How running fast can win you a year supply of free Chick-Fil-A 5k

I am still wading through summer race recaps. If you asked me in May about racing a lot this summer, my response probably would have been, “Hmm. Probably not. It’s too hot in the summer!” Well, I guess moving to a new city where there are races literally every weekend makes it more feasible.  The Chick-fil-A 5k is a Memphis race in its 12th year. I was planning on spending my Labor Day weekend floating on the Tennessee river with a beer in hand, but when I found out the winner of the race receives free chick-fil-a for an entire year (!!), I might have altered my plans a little bit to up my annie of winning, if you will. He he. I did still go to the river that weekend, and I did still relax on the boat, but I kept in the back of my head that I miiiiight have to head home early to see if I can win this crazy race. So, after a fun-filled two days at my parents’ cabin, Jon told me he “reallllllyyy wanted free chicken,” and that we should go. Wanting to see what I was made of in the 5k after not racing that distance since May, I definitely was on board ☺IMG_9085.JPG

I will admit, this was a spur of the moment race. I had no idea what to expect. People advised me it would be hot, but honestly, I still thought I could PR because I felt I was in better shape than the last time I PRd in May. The race was on Monday morning (Labor Day), and I talked my friend Jennie into going downtown with me to race it.

As I try to recap this race, it’s difficult! 5ks are so short! But wow, CAN WE ALL JUST AGREE THIS DISTANCE HURTS MORE THAN ALL THE REST?!

At about the ½ mile mark, I took the lead as first female. I honestly felt so strong, and although I wasn’t wearing a watch, I really felt I was going pretty fast. I raced smart, didn’t start off too fast, and passed a few guys the last half of the race. Overall, if you would have asked me how the race went, I would say, “Great!”

I remember it being terribly hot, but not so much so that I felt it affected my speed. Well, something affected my speed, because I crossed the line in 19:30. Wooooof, was I shocked. My previous PR was 19:07, and I literally was just tempoing that day! I for real raced a 5k and was almost 30 seconds slower during a time I’m supposed to be more fit!? I was perplexed and disappointed. Although I was happy to get free chick-fil-a for a year for the hubz, I really didn’t understand how that just happened. I walked to the finishers’ tent and waited for my friend Jennie to finish. When she crossed, she informed me her Garmin said the course was super long. Okay, Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Katie, please don’t be THAT runner who makes excuses for course length.” But, really, I am going to be that runner because I need some consolidation.IMG_9084.JPG

Okay, so what if the course wasn’t long? What else could I blame my slow time on?

Well, for one, I didn’t give enough credit to the heat. The race didn’t start until 9am, and there was NO course shade. it.was.HOT 93 degrees F. I think it’s incredibly fascinating how our bodies adapt. I completely relied off perceived effort, which I’ve learned is pretty spot on. I felt I was going as fast as I could, so I can’t really ask for more than that.IMG_7014.JPG

Here’s to more days of giving it my all, and enjoying the process. I don’t want to get bogged down with constantly wishing I was there, or running that time. I’m thankful for legs to run and a heart to compete and always wanting to get better.

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Finding a coach that is right for you and your training.

In April of this year, I decided to take the plunge and hire a running coach. It wasn’t difficult to decide whether I needed a coach, but finding the right fit was a process really important to me.IMG_8428_6639

I was a two-sport collegiate athlete, and growing up on lots of sports teams, being coached has always seemed right for me. I really admire athletes who are self-coached, but that takes a LOT of self-awareness and what I like to call, “taking the emotion out of it.” I don’t know about you all, but it is really easy for me to get emotionally wrapped up in my training, and make stupid decisions. When we are so invested in our training, I think it’s difficult oftentimes to separate the emotional side between wanting soo badly to get better, and knowing what is actually best for our bodies. Coaches can look at our training from an unbiased position, and tell us when we are being irrational and JPD (just plain dumb).IMG_0749_80132

I “interviewed” (if you want to call it that) a few different coaches in March of this year. I had a set of qualities I was looking for in someone to whom I would entrust my goals and daily training. This is what I came up with before I talked to them:

