Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Narrow River 10K Race Report

Literally 4 hours after I had finished Boston, I got a text from Joy, my running buddy/race instigator extraordinnaire, that said "Do you want to run and maybe win a 10K in 3 weeks?". I'll admit, I was intrigued. I haven't done a 10K since early 2010, where I ran a 44 something that stood as my PR. What does it say about how much I care about the distance that I can't even REMEMBER my PR? I also know myself well enough to know that the "OMG RAAAAACE" bug hits pretty rapidly after a marathon so I figured, why not? The added bonus of of a lovely day on the Rhode Island beach was all I needed to pull the trigger. And so on Saturday Joy and I headed down to Naragansett to run this race.

In a typically smart decision, I had gone to bed at 1:30 am the night before and while I didn't drink much at the concert I was at, the lack of water combined with lack of sleep had me feeling...not stellar come race morning. Still, I was looking forward to having a reason to give myself a little kick in the butt and a reminder that I can't just slack off until it's time to start marathon training again. We arrived at the race about 45 minutes early and picked up THE MOST AMAZING SHIRTS OF ALL TIME:

I basically feel that race shirts should fall into one of two camps: useful/cool looking, or entirely ridiculous. If a shirt is cool looking but made of cotton, I'm probably not going to get much use out of it. If it's totally ridiculous and made out of cotton? Sign me up! This shirt was entirely ridiculous, and ENTIRELY awesome. I just couldn't stop laughing at the graphic of these birds running along the shoreline. To be honest, for $25 I was pretty impressed that shirts were even part of the package, and if you're going to get a cotton shirt it might as well be awesome. 

We went out for a quick 10 minute warmup, which was OK, and then it was time to get running. I basically told myself that I was going to take it out at a tempo style, "comfortably hard" pace and then if I happened to have anything left at the end, pick it up. There was a 5K at the race as well which was running the "back" part of the 10K out and back, so there were only about 100 people at the 10K start...kind of nice, since the last couple of races I've done have been in the 20,000s. There weren't chips, so I lined up pretty close to the front row...and 3, 2, 1, go! 

I went out at what I felt like was a pretty relaxed pace, with a few guys spreading out in front of me and Joy right next to me. I was actually surprised when I passed her pretty early, because she usually goes out like a wild woman, and I got a little worried that I was going out too fast. But I didn't care at that moment, because holy shit, I was leading! Aside from one dinky 5K in college, I can't ever remember a situation where I looked to the road ahead and didn't see any women there. I've gotta say, no matter how small the race, that feeling was kind of cool. I passed the mile in 6:56 and I was pretty cool with that. It was around this time that one of the women who I had picked out before the race as being a potential threat passed me. Womp, womp. I briefly assessed whether there was going to be any chance of me staying with her, and I quickly realized that given how I was feeling and given how fast she was running, I was not. Oh well. I locked onto a guy in a blue shirt and just sort of hung out off his shoulder for awhile. We came down a HUGE hill, and since this was an out and back course I knew that said hill was going to be a total bitch to run up later. Mile 2 was a 6:54, which still sounded about right given how I was feeling. I knew in the moment, and I know now, that I could have run harder. But in the grand scheme of things, it seemed like a better idea to keep it "comfortably fast" and not go to the red line - or at least that's what I told myself. In reality, I think it's been so long since I really RACED anything below a half that I don't really even remember how to push myself to the limits of my speed and strength. But clearly, as I was already hot, sticky, and getting a headache of mile 2 of this 10K, today was not the day to try to remember. 

My little pack. I'm actually enjoying the view of the lovely river to my left...because that's what we do in races, right? The guy in the black comes into play later in the story.

The next couple miles were pretty much the same old story. I kept grinding along, not really feeling like I was slowing down but certainly not feeling like I had any capacity to speed up. I was feeling way too dehydrated and WAY too hot for a 60 degree and cloudy day (the 83% humidity, which I didn't realize until after the race, probably played a part). Mile 3 was a 6:59, and my only concern at the turnaround was whether there were any women close to me. First place had already run wayyy out of my reach, and although I could still see her in the distance I knew that she wasn't going to be coming back. Resigned to second, and with no one anywhere nearby besides black shirt guy right behind me, I really had no reason to attempt to pick up the pace. I remember thinking during mile 4 somewhere, "maybe I could run faster, but I just really don't want to". I was absolutely not in the mood to be really really uncomfortable; I was uncomfortable enough as it was.

Mile 4 actually turned out to be a 6:51, not bad, and we headed back over the bridge. I actually grabbed some water here and dumped it on myself because my face was doing it's usual "it's hot and I feel like something is burning from underneath my skin" thing and I needed to cool off. We then headed up the giant hill, which as advertised sucked a big one. According to Strava there was a section of 7.5% grade where my pace took a giant nosedive, and boy did I feel it. I felt like I was walking up the damn hill. Now I was totally over this whole thing - I just wanted to be done. The mile up the hill was a 7:17, gross. It was right around this point where black shirt passed me. I tried to stay with him for awhile, but again was just feeling so over this whole "running" thing that I didn't worry about it and just sort of kept trucking along. Eventually, it occurred to me that if I wanted to keep the 2015 PR streak alive for another race, I was going to sort of have to make an effort for this last 1.2 miles.  And so finally I kind of made myself stop being lazy and relaxed and tried to push it a little bit. I was rewarded for my effort with another 6:51 mile, and apparently managed to assemble some sort of a kick (seriously, what did I do with my life before minute by minute GPS data?). I finished in a 43:30, and I think this may have been the most anticlimactic PR of my life. I was irritated that I hadn't managed to dip under 7:00 pace, I was annoyed at myself for not trying harder, but mostly I was just kind of like, eh, my old PR was super soft anyway. It's a little less exciting to PR when all that PR means is your 10K and half PR pace are now the same. But, a PR is still a PR, and with this race I have thus far in 2015 run a PR in every single race that I've run (5 different races total). So that's pretty cool. And this whole "racing for fun" thing? Also pretty cool! Even as a workout, or a not full out race effort, or whatever, it's good to practice running fast/hard, and to get things like amazing bird t-shirts for your efforts. 

After the race the guy in the black shirt came up and started chatting with me, and thanked me for pulling him along to a sub-7 pace which apparently he had been shooting for for quite some time. He was super enthusiastic and cool, and I later found out that he's in his 60s which definitely makes him even cooler in my book. After grabbing some Gatorade and water and watching Joy finish, we headed off to do a quick cooldown and then back for the awards. I had assumed as 2nd overall woman that I would get one of the cool bird photo 'plaques' that were being out...so I was a little bit sad when I found out they weren't doing overall and AG awards for the open, just one person in the AG. So, no bird picture to match my bird shirt...wompppp. My black shirted friend actually came up to me after and was like "what, you don't get anything for second place?!" and was totally taken aback and went to talk to the guy who was giving out the awards...again, Harry, you're my new favorite person. 

All in all, 3 weeks out from a PR marathon I really can't complain about this race at all. I did what I set out to do, which was to run a comfortably hard, controlled effort. I'd say I worked a little harder for 7:00 pace than was probably strictly necessary, but a lot of that was a problem of my own making. I didn't hate the 10K distance, and I do think that it's one where I probably have quite a bit of room for improvement if I can just remember how to actually run HARD through an entire race. The long distance mentality of 'you can't really be working hard in the first half' doesn't really apply in the short distances...maybe THAT'S why I like marathons better!

Well, after the race, I had pretty much the best day ever:

 It was really foggy but a very pleasant temperature. And despite putting on sunscreen, my face still burned...


We went to a brewery and got to hang out with the world's cutest Aussie shepherd puppy

And then I drank some beer. Because all good days end with beer. 

Narrow River 10K
43:30 (7:00 pace) PR
9/99 OA, 2/58 F, 2/33 open women (18-39)

Quick race notes:
Course: out & back through neighborhoods with a couple of nice bridge views over water, one big downhill at mile 2/uphill at mile 5. Couple of rollers. 3 water stops, not closed to traffic but I literally did not see a car during the entire race
Organization: very well organized for a tiny race; no chip times but it's so small it doesn't really matter. Very nice volunteers. Your usual water/gatorade/oranges/bagels/bananas at the finish; I have to note that the Gatorade was SUPER COLD which was pretty great. I feel like that doesn't always happen. 
Swag: SUPER SWEET BIRD SHIRT, my only gripe is that I feel like if you're giving AG awards or awards for a 5K walk, that it would be nice to go 3 deep for men and women as well (this is my way of saying...I loved this race but I really wanted a bird picture. Guess I'm just going to have to be faster next year ;))
All in all, a really nice, no frills 5K/10K. I liked it. It's really nice to get away from the city sometimes and just go to a chill race where everyone is there to have fun and you just kind of do your thing and go to the beach. I plan on making this an annual tradition!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Today is the day you break 3:20: Boston 2015

The short story: I ran the best race of my life so far, a 4 second negative split and a 3:17:30 finish time, in completely insane weather. Remember 2 weeks ago when one of my rules was "you are not going to feel like a magical pony for the entire race?" And the "this is not a race where you can run even splits"? I FELT LIKE A MAGICAL PONY FOR THE ENTIRE RACE AND I RAN EVEN SPLITS. The whole damn thing. There were times that were more difficult than others, sure, but I never went into the dark dark place that's hard to climb back out of. I was always in the light.

I'll be completely honest: I know I put goals out into the universe for this race, and talked about how I needed to believe that I could get there. But for all that talk, all that psyching myself up? I really didn't think that it was possible for Boston to be a PR course for me, let alone with the addition of rain and a headwind. Even the morning of the race, talking to my teammate on the bus out to Hopkinton, I was kind of thinking, well, I wouldn't be surprised if I ran like a 3:25 today. And I would be OK with that. And even during the race itself, as the splits kept clicking off and things unfolded in front of me, it wasn't until mile 22 that I even allowed myself to believe just a little bit, and it took all the way until mile 24 for me to have the thought cross my mind like a ticker tape: Holy shit. This is it. This, right now, is the day that you break 3:20. This is a PR race. You are PRing right now, at this moment. This is a thing that is happening. 

But to get there, to mile 24 and the epiphany and crossing the finish line and staring down with tears in my eyes as I saw 3:17 staring back at me from my watch, we have to go back to the beginning, and if you've ever read a race report by me before, you know that that's going to take quite a long time. So, here goes.

