Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wolf Hollow Half (belated) Race Report

Surprise! Who expected a race report 2 weeks after a near PR marathon? Not me. But thanks to a every convincing friend and the fact that I got the itch to race back very quickly after Madison, I found myself signed up for the Wolf Hollow Half in Nashua. I went into this race with my expectations at absolute zero. In fact I told myself that I actually wasn't allowed to really "race". (Spoiler alert: I can't not race in a race). I went totally incognito and didn't even wear my GBTC singlet - no pressure whatsoever.

It just so happened that the day of the race was GORGEOUS... after several days of rain and freezing wind it was in the high 40s and sunny. I was kind of laughing, because honestly it wasn't that long ago for me that running half marathon was a big. frickin'. deal. And now I was about to do one literally for shits and giggles, without really any concerns that it was going to be particularly hard. Guess that's when you know you've kind of made it as a distance runner, when a non-goal race half marathon is just sort of NBD. We got to the park, picked up our packers, and did a quick " warm up", aka jogging around for 5 min looking for somewhere to pee in the woods, and then headed to the start. I had decided to listen to music again in keeping with the "I'm not racing, just going on a delightful long run through the forest" mentality. And then we were off!

I started off wearing arm warmers but tossed them within 2 min of starting...the sun was warming up fast. The course started with a 2 mile loop on roads before heading into the park and its trails. As usual, Joy shot out ahead of me and I tried to just relax and groove. I think I missed the 1 mile, and after jockeying for position a little bit I found myself passing Joy. I passed the 2 mile at 13:30...if I'd had water in my mouth at that moment I'd have spit it out. Not racing, MY ASS. Try my fastest start in a half (or race for that matter) in a looong time. Still, I felt great and smooth and wonderful and so I was kind of like, OK, I guess this is how its going to be!

We headed out into the first loop of the park, which was just lovely. We were running on trails and the late fall colors with the sunshine made for a very pretty run. I was still maintaining under 7 min pace through miles 3 and 4 which was surprising. Mile 5/6 found me just over 7s. I sort of had a brief moment of thinking, holy shit, could I PR today? But it was also around that time where I realized that things were starting to feel hard and I was not even halfway.

At around mile 6.5 we had to briefly veer off the trail and over a bridge to do this awful little lollipop. Between the quick uphill/downhill and some quick turns I felt like I totally lost my groove. However, I could also get a good sense of the field ahead of me and I suddenly realized that I was definitely in the top 10, possibly top 5 women. What? That was an exciting thought, however, the last 1/2 mile of the loop was a HORRIBLE uphill that totally sapped me. I was not feeling so good about this second lap anymore. But hey, we're not really racing, right? Except for that whole part where I'm shooting for top 3 now. But hey, not really racing...right? RIGHT?

Just chilling out max, relaxing all cool

JK, LOL. During the second loop my mindset completely shifted. I knew I had slowed down a bit and wasn't really trying to keep track of pace or splits anymore. What I was keeping track of, for maybe the first time, was my competitors. I spent miles 7-10 staring at the back of and slowly reeling in a girl in a yellow shirt. We started playing a little leapfrog at mile 9, but I had the sense that I had a little more left in the tank. As that was happening, this girl with a French braid came BOOKING by. I didn't have the pick up to go with her, but I did make my final pass of yellow shirt. Then, as we turned for home after mile 10, I saw a girl ahead in a Harvard jacket who looked like she was struggling. Again I went into competition mode and went in for the kill.

Not sure of the actual order of these two photos, but I look more tired here

My legs were getting tired, with the fatigue of being only 14 days removed from a marathon starting to take its toll. But the clear fact right now was that I was in 3rd. I had no clue what time in was going to run, but damnit, I wanted to hold on to top 3. We approached the lollipop, and I was gaining on French braid. Just then, a girl with 1 calf sleeve came cruising by. The 3 of us jostled for position until we hit the lollipop water stop. Calf sleeve grabbed the first cup and accelerated, French braid kind of slowed down to grab a cup, and I decided to seize the opportunity. I still was losing ground on calf sleeve but I was holding onto 3rd. I was NOT going to let anyone else pass me. Of course, the last 2 miles of the loop were by far the hilliest, and I had very little left in my legs. I kind of thought to myself "just run fast enough that French braid doesn't catch you". Which isn't very helpful, because I didn't even know how far behind me she was! Either way, I didn't feel like anyone was aggressively breathing down my neck so I tried to just suck it up and haul it up the hills as best I could. By the time I came down the other side and into the finish chute, I was just soooo ready to be DONE. I accelerated down the stretch, because I was NOT going to be outkicked today, and squeaked in just under 1:36. Top 3! BAM!

