Thursday, July 16, 2015

Marathon training begins, and a quick 5K race report

The transition from "not marathon training" to "marathon training" in the winter always happens so suddenly for me - I'm always training for Boston, so the timeline is the same, and the start of January = the start of marathon training. Done. Fall marathon training, on the other hand, tends to happen more gradually, and this training cycle is no exception. I've been racing a lot for fun this summer, which I think has been great in terms of forcing me to run hard once in awhile, but my weekly mileage hasn't exactly been stellar (an average of about 28 miles/week tends to be the comfy point that I revert to when out of marathon training season). But this week, when I added up my planned mileage and it came mighty close to 50, I realized - holy shit, I'm actually marathon training, AGAIN. Sadly, that means a lot less "racing for fun" type situations and a lot more of what passes for structured training in my book.  But before I reverted back to marathon training, I decided it would be fun to run a random 4th of July 5K. It had actually been 2 years since I raced a 5K (unless you count 5K's with my dog, which I don't. My 25 lb pup's 5K PR is 21:56 though, so it's at least a tempo run) and the last 5K I ran was an extremely ill fated 4th of July race which involved 85 degree temps with ridiculous humidity at the start, along with an extremely hilly course. Needless to say, I picked a different race this time around. Joy and I headed over to Lynnfield, picked up our amazing cotton shirts (another $20 race with an amazingly hideous cotton shirt? Perfect!), warmed up a little, and headed to the start. I immediately picked out a couple of women who looked fast, including one woman who would turn out to be a professional runner for Puma and who went on to run a 17 minute 5K...I mean, whoa. The national anthem was sung (kind of can't get away without that on July 4th) and...we were off!

I can sum up this race pretty briefly in stream of consciousness style:
Mile 1 - "OK, this is kind of hard, but it's not SO bad. There are only like 4 women in front of me, hard to complain about that. Gah, I wish I could pass this woman. I wish it wasn't so humid. 6:20. Hey, keep that up, and you can run a PR!"

Mile 2 - "SWEET BABY JESUS WHY ARE WE RUNNING UPHILL?! Why do I feel like I just jumped in a swimming pool? Why is my breathing SO LOUD? I am going to dump that cup of water on my head. This humidity is stupid. I still can't pass that damn woman. I hate 5K's." 6:49...alright, I'll take that.

Mile 3 - "OH GOD WHY DID I DO A 5K WHAT IS THIS? I sound like I am actively dying! This guy in front of me must be ready to murder me! That woman in the purple shirt is long gone. Whatever, she looked out of my age group anyway. WHY IS IT SO HUMID? I think I'm going to throw up. Why am I still running, up a hill no less?! Wait, is that a downhill. We must be almost to the finish. GO FASTER LEGS! 6:53.

My finish time was 20:44, which I believe is my 2nd best road 5K ever. Yup, ever. I was super OK with that. And I am VERY happy to report that my Garmin measured the course as 3.1 miles, on the dot...nice work, Lynnfield. I like you. I also wound up 1st in my age group, after you took out 1st place future Olympian woman. This cemented this summer as my most winning race season of all time, as I took home some sort of award in all 5 races that I ran! Being able to crack the age group placings really will never get old for me, especially when it comes with a decent performance. But man, 5K's? That is a whole different kind of pain. In a longer race you have all kinds of time to play around with pace and solve your problems. In a 5K? It's go out, try to hold on, and see how little you can die. And given the complete lack of speedwork of any sort in my life recently, I think the amount of death I died after going out in 6:20 really wasn't too bad at all. In fact, this race got me thinking that maybe if I wanted to train specifically for it, I could actually run a 5K PR one of these days.