The final week of taper was interesting, to say the least. I had the bottom of my 7.5 year relationship drop out from under me about 3 weeks before the race, with the final 'we're actually splitting up' conversation happening the Sunday before. So, that was fun. As a coping strategy, I poured every ounce of my energy into preparation and envisioning the perfection that I hoped Monday would bring. At the same time, I was watching with increasing concern as the weather turned from perfection (50, cloudy, calm) to a bit more frightening (still 50, but raining and most concerningly, with a 20 mph headwind).  The amount of sports psychology I did to myself as a result of the forecasted headwind was pretty intense. I talked myself into believing that 20 mph really wasn't that much of a headwind. I came up with a mantra for it - "Wind doesn't stop fire, it strengthens it". My taper week runs all were basically OK, nothing particularly good or bad about them. I had the standard weird taper pains - my back one day, my foot another, the beginnings of a cold that had me sucking down zinc lozenges and drinking about 6 bottles of water each workday - but I continued to try to shut down the negative thoughts and focus solely on the positive. I was prepared. I was ready. I was healthy.

My dad and his wife came into town for the race again this year, and again this was a nice distraction. We went to the Sox game on Friday which they won in a walk off single in the bottom of the 9th, pretty bad ass and a good omen I felt. I headed to the expo on Saturday after lunch at Cambridge Brewing Co. with my dad and as always, as soon as I got off the train at Copley I was immediately hit by chills, nerves, and an inability to stop smiling. There is NOTHING like Boston Marathon weekend. It being my 4th go-round at this race didn't decrease the excitement at all; in fact, if anything, it made it cooler. I felt like a veteran in my 2010 jacket, like someone who knows the ropes. I don't think it will matter how many times I do this race, the moment when the volunteer hands you your bib number is just like, AH. YES.  I wandered around the expo a bit, spent some money (typical), and ran into a master's runner from my team. We chatted briefly about the weather ("Are you kidding? Let's call it what it is, CRAP. This is hypothermia weather for sure.")

After finally deciding I had obtained enough swag I headed to the DailyMile meetup for a bit where I was terrified I wouldn't know anyone but really shouldn't have worried, as I had a total blast enjoying a Sam Adams 26.2 and hanging out with Laura and Norman, who are both crazy fast and as awesome in person as they seem on the internet. On the bus headed back to Cambridge I ran into another GBTC runner, who I didn't know probably because I haven't been to practice in a million years, and we chatted about the race and of course, the weather. The whole weekend in Boston was so gorgeous for being outside and hanging out (though personally, I was throwing out thank you's to the weather gods that this was NOT the weather on race day, given my track record with sunny marathons), but the weather for Monday was definitely on everyone's minds. "Birthday" dinner (it's in May, but I won't be seeing the fam before then) with my dad at Catalyst in Kendall Square was another excellent distraction from this...duck egg carbonara with homemade pasta and chorizo? Best carb load of my life. Being that it was my "birthday" (thank you, Dad) my dessert came with a candle in it and whether it was my birthday or not I think we can all guess what I wished for...

Sunday was when excitement finally gave way to the standard taper panic, which came to a head when I couldn't find my racing socks ANYWHERE. Obviously this was not a hard problem to solve; I can access CitySports and I know what brand/style they are...but I was absolutely having a meltdown. It was, as my now-roommate said "a special kind of crazy". Once I had the correct socks in hand I felt much better, and began going about the lengthy process of getting my crap organized for athlete's village/racing attire/drop bag for Monday. I stayed pretty low key Monday night and just ate some pasta at home (major perks of this being my 'home' course), watched Mockingjay, and went to bed around 10, but not before setting 3 alarms. It never really gets any less weird going to bed in my own bed, and knowing that I'm going to wake up the next morning and instead of going to work, will be running a world major marathon.
Throwaway clothes and bib person...almost equally important haha

I clearly should not have worried about setting 3 alarms, because my first alarm was set to go off at 6:10 and I woke up at 5:19 am and absolutely could not fall back asleep. I tossed and turned for awhile, abducted the dog from his bed and forced him to cuddle with me for awhile, and then finally gave up and started getting ready. I checked the weather one more time - yup, still 20 mph headwind, yay! I devoted probably a lot more time than was strictly necessary to taking ridiculous selfies/mirror selfies, because this is the 21st century and who doesn't love absurd race morning pics? This was also a useful way to calm down the pre-race nerves, which strangely weren't rearing their heads too much yet. 
This is my life and these are my choices hahaha

I used the 10 minute walk from my apartment to the T to pump some jams ("Into the Fire", "Raging Fire", and "Fireball"...because, yeah), grabbed an iced coffee at Dunkin', and got on the T which was FULL of runners, along with many people just headed to work. I love the electric energy of being on public transit filled with people who are about to put themselves through the same insane thing as you are, and in the morning everything is still all full of possibility. No one has had a bad race, no one's gotten injured or had to drop out, it's all just electricity. We are HERE. I listened to "First Date" by Blink-182 as I have prior to every race I've run since I was 14 and hilariously ran into a friend of mine who was just headed into work. By the time I got off at the Common I was pumped up to say the least, and as I followed the sea of runners out of the MBTA tunnel, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. God, the electricity of race morning! Is there anything else like it? I knew I was going to have to sacrifice my phone to bag drop sooner rather than later, so I cued up the #1 song of this training cycle, Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips and walked grinning towards the bag check area. Bag drop went off uneventfully, and amazingly, so did meeting up with my teammate Brianna. And with that, we headed onto the bus that would take us to Hopkinton. Here we go.

As usual, the ride to Hopkinton seemed to take foreverrrrrr. Brianna and I chatted about random things, past marathons, goals for the race, and of course, the weather. As we rode down the highway, rain started spattering the front window and a hush fell over the bus. Brianna and I were just like...welp. That's happening. It did stop by the time we got to the Athlete's Village but by that point the wind was also starting to kick up and it was becoming clear that this was going to be a raw day. Still, I wasn't hot! I actually needed my throwaway clothes! And that made me not even care about the chilly wind. Even walking under the Athlete's Village arch, I still didn't quite feel like this was really happening. I'm...racing a marathon? How did this happen? How did we get here? When we arrived in the village we immediately hit the porta potty line, which was quite a long and not entirely pleasant experience since I really had to pee after the long journey on the school bus. It was also 8:45, time to eat my bagel...which I had toasted, and then allowed to get cold over the last 2 hours. Do you know how disgusting a once toasted, now cold bagel is? SO DISGUSTING. I gnawed sadly on my bagel, and trust me, it took quite a bit of mental fortitude to force it down...but I did, because that's what I eat before a marathon. After a successful trip to the porta potty, Brianna and I went and briefly hung out in one of the tents. Wave 1 was already being called up to the start and time seemed to be flying - we were there for just enough time for me to organize my Gu in my various pockets/armwarmers, do a few leg swings, and stretch out my hamstrings before they were calling wave 2. I was in wave 5 and Brianna was further back, so I left her when they called for 5. I was on my own now.

The walk from the athletes village to the start will ALWAYS be one of my very favorite parts of the race, and while the crowds were a little more sparse than last year given the weather, the energy was still amazing. Since I was running out of wave 4 last year, the vibe was totally different - in wave 2, people are qualifiers and are there to run fast. There were plenty of yard parties going on with people handing out high fives from the hand that wasn't holding a beer - people after my Wisconsin heart! I made the snap decision to stop at the house that always has everything you could ever need for a marathon (sharpies, hair ties, vaseline, water, etc) to write "MAKE EM BELIEVE" on my leg. As we continued to make our way towards the corrals, you could faintly hear the loudspeaker announcing the elite men (I could vaguely hear Meb being called to the start) and then we heard the gun go for Wave 1, which sent up a low murmur, followed by cheers. The race had begun, and soon enough it would be our turn to begin the journey to Boston. I veered off into the supermarket parking lot for one last porta potty trip, then rejoined the herd, gradually ditching my throwaway gear as I went. I hung on to my leopard print pants and My Little Pony shirt all the way into corral 5 (I'd like to think that people were impressed by my fashion choices), finally ditching them when 5 minutes to the start was called. There were plenty of people who matched my racing attire in singlets, shorts, and arm warmers so I didn't feel like the only crazy who was running near naked in the delightfully 'crisp' weather. The 40 minutes that elapsed between being called out of the village and the gun going off seemed to last about 5 seconds - and it's that weird thing before a race where there's a big part of you that just wants to get ON with it already, but another part of you that wants to wait just a little longer because you don't want to find out what's going to happen just yet. But whether or not we were ready..."Two minutes to the start of Wave 2. One minute to the start. 30 seconds...this will be the last announcement before the gun..." And then, crack, and a roar. 

The race
We started moving towards the start line gradually, with volunteers and spectators offering high fives and encouragement, sending us on our way in style. I could see the start pillar approaching, and about 2 minutes after the gun had fired, there I was, crossing the starting mats again. The start of a marathon - is there anywhere so full of fear, excitement, possibility? ANYTHING could happen from here on out, and it all starts now, this very second. And so I started my watch and I ran.

[Italics are my visualization that I wrote out before the race...it's actually a little bit scary how PERFECTLY I executed this race to what I visualized]

Hopkinton: I am excited, but calm. I am NOT afraid. I am soaking in the joy around me. When the gun goes off, I am relaxed, smooth. 7:30s to 7:40 like it's nothing. I don't get carried away. I am focused and ready. 

5K (7:47, 7:28, 7:26, 5K split 23:37)
I had decided before the race that I was going to stay on the left side of the road, no excuses whatsoever. I have had a MAJOR problem with weaving like a dumb dumb for no particular reason at this race in the past and I wasn't going to let that happen last year (not to mention, I figured if the wind was coming from the south east, it would be hitting from the right side of the course...aka if I was on the left there would be more people between me and the wind. Logical? I don't know haha.) I finally felt adequately prepared for the insanity of the first mile and just tried to relax to the max. We passed the house that always flies a Wisconsin flag during the first mile, and I screamed "ON WISCONSIN!" Over the first couple of miles, my legs didn't feel particularly great - there was some tightness in my left high hamstring that I really wasn't liking, but I figured it would pass. At this moment I just wanted to stay calm and relaxed, stay on the left side, and not get tripped or do anything stupid. I was running right along the edge of the road so I took the opportunity to high five a bunch of kids and just smile. I smiled A LOT during this race. I couldn't decide what to think when I saw my first mile split - part of me was thrilled that I hadn't gone out like a total maniac, but another part of me was kind of like...oh, well I hope that that's not as fast as I can go today. I didn't consciously pick it up or anything, but as the course continued downhill and the pack started to spread out a little bit I found a little bit more of a rhythm, and the next 2 splits were starting to look slightly more like the splits I was looking for. Still, I was feeling cautions - DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST was blinking like a giant red light in my brain, and I felt like I was walking the line between overconfidence and underconfidence. So I figured that as long as I was still feeling relaxed, that I would assume that I wasn't being an idiot. The most memorable thing that happened during these miles was getting tripped by someone cutting over to the water station and somehow managing not to go down - very happy for my quick balance reactions, because that would have been awful. I was definitely still kind of stressed about the whole pacing of the thing and whether or not I was doing it right. And so, a thought popped into my head, a thought that I would repeat to myself probably 100 times during the remainder of the race. And that thought was this: "You're a PONY!"

