The Day Before
Saturday was dreary, windy, and chilly in Maryland, but if the winds would die down it could be perfect weather for the Frederick Running Festival the following morning. Meaghan and I were able to take our time getting ready. Frederick is only about an hour away from our place in Baltimore. Before we left, I repeatedly checked the instructions from my coach Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, aka I Run Tons, aka Under Armour Run Coach. Compulsively, I drank the ounces of water, ate the foods, and prepared myself mentally as to what she had prescribed in my plan. After all, why get a coach if you aren’t going to follow their advice?
I had been taking a few days off after a groin strain during some speed work. Everything was feeling good, but I felt it would be better for me if I got a small shake out run in before race day. I sent a text to Sandra at seven something in the morning to get her blessing. She may have to set communication boundaries with me, but I figured runners are up early on the weekends. Anyhow, I got her blessing.
Saturdays are group runs with the Faster Bastards. It is my favorite run of the week. This week it was a small group, but a good one. It would have been easy to get carried away and run the full 10 miles with them, but I stayed disciplined. I kept the heart rate under 145 BPM, and only did three miles. My body responded well.
After the run, Meg and I packed up the car. We stopped at Sweet Green for lunch, salad was on the training plan. The next stop was packet pick-up.
I have been instructed to drink half my weight in ounces of water. That is a little over 80 oz. This means I have to go to the bathroom every 10 minutes. Sandra has said the bladder will expand to accommodate, yay. In the meantime, it is insane. So when we got to packet pick-up I was relieved after the hour ride.
The expo for the Frederick Running Festival is well organized and it was easy enough to get your stuff. The expo itself isn’t that impressive. Picture a barn with some sponsors and a couple local running stores selling Maryland flag gear. The whole thing would fit in the end zone of a football field.
The premium for the run is a quality loose fitting 3/4 zip pullover with an embroidered event logo, center back zippered pocket, long sleeves with thumb holes, and Maryland flag pattern running down the sides.
With a gun time of 7 am, we opted for a hotel rather than drive an hour from Baltimore. We took the recommendation from the race website and stayed at the Homewood Suites, about 15-minute drive from historic Frederick. Downtown Frederick is beautiful. The main street is lined by historic brick buildings with a mix of eclectic stores and restaurants. It reminds me of a small town in New England. The hotel was in a less charming part of town surrounded by a scourge of chain restaurants and Mattress Warehouses.
Meg and I got restless sitting around the hotel so we took a walk under the gray skies and cruised the strip mall and found a Mom’s Organic store where we picked up some healthy snacks.
Fellow Faster Bastards Adam to the MAX and Dr. Matthew Katz were there with their families. We decided to meet them for dinner back in Historic Frederick at a restaurant named Olives. Coach Sandra had put “Lighter dinner (finished by 7:30 pm): Grilled salmon, sweet potato, white rice, peas.” on the plan. I was able to get close with grilled salmon, string beans with cherry tomatoes, french fries. I added a beer to the diet plan, mostly out of tradition.
During dinner, my mates asked me what pace I would be shooting for. Usually, this is a simple question with a straightforward answer. New coach, new rules.
This time the plan was “In general you’re looking for a 157-162 heart rate for most of the race, but feel free to push that in the last two miles. Your heart rate will naturally rise as the race goes on, which is not an indication that you need to slow down, it is just a natural byproduct of the duration. But likewise, don’t go out faster than this zone. It will bite you later. Let yourself build.” So really I had no idea what type of result this would yield. I tried to get Sandra to give me a clue on what she thought this pace would be. No dice.
Meg and I made it back to the hotel. We prepared our clothes and food for the morning, put on some mindless tv, and had lights out by 10 pm for a 4:45 am alarm.
The sleep was better than normal pre-race. By having the pace determined by heart rate, it took the performance anxiety out and replaced it with curiosity. How would I perform? What would the pace end up being? How will the hills affect the heart rate?
4:45 am came. I guzzled 10 oz. of water then accompanied Meg to the lobby to get some hot water for our Starbucks Via packets. After mixing up some coffee I had a Honeystinger waffle, drank some beet juice and guzzled another 16 ounces of water with Tailwind mixed in. I got geared up and did my pre-running exercises. It was now time to go pick up Adam and Matthew. Oddly enough, I didn’t have my usual pre-race jitters. Along with the new coaching, I started using Headspace guided meditation daily. I have been steady with it for about three months. I do believe it has been helpful in many of my mental challenges.
