Princeton Half Marathon 2014

There are many reasons why we run. We run to feel good, we run to achieve goals, we run to start or end the day well. Sometimes, rare moments that can’t be put into words as well as feelings, we run to have control over something in our lives. To prove a point even if we don’t know what that is. To think about something as small and primordial as the very next step in front of us. Runners sometimes need to run, because it’s the only thing that makes sense in a world where so many things don’t at all. These are the runs that are the angry or angsty or sad songs on a day we aren’t thinking too hard about them, just merely basking in the feeling. They’re the strangely entertaining scenery whirring by you when you really meant to read on the train. We’ve all had runs like these, that feel like we could run forever as fast as we can, nothing is impossible. Rarely does this run coincide with an actual race. For the Princeton Half Marathon, it did for me. Every single second of this race, there was nothing else I was meant to do but hammer the course to the ground. It was my duty.

Pre-race in the store.

Pre-race in the store.

I thought it was going to be a horrible race. I hardly slept, hardly ate, and hardly drank water the night before. I even started to feel sick to my stomach a half hour before the start. I woke up just before 5 AM 100% ready to run this race. I was ready at 11 PM as well, in fact. I did the course two weeks before and it was definitely hilly. Definitely not fast, I thought. I didn’t even think a PR was in the cards even if it were flat, or maybe I was in shape for it, but I didn’t think I’d have it on that day.

My plan on the line was to just run. See what I had in me and run with it, whatever that was. Try to keep my effort level in the 6:50-7:05/mile range give or take depending on the elevation. The wind had howled overnight and in the morning, it had hardly stopped. The temperature was around 40 degrees. I could tell just from my warmup that we were about to get blown all over the road, but I wasn’t too concerned. The first couple miles were heading down to the battlefield, and by that point the crowd around me had thinned out considerably. We were on uneven gravel at the start of the third mile, then back onto the road which was so windy, then back onto gravel again. Miles 1-4: 6:34, 6:51, 7:06, 6:54.

In the woods, a girl snuck up on me and passed me. I already knew there was one girl way head of me from the start; I could see her ponytail and pink socks. I forced myself to stay focused and stay right on this other girl, and I did. I passed her back shortly after on an uphill on Alexander, and made sure I stayed strong and dropped her. The Washington Rd. hill was coming, the part everyone was dreading but I knew that once it was over, my favorite part of the race would begin. I tend to feel mentally and physically better during the second half of a half marathon, and I already knew I preferred the second half of the course. So I was actually excited. I kept it controlled up the hill, and absorbed the cheers from the spectators. At the top was the Nassau Street crossing and a sweet downhill into the north side of town. All four corners were lined with people cheering, and crossing that street was was one of my favorite moments from the race. Miles 5-6: 6:54, 7:17 (hill #1).

The beginning of the Washington Rd. hill. It turned out the girl who snuck up on me was my friend's sister....

It turned out the girl who snuck up on me was my friend’s sister….

The next mile was mostly downhill or flat, with a short uphill at the end combined with what was definitely the worst gust of wind of the entire race. I started to really find my stride in this mile though, into the next. The splits sounded fast but didn’t feel fast. Miles 7-8: 6:39, 6:36. 

In the next neighborhood there was a left turn on a random street. I knew this because I did the course two weeks before with a queue sheet in my shorts pocket, basically. I was pretty focused on my own race, but I did notice a few runners up ahead running straight, past the turn. I was coming up on a guy I knew, and I heard him ask a woman standing on the corner if this was in fact where to turn. She seemed to reply in the affirmative, and I was confident in my knowledge of the course anyway, so I turned with everyone else around me and didn’t think much else of what was happening there. At another corner up ahead, I heard a bunch of screaming girls and turned to see at least one girl I coached at Girls on the Run on the bed of a pickup truck, cheering for “Coach Meghan.” It made me smile and push on toward hill #2, on Snowden and Herrontown. I knew this hill was going to be tougher than the first because if its location on the course and the fact that it was so long and gradual. I brought a Gu for the first time in a half, and my plan was for it to kick in during the final few miles, so I had half of it before the mile 9 water stop…but I failed to actually grab a cup of water. The cups were plastic, so that was part of the problem. I attempted to grab it about three times, but ultimately ended up with the taste of plain Gu in my mouth until the next water stop. Just before that one, I finished the Gu and actually took water successfully. I also passed a pivotal competitor at that first water station, I’ll add…. Miles 9-11: 6:49, 7:25 (hill #2), 6:44. 