Now, what the hell does "You're a PONY!" mean? I think in the moment I was thinking about "you aren't going to feel like a magical pony the entire race", and then my brain decided that being relaxed was like being a pony. Ponies are happy and they prance, and that's what I wanted to feel like? I don't know. I've tried to figure it out but I just can't. But for the rest of the race, every time I started to feel a little tense, or like something was cramping, or nervous about a split, or getting tired, I repeated over and over: "You're a PONY". And as really really strange as that mantra is....guys...it REALLY worked, as I would find out soon.

I came through the 5K in 23:37, a 7:35 average pace and actually SLOWER than I went out in last year...which I'm going to go ahead and file under Things I've Finally Learned After Running Boston 4 Times. Remember how everyone says don't go out hard? Like, seriously for realizies, don't. I wasn't good enough at math to know the exact pace at the time, but I was a little nervous. I knew that 7:37 pace was what I was looking for to go under 3:20, however, I also knew that I had made it my mission to go out conservatively. But my brain was fighting with itself a little bit - you actually think you're going to pick it UP and then maintain for the rest of the race? Are you insane? Do you not know there's a 20 mph headwind? vs. This is the strategy that you chose, and you are doing EXACTLY what you want to do right now. So I did the only logical thing: I told my brain to shut up, and I decided to be a pony for awhile. Time would tell what would happen; right now, I was running.

Ashland: I am still totally relaxed, running easily. I start to grab water once in awhile. I soak in the crowd's energy but don't let it carry me away. Breathe. 5K in 23:13-23:30, perfect. I feel strong and tall. 

10K (7:27, 7:32, 7:28, 10K split 47:08/23:31)
5K to 10K went by INCREDIBLY quickly. I was still feeling nicely relaxed, enjoying myself, and soaking in the crowd energy. Somewhere shortly after mile 3 I ran past a house that had music playing and what song was it? DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'. Not only that, but it happened to be playing my favorite part of the song: "Paying anything to roll the dice, just one more time". I haven't heard that song during a race since my last marathon PR race (I guess I should have known then, this was gonna be a good day). There was quite a bit of music playing throughout this stretch, including the first of many Sweet Carolines (quite fun because despite the fact that we were running a 7:30 pace, a decent chunk of the runners, including myself, still yelled along with SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!). Around mile 5, a couple of things happened - I spotted a familiar figure in red up ahead - BRIANNA! I couldn't believe it - she had started behind me and I hadn't seen her anywhere, so it was quite fun to come up behind her and run next to her for a bit. We chatted briefly - she said she had gone out pretty fast, and asked me how I was. "Just chillin'!" I replied, trying not to get sucked into her slightly faster pace. I let her go out ahead of me again; trying to pick it up had made me feel like I was straining a bit and that wasn't what I wanted to feel at this point in the race. Run your own race Zaferos...run your own race. You're a pony. I told myself that I would see her later, and kept on bopping along. The sign for Framingham arrived more quickly than I remember, and another of my favorite training songs, "Taking Care of Business", was blasting from a speaker. During this chunk of the race I was also running near a girl wearing a unicorn hat and wings, who I heard referred to as "fairy", "angel", "pegasus", "unicorn", and "wings" from spectators...while it was extremely tempting to speed up and pass her, I once again reminded myself that all of the people streaming by me at the moment were going to come back to me later. You're a pony. Relax. The fun part is still a long way off. I took my first Gu (caramel machiatto) at the water station after mile 5 and it went down without issue. Check and check. 

Framingham: I let my pace even out on the long, flat stretch. I run even effort on the rises - just like Stu's, 7:40 up, 7:20 down. I still feel strong and relaxed. I am not weaving around. 10K 46-47 minutes. On target, feeling amazing. I refocus during the quiet of Lake C as we rise into Natick. 15K 1:09-1:11. The photo op at 15K shows a runner in her element - relaxed, focused, strong. 

15K (7:28, 7:33, 7:27, 15K split 1:10:31/23:23)
By this point my Garmin was already off the mile markers and I kept missing my splits, so I really had no concept of how things were going. I didn't feel like I had slowed down, and I still felt relaxed, so I pretty much just assumed that things were still going well. Once upon a time, this section of the course through Framingham made me want to gouge my eyeballs out. Today? It felt like it passed in about 14 seconds, and MAN was it more enjoyable not dying a slow and painful death under the beating sun. I think this was the first of many times during the race that I thought to myself how great it was to NOT be hot. The city even looked different under cloudy skies; less like a barren wasteland and more like a lovely flat road. I had also started my last long run at the Framingham train station, so from this point onward I had run the course fairly recently and I knew what I was in for. What I did NOT remember from previous years was how drunk and raucous the spectators of Framingham are. Again, I felt like the numbers were down a little bit from past years but the people who were out were going absolutely CRAZY. The smell of beer was in the air and life was good. I saw a guy holding his dog up on it's hind legs to 'high five' runners going past - I was actually bummed that at that moment I was too far from the curb, because I can't say I've ever had a dog high five me during a race before! 

While I was greatly enjoying the rowdy spectators, there were moments during Framingham where I got a little bit nervous about how things were going to play out. I actually started noticing my quads a little bit during this section, which is veeeeery slightly downhill. Strangely, I actually found myself wanting to get OFF the downhill and into some little rollers - luckily, my wish was granted with some of the little inclines that come on the way from Framingham towards Natick. I immediately started feeling better once there was more variability in the terrain, but the feeling of potential quad cramps at mile 7 was enough to motivate me to grab some Gatorade at the next aid station, and to be glad that my next Gu had extra electrolytes. Past the little Wendy's hill, past the Planet Fitness, past the VFW post with a sign for a "MEAT SHOOT" that never fails to make me laugh, I ran on. Again, in what felt like no time at all, we were at the 9 mile mark and Lake Cochicuate, with the lovely 15K photo op coming up. EVERY YEAR I have to fake looking like I'm enjoying myself at this camera - well, not this year. I was actually kind of giggling to myself...like...muahaha, I actually feel really relaxed and good right now, and I think I'm going to continue to feel relaxed and good. Also right before the camera was someone with a sign that said "Your ass looks GREAT", which I'm pretty sure I'm actually giggling at in the photo. By this point it had started raining on and off a little bit, not enough to really be annoying but enough to sort of think to yourself, oh Mother Nature, you saucy wench you.

Natick: I am calm on the incline to Natick Center. It is cloudy and I am comfortable. I channel the quiet of my last long run. My Gu boosts me up the hill towards Wellesley. My legs feel strong, I am keeping the pace relaxed. I am ready for Wellesely. 

20K (7:29, 7:32, 7:24, 20K split 1:33:46/23:15)
When you've run a course more than once, there are spots along the way where visions of your past self come back to haunt you, the debris of the moments when things went to hell all scattered along the pathway. Framingham was this place in 2010, and 2012 was over before it even started. We were now approaching the moment where I watched my PR dreams go out the window in 2014: mile 10, and Natick Center. Admittedly, this gave me a little twinge of nerves, since I had been feeling GREAT in 2014 right up until the point where I didn't. Currently, I was still feeling great and relaxed. But was that point ahead? I didn't know yet, and it didn't matter yet. Stay relaxed, you're a PONY. As we approached the church tower and the crowds began to grow stronger, I took a moment to thank whatever weather gods, running gods, or magical fairies had allowed this day to be cool and cloudy. I was so, SO grateful to NOT BE HOT.  The weather was definitely taking a turn for the shittier, but it wasn't bothering me much and it didn't seem to be bothering the spectators either, because the crowds in Natick were great. There was a giant Vegas-style "Welcome to Natick" sign and an Elvis impersonator up on a platform...I couldn't remember, is this always something they do in Natick? Or was I really just too miserable to EVER notice it before? Whichever it was, I got a kick out of it. I started to feel the pace sneak up as the roar became more intense, and I tired to back off from the point where I started to feel like I was pushing. Not time yet. You're a pony right now. You're a pony, and there's a lot of time to go. 

As we left Natick center I'll admit that I had what was one of my only slightly dark moments of the race. At the current moment, I knew I was running really well, but I was just so worried because of how this race had turned out every single year I'd run it in the past...I couldn't even begin to think about any times or finishes or anything of that nature. 16 miles is a long way to go, no matter where you are.  The demons started stirring a little bit, and honestly it probably wasn't a bad thing that by this point I had lost track of most of my splits, because if I'd seen them I probably would have panicked and gotten worried over whether or not I'd be able to hold them. As it was, I stuffed the voices in my head that were telling me that there was still plenty of time to blow up back into the dusty corner where they belonged and overpowered them with my pony power. And again, amazingly? It REALLY helped. I immediately felt my body relax, and I refocused on the inclines leading out of Natick ahead and the fact that it was almost time to take another Gu. In perfect timing, right around that particular moment a guy in a blue shirt came up on my left and started a conversation. "Hey, how are you doing?" he asked. I wasn't really sure what he was trying to achieve by asking this, but to reassure myself as much as him I replied "Good! Just trying to stay relaxed. It's my 4th time doing this, and I really want to have something left in Newton." (Let this be recorded as the most consecutive words that have EVER left my mouth during a race of any kind). The gentleman replied: "Well, you LOOK relaxed. You look strong!" So, have you ever had someone tell you EXACTLY what you needed to hear at a certain moment in life? Thanks, guy in the blue shirt. The hills leading out of Natick past the liquor store and into the Wellesley campus seemed significantly less annoying than they had on my last long run, just blips in the radar and a nice opportunity to use some different muscles. Into the forest, into Wellesley...is it really possible that we're here, already?

They always say you can hear the roar of Wellesely a mile ahead, and yet I'm always still surprised when that's true. And when the mile 12 marker showed up out of nowhere, I literally yelped, to no one in particular, "that was quick!!" I heard a fan yell "Go Badgers!" to someone nearby, so I put in a little surge to level up with a guy in a red Wisconsin shirt (seriously, what? Initiating conversation in a race? Who AM I?) and said "On, Wisconsin! Make 'em believe!", gesturing to my leg, and the Wisconsin basketball slogan. We then hilariously had a little conversation about how the Badgers deserved a trophy for the season that they had, and that gave me all the boost I needed heading into Wellesley. Being on the left side put me a little further away from the roar, but I still made an effort to watch the signs and hoped to see a guy stop for a kiss (drawbacks of wave 2: no one did). My personal favorite sign which actually got a giggle out of me was "Kiss me, I'm wet!...because rain...DUH". More proof that my sense of humor reverts to that of a teenage boy at far too many points in my life. Up out of Welleseley College we ran, past the roar. I had some great random fans on the left give me some resounding "GREATER BOSTONNNNN!" cheers as I cruised up the hill. Here we were, at the point where things had really all gone to hell last year. And all I could think of was one thing: Wellesely, we have a score to settle.

