Race review: Army Ten Miler

Originally posted at http://www.wecanrunaway.com/washington-dc-army-ten-miler/

atm-startThe Army Ten Miler is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.  It’s a huge race (35,000 strong in 2016) hosted by the Association of the United States Army.

How many races feature an artillery blast to signal the start of the race, with a military helicopter hovering overhead?  The quick answer is not many. Continue reading “Race review: Army Ten Miler”

Army Ten Miler (How the hell did *this* happen?)

bib-and-coin-atmSandy and I have run the Army Ten Miler for years.  It’s a local event for us, and it’s pretty much a must-run if you’re a runner who’s in the military.  It’s a much more crowded race than I typically prefer (35K runners, if the race announcer is to be believed).  The ATM marks the end of the running season for us, and is usually characterized by decent running weather.  But with the edges of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Matthew passing through the DC area, we expected rough conditions this year.

Woke up to a horrible day.  Poked my head outside at 5:15, and it was cold and rainy, with gusting winds.  Not good for a rhythm runner!

Oh, well.  Nothing we could do about it but get ready.  I decided to go with a long sleeved tech, and compression tights, which turned out to be a great call.  Sandy went sleeveless with full-length tights.

atm-weatherWe arrived in the starting area around 7:30, in time for the 8:00 start.  We huddled under a bridge to escape the rain and wind, but both of us were still shivering – even in the throwaway sweats.  It was no fun at all when our corral surged forward, and we had to peel off the layers to run.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been dealing with chronic Achilles tendinosis, and haven’t been able to train regularly for the last three years.  In fact, I was only able to get in about 10 runs over the last month leading up to this race.  Only three of the runs even reached five miles (or so I thought – more on that later), and none were faster than 9:00/mile.

Add to that the fact that both my calves had been very sore all week, which has historically been a precursor to another Achilles flareup, and I wasn’t optimistic about this run.  If they didn’t loosen up, I feared I might not be able to finish the race at all.

I figured the best-case scenario had me finishing around 1:33:00, if at all.

So the plan was to run with Sandy, who normally paces out between 9:00 and 9:20/mile.  We’d start slow and build up from there.  Of course, in a race with 35,000 runners, we usually don’t have much of a choice, anyway.  The first two miles are typically slow-moving, with nothing but asses and elbows everywhere.

The good news is that the rain stopped just before the gun (well, in this case, an artillery piece) fired, sending our corral onto the course.

We logged a 9:34 first mile, followed by a 8:54 second, and a 9:03 third.

My left Achilles finally loosened up during the third mile, with my right following suit in the fourth.  Sandy dropped back around the fourth mile marker, urging me to go ahead.

I decided to just focus on form, and treat the run as a workout.  Being  a competitive creature, I had to really work to keep myself from watching the clock as I went.  I felt if I could limit myself to a peek once per half mile or so, I’d keep the race-monster in check.

Then a strange thing happened.  My Garmin lets me know what kind of pace I’m on, but that is less about how quickly I’ve completed the current mile, and more about how fast I’m moving at the moment.

Even though I wasn’t pushing to go faster, the times kept falling.

8:43, 8:35, 8:25.  I started thinking that a 1:30:00 finish might be possible.
Midway through the seventh mile, I was a little gassed, but I knew at that point the Achilles wasn’t going to be an issue.  I felt that if I could just keep my form together, I’d be fine, and would finish below 1:30:00.

I pulled my sleeve over the watch to keep me from looking at it, and resolved only to check after each mile.


mile-8The eighth mile is fairly tough, with the last half of it being a long, straight uphill along I-395 that eventually gives way to an off-ramp.  Today, this portion was into the face of 15-20 mph wind gusts, adding to the challenge.

For whatever reason, this spot always ends up being a bottleneck, as gassed runners cruise slowly down the single-lane ramp and make the sharp left turn.  The pace almost always slows to a near-walk right before the 8-mile marker, before the course opens up again.

Anticipating this, I did my best to attack the hill.  That paid off as I looked at the split at the marker.


The short time in Pentagon City is flat and wide, so race congestion isn’t an issue.  At this point, I was feeling fairly strong, but didn’t want to risk a full-on surge.  Part of me didn’t want to run out of gas with a half mile to go, and the other part worried about the Achilles, which, over the past 2-3 years, has flared up every time I’ve gone to the track to do speed work.

