Monday, November 11, 2013

My heartbeat

Welcome to the first post ever on this blog that isn't running related! Welcome to my other

Almost a year ago now, Andrew and I got into probably one of the biggest fights we've ever had in the 6 years we've been dating because I wanted to go to an audition. The project sounded ridiculously cool - a collaboration of dance and a live band to tell a love story - and with the opportunity for leads, no less. I went to the George Woods Band website and literally within 5 seconds of hearing the opening strains of Overture/Rewind I knew: I HAD to be in this show.

And so things worked out, Andrew and I compromised, and I danced my heart out at the audition, and a few days later, I got an email that damn near reduced me to tears, offering me one of the leading roles, the role of The Sun. And hours upon hours went into that first singular performance - stolen shoes, girls nights out where we shared our own love stories and had our own personal freak-outs about the state of the show and whether or not this crazy thing would be ready to put on the stage. But of course, when the day came we rose to the challenge, and we rocked it. And then seemingly as soon as it had started, all of that work that we had put in evaporated - it had been wonderful, and beautiful, but suddenly it was over.

Heartbeat I cast, pre-show (photo by Zachary Stephens)

So when I found out that we got to do it all again, and this time not just once but 3 TIMES, I felt like I was potentially going to explode with happiness. This show, and the music and people who surround it, have attached themselves to my heart and soul, and the opportunity to be a part of that again was just beyond thrilling. Things were slow to start - the apprehension of having to find chemistry with a new dance partner, drastically fewer rehearsals than the previous run, a new location, and actually having a real person job all led to there being times when I questioned whether I was good enough to reprise the role, and how we would ever manage to pull the entire show together. But little by little, the pieces fell into place. The 'meet-cute' song which had originally been - well, cute - became a sassy romp that involved taking shots and ended with a little Center Stage style bedroom innuendo. The addition of one of the most gorgeous songs I've ever been lucky to dance to fleshed out the emotional struggle of leaving someone who you know you still love. And suddenly, my character, which previously been sort of a flat stand in for a human being, because someone and something real. And better yet - it felt like me. 

As much as the camaradarie of running is incredible, there is something about the mutual experience of being involved in a production that is just magical and indescribable. I remember laying on the floor of the studio at 11:30 pm while the male lead ran around in a bizarre Halloween mask while in the background, 3 of the ensemble dancers were being drilled in the world's craziest turn sequence. We were just over halfway through our second full run of the show of the night, and everybody was going just a little bit crazy. On our second run through of "Stock In The Stars", my character's introduction and one of my big pieces of the night, I was so overtired that I couldn't stop laughing - at the way my dance partner was looking at me, at the fact that I was dancing at 11:30 in the evening, I don't know. As ridiculous as they were, those moments are the ones that you look back on fondly as something utterly ridiculous that you all did together.

The dress rehearsal was, to put it lightly, a disaster. As they say in theatre, a bad dress rehearsal means a good show, and thank goodness that old adage has never led me astray. I fell nearly on my face running up a spiral staircase, got kicked in the head, fell out of every turn humanly possible, and went from giddy to grumpy in about 5 seconds flat due to overtiredness (again) and hunger. The "You Are The Sun" dancers stood giggling in the curtain, thinking that we would be called onstage any second, only to find that everyone else had taken 5 for food...only that 5 was already over. It's challenging to describe in words the bond that develops when you share something like that...but it does. 

Dress rehearsal ridiculousness

And then, finally, it was here. With a call time of 3 pm on Thursday, there was infinite time to get ready. Time to run through every piece, remember what the balcony feels like one last time, run through that solo again.  Backstage, between bear hugs and endless love, finding a moment to run through the preshow ritual. As I lay on the floor, "Common Threads" flowing through my headphones (Tosa West theater tradition, one that I loved more than anything...some traditions stay with you.), I looked up at the stage lights, feeling the pulse of the opening band flow through me, and I knew: this is where I was meant to be.  And this - to dance, to be on stage, to perform - is truly what I was meant to do.

That first night, of course, things weren't perfect. The crowd was small, and no one seemed to entirely understand where they were supposed to go or what they were supposed to do. But no matter - 20 people or 200, the show was on, and no matter what happened, it was wonderful. But Friday - that was where the magic really began. The entire day at work, all I could think about was how lucky I was to have the perfect day job by day, but to live my dream by night. There are so many small moments that happened backstage that I wish I could relive forever, but to summarize, there was love. So, so much love. Everyone stretching, warming up, in their own worlds, but also inextricably connected, knowing that something special was about to happen. And was it ever special.  It just so happened that this performance, where I got to dance out a love story, fell on the 6 year anniversary of being with the one who I just happen to love the most...and this performance, from start to finish, was for him. Curled in a ball on stage for "The Wedding Song", I found myself near tears thinking about just how damn lucky I am to be here, on stage, doing what I love, surrounded by people who I love, and being cheered on by people who I love. Truly, does it get any better than that?

Dipping with my real life love after the show :)

Saturday, off day, brought the absurd excitement of seeing my own name and face splashed on (dream come true? You betcha.) And then there was Sunday.

There are certain moments of clarity in life where you look around and just think to yourself: this is where I belong. This, right here and right now, is me being my most perfect, truest self.  And performing this show on Sunday night, from start to finish, was truly one of those moments of clarity for me. The moment the lights came up on Overture/Rewind, I was nearly in tears. And then came the Stock/Marry Me combo, during which I became so caught up in the moment that afterwards I couldn't even remember doing parts of the piece, Jen missed a cue because she was so enthralled with how amazingly we were performing, and 3 bars of the song got skipped and yet somehow, without missing a beat, Keil and I looked at each other and perfectly in sync, started off right into the exact same moment in the dance. During Marry Me, the only thought in my mind was "this is perfect. I am having SO MUCH FUN right now." And that was it - it was beautiful, it was fun, it was joy. It was me at my best, happiest, me.

The show continued - sure, there were issues (ripped monitor cables, crazy exes, slow music paces) but I was in some place beyond it all. I nearly fell of my damn cube during Trying to Get Back because I was just so INTO it. And then - holy shit - Never Gonna Bet The Same. I knew - KNEW that if there was one dance that was going to leave me in tears tonight, this was going to be it. And the emotion that I felt during that piece was more than anything I've ever felt while dancing before, but I held the tears back. Until. I threw myself into the final turn in the piece, and without a thought or a question, I nailed the most perfect triple pirouette I have ever done in my life. Ever. I have NEVER done a triple in performance before. It tends to be when I'm dicking around in the studio or wearing socks on carpet or something ridiculous. But tonight, in this perfect show, it happened so naturally and yet so unexpectedly that as soon as I finished it I burst into what must have been the ugliest laugh/crying that has ever been seen. I was overwhelmed with joy.

Before I knew it, it was over, and I was enveloped in bear hugs from friends and castmates alike. The only emotion I could feel was love - for my friends, for everyone involved with this show, and for being able to follow my passion. Too many people give up on doing things that they love because life gets in the way, there's to time, it's too hard to find people to do with it. I was one of those people for 3 years of my life. But God, I would not give up this feeling, the chance for that one moment where suddenly you get to step back and allow yourself to experience pure joy, for anything, ever again. When I first became a part of this show, I was excited because I was the lead; because I had proved everyone wrong who thought I wasn't enough. I was doing it for them. This time, I did it for me. Because it is what I love. Because it is where I belong - on the stage, with the lights slowly coming up on something beautiful. And being where you belong, well, it doesn't get any better than that. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lehigh Valley Marathon Race Report

This is not exactly the race recap I hoped I would be writing, but it kind of is the race report I was expecting to write. Is that strange? I went into this race from such a different place than any marathon that I've done previously, and I like to think I've come out the other side in a different place too.  The short story is this: I ran a 3:45, I did not BQ, which was the entire point of doing the race from the start. Weather, humidity specifically, was definitely a major factor, but when I dig down to the nitty gritty part of myself that knows the things that I don't always want to admit, I also know this know this: my training wasn't adequate, and I ran the race that I deserved. And strangely enough, after all of the whining and hatred of every second I spent training for this marathon, knowing that makes me want to do it again, and do it right.