Wellesely: I soak in the energy of the fans and the runners around me as I pass the half on perfect pace in 1:38. Wellesley is long and rollling, but I have prepared for this. I lock into a calm frame of mind and maintain - through the town, the park, the other part of town, and then down. If I am feeling good, I put in a little extra push through here. I relax and let the downhill take me, push me up and over the highway. I am running proud and free, standing tall, and I refuse to let the hill intimidate me. 

25K (7:18, , HALF 1:38:47, 7:25, 7:31, 25K split 1:56:55/23:09)
Oh man, well speaking of insane crowds that I never noticed when I was having a shitty race in the past, Wellesley-the city, not just the college? AMAZING. So, so loud and exciting. I was a little surprised at my 7:18 split but I figured that the crowds of the scream tunnel were bound to give me a little extra something, and I didn't feel any worse for the wear so I didn't really worry about it. Just more money in the bank. I had actually been slowly but surely reeling Brianna in again over the previous stretch and after losing her for a bit after a water stop I found her again somewhere right around the half marathon mark. I asked her how she was doing...and I couldn't even hear her response, that's how loud the crowds were. The moment I passed her and then passed the half in a 1:38:xx was the first time I got just the teensiest shiver of excitement and of emotion related to how my race was going. It dawned on me that so far, things were going EXACTLY as I had planned. The rain was continuing on and off and I was sort of subconsciously aware that wind was a thing that existed around me, but for some reason I physically refused to notice it's existence. Here I was at the halfway point, and still I was on pace, and still I was feeling really, really good. And for just a second, I wanted to burst into tears from how purely perfect it all was. These people are here, cheering for you, and you are running well; you deserve these cheers. You're about to settle your score with Wellesley, and I think you're going to do the rest of this race that you love so much right. But I only let myself think that for a second; the second half of a marathon is a hell of a lot longer than the first, and the real race was only beginning. So what did I turn my thoughts to? Why, "You're a PONY", of course.

In a complete reversal from last year, the entirety of Wellesely passed INCREDIBLY quickly. One minute I was immersed in these insane crowds; what seemed like about 7 seconds later I was running past the Whole Foods and the park where my co-worker saw me and went totally crazy last year. Somehow, the pace I was running still felt pretty damn relaxed. I definitely wouldn't say it was EASY anymore, but relaxed? Definitely. I still really didn't have a great idea of what my splits were since I still kept missing my Garmin bleeping at me (as if I'd be able to hear it...yeah right). I don't remember having a whole lot of thoughts in Wellesely, aside from the occasional "You're a pony". I would literally start to feel a little bit tired and then I'd remind myself that I was a pony and snap out of it. It was really, really weird but kind of hilarious. I took another gel at the mile 15 water stop, and soon enough we had passed the 15 mile marker and it was time to bomb down the mega-hill...only, because I apparently earned my ability to be a smart racer when I turned 27, I did not go screaming down the hill but instead just kind of let it take me, trying to just keep my legs under me and not go overstriding or braking like crazy. I knew that as soon as this downhill was over, it was time for the real deal nitty gritty portion of the race to begin. And that beginning was the hill over 128.

Newton: I NEVER back down. I fight my way up Ass Panther, then put it behind me. I am thinking positive, strong thoughts. Just like Stu's I keep running by effort, embracing the crowds and these fabled hills. I am well hydrated and the perfect temperature. I am working, but I remain relaxed. I cross 20 miles in a new PR of 2:30, and I have more left to give. I focus on my breathing and posture as I crest Heartbreak and fly past BC. Now, it is time. 

30K (7:16, 7:37, 7:21, 30K split 2:20:27/23:28)
I was so, so prepared for the hill up over the highway to suck. I was prepared for the crosswind to hit like crazy and I was prepared to be tired and not excited to run uphill, just as I had every other time I've run this race. So imagine my complete surprise when the hill over 128 DID NOT SUCK. In fact, I felt absurdly strong going up and over and still had no concept of the fact that there was wind. (Seriously, am I insane? Was I literally just that numb that I couldn't feel it?) And here was another moment - as I came over the crest thinking to myself "128 hill, you ain't no thang" - that I thought you know, I think today might be a Good Day. But still, miles and miles to go. I knew that my dad was planning on cheering at Woodland, so I briefly went over to the right side of the road to scan for them as I ran through Newton. This was INCREDIBLY distracting and it was also somewhat disorienting to be scanning a crowd that all looked very similar in their raincoats and umbrellas looking for a very specific person. I actually thought I saw my dad at one point, but it turned out to just be a dude who looked very similar to my dad. This was also the point in the course where they were handing out gels, and I was so distracted and zoned in on looking for my dad that I only remember 2 things about this section: a volunteer yelling "ANYONE NEED CAFFEINE?" and the fact that I was running behind 2 girls in matching red, white, and blue outfits. It had started raining again, and I was suddenly aware that I was completely soaking wet - shoes, bib number, hair, everything. Had it really been raining that much? It didn't really seem like it had, but given my lack of awareness of the elements there probably could have been a tornado and I would have barely batted an eye. Is this what it is to be in the zone? 

Speaking of being in the zone, despite the fact that I had felt sort of odd throughout mile 16-17, my legs had recovered from all previous cramping issues and my general aerobic status felt excellent. In short, I was still feeling GOOD. And what perfect timing to feel good, because up in the distance I could see that fated turn, where every year prior I have been defeated and beaten. It was time to pass the Newton firehouse, and to go into the fire, for real. My inner pony became a little more badass at this point. All right, Ass Panther. I am a magical god damn pony, and I am about to DESTROY you. I flew into the turn, turned my eyes ahead, and POWERED up Ass Panther hill (there's a long explanation why I call it that, just go with it). 
I think this face says "I've got this". 
Oh my God. I AM RUNNING UP ASS PANTHER HILL AND I AM FEELING GREAT! This is what my brain was telling me as my body did just that. I couldn't believe it. For all of the times that I said that I was going to do this, actually doing it was almost like an out of body experience. Of course, the out of body experience may also have been due to the fact that it was around this time when I realized that I pretty much couldn't feel my body anymore. I literally could not feel my shorts on my legs; for all I knew, I could have been naked. As soon as I made the turn into the hills the weather kicked up the shitty by another order of magnitude, and it was here that the wind finally made its presence known to me. Oh, hello, wind, so nice of you to join me during the hardest part of the course. After cresting Ass Panther I locked into cruise control mode for the next couple of miles. I was enjoying my spot on the far left of the course, but I also find myself ducking behind tall men (just as I said I would) whenever I would get hit with a blast of wind. I 'befriended' a guy in a neon yellow shirt and decided to just lock in and stare at the back of his Nike shirt for awhile. Through mile 18 and 19, sure, I was starting to feel it a little bit. I was trying to smile at as many spectators as I could, and acknowledge anyone and everyone who gave me a Greater Boston shoutout, but it was becoming just a little bit tougher to find the energy to smile, or give a thumbs up, or contort my increasingly frozen face into something that wasn't a crazy grimace. But hey, 8 miles to go? That's easy! 8 miles is nothing! You're a pony, remember? 

35K (7:31, 7:36, 7:42, 35K split 2:44:15/23:48)
I passed the 30K mark in around 2:20, which I knew was very close to my recent PR at Stu's. Though I had no clue what any of my recent splits had been, I knew this: I was still running somewhere in the neighborhood of 7:30 pace. And I still didn't feel like I was on the red line. And all of these things were making me feel pretty fucking awesome. While the crowds may have been a little more sparse than in past years as a result of the rain, people were still out in force and totally rowdy throughout the Newton hills, and for the first time ever I was in a state to actually kind of enjoy it. I saw some great signs during the stretch leading up to Heartbreak: "Heartbreak = Fart Break", a giant hot pink sign on a tree that just said "DON'T POOP", and my personal favorite "Don't be a Seahawk, RUN IT IN!" As we headed up the hill before Heartbreak, a couple of things happened. I overheard a guy behind me ask someone "Is this it? Is this Heartbreak?" The person he was answering gave a somewhat non-committal answer, and I didn't want the poor guy to think this was it. So I turned and said that no, Heartbreak was up ahead. AND THEN: "I like to call this one 'Heartache'" YES!! I have been waiting to use that line since I came up with it in like 2009 (when I wanted to go do a hill workout on Heartbreak, didn't know where it was, and ended up doing my repeats on this hill before figuring out that it wasn't, in fact, Heartbreak -proof). I was positively giddy to be able to share it with a fellow marathoner and he totally got a laugh out of it. Meanwhile, "Heartache" itself wasn't feeling like much of an issue at all. As I continued up, I looked ahead to see yet another familiar singlet up ahead - here was Victoria, another teammate. The crowd seemed to enjoy seeing two Greater Boston singlets together, and we got a few "nice pack!" and "Way to work together!" cheers, which my cross country heart still loves, even now. Throughout the Newton hills, at each aid station I pretty much felt like a rock star, with every. single. volunteer screaming something related to Greater Boston as I ran by. It was just so damn cool. Looming in the distance was Heartbreak, and I knew: if I could hold on to the top of this hill, the world was mine for the taking from there on out. 

I passed mile 20 somewhere in the 2:30-2:31 region (my Garmin buzzed a 2:29:44, but it was consistently registering ahead of the mile markers by this point so I couldn't give it much thought - Garmin distance doesn't matter, real race distance does). Still, a couple of things crossed my mind. First and foremost: HOW DID I GET TO MILE 20 SO QUICKLY?! I was almost like...a little bit sad about it! Not that my actual time was fast of course, but the fact that the whole race was going by so quickly as I perceived it. Soon it would be over, and I think I knew that I was experiencing something special, and I wasn't ready for it to end just yet. On the other side of the coin was the realization that I actually hadn't fallen off pace. At all. And that my legs, numb as they were, were still feeling remarkably good. And then, for the first time in 4 tries, I ran all the way up and over Heartbreak Hill, strong, proud, tall. I smiled. I powered past other runners. Finally, FINALLY I was doing it. I was really, really doing it. What more is there to say? It was hard, of course, my slowest split of the day aside from my first. But as I look back on these splits I realize: my SLOWEST split, up Heartbreak hill, was the average pace of my previous PR marathon. Holy shit. I could see the green light at the intersection that marks the top of the hill; like Gatsby I focused my eyes on the green light and pushed forward. And as I crested the hill I knew this: now or never. 

