Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are very very cold.

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Amherst 10 Mile Race Report, and some other word vomit

SOMEDAY I will remember to write more regularly, so I don't have 4000 things to say when I do. My life has been a little intense lately with the combination of marathon training and studying for a certification exam in March. I sort of feel like all I do is go to work, run, and study (and though I've been at it for almost 3 months, I hardly feel like any of the studying has actually sunk in...guess I've got to trust my brain). But I've tried to carve out some time to write a race recap, so while I'm here I guess I'll recap some other things too.

February was, overall, quite a solid month of training. I consistently got myself to track practice vs. doing workouts on the treadmill which was definitely an improvement. I had one long run that almost ate my soul, 18 miles of awfulness in the remnants of a previous snowstorm + additional snow coming down through the first half of the run + snow turning to slush in the later stages. I don't think I ran on solid pavement for the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes of slogging misery. I texted Andrew at maybe mile 4 or 5 saying there was no way I was going to finish my run, yet somehow I plowed through basically every mental trick in my arsenal to complete exactly 18 miles. One nice thing about Boston training in Boston is that even on a totally shit day when you're sliding half a step backwards for every step forward you take, you see plenty of other runners out there. Normally when I'm out on the course everyone's smiling and waving and cheerful. On this day, we acknowledged each other with the sorts of grim faces usually reserved for prisoners of some sort. It was not an enjoyable time, to say the least.

Last weekend's long run was the complete opposite - it was my first 20 of the cycle, and despite my usual hemming and hawing and procrastinating and totally psyching myself out, it was awesome. I took the train out to Woodland, did an out and back to Wellesley and then came back on the course. It was one of those bluebird days for running - 45, sunny, not a lick of wind, just incredible. I started off at a fairly conservative pace but quickly found myself easing into the low 7:40s without putting much thought into it. As is my custom, I decided to roll with it and see what happened. I kept clicking off around that pace until around mile 10, where I hit the hill coming up over the highway and suddenly got really tired. I didn't particularly care - I had actually bagged the idea of doing any marathon pace miles earlier in the day when I woke up with some annoying sinus congestion - so I slowed down to 7:5x for a couple of miles. But something weird happened when I hit the Newton Hills. I decided to really push myself on the uphills since hills are NOT a strength of mine, and I have a bad habit of giving up halfway up because I'm tired and it's hard and wahhh. As I pushed the uphills and cruised the downhills I found my pace dipping into the 7:30s, and later on, the 7:20s. It was amusing and wonderful because unlike my previous attempts to run at marathon pace, I wasn't going overboard with TRYING to run marathon pace - it was just happening. Which I think is kind of the point. I wound up with an average of 7:38 pace, one of my fastest 20's ever and the type of run I'd typically expect to do riiiight before taper, not randomly in the middle of February. My mind has a hard time adjusting to changes in it's framework for running, and the fact that 7:38 pace might actually be a not-insane pace to run 20 miles at was a little hard to take in.

Unfortunately I did pay a little bit for my hubris - my recovery miles on Sunday were fine, and I took Monday off, but I developed a very bizarre knee issue during my track workout on Tuesday. I've had a similar issue before but this was it's worst iteration yet - the pain isn't really in my knee joint proper, but more in the back and lateral, kind of around my fibula and popliteus tendon (my guess as to the culprit). It essentially feels like something is getting trapped when I'm in a certain range of knee flexion and it hurts like hell within that range. Outside of the range? A little annoying, but overall OK. I dialed back the miles pretty significantly from Wed-Sat, although by Friday things seemed to have turned the corner. And just in time, because Sunday I had made the silly mistake of signing up for the Amherst 10 miler, known throughout the land as a really, really hard race.

My decision to do this race was part general insanity, part not feeling like doing another long run by myself, part loyalty to my team (while I am certainly not the person GBTC wants to have to score at a Grand Prix race, I am a person who can cross the finish line and therefore am better than not finishing a team), and then cemented by the fact that my friend Taylor was also running. So we set off for Amherst at a delightfully early hour on Sunday morning. Aside from the course of death, this is the type of race I love - so low key, with it's start at the local high school and it's minimal fanfare and the fact that when you look around pretty much everyone you see is some level of serious runner. As a Grand Prix race this year, that serious runner number went up significantly, and definitely explains why running 7:11 pace for a very hilly 10 miler barely even got me into the top 40% of the total field, or the top 1/3 of women!  The weather was pretty nice - a stiff wind for sure, but good temperatures for running - and I ended up going with capris, singlet and armwarmers. I considered shorts but figured given the questionable knee it made more sense to give my legs a little extra TLC.

After doing a quick wardrobe change and scampering around trying to figure out which school our bags were in (the middle school...not to be confused with the identical looking high school a couple of blocks down) we got behind the line just in time for the gun to go off. The first couple of miles were OK. Taylor and I were running together, which was great - our plan was to stick together through 5 miles and then see where we were at, but I had a feeling (which would later be proved correct) that I wasn't going to be able to hang for quite that long on the hills. Mile 1 was 7:06 which was a little slower than I was hoping for, but I also thought it probably paid to be conservative because I knew what was coming. Mile 2 was a 6:52; in hindsight I actually wish I'd gone a little faster there because it was all downhill and I don't think it would have made a difference later. Mile 2 to 2.5 was sort of OK...AND THEN came the worst mile I think I've run in any race ever....
Can you spot the mile that made me want to go cry in a corner?

