track is back

So, remember that time I raced a road mile? Apparently I wasn’t quite done with the speedy stuff. Despite almost bailing on the idea due to feeling a little burnt out, I biked over to a track last Tuesday night to participate in an all-comer track meet. I had watched the meet last summer from the sidelines, due to my frustrating injury. This year, I am on a mission to replace all the memories of those summer races spent wishing I could run with new ones of, well, actually running. And attempting to run well. My main event of the evening was the 3k, and I figured I would do the 800 too to get more of my money’s worth…why not.

Running the 3200m at my county meet in 2007.

Running the 3200m at my county meet in 2007.

Let me give a brief history of the 3k, in the context of my personal running career. In high school, I didn’t race the 3k, but rather the 3200. I can’t even count how many 3200s I have raced, between dual meets, conference meets, county meets, and state sectional meets. I’ve raced the 3200 a lot, both indoors and outdoors. My PR is 11:53, from a scrimmage held two days after what was supposed to be my time to shine in the conference meet, pulling out my first sub-12 despite doubting coaches. I was never fresh for a 3200 (I always raced the 1600 beforehand, and my PR was 12:09 from a meet when I raced fresh indoors), so I knew I had it in me to do it if it was my sole event. A thunderstorm minutes before the race was scheduled halted my plans, and so I angrily gutted it out at this little scrimmage instead. That season (spring 2007) was my last [pretty much] entirely healthy season until…2013. I got back into the 12:20s after only a month of running the next year after a stress fracture, but I never really had time to train for a PR again unfortunately. In college, we would run a 3200 time trial the second day of preseason, and again, always coming off of a post-stress-fracture summer buildup, I’d run in the 12:50s and be satisfied. Indoors, the 3k was my main event, but there was only one season when I got to race it multiple times. I was always very unhappy with my results – I’d usually run 11:50-something. My official best time for 3k was 11:48 indoors (also not happy with that, as I expected to be running that kind of time for two miles).

So, I showed up to the meet Tuesday not knowing what to expect. I knew I was in shape to get a 3k PR. I didn’t expect to get a 3200 equivalent 3k PR, if that makes any sense – just because I was only two months out from a marathon and wasn’t training specifically for the event. I should mention it was ninety degrees and sunny, and the track was black….I had some chest pains warming up, and honestly expected to tank the race due to that. I also gave up on trying to find my hardly worn track spikes, so I wore flats. Having awoken at 4:45am, I had wanted caffeine but admittedly had it too late in the day, causing the distress. Oops. I know better. I got on the line anyway and hoped for the best. A lot of fast runners ended up showing up, so they took it out fast! My first lap was way faster than I planned, about 84 seconds, but at least that was what I used to do in high school 3200s….I was still under 6-minute pace at 800m, and my mile was 6:03ish. I was surprised how good I felt: the caffeine-induced chest pain was unnoticeable now which never happens (it always gets worse the faster I run), and my legs were not nearly as tired as I expected them to be after biking around all day. I could tell I was dehydrated, but a 3k race is hardly cause for concern, especially since I was over halfway through it. I picked it up with about 600m to go, and gave it all I had the last 200m. My official time was 11:24.0, satisfying my unspoken goal of sub-11:30. While one of my first thoughts was that I would have been faster on the day of the College Ave Mile, because of all the unfavorable circumstances of this particular day, I was happy with my time and the way I felt throughout. Now if only I had ran that time during indoor conferences in college…better late than never I suppose.

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Oh, so then I ran an 800 too. That was sort of laughable, and I didn’t really prepare too well for it (mostly because the chest tightness/acid reflux returned after the 3k…), but it was fun I guess. Anything that’s two laps can’t be too bad. I ended up running it alone, because there was a big pack of guys and one younger (really fast) girl who ran in the 2:20s, and two little kids who ran 3:30. I ran 2:40.0 even and called it a day. 800s are so short and fast…. Results from the meet are here.

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Start of the 800. The kids were intimidated I think.

Biking back home afterwards, I felt way more relaxed about, well, life, than I had before. I was in quite the funk on Monday, and I was at a loss as to what could possibly pull me out of it. Turns out throwing myself into two track races in ninety degree heat after a super long day was the answer, at least for a little while. I suppose this is proof for the argument that runners aren’t 100% sane. I wouldn’t want it any other way, though.

GOTR 5K and College Ave Mile

When I said I wanted to do crazy things this summer, I bet you didn’t think racing a mile was first on my agenda. Well, neither did I, but that was what I did on Saturday evening.

I have to back up and begin by explaining that the Girls on the Run 5k – the culminating event for the two-month program I’ve been coaching – was scheduled for Saturday morning. There was also a triathlonreally wanted to do in Staten Island that was the same day…which I didn’t realize until recently (I thought the 5k was Sunday the 8th and the tri was Sunday the 15th for some reason…turns out they were both Saturday the 7th all along). Later, I saw that the College Ave Mile was in the evening on the same day, so instead of feeling left out of the races for the weekend, I decided to take on an entirely different challenge and race the mile.

First, the Girls on the Run 5k event was great; all the girls finished and were really proud of themselves (as were their coaches).

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gotrIn the afternoon, I met up with Jen to drive up to Rutgers for the mile. I should mention that I was donning something new….My Garmin’s start/stop/up button had been working only

It just occurred to me that the date was wrong before it found satellites for the first time...this was definitely taken on Friday.

It just occurred to me that the date was wrong before it found satellites for the first time…this was definitely taken on Friday.

intermittently for the past week, and it eventually refused to work on Friday. So, I ended up trading it in for a new Forerunner 220. While it is similar to my old 210, I was still figuring things out, obviously. On my warmup I realized it was hot. And I was dehydrated. It was only a mile though, so I figured that wouldn’t affect me too much (and it didn’t). I entered in the “women’s emerging elite” heat. They announced everyone’s names at the start if they had pre-registered…but I had not. I finally got to meet Danielle (Foodosaurus Rex), and she was in my heat too. The gun went off about 15 minutes behind schedule but I never have a sense of time regarding races anyway so I didn’t mind. The route was two half-mile loops around a couple blocks on the Rutgers University College Ave campus. Because we were all lumped together, the first couple turns were sharp. We had to slow down for them, it was so tight.

The start of my race. Photo from New Brunswick Today.

The start of my race. Photo from New Brunswick Today.

I somehow managed to set my watch to auto-lap every quarter mile, but I’m not sure if the splits were as even as they would be for a track race. Regardless, it gave me an idea of if I was running too fast or slow, which was what I wanted. I went through the first quarter in 83-84, and the 800 in 2:53. Thinking that was slower than I wanted, I picked up the pacve a couple seconds on the next quarter mile. With 400-500 meters to go, I noticed two things: 1. A pack of a few girls ahead of me, and 2. that I still felt pretty good – not acceptable for a race of this length! So, I dug deep and passed the pack decisively. The thought that I could try to win the heat popped into my head, but there was a single girl still ahead of me, not within reasonable reach. We rounded the last corner, and I remembered the finish seemed not far at all from it on the previous loop, so I gave it all I had to the point where I actually felt like I was flying. My legs felt awesome, like they were operating on a motor that didn’t take physical effort. It was weird and great. Another hundred meters and they might have really felt it, but I can honestly say I am excited about how I felt at the finish, because I felt fast. I must have closed in about 80 seconds for the last quarter, give or take. My final time was 5:41.35 and I was second in the heat (the first girl ran 5:29). With a runner’s high to blame, I almost signed up for the mile relay (2 x 800m) at the end, but opted not to when I found out I’d have to pay extra for it. Thus concludes a short race recap of an equally short race – so easy when it’s only a mile long!

Finish photo. Again, I swear I'm not mad here, I am having a lot of fun! No sarcasm!

Finish photo. Again, I swear I’m not mad here, I am having a lot of fun! No sarcasm!

The elephant at the race…

As you may have noticed from the starting line photo and the meet website if you clicked the link, the event was very much dominated by a particular NJ-based club. It also attracted other clubs because it was a USATF mile championship event. I chatted with a lot of people that day and it seemed like running clubs were the primary topic of conversation. I think clubs are great, and serve as a way for post-collegiate runners of all ages to stay socially connected and compete as a team. It also can be difficult to find people to do workouts with, and I totally get that reason for joining a team. I’ve thought a lot about the idea…and ultimately, at least for right now in my life as a runner, I am satisfied with not joining a team. I personally like the freedom that comes with being non-partisan: free to do whatever run or workout I want, when I want. To choose to race certain races, or not. To wear whatever I want to for a race. To do runs with members of any club, and attend their sponsored events. I also feel like I have a lot of people I can text or something to run almost any time I feel like it, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that. Maybe I will join a running club someday, who knows. I’m not close-minded about it, but right now I am happy bouncing around and enjoying running with me and for me.

Craving speed

A couple weeks ago I did a fast and simple track workout with the Intervals group (while I just finished mentioning I am not on a club, I should mention that this group is more of an eclectic group of friends in the community that come together weekly due to a shared love of running…and if I’ve ever suggested that you come to a workout, it’s because I legitimately think you’ll have fun and want to see you!): 3200, 1600, 400. It left me a little discouraged about my current level of speed, but I guess the heat and wind gusts played a factor that day more than I realized. After a great workout the next Tuesday night and then the fast finish at the mile, I changed my mind and decided that yes, I do want to get back on the track for a little more fun. So, the plan is to jump into the last all-comers track meet this month at a nearby school (hosted by, yes, yet another club) for a 3k next Tuesday evening. I want to have fun and see what I can do.

20140612_000125If you were thinking my next post would be about the joys of being a newbie cyclist…don’t worry. That is definitely coming.