So, nothing aggressive – just keep chugging along, and maintain good form.  Midway through this mile, my flexors started to burn a bit.  Nothing unmanageable, but highly unusual for me.


As I passed the 9-mile marker, I still didn’t feel I could really open up for an entire mile.  So I decided to keep doing what I was doing, and try to surge over the last third of a mile.  Once we made the turn, and passed back under I-395, I stepped it up a bit, resisting going into a full kick at the end.  Nearing the finish line, I slid over to the left side of the road (which, for some reason, was not very crowded) so I could at least see the video and finish pic later.


The extra weaving over the course of the race cost me about 100m, which is to be expected.  That’s about as small a variance as one can expect in a race this crowded.

Final time:  1:26:24.  That’s a time I can live with.  Of course, it’s nowhere near a PR, but given where I am in terms of training miles logged (nowhere near enough), I’m very happy with it, and I think I learned something today.

I’ve never been one to focus on negative splits.  I’ve always taken the approach of targeting a pace, and sticking with it for as long as I can.  This marks the first time I’ve ever deliberately taken it easy over the first portion of a race, and slowly built from there, dropping time with each split.  I couldn’t believe I felt as strong as I did at the end.

This might be my new approach toward anything longer than a 10K.

Post-race, but pre-Starbucks

Sandy finished a few minutes after I did.  She crossed the line in 1:31:55, and she said she was pretty happy with how the run went.  She had trained a lot more than I did, but still not as much as she would have liked.  Still, the results weren’t bad for a less-than-ideal day.

Only a frigid walk from the finish line to the Pentagon City Mall stood between us and the post-race reward:  Starbucks and a warm ride home.

But what about the time drop?

So – how the hell did this happen?  With limited opportunities to run over the last few months, there was no way I should have been able to end up with that kind of time.  I had developed a hypothesis by the time I got home.  My training routes had to be longer than I thought they were.

The routes were the same ones I used years ago, but have had to avoid over the last three years because my doctors told me to stay off hills.  But over time, I had apparently forgotten the exact distances.  For example, I thought the longest route I had run leading up to the ATM was 5 miles.  I had been typically fairly gassed after covering it in between 47 and 48 minutes.  I was disappointed at the 9:20-ish pace, but attributed it to a lack of fitness, and accepted it (for now).

Turns out, that route is actually 6 miles, putting me just under an 8:00 pace.  A YUGE difference that made today’s performance make a lot more sense.

Now I’m debating whether I should remeasure all my other routes, or just enjoy the occasional surprise!

Nurses uplift the homeless, recovering addicts through running

She crossed the finish line.  Still breathing heavily, she grinned as a volunteer handed her the medal.  As she walked along, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was one of the guys who used to sell her drugs.  She raised her medal.  As he flashed a salute to her, she smiled, saying to herself “I’m an athlete, I’m healthy, and I’m going to keep getting better.”

It’s amazing what happens when people learn there is more to them than they ever knew, and when that realization lifts their lives.

Patti Bright, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (commonly known as a CRNA) from Virginia Beach, Va., has seen many stories like this since she started working with the homeless and recovering addicts, providing many of them the life skills common to most runners, and helping to turn their lives around.

While the difficulties these people face vary wildly, Bright sees a common thread in those who reach to her group for help.

“Most of these people have had something happen in their lives that makes them feel they can’t do it,” she explains.  “Especially the women.  Many of them have never had anyone in their lives to trust.”

Bright is part of an effort to better the lives of some of her area’s most disadvantaged groups.  She has helped homeless people and recovering drug addicts learn life skills common to most runners, and helped them turn their lives around in the process.

How it all started

It all started ten years ago at a leadership retreat.  Bright was one of many nurse anesthetists trying to find ways to promote their profession.  To that point, the group had aimed its messaging at mainly state legislators, but felt more could be done.  During a brainstorming session, Bright recalled a lecture on public relations she had attended some time before, and how creating a newsworthy message would bring interest.

But how do you make a group of nurse anesthetists newsworthy?

