run a race.

If you are ever feeling insecure, run a race.

If you aren’t sure about the future, run a race.

If you want to feel invincible, run a race.

If you have a mind full of thoughts and no conclusions, run a race.

If you need answers to questions you aren’t willing to ask, run a race.

If you aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing, run a race.

If you believe in yourself, but only some of the time, run a race.

♣     ♣     ♣

freehold2

On March 15th, I ran the Freehold St. Paddy’s 10 Miler. I went into the race fairly confident and eager to see how I would do, more as a form of self-entertainment than anything else. The last of the  snow had just melted away after a long winter. I had trained well but was mentally fatigued until a beautiful 20 miler the Sunday before, which had started out in winter and ended in spring. The optimism and contentment I felt toward running on this particular morning was quite the mirror image of how I felt toward most other things in life, meaning I was definitely going to run with my heart to a PR (simple formula).

While warming up, a guy to whom I had apparently sold shoes once spotted me and we ran together for a few minutes. I saw him again at the starting line, and he pointed out a woman who I “should stay with.” He spit out some of her credentials from Ironman finishes, times, etc., but I didn’t hear the specifics. However, given that I showed up at the race without much of a clue as to who else was coming, I didn’t completely ignore his advice. I was surprised when we got to the line and he said to both of us, “you two will be gunning for the win together,” or something like that. We didn’t say too much in reply and laughed it off, she alluding to poor mileage through the winter and I offering a cliché line about a tune-up race to go out there and have fun. The gun went off, and I did end up running alongside her until we exited the park road.

It seems I always end up chasing women in pick compression socks during races.

It seems I always end up chasing women in pink compression socks during races.

The first two or three miles of a race are always my least favorite. You’re not exactly sure how you feel because you’re not in a great rhythm yet, and the other runners around you could change at any moment depending on when they get their realizations of how their bodies are feeling. As we descended a road in the first mile, I gathered my surroundings and noted that the “fast woman,” I’ll call her, was running a few seconds ahead of me now. I fell right into her path and thought maybe I should make it my goal to keep her in sight, but then retracted the idea because it was too early on to tell how fast she would be going later on. Then, she stopped. She turned. She ran the other way, stooped down, and picked up a gel she had dropped that I hadn’t even noticed. I kept going at my pace. Now she was behind me. Since she had been running ever so slightly faster than I before she dropped the gel, I was basically counting down the seconds until she passed by me. I was not about to look behind me; I just kept going at my pace. We turned into a residential neighborhood with young trees in the yards, and white fences to match big white houses. We ran a loop through that juncture and still, she never passed me. I also never looked back. We got back onto a main road and headed onto another wooded lane. People clapped for me at the few places there were spectators, telling me I was the first woman. Still she never came up behind me. I kept my eyes set up ahead on two guys in purple singlets (see photo above) who knew every tangent like they ran this course everyday, and followed their every move as long as I could see them. On one particularly twisty road, everything fell quiet and I couldn’t see any other runners beyond the next turn. It left me alone with my thoughts and the rhythm of my feet.

For the remainder of the race, running became an afterthought. My legs and their repetitive motion were no longer attached to my mind and my heart and the rest of me; they were down below doing their thing as if they were motorized, leaving me in a seldom-acquired state of zen being. For those miles, it was okay that I was angry. It was okay I was confused, and afraid of the unknown, and regretful of my decisions or lack thereof. It was okay if I didn’t know what that evening would bring, or if I felt things to be unfair, or if I hadn’t yet learned what I needed to know to find success and happiness and contentment outside of this moment, this race. I was here now, running a race now, and it was what I needed to do. Even if everything else might be feeling out of my control, it was a great feeling to be able to control this. To have the opportunity to actually, physically run, and to experience the confidence and glory of trying to win something. Not many people can do something like that, an act of physical exertion that also transcends into the most relaxing state of being. What a juxtaposition running can be.