 

2014 Boston Marathon Race Report

While my quads have finally began to feel like they didn’t run a marathon less than two weeks ago, I still hold all the memories of my first Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 as if they were brand new. So without further ado…here’s how it went.

Race morning proceeded without a hitch. I arrived in Boston on Saturday, and it was nice to have an extra whole day to chill, since Saturday involved a lot of trains and walking, but it was starting to feel like a big waiting game – I wanted to get on with it! There was a free shuttle for runners from the hotel in Quincy to Boston Common. We all chatted off our nerves, and it was then that I received my first “small world moment” (of several) that day: two men on my van were members of the Raritan Valley Road Runners (somewhat local club) in New Jersey! This whole morning, pre-race, felt like I made several good friends only to walk off and not see them again: in bathroom lines, on the van, in Athlete’s Village, etc. I suppose that’s just a reflection of how friendly runners are, and the spirit we all shared toward this incredible day. Once at Boston Common, I found my friend Melissa, who had told me she’d be wearing a white 761496-1003-0022ssweatshirt. Yeah, I have skills like that, apparently. We boarded a bus together, where we shared stories with excitement and tried not to think about how we were a little too hydrated at the time. Athlete’s Village was just as epic as I’d imagined – hardly room to walk, with runners spread out on blankets and clothes all over the grass, a big white tent with hardly anyone underneath because the sun felt nice at the time, and porta-potties for days lining the sides of the huge area. In one bathroom line I spotted a friend I’d worked with at a cross country camp, here for the first time as well (she went on to run 3:07:04!), and in another I chatted it up with some strangers. As we were being called out of the Village by wave and corral, I started to look for my aunt after ditching my outer clothes, since we were only one corral apart. Sure enough, as was the pattern that day, I found her as soon as I started looking. We took the long walk to the starting line together, and it was really great to be able to wish each other good luck as we finally parted ways. As we were walking, I heard someone say my name. I turned around to see Lauren, who I had just been talking about because she helped me so much, who had guided me through 13 miles of the New Jersey Marathon last year! What a crazy thing – to find her among all these people, walking to the starting line (I ended up seeing her again around 10k I think)! I couldn’t help but be overcome by the magic surrounding this race at that moment. It was incredible.

Wave two took off, and my corral (5) ended up crossing the line about four minutes later. I focused on taking it all in and being really comfortable – hardly working – for the first six or seven miles. I could see why it was easier said than done  – here were all these people in all these little towns, shoulder to shoulder on the curb, shouting for thirty thousand plus runners traversing through their neighborhoods, holding signs and clanging bells. Sitting on roofs, blasting music, and having parties. We were the show. How cool is that? I think I did a pretty good job of not working much yet, I felt really relaxed…though I realized it was a bit warm for my liking. Miles 1-6, Hopkinton & Ashland: 7:40, 7:38, 7:32, 7:33, 7:42, 7:32. 

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So…I thought this was 15k until I bought the photo and zoomed in to see the gel I took at mile 19. Who knew I was still happy then?

Once I got through 10k, I felt things somewhat level out; that is, I didn’t feel like I was doing downhill as much and I could open up a little more if it still felt easy. So I did. I took half of a Gu at mile 7 and finished it at the mile 8 water stop. Mile 7 was also the first water stop where I had water. The 15k had a timing mat and a camera, and was positioned right by a big body of water, which was nice. Every time I went over a timing mat I thought of all the people tracking me, and it made me stay strong, and also excited that things seemed to be going well. Excited for the rest of the race, too. Around mile 12 we passed a sign that said Entering Wellesley, and I thought immediately to keep an eye out for my college cross country and track coach, who had recently moved to the Boston area and was coaching the teams at Wellesley College. Sure enough, as soon as I thought to look for him, I saw him and his family cheering on the right side of the road. I yelled his name and waved, and he and his wife cheered back! that gave me an extra boost, just thinking back on how I was constantly injured in college and now I’m here, running the Boston Marathon and feeling strong and healthy. I honestly don’t know if I would have thought I’d be here, two or three years prior. I wanted to, yes, but like all other running goals of mine from college, it seemed but a dream. I think Wellesley might have been one of my favorite parts of the entire marathon. Not just for the entertaining signs along the road, i.e., all the reasons the runners should consider kissing the girls, but it was also when I started feeling even better. It was also in the shade, I realized later. It was a sunny day, and while it wasn’t “hot” by any means…after all the cold long runs I did this winter and spring, it certainly started to feel quite balmy as the race went on. Miles 7-12, Framingham & Wellesley: 7:26, 7:28, 7:28, 7:30, 7:29, 7:21. 

I passed through the half marathon in 1:39:08, which I was content with. I knew it was far from being the real “halfway point” of the 761535-1313-0050srace, so I chose not to think of it like it was. I did another “Gu mile” from 13 to 14. By mile 15, I was starting to feel that awful feeling I’d experienced on every long run that I was really, really hoping to avoid during the race…the having-to-use-a-bathroom feeling. By mile 16, it was really bad. I felt really good otherwise, and so I weighed by options. I decided I would stop (and I really promised myself I wouldn’t) if and only if 1. if it would allow me to actually enjoy the rest of the race and run faster later, 2. it would only take seconds, and 3. if it wasn’t out of my way and there was no one in a porta-potty when I approached it. Mile 16 was a big downhill I didn’t anticipate, and because I was thinking so much about my emergency bathroom plan and not my pace, I dropped a 7:16. During mile 17, I spotted my opportunity in the distance and knew that I had just accidentally put some seconds in the bank anyway…so I took it. I got right back on pace and prayed that I didn’t loose too much time. I’m still not positive how long I was in there, but I ran a 7:44 17th mile, so I’m guessing twenty seconds tops. I’m pretty impressed with that, just saying…so it was probably worth it. Miles 13-18, Wellesley Hills, Woodland: 7:20, 7:25, 7:26, 7:16, 7:44 (bathroom!), 7:30.

I knew the Newton hills were coming, and all I could do was stay relaxed and hope that all the hills I did on every single long run would get me through them in one piece. The PowerGel station was during mile 17, but I didn’t want to take one just yet. I grabbed a vanilla gel and held it until well into mile 18. I was heating up quickly and the last thing I really wanted was to put anything sticky and sweet into my mouth. But I knew I should, because two gels probably would not be enough for the rest of the race. I sucked it up and ate it between miles 18 and 19, but I might have left some in there before tossing it aside at some point during mile 20. I had started taking some Gatorade too after the half marathon mark, I think. I knew my family would be at a point near the closest T station to mile 21, so I used that to get through this stretch mentally. The strangest thing happened as I approached this point…the thought that it was almost over popped into my head. Months and months of training and anticipating, and mile 21 was upon me already. Wow. Heartbreak Hill, as a standalone hill, is not that bad. Throw it into any of my long runs this year, and it would not be the toughest hill. Its location in the marathon is pretty cruel, however. I didn’t slow down horribly on it, but the main issue I had with it was its aftereffects…. Miles 19-22, Newton: 7:29, 7:40, 7:59, 7:26. 

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Charging up Heartbreak as best I could….

I thought I bounced back well and would feel fine, avoid the wall and such, since I ran 7:26 for the 22nd mile. Little did I know, sufferfest awaited me, in the form of a quad-bonking zombie march down Beacon Street. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, even on paper. But, it felt bad. Worse than anything I’ve ever felt on a run. I was also mentally concerned because I really didn’t think this would happen to me. I thought I did everything right! Trained my quads to be as strong as possible, went out easy, tried to be light on my feet on the downhills. Everything! Why did I still feel like this?! I felt like I had no control over my pace, but if I did, I would have been nervous to try to go any faster in fear of my quads just totally shutting down on me. I couldn’t walk. It would have been so, so easy to stop and walk. I already felt like I was hardly moving. But I couldn’t. I had to just keep moving. If this was the pace that would allow me to do so, I needed to just do it. Just get there. I tried embracing the cheers from the people yelling my name, which I wrote on my arm for this exact purpose. I smiled inside when I saw a guy holding up a sign that said, “MEB WON.” I watched the people encourage the physically impaired athletes rolling alongside me in their chairs. Tried to soak it all in. To keep moving forward. As I went up and over the overpass by Fenway I had walked over many times while cheering the past couple years, I tried to think about how much I wanted to be out here running in years past, how I couldn’t wait for my turn. And about the thousands of people to whom running Boston only seems like a dream right now. And I kept going, because I know that they wouldn’t want me to stop.

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Zombie march.

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I saw a turn up ahead, and knew it was the turn onto Hereford. Almost there. The roaring crowds must have injected some more resistance to lactic acid in my quads, because I did apparently manage to pick up my pace as I turned right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston. I looked up to see it up ahead at last, the finish. It seemed far away but I kept my head up the whole time, for the first time since before that awful feeling overcame me. While it seemed far, I knew this moment, the time spent here on the final straightaway, was not a moment to just get through, but rather to live out as best I could. I crossed the line with a smile, or at least, what seemed like a smile in my mind. Miles 23-26.2, Chestnut Hill, Beacon Street, BOSTON: 7:54, 8:18, 8:23, 8:16, 3:09 (last 0.43).

Official time: 3:21:41.

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Seeing the finish line for the first time.

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anddddd done.

After the finish line, I actually never felt so bad in my life. My body hated me in the most sincere way. However, I, like everyone else around me, embraced the unique, awful post-marathon feeling with each and every curb and crowded side street. I’ll spare the details.

