Sunday, May 07, 2017

Run Through The Pines Half Marathon Race Report

This morning I ran a half marathon, not typically what I do 3 weeks after a marathon (though I've done something very similar once before), but the race had been on my radar for a few months, I mainly just wanted to ease back into running double digits and have some fun with friends. I didn't pull the trigger until after Boston because I wanted to have the option of jumping in another full that weekend if I completely failed at Boston - thankfully, that didn't need to happen. But after a randomly amazing run last week I decided to pull the trigger and do this race - why not, right?

This was the first year the race was held and it didn't show - everything was run incredibly smoothly and professionally. The race runs entirely through Myles Standish State Forest, so there are lots of pine trees (as advertised!) and a very quiet, pretty course. There was a 5K as well as the half, which had just under 400 finishers - a perfect size for a race in my opinion. After spending yesterday at a Pups and Pints event which quickly escalated to full scale day drinking with friends, combined with the fact that running has been pretty low key since Boston, I was not particularly confident in my ability to race a half. But the great thing was, I didn't really care! I just wanted to have a nice long run through the forest, probably faster than I would do it on my own, get a t-shirt, and enjoy the rest of my day. I decided that my goal would be at least to run faster than I ran the half split at Boston - a 1:42, so not exactly a tall order. Because of my limited confidence, and the fact that I got a really cool New Balance singlet at the Boston expo and wanted to wear it at least once to race in, I decided to go incognito and not represent GBTC. Of course, hilariously, as Joy and I were warming up who do we find was at the race but one of our teammates, doing the race announcements/commentary. much for no one knowing we did this race today, hah. I had said on the way down that I hoped there weren't like a zillion fast women in the race, but I also hoped that I wasn't in a situation to win the thing or something ridiculous, "because then I'll have to try". As we stood at the line with zero women in front of us, I became a little concerned that it was going to be the latter. My teammate sent us off on our "13.1 mile adventure", and we were off without further ado.

Immediately I found myself running completely alone and as first place woman, and I almost burst out laughing. I'm LEADING a half marathon? Where are we, the twilight zone? I couldn't imagine that such a silly thing was going to last, but the end result was that I ran my first mile far faster than I should have. Whoops. I could absolutely feel that this was not going to be sustainable and dialed it back a bit. The eventual first place woman came up behind me and we talked for a little bit about Boston, past marathons, etc - quite frankly I was already working way too hard to be chit chatting about BQ times so I let her go off into the distance. The course can be summed up in two words: rolling hills. That's it. Imagine 13.1 miles of going up and down, up and down, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, but pretty much always being on some sort of incline or decline. Those types of courses really wear me down when I'm running with a goal in mind, but the lovely thing about it today was that I really didn't care, and so I adopted a "just do whatever feels good" mindset. Now with the pressure of winning off, I actually locked into a very nice groove that basically took me through the rest of the race. I was focusing on even effort and getting my breathing back under control after the uphills, and it really went quite well. Once I dialed back after the insane first mile, I was relatively consistent right around 7:20 with a couple of outliers through the remainder of the race.

So spiky. So many hills. Little hills, for the most part, but hills all the same. 

Miles 3-4 were on this very open road, the type of road where you can see ALL the hills rolling ahead of you, and also the type of road where you can get a very unpleasant headwind, which was the case today. I did get my first chance to fulfill a secondary (and utterly lame) goal of "get some good race photos" right around mile 3. I think I did pretty well...

As an aside, free race photos are one of my favorite race perks. These are also a little bit amusing though because in the last one in particular, you can TOTALLY tell I'm thinking about my form because I'm running in front of a camera. Whatever works, right?

The course continued out, more rolling hills, nothing too exciting going on. I kept thinking that I had slowed down significantly only to find that I was actually running a fairly even pace. Miles with significantly more uphill would occasionally dip into the 7:3x range, miles with a little more on the downhill end would drop to 7:1x, but everything pretty much stuck right around 7:20, and it felt just fine. I felt like I was working the perfect amount for what I intended to do today. By mile 5 or 6 things had strung out pretty significantly and I was sitting in second place for women with a solid buffer on all sides in terms of anyone I could pass or be passed by. The rolling hills continued. At mile 6 we got another photo op...
Not quite as good, but I'll take it haha.

After the 10K split we ran around a pond and things got a little harder for awhile; the hills were really just starting to be a grind and there were a couple of my least favorite type of hill, the ones that go up and around the corner. But after making it around the pond we did a little lollipop back the way we'd come, and so were running past everyone still running out. I suppose it must have been because I was fairly far up in the front of the race in general (I would come in 13th overall) and because I was second woman, but as I was running by all of these people, running their own race, there were SO many people cheering for me! It was really quite cool to have these random strangers who are ALSO working hard urging you on, and it gave me a surprisingly large boost. Runners! They're the greatest! We turned out of the lollipop and headed around another pond - pretty much the same scenario, more curving up hills, and my legs were getting tired, but my pace was still holding steady. We made it back onto the main road just after mile 9, I grabbed a Gu from the aid station (the aid stations were really wonderful - again, I suppose perks of being in the front of the pack in a fairly strung out race, but it was kind of cool having like 7 people looking at you ready to give you what you want) which helped perk me up a little bit. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the hills and the sun - the temperature was pretty decent at right around 60, but I was warm enough to the point that I threw some water on my head in the second half...further proof of what qualifies as "heat" in my body's opinion.  

We were back on the long bacon strip of a road. I had been closing in on this guy in a gray shirt for a few miles now - I would close the gap on the uphills, he'd open it back on the downhills, but the lead was slowly shrinking. I was now close enough to read his shirt and realized it was a Madison Marathon shirt - Wisconsin connection! I was trying to decide whether to be that obnoxious person who I myself hate and start a conversation at mile 10 of a race when he said something like "oh, I've been wondering which of these hills you're going to pass me on". Conversation gates opened, I asked him if he was from Wisconsin and turns out he wasn't but had lived there for several years. We reminisced on how the hills in Wisconsin are much smaller than in New England, but that the wind was the same, hah. I decided I was going to stick with my new friend and for the remainder of the race we continued the pattern - I'd fall back a little bit, then I'd return. He was very friendly but not obnoxiously chatty, and it was actually pretty fun. At one point I said something like "ugh, I'm so over these hills" and he replied "oh, yeah, see my problem is that I'm NOT over them yet!" Touche haha. We passed a guy in a blue shirt who we'd been gaining on for awhile, and then it was finally almost time to be done. I think I finally understand why pacers are a useful thing, because I guarantee I would have slowed down in this stretch if I hadn't been running with this guy. I was dreading the fact that there had been a pretty solid downhill at the beginning, meaning a nice uphill to finish the race, but other than that I was pleased that I'd just been able to keep plugging away and run a reasonable pace, particularly given the hills. It was also hard to argue about going top 3, something that pretty rarely happens to me! 

With a little under a mile to go, we made a turn or something, and I looked back and suddenly I could SEE this teal shirt that I knew did not belong to a man. Shit! I was going to be so angry if I ran the whole race in 2nd only to be passed in the last mile, but I honestly wasn't sure how much I had left to push it up another uphill. For a second I thought to myself "eh, maybe it would be fine to get 3rd and still be top 3". But the better part of my brain shut that down, and of course, now I was going to have to try. With half a mile to go I was literally imagining this girl breathing down my neck, passing me at any second, and I did the only thing that I could - I ran HARD. My new friend said something like "now's the time to make your move" as I passed him, and I'll tell you, maybe this says a lot for what a cowardly racer I am, but I have not gone this deep in the well at the end of the race in a long time. Finishing Boston was hard in a different way - all leg fatigue - but this, I don't even know. I was like wheeze breathing like a fire engine, rapidly approaching the puke threshold...yeah. I knew that if I got passed at this point that I didn't have a next gear to go to, so I had better get the hell to the finish line. And I did, finally, finishing in just over 1:36. The girl who I thought was right on my shoulder finished about a minute back...apparently, my kick worked! 

I actually find it sort of amusing that pretty much whenever I run a half "out of shape" or in some other suboptimal condition, I run a 1:36. I guess I can't really complain too much about my "not fit" time being something a lot of people would die to run, something I myself would have died to run if we flash back 5 years or so.  I had a great time racing today - I felt like I challenged myself to think differently about how I felt or how I perceived the course (I also challenged myself to run tangents and per my GPS watch I did a GREAT job), didn't worry too much about pace or time knowing that neither was going to be optimal, and just honestly and genuinely enjoyed the feeling of being out there, trying hard, pushing myself, and racing for place. It was great! While the course was certainly not easy, it was beautiful, and overall a delightful race that I'd definitely return to again. They are going to be mailing awards, so I'm curious to see what I get for being 2nd - honestly, just the accomplishment of that is pretty solid!

Also something I can't argue about: wandering around Plymouth going to wine tastings and taking photos with the artistic lobsters scattered around town. This is why I love my running friends....we appreciate the simple, hilarious pleasures in life. 
Fruit wines...not usually my jam, but these were pretty delicious. I bought a bottle of the cranberry which I think is going to make some excellent sangria...also, they had delicious jams! 