But back up the analysis bus because first we need a race report.  The journey began on Saturday when I met up with my teammate Aly to drive down to the race. We really only became friends over the past few months but I would like to think that we bonded on the 5+ hour journey to PA, which included one stop at the 7th largest mall in the US! It has a ferris wheel. And lazer tag. And a ropes course. That's not a mall, that's an amusement park.  We eventually made it to the expo, which was at this sort of bizarre place called the Steel Stacks - basically what appeared to be an old mining (?) operation that had been converted into an entertainment was interesting. The entire time I had been training for this race, my brain had never fully made the connection that I was actually attempting to run a fast marathon, but suddenly holding my number in my hand forced me to realize that I was doing something ridiculous.

Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day, and we actually ended up relaxing with a beer outside of the expo center before heading over to the hotel.  I don't know what it is, but whenever I'm staying in a hotel and I'm not on vacation (aka, whenever I travel for races which is almost never) I automatically connect it with dance/pom competitions, which were some of the most exciting times in my young life, and it doesn't matter that now I'm 26 years old and I'm running a marathon, being where I am just becomes the most exciting experience ever. I suddenly feel special and like every action I do is meaningful in the context of this big event that I'm doing that's the reason that I'm at this hotel. (If those last sentences made no sense to you, I completely understand, because they don't make much sense to me either, but that's the best I can do to verbalize the way staying in a hotel the night before a competition makes me feel.) I headed out for a quick 10 minute shakeout around the various parking lots surrounding our hotel, and after a brief drive through some sketchy areas of Allentown Aly and I found our way to dinner at a Bravo at the Allentown mall, where the servers were exceptionally cheery, the salad was covered with bacon bits, but the pasta was actually really good.

Carb loading complete, we headed back to the hotel to get into the zone before our 4 am wakeup call. I watched the Notre Dame-Michigan game for a bit, as there is truly nothing more calming to me than a football game which I'm really not invested in. I drifted off at about 9:30 and actually slept remarkably well given the circumstances - I'm pretty sure I was actually awake before my alarm went off on Sunday morning which is fairly unbelievable. I got up pretty quickly and was into the prerace routine: 2 pieces of bread, one with peanut butter, choked down even though I have no desire to eat it, washed down with Gatorade. Aly had been asking me about what I ate before races since she had bad stomach issues with her last marathon, and so she followed my lead - I think I have a new convert to my pre-marathon breakfast! We were out the door by 5 am to head over to Lehigh Valley Hospital for the start. Unfortunately, there is more than one Lehigh Valley Hospital...and the one that comes up when you enter that into your GPS is not the one where the race start was being held. Luckily we had left early enough that it wasn't a big deal, and finally made it to the actual start with over an hour to spare (I found out later that the traffic situation turned into a disaster close to the start and people were jumping out of their cars to run to the line, so retrospectively I'm EXTRA glad that I'm ridiculous about getting to races early.) Highlights of the drive were listening to techno and a very bright billboard with a man on it who appeared to be staring into your was 5 am, we were a little loopy.

The start was pretty low key, although they were pumping early 2000s jams such as the Evanescence song "Bring Me To Life" and also "1985" by Bowling for Soup. We chatted briefly with a guy who noticed Aly's Greater Boston jacket and was also from Boston - I do think one of my favorite parts about this race was that, as the LAST CHANCE TO BQ, there were people from literally everywhere converging on these random towns in eastern Pennsylvania to run a marathon.  The weather was not as cool as I had wanted or anticipated, and I was concerned about the 80% humidity, but I tried not to worry about it as I went through my prerace routine. Stretch, leg swings, a few downward dogs for good measure, GNB on the hand (long story), drink water, munch on Gu chomps, hit the porta potty, etc. At one point Aly and I had what felt like our own personal paparazzi as this guy from (I assume) a local newspaper hovered around us taking action shots of us warming up and stretching. I was trying to stay focused but it was also difficult to keep from laughing as this guy circled us trying to get that perfect shot. [Edit: I discovered the photos, but I will not be posting them here. They are hilarious, however.]

I decided to hit the porta potty one last time, and man, the line was rough. It was probably 6:35 at this point, with the race starting at 7, but I figured I was still in OK shape, and I really needed to get in there. Opening ceremonies began...line barely moving. It was 6:45...line barely moving. The fear of a bathroom related emergency kept me in line for quite awhile, but all of a sudden I came to the panicked realization that there were 5 minutes until race start and I was still in my sweats, hadn't checked my bag, and was not at the start line. Cue near panic attack, sprinting over to my bag (during the national anthem no less, gah, I felt bad about that after the fact), desperately trying to find the bag check, and squeezing into the start. I couldn't find Aly, but managed to immediately find my friend Jen and started talking at her - "oh my god, I really have to pee...but the porta potty line was so long...omg, I'm just going to go pee in that park over there. I'll be right back." And so I popped a squat behind a tree with 2 minutes to go until the start. Not my most dignified hour, but I'll be damned if I didn't start that race feeling comfortable and ready to go. The next thing I knew I was back next to Jen and holy shit, they were counting down, and suddenly we were running and this was just...happening.

Actual race report time

The first mile was a bit of a cluster and was more crowded than I expected, but true to my ONE goal for myself I stayed relaxed and just let myself be moved along by the crowd. I had sworn that I would not under any circumstances allow myself to be sucked in by any sort of desire to go out fast, and although I missed the 1 mile mark so I can't say for sure, I'm pretty sure I succeeded. We headed through a short neighborhood loop and then we were off on the point to point. Now, a word of warning for anyone considering running this race: it's advertised as a net downhill, and I'm sure that it is. What they don't tell you is, that net downhill? Like, 90% of it happens over the course of one ENORMOUS downhill in the first mile of the race. So I definitely would not consider this a downhill course by any stretch. The first 6-7 miles of the race are on roads, and I felt like I was doing a good job of staying relaxed and just moving myself along. I had chosen "calm as still water" (oh Arya, I heart) as my mantra for this race because I felt that above all else, not getting ahead of myself would be what would save me. This turned out to be fitting as the entire course runs along a river, which, due to the lack of wind on Sunday, was actually incredibly calm.

I didn't actually take any splits during the race, just kind of stayed aware of my watch, and throughout the first stretch I was clocking in nicely between 7:50-7:55s and feeling very relaxed doing it. I started to notice the humidity pretty early and started taking water from the get go, because if there's one way for me to crash and burn in any race, it's dehydration. FORESHADOWING.  I had a little bit of a down time as we went uphill over a bridge around mile 6, but took a Gu and we headed into the forest and it passed. I/the volunteer trying to hand me water botched the handoff twice at that particular water stop, so I didn't get any water with my gel, which was...unfortunate. As we began running on our first trail section of the race, I felt AMAZING. I was proud of myself for picking a pace that seemed to be reasonable, kept repeating "calm as still water" in my head whenever I felt myself start to tense up, and honestly - I was really enjoying myself. The trail along the water was lovely, although rocky and root covered in many spots, but mostly I just allowed myself to kind of enjoy the moment for a little while. At one point a group of guys running just behind me burst out singing "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" and I couldn't help but smile. I just remember thinking to myself "oh my gosh, this so much more fun than I thought it would be!"