While not my best half time ever, it's still in the top 3 by a considerable margin and given how soon after the marathon this happened, I was damn pleased with what my legs gave me. That combined with the fact that the course was on trails (bound to slow you down a bit) and relatively hilly (not Harwich level, but I certainly wouldn't call it an easy course), I'm extremely happy with this. And, not to be forgotten, top 3! My first ever top-3 in a race that wasn't like, a 20 person 5K. I did a great job during this race of keeping my race face on and not worrying so much about MUSTPRMUSTMPRMUSTPR as just, go get that girl ahead of you. Now another one. And another one. Really, it was SO much easier that way. Do whatever feels good to your legs, and try to speed up if you think you can run someone down. Simple, really! And in addition, I think there really might be something to this whole zero pressure thing for me. Two solid races (though neither of them PRs) that I'm genuinely happy with back to back? I must be dreaming!

I'd also definitely recommend this race, especially if you enjoy a more laid back racing scene. The course was really pretty, and while I'm totally not a trail runner it was actually a really nice change of pace. Not sure I'd target it for a PR given the trail aspect and the hills, but it was a really delightful, well run half. The shirts are tech shirts with a simple but attractive design (and black which I liked) and I got a pint glass for my award which I will NEVER complain about. All in all, I'm glad I can be easily convinced to do ridiculous things, such as running 13.1 miles for no particular reason, and then can run kind of fast while doing them!

Wolf Hollow Half Marathon
Nashua, NH
39/573 OA, 3/317 F, 2/80 F20-29

Thursday, November 13, 2014

If you gave me a chance, I would take it: Madison Marathon 2014

If you gave me a chance I would take it
It's a shot in the dark but I'll make it
Know with all of your heart, you can't shake me
When I am with you there's no place I'd rather be
[My race in Madison, summarized by Clean Bandit song lyrics]

You guys.
I finally fucking did it.
4 years and 4 marathons later, on potentially the toughest course I've ever run, I damn near ran a PR. For all intents and purposes, this WAS a PR - it was the best marathon I've ever run. And quite honestly, whether the number of seconds after the 3:22 was 10 or 47, that's not really what matters. What matters is this: finally, FINALLY, I proved once and for all that my PR was not just a fluke. And after this race, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I am capable of, and that I will run, a sub 3:20.

So - race report time! For once there are actually a lot of pictures, will hopefully make this giant wall of text more entertaining for whoever happens to read this.
This was my first time ever flying for a race which added another interesting level of stress/distraction to the proceedings. I spent my day at work on Friday being essentially useless because I couldn't stop thinking about the race. My right hyperextending knee had been seriously acting up from Wed-Fri, so I had aggressively kinesiotaped it in the morning. It felt better with the tape but I was totally hyperaware of it and couldn't stop imagining twinges in my hamstring and calf. Add that to the fact that I had found out 2 days previously that I may or may not be out of a job come December 5, and needless to say work was not a high priority. Finally, I got my last patient out the door and booked it to the airport, where check in, etc. went smoothly. I ended up hanging out at the Cisco bar and chatting with 2 random business travelers (because apparently that's what you do when you sit at an airport bar alone?) We got on the topic of the fact that I was running a marathon, which of course led to one of them asking me what time I was hoping to run. I waffled around for a bit before 3:25 came blurting out of my mouth. Well, shit, if I'm telling random strangers at the airport bar that that's what I'm trying to run, I had sure better actually try to do it. I attempted to read on the plane but was just entirely distracted. The flight to St. Louis seemed to take FOREVER, but thankfully I was at that airport for just enough time to buy and eat a bagel (carbs!) and promptly fell asleep for the 45 min flight to Milwaukee. After a glass of wine and some more carbs while catching up with my mom it was bedtime. 2 more sleeps!