We are 100% normal people

All in all, a really nice day, a fun race, a solid effort - a success! This is what I love so much about racing in the summer/not in marathon training...the pressure is off and it's just purely FUN - which sometimes for me is actually when the best things happen!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"I've felt better, but I've sure felt worse": Boston 2017

The short version: I was granted the delightful opportunity to run yet another hot, sunny Boston, this year with the second highest temps I've ever run a marathon in - in the 70s at the start and topping out at 75. I did not quite achieve my weather revised goal of 3:25, nor did I break 3:30, but I held on in some sort of way and managed to finish in 3:30:21, my 2nd fastest Boston, 5th fastest marathon, and requalifying me for next year. I'm sort of neutral on this race - I'm trying to feel good about it because in the grand scheme of people I know who ran this year I actually came out reasonably well, and I think that I only managed to be somewhat successful because I really ran a smart race and stuck to my plan. Buuuut on the flip side I'm still a bit frustrated with how much I fell apart near the end (even if a lot of it was pretty obviously heat related), and it's a bit annoying to have a great training cycle and then have to be like "yay, 15 minutes slower than the goal I trained for!" But I'm learning that with the unpredictablity of the weather, maybe Boston is better as a fun race versus a true go for broke goal race. Anyway, we all know I write the longest and most meandering race reports around, so if you're in the mood to hear all of the random things that went through my head as I ran from Hopkinton to Boston for the 6th on!

The long version:
The weather forecast in the week before the race basically just got worse and worse, and if you read my last post you know that I was essentially prepared for doomsday. Of course, there's a little spark in all of us that holds out hope that the meteorologists were TOTALLY wrong, that the cold front is going to show up a day early, or whatever, but alas. When you're able to walk the dog at 9 pm the night before a marathon in shorts and a t-shirt, well, lets just say it's not exactly going to be ideal. I think I did a pretty good job of keeping my chill the day before the race; I went for a quick shakeout in the morning followed by an incredible brunch with my dad and his wife and Menotomy Grill. Brunch also featured a terrifying Easter bunny, so that was at least amusing. The rest of the day was mostly spent aimlessly surfing the internet, periodically reading coach Tom's history of the Boston Marathon book, and just resting the legs. Andrew came over and after making dinner we spent the majority of our time attempting to french braid my hair...for the first time ever hahaha. After about half an hour of work we were pretty successful!

Hi, my name is Audrey, I'm almost 30, and this is the first time I've ever done a french braid. And I needed help from my boyfriend to do it. Wasn't quite what I was hoping for (I wanted the braid to kind of come down and across the front) but I actually ended up really liking this - most importantly, it stayed in place when I dumped 1000 cups of water on my head! 

I then settled in to have my traditional pre-race beer (Prairie Hop, when I can only have one beer I make it good) and watch Miracle with Andrew. Every year for the past 3 years one of the Hunger Games movies has come out somewhere near the marathon and that's what I've ended up watching the night before...alas, that series is now complete, so I had to find something new and an inspirational sports movie where the underdog wins did the trick. It was nice having Andrew's calming influence and to be honest as the night unfolded, I never really felt super nervous.

Raceday dawned as it always does, early, and with the sounds of Thunderstruck blasting out of my phone. It's been awhile since Andrew actually partook in a race morning with me and while I'm not sure he enjoyed it nearly as much as I did, it was really nice having him there. I had said the night before that I wasn't nervous and truth be told I never really got nervous - I could tell that I was nervous/excited just because of the giddy way I was feeling and acting, but I never got that "holy shit, you're doing a MARATHON" nerves. I suppose it makes sense that giving up on going for a PR would change your mental status at the start of the race, but I have to say it didn't suck not feeling like I was going to jump out of my own skin for being so nervous. We hit Starbucks and headed to the T, where there was a guy playing a snazzy little song on the banjo and I amused myself by bouncing up and down and dancing awkwardly to the music. See? Nervous/excited.

I bid Andrew farewell and headed the rest of the way to bag drop, where I met up with my teammates and had the opportunity to show off my ridiculous throwaway outfit. I think this shirt may take the cake for absurd things I've been able to find at Goodwill - I thought it would be really hard to top my golfer sweater from last year, but this shirt was just incredible. Ridiculous throwaway gear is one of my favorite Boston traditions that I've developed over the past few years; I think it really takes the edge off in the morning to do something silly when you know what's underneath is totally serious.

We quickly found the rest of our teammates and headed to the buses - as always, this process was like a well oiled machine and we quickly found the end of the porta potties with no lines (hilarious announcement: "Runners, the porta potties at the other end of the common have NO LINES. You're about to run 26.2 miles, isn't it worth it to walk 200 extra feet for a gently used porta potty?") and then just as quickly got onto a bus. I spent the ride to Hopkinton jabbering aimlessly with Joy, mostly about strategy for the day (going out SLOW, not even trying to PR, etc) and the delights of past Boston experiences. I had really left no stone unturned in this attempt to stay ahead of the heat, and so I had brought a couple of frozen water bottles with me to try to cool off my hands and neck before starting - not sure how well that actually worked, but I had cold water to sip on the bus so I wasn't complaining. The bus ride was generally uneventful. Apparently one of the guys on our team was on a bus that got LOST on the way to Hopkinton and they somehow managed to get dropped off right next to the start and didn't even make it to the village. I've never heard of that happening before but thankfully that was not the case with our bus. As we pulled into Hopkinton we passed some beautiful homes and at one point this guy sitting on the porch of his gorgeous house drinking coffee looked at the bus and just gave a big thumbs up. Thumbs up to YOU, sir, with your nice house and your coffee and your not having to run a marathon on this 75 degree day, is what I was thinking hahaha. The athlete's village was pretty much the usual - get in the porta potty line, deal with that, and then find a shady spot to sit. We all wrote our names on our bibs and like last year, Dana and I chose to write a word for the race on our arms. Last year I chose grateful, this year it was brave - that's my theme for the year, and I knew that to hold on when the weather was against me, I was going to have to be at least a little bit brave.

Time seems to both slow down and speed up when you're sitting in the athlete's village waiting to be called; I felt like I was sitting there for hours and for 30 seconds simultaneously. But soon enough they were calling for wave 2, and it was time. The walk to the starting line is always one of my favorite parts of this race, although for whatever reason it seemed like there were fewer random people in their yards wishing the runners good luck. There were, however, a couple of decently drunk groups of people as you got closer to the start, which always makes me giggle. We cut over to the porta potties before the start and as I was wandering to the back of the block (the shortest lines are there), Robin, who I've "known" through DailyMile and Strava for a few years now but have never actually met, popped out of a porta potty right in front of me! It was one of those hilarious serendipity moments and we quickly said hi before moving on. But really, what are the odds? Business attended to, we headed up and into the corrals. Again, here, time seems to move at both the fastest and slowest pace possible at the same time as you make your way into the corrals and wait to begin. I fixed my sock and did a quick quad stretch and the next thing I knew I was hearing "30 seconds to the start, this will be the last announcement". I didn't have time to think or get nervous or process anything besides oh, how I love being here and then the gun sounded.

My goal for the opening stages of the race was to a) go out SLOW, and b) have a lot of fun. With my weather-adjusted goal of 3:25 honestly I probably could have stood to go out even a little slower than I did, but you know how it goes with that drop off the cliff out of Hopkinton combined with the intoxicating combination of nerves and excitement. As I think has been the case almost every time I've run this race, I grinned through the entire first mile. I always hang out on the left side of the road because it's less congested and if I don't pick a side I'll just go weaving all over, and that puts me in prime position to high five EVERYONE who's offering a hand at the beginning of the race. Those first miles are just utterly electric.  I did my best to keep my chill and in looking at my splits I did an acceptable job - 7:39, 7:44, 7:40 for the first 3 miles. I remember thinking that I knew I had said 7:45s and just kind of shrugging internally, like, all I can do here is dial it back and relax, I'm not actively TRYING to gun it here. One of my teammates passed me in this stretch, as did Robin, and I watched them go. Be smart, Zaferos. Be smart. I think I made it about 2 miles before I started to feel warm - not uncomfortably warm yet, but unfortunately the "partly cloudy" forecast didn't seem to make its way into the picture until later in the afternoon, and for me the majority of the race was run in the blazing sun which was really the killer. I actually started dumping water over my head as early as the first water stop. I knew if there was any hope of me surviving this race in reasonable fashion, I had to do EVERYTHING that I possibly could to stay cool and hydrated and electrolyte balanced - not the easiest task when it's 75 and you're about to run for over 3 hours. But I had my plan. I was thinking on the bus about what a cognitive race the marathon is, and I think that might be one reason why I love it so much. You imagine the 27,000 people out there who are running this race, and each and every one of them is having to make a thousand little choices along the way. Drink, speed up, slow down, walk, take a gu, don't take a gu, change pace, high five that kid, surge, go out fast, go out could take 10 people who are theoretically physically capable of running the same times, and they might make different choices based on their own perceptions or goals or thoughts, and come out completely differently. I kind of loved this little image of this sea of runners, each with their own thoughts and plans and responses to what was happening. I also wanted, if nothing else, for it NOT to be my brain that was what did me in. And so, I stuck to the plan.