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Then the race really began. Or maybe it was phase three. One of our longstanding group runners, Patrick, has always given me great running and racing advice, and words of wisdom in general. He uses the expression “take him to the woodshed” frequently, referring to basically dropping the hammer when running with someone and seeing if he comes along. Since we were passing through his neighborhood, and coincidentally the hill where he tends to take people to said woodshed, I thought to myself, to the woodshed! and it gave me some extra energy.

Mile 12 had a big net downhill, and mile 13 had a net uphill but included some downhill too. I remembered my long run when I previewed the course two weeks before, and how I said, “If I feel good at this point in the race, it’s going to be so much fun.” Well, I did. And it was. I ran the twelfth mile in 6:21 still feeling strong. I saw and heard some people I knew and didn’t know calling out to me on the curb. One group told me I was the “first woman.” Then another. I was confused, because I was definitely second. That girl had been ahead of me from the start. I might have even corrected someone using two fingers and a muffled “I think I’m second,” like I couldn’t take credit. I figured they had just come out of their houses and had missed her. Mile 13 ticked off in 6:15 but I wasn’t looking at my watch then, I was just hammering toward the finish line. Paul Robeson Place, where the race started and ended, was packed with spectators, some of them friends, some Girls on the Run girls and their families, and many others I didn’t know. I knew even before I saw the clock that I was going to finish under 90 minutes, and it was the greatest feeling to have accomplished that – my ultimate half marathon goal – right here in my town with all these people who know me here supporting me. Official finish time: 1:29:36.

Finishing the job.

Finishing the job.

When I finished, people took pictures and asked me questions. At that point, I thought the other girl must have dropped out, if I really did finish first. It was soon discovered, a few minutes later, that the girl was among the dozen or so people who had continued straight at that important turn on the course. In other words, they didn’t know the course and got

I was too cold to fix my hair beyond this. We should have gotten a photo post-shower...oh well.

Mayor Lempert and me, with the cup. I was too cold to fix my hair beyond this. We should have gotten a photo post-shower…oh well.

lost, but there was also no race marshal there to direct them. Obviously, none of my races are without complications. You can read about the race’s ultimate decision on the matter here. Summary? I finished first, they gave the other girl the win, they made up a time for her (which is kind of weird, but it is what it is). I did win the Mayor’s Cup, for the fastest finisher among runners from businesses in town (it’s currently being engraved!). The mayor was cool and called me inspiring, which was really nice to hear coming from her! I had work all day after that, but we did get to escape and head over to Triumph for the race sponsors’ party, which included good food, a slideshow from the race, networking, a presentation, and growlers galore. And yes I did “clean up nicely,” but there are no photos to prove it.

Not fully engraved yet, but this is what it said when I received it.

Not fully engraved yet, but this is what it said when I received it.

The Princeton Half Marathon was the most meaningful experience I have ever had during a race or any run at all. I have never felt so much control over my own emotions and the outcome of an event. Before, I had always thought of good races being a product of x, y, and z: eating right, sleeping right, training right. And they are, but only to an extent. It was this race that taught me the power of the mind and the heart, and what they can do when they work together. This race was a fun game, a 13.1-mile reckless journey in an invincible fast car. A one hour, twenty-nine minute, thirty-six second song that has powerful lyrics but no conceivable words. What were x, y, and z? The chirping calls of “Coach Meghan” from the curbs, the feedback from the streets I’ve grown to know so well, and the feeling that this race was more than a race, it was something I needed to do, as best I could.

Things in life still don’t make sense. There’s still no tangible control. But whenever I get sucked inside to that place where the sad songs actually have words, and the scenery on the train does make you think about the who and what and why, I have this 1:29:36-long moment of my life to remember, and the memory gives me the energy to feel okay.

The most fitting quote for the back of this medal, if I may say so.

The most fitting quote for the back of this medal, if I may say so.

E. Murray Todd Half Marathon recap

I entered a race? Ran with a bib? Finished all 13.1 miles? Wow, that seems like a long time ago. I have strange memories of this race because the sick feeling/virus/plague that immediately followed took all focus off my legs and training otherwise for the rest of the week. I’ll spare the details, but I’ll just say that this basically felt like a 13.1-mile tempo workout, and it caused what I will hereafter refer to as the E. Murray Todd Virus (it’s like e. Coli…only…well, very similar actually. Ick).