  1. Where are they located? I was not opposed to a long-distance coach, but being in close-proximity was a huge plus. I like knowing a coach can supervise a workout every now and then or come to a local race.
  2. What is their coaching philosophy? Yes, this is a broad question. First I had to figure out MY running philosophy. Before deciding on my coach, I really wasn’t sure whether I did better with high-mileage or not, how many miles I should be running each week, etc. I knew a couple things going in to our conversations: I prefer speed workouts over tempos, but I want to eventually transition to the marathon at some point. In the past I have been injury prone, so I needed a coach who would respect and encourage me to listen to my body rather than push through pain. I knew I wanted to wait a few years before running my first marathon (as in 2-3 years). I don’t want to feel pressured by a coach to jump into a distance I don’t mentally feel ready to conquer yet. Finally, I wanted a coach who believes in me. I know not everyone is going to be as awesome of a fan as my husband (He is the BEST), but I wanted a coach who wouldn’t hesitate when I told him/her my craziest running dreams. Words of affirmation are a huge deal for me—I need to know I am doing a great job from those I trust. It’s not that I am lacking confidence, but if I know my support group is behind me, I feel I can conquer anything. Everyone is different.  These are all small things that add up in the end. What are your non-negotiables when thinking about who you’d like to have as a coach?

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    Seriously, I have the most supportive husband.

  3. How much do they cost? This was probably more of a deal-breaker than the other two. We all wish money wasn’t an option, but that’s not reality. Being newlyweds, Jon and I really had to consi
    der what we could afford per month in coaching fees. We needed someone who wasn’t going to break our bank.
  4. Who do they currently coach? Basically, what is their “track record” like? I talked with one coach who really was so nice and SUPER informative, and someone I felt I could trust, but when I looked into it and researched a little more, the majority of his current athletes were sidelined with overuse injuries! That was a huge red flag for me. Additionally, are their athletes improving or have they had the same half-marathon PR for 3 years?
  5. Lastly, what is the communication like between athlete and coach? One coach I considered took 4 weeks to return my email. Look, I know emails are soooo 1999, but c’mon, 4 weeks!? That tells me they may be difficult to get in touch with when communicating back and forth about training or simple questions I may need answered the same day/within a few days (ie. “I’m going to get new running shoes this weekend; what do you recommend for a daily trainer?”). Additionally, another coach informed me we were only able to communicate directly one time per month, and it had to be through an online database. I totally understand some people just don’t need much guidance and this may work for you, but for me, I ask a LOT of questions. To say I can only ask one questions per month and I would need to pay $100/month for “direct” communication with a coach is a weeee bit ambitious for me.  
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    The athletes under my coach swept the field at a recent race.

Well, there you have it! Those are my personal questions I came up with before talking to each coach. All the coaches besides one were people I had never met, and I only heard about them through references or other runners. I obtained their email addresses, shot them an email, and set up a phone convo. Each of the phone conversations ended up taking about 45 minutes, and after that, I felt I had a pretty good gauge on the coach I would probably choose. It really wasn’t difficult after writing down my questions and what I felt I needed in a coach!

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I now run for the same running store I called that day!

I am happy to report I really believe I made the right decision on the coach I chose. Not only have I become so much stronger and a more well-rounded runner (I’ve PRd in almost every distance!), but my confidence has soared, too.  I ended up choosing a coach out of Memphis, TN who came via recommendation from a local running store. Really, I just called up a local Memphis running store before we moved there, and told them I was looking to hire a coach. The guy on the phone hooked me up with an email address, and the rest is history!

I don’t believe any coach is the end-all-be-all of running. A lot of days I still have to listen to my body and make decisions on the fly that will be the best for me. I have a “big picture” of running (meaning, I don’t believe one workout or even one week of training is going to make or break me as a runner). I am not completely dependent on my coach, but I really respect his training plans and guidance for me. That’s huge. Do your research and figure out what you, personally, need out of a coach. If you do that, you’ll probably make the right decision. Wishing you happy running vibes and fast races!

Run on!

Another 5 mile race in the books and learning you’re actually strong.

Well, guys. Fall is finally here. I never thought I’d be able to say that. I had doubts the heat would EVER leave, but like all the years prior, it comes and goes as promised. I know that sounds all poetic and mushy, but think about it. How amazing are the seasons? Every year we get to experience a re-birth of color, smell and temperature. I think if we took a vote, fall would win for everyone’s favorite season.

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aren’t we all excited for hot coffee again?!? PS: this recipe for these pancakes coming soon!

Despite wanting to talk about how great the cooler weather is and rave with everyone and their mother about pumpkin spice lattes, I’m going to live in the past for a few more posts (or at least until I catch up with race recaps).