The fast woman who had turned back for her fallen gel had a lot of hype, at least from the guy at the starting line. We had been sized up by a third party against our will, and there was no doubt that she was a much more accomplished athlete than I. I had almost let that hold me back. I had expected her to pass me for miles. Not because I was not good enough. Because she was simply there. That really made me think. How often do I do that? I can think I am confident I am putting my best self forward, yet someone else can show up and take something away from me just because I am me and she is she? What sense does that make? If I am putting forth my best effort for me, it should not matter who else is there. If I am being myself and doing my best, and that is not good enough for a victory in the end, that is not my fault. I am good enough. I may be better next month or next year than I am today, and I hope so. But for today, I am good enough. In that ten mile race, if the woman had snuck up on me and pulled out the win, but I ran my best, that would be okay with me. I should translate that to the rest of my life too. If I strive to be my best self for me and for others and the world around me, and that is not “good enough” for someone or something, it will be good enough for someone or something else. And that is someone or something I would want to run through life with for awhile.

♣     ♣     ♣

That is what I learned during ten miles on a cold Sunday morning in March. I’m still trying to learn whether or not the Freehold Area Running Club got a better deal on gnomes in bulk versus leprechauns, as I think the garden gnome might be British, not Irish.

stpaddyssplits

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Boston Marathon 2015: “no place I’d rather be”

NOTE: This has been sitting as an almost-complete draft since June…going to drop this one here and get on to the present! 

Race morning began much the same as it did last year: shuttle van from the hotel to Boston Common, shuttle school bus from Boston Common to Hopkinton. Unlike last year, I knew no one on either shuttle, so I ended up talking about running and the Boston Marathon in general with two middle-aged men who had each ran Boston at least ten times, which made for interesting conversation. I did most of the listening. It was quite nice to be inside a vehicle for as long as possible because…it was going to rain. It was all anyone could talk about at first, yet it was what no one wanted to talk about. The sky was overcast but not dark, and I still believed there to be hope in the rain holding out, or at least keeping to a minimum.

The rain got worse. I found a dry spot in a white tent in Athlete’s Village and huddled there…for two hours. It was a long two hours, let me tell you. I was desperately looking around for someone I knew, because I’d rather talk for two hours to shake away my own thoughts, but I knew it would be best to stay out and remain somewhat dry and warm. So, i sat/laid down for two hours, taking in some calories and water periodically. Finally it was time to leave, but we just walked down to the next area before the start, where we did more waiting. It was very different from last year. I somehow missed the announcement about my corral walking to the start despite all the waiting, so I had to run and jump into the back of the corral. I didn’t realize this until hours after the race, but my watch didn’t even have a satellite yet, so it was just estimating my first five miles based on cadence (I think). Oops. I knew starting at about 9:00 that I did not feel 100%. Aside from my feet being absolutely numb from being damp and cold, acid reflux had started growling in my chest. I may have mentioned it a few times before, but I have been having major issues with this off and on for the past seven years. I have suspected a hiatal hernia, but then I always equate it to stress and stop running at night and it goes away. Regardless, it was happening at the start. The start of the Boston Marathon. It has never affected me in a morning race from the very beginning, so I was terrified starting this race. I have turned back after two miles on normal training runs due to this problem. This was the Boston Marathon.

My pace hovered in the 7:30s and 7:40s for awhile. My legs didn’t really want to go faster and my chest was getting tighter and tighter. Not good. During mile six I decided I really needed to pee and it would change my life if I stopped to do so. Yes, mile six at Boston I went into a porta potty just to pee. Who does that? The good news: I have a new bathroom PR. I think I ran around 7:22. Eventually I recognized that my legs did in fact feel pretty good, so I tried desperately to focus on that fact and not the awful feeling in my chest I had felt so many times before. I tried two times to make small talk with runners around me and failed. Before Wellesley, there was a poster stuck to a telephone pole that read: “Congrats [name], you’re halfway there!” I said, “I don’t like that poster!” jokingly, since we were running the eleventh mile…hardly halfway in a marathon! The guy next to me just replied, “Well, don’t believe everything you read” not in a very amicable tone. What? Okay. I passed him and moved along.

3

This was somewhere mid-race; my soaked cotton gloves were still on. I did not dress (actually, pack) properly for this race, even by my standards.