Brookline/Boston: I have 5 miles to go, and I have enough left to turn on the gas. My conservative start has left me with a fire in my legs and in my heart. I am steady through Cemetary mile and as we hit Beacon I pick up the pace. A straight shot I know so well, each rise and fall. I am flying, with tired but strong legs. I am filled with joy. I crest the mile 25 hill powerfully, legs pushing me onward. Under the bridge, I gradually start to kick. By the time I hit Boylston I am utterly flying and I know I have done it. I see the 3:1x:xx. It is perfect.

40K (7:20, 7:20, 7:20, 40K split 3:07:22/23:07)
With the threat of burnt out quads behind me, I absolutely allowed myself to go screaming down the BC hill. Beer fueled Hash House Harriers and college students as my soundtrack, I flew, letting the wind hit my face. LET IT! I didn't care. I had made it through the Newton hills, those evil dream crushers and the place where PR hopes go to die, unscathed. Here was where the time for being a fun loving, magical relaxed pony ended. Here and now was the time to RACE. And so the mantra that entered my mind as I accelerated out of BC and into the cemetary mile was another nonsensical and yet completely appropriate phrase: Fuck the document. 

Before the race I had reread "Running With The Buffaloes", which is a chronicle of the season of the 1998 Colorado men's cross country team, and a book that typically makes me want to go train at a ridiculous intensity. At some point during the book, the coach gets extremely fired up about something (can't recall if it was a workout or race) and says "Fuck the document!" - referring to, I assume, forgetting about the assigned paces or what the workout says and just GOING for it. And here it was: I don't care what anyone says about the weather, what I thought I could do, what the course is, or anyone saying today isn't a PR day. Fuck the document, and let's go. And I went.

I don't remember the next mile very well at all. I consciously picked up the pace and was shocked to find that it didn't really feel all that bad to do so. Pain was definitely starting to come into the picture, and I was numb and cold and wet, and the crowds had subsided in this area and I was just running. No, I was RACING. For the first time in my entire life, at mile 21+ of a marathon, I wasn't just surviving, I was racing. 22 mile mark. 4 miles to go. For the first time all race, I started trying to do math, and I found that my brain couldn't even function enough to do so. The question in my mind was: how close am I? Though I was feeling good enough at the time, you still never know what could happen over the last few miles of a marathon and I couldn't bring myself to think that anything was a guarantee...unfortunately, whether due to cold, fatigue, or something else, I could not figure out the math of how quickly I would need to run the next 4 miles. The thought vaguely broadcast itself through my head: "You could slow down to 10 minute pace and you would run a 3:24". This information was surprising, but I also couldn't really make meaning out of it. If I could slow down and run a 3:24, what does it mean if I keep speeding up? 

The turn into Cleveland Circle was, as always, a massive highlight, as this is where the crowd really starts to escalate and it's your last turn before the right on Hereford. Coming down the hill I almost ate it as I heard someone yell "THERE'S A PUDDLE", stupidly tried to avoid the puddle, almost tripped on a railroad tie, and ended up running through the giant puddle anyway lol. We made the turn onto Beacon and I suddenly realized that I was actually for serious almost done with this race. And I actually for serious did not feel like total shit. I did get a HORRIBLE side stitch right before the 23 mile mark which gave a moment of panic. No no no no this is not going to end this way. And I absolutely DUG my hand into my side, took a deep breath let go. Fuck, still there. Once more...and then, like absolute magic, the cramp dissolved. (I can still feel where it was today, 3 days later, but that's another story haha). I kept running down Beacon, keeping an eye out for both my friends and my dad who I knew were going to be there near mile 23. I didn't see or hear either of them, but right now that was OK. This race was about me. Fuck the document. Time to prove who you are. Up the little rise and then down into Coolidge Corner, where a crowd of GBTC runners were still hanging out and gave me a great welcome. Off in the distance, as you always can far to early, I could see the Citgo sign. And I knew it was pretty much all downhill from here.  

FINISH (7:16, 7:17, 7:09 pace end)
And all of sudden, finally, here at the 24 mile mark, my math skills kicked back into gear and I realized something. Blasting through my brain was this thought: holy shit, today is the day. Today is the day you PR, and today, April 20, 2015 on the Boston course, is the day you break 3:20. This is actually a thing that's happening. It's BEEN happening for the last 3 hours. And now you get to finish it. It was almost too perfect to feel real. With still more to give in my legs, I hammered down Boyslton. There was absolutely nothing left to hold back now; we had finally reached the point where there were no more questions. No more doubts. No more fear. Only me, running as fast as my legs would carry me, towards my destiny. As I headed towards the last big uphill at the mile 25 mark, my legs and my body finally started to send me some signals like, oh my, we would REALLY like to stop running right now. But there was no time for that shit. It's always somewhere around here, at the intersection before the bridge where the cheers of the crowd start to escalate into a roar, where you can TRULY see the Citgo sign and know that it means what you think it does: one mile to go, that I have a moment where I think to myself NEVER forget this feeling. On Monday, that feeling of pride and joy at being able to do this crazy thing on this course that I love so much was amplified a thousand fold by the fact that for the first time, I was doing it WELL. I wish I could bottle that moment and relive it over and over again. I powered up over the bridge, just as I had envisioned. Strong. Tall. Free. Proud. I was thirsty, but my days of stopping at water stops were over. 1.2 miles to go. My watch might as well have been a bracelet at this point, because after the realization at mile 24 I never looked at it again. I just ran, as fast and as hard as I could. All out, for just a few more minutes. As I came over the bridge, my mind flashed back to a training run I had done here; after work on a Friday night, snow everywhere, and me running over this bridge dreaming of the day when I would do it for real, when it would all be worth it. And here I was, and it was ALL worth it. Every. single. step. Every mile run on snow, every fall, every treadmill run, every stupid new route I had to try, every run commute, every workout, every long, run, every race, every strength workout. Everything. I have never felt so proud of the culmination of the work I have done in my life as I crested that bridge.

I flew down the hill into Kenmore, with the roar of the crowd surrounding me like the atmosphere. All I had to do was run one more mile, the last of more than 650 miles that culminated in this. I can't remember having a thought in my head over that last mile except: GO. Into and out of the tunnel, I didn't even see the 1000 m to go sign this year if it was there at all. Right on Hereford. I am passing, passing, passing. The crowd is going absolutely insane, and I feel as though it's all for me. Left on Boylston. Up ahead, a man is airplaning his arms to the absolute delight of the crowd. I think about throwing my arms up but realize that I actually don't have the strength left to do so. Every ounce of my energy is being funneled to my legs, pushing forward. I pass the 26 mile marker and all I know is that I know. In less than 2 minutes, I will have run a marathon PR. Finally. FINALLY. As I approach the finish line, I fling my noodle arms up in the air and I grin. I stop my watch and I look down and I see 3:17:30 displayed across my watch. And I put my face in my hands and I burst into sobs. I am shivering, cramping, sobbing while grinning, the amount of emotion coursing through my body too much to be expressed in a single type of facial expression or sound. I am the happiest, and proudest of myself, that I have ever been in my entire life. 

I could tell you about the things that happened after the race, about grinning and thanking each volunteer, about commiserating with fellow shivering women who finished near me about our inability to feel our shorts on our legs, about the endless shuffle to the Common where I chatted with a man from somewhere in the south. And I'm sure I'll have more analysis about all the things that went right this training and racing cycle eventually. But this is already long enough (and it's taken over 4 hours to write), and honestly, what happened after I crossed the finish line isn't as important. What is important is this: between two lines, one in Hopkinton and one in Boston, I ran the best race of my life so far. I stayed calm when I needed to, I fought when I needed to, and I took the fire that has been burning within me for years and finally, FINALLY, on a course where I never thought I could, on a day that everyone said wasn't a PR day, after a winter that could have easily broken me, I proved myself. I will NEVER forget the strength that I found during this training cycle and during this race, and I will never forget my 8th marathon, the one where I finally didn't just finish a marathon, the one where I RACED. And I absolutely cannot wait to do it again.

Boston Marathon
3:17:30 (PR)
6356/26610 OA, 849/12022 F, 731/6011 F18-39

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Into the fire we go

In a little over 24 hours, I will be crossing the starting line of my 8th marathon and my fourth journey from Hopkinton to Boston. Per usual, the weather is not going to cooperate and there's going to be crazy cross/headwind and potentially rain. And you know what? As awful as that sounds, it's STILL a whole lot better than heat and/or blazing sunshine. I tend to excel in completely ridiculous conditions so tomorrow is just one more chance to run well in spite of the weather, not because of it.

I will say that because of the wind, giving any sort of value to the numbers on my watch probably isn't going to be a helpful strategy. I know that I am going to try to go out relaxed. I know that I am going to stay on the left side of the road (if the wind is coming from the right, as many people between me and it is a good thing, and I'm a terrible weaver so picking a side in advance is a good plan.) My goal for tomorrow is fairly simple: I want to run strong through the Newton hills. With that comes goal #2, which is to be mentally tough. To fight like I have all training cycle, and to not let the down times (which are pretty much inevitable) destroy me.

A few years back I discovered this song from the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel, and obviously being someone who relates EVERYTHING back to running, when I listened to the lyrics all I could think of was marathoning :

Into valleys, into waters, into jungles, into hell
Let us ride, let us ride home again with a story to tell
Into darkness, into danger, into storms that rip the night
Don't give in, don't give up, but give thanks for the glorious fight
You can tremble, you can fear it, but keep your fighting spirit alive, boys
Let the shiver of it sting you, fling into battle, spring to your feet, boys
Never hold back your step for a moment, never doubt that your courage will grow
Hold your head even higher and into the fire we go
Are there mountains that surround us? Are there walls that block the way?
Knock 'em down, strip 'em back boys, and forward and into the fray
Into terror, into valor, charge ahead, no, never turn
Yes it's into the fire we fly, and the devil will burn
Someone has to face the valley; rush in, we have to rally and win, boys
When the world is saying not to, by God, you know you've got to march on, boys
Never hold back your step for a moment, never doubt that your courage will grow
Hold your head even higher and into the fire we go!