Let’s go back a few weeks to the Memphis Road Race Series 5 mile.

LAWDDDD IT WAS HOT.

Dead of August and minimal course shade.

Let’s do this.

I was coming off a win and big PR at the Overton Park 5 mile classic a few weeks prior, so there’s always the pressure to better that time. Knowing Overton Park was half on trails, and this was all on road and less hilly, I thought surely I could grab another PR.

Since racing garmin-less, I’ve felt less expectation to hit a certain “time” or “pace”. My plan? Go for a win and be brave. Alright, here we go, I can try to do that! I don’t ever have a difficult time competing against those around me, but the tough part of this race came two days prior.

On Thursday before the race (race was on Sunday), I had a great workout with a training bud. Let me give you a little background info on my training plan. My coach will sometimes give me a “general” range of reps for intervals. For example, Thursday’s workout was “18-24x 8 seconds at 200meter pace with 1 minute rest between each”. Okay okay, I know what you’re thinking. 8 SECONDS?!? I promise, if you run these correctly, 8 seconds is difficult. My coach gives us a range because we need to be in tune with our bodies. If my legs are only able to give me 18 reps in a given day, I do not need to feel the pressure to run all 24. I really like this style. I know some people would always run the maximum given amount, but really, you have to listen. That day, I’ll be honest, I didn’t listen. This workout was tough. By the time we got to number 16 in this workout, my legs were screaming. I knew it would be a good day if I made it to 18. If I were running this by myself, I would have stopped at 18. Then there’s that competitive side of me again…shoot. Always sneaks in. Before I knew it we completed all 24, and I could barely jog home my legs were shaking so bad!

IMG_8347.JPGThe next day I was kicking myself for being stubborn, knowing I had a race in 2 days and I needed to recover! I took an ice bath, stretched, foam rolled, everything I could to try and recover. Well, the soreness was still present on race day. Stiff legs and far from poppy, but my coach advised me to still run it, and just treat it as a tempo. That completely took the pressure off, so I obliged and planned to still run.

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Also, what else was present on race day involves Mother Nature. Dang it! Despite feeling like everything was against me for this race, I took an ibuprofen for those Mother Nature cramps, and decided I’d still give it my all despite feeling sluggish and fat. (If you’re a woman you can understand).

Just as the name of the race implies, this is a series, meaning you’ll usually find the same people at each of the races. I didn’t sign up for the entire series, but I was fully aware there were some fast girls running all the races. When I got to the starting line, I made my way to the front, and noticed only one other girl lined up at the front. I figured that’s who I would be up against.

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Welllll, come to find out, homegirl ran division 1 track and cross country a few short years ago, and wellll, she went out with the 2 lead guys from the get-go. Shoot. I kept her in sight, and promised myself I’d try to reel her in after mile two.

The first few miles were relatively uneventful. I had no watch, and the miles weren’t marked, so I had to estimate where the 2 mile was by the water stations. I figured they probably put them every other mile, so when I came to the first stop, I guessed that was about mile 2. I kept division 1 homegirl in sight, and went to go catch her, but she must have had the same idea as me with the men in front of her, because she sped up, too.

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I grabbed a swig of water at the aid station, and I don’t know if I forgot to breath or what, but after grabbing that water, the infamous diaphragm side cramp came on. Shoooot. I knew it would be a long 3 miles, but I decided, “hey, I already have a million factors against me this race, what’s one more pain?” So, I dug deep and tried to keep homegirl within visible distance, although I could tell she was pulling away little by little.

Like I said, there weren’t any mile markers, or maybe I was too distracted by my legs being on fire and my side cramp coming through my rib-cage, but I had no idea how much distance we still had to cover before the finish. This was probably a good thing, to be honest. If I knew I still had half of the race left, I think mentally I would have given up then.

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It’s so amazing how our brains work. I swear I thought I still had at least 2 miles to go in this awful race, and then I hear someone say, “Mile 4! One mile to go!” WAIT ARE YOU SERIOUS?! I can hang on for another mile!

So I did.

I stayed with the pack of guys I ran with most of the race. As much as I wanted to pull away from them like I normally would try to do, I just couldn’t. I was giving everything I had to stick with them.

IMG_8462.JPGThe last little bit of the course winds around a huge park during which you can see the finish line the entire time. Can we all agree these are the WORST courses? Seriously, I was like, “Can I just cut across that baseball field and finish, pleassseeee?”