Saturday morning began with an immediate assessment of how my right knee was feeling, and thankfully all systems seemed go. I then headed to brunch with my fantastic 92 year old grandma, where I stuffed my face with an absurdly large and fatty breakfast sandwich along with the largest serving of breakfast potatoes I've ever had. CARBS. As a side note, I think I accidentally did a really excellent job of carb loading for this race. I accidentally think I depleted my carbs earlier in the week (eating things like Caesar salad without croutons and chicken stew for dinners aren't exactly carb heavy). No one will ever know how much of a difference that made, but I may have to try it again in the future since it seemed to be effective. After brunch, we headed off to my beloved MADISON! First stop was the expo, which was pretty low key but that was just fine. I grabbed my number and shirt, bought a pair of underwear that says "Get Used To The View" on the back (just like hurdle crew!) and then headed out to take some pics at one of my favorite places in the city.
Notice how windy it is.

It was around this time when I quite simply started to get really, really excited about the race. Honestly, once I was in Madison I never really felt nervous at all...just excitement and happiness. Being back in this place and knowing that I got to do this super cool thing the next day was just so damn fun that I didn't even think about times, or even about the fact that running a marathon is and always will be really freaking hard. I didn't think about my training or lack thereof. I was just...pumped. After the expo we headed to another one of my favorite places, State Street Brats, to watch the end of the Badger game and meet up with my sister and her BF. I had my customary single pre-race beer...and let me tell you, having it be an Ale Asylum Ambergeddon, on draft, in Madison, while watching the Badgers beat Purdue? MAGICAL. I also ate some fries, which seemed like maybe not the smartest thing but it was the only vaguely carb-like item on the menu. I made up for it a little while later by just eating a straight up

We finally made it to the hotel, got checked in, and I headed out for my typical 10 minute shakeout run. DEFINITELY the fastest paced shakeout I have ever done. I was jamming around the Capitol and went out to Monona Terrace just in time for the sunset to start. Once again - zero nerves - just total excitement about being in this city and what was to come. Spoiler alert: this is an EXCELLENT mindset to be in when approaching a marathon.
Hello, gorgeous.

Next on the agenda was meeting up with my dad + company for dinner and "drinks". Which for me consisted of approximately 1 gallon of seltzer with lime. We went to the Blue Marlin for dinner, where I was a little bit devastated that I couldn't just order fish. However, the vegetarian pasta primavera was DELICIOUS, and I did have some crab risotto along with some bites of my family's stuffed trout, so life was OK. Dinner was absolutely delightful, and once again I was so caught up in catching up with my sister and chatting with her boyfriend that I completely forgot about the fact that I was running a marathon the next day. This was just another lovely family dinner, right? Maybe it's because I don't see my family that frequently these days and it was just so nice to catch up, but my brain completely wouldn't wrap itself around the fact that I was going to run 26.2 miles the next day.  I got back to the hotel around 8:30, painted my nails my new 'badass' race color of so-purple-it's-almost-black, got my bib person set, and watched the Ohio State-Michigan State game for a bit (college football that I am vaguely, but not really invested in: the best relaxation there is). I turned off the light around 10 and was asleep shortly after that. Marathon day, here I come!
Bib person, assemble. This is slightly inaccurate because I switched to spandex shorts at the last minute, but whatever. Looks appropriate for a 35 degree start temp, yes?