Ashland passes so quickly and so early in the race that it's easy to forget about. I missed my 4 mile split, which turned out to be my fastest of the race, but I did keep forcing myself to dial it down a bit - I've never done this before and it is MUCH easier said than done, particularly in a race that really turns on the excitement like Boston. In Ashland someone was blasting Sweet Caroline, and I was excited because I remember in some previous year that when someone was blasting it everyone sang along with the "bah bah bah's" and whatnot and it was really fun and cool. This year? NADA! Oh well.

We hit Framingham, and man, I went through a phase in the past where I was really anti-Framingham, but you know what, this year? I LOVED FRAMINGHAM. Framingham was the section of the race where I felt like my plan was working and that maybe everything was going to be OK. I remember coming up a hill in the first section of the city and sort of being like "hmm, I don't feel AMAZING", but then right after that getting some water and dumping some on my head and instantly feeling better. I actually sped up a little bit here which I think was mainly due to a combination of surprise and excitement that I didn't feel like total shit yet. I mean, yes, I was running slower than I knew I was capable of, and yes, I had some concerns about the fact that the heat sure wasn't going to get any BETTER, but hey, right at this moment I was here, and I was feeling OK, and that was just enough for now. And so I had a grand old time in Framingham. I high fived and waved at drunk people, smiled my face off, grinned at myself in the window of the lamp store at mile 7.4, and generally enjoyed my life. I think I knew there was no way this feeling was gonna last, and damn it, I was going to enjoy it while it was here. Also of note, I had a random line from a Beyonce song in my head for about 4 miles in this area. 'Yonce all on this mouth like like like liquor. Over and over and over. OOOOK, thank you brain.

When I got to mile 8 and wasn't dead, I pretty much internally did a fist pump because that was the point last year where I fell off the wagon at an absurdly high speed. Mile 8! It was like an achievement badge: "You made it past the place where you died last year! GREAT WORK!" Unfortunately, while not yet dead, I was starting to feel decidedly less stellar as I made my way into Natick. It wasn't a specific feeling of badness, more of just a generalized unease and a sort of "something's not right here". I began to have the suspicion that my pipe dream of holding 7:45s and running a 3:23 (which even at the time I knew probably wouldn't happen in that weather, but c'mon, your brain just kind of goes off on it's own adventures while you're running a marathon) was probably not going to happen. "But that's fine!" I told myself, "you can run 8 minute miles the rest of the way and STILL go under 3:30! Bam!". (possible foreshadowing....) During miles 8-9, which I always think of as "between" Framingham and Natick but I actually think they're all in Natick, I was able to get a cup of ice from some kid which I proceeded to shove fully into my bra. It was GLORIOUS. I think as I'm writing this now, a week later, my brain has blocked out how hot I actually was for the duration of this race, but I was, and having ice come in contact with my body for as long as possible seemed like an incredible idea. There was also a guy along here somewhere with a sign with the score of the Superbowl in the 3rd quarter (Falcons 28, Pats 3 - and we all know the ending to that story). I don't even like the Patriots but I thought it was hilarious, and also sort of a perfect inspirational sign - like "hey, you might be down for the count now, but anything's possible!"

Natick, for whatever reason, seems to be a place where I have trouble. The 10 mile mark of a marathon is sort of an odd place - it's yay you've run 10 miles! But also you have to run 16 if you're not feeling great here, well....good luck. I prefer to hit the 10 mile mark feeling delightful and like a prancing pony, but alas that was not the case today. Again, I really wouldn't say I felt BAD yet....I just didn't really feel good either. I certainly didn't feel the way you want to feel at mile 10 if you know you're having a good day. It was somewhere around this point that I came up upon a teammate who is definitely faster than me. My first thought was mainly confusion - I knew she had started behind me because she got a bib through the club, but, uh, what was she doing anywhere near me? She started walking for a bit and I pulled up next to her - she started running again and we ran together for a little bit - she wasn't feeling great, and said she kind of felt lightheaded. Aha - that was the weirdness I couldn't quite figure out - it was some kind of lightheadedness! Well, that's not good. I don't get lightheaded from effort; if that's happening it's either heat, hydration, sugar, salt, or some combination of the 4. As I said to my teammate at the time - "I just wish I could figure out what I needed to make myself feel BETTER". I decided to kill several birds with one stone and take my salted watermelon Gu (which I had planned for this mile anyway) along with 2 cups of water to my usual one, and one on my head. The strategy of throwing everything at myself and hoping something would stick was actually surprisingly helpful for the next couple of miles. The lightheadedness diminished and while I still didn't feel good, I felt somewhat better. I did go down a little bit of a negativity rabbit hole in Natick; the fact that I was running a pace so much slower than my goal pace and STILL not feeling great was quite frustrating, and I wasn't so nice to myself in my assessment of my performance so far. I had slowed down a bit but was still hanging out in the 7:50s, which at that point was completely acceptable to me. I was getting hot, and it was only getting hotter, and as I said before I was totally OK with running 8:00s and riding it home.  Problem was, based on the paces I had trained at I STILL expected that pace to feel relatively easy, even with the weather, and I have to say, that just wasn't the case. I was pulled out of my own head by, of all things, Don't Stop Believin' coming blasting out of a speaker in front of someone's house. I love that song unashamedly. I always say that if I hear it in a race it has to be good luck. So when I heard it, I was like alright, you need to get your head back in the game because we still have plenty of miles to deal with out here.

We headed up out of Natick and into Wellesley. Again, there wasn't any one specific thing that was the problem. My legs felt like they had no pep to them, but I was getting up the hills just fine. I was definitely hot, but my face didn't feel like it was on fire just yet. I did the only thing available to me in the moment and just kept moving forward. I'm going to say something kind of blasphemous here - while I think the Wellesley scream tunnel is awesome, it never seems to give me the boost that I think it's going to. Maybe it's because I always hang out on the left side of the road and I'm removed from the screaming, I don't know. My main memory from that stretch this year is that at some point a wild cross breeze came out from the right hand side of the course, and somebody's sign flew out in front of me. It said "Kiss me I'm Irish", and all I could think was that if I somehow managed to trip over somebody's sign blowing in the road I wasn't going to be able to handle it. Thankfully the wind died, the sign remained flat, and I was able to run over it without issue, up and over the hill and into Wellesley.

I hit the half at 1:42, which I think might be almost the slowest I've ever gone through the half at Boston with the exception of 2012, which doesn't really count. As the race would turn out to be the second fastest I've run on the course this was CLEARLY a smart move, however, in the moment all I could do was laugh ruefully at the fact that I was having to run so much more slowly than planned. I definitely went into the Bad Place for awhile during Wellesley. My pace had slowed into the 7:55s with the occasional 8:0x popping up while my effort level didn't seem to be getting any lower, and the heat was only getting worse. I vividly remember thinking to myself a very mean thought, which was: "God, why do I even do marathons? I'm not even good at them! How could I ever think I could run a 3:15?" Clearly, the heat was beginning to fry my brain. Around this time, my friend Dana came rolling by me looking great. She pulled up alongside and asked how I was doing. "I'm dying", I replied. This, I think, was a bit of an exaggeration. I was certainly not feeling OUTSTANDING by any means, certainly not in a place to go running off with her, although I did try for a couple of minutes. But I was still moving forward at a reasonable pace, nothing was particularly hurting, and I was nowhere near the cave of darkness I found myself in in Wellesley last year. I'll make the nerdiest comparison ever - in Final Fantasy 12 there's a part of the game where these robot spiders are sucking the power out of this mine, and you have to go and kill them before they can do it. If too many of them start draining at once and you can't kill them all, the overall level of power will go down because they're draining faster than you're killing them. That's basically a perfect analogy for how I felt during this race. At the beginning of the race, I could kill off the beasts with more water, dumping water on my head, grabbing ice from a spectator, taking electrolytes, etc at a pace that put me ahead of the constant suck of heat and dehydration. But as time went on, the power drain came faster and faster and there was nothing I could do to keep myself fully ahead of the curve - I knew at some point I was going to be overpowered, it was just a matter of when.

I basically put my head down and attempted to get through it. I leapfrogged back and forth with my teammate who I had seen earlier a few times; we'd run together, she'd walk and I'd move ahead, she'd come back up and pass me when she started running again, etc. At one point as we were running together I told her that I of course wasn't happy that she was having a bad race, but it made me feel just a little bit better to not be alone in my misery. When I think about Wellesley all I can envision is bright, bright sunshine. We had gotten a few moments of shade around the half but as soon as we got into the meat of Wellesley it was once again full on blazing, soul sucking sun. I no longer had the energy to even try to high five people or smile at the spectators, which is never a good sign. Somewhere right before the big downhill I did hear someone playing Sweet Caroline again and this time I was like, well, fuck it. I sang along with those bah bah bahs and those so good so good so goods giving zero cares about whether anyone else around joined me (they didn't which was disappointing). BUT WHATEVER WE'RE HAVING FUN RIGHT?! Oh, the lies I tell myself. Soon we were cruising down the large Wellesley downhill, which I really did my best to enjoy. I just sort of let myself fall down the hill and enjoyed the feeling of not really having to try for a couple of minutes. Time for the real fun to begin.