I hit mile 10 and I was still sticking to my slightly sub-8 pace, still feeling really good, and the ideas were starting to hatch that maybe I could make this work after all. My one problem at this point was that there hadn't been a water stop in a LONG time. Like 3-4 miles long. I was starting to come down from my post-Gu high and was starting to feel that dehydrated sensation creeping in. Everything else was smooth sailing, so I didn't worry about it too much, but I definitely wanted to get myself to a water stop, and stat. The miles ticked by, still on this legitimate trail by the river. At mile 12 I noticed a Gu on the ground, thought it was empty, and so didn't worry about trying to avoid it. As it turned out, it was full, so when I stomped on it it exploded all over my legs. It was disgusting. This was the first in a series of several unfortunate events that would befall me before the end of the race, but for the time being things were still going well. Soon after the Gu incident, we came off of the trail and back onto the roads for a rather obnoxious loop around the parking lot that finished at the halfway mark before dipping back down onto the trail. Since the beginning of the race I had been able to see Jen in my sights up ahead, but kept quelling the urge to chase her down because, as I kept telling myself, "you need to run your race, not Jen's". But as we approached the half, I found myself in a bit of another low, and closing the gap between the two of us seemed to be the best way to break out of it. It seemed to work, because I passed her right around the half and managed to have the energy to cheerfully be like "stay relaxed! We're halfway there! Have a great race!". If only I knew what was going to happen a few miles down the road, I certainly wouldn't have been so chipper, but for the moment, I was loving life a surprising amount and just allowed myself to enjoy some signs (this one woman, who I saw like 6 times, had a sign that said something like "Run faster! There's a fire! Ain't nobody got time for that!" I didn't really...understand it, but I liked it.)

I took another Gu just before the 14 mile mark as we dipped back down onto the river trail, which I would grow to deeply hate in the hours to come. I had to stop briefly to readjust my left sock, which had decided to bunch up and roll down into my shoe - I picked the ONE pair of socks which have never given me a problem with this, and of course they decided to fail on me come race day. I was irritated, but I would say it cost me 15-20 seconds at most, which didn't turn out to matter in the grand scheme of things. But let's be honest, if I had somehow managed to miss a BQ by just 15-30 seconds, I probably would have gone Hulk style on that sock. After the sock debacle, things started to get a little dicey. I was still doing...okay pace-wise, but it no longer felt relaxed and I was starting to really resent the fact that we were still running on this stupid dirt trail. And then all of a sudden, around mile 15 or 16, I don't even know how to explain it, but everything just imploded. My legs still felt pretty acceptable given what I had run so far, but I was nauseous and feeling more lightheaded and dizzy by the second. I sprang into action at the next water stop, grabbing water and a Gatorade and walking through the station to make sure I got to drink it all, but unfortunately it seemed to be too little, too late.

Miles 16-20 were some of the worst miles I have ever run in my life. It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks how awful I was feeling at the moment and how far I actually still had to go. My legs began feeling the way I feel when I'm dehydrated, which is to say, bad. I continued to take water/Gatorade every chance I got but the aid stations just couldn't seem to come fast enough. Right around mile 17 I kind of got overwhelmed and decided I got 10 seconds to walk and compose myself...and as soon as I stopped running, I literally felt like I was going to pass out. I had a similar vertigo problem about a mile later, when I was focusing on a girl running directly in front of me who was wearing shorts with zig zags on them and I started feeling lightheaded just looking at the pattern. The sun filtering in and out of the trees wasn't helping my cause. I was just feeling shitball awful, and I couldn't seem to do anything about it.

It was around 18 or 19 that I realized that I had fallen dramatically off pace, and given the events that were currently happening, any shot at a sub 3:35, let alone sub 3:30, was out the window. And then I did something that I am actually quite proud of, and that I know the Audrey of 3 years ago would have been unable to do - I acknowledged this fact, I accepted my current situation, and I resolved myself to finish the race as fast as I could given what was happening. That's it. There was very little beating myself up or berating myself for sucking, there were no tears, and I think only one swear escaped my lips. I won't say I was happy about what was going on...I felt like death. But I wasn't going to just give up and die just because my goal wasn't going to happen today.

At long last I reached mile 20, feeling less like I was going to pass out but still having a pretty rough go of it between water stations. I was so unbelievably thirsty that nothing was enough, and I wasn't necessarily hot but it was so humid that my singlet was drenched. We were STILL running on this god-forsaken trail - another note to anyone interested in signing up for this race: while the course is really pretty, the narrow, rocky trails do not make for what I would call a "fast" course. The mile markers seemed to be getting further and further apart as I trudged along. I kept telling myself that I had almost an hour to run 6 miles to come in around 3:45, which was the new goal that my brain had selected.  It's interesting trying to write about this part of the race right now because I'm pretty sure my brain has blocked it out. I hated it. I wanted my super caffeinated Gu but I thought I had lost it (I found out hours after the race that I had not, because I'm an idiot). I popped a blister on the tip of my toe which stung like a beyotch. Everything hurt and nothing was beautiful. These are pretty typical feelings for those post mile-20 miles of a marathon, but they seemed to be worse than I remembered.

Mile 22 finally arrived, and as I began to process the fact that I had only 4 miles to go, a change came over me. Maybe it was my aggressive hydration from the past several miles kicking in a bit, or maybe it was just delirium, but I suddenly said to myself: you know what, you need to man up. I doubt that I truly picked up the pace by much, but at least I felt like I was moving forwards instead of scrambling futilely in place. I started passing some people who were walking. I continued to walk through the water stops long enough to get some fluids down, but forced myself to start running again as soon as the cup was empty. I hated the trail and my legs and the sun and the weather and I hated everything, and all I had left to not hate was the fact that soon I was going to be finished, one way or another.

I feel like every time I run a marathon I say that the last 2-3 miles were "THE HARDEST MILES I HAVE EVER RUN". But no, seriously, these were the hardest. I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and 3:45 seemed like it was going to happen, which was cool, because back a few miles ago I had seriously thought I was looking at another 4+ hour finish which would have been significantly less OK. But dear lord, mile 26 of this race. So we had barely passed the 25 mile mark when we started to go up this hill, and I just lost it. I told myself I got 10 seconds to get my shit together. But no sooner had I begun to slow than this old dude comes running past me and no joke, YELLS in my face "HALF A MILE TO GO YOU DO NOT GET TO STOP". I was ridiculously taken aback but I thanked him because seriously, I needed that. And I ran it in. It was the cruelest thing in the world. You could see the finish line on the other side of the river when you were almost a mile away from it, but first you had to run out, run back uphill, run over a bridge, and then run down the longest straightaway in the history of humanity.  That final .2 miles felt like it lasted 17 hours. I was running completely alone, too far from the woman in front of me to catch her with whatever pathetic attempt at a kick I could summon, and with no one coming up on me from behind. I could see the clock clicking around 3:44, and I basically was just like I don't even care, I am getting there before it hits 3:46, and I can be OK with myself.  And I did.

I staggered over the line and shortly after yelling guy (who I had apparently passed, no recollection of that happening) came up behind me and was like "nice finish, sorry I lied, it was more like a mile to go". I thanked him anyway for the kick in the ass and was about to wander away to find a place to lay down when I heard Jen's name being announced at the finish. We slowly made the journey to the beer tent, with several seated rest breaks. My lower back was cramping really badly, and I just felt generally unpleasant. We finally located Aly, who had done REALLY well, and the 3 of us lay in the grass and enjoyed our free beers. At that point, my only emotion was just relief. I was so unbelievably happy that it was over, and I could stop stressing about it. I had made it through relatively unscathed, albeit not exactly in the way I had hoped, and for that I was glad.

After awhile we decided to try to find the shuttle buses back to the start to attempt to get back to the hotel in time to shower before hitting the road back to Boston. This is where things got...well...interesting from a logistical standpoint. Everything else about the race thus far had been really well put together, but these shuttles were just a nightmare. First of all, we waiting in line for literally an hour and 45 minutes to get on a bus...and there was a long line of runners snaking behind us. We all kind of agreed that we were too tired to care, but it wasn't terribly enjoyable. Hilariously, there was a native Easton-ian who decided he wanted to make a quick buck in his sketchy blue windowless van with an eagle painted on the side by offering rides back to Allentown for $10...shockingly, several runners took him up on his offer. Finally, the bus arrived - hooray! Except then we boarded the bus, and entered into the most hellish 25 minutes I have ever experienced in a vehicle. Do you know what doesn't sound good after running a really humid, dehydrating marathon? A bus, filled with sweaty, hot runners, with no air conditioning. Not joking, I felt like I was in a hot yoga class. The one moment of levity was seeing the aforementioned blue bus of creepiness....broken down on the side of the road. So at least someone was having a worse time than we were on the bus of doom.