I’ve had some time to process the race and put into words how I feel about it. Obviously, my goal was to run under 3:20, and I didn’t do that. I was on pace for 3:18 through 30k. I think I was in shape to run a sub-3:20 marathon in general; I know I was. Possibly 3:16-17. But not at Boston. I definitely underestimated the effect that the downhills would have on the last few miles – because honestly, who does a point-to-point 20+ miler in training with the first half all downhill to practice getting through this feeling? I don’t even know where I would do something like that. Which brings me to my next point: I really do think I ran a smart race. There isn’t anything I would change about my splits for the entire race before that bonk. This is slightly concerning, since I don’t know what to do to avoid it happening on that course again. I do have a year to figure it out, though….In the meantime, yes, I am happy with a PR, and I am also glad that I didn’t lose that much time during those last three to four miles (about three minutes I’d say). It definitely could’ve been worse. In the end, I’m 100% happy to have been able to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. In 2012, I ran five miles on the sidewalks along the course while spectating. I was getting over an ITB injury and that was my longest run since coming back. At one point, there was a guy who yelled at me, “next year!” referring to me actually running Boston the following year. I smiled and gave a thumbs up. In my mind, I said, “2014,” because I knew realistically that was my plan. I am so grateful that it actually happened: in 2014, I was running toward the city, on the roads, with over 30,000 other people.

I’ll conclude the “report” in pictures…

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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. 🙂

Runner’s World Festival 10k race report

If you follow a lot of running blogs, you probably heard about the second annual Runner’s World Half & Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Runner’s World invited a group of bloggers to the event for the weekend, where they toured the RW offices in Emmaus, attended seminars, and were entered in the hat trick (5k + 10k + half marathon!). So, there was undoubtedly a lot of promotion going on via the blogosphere the last couple months! I was not one of those bloggers, but the event did intrigue me, particularly because: 1.) I’m a running nerd and thought it would be cool to meet the RW staff, 2.) I already did meet Megan and Hannah (RW reporters) at Hood to Coast (they were also on Nuun Team Watermelon!) and it would be great to see them again, and 3.) why not??? It was about time for a little running-related adventure outside of NJ anyway.

Oh, and I wanted a 10k PR.* 

Look, new phone! Blackberry Torch --> Samsung Galaxy after 2+ years.

Look, new phone! Blackberry Torch –> Samsung Galaxy after 2+ years.

So, I forked over the money for the experience…on Tuesday night, a bit last minute. This is my new thing, apparently. AND IT WORKS. I woke up early (by my new phone – so exciting!) and drove the ~75 miles to the ArtsQuest center in Bethlehem, right next to the famous steel stacks. I had done this drive before many times (let me see…seven times), to either watch a meet or race at Lehigh and Moravian in college. After some debate over what to do about my “long run,” I decided to do an extra long warmup and try to time it so that I wouldn’t have much downtime before the 10k started. I got my bib number and ran into Megan right away! Then I set off on a warmup/pre-race run that ended up totaling ~5.6 miles at just under eight minute pace. It was cold, so this helped a lot!

THE RACE

At the starting line, they played very intense pump-up music. I was feeling really chill and relaxed, so I tried not to let the music get me too excited. Negative splits were the name of the game. Bart Yasso and Summer Sanders started the race, and I was able to get a good view since not too many people lined up between the 6:00 and 7:00 pace signs.

View of the steel stacks from near the start.

View of the steel stacks from near the start.

Miles 1 & 2: 6:59, 6:37

I settled into a decent pace feeling comfortable, and I was glad it wasn’t too fast, because the first mile included a pretty big uphill. I passed the mile in basically seven minutes, which concerned me at first, just because I knew that was not an average pace I wanted to run; it was too slow. I convinced myself I had a plan and was being smart though, and just went with it. The downhill came soon after, and I was instantly glad I’d conserved the energy. A quick glance at my watch told me that “just rolling” with the downhill had me close to six minute pace, so I knew then that everything would even out. We crossed over the river on a bridge and headed into the little downtown where I had warmed up earlier. There was loud music playing at the end of the bridge, and at first I was pissed it was Bruno Mars (cannot stand him, sorry), until it turned into a pretty sweet remix, not going to lie. Good sign. I could see Susan a couple runners ahead of me, and let her plus some guys in neon shirts (seriously, neon yellow was the color to wear in this race; I missed the memo) pull me along. I was still feeling really comfortable.

Miles 3 & 4: 6:49, 6:38

I think my effort level stayed steady or increased with each mile of the race; the pace variation is purely a result of the uphills and downhills on the course. The spectators were great; if they were standing at the crest of a hill, they always seemed to say, “top of the hill!” and it made me feel better. Before the fourth mile mark, I think, I found myself gaining ground on the runners ahead of me, then passing them. I wanted to practice making a decisive pass, not a let’s-run-together pass, because I wanted to run my own race and see how much I could negative-split (new game, it’s been fun, and painful). Luckily, after that was a significant downhill to the bridge again.

Miles 5 & 6 (and 0.31): 6:27, 6:21, 1:51 (for 0.31, 6:04 pace)

I was hauling it on the bridge because first, I love running over bridges, and second, I wanted to keep the momentum from the downhill going. There were a lot of race photographers and I made it a point to not look like I did at the end of last weekend’s raceSilly, I know, but sometimes looking calm and controlled = feeling calm and controlled. And besides, the race was not over. A guy on the bridge said to me as I passed, “I counted you as fourth female.” I’m going to go ahead and spoil this for you by saying: LIES. This was a false statement. I’m not disappointed that he said it though, because it fueled my fire for the rest of the race. After barely missing first in my age group and fifth overall in the Perfect 10 last week, and wondering if I just didn’t finish tough enough, I was determined to negate all that and make up for it this week. I wanted to give everything I had and see what happened. I could see the next girl ahead of me once over the bridge, but I wasn’t sure if she was close enough to catch. I kept rolling along at the same pace though, around 6:25, without letting the faster pace get to me mentally. I wasn’t going to slow down if I didn’t let myself slow down, simple as that. On a stretch of road heading to the Sands parking lot entrance where we turned left, I managed to catch her and pass her. Decisive pass decision number two was a lot harder; I was moving faster and there was only a half mile or so to go! We went under an overpass/walkway or something, and then I could see the finish chute lined with spectators and the finish line with the arc of fire. I ended up crossing the line at the exact same time as another guy, and someone announced my name in the same sentence as his (this will be important later…), and then they said my name and town again. 

According to my Garmin…6.31 miles in 41:46.5 (6:37 or 6:44 pace average – for 6.2 – depending on how you look at it)

After the race, I tried to get in an adequate cooldown but that didn’t work very well. Oh well. I ended up meeting Jocelyn and Susan and heading over to the awards with them. I was pretty sure I placed, thanks to the man on the bridge who can’t count. But my name wasn’t coming up in the searchable results. I found out I definitely wasn’t top three, which was okay (that would’ve been really cool but also would have been surprising!), but they also didn’t call me up for any F20-24 awards. Huh. Long story short: I was confused and really hoped my bib had registered when I crossed the line. They had said my name, that had to mean something?! It turns out it took longer for my results to show up, so I did place (second I believe), but someone else got to go on stage and get the award because the computers didn’t show my name. 😦 So that was sad. The results still show a time that is over 20 seconds slower than the time on my watch, and they don’t show me finishing within a second of another guy (which happened, photos will tell), so I’m actually not trusting anything for a few days; maybe they need to sort things out. They are a magazine, not a timing company, after all. I might write more general thoughts on why Brennan would have likely slapped me in the face during this mental freak-out of mine in another post….I ended up not needing to pretend I was a Lehigh athlete (wearing this shirt…yes I did pack it; I go to extreme measures for showers sometimes) or drive over a mountain to sneak into a shower facility thanks to my gracious new blogger friends (Nuun Hood to Coast Team ’11 and ’12, by the way!).

ReNUUNion! I admit I've been waiting to use this term since my flight out of Seattle.

ReNUUNion! I admit I’ve been waiting to use this term since my flight out of Seattle.

EVERYTHING BESIDES THE RACE 

I didn’t mention that half of the reason I went to this event was to do some networking. I’m at a point where I feel like I should take every and any opportunity to meet new people, make connections, and try new things as far as my future career and also just my interests and well-being are concerned. One thing I have learned in 2013 (of countless things…) is that I love writing. Especially the past month or so, I’m finding myself sitting down to write and having three hours fly by without having moved more than my fingers, taken a sip of water, or looked around the room. I can’t say that about many other tasks. There are nights when I come home from work and get excited when I decide I’m going to write something. I’ll write more about this later I’m sure, but for now I’ll just say: there is a unique feeling that comes when you do what you are truly passionate about, and I think it’s important to recognize the feeling and what you are doing when it overcomes you. It could be a key to the puzzle of a happy life. Where was I? Oh, I went back to the ArtsQuest building after showering and eating, and continued settling in right where I belonged: the expo! A post-race expo, for me; that was a first. It was certainly a small expo; vendors included: Superfeet, Sweatybands (my bangs’ heroes), iFitRun, Larabar, BelVita, Aardvark, and Nestle Water…that’s all I can remember (not sure why I listed them, but hey why not). I ended up knowing all three of the reps working at the Superfeet booth (our store’s sales rep and tech rep, plus the NYC tech rep who I met NYCM weekend last year), so I chatted with them for awhile. I have yet to meet anyone from Superfeet who is not really cool. Go meet them at the next expo you attend! I met up with Jane (from PI!), who was running the half the next day. We took photos on the “cover” of RW, but I can’t say they ended up looking amazing:

Poor Jane…this is why there’s only one runner on the cover at a time!