Just livin' the dream

So now, back to the marathon training situation. I like to marathon train on a very 'general' plan - I plan out my long runs in advance and I have a general idea of the weekly mileage/days of running per week I want to shoot for, but other than that? It's kind of a free for all. I generally try to throw in something resembling a workout most weeks - a lot of times, I'll do the workout recommended by my club coaches, but I'll be the first to admit that that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, my legs just feel good and what was originally planned to be an easy run turns into a tempo. Sometimes I just have no desire to do a workout, and so I don't. It's a little bit haphazard and I'll admit that there are times that I wonder whether I couldn't be better if I had a little more structure to my training life, but this "the only thing planned is the long run" situation got me a 5 minute PR in craptastic weather in Boston a few months ago, so it can't be totally horrible. Every training cycle, I do add a couple of new things/goals into the mix to see if they work. For Boston, that was doing strength training 2x/week, which I hope to continue with throughout the summer. This cycle, I have a couple of goals in mind. The first is higher overall weekly mileage, which should be helped significantly by the fact that I really want to get in a midweek medium long run of 8-12 miles, everrrrry week. The other is that I live ~2 miles away from Fresh Pond, and every Saturday they host very informal races that are either 1 (2.5 miles) or 2 (5 miles) laps of the pond. I really have NO excuse for not going over there and doing some marathon pace running at least every other weekend.

So that's pretty much the situation here. My next race on the schedule is the Falmouth Road Race, which is kind of a big deal around these parts. After missing the deadline last year, I decided this year to apply to run for the Brain Injury Association of MA team (a cause that, as an outpatient physical therapist working mainly with people who have had a brain injury or stroke, is pretty near to my heart) and I got in! So, for the 2-3 people who read this blog, I will shamelessly plug my fundraising page: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/AZaferos/FRR2015 . Falmouth will also be an insta-PR for me, since it's a totally weird distance of 7 miles. New England tradition + instant PR..can't argue with that!

Friday, July 03, 2015

Lazy Lobster 10 Mile Race Report

Well, the Summer of Racing is almost over (racing a 4th of July 5K tomorrow) and true marathon training is about to begin again. I've certainly been taking my sweet time writing these race reports, so before I run my next race let me tell you about my last one...quite possibly my favorite race of the summer, the Lazy Lobster 10 Mile. We had picked this race 100% due to the name and the fact that it was fairly inexpensive (I think $40 for the 10 mile)...and so, like half of the Sundays before it, I headed down with Joy to another random New England town. It was the same crew as Newport, only THIS time we all actually got to run the race! Fancy that! It poured all the way to Wareham and was supposed to continue throughout the day, which I was fine with - hey, I'd take rain over just humidity ANY day!

The race was an extremely low key sort of affair - the type of race that starts at a local elementary school and doesn't have chip timing - and we got our race packets and put on Louie the Lazy Lobster (yes, there's a mascot) tattoos with no problem. Pretty much immediately on heading out for a warmup we were completely soaked. The rain actually felt great - it was a muggy, high 70s day - and I kept thinking 'I don't mind this at all..as long as it keeps raining'. We made it back to the starting area where everyone was huddled under an awning, and after a few minutes the race got underway. The race was a fundraiser for MyTeam Triumph, which is a Team Hoyt style program where people with disabilities can participate in races with a guide using custom wheelchairs. Pretty cool program, and there were quite a few teams out despite the ridiculous weather! They headed off first and then it was time for the rest of the field. The 5 and 10 miler were starting at the same time, and I started scoping out the women around me who I would be running with (or not). Two of the faster looking girls up front were doing the 5 miler, and there was only 1 other woman doing the 10 mile lining up with us at the front. The horn sounds, and off we go!

After the dust of the initial 400 meters or so had settled, I found myself running in 3rd position, behind Joy and the woman in the sports bra who had been near the front at the start. I felt like I was running pretty comfortably, and my first mile hit at 6:55 which told me I had not gone out like an idiot! Great success! I wasn't feeling AWESOME but I wasn't feeling weird like last week either, so I guess that was a good sign. Somewhere after the first mile I passed Joy and was just bopping along when my freaking shoe came untied! I don't know if that's ever happened to me before...I always double knot my laces but I guess being wet meant that even that wasn't enough. I literally mumbled 'oh for fuck's sake' under my breath as I stopped and tied it, which seemed to take an hour and about 14 attempts (if my Strava graph is any indication, it actually took about 30 seconds). I kept envisioning a bunch of women passing me during this time period but luckily for me that actually didn't happen; one girl running the 5 mile passed me as well as an older dude, but that was it. Mile 2 was actually still a 7:10 despite the 30 second break; I have a suspicion that after I tied my shoe I took off like a sprinting idiot to try to 'catch up', or whatever. Ah well, what can you do.

