Christmas 2013: the ugly, the classy, and the sweaty

After a post that was mostly words, here is one with mostly pictures to balance it out. I didn’t run any holiday-themed races this time around, but I had probably my best Christmas season yet – meaning, I actually enjoyed it and am a little sad to see it go.

My sweater would suggest otherwise:

Don’t be fooled. My heart’s grown three sizes.

Screw goodwill, Walmart + Michael’s was the way to go. I had a lot of fun painting it…the problem was, it turned out better than I expected. Therefore, it wasn’t quite ugly enough to win the ugly sweater contest at a local bar that night. But, I did get cookies for my effort, and my friend got second place and was awarded with a huge cooler! He didn’t win the $100 cash prize because a.) he won that on Halloween…got to spread the love, right? and b.) a guy who got second last year won this year…and he should have won last year because he wore this:

Caption contest?

All was fair.

xmasAlso, I think we definitely won in the end because we convinced our favorite bartender to attend our party the following night. It was a “classy” party, so some pictures are required:

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20131220_223820Santa attended as well:

20131221_000037An argument can now hopefully be made that I’m not always covered in sweat and mud making pain faces. 🙂 In case you were wondering how long it would take for me to get dirty again though, the answer was about twelve hours:

Bike ride on the roads on a 60 degree day...that melted snow was not very clean.

Bike ride on the roads on a 60 degree day…that melted snow on the shoulders was not very clean.

Overall, it was a great week with both friends and family, and as I gushed about last week, I couldn’t be more grateful.

crises, complexes, and nostalgia

This post is going to have very little to do with running. But, that may be the point, as you may realize if you read until the end.

There are two words I overuse. More specifically, I use them in non-serious circumstances when they are also used to refer to more serious things. Those words are crisis and complex. You know you’re doing it if it’s become an actual joke between you and a friend. In fact, I called her last weekend and the first thing I said was, “We have a crisis! So much gin and no tonic!” That is a perfect example of my typical use of the word crisis…now you understand. To avoid a “boy who cried wolf” situation from ever occurring, I ensured her I would use the term “emergency” in case of a true “crisis.” (In case you were wondering, the aforementioned crisis was averted and she bought a sufficient quantity of tonic for the evening.)

The second word, complex, I don’t use as often. When I do, however, it is usually in the first sentence of an explanation by which I’m trying to really get someone to understand a bigger picture: “You see, I have this complex….” I don’t use it as often because usually people laugh or have some other reaction to the word that causes me to think I shouldn’t. Then I turn it into a joke…because I guess “complexes” can actually be real and serious, and mine aren’t really. Also, I think people automatically think of high school English class or something…not my intention. Past “complexes” have included things like being accidentally left out of social plans, having people feel differently about me after returning from a long trip, and having people accuse me of overtraining when I was getting injured a lot when I was actually being very smart (still 100% true in hindsight).

Can’t say I don’t think of this movie every time I say “limbo”….

One such complex, one I’ve dealt with lately, is the feeling of not being able to answer questions with a one-liner. Without going too much into it right now, I basically find myself answering questions like, “I’m doing ____, but I’m hoping to do ____,” or adding “for now,” and just a lot more “buts” in general. I had more than one conversation about this recently, and a few people seemed to approve of the word I used, “limbo,” as an acceptable term that eliminates the “buts.” I still think that should be reserved for if you really don’t have time to explain anything, but I digress. My point was, one thing I have had a major complex about (my definition of the word anyway) is my living situation the past year and four months. I wanted to live right in downtown. That was the plan. As long as I was in limbo in others areas of my life, I was going to be in the center of it all and live right in town. I tried. I tried so hard. If I had this blog in July 2012, I wouldn’t have written anything…I had no computer (it broke) and no house. I was working a ton and training for my first tri with 6am swims…I wasn’t going to move back home. So, my car was my closet and my friends’ futon was usually my bed. I found a temporary place to live, but in September when I moved to where I am now, it was such a relief to have a place that I thought it wouldn’t matter that it was five miles up the road. My ridiculously big room made it tough to truly hate. Its proximity to good biking routes was nice, and I never had to worry about parking permits or noises during the night (except for chickens…that’s another story). I’m realizing more and more: it does matter now. I want to live right in town, so when I say I live there, I live there. With no “buts.” I want to walk to my friends’ houses, to restaurants, to work, to bars, to the bookstore, to the library. That’s what I’ve wanted this whole time. So, after the crazy week of the two finals and planning for some holiday festivities, I channeled my energies into making this happen. AND IT’S HAPPENING. It’s not the closest place ever like my friends’ house is, but it’s close enough that it would be silly to drive over there in a car. And close enough that it will be not crazy to bike or walk home from work in the dark. I’ll take it. So, after a whirlwind of activity and less than a week of hard work (I may have gotten a bad cold from losing sleep over this…not to mention Christmas!), I am moving within the next week! This may not sound like a big deal to some people, but because of this…complex…it is. I may still be in limbo…but here’s to one fewer limbo in my life.

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Nostalgia.