I don't even know what I can say about this mile. I wanted to fling myself on the side of the road and just give up. At one point I was fairly confident that I was running slower than I could have walked up the hill, and I felt terrible about myself, until I realized that no one was passing me and everyone around me was on the exact same struggle bus as I was. It was AWFUL. Mile 3, which at least started out flat, was a 7:29. Mile 4, which consisted of the culmination of the hill, was 7:55. 7:55!! I can't even tell you the last time I've run a mile that slowly in anything other than a marathon. When I saw that split I went down into a deep dark rabbit hole. Never mind the fact that we just climbed like 400 ft in that mile. I felt terrible, I was mad about my split, and my brain totally went to that place that I'm trying to convince myself to stay out of when I race. Taylor was gone out in front of me and all I could think was "never again. I'm never doing this race again".

Having essentially given up on the idea of running any sort of reasonable time, I got down to the business of completing the damn race. We turned onto a dirt road that bounced bizarrely - it wasn't muddy, but I think it was partially frozen or something, because there were points when I sort of felt like I was running on a trampoline. Mile 5 was a 7:29, and by then I basically was like, welp, if you average 7:30s for this one, I guess that will just have to do. But just when I had resigned myself to that, something odd happened (looking at the course elevation, it's not really that odd, it's the fact that I started running downhill. BUT WHATEVER.) I started feeling a little bit better, then a lot bit better, and then all of a sudden I felt AMAZING. Mile 6 was a 7:03. Mile 7 was a 6:45 and I almost burst out laughing, then nearly laughed again when I came through mile 8 in 6:43. Sub 7 miles in the late stages of double digit races isn't really a thing that's happened to me, particularly when the first half of said race consisted of soul crushing hills. I was passing people like it was my job, laughing in the face of the minor uphills, and all in all, suddenly, having a great time. I think I closed at least a little ground on Taylor in this phase, although she still finished just under a minute ahead of me. I had heard that there was one more big hill coming but I convinced myself I was ready for it. I was ready to take that hill on!

Orrrrrr not quite, because as I turned into the face of another steep, half mile long hill and was immediately hit with a 20 mile per hour headwind, I cursed every decision I had made so far that day. The GBTC coach, Tom, actually designed this course, because he is a sadistic person. And of course he planted himself, smiling, smack in the middle of this hill of death. I made sure to tell him he was evil as I ran by, grimacing. My left leg seized up pretty badly right near the top of the hill, and I was actually reduced to a walk-shuffle for a second or two, but thankfully I knew that once I got over the crest I could barrel down, around the parking lot, and to the finish. I finally crossed the line in 1:11:52. In more amusing news, I thought I was close to a PR but didn't realize I'd actually run one until I looked up the results from that race - I guess I had it in my head that I'd already run a 1:11 when it turns out I hadn't! My previous PR was 1:12:41, so that's a pretty nice chunk of time off, especially on a course where as far as I can tell NO ONE PRs. So I was pretty happy! A hard effort and digging myself out of a mental hole - all in a day's work. The best news of all was that my knee strangely felt BETTER after the race - like I finally knocked whatever was out of whack back into place. Can't complain about that!

Before I wrap up this meandering post, I feel like I need to tell one more story. Last night I went to track and as usual, the workout intimidated me - a 2 mile tempo followed by 1200s (prescribed 7 but let's be honest the workouts are made for people doing like 80 miles/week, so I decided to do 4). The tempo felt GREAT - 2 miles in 6:45 pace felt like the easiest thing in the world. The 1200s were another story. I was watching the faster group including Taylor and another girl who had just run a 1:24 half and kind of thinking to myself "man, if I could just hang with them..." But I tried to jump in with them on one interval and was pretty much immediately off the back. I was running perfectly reasonable paces but I wasn't quite fast enough for the group. Finally, everyone was wrapping up and it was just me and the 1:24 girl doing one more 1200. I made some self deprecating comment about running behind her, and we began. Almost immediately, I dropped back and thought to myself "well you aren't fast enough to stay with her". And then, I impressed myself. Because my very next thought was this (a hilariously inspirational thought to come out of nowhere): "STOP BUILDING WALLS IN YOUR MIND". And with that, I forced myself back up with her. I didn't make it the whole interval right behind her - she pulled away at the 800 and finished about 50 meters ahead. But I'll be damned if I didn't run that last interval 9 seconds faster than the previous one, including coming through the 800 in 2:59. I absolutely would never have done that if I hadn't found a way to convince myself that I could stay with her. I do genuinely believe that a fair chunk of my barriers in running ARE mental, and are based on my mental image of my physical capacity which I surpassed a long time ago. 

All of this to say, I think I'm going to go ahead and try to run a 1:30 at the New Bedford Half in 2.5 weeks. It's time for some of those walls to start coming down. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Super Sunday 5M 2017 Race Report

It occurred to me as I was heading up to the start line for this race that it was my first race in nearly a year that I wasn't running as a joke/hungover/injured/undertrained/with zero expectations. I did race a mile earlier this month at my club's meet which went reasonably well - I was running out of the back of a faster heat which was quite a different experience than my last mile, and I paid for my attempts to hang on to a faster pack with a last 600 that made me want to barf my lungs out. I was rewarded with a 5:52, 2 seconds faster than my previous performance, which was nice. But while indoor track racing is fun and all, I think we all realize that I'm not really training to race an indoor track mile at the moment.