Do you know what is the greatest thing ever? Staying in a hotel that's a 5 minute walk from the start line of a race. My alarm went off at 5 and I got to spend the next 90 minutes of life warm, happy, and relaxed in my hotel room. I forced a bagel down my throat (I think eating on marathon morning is one of the hardest things ever.) My mom had kindly bought me an iced coffee the night before to drink in the morning, but one sip revealed that the person making it had added sugar/sweetener...uggggggh. So I made shitty hotel room coffee and drank like 5 sips of it instead. Whatever. I gradually got dressed while having a dance party to various quality songs off of my marathon playlist ("Shake It Off", "Gravity", "How Far We've Come", and of course "Crazy Bitch" immediately before leaving for the start line), stretching a little bit, figuring out various places on my body to store my Gu, etc. Also. Having my own personal bathroom and spending zero seconds waiting in line for a porta potty was the most magical thing ever. My mother also got to learn just how many times bathroom trips happen prior to a marathon (I think that may have been an unfortunate revelation haha). That hour and a half did seem to go by VERY quickly because before I knew it, it was time to head down to the starting line.
At this point, yes, I may have started to get just a touch nervous, but mainly was still just excited. I had absolutely no idea what the day was going to bring, what I was capable of, etc. I just kept reminding myself that my number 1 goal for this race was to enjoy every single second of it. By the time I got to the line it was about 10 minutes to the start and we were loading into the corrals. I got naked. The start temp was like 35 degrees but EVERYONE seemed to be wearing pants, capris, jackets, etc. Nope. Arm warmers and shorts for this woman. I have zero regrets. In the corral as I was trying to decide on a spot, a guy next to me spotted my GBTC singlet and started talking to me in surprise - apparently he had run for the club several years ago but "that's the last singlet I was expecting to see here!" They were playing Fall Out Boy, a guy next to me was jumping up and down singing along. So light 'em up up up, light 'em up up up, light 'em up up up, I'M ON FIRE!  2 minutes to go time. The national anthem plays and, as always, I'm almost in tears. Now we're pumping up with "Firework". I GET to do this. Yes. 1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds...HORN.

Here we goooooo!
The race 
The first mile of the race was totally downhill, and my goal was to put exactly zero effort into running it. I tried out a lot of things for the first time during this race, one of which was listening to music. I've always been such a purist when it comes to racing with music and always sort of frowned upon it, but in keeping with the "I want this to be the most fun marathon EVER" theme, I allowed myself to have it this time. So, with Kesha yelling "Timber", I frolicked down West Wash. I was vividly aware of trying NOT to get sucked into the vortex of  people sprinting, and just let myself ride the wave down the downhill. A guy briefly tried to start talking to me about Boston, which I a) could only partially hear over the previously mentioned Kesha, and b) I literally hate when people try to talk to me during races. I somehow managed to explain that I went to school/am from Wisconsin, he said something I couldn't decipher, and then we wished each other a good race and continued on. Mile 1 approached quickly and I gave myself a little pat on the back for not being an idiot. 7:28. Beautiful. 1 down, 25 to go, and so far things felt delightful. I had no forboding sense of "am I going to regret this later", just "if it feels good, do it".

We turned briefly onto Vilas, where a few [hungover] college kids were out in their PJs with coffee cheering on the runners. This was also the point where I almost stepped on roadkill for the first time in the race (it happened 3 times. Yup). We turned onto Mills and I felt like a kid before Christmas. THE ARB THE ARB WE'RE HEADING TO THE ARB! Nice sweet downhill that I know well into one of my favorite places on earth to run. The first water stop was right before the entrance to the loop, and unfortunately they were using those awful plastic cups that you can't pinch to drink from. I ended up with a good about of water on my arms and almost none in my mouth. Hoping that this wasn't going to be the case for the entire race, I headed into my beautiful Wisconsin Arboretum. Mile 2, right after the entrance, clocked in right under 15:00. [Sadly, I went through all the effort to take splits on my weird watch annnnd then I deleted them while trying to look at them after the race. So I only have general paces. Womp womp.] So apparently this was the deal - my legs had decided that 7:30 was a pace that felt good. It was way too early to think about whether or not this was an appropriate choice, and so in the mean time I just let myself relax and enjoy.