Weirdly enough, miles 2-5 were the part of this race that sucked for me. Apparently Taylor had been gaining on me as I tied my shoe and soon after she came absolutely blasting past me. I tried to keep up for awhile but it quickly became apparent that she was not slowing down any time soon. Meanwhile, the rain had stopped and now instead of being cool, I felt like I was being suffocated in a blanket of humidity. I was hot, wet, and sticky (file that under the category of 'things that sound dirty but aren't') and I wasn't really enjoying myself. The 10 milers had to do a little lollipop out and back which is one of my least favorite race course features, not to mention there was a tow truck parked across the course whose driver seemed to have no concept/didn't care about the runners having to splash through a huge puddle in order to go around him. Nothing much of note happened in the next few miles. I was slowing down a little bit, but not as aggressively as at Newport - 7:19, 7:20, 7:27. I was very uncomfortable. During mile 4ish the 10 milers were running with slower 5 milers (because of the lollipop, we were ~1 mile ahead on our course) so I felt like I was passing people, which was nice. I missed a water stop because the guy in front of me got water and the volunteer wasn't quite quick enough (understandable, but at the time I was like c'mon, man!) But I wasn't going to go back for it, so I just kept moving forward.

Somewhere between mile 5-6 I took my Gu in the hopes that it would make me feel better, and surely enough, IT DID! I guess I must have been in need of some salt, because within about 5 minutes I went from "please kill me" to "hey, this pace is fine! Nice and relaxed! How lovely!" And - ta da - I actually started picking it up a little bit as well. Nothing dramatic, but 7:19 was an improvement. Taylor was waaaaay up ahead on the road and I knew I had no chance of catching her, but over the next couple of miles I slowly started reeling in sports bra lady, finally passing here somewhere between mile 6 and 7. By this point it had also started raining again, and that was pretty much all I needed to try to keep the gas on for the next few miles. Winning the race was obviously out of my reach, but I wasn't going to argue with second woman, and right now I was in a position to make that happen. I really didn't want to squander that chance by being afraid to be uncomfortable. Now, really, I didn't have a choice because pretty much the entirety of mile 8 was an extremely gradual but nevertheless present incline. That took my confidence down a notch with a 7:31 mile - c'mon man, marathon pace? What are you doing? With only 2 miles to go I knew that I had to try a little harder. Luckily, at that point the skies COMPLETELY opened up and the steady rain turned into an absolute downpour. In one of my favorite moments of any race ever, a shirtless guy about 50 feet in front of me threw his arms out to the sides and his head up to the sky, just basking in it. It was just one of those things - like, 100 people showed up for this race, not many people are willing to run in this kind of crap, but here we are, the lucky ones, to get to be here and to do this - it was great. The rain kept getting heavier and heavier - to the point where I couldn't see the next runner in front of me and giant puddles were forming in the road. I was definitely ready to be done but at the same time I was having a blast running in this ridiculousness. I hadn't even looked at the net time on my watch in ages, and I'm not good enough at math to be able to figure out what kind of time I was aiming for. I was pleasantly surprised to see 1:12 up on the clock as I headed up the last hill and towards the finish chute. At that particular moment, a giant pack of 5 milers wearing tutus were also turning into the chute. Never mind that they had run half the distance, I was not losing any precious seconds to a pack of people. I SPRINTED around them and into the 10 mile chute, finishing in 1:12:41 and second woman overall.
Not me, but this is how hard it was raining about 5 minutes before I finished

I congratulated Taylor, who had come in about a minute ahead of me, and then turned to see Dana coming in - she had passed sports bra lady, and GBTC went 1-2-3...woo! Since we are typically the "b-team" of our squad when it comes to Grand Prix races it was kind of exciting to be able to get some top prizes. Sports bra lady was next, followed shortly by Joy - all in all, a pretty impressive showing! We headed out to cooldown and cheer on a new member of our crew before heading back to FINALLY change into dry clothes. I also drank a bottle of apple/cranberry juice that pretty much tasted like it had been sent straight down from heaven...good call on the juice, race management, good call. 
GBTC FTW!

