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

Monday, March 02, 2015

"Failure is NOT an option": Stu's 30K 2015

Yesterday I ran Stu's 30K in Clinton, MA in a surprisingly successful performance. I know that these performance (that I wouldn't have been able to fathom a couple of years ago) should no longer surprise me, because they're just the result of several years of consistent, solid training but the day that I realize that and stop thinking of them as "surprises" still hasn't come. Like, hey, self? You didn't "surprise" yourself. You just ran well! Anyway, I had originally been planning to run the Black Cat 20 next weekend, but that got cancelled and my favorite marathon training buddy informed me on Wednesday that we were now running a 30K this weekend...I'm easily swayed by peer pressure haha. I actually was very curious and a little bit nervous about how this race was going to go; basically the only thing I knew about it going in was that IT'S HILLY. Since one thing this training cycle has NOT involved in any large amount has been hills, I tried to downplay my expectations a bit.

The race start was only about 45 min from my house and with a start time of 11 am, that meant that I got to sleep innnnn - I generally wake up around 8 on weekends anyway so I didn't even need to set an alarm and had plenty of time for coffee/puppy snuggles/trying to figure out what to wear, etc. I ate a bagel with butter and had some coffee and water on the ride to Clinton, while Joy and I pretty much planned our summer racing schedule. I'll be honest, by the time we got into down and started driving up the hills near the reservoir, I was NOT pumped to race. I kept telling myself that I had to do a long run anyway, so it might as well be on a supported course where I got a t-shirt and food at the end. I had absolutely zero idea of how this was going to go. I've definitely been training consistently but the quality of many of my runs has been questionable due to the whole "snow" situation. I wanted to use this race as a gauge of my current fitness, and for the first time in a LONG time, I was nervous about what exactly that might be. The mood was lightened a little bit by the fact that packet pickup was at a middle school, where there were hilarious middle school type posters all over the walls. "Failure is NOT an option" was written in big letters over almost every doorway, there was a whole wall of random positive sayings ("Smile at everyone you meet!" "Embrace this amazing day!", etc), and my personal favorite, a giant drawing of "The Resplendant Quetzal" on a door:
I thought resplendent was just a really big word being used to describe the quetzal...turns out, the actual name of the bird is "resplendent quetzal". The more you know. 

All of this reminded me of the stupid crap that my WTC crew and I always used to find and take photos with at track meets, and reminding myself of the good old college days definitely calmed me down. After getting our numbers and shirts, a quick trip to Joy's car to de-layer and change shoes, and a bathroom break, we were walking off to the starting line with the 340 other crazy people who thought that running 18.6 miles around a hilly reservoir was a good way to spend a Sunday morning. On the way to the start I overheard someone say "Well, there aren't any casual runners here!". True story - this was definitely a race for the die hards in the throes of spring marathon training. We headed out of the parking lot to the starting line, and with minimal we went!

Mile 1 was actually mostly downhill, and I just tried to stay relaxed and let thing shake themselves out a little bit. Luckily everyone else seemed to be in a similar mindset, and there was plenty of friendly chatter about the weather and the upcoming hills going on. I actually wore my Garmin for the first time EVER in a race, more because of curiosity and the fact that I still haven't figured out how to save/look at splits after the fact on my manual watch and I wanted to see how things went down in this race. I figured out pretty quickly that "my" mile splits were not going to match the official ones; there was a guy reading off mile splits at what my watch said was 0.95 (7:05, thankfully not the actual 1 mile), and the 1 mile mark on the road came up at closer to 1.2 on my watch. The overall distance of the race turned out to be pretty much spot on (I think I came in 0.1 over, which is definitely accounted for by some bobbing and weaving) but I couldn't decide whether I should trust my watch or the road. Either way, my GPS'd 1 mile split was 7:24, which I thought to myself, OK, but that was downhill. And I KNEW this race wasn't all downhill.