 Indoor track does make for some nice photos however. Here I am making a bizarre face, as I attempt to pass this woman who is probably 25-30 years my senior. Spolier alert: I did not succeed, and she beat me by 2 seconds. I can only aspire to be such a baller as she is. However, I also appreciate this photo because I think this is the most muscular my arm has EVER looked! #yogaftw
Several laps later, I am ready to stab myself in the eyeball as I cling onto my teammate, who was the one who convince me to seed myself in this heat in the first place. I prevailed in the end, but it was a hard fought battle.

Anyway, over the couple of weeks since the mile time has gone on, training has continued, the Packers didn't make the Superbowl, and finally it was time for the Super Sunday 5 Mile. I REALLY love this race - this is my 4th year running it and my 3rd time running the 5 mile course. It's one of very few races I can think of that strikes a balance between being highly competitive (fast field with significant prize money) which also catering to the casual, fun-loving runner with post-race beer and general festivities. The course is also fabulous as it is one of very few courses I've run since moving to New England that can GENUINELY be described as flat and fast. I really had no concrete goals for this race. 2 years ago I ran a 34:17 which I was pretty happy with at the time, and last year I ran 7 seconds slower but I was also incredibly sick. I basically decided that I was going to aim for 6:45 pace. Over the years I've developed some kind of mental block with races between 5K and 10K where just being under 7 minute pace seems great and fast. In the current life I'm living, quite honestly, that's not good enough. So my goal for this race was basically to prove to myself that I COULD run faster than 6:50 pace for 5 miles. I wasn't sure how realistic the goal was, but I was going to try.

The race morning weather forecast was a bit bizarre and I went back and forth between shorts and capris, long sleeves and armwarmers, before finally deciding on an outfit. I had a cup of coffee, some nuun, and a bagel before heading over to the race. Another wonderful thing about this race is that it's in the city and doesn't start until 10, so being able to get there on the T + late start = sleeping in luxuriously late. Upon arriving at the race I was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was MUCH windier and colder than it had been at my apartment a mere 3 miles away - WTF?! There was some indoor space which I took advantage of, but eventually I had to head out for a warmup, which I ran way too fast because I was FREEZING. I decided to actually wear racing flats which was great during the race, but they're so light and mesh-y that my feet were frozen beforehand. On the way back I happily ran into Joy, and we headed to the start line together. We arranged ourselves at what seemed like a reasonable position, a couple of rows back. I bitched about the idea of having to run fast for a couple of minutes, as is customary, and then finally it was time to start.

The first quarter mile or so was when I ran into my ONE complaint about this race, and I mean literally ran into, because as soon as I tried to start running I found myself literally crashing into the backs of people jogging along at...well...let's just say not 6:30 pace, in packs that were taking up the whole road. It was the worst traffic jam I've ever dealt with in a race, to the point where I think I actually yelled something after almost tripping over someone for the 6th time in less than a minute. The start of the race is the most narrow part of the course and that really exacerbated the problem. I'm hopeful that someday they'll at least put in some pace "guidance" signs or something because it was really pretty bad. I felt like I expended a bunch of extra energy dodging, and once I was finally free it took a little bit to get into a rhythm. I eventually felt like I was in a good place and figured I'd wait until the mile to assess my next move. I felt generally alright, not the awful way I sometimes feel when I know I sprinted out of the gate too fast, but not quite relaxed either. My garmin buzzed and I looked down - 6:27. Huh. Normally I'd totally panic at a number like that, and in fact I actually had a flashback to a random 5K I ran in Washington DC like 4 years ago when I went out in 6:18 and died (brains are weird). But then I thought a thought which has apparently become one of my favorite mantras when racing: "keep this pace relaxed". It works well for me in the early miles where I don't want to be straining but I also want to maintain - mentally, I convince myself that the pace that I'm running is just so, so relaxed. It works! Kind of...because my second mile was a lot slower, at 6:44. We were running into a headwind the whole way out so I'm inclined to give that some of the blame, but even with my attempts at mental gymnastics I do think I internally freaked out a little bit when I saw a 6:27 on my watch - particularly with all of the dodging! 

The course is quite straightforward - run out 2 miles, back 2 miles, and then sort of zig zag around for a mile to the finish. When we hit the turnaround and mile 2, I thought to myself "well, I mean, if you hold 6:45 pace for the rest of the race, you'll achieve your goal!". Apparently giving myself permission to hold my current pace was helpful, because mile 3 was a 6:32. That was really all the traction I needed. Mile 4 is the only "uphill" mile of the course, a very slight but steady incline that ends in a bridge. I thought to myself - you just ran another 6:3x mile...in a 5 mile race! You've hardly ever even done that in a 5K! But you know that you can do this. So PROVE IT. And my mind, in the way that minds do, decided that was it's cue to start playing the 1996 Spice Girls hit "Who Do You Think You Are". Swing it, shake it, move it, make it, who do you think you are. Trust it, use it, prove it, groove it, show me how good you are. Mile 4 kind of sucked. I did slow down to a 6:40 (splits per garmin - my official time is a bit slower but given that there aren't many turns in this race I'm convinced the course maybe is a little long, and either way I can only take the data I have) and everything was starting to hurt. But I kept reminding myself that I had to prove it. I was never going to prove I was as fast as I think I am if I didn't prove it in a race.