The only issue that started to emerge during miles 2-4 through the arb was the fact that I had needed to pee since the start of the race. I was really, really hoping that it had just been nervous pee that would resolve as soon as I started running, but alas, that did not seem to be the case. It was somewhat distracting trying to figure out what to do next. Do I....just pee? Do I stop? Already this early I had this gut feeling that things were going to go well, and I started mulling over, well, if I could PR today, do I lose that by stopping at a porta potty? Probably not. So I started trying to stake out places where peeing might be a good idea. Couldn't bring myself to do it at that point in time, but this story ain't over yet. The hills of the Arboretum were mostly just delightful; minor rollers that are just enough to make the downhill that follows feel wonderful. It was so early in the race that my legs were responding very well to the ups and downs and I was pleased to see myself still holding the 7:30 pace with minimal additional effort. Around this time, I passed a couple of the Team Triumph teams (this involves a team of runners pushing a runner with disabilities, a la the Hoyts) and a couple of wheelchair racers who were having a bit of difficulty with the uphills. I was feeling good enough that I gave some encouragement as I went by. The pack was already starting to thin out a bit. The Arb section of the race seemed to pass in an instant, and before I knew it we were heading out of the forest to one of my favorite massive downhills of all time....MANITOU WAAAAAY!

I literally could not wipe the smile off my face for the next 5 miles of the race. As soon as we turned onto the downhill, Born To Run started playing, I almost started crying, and then I started grinning from ear to ear. This. was. the. best. I knew it was early, and I knew that 100 things could go wrong from here on out. But right here, right now? I was completely fulfilling my mission of running with joy and having the most fun. I took my first Gu at mile 5.5 - one of the other "new things" I decided to try for this race was taking 4 gels instead of 3. It turned out to be a great decision, and also broke the race up really nicely. There was a surprising amount of spectator support as we made yet another turn onto Monroe, and living in Boston for 5 years has made me forget how absolutely wonderful it is to see an entire damn town of people decked out in Badgers and Packers gear. My personal favorite was the new Wisconsin football shirts that say "Bucky Don't Care". This would become an important motto for me later on in the race. Of course, there was also a guy dressed in a hardcore Chewbacca suit, which I was obsessed with.

We approached Edgewood, which I would call the first "major" hill of the race. I had pretty much locked onto a couple of older guys and we were leapfrogging back and forth a bit, just cruising. Someone was holding a sign that said "Toenails Are For Sissies" and one of my newfound friends yelled back "I only have 3!" That one got a laugh out of me, which wasn't that difficulty because I was still having the time of my life. Just before heading up, I saw my sister and her boyfriend and they went absolutely INSANE. Screaming their faces off, waving a cowbell, even after I had passed. Clearly now everyone knew my name because the next random spectator I saw laughed and was like, "Go Audrey!". The Edgewood hill was...a hill...but once again, I was mostly thinking about what lay beyond the hill, which was yet another glorious downhill, followed by Camp Randall. The mile down Monroe Street was one of the most magical miles I've ever run in my life. I wasn't thinking about the miles to go, or even the fact that I was racing. I was just HERE - in this beautiful place, people are cheering and I'm smiling right back at them, I'm cruising at 7:30 pace, and life is just straight up GOOD. People were kind of laughing when they saw me run by with this goofy grin on my, who is this weirdo, and why is she enjoying herself so damn much? It was also at this point when "Don't Stop Believin'" started playing. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I passed by a sign that said "Inches make champions, miles make heroes". And I thought, yes.  We passed by the stadium [Breese Terrrace, where I'm sure EVERYONE was hungover at 8 am on a Sunday, was a little light on spectators. Hah.] and made the turn onto Old University. And now, here, is where the real work begins.

After making the turn I realized I was going to need to reevaluate this whole bladder situation, because lo and behold after an hour of running the need to pee was not disappearing. I knew there was a water stop coming up where I could theoretically stop. But again, here I was, still running 7:30s like it was the easiest thing in the world. And then I made a choice. There was no stopping this train. I did a quick check to make sure there was no one directly behind me, and then, in front of the Octopus gas station on Old University, just before mile 8, I peed. While running. It was SO FREEING. I felt significantly better and I also was laughing because now I felt like I had this secret. Muahahaha. Mile 8 came up very quickly and I came in just under an hour - still hanging right around those 7:30s. Perfect. The next stretch was pretty flat, but with Observatory hill looming in the distance it was a good time to do a systems check. I think this stretch was the first time in the race where I even remotely felt like I was trying, at all. I could tell I was still holding pace but it was taking juuuust slightly more effort to do so. The flat felt like it was kind of dragging on a bit (it's not the prettiest area of campus either) so it was almost a relief to hit Observatory and know that shortly it would be done.

