Sunday, March 10, 2019

Black Cat 20 Mile Race Report

My thoughts on this race can best be summed up by the way I titled it on Strava: "Black Cat 20 - HOLY SHIT!!!" I've been running long enough to know that some days you've got it, and some days you don't. Most of the days fall somewhere in between. Yesterday, I ran the Black Cat 20 Miler. I was planning on running it as a workout, but I was gifted with one of those glorious, once-in-a-while days where running feels like magic, and when you have those kinds of days, you capitalize on them. The result was that I ran 20 miles in 7:03 pace, dropping numerous sub 7 miles along the way, something that was and still is kind of beyond my comprehension. While I know that you don't get the magic coalescence of perfect weather and your legs showing up all the time, this race was the first I've run in a LONG time that made me think: "huh, I might be faster than I realized".

Backing up for a second, this performance is even more amusing because this week I felt like TRASH. Running has felt like a total chore and I've had various minor aches and pains flare up throughout the week, stomach issues likely related to a salad that I meal prepped that just didn't work for me, in addition to some kind of low grade sinus virus thing that resulted in me just feeling super run down and fatigued all week. On Friday I actually told my colleague and teammate that the thought of running 20 miles at all, let alone racing, the following day made me want to cry - and it did! When I woke up at the crack of dawn on Saturday (8 am races 45 minutes outside of the city...woof) I had similar feelings - I was so tempted to just roll over and go back to sleep! But instead I got up and got ready and just tried to console myself with the fact that at least I was just running the race as a long run/workout. My thought was to run the first 5 miles relatively easy, go into a couple of rounds of 4 or 5 miles at goal marathon pace with a mile or 2 easy in between, and then just see what I had left for the end. I had toyed with the idea of just trying to run the whole thing at goal marathon pace, but that seemed really aggressive! I figured my plan would result in something around 7:20 pace average, which would be a solid long run and faster than I've finished this race in the past. 

We had a great squad of women racing, which was a plus, and we were able to hang out in the hotel ballroom near the start line until about 5 minutes before the race, which was also really nice. This year's weather was by far the most pleasant weather I've had for this race - 30 degrees, sunny, and no real wind to speak of. It took me awhile to figure out my outfit, but I think I've finally realized that 28 degrees and over has become shorts weather for me - I went with shorts and a light long sleeve under my singlet and honestly I was perfectly comfortable throughout the race. Soon enough we headed over to the start line, they played the world's longest rendition of the national anthem (I remembered this from the last time I did this race), and we were off!

As planned, I made an effort to keep myself feeling very chill for the first couple of miles. I went out about exactly where I expected with respect to my teammates, and just bopped along through the 'easy' miles. My first couple of miles were right around 7:18-19 which was actually faster than I was aiming for but I was fine with that - the effort level felt right. I sort of felt like I had to pee from the moment we started running, and while it was uncomfortable it was tolerable, so I just figured I'd reassess if I needed to hit a porta potty later on. As we ran out towards Marblehead, I started pondering what the new section of the course would be like - due to huge snowbanks/safety issues (the roads aren't closed for this race), the course had been changed to something advertised as "a little bit hillier and a little less scenic".  As we turned into the 'new' section, the truth of that was unfortunately confirmed - the whole section, which we'd have to go through 4 times (as an out and back on a double loop course), was a whole mess of rolling hills. However, on the first pass through, I actually didn't mind those hills one little bit - in fact, I was actually feeling FANTASTIC. I hadn't caught a split on my watch in awhile but I could tell I wasn't slowing down, and I had pretty much already made the decision that I was going to throw my workout out the window and just do whatever felt good. 

One of the nice things about the out and back course is getting a chance to cheer for your teammates as they come through on the other side, and I definitely got a little boost of energy from that as I turned around to head back towards Salem. I tried to be aware of the fact that we were only 5 miles into a 20 mile race, but the fact was, I was feeling strong as hell. There's just a feeling I have on some days that I've really only experienced a few times in my life - the last couple marathons I've run have been two of them, and I was starting to feel something very similar now. Things were just...flowing. That being said, when I finally caught my watch at the 6 mile split I was completely and utterly SHOCKED to see a 6:59 pop up on the screen. Er, excuse me? I assumed that I had just been feeling good flowing along at 7:15 pace, but this cast things in a whole new light. Well, I wasn't here to argue with my body feeling fantastic and doing it's thing! And that it did - for the next few miles, I found myself in such an amazing flow state that I feel like I almost never experience in races! I was just rolling, 6:57, 6:56, 6:53, and it felt SO EASY. I almost couldn't even understand what I was doing. It was a very similar feeling to Boston last year when the thoughts running through my head were just this giddy "I can't believe I'm doing this? Can this last?" Clearly all thoughts of doing a workout, "not racing", etc were completely off the able now - I had found myself on this train and there was no way I wasn't going to see where it would take me. 

At mile 9 there's a long, straight stretch through Salem with some cobblestone sections that I really didn't enjoy much, and that kind of took me out of the moment for a second - though based on my splits, I perceived that I was slowing down when I actually wasn't at all! One saving grace of the course modification was the elimination of one particularly nasty hill that showed up around the 8/18 mile marks, so it was nice to be able to just make a turn at 9 and know it was a straight shot back to the finish line, or the second loop in this case. As I ran down the 10 mile stretch, I thought to myself how grateful I was to be having a day that was so validating, that proved that my training actually WAS doing something. Then I giggled, because the phrase "it's WORKING" is something one of my clients says all the time, in kind of a euphoric way, and it was just so fitting to how I felt in that moment. But now it was time for the second loop. It's one thing to run 10 miles feeling great, but 20? That could be a different story.

Absolutely the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened to me in a race happened early on in this second lap. While the local police and the race organizers really do their best to make the course safe while being open to traffic, drivers are idiots and things got really chaotic in the busier section at the beginning of the loop. But the random cars driving around had nothing on the Uber driver who was driving behind me, pulled directly in front of me (double parking in a bike lane), and then when I tried to go around on the inside of the car to avoid being hit by traffic attempting to squeeze by this double parked jerkface, the passenger OPENED THEIR DOOR right in front of me, almost hitting me, and blocking my way! I had to jump into a snow bank, over and onto the sidewalk, and then repeat the process to get back into the road a little further up. Let me just say that some choice words were expressed (by me) and some middle fingers were raised (also by me). For the love of God, pay some attention to what's going on around you! I have to say, I was extremely proud when my split for that mile was STILL A 7:01! 

Meanwhile, I had been gradually reeling in a girl wearing a Black Cat shirt from 2014, and my annoyance at the Uber driver and my off roading adventure gave me the fire to make the pass. I have to admit that every time I passed someone in this race it was SUPER fun...maybe I'm just not used to being the strong one in the later stages of the race, but there's something nifty about blowing by people and putting minutes on them in no time (this particular girl ended up finishing 5 minutes behind me). As we had now lost the 10 milers the race had spread out quite a bit, and I was surprised to see that the next person in front of me was one of my teammates, Caroline! She has a big red bow in her hair that I tried to stare at and get back into a rhythm as I tried to see if I could reel her in. This is someone who I definitely view as faster than me, so when I ended up passing her at mile 12 (after running a 6:47, my fastest mile of the day) I was shocked. I knew that the next 5 miles through the hilly section were going to be a challenge, but I was still feeling so strong that I had a suspicion that I could hang on. The uphills were definitely getting to my legs more and more as time went on, but I felt like I was able to use the downhills to recover pretty completely before attacking the next hill. My confidence got another hilarious boost when I crossed the 13 mile mark in 1:31 something. I literally was like...hold I going to run a half marathon PR right now. I hit 13.1 miles at 1:32:15, which is literally only 5 SECONDS SLOWER than my half marathon apparently I need to run a faster half marathon, stat. Of course, I thought to myself, when you run a half marathon PR in a 20 mile race, that could bode poorly for the last 7 miles. But there was nothing to be done for it now - all I could do was keep running and find out!