Finally we hit the last downhill that leads into the damn zig zag last mile of the course. To my great dismay, a girl who I know through the Wisconsin alumni association who runs for a rival club and ALWAYS seems to beat me by about 20 seconds in races under 10K came cruising by me shortly after, waving a greeting as I huffed and puffed. I was so sick of running and so tired and my legs hurt and I had been spitting and blowing snot rockets for the better part of the last 3 miles, but I reminded myself that my whole goal this year is to stop being such a wuss when the going gets tough. And so, I fought. I felt like I was running through molasses but I locked eyes on Cara's jersey, some 50 meters ahead of me, and I fought. And when I started down the eternal final straight away and my watched buzzed, a bit before the line, a 6:32 mile, I felt...I don't know...surprised? Validated? Let's go with surprised, because I did NOT feel like I picked it back up. I crossed the line in 33:23, a new PR. 

The least hideous finish photo I've ever had from this race! Although that lean and that upper body twist...yeowza. 

I quickly found Brenda and Taylor in the chute, both of whom had finished just in front of me, and who had both had great races as well! We were all pretty excited, but also looking to get to the important stuff - warm clothes, and beer. On the way we ran into more friends, obtained our Sierra Nevadas, and got some SWAG - I will say one new thing this year that was pretty nice was that you had a variety of options for race "stuff' instead of just a t-shirt. They had winter hats, baseball hats, tshirts, gloves, buffs, coffee mugs, and metal solo cup style pint glasses, and you could pick 2 - nice to actually be able to choose something you'd use, and not just another t-shirt! I got some gloves because at that particular moment my hands are freezing (even though I virtually never wear gloves when I run haha), and a buff which I'm pretty excited about because I love those for winter running and they're useful for hiking too. 
Friends + running fast + beers = the best of times

Unfortunately it continued to get even colder as time went on, so the beer and fun time went by pretty quickly before we all parted ways. I spent the remainder of the day absolutely craving chicken fingers before finally caving and ordering wings during the second half of the Super Bowl - quality post race fare!

All in all, I sort of feel like I'm almost not as excited about this race as I should be - of course I AM excited, but I think maybe because I've been expecting this level of performance for the past couple of years and never gotten there, it was nice but not mind blowing to actually achieve it. But at the same time..I said my goal was to run 6:45 pace, and I ran EVERY SINGLE MILE faster than that! Maybe I'm getting blase in my old, nearly in the 30-39 age group age. Regardless, I was happy with my mental game in this race and the way I was able to get through the hurt without wussing out and dialing the pace back. And, it was pretty awesome to FINALLY run the pace that I've been running as "10K pace" in workouts for like....3 years...in an actual race! I think confidence is so huge for me in running, and this was a huge boost. I'm now convinced for the first time in awhile that I really can be faster...and I'm hungry for it. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

And so it begins...

I've meant to update a couple of times since I wrote that race report but haven't gotten around to it - life is full right now, but in excellent ways! It's probably OK because I think maybe 3 people read this? That might be generous haha. Anyway, enjoy some random musings. And as it seems to do every year for me, Boston training has once again begun. This will be my 6th time running Boston (4th consecutive) and at this point it's hard for me to even imagine spending a winter doing anything other than hauling my body through the streets for 45-70 miles per week in preparation for the big day in mid-April. That's actually one of the things I adore about training for Boston: the sameness. I do variations on the same lead-up race schedule every year, I know them, I love them. I know my routes and the basic patterns in which I run them. I know that training begins in conjunction with the new year and will carry me through the entire winter. It's lovely, really, to have something that gives a purpose to the dark, cold months of the year.

This year's training cycle has begun in pretty similar fashion to the rest of them, with the return to track workouts and the addition of a run longer than 10 miles on the weekend signaling that we are Back In Training. I've actually been pleasantly surprised at how well my body (and mind) have handled the uptick in mileage so far - I went from 25-30 mpw on a good week and pretty much jumped right up to the 40s. I thought this would be more difficult since I pretty much took the summer and fall season off from hard training, so it's been really nice to feel like my body is handling the workload well (could this actually be a benefit of taking a rest season from marathons and focusing more on improving my strength? Maybe!).  There are a couple of things that I say I'm going to do with my training EVERY YEAR, and pretty much every year I fail...I think 2017 is off to a good start on both of these fronts so I'm going to share them here for accountability.