Observatory, as advertised, was a BITCH. I'm not sure I actually ever walked up/down it that often when I was in school, but that hill is a  STEEP mofo and it's one of those lovely hills that goes around a curve so it's even longer than you expect it to be. However! I was prepared for this to suck, and I shortened my stride, got up on my toes, and just tried to expend as little energy as possible getting up the thing. It definitely did not feel great. In fact, I got to the top and was a little bit like woof, that took more out of me than I would have liked. But then I remembered that, hey, it's OVER! You made it up the biggest hill in the race! [Uh. That may have been false.] And rolling into the big downhill that came afterwards was just a fantastic feeling.
At the top of Observatory. I look WAY too happy for having just crested a massive hill. I love this pic. 
There's a HUGE downhill leading down to University and I just loved every second of it. It's also possible I peed some more. Just around the corner was my mom, waving a sign and screaming. I passed the 10 mile in just under 1:15. At the time I didn't think too much about it, but I think I was a little bit shocked. I had sent no messages to my legs other than "if it feels good do it". And 7:30s...well...they were feeling good.

We crossed State Street,, and once again, just a little shimmer of fatigue made itself known in my legs. I feel like those feelings in the earlier miles are the most nervewracking. You basically have 2 choices: do I think I made the right pacing decision, and therefore try to maintain this pace? Or do I think I made the wrong pacing decision, and try to salvage the situation by slowing down now? I refused to allow myself consider the second option. However crazy it seemed, however unlikely the possibility that today was PR day, the phrase that suddenly crossed my mind was: "Why NOT today?" I knew the worst case scenario was that I straggle home with a devastating positive split and a poor race performance. But on the other hand, I could finally fucking PR. And whether it was expected or not, if there was even the slightest chance of that happening I had to go for it. And here, at mile 11, things were looking like they were on the right track.

Just past State Street I saw my dad and his wife, who I almost missed because I was trying to take/calculate my 11 mile split. I took my second Gu shortly thereafter and buckled in for the middle miles. Somewhere in this timeframe "Take A Chance" started playing and it lined right up with the thoughts I'd been having before. When TAKE A CHAAAAAANCE NOW is screaming over and over on top of 90s Euro techno, it seems like a good time to take a chance. This section of the course had some decent rollers but they tended to be just short enough that by the time I started to get tired of heading uphill, we were heading downhill again. Once again, the crowd support was better than I expected it to be in this area, with some crowds of people on porches drinking mimosas and plenty of runners' individual cheering sections choosing this section of the route to set up.  Around mile 12 we exited what I was thinking of as the "neighborhood" section of the course and entered into the "ugly" section of the course. What marathon doesn't have some chunk of time spent on some awkward industrial road somewhere? As I was running on it I actually thought it reminded me of Framingham, which was hilarious for all sorts of other reasons. But ugly or not, this stretch was mostly delightfully flat, and we also had a nice tailwind situation going. I passed by the half at 1:38:01 - knowing that my "old" half marathon PR was 1:38 something and 7:32 pace, I knew I was still right around that sweet spot where I'd been the whole time so far - YES. During mile 14 there were a couple of great things that happened. One was that "Shake It Off" came on and I spent the next 3 minutes of life having my own personal mile 14 dance party. I also had begun approaching and passing several men in front of me. As I crossed an intersection, a cop directing traffic literally asked me "why do you look so happy?". And I yelled, for once in my life completely with no sarcasm attached, "I LOVE RUNNING!".