At 4:30 I went to a “dinner with the editors.” It was a lot smaller than I expected (I think I was thinking of the Boston Runner’s World party when I signed up for this), but the food was really good! I sat with Megan and some other bloggers, plus two other RW staff members (one was a photographer I believe). At 5:30 they all went to Dave McGillivray’s talk. I could have joined but I wasn’t sure if there were spots left and I hadn’t registered. I also used cash at Panera (oops), so I couldn’t pay at the door. I did have enough cash for…an expo beer! That’s right, there was a bar at the expo venue, and the beer was cheaper than at Princeton bars. ‘Twas a win. I was happy to enjoy a Shock Top while sitting with Jane on the deck overlooking the steel stacks as the sun set. It was good to relax and reflect on my race with her (and get her excited for her own!). Summary: the steel stacks were beautiful with the purple lights shining on them at night, and expos are more fun when they are attended after a great race and they have a bar.

We snuck in a pic with Bart before leaving! Even with a new phone it's unfortunately blurry.

We snuck in a pic with Bart Yasso before leaving! Even with a new phone it’s unfortunately blurry.

Steel stacks at night. See the first photo in this post for the sunset snapshot: so pretty. Oh, and that's a steel arch of fire, by the way.

Steel stacks at night. See the first photo in this post for the sunset snapshot: so pretty. Oh, and that’s a steel arch of fire, by the way.

Final reflections:

There were so many people who did the hat trick this weekend (all three race distances over two days) that it was really easy to belittle the fact that I only did the 10k. Honestly, I was even thinking, back when I heard about the event a couple months ago, that I would come and just go to the seminars and network with people. Then I realized I wasn’t so scared of getting hurt anymore, but I was through with 5ks for now, and the half would have been a bit much if I really went for it in the 10 miler the week before. Because we all know I can’t run something for fun wearing a bib number. So, the 10k was my choice. Then there was the timing glitch, which I’m still kind of confused about. I was pretty distracted immediately after the race for the rest of the day, meeting new people and hanging out at the expo and being a runnerd, admiring the steel stacks and the RW dinner – all of that. So, it’s easy to dismiss the race with, “I’m happy with it, I ran a PR, I had a great day, I can write a blog post about it (ha, really though), I’m one step closer to the Philly Half.” I don’t have a problem giving the race the credit it deserves though, so I will. Regardless of the context and the controversy, that 10k was the best race I’ve ever ran. I said that last week. This was better than last week. The girl I passed in the last mile this week was the same distance away from me as Allison was last week at some point. Instead of doubting my ability to push harder and not be nervous by the pace given the distance ahead, I went for it and boldly passed her. I used each runner ahead of me to push myself and not get complacent. Every race teaches you something about your limits, but this one especially was a breakthrough for me. I learned last week, and in recent workouts, that I can finish faster and not get “tired” (unless a 20 mph wind slaps you in the face but that’s a different story). The question I asked myself subconsciously this week was, how much faster? I plan on asking that question now each time I race…but I suppose that is what racing is, isn’t it?

The stats. I did a little math and the last 5k was 19:59…what?!

*Note: My previous 10k PR was ~42:30 at the 2012 Princeton Healthcare 10k. We were directed the wrong way so I ran 41:14 for what was re-mapped as 6 miles, 6.02 on someone’s Garmin. So, I extrapolated, since I definitely could’ve kept going for 0.2. Actually, last week’s 10k split was basically my PR (the first or the last). After that fiasco I certainly hope RW gets my time right after results are official (the 42:16 I see now is wrong)! If not maybe I should stay away from 10ks.

Perfect 10: a ten mile party and more

On Sunday, I ran a race with about a thousand friends. Or so it seemed, anyway. The Perfect 10 Miler was truly an event to remember, as I thought it would be. Here’s how it unfolded….

After an evening that included literally running out of gas in my car, getting stuck in an hour-long traffic jam over the course of four miles, and a bathroom flood, I woke up bright dark and early and couldn’t wait to get this party started. I picked up Steve Ironman, and we headed to the park. I was able to get in a mile warmup, plus some other running around here and there. I felt fine, no complaints. I saw a bunch of women I knew, but hung mostly around the pacers, who were looking pretty awesome:

Some of the pacers pre-race.

Some of the pacers pre-race.

Proof that I did indeed get my lucky #13.

Going into the race, I had no idea what to expect as far as competition was concerned. Jason (coach who organized the pace groups) told me at the expo the day before that Steve was sort of his “just in case” pacer, because he didn’t think many women were going to run seven minute pace. On the other hand, this was a CGI race, and their other races, like the Rutgers Unite Half and the NJ State Triathlon always attract fast runners/triathletes. So, Steve and I could be out there running alone in front, or I could be hanging on to the top twenty or thirty, or something in between. We wouldn’t have a clue until the gun went off. Okay, that’s a lie. We chatted on the start line, like any curious, nervous runner would do. A couple women said something about “6:45s,” so I knew then that I wouldn’t be alone. I still was almost literally toeing the line, my first time at the very front in a race with an actual timing mat! That was pretty exciting. I was just behind the very front though, because again, I didn’t know what to expect.

Ready at the starting line!

One thing I remember feeling that surprises me now is, I wasn’t nervous at all. This might be a first for me. I was just purely excited to see what I could do…and of course, distracted by all the costumes and happy people surrounding me.

When the race started, of course people went out blazing fast. The old me would have gone with them and busted out a 6:30 first mile, to “have something in the bank.” Not this time though: why should I race that way if I’ve ran every single run with a negative split recently and felt great? So, that was the plan. I’d thought 7:00 would get me in a nice, comfortable spot through halfway, maybe even over 7:00 at times in the very beginning. However, I settled into 6:50s really easily, and it felt just that: easy. It felt like 7:30. There was no need to slow down with my heart rate and legs in check like they were, so I didn’t. This meant that I actually ran ahead of Steve the entire race. I could hear him talking behind me though, telling the runners around him they were right on a seven minute pace.

Miles 1-4: 6:53, 6:58, 6:55, 6:46

The best part of the entire race came after the first turn-around, where we crossed onto the other side of 2-lane Paxson Ave. and could see the rest of the runners heading out in the opposite direction. First, it looked pretty sweet because there was a total of 1,432 runners, and the crowd hadn’t thinned out yet, since it was still the first mile. Second, it turns out I have some sort of fan club. All of a sudden, Brennan cheered my name. Then Lisa (and another Lisa). Then Stephanie. Then Anne and Michelle. Then Jody. Then others I can’t even remember now. It got to the point where the woman I was currently running alongside was definitely amused, and I was trying not to laugh (laughing + running = not the best). “I’m not famous, I swear,” I said. All the cheering and waving gave me a mental boost, and I did a good job of saving it instead of letting loose and dropping a too-fast mile so early on. The loop around the West Picnic Area lot was another spot where I saw runners going in the opposite direction. I was in ninth place then, I counted. Steve was still pretty close behind me at that point, but I felt myself pretty quickly gain ground on two women ahead of me. I checked my watch and saw I was running the same pace, so they must have slowed down…so I moved right on past.

Hughes Dr. is a bit of an incline, so the fifth mile started out a little slow. I managed to drop the girl who was running next to me here though. Just as I got onto campus, I passed another girl, who had been in second or third last I checked. It was time for the fun part now; I had done these sections at this pace the week before.

First, let me just say that the first part of the course on the MCCC campus was not anything like the map suggested (and therefore what we ran last week). It’s not important, but for the sake of anyone curious as to what the course actually was, this section looked like this:

So, we still got to blaze straight through the middle, after the little turn-around, where I got to gauge my place again (I was now sixth, and the girl I broke away from wasn’t far behind). There was a rock band playing at mile 5.5 actually, which was pretty cool. At that point I was kind of alone, just chasing one girl, so it felt a little weird. Sorry for not cheering or anything, guys. Hopefully I smiled or something.

Miles 5-8: 6:57, 6:41, 6:39, 6:37

The clock sitting at mile six indicated I was running basically the same average pace as my 10k PR (from last summer). I still felt like I had a couple more gears, one of which I had switched on just as I entered the straight walkway through campus. This was subconsciously my plan (I think). At the turn by the softball field, the girl just ahead of me started to continue straight, so I yelled, “go left!” (I’m too nice to have let her find out when she reached a random grass field and tree line…). We entered earshot of the band again, and ran onto the road leading to the trail that would take us back to the park. The effort was beginning to feel harder at that point, but I had dropped down to 6:35-40 by then, so that made sense. One good thing about the course being different from what we’d thought was that by the time we got off the path and onto Paxson, mile eight was actually done.

Then, THE WIND came. I am not one to complain about the elements; they are race conditions one cannot control. But OH MY GOSH THE WIND DURING MILE 9 WAS HORRIBLE. I guess I never experienced being held back by the wind during a race before. It certainly made up for the course being pancake flat – there might as well have been a big hill on Paxson right there. I was gaining on the girl ahead of me, but I felt like we were running the same exact pace, and the wind was sucking the energy I would’ve used for a two-mile kick out of me. I couldn’t wait to turn right just to get out of the direct headwind (and it was very direct). It got marginally better. There was more of a crowd on that small road, and a couple guys said my name and told me to “go get her”…not sure who you were but thank you, I really did try! I kind of wish I could go back and re-do this ending (and smile for the camera at the finish…I still look like I’m wind-battered) – catch the girl and steal the AG win and the last spot on the “Leaderboard” chart at the top of the results…but it didn’t happen. And I guess it’s okay. I kicked it in as much as I could at that point and finished sixth overall with a time of 1:08:24.2 (miles 9 & 10: 6:55, 6:32). I placed second in my age group (F20-24), missing first by 1.7 seconds…but as I explained, it was one of those instances when more ground would have been needed for me to make up that time; I was significantly farther away from her a mile or two before!

Some official finish pics…

(closer...closer...)

(closer…closer…)

I seriously smiled for the first eight miles...where are those photos?!

I seriously smiled for the first eight miles…where are those photos?! I want to photoshop out my face, ha.

