Sunday, October 01, 2017

An entire summer of training and racing, summarized in one post!

Whew! Where have I been?, racing, and running a LOT. When we last left off, I had just run the Mount Washington Road Race and was getting ready to ramp up for fall marathon training. Turns out, fall marathon training (along with various other life things) is time consuming, and hasn't left a lot of time for blogging! I've meant to pop open this blog from time to time but it's always gotten away from me. So here I am, 3 weeks out from my fall marathon, and I guess I'll sum things up month by month until we get to the present.

Nothing really happened in July. I didn't race at all. I gradually started easing back into some longer runs and things that resembled workouts (often failing at the latter). It is kind of funny to look back at July, because in particular I recall doing a 2 x 1.5 mile tempo run at like...6:50 pace. Which right now doesn't actually sound very hard, or all that fast. But at the time it was IMPOSSIBLE. Other July events included hiking a couple more 4000 footers on the 4th of July, MOVING (back in with my then boyfriend, now fiance! See August...hah) and some really hot weather.

Running started to intensify quite a bit! I really didn't race much at all this summer, but did wind up jumping in a random 5K the weekend of the 12th because I was supposed to be in WI for a wedding, but my flight got cancelled and I didn't get to go, so I decided to do a 5K instead. I don't know, logical? The 5K was held at 11 am in the middle of August, and I think that's pretty much all that needs to be said about that. It was 85, I literally ran my goal marathon pace for the 3rd mile, and the course was a quarter mile long. Fun times had by all..including Andrew, who volunteered as tribute to also run the race to make me feel better about my cancelled flight. What a guy! There was BBQ and Aeronaut beer afterwards though, so that was cool.

Another running related thing that happened in August was for the first time in my ENTIRE LIFE, I began running in the morning before work about once a week. I cannot even emphasize what a big deal this is for me: I have always dreamed of being a morning runner but for 10 years have never been able to make it happen. But you know what they say about habits...once I had been going for about 3 weeks, it became pretty normal and easy to just roll out of bed, sleepwalk through 5 miles, and save myself all sorts of time later in the day. It was a great accomplishment for the summer, and was definitely useful in upping my mileage as was my plan for this training cycle.

Slightly more important and exciting than morning running was the fact that Andrew and I got engaged on August 21! In the interest of full disclosure, we had planned that weekend for about a month and honestly I'm not sure how I kept myself under control in the first 3 weeks of August. We hiked Mount Jefferson in what turned out to be a foggy, windy, cold day, but loved every second and got engaged on our way down the mountain. We then spent the night at the super swanky Mount Washington hotel which was an absolute blast as it's not the sort of thing we would typically EVER do. So I've now added wedding planning to my list of outside of work activities! I don't hate it. ;)

September has been QUITE the month. Back in maybe July I sat down and made a spreadsheet of my planned training schedule for Baystate with anticipated daily runs, races, and mileage goal numbers. I patted myself on the back for these high, high numbers I was supposedly going to be running, and then I sat back and looked at it and thought "oh god, you didn't give yourself ANY days off. Well there's no way THAT'S going to happen". Well, imagine my pride, excitement, and surprise when I actually managed to stick EXACTLY to my plan for September - a plan that included taking a grand total of ONE day off (during which I hiked 12 miles in the White Mountains, so not exactly a rest day). I hit 70+ mile weeks for the last 2 weeks of the month, only the first and second time I've ever done that. And I'll tell's been a lot of work, and frequently I've contemplated how I feel like all I do is go to work and run, but I'll be damned if I don't feel some power from it. Back at the beginning of September I ran like a 61 mile week and I remember thinking "ugh my legs are SO tired" at the end of it. This week I ran 73 miles, and honestly, my legs don't feel all that bad. It's like they've just become numb to the workload and are just sort of like "meh. Well. OK. I guess this is what we do now".  I finished the month with nearly 300 miles, a huge PR for me. I think that really sums up this training cycle - I'm putting in the work and actually really enjoying it, even if it doesn't seem to be showing up in my race performances yet. I've also not been feeling injured at all despite the increased mileage, so I guess that shows I'm being smart as well!

Aside from the higher mileage load this month I've also been doing a pretty decent workout load which has included the most running at goal marathon pace I've ever done in the cycle. I also raced 3 times (twice really with the goal of truly racing, and once as a tempo) and am just this marathon away from completing the USATF-NE Grand Prix series, which I for some reason set out to complete this year. I suppose I'll briefly recap these races for the sake of this blog, and looking back on this someday and being like "so, why exactly did you race 3 weekends in a row again?"

Surftown Half (9/10) - The experience of this race was actually pretty fun, but definitely a classic rust buster in that I didn't run well at ALL. I suppose when you don't race from April to September, this is to be expected. The weather was medicore; a little sunny and quite humid, but relatively cool (in the 60s), nothing I'd really complain about in early September. I started off the first 2 or 3 miles running right around 7:00 pace, and feeling really good. The good feeling lasted about 20 minutes - we then headed into a mildly hilly section of the course and I immediately could tell that bad things were around the bend. I settled back in around 7:10, trying to use effort as my guide - I figured on tired legs (this was the aforementioned first 60 mile week) I wasn't going to PR anyway, but wanted to put in a good effort. This went OK until mile 7 or 8, at which point I started to feel really shitty. I'm convinced I straight up fell asleep during mile 8 because my watch buzzed a 7:42 and all of a sudden I was like shit! You can't be doing that! I was able to pick it up a bit and ended up running 3 or 4 miles at right around goal marathon pace which is fine I guess, not bad as a training stimulus, but I was just completely not in the mood. Thankfully there were two women near me, one in purple and one in gray, who I had been leapfrogging around with, and they were basically the only thing that kept me engaged in the race. I was able to lose them both, hilariously, on the one major hill on the course, a very short but VERY steep incline. I then picked it up back to like 7:08 for the last mile and wound up finishing in 1:35:3x - an acceptable time, but nothing to write home about. The half marathon is a tough distance for me - I think I often panic at how hard a certain pace feels early and can't convince myself that it's sustainable for a whole 13.1 miles, so I back off (probably too much) and then figure out I have something still in the tank the last couple of miles. I doubt it's a very effective pacing strategy and it's something I hope to work on when I actually aim to set a half marathon as my goal race sometime soon. The remainder of the day after the race, however, was EXCELLENT. We drank silly cocktails out of ceramic glasses which we got to keep, sat in giant beach chairs, and went to a brewery. It was fantastic.

Providence CVS Downtown 5K (9/17) - The following weekend, I raced a 5K which I planned to race all out. And I DID race it all out, but was hoping for a slightly better result. This was a Grand Prix race, so definitely good competition, and it's definitely a good course to go fast on, but the weather was atrocious! The humidity was 100% in the morning but at least it was overcast...of course then maybe 15 minutes before the race the clouds parted, the blazing sun came out, and we were hit with temperatures in the 70s with 95% humidity. Yikes. I also ran the first mile of this race in 6:05...OH DEAR. It is definitely a downhill mile but still...there's no need for that. The second mile I ran 6:38 and that was OK, 3rd mile the heat and humidity were really just getting to me and my calf was cramping up (probably because I wore racing flats for the first time in months and months). My official time was 20:32, still one of my better (second best, I think) road 5Ks I've ever run. Based on my own GPS and other people's Stravas, the course may be a touch long, so I definitely felt good about my fitness after this race. I'll get that damn sub 20 someday! I was also supposed to do a 10 mile cooldown after this (lol) - thankfully my ride wanted to get back to Boston, so I only did 5 and then doubled it up later in the day. You can file that under "things I never thought I'd do".

Lone Gull 10K (9/24) - Because this was the 3rd weekend I'd be racing, I decided in advance that I'd be tempoing this 10K because I had to do it as part of the Grand Prix. I was very, very happy with that decision when we were gifted with an even hotter, still sunny, and just as humid day! I did a long warmup (6 miles) and felt like I had sweated out everything in my body...and then I had to go run the race! Finished with an average of 7:15 pace which is a little fast for GMP, but I think I did a good job of reining it in and not letting myself really go all out. It was kind of nice to be able to be like...uggh so hot...hey guess what you can slow down! Perks of the race-as-workout situation, I guess. The course was really lovely though - beautiful ocean views and just some mild rollers, I'd love to come back and do it again and actually race it.

So that basically brings us up to date with what I've been doing running wise. I'm sure I'll have to come back here and ramble a bit before the marathon, because I've definitely got some mental games going on that I'm trying to get past and probably just need to spew out on a page to help with that, haha. No matter what, I'm really happy with this training cycle and the work I've been putting in...just really, really hoping it can pay off come October 22!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Mount Washington Road Race 2017 Race Report

Life has been nuts lately and I've been a super slacker on blogging - I never wrote race reports for either the Narrow River 10K (basically ran the same exact race as 2015, except about 20 seconds faster, so a PR, whee! And once again got second woman overall and did NOT win a bird photo.) and the 5K I did on my birthday (20:21, my shoe came untied at mile 2, and I overall ran quite a bit faster than I expected to on a random Thursday). But I had to make some time for the most ridiculous and awesome thing I've ever done, the Mount Washington Road Race.