Another word with a definition up for debate. Can you be nostalgic about something that happened, maybe a physical keepsake from it, two and a half years ago? A year ago? A mere seven months ago? Because I totally just did while I was starting to clean my desk. This always happens to me before I leave a place – I think of all the memories I had here and how I’d really just be happy to stay…kind of like the hours before a haircut when you enjoy the length and wondered what was driving you so crazy a few days before. In the end though, it’s easy to remember what was driving you crazy. The bad things, the sad things, the frustrating things. It’s not a matter of running away from the past or not being able to stand remembering things that can’t be again, but rather appreciating the chapter and moving on to something more exciting, and if not anything else, certainly new. I’m not the kind of person to throw everything out and start anew though, and I don’t plan on it this time either. That handwritten phone number and name? Keeping it. That bib number from an awesome race? Keeping it. Holding on to memories isn’t always a good thing, but I’m learning that they’ll just fade to the background in time, whenever they’re ready.

RUNNING VS. TRAINING

I once heard someone say that just because they are running doesn’t mean they are training. I hear it a lot at the store too: so many people aren’t actually training for a race, they’re just running. I found this baffling at first. Having been injured so frequently, I was always “training” for something, even if it was the next season months away. I got worried at the end of this “season” that I wouldn’t know how to run and not train, and be fresh for actual “training” for Boston. I may have pleaded for help. Good news: I think I’ve figured it out! Perhaps the key was forgetting about that mile I never ended up being able to do race, and being so busy thinking about everything else (mainly, moving!). I’ve been running, but it doesn’t feel like “training” quite yet – which is good, I think. My highlight of the week, running-wise, was an eleven miler with two friends. I mapped a new route, it was 68 degrees in late December (seriously…what?!), and we talked the whole time. I got stuck telling a good story on a huge uphill and didn’t pause – that’s a win. I’m looking forward to organizing my 2014 races and sharing them on here, as well as recapping 2013 (what a year…)!

My room (parts of it…). I will miss the ridiculous amount of space I have. But it’s time to welcome some more simplicity. (Related: does anyone know where to buy bed raisers?! I’ve been looking for them since the summer….)

the week that was…

That is an incredibly lame title. Please forgive me for that. You see, so many things have happened in the span of one week that I cannot possibly fit them all into one title. I thought I’d go through the important ones because they are certainly pieces of news worth sharing!

Tuesday: the track-shoveling outcome, etc.: 

Might as well get the disappointing news over with. First, I didn’t have to shovel the track after all – the team thought of it first. Second, we still couldn’t race the mile that night, because it was covered in ice. There was no safe place to run fast, and I wasn’t about to risk a major injury for this little mile race. We’re still trying to reschedule it, because apparently snow has become a Tuesday staple, and everything freezes over before 6pm. Not cool.

We tried….

We did, however, go for a regular run and have our annual dinner and year-end awards. I was given two awards:

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Happy Hour Award.

ImageBoth are rather fitting…I’ll take them. The night ended with me accidentally shattering part of the screen of my phone. It was less than two months old! 😦 It’s living in a sock when not in use to prevent further damage. I suppose I should find a little zippered case for it, but for now a sock will do.

Wednesday: Inventory at work. I don’t even know why I’m including this. I was at work until 12:40 AM doing monotonous things like counting and waiting. Inventory days are the two worst work days of the year. Good thing is, we got it over with.

Thursday: runner meet-up at the Ivy. I got there pretty late after work, and because most of this running group consists of middle-age parents, I missed seeing a bunch of them because they had already left the bar. I wanted to go because as I mentioned before, I don’t get a chance to actually run with them much but they’re a cool group! It ended up being worthwhile, because I had a conversation with two guys who call themselves cyclists more than runners. They got me super inspired to use my mag trainer this winter, and even sent me some of their workouts! I’m scheming up some things I will try to turn into routines as far as actually getting on the bike indoors and enjoying myself goes.

Friday: I lost my favorite scarf. Again, not necessary to mention.

Saturday: I felt the power of friendship. Sorry if things just got too deep there. But really. I realized I wanted to help a friend out not only because he asked me to, and not only because I wanted to help, but because I wanted to see him. I needed my friends. They are what balances my days and make me get a proper dosage of laughter and smiles. It is true that you need to be a friend to have a friend. What is truer is that if it’s a real friend, it doesn’t take any effort to do so. Or if it does in the sense of the word, it doesn’t in your heart and mind because it feels just as good for you as well.

Also, I can’t forget that Saturday was a big day across the country in Bend, Oregon, where several friends of mine represented a few different clubs at the USATF Club XC National Championships! Also, big shout-out to Lauren, Jesse, Jocelyn & the rest of the Picky Bars team for hosting what sounded and looked like the party of the month! It looks like the company definitely got some big PR (no pun intended…?) this weekend. I mean, check out that crowd:

Now that's a party!

Now that’s a party!

...and that's one of my best friends (#1773, Boulder TC)!

…and that’s my best friend from high school (#1773, Boulder TC)!

I really wanted to be transported to Bend on Saturday night, but that wasn’t happening, so I lived vicariously through #pickybirdxc on Twitter. I also contemplated the fact that I could run in this race next year, if I wanted to. Which made me realize I have some running options I should think about.

Sunday: Still basking in the power of friendship, I stopped stressing about responsibilities for a few hours after work and really enjoyed time with friends, without any expectations, or looking at a clock or phone. 