The next several miles passed pretty uneventfully. I started feeling some tightness in my left calf and hamstring almost immediately, which got me a little concerned, but after modifying my stride a little bit the cramping dissapated and everything seemed OK. We started to hit a little bit more noticeably hilly terrain, with my splits bouncing around accordingly...7:45 (uphill), 7:32 (uphill), 7:20 (downhill), 7:20 (downhill). I felt like I was putting in pretty consistent effort, staying relatively relaxed and just rolling along through the ups and downs. I had originally planned to listen to music in keeping with the "this is a long run" vibe, but due to the open course headphones were strictly not allowed. Thanks to my stellar internal mp3 player, I got to have Fall Out Boy's "Centuries" (yes...the one from college football) in my head during the ENTIRE race. It's one of my pump up songs this cycle, and I definitely do enjoy it, but I just could not get 2 random snippets of it out of my head. I also picked up a friend ("shorts guy") between 4 and 5 who wanted to have a conversation about the course, crowd support (or lack thereof; I think the number of spectators I saw not at a water stop or relay exchange was less than 20), whether my hands were cold without my gloves on (answer: no, that's why I took them off). I responded as pleasantly as I could using "yeahs", "uh huhs" and vague grunts which I hoped came off as "I'm trying to run, please stop talking to me". But unfortunately we also were running at such a similar pace that I couldn't lose him either. He veered off to use the Porta Potty around mile 5 and that was the last I saw of him...or was it?

By this point, as always seems to happen, I had found myself floating between packs. I could see up ahead a group that included 2 women, one in a green singlet and one of my teammates, but I wasn't confident enough yet to try to reel them in. Instead, I focused on just "keeping the pace relaxed", which is apparently my new favorite thing to do in the early stages of a race. I guess that makes sense - if you're going to make it through a distance at a certain pace, that pace probably shouldn't feel HARD right from the get go. Miles 6-8 continued with rollers throughout (7:40 net uphill, 7:20 net downhill, 7:20 flat). I took a Caramel Machiatto Gu and some water at the water stop near 7, and I remember crossing some railroad tracks. It also started to snow some little flurries which just made me made. REALLY SNOW? GTFO. At some point in here I actually made an effort to look out over the reservoir, where I saw the tower/structure that's featured on the shirts and THAT'S what that thing was! By the end of mile 8, I had picked up a small pack of an older guy in a blue jacket and a woman in an orange jacket. The 3 of us started playing a leapfrog game, where I tended to go ahead on the uphills (WHO AM I?!) and they would both pull ahead on the downs. We chatted a bit, and the guy mentioned that we were almost at the switchback, which apparently was near the halfway point of the race. "But we have to run up a hill to get there", he said. My response? "Of COURSE we do..."

That hill up to the switchback was one of the most difficult of the race for me. It was fairly long and one of the steeper ones on the course, and I could definitely feel myself slowing as we approached the top of it and the turnaround. Thankfully just around the hairpin was a fairly steep downhill...followed by another monster climb. When I saw that hill looming out of the distance I literally said "Oh, shit" out loud. Imagine my surprise when I made another, ultimately my final pass on orange jacket woman on the way up that hill...go figure. I kept thinking of Nicole, who always used to pass me on uphills during cross country races in college. I've never thought of myself as a strong hill runner, but somehow, here I was, the person doing the passing! And over the next several miles, somehow, I continued to reel people in. With each pass, the slowly closing gap on my red-shirted teammate, and the fact that the splits on my watch were starting to say insane things like "7:15", I started to get a little bit excited. Here we were at mile 12ish, and I was still feeling REMARKABLY good. I was actually starting to enjoy the constant ups and downs, because every time one type of terrain got tiring it seemed that the tables would turn and I'd be heading in the opposite direction. The uphills weren't bothering me nearly as much as I anticipated, and I kept thinking as I passed people on the uphills, holy shit, all of that strength training you're doing is actually working!! I took a Watermelon Gu at mile 13, followed by some Gatorade as I started to feel like my right hamstring was now cramping up and I was wondering if some hydration/electrolytes would help. And they DID! After a brief period of uncertainty, I went right back to feeling good and cruising. I felt like I must have been slowing down but my watch kept telling me otherwise. 7:16, 7:14, some point, I realized that I was doing the absolutely unthinkable and negative splitting. And underneath it all I kept thinking to myself I STILL HAVE MORE IN THE TANK?! I was certainly getting tired, and looking forward to the moment when I could stop running, but for now I was going to be OK. "Just 5 more miles, then the big hill, then kick". "4 more to the big hill, then kick". "3 more..."