Essential post race selfie with Joy, with our Louie tattoos hahaha

After drying off we headed back outside (into yet more rain) and huddled under the food tent waiting for awards - because we ALL won awards! I was completely shocked to get not only a medal, but a GPS watch for being 2nd overall woman (top 3 M/F got them). I mean, guys! This is not a big race - I was beyond pumped. For me, the excitement of managing to place in the top 3 women overall isn't diminished at all by the fact that the race was smaller. It's all about who shows up! Being able to be in a position where it's possible to take home some awards, even if it's only in smaller races, is such a cool thing, and I never want to make that less meaningful by thinking "oh, well if it were a bigger race, I wouldn't have won anything". 

Favorites with our winnings

The one and ONLY disappointing thing about the day was that after the race, we went to this random little BBQ place in Carver (which was completely amazing - I got a hot dog WITH PULLED PORK ON IT. What is my life.) But the sad part that was I was somehow so tired and distracted and not thinking that I left my favorite running had (pictured above) at the restaurant! Wahhhhh! What's funny is I got that hat from pretty much the worst race of my life, a 6K in which I sprained my ankle, fell, and ran a completely embarassing time. But you know what, I LOVED that hat! Oh well - at least it got some redemption during today's race. As a sidenote, I just looked up the race and discovered IT DOESN'T EVEN EXIST ANYMORE! So I will never be able to find another 6K hat. Oh well. Anyway, the BBQ was delicious, and Joy and I finished off the day after getting back to Boston with a flight at Aeronaut Brewery...because really, what is summer racing without beer afterward?

All in all, it was a really fabulous day. I ran fairly well; I am clearly not in racing shape and I think these 10 milers have been a really good kick in the pants to be like 'hey...you know...you can't just do easy 5 milers every day and expect to run well..." Despite that, it wasn't a BAD performance at all - hey, it's a PR - and while I think that in peak shape I could definitely run a 10 miler in sub-7 pace, I can't complain too much about 7:16. Also, the race itself was just SO GREAT - what a breath of fresh air after the clusterfuck of two weeks ago. I seriously think small races are the way to go - they care about the runners, not about having some gigantic event. The course was actually the right distance (THANK YOU), we got men/women specific tech shirts as well as finisher pint glasses, medals with glitter and a bottle opener on them, and then wooden medals for AG awards as well as the GPS watches for top 3. I think that's the most swag I've taken home from any race, EVER, let alone a tiny little 10 miler. The proceeds all went to a good cause, and it was really just a great experience. My only negative would possibly be the traffic control out on the course - there wasn't really signage saying "hey, race going on!" or a lane of cones or anything, so I don't feel like cars had a great awareness of the fact that they might have to move over for a second. That being said, the roads where the race was run were REALLY quiet, so there wasn't necessarily enough traffic to warrant closing the roads or anything. The course was pretty enjoyable - basically your quintessential rural New England race through quiet roads and trees, rolling hills, but nothing too insane. I definitely plan to make this one a yearly summer tradition!

Lazy Lobster 10M
1:12:41 (7:16 pace) actual PR
8/118 OA, 2/68 F

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Newport 10 Mile Race Report

A couple of weeks ago I ran the Newport 10 Mile race with a few friends in Rhode Island. While it was a great day in the end and a decent race for me all things considered, this race was a lesson in several ways:
-why bigger races are NOT always better
-why double digit races in the off season are no joke
-Rhode Island isn't flat
-short courses are the bane of my existence
-why having a good race director really really matters

The race was in Newport (aka a ~1:20 drive) and started at 8 am, which meant an EXTREMELY early start on race morning. I stayed the night at Joy's and we were on the road by 5:30. Things were going smoothly and we were WAY ahead of schedule until we got about 2.5 miles out from the race start...at which point we ran headfirst into a wall of stopped traffic. All of which were people trying to navigate the bottleneck of roads that lead into the race parking lot. We encountered this wall of traffic at maybe 7:10 or so and didn't park until 7:40. It was a hot. freaking. mess. Taylor and Dana had called to let us know they were about 20 minutes back from us, and given the traffic nightmare it was looking less and less likely that they were going to make it to the start line. Joy and I literally had time to hit a porta potty, grab our numbers and shirts (cotton, and the wrong size...seriously races, what's the point of asking people what shirt size they want if you're not going to honor it?! I signed up over a month in advance, so there's really no excuse...) and go to the line. With zero fanfare we were off at 8 am on the dot, with Taylor and Dana nowhere in sight. Shit.