So that is the story of how I didn't BQ, but didn't beat myself up over it. I was actually surprised to learn that I ran about a minute faster than Boston 2010, when I trained for a 3:30 like it was all I had in the world and was left devastated when things didn't go my way. I think the difference in my reactions from then to now is a testament to me being more mature as a runner and as a person at this point in my life. (And also, apparently, eff shooting for a 3:30. 3:29 or bust!)  This is my 3rd best out of 5 marathons, and with my PR and Boston 2012 being major outliers, the middle 3 have actually been not that far apart. I'm not sure what that says about me - does it mean I'm actually kind of mediocre, and my 3:22 was a fluke? Does it mean that I haven't quite figured out how to dial in my training or how to execute on race day? It's hard to say. All I know is that next time I race a marathon, I mean to do it for real. For how slackadoodle I was about my training for this race, quite frankly, I knew I wasn't going to qualify. I think in a way I set myself up for a feedback loop of bad: not having enough of a base/enough time to put together a proper training cycle --> feeling overwhelmed by training --> "well, I'm not going to qualify anyway"--> slacking off because "it doesn't matter, I'm not going to qualify anyway", etc. But amazingly, for how much this race sucked, it had the opposite effect as I expected: it made me want to do another one, and do it right.

It's hard for me in this particular scenario to tease out how much difference would have been made by better training and how much was due to the weather/race conditions. Even with perfect training, could I have PRed with that type of humidity and on trails? I honestly don't think so. How much of feeling awful in the late stages of the race was undertraining, and how much was dehydration, or lack of mental toughness, or fueling, or humidity, or any number of other factors? I suppose that's always the question that you could ask in any race. And looking back on it a few days later, I am a little disappointed, not about the way I performed on race day, but about the fact that I couldn't suck it up to make more of the training time I had. But of course it has me questioning...if I could do what I did on Sunday with what I consider to be quite sub-par training...what could I do with excellent training? And that is the question that I hope to answer at some point in the future, whether it's somehow at Boston 2014 (goddamn it, I really want a number), or at a fall 2014 marathon.

And finally, I apparently can say I am a true runner now, because I realized after the race that the skin under my right second toenail had been replaced by a giant blood blister. I will spare you the details of my impromptu self-surgery, but let's just say I don't think I'm going to have a toenail to worry about for quite some win, marathon. You always do. And that pretty much sums it up.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In which some stuff happened, and I'm a terrible marathon trainer

Stuff that's happened:
-I have done 2 20+ mile runs...and then basically just decided that long runs were for the birds, and haven't done one since. I am hoping to get a 22 in at some point this week. Did I mention my marathon is in 2 weeks? Yeah. That's happening...I guess. I've never been so apathetic about a race before in my life. I think this might go along over all with my sudden realization that running, as it turns out, is something I do for FUN, and I'm not going to be thrown off of a cliff if I don't run that well. This attitude has not been particularly beneficial for my training, but then again, neither has the hot/humid weather, the fact that I'm dancing as well as running, or the fact that my plantar fasciitis has been acting up.

-I have, however, done quite a few days of 10-12 miles, some with speedwork thrown in the middle for good measure, and I also went on a 17 day streak with no rest days. So there's that. I've been going to GBTC with remarkable consistency, even though we've been trekking out to a park to do XC work, which I basically hate. Clearly I am not the joyous XC runner that I was in college. I just don't like running on sand/gravel, OK??

-Some races happened!
Yankee Homecoming 10M -
The 10 miler was on a random Tuesday night, and also happened to be my first race at the distance. It did NOT go well...and by that I mean I ran a slower pace than my marathon PR. Woof. I hadn't been feeling well all day, and looking back I wouldn't be surprised if I was running with a low grade fever, because I can't remember my face/head ever feeling SO. HOT. in a race. Granted, it was relatively warm/humid out, but I just felt like I was burning up. Definitely just one of those days where everything feels bad from the start. I actually considered taking the 5K cutoff at mile 2.5...of course, I didn't, and so I just struggled on through the rest of the race.
I decided to wear sunglasses for this race, but I quickly realized that they were making my face feel even hotter than it already was. Here I am attempting to throw them at my sister, then realizing I was on the opposite side in the road. Approximately mile 3, and already hating life. 

To add insult to injury, I ended up spending the entire race about 100m behind my friend Joy...who had RUN A MARATHON 4 DAYS BEFORE. Ouch. Aside from just feeling like crap, I think the race itself was great, and definitely one I would do again. The crowd support was incredible - it's one of those delightful New England races where this race is a HUGE deal for the city and everyone comes out to support. The course, while hilly, was quite nice, with parts being run by the ocean, through the cute downtown area, and a nice long downhill through a state park.
Thank goodness it's about to be over. 

One good thing did come out of this, which was that as a team, we got 2nd, winning some money for our club! Hooray. Not that I was much of a contributor to that, but whatever, sometimes the important thing is just showing up!
I am literally soaking wet in this picture. Also I should probably get a GBTC sports bra. 

4 x 1600m Relay, aka will run for beer
This was the most low key, ridiculous thing I've ever done and it was awesome. We basically showed up, ran the relay, and then went off to drink. I think there was a total of one other women's team (although we DID set the meet record, so that's something). I actually pleasantly surprised myself by running a 6:13, which really didn't feel all that hard - I mean, it's hard running a hard mile, but I wouldn't say I was really killing myself racing it, which makes me think I maybe am in better shape than I realized. 
Our reward for our team victory was a case of beer. So basically, this was the best use of my time on a random Thursday night EVER. 10/10 would run again (although something tells me that now that the secret's out that you get beer if you win, there might be more competition next year!)

I'm also running a 6K XC race this that should be entertaining. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I GOT A JOB. So now I have to be a normal person and fit my training in around working 9-5. Might be an adjustment from my current lifestyle of being able to run literally whenever I want...but also will hopefully snap me out of some of my laziness that comes with just being able to run whenever I want. It's going to be an exciting fall!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer is the worst.

Oh, look, it's my post of the month! Let's see, what's happened since I last checked in...

-Marathon training is a thing that's actually happening, shockingly. I have pretty much done all of my runs dutifully but without any actual desire to do them, and I think if it weren't for my friends dragging me along there's no way I would be remotely prepared for this marathon. The fact that it's been alternating between 90+ degrees, sunny, and 60% humidity and 80+ degrees, cloudy, and 90% humidity for the last 3 weeks really hasn't added any motivation to the pile. I hate summer running even when it's a relatively nice summer, and I really don't remember ever experiencing a summer that was this consistently awful. A look at the weather during my long runs thus far:
This may or may not have happened during one of my long runs. This was also my first experience running with a backpack, because I was going to trivia afterwards and figured I shouldn't completely drench everyone with my sweat. I am legitimately IN LOVE with this backpack, PS.

  • 6/9/13 - 14 miles, 85 and sunny
  • 6/16/13 - 12 miles (aborted 15), actually I don't think the weather was that bad, but I was hungover, so there were issues.
  • 6/24/13 - 16.4 miles, holy shit, it was 85 and humid at 8 am when I left, and climbed to 95 by the time I finished the run. Ran a route with no shade like a complete moron. Carried water, so at least didn't die.
  • 7/1/13 - 18.6 miles, 80 and 90% humidity
  • 7/6/13 - 13.1 miles (aborted 16), 90 and sunny and humid on a route with no water = no.
  • Which brings us to yesterday, when I experienced probably the worst long run of my life in again, 90% humidity and temps in the 80s. I don't know if it was because now I'm used to drinking like 60 oz of water while on the run or what, but I didn't do that yesterday and I legitimately wondered if I was going to pass out. Joy and I dragged each other along through the last 10 miles. I guess the upside to all of this is that I somehow actually HAVE been doing long runs very consistently despite some truly awful weather, so maybe I will make it through this marathon after all. 18.5 miles somehow achieved. Next weekend is 20 which I am not looking forward to at all. 
In other news, I came out of holiday-racing hibernation to do a 4th of July 5K, and it was pretty much the worst race I've ever run. Not to sound like a broken record, was 85, blazing sun, and 80% humidity. And my body really isn't very good at getting rid of heat. Also, the course started with a 3/4 mile long uphill, and there was not a lick of shade. There were men in front of me walking during the 3rd mile. And so I ran a 22:39 5K...which hilariously was good for 24th overall and 2nd overall woman (which got me the most hilarious announcements ever as I ran down the comes the second place woman, she knows she has it, she's just kicking it down the final stretch..I laughed). I got a ridiculous plaque, which I will never be able to live down. Why is it that the times when I actually run a good race in the 5K never seem to overlap with the times that I win things? Because running is dumb, that's why. And that's about all I've got for the moment. 
Did not die. Great success.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

A tale of 3 5K's

So while I was in DC I did 3 5Ks...not because I was training to race or was/am in any sort of racing shape (because trust me, I was/am not...though as for the "not training for anything" bit, stay tuned) but mainly for entertainment and to attempt to get SOME sort of reasonably hard running in from time to time. Here are some mini race reports for those 5Ks, since none of them were really spectacular enough to warrant their own post.