The finish chute is somewhat on an incline, so I pushed up the hill. My body hurt and I felt nowhere near a PR, but when I saw the finish-line clock, I was pleasantly surprised! 15 Second PR!
31:58. Barely got under 32! 6:23 average pace.

Not incredible, but we all know a new personal best is better than no personal best, and for what my body gave me that day, I can’t complain one bit. Hot weather, course with a million turns, stiff competition, and tired legs were what I had to work with, and I made it work. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it work.

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I learned that day you’re capable of probably more than you think you are. Not wearing a watch further solidified my previous thoughts that it can hold you back. If I had set a time goal or even a pace goal, I probably would have been super conservative for fear of not being able to get a PR with my tired legs. I’m glad I didn’t wear a watch, and I’m glad I was able to push through when it wasn’t my best day.

As for homegirl, she beat me by about 40 seconds, and I kept her in visible distance the entire time. I found out some of her other times from races, and she really is a phenomenal runner, so I’m pleased with being in relatively close proximity even! Ha!

Now, back to autumn. I am soooo glad the temperatures are no longer as hot as that race! Stay tuned for more race recaps from this summer! I’m slowly getting through them, and look forward to sharing more race days and insights I learn from this crazy journey.

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Maybe you didn’t know this about me . . .

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In addition to my day job, I actually write food articles and recipes + take photos for a local print magazine (gasp, I know, those still exist!). I’ve been doing that for 3 years now (has it really been that long?!), and although I’d probably consider myself somewhat experienced in that area, I guess I’ve been hesitant to share recipes on here because it seems like everyone in the universe has a food blog. I mean, c’mon, do we REALLY need more recipes for the “Best brownies ever” or “Kale chips”?

Even though most of me said, “Make MsKatieBlaze just a running blog,” I feel not sharing the foodie side of me is kind of like not sharing the full me. So, as I find more time now that grad school is (FINALLYYYY) done, I decided I might start incorporating a few food photos and recipes.   I am really intrigued by the fueling aspect of running, and I think as athletes it becomes easy to get in a rut eating the same thing every day. Maybe the recipes I share will encourage you get creative in the kitchen with your eats!salmonsliders

I’ll share a little bit of everything. Because it’s the end of the summer, I really wanted to post these salmon burger sliders. THEY.ARE.DELICIOUS! These were inspired by the Curried Salmon Burger Lettuce Wraps over at Half-Baked-Harvest. Tieghan is a pure genius in the kitchen, and I know anything I make from her blog is going to be a hit. Without further a-do . . .
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End-Of-Summer Salmon Burger Sliders

Yields 8 small sliders

Ingredients:

1 lb wild caught salmon, skin removed and roughly chopped

1/3 cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons thai red curry paste (found in the international section of most grocery stores)

½ tablespoon fish sauce (found in the international section of most grocery stores)

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon oil (I used coconut)

½ medium-size cucumber, thickly sliced

1 small mango, skin removed and thickly sliced

4 ounces goat cheese (log, not crumbled), thickly sliced

Crushed red pepper

Instructions:

  1. Place the chopped raw salmon in a food processor on high until it is ground.
  2. Combine salmon, bread crumbs, parmesan, thai red curry paste, fish sauce, ginger and garlic and mix well. Form into 8 small sized “slider” burgers.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add coconut oil to skillet. Add burgers, and cook until done, a few minutes per side. Set aside.
  4. Using toothpicks or small skewers, begin to stack sliders beginning with cucumber, goat cheese, burger, and finally the sliced mango. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper if preferred. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from and heavily inspired by the Curried Salmon Burger Lettuce Wraps  at www.halfbakedharvest.com. 

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Winning the oldest foot race in Memphis and wedding photos!

