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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Caesar Rodney Half Marathon Race Report

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

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Flashing our bibs…bangs are out of control….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brandywine Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats:

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

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

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

Part of the largest bead necklace ever…good times.

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

Feeling lucky. 🙂 

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