Until I decided to go to the bathroom again in the next mile. Come on Meghan, I scolded myself. Really? Twice for non-emergencies? Despite feeling like I never wanted to ingest anything in the near future, I stuck with my plan. I was not about to feel like this and bonk. At least leave me a little hope, body. I had Gatorade at every water stop except for the ones I just didn’t feel like grabbing anything (just a couple) until mile 18 or so, and had gels about 60 minutes in and at mile 14. Let’s just say I did not look forward to them. During and after Heartbreak Hill, I ditched the half of the PowerGel I picked up and switched to water.

At some point near Heartbreak, some people were under a tent blasting the song “No Place I’d Rather Be” by Clean Bandit. When the song came out months before, I remembered liking the beat and all, but like so many other songs about love and relationships, not loving it because I couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Now that it was playing during the race, I made it context appropriate and just adapted it to being about running. I was certainly feeling “a thousand miles from comfort,” dry-heaving every five minutes, wondering if or when my quads would die, and getting totally pounded by the rain. Playing the chorus repeatedly in my head the rest of the race, I took consolation in reminding myself I loved running and I trained hard for this, therefore this will be fine. There is no place I’d rather be. It was a little comical, thinking back at the scene, how the lyrics contrasted the race. And also they might have simultaneously fit.

Desperately searching for my family to have something to look forward to...surprised I didn't have a sore neck, after looking at this picture!

Desperately searching for my family to have something to look forward to…surprised I didn’t have a sore neck, after looking at this picture!

From mile 20 to 22, I desperately searched for my family. The same crew was all back again: my mom, dad, two youngest brothers, and my grandmother, who was never a runner but is the biggest track and marathon fangirl you ever did see. I needed something else to focus on. They ended up getting to their spot just in time from the T, around mile 22.5. It worked out that they were farther up than I thought, because it got me through the hills on a mission. Something else happened right after Heartbreak…I started to feel better. I was no longer dry heaving out of necessity every five minutes (half Ironman deja-vu but I didn’t stop…oh wait I didn’t write about that…). The best part: my legs were fine. I was a little nervous my glutes were about to lock up like my quads did last year after Heartbreak on the downhill, but they stayed in check.

So, the game changed. No more acid reflux/dry-heaving awfulness + relatively fresh-feeling legs = go time. I waited twenty-one miles to start running the marathon I knew I could run. Not what I expected, but I’d take it over the whole thing falling apart. It still could, I thought.  But let’s run with this feeling and see what happens. Suddenly, everyone running in front of me was in my way. This was a stark contrast to the year before, when I felt like I wasn’t moving at all and was utterly jealous of how fast others could manage to move. I figured that if I could keep up the increased pace through the finish, I could still break 3:20. I saw Steve cheering with his friends at mile 24.5 for another boost, and kept rolling to Boylston St. It was a great feeling to finish feeling relatively strong at Boston, but the rain and the smaller crowds still made Boston 2014 a happier moment in my book. Not to mention the hypothermia after the race due to not getting warm clothes until over an hour after I stopped moving. I won’t write much about that. Shivering in damp, tight clothes after running 26.2 miles was truly awful. I promised myself to do bag check next time, regardless of the weather.

4

I ended up finishing in 3:19:28, which was a two minute, thirteen second PR from the previous year. But, I had trained harder and I was stronger, and I knew had I not felt so sick I would have run much faster. The main reason I wasn’t pleased with the race, though, was that I didn’t have fun. I wanted to have fun, and I tried, I really did! But I didn’t have fun. The acid reflux felt horrible – as in, if it was a normal run I would have had to lay down for hours to feel better, yet it was during a marathon. Even when I tried to focus on my legs and the atmosphere, people around me were negative. When I did in fact finish strong, I immediately went into survival mode from the cold rain and nearly forgot all about it. My family was slow to get to me, and then plans were complicated after and I didn’t even have a place to take a shower, all the while feeling nauseous. I really tried to have fun. Sometimes, it doesn’t work.

Faking it. Though I guess I was happy in between finishing and getting cold - short window!

Faking it. Though I guess I was happy in between finishing and getting cold – short window!

Boston results

So that was that, Boston 2015.

I’m publishing this now so I can write a race recap that is much the opposite. 🙂

Princeton Half Marathon 2014

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

Pre-race in the store.