Less than a week after the dreadful experience that was the Chicago Rock’n’Roll ½ Marathon, Jon and I got married! Wahoo! Honestly, it was the greatest week and weekend, so as you can imagine, the disappointment from the race quickly disappeared. We had a wedding to attend, and it was OURS!IMG_8373.JPGIMG_8497

Following our blissful wedding (No honeymoon; booo 😦 ) we were kind of jolted back into real life. Jon started classes two days later, and I was back at work the following Monday as well. Additionally, I had the attitude that if we had to be back in real life, why shouldn’t I keep training? Despite giving myself grace the week and few weeks after the wedding with training, I honestly didn’t miss a workout, and I think it was partly because with everything going on and all the changes, training was something consistent in my life full of so many new things. For example, when I had to talk to a million people at the rehearsal dinner with zero alone time (#introvertprobz), I actually wanted to wake up on my wedding day and do a workout. Beth joined me at the local track, and we pounded out a ladder workout at 3k pace. It was refreshing, and just what I needed. I am thankful she was willing to wake up. True friend right there.IMG_8498

Jumping right into training after the wedding had its perks, but like I said, I gave and I’m still giving myself wiggle room. In a perfect world I would wake up early before work (5am ish) and get the workout done. Lately, though, I find myself wanting to sleep in and relax with the hubz in the morning, drinking coffee, and talking about our plans for the day. Would I have a better workout if I woke up and got it done in the morning?  Probably.  But, spending this morning time together when we don’t have a lot of time at night is really valuable to me, and ultimately that life-long relationship is more important than getting a workout done in the morning. So there’s that.

IMG_8004As I give myself grace on getting morning workouts done and going to bed a little later than I prefer, I think it’s ironic I’ve actually had a really great last month of training and racing. And that’s what brings me to my post for today: winning the oldest footrace in Memphis.

This year was the 41st annual Overton park 5 miler. This race is known for being really tough and HOTT. It’s August in the South!

Following Rock’n’Roll Chicago, for good reason I believe, I decided to race without a watch for the first time in years.  For my running confidence, I needed to do this. I knew I was fit enough to run sub 1:30 at Chicago, and I decided to approach this race with a clean slate. It is known for being really hilly, half on trails and grass, and lots of turns. I had no idea what to expect, but I told myself I would dig deep and work hard and most importantly not start my watch or look at a race clock.

So that’s what I did, and following suit with the last few posts: this is the story of that morning.

The race started at 8am less than 2 miles from our apartment, so it was perfect to use that as a warm-up. When I arrived at the park, I realized how cool of a tradition this race is! 41 years is a long time! There were guys running this race for their 30th year in a row. I’m not even 30 years old. I felt humbled to be there.

Like I said, I knew this was a tough course. The director told me beforehand he re-did the course this year to make it as difficult as possible?!! OH GOOD! Ha. For some reason I wasn’t nervous, though. I knew it would be hard, but it would be hard for everyone. Everyone would have to run the same course as me. Solidarity.

I gave Jon a kiss before heading to the starting line, and before I knew it we were off!

IMG_7942Because I run almost daily in this park, I know it like the back of my hand. I know when there is a slight uphill or a downhill, and I know about how far points to points are. Like previous races, I promised I wouldn’t start “racing” until the half-way point. Within the first mile, I found myself in a group of men a little older than me, and I was first female. It made me giggle a little when two guys (obviously training partners/friends) were going back and forth about the “pace” we were holding.

“Okay, *Bob, you’re a little ambitious right now. We are a little ahead of pace!”

IMG_7988.JPGI obviously had no idea what pace we were at because remember I didn’t have my watch turned on!

It was a freeing moment 🙂 I felt strong, and for once I didn’t even care about the pace.

When I got to mile 2.5 (or what I presumed to be), I picked it up and started to “race” as I promised myself. I broke away from that pack of guys and really dialed into a hard effort.

Around mile 3, we hit the trails! With it being single track, I solely concentrated on not falling LOLL. (I very rarely run trails).

I passed my coach and a water station at mile 4, and with one mile to go, still having zero clue where I was pace wise, I felt strong and HAPPY! Can you tell? 😉

IMG_7947.JPGThe last mile seemed like eternity, and with it being an uphill, it was tough! I tried super hard to catch the guy in front of me, but couldn’t quite make it.

Regardless, I ended up 1st female overall, and when I crossed the finish line seeing the clock, boy was I pretty shocked. 32:14!

IMG_7979.JPGI did the math and realized I just ran 6:27 pace on a super tough course. I persevered and I finally felt confident about my training again after the disappointing Chicago experience.

We all have peaks and troughs in our training. That’s part of it. I’ve had a really good summer, but I know there absolutely has to be troughs and valleys in order to appreciate the peaks. This race was a peak, and I’m thankful for that. I don’t take days like this lightly; I know this is a gift I’ve been given for a short time, even if for a lifetime. Life is short.