Crystal City 5K #2, aka, "whee, a 5K! Racing is fun! Oh wait, no, no it isn't fun at all."
I signed up for this race at like 11 am the day of - sometimes, its hard to break the seal of not racing. Basically the stimulus for this race was the fact that it was in Virginia, and so I could check that state off my 50 states list. Got there far too early, hung out for a bit, and then went to warm up by doing laps around a hotel...very exciting stuff. I really didn't have a good idea of where to line myself up. First, I found myself surrounded by women carrying cell phones and wearing capris (on a 70+, humid evening). Hmm, OK, move up a few rows? I then found my path blocked by 3 middle school boys and a woman with a stroller. OK then, try again. I finally wedged myself into a spot about 6 rows back and waited for the race to start.

I was very impressed with how a race could contain almost 2000 people and still somehow feel "low key". That being said, when 2000 people come barreling around 2 very tight turns at the start of a 5K, shit kind of gets real. And so I got caught up in the crowd and took it out HARD. It's been so long since I raced a 5K, that I was really only getting signals of "hm, this seems fast, but generally OK? I guess?" so I had no clue how fast I was running. And then I came through the mile, saw my 6:18 split, and was just like, well, oops. I guess that's the kind of day this is going to be. About 3 minutes later I began crashing and burning in a big way, and by the 2 mile mark (7:14, by the way. Yeeeeeah.) I was basically on the verge of seeing my life flash before my eyes. I was hot and miserable. Another lovely 7:14 that felt like about a 10:00 brought me in at 21:40. I was 16th woman overall which was extremely confusing, since at a race this big in Boston that time would probably put me in the 40s.  But whatever - I felt accomplished for attempting to race. And then I got my ID denied at Noodles & Co, and went home to my aunt being super proud of me for "just finishing". Non runners are entertaining.
A selfie to demonstrate my feelings about this 5K. They were not very good feelings. Also notice how my face is the same color as the cherry blossoms behind me...LOL. 

Crystal City 5K #4, aka, "maybe racing CAN be fun...if you're not an idiot."
After the atrocious pacing of the race before, my main goal was to run like a non-idiot and finish in a faster time as a result. I had also happened to have drinks with a friend from WTC who now lives in DC the night before, and as it turned out he was running the race as at least I knew ONE person in the crowd. I decided to warm up in the other direction, since running circles around a hotel sounded unappealing. Turns out, there was a lovely rail trail (reminded me a bit of the High Line, only wider) in the other direction...perfect for a nice, relaxed warmup.

The race started late, and the timing on it was a little unclear, so I ended up doing strides (another sign I was actually attempting to race this one for real) like 3 times before we actually got started. As we got underway I had my familiar mantra in my head: DON'T BE AN IDIOT. The weather was a little nicer this time around, and I really had to tell myself to keep reining it in. As we came down the back stretch "Don't Stop Believin'" was playing and ah, I had to grin. This was clearly going to be a better race. Came through the first mile in 6:35 so apparently I succeeded in the not being an idiot plan. As a result, I felt MUCH better during the second mile, and was actually able to pass a few people. I definitely slowed down - 6:54 for mile 2 - but overall I maintained quite a bit better. Mile 3 was, as usual, pretty painful, but mentally I made myself keep pushing and actually held on for a 6:55, so really no slowdown at all from mile 2-3, which is pretty impressive for me! Final time was 21:05, which is actually my 3rd best road 5K ever, so given the fact that I had done NO speedwork whatsoever in over a month, it was a good performance. I also later found out that I was 8th out of over 1000 women, which is kind of absurd - there's no way that time would even crack the top 50 at a race of this size in Boston, but there it was. And then I immediately threw jeans on over my shorts, got on the Metro, and went to the Nats game...runner problems.

Head tilt of death coming towards the finish...pretty typical. I also need to note that I'm really obsessed with my racing outfit right now, since the shorts/singlet combo also match the shoes. I need to find a pair of those brooks shorts in black too!

MBT 5K, aka, "running a shit race, and winning money for only the second time in your life. Because running is dumb."
This race I literally decided to do like, the Thursday before, even though I was really sore from dance, for pretty much one reason: cute t-shirts. It's been far too long since I received a new race shirt and the design of these bad boys was too nice to resist. So...I signed up. The day of the race was so very, very humid. Like in the 90s as far as percentage, the type of humidity where you feel like you are in a rainforest or a sauna every time you go outside. Between that and the fact that my legs were STILL sore from my epic return to dance class on Wednesday, I did not think things were going to go very well. The race was considerably more low key than Crystal City, but still very well run. We got packets with a drawstring bag and GENDER SPECIFIC TECH SHIRTS. Read that sentence again. For a $25 5K, that's pretty much unheard of these days, so I was very impressed. Me being me, I was kind of scoping out the competition and only saw a couple of girls who looked fast, so I began entertaining thoughts of actually going for an award. On my warmup, however, I pretty much immediately felt like I was going to die in the humidity, so I kind of put that thought to the back of my head and figured, meh, worst case scenario, you do it as a tempo.

Heading off the line at MBT 5K. I cannot BELIEVE how muscly my leg looks! (Photo by Gregg Adams)

We got off the line and there were immediately a couple of women out HARD ahead of me. Like the smart racer that I am trying to be, I let them go, knowing that trying to go out in 6:00 pace in this weather would be suicidal. I focused on just relaxing and trying to find a groove. The race was a double out & back on a basically flat bike path, so not the most exciting in terms of scenery but good for zoning out. After awhile, I noticed that we had passed the mile mark (going the other way) quite awhile back, and was starting to wonder when the turnaround would be. We came up under a bridge, and all of a sudden there was just a clusterfuck of the leaders trying to come back in the other direction, yelling "turn around, turn around, you missed the turnaround!" at us. So I basically just did a 180 and went back the other direction. Apparently the leaders ran ~400 extra, and my pack probably added on 100-200m or so. It felt weird because I was suddenly running with a whole different group of people, and it was a little hard to get back in the zone. I ran behind one dude for quite awhile and tried to maintain, but the humidity was really starting to get to me.
Around mile 2. I literally saw the man with the camera and was like "OK, look good for this picture right now". Result: success! (photo by Gregg Adams)

This entire time I had been under the impression that I was in 4th place for women, but when we got to the second turn around, I realized that there were only 2 women in front of me. Well, I'll be damned - my time is going to suck, but I was actually running for an award. The last mile was really a struggle - I felt like I was breathing in soup - but it was pretty cool having people coming the other way cheering for me as I was so far up in the women's race - "You go girl!" "Alright lady!" My personal favorite was when I overheard a small boy, maybe 8 or 9, scream to his dad "WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE OVER???" I feel ya kid, I feel ya. Finally staggered through the finish in 21:50 - blech - but I guess taking into consideration the long course and the weather (and the fact that I was kind of lazy about this race) I couldn't really complain. And I won't lie, even though I got 3rd by a LOT, it was pretty cool repping GBTC at a race in DC (and winning back my race entry in cash. Hell yes!) Overall, a pretty decent day. I would absolutely recommend this race to anyone in the DC area - it's the same weekend as several other higher profile 5Ks, but despite the turnaround mixup I really felt like they did a great job, and what you get for the price is hard to beat!