We headed up the first big hill over the highway, and my teammate popped up behind me one more time. She was holding a water bottle and offered some to me; I initially declined but then she told me it was cold, so I grabbed a couple of sips and it was like the nectar of the gods. I can't explain how good water tastes when you're running a hot marathon. You wouldn't believe that it's possible to crave water with every ounce of your being every 8-10 minutes but that was absolutely how I felt. She dropped back again, meanwhile I was forcing myself to attempt to run somewhat strongly over the hill. That strategy was OK. I thought back to last year when I literally almost started crying because I cramped up so badly right around this point, and said a little thank you to my body for continuing to hold it together at this time. Then I kind of zoned out for awhile. I feel like I was thinking really hard about something as we ran past the hospital and down towards the firehouse, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. It was probably something like "the sun is hot" or "stop weaving all over the road" or something completely meaningless. I do remember running through the gel alley or energy station or whatever you want to call it, and grumpily thinking "I don't WANT gel, I want more WATER!" I'm really my best self at mile 16 of a marathon hahaha. My wish was granted shortly after, when I saw an open fire hydrant on the right side of the road and immediately dashed over there. It was cold, powerful, soaking, and absolutely AMAZING. I couldn't have cared less that my shoes were now soaked along with the rest of me (the sun was so intense and the air was so dry that I'd be dry shortly thereafter anyway), in the moment it was absolutely the most wonderful thing I could imagine.

Now it was time for the real work to begin. Newton awaited, under a blazing sun, and a quick systems check told me that my body was not in any condition to run aggressively through the hills. So it was off to plan B - just get through it. I had been continuing with my aggressive hydration plan and sticking to my nutrition/salt plan, salt every 4-5 miles, and Gu every 5-6 miles, which meant I was taking some sort of electrolytes in every couple of miles. I had also been supplementing Gatorade whenever it felt like a good idea, and had been drinking and dumping water on my head at every single stop. This had all been enough to get me this far. But as I turned into Newton I could feel the balance starting to tip in favor of Mother Nature, and I was not looking forward to it. On the way up the first hill, I got overwhelmed with everything - so hot, so thirsty, my legs are so not into this, etc - so I allowed myself to walk for 10 seconds. Literally, I counted 10 steps, and I forced myself to start running again. This actually turned out to be a great strategy - in the past my heat induced walk breaks have turned into aimless meanderings until my brain finally turns back on enough higher functions to remind me that I'm supposed to be running. 10 seconds was long enough to give me what I needed in terms of Not Running For A Second, but not long enough to get me completely out of rhythm. It gave me a focus. I actually walked much less this year than I have almost every year I've run Boston (in only 5 of my 11 marathons thus far have I made it through without walking at all) and I think giving myself a strict timeline helped a lot with that.

An interlude for photos: In photo 1, you see me looking rather unhappy, but suddenly noticing that there's someone with a camera. In photo 2, you suddenly see me attempt to look like a human being and sort of kind of smile because I saw the camera. The sequence kind of cracks me up...this also is a great representation of how oppressive the damn sun was.

There's always a nuun station somewhere on the first hill, so I took some of that, and then shortly after that there was someone with FREEZE POPS! YESSSSSS. I was on the right side to grab one, but was thwarted again and again by another runner in front of me grabbing the next pop. I finally got one from the last person who was holding them, and guys, a disgusting blue tube of frozen sugar water has never tasted so good. This also makes my 4th Boston where it's been hot enough to want to obtain a freeze pop on the course so...that's just really great. Once I got up the first hill, I was pleasantly surprised to actually start feeling, dare I say it, a little bit better. Again, I was by no means feeling great, and I wasn't about to start throwing down 7:20s all of a sudden, but I think my hydration caught up and there was a lot of downhill, and I had seen that 8:24 split from the previous mile and not liked it so much, so I forced myself to get in some semblance of a groove and cruise as best I could. The thought that popped into my head as I was running was this: "I've felt better...but I've also felt worse". It turned into almost a little country song...imagine a guy with a southern twang singing I've felt betterrrr....but I've also felt worrrrrse and that's basically what was running through my head in Newton. Somewhere along here I also saw my friend Brenda, who burst into the most AMAZING dance which included a high kick when she saw me, and I couldn't help but throw up some jazz hands and laugh a little bit. Things were OK! I was doing OK! This was certainly not the race I'd been envisioning since January, but having a shot at a sub 3:30 at this point in time seemed like a pretty good deal. All I had to do was hold on.

Another amusing photo series. On the left, my sort of "oh, well, I know there's a camera here. There's always a damn camera here" smirk. On the right, my "oh why the hell not, let's try to look like we don't hate our lives here" photo. These photos are about 1000 times better than any photo from 2012, 2014, or 2016, so hey, at least I'm learning to LOOK good in hot weather marathons!

The crowds in the first part of Newton were fantastic, and Newton always seems to be the pace where the cheers for the GREATER BOSTON emblazoned on my chest seem to start to escalate. I actually did write my name on my bib this year and I definitely got a few "Go Audreys", but the funny thing is that I love hearing "GO GREATER BOSTON!" even more than I love hearing my own name. That's what Boston is for me. I'm not just myself - I'm representing my team and my home, and for the spectators on the sidelines I'm part of the home team. It's a pretty amazing feeling, and one of my personal favorite things about Boston. For awhile in Newton I was running near a Greater Lowell woman, and so you would get "YEAH GREATER LOWELL! YEAH GREATER BOSTON!" in quick succession. I loved it! I may not have had the energy to high five anyone anymore, but I definitely tried to give a smile or a wave to anyone who was rooting for me and my team. In addition there must have been some people running near me through this whole stretch who were from Sweden and/or Canada because I heard SO many cheers for "GO SWEDEN", or "CANADA" and at one point a group in the crowd even burst into singing "Oh Canada"...Andrew mentioned to me after that the Bruins were playing Ottawa in the playoffs in Boston that weekend, so it's possible that there were more Canadians than usual spectating the clue, but it did kind of give me a laugh in the moment.

We headed up Heartache, and another hilarious thing happened - suddently this girl next to me, under her breath but loud enough for me to hear, says "Oh, FUCK this FUCKING HILL".  It captured my sentiments perfectly. I said something to the effect of "Agreed!" but I think she had headphones in and didn't hear me. Still hilarious. I took another one of my 10 second walk breaks somewhere in the middle of this hill, and then carried on. Now, unfortunately, I started to feel the heat really take its toll. The thought of having to run up and over Heartbreak seemed like an impossible quest. I kept running because I knew that a group of patients and therapists from my work had come out to spectate somewhere around mile 20, and I wanted to try to look as strong as I could when I passed them. As it turned out, I was distracted by another glorious open fire hydrant, and made a beeline over to it. OF COURSE, the group happened to be standing just before or after the hydrant, and so in my ecstasy over being not hot for the first time in an hour, I missed seeing them. They saw me though, which is all that really matters (one of the patients commented after: "you know, I held that sign up for her for like 10 MINUTES, and she didn't even look at me!" What can you do hahaha).  It was almost hard to believe that I had made it past mile 20 without having a total meltdown. Only 1 really slow mile, and only a few miles in the 8:0x range! That seemed pretty good, under the circumstances. I continued to try to do math to figure out what could get me under 3:30. It was going to be close, I could tell, but the good news was I felt like I had a comfortable qualifier for next year pretty well wrapped up. That was definitely a good feeling to have at this particular moment, because things were about to get a bit ugly.

Heartbreak, typically, kind of had it's way with me. I had to take 2 of my 10 second walk breaks on the hill and I'll admit that at least one of them stretched out to 15 seconds. At this point there was really no question about what the problem was - my legs didn't even feel that bad, but I was SO hot and thirsty, and could tell my heart rate was through the roof and my effort level along with it. As I crested Heartbreak, I thought to myself with excitement no more hills! Yes! Unfortunately, hills would be the least of my worries over the next few miles. I was about to take a trip to trainwreck-town. The first signs of a problem were that on the big BC downhill, my quads just felt fried. I know, this is what they warn everyone about on this course! But honest to God I've NEVER had this experience before, and I've gone out fast, slow, and everywhere in between. I pretty much assumed that it was related to the heat, or even potentially some combination of the heat and my efforts to hold back on the downhills (trying to brake = more eccentric control = maybe even more quad fatigue? Based on a sample size of 1, seems like a possibility). I took my last gel at whatever the next water stop after BC was, and that was where shit really hit the fan. My body rejected that gel with all of it's power and the fact that I managed to not projectile vomit on a passerby is still a mystery to me. The last time I felt as nauseous as I did during the graveyard mile of this race was probably in the throes of some ridiculous hangover, certainly never while running. I had to cash in a couple more 10 second walk breaks to attempt to settle my stomach enough to keep running along. It's not like everything else was magical - my legs were toast and I was hot as hell, but the addition of nausea on top of the party really took things to a whole new level. Suffice it to say I did not enjoy my life in any way, shape, or form during the miles from BC to the turn at the reservoir.

Looking pretty much exactly how I felt. Just. Get. Me. To Boston.