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Today, Monday: This was the big one. I still have to attend to many more things that came up tomorrow (two different emails about two different potential jobs? Today, really?!); it was a little much to handle in one day. I had two final exams today. I have not mentioned the classes I’ve been taking since August yet on here, but that’s for another post. Hopefully now my posts will be more frequent and focused now that I won’t be guilty about blogging instead of studying. I registered for Ironman 70.3 Princeton today, and got even more excited when I saw how many others I know are doing it too! Looks like I might have more biking buddies for next spring and summer than I thought. UntitledI was also accepted to the 2014 Nuun Ambassador program! Pretty pumped! I wasn’t sure if all the Hood to Coast team members were basically ambassadors now anyway, but I submitted an application anyway to make it official just in case. Speaking of Nuun, if you want a NUUN ORNAMENT for your Christmas tree, all you have to do is place an order from now through December 20th! Why would you not want a Nuun ornament? So runnerdy. Love it.

ornamentThe day ended with a run, but  not before an epic fail at the dreaded mall. I’m used to Forever 21 doing all the work for me…what do I do when it fails epically?! Totally not running-related I know, but I’m desperately seeking advice on where to find the perfect holiday party dress, so if you know secrets I don’t know, share them!

Running as an alternative to breaking dishes

When we are young children, it seems perfectly normal to cry. I’m talking, to just let it all out and bawl in every sense of the word, even if someone else can see or hear. There were probably few and far between reasons for such crying when we were that young, but that’s besides the point. There comes a point, as a young adult, when we might call to mind this feeling of wanting to cry, and realize we feel that way again. But this time, we’re expected to hold it in. Maybe I’m not referring to just simply crying tears, but also to displaying anger, in whatever passive or aggressive, direct or indirect way we can. It’s easy to say to ourselves, this is the right way to handle this, so that is what I’ll do. It’s quite another challenge to live up to this standard we’ve set for ourselves just to preserve the present and future and make sure we don’t mess anything up. There comes a breaking point in our emotions every once in awhile (if you think you’re an exception I applaud you…but I think you may be lying), and more often than not we break these “rules” bestowed upon us to an extent, the rules of being a mature adult.

Here’s my guy Joseph Gordon-Levitt breaking plates: 

Breaking-plates-joseph-gordon-levitt-23309340-400-263I know what that feeling is, and so do you: the dude has got to go for a run.

This weekend, I needed to run so badly. It was the only thing I could think of that would somehow solve the problem, remedy all the stresses and frustrations and bad thoughts swirling in my head. Saturday, it was snowing. I ended up starting my run close to 2 PM. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before but was hardly hungry. It was a run fueled entirely by emotions and adrenaline, and it felt like half its length. I came up with a general idea of where I wanted to run and went with it. It included a few big climbs, and was absolutely perfect. As the run went on it snowed more and more, but I grew warmer and warmer. Sometime during mile five everything became a little clearer, and I felt like I was in a bubble with no space or time. The ground and the air and the sky were all the same shade of white, and my pace was whatever my legs wanted to do. I wanted to stay within the run forever, and I also wanted the night to never come. But both the run and the daylight had to unfortunately end, in that order. I ended up running 11.5 miles and not ever getting tired or slowing down despite inadequate pre-run nutrition. Strange how that works sometimes.

Post-snow run.

Later that night when the emotional bandage the run had tried to provide had mostly fallen off, I turned to writing. I wrote a lot, with no plan exactly, and during that time, too, I felt heavy things lift off of me a little.

I know a run only puts us at ease so much. Emotional writing only gives us space to displace our feelings for a little while. Aren’t we lucky to have this though? Think of all the plates we’re saving. 

On an unrelated note (but from the same day), this is what happens when it is raining but it should really be snowing for the safety of everyone who dares to step outside…as evidenced by my umbrella:

THE ICE UMBRELLA. This was a first.

The in-between season (and Santa is real…)

I hardly ever have “in-between seasons” in terms of training. Why? Well, I’m usually injured, and that takes the place of an in-between season. So, I’m either “getting back” from an injury, training and training well, or I’m injured. After the New Jersey Marathon, I thought I would finally have an in-between season, when I could rest when I felt like it, and run when I wanted to. Less than three runs into this period, I hurt my IT band…so that was that. I’m back at that place again: my goal race is over (though I’ve done some speed workouts and raced a 5k since then…oops?), the next race on my plate will be the biggest of my life to date, and I want to do everything in my control to train 100% healthy for it, as I did throughout the fall and for my first marathon.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I don’t know how to have an in-between season. Or rather, I’m pretty bad at it. I had a plan to treat the Philly Half like it was a marathon, to ward off any injuries since I was doing so well in that department. Then, start running whenever I felt like it, and cross train. I only followed that plan for less than a week. Why?!?!

Well, here’s what I did instead that does not follow the plan at all, and why:

Helped pace a friend to a 10k PR

The Saturday following Philly, I went to a run at 7 AM with a group I normally don’t run with, just because it usually involves a lot of stopping, and slower running than I prefer even on easy days. When one member of the group announced he needed to do a tune-up “race” at around 7:20 pace, and others were joining him, I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally run with everyone. Why should I say no because I’d just done a half, when others who had ran the full (or three fulls this fall…guy is nuts) were going? Insert peer pressure, exhibit 1. The route he chose was pretty hilly, and I mainly just ran right with him, or slightly ahead of behind. When he kicked it in, I didn’t follow. So at least I was good about that. My legs were still tired and I had a “looking forward to actually recovering” mentality going on. Overall, it was fun to help a friend and I’m glad I did it.