20140302_105824First, I stated in my last post the following goal for the morning’s shenanigans:

 I’m not gunning for a PR, or even a PR effort, but rather a hard effort over 13.1 miles that will serve as a benchmark and confidence-booster for the rest of my training for Boston. It would be nice to run faster than I did on the somewhat hilly Caesar Rodney Half course last year, though.

So, spoiler: the race went exactly as I expected. This was nice. It was even and relaxed for the most part, but not so much so that I would be able to talk at regular intervals or anything. I warmed up almost three miles. It was kind of humid at the start. I ate a banana and a PowerGel when I woke up at around 6:40 AM and had nothing else but water and Nuun until the race, terrified of any acid reflux or other stomach issues (foreshadowing). I knew better than to start with my female 3:04 marathoner friend who was “not in shape,” because she actually was in shape and was definitely going way under 90 minutes (she did). As far as the hills were concerned, they were as I expected: nothing was flat, but every incline was less than what I run in training. I averaged right around seven minute pace for the first five miles, which started downhill and then ended up being a net uphill.

miles1thru5

I passed this guy wearing a black and yellow bodysuit who was clearly pacing a girl. Passing the girl was obviously the important part. The bodysuit was just odd. Since I’ve been doing five-mile tempos, the thought crossed my mind that these first five were a little slower than I ran those, but not too much, so I just had to extend that effort over the rest of the race. I felt like I wasn’t working as hard as I was at the end of those tempos.

The next five miles brought some hills, but I was right: none were as intense as the ones I do during training, and  I was able to maintain generally the same pace for those miles as the flat miles. What did happen in this stretch was my stomach decided to start acting up….you know, the way it has on every long run, yet I haven’t found a solution. It’s the kind of discomfort that sends your eyes darting from tree to fence to bush, wondering how much time you would lose if you stopped for a moment of relief. In case you haven’t been there: this is no way to run a race. It sends you through conflicting mindsets – if you slow down will it ease the discomfort? If not, should you just hammer it out? In short, it’s an awful feeling. I pressed on, as always, telling myself there’s no way in hell I’m pausing for that reason during Boston so I might as well practice now. Mile 10: insert the feeling getting even worse, a long uphill, hail, and wind. That was the split I’m not proud of, but to be honest, I didn’t even look at my watch when it beeped then. The focus was getting through without any disasters occurring.

miles6thru10

I passed a friend after the tenth mile heading into Thompson Park who was also having stomach problems. His mentality: “We have an entire 5k to go.” Mine: “Only 5k left!” My fastest mile was admittedly the eleventh, so I definitely had something left in the tank; the way my gut felt just made me debate whether or not I wanted to risk the aforementioned disaster. My last 5k was about 21:25.

last5k

The stats, which were much less important than visiting the bathroom post-race: Official time 1:32:09.5, average pace of 7:02, 62nd overall, 6th female, 1st F20-24.

I thought I did a pretty decent job passing women during this race; I passed three speedy-looking women throughout and didn’t get passed by any. HOWEVER, there was a woman who I was apparently gaining on throughout the race who I hardly even saw who finished ten seconds ahead of me for fifth female overall. Instead of giving separate awards to top three overall like most races, of course this race had to award the top five, so I just missed winning a sweet golden goblet by ten seconds. Oh well. I still got a cool plaque for first in my age group, and my speedy running buddy got third overall (her BF was second overall!).

The three of us from the Intervals group with our bling.

The three of us from the Intervals group with our bling.

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Up close.

So as I said, the aftermath of the race on my body was not pretty. It had nothing to do with my legs/muscles/etc., which is good. I recovered really quickly. It was a wake-up call for my pre-race nutrition though…I’m going to experiment with fuel that is NOT in gel form tomorrow on my 20-miler. The goal is no bathroom stops in Boston. If I can’t manage to get in a long run without one, how will I expect not to stop during the race? It was a frustrating week, that’s for sure. Back to the race though: I am happy with how it went. I know I was in shape to run faster. And I’m okay with that, I like that. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be as confident for the big race, which is six weeks from now. 