Mount Washington is probably one of the more absurd things you can do as a runner in New England. It is a race up the tallest mountain in New Hampshire, gaining over 4000 ft of elevation over 7.6 miles. The cutesy tagline for the race is "only one hill", because that's technically true, hah. It's a race where the women's winner typically runs over 10 minute mile pace. It is so far outside the realm of my usual running comfort zone that it almost qualifies as an entirely different activity, which I think is part of the allure.


I actually entered the lottery for this race a few years ago, but didn't get in and at the time was kind of glad for that fact. So this year when two of my teammates asked if I wanted to go into the lottery with them, I basically thought eh, why not? We also entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon, and while only one of us was selected for that race (not me), the Mt. Washington lottery is a team affair and when we discovered that we were in the race, our reactions ranged from shock to laughter to "what the hell did we do to ourselves"? This was all the way back in March, so mid marathon training, and June seemed so far away. Even after Boston, 2 months to train for this race seemed like a luxurious amount of time. I really and truly had come up with a plan to do some more focused training towards this race, but it never quite materialized. I did a couple of short treadmill runs at 12% incline, hiked quite a bit, and last weekend did a double summit run of Mount Wachusett, a much smaller mountain in MA to get a sense of what running up a road forever might feel like. But I was definitely concerned going into the weekend about not only my specific mountain running fitness, but my fitness in general - I haven't exactly been cranking out the miles lately. It's not like you can REALLY prepare well for a race like this living in the city, but I was worried that what preparation I had done was going to be far from adequate.

Joy, Andrew and I headed up to New Hampshire on Friday evening and got settled into our hotel - we had originally booked an Air BnB in Lincoln, but after realizing that we weren't going to be able to get there before the doors locked at 9, ended up switching to a hotel in Gorham - conveniently only about 15 minutes to the start. My mood at this point can only be described as absolute nervous giddiness. I still couldn't quite process that this was a thing I was actually doing. We watched the race video from last year, attempted to come up with inspirational mantras, and almost died of laughter when the loudest train EVER came by at 11 pm sounding like it was literally going to blast through our hotel room. It took me ages to fall asleep due to nerves but once I finally managed to, I slept well - at least until 5:20, when I was wide awake 40 minutes before my alarm.

In the morning we got ready fairly quickly, drank some crappy hotel room coffee, and headed off to the start. The logistics of this race are intense and I think I was so preoccupied with making sure that everything was in order that I wasn't worrying about the race just yet. There's pretty much no cell service outside of towns in NH, so luckily we were able to find Taylor and her boyfriend, who would be driving up the mountain, waiting for us to finish, and then driving us back down, without any drama. Getting my bib number for this race felt similar to getting a bib number for a marathon; when you're all of a sudden holding proof in your hands that you actually are about to do this thing. It felt surreal. I'm going to run up that giant mountain over there? Really? Is this real life?

One of the key unknowns going into the day had been the weather, and it was still unclear what things were going to be like as we milled around the starting area. It was fairly foggy when we arrived at the start but much warmer than I expected, and the clouds seemed to start burning off a bit around 8 am.I was mainly just hoping that the clouds would continue to disperse, as I was going to be highly disappointed if I didn't get to take in any views during this race. We went off to do a warmup on some dirt bike trails and finally got a glimpse of the summit that we were running to. It looked very, very, very far away.

Ummmm what are we actually doing right now

Time seemed to pass quickly, and before I knew it it was 8:45 and time to get lined up for the start. The atmosphere at the start line was similar to the mood I'd been in all day - mostly giddy, excited, nervous energy. There were a few people who looked utterly terrified, but for the most part it was all laughter and smiles and nervous jokes. The national anthem was sung (really REALLY well by an 8th grader), we all got to yell "ONLY ONE HILL!" in unison, and then there was a very startling cannon blast (yes, this race starts with a CANNON!) and this thing was happening!

The race starts in a very twisted fashion: you actually run DOWNHILL for about 300 meters before you begin the climb. Obviously you're not going to sprint out at typical race pace so we just kind of jogged along anticipating what was to come. And then it began.

Here we gooooo!

Splits: 12:13, 13:32, 14:41, 14:35, 14:54, 14:56, 14:27, 12:56 pace for the last 0.6

Just like Boston, with this race they say that it's important not to go out too hard. I say hard instead of fast because speed and pace just become entirely irrelevant in a race like this. I actually think that was part of what I really enjoyed about it - my performance was entirely removed from the numbers and wholly based on effort. But that being said, I did run the first mile kind of fast. My A goal for the race was a 1:45, or 14 minute mile pace, so 12 minutes is coming out a little hot. But I think it was fine that that happened, because I felt like the first mile was just all about figuring out what this was going to feel like, and all about my body getting over the initial WTF IS GOING ON THIS IS NOT OK feeling and settling into something resembling a rhythm. Unfortunately, my grand plan for my teammates and I to stick together fell apart almost immediately. I lost Joy off the back and Taylor off the front, and I fairly quickly found myself unable to find either of them. There was nothing to be done for it at the moment, so I focused on trying to find a rhythm and find a way to run that wasn't going to completely destroy my legs. Within the first half mile my calves, particularly my left one which has always been kind of a mess, felt awful. I think I have pretty strong calf muscles in general but the grade we were running on was putting some forces through them that I don't think they've ever felt before. But it was possible. It was hard as hell, but it was possible. People all over the place were already walking, and while I knew there was plenty of walking in my future down the road (or up the road, as it was) my first objective was to try to maintain running as long as I could.

Taylor had read something before the race that said that mile 2 might be the hardest mile of the race, so I was prepared for a little extra suckage. Oh did not disappoint. Obviously, we were continuing to climb, but what make this part worse was the fact that there were some sections where the grade really got steeper that were incredibly difficult to recover from. More and more people were walking these sections and eventually, near the end of the mile, I joined that crowd. I wasn't walking long, but my calves would get to a point where they just felt like they were exploding and I would back off and walk for a bit to try to pull things back together, then keep running. At some point during this mile a woman who sounded Italian maybe noticed my shirt and said something to the effect of "oh, this is MUCH harder than Boston!" You're telling me, lady! One of the cool things about this race though is that it draws people from everywhere - nationally and internationally. The women's and men's winners were both from Colorado this year, which I suppose makes a lot of sense, but back in the non-elite world there were also people from various states and countries, not just New England (though I do think the field was primarily New Englanders). But back to mile 2. It was a rough time. I think this was really the only point in the race where I started to have some serious questions about my ability to finish in a reasonable time - I mean, we weren't even close to half way and I was feeling like a disaster! A quick look around told me that everyone was in the same boat, and I tried to tamp down the negativity. Near the end of mile 2, I also caught back up to Taylor, which was great. We both commented that we felt like maybe we'd gone out a bit fast and decided that we were OK with doing a bit more walking to keep the effort level consisted as time went by.  So we'd mostly run, but then once in awhile one of us would call a walk break and we'd walk for a bit, picking a landmark to start running again at.

At the mile 2.25 water stop I walked through to grab 2 cups of water (not a ton of water available on course + a day that was proving to be shockingly Boston-esque = drink as much as you can, when you can). Speaking of Boston, as I was coming up to the stop I heard, "hey, Dave!" It was Dave McGillvray, Boston marathon race director! I couldn't be too mad about being passed by him in a race, hah (and as it would turn out, I apparently made the pass back later on!). Prior to this mile we had pretty much been in the forest, but now there would occasionally be breaks through the trees where you could see the whole, stunning, sweeping wilderness of the Presidentials spread out in front of you. It was absolutely stunning. I couldn't believe how hard I was working for being 2.25 miles into a race, but despite that I felt a well of pure joy rising up through me as I looked out at the mountains. I was here, in my favorite place in the world, DOING one of my favorite things in the world - what could be more wonderful than that? I feel like the pain was dulled immensely by how awestruck I was to actually be doing this thing I was doing.  Taylor and I continued to hold a fairly consistent pace, taking fairly brief walking breaks and jogging in between. I wouldn't say I was feeling outstanding, but I was feeling better than I had felt during mile 2 - the combination of slightly less horrible grades, views, running with Taylor, and taking some walk breaks all were feeling like good things at this point in time. We hit the halfway point around 52 minutes and that was definitely a morale boost - we were well under 2 hour pace, feeling reasonably good, and making our way up through the pack. Things were going well. Taylor broke out a Gu and offered some to me - I had stupidly left my Gu in my bag which had already been transported to the summit. But that's what friends are for! We also high fived some random hikers which I absolutely loved. I actually think I might have smiled more in this race than in any other I've run just because of small moments like that.