Regardless, I started running and immediately felt like total trash. My legs felt shaky and weak, my breathing was all off, and I felt like I had way too much adrenaline running through me wondering if my teammates were going to make it to the start of the race. About 3 minutes in, I saw Taylor on the side of the road waving and yelling "WE'RE NOT GONNA MAKE IT, SORRY!" I felt terrible - I mean, to drive all the way down there and then miss the start by a few minutes because of poorly organized parking? Kind of unacceptable. It was too late to worry about them too much, however, because I now had my own problems to worry about, like how I was going to survive a 10 mile race that was already looking hotter and hillier than I would have liked. My first mile was 6:44, too fast, but not completely outside the realm of sanity. It wasn't so much my split that worried me as how I felt - TERRIBLE. The shaky feeling hadn't worn off and I was already starting to feel the classic dehydrated dead leg feeling, which at 1 mile in is obviously a bad sign.

Way too early in the race to be feeling as uncomfortable as I am.

We continued on, and I tried to get myself to just chill the eff out. Relax! Look at the ocean! Something, anything, to distract myself from the blazing sunshine and how crappy I was already feeling. Admittedly the first part of the course was lovely - we were up on a road looking out over the ocean and with the sun shining it was really beautiful. My second mile was a 7:08, and I didn't really feel like I had slowed down all that much. Aw, damn. It's going to be one of those days, isn't it? I passed Joy just after mile 2, and she yelled something at me and pointed at the ocean. I'm pretty sure I just yelled something like "THIS SUCKS!" I'm such a nice person when I'm struggling in races...hahaha. She told me later that at that point in the race she was thinking "oh shit" because she had run a half marathon on this part of the route, and she knew that the next 4 miles were pretty much nonstop hills. I am VERY thankful that I didn't know that information at the time, because if I had I would have seriously considered turning around and going back to the start.  The next 4 miles were absolutely horrible. It's been awhile since I've had a race where I really felt bad early, and admittedly I deserved this one because my training since Boston has been pretty lacking in any distance over 6 miles. Still, though, knowing that you're not in distance racing shape is one thing and actually experiencing it is another. Every single mile marker I had to talk myself into getting to the next one, and I continued to slow down. 7:08, 7:21, 7:29....woof.

"I do not like what is happening right now"

I knew I was dehydrated, and the water stations were way too far apart for me to remedy that situation. I was having all sorts of strange sensations; at one point my knees all of a sudden felt cold, at another I felt like I was hyperventilating - it was just a hot mess. On top of that was the ongoing sensation of my legs feeling like they were about .1 seconds from collapse, and the relentless hills certainly weren't helping that situation. Looking at the course map from my GPS, it's not like we ever gained a TON of elevation - most of the miles were net uphill only 10-30 ft - but it wasn't so much that we were continuously climbing as the rollers just never seemed to stop. Despite my body's protests, I kept running. I kept slowing down - 7:38 for mile 6. I didn't particularly care about running fast anymore, I just cared about survival. Finally just after mile 6 we turned onto a slight downhill/flat on a residential street that was SHADED for the first time on the entire course. I had just grabbed some water, Shake It Off came on my ipod (perks of summer/non-goal racing = I can bring my jams if I feel like it) and I started to feel just a tiny bit better. Not really better enough to speed up by much, but better enough to feel like I was actually moving forward instead of dragging my withered carcass down the road. 7:31 - better. I saw Taylor and Dana at mile 7, and they yelled at me "all downhill from here!". Um. LIES. The next mile saw 3 steep spiky hills in a row which brought me down a notch from my nice shady street. At this point we were finally close enough that I wasn't too worried about slowing down any further, but I was a little sick of insult being added to injury with the neverending hills. That mile was back up to a 7:37, but the following mile had more downhill and I was finally able to pick it back up a little bit with a 7:23. The finish was nearly in sight, and in the last mile of the race I finally, randomly, got it together and decided to race. I passed one girl heading up the (evil) hill back into the state park, and then gradually hunted down another between 9 and 9.5.  The last mile seemed to take an ETERNITY...which made it all the worse when I snuck a peek at my watch as I approached the finish and saw that it was only at 9.7x. Meaning that the last, eternal mile...wasn't even a full mile?! [I can't figure out how to copy my finish photo from RaceWire in here, but it's hilarious - I look SO. ANNOYED.]