Pre-race in the store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

phm6

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

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

Finishing the job.

Finishing the job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, I’m alive…here’s what I’ve meant to write about since August.

A blogging hiatus was not planned at all, but it happened. I was going to write a post in late September explaining that blogging was the one thing that ended up getting cut out of my life during half ironman training, but now that it’s November (oh gosh, really?) it’s not a viable excuse.

A lot has happened. I’m going to dedicate a couple posts to specific races, like the Princeton Half Ironman and the Princeton Half Marathon, and will probably summarize the rest of my summer and fall training and racing into another. I really do miss writing, and the blogging community that comes along with it. Life always seems to get a little more complicated and a little harder to deal with in the fall, and I’m hoping that returning to writing regularly will help me keep my thoughts organized. Because there are so many.

I might as well make this post the summary one. In my last post, I wrote: “Until everything is all announced and the storm has passed, I’m counting on continuing to be stressed out of my mind and as busy as ever.” I’m pretty good at predicting things. Luckily things all came together, quite successfully, and I’m in a much better place as far as work stresses are concerned. An interesting place, because my life tends to trend that way. But a good place. Looks like I was scared about getting plantar fasciitis that day too…I still can’t really bend my big toe much but there’s no pain and I’m going to add that to my list of mysteries for the time being.

Half ironman training, the final month

Training went well, overall. I was doing long rides once a week and made sure to make them worth it by doing a brick run afterward. Some weekends I would do a regular long run the following day, too. I remember my first long ride (50+ miles), I was really sore later that day and the next day. By August they felt no different from the aftereffects of a 10-12 mile run, which made me confident that I was in fact getting stronger and more comfortable on the bike and that the race was going to go okay.

I joined a tri team.tmb

I joined the TMB Tri Team sometime in July I think, but I obviously wanted to meet everyone and do a workout with them before officially considering myself part of the team. It’s a huge team full of really inspiring athletes off all ages, and enthusiastic coaches. I finally went to meet the team for a duathlon workout in Bedminster the third Wednesday in August. It had its complications, obviously, as I was freaking out for 48 hours before that my summer of racing was over due to developing a very infected bug bite on my calf (I’m not kidding…it was scary, I have witnesses). But I made it, and had so much fun!

Me chasing down a runner at the du workout at Far Hills Fairgrounds.

Me chasing down a runner at the du workout at Far Hills Fairgrounds.

I went again the following week and had an even better time, even with 90 degree, humid weather. Being the first one on the bike from the first run portion (we did a shorter running workout before the bike, a ~13 mile bike, and then a longer running workout), I was discouraged at first at how easily everyone seemed to catch me on the bike, because I felt like I was going almost at a racing effort. The second time I went I averaged 18 mph though, so it was good to see that I wasn’t really that slow, relative to my solo rides. I have a long way to go in cycling though! More on that later.

Princeton 70.3 course preview ride

On Labor Day weekend, the team was getting together to preview the Half Ironman course, so I made sure I was free for that. It was quite the adventure. First off, I had never been on a ride with more than one other person ever, and here I was riding with a group of twenty or thirty. I knew the course a little bit but I trusted the guys who were leading the ride to provide directions. Honestly, I expected to be falling off the back and trying to get a glimpse of the turns up ahead. That was definitely not the case though; I managed to stay up with the front of the subgroup of ten or so riders I was with, and it felt pretty easy. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the course at nearly every turn though…and there were a lot of turns. Around mile 40 or so, Brian and I hastily decided that everyone was going the wrong way and we were going to go the right way, and we broke apart from them for the rest of the ride. Slightly bonking from lack of adequate nutrition and sleep made the park a welcome sight after…62.4 miles. Oops. Averaging my fastest ever (for a non-race ride of significant length, 17.2 mph) for my farthest ride ever certainly made me happy though.