There was a nasty hill up to the turnaround near the 14 mile mark, and then we headed back towards the finish. This section was definitely where some of the fatigue started to catch up with me - it was becoming more challenging to recover from the uphills and the last few steps up to the crest of any given hill were feeling a lot less strong than they had a few miles before. Mile 14 was slower at 7:08, but I thought to myself, hey, that is STILL below your goal marathon pace. You know, that pace that you said it was "too aggressive" to run this whole race at? Things were decidedly getting harder, but when I hit mile 15 at 7 minutes flat I knew I could hold on for 5 more miles. Mile 17-18 were definitely the worst of the race - there are some longer, low grade but steady uphills heading back towards Salem and one of them in particular really got me good, resulting in a 7:13 split for mile 18 (honestly at that point I felt like I was CRAWLING and I can't believe I was even running that fast lol). Finally, we hit the downhill heading towards the long straightaway, and I knew there were no more hills to contend with and it was just time to push the last 2 miles. At this point I had been running completely alone since the turnaround with the only runner in sight a guy in a gray shirt maybe 200 meters ahead. I pushed down the lonely straightaway, taking care not to fall on my face over the random cobblestone sections as my quads started to make some noises with flickers of cramps. The turn just after mile 9 for some reason felt like it was straight uphill (it was not lol), but did give me a chance to glance back and see if there was anyone else around. My teammate was out of sight, but there was a girl in blue capris looking a little too energetic maybe 30 seconds behind me. It had been super tempting to just relax for the last mile, but seeing this girl was a great motivator and kept the fire underneath me. While I didn't exactly light the world on fire (my last mile was a 7:04), it was faster than any mile since the fatigue had all hit me at mile 17 and I was able to hold her off by about 10 seconds. The course was a touch long (I think where they had to put the turnaround for the modified course added about 0.1 in the end) but regardless, my finish time of 2:22:12 was a massive PR (7:30 better than my previous official 20 mile PR and probably 4 minutes faster than any "unofficial" time I've hit in a marathon) and a MASSIVE breakthrough!

I'm not going to lie, I almost started crying at the finish line. Sure, this is just a random 20 mile race, and yes, the weather was perfect, and whatever, a lot can happen in the next 5 weeks and if it's hot at Boston I'm still screwed. But after running Boston last year, there was a part of me that felt like that was it - I had fulfilled my potential, and that was as fast as I was ever going to run. And there was a part of me that was very OK with that! But this race...for the first time in a LONG time, I actually feel like I am capable of going faster. I was talking with a friend after the race and laughing because I had told her about my "running goal marathon pace sounds too aggressive" before I ran the race 7 seconds faster than goal marathon pace. And she was like, well, maybe this IS your goal marathon pace! And I was like, AHH, because that pace equates to a 3:05. THEN two different people commented on my Strava and a teammate commented in person that I should put a sub-3 in my sights (a goal that I have NEVER had, nor pretended to have, at any point ever, because I don't feel like it's realistic). Which again, I was like, AH, I don't really know about that. But then again, if you'd told me 3 days ago that I was about to run almost sub-7 pace for 20 miles, I would have told you you were insane. During the race, I kept thinking "I can't believe I'm doing this" and then being like "Well, you SHOULD believe it. You earned it. You're doing it. BELIEVE IT!" And honestly, I have 100% confidence that if I had been running a marathon yesterday, I would have run a PR - I 100% had 6 more miles left in me at 7:05-7:10.  So, who knows anything, really? All I can do is keep putting in the type of work that I know works for me, keep going into races in the mindset that I know works for me (with low/no expectations, relaxed, running 100% by feel, and never EVER focusing on hitting a specific pace) and know that sometimes, when things fall into place, the magic is there waiting to happen.

(Also, can it just be 30-35 degrees with no wind for every race I do for the rest of my life, THANKS IN ADVANCE MOTHER NATURE!)

Black Cat 20 Mile
2:22:12 (PR)
21/241 OA, 5/148 F, 1/56 F30-39 (after top 3 removed)

Monday, March 04, 2019

Tom King Classic 'Race' Report and a February training recap

I feel like the phrase "the days are long, but the years are short" (or in this case weeks) really applies to this year's Boston cycle so far. In the moment, it seemed like February went on FOREVER, but now it's kind of hard to believe that it's in the rearview and we're sitting only 6 weeks out from Boston. Overall, I had a pretty solid February of training - I won't say it was anything earth shattering, but I was extremely consistent and did all of the things that I planned on doing. I finished February with 213 miles, about 30 miles more than last year. I think I give the most credit to the fact that I've been much better about extending my "standard" run distance from 6 miles to 7-8 this month, only allotting myself one 6 mile day per week. Those extra 1-2 miles per day add up! Also nothing super dramatic happened in February. The weather was fine, my legs were fine, I had some of the usual February mental struggles, but it was pretty much just a standard training month to get through.

I did have a pretty enjoyable experience last weekend doing a workout/race at the Tom King Half Marathon in Nashville! The whole thing actually came about in a hilarious way - back in December, my teammates and I were on a bar crawl (where we ran between bars, of course) and Taylor brought up the fact that she was going to Nashville for a friend's 30th in February, and also doing a half while she was there since we'd be Boston training. It occurred to my slightly drunk self that 1) my sister lives in Nashville, 2) I hadn't been to visit her yet, 3) this sounded fun, and 4) I SHOULD GO ON THIS TRIP. One thing led to another, I found a $120 round trip flight, my sister was thrilled to host me, Joy hopped on board, and soon enough the crazy idea turned into a delightful reality!

Things were made more interesting by the fact that Nashville was experiencing historic amounts of rain and flooding in the week leading up to the race, to the point where the course had already been modified twice due to flooding by the time my plane touched down in Nashville. Having raced all out at the 10 miler 6 days before, I was already planning on doing the race as a workout but was still a little worried that it would get cancelled all together. I arrived in Nashville after quite a long travel day (left home at 7:45 am and arrived at 5:15 pm, losing an hour due to the time change), and enjoyed a delightful and leisurely dinner with my sister and brother in law at Henrietta Red. We then headed to a local brewery (Bearded Iris), because why not! I'm long past caring about staying out a little late/drinking an extra beer the night before most races, particularly those I'm running as workouts.

Saturday morning dawned, and while it was raining pretty heavily it was NOT thunderstorming, which was the only condition which the race directors had advised would cancel the race. I have to take a moment to give huge kudos to Nashville Striders - the communication leading up to the race was outstanding and this was one of the best organized races I've run despite all of the challenges that they faced - I know many races in New England that would have cancelled all together if forced to change the course due to flooding, so major props! My Lyft driver hilariously told me that he "hoped I won" the race as he dropped me off at Nissan Stadium. I will admit to being a little disappointed that we did not get to finish on the 50 yard line as planned (rain, again), but it was sort of a unique experience to be hanging out before a race in an NFL stadium. Taylor and Joy arrived, and we warmed up fairly miserably around the stadium.

Life is...OK?

Taylor and I had discussed running together although I know her well enough to know she was probably going to drop me at some point, it was nice to have someone to work with through the first section of the race. My goal was to run no faster than my ambitious GMP (7:10) and while it felt like I was holding back a bit through the first few miles, I knew I was making the right call. I could definitely feel the travel day + the previous week's work in my legs and I was honestly pretty happy that I didn't feel pressured to race all out - in fact, I was a little nervous that I wasn't even going to be able to hold GMP. It continued to rain pretty steadily but at 55 or 60 degrees was really quite comfortable...I mean, once you're wet, what does it matter if you get a little wetter? The modified course was pretty straightforward - we made a lap around the stadium, then did a long out stretch to loop around the park, came back, and then repeated. I'll admit, when I was running back towards the stadium and saw the leaders heading back towards the park, I got a little sad that we were going to have to make the same loop again, lol. Taylor pulled ahead of me around mile 6 and I just tried to maintain pace while keeping her in my sights. I started putting in some little 20-30 second surges at the start of each mile, just to keep myself from getting complacent. While I felt like I was putting in a little more effort than I would have liked, I was pleased with how well I was holding approximately the correct pace, with the majority of my splits between 7:13-7:16 with a few faster outliers. While the out and back made for a less than thrilling course, it was nice to get to see/cheer on other runners, and to get some awesome high fives from Joy on the other side of the course. 

On the second loop around the park, the fatigue kind of all hit me at once - I was over it! Mile 10 was the least enjoyable of the race, as we headed up a pretty minor but long incline that I just was not in the mood for. I took a Gu which helped quite a bit (I don't think I've ever actually felt the moment when the caffeine from a Gu took effect before, but I had an actual instant of "whoosh" about 5 minutes after I took it and I all of a sudden felt better). I also saw a huge heron flying through the park which was a pick me up as well, as we are always on the lookout for wildlife lol. Heading back towards the city I was just about ready to be done, but had promised that I would try to pick it up for the last couple of miles. While I did manage to pick it up slightly, I was unfortunately MUCH more tired than I had bargained for and only managed to muster up a 7:01 and a 7:04, lol! Oh well. I crossed the line in 1:33:14 - the course was slightly under 13.1 but I'd still say good for a sub 1:34. Not bad for a workout! 