The group eventually decided to form a team of CRNA runners to run the Virginia Beach Half Marathon.  The event had recently been named the top half marathon in the country, and it would be a good opportunity to get the group involved.  But the question remained:  How could they make generate interest in the group?

The answer was getting the surrounding community involved.  Their organization decided to raise funds for a local charity that provides meals, clothing and medical care to the poor and homeless.  The effort didn’t end there.  The CRNAs wanted to include the people they’d be helping in the event – but how?

They settled on fielding a team of CRNA runners, as well as manning a running one of the race’s water stops with CRNAs and the homeless people they were helping.  In doing so, they guaranteed the kind of coverage they sought – a higher profile for their career field, driven by the interest created by their making a difference in their community.

The first three years of the event went well.  Local media covered the event, and the amount of support they received grew.  The water stop manned with the area’s homeless became a well-known feature of the race.  But the direction of the program would change drastically when a girl from a recovery group asked to be trained to run.

Running as a life-changer


When Melissa approached Bright about training for the race, she was in recovery for drug addiction.  She was doing well in recovery, but she still smoked, was overweight, and although she had a steady job, she was struggling to find meaningful work.  Bright saw someone who needed guidance and self-discipline to help build her self-esteem.

Bright says that many of the individuals she meets while working with the homeless and addicted have had something happen in their lives that destroyed their feeling of self-worth.  Sometimes, just the act of caring and offering help can be enough to get them started on the road to recovery.

She says “it’s just about believing in someone and being a mentor to them.”

The first order of helping is holding them accountable for training, and demanding their commitment to the training necessary to get through 13.1 miles.  She tells her runners that training happens early in the morning (usually before dawn), and unless there’s lightning or hail, the run is on.

The pre-dawn runs weren’t just to instill discipline.  Bright’s work schedule includes long hours, making the early hours the only time available for her to hit the trails.  The early runs are her way to get ready for her shift, and to her, they’re not negotiable.

“If I know I have a long shift,” Bright explained, “a long run helps me prepare for my day.  [My patients] need all of me.  It’s up to me to pay close attention.”

Melissa stuck with the training, and over that summer, she lost weight, quit smoking, and completed the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  But bigger things were on the way.

Since that race, Melissa returned to school.  Bright, who attended her college graduation, says Melissa is now working as a medical assistant in an orthopedist’s office, and is currently enrolled in a registered nurse program.

Since her turnaround, Melissa has addressed state legislators at the event’s pre-race dinner, sharing her story and offering hope to those struggling as she did.  Bright marvels at the change.

“She is just a different person – the way she carries herself,” Bright says, adding that the training rebuilt her self-esteem.  “Now, she’s confident and goal-oriented.”


When Tammy approached Bright to train to run a race, she was recovering from drug addiction, and hoping to go to school to better herself.  But at 42 years old, she couldn’t do basic math.  Reaching higher education would be a struggle.

Bright told her what she tells each of what she calls her ‘special runners’ – “If you embrace [the training], you can get addicted to the sense of well-being.”

As with Melissa and other runners Bright has trained, those that persevere learn that running helps them face challenges, and gives them the confidence they need to overcome their weaknesses and succeed.  During those early-morning sessions, Bright says she and Tammy talked about more than just running.

“We had some very frank conversations during those runs,”  Bright said.  “We talked about saving money, how to budget, how to present yourself in interviews.”

In short, they talked about the kinds of life skills Tammy needed to succeed.  Tammy persevered, and finished the race – in style.

She crossed the finish line.  Still breathing heavily, she grinned as a volunteer handed her the medal.  As she walked along, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was one of the guys who used to sell her drugs.  She raised her medal.  As he flashed a salute to her, she smiled, saying to herself “I’m an athlete, I’m healthy, and I’m going to keep getting better.”

Since then, Tammy has gotten better.  Once unable to handle basic multiplication, she is now going to community college, and has a new outlook on life.

Bright still marvels at the power people have to change, and that running has the power to help them do it.

“I love my job.  I love what I do.  I love to give back to the community,” she says.  “I’m still amazed at how people can change the course of their lives.  When they run their race and win their medal, they really do feel they can accomplish anything.”