During mile 4 we broke out above treeline, which was both a blessing due to being treated to the most stunning views I've ever seen, and a curse because the sun was absolutely relentless. Again, though, I was distracted from feeling hot and dehydrated by the awe inspiring views. I couldn't stop looking around and just grinning in disbelief at what was happening. Even as my body continued asking me what in the actual hell I was doing, my mind was telling me how lucky I was on repeat. Around this time Taylor and I picked up another girl around our age who ran for Cambridge Running Club, and we did a little recruiting right there on the mountain! She was asking if we had any mid-distance runners (or any non marathoners), which we do - apparently a couple of her teammates are not marathoners and are looking for more people to train with. See, Tom, we're ALWAYS recruiting! Hah. At some point in this section, if I remember right, we made a left turn onto the dirt part of the road. This is a stretch from mile 4-5 that I had read was rough, because you're just running on this long, straight incline on the shoulder of the mountain and all you can see when you look ahead is MORE uphill - it can be mentally taxing. But I was for some reason feeling really good at this point, a feeling which was compounded when I saw a guy with a camera standing in front of me. I turned on the gas and probably expended way too much energy trying  to run up to this photographer, but whatever - I think in a race like this, you've gotta embrace the good times when they come and go after it during them. A few minutes later I turned around and realized I'd completely lost Taylor. I was a little bit sad but knew she could fend for herself. I also found a very strange competitive feeling welling up inside of me - it's odd to start feeling competitive when you're walk/shuffling 14 minute miles up a 12-16% incline and you've been doing so for over an hour, but there it was. I'm not sure if it was the fact that literally EVERYONE around me was walking or the fact that finding myself ahead of my teammate wasn't something I could have possibly foreseen happening, but I was struck with an urge to figure out how to get through the rest of this race doing my absolute best.

Now at this stage in the game, after climbing like 3000 ft, walking was clearly an essential component of this plan. So I somewhat randomly decided on a system (I actually think I had read it in a race report that I read as I attempted to prepare for this race) that I would stick with for the most part for the remainder of the race: 100 steps walking (counting to 50 on the R), 100 steps running (counting to 50 on the R). Rinse, repeat. Count to 50, count to 50 again. Then do it again. Then do it again. The counting gave my brain something to focus on besides WHY ARE WE STILL GOING UPHILL and the timing was perfect - by the end of the running piece, I would just be starting to lose control of my breathing; by the end of the walking piece I would just about feel like I had things back under control. Using this system, I also found myself passing a TON of people - because everyone was walking, every time I started to run I would open up a gap on a few more people. It was cool, and passing people only stoked the competitive fire further. I almost had to laugh to myself - here I am, someone who literally hates running hills, running up a damn mountain and calling upon myself to pass people. Who would have thought!

Quite possibly one of my favorite photos of myself I have ever seen. It's pretty much dumb luck that it turned out this way (or lets be honest, I probably saw the photographer and decided to extend my running time), but looking at myself running strong in the front of 4 men who are walking kind of makes me smile.

At some point, there was a stretch of about 100 meters that ALMOST looked like it was flat, and I found myself actually being able to stride out a little bit...and it felt SUPER awkward! I felt like a baby deer who doesn't know what to do with its legs as 9 minute pace suddenly felt like a massive burst of speed. In looking at my Strava data I find that this brief stretch was actually about 6-7% incline...I think the fact that running up a 7% incline feels flat in a race of this nature tells you a lot about its ridiculous. There was also a lone guy cheering and waving a cowbell up there, and when you're basically in the wilderness every spectator counts! I actually broke my own rules and did a longer run segment here because the "flat" felt so good, however, I found myself paying for it shortly thereafter when the relentless 12+% incline returned and I had a really tough time getting my heart rate/breathing back in hand, so had to walk for longer than I planned to afterward. But there's something about being in a race where literally every single person as far as your eye can see is walking that makes you feel a little less bad about walking...let it also be known that when I was walking it was not a leisurely was 100% power hike, baby. I began to become familiar with some people, specifically women, around me. All of them seemed to be using slightly different strategies - there was a CMS woman in knee socks who was actually RUNNING the majority of the time, a girl in a bun who seemed to be on a similar walk strategy as I was, and a girl with a neon green sports bra who I kept leapfrogging with. In general, I was continuing to pass people, and while things were definitely HARD, and I was getting hot, I wasn't in total death march mode just yet.

I was greeted by a miraculous sight around the 6 mile marker of a glorious water stop! I had somehow been under the impression that there were no water stops after halfway, when in fact there is one, just one, and it is amazing. Someone had music playing that had do do with climbing or getting high or something, and the volunteers who were from Heartbreak Hill Running Club in Boston went absolutely NUTS when they saw my GBTC jersey. All of the zen moments throughout this race were really something special, but it's nice to have some other humans cheering you on a little bit too. 2 cups of water later, with some thrown on my face, I felt rejuvenated! Not necessarily rejuvenated enough to run more than I was already, but enough to know with 100% certainty that I was finishing this race and I was doing it in decent time. We had now come around another switchback and gained views on the other side of the mountain, and again: absolutely stunning. It's impossible for me to describe the Whites to someone who's never been there - pictures don't even really do it justice. I know people say the same thing about any mountain range, but there's something about these mountains - small in the grand scheme of peaks, and almost seeming like they don't quite belong in the New England landscape - that just takes my breath away every time. And thousands of feet up, literally above the clouds, I felt like I was conquering them. I feel like as I'm writing this I'm really focusing on the mental piece of the race as opposed to the physical, and don't get me wrong: the physical part was one of the most insanely difficult things I've ever done. But mentally I was so engaged and present that I couldn't help but feeling anything but positive about the moment I was in. I felt completely alive.

At around the 10K point came what I think was the hardest moment of the race for me: we went left around a switchback and immediately the grade practically doubled. What almost made it worse was that you could see it coming - if you looked to the left as you ran up to it, you could see people's feet at this insane grade just above you. For me, the choice was fairly obvious: this was not a runnable segment. And I had to laugh when I found myself power walking up the incline with a guy in his 40s or 50s running next to me....and I was actually passing him! More proof of the utter ridiculousness of this race. I told myself that it couldn't stay this steep, not forever, and focused on trying to find my "friends" from the last couple of miles. I had either passed girl with the bun or she had passed me, but I was still going back and forth with neon bra and had closed the gap on tall socks. I looked at my watch and I realized: one more mile. Just one! One more mile and you've run up Mount Washington! I think that was the moment when some small voice in the back of my brain said "aw, I don't want this to be over...I'm having so much fun!" Yup.

The last mile was a crazy blur of trying to run as fast as possible when I was running, attempting to keep my breathing under control, seeing how many people I could pass, feeling like my legs were turning into jello, and continuing to marvel at the glorious beauty around me. At some point I came up on the tall sock CMS woman and we sort of did the leapfrog thing for awhile. My brain felt like it had melted; I couldn't comprehend much besides continuing to put one foot in front of the other. At some point I had hit a 50 step walk break, and so I began to walk. Tall socks ran up beside me and said something to the effect of "uh uh, I've seen you running strong and have been pacing off you this whole time, you got this!" So I ran for a little bit, but again found myself lacking any sort of strength. But then I looked at my Garmin, and the mileage said 7.4, and I suddenly realized, holy shit, this is it, this is the end, you're going to do it. At that moment I decided I was running it in, and so I took off running again. Tall socks gave me another word of encouragement as I passed her, something to the effect of "you got this". There were crowds, the first real crowds I'd seen all day. I heard cowbells and cheers and saw hikers paused with their hiking poles, taking in the spectacle. Up and around the corner; I could see where people were going and I knew I was almost to The Wall. I had promised myself before the race that if nothing else I was going to TRY to run up the 22-24% grade section at the end of this race...and did I ever try...butttt after about 3 steps my legs took a hard pass on that option and so it was hands on knees hiking to the top of the slope. I actually giggled as I went up - and I thought I was going to run up this? LOLOLOLOL. But finally at the top of the Wall things evened out slightly, and there in front of me was the finish! I was so muddled at this point that I found myself behind a woman and a guy, and the only thought I could think of was, "huh, maybe I should pass them so I can get a good finish line photo". I mean, WHAT?! Like, you know self, not so you can BEAT them or so you can finish faster, but for the photo? Just goes to show that my brain wasn't in a super functional place at that point. But kick it in I did, and pass them I did, and just like that I was over the line in 1:46:45, extremely close to my (completely arbitrary) A goal of 1:45 and smashing my B goal of 2 hours. I was ecstatic! I really thought I'd cry when I crossed the line but I didn't - I was just thrilled to be done and thrilled to have done it.

I collected my fleece blanket, which was highly unnecessary today - it was in the 70s, sunny, and completely calm at the summit which is actually REALLY bizarre weather for the summit of Mount Washington in June! I made my way back over some rocks just in time to cheer for Taylor as she came through the finish, and we didn't have longer to wait after that before Joy came through. We were all thrilled and set about basking in the glow of our accomplishment on the summit - all 3 of us agreed that we had really loved the experience and would 100% do it again...a much different attitude than we'd had that morning! I got ridiculously sunburnt, did not put on any of my cold weather gear, and absolutely loved my life.

After an hour or so the call went out that it was time to start heading down the mountain, and it was pretty incredible to experience the road that we had just run up on the way down. We couldn't stop turning to each other and just saying "I can't believe we just did that. Can you believe we just did that?" We also got to see 97 year old George Etzweiler, who is pretty much a living legend, making his way up towards the finish line. 97 YEARS OLD and the man is doing mountain races. I think he is probably the coolest person I've ever gotten to personally witness doing something, and I can only aspire to live my life that way - do what you love or what challenges you, for absolutely as long as you can.

