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Chasing Potential - Miami Recap

 Tuesday, February 07, 2017

I've been sitting on this blog post for over a week, trying to figure out how to pull it together. Sometimes race recaps are easy to write, when the race goes mostly as planned. When the race was disappointing, it's harder. I want to write honestly about the ups & downs of racing, but don't want it to come across as a 'humblebrag' either. 

I'm fully aware that my time at the Miami Half (1:31) is something most runners could only dream of, yet it was not a well-executed race for me. My goal of this blog is to share my running journey while adding educational tidbits about training along the way, and hopefully inspiring others who are in the thick of life to keep on training amid the chaos. With that in mind, here is the post I've been pondering while I get back to winter training in Minnesnowta...

Miami wasn't in my initial race plans for the winter, but leading our first Life Time Run 'Racecation' brought me there. I organized fun meals & activities for 30 runners taking part in a weekend that featured the Miami Marathon or Half Marathon and the Tropical 5K. It was a great mid-winter getaway, and gave me the opportunity to race during the time of year where I'm normally just focused on base training. About 8 weeks before the event, I talked to my coach (MK Fleming) about actually racing the half, rather than just using it as a scenic long run. She approved, and that gave me a small window of focused training. I was starting the race in better shape than the TC 10 Mile, with a 1:24 goal in my sights for the Miami Half Marathon. Why a 1:24? That's a time that would earn an 'elite entry' into some spring half marathons in and near Minnesota that I was considering, which made it an exciting target. My PR is 1:21 and we recognized that while I'm not in PR shape yet, 1:24 was reasonable goal based on my training. That meant I would have to maintain about 6:25 pace, just slightly faster than my 6:30 average at the TC 10 Mile.  

Before we got to Sunday's race, the Tropical 5K featured a beautiful course along the MacArthur Causeway and perfect weather. With breezy temps around 60 degrees, it was a comfortable morning for an easy shake-out run. 

Hanging out with Life Time Run members & coaches on Nikki Beach after the Tropical 5K.

My 5K goal was just to have fun, enjoy the course and run with my sister-in-law and others in our group. We stopped to take pictures of cruise ships, talked the whole way and soaked in the cool sunshine. Mission accomplished.

Our group spread out on Saturday afternoon, with some relaxing at the hotel and others taking in the sights. I like to rest my legs, so I took some time to put my feet up and even caught a little sun by the pool. Too much time in the sun is draining, but coming from a Minnesota winter, I craved some sunshine and natural vitamin D! The views from our hotel were incredible, as I could see both the city and the marina from my room. 

We had a tasty team dinner on Saturday evening at Vapiano in Brickell, though I broke one of my rules: "Don't try anything new" on race weekend... I picked a restaurant that was perfect for the majority of our group that wanted pasta, and the food was delicious. However, I have multiple food sensitivities (gluten, soy, corn & cows-milk dairy) so eating out is a bit of a chore. I perused the website and menu which clearly laid out gluten-free & lactose-free options, and asked lots of questions. My usual pre-race dinner choice is very plain: grilled salmon, steamed rice, sweet potato or baked potato (olive oil instead of butter), some veggies and/or a side salad. The options at Vapiano were more elaborate, and I settled on a salad with shrimp, avocado, mango and a chipotle-lime dressing that was reportedly free of anything that would cause a problem. It was very tasty, but my tummy wasn't thrilled that night. Lesson learned - back to basics next time - save the fun foods for after the race. 

Race morning started early, but our hotel (the Miami Marriot Biscayne Bay) was just 0.8 miles from the start. I love being able to jog right down to the start with no worries about traffic or parking. As I dropped off my sweat check bag and ran back to my corral, I was amazed by the diversity of runners in this race. It had a different vibe from other big marathons I have run (Boston, Twin Cities, Chicago & Grandma's), as Miami has a very large percentage of international runners, and also skews towards more beginners than many big races. The air was filled with energy and anticipation, and the pre-race weather was humid but comfortable at around 60 degrees. 

I started just behind the elites in Corral B, feeling confident that my fitness level had returned enough to 'belong' there although I haven't raced a half marathon since 2013. As the race began, I found my groove and settled right into my pace. The first mile includes the biggest hill of the course (over the MacArthur Causeway Bridge) but I felt strong as I ran amid the other Corral B runners, passing by some of the athletes with disabilities as they climbed over the bridge. Many of those wheelers and hand-crank cycle athletes flew by us on the other side as we ran the decline. I find it inspiring to be around athletes who face very different challenges every day. 