So those were my 5Ks. Also, I signed up for a marathon on my birthday. I may or may not have had a significant amount of wine to drink that day. So about that whole "training for a race thing?" Welp, I'm training for the Via Marathon, September 8, 2013. Let's do it. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Bedford Half Marathon (belated) Race Report

aka, the least deserved massive PR I have ever run.  I don't mean this as a humblebrag - I legitimately have NO IDEA how I ran the race I ran at New Bedford. Yes - my half PR has always been soft compared to my marathon and 5K times, and yes, it's been 3 years since I've run one - but let's be honest here...those have been 3 years of not the best training and almost no racing. Looking back on my training reveals that in the 2 months leading up to the race, I only ran over 30 miles in a week twice, and I did exactly 2 runs over 10 miles. So what changed? The only thing I can think of is: DANCE. Lots and lots and lots of dance have apparently turned me into a way better runner. So...anyway...race report!

Race day arrived and it was FREEZING. The last time I ran this race, in 2010, the weather was in the 50s or 60s - pretty legit for the middle of March. When I woke up on Sunday my phone told me that it was 28 freaking degrees, no. I spent pretty much the entire morning trying to figure out what I was going to wear for the race. Capris? Undershirt? Armwarmers? High socks? After a very slow 10 minute warmup and peeing behind a random bush, I eventually decided on armwarmers and knee socks (knee socks which I have never worn to run in before; this will be relevant later). In retrospect I looked ridiculous, but whatever. I made it back to the car with a few of my teammates and it. was. COLD. And WINDY as all get out.

Semi-naked. Why are we doing this again??

The sheer number of people at the start made things a little bit better, but still, I was raring to get running so I could stop freezing to death. When the horn sounded, Brianna, Joy, and I took off together, but no sooner had we gotten out of the starting gate than I see Brianna flying through the air and landing with a thud on the ground next to me. What can you do in that situation? I looked back and she seemed OK, so I continued on alone (I later came to find out that she actually passed me at some point in the race and beat me by like 2 minutes. TROOPER!). Mile 1 - 6:54. Whoa, girl. I had been prepared for the first mile to be something ridiculous like that, though, so I focused on just relaxing and getting into a groove. There was something in my eye that was driving me absolutely insane, and when I went through the second mile in 7:14 I started to get concerned, because I didn't feel calm, or relaxed. I felt like crap at this pace, and the negative thoughts started swirling: oh, you KNEW this was going to be a disaster; this is what you get when you didn't train for the damn race! Idiot. Try and relax. Look at all of these people passing you. UGH, mile 2, and I already hate everything, this is awful. Not my finest hour mentally. Things didn't improve as we headed over the 3 increasingly large hills that led to THE hill just after mile 3. On the third buildup hill, I remember thinking that maybe this was the big hill...and then remembering for some unknown reason that there was a fence on the left side of the big hill...and this hill had no fence in sight. Between the surprise rollers and the fact that mile 3 came in at 7:24, a mental breakdown was imminent. The wind was in my face, my body felt tense, I just couldn't find a rhythm. Mentally, I was freaking out. 

And then, straight ahead, was THE hill. At least half a mile of climbing up into the distance. I tried to reel in my unraveling mind with the only thing I could think of to hold on to: RELAX. I tried to relax. I tried to tell myself that the stream of people passing me were going out too fast. I tried to reassure myself that the race wasn't going to be won here, that I wasn't going to lose a PR because of a slower mile split on this hill, but I could if I let my mental game implode at mile 4. I finally came through the mile mark in 7:29 - I expected that split to be slow, but it was still a blow to my confidence. Still, I thought, if I just keep THAT pace for the rest of the race, I can still get a PR. And I also reminded myself that I was heading into the most glorious section of the course, a gentle downhill section stretching about 4 miles which on this day had the added bonus of a tailwind. 

I told myself: CRUISE. The pack had started to spread out by this point, and I finally started passing some people, although others were passing me. But I was much calmer about that now - I suddenly felt light and free, and every time someone passed me who looked to be working a whole lot harder, I told myself that they would wind up coming back to me. In many cases, that turned out to be true. Mile 5 was a 7:08 - clearly quite the turnaround! Suddenly I felt completely relaxed and fabulous at this pace, and a tiny ray of hope started to peek through. Maybe this would be OK? Around this time, my brain also decided that it would be a good idea to start playing "Larger Than Life" by the Backstreet Boys on loop...I can't even think of the last time I listened to that song, so this was pretty random. 

For the next few miles, I just locked in and let myself roll. I knew that at some point we were going to turn into the wind, so I was trying to make sure I wasn't trashing my legs before that happened. You know that they always say "trust your training", but in this race, there wasn't much there to trust. I had to hope that my legs were strong enough not to completely crash on me somewhere in this, the longest distance I had run in almost a year. Around mile 7 or 8, I started to realize that the side of my left foot sort of felt like it Slash burning. I had a brief thought of "oh, shit, I shouldn't have worn these ridiculous socks, and I'm probably getting a blister there right now", but sort of put it out of my head until later.

We made the turn off of the downhill, heading along the water. The wind hadn't hit at it's hardest just yet, but there was definitely a change from 'ahh, gliding downhill' to 'OK, now you're going to have to work a little bit'. Still, coming through the 8 mile mark, I was still feeling great. If the wheels were going to come off it was going to happen soon, but I tried to keep myself in the moment and not worry about what was ahead. There was a little bit of an uphill at about 8.5, and I powered up it past 2 other women, duking it out on the hill. One again, I felt a little surge of excitement that I was RACING this thing - not just surviving, but actively seeking out other runners to pass. And it felt good.

Just after making the pass. Let's just take a minute to talk about how inappropriately dressed I am for a sub-40 degree day. To be fair...I wasn't cold after the first 2 miles of the race.

And then, it didn't feel good, because we made the turn into the wind, and HOLY SHIT. Not only was it freezing cold, but it was also straight into my face, and brutal. Again, I tried to calm myself down and get myself to relax. "Everyone else is running into this same wind," I told myself, "so shut up and get it done". We were at 10 miles now, and it was now or never. I still hadn't fallen much off the 7:08-7:10 pace, and with each passing split I became more shocked and giddy that somehow I was going to run a giant PR off of 25 miles a week. The pack was too spread out to really draft off of anyone, but I tried to tuck in as best I could behind the line of runners, hoping that maybe even a little bit of the wind would be blocked. After 2 brutal miles along the beach, during which I managed to only slow down into the 7-teens, we finally turned back into the city. 2 miles to go. By now, my legs were starting to ask what the hell was happening, and why we were still running. Mile 11-12 seemed to take an ETERNITY. I had somehow managed to isolate myself between 2 packs of people, and so it felt like I was running completely alone. And then, just after the 12 mile marker - THE hill.
My thoughts at this moment in time: FUUUUUUUUUUUU-you can fill in the rest

I kind of wanted to throw myself down in the road. AND I was utterly disappointed to find that there were no bagpipes at the crest of the hill this year. Having made it to the top, I thought that the worst was over...but the half mile that led to the finish seriously seemed to go on for an eternity. In my remembrance of the course, you basically ran up the hill, turned a corner, and it was downhill to the finish. But alas, in real life, there was about half a mile stretch of flat/slightly uphill road before that glorious downhill turn. I continued cursing the course, running in general, and the now-throbbing blister on my foot (as it turns out, it was a blood blister the size of like, 2 quarters) until I finally hit that downhill. And then...I'm pretty sure I flew past 10 people as I kicked into gear, knowing that I was FINALLY almost there. 1:35:03. 