Ran with a new, fast group

A friend sent me a message following the half, inviting me to join an “enclave” of runners in my area for runs. Since I had a friend coming to visit, I had off work, and I didn’t think the PI workout scheduled would help me prepare for the 5k Thursday, I decided to skip the PI workout and go to one of these runs at 3:30 the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It was cold and rainy, and I ended up doing a nice 8.3-miler with one other girl from New Brunswick (who ran a 3:06 marathon debut in October). We had some good chats and warmed up to average a pace of 7:45, a pretty solid medium-length run with rolling hills. I think it will help me to run with fast runners as I train for Boston. More on this later, but I almost have an overwhelming amount of training-partner resources becoming available to me for the winter and spring right now….I definitely need to look at all my options when the time to set a plan gets closer and take advantage of every single one. Not many runners can say this, and I know I am lucky. Back to the run…I have no pictures from this run because my hands went numb. I will say that I wore my Oiselle Flyer Jacket from Hood to Coast…and it was the perfect weather for it.

Seattle-20130822-02376Insert peer pressure, exhibit 2: these runs are happening weekly, and everyone seems to be training hard despite having raced a marathon or half recently. How do I know if my body has truly adapted to training and won’t fail me like it used to on any random day? I don’t. I know it’s better to be careful until after the holidays, when I should start training for Boston (on fresh legs). It’s really cool to be invited to run with 3:0x marathoners and feel like our training paces are similar. It’s inspiring and motivating to think that maybe my body is finally making sense, and I can do what they do at last: reach 40 mpw, run more than one faster workout a week, etc. But if it’s not ready yet, I can’t risk it. I’m having trouble differentiating between listening to cues from history versus listening to cues from my body, and knowing what’s best in the long term to run as fast as possible. Perhaps in normal jargon this is the issue of overtraining vs. undertraining, on a personal basis?

Ran PI workouts + fast 300s

I went to the workout last Tuesday night. I thought about why I shouldn’t go: I should still be resting in the “in-between season.” I thought about why I should go: I wanted to. It was as simple as that. I missed it, and I’d rather be running fast around a track on a Tuesday night than anywhere else. So, I went. We did 4 x 2000m. I thought it would be a good goal to try to hit 8:00-8:07 for 2000m, or 6:24-6:30 pace. My first one was 8:14, bleh. I didn’t want to leave with a sub-par workout effort, post-“season” or not, so I managed to run 8:02, 8:02, and 7:56 for the remaining three intervals. That was better. The cooldown back to downtown was a peculiar experience, as I somehow got colder and colder as the two miles went on. Weird. Peer pressure, exhibit 3: running fast is fun. 

On Thursday, I wanted to run 4 x 300 very fast in preparation for the 6th Annual PI Mile (which is tonight!). It was warm-ish and humid, and after running about 4.5 miles as a warmup, I stopped at the track and ended up running the 300s in just a sports bra…in December. So humid. Anyway, I have hardly had good workouts on this particular track for whatever reason, but I was shooting for 60 seconds per 300. I gave myself as minute rest of walking/slow running. I felt very, very good on these 300s! As in, smooth and fast. I actually felt fast, like I wasn’t just a “marathoner.” I ended up running 60, 60, 58 high, 57 high/58 low. I considered running even more 300s, I was having so much fun, but I decided to save it and run back. The cooldown was slow and sluggish – funny how that works. Self pressure, exhibit 4: now I think I could be “fast.” Oh dear. 

Explored a new trail

It isn’t really “new,” but it’s improved. I checked out the Lawrenceville-Hopewell Trail on Saturday. I thought I’d get off the roads like I used to, during the “in-between season.” It was pretty fun, though I was tired and just didn’t feel like running a full 8 miles like I thought I would (so I didn’t; I ran 7.4), which almost never happens. I wrote all about the experience  (as well as some cool history about the area) on our store page on Run.com, so you can read about it here.

Ran in the first snowfall

It snowed for real in NJ on Sunday. I wanted to run in it! So I did. Back-to-back days of 7+ miles, not my normal schedule. I probably should have only done 3, but I started from a location from which I would need to run farther to run anywhere fun.

This brings me to today. The PI Mile is tonight. After the 300s, I think I’ve got it in me to go pretty fast. My goal is always a year-best time…since I hardly ever race a mile. This year, that would put me at sub-5:49, which I ran at TCNJ (a week before the marathon…) in April. I do think I have the potential to dip under 5:40, but we’ll see what happens. The first matter of business will be a non-traditional warmup…because you see, it currently looks something like this outside:

I have no idea how long it takes to shovel the entirety of lane one of a track, but that is what I’ll be attempting to do soon. I also brought spikes with me. Might as well do it right…. [My left foot is feeling slightly weird, as of yesterday (a day I didn’t actually run). Hoping, wishing, praying it’s not a stress fracture. I haven’t had any pain yet, or felt it running, but this is a glimpse into my paranoid mind, if you were wondering….]

*    *    *    *    *    *   *

Last but not least…this is entirely unrelated, but I should announce it as a follow-up to my last post: SOMETIMES, SANTA IS REAL. As you know, on Thursday night I had officially accepted the fact that I was unable to do Ironman 70.3 Princeton next September. I couldn’t spend $300 on it on December 16th; it just wasn’t practical. On Friday, something ridiculous happened. I was not expecting it at all. Thanks to the generosity of two friends, I now have the means (via a gift card) to register for the race. I was so surprised and happy I was practically crying. What an amazing gift. So, I still need to register and officially get into the race, but I am registering for the Princeton Half Ironman on Monday at noon. Scream with me. AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! I still can’t believe that happened.