Just before the turn, like a beacon of light, appeared a water station. For whatever reason I feel like the water stops between heartbreak and this point are the furthest apart of any point in the race, and of course when it's hot that's the point where I feel like I need an IV, so waiting any longer for water is not particularly helpful. I fell upon that water station like it was the last water I would ever see; I think I took 3 cups with one going over my head and the other two going straight down my throat. This didn't completely resolve the nausea but it seemed to tamp it down slightly. I made the turn towards Cleveland Circle running again, hot and exhausted and nauseous and somehow STILL thirsty, but at least running. Which was more than I could say for many people around me - I hadn't really noticed it up until this point, but the heat carnage was definitely piling up. As we ran down the hill I did my best to avoid the railway tracks that I almost tripped over last year. I thought a guy next to me was talking to me, but he was actually trying to get the attention of his friend, who had dropped behind me. The friend said something like "my quads can't take the pounding!" and wouldn't you know it, MY left quad chose that exact moment to go into an absolute seize of a cramp. My calves cramp almost every time I run a marathon, and I've had both hamstring and quad cramps that have certainly slowed me down. But this? This was not runnable. I tried to keep going and I thought I was going to fall. I refused to come to a dead stop on the side of the road so I basically started hop/walking, trying to pound my leg with my hands while still moving forward. I'm sure I looked pretty incredible. I have a patient who has left sided weakness, who sometimes cues his left leg to do things, calling it "lefty". I decided this was a good thing to channel in this moment. "COME ON LEFTY, GET IT TOGETHER", I said aloud as I attempted to rub my quad, move forward and not fall over at the same time. And I'll be damned, after what seemed like an eternity but in reality according to my Garmin was around 2 minutes (it does not escape me that slowing down so dramatically for 2 minutes cost me a sub-3:30, but there was nothing to be done for it) I started running again, tentatively at first, and then normally, at as fast of a pace as was currently feasible. And my quad didn't seize up! I mean I felt like shit in about 14 other ways, but at least I wasn't being brought to a dead halt any longer. I made my way down Beacon Street, keeping an eye out for my dad along the way. He almost missed me - thankfully I knew exactly where he would be so I literally just yelled "DAD" to get him to look at me, followed by "I'm so fucking nauseous!". Oh, delightful. Once I was past them I knew all I had to do was haul myself down Beacon, get over the hill, get under the bridge, and be done. Despite all of the generally bad feelings going on, I managed to never walk again after the great quad cramp of 2017. I stopped paying attention to much of anything besides continuing to move forward as I ran down Beacon. I think a guy was playing a saxophone and I remember hearing one of my teammates cheer for me, but it was all just noise - I was into the point where it was taking every ounce of my mental and physical power to continue.

FINALLY we reached the base of the hill that goes up and over the bridge, and for whatever reason this was where I realized I did it. I was alive, not walking, not in a med tent, I was going to qualify for next year, and soon enough it was going to be over. I remember looking at the mile 25 clock and thinking "huh. I have 9 minutes to run 1.2 miles to go under 3:30". I did some quick math and then actually laughed to myself. Ummm. Yeah. THAT'S not gonna happen! Oh well, so be it, sub 3:31 it was. Somewhere in this area I believe someone was blasting "Invisible Touch" out of a water stop, yet another song on my list of 'ridiculous songs that I love for some reason', and I smiled. And then it was 1 mile to go. The best mile, the best of the best of the best. I say it every year but I'll say it again, I would run a thousand shitty marathons to feel the way I feel turning right on Hereford, left on Boylston. There just is nothing like it. While I didn't exactly light the world on fire with my home stretch I definitely summoned some degree of a finishing kick and I could feel it, feel myself accelerating as the finish line came closer and closer, feel myself passing people as I ran by to the roar of the crowd. I try to explain to people why I do Boston year after year when 80% of the time (so far) the weather is terrible, it's a hard course, there are plenty of other spring marathons, why? It's because of this. Running down Boylston Street with a full heart, having given all that you had, knowing you had taken what the day brought and done everything you could with it. It's why I run marathons, and it's why I run Boston, and I hope I never stop appreciating how special it is to do it. I crossed the line in 3:30:21. I wasn't overjoyed, but I had done all I could with what the day had given me, and for now, that was enough.
Almost home.
Right on Hereford

 This is the first time I've ever been captured actually crossing the finish line! Love the guy screaming into his phone next to me hahaha.

I always try to remind myself after a training cycle that the time you finish in never tells the whole story. Again, that's part of why I love the marathon - cheesy to say, but the journey that you go on during training makes the finished product only one small piece of the whole. I'm disappointed, obviously, but I'm not disappointed in myself. I'm disappointed in the fact that it had to be 75 degrees and as a result myself and many others had to survive instead of fly as we had trained for and intended to do. Even considering that, truth be told, I think I'd feel better if I'd been able to sneak just a bit closer to 3:25. But you know what? I'm also really, really proud of myself. Because I looked at the weather and I KNEW what I was in for and instead of being foolish and bullheaded and insisting upon running the race I had trained for, even though I knew it would end in disaster, I adapted. I followed my hydration, nutrition, and electrolyte plans to a T and I think I did a reasonably good job of pacing as well - had I not rode the struggle bus of nausea and quad cramps from 21-24, I would have been damn near my adjusted goal of 3:25. To be only 5 minutes off the race that I planned to run as I stood on the start line in Hopkinton feels close to a victory, especially for someone like me who has been time tested to die in the heat each and every time. My top 4 marathons were all run in conditions 50 degrees or below, with the top 2 in the 40s. In 75 degree heat, I ran my 5th best. It wasn't perfect. Most marathons aren't. I'd be a liar if I said that it wasn't a little hard to stomach both knowing I was aiming for a slower time than I was capable of and then missing that mark too. But I also know I put in the work, I know where my fitness is now, and you know, I'm starting to think that this training cycle was really just a precursor to the next one. I'm more confident in my ability to run a 3:15 than I've ever been, and I think having such a strong base to build off of, along with that confidence, is going to serve me well in the months to come. And at the end of the day, I did the one thing that was do or die for me on that day, which was to qualify for next year with enough of a cushion to feel confident that I'll get into the race (I feel like BQ -4:39 is a pretty solid in, as it's been 1-3 minutes the last few years).  To do that on a hellish day where almost no one I know ran well is definitely an accomplishment, and I credit myself for being a big enough person to know when it wasn't the right day to go for a PR. I ran into Robin again in the finishers chute and she said something to the effect of "You were SO right! It wasn't a PR day" No, it wasn't a PR day. But it was a marathon day, a day when I high fived kids in Ashland and sang Sweet Caroline in Wellesley and took ice and freeze pops from kind strangers and was lifted up by my teammates and fought through the tough places to come out the other side. It was a day when I got to turn right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and cross my favorite finish line. And because of that, it was an absolutely freaking wonderful day. 

Boston Marathon 2017
7129/26411 OA, 1501/11973 F, 1197/5846 open women

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pre-Boston check in

Well, here we are again. Tomorrow I will toe the line for my 6th Boston Marathon (that number still boggles my mind a little bit). And for the 4th time in 6 tries, the weather is going to be sunny and unseasonably warm. (Insert every single frowny face emoji you can think of here).

I think the fact that it's going to be almost 70 tomorrow stings even more this year because unlike last year, I'm not injured, but similar to last year, I feel like I'm in really. good. shape. My racing performance and long runs in particular seem to point to the fact that my fitness is there to run a 3:15, but I'm fairly confident based on my past performances in warm weather that I'd have to be in at least 3:10 shape to run a 3:15 in unfavorable conditions, and I am smart enough to know that I'm just not there yet.

Just for fun, let's take a little trip down memory lane of my past Boston races...

2010 - 3:48:46 - My first Boston and BOY was I naive to how fickle the marathon could be. I had trained with a sub 3:30 in mind but I actually managed to overtrain pretty significantly (that training cycle was the highest mileage I've ever run, before or since, with a pretty high level of intensity as well), my legs did not show up on race day, and I made some pretty significant nutrition boo boos. It makes me a little sad looking back on this race because for me that year was ALL about the time and I don't think I let myself enjoy the experience and the fact that it was BOSTON at all. Weather was as perfect as you can get for April, high 40s at the start into the low 50s by the end with some clouds.

2012 - 4:32:who even cares - A shit show of a race in every single sense of the word. This was supposed to be my "comeback" race after pretty much taking 2011 off from serious training for a variety of reasons. It was...not. I pushed the comeback too hard and too fast and wound up with a tibial stress fracture (the only one I've ever had) in the beginning of February which took me out of the game until mid-March. I attempted to cram my entire training cycle into 4 weeks which worked about as well as you'd expect...AND THEN this turned out to be the year it was 88 and sunny and just a complete death march. I ABSOLUTELY should have deferred to 2013, I had the option, but I had a bunch of friends watching the race who weren't going to be in the city the following year so I couldn't bring myself to do it. Absolute trash, managing to finish without hurting myself or getting heatstroke was probably an achievement.

2014 - 3:32:14 - I went into this race hoping to PR (at that time a 3:22) but was thwarted by the weather. I actually didn't have a complete meltdown but it was tough. What is probably more notable about this year, though, was the fact that I was able to get a number through my club and thus got to run the really, really, really special year after the bombing even though I hadn't qualified. The race was incredibly special and meaningful and while I was disappointed with my time that day was about a lot more than that. It was also a 16 minute PR for the course, so it was progress.