If you were wondering how Steve did with his pacing duties after last weekend‘s speedy course preview tempo, the answer is very well: 1:09:48.1, finishing just three places behind me. He was almost invited onto the podium to receive his first place 25-29 female award, but it was quickly realized he was a.) a pacer, and b.) male. When I went up to receive my AG medal, I learned that the girl I’d been chasing for the whole race, Allison, works at another Running Company (in NYC)! Her mom ended up winning her age group too. So, I would’ve ruined it for them if I’d beaten her in the last mile, right? We’ll just leave it at that.

"Where is third?"

“Where is third?”

I had an awesome time after the race chatting with so many awesome people. It was really great to hear some of them say they were glad I told them about the race at the store, that they read the course preview on my blog, and that they were inspired to see me up near the front at the turn-arounds. I can’t thank the ladies who cheered for me while they were also running enough! Also, major shout-out to Black Girls Run – they had such a huge, supportive, positive team! Great signs, great cheering, great post-race dancing! (Look for a BGR singlet somewhere you least expect it soon…such as on a 120-lb white guy on the Oklahoma River, but I won’t mention names.)

I could go ahead and list the 10 best things about this race, but it can be summed up with this:

It was like a party with a 10 mile PR in the middle. Can it get better than that? Oh wait, yes, I forgot to take a picture of the banana I had dipped in chocolate. And [good] beer. That’s excusable, I think.

Already wrote splits, but just to consolidate….No sevens = success.

What it means…

Aside from the awesomeness of the event as a whole, I believe this was actually my best race to date. Never before has 6:50 felt such like cruising pace, nor has dropping the pace to 6:37 felt so automatic. I know that if not for the insane wind, I would have been able to hold that pace for the ninth mile also. I remember doing tempo runs in college and not being able to average under 7:00 for four or five miles. My first mile would always be the fastest, and I would always get really nervous before the run began. The Perfect 10 felt like a celebration of finally having overcome all of that. I’m finally at the point where I can make goals for myself, respect those goals for what they are, fear them a little bit, and then make sure I obliterate them. It’s time to look forward to the Philadelphia Half Marathon now, and I wanted to use the Perfect 10 as a guide for setting my goal. I was going to run it with Steve and he isn’t able to do it anymore, but our loose plan since the day we registered was always “sub-90.” Translation: that was his plan and I was skeptical I could keep up, but I was planning to try. Now, after Sunday, I am going to officially set it as my goal. A couple more miles at ~6:50 before I pick it up, and I should be at under a 6:52 average for 13.1 without a problem. (My B goal would be to average under 7:00, i.e., under ~1:31:40). A sub-1:30:00 half is definitely no easy task though, and I understand that my 10 mile time doesn’t necessarily correspond to that goal. I think it might be good for me to go ahead and say something scary like that, and see what happens. That being said, don’t let me continue and run 26.2 a month from Thursday. That is off-limits ’til April 21….

Go for the Gold 5k race report + support Team USA!

So…I ran a 5k today. Not my typical Saturday morning routine, unlike a lot of runners. I’m usually getting in some sort of training for a longer race ahead, and so when I still felt sub-par yesterday from River to Sea, I was almost about to bail and run nine miles on trails instead (something that sounds five times more fun and familiar to me…). However, I went and raced, and I’m glad I did!Image

I signed up for the race after feeling pretty left out when my ITB forced me to cheer on my friends from the sidelines for a 10k and a 5k in June and on the 4th of July. I especially felt frustrated when my Intervals group entered as a team in a couple races and I couldn’t be on it. So, when the Go for the Gold 5k was brought to the table and sparked interest among some group members, I jumped at the opportunity to finally join the crowd, and registered. Unfortunately, only one other group member actually ran it; other commitments prevented some who originally were thinking of running from showing up. I also wanted to do it because it was organized by USRowing, and proceeds went to the America Rows Program (hey, remember when I learned to row???).

Race tee…

So, I showed up at Mercer County Park…the only place I seem to race these days…a little before 9:00 AM to get in a good warmup. The race started so late; it was almost difficult to sleep later, so I ended up being 0% rushed. The start was on the grass by the picnic area that was actually the turn-around at the triathlon. It was very low-key and very cross country. I saw a girl who had been wearing a Rider XC t-shirt lining up next to me near the front, and I had a feeling she would be pretty fast. She was also wearing old Nike spikeless Milers. Side note: I anticipated this post being extremely entertaining: an intense recap of how I was determined to beat the girl who ran those two races I wanted to run and ended up placing, to my frustration since I wasn’t even able to race to even compete against her. She didn’t end up running this race, so there went that goal. I tried pretending any female in front of me was her, but it didn’t quite work.

The race course was pretty simple:

ImageWhen I found out my “rival” would most likely not be there, I needed another goal. After surprising myself by running 6:27 pace for the last leg at R2C, I thought it would be cool to try to do that again for 3.1 miles (versus the 2.35 that night). That would give me a 19:59, and breaking 20 minutes was something I’ve always wanted to do on the roads. My ITB started feeling knotty this week though, leaving me to decide I should not kill myself trying to do that, since Hood to Coast is soon. And anyway, it is ridiculous to suggest I should shoot for a 5k PR coming off of an injury and having hardly done any workouts yet (just one)….In the end, my splits ended up being the following:

g4tg5ksplits

So, this was actually a road 5k PR (with a grass start and finish, but oh well)! I haven’t ran a 5k that fast since 2007, and my previous 5k road race PR was 20:59, from 2006 (again, I don’t do this often…). Not too bad for this strange post-injury time period! I didn’t get passed after the small grass field at the start, and I passed about three people during the second half. My official time and stats were: 20:29.8 (average pace of 6:36), 8th place overall, 3rd female overall, 2nd in F20-29 age group. I was glad the woman I could see up ahead who ended up running 19:56 was 30 (she didn’t look it)! I saw plenty of recent Running Co. customers, including my uncle’s dentist (?), and a bunch of National Team rowers I knew, who ended up presenting me with my medal. Pictures aren’t up yet but I was definitely looking at the wrong camera and still sweating buckets in the middle of my three mile cooldown, so it will be splendid I’m sure.

Takeaway message: take chances. Training isn’t always perfect. That doesn’t mean you can’t surprise yourself and feel good about it. It’s about pushing yourself and having a good time while doing it, no matter who is running with you, who is watching, and how “ready” you are for that race distance.

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Coxed Pair pwning the other team by 48 seconds in the final....

Coxed Pair owning the other team by 48 seconds in the final….

This is a fitting post in which to insert a promotional plug of sorts. Not for a shoe, or a quadballer, or anything of the sort. For my friends, who qualified on Wednesday (I watched…such a crewpie) for the Rowing World Championships in South Korea in the Men’s Coxed Pair. The coxed pair is not an event funded by USRowing; therefore, they must raise funds for their entry and all other expenses themselves. They have made a donation page and really appreciate your support! They leave on Friday, and the Championships are August 26-September 1. I’m very excited for them that they have made the team this year, and I have no doubt they will represent the US well and hopefully bring home some shiny hardware in a few weeks!

Here is a video of them practicing on the Schuylkill (no I have yet to spell that correctly on the first try) if you’re interested!

USRowing-logo-2-color-01Thanks for reading on after the race report! Check back soon for my Saucony Guide 6 review!

River to Sea Relay 2013!

On Saturday, I ran the 18th Annual River to Sea Relay. Back in February or March, I rounded up six runner friends to form Team Runnerds. We were an eclectic bunch; not many people knew one another, but they all knew me (this is typical; I’ve never been one to be a part of an exclusive group). For the sake of better understanding this story, I will give a short introduction to my team members….

Brennan: you all know her by now. Steve: he works at a sister Run Co store, and I worked with him at the NYC Marathon expo. Lisa: she was a sprinter and jumper on my college track team and jumped (that pun was only discovered upon proofreading…wow) at the opportunity to try out R2C when I initially posted a plea for team members on Facebook. Marty: he is a regular Intervals attendee and lives along the R2C course. Martin: he has accompanied me on a few long runs this year, including the 13 miler through Princeton, the run to Lambertville (except not really…if you recall that story), and my first two-hour run. He is also the founder of the recoverosa. Emily: a co-worker who I have run many, many miles with over the past three summers.  She also filled in for a runner on my college team during R2C in 2011, so she was a veteran.

Friday night, Brennan and I prepped by peeling the nauseating film (really) off of her Franklin-20130802-02242passenger window with help of a hairdryer and a trip to Home Depot. After setting up my living room for a slumber party of sorts, we all finally headed to sleep. We had a 5:30 wake-up call in the morning, and began filling the water jugs and making sure we were set for the long day ahead. Brennan picked up Emily, Steve, Lisa, and me at 6:15 and we were on the road around 6:30. We stopped at Wawa for ice and food and continued on through the countryside to the start in Milford. We were using Martin’s car as our second vehicle, and he picked up Marty.

Team 99 at the start!

Team 99 at the start!

Our start time was 8:30 AM. This kind of troubled me, and others who had done the relay before, because that is late. The race directors assign each team a start time according to their estimated finish time, which is in turn estimated by the sum of each runner’s 5k race times. The slowest teams begin at 6:00 AM, and the fastest at 9:30 AM. Technically there are teams that would start in the 10:00 hour, but they changed some rules, and those teams started at 9:30 and were then purposely held up accordingly midway through. Nobody likes starting late. Most teams fudge a little and write slower times to get an earlier start time….I erred on the side of caution and didn’t write anyone’s PR, but it still got us a relatively late start time. I trusted the officials, though (there will be more to say about that later).

First exchange.

First exchange.

Steve ran the first leg…he kind of missed the start due to wanting to warm up to PA acrossthe bridge…but it was all good; only a few seconds were lost. He ran a fairly speedy ~4.8 miles and then tagged off to Brennan to run the leg known as “the Best.” I drove her car during this time, and Steve and Lisa helped to give her water.