Work work work work work.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the whole experience! It's always fun to race in a new place, and I thought that I executed my plan about as well as I could have. I do feel like the effort for 7:10 was definitely higher than I'd like for marathon pace, but then again I still have another month of hard training, and there were plenty of excuses I could make as to why it felt harder (travel, weather, cumulative fatigue, etc). So in general, I'd say the fact that I can hit GMP for half a marathon is not a bad thing for February! My biggest disappointment was that I finished just out of the AG rankings in 4th (annoyingly, I would have been 2nd in the 25-29 AG and 1st in the 35-39! Argh.) and the award was a really nice coffee mug! Guess I'll just actually have to race it next time.

Meanwhile, back in Boston, March has come in like a damn lion. Saturday was one of only two long runs that aren't races that I needed to achieve during this 6 week block, and wouldn't you know it, we had a winter storm! So I slogged through Natick and Wellesley, completely ate it at mile 5, cried a little bit, thankfully met up with my teammate Elise, we bitched and moaned, ate some Gatorade snowcones at the firehouse, and somehow at the end of the day I completed 20 miles only slightly slower than planned (this was my one "easy" long run so was aiming for 7:50-8...somehow managed to finish averaging 8:03). This weekend it's back to the race course for a 20 miler - once again, I'm planning on running this as more of a workout situation, but am not totally sure what that's going to look like yet. Aiming for the whole 20 at GMP seems aggressive, so I'm thinking something more along the lines of starting easy, GMP miles in the middle, a little recovery, and then gunning the finish. I don't know! We shall see...all I know is last time I ran this race it was 7 degrees with -30 degree windchills and I ran like 7:25 pace, so hopefully I can at least beat that!

Tom King Classic
1:33:14 (? short course, 7:10 pace by Garmin)
61/332 OA, 13/125 F, 4/13 F30-34 (the weather definitely kept people away - last year there were 4x as many women in that age group!)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Old Fashioned 10 Mile Race Report

Last Sunday I raced my first 10 miler in a couple of years, the Old Fashioned 10 Miler in Foxboro. I went back and forth for a couple of weeks leading up to the race trying to decide if I wanted to race the 10 miler (which required renting a car, driving to Foxboro, etc) or just racing the mile at the USATF indoor meet which I could run to from my house. In the end, the prospect of having to incorporate a long run into a day with a race that was only a mile just didn't sound appealing, and so I rented my trusty local zipcar Antone (this little red Honda Civic might as well be my car for how frequently I rent it) and headed down to Foxboro Sunday morning. An appealing part of the race was that it didn't start until 10:45, allowing for a leisurely morning even with a 40 minute drive.

I should note here that this was actually my second race of fact it should have been my FOURTH race of 2019, but I bailed on my first planned race (a dinky 5K) because I strained my calf, and my second (a track mile) ended up getting cancelled due to a snowstorm. I ran a pretty forgettable 20:10 5K at the Super Sunday 5K - I guess it's a testament to my long career in 5K racing and/or my lack of love for the distance that despite a 20:10 being my second fastest road 5K ever, I was superbly disappointed with my performance and really was left with a bad taste in my mouth from the way I had executed the race. Based on my long runs and workouts I feel that Boston training has been plugging along pretty well, so I was somewhat intrigued to see what I could do over a slightly longer distance.

I arrived at the venue around 9:20 and grabbed my bib and hit the porta potty with little ado. The last time I ran this race it almost was cancelled due to snow, and we ended up running a mystery distance race (I think it was like 5.3 miles) on what course was available. This time the weather was certainly no excuse - it was right around 30-35 degrees, sunny, and no wind...dare I say optimal racing weather for me! I located my teammates and we went out for a warmup while cheering on some of the guys in the 5K - this race also had the option to run a 5K at 10:00, followed by the 10 miler at 10:45 - definitely good marathon prep! By the time the warmup was over I was feeling confident with my choice to race in shorts and a singlet, and soon enough we were jogging towards the start.

I bunched into the corrals with Taylor, who had told me that we should run together doing "7:05's", and Kerri, another teammate who is very fast and I knew wouldn't be near us for long. After the gun went off, I tried to keep things light and relaxed by regaling Taylor with the tale of my most recent long run, during which I had run a "goal marathon pace" mile in 6:30 just...because. She quickly pulled away, and while I was feeling great out of the gate I had a suspicion that we were not, in fact, running anything remotely close to 7:05 pace. My suspicions were confirmed when I came through the mile mark (at least 10 seconds behind Taylor), in 6:30! WHOOPS. Bad move, self. I tried to look at it in a positive light, thinking about how much I could slow down and how easy it would feel! Great! The next mile was 6:40, which still felt fine. And then, like seems to happen to me constantly in races between 10K and half marathon, mile 3 was just a bitch! To be fair, there was a lengthy and significant uphill that encompassed most of this mile, and I think I didn't give myself enough credit for how much we were climbing as it was happening. My left quad, which I continue to realize is horribly imbalanced compared to my right, was seizing and I couldn't seem to get any relief from the hill. Seeing a 7:25 split for mile 3 of 10? Not a great feeling, even with the uphill! I immediately became internally upset at myself, questioning why I have to be so shitty at pacing, why I'm so bad at hills, why I can never run a composed race, etc. This is a consistent struggle that I seem to run into in longer races (and I'm not sure why EVERY damn race I run seems to have a huge hill at mile 3, maybe I should work on my race choices).

I attempted to put the hill behind me but it unfortunately continued to some degree into mile 4, and this combined with my continued left quad struggles left me with another pretty dismal mile split of 7:13. I think I was actually more annoyed than anything else - my breathing was totally fine and from a global perspective I actually felt great, but the muscle strength just was not's almost like I need to run more hills or do some strength work or something! We finally hit some downhill and I started feeling better - I also took some Gatorade somewhere in this vicinity because my general rule is if I come up to a water station and Gatorade sounds good, it's probably a good time for some Gatorade. I managed to find a reasonable groove again through this section, and while I certainly wasn't feeling GREAT, seeing a 6:49 come up for my mile 5 split was definitely heartening. I also encountered one of my coaches in this stretch who was cheering and taking photos, and let the record show that in my mind, I ran by with a beaming smile. In reality....this is what my face looked like:
LMAO honestly what is even happening here

Hideous race photo aside, I continued rolling along and still feeling reasonably good through mile 6, coming through in 6:55. The rolling hills continued throughout the course, but honestly I don't have a problem with little's the looong climbs that ruin me. I was passed by a couple of women in this stretch which annoyed me but not quite enough to muster up the strength to go with them. I also encountered an absurdly loud breathing man (I always seem to find those) who I did make an effort to break free from, and I ended up finding a decent little pack of men that I was able to hang out with for awhile. I'm not sure if I got lazy here, but I'm not sure there was any good reason for me to run a 7:09 mile 7...oh well, moving on. I knew the second larger hill of the course was coming up somewhere in the mile 7-8 range, and when it hit it did not disappoint, if being disappointed by large hills is something that happens to you. I struggled up as best I could but I was fully aware that my pace was dropping into the trash. All I could hope for was that my legs would find some kind of final wind for the last two miles, which I knew were at least flat if not downhill. Doing some mental math at the 8 mile mark, I also realized that if I could get back to 7 minute pace for the last 2 miles, I would actually get under 70 minutes - running sub 7 pace in a longer distance race has been a goal FOREVER, one that really has seemed very achievable on paper but never doable in real life. I was really hoping I could hold on and despite a questionable execution, make that happen. 