What’s next

The CRNA efforts continue, and grow stronger each year.  Bright has enlisted some of her success stories to help mentor others.  She’s still training runners, trying to give them the tools they need to turn their lives around.  And she’s still promoting wellness in her community.

She tells her colleagues that giving to others helps make them more whole.

“When you use your passions, when you look beyond yourself, it can be amazing!”

Like her team’s running jerseys read, CRNAs Rock!

Rock on, Patti.  Rock on!

Happy ‘second opinion’ day!

achilles-treadmillI suppose it’s a little early to be happy about the results from today’s second opinion on what to do with my right Achilles.  I had set up the visit to confirm (or not) my first doc’s recommendation for surgery to lengthen it.

Coming in, I was pretty much resigned to the thought of the extension surgery, or another process (I forget the clinical name for it) which would require the doc to loosen the Achilles with a cut somewhere in my calf, and drill several tiny holes in the tendon.  The tendon would then be wrapped with a sleeve of substance (again – can’t remember the name) to promote the healing process.

Seems very much like a nuclear option to me, but given the time I’ve been dealing with it, I thought I was out of ideas.  At least that’s what I thought prior to today’s discussion.

My doc talked with me about a procedure called Tenex.  It’s a minimally-invasive option in which the surgeon uses ultrasound imaging to guide the removal of damaged tendon.  Down time is only about 2-6 weeks, and the limited internet research I’m seeing suggests an 80% success rate among those suffering tendinosis.

If true, 80% is more than enough for me to be optimistic about this treatment.  Not sure if my provider covers the procedure, though.  Here’s hoping!

If any of you has experience with this kind of procedure, please let me know how it worked out.  I’ve still got some time to make decisions!

Quick update: Still not training, Virginia Beach, surgery

2016-va-beach-finisher-medalsSo it’s been well over a month since I’ve been able to run with any regularity.  Some of that was self-imposed after the last Achilles flare-up, and some of it was imposed upon me (in the form of a military school I had to attend).

Training’s been limited to sporadic elliptical sessions and the occasional swim.  I’ve got a doctor’s appointment next week to discuss the way ahead, and whether knives – well, scalpels – will be part of my future.

I had been scheduled to run the Virginia Beach Half this past weekend, but without any actual road time built up, I felt it would have been foolish to try to churn out 13.1, so I downgraded, and ran the 5K with my daughter.  We ran slowly (like 10-11 minute miles slow), but it was enjoyable.

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hermine narrowly missed Va Beach, but many stayed away, so the crowds were much smaller than normal.  I haven’t seen the final numbers, but I’d guess attendance was probably down by about 30%.  Ironically, the weather held up just fine.  72 degrees and overcast?  I’d pay money to have that weather for every race!

The good news is that I had very little soreness the following day, so going forward with some light running is part of my plan.  I still have the Army 10 Miler left on the schedule, and barring any further setbacks, I plan to give it a shot.  But if things go south again, I’ll be on the sidelines again.

I’m looking forward to getting the second opinion on surgery.  I’d still prefer to avoid going under the knife, but I’m afraid I’m just about out of options.

I’ll know more next Monday.  I’m just looking forward to a final decision being made.  I can accept surgery if I’m done for the fall and winter, but only if there is a high likelihood of the procedure being a permanent fix – I’m done with physical therapy and hoping for the best.

How quickly should you come back from injury/sickness?

Running-InjuryThis current stint on the shelf (now entering its third week) got me to thinking about the time it might take to get back to my original fitness level.  I’ve typically been the type to go with a reduced workload for about a week, and get slowly build back to where I was.  Recognizing that this isn’t the most scientific approach, I wanted to see what experts say on the subject.

Based on some of the articles I’ve been reading, I’m wrong.  Here are some of the guidelines I’ve found:

1)  Don’t try to make up for missed workouts

If you’ve missed workouts, no amount of added mileage or crowded workouts will make up for that.  In fact, you’ll put yourself on the fast lane toward injury and overworking.

2)  You don’t lose nearly as much cardio fitness as you think you do

I came across this article, which lays out the numbers.  While I won’t get down into the VO2Max numbers, the example used was a 20-minute 5K runner.  According to the piece, “After 2 weeks of no running, the 5k runner…would now be in 21:05 shape, according to most estimates.