By mile 15 I was most definitely ready to get the gigantic hill that I'd been prepared for at mile 17.25 over with and be done with this bad boy. My watch was still giving me information that seemed completely absurd (7:15, 7:13), and now I was close enough to the finish that I felt like there was no longer any need to worry or hold back. I was going to PR. I was going to run a really freaking brilliant race. Hell, I was maybe even going to sneak into the age group rankings! I knew that the big hill was still coming, but that was OK. Just one more mile, then the big hill, then you're done. "Some legends are told, some turn to dust, some to gold, but you will remember meeeeee, remember meee for centurieeeeees". There was a pretty legit hill at right around 17 on my watch, which I was crossing my fingers was "THE" hill. It was tough, but I powered up it, and into a nice downhill through town. I was starting to recognize the sights again and knew that we were getting pretty damn close. Unfortunately, right ahead I could see a sharp left hand turn coming up ahead, and I saw where the runners and cars were headed after that turn. And that direction was UP.

So, who wants to run a 7-8% grade for almost half a mile at the very end of an already hilly 30K? NO ONE, that's who. I think the only saving grace of this hill was the fact that I knew that once I got up it, it was basically over. But holy shit, this thing was brutal. My Garmin tells me that I briefly slowed down to almost 9 minute pace near the top of the hill, which doesn't surprise me at all. I felt like I was dragging my carcass across the desert. And guess who passed me on that final uphill...only one person, but it was SHORTS GUY! Who had apparently been reeling me in after his bathroom break for the entire rest of the race. But then, joy of joys, I crested the hill and there was a flat leading into a downhill...and on that downhill, somehow, some way, I actually kicked it in. I dropped back down to that 7:15 pace and even picked it up to sub-7 for the last quarter mile. I saw the clock ticking down at 2:19, and all I could remember was that I had looked up my previous 30K PR and it was 2:25 something. And then it was done, and I was looking at the data that was telling me I had just run 18.6 miles in 7:26 pace. I've run plenty of 5K's at that pace in life. I just could not believe what I'd just done.

Post race with Joy and my sweatshirt that I won for 3rd in my AG! Failure is NOT an option.

I feel like this has been the most consistent emotion with these longer races over the past couple of years - disbelief. Or surprise, like I said at the beginning of this post - like, how did I do that? Obviously running faster times means I'm getting faster (well, DUH). But you know what? I'm OK with demonstrating the fact that I'm getting faster always being a pleasant, wonderful surprise. I know from experience that when I go into a race with pressure, specific goals, and expectations, I put so much stake in those goals that I lose sight of how I feel in the moment and I don't listen to what my body is trying to tell me. This race was a perfect example of being able to listen to EXACTLY what my body was telling me, because I wasn't chained to any specific pace or time. I was able to nip potential problem situations in the bud, and I was able to NEGATIVE SPLIT (now there's something I really can't believe) because I payed attention and just did what felt good in the moment. So the real question is this: how do I take the fact that I'm clearly getting faster, and combine it with some confidence to allow myself to REALLY win the day? Like, if I'd gone out a little faster, would I have been able to maintain a faster pace? Or was I only able to run 7:15s for the second half because I had so much left in the tank from starting conservatively? I think these are questions that are impossible to answer without trial and error, and also require a little bit of willingness to crash and burn. But honestly, for now? I'm really, REALLY enjoying this whole "if it feels good, do it" philosophy of racing, and I'm beyond pleased that the last 2 months of training through this wintry hell actually HAS been doing something. With an additional month of hard training left before the taper, I've got to wonder...if I just relax and let it roll on marathon day, can something like this happen there too? I just might have to find out.