2015 - 3:17:30 - Absolute. Freaking. Magic. The stars aligned, everything clicked, and for the first time ever I negative split a marathon and ran a 5 minute PR. The big story with the weather this year was the fact that there was going to be a headwind, and I somehow managed to ignore the fact that there was indeed a headwind, that it was 50 and raining - I was just so happy not to be hot, and it felt like my training from the previous 2 years pretty much all culminated in this race. Incredible.

2016 - 3:35:21 - Basically, the race I am trying desperately to avoid having this year. I had gotten into a bad bout of hip tendinitis about 2 weeks out so my taper had basically become "do nothing" and I'm sure that didn't help matters, but I overheated in the 70 degree temps at the start almost immediately and death marched my way through the remainder of the race. I think this year was especially awful because the forecast for BOSTON didn't look so bad (it was in the 50s at the finish line) but it was a completely different scene through the first half and by the time you got a glimpse of the "cooling sea breeze" (read: headwind) that the local weather people were so delighted to talk about, you were toast.

So, we look back on my Boston performances and we have one outstanding, transcendent day, one medicore performance that was decent given the conditions, and 3 pretty much disasters. We also have 3 unseasonably warm years. They say insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I ran the race pretty much the same way in 2014 and 2016 with poor and poorer results, SO, given the fact that I'm once again dealing with conditions that I know spell disaster for me, I am doing everything in my power to change my behavior so that I can have a different result. Unfortunately, the first part of this plan is completely and totally letting go of any hopes of running a PR. It definitely sucks being in PR shape and having done SO MUCH RUNNING at a goal pace of 7:25 and then having to say, OK, I have to go out in 7:45. But that's what I think I need to do tomorrow. I'm considering a 3:25 to be my goal in the conditions. My plan is to go out VERY VERY conservatively and reevaluate at the half - if I have something left to push the hills and run the last 10K hard, that would be WONDERFUL. I would rather jog the first half and run a strong second half to run a decent time, albeit not a PR, than hold stubbornly to my goals, blow up, and spend 3 hours absolutely hating my life (2016 was really a scarring experience haha, and it probably doesn't help that since I was injured all summer I haven't run a marathon since then). I think part of the challenge is KNOWING that Boston can be a PR course for me; having had that magical day in the past and just knowing that days like that just don't come around every year. My other concern is: what if I go out slow and I STILL blow up? I feel like I need to trust my fitness on that point; I'm fit enough to run 3:15 and I'm making the necessary modifications, so I have to trust that my body can meet me halfway.

The other change I'm making is to my hydration and electrolyte strategy - I'm a heavy and salty sweater and once I get in the hole with electrolytes and/or hydration it becomes extremely difficult to climb back out. Last year I'm pretty sure I went to the line dehydrated already and that's one reason I blew up so fast. This year I plan on at least doubling my usual water intake the morning of the race (if I have to pee myself, well so be it - no shame in my game). The past couple of times it's been warm I've also carried a chopped up nuun tab and eaten it when I take water if I feel like I'm having issues. This year I'm going to actually take it at planned intervals, starting relatively early. I take my gels at 6, 11, 16, and 21 so I'm planning on taking 1/4 nuun tab at 4, 8, 13, and 18 - I'm also going to aim to get 2 cups of water at those stops.

All in all, I think I'm hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. At the end of the day Boston is just such a special race and I'm trying to remember that instead of just getting wrapped up in a time. I already know I'm planning to run a flat, fast marathon in the fall, and this training cycle will build into that one. And Boston...well, it's Boston! I sometimes don't know why I keep doing it year after year when more often than not I get my dreams crushed. But I love it. I love knowing every inch and every step of the course, what random businesses are on the side of the road in Wellesley and the exact rise and fall of each Newton hill. I had the opportunity last night to attend the world premiere of the Boston documentary and it was just incredible. I had chills, I laughed, I cried - it was outstanding. And it really just reminded me what an honor it is to be here, to be able to run this race. People dream of doing this, they travel across oceans, they work for years just to qualify. And I get to have it right in my backyard! So tomorrow, I want to run strong and run brave on this course that I know so well, to represent my team and myself with pride, and to try to love every moment that I'm out there, getting to do this ridiculous thing that I love so much.

One of the songs that really struck me during training this year was "Daugther" by Sleeping at Last - it's fairly obviously written for his daughter and is not at all about running but I really related to these lyrics (it's also just a really beautiful song):
this is your kingdom, this is your crown, this is your story
this is your moment, don't look down...
you're ready.
born ready.
and all you've gotta do is put one foot in front of you...

I'm ready. Let's fly.
(Bib 10247 if anyone wants to track - I'll be starting at 10:25!)

Friday, March 31, 2017

New Bedford Half Race Report

A very belated race report, most likely because this race was a very underwhelming one for me this year and it's less exciting to write about races that were "meh". But in the interest of immortalizing a couple of amusing things that happened and the absurdity of the wind, I'll do it now.

I run this half marathon basically every year, it's "THE" tuneup race for Boston and is always on the NE Grand Prix circuit, so my club strongly encourages as many of us as possible to show up. I generally run really well on this course; it's not an easy course by any means but I think it plays to my strengths. My original plan was to go guns blazing for a PR, but alas, Mother Nature, bitch that she is, had other plans with absurd 20-30 mph winds. Add to that the low level virus/cold thing I had felt like I had been dealing with for the few days prior and an UNBELIEVABLY low level of interest in doing anything resembling fast running the morning of the race, and, as I said before the race, "I'm putting my PR dreams back in the box". When I got in the car in the morning one of my teammates asked if I was excited and I emphatically stated "NOPE.", and that pretty much sums up my frame of mind going into this race.

It was already very cold and VERY windy by the time we made our way up to the start line; I had decided on capris and armwarmers as my outfit and initially that seemed like a terrible choice. I think I am actually incapable of dressing perfectly for this race - I'm always overdressed or underdressed in some way but these days I try to go with the under. The only way into the corrals is from the back, and I can't say it was the most enjoyable way to spend the 10 minutes before the race trying desperately to squeeze myself past large clumps of high schoolers running their first half marathon, people in costumes, etc to stand near people who might be running near my pace. The upside of this is that by the time Joy and I found a spot on the start line, we were pretty much taking off! Might as well get this over with, anyway.

Out of the gate, I felt MISERABLE. The wind was heavily in our faces to start which was bad enough, but I could also definitely feel the effects of whatever respiratory shit I had going on and while not enough to slow me down immensely, I just felt like crap. I felt like the pace I was running at should have felt MUCH easier for the fact that we had literally just started running, and I immediately realigned my expectations accordingly - this was going to be a slog fest. At one point some gravel flew into my face, which was lovely. I could see Dana and another teammate, Ali, who I haven't seen in ages, ahead, and decided to try and get up with them, at least for the moment. Mile 1 (which is essentially downhill) was a 6:47, which is probably about right, but I could already tell I was working too hard. I told Dana as much and she tried her best to get me to stay with her, but I couldn't hang on. I fell back and tried to focus myself on Ali's bright yellow shirt and tried not to let myself get too far behind. I went down a really bad rabbit hole for the entire first half of the race - though I knew all of the valid reasons why this was just not working out, all I could tell myself was UGH YOU'RE SO SLOW SO NOT FIT WHY DO YOU SUCK WHY CAN'T YOU STAY WITH DANA RAAAAAAAR. The majority of the hills in this race come in the first 4 miles which is both a blessing and a curse - a blessing because there's lots of downhills and flats to follow, but a curse because EVERY SINGLE YEAR I go to the same place in my head on the hills: I suck I suck I suck. And that's a hard place to get out of later on.

Still following Ali at a distance, I came through the hills in 7:16, 7:15, and topping out with the big hill in 7:21. By the very top of the biggest hill I had actually closed the distance somewhat on Ali but I wasn't convinced it was going to last. Still, I decided to try to put myself behind her and see if I could stay there. The next section of the course is one that I usually really enjoy; it's a very slight downhill for like 4 miles and if you can get in a good groove here it feels INCREDIBLE. On this day, I just could not get in a groove. In an ideal race I usually run 10 or 15 seconds FASTER than my overall average pace for the race during this stretch, so the fact that I was seeing 7:0x miles wasn't a fabulous sign. And again, I also just didn't feel good at ALL doing it. I was basically hanging out around 7 flat (7:03, 7:01, 6:59 for the 3 downhill miles) but I was just annoyed by how hard it was - I knew what was coming up shortly and I knew I didn't have enough time banked to handle it in PR time. Still I stuck through it, kept staring at Ali (and/or a guy with a man bun and a Smuttynose shirt who also seemed to be in front of me frequently), grabbed some water, took my Gu, and tried to convince myself I was doing OK.

After the long downhill you make a series of turns and usually at least one (if not several) of these turns puts you directly in the path of some sort of wind. I was prepared for the worst, but bizarrely, as we made the first turn, I randomly started feeling GREAT. I passed Ali and several other people in the stretch between mile 7.5 and 8 and even though the downhill had ceased I still ran a 7:01 and a 6:58. Wow! I thought. Maybe I'll be OK? Maybe a 1:33? That would be alright! Just gotta keep pushing! It was a strange turn of events but one I really welcomed after the total trash I had felt like for the last several miles.