Tell me though, do you have “porta potty vision” as I like to call the selective recognition runners have for porta potties on their runs? Any advice for me about what’s worked for you in avoiding this awful curse?!?

porta-potty-rental

2014 Boston training outlook + help me choose a half!

Unlike those who say they are done with 2013 and want to start fresh in 2014, I fortunately was grateful enough to have a fairly solid, satisfactory year, particularly as it related to running. That being said, I don’t need to have some kind of calamity to begin 2014 with the same momentum as those eager to leave the previous year behind. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I make resolutions whenever resolutions need to be made: February 17th, April 2nd, September 8th, an hour from now – doesn’t matter. “Goals for the year?” Kind of a silly question when I’m already signed up for a major marathon and a half Ironman for 2014. So, January 1st held no special meaning for me this year. When everyone else seemed to be posting their race or run photos from the morning, I was in bed until the afternoon thanks to being struck with a cough, sore throat, and nearly-absent (it would be totally gone three days later…) voice. Didn’t mind. Life went on.

A calendar year is a recognized period of time, however, and my “marathon training started” immediately after that awful cold/sickness/whatever subsided, so I might as well share some thoughts on what I hope the first part of the year brings for me as a runner. And what it will bring…because I’m registered for things…so I’m doing them of course.

BAALOGO2014

Winter/Early Spring 2014 = Boston Marathon training. As I mentioned before, I am so excited to be able to say I’m “training for Boston.” So. Excited. When it’s five degrees and snowing, it doesn’t feel anywhere close to now, but that’s all a part of training for an April marathon I suppose. No complaints from me. I plan on making a lot of effort to have long run partners each weekend; I think that’s important and it has helped me tremendously in the past. Specifically, faster partners. I don’t want to do every long run at sub-7:30 pace, but I do want to find people who are 100% okay with the pace(s) at which I run my long runs so everyone gets something out of it and just enjoys it. Also, I want to incorporate some faster miles into some of the long runs, and it would be cool to run with people who are on board with that, and that particular faster pace, also. I want to run as many hills on normal runs and long runs as I can. As far as speedwork is concerned, I’d like to do some longer, steady-pace tempos in addition to the Princeton Intervals Tuesday night workouts. I was also thinking of adding in to the workouts I do with the group, since some of them cater more to 5k/10k/half marathon training. I’ll surely be writing more about my training plan as the weeks progress, but these are the main things I want to make sure I do.

The big question: Should I race a half marathon en route to Boston? Part of me thinks it’s only logical, but it should be about six weeks out. That will give me time to gauge my fitness but also have time to recover and continue training hard before tapering (oh, and note to self: decide what tapering actually means and if I really want to do it, because I think I’ve done it right in the past). I’m at a loss as to what half I should do, for two reasons: 1.) Most in this area are less than 5 weeks before Boston weekend, and 2.) I want a flat one. I’ve raced two halves and both have had hills near the end. Remove the hills from Philly and I know I would’ve ran sub-90. I know it. I hope to be in sub-90 shape regardless in March, but the truth is I’ll be training for a full, not tapering, and…well, I’d just rather play it safe. The hills in training will make up for it in time for Boston. I want a flat half course. I don’t care if it’s boring or really small. So what are my options?

e.murraytoddThis race is so low-key that it doesn’t even have its own logo or website. Kate did this en route to Boston last year, and I trust her decision timing-wise because she ran great at both (though they may have been a week closer together then). Negative: I do recall her saying it was “hillier than she expected.” Positive: $30 though! Could be convinced.

celebratelifehalf

I don’t know why I was so drawn to this at first. Maybe the magic “6 weeks out” of the event. Positives: One description says they eliminated a hill at mile 10 for this year (it’s like they heard my calls), the race course goes around some lakes and looks pretty, the late start could accommodate the extra hour it takes to get there. Negatives: it takes an extra hour to get there. Plus, upon further investigation, it appears that the staggered start times for runners slower than 2:30 and walkers will lead to lots of weaving around people. Lots. Just read this.

This was a top contender of mine for last year’s spring half marathon. Positives: IT’S FLAT, I would be competitive in it yet it’s a big race so that’s pretty cool, I’ve never been to Queens or Flushing Meadows Park, it’s on a Saturday which is rare. Negatives: it’s twice as much money as some other options, it’s only four weeks (and two days) out from Boston. Those of you more experienced than I at this marathon thing (ahem, almost all of you reading) please tell me your opinion: is four weeks too soon before Boston?