Stu's 30K
2:19:20 (7:28 pace)
55/343 OA, 10/142 women, 3/23 F0-29

Quick race logistics:
COURSE: Not even remotely flat. I think this is a GREAT Boston prep race because there are a lot of hills, but there's lots of downhill running as well. I think if I had been paying more attention to the scenery I might have thought this was pretty. There was too much wind for me to care to look out over the water, however. If I'm being honest, I actually really really enjoyed this course. I thought it was a great challenge but there was enough downhill mixed in with the uphill to give you a reprieve. 5 or 6 water/Gatorade stops, all with very enthusiastic volunteers. Minimal to no crowd support, but I honestly kind of liked that.
SWAG: Tech long sleeved shirts, sweatshirts for overall and AG winners (I think the overall winners may have also gotten some money.) I am completely obsessed with my victory sweatshirt. There was also a solid food spread post race - soup, chips, various Little Debbie snacks, your usual bagels/bananas/oranges and Polar seltzer
$$: This race was only $40. That is absolutely frickin' amazing, and one of the cheapest New England races I've done in awhile, especially with the included shirt. Keep it upppp CMS.
Bottom line: Man, I really really liked this race. If you're training for Boston it's a perfect training run and really falls at a good time to test your fitness. Do itttt.

Next stop, NYC Half! Where I think I'm now going to have to run for a PR. Why not, right?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Greetings from, Boston

Holy crap, February is basically OVER. How did that happen? I think the endless onslaught of snow has left me so completely focus on just getting basic life tasks done that I practically blinked and missed the month. Since the last time I posted, as I'm sure the whole world is aware, Boston was hit with 3 ADDITIONAL snowstorms. This was the first week that I've worked a full 5-day work week in an entire month. A MONTH. The change in schedule definitely threw off my running chi, to say nothing of the fact that the sidewalks, bike paths, and streets of our fair city have been an absolute disaster. This week we haven't had any snow so things are finally starting to look up a little bit, but it's been a rough, rough month. And yet, Boston training continues on.

I've tried really hard to minimize my bitching about the weather and just keep trucking, but there have definitely been times (I'm looking at you, people who decided they didn't need to shovel their sidewalks AT ALL) where I've totally lost my cool. Trying to put together any sort of decent training when everything is a mess of black ice/snow/slush/some combination of all 3 is just really frustrating. There was a 2 week span in the middle of the month where I wiped out 3 times while running. The first occurred during a super frustrating run commute where I had spent most of my time running around, over, into, and through thigh high snowbanks, and when I finally reached one glorious speck of snow free sidewalk, my snow blind self caught my foot on a tree root and completely ate it, landing HARD on both knees. The situation was made even more ridiculous by the fact that, due to an unfortunate combination of forgetting pants + waiting an hour for a bus and then giving up, I was running home in shorts. Soooo I spent the remainder of my run bleeding heavily, my right knee slowly swelling up to the size of a tennis ball. LOVELY. I really can only imagine what passers-by thought of the crazy, bloody woman running by in shorts. By some miracle (and some rapid response ice, Tylenol, and compression) there wasn't much lasting damage, but I managed to wipe out on black ice twice more in the week that followed, not to mention a non-running wipeout where I awkwardly caught my messed up right knee underneath me, AND a rolled ankle in a separate incident. February has not been kind to my body, to say the least.

Another problem with this weather has been trying to get long runs in, replacing them with races, and then having said races getting cancelled. After much hemming and hawing I finally signed up for the Black Cat 20 last weekend - I wasn't planning on doing it originally because I'm racing the following weekend, but the temptation of getting in a 20 miler fully on pavement was just too much. Apparently, it was also too much for the streets of Salem, because I found out earlier in the week that the race was being postponed and today learned that it was cancelled all together! Really a bummer, because it's a great event, though I guess now I don't have to worry about racing 2 weeks in a row...

And yet. Despite the fact that a lot of my miles have been frustratingly slow due to self preservation, or the fact that I'm going to finally show up at track practice a month later than planned since the track hasn't been OPEN on a Tuesday in a month, and the fact that I'm becoming a total pro at running on ice, I am still getting shit done. I'll be finishing out the month with 2 50-mile weeks, long runs of 17, 20, and 15 (faster) miles, and this week I've somehow started to feel like I'm actually sorta kinda in shape. There are days when I have what I hope are glimpses of things to come: a 5 mile tempo run that I did in sub-7 minute pace, the fact that I banged out the last 3 miles of my 20 miler in 7:30 average just because I wanted to see if I could, the fact that I've started learning to run sub-8 pace on ice and snow pack. I just feel like things are happening, and I have a great base to build up on during Monster March. As a replacement for the Black Cat, I'm now doing a 30K race this coming Sunday, which should be a great test of fitness. I'm not really planning on racing it, but let's be honest, when I have I ever said that and actually followed through on it? The course is apparently VERY hilly so that might decrease any grand ideas I have, but I still think it will be fun to get in some longer miles on the roads without dealing with ice/cars/off leash dogs/pedestrians/unplowed sidewalks/all of the other issues that this winter has created. That's the whole point, right? Have fun, try to run fast once in awhile, and just keep on moving forward...