I definitely was happy when I crossed that line. Mostly happy to be done, happy I hadn't completely failed, and sort of in disbelief that I had just PR'd by 3 1/2 minutes. I mean, what? I knew that my half PR was sort of soft, but I couldn't have guessed that it was THAT far below what I was capable of, especially given my less-than-stellar training over the months (and honestly, years) leading up to this race. And of course, I wasn't COMPLETELY happy because I missed breaking 1:35 by 3 seconds. GAH.  After the race, I quickly realized how incredibly cold it actually was, so I found my teammates and we headed back to the car to grab our gear. On our way, I ran into Kelly! My first running buddy in Boston, my mentor who got me into marathons - and I haven't seen her in years! I attempted to cool down with Joy, Anna, and Brianna, but after about half a mile of hobble jog/walking, I gave up and went to catch up with Kelly instead. We grabbed seafood chowder and chatting - so nice to see her again after so long! 

After the race we headed to a local bar ("Phlanges?" was what we heard over the phone, actual name of the bar: Sliante) was St. Patrick's Day, after all! And so I enjoyed a porter and basked in that PR glow.
Post race celebrations: basically the only reason we run. PS, those are not our medals from the race, but random beads that we were given at the bar. 

It was a great day, overall. But the most ridiculous part of the day was yet to come...because as soon as I got back to Boston, I'll give you one guess as to where I was headed. I'll give you a hint: it involved dancing for 2 hours straight. That's right, we had our first full runthrough with the band for Heartbeat! And really, what better way to cap off a half marathon PR than dancing?

New Bedford Half Marathon - 3/17/13
New Bedford, MA
547/3135 overall
54/384 F20-29

Friday, April 26, 2013


[As with everything that I do on this blog these days, this comes way after the fact - I contemplated not writing anything, but it felt odd to just move on to the next race report without mentioning Boston in some way]

I wore my 2010 Boston jacket to work on Marathon Monday because I was thinking about everyone who was running the race. And truth be told, as I watched the elite races unfold and excitedly checked my phone for updates on all of my GBTC teammates between patients, watching as several friends ran incredible races, I was a little jealous that I wasn't racing. I texted my friend Joy - "Uh oh, I think I might want to do another marathon!" I was caught up in the excitement, even though I wasn't actually there for the first time in 4 years. I couldn't have guessed that all of that excitement would be transformed into sadness and anger by the end of the day, and that the jacket that I had put on that morning in solidarity with the marathoners would take on a whole new meaning.

There's so much I could have written over the past couple of weeks, and saying it now would really only be repeating things that have already been said. My personal favorite piece is this one: But I can tell you that when I walked into the waiting room to get my next patient and saw those headlines, those images on CNN, I felt like I had been absolutely punched in the gut. Many people have spoken about how runners, as a community, have really felt the effects of these events very personally, as we are such a tight knit community and the marathon is such a joyous celebration of that. I was right on board with those sentiments, but there was another reason that I think I was hit harder by all of this than I have been by any other atrocity that has taken place in my lifetime. And that's because in that moment, I realized that Boston is my home. You never imagine that something so horrifying could happen somewhere that you live - in a race you've run, where friends have stood to cheer for you, on a street you walk down every week to get to track practice. And seeing those familiar places turned into a warzone was horrifying. My heart ached for the families, the victims, the runners who didn't get to finish and those who saw their achievements overshadowed by people who seem to believe that by causing chaos that they will prove some kind of point. And as many have said, Boston has clearly shown that we are stronger than that.

I had planned a trip back to visit Andrew last weekend long before these events occurred, and the shock of waking up to head to the airport Friday morning and seeing BU Alert texts about "manhunt", "shootings", and "lockdown" was beyond anything I've ever experienced before. On my flight, every TV was tuned to the news. I was lucky enough to catch a cab and was able to get to my apartment - the streets were a ghost town, even though it was the first truly beautiful spring day of the year. I don't think I have ever been happier to see Andrew in my life as when I walked through that door. It felt like a movie, watching the drama unfold as we "sheltered in place". And then, when it was all over, the elation, pride, and joy that I felt for the city that I've come to know as home was beyond compare.

I posted to facebook that night that "in the end, most people are AMAZING." And through all of this, the tragedy, the sorrow, the utter insanity of the entire thing - the beautiful, the good, and the strong are what have risen above. And I'm absolutely honored to be able to live, to run, and to love in a city filled with so much strength and love. I'm proud to call Boston my home.
Johnny Kelly statue in the Newton Hills, 4/21/13

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Great Stew Chase 15K Race Report

*This post was written over the span of about 3 weeks, so apologies for the horrible grammar, skipping back and forth between tenses, etc*

Know how you know you're having a really good race? When you think to yourself in the midst of mile 6 "huh, I think I just might be having a breakthrough right now." This is the story of an unexpected breakthrough, and of how I learned that sometimes you have to just lay it on the line and see what you can do.
Prerace GBTC crew!
Photo from Great Stew Chase facebook page

I was up bright and early Sunday morning to a cold, calm day and a light dusting of snow on the ground. I don't think at any time during the morning I ever got nervous, because this was of course not a race. It was simply a good excuse to get my long run done. With 10 GBTC ladies racing, we were quite an intimidating pack in our matching red jackets, and as we headed out on the warmup I had to smile. Although I've technically been running for Greater Boston for almost 4 years, this was the first time that I've truly felt like a part of the team, and its a great feeling. My legs felt like total crap on the warmup, which of course led to the typical spiral of "why am I doing this, this is going to be awful, I haven't even RUN 9 miles in the last 6 months let alone raced it..." I still wasn't really nervous, just much less excited. For some reason I decided to wear racing flats, which I haven't ever worn for anything longer than 6k. Whatever, see what happens, right?

GBTC pack!
Photo by Krissy Kozlosky

It was lightly snowing as we stood on the start line, and then without much fanfare we were off. I initially kind of stayed at the back of the GBTC pack, but eventually passed Joy and found myself running in flying V formation with Taylor and Brianna. Well, this is new. It's been so long since I had teammates to work off of in a race, and its thrilling. In the back of my mind I was vaguely aware that both of these girls are faster than me, but I couldn't seem to make myself care about that fact...until we came through the mile in 7:05. "Shit!" I didn't know what I was doing. Taylor, running next to me, says "don't worry, just go with it until it starts feeling bad". And so I take a leap of faith and do just that. The next mile is 7:10, I'm still hanging with our little trio, and perhaps strangest of all, the pace just...doesn't feel that bad. I'm not pushing at all, I just feel like I'm relaxing and letting my legs turn over; just letting it happen. This is confusing but I decide to just go with it (sensing a theme here?)...after all, what do I have to lose? I pass Taylor just before mile 3, which comes in 7:05. Pretty sure my most recent 5ks have been slower than this.

Brianna has pulled ahead by this point, and so I decide to do the only logical thing I can think of in a race where for some reason I'm feeling great: I start reeling her in. By mile 4 (a bit of a slowdown in 7:20 or so), I've caught her, and now I find myself in a position I never thought I would be in: leading a pack of GBTC girls. We head into a business park ("scenic" is not a word I would use to describe this race) and head towards a hill. Things aren't so effortless now, but I try to keep my fear of an impending breakdown on check. A hill looms in the distance, one I assume is the big hill Joy told me about before the race. "Nice and relaxed, right on up", I think to myself, in a display of mental fortitude that seems crazy to me as soon as I think it. I crest the hill, home free or so I think....until I turn the corner and am staring down an absolute monster of a hill. All the positive thoughts in the world won't help me as I drag my suddenly exhausted legs upward. This time my thoughts are along the lines of "this hill is chewing me up and spitting me out", and to add insult to injury, at that very moment a fellow PT student from Spaulding flies by. "These hills suck, don't they?" she says, and then she's gone, leaving me to gasp and bemoan my lack of hill training as I watch her fade off into the distance.

This, I realize, in the moment when I have to decide. Whether I give up and lose myself here on this never ending hill or push on to glory. And while my mile up the hill is 7:45, as soon as I crest the top I'm right back into racing mode - where's Mary? How far ahead is Katie? How much distance do I have on Brianna? At the turnaround I'm able to judge how much of a cushion I have, while also finding the energy to cheer for my teammates as they go by. And as we head down the hill, the relaxed feeling returns...I might not be out of the woods yet, and there's definitely still a chance to crash and burn, but for the moment I've made it through the darkness alive.  Clearly, my legs agree since the downhill mile comes in at 6:43 (notably, the first time I have EVER seen a sub 7 mile in a race over 6K). Off in the distance I can see Mary and Katie duking it out, and I vow to keep my eye on them. Will I catch them? Doubtful...but the least I can do is keep them in my sights.