Questions for you: Am I doing the “in-between season” all wrong? How do you handle running peer pressure? Should I run when I want to, or make myself hold back? Have you ever shoveled a track (wish me luck…)? 

Ironman 70.3 Princeton

im70.3pton

On Tuesday, I was checking Facebook briefly when something caught my eye. My entire newsfeed is dominated by running-related updates, so I was bound to find out about this the day the news was released….The Ironman 70.3 series is holding its 24th event next September: in Princeton.* Holy crap. 

A half Ironman has been on my radar since last summer after I participated in a 5k open water swim at the shore. Having really enjoyed that, plus doing “brick runs” out of necessity on a daily basis (including today actually), plus just generally being able to run hard through fatigue have caused me to get that tingling, excited feeling when I think about what I could potentially do in a half Ironman. Aside from the 56-mile bike (more on that issue later…though I discussed it before), the distances seem just right in terms of a balance between speed and endurance. In other words, I think the event could be an ideal event for me. Okay, let me take that one step further: I think, with proper training, I could place very well in my age group in such an event. Training for a half Ironman next September does not sound that difficult to me: race Boston, rest up, train all summer. I swim and bike as part of training for running-only races anyway. The only thing in my way right now is…well, a rather huge obstacle, not going to lie.

Money. On December 16th, registration opens and the cost will be $275. If you don’t get in on the first day, I believe it goes up to $300, with incremental price increases after that if it doesn’t sell out beforehand. And, it looks like it will. At first I was thinking of trying to find some way, any way (well, legal way I mean) to get this money by the time registration opens, because I feel compelled to do it. Perfect timing, perfect location, perfect distance.

At first, this was going to be an angry post, about how it’s not the triathletes who work hard or have talent that get to become great, it’s the ones who have the means by which to make the first steps to get there: register for the event. Buy a road bike. But now, it’s just become a sort of surrender. That’s the way it is. I could train as hard as I could on my hybrid bike, and go out of my way to sneak into accessible pools. I could put the registration on my credit card and watch as it takes months and months and months to pay off, while I cut back further on groceries and other priorities. In the end though, don’t others win? Maybe I should wait. I guess another half Ironman will come around at a time I’m also ready to race it, and I have the money to spend on it. So that’s where I’m at now. It’s not an option. I have to tell myself that.

It’s hard to be patient when I’m not injured…who would have thought! I think what’s happening is it bothers me to have found a setback to racing and training that is not an injury. I’m not complaining though, obviously this wouldn’t be a frustration of mine if I didn’t feel physically capable of such a race in the first place….I am grateful to have gotten this far. To future 70.3s!   <cringe>

*Note: It’s not really going to be in Princeton. It will be at Mercer County Park in West Windsor, where the NJ State Tri and the Perfect 10 are held. CGI Racing is actually partnering with Ironman 70.3 for the event as the race directors.

Thanksgiving & December, revisited

I justified my behavior by saying things like, “You should just be thankful every day”….which is still true.

You may recall that in September, I was a little apprehensive about the season of autumn in general. I had my moments, but all in all, I had a great season. It was definitely full of ups and downs and unexpected surprises, but throughout it all, running was a constant – something I haven’t been able to say throughout many, many falls! Fast-forward to late November. It is a known fact among my close friends that I am not the biggest Thanksgiving fan. Alright, I may have said “I hate Thanksgiving” at least once or twice in the days leading up to it for several years now. Food is only one category, and traditional Thanksgiving food includes pretty much nothing I enjoy. I don’t like turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (it’s the worst, really), that pineapple-orange thing that always seems to be on the table, green beans covered in onions (leave the green beans alone!), pecan pie. Ick, ick, ick. I can’t think of a worse combination. Some people say, “at least you can drink.” Well, no, my family doesn’t do that on Thanksgiving. Football? I’m not really into it, and hardly anyone in my family sits down to really watch it that day. Going out the night before? No desire to go out in my hometown, it’s too crowded, I’m getting up early to run the next day. It sounds like no fun. In other words, yes, I am a Thanksgiving grinch.

It (the grinchness) kind of began in full effect two years ago. The weekend and the context is not worth explaining because it’s in the past, but in short, it represented all sorts of bad things in my mind. Last year, I wanted to try to combat that at least a little. God forbid not by giving in and eating cranberry sauce. By running a turkey trot. I know that’s a tradition for a lot of people and a lot of families, but somehow, despite having many runners young and old in my family, this never caught on! If there’s anything that can make me forget bad memories and live in the moment, it’s running. I kept up my own little tradition again this year and entered in the same turkey trot right down the street in Princeton. The Philly Half may have been a week and a half before…and I was supposedly resting…but I couldn’t resist taking a shot at a sub-20 minute 5k to cap off the year! I knew the course had a relatively big hill the entire last mile, and that I hadn’t exactly been training for a 5k PR, but I was still going to try.

(Flats! Finally!)

(Flats! Finally!)