After 9 weeks of no running, the same 20-minute 5k runner would now be in 24:00 minute 5k shape. After 11 weeks of no running, our poor running friend would be in 25:30 shape.”

So, if you only have missed about a week or so, you’re not really losing much, in terms of your fitness level.  As long as you’re not within a week or so of a major goal event, you’ll be fine.

3)  Get over the fact that you’ve missed time

Missing time doesn’t make you a bad person, so don’t feel like you’ve fallen off the horse.  Accept that sickness, injury, or just life happen.  You know your level of discipline, and you know how likely you are to stick to a training schedule.  Instead of looking at it as lost time, look at it as time for your body to recover or refresh.

So what do I do now?

Well, a lot of that has to do with how long you’ve been out.

If you’ve missed less than a week, just scale back the first few workouts.  Ease the pace a little.  The goal is to make sure you’re completely healthy.  After 2-3 workouts at a slightly lower than normal intensity, jump back into your normal routine.

If you’ve missed a week or two, make sure you limit the intensity for the first 2-3 runs.  Drop down to about 3/4 of your planned distance, and increase it day-by-day.  After a few days, consider some shorter runs that sprinkle in light speed work, to get your “fast” legs under you again.


Running at dusk

I’ve always been more of an evening/night runner, rather than a morning runner.  Sometimes the schedule allows it, sometimes it doesn’t.  Last night it did.

Taking my daughter to an evening appointment meant that I wouldn’t be able to hit the track until 8:30, which is a lot later than the planned 5:30.  Of course the upside is that the sun had gone down by the time I started, and that 95 degrees had given way to 85 — much better!  Still ridiculously humid, though.

Fortunately, I had a relatively short workout in mind – 4x one mile, with a recovery lap in between.  The intent was to get my tempo back after several months of down time, keeping a 185-190 cadence, regardless of the actual track speed.

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve got a really intense competitive streak and the challenge for me is keeping that in check, especially coming off of injury, so I was less than pleased to see a running group on the track, along with the usual random gaggle of walkers and joggers, and a soccer game in the infield.  That meant distractions, as well as traffic and runners of varying speeds.  That’s a real challenge to someone who runs like every runner is a rabbit to be caught!

So I threw on the headphones (music is my metronome), and got moving.  I found it a little difficult to keep the cadence going, even though it was where I left off just a couple of months ago.  Still, I felt light on my feet, which was the whole point of the workout.  I tried to just run strong, rather than pushing pace.

I didn’t time the individual miles, for fear of creating another thing to chase.  The first one was likely somewhere between 8:30 and 8:40.  Around this time, the running group broke up and left, and the sun was fully down.  It was still quite humid, but a little cooler.

The second mile felt much better – a combination of less traffic on the track, and my Achilles loosening up completely.  That typically happens in the second mile of any run, so I was happy about that!  Two high school runners showed up, running 200s in spikes.  A couple of older runners (said as if I’m young…) kept churning along in the outer lanes.  This mile was pretty smooth, around 8:15.

Just before I started the third mile, the soccer game broke up, with the players doing a quick lap cool down and breaking down the field.  Right after I got underway, the sprinters finished doing their set of 200s, and by the end of the rep, I had the track to myself.  People were still milling about, but they were in my periphery.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Keeping it steady and keeping up with the metronome.  Staying light on my feet.  No idea how long it took me to cover this one, but it felt strong.

There were only a handful of people left in the infield as I started the final mile.  A couple kids ran up and down the bleachers, watching the lacrosse game happening on the adjoining field.  Parents walked across the track with their soccer kids in tow.  After the first quarter mile, the last of them left, turning the lights off behind them.  The track was dark, with the exception of some light spilling over from the lacrosse field, and some single lights at the corners of the home bleachers.  I finished the rep alone, and feeling good.

img_1051The Achilles showed no signs of soreness (until this morning, that is).  I unplugged the headphones as I walked a couple of cool-down laps.  The peaceful evening, punctuated by the chatter of families at the lacrosse field, reminded me of why I like running at night.  It allows me to look at the day in retrospect, instead of thinking and planning about the day to come.

It lets me live in the moment, and that’s the thing I’ve missed the most about running.