One of my goals has always been to be a more well rounded runner and to actually do things other than run that will benefit my running - strength training in particular. I've jumped on and off the strength wagon about 100 times but I think I MAY have found a couple of things that's going to help it stick this time. One is my newfound love for yoga - I've been going pretty consistently 1x/week since July or August, and I have to say I've noticed a pretty significant difference in my core strength, hip stability, and being more even side to side (to say nothing of the fact that I can actually hold a high plank and do push ups for the first time in my entire LIFE). I also really enjoy yoga! I'm trying to get better at the breath/mind body aspects of the practice, which I definitely think can carry over into running too. There are a lot of positions where you sort of just have to breathe through your discomfort and trust your body to support you, which sounds a whole lot like what you have to do in a tough race. So getting that in at least once a week has been helpful. The other thing is that I decided this year to do the No Days Off thing from Tracksmith (a MA based company that sells amazing, though absurdly expensive running gear). Originally I thought that you were supposed to run every day and I was like thanks but no thanks, but then they posted something on instagram that reframed it as "doing SOMETHING to improve yourself as a runner every day". That resonated with me, and so, that's my goal. I have never and will never be a 7 day/week runner - I can do 6, but for my physical wellness, sanity, and time I NEED at least one day a week where I don't run. So far, this calendar has been highly motivating to get me to do something else on that day - usually a half an hour or so of strength work. Checking off the day on the calendar is so stupidly satisfying and I'm now invested enough that I don't want to break the streak. Which is great!

The other thing, which is definitely still a work in progress, is to RUN EASY ON EASY DAYS! Maybe if I write it in caps I'll actually do it? I think I am getting slightly better at this, as I've done a few runs with paces in the 8:20s-30s and felt fine about it, but I definitely fall victim to the creep back to "default" pace (around 8:05-7:45, depending on the day/fitness level) on a regular basis. Logically my brain knows all the facts about running easy, and I sure know I'm running hard enough on my hard days to justify going truly easy on the easy days, but my body sometimes revolts and decides it's more fun to blast a random tempo on a Wednesday night. I'm trying to get away from that, and I think by differentiating between "true easy/recovery" runs (1-2x/week) and "moderate" runs (more run by feel/I can do what I want) I can convince myself that running the easy run easy is as much of an assignment as the rest of it. IDK. We shall see!

My final goal, which I mentioned when talking about the mile, is to work on my mental game and to learn how to run, for lack of a better phrase, a little more balls to the wall. My apartment building has a tiny workout room that no one ever seems to use, and after a couple of treadmill runs staring at a blank beige wall I decided something needed to change. I found a random running photo I had cut out of a magazine at some point and taped it up on the wall - it's still there, so apparently others are enjoying it as well! As it turns out it's a photo of Pre with the quote "I don't run a race to see who's the fastest, I run a race to see who has the most guts" (or something to that effect) on it. I was thinking about it while doing intervals on the treadmill the other night, and that's such a fitting quote for my vision for the year. I'm trying to have the guts - to train hard, to race outside my comfort zone - to hopefully get the glory (aka...I want some actual PRs this year!) Hopefully I'm off to a good start!

Monday, January 02, 2017

BU Mini Meet mile: well, that was ridiculous

Well, 2016 had one last surprise for me before the clock struck midnight. It's about the least expected result I had racing this year and for many reasons, I think it's one of the best.

On Monday, Joy texted me saying that she had decided to race the mile at the BU Mini Meet on New Year's Eve, and would I like to join her? My immediate mental reaction was 'oh absolutely NOT!' I haven't set foot on an indoor track since March and have done maybe 3 speed workouts since then - the thought of embarrassing myself under the gaze of everyone at the BU oval sounded like a terrible plan. I gave her a very unlikely maybe, and had pretty much written off the idea until Friday, when somehow, between glasses of wine while Andrew and I were out for dinner and a play, I found myself committing to showing up the next day. Of course, that commitment didn't prevent me from having an unnecessary post-play cocktail, or from staying up until 2 am talking with the boy. But the indoor track has this siren song for me that I can never seem to deny; when the track calls I always seem to answer.

That being said, when my alarm went off at 7:45 on Saturday I wanted to throw it out the window and go back to sleep for several hours. Mildly hungover and sleep deprived, I found my way into my singlet, took the train with Andrew to MGH, and then jogged ("jogged" aka I wound up running 7:49 pace for just over 3 miles, I'm dumb) over to BU. For all of my hemming and hawing all morning, there was actually sort of a weird excitement building as I signed myself up for the mile. I seeded myself at 6:15 which admittedly probably was a little bit of a sandbag, but hell, I didn't know! No speedwork! Low mileage for months! The last time I raced a mile was in 2013 and I think I ran a 6:05! So really, I had no clue.

Shortly after getting to the track at 10 I met up with Joy, Aly, and Ali....and then we waited. And waited. And waited. In my head, I was going to be racing by 11 and home by 1 with a luxurious afternoon in front of me before the new year's festivities. That...was not the case. There were 7 heats of the 3K and 215 PEOPLE entered in the mile! At some point we warmed up for the second time, and even then it was still over an hour before we ended up racing...being in heat 16/17 of the mile = standing around for an hour and 15 minutes even once the mile had started! I could tell I was nervous because everything was just far too entertaining. We were giggling and messing around and generally just having the kind of delightfully silly time I've come to associate with indoor track, and it was easy to forget the fact that I actually had to race at some point. We watched Aly run a strong race in heat 8 and time kept ticking slowly onward. My mood swung from giddy and laughing at the absurdity of the situation, to nervous, to anxious anticipation, and back again. I wasn't so much nervous about putting together a good performance - I mean my expectations were about as low as they could get - but it was more the anticipation of the fact that I KNEW that whether I ran decently or not, this was probably going to hurt...and it had been awhile since I'd adventured into the pain cave in a race.