EML5FbqOrgegNQUE1C1JThis was another contender last year, especially since it was the same weekend as the race I ended up choosing. Positives: I think I could arrange to stay overnight in the area this year thanks to a relocated friend (wasn’t an option last year), 5 weeks away sounds okay to me, and I’ve never had a RnR experience and I hear good things about their races. Negatives: I’ve also heard bad things about their races, the price is steep (food vs. race fee…not a fun game to play), I would have to stay over somewhere the night before, and probably take days off of work for the ordeal.

So, those are basically my choices. I wish there were more races around here the weekend of March 9th! You’d think race directors would pick up on this void that falls in line with a prime Boston-tune-up weekend! I should also note that last year I did the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware and have only good things to say about it. I would do it again, but it was hilly and it’s a week later this year, so it just makes sense to do the 13.1 New York race instead if I would consider CR (CR is cheaper though…). Obviously, my goal race is Boston, not a half. So, after writing this all out, I think there is one race I mentioned above that is calling to me more than the others. But I would appreciate any comments, opinions, and guesses as to which that may be. 🙂

Keep in mind, I think my current group of friends this March will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day the way you are actually supposed to, and I won’t want to miss out completely…. 😉

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. 🙂

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon Race Report

On Sunday I raced my first half marathon! Now on the other side of those 13.1 miles, I am pleased with the result and have lots to report…Sunday was a whirlwind of events, and so I haven’t had much time to reflect on the experience and what it means to me. So, here we go.

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Flashing our bibs…bangs are out of control….

The race was in Wilmington, Delaware, and honestly, my plan was to drive south and hope we ended up in Rodney Square (bad plan). Fortunately, Brennan was with me, and helped me decide which historical figure in bridge form we should drive across. We also read up on Caesar Rodney, a pretty important guy. It was cold. Luckily there was a bag check area at the start, so we ran around in warmer clothes for a bit prior to the start. Whatever nerves I had had on Friday had seemingly dissipated, and I was now pretty excited. My legs, calves especially, definitely could have felt more refreshed, but they weren’t exhausted. I found my mom and grandmother before the race, and they took some pre-race pictures of us. I was beginning to think I was crazy for deciding on short sleeves, but once we took our outer layers off, it was surprisingly fine. We lined up at the start, apparently seven seconds behind the line, I learned later. Brennan had a mini freak-out when she realized she forgot her gel, so I ended up not starting off next to her.

Brian (co-worker, boss, store manager) was nice enough to let me borrow his newly acquired Garmin 10, which I tested out on Thursday and decided to wear during the race! This helped me so much. I knew I would go out too fast. This was just inevitable. But I felt good. Beep – 6:23. Ha. Okay, don’t panic. This was exactly what I did in the tempo last Tuesday, and that worked out okay. I tried to make myself slow down, but at the same time I didn’t enjoy people passing me. The first part of the race was a loop down by the waterfront. Note: I did not look at this course very closely at all, aside from knowing approximately where the hilly section began. It was windy, not just by the water, but at random points during the entire race. There was a band playing at mile 2, which was cool. I saw some funny signs, such as “worst St. Patty’s Day parade ever,” which is standard, yet I liked it, because it was indeed a parade-worthy holiday! There was a little loop at the third mile marker that allowed us to see runners coming the other way. I saw Brennan and was relieved she made it to the start okay after the gel emergency! I cheered for her, and kept rolling along…

Random non-race photo taken at a section of the course at the waterfront. Feeling good here.

Miles 1-5: 6:23, 6:52, 7:01, 7:09, 7:01.

Running sub-7:10 was feeling very comfortable. My breathing was totally in check, heart rate was not high, but my legs were straining a bit. I recognized this and tried to shift the focus on what did feel good: breathing, heart rate, this tempo. The song Feel Again by OneRepublic, which got me through my five mile tempo and matched my mood the past week and a half or so. How does a three-minute long song stick in your head for miles? Beats me, but I won’t try to understand it. I started to feel really good right before the sixth mile. I have no idea why. That was when the “13.1” felt very doable, and I was ready to take on the remaining miles. I thought back to River to Sea 2011, and how I ran that 7.95-mile leg at 7:05 pace. I could do this – that was the moment I decided I wanted to do this. I was running beside a girl who looked around my age at that point, and we got blasted by wind. “This wind sucks,” she said. I said something like “yeah” and then passed her a minute later…felt bad, but that was when my confidence surge occurred.