Trinity Turkey Trot 5k mini race reportImage

The night before the race, I was thinking of staying in but then my plumbing went all sorts of CRAZY – I’m talking strange noises that sounded like monsters in the walls, really whacked pressure, and brownish-orange water. Well that’s cool…I couldn’t get a shower, drink water, use the toilet, or make my dinner. I packed a bag and went to stay with friends…and kind of went out for a little…and slept on the couch…and was awoken earlier than intended after about 4.5 hours of sleep. All great things to do before racing a 5k. Whatever. I warmed up over three miles because it was cold – just under thirty degrees at the start. I still wore shorts, though I can’t say I really felt anything on my legs at all…pretty numb. The first stretch of the course is straight downhill, then it levels off. I went through mile 1 in 6:21. I was hoping for more like 6:15-6:17 given the big downhill. I was thinking I wasn’t that warmed up yet and continued pushing. There was a gradual uphill during pretty much all of the second mile, which I clocked at 6:33. Then, there was a guy behind me that was clearly trying to pace a girl to a certain time. In doing so, he made sure to repeatedly mention that I was “right there,” and she could “go get me.” This happened like every ten seconds. It was a strange sort of motivation to really get in gear and be relentless in the last mile up the big hill. That mile was 6:37, and when I saw that the finish was close and the current time was only in the low 19s, I really hammered it (at 5:40 pace for 0.1, apparently) to finish in 19:57.15.* I was pleased. While I think I could definitely run 19:30 in the right training and course conditions, I was unsure sub-20 was still possible given the slower splits. And yes, 5k is the only distance I have never been able to negative-split (though, this course was made for positive-splitting with the elevation). Oh, and probably the mile. More on the mile later….

*note: I ran over a minute slower in 2012…and I think the clock began too late and gave us an extra ~13 seconds. Ouch.

That’s me on the right, on the first downhill stretch. Am I the only one who knows all the tangents?!

Then, the priest/race director gave out free pies in the church. Long story. It was pretty hilarious. I didn’t get one…you kind of had to cheer for it aggressively.

The priest giving someone a free pie. And me watching on.

Thanksgiving

So, I was obligated to “celebrate” the holiday in a way normal, non-grinches do, unfortunately, and I did so. I had some salad and a few bites of turkey…with dressing on it. Not gravy. Anyway. The good thing about Thanksgiving was we…oh wait, that was another family gathering two days later. Never mind. The good thing was the turkey trot. Yeah. Anyway, two days later (after a brutally long day at work into a non-brutally long, fun night Friday), we convened again and found lots of old family photos, which was so fun. Further evidence I have a thing for boats, of any kind:

canoe

Who needs water?

The December First Lighting of the Lights Party

After that party, I was eager to head right back up for what was to be a spectacular event – or, at least a spectacle in some way – the lighting of the lights, which as a rule was to be done at midnight on the first of December. This is my friend’s annual rule, and he had gone crazy decorating his porch with lights all day. At midnight, we would count down and turn them on. And, according to him, it would officially be “Christmas time!” My feelings toward Thanksgiving sometimes spread into the rest of the holidays, I admit. I believe that sometimes people come into your life exactly when you need them. This friend of mine (as of September) is no exception. It’s moments like these I am most grateful for friends…I have more now than I did in college, and this is a wonderful thing. Okay, I’ll stop the deep stuff and show you the good stuff. Presenting…THE LIGHTS:

I was somehow tricked into having a great weekend…that was coincidentally Thanksgiving weekend! Huh. I hope everyone else enjoyed the weekend too.

As far as the running-related events that are on my radar…the PI Holiday Mile is next Tuesday! Yeah, I’m going for another year-best time. Sigh. It never ends. the good news is I did a regular workout last night that totaled nine miles, and my legs are feeling a lot less tired…aka a lot more ready to take on Boston training well-rested starting in a few weeks! Much more on that later. I’ll probably ask a lot of questions for you to answer if you’re reading, then listen to no one but myself. Oh, and there was bigggg news released yesterday about something coming to the area next fall, but I’ll save that for another post…because this one had such a not-angry ending compared to the beginning!

2013 Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Report

I am not sure where the past two weeks went. If you find them, let me know. I guess I’ve been spending time being social in places other than social media. And trying to figure out the rest of my life and solve all life’s problems at midnight only to decide sleep is a better idea. Yeah, that sounds about right. This doesn’t mean my goal race of the season is a distant memory, and now is as good a time as ever to share how it went….

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Pre-race: thoughts & routine

As I mentioned before the race, I was feeling great about the Philly Half in mid- to late October: super motivated, super determined, and confident in my ability to make a goal that was more ambitious than any I’ve ever set before. Then, sometime around Halloween/NYC, probably, I started to feel worn down, mentally and physically. I no longer felt that invincible feeling that I could negative split races, workouts, and long runs forever and ever. I didn’t really have a desire to make sure my runs were completed significantly under eight minute pace anymore. The truth was, I was still training, and I was just listening to my body more than my mind. I don’t think this ended up being a bad thing, nor was it bad weeks of training. It was all mental. So, going into the race, I tried to get back the mentality I had before and during the Perfect 10: have fun, don’t think too much, just run. Cruise. 6:50 pace is now easy; just do it, it will be fine. 

Race morning was a balmy 52 degrees and humid. I ended up managing the easiest transportation plan humanly possible: I stayed at my parents’ across the river the night before, and my dad dropped me off at the downtown Sheraton just before 6 AM, where I met up with a few people to walk to the start. The drive was about fifteen minutes, max. Sweet deal (10 minute light rail ride back to NJ too, that’s what’s up). I even ditched my gloves by throwing them back at him through the open car window at the last minute. The lobby was full of runners, and I started getting excited. My legs felt ready (at least more than they did earlier in the week when I was wondering why I did so many squats…). I used the lobby bathroom, expecting to also use a porta potty later. Instead, what happened was what every runner dreams about but it never happens: I didn’t need to use a porta potty at all. Seriously – it was a runner’s miracle. AM I RIGHT?! 