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Sunday 5 Mile Race Report

Yesterday I ran the Super Sunday 5 Mile race in Kendall Square with the lowest of low expectations. I signed up for this race about a month ago and it seemed like a wayyyy better idea at the time - as race day approached my predominant feeling was "ugh, I'm going to run so slowly, this is going to suck". Add to that the fact that Andrew and I spent Saturday night first at a dance event at Aeronaut Brewery (one of my favorite new places this side of the river) and then indulging in an incredible dinner at Kirkland Tap and Trotter (fried pork ribs appetizer, I think I'm still drooling thinking about it), both of which involved some beer, and we had a recipe for a not-so-great race morning.  When I woke up to see that the temps were in the low teens, feels like negative temps with the windchill, my excitement continued to decrease. I spent probably double the necessary time getting my crap together before setting out; the half-mile jog to the T station felt like I was running through Jell-O. I'm almost ashamed at how negative my thoughts were at this point: Ugh, it's so freaking cold. You're so slow. Your legs are such a mess, this is just going to be embarassing. Despite taking Saturday off I was definitely feeling my 17 miles in poor conditions on Friday and with a slight hangover on top of it things were not looking so nice.

Once I got some Dunkin' coffee and got on the train, I started feeling a little bit better. Several of us had decided NOT to wear our GBTC singlets to this race (mainly because of the above mentioned "I'm going to suck and not race" thought process), which gave me an opportunity to race in THE BEST SPANDEX EVER. I found them at Target for $15, advertised as "fashion leggings" which I find hilarious because a) in what real life situation would you ever wear pants like these? and b) they happen to be made of the same cotton/poly/spandex blend as basically all of my running tights. EPIC WIN!
These pants are my spirit animal
The race started at 10, and I arrived at the start around 9:30. This race has definitely grown since I ran it as the Super Sunday 10K back in 2010, and there were tons of people milling around - pretty great to see that you can still get a turnout of 2K+ runners even when it's frickin' freezing outside! I had planned on doing a quick warmup, but after hitting the porta potty and jumping in the bag check line, it became clear that by the time I checked my bag I would have maybe 15 minutes before the race start. Don't get me wrong, the volunteers did a GREAT job of handling the line of hundreds, but I think everyone had brought a bag with more warm clothes, and EVERYONE felt like 9:30 was the time they wanted to get rid of it. In the meantime I was texting with Joy desperately hoping that I would actually be able to find her in the madness - since we weren't wearing team kits, I had no idea what she WAS wearing! Somehow we managed to connect and jogged around the block a couple of times before heading to the start. Super warm-up, legs and feet were completely frozen and I was totally in a "whatevs" sort of mood at this point.  Wait, what? I'm supposed to run a race now? Well, OK, fine then.