The distance that I wound up with on my GPS was 9.86 miles - and I get it, GPS error is a thing - but if everyone on Strava who linked to the race got something between 9.7-9.9 miles, and the error is THAT big? I'm pretty sure the course was short. And that irritated me, because if you're hosting a race I feel like you really have ONE job, and that's to provide a course that is the distance you say it is, that's safe and is timed properly. Bare bones of a race, that's it. This was a large (2000+), well advertised, fairly expensive race - and you're telling me you couldn't be bothered to check the distance of the course and move your finish line back 200 m (which, with the setup they had, would have been really easy to do) accordingly? Maybe this is just me being a grouchy elitist semi-competitive runner, but that just irked me big time. 

Joy came in a couple minutes after me, and we wandered off to change and go cool down. My left high hamstring that tends to flare up when I'm riding the struggle bus (I think weird things happen to my form when I'm fatigued, particularly when I'm also hot) was really bothering me, and I was still dehydrated, hungry, and in a grumpy mood regarding the course. My mood took a turn for the better when on our cooldown we passed a farm full of LLAMAS, and then ran into Taylor and Dana so we could all bitch about the organizational problem that the morning had been together. 
 Cows and llamas!
It's OK, only 2 of us actually got to run the race, but we still love eachother (and llamas)

By the time we had made our way back to the parking lot my hamstring had loosened up and I was generally in better spirits about life. I happened to get the email that "results are up, woo!" on my phone and looked to find out that I had gotten 4TH in my age group -ugggh, the worst place! Joy had gotten 2nd in her AG, so we headed back to see if awards were still going on. Of course, given the way things had been going that morning, we had just missed her age group, but it gets even better - she went up to let the people at the table know that she had just missed the announcement...and they told her that they had LOST the awards for her age group. [Come to find out a week later, they had actually just given it out to the wrong person...which is cool...]. By this point we had had enough of the ridiculousness and it was time for a beer. While enjoying my Harpoon UFO I happened to look at the results again and they had been corrected - I was 3rd in my age group after all, and 11th overall woman. This was a SHOCK - after such a crappy race, I couldn't believe that I had still placed in the top 1% of women. I was still annoyed about the short course and all of the other logistical errors, but the fact that I had managed to be fairly competitive in the field did help to make up for it a little bit. Although supposedly my award was mailed out 10 days ago...so we shall see if it ever actually finds its way to me.

The rest of the day made everything worth it - relaxing on the water, going to brunch in Newport, and checking out Newport Storm brewery with Joy. It's a new biweekly summer tradition - race + food + brewery!
Things I am OK with.

All in all, it was a good day. Honestly, I don't think I would do this race again - it was just too expensive and far away for the number of problems that there were. I'm actually really sad that I feel that way, because it's a GORGEOUS destination at a good time in the summer for a 'fun' 10 miler, and the course was really beautiful despite being tough. The company that puts it on is a "marketing" company, not a strictly race management company, and I think that really showed. I've run races big and small that were much better managed, and while I would have given them some leeway if this were a first year race, to not have parking/logistics figured out by year 3 isn't really OK. This might be a fun race for someone to do as their very first 10 mile, but as a race for a competitive runner I didn't think it quite stacked up. It seemed like there was more time put into designing a flashy logo and website than actually doing the basic tasks that in my opinion, need to be there in a race of this size (accurate course, awards given out accurately, a setup that allows runners to get to the start line on time, and an accurately sized shirt wouldn't hurt). The course itself was great - traffic was well managed, the volunteers were fantastic, and I have nothing bad to say about anyone who helped out at the event - it just wasn't as professionally run as I was expecting it to be given how cool the website looked and the way the race was advertised. Anyway, I'm running yet another 10 miler this weekend (apparently 2015 is the year of making multiple attempts at random distances) so maybe I'll get a chance to legitimize this PR!