During this training cycle, I've run in 40 mph wind gusts, over snow banks, on more packed snow and ice than I care to think about, on bitterly cold days, in the snow, ice pellets, and rain. Tomorrow is just one more day to brave the elements, and the type of day when you find out who you are. And so...into the fire we go yet again, to take on Mother Nature, the hills of Newton, and our inner demons. We are ready.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Make 'em believe

Approximately 12 days before a marathon (and for some reason, Boston more than other marathons) is always when the taper demons and general neuroses start to come crashing down on me with frightening force. So this post might as well come with a warning: MASSIVE BRAIN DUMP AHEAD. There is nothing really coherent about this post, it's pretty much just a stream of things that I needed to get out of my head and onto 'paper'. So if you're interested in the inner workings of my brain, well, press on. First, I want to post something that I wrote this year right around this time (like clockwork, I tell ya) that I for some reason never posted but I really enjoyed looking back on:

"Before I started this training cycle, and even before I had a number for Boston, I said a lot of things. I told my friend Aly after failing to qualify at Lehigh in large part because of crappy training, that the next time I trained for a marathon I wanted to do it right. Go big or go home. When I found out I had gotten a number, I told Andrew that this time it was going to be different - no complaining, no whining, I was just going to do it. And I am happy to say, no matter what happens a weekly from today, that I kept my word on both accounts.

I have never had a training cycle where I so frequently felt such pure joy for running as this one. There were moments in the middle of a long run where I would just close my eyes and feel the wind rushing past my face as I ran. Sun above, earth below, fire within. I remember a 16 miler on the course early on, on a total tease of a January day that made you believe winter might not last another 2 months. The course was packed, and the joy of having one day to run in the sunshine was contagious. I couldn't stop smiling, waving, saying hi to everyone I passed. I think I knew then: this is gonna be fun.  With each long run and workout that passed, something that had been laying dormant for years began to rise to the surface: I wanted this. I wanted to fly down the BC hill on the tail end of a 21 miler, near tears with joy. I wanted to nail an interval workout and wonder when I got that strong. I wanted to run in the silence of the less heralded parts of the course and to look into the distance and imagine: the roar or the crowd, the runners around me, thousands together as one. I have put my heart and soul into this training cycle, and for once, it hasn't been for the sole reason of "PR or bust". Would I love to run a PR? Of course. But that wasn't the endgame when this started. The strength and the fast times came from the heart that went into the training, I think, and not the other way around.

There is, of course, so much general emotion surrounding this race that its sometimes hard to tease things out. But I don't think I would feel any differently if last year hadn't been marred by such tragedy. I would still be unbelievably proud to represent my team on our hometown course. I would still be hoping to PR. But would I find quite so much emotion in the silence of the woods between Natick and Wellesley, in the rise and fall of the Newton hills, in imagining that moment just past mile 23 when my friends and family will appear like a beacon to guide me home? That's hard to say. I think, at the core, I have a much greater appreciation for just how damn lucky I am, and we all are, to be doing this. To even have this chance to push our bodies to the absolute limit for the sake of that one moment - just one - when you cross the line faster than you ever have before, and everything is perfect. And to say: I am stronger than fear. Stronger than pain. Stronger than the demons that chase us. How lucky are we to be able to leave them behind?"

And here I am a year later, still feeling much the same way. Only over the last year, something else has happened: I got faster. And that is what's currently scaring the shit out of me.

Here's the thing: for a long time in my athletic career, I had an unfortunate habit of getting into my head and psyching myself out, BADLY, for big events. The most glaring example of this is my epic choke that lost me a state meet berth senior year of high school, but there are so many others scattered in the dust along the way. Falling out of a turn in my dance solo when it really counted, the epic disappointment that was Boston 2010, my last track 5K in college where I failed to PR after doing so in every single race that season...the evidence is everywhere. And the utter desolation I felt following all of those events has never gotten any easier. I have felt like a failure, and like all of my hard work added up to exactly nothing...which let me tell you, is a shitty feeling. On the flip side of the coin, we had races that I went into with no expectations, or very low ones, where I've turned out the best performances of my life. And that list too, goes on and on. Stew Chase 2013, my cross country PR, both Baystate Marathons, Madison Marathon, NYC Half....all of my PR's to date over 10K came in race where I really had no specific goal in mind. I was just there because, well, trying to run fast is really fucking fun. Over the last couple of years as I've made a resurgence in my running life, I've found myself really calming down about races in general. I show up and I run; maybe I had a few beers the night before, or my legs feel weird, or whatever, but there's no more superstitious prerace breakfast, no song I have to hear, no lucky pair of underwear. And this new carefree attitude has seemed to be working, resulting in quite a few PRs in the last few years. But there's one race that always seems to be exempt from my new policy of "if it feels good do it, and have some damn fun". And that race is Boston.

Boston, what the hell is it about you? Is it the prestige, the history, the fact that everyone knows what it's about? Is it the fact that it's my adopted hometown course, and I know every twist and turn? Is it because every winter, I have a monster training cycle and psyche myself up into thinking this is it, this is the day, I'm going to do it, finally only to get burned by the course once again? Or the goddamn weather, or my own pacing failures? Is it on a course such as this one, "if it feels good do it" just doesn't work as well as advertised? I don't know. But all I know is, this is the 4th year that I've been standing here, in the single digits of April, feeling like I'm going to barf my heart up out of pure nervous energy.

My main concern at the moment is pacing/course strategy. Which connects to the fact that I have a goal time, but am not confident enough to commit to it, having gotten burned by lofty goal times in the past (you know, I actually STILL haven't run under 3:30 at Boston, that goal I set way back in 2010 when I was nowhere near the runner I am now...). I have had my best success in races where I ran by feel and sort of just let the splits unfold in front of me - and for the most part, on days like that, the splits were always faster than I expected. Which was awesome and bolstered my confidence and I think, in turn, lead to me believing that I could continue to run fast. And what happens when I set a goal, and then find myself not running exactly as I had hoped in the race itself? Well, then my mental game goes to hell and I defeat myself in my brain, on top of whatever's going on physically...and I think we all know that a marathon is at least half mental.  And that is at the heart of where I have to get myself to before April 20. I have to go into this race with joy and with heart, with the intention of running by feel, and with a plan to have fun - and yet, I need to have a goal, and most importantly, I have to BELIEVE, without question that I can get there.

Believe. If I had to sum up my life mantra in one word, I think this would be it. It has a magic to it; an aura of possibility. You can believe in fairies, or magic, or Santa Claus, or God. You can sing at the top of your lungs "DON'T STOP BELIEVING", without knowing what you're believing - and really, who cares? You're believing in something. And to be my best self; to run PRs, well, there's only one thing I have to believe. I have to believe in me. I am a diehard Wisconsin Badgers fan, and watching the team's run in the NCAA tourney this year was really emotionally intense. It's so obvious that those guys live and breathe for each other and for the sport that they play, and to come *this close* to winning it all was truly heartbreaking (though in the process they slayed the goliath of Kentucky, which may have been the most magical sporting event I've ever watched). But all that aside, their slogan for this year was "Make 'Em Believe". And I'm not sure that I've ever found a motto I loved so much, or so perfectly summed up what I need to feel when I step up to that starting line (not to mention, it has the special emotional bonus of coming from my beloved Badgers, so there's that too). How many times I'm going to repeat this over and over in my head over the next 12 days, I don't know. But I hope that by the time I cross that line in Hopkinton on April 20, I will be ready to make 'em believe, and more importantly, make myself believe.

So with that said, here are some things I know:
-I had a really, really great training cycle despite the worst winter in the history of EVER
-I ran in conditions that many other people wouldn't, and I didn't make excuses
-I have run huge PR's in the 5 mile, 30K, and half marathon since February
-6 of my long runs have incorporated a "workout" in some form (2 races, 4 long runs with GMP segments and/or fast finishes)
-Paces that used to feel completely insane to me are now relatively comfortable
-I have actually done strength work this cycle
-The Boston course is still a crafty bitch
-The weather could either be incredibly magically awesome, or horrific

Based on these things that I know, I came up with some commandments for myself:
1. The first rule of Boston is you have to love running Boston
2. You are not going to get to feel like a magical pony for the entire race. There are going to be dark times. Ass Panther hill? You're not going to be having fun. This is not a race where you can run equal splits. Accept the suck, and then get back after it. Don't let one slow split or a tough hill define your race.
3. Modify your standards IMMEDIATELY if the weather is looking unfortunate.
4. Even splits are a lie. Even effort is the key.
5. Don't be an idiot.
6. You are ready.
7. Believe.

"Angels are singing and everything's magic": Fuck it, I'm saying it - 3:15 (the fact that this is even vaguely on the table as a goal? Is completely mindblowing to me.)
A goal: 3:18
B goal: PR (sub 3:22)
C goal: sub 3:30
D goal: BQ (sub 3:35)
Goal of utmost importance (as always): Run proud. Run strong. Run with joy.

Phew. Man. This is quite a disorganized post of randomness, but it feels way better to have it out there vs. bouncing around in my brain. 12 days...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Best day ever: NYC Half 2015

I sort of don't even know where to begin with this one. You know when you have a dream that is just so, so great that you don't want to wake up from it? I still sort of can't believe that Sunday wasn't one of those. I had the best, most fun, most magical time on the streets of NYC on Sunday and in the process ran one of the best (if not the best) races I've ever run, and I want to remember forever how I felt for that hour, 32 minutes, and 21 seconds of life.  So to that end, I'm about to write a novel about it. This might as well be a marathon race report, despite the fact that it's about a race that for all intents and purposes was a tune up, non goal, race that I did for fun. But I traveled to another city, so that always counts for at least a few hundred words of rambling about the things I did there, and the race that followed.

Stuff that happened before the race
The week leading up to the race had been fairly stressful, culminating with an obnoxious doctor's appointment to work commute on Friday and a TERRIBLE run commute home later in the day. Both of my hamstrings kept seizing up for no reason and my legs just felt off. I went to support a friend in a dance show on Friday night which did take my mind off things somewhat but I was having some doubts about how this weekend was going to go. I took the 7:30 bus from South Station which of course required getting up insanely early. Joy and I were both half asleep when we met up at the bus terminal but also both excited about the race, which kept us chatting the majority of the way to NYC. The BoltBus ride was fairly uneventful, and we arrived in the city around noon. In the first of many magical things to happen this weekend, the bus dropoff point happened to be a mere 2 blocks away from the expo...perfect? I think so. It was drizzling a bit but I literally couldn't have cared less. I was utterly giddy with the fact that I was back in my favorite city on the planet. I sort of can't explain the weird love I have for NYC. I first set foot there as an 11 year old at dance nationals and it was one of those things where I just immediately was struck by something about the city - the energy, the lights, the pulse of the city that just seems to beat at a slightly faster pace. I traveled there several times during middle and high school for dance competitions and as I got a chance to explore more of the city outside of the typical tourist destinations, my love only grew. I dreamed of eventually living in NYC, and many many years later I lived that dream for 3 months while doing an internship for PT school. If all of my previous trips to the city had been the falling in love part, getting to live there just sealed the deal. Now not only could I love the city from afar, but there were little pieces and corners of if that I felt like were a little bit mine. I hadn't been back since finishing that internship in August of 2012, but the instant I stepped off the bus I felt it again - that 'something' that only New York has for me. As I later thought to myself during the race: "Boston is my home, but NYC is my spririt animal". Yeah, just go with it lol.