Heat 15 began, and I found myself swinging back towards nerves. But then the call came for our heat, and something odd happened. I found myself, standing on the line, trying to remember if we could cut in right away or not, and I found that I was smiling. Grinning, actually. I was stunned to find just how overjoyed I was to be standing here on this line, getting ready to put myself through 8 laps of screaming pain. I think indoor track always brings me back to why I became a runner in the first place; the competition, the pain, the fight against yourself that for whatever reason seems so much more obvious when it's contained within a building. I did the thing I've done since high school: 3 jumps, shake right leg, left, leg, right leg again. And then, on your marks, and the gun.

The way in which I ran this race wasn't even something I was aware of while I was doing it, but I think it's the most ridiculous part of it all: I ran a 15 second negative split from the half, IN A MILE. I can only attempt to explain that based on my thoughts during the race. We flew off the line, and we weren't even around the bend before blazing in my mind like a siren was the thought TOO FAST TOO FAST TOO FAST. It was hard to watch Ali and Joy fly out ahead of me but I knew I was doing the right thing. I sat, and I waited. Through the 200 right around 45, perfect, I thought. As I had anticipated, my body was confused at the fact that I was currently running at a pace I hadn't experienced in months if not years, and so the first 2 laps felt hard. But I reminded myself that I was in control, that I could make this pace feel relaxed, and so, I relaxed. I began to find my way into a groove, passing Joy, Ali, and a few others and crossing 400 just under 1:30. Great, I think. So what now? I relax in a little bit and quickly find myself in another pack - too slow for my taste, and I pass them.

Lap 1, with that relaxed focus going on. Tom in the background yelling something, haha

Just after the 3 lap mark hanging out with some high schoolers and purple shirt lady

To be completely honest, the next few laps are a blur in my memory. I don't remember looking at the clock and I don't remember feeling anything. I remember coming up on a woman in purple, trying to decide if I should pass her, and then deciding, yes. The same thing happens with a high school aged boy. I feel like I'm in a bubble, everything silent but vague snippets of sound: Tom yelling something at me as I go by, Maggie cheering on her athlete, but mostly I feel enclosed in myself. The track is wide open in front of me and there are 2 laps to go. Far ahead there are 3 older guys running in line. I glance at the clock with 400 left: 4:29. Just under 6 minute pace. A thought bubbles up in my mind, not even a thought really but a realization: I've been holding back, maybe more than I should, and I don't feel that bad. My legs have plenty left, plenty to blast the last 400 meters, and I vaguely recall thinking as I take the turn into lap 7: it's going to hurt, but you're not going to die. And I accelerate.

Let's fly.

I have never been a confident runner. I know that one of my greatest weaknesses as a runner is that I am afraid to "find my edge", as they say in yoga, to really hold nothing back. I spend far too much time in my head thinking 'will I have enough left later' or 'is it going to be too hard'. But in that moment, flying around that turn, there was no fear. I had this absolutely wonderful sense of knowing - knowing that I would not slow down, knowing that I was flying, knowing that I was doing something that I did not think I would ever do again. I just felt like I kept accelerating, on and on. I came around and heard the bell, the clock reading something like 5:12, and I thought: everything. now. I felt powerful and fast and strong and amazing, so much so that the pain was barely even registering. When I turned for home and saw the clock and I knew that I was going under 6 I damn near burst into tears. I crossed the line grinning.

#normal

This is what disbelief and joy look like

I watched Joy and Ali finish and then kind of went and lay in the infield for awhile, trying to process my life. I wasn't even aware of what a crazy negative split I had run until one of the coaches told me - "what the heck was that, like 3:05/2:50?" he said. I burst out laughing. "What?!" Because that just doesn't make any sense. Me, run a giant negative split on the track? Me, run one of the fastest miles of my life on a random day with no speedwork? 

It takes awhile for us to be able to stop coughing; oh the beauties of running on the indoor track for the first time all season. Eventually we head out for a short cooldown before coming back to watch our teammates in a 4 x 1600 relay. I am in an absolutely outstanding mood and am just so happy that I made the choice to run this meet today. As we're leaving, Tom looks at me and says "I can't believe you ran that race". The feeling was most definitely mutual. 

And so, 2016, a year riddled with doubts and injuries and sub-par races, ended with a wonderful gift. A reminder of all that I love about running, the reasons why I do this crazy sport, and a reminder that there is always more inside me than I think there is. The last time I broke 6 in the mile was in my junior year of college - I was 20! And to be honest, after a couple of forays back into the mile on the track a few years ago I was pretty convinced that I never would again, that those days of speed were just behind me, and I had to accept that. But maybe that's not true. Maybe if I can just go into every race with no fear and no expectations and just race the shit out of it with whatever the day gives me, I can PR in the short distances again. Hell, maybe I can PR in the freaking mile. I would love for 2017 to be the year where I find that mental strength, where I truly learn to walk on the red line, because I think that's all that stands between me and a breakthrough. To not be afraid of the pain and to know that I'm strong enough to take it.  So, while 2016 may not have been a breakthrough year in many ways, at least in one way, it was. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 year in review