Honestly, there isn't a ton to say about the race itself. I started running, and it turns out I was running faster than expected. I kept running, and continued to run faster than expected, and it felt significantly easier than I ever could have imagined given the pace I was running. The course wasn't too exciting in terms of scenery, but it had a LOT going for it in terms of terrain; it's been a REALLY long time since I ran a race that could even remotely be categorized as "flat" and this fit the bill. There were a couple inclines/declines over bridges but other than that, very very gentle terrain.  I never actually figured out if the roads were fully closed but I think they were at least partially, because there was a nice full lane open to run in which was pretty great. I went through the first mile at 6:47 and was kind of like, huh. That wasn't that hard. So I started thinking to myself "keep this pace feeling relaxed".  A few people surged past me in the second mile but generally I was just holding my spot, all alone as I for some reason always tend to be in races. I can't remember my 2-mile time but it was still in the sub-7 realm. Once again, I thought, huh, this still feels really relaxed. At one point the thought occurred to me "Is this what a tempo run is supposed to feel like?!". I considered trying to pick up the pace but I still didn't have the confidence that I wasn't completely going to crash so I kept on point with "keep this 6:50ish pace feeling relaxed". Around mile 3 the 5K runners fed into the 5 milers, which was a little bit annoying because I had really locked into a nice groove, and then suddenly around the corner comes a horde of runners who were running at a slower pace. I had to do a little bobbing and weaving but once I got past the initial rush, I got back into daylight and reclaimed my "running alone between packs" status. By the time I reached mile 4 (in I believe 27:27) the pace was finally starting to wear on me a little bit. However, the finish was now close enough and I felt like I had just enough left in the tank to try to actually...gasp...pick it up! As this was happening I was literally thinking to myself I don't think I've EVER had something left to even try to pick it up during the last mile of a race. Did I not run hard enough? I guess maybe not. Holy shit, I'm running 5 miles in under 7 minute pace and it doesn't feel like I ran HARD enough?? What this real life? Finally in the last half mile, that good old "hot damn, I'm about ready to be done running" feeling kicked in, and I started losing steam a little bit from my early kick. Still, I powered across the finish line feeling reasonably strong and incredibly pleased with my 34:xx (I stopped my watch late and originally had a 34:30, my official chip time was 34:17). SIGNIFICANTLY better than I ever would have expected, even on a perfect racing day. This was an automatic PR since somehow in my racing career I've never managed to race a 5 miler - now I've got a lot to live up to the next time I do!

I quickly went to retrieve my bag because I knew that as soon as I stopped running I was going to get extremely cold, extremely fast. By the time I finished up with that I was able to meet back up with Joy, and then we ran into Kaitlyn also! We all imbibed in a post race beer (because nothing says "normal" like drinking a Backlash outdoors, in 16 degree weather, at 11 in the morning, after racing 5 miles) but then decided to forgo our second because we were FREEZING and pretty ready to get back indoors. I cooled down back to Harvard with Kaitlyn (and then rewarded myself with a caramel 
machiatto) to get some decent mileage on the day. 
GBTC ladies in non-GBTC apparel post-race

So what's the moral of the story here? Well, here's the thing. I've now had three races in a row where I "surprisingly" ran fairly fast. This race especially felt like a fairly "relaxed" effort, especially when I look at my pace, and take into consideration the freezing weather and pre-race fails. it time to finally admit that I might be getting faster? That is the whole point of this running thing, right? I think sometimes I forget that I don't necessarily have to be stuck running the same paces always and forever. That paces that USED to feel incredibly hard or straight up impossible might actually be possible these days. I'm 27 - in theory, I'm in the prime of my running life, with several years of solid, consistent training to back me up. I'm really loving this new footloose and fancy free, no expectations, "I'm not really racing!" sort of attitude, and it seems to be paying dividends. But I also think it's time to reevaluate what I believe I can do - because you know what? Maybe I CAN be better! Maybe I already am. And I probably should stop making excuses, stop feeling "relaxed" when I'm racing, and really. freaking. race. And then see what happens.