We got to the expo and I was immediately struck by what a big race vibe was going on. With 20,000+ entrants, OBVIOUSLY this was a big race on par with the big city marathons like Boston, but I think I had forgotten that other races besides Boston could behave like they were a big deal as well. We got our bibs and shirts, walked around a bit, and then waited in line to get some green screen photos to be posted to facebook at various points during the race (a GREAT decision, as it turns out). I had seeded myself at 1:32, which I did not think was remotely reasonable, but our idea was at the time of sign up that maybe a faster time would hold some sway in the lottery. That seed netted me a number in the 3000s, fairly far up in the pack of nearly 20K. There's always that feeling when someone puts a number in your had the day before a race; of possibility, of nerves, of excitement.
Obligatory "holding up bib at the expo" photo

The rest of the day after the expo was super enjoyable. Our first stop was Connelley's Irish Pub near Times Square for our first beer of the trip (Bronx Pale Ale for me) - because we "weren't taking this seriously" this was totally acceptable - lunch, and I got to catch the end of the Badgers game. We then headed to our hotel to check in but the room wasn't ready yet so we decided to grab some coffee and go wander around Central Park for a bit. All of the memories from my summer of running the Central Park loop came flooding back, and I began to get ridiculously excited. The park was pretty cool looking, caught right between winter and spring. We kept making jokes about "OMG I CAN SEE PAVEMENT!", such a rarity in Boston this winter, and how there were even flowers blooming!
Joy hadn't taken a day off all week, but I wanted to do a quick shakeout run for two reasons: 1) the more running in Central Park, the better, and 2) For some reason I had woken up Saturday with INSANELY sore glutes on both sides. I will literally never know why; my only guess is that I had been compensating weirdly for my hamstrings on Friday's run and jacked something up. Either way, I wanted to try to shake some of that shit loose, or at least figure out how it was going to feel to try to run on it. I went out down the west side of the park, where we would be running back down the next day, and I was seriously just living the dream. I was listening to music and at one point I crested this hill and "This Is Gallifrey" (from Doctor Who because I'm cool, but it's this majestic, gorgeous song) reached it's peak and I just spread out my arms and flew down the hill. I guess maybe I should have known then that this was destined to be a special race but I was really too caught up in my enjoyment of the scenery and the situation to even worry about the race I was running the next day. 

I sort of wanted to run around in Central Park for the rest of the day, but I eventually reminded myself that I did actually have to race tomorrow and headed back to the hotel. We then headed out to dinner at Tony DiNapoli with a couple of Joy's friends from vet school, but first, more drinks! We were trying to figure out a place to grab a drink near Times Square and I remembered a place I'd gone with my mom that was a really cool bar...unfortunately I couldn't for the life of me remember the name or which side of Times Square it was on, or really anything about it besides how it looked. So I did the logical thing and Googled "bar with high ceilings near Times Square" - and lo and behold, it popped up! Google, you're amazing, (Lillie's Victorian Establishment is the bar, if you're wondering). There I drank a Bell's Two Hearted because AHH BELL'S that I can't get in MA, and we met up with Joy's friend and headed to the restaurant. On the way we saw a girl literally walk straight into a pole which sent us all laughing nearly to the point of tears...if I ever walk into a pole, feel free to laugh at me, but I couldn't stop myself. The restaurant was totally great - total old school, Italian, family style situation, and the food was delicious. There was plenty of eggplant pasta, fried zucchini, mozzarella, and chicken marsala to go around, and all of it was great - pretty much a perfect pre-race meal! We headed back to the hotel but not before being total tourists and taking some ridiculous pictures in Times Square...several attempts at selfies that completely failed followed by finally getting someone to take our picture...
Ready for Broadway

So finally we arrived back at the hotel and attempted to sleep. And I could. not. sleep. As far as I could tell it wasn't prerace nerves, I just couldn't get comfortable and then there'd be a car horn or someone slamming a door in the hallway and all I could think was ahhh I'm going to be so tired tomorrow need to sleep need to sleep need to sleep GO TO SLEEP DAMN IT BODY why aren't you comfortable?! Which of course was not terribly productive. The only saving grace was that I refused to let myself look at the clock and eventually I did fall asleep, my guess is around 11.

Race day
5:15 am came. SO. FREAKING. EARLY. I'm not sure I've ever been so grumpy to hear "Centuries" come blasting out of my phone. My plan to go out to Dunkin to get coffee immediately went out the window in favor of hitting snooze twice. I knew that it would take me about 5 seconds to get dressed and ready but I knew that needing to eat more than an hour and a half before the race would limit how late I could get up. I finally rolled out of bed and started wandering around, attempted to make some hotel room coffee which was the most FOUL thing I've ever tasted, and begrudgingly munched on a Clif Bar that tasted like sand in my mouth. I now remember the reason that I've been eating buttered bagels for pre-race meals lately; it's because I actually enjoy them and can convince myself they taste good even when the last thing I want to do is eat. Such things are not possible with Clif Bars. They're OK at times, but don't sit well when you're already not excited about eating. Time passed quickly, and soon enough it was 6:30 and time to head down to the starting area. Here's where the magic starts to happen.

As we walked out of the elevator into the lobby of our hotel, we were greeted by several hotel employees/doormen, all of whom were VERY excited about the fact that we were running the race. Are you ready? You're going to run fast! Go, go, you can do it! It was dark and the streets were empty of all except runners and police as we jogged down to bag check. There's a certain something about heading to the start of a race in the dark; the world's asleep but there you are, awake for a reason and getting ready to go. Bag check was well organized and soon enough I was down to my shorts and throwaway sweatshirt (an aside about this sweatshirt: I LOVED this sweatshirt, which I bought in NYC circa 2005 at H and M. It's a brown polka dotted hoodie that I wore so much I literally wore holes through both elbows. It was slightly painful to toss it, but it's so ratty I never wear it anymore and it's lived a good life. I felt like it was fitting that I threw it away in the same place I bought it). We headed through security, which was fairly intense (metal detectors, whoa) and jogged off to find a porta potty. After jogging around a bit more, stretching, doing some leg swings, and jogging some more, it was 7:00 and we had run out of things to do. It was time to head into the corrals.
Early morning pre-race selfie...RIP, brown polka dot sweatshirt

This race really was a great prep race for Boston, in that it was all about dealing with large crowds of people, many many runners, the intensity level of an expo, etc and the nerves it creates, and perhaps most of all, waiting around. And now, we wait. There was a bit of a wind blowing and standing around in the corral for half an hour got a little bit chilly. Things got significantly chillier when, at 7:15, there was some confusion about what I think was the elite women's start, and all of a sudden everyone started moving up in the corrals and it seemed like, bizarrely, the race was going to start 15 minutes early. I panicked and threw my beloved sweatshirt to a random bystander, ending it's life with me 15 minutes early and depriving myself of 15 precious minutes of warmth. Because those next 15 minutes were COLD. I was just wearing a singlet, no arm warmers, and I was not comfortable. I also felt like I vaguely needed to pee which was not an enjoyable sensation when there was clearly no way out of the corrals at this point. As I shivered and hopped up and down and made a comment about being cold, a guy in the blue shirt just behind me was like "no worries, you'll be warm before you know it!" (trust me this will be relevant later). Minutes passed, slowly. A cheer went up during the elite announcements as Meb's name was called. And finally, off in the distance, a horn blew, and up ahead we could see the stream of runners start pouring off the line, and into Central Park. 85558962BBDA40B3BEC1-14263531871346.jpg (2048×1536)
Expo pic for "we're at the starting line!"

So now it's time to finally write about the race. It took about a minute and a half for us to get to the starting line, which I for some reason felt the need to turn and say to Joy as we shuffled up "OK, so the clocks on the course will be 1:30ish ahead of where we actually are".  And then we crossed the line and it was go time. There was a quick downhill followed by an uphill that seemed to pass in about 2 seconds - and I could believe when I looked up and saw the panther statue at the top. Cat Hill. I turned to Joy and laughed - "That was one of the 'real' hills!".  I was giddy. We were in CENTRAL PARK! We headed around the far side of the reservoir, and I had a flashback of running 800 repeats in the dark there, for no reason other than I felt like I should be doing a workout. What was happening right now was way, way more fun than that had been. Things were definitely a bit crowded in the early miles, and a couple of times I got stuck behind giant men or packs of people, but I was generally able to get out and around without too much hassle. I also had no idea at this point what pace I should be running, what pace I was running, or how I should feel at the moment. When I saw that my first mile split was 7:07, I was actually a little bit alarmed. That seemed slow, but I decided to chalk it up to congestion and, what the hell, try to pick it up for the next mile. Convieniently the next mile also featured the GIANT downhill before Harlem Hill, and so I ran a 6:36 and felt like a rockstar doing it. My friend from the start came up behind me at some point during this mile and asked if I had warmed up yet - "yeah, mostly!" So far, so good. 

The big downhill had been a great boost, and now we headed out into a little out and back which I had pointed out on the course map the day before as something that might be obnoxious. It was, indeed, obnoxious. During this section of the race, I honestly didn't feel all that great, and it was kind of concerning. Suddenly I was just focused on the fact that my stomach felt weird, and this pace felt hard. I needed to calm the eff down. And so, I grabbed some water at the first aid station, focused on the girl in front of me with "Bermuda" on the back of her singlet, and tried to get a grip. I knew that Harlem Hill was coming up and now was absolutely not the time to lose my cool. Mile 3 turned out to be a 6:47 on a basically flat mile, so things feeling hard made quite a bit of sense. I passed the 5K mark in 21:36 - yeah, I've run more than a few flat 5K races in slower times than that. Back into the park we went, and now started heading up the hill. As I knew it would, it sucked. My goal was to just stay relaxed and get through it, then reassess and hammer the next downhill, but the hill took WAY more out of me than I thought it would. By the time I got to the top everything was feeling discombobulated, and the downhill that followed wasn't long enough to make up for it. This was definitely the hardest part of the race for me, because I just didn't know ANYTHING. Was this it? Was I done? Could I bring it back? Should I even try? Was I stupid to run those two sub-7 miles? What I was I thinking anyway? Is my leg cramping? Why do I still have to pee? There were just a lot of questions going through my head and I had answers to exactly zero of them. So, I went back to my now-beloved old standby: "keep this pace relaxed". Because if you feel relaxed, you are relaxed, right?