2016 was a decidedly underwhelming year of running for me. I headed into training for Boston 2016 off my best year of running yet, with PRs in nearly every distance in 2015 and no sign that things were headed anywhere but forward. I put together what I felt was a really great training cycle this winter, but sadly it didn't pay off - all of my race results, including my goal race of Boston, ranged from acceptable to largely disappointing, and to top it all off I ran my way into a case of hip tendinitis 2 weeks out from Boston (that's not even discussing the nagging high hamstring/hip rotator issue that I dealt with through the training cycle, and will be addressed in a second). I ran what I'd say was my best race of the year at the Harpoon 5 Miler, popping out with a surprise PR and helping my team take home the title for the second year in a row. My hip was feeling better, and things seemed be looking up. However, it was not to be. The previously mentioned mystery hamstring injury (like Voldemort, it's the injury-that-must-not-be-named...or even identified by my physical therapist self) reared up in a HUGE way during my ill advised attempt to race a 10 miler off virtually no training in mid-June. And thus, I learned what it was like to be injured for the first time in a long time. The summer was essentially a wash. By the time fall rolled around I was finally in stable enough condition to at least attempt to run a reasonable amount, and I was able to jump in a couple of low key races including a trail 5K (extremely tough, but extremely fun) and a Turkey Trot back home in Wisconsin. The corner finally seems to have been turned, and I feel like maybe, just maybe, I have some momentum going into 2017...and a much healthier respect for my body and the TLC it sometimes needs.

I did this last year and it was kind of fun, so some numbers for this year:
Miles run: 1404 (this is probably missing a few since I got really lazy about logging what I felt were stupid 2-3 mile runs while coming back over the summer)
Races run: 15 (I find it SO bizarre that despite being injured for half the year, I only ran one less race than I did in 2015! But the distances and the stats below tell the story: 1 marathon, 3 halfs, 1 10 mile, 1 15K, 2 5 miles, 5 5Ks (one of which was run with my dog), and 2 track races - a 3K and a DMR)
New races run: 8
AG/overall awards: I'm almost embarressed to say 7, and 4 of them came in the absurd 5Ks I ran while hungover/injured/on trails this fall
PRs run: technically 2, but I BARELY can count the PR I ran in my second ever 15K, which I was running as a tempo. Not a great year.
Hardest race experience: The freaking Boston Marathon....AGAIN (why do I keep doing this to myself? We may never know). Runners up include the New Orleans Half when I just felt like ass for no particular reason the entire time, and both of the 5Ks which I ran with large hangovers and without any form of training.
Best race experience: Harpoon 5 Mile was definitely the best all around race - a strong, surprising performance and the most FUN day ever

Some other notable things happened in 2016, which I feel like I need to add to this post mostly so I can look back on it later...
-I hiked 4 4000 footers in NH and completely fell head over heels in love with hiking - got a backpacking pack for Christmas and cannot WAIT to try it out!
-The dance company that I'm a part of presented our FIRST full length concert, which included a piece that I choreographed which is definitely my favorite thing I've ever choreographed, and probably the first piece I've ever made that turned out as well on stage as I envisioned it in my head
-I read 50 books again! Without even trying to! My goal this year was 30 books in different categories, with at least 5 additional books. Clearly I was inspired because I've been plowing through books, particularly during the second half of the year. I wish I had more time to read...sooo many books still on the "to read" list!
-I saw the original Broadway cast of Hamilton in what will certainly go down as one of the most crazy, surreal weekends of my life
-My personal life was more dramatic than it has been in quite some time, but I learned a lot about myself and what I really want for myself...and the best part of it is that in the end, everything found it's way back together anyway (hey, would the road be any fun without some twists and turns? It's the same thing with running I suppose...)

I think those are the major highlights! Overall it's been a really great year - more bumps in the road than I would have liked running-wise, but you can't get to the summit without climbing the mountain...or something like that. Week 1 of Boston 2017 training is just beginning and after such a long layoff from true training, I'm torn between being nervous about what the next 16 weeks holds, raring to get back to fighting fitness, and already missing the days when actually doing my planned run was optional. But no matter what, it's here, and I'm hopeful to get some vengeance on a few courses in particular in 2017. As always, I can't wait to see what happens next!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It was a cruel, cruel summer

I was really hoping I wouldn't go MIA from this blog for ages again. I hoped that this summer would be full of delightful casual races, easy runs in the muggy mornings before the sun was at full blast, and building the blocks that would take me to a solid marathon in November or December. Oh, the silliness of making plans.