Race details for those interested: RaceMenu/Race Cancer consistently put on really solid events that are clearly well thought out and fun. They tend to attract larger fields and are generally pretty competitive, this race especially so, but they're definitely super welcoming to first timers or more casual runners.
COURSE: Honestly, I couldn't ask for better for a city race. I really don't particularly care about scenery when I'm racing because I'm not looking at it anyway, so give me a nice flat boring course over hilly and beautiful any day. Definitely a fast course. Well marked, clocks at miles 1, 2, and 3, at least partially closed to traffic as far as I could tell. I believe I saw a water stop as well (one of the volunteers complimented my pants, which of course made me happy).  The only detractor was the 5K influx at mile 3, which maybe could be fixed by modifying the 5K course slightly? It really wasn't that big of a deal but definitely took me out of my race a little bit.
SWAG: I was a little sad about the cotton t-shirt this year (my tech shirt from the old 10K is one of my favorites) but the color is nice and the design is fairly attractive and simple. As the race has grown I can imagine they would probably need to up the price to do a tech shirt and still donate the same amount to their charities, so it's understandable. We also got a bottle opener (you could exchange it for a hat, but let's be real, I really like bottle openers). Post race party included 2 beer tickets and some food - I only took advantage of 1 beer but on a nicer day or with a heated tent I would definitely have stuck around longer. If you're fast enough to win stuff (and you need to be pretty fast), there are cash prizes and the trophies were Super Bowl trophy replicas - nice touch.
ORGANIZATION: Again, this group really puts together solid events. My only complaints would be that a few more volunteers manning the bag check area would have been helpful, and a warmer and/or indoor space would have encouraged me to stick around longer for the party!
$$: I honestly can't remember how much I paid for this race, somewhere in the $30-35 range. I wouldn't pay that for the 5K option, but I think it's reasonable for a 5 mile given how well organized the race was, the amount of swag, and the fact that part of the proceeds go to several reputable cancer research foundations and charities, which I can definitely get behind. For a larger race, I'd say they're doing a good job of keeping it affordable!

Super Sunday 5M
34:17 chip time (6:52 pace), PR (also set an unofficial 4M PR of 27:27 within the race)
216/1419 OA, 33/746 F, 21/322 F19-29

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Marathon training is a thing

First official week of training done! I've been doing a bit of a buildup the last few weeks (aka, just trying to establish consistency) but this was the first week that had some structure and a decent number of miles. And for the first time maybe ever, I ran MORE than I planned to. Hopefully that's a good sign. I've got like 4 different training logs going at the moment (I use Strava for GPS, Daily Mile out of habit, and recently restarted a paper training log) but I feel like the more I see the numbers written down, the more motivated I am to continue making them. So, here's a recap of week 1:

M - 2 hours of dance rehearsal

T - The short run commute (5.4 miles) at moderate effort

W - Run commute with an add on loop (6.7 miles) at easier effort


F - Charles River run commute with 3 miles at GMP (7:29, 7:22, 7:20) in the middle, 7.5 total. There was a tailwind so I probably went a little faster than I would have otherwise. Also did half an hour of strength work.

Sa - 5.5 fairly easy

Su - 16 miles with fast finish for last 5 (descended from 7:45 to 7:30), easy middle miles with Joy and Brianna who we ran into on the river. Haven't seen her in awhile and 5ish miles flew by while we caught up. Definitely felt better than expected throughout this entire run. A very casual 16!

Totals: 41 miles, 30 min strength, 2 hr dance

Despite some awkward injury niggles in the 2 weeks prior, this week went REALLY well. It actually was frighteningly easy to hit 41 miles running only 3x during the week...I give all the credit to the glorious run commute, which saves me time, completely takes "being lazy" out of the equation as a reason to skip a run, and lets my coworkers see how insane I am. Great success! I'm going to continue to just run 5x a week, with a long run and at least 1 up tempo or hill day for the next 2 weeks. I plan to make my triumphant return to GBTC and add structured track work back into the mix in February, which will also probably lead to a jump in mileage. This is my first time doing 4 marathon cycles back to back since 2009 it's gone 3 in a row - 2 year break - 1 that almost doesn't count - another year break until I finally got back into it at Lehigh), and I'm really hoping that all of my past 2 years mileage will pay off. But, there's a lot of work to be done first! Time to get after it.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

A quick review of 2014

2014 was definitely one of the best years I've had in awhile as a runner! I ran some races I'm proud of and feel like I've finally proven that my marathon PR is/was not a fluke, which is pretty thrilling. I also think 2014 was the year I finally got my mental game in check, learned to just calm the eff down and stop worrying so much about times or paces and just. freaking. run. Which I think has helped me immensely, especially on the marathon front.  So some brief 2014 stats:

Miles run: 1542 - this is actually quite low for me, especially considering this encompassed 2 marathon training cycles. Still, I got results, so I can't complain! I also biked just over 500 miles, which is definitely something new!