Newport 10M
1:12:18 (7:13 pace, 7:19 pace per Garmin)
63/2110 overall, 11/1522 women, 3/252 F25-29

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Harpoon 5M Race Report

A couple weeks ago now (as I write this in an airport in Indy on my way home from a conference) I ran what I will now refer to as the BEST RACE EVER - the Harpoon 5 Miler. There’s a lottery to get into the race, and my friends and I finally caught on to the fact that your odds of getting in are significantly increased if you register as a “6-Pack” team - so the “Pool-Noodles” were born, and we did indeed get in! I’ve been excited about this race ever since we found out, not because I anticipated running a really stellar 5 miler (doubtful) but because It looked like a super fun race with a beerfest at the brewery afterwards - yes please! This is my kind of race! Add to that the fact that it raises money for ALS research, and I was 100% sold.  I headed over to the brewery bright and early on Sunday morning, and it was already WARM - maybe not hot, but 70+ and sunny is definitely the warmest weather I’ve run in so far this year. Since the race draws 4500 runners, I was a little bit concerned about packet pickup/bag drop/etc being a little bit of a clusterfuck, and was very pleasantly surprised when I managed to pick up my bib, hit the porta potty, and drop my bag in about 15 minutes...Harpoon volunteers were on point! I met up with the rest of the team: Joy, Alyse, Dana, Allison, and Jen - and then headed off to warm up for a few minutes with Dana. I felt decent on the warmup but still had no outstanding expectations about my ability to race well. And in all seriousness, I really didn’t care about individually racing well in this race, as long as I was able to be a contributor for our team. Because, you see, after looking at the results from past years, we realized that we had a solid chance to take a top 3 team spot, and I did NOT want to be the one to blow that for us!


By far the most stressful part of the morning was trying to make our way to the start. Out of the 4500 runners at this race, only maybe 500 or so are really competitive, so the 6 of us knew we needed to get to the front, STAT. This meant bobbing and weaving awkwardly through a crowd of people that did not seem to be moving at all...as it turned out, that was because they hadn’t actually opened the gates for everyone to get to the start yet, but how were we supposed to know that? Eventually we managed to make our way through the crowds and to about the 5th row back from the start, near a crew of Cambridge Running Club girls who we were immediately eying up as competition. We bopped around the starting line for a few minutes and then...we were off!


So...the race. I did not run the smartest race of my life here. I went out in what seemed to be a totally reasonable pace but which actually turned out to be a 6:23 mile. And yeah, I was feeling it. I totally got caught up in the crowd mentality and the idea of “I WANT TO COMPETE TODAY!” which I suppose in a way is good, but I could already tell when I hit the 1 mile mark that I was working wayyyyy too hard to sustain. Add to that the fact that I was already extremely warm, and I was already a little bit concerned that I was going to have an unpleasant next 4 miles. “Damn it, Zaferos”, I thought as I headed into the second mile, “why did you have to go and be an idiot?” It was actually sort of interesting - when I ran the 10K last week, I know I said I forgot how to run hard and have gotten way too used to going out “relaxed”. At this race I DEFINITELY did not go out relaxed and I’m not sure if it was the right choice either. There’s gotta be a happy medium somewhere! If 6:55 is ‘relaxed’ and 6:23 is ‘hard’...maybe I should be going out in like, 6:40? Hah.


Almost immediately into mile 2 I started feeling baaaad. I thought at the time that I hadn’t dropped too far off pace (I had), but I was no longer enjoying myself. I tried to use some mind voodoo to convince myself that I was relaxed, but the combination of the heat and my fast start weren’t allowing those tricks to work. Things were not improved when a few minutes later Dana and Allison passed me, both looking really strong….and here I was, riding the pain train at like mile 1.5. Argh. I kept trucking. We headed over a bridge and down a long straight away, and I tried to keep the red singlets of my teammates in my sights. I was conscious of the fact that I was slowing down, and I actually missed the 2-mile split on my Garmin, but I was closing in on 13:30 by the 2 mile clock and I knew that could only mean one thing - I was back in 7:xx range, and at mile 2 of the race, that was definitely not a good thing (this split was a 6:59).