THE RACE: 

In most race recaps, I break down the experience mile by mile, or groups of miles. For some reason, I didn’t think of this race in terms of miles at all, even while I was running. The times shown on my watch each time it beeped seemed totally irrelevant. I only glanced at the average lap pace and took it one street at a time. So, I’m going to break things down the way I did in my mind during the race: section by section of the course.

Here’s the course:

Part 1: Eakins Oval to Columbus Boulevard

I was 100% calm at the gun. I feel less nervous with every race I have done this year. I thought that when the air horn (I believe it wasn’t actually a gun) sounded, they would wait for the elites and seeded runners to take off and then we would be allowed to go, but we just went right with them, only seconds after 7:00:00 AM. With over 30,000 runners in the marathon and half marathon combined, this was by far the most densely populated race I have ever run. The problem with my “let’s try to feel like I did in the Perfect 10” plan was that this was the opposite atmosphere of that race: I didn’t know who I was running next to, or in front of, or behind. I didn’t know the course step by step. I didn’t know each and every turn, and therefore, tangent. So, the start was…weird. I started off at 6:36-6:45 and made myself reel it back; the plan was to negative-split and I would not let anything or anyone change that plan. I went through a period of mental confusion when I felt like tons of people were barreling on past me and I felt like I was hardly working. In short: there was a lot of conscious slowing down, speeding up, and looking around on my part, all the way to the river. My mile splits, the first of which I didn’t even look down and see, were 7:00 for mile 1 and 6:41 for mile 2. Big difference on paper, right? They felt exactly the same. This may have been about the time I shifted my focus entirely to maintaining a constant, appropriate effort, and sectioning off the course by the roads, not the mile markers. The third mile was straight and boring, along the river. My 5k split was probably around 21:30 but I’m not positive. Mile 3 was 6:57. One thing I was dealing with I tried to push out of my mind was my shins were really tight. This used to happen to me all the time – basically, my anterior tibialis swells and I feel like my feet are just slapping on the ground. It’s hard to get good turnover when it happens, and I often slow down (on a normal run) until they loosen up. Because I knew they would loosen up, I wasn’t too concerned; I just felt like I was tiring them out though…like the wrong muscles were firing and there was nothing I could do but wait. So, that was really annoying, especially since this hadn’t happened in months. The muscles didn’t end up loosening up until about 5.5 miles.  Mental or not, this made me glad I chose to wear my compression socks. 

Part 2: Front to South to Sixth

We looped underneath 95 and ran on a few short stretches of roads, with a couple sharp turns. Heading up Front St., I saw Jack come out of nowhere and run by me. I yelled his name and waved. He asked how I was feeling (to which I said “eh, alright”), said something incomprehensible, and ran away. Turns out he started in the Black Corral thinking it was Maroon….Miles 4 and 5 were 6:50 and 6:57. Again, all of these splits felt pretty much unvaried.

Part 3: THE BEST PART – Chestnut Street

Just after mile 5 ended we turned left onto Chestnut (I actually didn’t know the street names at the time…), and a few things happened: 1.) The road narrowed, 2.) The crowds grew, 3.) I started feeling great. I sucked in all the energy and enthusiasm coming from the spectators who were now lining the curb with their signs and their coffees and their tired, morning-eyes. I read each and every sign and listened to distinctly every call. When people played music I hooked on to every beat. I got into the groove and started to enjoy myself and get excited for the miles to come. Even though the race didn’t start with me feeling 100%, I felt in control and ready to execute some plans in the later miles. I still felt patient and…controlled really is the right word here, pardon my repetition. Miles 6 and 7 were both 6:49. My official 10k split was 43:08.

Part 4: First Schuylkill cross and Drexel

The long stretch that was Chestnut St. eventually had to end. But first, we crossed over the river and were greeted with the first slight hill near 30th Street Station (may have just been the bridge, actually…). I was lucky enough to receive cheers from some South Jersey runners I know at that point, which really helped! It was an eyes-on-the-prize, up-and-over “hill,” nothing too significant. We made a right on 34th soon after, which put us right in the heart of Drexel University’s fraternities. Music was blasting, much louder than I would assume is acceptable at any party, and the air legitimately smelled like beer. I’m pretty sure they were handing out some cups to runners, but the runners in this pace group were not likely to take any….I high-fived some frat guys and continued on. There was another overpass with another hill, this time more substantial, and then a tree-lined street which I am just learning (thanks Garmin/Google/course map with a key) was next to the Zoo. I remember glancing at my watch, at a woman ahead of me, and at a guy who definitely went off-course to relieve himself.

I thought that it was getting pretty far into the race and I should consider starting my far-out kick soon. My “plan,” or whatever, was to drop it to the low 6:40s, then the mid-6:30s, then see what else I could do if there was still time. I still felt good and thought that just before, or right at, mile 9 I should ease into this process: that would give me 4.1 miles, and I did this around mile 6 at the Perfect 10 and that was (besides the wind), well, perfect. (Mile 8 was 6:53, which I was okay with, especially considering the first real hill of the course.)

