach Jeff Horowitz, that the plan contained a typo and the speed workout was only supposed to be 10 miles, not 18.25. See the correct workout here.]

So that's how I celebrated the first day that all three of my kids were in school full time. I dropped them off at school, hit up Vons for some more Gatorade, and set out to run/walk intervals for the next 3.5 hours. In the end it was a huge confidence booster, and I believe it was excellent practice for relying on the course aid stations for my all fuel. Normally I like to carry my sports drink with me so I don't have to stop running at each aid station. This time I won't have on-course support from my husband, so I've got to rely on the aid stations, which means slowing to a walk every two miles or so, taking in 6-8 ounces of sports drink as I walk, then picking the pace back up to average 8:25 or so. This interval workout made excellent practice for that. I'd run a quarter mile, then walk a quarter mile, run a half mile, then walk a quarter mile. I nailed the 7:41 pace each time, my confidence blossoming with each success.

When I finished, I hit the Vons again for some chocolate milk to refuel. A full quart of chocolate milk. And I took an ice bath when I got home. And I wore my PRO Compression socks for the rest of the day.

I feel pretty good today, but I am glad that the plan truly starts to taper now. Normally I’d be biking 20 miles today, but the plan only calls for strength training. Normally I’d be running eight miles tomorrow, but the plan “only” calls for 15 miles on the bike. I can only hope that my dedication to the plan pays off, and this final push before a severe cutback in taper leaves me with legs primed to kick butt on August 24th: 9 days, 9 hours and 25 minutes away.

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