Skylands Triathlon

The next Sunday, I decided to do the Skylands Olympic Tri. It was at Spruce Run, the same location as my first tri of the season, Jerseyman. I registered for a few reasons: 1. I got an awesome discount, 2. it would be my long brick workout for the week, and 3. I really hadn’t been swimming enough. At all. This race had a one mile swim which would be great practice for the big race in two weeks. The swim was pretty choppy and I felt slow for most of it…but I got it done. The bike…well, let me just say that I’d been doing 50+ mile rides in some really hilly areas and all oft hose hulls did nothing to prepare me for the giant mountain in the middle of this one. And I had to do it twice.

skylandstrielevationIt was so steep there were people – fast cyclists – walking their bikes to the top. Someone was playing “Eye of the Tiger” for us as we climbed, and there were a number of clever signs. It was truly brutal. Hence my 16.4 mph average for the 28 miles, in a race….The course was honestly not great overall; part of it was on a 4-lane highway and there were sharp turns. The sprint tri began after the Olympic but we all ended up on the bike course at the same time. I saw Brian heading out as I was heading back from my first loop, who I wasn’t sure was even going to be at the tri, so that was nice motivation. An incident on my second loop had me really worried  though. I was coming up on a group of people doing the sprint (ST was written on their calves), we were going uphill slightly, and I knew there 20140907_071117was a sharp turn ahead and then a bigger hill. At the turn, I could see a cop car, there to alert traffic, etc. There was no room ahead to pass them at that turn because of the cop car, and I didn’t think I could do it at the time, so I planned on passing them soon, after we had turned on the hill. I didn’t want to get too close, so I was trying my best to follow the rules and stay three bike lengths back. I ended up having to brake more than I planned, slowing down from 16-17 mph to 12-13. That kind of sucked. To make things more complicated, the course marshal, this woman on a shiny red motorcycle, was definitely patrolling this part of the route. She came so close to my left at one point that I wanted to ask her, “excuse me, where should I go right now? I definitely can’t pass because you’re now boxing me in, and I’m braking as much as I can.” To this day (okay that sounds funny, it was only two months ago…) I still think the only way to avoid the 2:00 bike penalty she gave me was to just pull over and literally stop in the middle of the race. Why would I have thought to do that though?! I didn’t know I had a penalty until it was almost time for the awards. The run went better than I expected, besides some minor nausea at the end. It ended up being 6.4 miles according to my watch, and I ran splits of 6:38, 7:03, 7:01, 7:06, 6:59, 6:58 and finished at 6:23 pace for a total time of 44:38ish. It was confusing (but also made the time go by faster) to figure out who was on their first lap, who was on their second, who was doing the sprint, and who was doing the run part of a sprint or olympic relay. Phew. Post-race, I heard someone tell me, “Nice job! You were fourth!” Shortly after, I heard another girl from my team tell me, “What happened? You were third but you got a penalty, that sucks!” WHAT. Long story short, that woman on the motorcycle could not be convinced that I did not draft, or that she impeded me from passing. I let Brian find her and try to appeal because I was too mad. We left shortly after claiming age group awards (which you had to wait in a line for?!) and I reasoned with myself that in the end the race didn’t matter much. It would have been cool to “podium,” and I still don’t know what else I should have done in the situation, but oh well.

birthday run, birthday fun

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Friends and a magic wand, can’t get better than that.

My birthday was the first day of Girls on the Run. I didn’t want to get up really early to do a long run, but I knew I wanted to run pretty far. It was my favorite running weather to start: overcast, breezy, and not super warm. I started at 1:00pm and didn’t try to find a running buddy since the time was so random. But I found Greta on a hilly road about four miles in! I was feeling tired and wasn’t sure if I would slow her down, but I took the chance and turned around with her. We ended up dropping the pace to 7:15-7:25 for most of the run, totaled 12ish miles, and ended in a downpour. I love picking up friends mid-run, it was a lucky day for sure! Later of course I celebrated in other ways, and I have to say it was one of my best birthdays ever. I even found a magic wand. Or rather, I was so intrigued by the fact that a woman had a wand at a bar (from a wedding that day…) that she ended up giving it to me for my birthday. Lucky indeed.

And then…it was Half Ironman week! The week was pretty low-key, but it included 50 hours of work and some last-minute tune-up lessons on fixing a flat and the like.