Next was Martin’s leg on the towpath. There weren’t many places to stop and give him water…we actually had an incident in which he passed us and we missed him! He was running significantly faster than we expected, so we had to meet him at the next spot to give him water! Luckily he laughed about it…and he got some water. It had been pretty chilly in the morning, and now it was steadily raining. It has never rained during any year I’ve done this relay, so that was strange!

The next exchange was at the famed CVS: the start of the Beast! Marty was ready to run through his town one last time before moving to DC. I remember biking up this hill in May and it was pretty brutal. We gave runners all the support and encouragement we could by yelling out the car windows as we drove up the hills and to the next exchange…the start of my leg!

This was different than previous years because there was a bridge out on the course…the Beast was forced to end 0.5 mile early, and no cars were allowed to stop at that point. All the stage 4 (Beast) runners were shuttled to the stage 5 start, where the car not giving the stage 5 runner (me) water was to wait for their runner. This all meant that when Marty finished his leg, I would be told to start mine via walkie-talkie. So weird! But it worked.

Leg 1: Stage 5, “Rolling and a bit tight”

Back when I thought running in a visor would be cool.

While the Beast was over, this leg started with more of an uphill than I anticipated. I hadn’t felt like myself all day – I hate it when those days are the days you really need to be on your game! My stomach felt off, I felt like my legs were tight and swollen, etc. But whatever, I had to get it done. My shins were tight for the first couple miles, something I used to experience all the time but haven’t in awhile. Figures. It was still raining, but that was kind of nice. The part of the course before downtown Hopewell I wasn’t entirely familiar with, but it was just an uphill stretch through the woods. Heading into Hopewell I was in familiar territory, and I was excited to run through it. I have memories from this spring and earlier this summer of some fun, sunny, relatively happier times in that town (but whilst injured), and it felt fitting to barge through it now on foot in the rain. Around two miles or so into the stage, a deafening sound emerged directly to my left. Since Boston, I have been scared out of my mind any time there is a sudden loud noise, so this was not something that I should have witnessed! Apparently Hopewell uses a siren on a tall pole to notify area fire stations when there is a fire (or was it noon…?). I figured this out pretty quickly when I saw the thing, but it was still jolting. It also caused me to pick up my pace by about fifteen seconds a mile….

r2cleg1

I continued on through Hopewell and into more familiar roadside in Skillman, legs

Brennan giving me water that I probably didn't take (sorry! Thank you!).

Brennan giving me water that I probably didn’t take (sorry! Thank you!).

feeling better post-siren. I had yanked off my visor and given it to Brennan early on…apparently I like the idea of running in visors…but not actually wearing them. Who knew? The leg was supposed to be 6.2 miles, so the finish in Blawenburg came up on me super quickly. I sprinted it in when I realized that, and tagged off to Emily. My Garmin had only 5.95…oh well? Another thing to note: I didn’t see a single runner during my leg. What?! That wasn’t cool. I expected by stage 5 to be able to run with, get passed by, or pass at least one other person! I saw a lot of cars donning R2C bib numbers though, most of which honked as they drove by.

Splits: 7:25, 7:14, 6:55, 7:06, 7:02, 6:32 (0.95) = 5.95 miles in 42:16, 7:07 average

The other car gave Emily water for her leg, so we headed straight to Forrestal Village to

I found this stick on the side of Route 29 during stage 2 and it worked perfectly....

I found this stick on the side of Route 29 during stage 2 and it worked perfectly….

take Lisa to her start. It was still cool and rainy; quite a change from the heat everyone had experienced this Saturday every other year! At Forrestal, we saw lots of other people we knew, snapped some photos, and ate a little lunch out of the cooler.

Lisa’s leg was short and sweet, ,just 3.9 miles. She “handed off ” (there was nothing to actually hand off) to Marty for “Oasis”: the first leg of the second half of the relay! 5.5 miles later and Marty was finished for the day. The ninth leg was the dreaded “long and hot,” which Steve ran. Luckily, today it was not so hot, but it was still long (9.1 miles). At the next exchange, we saw more people we knew, and took more pictures….

The Wild Card was next! I was the driver for this, and Emily and Brennan were the runners. Brennan started out with four miles…and then we hit traffic. Three years ago, the traffic was so bad for this stretch that one of our runners ended up doing an extra two miles because we couldn’t catch up to her in time to switch runners! Luckily, it subsided after a busy intersection and both of them were able to alternate miles as planned. They took turns running two miles at a time after Brennan’s first four, and seemed to have a lot of fun doing it! Oh, and it got sunny, if you were keeping track. The Wild Card is a stage I think I would not normally choose, just because of the open-endedness of it, but I probably should try it someday for that exact reason.

Relay in a relay! Aka Wild Card leg.

Relay in a relay! Aka Wild Card leg.

After that 13.9-mile stretch, the end seemed a little more near. Lisa ran the next leg and ended up getting some cramping, which was unfortunate. We had a little incident with a race official at one point when we were giving her water. He seemed to question our ability to finish the race by 8:30 PM, since “our runner was hurting.” However, the 6-mile stage was almost over, and she was going to be fine. Also, that would mean taking more than two hours to cover twelve miles, which was definitely not going to happen. So, that pissed

Almost there!

Almost there!

us off, mostly because our designated start time left us with a twelve-hour maximum to get from the river to the sea, which is a 7:54 average. While that sounds reasonable, it doesn’t leave room for runners who end up going an average-run pace for whatever reason, or end up stopping due to sickness, injury, etc. I don’t think we ever had that pressure of a sub-12 requirement before, with similar-speed runners…making us deduce that they screwed up with giving us an 8:30 AM start time. Anyway, after that whole mess, Martin ended up doing his second leg (“Do-or-Die” – my favorite!) while we drove to my start.

Leg 2: Stage 14, “Final Sprint to the Sea!”

Finishing up the 91 miles!

Finishing up the 91 miles!

That same race official showed up there as well, firing me up to do my leg as fast as possible to prove to him that we would finish way before 8:30 PM. Also that they screwed up and we should’ve started at 7:45 or 8:00. Anyway. I didn’t really have a plan; the final leg was 2.5 miles with a 2-minute mandatory stop (they did this periodically throughout the race for fairness…New Jersey has a lot of traffic lights!). I was just going to try to run fast and feel decent. And get us to the darn sea, finally. Martin came through on the Allaire State Park bike path and slapped my hand. I set off and tried to control my pace at least for a mile or so….Overall, I felt pretty spent and was breathing harder than my first leg, but I was satisfied with my effort on the day that it was. Above all else, I was so, so grateful to be running River to Sea in the first place, after all the doubts I had only a month before (just my first day back after 7 weeks of injury)!

Splits: 6:21, 6:33, 2:15 (0.35…this was short too). 2.35 miles in 15:10, 6:27 average

We made it! (Never mind my eyes…)

Jumping in after a long day’s work!

Our team finished the relay in 11 hours and 19 minutes (average pace of 7:27). We celebrated with some pizza, a jump in the ocean, and a longggg car ride back in the dark.

All done.

All done.

 Some more worthwhile pics….

Running Co. pic! We managed to have five employees on four different relay teams!

Running Co. pic! We managed to have five employees on four different relay teams!

Everyone at the Inlet before we left.

Everyone at the Inlet before we left.

Some equations...

River to Sea is easy as pie (pi was cut off from the frame, oops).

EINSTEIN RUNS.

EINSTEIN RUNS. I was accused of giving him “Guido hair,” so we fixed it later.

River to Sea was so much fun as usual, and it was like a warmup for HOOD TO COAST, which I am getting sooo pumped up for! I fly to Seattle two weeks from tomorrow!!!

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Big news for my favorite running buddy!

This is loosely related to River to Sea, but whatever, I’m going to add it here. Brennan was invited to join the Oiselle Team! I am so excited for her, she is perfect for their team! I gave her a Oiselle temporary tattoo I happened to have for R2C, and she proudly modeled it here:

Tinicum-20130803-02248

Please check out her blog, Yum Run! I’m sure she will be writing an awesome post soon about her first relay experience at R2C18! As soon as she is done takes a break from making delicious-looking pies. 🙂

NJ State Triathlon Race Report

I ran the New Jersey State Sprint Triathlon on Saturday. This is proof that I did indeed survive in one piece: dsc3571 I’m going to begin this post by saying that my attitude going into this race was unlike any race I’ve done in the past. I started running again seventeen days before, after being in pain for seven weeks. Even when I was back to running, I was skeptical about if it was a fluke or if the pain-free state of my “test runs” would last. I was biking and swimming regularly, but I was hating biking, and not confident in my swimming because I was trying not to irritate my leg the entire time. The point is, as I stated to many people last week, I was doing this triathlon. Not racing it. Brennan talked to lectured me on Wednesday, telling me I was not to get competitive, think I needed to pass everyone, and go try to accomplish anything other than finishing the darn thing without pain. I told her not to worry, that was my only goal! She didn’t believe me at all, but I knew Saturday was going to be one of those days I planned as I went along according to how I felt. Because honestly, nothing was making any sense, so that was the only way this was going to play out.  I”m not saying I had no goals or plans whatsoever. They were something like this: Swim: Be strong. Don’t back off. Don’t let anyone swim over you. Don’t let anyone kick you in the face so you’ll get knocked out and drown. Don’t choke on water. Don’t kick too hard and irritate the IT band. Hammer it in after the turn.  T1 & T2: Don’t stress, make sure the ITB and everything else is in check and ready to go – stretch if that’s necessary in order to do so. Bike: See how fast these new tires can go. Average a faster speed than last year. Don’t irritate the ITB for the run. Run: Relax. Just do it. Don’t be in pain at any point. Think of River to Sea and Hood to Coast.