We finally approached the end of the "industrial section", with one final water stop at mile 15 before hitting Warner Park. As I passed, a guy at the water station yells at me "SIXTH WOMAN". I literally almost stopped dead in my tracks and I screeched "WHAT??!!". I then spent approximately the next 2 miles trying to determine if he was right [answer: absolutely not]. Even if he was wrong, I thought to myself, am I seriously, sorta kinda up near the front?? For real? And so, as we turned into Warner Park, and I saw a woman struggling in front of me, I of course took it upon myself to pass her. After that, things started to take a little bit of a darker turn. For one thing, there was what I like to call a wind situation starting to happen. That nice tailwind from the last 2 miles? Was now an absolutely evil, 10-15 mph headwind. Which also happened to coincide with the fact that shit was about to get hilly up in here. I had a realization: the next 10 miles were not going to be pleasant. That realization took an even firmer hold at mile 16, when we headed up the first of many LARGE uphills, into the wind, Thankfully, I had given my sister a tip to come and spectate at miles 16/20 because I figured the crowd support wouldn't be great, and I could see their neon green signs halfway up the hill from far away. Their cheers absolutely gave me the boost that I needed to get up and over the hill strongly. I took my 3rd Gu at the water stop at the top of that hill, which I think I was starting to desperately need. And then, the real fun began.

I'm not sure if I can fully convey how little I enjoyed miles 16-19 of this race. Of course, true to my plan, I was actually making every effort to enjoy myself and have fun. But now, I was kind of having to tell myself that I was having fun vs. actually having it. We headed into this little lollipop loop around a neighborhood, which would then take us back into the park via a different way. On the out, we saw the leaders coming back and I started counting women. I only saw 3 before I went out into the loop, and since I could also see another woman directly ahead of me it was at this point that I assumed water stop guy's counting was inaccurate and promptly dropped the thought. Besides, I had plenty of other things to think about now. Namely, how long and tall this god damn hill was, and how there's another freaking hill just around the corner. Things only got worse once we were actually out in the neighborhood - every turn seemed to lead to another uphill, and I had no sense of when we would be back in a place that I recognized. I'm pretty sure I actually mumbled a few choice words when we made yet ANOTHER turn only to find yet ANOTHER hill. This portion of the race was not a high point for me mentally. Really, mile 17 or 18 is where I always start to become aware of the fact that dude, 8 miles to go is still a long freaking way. The addition of hills and wind to that usual problem was starting to drain my confidence. I remember looking at my watch at 17 and 18 and attempting to make sense of the math. I knew/assumed that I had slowed down somewhat, but my mental math skills weren't good enough to figure out how much. My time at 18 miles was something like 2:17, and at this point in my head I was thinking that if I could somehow run 8 miles in an hour, I would go under 3:20. Looking back, my math had some errors in it (and I also wasn't considering the fact that I was no longer running 7:30 pace). But in the moment, it was probably better not to think about that.

We finally busted out of the stupid neighborhood back to the brief overlap with the out and back portion of the course. I was actually startled by how many people were now coming towards me, struggling up the hill, and headed out for their first loop. Things were pretty sparse where I was, which was also an interesting thing for my brain to chew on. Yet again, I started wondering - am I kind of like...near the front of this thing?  We veered off to the right and  now we were running on some sort of bike path through the park, which was a delightful change of pace from the Neighborhood From Hell.  I was basically running by myself at this point, and with mile 20 just ahead I literally had no clue what was going to happen over the next 6 miles. I had a distinct awareness that I could totally blow up. Or...I could not blow up. And this could be the day that I had been dreaming of for 4 years. I tried to turn back on "why not me, why not today". Truth be told, I have felt much, MUCH worse at mile 20 of marathons. In fact, I think this was one of the only times I've actually felt somewhat like there was something left in the tank. But at the time, I wasn't thinking about all those other marathons, I was just thinking about now. And now was kind of starting to hurt.
Something I've notices from these race photos: the more tired I get, the less I hold my hands in fists. They just turn into awkward jazz hands. Cute. I love this picture anyway.
Just after the 20 mile mark, after a pocket completely empty of spectators, my sister and her BF reappeared at a whole new level of loudness. They started running along side me, screaming their faces off. My sister couldn't keep up with me [trying to run through grass in boots is difficult, even for short distances] but her BF hung with me for maybe 200 ft before breaking off and saying "yup, annnd I'm done" which made me laugh. 6 miles to go. Here we go.
My sis captioned this on facebook: Mile 20 and she's still smiling! Only for you, sis. Only for you.