We got back to the bottom and enjoyed perhaps one of the coolest post race spreads I've ever had - a full turkey dinner with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, the works. It never would have occurred to me that this would be something I'd want after a race but it tasted AMAZING. In the future, however, I'd be more likely to BYOB, like many of the clubs were doing - we apparently missed that memo, but we'll chalk it up to a first timer's mistake. (Yes, if you haven't gotten the gist by now...I can't wait to do this again). We regaled Andrew with tales from the mountain and again just soaked in that wonderful feeling that is doing something hard, maybe a little crazy, and wonderful.

Also thankful for this man of the mountains who hung out at the bottom AND THEN RAN HIS FIRST EVER 5 MILE RACE THE NEXT DAY! 

There's a feeling I get when I've done something that feels really special to me. I got it the first time I ran a half marathon, the first time I ran a marathon. I didn't get it the first time I ran Boston (because I was being a dumb baby about running a bad time) or even the second (because it was an inferno) but I think I finally got it about Boston on the third go round. And I got that feeling about Mount Washington. When people asked me how the race went, the first thing out of my mouth is "I LOVED IT!" And I can't wait to do it, and maybe other races like it, again. Because it was about being mentally and physically strong, tough, and committed, but also about soaking in the view, high fiving hikers, and knowing when you reached the top that you were somewhere that most people don't get to on their own two legs in any capacity, let alone via running. It was the type of day I want to live every day, and I just can't wait to do it again.

Mount Washington Road Race
282/1049 OA, 61/379 W, 16/50 F30-34 (results based on gun time; I was ~45 seconds back at the start and my chip time is ~3 places forward in the OA and women's categories, 1 place forward in AG. Not too shabby for not being a mountain runner!)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Run Through The Pines Half Marathon Race Report

This morning I ran a half marathon, not typically what I do 3 weeks after a marathon (though I've done something very similar once before), but the race had been on my radar for a few months, I mainly just wanted to ease back into running double digits and have some fun with friends. I didn't pull the trigger until after Boston because I wanted to have the option of jumping in another full that weekend if I completely failed at Boston - thankfully, that didn't need to happen. But after a randomly amazing run last week I decided to pull the trigger and do this race - why not, right?

This was the first year the race was held and it didn't show - everything was run incredibly smoothly and professionally. The race runs entirely through Myles Standish State Forest, so there are lots of pine trees (as advertised!) and a very quiet, pretty course. There was a 5K as well as the half, which had just under 400 finishers - a perfect size for a race in my opinion. After spending yesterday at a Pups and Pints event which quickly escalated to full scale day drinking with friends, combined with the fact that running has been pretty low key since Boston, I was not particularly confident in my ability to race a half. But the great thing was, I didn't really care! I just wanted to have a nice long run through the forest, probably faster than I would do it on my own, get a t-shirt, and enjoy the rest of my day. I decided that my goal would be at least to run faster than I ran the half split at Boston - a 1:42, so not exactly a tall order. Because of my limited confidence, and the fact that I got a really cool New Balance singlet at the Boston expo and wanted to wear it at least once to race in, I decided to go incognito and not represent GBTC. Of course, hilariously, as Joy and I were warming up who do we find was at the race but one of our teammates, doing the race announcements/commentary. much for no one knowing we did this race today, hah. I had said on the way down that I hoped there weren't like a zillion fast women in the race, but I also hoped that I wasn't in a situation to win the thing or something ridiculous, "because then I'll have to try". As we stood at the line with zero women in front of us, I became a little concerned that it was going to be the latter. My teammate sent us off on our "13.1 mile adventure", and we were off without further ado.

Immediately I found myself running completely alone and as first place woman, and I almost burst out laughing. I'm LEADING a half marathon? Where are we, the twilight zone? I couldn't imagine that such a silly thing was going to last, but the end result was that I ran my first mile far faster than I should have. Whoops. I could absolutely feel that this was not going to be sustainable and dialed it back a bit. The eventual first place woman came up behind me and we talked for a little bit about Boston, past marathons, etc - quite frankly I was already working way too hard to be chit chatting about BQ times so I let her go off into the distance. The course can be summed up in two words: rolling hills. That's it. Imagine 13.1 miles of going up and down, up and down, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, but pretty much always being on some sort of incline or decline. Those types of courses really wear me down when I'm running with a goal in mind, but the lovely thing about it today was that I really didn't care, and so I adopted a "just do whatever feels good" mindset. Now with the pressure of winning off, I actually locked into a very nice groove that basically took me through the rest of the race. I was focusing on even effort and getting my breathing back under control after the uphills, and it really went quite well. Once I dialed back after the insane first mile, I was relatively consistent right around 7:20 with a couple of outliers through the remainder of the race.

So spiky. So many hills. Little hills, for the most part, but hills all the same. 

Miles 3-4 were on this very open road, the type of road where you can see ALL the hills rolling ahead of you, and also the type of road where you can get a very unpleasant headwind, which was the case today. I did get my first chance to fulfill a secondary (and utterly lame) goal of "get some good race photos" right around mile 3. I think I did pretty well...

As an aside, free race photos are one of my favorite race perks. These are also a little bit amusing though because in the last one in particular, you can TOTALLY tell I'm thinking about my form because I'm running in front of a camera. Whatever works, right?

The course continued out, more rolling hills, nothing too exciting going on. I kept thinking that I had slowed down significantly only to find that I was actually running a fairly even pace. Miles with significantly more uphill would occasionally dip into the 7:3x range, miles with a little more on the downhill end would drop to 7:1x, but everything pretty much stuck right around 7:20, and it felt just fine. I felt like I was working the perfect amount for what I intended to do today. By mile 5 or 6 things had strung out pretty significantly and I was sitting in second place for women with a solid buffer on all sides in terms of anyone I could pass or be passed by. The rolling hills continued. At mile 6 we got another photo op...
Not quite as good, but I'll take it haha.

After the 10K split we ran around a pond and things got a little harder for awhile; the hills were really just starting to be a grind and there were a couple of my least favorite type of hill, the ones that go up and around the corner. But after making it around the pond we did a little lollipop back the way we'd come, and so were running past everyone still running out. I suppose it must have been because I was fairly far up in the front of the race in general (I would come in 13th overall) and because I was second woman, but as I was running by all of these people, running their own race, there were SO many people cheering for me! It was really quite cool to have these random strangers who are ALSO working hard urging you on, and it gave me a surprisingly large boost. Runners! They're the greatest! We turned out of the lollipop and headed around another pond - pretty much the same scenario, more curving up hills, and my legs were getting tired, but my pace was still holding steady. We made it back onto the main road just after mile 9, I grabbed a Gu from the aid station (the aid stations were really wonderful - again, I suppose perks of being in the front of the pack in a fairly strung out race, but it was kind of cool having like 7 people looking at you ready to give you what you want) which helped perk me up a little bit. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the hills and the sun - the temperature was pretty decent at right around 60, but I was warm enough to the point that I threw some water on my head in the second half...further proof of what qualifies as "heat" in my body's opinion.  

We were back on the long bacon strip of a road. I had been closing in on this guy in a gray shirt for a few miles now - I would close the gap on the uphills, he'd open it back on the downhills, but the lead was slowly shrinking. I was now close enough to read his shirt and realized it was a Madison Marathon shirt - Wisconsin connection! I was trying to decide whether to be that obnoxious person who I myself hate and start a conversation at mile 10 of a race when he said something like "oh, I've been wondering which of these hills you're going to pass me on". Conversation gates opened, I asked him if he was from Wisconsin and turns out he wasn't but had lived there for several years. We reminisced on how the hills in Wisconsin are much smaller than in New England, but that the wind was the same, hah. I decided I was going to stick with my new friend and for the remainder of the race we continued the pattern - I'd fall back a little bit, then I'd return. He was very friendly but not obnoxiously chatty, and it was actually pretty fun. At one point I said something like "ugh, I'm so over these hills" and he replied "oh, yeah, see my problem is that I'm NOT over them yet!" Touche haha. We passed a guy in a blue shirt who we'd been gaining on for awhile, and then it was finally almost time to be done. I think I finally understand why pacers are a useful thing, because I guarantee I would have slowed down in this stretch if I hadn't been running with this guy. I was dreading the fact that there had been a pretty solid downhill at the beginning, meaning a nice uphill to finish the race, but other than that I was pleased that I'd just been able to keep plugging away and run a reasonable pace, particularly given the hills. It was also hard to argue about going top 3, something that pretty rarely happens to me! 