We continued on along the ocean and the wind wasn't as bad as I had expected - it was definitely around, but not atrocious. Oh, but then. BUT THEN. We crested a little rise and got ready to make another turn, and you could LITERALLY see people go from standing upright and running normally to hunched down shells of human beings. The direct headwind that we turned into was absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever run in. It was not even possible to continue moving forward at a normal rate of speed. It was like being hit by a truck. For 2 STRAIGHT MILES we ran directly into this 25-30 mph headwind and I almost started laughing when I saw my mile 10 split because it was a 7:52, and WOW what even is that. After conferring with my teammates after the race, all of us ran an entire minute slower for that mile than the previous mile, and lost time on the following mile as well. At one point a bizarre cross wind blasted through and I literally got blown off my feet and into a guy running next to me; I proceeded to screech HOLY SHIT THAT'S NOT OK and he laughed, or maybe said something, but it was lost in the wind.

I assumed that when we made the turn back into town just before mile 11 that things would get a little better, but really they did not get that much better. My legs were so trashed from trying to fight the wind in the prior 2 miles that I didn't have much left to push with, and the only thing I could think was "that wind literally sucked out my will to live". Mile 12 is pretty flat and I made it through that OK with a 7:09, but then we turned again BACK into the wind with the added insult of a large hill just after mile 12. I was absolutely cooked. I felt like I was staggering along the road. I somehow found my way up the hill, past the hideous row of fast food restaurants, and finally made the turn to plow down the hill to the finish. Every year when I make this turn, my brain suddenly turns back on and is like OH MY GOD YOU DEFINITELY DIDN'T RUN FAST ENOUGH BACK THERE YOU SHOULD PROBABLY MAKE UP FOR THIS NOW GOOOOO and I literally almost fall forward down the hill. I hadn't looked at my watch in ages so when I finally saw the clock around 1:34 I felt...ambivalent. I wasn't particularly happy but I wasn't devastated either. It was the definition of a "meh" race.

I quickly found Dana who had finished about a minute ahead (an exact role reversal from last year!) and we headed back to the locker room where several of our teammates were waiting. The talk of the day was of course, the wind, and the general vibe was "holy shit, that sucked". We decided to forgo the traditional fish sandwiches and chowder (I thought this was charming the first time I ran this race, I have since realized that the fish sandwiches are really pretty gross) to jog back to Joy's. My blood sugar definitely bottomed out on the cooldown and I had to stop and walk, then eat almost an entire bag of gummy worms, before I really felt better. After looking at the results I feel like the wind must have really had a major impact, because the winning times were quite slow compared to prior years and despite finishing a minute slower than last year, I achieved my highest New Bedford placing across the board (AG, women, and overall) ever - so I think that says something.

All in all, I don't really think this race is representative of my true fitness, but all things considered it could have gone a LOT worse. If a "bad" race for me these days is a 1:34 half I really can't complain whatsoever. I wish I'd felt a little better out of the gate because I do think I could have made up for more before hitting the wind, but these things happen and sometimes you just have to take what the day gives you. I think I tried really hard and didn't give up on myself even when things got pretty bad, so I can't complain about that either.

I was originally planning on racing the next race in the Grand Prix series tomorrow, a 15K, but the weather is AGAIN absurd (possibly a snowstorm in the area where the race is, sleeting/hailing where I am) and they actually took the race off the Grand Prix as a result. I feel like I'm a little over-raced right now and the only reason I was going to do it was because it was a Grand Prix, so the fact that it no longer is removed any interest I had. I'm tempted to tempo a 5K in my long run on Sunday mainly for amusement purposes and to break up yet another long run, but we'll see how I feel. I'll have to write again about my last long run, which was probably the best 20+ miler I've ever done in training and again under circumstances that made no sense (I guess I should go clubbing in Vegas more frequently the weekend before long runs) but I think that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The one where I wore gloves the WHOLE RACE: Black Cat 20 Miler 2017

On Saturday I ran the Black Cat 20 Mile race in Salem, MA. This is a race that I did once before in 2014 and had what I felt was a breakthrough performance. I was planning on running it again in 2015 but it ended up getting cancelled due to the neverending snowstorms we had that year. Last year I can't remember - I think I didn't want to because it was a week out from the New Bedford half that I always do, so I declined. This year, the calendar fell pretty much the same way, with Black Cat falling 8 days before New Bedford, but I really wanted to do it, so I decided I would aim to do it as a "workout" (something that is not a strength of mine), holding something back, so that I could really go for a PR attempt at NB.

The weather here in New England has been absolutely bizarre the last couple of weeks and the week leading up to Black Cat was no exception - I ran in shorts and a long sleeve on Wednesday, but the forecast for Saturday was frigid temps with heavy winds and a windchill in the negative 6 to 10 range. Um, cool? As the week went on, I began to dread the race. I had some sort of low level illness going on in the early half of the week that resulted in me cutting my Monday run short and dropping out of the workout on Tuesday, not the greatest confidence boost ever. By Friday I was running better but still wasn't feeling 100%, with weird sinus congestion and just general fatigue still playing a factor. Nevertheless, I was signed up for the race (for a RIDICULOUSLY cheap price of $26 - they did away with automatically giving out shirts this year so already the price was down to $40 for the 20 mile which is pretty great as is, but then I signed up with a discount code in February that got me $14 off...absolutely amazing).

I stayed with my teammate Taylor on Friday night and so headed down to Dedham where we dined on absolutely DELICIOUS Italian, watched some college bball, and went to bed early. I was still debating what the hell to wear and had brought an entire backpack full of various clothes - I wanted to represent GBTC, but there just didn't seem to be any combination of items that would be warm enough. In the end I went with a standard long sleeved shirt, GBTC t-shirt for an extra core layer, and my most favorite lightweight Craft jacket, semi-thick tights, ankle height smartwool socks, a buff, a hat, and GLOVES. I may have never discussed it here but I have a very bizarre bloodflow pattern where my hands get absurdly hot when I run. I can think of maybe 3-4 times in my life where I've actually worn gloves for an entire run, because typically they get uncomfortably hot within a couple of miles and then stay comfortably warm once I take the gloves off. Spoiler alert: I LEFT MY GLOVES ON.

Getting to the race was amusing; we underestimated slightly how long it would take to drive to Salem and this combined with a closure on I-95 resulted in us pulling into the parking lot at 7:45....for an 8 am race. I ended up using the bathroom in a random diner while Taylor paid for parking and changed and we jogged over to the Hawthorne Hotel where our other teammate, Joy, had thankfully obtained our numbers. After a brief reprieve in the hotel ballroom we headed out into the bitter cold where everyone was starting to gather. They played the LONGEST, most dramatic version of the Star Spangled Banner I've ever heard (not great when you are quickly freezing) and then we were finally off.

Pre race...happy! And cold...

The gun fired and I took things out at a fairly relaxed pace. Taylor was running the 10 mile so I let her frolic off ahead of me, and found myself running in a relatively good position. My original plan for the race was to start slower than marathon pace, try to run GMP for the middle 10 miles, and then do whatever I wanted - either pick up or stay or die - for the last 5 miles. That...did not happen at all! The race is a 2 "loop" course, with each loop consisting of an out and back to Marblehead and back, followed by a loop in Salem. I'll break the race report into segments in that way.

1-7 (first out and back) - 7:13, 7:28, 7:33, 7:14, 7:33, 7:29, 7:36
Right out of the gate, I felt pleasantly relaxed and good. Because I had decided I wasn't truly racing this race I decided to let myself listen to music, a decision I was EXTREMELY thankful for in the desolate late stages of the race. I felt like I was running so easily that I was actually surprised at my first mile split, and let myself dial it back a little bit. There are quite a few small rollers throughout the course but the one of the only true "hills" to speak of can be found in mile 3. Around this time Joy pulled next to me and said something to the effect of "I'm worried about what's going to happen when we turn around". It was true - I knew that there were 20-30 mph winds around somewhere, but hadn't felt any yet - in fact I was actually getting a little warm and contemplating if I'd overestimated the weather and overdressed. As it turns out we were actually just running with some kind of cross/tailwind, as I would soon find out. I went past Joy and enjoyed the slight downhill out to the turnaround in Marblehead. Around this time I found myself running with a little pack, including a very tall man, a woman in a blue jacket and an NYC marathon hat, and a younger woman with a black jacket. I could get a glimpse of black jacket's bib to see if she was in the 20 or the 10 mile, and I eventually just decided to assume she was in the 20 and hang with her for a bit. We hit the turnaround and 2 things happened: I took water and had to break ice on the top to get at the water, and we turned around and OMG THERE WAS WIND. Woof. I immediately began managing expectations. This was going to be a rough, rough next few miles. By this point I had passed blue and black jackets, and I spent some time drafting off tall guy - didn't work that well, but probably still worth the effort. The rollers on the way back seemed a little bigger with the headwind, and I kept reminding myself that I was really running this as a marathon effort workout and I could slow down any time I darn well pleased. Easier said than done. Despite my frustration with the wind I kept up a decent clip. We headed back into town and the wind continued to pick up. It was somewhere around this point where I decided to try and take my first was frozen, and I made the mistake of trying to shove the whole thing into my mouth anyway, and then take water. The result was a giant glob of caramel Gu surrounded by ice water that there was no way I was going to be able to swallow. So I did the logical thing - I spit the Gu ball and water out to the side, laughed, and said out loud to whatever random people were around me "well, THAT didn't work". I ate whatever was left of the Gu pouch and continued. At some point in this stretch blue jacket caught up to me, and we ran in a little flying V with a guy in an orange Boston jacket for awhile. The wind sucked, and I kept trying to convince myself that somehow we were sharing the burden, but I wasn't sure that was true. 