When we last left off, I was mostly recovered from a bout of right hip tendinitis that sent my Boston taper into a tailspin, followed by a disappointing race performance (although thankfully one not impacted one bit my my hip). A few weeks later, I ran a shockingly fast 5 mile time that made me feel like all of my training hadn't been for naught! My hip was feeling much better, and while I continued to have a few nagging issues I felt like I was well on the road to a solid summer of training. I planned races. I PLANNED SO MANY RACES (the running gods laugh at planning races). The first such race was the Lazy Lobster 10 Mile, a race which I love dearly but which I also knew I was not remotely prepared to run. Deep down, I knew I should drop to the 5 mile, even though I knew that that wouldn't yield any spectacular performances either. I somehow convinced myself that it made more sense to run the 10 miler because I could run slower and it would still be acceptable. So. I ran the 10 miler. It was decidedly not great, but approximately what I expected given the complete lack of training I had done since Boston - I ran 2.5 minutes slower than the year prior, felt terrible for the majority of the race, and was most likely only saved by the fact that I had chosen to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on my phone to get me through. Over the last couple of miles of the race, my left hamstring/hip rotator, an issue that had been flaring up multiple times throughout the Boston training cycle (like....pretty much every time I raced...) reared its head, to the point where I wasn't even able to cool down. Still, I had been here before - a few days off and all would be well, right? Well, I took essentially the rest of the week off, and then flew to Wisconsin for a reunion with my college track club teammates. The weekend was wonderful and I obviously couldn't pass up the opportunity to run the Arb loop with the boys (none of my girlfriends from college track run much any more, which makes me a little sad...oh well) on a muggy Sunday morning after drinking until 1 am the night before - reliving the college dream! It was a blast, and I was full of joy to be out there, but about halfway through the loop I knew I was royally screwed. We were thankfully keeping a very easy pace but even at 8:30s, my left leg felt like I was being stabbed every time I took a step. I'm not sure how I made it through the remainder of the run; somehow I did. And then I didn't run again for over a month.

So the majority of the rest of the summer was spent attempting to undo whatever had been done to my leg (something which I still, despite the fact that I AM A DAMN PHYSICAL THERAPIST, cannot seem to identify the exact cause of). I biked a lot. I did a lot of strength work. I TOOK UP YOGA - something which I'm still doing at least once a week and I have to admit I have grown to love dearly. Both the blessing and the curse of this injury was the fact that LITERALLY the only thing that caused me pain was running; I could dance, do yoga, ride my bike, walk, spin in circles, jog in place, do plyometrics, do strength training, whatever with NO pain but within 5 minutes of trying to run...nope.

Finally, after maybe 5 weeks of NO running, I started taking some baby steps in the right direction. I started being able to run 2-3 miles with minimal pain, which I took as a positive sign. After running a whopping 4 miles one 92 degree fall day, I was somehow convinced that a good life plan would be to run a 5K the following weekend. Imagine, if you will: my out of shape ass shows up at this beerfest 5K. I am hungover, have gotten 4 hours of sleep, and have decided to wear a cotton t-shirt that I cut into a tank top under the guise of "trying not to look like a real runner". The humidity is 90% and I warm up for maybe 4 minutes. I have no idea what my leg is going to do and I tell everyone who will listen that I'm probably going to run this 5K in 26 minutes. Here is what I do: I run my first mile in 6:30 (what.) It feels AMAZING. Like, I hope I never take the feeling of running fast and not being in pain for granted, ever again. I continue on, passing my friend who I SPECIFICALLY TOLD TO YELL AT ME if I passed her, because it meant I was doing something dumb. I was. But I couldn't help it. I couldn't get over how good it felt to be running and NOT BE IN PAIN Finally, by mile 3 I start to fade a little bit, but only because I'm out of shape and I feel like vomitting, not because my leg hurts. I finished in 22:xx, a pedestrian time for me but all things considered, I absolutely couldn't complain.

Since then, it's been a little bit of 2 steps forward, 1 step back. I had quite a few setbacks ranging from moving to pain to the worst cold I've ever had. I did another 5K the day after one of my good friends/teammate's weddings, which was again a hilarious sight to behold - a repeat performance - hungover, 4 hours of sleep, another 22:xx, that's the story of the summer. Since the beginning of September, I have FINALLY started to feel a little bit like the forward progress is outweighing the backward - I've been able to start doing baby workouts again, I have more good days than bad days running, and I've started being able to do some "long" (10ish) mile runs again. I'm still pretty limited in my mileage because I'm being really careful about days off after hard workouts, and I'm also still feeling generally very cautious because I can definitely tell that my problems aren't totally resolved. I'm mostly scared of what's going to happen when I race again - not only because of this lingering issue but also because I've fallen far from the shape I've been in the past couple of years, which of course is frustrating. Still, I think I've built some really great habits this summer (yoga! actually doing strength once in awhile! not hiding pain with ibuprofen!) that I think are going to help me in the long run. I just have to be patient, patient, patient. I am signed up for Boston once again so that's the next big goal: get healthy, get fit, and get ready to crush it once again in my most favorite race ever.

Other things that happened this summer:
-I impulsively bought tickets to see the OBC of Hamilton in May and it was quite possibly the best life choice I've ever made (also most expensive, but whatevs)
-I hiked 4 4000 footers in NH - Mount Jackson, Mount Liberty, Mount Flume, and Mount Moosilauke - and am developing a strong obsession with hiking
-I biked 30 miles from Cambridge to Concord along the Minuteman Trail and Battle Road to the Concord Battlefield on the 4th of July - felt like it was appropriate!
-A bunch of weird dramatic stuff happened in my personal life that created some strange situations over the summer - thankfully, things have resolved at least to some degree

It was a weird summer. But fall is my favorite season in running and in life - I still think of it as the "new" year even though it's technically not, and I can't wait to see what's in store.