With a little under a mile to go, we made a turn or something, and I looked back and suddenly I could SEE this teal shirt that I knew did not belong to a man. Shit! I was going to be so angry if I ran the whole race in 2nd only to be passed in the last mile, but I honestly wasn't sure how much I had left to push it up another uphill. For a second I thought to myself "eh, maybe it would be fine to get 3rd and still be top 3". But the better part of my brain shut that down, and of course, now I was going to have to try. With half a mile to go I was literally imagining this girl breathing down my neck, passing me at any second, and I did the only thing that I could - I ran HARD. My new friend said something like "now's the time to make your move" as I passed him, and I'll tell you, maybe this says a lot for what a cowardly racer I am, but I have not gone this deep in the well at the end of the race in a long time. Finishing Boston was hard in a different way - all leg fatigue - but this, I don't even know. I was like wheeze breathing like a fire engine, rapidly approaching the puke threshold...yeah. I knew that if I got passed at this point that I didn't have a next gear to go to, so I had better get the hell to the finish line. And I did, finally, finishing in just over 1:36. The girl who I thought was right on my shoulder finished about a minute back...apparently, my kick worked! 

I actually find it sort of amusing that pretty much whenever I run a half "out of shape" or in some other suboptimal condition, I run a 1:36. I guess I can't really complain too much about my "not fit" time being something a lot of people would die to run, something I myself would have died to run if we flash back 5 years or so.  I had a great time racing today - I felt like I challenged myself to think differently about how I felt or how I perceived the course (I also challenged myself to run tangents and per my GPS watch I did a GREAT job), didn't worry too much about pace or time knowing that neither was going to be optimal, and just honestly and genuinely enjoyed the feeling of being out there, trying hard, pushing myself, and racing for place. It was great! While the course was certainly not easy, it was beautiful, and overall a delightful race that I'd definitely return to again. They are going to be mailing awards, so I'm curious to see what I get for being 2nd - honestly, just the accomplishment of that is pretty solid!

Also something I can't argue about: wandering around Plymouth going to wine tastings and taking photos with the artistic lobsters scattered around town. This is why I love my running friends....we appreciate the simple, hilarious pleasures in life. 
Fruit wines...not usually my jam, but these were pretty delicious. I bought a bottle of the cranberry which I think is going to make some excellent sangria...also, they had delicious jams! 

We are 100% normal people

All in all, a really nice day, a fun race, a solid effort - a success! This is what I love so much about racing in the summer/not in marathon training...the pressure is off and it's just purely FUN - which sometimes for me is actually when the best things happen!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"I've felt better, but I've sure felt worse": Boston 2017

The short version: I was granted the delightful opportunity to run yet another hot, sunny Boston, this year with the second highest temps I've ever run a marathon in - in the 70s at the start and topping out at 75. I did not quite achieve my weather revised goal of 3:25, nor did I break 3:30, but I held on in some sort of way and managed to finish in 3:30:21, my 2nd fastest Boston, 5th fastest marathon, and requalifying me for next year. I'm sort of neutral on this race - I'm trying to feel good about it because in the grand scheme of people I know who ran this year I actually came out reasonably well, and I think that I only managed to be somewhat successful because I really ran a smart race and stuck to my plan. Buuuut on the flip side I'm still a bit frustrated with how much I fell apart near the end (even if a lot of it was pretty obviously heat related), and it's a bit annoying to have a great training cycle and then have to be like "yay, 15 minutes slower than the goal I trained for!" But I'm learning that with the unpredictablity of the weather, maybe Boston is better as a fun race versus a true go for broke goal race. Anyway, we all know I write the longest and most meandering race reports around, so if you're in the mood to hear all of the random things that went through my head as I ran from Hopkinton to Boston for the 6th on!

The long version:
The weather forecast in the week before the race basically just got worse and worse, and if you read my last post you know that I was essentially prepared for doomsday. Of course, there's a little spark in all of us that holds out hope that the meteorologists were TOTALLY wrong, that the cold front is going to show up a day early, or whatever, but alas. When you're able to walk the dog at 9 pm the night before a marathon in shorts and a t-shirt, well, lets just say it's not exactly going to be ideal. I think I did a pretty good job of keeping my chill the day before the race; I went for a quick shakeout in the morning followed by an incredible brunch with my dad and his wife and Menotomy Grill. Brunch also featured a terrifying Easter bunny, so that was at least amusing. The rest of the day was mostly spent aimlessly surfing the internet, periodically reading coach Tom's history of the Boston Marathon book, and just resting the legs. Andrew came over and after making dinner we spent the majority of our time attempting to french braid my hair...for the first time ever hahaha. After about half an hour of work we were pretty successful!

Hi, my name is Audrey, I'm almost 30, and this is the first time I've ever done a french braid. And I needed help from my boyfriend to do it. Wasn't quite what I was hoping for (I wanted the braid to kind of come down and across the front) but I actually ended up really liking this - most importantly, it stayed in place when I dumped 1000 cups of water on my head! 

I then settled in to have my traditional pre-race beer (Prairie Hop, when I can only have one beer I make it good) and watch Miracle with Andrew. Every year for the past 3 years one of the Hunger Games movies has come out somewhere near the marathon and that's what I've ended up watching the night before...alas, that series is now complete, so I had to find something new and an inspirational sports movie where the underdog wins did the trick. It was nice having Andrew's calming influence and to be honest as the night unfolded, I never really felt super nervous.

Raceday dawned as it always does, early, and with the sounds of Thunderstruck blasting out of my phone. It's been awhile since Andrew actually partook in a race morning with me and while I'm not sure he enjoyed it nearly as much as I did, it was really nice having him there. I had said the night before that I wasn't nervous and truth be told I never really got nervous - I could tell that I was nervous/excited just because of the giddy way I was feeling and acting, but I never got that "holy shit, you're doing a MARATHON" nerves. I suppose it makes sense that giving up on going for a PR would change your mental status at the start of the race, but I have to say it didn't suck not feeling like I was going to jump out of my own skin for being so nervous. We hit Starbucks and headed to the T, where there was a guy playing a snazzy little song on the banjo and I amused myself by bouncing up and down and dancing awkwardly to the music. See? Nervous/excited.

I bid Andrew farewell and headed the rest of the way to bag drop, where I met up with my teammates and had the opportunity to show off my ridiculous throwaway outfit. I think this shirt may take the cake for absurd things I've been able to find at Goodwill - I thought it would be really hard to top my golfer sweater from last year, but this shirt was just incredible. Ridiculous throwaway gear is one of my favorite Boston traditions that I've developed over the past few years; I think it really takes the edge off in the morning to do something silly when you know what's underneath is totally serious.

We quickly found the rest of our teammates and headed to the buses - as always, this process was like a well oiled machine and we quickly found the end of the porta potties with no lines (hilarious announcement: "Runners, the porta potties at the other end of the common have NO LINES. You're about to run 26.2 miles, isn't it worth it to walk 200 extra feet for a gently used porta potty?") and then just as quickly got onto a bus. I spent the ride to Hopkinton jabbering aimlessly with Joy, mostly about strategy for the day (going out SLOW, not even trying to PR, etc) and the delights of past Boston experiences. I had really left no stone unturned in this attempt to stay ahead of the heat, and so I had brought a couple of frozen water bottles with me to try to cool off my hands and neck before starting - not sure how well that actually worked, but I had cold water to sip on the bus so I wasn't complaining. The bus ride was generally uneventful. Apparently one of the guys on our team was on a bus that got LOST on the way to Hopkinton and they somehow managed to get dropped off right next to the start and didn't even make it to the village. I've never heard of that happening before but thankfully that was not the case with our bus. As we pulled into Hopkinton we passed some beautiful homes and at one point this guy sitting on the porch of his gorgeous house drinking coffee looked at the bus and just gave a big thumbs up. Thumbs up to YOU, sir, with your nice house and your coffee and your not having to run a marathon on this 75 degree day, is what I was thinking hahaha. The athlete's village was pretty much the usual - get in the porta potty line, deal with that, and then find a shady spot to sit. We all wrote our names on our bibs and like last year, Dana and I chose to write a word for the race on our arms. Last year I chose grateful, this year it was brave - that's my theme for the year, and I knew that to hold on when the weather was against me, I was going to have to be at least a little bit brave.

Time seems to both slow down and speed up when you're sitting in the athlete's village waiting to be called; I felt like I was sitting there for hours and for 30 seconds simultaneously. But soon enough they were calling for wave 2, and it was time. The walk to the starting line is always one of my favorite parts of this race, although for whatever reason it seemed like there were fewer random people in their yards wishing the runners good luck. There were, however, a couple of decently drunk groups of people as you got closer to the start, which always makes me giggle. We cut over to the porta potties before the start and as I was wandering to the back of the block (the shortest lines are there), Robin, who I've "known" through DailyMile and Strava for a few years now but have never actually met, popped out of a porta potty right in front of me! It was one of those hilarious serendipity moments and we quickly said hi before moving on. But really, what are the odds? Business attended to, we headed up and into the corrals. Again, here, time seems to move at both the fastest and slowest pace possible at the same time as you make your way into the corrals and wait to begin. I fixed my sock and did a quick quad stretch and the next thing I knew I was hearing "30 seconds to the start, this will be the last announcement". I didn't have time to think or get nervous or process anything besides oh, how I love being here and then the gun sounded.