The line to the parking lot at 6 AM. Pretty sunrise!

I got to the park pretty early. Apparently it was a good time to get there parking-wise, and many people had already arrived, but for my sanity, it was a bit too early. Oh well. I just wanted to start the darn thing. I usually see a lot of people I know, but I only saw a few before the start. I’m usually an extrovert pre-race – chatting with people calms my nerves and gets me pumped up for the race. I know lots of other runners who prefer to listen to music off in some corner alone…while I understand the concept, that is not me. I set up my spot in transition and then finally made my way to the swim start, where they were just starting to allow practice swims to the right side of the actual start. The water was ninety degrees. Ugh. It didn’t feel too bad during the practice swims I took, but I noticed my arms were pretty tired.

Setting up in transition.

Setting up in transition.

SWIM. My wave began at 7:47 AM. Last year, I was just with the F20-24 age group. This year, they merged two age groups so that F20-29 had the same start wave. This scared the crap out of me when I read it, and with good reason. That meant twice as many people were starting in the water at the same time. Twice as many chances to get kicked. And die (sorry, dramatic). As soon as I started swimming, I felt like something was off. There were swim too many people around me. I couldn’t breathe. I scolded myself, reminding myself of all the time I’d spent in the pool this summer, and the open water swim I did in June that felt totally fine. Even so, I kept looking up, more than I’d intended to, and seeing the buoys with the distance markers on them – 200, 300. I couldn’t believe I was going through such a crisis on the swim. I wanted air, that was all. I wanted to quit and be on my bike immediately. I felt like I was doing horribly. I rounded the big yellow buoy without any trouble, and then the crows in front of me thinned out. I was able to keep my head down more and actually swim normally, to an extent. Everyone seemed to slow down at this point, but it was my plan all along to speed up, so…I did. It was more of a “get-me-out-of-here” motive, however. I hit the ramp and ran out of that ninety-degree lake like it was on fire. T1. To put things frankly, I didn’t really give a crap. I felt like I almost died during the swim from a panic attack (later I would realize it was totally because I wasn’t used to 90 degree water and all those other people…). I had a stomach cramp and I was shaky. I put on my shoes and everything but also didn’t rush too much because I couldn’t catch my breath. Should I have? Well, yes, But again, I didn’t have expectations for this race. More on that later. BIKE. The first part of the ride was mad frustrating. I wanted to fly, because I felt like I completely blew the swim. There were so many people in my way though, and I wasn’t sure how to apply the passing rules when we were still in the park and so many people were riding slowly right in front of me. I was braking a lot, which was annoying and loud, since I just learned my brake pads are now nonexistent. I finally got into a groove when I left the park road, and was holding over 20 mph whenever I could. My max speed got up to 25.7, on a slight downhill. I was picking off people on road bikes with aerobars, and Camelbak vests, and tri shorts, and clips and bike shoes every minute, and it was awesome. I’m pretty sure with all that fancy equipment they should be biking faster, I would think. And then I’d pass them, to show them my broke self was fit, and they could get over it. Disclaimer: these were my actual thoughts during the race, and as bad as they sound, I’m just getting you, the reader, into my head. Cycling angry is an exhilarating feeling. Try it. 

T2. It seemed to be all-systems-go on the IT band. I did a little stretching and jogged to the starting mat after racking my bike. I’d gotten my Garmin all set with a couple miles to go on the bike. Why I took the time to put on my Garmin in T1: to make sure I wasn’t running too fast. Coming back from an injury and being in a triathlon, I had a feeling my pacing would be way off at the start of the run. I wanted to make sure I kept it under control. RUN. I saw 6:36-6:40 on my watch the first half mile of the run. What? No, no, no, slowww down! How is this 6:36 pace, it feels like over 7?! I talked myself into relaxing and slowing down eventually. The run hardly felt like a brick, which was weird but way more…um, enjoyable, than last year’s run. I hovered in the 6:50-7:05 range for the rest of the run, thinking about how I felt the whole time so any pain or discomfort in my ITB wouldn’t be ignored. My splits were: 6:53, 7:05, 6:55, 57.47 for 0.16 (5:59 pace). I was surprised at how easy a sub-22 5k in a tri right after an injury felt, but I was pleased with it.

 

 

 

Overall:

Note: the bike was 10 miles this year (11.5 last year). I learned this…at the start.

There was a QR code on our bibs that I scanned right after, and it displayed really incorrect results. It said my swim time was 14:55, which made me think that it must have been as awful as I thought. I decided to skip the finish festivities, mostly because last year all the sun and bad food and announcing and party music had just made me overwhelmed. This year especially, I didn’t think I was close to placing in my age group at all, so I might as well get my stuff, take some pictures, and leave knowing I had accomplished what I wanted: I wasn’t hurting! So, you can imagine my surprise when I was at a diner with my parents and checked the official results to find out I had placed fourth in my age group. I think my mom was really confused as to why this made me so angry at the time, but I’m sire some of you will understand. I’d wanted to place last year and was fifth. This year I was hardly trying – for the first time ever, it wasn’t on my radar! What if I had really took it seriously, ran faster and made my transitions faster? Ahhhhhh. I knew exactly why I didn’t do that this time around, but it was still frustrating in a weird way. Then, I found out I’d gotten a medal for being the second New Jersey resident age group finisher…but I wasn’t there to receive it. Oops. This race report is a mix of strange, conflicting emotions, I apologize for that…however, that appears to be most of my blog?  Let me take a time-out by sharing some other pictures from the tri…

The start banners were from the Unite Half…ha.

Thinking that I’m in the clear pain-wise and can sprint it in now….

Bottle opener medal FTW!

Bottle opener medal FTW!

Another "I-survived-the-swim" picture. I'm not as concerned with getting water out of my ears in this one.

Another “I-survived-the-swim” picture. I’m not as concerned with getting water out of my ears in this one.

Transition area.

Transition area.

Overall, all silly frustrations aside, I learned a lot from this race. It was a huge confidence booster for me, not just going into the races I have planned the rest of the summer and the year, but for myself as a runner and athlete in general. It’s good to know I can come off an injury strong, hold myself back, and still do well. It’s good to know I can compete with the other cyclists in tris, now that I can average 19.5 mph on my new tires. It’s good to be back. 🙂

New Jersey Marathon Race Report

Have you ever had a dream in which you are running your first marathon, and you’re getting towards the end when it should start feeling rough…when you realize you actually feel great? Then, you pick up the pace and still feel great, and you fly in towards the finish line, crush your goals, and feel on top of the world?

This is the story of when that dream happened to me in real life, at the New Jersey Marathon on Sunday. Pop some Nuun and take a bathroom break, this might will be a lengthy one.

I slept well the night before the race. Mainly because sleeping is one of my favorite things and I am pretty good at it. Anyway, Brennan was picking me up at 5:30 AM, so I had my alarm my three alarms set for 4:30-4:45 (call me paranoid but I do this daily…refer to sleeping comment). I had a little oatmeal. My stomach was feeling a little off; I wasn’t hungry when I woke up and I would have preferred to be, just to avoid the chances of feeling full or bloated. So, I think I only had a few bites. Before all my long runs in training, I’d had just one or two gels for “breakfast,” but I wanted more in me before the marathon, so I thought my old go-to, oatmeal, was a good choice. Martin was riding with us, so he met us at my house, and we were on our way at 5:30. I was so glad Brennan was driving me, not just so I didn’t have to drive back, but so I could stay motivated and excited by my biggest fan. 🙂 The three of us chatted all the way to the shore, and “nervous” was not a feeling that ran through me at all. No quickened heart rate, no sweating, no panicking. I had the unfamiliar sensation that all I needed I would find out there on the course right within me. That was ridiculously corny and deep, but it’s the only way to describe it.

We hit no traffic, and parked at the Monmouth Park Racetrack without a hitch. We hit up the porta potties and then said goodbye to Brennan. “See you at mile eleven!” she called, frantically trying to get her uncooperative phone to connect to Twitter so she could meet up with Jocelyn (spoiler: she never did, unfortunately). Martin and I walked to the parking lot, which was where the bag check trucks were parked and the starting corrals were accessed. It was really empty, but then again, it was a huge lot and an hour before the

How convenient!

start. And it was cold! This was much, much better than it being hot, but my toes were starting to go numb. We wanted to check our bags before lines appeared at the trucks, but we didn’t want to take off our warm clothes. I had made tube-sock arm warmers, but they weren’t going to cut it with this temperature…and they were much shorter than I thought. Solution: go shopping in the dozens of trashbags full of the half marathoners’ discarded clothes! We asked some volunteers if

How’s this for pre-race style?

it was okay, and they said sure. Ingenious. Iscored a Johns Hopkins sweatshirt and Old Navy sweatpants, and Martin snagged a Delta sweatshirt and a big blue blanket with “Happy Holidays 2003” embroidered in the corner. They were perfect, and very warm and cozy. We checked our bags, and were a step closer to getting this thing started! The fact that we could go into the corrals now without a care made me relieved and excited. We weaved our way through people into Corral B. Martin headed farther up in search of the 3:15 pacer, and I found fellow Running Company employee Alex introducing himself to the 3:25 pacer. The guys holding the 3:30 flags were to my right, and the 3:25 guy was slightly behind me to my left. I was next to a group of women who looked around my age, maybe a little older. I ended up talking to the group of runners trying to stick with the 3:25 pacer, even though I had decided not to do that. I have a confession: I was really, really terrified of going out to fast. Everyone told me not to do it – there was no way I wasn’t listening to them. I get really caught up in races, really competitive, and really non-complacent when I’m not running as fast as I think I can. But, this was a marathon, uncharted territory. If experienced marathoners were all giving me this warning, I was going to listen. “So are you running with us?” one woman asked me. “Um…I think I want to start a little behind, I want to not go out too fast so I want to see an eight on my watch the first few miles,” I said. “Then we’re going to go too fast, you should go back.” I explained to her that the 3:30 pacer was currently in front of the 3:25 pacer, so I was just going to start right here. All of this happened before 8:00 AM, mind you. Things sorted themselves out. “Sweet Caroline” played before the start. It may have had something to do with Boston? I’m not sure. We were encouraged to sing the chorus. Then the race began. We shuffled out feet with our fingers hovered on our watches’ “start” buttons for a moment until we crossed the starting line. There was a series of beeps and then we were off! I was able to settle into a normal pace immediately, and I realized I wouldn’t be running this marathon alone; I was with so many runners! I just had to keep it that way the whole time. When I crossed the starting line and the marathon officially began, the strangest thing happened. I almost cried. This was really happening. After all this time, I was here starting my first marathon. And I felt great. I held back the emotions, telling myself to save them for the end when I needed motivation.