We ran past "my" entrance to the park from that summer at 103rd street, which gave me a bit of a boost. Unfortunately, I had conveniently forgotten until that moment that the first mile of "my" Central Park loop was mostly uphill. Whoops. Miles 4 and 5 were my slowest of the race, both clocking in at 7:10. I was still hanging with pretty much the same people who had been near me at the start, although a few people had made passes on me by this point. Again, I couldn't decide whether it was a good idea to attempt to respond or not. In the moment, what I needed was to calm down, try to keep running reasonably fast, but also not be an idiot. Those things were kind of contradicting each other in my head, and so "relax" was the one that eventually won out. I kept staring at this girl and her Bermuda shirt and trying to figure out if she was from Bermuda, or if that was like a county or a school or something. (PS - After creeping on the results, I'm 99% sure I figured out who it was and she WAS from Bermuda! And I beat her.) We had gotten through the more uphill part of Central Park by this point and it suddenly dawned on me: there are literally no more hills in this race. I started to think a little bit. I didn't really feel THAT bad. Running at 7:10 pace was still feeling pretty OK. Maybe I should try running...faster?

We continued on through the park and I started to try picking up the pace, just a little bit. I still was in my head about the whole thing, feeling pretty uncertain about my ability to hold the pace and sort of what was going to happen as the rest of this played out. I hadn't enjoyed Central Park quite as much as I'd intended to, so what did that mean for the rest of the race. As it turns out, I really shouldn't have worried. Mile 6 was at 7:00, and things were beginning to flow a little bit more. And then a bunch of things happened all at once. As I ran down our last stretch of Central Park, I was running close to the side of the road where a bunch of spectators lined up. And one after the other, like 5 or 6 people in a row, each yelled at me "Go Greater Boston", "Looking strong Greater Boston", etc, with the last person to yell at me "Yes Greater Boston! Boston Strong!". Then I turned the corner onto 7th Ave, saw Times Square looming off in the distance, and I kid you not, I damn near burst into tears. I was hyperventilating and trying not to cry and grinning and just had this massive emotional wave crashing over me. I was entirely present in this moment where the only emotion I could feel was pride and joy and just feeling so damned grateful that I could do this - I am here, representing my team and my city that I love, IN a city that I love, running a race that I am proud of. The crowds were denser here, and while nothing compared to Boston it was still enough to overwhelm me. There really aren't the exact right words I can put together to describe the sensation I felt running those next two miles, but all I can say is this - it was AMAZING. I was grinning from ear to ear while running sub-7 miles over halfway through a half marathon. I think there are very few moments in life where we truly get a chance to experience pure joy. Happiness is so often tempered by other things going on in life, other people's feelings about the situation, just other thoughts crowding it out. And I tend to be a thinker, not a feeler, so it's rare for me to stop thinking about the emotion that I'm feeling at a given time and just, you know, feel it. But at this moment of this race, running those miles, there was literally nothing in me besides joy. That was it. I was purely and truly happy. I'm honestly not sure I've ever experienced a moment quite like that in running (in dance, yes) and I don't think I will ever forget it.
Don't worry, I think I have to buy this one. What happiness looks like.

In the meantime, while my heart had been full to bursting with happiness, my legs had also come along for the ride and I had just run a 6:53 and a 6:38. I knew that we were approaching the turn onto the West Side Highway, with a long, straight shot to the finish. I took my Gu at the water stop at mile 8 and got ready for the turnaround. While the emotional ecstasy of Times Square had been an incredible moment, it was now time to resume racing and figure out how the last 5 miles of this were going to go down. We made a quick switchback onto the highway (I was trying to read a sign for some moving company which read something like "I'm getting ready to buy a pig, said no one ever", which for some reason I found HILARIOUS) and then began the long stretch towards lower Manhattan. This stretch was all flat gloriousness, although the wind started picking up a little bit and I laughed at the New Bedford Half, which is known for it's windy last several miles along the ocean and which I normally would have been running that day, for taunting me from afar.  I started thinking about some random things here. I thought about the fact that we were kind of by the Pony Bar, and beer sounded great. I thought about the fact that I was running kind of well and I actually might PR. In my Stu's post I wrote something along the lines of "I wonder what would happen if I actually had confidence/trusted in myself to run fast and stopped trying to just stay relaxed all the time". Well, mile 8 or 9 of this race was when I decided it would be a good idea to find out.  It was just so FLAT and I knew that there were no more hills coming, and I just thought to myself, really, what's the point of holding back now? Let's be honest, this course is fast. The second half of runner's paradise downhills and flats more than made up for the lack of fun in miles 3-5. But I have never in my life consciously made a choice 2/3 of the way through a race to speed up...and then actually be able to do it. I always slow down. I never negative split. I put those thoughts away, and for once in my life, I did just that.

There weren't as many spectators in this area but those that were out were super enthusiastic and I got plenty more "Go Greater Boston" cheers, each of which made me smile and/or give a thumbs up. I passed the 15K mark in an unofficial PR (by 2 minutes), then the 10 mile mark in an unofficial PR (by...a lot haha). A "cheer station" near mile 10 started playing "Shipping Up To Boston" at high volumes and I totally flipped out and started smiling and doing weird things with my arms and trying to make eye contact with the DJ to let him know how awesome he was for playing that song at that exact moment. It was totally out of control and totally ridiculous and totally amazing. Mile 9 was a 6:57 and mile 10 was a 7:06. Of course, by this point, I was starting to feel pretty damn tired. And yet, it wasn't the kind of tired where your legs just kind of start gradually slowing down, like an engine grinding to a halt. It was a tired that I was aware of, but that I could actually overcome. And THAT is something I have never experienced in a double digit race - being tired, but not actually needing to slow down. By this point I was passing people far more often than I was being passed, which was another delightful surprise. Near mile 11, another cheer station was playing Pitbull's "Fireball", which for some reason has become one of my training anthems this winter. Yet again, I burst into a grin and cruised. 

Passing the 11 mile mark in 6:56 was the final straw.  I knew then, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was currently in the midst of a PR race. Not just a couple of second PR, but a big honking PR. A PR that would move me from "sort of OK" to "actually close to being kind of fast". I could see the new World Trade tower looming in the distance, what a beautiful building, and I just continued to fly. I was starting to get tired, sure, and the flat road was starting to seem a little long. But I just didn't care. I was having fun, and running fast, and that was all that I could possibly want. By this point I was pretty consistently passing people as I went along, having held pace (hell, picked UP the pace!) over the second half of the race. I think my Garmin got a little confused around mile 12, because it clocked me at a 6:12 which I feel like can't possibly be right. We then headed into the Battery tunnel, which apparently is a fairly well known feature of this race but which I had NO IDEA existed until I was running into it (apparently the second place woman had the same issue, haha). I had no idea how long it was, or anything else about it. And after running into the tunnel, suddenly my body was like ohhhh hey. Being done running would really feel soooo nice right about now. Still we were kind of running downhill and the sensation of running through this long freeway tunnel was kind of neat. Someone nearby was whooping, listening to the sound echo off the tunnel walls. There were also actually a couple of spectators in the tunnel, which seemed so out of place but was pretty neat as well. I knew that we had to be approaching the final stretch, so I tried to keep pushing and passing as many people as I could. The tunnel ended after about half a mile in a sharp uphill, which took me aback a little bit after running on flat ground for so long. Now, I was tired. But I knew that the finish had to be literally just around the corner, and it was time to just go for it. Since New Bedford is my template for all half marathons, I thought to myself "you just crested that huge stupid hill, and now you're headed down to the finish. Go. GO!" And I went.

I kicked as hard as I possibly could, now finally feeling the impact of my efforts over the last hour and a half but also so overwhelmed with excitement that my vision seemed to narrow to that 1:32 on the clock. Just before I finished the announcer made an announcement about "Greater Boston", to which I actually raised my arms and fist pumped before crossing the line. That. just. happened. As I started walking, giant smile on my face, a guy walking next to me said "I was trying to reel you in the whole last half!" It was none other than my blue-shirted friend from the corral - kind of a crazy coincidence that we finished at the same time. I made my way through the finish chute floating on a cloud of endorphins, excitement, and happiness. I grinned and thanked every volunteer I saw. I took a ridiculous finish line photo with jazz hands. Everything was magical, nothing hurt, and life was so, so good.
PR smile. I can't even control the grins.

After a few moments of concern over Joy and my planned meeting spot not being where I thought it would be, I found my way over to the Dead Rabbit Grog & Grocery, aka one of my new favorite places in the city. Joy had finished just a few minutes after me so we met up and decided to head into the (apparently open) bar to warm up. Warming up just seemed incomplete without also adding some victory drinks to the mix, and so that's the story of how I drank the most delicious Bell's Two Hearted of my life at 9:30 am on a Sunday.

Happy humans with our amazing revolutionary war mural

We eventually made our way back to the hotel and followed up showers with an excellent 5 hours in NYC that included bottomless brunch at L'asso (during which I may have consumed a PR number of mimosas), a trip to a bar/bakery where the barista's response to the fact that we had run a half marathon was as follows: "HOLY SHIT! What the fuck?! I mean, congratulations, because that's amazing. But why would you do that? I heard that people's nipples bleed?" It was hilarious. I was also extremely delighted by how friendly people were on the subway and around the city when they saw our capes, asking about the race, where it was, if we ran well, etc. Totally not what I would think of as typical New Yorker behavior! It's amazing what a mylar cape and a medal do for your street cred haha. We finished up the day at Rattle & Hum, one of my favorite beer bars ever, with beer flights, bar snacks, and watching the Badgers win the Big 10 tournament in overtime. In summary, it was basically a perfect, perfect day.
Post mimosas. Bahahaha.

So that's the story of how I actually ran my seed that I thought was ridiculous, ran a minute and a half PR in the half, and ran quite possibly my best comparative time ever. As cheesy as it sounds, it's when I run from my heart and soul that I really run well. And this race - it was really, truly from the heart. And I can't wait to keep running this way and see where it takes me. 

So. How about letting the joy flow on April 20, huh? 

For curiosity's sake, and because I can't quite believe them, here are my 5K splits:
1 - 21:36 (6:58)
2 - 22:27 (7:14)
3 - 21:50 (7:02)
4 - 21:44 (7:00)
last 0.7 4:44 (6:45)

United Airlines NYC Half 2015
Official time 1:32:21, 968/19434 OA, 171/10147 F, 60/2324 F25-29