On the uphill I had been passed by this smaller girl in a green singlet with a white hoodie thing underneath, and I had sort of just let her go because being passed on uphills is just the story of my life. However once we crested the hill, I found myself soon pulling up right behind her. I hung out there for awhile and pondered whether to make the pass, but each time I decided to try this girl would put her head down and UP the my head I was literally picturing a bull with smoke coming out of its nostrils. Quite frankly at the moment I did not care enough to get into some kind of weird outkicking battle with 2 miles to go, so I decided to just sit on her back and let her block the wind, as much as it is possible for someone several inches shorter than you to do that. Then a guy from her team jumped in to pace her, and I immediately got more grumpy...literally my internal monologue was something like oh SURE, you get someone to PACE you to the finish, because you can't do it on your own, and it's a nice tall guy to block the wind for you, sure, THAT'S fair, god I hate you and your stupid pace lol. I continued to stick behind them but now it was more of a flying V formation, and every so often I could tell the girl was doing a little double check to see if I was still there. We came through mile 9 in 6:45. Now having the majority of the race behind me, finally dropping a reasonable split, and honestly just being straight up annoyed with this power couple, I decided it was finally time to see what was left in my legs. I accelerated and made a decisive pass and for a moment, I thought the girl was going to go with me...but then suddenly, I was past! That was really all the motivation I needed - I put my eyes forward, the fear of being run down behind me, and just went.

Dropping the hammer, you can see my "buddies" behind me

The entire last mile I was just anxiously awaiting the final turn into the parking lot, because I was just about ready to be DONE with this beyotch. Rolling up the final hill, I was pleasantly surprised to see the clock still well under 1:10 - woo hoo! Even splits be damned, I had managed sub-7 pace and a 2:30 PR! 

My feelings post race waffled between annoyance at my wild and crazy splits and feeling like I probably should have run even faster to feeling pretty damn pleased with myself for dropping the hammer on that girl and holding myself together for quite a solid time. Eventually I managed to settle on the latter - on tired legs and full mileage, on a relatively hilly course, in February, this was a great race performance! I also won a raffle prize and got some new running socks, which was an excellent added bonus. Overall, I think this was a really nice race to incorporate into training and I'm really happy I picked it over the indoor track - though I did find myself wishing MULTIPLE times during the race that I had chosen the indoor track while simultaneously being overjoyed that this was a 10 mile race and not a half marathon. Now to just work on my left leg strength, apparently...

Old Fashioned 10 Mile
1:09:36 (PR)
91/609 OA, 18/342 F, 4/87 F30-39

Thursday, January 03, 2019

2018 Year In Review

Another year of running is in the books, and I have to say, 2018 was a pretty great one. While I wouldn't call it a breakthrough year, it was a solid, consistent, and fun year which resulted in 3 PRs, two of which were fairly meaningful (breaking 20 in the 5K, FINALLY, and a surprise 2 minute PR at Boston to bring me within spitting distance of breaking 3:10). Just as importantly, I had a lot of fun attempting new races (Loon Mountain, anyone?), stayed uninjured throughout the year, did by far the most core/strength work I've ever done in a year (still below my eternal goal of 2x/week average, but it's a process, OK?) and generally found more enjoyment in the process of training and racing than I ever have before. So, 2018 by the numbers:

Mileage run: ~1940, only about 200 less than last year which I think is pretty good considering I only trained for one marathon this year vs. two!

Highest weekly mileage: one and only week over 60 was peak week for Boston training. Given the results I guess you could argue maybe sometimes less is more...

Races run: 18, about the same as last year (I feel like I raced much less, but I guess not!)

New races run: 10

AG/overall awards: 2nd woman x 2, 3rd woman x 2, and one lonely 2nd place AG award...someday I'll actually win a race outright!

PRs run: 4, and most of them were pretty big ones! (finally broke an almost 10 year old 5K PR, half marathon, and surprise MARATHON PR, plus Mount Washington)

Proudest accomplishment: That time I ran a PR and most definitely the best race of my entire life to date in insane conditions at Boston 2018

Hardest race experience: As I look back on 2018, I am THRILLED to report that I actually really did not have ANY truly horrible races! The beauty of cold weather at Loon Mountain was definitely the hardest race I did because it's an utterly ridiculous race/experience, but as far as normal road races go I think the least enjoyable race of the year was the Reebok 10K...just straight up did not have it that day.

Best race experience: Yeah, so not sure anything can ever quite top Boston 2018....but runners up include the Cranberry Trifest and reigniting my love for triathlon, and Reach the Beach.

Most ridiculous weather: HAHAHAHAHA I feel like I've been putting this question on my year end reviews every year, just waiting for this year. Winning it's 3rd award of the year...BOSTON 2018.

Biggest surprise race performance: Definitely Philly Half - I felt very underprepared going in and coming out with a PR in a distance I tend to struggle with was a huge shock.

Number of falls taken while running: I can actually only think of one, and it was because Topper tripped me...somehow I have the feeling I'm forgetting a few though.

For the second year in a row, I had a remarkably consistent year - a few minor niggles here and there, but no significant time off due to injury. Let's keep that trend rolling into 2019!

By the month...
GBTC Invite (1 mile): 5:53
Super Sunday 5K: 19:50, PR, 3rd woman
USATF New Englands (1 mile): 5:47
Flannel "5K" (2.6 miles): 17:25, 2nd woman
Hampton Half Marathon: 1:34:13
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:32:23 (PR, maybe?)
Boston Marathon: 3:10:47, PR
Arterial Challenge 5K (3.3 miles): 22:49, 2nd woman
Mount Washington Road Race: 1:42:12, PR
White Mountains Half Iron Triathlon Relay (run leg, 12.8 miles): 1:37:19
Loon Mountain Race (6.6 miles): 1:32:17
Cranberry Trifest Sprint Tri: 5K run split 21:32
Reach The Beach Relay!
Reebok Boston 10K (short course, 6.05 miles): 41:50
Philadelphia Half Marathon: 1:32:10, PR
O'Donohue's Turkey Trot: 21:10, 3rd woman
Winter Classic 5K: 20:43, 2nd AG
BU Mini Meet 4 x mile relay: 5:47 split

Now to look back on last year's goals...
-Run at least 3 mountain races: partially achieved, I ran 2 mountain races which I'm pretty happy about, and plan on more in 2019!
-Run at least 1 trail race: ACHIEVED, Loon Mountain was most definitely a trail race
-Race at least once outside of New England: ACHIEVED, raced in Philly and once back home in Wisconsin
-SUB 20 5K: ACHIEVED! I actually surprised myself and did this in my very first attempt. It was nice to get that out of the way.
-Race at least 5 half marathons: Partially achieved, I raced 3 open halfs (Hampton, New Bedford, and Philly), plus the run leg of the half iron relay which was technically supposed to be a half marathon even if it was a little short. I feel like I did pretty good work on this goal and of reducing my fear of the half marathon distance.
-Run a smart race at Boston and ENJOY it! - ACHIEVED, I am literally not sure I've achieved a goal more perfectly in my life
-Do core/strength/yoga at least 2x/week - you know, I still wouldn't say I fully achieved it, but I think I put the most effort towards it that I ever have (as well as just trying to make myself a more well rounded athlete overall), so I think that counts for something.
4/7 goals achieved, and 3/7 partially achieved...I'm pretty happy with that!

2019 Goals
- Complete a half iron triathlon! This is my big new goal for 2019 as I embark on the triathlon journey in the hopes of training for a full Ironman in 2020. I still plan on making running my primary sport, but there's going to be a bit more time in the pool and on the bike around these parts as well.
- Run as close to 3:05 as possible in the marathon (This one is a little scary to me, so I'm making it slightly more open ended than I normally would. I think just to say "break 3:10 in the marathon" which literally means dropping 48 seconds is kind of a lame goal is a slightly more audacious one)
- Run at least 2 "atypical" distance races (8K, 10 mile, 25K, etc)
- Run at least 3 mountain and/or trail races
- Run a smart race at Boston and enjoy it (I think this is now my goal for each and every year I run Boston)
- Run a 10K PR because mine is terrible and not representative of my abilities at all lol
-I'm finally ditching my "do strength work 2x/week goal" because let't be real...after 5 years of failure, I'm not holding out much hope that I'm ever going to accomplish this. Instead, I'm aiming smaller but hopefully more achievable: do planks at least 5x/week, every week. That's literally 2 minutes a day!

It's admittedly not the focus of this blog, but I had a pretty great year personally as well. I got married in July and had a fantastic honeymoon in Ireland. My now husband and I hiked 10 more NH 4000 footers (plus a few repeats), as well as the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil! We lost our dog, Dayton, in April which was incredibly tough, but we brought a new pup, Topper, into our lives in September. I also read 77 books this year, which is a high by a LOT, and was overall pretty pleased with an increased commitment to reading over other less fulfilling (to me) leisure pursuits like TV. Professionally I also had a poster accepted for the national physical therapy conference, which is coming up in January! My dance group also had another successful year and presented our 3rd full length show - which was also by far our best received - and I was able to pull together a fairly ambitious piece in limited rehearsal time that is one of my favorite things I've ever choreographed.