The first five or so miles were on residential streets. Some families had set up camp in their driveways, playing music, cheering, and holding signs. Some people were even playing instruments! We fist-pumped and smiled at them, and cheered back! These miles flew by and felt ridiculously effortless. I was holding back the entire time and keeping my pace in check. There was a bridge before mile 6, which was one of the only uphills on the course. It was super short though, and made no difference in my pace. Getting a glimpse of the water was nice. I had been chatting with an older guy for a couple miles, hovering just ahead of the 3:30 pace group, but lost him soon after a water stop. I had an important decision to make when I realized a girl wearing annoyingly loud headphones was running exactly the pace I wanted to run…at first I hung back, but then I passed her…not sure when. I also plotted an escape from a guy with a continuously beeping Garmin.

Miles 1-6: 7:52, 7:46, 7:56, 7:50, 7:37, 7:44. 

One of the guys who comes to our store group runs every week, Patrick, gave me great advice for the marathon: 1.) Make sure you’re always having fun, and 2.) Make a friend out there. Around six miles, I realized I was running alone, but there were two women running just a few steps behind me. Since I had just dropped a 7:37 accidentally, I reeled it in for a few seconds and caught their stride. “I was running all alone – there’s no reason for that when you’re right here!” I exclaimed. The two women, Lauren and Gretchen, ended up

Brennan in all her banana glory (taken from her blog).

being my running buddies for the next thirteen miles. Lauren was wearing a 2013 Boston shirt, and both were from Massachusetts, in their forties. We chatted periodically throughout the race, and the miles clicked by. Lauren told me nutrition is key, and I should take a Gu really soon. I listened to her and had little bites throughout mile eight, even though my energy seemed fine. The next water stop was the first time I took water, just to wash it down. I was really bad at getting the water in my mouth at first…then I learned to fold the cup and was a master. Duh. Approaching mile 10 I heard my name, and turned to see Nick and Hyde (Nick & Kate’s dog)! When we passed the eleventh mile marker, I warned the ladies that we would soon be approached by a rather enthusiastic banana. My mind developed banana-yellow radar, and I could spot Brennan in her suit from really far away. And Amy, ringing the cowbell and holding those awesome signs like a champ. I wasn’t expecting a video, let alone interview, but that’s what I got! It went something like this:

Brennan: “How do you feel?”

Me: “This is so much fun, I feel great!”

Brennan: “You feel great? Can you do this for 15 more miles?”

Me: “Only 15 more miles? Of course!”

Brennan: “See you at mile 24!”

Me: “Okay!”

Miles 7-13: 7:46, 7:48, 7:55, 7:54, 7:45, 7:41

Before the half marathon mark, we went around this little pond thing (see map). When we were running on the far side, two things happened. We picked up two more runners for our little group, a guy, and a girl who looked like she was pushing hard. She was doing well, obviously, but I made it a point to always stay feeling more relaxed than she looked. At the time, I was still feeling comfortable. It wasn’t time, mentally, for me to be uncomfortable, at mile 12. The other thing that happened was I saw the big 3:30 pace group all the way across the lake, entering the loop as we were on our way out. Behind me. I went over to the right to cross over the half marathon timing mat, but apparently the timing system didn’t pick up my time! This is kind of annoying, because the people tracking me were concerned until 30k, and I’d really like to know what it was. My watch was beeping about 0.2-0.3 before the actual mile markers at this point. I realized that I crossed the mat within a second of Lauren and Gretchen, so I just looked up their official 13.1 splits…both 1:43:50. So, I’m going to claim that as mine too if that’s alright. I can’t imagine running alone down this straight stretch of road. The sun finally felt like it was beating on us, and the wind was intermittently blowing…but I hardly noticed, keeping in a rhythm with everyone else.

Little body of water 1.

Then came two other weird little bodies of water to run around. The lead men were passing us on the other side of the road as we approached the first, and somewhere in there I saw Brian (he ended up finishing 18th)! I cheered for him and he gave me two thumbs up. Apparently that’s a runner’s instinct while running, as is further suggested by my video screenshots.

Little body of water 2.

There was an out-and-back to the turnaround in Asbury Park (or Ocean Grove?), during which we had a flurry of crowd support, which was nice! I was still smiling. After little body of water #1, my right hip started to tighten a bit. It felt like my ITB, possibly. It made me want to massage right over the bone, and do pigeon pose. I did the first as best I could while running, but obviously not the second. It never hurt or caused me to slow down though. Ironically, this happened right after I made the announcement to my little running group: “The last time I saw the ocean was when I had a stress fracture in my hip, and was sad, so I came to the shore alone for the day. I’m glad I’m seeing it again now like this!” For a second I thought I jinxed myself, then quickly reminded myself how stupid that was and got over it.

Miles 14-19: 7:49, 7:50, 7:50, 7:45, 7:42, 7:45

The water stop just before coming back to body of water #2 on the way in was a game changer. Not because of water, or Gatorade, or Gu, but because KATE was there! I was so surprised to see her there waiting to run along with me, because she was supposed to run 7:15 pace with Martin for miles 13-23. It turned out that he was off pace at mile 13, so after running with him for awhile, she returned to this spot to run with me. The little bodies of water on the map are throwing me off a bit, but I think that was where I met Kate. I took my last Gu around there, making a total of three, exactly as I expected. She started mentioning “pretending I didn’t run 20 miles and making it a 10k tempo” once we reached 20. I was scared to death of this idea. Was that normal? Is that what people do? Is that what Kate does and her secret to 3:11 marathons?! I wasn’t sure what to do. I assessed the situation: The 7:45ish pace felt good, I’d been holding it for awhile and still felt like I was holding back. My stomach…had not felt good since mile seven, but I wasn’t sure if running faster would have any effect on it. It just felt a little too early to start dropping the pace. I wasn’t sure what would happen. I didn’t want to go crazy and then all of a sudden hit the wall. This was new territory, from 20 miles on….I gradually accepted this idea that I could stand to go a little faster if I was feeling this good. And so it began.

Miles 20-24: 7:38, 7:39, 7:38, 7:39, 7:37

We chatted about random things to pass the miles away, and Kate did a really good job of convincing me that I would be okay and I shouldn’t stop at a porta potty before the one that would be waiting after the finish. We saw Anne cheering somewhere along the 23rd mile, and it made me really happy to see her look so happy to see me! At around 24.5 there was a right turn, which put me on the road closest to where the boardwalk used to be (or maybe it was a temporary paved boardwalk?). As soon as I made the turn I felt okay with pushing even more. Glancing at my watch, I saw I was now running 7:20s. Kate let me go on alone then, and pretty soon I was approaching Brennan the banana and Amy again! They seemed to not expect me coming, as they weren’t looking in my direction and I took them by surprised when I waved at them. Brennan jumped right in and started running next to me. Video interview Part Two happened…and apparently the first thing I said to her was an expression of my fear involving my current porta potty desires. You can watch the video to experience this firsthand (secondhand?), I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I was still having fun and smiling! Brennan asked, “you’re running kind of fast now, aren’t you?” It was true, about thirty seconds per mile faster than the last time she saw me! She stayed with me for almost a mile, and got lots of hoots and hollers for her banana suit! She also yelled lots of things about mermaids and told me the story of her haircut the other day. It was seriously exactly what I needed at that moment. Anything to keep me strong enough to distract me from the fact that my watch was approaching 26.2 far quicker than the finish line was appearing in sight! Basically, I didn’t want to think it was closer than it was, which at this point was significant after apparently not running tangents well enough. If that makes sense. Brennan dropped off to the side, and I was now running on a wide, brick path, which I recognized was definitely where the finish line was! The crowd was off to the left and the ocean to my right, and no one seemed to be running around me. I finally saw the big yellow finish and ran as fast as I could with a huge smile on my face. I heard Brian yelling my name really loudly, and then heard and saw my family finally. I crossed the line, got my medal and water, almost puked, and started walking at last. My family took some pictures of me immediately after I finished, and I think the look on my face says it all.

Miles 25, 26, 0.57 (grr): 7:23, 7:19, 3:55 (6:53 pace)I ran 3:25:02, qualified for Boston by almost ten minutes, never once felt bad, and negative-splitted the race (1:43:50 + 1:41:12) as if I planned it that way. This moment could not have felt better.

I want to reflect on the race much more in a separate post, as this one with “just” the race details is plenty long enough! There is so much more to write, contrary to what you might think. Here are a few more pictures…the running ones to come, since I don’t have any yet (people seemed to like to just take videos of me)!

First, the stats:

How to finish a marathon smiling.

Running Company!

Definitely the best spectator/cheerleader/ runner support crew at the race! Hello, banana suit?! (Don’t worry, there is an official race photo out there with the banana on.)

WHAT A DAY!