My goal for the opening stages of the race was to a) go out SLOW, and b) have a lot of fun. With my weather-adjusted goal of 3:25 honestly I probably could have stood to go out even a little slower than I did, but you know how it goes with that drop off the cliff out of Hopkinton combined with the intoxicating combination of nerves and excitement. As I think has been the case almost every time I've run this race, I grinned through the entire first mile. I always hang out on the left side of the road because it's less congested and if I don't pick a side I'll just go weaving all over, and that puts me in prime position to high five EVERYONE who's offering a hand at the beginning of the race. Those first miles are just utterly electric.  I did my best to keep my chill and in looking at my splits I did an acceptable job - 7:39, 7:44, 7:40 for the first 3 miles. I remember thinking that I knew I had said 7:45s and just kind of shrugging internally, like, all I can do here is dial it back and relax, I'm not actively TRYING to gun it here. One of my teammates passed me in this stretch, as did Robin, and I watched them go. Be smart, Zaferos. Be smart. I think I made it about 2 miles before I started to feel warm - not uncomfortably warm yet, but unfortunately the "partly cloudy" forecast didn't seem to make its way into the picture until later in the afternoon, and for me the majority of the race was run in the blazing sun which was really the killer. I actually started dumping water over my head as early as the first water stop. I knew if there was any hope of me surviving this race in reasonable fashion, I had to do EVERYTHING that I possibly could to stay cool and hydrated and electrolyte balanced - not the easiest task when it's 75 and you're about to run for over 3 hours. But I had my plan. I was thinking on the bus about what a cognitive race the marathon is, and I think that might be one reason why I love it so much. You imagine the 27,000 people out there who are running this race, and each and every one of them is having to make a thousand little choices along the way. Drink, speed up, slow down, walk, take a gu, don't take a gu, change pace, high five that kid, surge, go out fast, go out could take 10 people who are theoretically physically capable of running the same times, and they might make different choices based on their own perceptions or goals or thoughts, and come out completely differently. I kind of loved this little image of this sea of runners, each with their own thoughts and plans and responses to what was happening. I also wanted, if nothing else, for it NOT to be my brain that was what did me in. And so, I stuck to the plan.

Ashland passes so quickly and so early in the race that it's easy to forget about. I missed my 4 mile split, which turned out to be my fastest of the race, but I did keep forcing myself to dial it down a bit - I've never done this before and it is MUCH easier said than done, particularly in a race that really turns on the excitement like Boston. In Ashland someone was blasting Sweet Caroline, and I was excited because I remember in some previous year that when someone was blasting it everyone sang along with the "bah bah bah's" and whatnot and it was really fun and cool. This year? NADA! Oh well.

We hit Framingham, and man, I went through a phase in the past where I was really anti-Framingham, but you know what, this year? I LOVED FRAMINGHAM. Framingham was the section of the race where I felt like my plan was working and that maybe everything was going to be OK. I remember coming up a hill in the first section of the city and sort of being like "hmm, I don't feel AMAZING", but then right after that getting some water and dumping some on my head and instantly feeling better. I actually sped up a little bit here which I think was mainly due to a combination of surprise and excitement that I didn't feel like total shit yet. I mean, yes, I was running slower than I knew I was capable of, and yes, I had some concerns about the fact that the heat sure wasn't going to get any BETTER, but hey, right at this moment I was here, and I was feeling OK, and that was just enough for now. And so I had a grand old time in Framingham. I high fived and waved at drunk people, smiled my face off, grinned at myself in the window of the lamp store at mile 7.4, and generally enjoyed my life. I think I knew there was no way this feeling was gonna last, and damn it, I was going to enjoy it while it was here. Also of note, I had a random line from a Beyonce song in my head for about 4 miles in this area. 'Yonce all on this mouth like like like liquor. Over and over and over. OOOOK, thank you brain.

When I got to mile 8 and wasn't dead, I pretty much internally did a fist pump because that was the point last year where I fell off the wagon at an absurdly high speed. Mile 8! It was like an achievement badge: "You made it past the place where you died last year! GREAT WORK!" Unfortunately, while not yet dead, I was starting to feel decidedly less stellar as I made my way into Natick. It wasn't a specific feeling of badness, more of just a generalized unease and a sort of "something's not right here". I began to have the suspicion that my pipe dream of holding 7:45s and running a 3:23 (which even at the time I knew probably wouldn't happen in that weather, but c'mon, your brain just kind of goes off on it's own adventures while you're running a marathon) was probably not going to happen. "But that's fine!" I told myself, "you can run 8 minute miles the rest of the way and STILL go under 3:30! Bam!". (possible foreshadowing....) During miles 8-9, which I always think of as "between" Framingham and Natick but I actually think they're all in Natick, I was able to get a cup of ice from some kid which I proceeded to shove fully into my bra. It was GLORIOUS. I think as I'm writing this now, a week later, my brain has blocked out how hot I actually was for the duration of this race, but I was, and having ice come in contact with my body for as long as possible seemed like an incredible idea. There was also a guy along here somewhere with a sign with the score of the Superbowl in the 3rd quarter (Falcons 28, Pats 3 - and we all know the ending to that story). I don't even like the Patriots but I thought it was hilarious, and also sort of a perfect inspirational sign - like "hey, you might be down for the count now, but anything's possible!"

Natick, for whatever reason, seems to be a place where I have trouble. The 10 mile mark of a marathon is sort of an odd place - it's yay you've run 10 miles! But also you have to run 16 if you're not feeling great here, well....good luck. I prefer to hit the 10 mile mark feeling delightful and like a prancing pony, but alas that was not the case today. Again, I really wouldn't say I felt BAD yet....I just didn't really feel good either. I certainly didn't feel the way you want to feel at mile 10 if you know you're having a good day. It was somewhere around this point that I came up upon a teammate who is definitely faster than me. My first thought was mainly confusion - I knew she had started behind me because she got a bib through the club, but, uh, what was she doing anywhere near me? She started walking for a bit and I pulled up next to her - she started running again and we ran together for a little bit - she wasn't feeling great, and said she kind of felt lightheaded. Aha - that was the weirdness I couldn't quite figure out - it was some kind of lightheadedness! Well, that's not good. I don't get lightheaded from effort; if that's happening it's either heat, hydration, sugar, salt, or some combination of the 4. As I said to my teammate at the time - "I just wish I could figure out what I needed to make myself feel BETTER". I decided to kill several birds with one stone and take my salted watermelon Gu (which I had planned for this mile anyway) along with 2 cups of water to my usual one, and one on my head. The strategy of throwing everything at myself and hoping something would stick was actually surprisingly helpful for the next couple of miles. The lightheadedness diminished and while I still didn't feel good, I felt somewhat better. I did go down a little bit of a negativity rabbit hole in Natick; the fact that I was running a pace so much slower than my goal pace and STILL not feeling great was quite frustrating, and I wasn't so nice to myself in my assessment of my performance so far. I had slowed down a bit but was still hanging out in the 7:50s, which at that point was completely acceptable to me. I was getting hot, and it was only getting hotter, and as I said before I was totally OK with running 8:00s and riding it home.  Problem was, based on the paces I had trained at I STILL expected that pace to feel relatively easy, even with the weather, and I have to say, that just wasn't the case. I was pulled out of my own head by, of all things, Don't Stop Believin' coming blasting out of a speaker in front of someone's house. I love that song unashamedly. I always say that if I hear it in a race it has to be good luck. So when I heard it, I was like alright, you need to get your head back in the game because we still have plenty of miles to deal with out here.

We headed up out of Natick and into Wellesley. Again, there wasn't any one specific thing that was the problem. My legs felt like they had no pep to them, but I was getting up the hills just fine. I was definitely hot, but my face didn't feel like it was on fire just yet. I did the only thing available to me in the moment and just kept moving forward. I'm going to say something kind of blasphemous here - while I think the Wellesley scream tunnel is awesome, it never seems to give me the boost that I think it's going to. Maybe it's because I always hang out on the left side of the road and I'm removed from the screaming, I don't know. My main memory from that stretch this year is that at some point a wild cross breeze came out from the right hand side of the course, and somebody's sign flew out in front of me. It said "Kiss me I'm Irish", and all I could think was that if I somehow managed to trip over somebody's sign blowing in the road I wasn't going to be able to handle it. Thankfully the wind died, the sign remained flat, and I was able to run over it without issue, up and over the hill and into Wellesley.