Overall, my hope for 2019 is to build on what I've accomplished this year, in all areas of life. I think my 30s so far have been all about embracing the things I love to do and want to do while ditching the rest, and I can't wait to see where that attitude takes me in the coming year! 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Who's afraid of the big bad half marathon: Philly Half 2018 race report

It's been a minute since I wrote here...again...probably because I haven't really done a whole lot in the way of racing lately! However, I feel like the Philly Half most definitely deserves a report for two reasons: I ran a very unexpected PR, and I finally ran a half marathon where I wasn't a total head case for half of the race!

Backing up for a moment, I signed up for the Philly Half in August or something, while drinking, and entirely due to peer pressure. At the time November seemed a long way off, and I thought that perhaps I would be able to drum up some motivation after a relatively slothful summer to really go for it and train for a PR half. That...did not turn out to be the case. While I managed to convince myself to do a couple of workouts and run at least 10 or 11 miles on the weekends, the number of weeks that I would consider to be quality training weeks leading up to the race were fairly minimal. So much so that I found myself the week before the race feeling incredibly anxious that I was completely unprepared, was going to run just a miserable time, etc. I somehow managed to stop really caring about any of that in time for the trip down to Philly and decided to just enjoy the weekend - I already didn't really care what time I was going to run, and figured at the worst it would be a good reminder of what long distance racing was like. 

Joy and I took the Amtrak train down to Philly on Friday and spent the majority of the ride talking about various running related topics, including our planned cheering route for the marathon and what marathons we would run instead if we didn't get into Berlin (spoiler alert: we did not :(). Our Air BnB was a quick 15 minute walk from the train station, and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring, picking up our numbers at the expo, grabbing martinis at a bar that we were not anticipating to be a martini bar, (oops, but also whatever) and eating a nice Italian dinner at a BYOB restaurant...WHY is this not a thing everywhere?! 

Race morning dawned, and my teammate Erin and I made our way towards the start. Again, the Air BnB was clutch - we were just under a mile from the starting area which made for a perfect warmup. We most likely would have warmed up a bit more, but we arrived at the starting area about half an hour before the start to discover literally 1/4 mile long security lines to get into the starting area! W.T.F. I think in the end this was a blessing in disguise, because I was so anxious about just getting into the corral to start the race on time that I completely forgot to be nervous about the actual race itself! After waiting for awhile, moving minimally and getting increasingly frustrated, we sort of hopped into line on the other side of the road and wandered our way through the single metal detector that they had to finally reach the corrals. After a quick porta potty stop, I reached my corral about 2 minutes before the start - the race ended up starting a couple of minutes late (likely the security lines were a factor) - so this was actually perfect!

The weather for the race was literally perfect. In fact, I thought about it later and I'm pretty sure this was actually the BEST weather I've ever raced in. This, combined with the fact that I had successfully reached my corral and the fact that I had chosen to race with music in order to maintain my chill/not really racing/enjoying the day vibe, actually had me in a pretty good mood as we counted down towards the start! I've never been to Philly and I literally had no idea about the course besides knowing that there was a sizeable hill somewhere around mile 10. This was just going to be a fun, random jaunt through a new city. The gun went off...and everyone on our side of the corral just stood there...apparently whoever was at the front on our side didn't realize that they could start the race, lol. After about 30 seconds of just standing there we moved towards the start and headed off.

I really can't explain it, but from moment one of this race I felt amazing. Maybe it was my dinosaur socks. Maybe it was the techno pumping into my ears. Maybe it was just the total novelty of running a half that isn't New Bedford. But whatever it was, I felt light, powerful, springy, and ready to go. I had no idea what pace I was running but decided that I would look at my watch for the first mile, see what the pace was, and then just forget about the watch for the rest of the race. I was surprised, amused, and utterly amazed to come through the first mile in an absolutely ridiculous 6:41. Hey, you know what race I usually see a split like that in? A 5 miler. Often even a 5K. But I decided that while it may possibly have been idiotic to go out at that pace, if it was feeling good it was feeling good, and I just wasn't going to worry about it. The first part of the race sort of jaunts around through the city. It was flat, lovely, there was a surprising amount of crowd support, and I was feeling absolutely excellent. In fact, I was having FUN. I was simply bopping along, jamming to my techno, not worrying about if this feeling would last but just enjoying my life. I wound up running with a great pack of 4 other women for awhile; it was a blast to be feeding off each other's pacing and leapfrog back and forth for a couple of miles. At some point we made a turn down towards the river, where there was a great view of a large bridge before we turned to run parallel with the river for a bit. At some point around mile 3, my stupid headphones shorted out - having made the decision to listen to music for this race, I was super unwilling to part with it so early in the race, so I took my phone out, fiddled with the headphone jack, hit play, and got my phone back in my waistband...while running a 6:44 mile. Yup. OK.

The stretch along the river felt a bit long and I had lost my lady pack and was running somewhat alone, which I feel somehow ALWAYS happens to me no matter how large the race! I don't pace like a normal person, apparently. I don't have too much to say about the next couple of miles - I was running, still feeling pretty good and powerful, and not worrying about a damn thing in the world. I knew that Joy and Brenda were going to be cheering somewhere near the 10K mark (when we would run directly past our air Bnb!) and I figured I would reassess my life after that. At some point in this stretch two things happened: my stupid headphones stopped working AGAIN, and I decided I was actually kind of warm and needed to get rid of my arm warmers. All I could think of as I stripped off my arm warmers was the moment at the end of the NYC marathon this year when one of the top men just ripped off his hat and the announcers were like "THE HATS ARE COMING OFF, THIS IS SERIOUS!" Well, the arm warmers were coming off - this was serious, apparently.

The street that we turned onto around the 10K mark, Maple or Walnut or some other tree name, was just wonderful. The crowds for this race really showed up and they were loud and rowdy all along this stretch. It was just such a strange feeling to be at the halfway mark of a half, and be feeling not only good, but actually genuinely HAPPY. My typical half marathon race goes like this: mile 1-2 feel OK but like the effort is too hard, miles 3-5 literally have a panic attack because there's no way I can sustain this pace for 7 more miles, miles 6-9 back off a little bit because of said panic and feel marginally better, miles 10-13 at some point, die. I have no idea if it's because I literally didn't feel like I had the training to back up any reasonable performance and so just did not care a bit if I blew up, but I never had a mental crisis during this race. Each mile was just kind of like...OK! Yup! Hooray! Let's continue! By the time I saw my friends at 6.5, the combination of this magical good feeling, the cheers, and the techno blasting through my ears had me amped, to the point that I ran my fastest mile of the race, a 6:34, for mile 7. 

We headed up and over a bridge, where I vividly remember looking around at the sun sparkling on the river and just thinking how beautiful it all was, and how lucky I was to be doing this, and really just a whole lot of feelings of gratitude that I typically do not experience at mile 7.5 of a half marathon. I wasn't afraid of hitting any sort of wall; honestly I was more just curious as to what my body was going to give me for the last 5 miles of the race. I had a feeling that some kind of difficulty was coming; there was just no WAY that a feeling this good could last a whole race, particularly one without the mileage to back it up. But again, strangely, I just wasn't worried about it - I was just doing the best I could, in the moment, and that was good enough for me.

Around mile 8 we headed up a not particularly steep but lengthy incline, and the first sort of questionable signals started moving from my legs to my brain. Still, I kept positive, and focused on getting my knees up and pushing off to power up the hill. Somewhere in here I also saw a woman who was out cheering with two pitbull puppies dressed in PAJAMAS and that was cute enough to get me up the hill just a little faster. Sadly as we got further away from downtown the crowds died off, and I soon found myself running down a fairly desolate stretch of road, suddenly feeling not quite so great as before. This of course was also the moment my headphones chose to short out...again! Yes, one could argue that perhaps I shouldn't have been wearing headphones in the first place, but you know what, I NEEDED this techno! So I once again got my phone out and fiddled with it, only to discover that this time the music would short out every time I tried to put my phone back in my pocket. I debated the pros and cons for awhile of just giving up on the music all together, but eventually decided that this was the point in the race that I needed it the most, and so committed to running the rest of the race with my phone in my a giant noob. Yup. It should also be noted that the entire time I was having this mental struggle, I was running up a neverending hill, suddenly feeling like hot trash, and hilariously received a text which popped up on my watch from a friend who was tracking me and said that I was "KILLING IT!". Lol. In this particular moment, I did NOT feel like I was killing it. As the cutting-in-and-out version of "Pyramids" by DVVBS, a song which will now probably haunt my dreams, played, I slogged up the hill, feeling like I was running 10 minute pace. Remember that lack of quality training we discussed? It was finally coming back to haunt me. Still, when I came through mile 9 and then 10 both in 7:19 I can't say I was overwhelmed with joy...but I also recognized that it could have been a lot worse. 