Coming back out of the business park with a 7:18 is the moment I realize that things are really happening right now...and with 2 miles to go, why not just go for it? It's funny, because every mile of this race I've told myself "just keep going with this pace, see what happens" with the expectation that at some point I'm just going to drop off and lose it. But here I am, with 2 miles to go, and still holding why not hold it? I glance over my shoulder to assess the situation behind me - Brianna is maybe 300 m back, and I know that holding her off isn't going to be easy, but if there's one thing that can light a fire under my ass, it's having someone on my tail.

The last 2 miles of the race are difficult, and annoying, as the course goes through turn after turn and we cross back and forth across the street to follow the tangents. It literally seems like this happened every 2 minutes, which gets old pretty fast. I can still see Katie in the distance, and I'm aware that Brianna is somewhere close behind me, which motivates me even more to keep up the pace. There are plenty of small hills, rises and falls, but at this point they seem to balance each other out.  We finally make the final turn that leads to the finish, and beautifully, there's a long, gentle downhill...and now, finally KNOWING that I'm going to make it, and that I can stop waiting for the crash because it's never going to come, I fly. I pass 2 more people in this stretch and make up some time on Katie, and when I look at my watch to see a 6:54 I almost burst out laughing. Once again, I don't see sub-7 miles in distances over 5K, especially not in the last mile. I just don't. Except for the fact that I just did.

Once we pass the 9 mile mark time seems to slow down, as things always do late in the race when the finish line is so close and yet so far. I see two of my speedier teammates cheering as I give one last push through the finish line. 1:07.

Finish face..attractive, no?
Photo from the Great Stew Chase 15K facebook page

 Brianna, Taylor, and Jenny come streaming through the finish soon after me, and we head back into the building to get warm. I'm still kind of figuring out what to do with myself - I can't BELIEVE that I ran the time I just did, and the fact that I beat the 3 girls behind me makes things even more ridiculous. To make matters even crazier, I hear through the grapevine that the course was long - somewhere between 9.5-9.6 miles. Now, I know, I KNOW that my time is my time and I mean, I am beyond thrilled to have just hit 7:12 pace for almost 10 miles. But the little voice in the back of my brain that understands 'hey, so you might have just closed in on 7 flat pace for a 15K' is also kind of hard to ignore.

And even now, finally finishing this blog post almost 3 weeks later, I can't quite figure out how I did it. My mileage has been pretty lame, I haven't done ANY long runs, besides doing miler-style track workouts every week there is nothing that makes me deserving of the kind of time I just ran. I will say that I think my mental game has GREATLY improved lately - call it maturity, or doing more hard workouts on the track, but my head was 100% in the race the entire time during this race, even at those moments when I really felt like something awful was happening. 

But then again, I do have something else working in my favor. Because after the race, I headed back to Cambridge, and spent the next 5 hours of my life doing this:
Dancing "Belief" for the OnStage National Choreography Month Showing
Photo by Jessi Haggerty

I think this whole crazy pairing of dancing and training for races might just go together better than I expected. :)

Great Stew Chase 15K - Lynn, MA
51/265 overall
9/52 F0-39 (sidenote - holy GIANT age group, Batman!)
11/100 overall women

Monday, January 21, 2013

In which I rediscover my love for running on the 5th lap of an indoor mile

It's a familiar scenario, and yet totally foreign, standing there in the clerking area as "last and final call for the women's mile" echoes through the indoor track. I've stood there a thousand times before, but this time is different. There are no pre race superstitions, no one last song that I just have to hear as I run striders down the backstretch. I'm not even wearing spikes, just some racing flats that I got for free through a Mizuno promotion, and that I've worn for a single tempo run and a disastrous cross country race.  There are no expectations.  I don't know what I'm doing, but somehow I've wound up here, almost 5 years after I figured my track career was over for good, ready to race the mile.

I am standing next to my teammate, Joy, who also happens to be the reason that I am here, nervously hopping from foot to foot and trying to decided if I should retie my shoelaces again. As I told Joy after she coerced me into doing this race between 800s on Tuesday: "I don't think I would ever do anything if it wasn't for peer pressure". Someone else convinced me to run my first marathon, I ran my first 800 to try to impress a distance runner boy, many a long run in my life would never have been had someone not been meeting me. And Joy has lately been the instigator in getting me back to workouts, getting me to race cross country, and most recently, getting me to race this mile. I keep telling her I'm just going to lock in behind her and pretend its a workout, all the while hating her guts. She tells me that she guarantees I'm going to beat her. I legitimately have no clue what's going to happen; I've done exactly 2 track workouts since taking 3 week almost completely off due to bronchitis in December, and I only last week finally managed to pull my weekly mileage over the 30 mile barrier. I also spent 2 hours in dance rehearsal the day before, and my legs feel like lead as I attempt to do some strides. I feel like I could very well run a 6:30 mile at this point.

After spending the entire day trying to deny that I was going to do this ridiculous thing, suddenly I'm standing on the gentle curve of the starting line, bouncing up and down in that pre race ritual that I've never been able to shake. 3 jumps, shake out the right leg, shake out the left leg...from the 55 hurdles to the marathon, some things never change. Step up to the line, and there we are. The girl to my left says good luck, to my right, Joy whispers "don't go out too fast".  And suddenly we are off, and it's begun. Somewhat to my dismay, I find myself running in a pack of about 5 girls near the front of the heat - but I don't panic. Relax, self, just relax, and lock in. I have no idea how fast we're going and am dreading rounding the corner to see a 39 or something equally absurd on the clock, so I am pleased when we come through the lap at 44 or so. Right on target. It occurs to me during the second lap how equally pleasing and obnoxious it is to be running with this pack. I feel extremely relaxed - almost too easy to be racing - but do I make a move? I decide that it's too early to really assess the situation and stick in my groove - straight 45s. On lap 3 one of the girls in the pack abruptly cuts in front of me, and I almost lose my footing and take a dive over the rail, and later I step on someone's lost hip number, which sticks to the bottom of my shoe and makes an obnoxious slapping noise with each step. Of course - I latch on to stupid annoyances like that when I'm racing, so I have to giggle to myself. We come through the 4th lap right around 3:00 - exactly where I want to be...however, the question is, will I be able to hold on to this? What's going to happen now?

I continue on with my little pack through lap 5, passing one or two girls who start to drop back and keeping my focus on the shoulder of the girl right in front of me. Still inexplicably feeling like I am racing, and yet, not like I am dying, I come around the curve into the straightaway and a thought forms in my mind: "Holy shit, I am having so much fun right now!" It's all I can do not to break into a smile, because here I am, finally, racing and pushing and for the first time in so long, loving it. I'm racing. I'M RACING!

It occurs to me at some point that I have a shot in hell of breaking 6 minutes. But things finally starting to catch up to my barely-prepared legs, and while I try my hardest to assemble some sort of a finishing kick over the last 400 meters, I just don't have enough to pass the other two members of my pack, who finish less than a second ahead of me, or to dip under 6 flat. I finish in 6:06, a far cry from my 5:44 PR, but almost exactly where I seeded myself - a seed which I had thought of as basically an impossibility.

I cannot stop smiling after the race. A 6:06 mile - so pedestrian in the grand scheme of track, and even in the grand scheme of my own racing - but still, in this moment, a milestone. There was a time not long ago when I honestly questioned whether I would ever care about running enough again to work for a PR, to really race to the point of making it hurt, that red line. And somehow, what it took to rekindle that spark was the most unexpected of things, and yet so simple: one mile. That's how all running careers start, so in a way it's fitting that maybe this is how mine will begin again - older, wiser, free of expectations and superstitions, and simply running for the joy of the race and that feeling, amidst screaming legs and lungs on fire, that beneath it all you are really having the time of your life.

Photo by Tom Derderian