Here is the course map and race overview as shown from my Training Peaks account. Note - Training Peaks is not a sponsor of Life Time Run or this blog, but is a tool that some of our coaches (including MK) use to enhance their coaching and ability to view their athletes' workouts. 

The first four miles were exciting for me as I settled into my pace and used the tailwind to my advantage. While I don't believe in "banking time", I also realized that the tailwind could safely push my early miles a little faster than goal pace. Running on the MacArthur Causeway in the dark by all of the cruise ships was a fun experience, and I was thankful to have had an easy, relaxed run there in daylight the day before to soak in all the sights. 

All seemed OK until we turned north in South Beach into a cold 18mph headwind. The temperature had been dropping during the preceding miles, settling in to around 52 degrees for the low during the race. That doesn't sound awful coming from Minnesota, but paired with the wind and the rain that soon followed, it felt COLD. I heard a local say that they get one day like this per year. Around mile 4 I also started feeling queasy. Initially I thought it was my own fault for not choosing a familiar food the night before, but as the nausea increased in intensity throughout the race, I realized something else may be at play. I also had a thick feeling of mucus in my mouth & throat, which I haven't experienced before (outside of running with a head/ chest cold, which I didn't have). Talking with MK later, she cited the phlegm as a potential protective mechanism of my respiratory system in response to the high humidity. I'm not sure why it hit me when many others had a good day despite the cold rain, but running can be a mystery. I felt like I was breathing through a heavy face mask on a cold winter's day. 

I think every runner knows the feeling when the race gets tough, and you seriously think about dropping out. I was totally in that place during the middle of this race. For better or worse, I kept moving, in part because I would be hosting a cocktail reception for Life Time Run that evening. I didn't want to explain myself over and over if I dropped out, especially knowing I was around 1:30 pace.

I held it together until shortly after the mid-point, although my pace had dipped a bit. I missed a few of the mile markers as I wasn't looking up enough through the rain, so some of my splits below (in the 13's & 14's) cover two miles each. My pace wasn't far off my goal until about mile 7. At that point, I was trying to keep it together and stay focused, but while fighting the weather & nausea, my pace was sliding. 

Even with the gradual slowing, my pace stayed under 7:30 until Mile 12. You can see the gradual decline in my pace on the green line below. In the final mile or so (look at 1:23:20), everything went a little haywire. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I'm guessing the cold was at play. Cold weather can decrease heart rate through a factor called cardiac crimp, but even with my slowing pace, I wouldn't have expected it to dip as low as it did.

 My heart rate dropped dramatically down to the 130's, and in addition to really feeling sick, I got a splitting side cramp and started wheezing. Yikes. As you can see, my pace was all over the board, and I just wanted to finish at that point. 

I know I need to build more speed endurance and work on my mental toughness as well, but the chart above tells me that my heart rate never went anaerobic (my AT is 167), so I had the aerobic fitness to run faster if the rest of my body would have cooperated. Performance is complex, and analyzing the good and bad helps me see where there is room for more improvement. 

In the end, I was so happy to see that finish line, and to meet up with other staff members in the finish area. 

No it wasn't really still dark when we finished. The best part of this trip was meeting runners & coaches from around the country, like our Raleigh, NC Run Coordinator Chip Hulbert. He flew past me on the final mile, and graciously waited for me after the finish. 

Somehow I still summoned up a smile for the race photographer as I was very happy to be done - and then bolted for gear check and the hotel. Hopefully next time the weather is more favorable for hanging out at the post-race party! Here, Paul Kriegler from Life Time Weight Loss and I reconnected just after his speedy finish. 

My wasn't quite what I expected from Miami, but the event was fun to experience and the course could be quite fast under good conditions. I'd love to run it again on a slightly warmer day! 

The rest of our weekend was filled with celebrations. We had a fun Cuban lunch at Havana 1957 in South Beach, and enjoyed a Celebration Cocktail Reception with most of our Life Time Run group that evening. Then it was back to the frozen land of Minnesota the next morning.

We're looking forward to making an annual trip to the Miami Marathon with Life Time Run, but for now I'm back to base-training mode while I think about my goal races for the spring. I'm off to the Northwestern Health Sciences University lab today to review my recent gait analysis, so my next post will be back to technical details as I share the results. As a mom of 3 just rebuilding my body and form, I know there will be some areas to work on!

Happy (winter) running!

Last blog post: "Miami Peak Week" 

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Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager at Life Time Fitness. Follow me on Instagram at rebekah800, on Twitter at @rebekah_mayer and our team at @lifetimerun. Find us on Facebook at