Underwear run

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you know that this happened. On Saturday the 20th, the morning before the race, we hosted an underpants run, like the one that began in Kona before the Ironman World Championships and has since become a pre-race staple at many Ironman events. We tried to promote it well…but the first time for something is bound to be small. So there were six of us participating. We read the official underpants run oath in front of the store, and ran down to the Princeton stadium tiger sculptures and back. It was pretty…liberating, naturally. I’m glad we all had each other, and especially Pat from RunBucks, who was a big reason the whole thing happened.

Just a normal Saturday morning pre-race stroll...

Just a normal Saturday morning pre-race stroll….

The rest of the day was pretty chill, aside from expected night-before-my-first-half-ironman stress buildup (basically I thought I was getting sick after having dinner at Triumph and decided to lay on the floor until it went away, worried I wouldn’t be able to race…only last 20 minutes or so). Pickup at Ironman Village went smoothly, and by the end of the night I was ready for Sunday!

20140920_145429Up next: Princeton 70.3 race report!

It’s good to be back writing, thanks for reading. 🙂

ETS Firecracker 5k

I have a laundry list of things to catch up on! Might as well start at the beginning: I ran a 5k on Tuesday the 24th of June. It was hosted by ETS and the YWCA, and it’s a very popular race among…well, almost every local runner I know. This, coupled with the fact that I had to sit out and watch the race last year, made me really excited to run it. My goal was to have fun, be grateful for being able to race, and run hard. After all, I had already tested my limits in the mile two weeks before and the 3k a week before, and in both I had felt like I could extend that fast effort to longer distances. Such as a 5k. So, I wanted to see how long I could hang on to a pace that’s slightly outside of my workout comfort zone. If I was successful, I thought I could PR, so that was in the back of my mind. I knew that a.) the course wasn’t flat as a pancake, b.) it was at 7:30pm and it would be hot, and c.) I wake up at 4:45am on Tuesdays and rarely get the chance to fuel properly if I’m not going to risk feeling sick. So I had no idea how it would go.

The group pre-race.

The group pre-race.

I biked to the ETS campus, which was only about five miles away. Steve was in town for the week, so I warmed up with him, his 14-year-old host-family member Harry (no other way to really explain…), and our Asics rep Joe, who decided a few days before to run. The start line was really congested, mostly of runners I knew, which was funny and nice! One of them, however, was my former college teammate who just graduated in May, fresh off a good track season. I knew there was no chance in beating her but I figured I’d see how close I could stay. When the gun went off, Sara found me quickly and I was determined to run side by side with her, since we do a lot of times in workouts. The first mile felt really long…maybe because it included more than one uphill, downhill, and flat section. I hit mile 1 in 6:09 – quick, but I was okay with it. The second mile was pretty much all flat, but I settled in a little and ran 6:28. The final mile was part of the first mile again, and it was agreed upon by everyone that the uphill felt much harder the second time around…I could see my college friend up ahead the entire time, but she was too far to catch (she won, in eleventh overall, 19:12). I pushed as hard as I could for a 6:16 last mile and 47 seconds for the last 0.15 mi. to finish in 19:41, twelfth overall and second female. I was very pleased with my time and effort, especially under the conditions. It was a 16-second road PR, and of course it made me think that 5ks aren’t so bad, and I should do a flat, fast one someday…more on that another time.

The start. My face is in this, it's just...small.

The start. My face is in this, it’s just…small. Photo credit: Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton.

Interesting thing about Joe’s race: he decided to move up after pacing Steve for awhile, and was leading the race when the lead cyclist turned the wrong way just before the third mile marker. He wasn’t giving a race effort, so he said he didn’t mind much, but I know he was annoyed by the incident. He’ll have to come back next year for redemption (but he probably won’t…)! He was grateful for the abundance of free food after, for what it was worth. 

The Intervals group ran as a team, and we placed 2nd! Most of us individually won our age groups too (in this race you actually didn’t get a medal unless you placed in your age group)! I think the racing high got the best of us, as we took a lot of pictures after….

Bling and shoes.

Bling and shoes.

Age group award. There's a whole thing inside, it's a big deal....It just occurred to me that I saw that girl running today. I only know it was her because I saw the shoes....