Part 5: the Fairmount hill & the cheer squad turnaround

If you want to throw a wrench into a negative-splitting plan that calls for a kick starting at mile 9, put a big, steep hill at mile 9. Like, exactly mile 9. This was not so cool. I tried to think about all the long runs I did in Princeton and Skillman with bigger hills than this one, but the reason in me came out when I thought, I let myself run 8+ minutes for those miles…this is a race, not a long run…not applicable. Thank you, reason. Really needed that now. Anyway, I made it up and over the hill and tried to coast afterwards. It was at this point that I realized I was working harder – breathing harder, feeling it in my legs more – just from the accumulation of miles as a precedent to that hill. But that was okay. It was time to do hard work. I ended up passing a lot of people on the straight stretch immediately following the hill. I also managed to run 6:47 for that mile (9), meaning my kick was in effect effort-wise, so hopefully that would transfer over to the flatter miles to come and they would actually be faster. I will reiterate that this race did not feel like a mile-by-mile race; mile 10 was 6:57, and I think the entire 8-11 stretch should be looked at and averaged out, if you were to really understand the pace pattern in effect. Again, I was more focused on the effort and the strategy. There was a musical, costumed bunch awaiting us at a really sharp turnaround – seriously, way too sharp Philly…one traffic cone?!

Part 6: Along the river to the finish

To get back to Eakins Oval, the course basically just took us on the road along the river. I dropped a 6:39 mile for mile 11, which got me thinking I was on the right track now – if I could keep this up, and I felt like I could at the time – I would have a strong finish and get really close to 90 minutes. I didn’t do much math in my head at all during this race, but I knew whether or not I broke 1:30:00 would come to down to a matter of seconds. I knew every second from here on counted, but I tried to just keep running by feel, since I didn’t want to let that stress me out. Mile 12 was 6:44. I was hoping it would be faster. I was starting to feel fatigued, more than I would have liked to at that point. My legs just felt generally low on energy. Mile 13 felt uphill…it did have a net elevation gain, but not by much. I wasn’t entirely sure how soon the finish would come up, since I doubted I ran tangents all that well. All I knew was, I would regret not running as hard as I could with so little left to go (I said this at 12-12.5). And, I wanted the finish to come up as quickly as possible. I mustered a 6:56 for the 13th mile, wishing I could remove myself from the moment, reinsert, and change it to a 6:36 (the plan…). I rounded a bend and saw the clock ahead for the first time: it read 1:30:09. There was a twinge of disappointment when I saw that; however, I actually didn’t think it would still say 1:30:0x by the time I was right there. I pushed as hard as I could and finished in 1:30:18 for 13.21 miles according to the watch, finishing at 6:05 pace for the last 0.21.

High-fiving Mayor Nutter. Don’t worry, the first time I saw this I was confused too. Then I saw his gloved hand. And recalled that I actually did this.

The aftermath

I didn’t feel too bad immediately after finishing, which surprised me given how I felt during the last mile. One “takeaway” from those last long minutes: that was the first time in recent races I didn’t feel like an invincible treadmill, like I could drop the pace down to whatever I wanted. On one hand, I could take that to mean I wasn’t rested enough, or I could have broken 90 had I had even a “normal” day; I had an off day and that was unfortunate. On the other hand, and this is how I looked at it almost right away, this was a race. It was a race with hills positioned right at a place I would be most challenged; I responded as best I could and I gave it all I had. One more mile and that mile would have probably been slower. That’s the first time I can say that, and I’m going to take it to mean that “off day” or not, I gave it all and truly attempted to defy any pseudo-limitations that may have prevented me from reaching that state of fatigue other times.

My big goal of breaking 90 sounded pretty crazy five months ago. Even crazier eight months ago, after I curiously felt completely satisfied with my 1:33:33.  Not something I could do yet. Not something I was sure I even wanted to ever set as my goal for the half marathon. When I checked my email confirmation before packet pickup, I saw I had written my estimated finish time as “1:32.” In my injured state, on June 30, that was the degree of confidence I had in my ability to race another half. Maybe sub-90 wasn’t really a crazy goal to have. Coming off of the summer I had, however, it certainly wasn’t to be expected, on paper. If I hadn’t made it a goal, crazy or not, I wouldn’t have come to close to it. So, for the first time this year I didn’t reach my “A goal” for a race, time-wise. That is perfectly fine.

If 90 minutes is crazy, I’m really happy to have come within 19 seconds of crazy.  

So thankful to have so much support from all my runner (and non-runner) friends, past and present. It always means a lot to me when someone understands all it took to get to a PR.

So thankful to have so much support from all my runner (and non-runner) friends, past and present! It always means a lot to me when someone understands all it took to get to a PR.

THIS IS MY FIRST MYLAR BLANKET EVER. I didn’t even need it, I was sweating like crazy.

I almost thought I had a timing snafu...and I actually did until the evening! The one thing that's still weird is my chip & gun time are the same. If you look, they clearly weren't...but oh well. The chip time is correct. These days that seems like all I can ask for.

I almost thought I had a timing snafu…and I actually did until the evening! The one thing that’s still weird is my chip & gun time are the same. If you look, they clearly weren’t…but oh well. The chip time is correct (these days that seems like all I can ask for).

I’m making it a goal to get all caught up on my recent running musings and adventures this week! I’m just here tonight to dump out all these thoughts and photos about Philly (see, told you I still remember how the race went…), because it was about time. I’ll sign off with this: I can now say I have only run half marathons on Sunday the 17th of the month. 🙂