I knew miles 6-9 were the hills. I almost sectioned off those four miles in my head as a separate race altogether: there was everything before mile 6 (going out too fast + finding a good pace), then a hilly four miles, then a tempo to the finish. I could tell when it was starting; we ran under an overpass and into Brandywine Park. What was great about this race that I was not expecting was all the spectators with funny signs and cheers. I thought that would only happen in big-city races, or on warmer days, but there was not one street without at least a few people cheering on the curb! So cool!

Brandywine Park

I just tried to not run too slow up the hills, and keep the same effort. These hills were pretty long and gradual. Coming out of the park was when I wished I had looked at a map more closely, because I was curious as to where we were relative to the downtown finish. Having the Garmin helped me immensely. Each mile felt so short! It would beep, I would glance, the next time I would look down I was usually over 0.7 into that next mile. The feedback really helped me run the mile I was in.

Miles 6-9: 7:11, 7:17, 7:35, 7:31.

For the elevation profile, I was okay with those splits. 7:20s would have required me to work a lot harder than I was the rest of the race and therefore slow my last 4.1 miles down. At least, I think. At the start of the hills, my mental soundtrack had switched to Phoenix’s new song “Entertainment,” for those keeping track…seemed to work fine. The tenth and eleventh miles consisted of this long loop in a neighborhood with a grassy meridian. It was around 11.5 when I made my first face. The face, an expression that says, damn, this is not comfortable anymore, can I stop soon? is an inevitable part of most runners’ races. I had a feeling it would come around then, since Brennan warned me, and also since this was the “hang on ’til the finish after the hilly part” section of the race I had prepared for. I wiped the face off quickly, because the more you make the face, the more the sentiment involved in the face spreads to the entire body. In short: I was trying to stay positive and still run fast.

Miles 10-12: 7:07, 7:10, 7:07.

I was pleased with how easily I was able to get right back to 7:10 pace or under following the hills, and how I was able to kick myself while making the face during that 7:10 and get back to 7:07. I found myself really looking forward to drinking water and bolting into a porta-potty at the finish, since I was dehydrated but doing the first would cause me to want to do the second if I took in water at mile 12. Incentive. In hindsight, I should have ran faster in the last mile and a half. However, I had been warned about the killer last quarter mile…it was all uphill. I wan’t sure of the gradient, though, and therefore how much energy to conserve, if at all. I am not lying when I say this was the most difficult, poorly-placed hill I have ever ran in my life. I am a strong finisher, and could have kicked from a mile out. But this monster of a hill was right at the finish. As in, you were a quarter mile from the finish line on the same, straight street, yet couldn’t see the line because the hill was so steep. Let me share the elevation profile with you again:

Let me clarify: I am not complaining, I really did enjoy the challenge – what is a race without a challenge?! In fact, the ending was a funny story all the finishers have to share with one another. 🙂 I undoubtedly made the face again during the last half mile, as will be evidenced when photos are posted, I am sure. I knew after the halfway point that unless I dropped some really slow miles in the second half, my goal of sub-1:35 was mine. I was still elated when I crossed the line in a time of 1:33:33, putting me at sub-7:10 per mile, five seconds per mile faster than I initially thought I was capable of!

Miles 13, 0.19 (according to the Garmin): 6:52, 1:23.

Stats:

After seeing my family and realizing I had suffered some major chafage (oops), I ran back down the hill to cheer Brennan up to the finish. “This is the hardest hill ever but it’s shorter than you think! Power up!” <– not sure if that helped or hurt…?

Before major chills happened, we took some happy post-race photos – with the man Caesar himself.

As usual, I couldn’t stomach any food for awhile, but eventually, we took advantage of our FREE MEALS offered in our race bags, and had delicious burgers and $3 recoverosas at Scratch Magoo’s! Bonus: there were two other restaurants where we can get free entrees in Wilmington…and it expires in August! So, I’ll definitely be back to Delaware, if not for anything else, then for that (#runger…). A thought I had while running and driving through the city: Wilmington reminded me of Richmond, VA. Anyone else get that connection? I was there to spectate the marathon in 2011, and I definitely had flashbacks in Wilmington. The finish of that race was the opposite elevation-wise of this one, though! I guess I don’t visit many cities that aren’t major cities like NYC and Philly often, so they seem similar. Anyway, Wilmington > Richmond for the time being, because I had way more fun there!