Age group award. There’s a whole thing inside, it’s a big deal….It just occurred to me that I saw that girl running today. I only know it was her because I recognize the shoes now.

I was going to keep up my weekly habit of running shorter races (they progressively got longer) on the 4th of July, where the group ran a 10k together, but then I decided very last-minute to go with my family to Maine after all, so I missed it. Maine included a lot of miles, both on foot and on the bike. It made me realize that I do like training here much, much better though. Strange to say, but even in beautiful places, I need variety. The fact that I can go any which way from right here and not get bored, rather than just one or two ways, is awesome. The possibilities are endless. If you are a runner or cyclist in the Princeton area and do not agree, come talk with me.  

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2014 ETS Firecracker 5k results

Triathlon training updates coming soon!

 

 

Jerseyman Triathlon race report

jerseymanlogoOn Saturday the 17th, I ran the Jerseyman Triathlon, hosted by TMB Racing at Spruce Run Reservoir in Clinton. To say I was under-prepared for competing in a tri less than a month after Boston and so early into the “tri season” is on paper an understatement. Looking at the numbers, this race marked my: fourth swim of 2014, third ride on my new bike, first open water swim of the year, first time wearing a wetsuit, and second hard-effort run since Boston. My goal was to have fun, see where I was starting from before seriously triathlon training, and further testing out the new toy bike. And of course, I was itching to race, so I was looking forward to getting back in the competitive spirit.

I was exhausted from a week that included a lot of work, pre-dawn wake-ups, and training, but all of the above motivated me for just one more 5 AM alarm for the drive up to the park for race-day registration. In addition to learning last-minute that Brian (of biking in the shed and delicious beer adventures, who also owns this bike) was going to be there after all. I ended up seeing a familiar face (Pat of RunBucks) at the registration table, which was nice. I am very social pre-race, and when I don’t see anyone I know I get more nervous. Transition was closing sooner than I thought, so I didn’t have time to do a [running] warmup before. I decided the 24-mile bike would do the trick anyway…I should focus on putting on my wetsuit and feeling it out down at the lake before the first wave went off. The water was surprisingly not too bad, despite the rain that had occurred nonstop the previous day. Just as I was freaking out that I wouldn’t survive (this always happens to me), I found Brian – a difficult feat considering everyone was in wetsuits.

JerseyMan-Swim-Course

As pictured above, the swim course was a long rectangle that fortunately did not appear long from where I stood on the beach. Brian and I were in the same wave, since we both registered on race day…along with females 40 and over. Waves were three minutes apart and there were seven or so of them, so by the time I began I was already dry again after my initial dip in the water. Fun fact: in all of my tris (three…), my wave has always been assigned white caps. How boring is that? Anyway. It was my first time running into the water for the start, but it was sort of fun. Right before I entered the water, I saw Pat, who said, “Have fun,” probably after realizing how nervous I looked. I lost some time at first because I panicked over the neck of my wetsuit…once horizontal in the water, it felt like it was strangling me. I cursed myself for not getting up early the day before and testing it out in the pool like I’d planned. I told myself, you’re just out for a swim. To have fun. That calmed me down immensely, and I got on with it. The wave of people was much smaller than I’m used to, which was so nice. The turn buoy never seemed too far away, and I was there before I knew it. I found myself a “lane,” albeit a but farther over from the buoys, to get out of everyone’s way and make up some ground. There, I was able to keep my head down more and speed up a lot. This was such a good idea, I thought. This is really fun. My back started to spaz out towards the end from only breathing to the right (I was trying to see the buoys and not go off course), but I made it to the beach and it felt okay.

The first transition involved running over the beach, on some concrete path, over the parking lot, and into the transition area. I felt a little dizzy, and managed to accidentally rip part of my bib off of the shirt I’d pinned it on. Fail. I wasted time pinning it back on, and then more time shoving Shot Bloks into my shorts pocket, since I don’t have a bag on the front of my bike and didn’t want to drag the Bloks through the water with me, obviously. I knew T1 was taking too long, but…ugh. I got through it, and got on my bike.