We finally hit some downhill and as I assessed where the course was going as we headed towards mile 11 I realized something - the hill that I had thought was at mile 11? That was the hill I had JUST ALREADY DEALT WITH! I realized that based on my understanding of the course, the remainder of the race was for the most part flat or downhill. After hitting mile 11 in 7:15, I started trying to do some mental math. Sure, I had not come into this race with any expectations of a PR, but here I was on the brink of one and it seemed simply idiotic to give up when I was that close. And so, I did something I don't think I have EVER done in a half marathon: I managed to speed up. I gritted my teeth and I told myself that I had to hold on for 2 more miles, because there was absolutely no excuse not to. I was already here and so close, and I knew that I would be mad at myself forever if I didn't run a PR just because I gave in at the end of the race. And so, I fought. And it SUCKED, oh man did it suck. My legs were simply running out of strength to carry me forward. It wasn't even pain so much as feeling like I was going to collapse at any second. We were running on another really pretty, but silent stretch on the other side of the river, and I just kept telling myself that the finish line was close and I had to hold on. We hit the 12 mile mark almost simultaneously as the last song on my playlist came on, "Elements of Life" by Tiesto which is like 8 minutes long or something. I was like, OK, all you have to do is just hang on through this song. That's it. I pretty much turned off my brain and tried to flow with the beat of the music and somehow get through the last mile without slowing back down. And the last mile was awful, but awful in an empowering way - a way that told me I was going all the way down to the bottom of my abilities on this particular day. There was a slight uphill about a half mile before the finish and again, my legs just literally felt like they weren't going to carry me up it. But they did, somehow. I had stopped trying too hard to think about the time, but as I squinted at the finish line from a point where I could actually see the clock, I could see it just tick over from the 1:31s. Damn! (I had apparently set a goal to run a 1:31 at some point midrace, OK then). But I dragged myself across the line in 1:32:10, which is most definitely, unlike my questionable is-it-or-isn't it PR of last year, a half marathon PR. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that I don't think I could have run another 200 meters at that pace. It was all I could do to stay on my feet crossing the line. And I hate to actually admit this, but while I was definitely damn happy, I was also sort of...disappointed?  Don't get me wrong, I did not in ANY way deserve to have a breakthrough race at this race, and the fact that I even managed a PR is miraculous and/or a testament to the general level of fitness I try to maintain throughout the year. But ugh, could I have not found 11 SECONDS somewhere out on the course? If I had known that the hill at mile 9 was THE hill, and that there wasn't another one coming, would I have pushed a little harder? Well, maybe. But that's easy to say in hindsight. As I mentioned above, in the moment, I truly think I left everything I had on the day out there. I get to take a PR away from this race, but I also think I get to take away a level of confidence in myself at this distance that I definitely didn't have before. I can definitely run a 1:31 half marathon. I can almost definitely run a 1:30 half marathon. Hell, I think I can probably run a 1:29 half marathon! But what it took to make me believe that was a race where I had no expectations (which I continue to prove time and time again is how I race best), a new city, perfect weather, and perhaps a little bit of techno.

Also the half marathon was sponsored by MEAT, which I just couldn't get over. And I eventually got a hot dog hat! 

The rest of the weekend was marvelous and included visiting many Philly breweries and absolutely outdoing ourselves in terms of cheering. We ran almost 8 miles, including running through a sketch neighborhood where junkyard dogs ran amok, dressed as pizzas and tacos and cacti. We hike/scrambled down a steep embankment because there was NO TIME to find a normal route to the course when our teammates were on their way. One of my teammates ran an amazing comeback marathon after 5 years injured, while others ran huge breakthroughs and PRs. It was a great day, and a great weekend. And while this race may have begun as a perfect example of the phrase "seemed like a good idea at the time", in the end, it WAS a good idea. I'm not scared of the half marathon anymore, and I have Philly to thank for that. Everything about this race aside from the security ridiculousness in the morning was absolutely amazing - the city was fantastic, the organization was great, I really enjoyed the course and time of year, and the crowds were awesome. I definitely think I'll be back to race the half again - and maybe at some point the full! But in the meantime...Boston training awaits!

Cheer squad


Philadelphia Half Marathon
1:32:10 (PR) 
375/9526 OA, 78/5926 women, 18/665 F 30-34

Sunday, September 16, 2018

I LOVE LAMP (and relays): Reach The Beach 2018

This has been a weird summer for me, runningwise. I've been really busy, spent the most amazing 2 weeks on vacation with that whole "getting married" thing sandwiched in the middle of it, and have been doing quite a lot of weekend warrior hiking and traveling, all of which has been absolutely AMAZING but has definitely bumped running down quite a bit in the priorities list. On top of that, we've had a brutally hot and humid summer which has made running pretty much miserable for the most part. It hasn't exactly been highly motivating, and while I've been running ~30-35 miles a week (in combination with quite a bit of hiking), truly structured training has been nonexistent. I've felt this type of ennui around running before, and I know there's always one cure for what ails me: try something new, fun, and ridiculous to light the spark and get me excited about competing again.

The first of these was finally jumping back into a triathlon, which I've been meaning to do for YEARS since I bought a road bike in 2014. I never got around to writing a race report for that race and will probably have to do so sometime, because it kind of changed my athletic plans for the next few years. I LOVED it! I also did pretty well at it despite being a novice, and I'm honestly really excited about the idea of learning a whole new sport. I've always wanted to do an Ironman tri, but thought that I'd wait until I was older and my best running days were behind me - I think that plan may have changed. But more on that later, because this post is about the more recent new, ridiculous and fun thing that I did that at the very least rekindled my love of running in general: my first overnight relay!

I had vaguely heard of Ragnar relays and Reach the Beach, a 200 mile race from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach NH, but had never thought about doing it myself. First of all, as many running friends as I have I'm not sure I could come up with 11 other people who would want to live out of a van for 2 days and run at all hours of the night. Secondly, I myself wasn't sure I wanted to live out of a van for 2 days and run at all hours of the night! Fate intervened when my coworker Elise was talking about doing it last year while we were up in NH for Mount Washington, and I casually/not so casually decided in the moment that I was interested in participating. I indicated that if anyone from her previous team couldn't run this year that I'd totally be up for subbing in, and sure enough, they ended up needing a sub. I was in, without really knowing ANYTHING about the race (including, initially, the date haha) or 10 out of the other 11 people on the team.

Elise had told me that this was an amazing and fun loving group, and when we arrived at our car drop off point on Thursday morning I was not disappointed - I immediately felt like part of the team! Soon a couple more team members arrived with our vans/homes for the weekend, and we drove up to our "base camp" at the home of a former BMC PT (the team originally started in the PT department there and this woman has always been a team supporter) which was absolutely AMAZING. Her home and the scenery were incredible and made a perfect setting for swimming, beers on a water trampoline, a pontoon boat trip, and some team bonding. It was a really fun group ranging from 9 time Ironman triathletes to more casual runners, all of whom were awesome and hilarious. I got iced for the first time in several years (proud? to say I can still take them like a champ) and after a couple of beers with the group I felt like I'd known the team for a whole lot longer than 12 hours. We headed to bed relatively early (well, some of us anyway) since sleep was going to be at a premium for the next 2 days!

After a solid breakfast of egg scramble and tater tots, and another icing (thankfully not me this time), we headed out on the hour drive to Bretton Woods, Once we arrived there was way more to do than your typical race check in: check safety gear, do a safety briefing, get bibs, and most importantly decorate the vans with ridiculous Anchorman quotes - we were the Channel 4 News Team, so had to represent! Soon enough it was approaching our start time of 9:45, and we headed to the start to cheer our first runner off! By this point it had pretty much been cemented that our team activity would be flossing (the dance fad, not the dental care activity), and so we yelled and cowbelled and flossed as runner 1 headed off up the mountain. The race had begun! Since the first leg was only 1.5 miles, the whole team headed to that transition to cheer. Soon enough our runner came flying down the downhill, and runner 2 was off!