Part of the largest bead necklace ever…good times.

I finished off the weekend with some St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and despite having some typical post-race stomach distress (and exhaustion), I enjoyed the time with friends and all things Irish as best I could! An adventure to Woodrow Wilson’s old office and a necessary trip to the campus Wawa for my first Irish Potatoes in years capped off the night.

Feeling lucky. 🙂 

I will recap some more thoughts on where this race fits in to my life as a runner soon. For now, it’s off to the pool to stretch out with some relaxing laps, since this became a mad long post.

One week to go!

I can’t believe there is only one more week left until the half marathon! I realized I never “announced” which one I was running! Back in January, I decided a half marathon around the third week of March would be ideal for my training plan and my history of when I tend to feel best in a training cycle. I thought about the RnR USA Half on March 16, but thought there were too many logistics to worry about (place to crash, etc.), so I chose the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware on Sunday the 17th. (It was cheaper than USA, too….)

This sounds strange, but I set my goal for this race on July 30, 2011. That was River to Sea, when I averaged 7:05 pace for both my first 6.5-mile leg and my second 7.95-mile leg and felt even better at the end of that last one. It was then that I realized I could probably run a half marathon, race it, fast. Obviously, things did not work out at all regarding this plan since that day. So, I am finally running this half marathon that I planned to run, hypothetically, in 2011. I had done two workouts prior to the relay…as in, two workouts in July having not been ready for them since the prior March due to injury. My goal right now, for next week? I would like to run under 1:35:00, meaning 7:15 pace or faster. Doable. I know it is. Some days I am really confident, others I am not. I think that means this is a good goal. 

I skipped the Intervals workout Tuesday for the first time this season, so I could finally  get this tempo run over with. It was sad. But I am glad I did the tempo. Tempo day was Thursday, but it may as well have been Tuesday, because I was flying on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I paid for it Thursday, because I was tired. I mapped a five mile route…actually, like five of them, but I finally decided to do a mix of towpath and hilly roads, to mimic the elevation profile of the race, on a smaller scale. Oh, want to see it? It’s beautiful:

More on this later.

The weather was strange, cold and warm at the same time, humid, snowing, raining, not raining – just confusing. I wore shorts, obviously, and sweat like crazy of course. I did a longer warmup than I intended. At 7:38 pace. Short story: it was not my ideal tempo day, but in the end, I thought this might be a good thing. All my workouts have been mentally easy, and somewhat physically easy, so I needed to be prepared for this come next week, just in case. I wrote the mile marker landmarks on my arm. I hate writing on myself for some reason, but I had to do what I had to do! Reason #1 why I need a Garmin!

…does anyone else do this for tempo runs? Or am I just a lone, sad GPS-less runner?

Splits…well, approximately (+/- ~2 seconds?) since I did not specify which side of each house/driveway I was supposed to split my watch: 6:44 (flat towpath and climbing up from the lake), 7:12 (hilly roads, mini shock to the system for a moment), 7:11 (more hilly roads, almost quit), 6:54 (uphill, flat, and downhill roads), 6:29 (all flat towpath, might have stopped a little early, around 20 meters?). The splits sound so varied, but the “course” I mapped was even more rolling than I thought it would be! At the end, I was sufficiently spent. The nice cooldown felt well deserved and good, like cooldowns post-workout should be. 

I literally ran to work, and later that day, we received a visit from our New Balance rep, who is super cool. There was this movement around Princeton a couple years ago called “Eat More Kale.” It is a Vermont thing, apparently (and a hipster thing…a vegetarian thing, the list goes on…), but it was big here; people had bumper stickers and t-shirts. Anyway, now we are going for “Sell More New Balance!” They have reinvented themselves, make good running shoes, and deserve to be known, and worn! I like any excuse for dinner and drinks post-work, so it was a good night. 

I am a bit behind on writing, but next up will be my run at Watchung Reservation with fellow RunCo employees this morning, and some interesting, thought-provoking (if I say so myself) musings about life that came to me this (great) weekend. 

In the meantime, a few questions for you: What are your initial thoughts when you hear “New Balance” in regards to running? Have you/do you run in NB? How much longer can I get away with training without a Garmin and not waste a ridiculous amount of time mapping routes and writing on my arm?