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I wasn’t sure what my pacing plan was for the bike. I hate holding back in a race situation, but I knew this was 24 miles of rolling hills. I wouldn’t say I “held back” at any point exactly, but first of all, I was still getting used to my new bike and the gears and whatnot, and second, I’m just not in tune with what that means yet like I am with running. I also had no bike computer or anything on the bike, and was saving my Garmin to use for the run, so I didn’t know how fast I was going at any point, or what mile I was on. The bike course was definitely challenging, but also very scenic, which was a plus!

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I had all the Shot Bloks periodically except for two, because they were starting to make me feel sick and I’d choose less energy over feeling sick on the run any day. I went through the second transition in less than a minute, and headed out to hunt people down. This is my absolute favorite part of the tri. My only complaint/worry was that I could not feel my feet at all. I hadn’t been able to feel them on the entire ride either – I guess they were numb from the water and never warmed up since they weren’t getting much blood flow on the bike. It was the weirdest feeling, and I was concerned that I would end up injuring them, from stepping wrong and not feeling it at the time…like maybe my tendons and muscles wouldn’t support them or something. A strange thing to think about mid-race….The run course was fairly flat, with a slight uphill on a trail at the beginning. It was an out-and-back to the boat launch on the paved paths on the park. We ran along the beach that we had started the race on, which was cool. I passed Brian and Joe when they were on their way to the finish and I was heading out. I kept waiting to feel tired and slow down, but I was very comfortable at 6:40-6:50 the entire time (except for the numb feet…). Four miles felt incredibly short, mentally. After the part along the beach, there was the same path up to the parking lot that was part of T1. I saw a woman ahead of me. I could see from her bodymarking that she was 25, so, just shy of my age group. I debated if I was too tired to try to catch her anyway…I thought of Boston, and how I was definitely nowhere near that level of fatigue, then went for it. This happened just as we entered the parking lot area, and I could hear people I knew who had finished cheering me on. There was another woman just ahead, so I sprinted after her and caught her too. The finish line was at a strange angle – I knew it couldn’t be over just yet – and sure enough, we had to run down and turn around at a cone before heading straight toward the finish line. This is hard to explain, but basically, the cone thing was such a tease. Regardless, I was pleased with the final push I gave at the end. I forgot to stop my watch right away, but the splits for four miles I have from my Garmin were: 6:49, 6:43, 6:47, 6:25.

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The results…

A triathlon isn’t really over until the results are published. That’s when you can over-analyze everything for days and figure out how you really did….

Overall: 2:12:51 Place: 114/240 
Swim: 18:26 Pace: 1:45 Place: 148 
T1: 3:05 Place: 175 
Bike: 1:23:30 Speed: 17.2 Place: 145 
T2: 0:54 Place: 56 
Run: 26:56 Pace: 6:44 Place: 23 
F20-24: 1st

Random thoughts: There is definitely room for improvement on the bike. No one who finished ahead of me overall had a slower time than me on the bike. I am very happy with the run. I’ll have to figure out how to make my feet not go numb in the future, but otherwise I ran faster than I thought I could after a hilly 24 mile bike. I should probably work on my 10k PR now….I also had the fastest female run split (by a second). T1 was worse than I remembered. Overall, I had so much fun in this race despite not being totally prepared and despite what my race pictures would suggest. Sorry I look angry when I race, I’m really just having a great time, I swear. I need to pick my next tri now, since I now have a conflict with the one in a couple weeks I really wanted to do…I’ve definitely got the fever. Now, it’s time to ride.

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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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E. Murray Todd Half Marathon recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Up close.

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

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

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Thanksgiving & December, revisited

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

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

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

(Flats! Finally!)

(Flats! Finally!)

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving

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

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Who needs water?

The December First Lighting of the Lights Party

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

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

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

2013 Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Report

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

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Pre-race: thoughts & routine

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

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

THE RACE: 

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

Here’s the course:

Part 1: Eakins Oval to Columbus Boulevard

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

Part 2: Front to South to Sixth

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

Part 3: THE BEST PART – Chestnut Street

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

Part 4: First Schuylkill cross and Drexel

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

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

Part 5: the Fairmount hill & the cheer squad turnaround

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

Part 6: Along the river to the finish

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

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

The aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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