Quality van decor

First runner is off!

Transition 3 was right by where we'd parked, so we all decided to stick around until our 3rd runner was off, and then the vans would head their separate ways. During the relay, one van is "on" while another is off. I was the 2nd runner in Van 2, which meant we had some time to chill before our van needed to be on. As is apparently team custom, we played "Shots" by LMFAO and munched on some delicious cold tater tots, and practiced our flossing while waiting for runner #2. Yes, it was definitely refreshing to be doing something where the #1 goal was fun. Once the handoff to our 3rd runner was complete, we high fived van 1 and wished them good luck, and headed off to find some food. We ended up going to Bagels Plus in Conway, which was AMAZING. I can't believe I've never been there before but ended up having the most amazing bagel sandwich of my life along with some iced coffee and a Gatorade. I saved the second half of the sandwich because I wasn't sure how much more time I had before my leg - one of the most challenging things about this relay for me was figuring out when/what/how much to eat at any given time! We then headed back to Attitash to await runner #6.

The day was really starting to heat up and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so we all tried to find some shade and stay hydrated while waiting. Leg 6 was the longest leg of the day at almost 11 miles, which must have been pretty brutal in the beating sun, but our 6th runner is also 100% pure animal and totally crushed it. We cheered him in to the exchange point and sent runner #7 off, then briefly exchanged high fives with van 1 before heading out to support our runner! Because of the length of the race and just overall logistics, there obviously can't really be water stops on the course itself, but on almost all of the legs the vans can stop along the road to give water or whatever to their runner, and more importantly to cheer. This was one of my absolute favorite things about the relay - I LOVE CHEERING, and to get to spend so much time doing it over a period of a couple of days was amazing. We also came equipped with thunder sticks, night glow sticks, tamborines, clappers, cowbells, a giant inflatable name it, it was there. I definitely picked the right team because I don't think anyone else I saw had quite the insane spirit that we did. After making a couple of cheer stops, we headed to the next exchange point where I would start my first leg!  This was the only point where I actually got nervous the entire time, maybe because it feels like it's been 1000 years since I did a road race. I also felt like I really wanted to actually run the pace I had said I would (7:30s, which seemed reasonable) but had no idea if I would be able to do it, especially with the hot weather. I knew that as soon as I got running the nerves would resolve, and soon enough our 7th runner came motoring up the path, the slap bracelet was exchanged, and it was go time!

At one point we were also offering these delightful cold tater tots to runners out the

J-Money heading into transition 6!

Thunder Sticks for life

Accurate summary of the weekend

My first leg was 7.3 miles, billed as "moderate" by the race, and I knew it would likely be my flattest of the day. That was about all the research I had done haha. Since I knew that I was likely to be running alone quite a bit I had decided to listen to music for this race, and I went blasting out of the starting area with 4Ever by the Veronicas blasting in my headphones and a brilliant smile on my face. All of a sudden I was in heaven. There's a thing in the relays called "kills" - how many people you pass in a leg - that some teams keep track of on their vans which we all agreed is way too hardcore. I'd be lying, though, if I said that keeping track of my own personal kills within legs was an EXCELLENT way to keep motivated and pushing when things were hard. It's hard to figure out pacing when you are racing, but you also know that you have to race twice more within the next 18 hours - going completely all out would be idiotic, but I also wanted to be putting in a good amount of effort, so I'd say what I came up with was something like tempo effort. I definitely went out a little fast on this leg just out of pure adrenaline and excitement, but dialed it back a bit after I came through mile 3 in sub-7, which I just know I'm not fit for over that distance at this point in time. At mile 2 I saw my van for the first time which was amazing, although I think I was too far in the racing zone at that point and didn't even remember to run-floss! Haha. I was still feeling really good when I saw my van again at around mile 4 as I had dialed back the pace a little bit. I could tell that the heat was going to start to be a problem pretty soon but just kept trying to focus on the teams up ahead and see if I could reel them in. Unfortunately, the last 2.5 miles of the route had zero shade and seemed to be run directly into the blazing sun, and with no more water available I tanked pretty hard. It was 80 degrees, sunny, no breeze, and just really quite miserable. At some point we turned and ran for a little bit into Conway, and all I could think of was that it felt like the end of the awful Cape Ann 25K, where you're just sort of stumbling down the sidewalk in the blazing sun hoping that someone eventually will put you out of your misery. At one point I had to stop to let a school bus pull out of a driveway and I didn't even care. I was still managing to pass people, since lots of people were walking at that point, but it was rough going. Finally, we turned onto the Kancamagus and I knew I only had about a quarter mile to go. I was able to summon a little bit of a rally over the last little section and managed to pass one more woman before pulling into the transition point, where I expected Elise would be waiting. But where was she? Turns out, to get to this transition the vans had to go like 20 miles out of the way - since they waited for me at 4, there was no way they could have gotten to the handoff on time! Thankfully a volunteer gave me some water, and I really wasn't even mad because I was happy to be done running. After maybe 5 minutes Elise came sprinting over and she was off!

Took this quick at the very end of my leg on the Kancamagus!

Van 2, Leg 2 (leg 8 overall): 7.3 miles, 53:33, 7:22 pace, 23 kills, killed by 0

We weren't allowed to support Elise on her leg, so we just headed over to the next transition point (obviously cowbelling insanely out the windows as we passed her). She had a rough hill on her leg but ran SUPER strong and was in transition before we knew it! The next few hours were a blur of transition points, cheering on our runners, and snacking on random food including the other half of my bagel sandwich, goldfish crackers, and gummi worms. Our last transition before the major one was at a beautiful lake, so Elise and I took the opportunity to wade in and dunk our heads...RTB shower, complete! Haha. We then had a quick drive to the next major transition point, where we reunited with van 1 who was ready to roll for their night legs. Once their runner 1 was off, we headed into the middle school where the 8th grade class had the most adorable setup. They had decorated their gym in western style, complete with live music and comfy chairs, and had TONS of food available by donation. We immediately decided to skip finding a restaurant to eat dinner and made a donation to the 8th grade class trip (have fun in Montreal, kids!) in exchange for a ton of food. They had chili on offer, which looked awesome, but I was concerned about the impact that would have on my stomach so I settled on pasta/meat sauce casserole, a banana, and peanut butter cracker sandwiches - that last one I had no idea how much I wanted until I was eating it...tasted soo good. By now it was pretty well dark and we wanted to attempt to sleep before starting our super late night legs, so we drove to the next major transition point/designated sleeping area to try to get a couple of hours of sleep. I dozed off for maybe 20 minutes in the car on the way, and then we set up camp in a field at yet another school. I have to take a minute to comment on how absolutely insane the organization of this race is. We're talking 36 transition areas, all with vans consistently coming in/out and parking, and it was seamless. The volunteers were absolutely INCREDIBLE, and every last one of them was fun, smiling, and helpful whether it was 11 am or 4 am. I also only had to wait in line for a porta potty once the entire weekend, and that was maybe 5 minutes...really pretty amazing. Anyway, around 9:45 we settled in to attempt to get some sleep. Time sort of became irrelevant on this relay - 8 pm felt like midnight, and so on. I had a "self inflating" mattress pad with me, but I'm an idiot and was trying to use it for the very first time, so the inflating feature didn't really work too least it was a barrier between the damp grass and me? I also don't own a sleeping bag and only had a fleece blanket, but somehow despite the hard ground and the cool air, I managed to snag at least a couple of hours of sleep in the field - some of my teammates weren't as lucky! It was interesting because I fell asleep for maybe an hour, then woke up because I was lying oddly on my shoulder, and everything was completely silent. When I woke up again around 12:15, you could tell that it was time for a bunch of teams to go - lots more movement. We were expecting our other van's runner to roll in around 1 am, and they showed up right on schedule. It was time for one of the most crazy and fun parts of Reach the Beach....night legs!

News Team handoff to runner 6!