I hit the half at 1:42, which I think might be almost the slowest I've ever gone through the half at Boston with the exception of 2012, which doesn't really count. As the race would turn out to be the second fastest I've run on the course this was CLEARLY a smart move, however, in the moment all I could do was laugh ruefully at the fact that I was having to run so much more slowly than planned. I definitely went into the Bad Place for awhile during Wellesley. My pace had slowed into the 7:55s with the occasional 8:0x popping up while my effort level didn't seem to be getting any lower, and the heat was only getting worse. I vividly remember thinking to myself a very mean thought, which was: "God, why do I even do marathons? I'm not even good at them! How could I ever think I could run a 3:15?" Clearly, the heat was beginning to fry my brain. Around this time, my friend Dana came rolling by me looking great. She pulled up alongside and asked how I was doing. "I'm dying", I replied. This, I think, was a bit of an exaggeration. I was certainly not feeling OUTSTANDING by any means, certainly not in a place to go running off with her, although I did try for a couple of minutes. But I was still moving forward at a reasonable pace, nothing was particularly hurting, and I was nowhere near the cave of darkness I found myself in in Wellesley last year. I'll make the nerdiest comparison ever - in Final Fantasy 12 there's a part of the game where these robot spiders are sucking the power out of this mine, and you have to go and kill them before they can do it. If too many of them start draining at once and you can't kill them all, the overall level of power will go down because they're draining faster than you're killing them. That's basically a perfect analogy for how I felt during this race. At the beginning of the race, I could kill off the beasts with more water, dumping water on my head, grabbing ice from a spectator, taking electrolytes, etc at a pace that put me ahead of the constant suck of heat and dehydration. But as time went on, the power drain came faster and faster and there was nothing I could do to keep myself fully ahead of the curve - I knew at some point I was going to be overpowered, it was just a matter of when.

I basically put my head down and attempted to get through it. I leapfrogged back and forth with my teammate who I had seen earlier a few times; we'd run together, she'd walk and I'd move ahead, she'd come back up and pass me when she started running again, etc. At one point as we were running together I told her that I of course wasn't happy that she was having a bad race, but it made me feel just a little bit better to not be alone in my misery. When I think about Wellesley all I can envision is bright, bright sunshine. We had gotten a few moments of shade around the half but as soon as we got into the meat of Wellesley it was once again full on blazing, soul sucking sun. I no longer had the energy to even try to high five people or smile at the spectators, which is never a good sign. Somewhere right before the big downhill I did hear someone playing Sweet Caroline again and this time I was like, well, fuck it. I sang along with those bah bah bahs and those so good so good so goods giving zero cares about whether anyone else around joined me (they didn't which was disappointing). BUT WHATEVER WE'RE HAVING FUN RIGHT?! Oh, the lies I tell myself. Soon we were cruising down the large Wellesley downhill, which I really did my best to enjoy. I just sort of let myself fall down the hill and enjoyed the feeling of not really having to try for a couple of minutes. Time for the real fun to begin.

We headed up the first big hill over the highway, and my teammate popped up behind me one more time. She was holding a water bottle and offered some to me; I initially declined but then she told me it was cold, so I grabbed a couple of sips and it was like the nectar of the gods. I can't explain how good water tastes when you're running a hot marathon. You wouldn't believe that it's possible to crave water with every ounce of your being every 8-10 minutes but that was absolutely how I felt. She dropped back again, meanwhile I was forcing myself to attempt to run somewhat strongly over the hill. That strategy was OK. I thought back to last year when I literally almost started crying because I cramped up so badly right around this point, and said a little thank you to my body for continuing to hold it together at this time. Then I kind of zoned out for awhile. I feel like I was thinking really hard about something as we ran past the hospital and down towards the firehouse, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. It was probably something like "the sun is hot" or "stop weaving all over the road" or something completely meaningless. I do remember running through the gel alley or energy station or whatever you want to call it, and grumpily thinking "I don't WANT gel, I want more WATER!" I'm really my best self at mile 16 of a marathon hahaha. My wish was granted shortly after, when I saw an open fire hydrant on the right side of the road and immediately dashed over there. It was cold, powerful, soaking, and absolutely AMAZING. I couldn't have cared less that my shoes were now soaked along with the rest of me (the sun was so intense and the air was so dry that I'd be dry shortly thereafter anyway), in the moment it was absolutely the most wonderful thing I could imagine.

Now it was time for the real work to begin. Newton awaited, under a blazing sun, and a quick systems check told me that my body was not in any condition to run aggressively through the hills. So it was off to plan B - just get through it. I had been continuing with my aggressive hydration plan and sticking to my nutrition/salt plan, salt every 4-5 miles, and Gu every 5-6 miles, which meant I was taking some sort of electrolytes in every couple of miles. I had also been supplementing Gatorade whenever it felt like a good idea, and had been drinking and dumping water on my head at every single stop. This had all been enough to get me this far. But as I turned into Newton I could feel the balance starting to tip in favor of Mother Nature, and I was not looking forward to it. On the way up the first hill, I got overwhelmed with everything - so hot, so thirsty, my legs are so not into this, etc - so I allowed myself to walk for 10 seconds. Literally, I counted 10 steps, and I forced myself to start running again. This actually turned out to be a great strategy - in the past my heat induced walk breaks have turned into aimless meanderings until my brain finally turns back on enough higher functions to remind me that I'm supposed to be running. 10 seconds was long enough to give me what I needed in terms of Not Running For A Second, but not long enough to get me completely out of rhythm. It gave me a focus. I actually walked much less this year than I have almost every year I've run Boston (in only 5 of my 11 marathons thus far have I made it through without walking at all) and I think giving myself a strict timeline helped a lot with that.

An interlude for photos: In photo 1, you see me looking rather unhappy, but suddenly noticing that there's someone with a camera. In photo 2, you suddenly see me attempt to look like a human being and sort of kind of smile because I saw the camera. The sequence kind of cracks me up...this also is a great representation of how oppressive the damn sun was.

There's always a nuun station somewhere on the first hill, so I took some of that, and then shortly after that there was someone with FREEZE POPS! YESSSSSS. I was on the right side to grab one, but was thwarted again and again by another runner in front of me grabbing the next pop. I finally got one from the last person who was holding them, and guys, a disgusting blue tube of frozen sugar water has never tasted so good. This also makes my 4th Boston where it's been hot enough to want to obtain a freeze pop on the course so...that's just really great. Once I got up the first hill, I was pleasantly surprised to actually start feeling, dare I say it, a little bit better. Again, I was by no means feeling great, and I wasn't about to start throwing down 7:20s all of a sudden, but I think my hydration caught up and there was a lot of downhill, and I had seen that 8:24 split from the previous mile and not liked it so much, so I forced myself to get in some semblance of a groove and cruise as best I could. The thought that popped into my head as I was running was this: "I've felt better...but I've also felt worse". It turned into almost a little country song...imagine a guy with a southern twang singing I've felt betterrrr....but I've also felt worrrrrse and that's basically what was running through my head in Newton. Somewhere along here I also saw my friend Brenda, who burst into the most AMAZING dance which included a high kick when she saw me, and I couldn't help but throw up some jazz hands and laugh a little bit. Things were OK! I was doing OK! This was certainly not the race I'd been envisioning since January, but having a shot at a sub 3:30 at this point in time seemed like a pretty good deal. All I had to do was hold on.

Another amusing photo series. On the left, my sort of "oh, well, I know there's a camera here. There's always a damn camera here" smirk. On the right, my "oh why the hell not, let's try to look like we don't hate our lives here" photo. These photos are about 1000 times better than any photo from 2012, 2014, or 2016, so hey, at least I'm learning to LOOK good in hot weather marathons!

The crowds in the first part of Newton were fantastic, and Newton always seems to be the pace where the cheers for the GREATER BOSTON emblazoned on my chest seem to start to escalate. I actually did write my name on my bib this year and I definitely got a few "Go Audreys", but the funny thing is that I love hearing "GO GREATER BOSTON!" even more than I love hearing my own name. That's what Boston is for me. I'm not just myself - I'm representing my team and my home, and for the spectators on the sidelines I'm part of the home team. It's a pretty amazing feeling, and one of my personal favorite things about Boston. For awhile in Newton I was running near a Greater Lowell woman, and so you would get "YEAH GREATER LOWELL! YEAH GREATER BOSTON!" in quick succession. I loved it! I may not have had the energy to high five anyone anymore, but I definitely tried to give a smile or a wave to anyone who was rooting for me and my team. In addition there must have been some people running near me through this whole stretch who were from Sweden and/or Canada because I heard SO many cheers for "GO SWEDEN", or "CANADA" and at one point a group in the crowd even burst into singing "Oh Canada"...Andrew mentioned to me after that the Bruins were playing Ottawa in the playoffs in Boston that weekend, so it's possible that there were more Canadians than usual spectating the clue, but it did kind of give me a laugh in the moment.

We headed up Heartache, and another hilarious thing happened - suddently this girl next to me, under her breath but loud enough for me to hear, says "Oh, FUCK this FUCKING HILL".  It captured my sentiments perfectly. I said something to the effect of "Agreed!" but I think she had headphones in and didn't hear me. Still hilarious. I took another one of my 10 second walk breaks somewhere in the middle of this hill, and then carried on. Now, unfortunately, I started to feel the heat really take its toll. The thought of having to run up and over Heartbreak seemed like an impossible quest. I kept running because I knew that a group of patients and therapists from my work had come out to spectate somewhere around mile 20, and I wanted to try to look as strong as I could when I passed them. As it turned out, I was distracted by another glorious open fire hydrant, and made a beeline over to it. OF COURSE, the group happened to be standing just before or after the hydrant, and so in my ecstasy over being not hot for the first time in an hour, I missed seeing them. They saw me though, which is all that really matters (one of the patients commented after: "you know, I held that sign up for her for like 10 MINUTES, and she didn't even look at me!" What can you do hahaha).  It was almost hard to believe that I had made it past mile 20 without having a total meltdown. Only 1 really slow mile, and only a few miles in the 8:0x range! That seemed pretty good, under the circumstances. I continued to try to do math to figure out what could get me under 3:30. It was going to be close, I could tell, but the good news was I felt like I had a comfortable qualifier for next year pretty well wrapped up. That was definitely a good feeling to have at this particular moment, because things were about to get a bit ugly.