I tried to pull it together, but my mental monologue at this point of the race was unfortunately going down a path of self-destruction. Ugh, you suck. It’s so hot. Why did you go out so fast, you idiot? People are passing you. If you’re already slowing down at mile 2, there’s no way this is getting any better. It was the polar opposite of the 10K, where I felt like I was a little TOO comfortable but I really couldn’t convince myself to go any faster. Here, I was nowhere NEAR comfortable, and I felt like for the pace I was running, I should feel like I could speed up...and I couldn’t. (Newsflash: that’s what happens when you haven’t done speedwork in 6 weeks and have been only running 25 miles per week since your marathon a month ago! Derp!) We headed into a park which I took to be the turnaround point, and thankfully also ran into a bit of shade. Now that I knew I was halfway, I tried to shift my mindset - OK, so you slowed down. Well, don’t slow down any MORE. Maintain, maintain, maintain got me through the park, and as we turned back towards home I realized just how many people I was ahead of. The pack in my area was pretty sparse on the side of the road heading back; meanwhile it looked like a stampede heading out into the loop. I allowed myself a moment to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that despite feeling like hell, I was able to still be ahead of all of those people!

Everything is hard

By mile 4 I was just completely ready to be done. I had just been passed by a pack of 3 women and was feeling kind of demoralized when I suddenly saw that I had closed some distance on Dana. This became my sole motivation for the last mile of the race: GET TO DANA. Bit, by bit, by bit I slowly reeled her in until I was running right next to her with about half a mile to go. We leapfrogged a bit, with me pulling ahead, she responded, pulled ahead of me and I didn’t want to let her get away. We dragged each other down the finishing straight and finished side by side in a time that was WAY faster than I would have expected - 33:39. Unfortunately, my GPS informed me that I had only run 4.92 miles, and my other friends who had run with GPS confirmed that the course was most likely short. Still, this race wasn't about running a PR (although by pace, even with the short course, it still was one), it was about the team!
Dana is in my sights

So glad that's over
Joy and Jen came cruising into the finish not long after Dana and I, and with that our entire team was done! Alyse had come in 2nd overall with Allison not too far back from her, and we had a good feeling about our chances at winning the women's team award, which had been exactly what we set out to do in this race. We grabbed a beer and hung out in the sun for a bit before heading over to the awards ceremony. The awards for this race are amazing ceramic steins, and we all REALLY wanted those steins (you also won free beer, but that was secondary compared to the steins). I felt like I was back at a dance competition waiting for the results to be announced. They read off the 3rd and 2nd place teams and finally announced first place - we had indeed won! The 6 of us screamed ridiculously which also brought me right back to dance competition times, and we went up to get our awards with huge grins on our faces.
Pool noodles, victorious!

The rest of the day was extremely enjoyable - since the race was held at a brewery, there was obviously a beer festival afterwards, and there are few things better than enjoying a few cold ones with great friends after running to victory on a gorgeous sunny day. Joy, Dana and I wound up heading over to Lawn on D to grab some food truck food for lunch and lay out in the sun for a bit before finally heading home. All in all, it was a fantastic day, and one that I came home from just feeling fulfilled and happy. This race definitely reminded me of how enjoyable it is to run for a TEAM - for your own personal time to be less important that your place, and the team winning making up for any problems in your own performance. I was proud of myself for pulling it together in the last mile of the race to get back up with Dana, and even though that wasn't the difference between us winning and getting second (we won by several minutes), it COULD have been, and the fact that I was able to mentally step up because of that made me feel good. It's also something that I've been realizing over and over this summer - how lucky we are to be able to do this! And to be fast enough to go into a race as a team and think, 'you know, guys, I think we can win the team competition', and then do it! To have friends who are passionate about running and training, but just as passionate about enjoying a beer afterwards. These are my people, and I'm so lucky to have them and to have this sport that I love doing, and am not too bad at doing either. 

Harpoon 5 mile
33:39
180/4313 OA, 34/2489 F, 21/1053 F20-29
1/68 female teams

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:
BIRD SHIRT!

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:
BEEEEEEEEACH!!!

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

LOBSTER ROLL OF HEAVEN

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.

Prerace
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

Raceday
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