Races: 10 - 1 solo 5K, 2 doggy 5K's with Dayton, 1 "10 mile" aka 5.25 mile aka no one will ever know the true distance, 3 half marathons, 1 20-mile, and 2 marathons. Definitely jumped the average distance I raced this year by a lot! Very few short races, and none of those races were taken seriously at all (I mean, I ran 2 of them with my 25 lb dog).

PRs: 2, half marathon (1:34:05) and automatically in the 20 mile (2:30:32). Dayton also set a 5K PR this year with a 21:56! And so very, very close to a marathon PR. I'm also fairly confident I PR'd in the 10K during one or both of New Bedford/Wolf Hollow halfs, but I don't have any exact splits so I'll never know for sure.

Hardest race experience: Toss up between Harwich Cranberry Half (stupid racing strategy + out of shape = noooo fun) and Boston because of the heat.

Best race experience: Madison Marathon...Boston's hard to top, but having the race I did in the place I did made this one for me! (Honorable mention goes to Boston, Black Cat, and Wolf Hollow)

Memorable runs:
-Last long run before Boston that I did with Joy, Katie, and Sara on the course, when all of the charity groups were doing theirs as well - almost as much atmosphere as the race itself!
-The time I did a negative split 20 miler in the morning, then went to a 4 hour dance rehearsal in the afternoon
-The ridiculous 90 degree and humid Labor Day 17-miler where Joy and I wanted to throw ourselves into the river
-Every run in the freaking polar vortex

Gear of the year: Mizuno Wave Sayonara, hands down. Never thought I would make it through a marathon in a semi-lightweight shoe, but these babies delivered and MORE. I'm in love.

Not running related...books read: 50!! I set this as a NY resolution in 2013 and failed, so I was seriously determined in 2014. It came down to the wire (I finished #50 on Christmas) but I succeeded! I may do a post on all of this year's books at some point in the future.

So...what about 2015?! Plans, goals, resolutions, do I have them? Well, kind of. If there's one thing I learned this year, it's that putting an exact specific number that must be hit at all costs do or die out there is just asking to be frustrated. Particularly when it comes to certain spring marathons where the weather odds have not been in my favor in any year I've run it so far. I already have my race calender planned pretty much through the spring, but I don't have any super-specific goals for any of those races. Or I just refuse to put therm out there right now. But that being said, here are some generalities:
    1. Have a good race at Boston. Honestly, after running Madison I am much more confident that I COULD PR on a hillier course, even Boston, but the weather is just too damn unpredictable. If the day is perfect, it could be a perfect race. Or it could not. But I really want to take what the day gives me and use it to the absolute fullest, just like I did last year.
  2. Mother fucking strength training. I think I've said this every. single. year. but this year I swear I'm serious. I've seen some big gains this past year but I feel like I'm stuck in a bit of a plateau, and it's going to take more than just more miles to take my running to the next level.
 3. Race more "for fun" - 5Ks, 5 milers, maybe some track or cross country, maybe some more random halfs - I really, really enjoyed the Wolf Hollow Half that I ran completely for shits and giggles and I would love to do that more often.
 4. Fine. FINE. I want a 3:19 marathon, damn it! I really don't care if I PR in the half this year (although that would of course be nice). I really don't care if I PR in the 5K ever again (that may not even be reasonable). But all signs point to my having the POTENTIAL to run under 3:19:59, and I want to use the past 2 years of base training to get it done.

2015 race schedule (so far, bolded races are 100% certain):
-1/25/15: GBTC Invite, possibly a 3K or mile
-2/2/15: Super Sunday 5 miler (auto PR! yeah!)
-2/22/15: Amherst 10 miler, maybe
-3/1/15: Black Cat 20 miler, maybe
-3/15/15: NYC HALF!
-4/20/15: Boston Marathon
-5/24/15: Vermont City Marathon...maybe...yeah, I said it, 2 spring marathons whaaat?! But Memorial Day Weekend + my BIRTHDAY weekend + supposedly flat course + I <3 grand="" indeed...="" p="" prix="" road="" tempting="" trip="verrrrry" vermont="">Everything after that? Totally up in the air! I may forgo a fall marathon to train for a 70.3 tri, but a lot of that rides on how winter and spring go. So...time to get cracking!