It was chilly at the start with a wind that made it downright unfriendly. I had to pee before the start so I got that out of the way. With 5 minutes to spare, we made it to the corrals and before I had time to think, we were off. Almost immediately, I had to pee. Tough luck, the bladder would have to wait until the finish.
Let’s see what this pacing by heart rate mumbo jumbo is.
I was able to go at a decent clip for the first mile while my heart was finding its rhythm. Running a 7:22 for the first mile, I thought, hey this is going to be faster than I expected. It wasn’t long lived and I had to start taking regular looks at my Garmin 735 XT to see where the BPMs were.
Around mile four is when this tactic became challenging. BPMs were up, I had to not only coast but actually, slow down to stay in the range. I slowed to an 8-minute pace, I felt like I was crawling and runners started passing me in droves. This is it, this is no longer a race. Sandra must want to test me to see if I can ignore my ego and follow her instructions. This isn’t my “A” race, we are focused on the marathon. I was going to pass the test, so I stayed in the heart rate zone. At least the winding, undulating course is really beautiful.
Sandra had made a note that my heart rate would naturally rise during the race. Around mile 6 I was feeling like I had tons of reserves and let the heart rate sit between 160-175 BPM. This felt very comfortable like I was on cruise control. The miles slipped by quickly and I even missed mile 7’s marker. I was elated when I saw the 8-mile marker expecting it to be the 7. I resisted the urge to speed up and start passing runners. I kept thinking, wait until mile 10 then stop looking at the watch and run however you want. I wasn’t ignoring Sandra’s coaching that said wait until the last 2 miles, I had just somehow mentally replaced the 2 with 3 and realized after the race she had written 2.
The 10-mile marker popped up and immediately started picking people off. Typically, I am not super strong running up the hills. On this day I had energy in the reserves. It surprised me. There was an incline that I would guess is nearly a half mile. I was cruising up it and clicking runners off that had passed me earlier. This was starting to feel really good. I felt strong the last two miles and when I hit the horse track I went mentally to the track workouts I have been doing. the last bit of the race I had enough left to drop the pace down and finish at a 6:22 pace.
While I didn’t finish with a PR, I was super stoked. I had learned a new (and better) way to run that provided similar results to the grueling way I have raced in the past. The Frederick Half winds around and has lots of ups and downs. It is nearly impossible to run the tangents. My Garmin gave the following results: 13.24 miles, 7:36 pace, Avg heart rate of 168 bpm, 1:40:41. My official results from the race: 1:40:39, 222 out of 3,863, 171 out of 1,575 males, 7th out of 199 males 45-49.
Considering how good I felt post-race, I took the results as a positive step towards my bigger goal of a new PR in the marathon. I also learned to trust my coach. It took a lot of mental work to stay the course with her plan during the race, but now I see the beauty in it. I can’t wait to see how this all works into the next phase of training.
As always Meaghan crushed it and finished top 10 in a very competitive field. I don’t even think her head was in it. Her time was a 1:29:35!
Why run Frederick?
- Beautiful course
- Well organized
- Friendly volunteers
- Decent premium
- Rolling hills
- Frederick itself is worth the visit
- Good parking
- Plenty of porta-potties
- Decent post-race village
Why skip it?
- 7 am start
- Not a lot of crowd support
Course overview from Sandra
The Down and Dirty on the Course:
The first half mile is downhill, but avoid the temptation to push. Find a good spot on the start and then find your groove, not letting others pull you out too fast.
The first two miles are a general climb with a few shorter downhills mixed in for an opportunity to relax the legs and shoulders from mile 2-2.5. Then the entire rest of the course is rolling hills, with a substantial downhill in mile 6-7. Take a gel/chews/beans on this downhill. Then do the same at mile 11.5-12. Take in water at miles 0-4, then Gatorade if your stomach tolerates it from miles 5-7, then back to water, then Gatorade as needed in the last 3 miles. Keys to this course is maintaining the ‘gears’ in your legs. Uphill, downhill, flat? Either way, keep your legs under you and shoulders low and relaxed. No major surges on the uphills, then crest and relax on the downhills. Always know that there will be a downhill to get you through. Lock in on the shirt of the person running at your pace and tuck right behind them.