Heartbreak, typically, kind of had it's way with me. I had to take 2 of my 10 second walk breaks on the hill and I'll admit that at least one of them stretched out to 15 seconds. At this point there was really no question about what the problem was - my legs didn't even feel that bad, but I was SO hot and thirsty, and could tell my heart rate was through the roof and my effort level along with it. As I crested Heartbreak, I thought to myself with excitement no more hills! Yes! Unfortunately, hills would be the least of my worries over the next few miles. I was about to take a trip to trainwreck-town. The first signs of a problem were that on the big BC downhill, my quads just felt fried. I know, this is what they warn everyone about on this course! But honest to God I've NEVER had this experience before, and I've gone out fast, slow, and everywhere in between. I pretty much assumed that it was related to the heat, or even potentially some combination of the heat and my efforts to hold back on the downhills (trying to brake = more eccentric control = maybe even more quad fatigue? Based on a sample size of 1, seems like a possibility). I took my last gel at whatever the next water stop after BC was, and that was where shit really hit the fan. My body rejected that gel with all of it's power and the fact that I managed to not projectile vomit on a passerby is still a mystery to me. The last time I felt as nauseous as I did during the graveyard mile of this race was probably in the throes of some ridiculous hangover, certainly never while running. I had to cash in a couple more 10 second walk breaks to attempt to settle my stomach enough to keep running along. It's not like everything else was magical - my legs were toast and I was hot as hell, but the addition of nausea on top of the party really took things to a whole new level. Suffice it to say I did not enjoy my life in any way, shape, or form during the miles from BC to the turn at the reservoir.

Looking pretty much exactly how I felt. Just. Get. Me. To Boston.

Just before the turn, like a beacon of light, appeared a water station. For whatever reason I feel like the water stops between heartbreak and this point are the furthest apart of any point in the race, and of course when it's hot that's the point where I feel like I need an IV, so waiting any longer for water is not particularly helpful. I fell upon that water station like it was the last water I would ever see; I think I took 3 cups with one going over my head and the other two going straight down my throat. This didn't completely resolve the nausea but it seemed to tamp it down slightly. I made the turn towards Cleveland Circle running again, hot and exhausted and nauseous and somehow STILL thirsty, but at least running. Which was more than I could say for many people around me - I hadn't really noticed it up until this point, but the heat carnage was definitely piling up. As we ran down the hill I did my best to avoid the railway tracks that I almost tripped over last year. I thought a guy next to me was talking to me, but he was actually trying to get the attention of his friend, who had dropped behind me. The friend said something like "my quads can't take the pounding!" and wouldn't you know it, MY left quad chose that exact moment to go into an absolute seize of a cramp. My calves cramp almost every time I run a marathon, and I've had both hamstring and quad cramps that have certainly slowed me down. But this? This was not runnable. I tried to keep going and I thought I was going to fall. I refused to come to a dead stop on the side of the road so I basically started hop/walking, trying to pound my leg with my hands while still moving forward. I'm sure I looked pretty incredible. I have a patient who has left sided weakness, who sometimes cues his left leg to do things, calling it "lefty". I decided this was a good thing to channel in this moment. "COME ON LEFTY, GET IT TOGETHER", I said aloud as I attempted to rub my quad, move forward and not fall over at the same time. And I'll be damned, after what seemed like an eternity but in reality according to my Garmin was around 2 minutes (it does not escape me that slowing down so dramatically for 2 minutes cost me a sub-3:30, but there was nothing to be done for it) I started running again, tentatively at first, and then normally, at as fast of a pace as was currently feasible. And my quad didn't seize up! I mean I felt like shit in about 14 other ways, but at least I wasn't being brought to a dead halt any longer. I made my way down Beacon Street, keeping an eye out for my dad along the way. He almost missed me - thankfully I knew exactly where he would be so I literally just yelled "DAD" to get him to look at me, followed by "I'm so fucking nauseous!". Oh, delightful. Once I was past them I knew all I had to do was haul myself down Beacon, get over the hill, get under the bridge, and be done. Despite all of the generally bad feelings going on, I managed to never walk again after the great quad cramp of 2017. I stopped paying attention to much of anything besides continuing to move forward as I ran down Beacon. I think a guy was playing a saxophone and I remember hearing one of my teammates cheer for me, but it was all just noise - I was into the point where it was taking every ounce of my mental and physical power to continue.

FINALLY we reached the base of the hill that goes up and over the bridge, and for whatever reason this was where I realized I did it. I was alive, not walking, not in a med tent, I was going to qualify for next year, and soon enough it was going to be over. I remember looking at the mile 25 clock and thinking "huh. I have 9 minutes to run 1.2 miles to go under 3:30". I did some quick math and then actually laughed to myself. Ummm. Yeah. THAT'S not gonna happen! Oh well, so be it, sub 3:31 it was. Somewhere in this area I believe someone was blasting "Invisible Touch" out of a water stop, yet another song on my list of 'ridiculous songs that I love for some reason', and I smiled. And then it was 1 mile to go. The best mile, the best of the best of the best. I say it every year but I'll say it again, I would run a thousand shitty marathons to feel the way I feel turning right on Hereford, left on Boylston. There just is nothing like it. While I didn't exactly light the world on fire with my home stretch I definitely summoned some degree of a finishing kick and I could feel it, feel myself accelerating as the finish line came closer and closer, feel myself passing people as I ran by to the roar of the crowd. I try to explain to people why I do Boston year after year when 80% of the time (so far) the weather is terrible, it's a hard course, there are plenty of other spring marathons, why? It's because of this. Running down Boylston Street with a full heart, having given all that you had, knowing you had taken what the day brought and done everything you could with it. It's why I run marathons, and it's why I run Boston, and I hope I never stop appreciating how special it is to do it. I crossed the line in 3:30:21. I wasn't overjoyed, but I had done all I could with what the day had given me, and for now, that was enough.
Almost home.
Right on Hereford

 This is the first time I've ever been captured actually crossing the finish line! Love the guy screaming into his phone next to me hahaha.

I always try to remind myself after a training cycle that the time you finish in never tells the whole story. Again, that's part of why I love the marathon - cheesy to say, but the journey that you go on during training makes the finished product only one small piece of the whole. I'm disappointed, obviously, but I'm not disappointed in myself. I'm disappointed in the fact that it had to be 75 degrees and as a result myself and many others had to survive instead of fly as we had trained for and intended to do. Even considering that, truth be told, I think I'd feel better if I'd been able to sneak just a bit closer to 3:25. But you know what? I'm also really, really proud of myself. Because I looked at the weather and I KNEW what I was in for and instead of being foolish and bullheaded and insisting upon running the race I had trained for, even though I knew it would end in disaster, I adapted. I followed my hydration, nutrition, and electrolyte plans to a T and I think I did a reasonably good job of pacing as well - had I not rode the struggle bus of nausea and quad cramps from 21-24, I would have been damn near my adjusted goal of 3:25. To be only 5 minutes off the race that I planned to run as I stood on the start line in Hopkinton feels close to a victory, especially for someone like me who has been time tested to die in the heat each and every time. My top 4 marathons were all run in conditions 50 degrees or below, with the top 2 in the 40s. In 75 degree heat, I ran my 5th best. It wasn't perfect. Most marathons aren't. I'd be a liar if I said that it wasn't a little hard to stomach both knowing I was aiming for a slower time than I was capable of and then missing that mark too. But I also know I put in the work, I know where my fitness is now, and you know, I'm starting to think that this training cycle was really just a precursor to the next one. I'm more confident in my ability to run a 3:15 than I've ever been, and I think having such a strong base to build off of, along with that confidence, is going to serve me well in the months to come. And at the end of the day, I did the one thing that was do or die for me on that day, which was to qualify for next year with enough of a cushion to feel confident that I'll get into the race (I feel like BQ -4:39 is a pretty solid in, as it's been 1-3 minutes the last few years).  To do that on a hellish day where almost no one I know ran well is definitely an accomplishment, and I credit myself for being a big enough person to know when it wasn't the right day to go for a PR. I ran into Robin again in the finishers chute and she said something to the effect of "You were SO right! It wasn't a PR day" No, it wasn't a PR day. But it was a marathon day, a day when I high fived kids in Ashland and sang Sweet Caroline in Wellesley and took ice and freeze pops from kind strangers and was lifted up by my teammates and fought through the tough places to come out the other side. It was a day when I got to turn right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and cross my favorite finish line. And because of that, it was an absolutely freaking wonderful day. 

Boston Marathon 2017
7129/26411 OA, 1501/11973 F, 1197/5846 open women