8-10 (loop 1) - 7:22, 7:30, 7:26
As we headed back into town, Blue Jacket and I were running together. We made a turn and FINALLY were granted a reprieve from the wind, and it felt glorious - I literally picked it up immediately just based on the fact that running suddenly felt so much easier. People were starting to pass as they began the home stretch of the 10 miler, and Blue Jacket asked me if I was running the 20. I (somewhat sadly) replied that I was, but that I was doing it as a training run and kept telling myself I could slow down whenever I wanted. I then proceeded to lock onto her shoulder and stare at her NYC Marathon hat for approximately the next 3 miles. The other true hill in the course comes around the 8.5 mile mark, and as expected it was unpleasant. We then entered a stretch with a really obnoxious crosswind coming right off the water; water which we could see and was lovely to look at, but would have benefited from some buildings in the way to block the damn wind. Blue jacket pulled a bit in front of me, a pattern which would continue as the race went on. At this point I was already thinking about how sick of fighting the wind I was.  It wasn't necessarily that my legs were tired or I was anywhere near aerobic fatigue, I was just so over fighting the wind. I was also COLD, which is something that almost never happens to me when I run. I'm a cold weather runner through and through and it's really rare that I actually think about being cold when running in the winter, but the windchill was just piercing through.  I stared longingly at the finish line as I passed it and headed out for the second lap.

11-17 (out and back 2) - 7:21, 7:18, 7:26, 7:11, 7:42, 7:42, 7:37
I was not excited to run another 10 miles, but I kept trying to remind myself to a) not think to far ahead and just run the mile I was in, and b) remember that I wasn't SUPPOSED to be pushing it to the limit, so to just keep that in mind. Running back out without the wind in my face was nice. The hill out into Marblehead seemed a whole lot bigger the second time around, but I managed to run that mile PERFECTLY at GMP, go me, haha. By this point I had lost blue jacket up ahead, and I was a little bit curious as to where I stood in the general women's rankings. As it was in 2014, once the 10 milers split off the race becomes a whole lot more sparse. I started counting women on their way back as we got closer to the turnaround - I counted 5, and I knew there were also blue jacket and an SRR woman who I could see ahead of her. Great! I thought. If I were fighting for top 3 or something, I would get stressed out now and really have to try. But I don't and I'll probably get an AG award anyway even if I stay right where I am, so this is perfect for my goal of doing this as a workout. What I had completely forgotten about then was that there was also a 20 mile RELAY - as I would figure out later, I had actually been sitting in 5th at the time of the counting! In reality it's probably better that I didn't know that at the time, but it does amuse me that the thought of "oh, good thing I'm NOT fighting for top 3" crossed my mind when in fact...I was! I did a better job of taking my second Gu, slowly pulling chunks of it into my mouth and basically chewing them before taking more. On a side note, strawberry-kiwi Gu roctane = yum. 

We hit the turnaround and as I had anticipated, shit started to get real. The wind seemed a little bit less ferocious initially as we turned around, but it quickly became apparent that it had just shifted directions slightly and had also become stronger since we had last run down this road. Again, I kept reminding myself "you can always slow down! It's just a training run! Whatever whatever!" And yet I found myself annoyed by the 3 women who seemed somewhat within striking distance....and so I decided to strike. First I came upon a girl in a windbreaker who had pulled off to tie her shoe and quickly ate her up (turns out she was a relay runner anyway). Then I encountered a woman in glasses who I leapfrogged with for a bit but eventually passed. Next it was a girl in a 2013 Boston jacket and a braid, who I again leapfrogged with before passing for good. I managed to convince myself that these people must be in WAY worse shape, way more tired, way more sick of fighting the wind than I was, and that once I passed them, even if I slowed down, I had passed them for good.

Miles 15-17 were absurd. At one point I ran down a hill and the wind was so strong that I actually felt like I was having to work harder to run DOWN the hill! The crowd had spaced out so much that there was no one to draft off of, and I kind of just felt alone in a desolate wasteland as I made my way back into town. This was also the point where I REALLY started to feel cold - my legs felt frozen and uncoordinated, I literally couldn't feel my face, and I was still wearing gloves! I accepted that I was going to slow down due to the continued fight against the wind; even the slightest incline seemed massive and I was just so ready to be done. I had definitely started counting down the miles, and with every one my only thought was "uhggghghg isn't this over yet??" 

18-20 (second loop)
7:25, 7:57, 7:31
After a high five from a cop directing traffic (cute!) I headed back into the town loop. At this point I couldn't even tell I was in a race anymore - cars were driving around, and I could barely make out the yellow jacket of some guy probably 400 meters in front of me. I hoped that I knew the course well enough that I wouldn't screw it up and kept going. The break from the wind in the town was once again welcome, but I was dreading what I knew would happen when I made the turnaround at the cove to head back towards the finish. I don't even know how to explain this: I made the 180 degree turn and literally found myself thrown backward by a wall of wind. I was looking out at the ocean with whitecaps on it, the wind was throwing me backwards, and it was damn near impossible to keep moving forward. I screamed some obscenity that was immediately lost in the wind, because not only did I feel like I had slowed down to damn near walking pace, but I knew I had to climb up the hill. Midway through, with 30 mph winds gusting in my face, I walked for about 15 seconds feeling near tears at how absolutely awful this was. Then I snuck a peek behind me (no one to be seen), manned up, and kept running. By the last mile I actually couldn't feel my legs anymore; I was weaving and stumbling, praying that there weren't going to be any cobblestones or random inclines in the pavement because I absolutely was not equipped to handle that. I felt like I was running through some abandoned wasteland - there was NO ONE out, anywhere. Finally, right before the finish Taylor came into my view, screaming something I couldn't understand in my current state, and I threw up my hands and yelled something to the effect of "F*uck this sh*it!" Then, thankfully, the left turn to the finish, and I did everything I could to have some semblance of a kick and crossed the line in JUST under 2:30, 2:29:50.

Someone handed me a medal and I attempted to form the words "thank you" but it probably came out sounding like slurred gibberish; my facial muscles were frozen. Taylor came down and gave me her coat and we headed into the hotel - she told me she thought I had been 4th or 5th woman, which sounded about right to me given the 2 women I had passed in the backstretch. I got my coat and we headed back out to cheer for Joy and Brianna, who had struggled but thankfully found each other and were able to motivate each other to the finish. Reunited as a team, we headed back to the ballroom to warm up and see if anyone had won awards. 

We are very very cold.

Awards was great, because as it turns out we had won the team competition! And we got to stand on a podium, and that was very exciting. Then came the women's awards. I was expecting something in the age group, so kind of tuned out as they announced top 3. But then suddenly I heard something to the effect of "wait, there's a correction in the women's results, and 3rd place..." it was ME! Hah! So that was when I found out that passing those women around 14-15 really WAS my bid for top 3 after all. So I really cleaned up in the cup award arena (pint glass for team awards, coffee mug for individual) - next year I've gotta go for the win because you win a black cat shaped bottle of wine for first!

Anyway, I'm really happy with this race/workout/whatever. I do think I held back a little bit - I imagine that if I hadn't been thinking about New Bedford this coming week or worrying about hurting myself when I couldn't feel my legs, I probably could have run 1-2 minutes faster, but that's fine - the GOAL was not to race it!  While I definitely had to try pretty damn hard due to the weather conditions, I didn't feel like I ever went to the bottom of the well.  I spent a lot of time mediating my effort given what felt "relaxed" and not really worrying about pace, and the fact that what feels relaxed on a day like Saturday is only 3 seconds slower that I hope to run for 26.2 is certainly a good sign. It's funny, because 20 miles is not far off from 26.2 miles, and yet I felt like I just scampered into this race like "oh, yeah, whatever, I'll run 10 miles in my first double in ages the day before, and I don't really care, and whatever" but really a marathon is NOT THAT MUCH LONGER. I think if I can get my head in check for Boston and remember what it feels like to run relaxed (assuming the weather is in my corner) I really have a great shot at accomplishing what I'd like to accomplish there.

Also, I've only run one other 20 miler and it was at this race...but whatever, STILL A PR! It was faster than my 20 mile split of any marathon I've run too, so I guess I'll take it.  The 2017 train of PRs in minor distances keeps rolling up is the one I really care about, the half marathon. The weather forecast again is looking like trash for Sunday (snow? or sleet? or BOTH? and 20 mph winds? Yes, good.) but I am still aiming for a PR at the worst, and slightly bigger goals than that at the best. We shall see!