The amazing middle school setup

Nighttime transition zone! Surreal

We were leapfrogging with this team who had a van from a "senior wellness resort" all weekend and I just couldn't get over it

Our first runner had a SUPER tough first leg ahead of him, so we wanted to give him plenty of support and got out there hard with our glowsticks. Fun fact: flossing with glow sticks is amazing, 60% of the time it works every time.  Our exchange was a "wildcard" exchange, which meant there was basically a 2 mile stretch where we could exchange at any point. Since he was feeling pretty good and I had one of the higher overall mileages of the weekend, we decided to go right in the middle and exchange about 1 mile into the exchange zone. This was lucky for me but not so lucky for him, since he had to climb some massive hills to get up to us. I, on the other had, had a leg with a whole lotta downhill, and despite feeling sleep deprived I was AMPED for some night moves.

My second leg was 5.7 miles, described as moderate, and officially began at 2:22 am. And it. was. AMAZING!! I wasn't sure how I was going to feel physically or emotionally about running through the pitch black forest in the middle of the night but I absolutely loved it. It also probably didn't hurt that a large majority of this leg included running down massive downhills. There was definitely a moment that I was like "hey, you're gonna tear up your quads running down these downhills!" annnnd then I decided that I completely did not care, because I was having way too much fun. I had my phone with me and was just playing music off of it instead of having headphones, and I was pretty proud of my 100% night-themed playlist (except "See You Again" by Miley Cyrus, which will forever take me back to driving cross country when I moved to Boston and just being super loopy at 2 am). It was really foggy and we were running through woods, and I could just imagine all of the moose that were probably surrounding me...didn't see any though! Running through a glow stick tunnel made by my teammates was absolutely AMAZING and I definitely felt the strongest on this leg. For the first 4 miles or so there was pretty much always another runner in view, but I had a couple of miles at the end where I was pretty much solo, which was actually really cool - just flying through the night by myself. I was tired by the time we started approaching civilization again, but also was kind of sad that the night leg was about to be over! Soon enough I reached transition to the tune of "Because the Night" by Cascada, did a pretty rocking sword themed bracelet exchange with Elise, and the leg was done!

Lets goooooo!

Post night leg adrenaline high, circa 3:15 am

Van 2, Leg 8 (leg 20 overall): 5.7 miles, 40:34, 7:10 pace, 18 kills, killed by 1 (some wicked fast dude who came blowing by right at the beginning!) 

A combination of adrenaline, giddiness, and the Mountain Dew energy drink I chugged after my leg resulted in the next couple of hours being some of my favorite parts of the race. I was going wild with my glow sticks on the side of the road, jumping around, dancing, whisper cheering...I was amped. There's something magical about not only being awake while the rest of the world is asleep, but by sharing that experience with so many other like minded people. At one point I remember thinking to myself "we are adults, and this is how we are choosing to spend our weekend, running a lot, sleeping in fields,waving glow sticks on the side of the road, hundreds of us, and there is just nothing that could be better than that". At one point some of our teammates were asleep, and myself and one other teammate had pulled over to await our runner. I was hanging out the driver side window banging foam glow sticks on the car, while he said random Anchorman quotes at runners. At one points he told some guy "you look marvelous, sir!" to which the guy came out with a series of grunt noises, and we both just lost it laughing. It was just so much damn fun. Of course, at some point your body just says "nope", which is how I found myself passing out on top of a cooler for about 20 minutes in the front seat while waiting for our runner at one of the transitions, LOL. I also may or may not have gotten iced in an NH field at 6:55 in the morning...things were getting silly. Everyone on our team continued to look strong and happy on their legs - we had some people dealing with plantar fasciitis and other injuries, but everybody was toughing it out and getting through it, still managing to have a blast.

The final set of legs was the shortest in overall mileage for both vans, so we had a little less time after our final handoff back to Van 1 and decided to head in the general direction of the next and final major exchange. I fell asleep in the backseat for maybe 45 minutes here which I think was really the lifesaver and allowing me to feel like a human for the remainder of the race. I think it was maybe 8 am or so when we handed off back to van 1? I don't even know anymore haha. On our way to the transition we did find a lovely little breakfast place where I had another awesome bagel sandwich, this time of the breakfast variety, and my first pumpkin spice themed coffee of the year. At the final major transition point, we were actually able to go inside the school gym for "free dry sleep!", lol. I managed to catch another half hour or so of shut eye, continuing to prove that when I am tired, I can literally sleep ANYWHERE. Soon enough it was time to get ready to catch Van 1 for our final "on" leg - I was a little nervous at this point about the cooperation level of my stomach as well as my legs, which were about as unhappy as I expected them to be about the whole 2 am bombing downhill thing...ohhh well. :) I also had the longest leg of our van for our final section at 6.7 miles, which at this particular moment in time sounded like a loooong way. But Elise made me feel better by telling me that this was the leg where you got the best cheering, because both vans were able to support more than once. We cheered our runner on on his quick 2.4 mile leg out of transition, and then it was time for my final leg!

My last leg was 6.7 miles and billed as "hard" by the race, I think partially due to it's length at the end of the race but also because it consisted of rolling hills for dayyyys. After thinking I would take it out easy at the start I must have gotten my adrenaline going, because I ran a 6:52 first mile for my second fastest mile of the weekend! The weather for this leg was interesting, as it wasn't super hot or sunny, but it was muggy, and I felt like I had surely made a mistake once the hills started rolling after the first mile. My legs were definitely like "umm you've raced 13 miles already this weekend and you haven't really slept and what are you doing?" but I just tried to keep myself at somewhere around tempo effort and hope for the best. By far the BEST part of this leg was the van support - when I came down a hill to see both of our vans lined up, people on the roofs, everyone flossing, screaming, and waving glow sticks around, I couldn't stop smiling. It was absolutely amazing and I couldn't help but speed up a little bit as I drank in the cheers. Then it was back to grinding down the road, including up a nasty hill around mile 3 that I knew was coming, but that didn't really make it any more pleasant. My splits in this section were all over the place - an 8:10 up the hill followed up immediately by a 6:57, and so on. I got to see the van again at like 4.5, and again it was just spectacular. My legs definitely felt like they were about to collapse from underneath me, but part of me just didn't want the experience to end! We had gotten into a hilarious habit of flossing while running whenever we saw the team, which became harder and harder as I got more tired and uncoordinated...I'm pretty sure I looked like I was just flailing my limbs around by the time I got to the end.  Finally with one last uphill over a bridge transition came into view, and I flossed my way to a flawless exchange with Elise. I was done running! All in all I ran 19.7 miles over the course of the relay - given my level of training and fitness I really hadn't been sure that it would be doable, but aside from feeling a bit tired, I felt awesome. I was overall really proud of how I ran throughout the weekend, coming in at well under my predicted 7:30 pace!

You can see from afar the insanity of the cheer squad

A foggy/sweaty view from post leg-3 (with my new favorite socks EVER!!)

Van 2, leg 32: 6.7 miles, 49:40, 7:25 pace, 15 kills, killed by 0

The last few legs were a little shorter, in the 3-4 mile range, so we only had a couple of opportunities to stop. Luckily, we had one excellent stopping point where I finally got my wish of getting to cheer from the top of the was exactly as amazing as I expected it would be. Everyone was fired up because we were so close to finishing, and being done running made it even easier to go all out on the cheering as one by one everyone finished their final legs. Finally, we made the handoff to our last runner, and it was time to head to the beach! By this time, we were on approximately our 18th playing of "Shots" in the van, everyone was sleep deprived and loopy but totally loving every minute of it. We reunited with van 1, as well as our official/unofficial team captain who didn't run this year, but was still a huge part of planning and executing the race (and holy shit, there is an OUTRAGEOUS amount of planning that goes into this race!). Soon enough we saw our final runner coming down the beach and all of us yelling and smiling ran together down the chute to finish under 30 hours by 1 minute!

Final runner coming in! 

Finish chute smiles!

The post race food and beer was amazing, and sadly it was soon time to drive our sleep deprived selves back to MA, clean out the vans, and go back to reality. I was so sad that the weekend was over! This race was no doubt one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done, but in so many ways it suited me perfectly - the low pressure, fun is more important than fast, cheering your face off atmosphere combined with some pretty solid and challenging miles in places I'd otherwise never run. I also never thought that I would be someone who could handle doing something like this with a bunch of strangers, but it turns out when you throw me into a group of very like minded, very fun people, I can fit right in. I'm not sure when I'll next have the opportunity to do this relay again, but I really hope it isn't too far in the future. It was a fun, crazy, absolutely magical 3 days that reminded me of all of the things I love about running, and I can't wait to have that experience again! In the meantime...I signed up for Boston again, and I have my sights set on an Ironman in know...there's no shortage of wild and crazy running fun in store...