We started weaving back through the park, in an area that I vaguely remember running a turkey trot through many years ago. There was some seriously excellent spectator support going on here, and I got some solid "Go Greater Boston!"'s which will make me smile no matter what state I'm in. All of that gave me a boost...that is, until we headed away from the spectators and onto yet another hill. One that I DEFINITELY recognized from the XC turkey trot, and one that I hated with all of my heart at this moment. It wasn't a particularly steep hill, but it was a long grind, and my legs were finally starting to make their unhappiness with the hill/wind situation known. Once again, I tried to go back to my favorite mantra of RELAX, loosen up my arms, and just get up it. And I actually did pass another guy during this stretch. But I was wondering just how many more hills my legs were going to tolerate, because unfortunately I knew that this was not the last one.

I took my last Gu just after mile 21 and we continued on through Maple Bluff. My new mantra to myself was "this is where it happens". The rest of the race - yeah, that was a thing - but here and now is when you have to decide if you give up or fight. And I was definitely, definitely in it for the fight. Every time I would start to tighten up, we would hit a little downhill, or a flat, or there would be some random person out on their lawn cheering, and I would get myself to relax back into it. I also started getting some delightful calf cramps, similar to the ones I had at Boston, where I would push off the ground and my calf/toes would start to seize. I decided to nix my ban on the weird Tyr drink that replaced Gatorade at this race and start getting some electrolytes in for the last few miles - not sure if it helped, but it seemed to! This part of the course, although many things about it made me want to stab myself, was absolutely beautiful. The sun had come out, Lake Mendota was full of chop through the trees, and the fall leaves were just glowing. I knew I had slowed down a bit once again, but I kept looking at my watch and trying to calculate miles left/time left. I vividly remember thinking "it's gonna be close" in terms of a PR and/or sub-3:20. But the great part about it was, I wasn't really even worried about that. By this point in time, despite things starting to fall apart a little bit, I knew I was going to run in the 3:20s. Which is literally the only thing I even remotely wanted to accomplish with this race. And so once again, despite the pain, I was happy.

The happiness went away at mile 22, when we had to climb THE WORST HILL IN HISTORY. For some reason my deranged brain was really frustrated with these hills, because I kept thinking "Damn it, if this were Boston, we'd be DONE with the hills by now!". Maple Bluff, holy shit. It was not the longest hill I've ever climbed but I do believe it may have been the steepest. There were few people around me, but some of them were walking. I did not. Because this is where it happens. This hill is taking you to victory, to redemption, to proof that you are what you say you are, and that the past isn't a fluke. At the top of the hill, you could see the Capitol poking through the trees. It was beautiful. And that's where I was running to.
Yeah, I'm running downhill now. But do you not understand that I just ran up THE WORST HILL EVER?  And why did you put a camera here? 

After that hill, all that was left to do was try to hold on. The downhill that followed hardly made up for the devastating climb we had just made, but it was almost over. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. That was my new refrain. Just hold on. Keep the legs moving, don't stop. Forward motion. Around this time I caught up to a pack of 3 guys who seemed to know each other/be running together. While my attempts to use them to block the wind were ineffective, they did make a nice little carrot on a string to try to reel in, slowly but surely. I caught up to them around mile 24, which also happened to be the point where my legs were on the verge of collapse. We ran under the Tenney Park bridge and past the most EXCELLENT water station which was blasting some rock version of "You spin me right round baby right round". The pulsing rhythm suddenly woke me out of my stupor and I realized - 2 freaking miles to go. Look at the watch. It's gonna be close. It's probably not gonna be a PR. But it's gonna be close. So fight for it. Some part of my mind was still completely in awe that I had made it this far at this pace. This was completely unexpected. But here, now,  is literally where your last 3 cycles of marathon training ALL pay off. In this one race, here and now.

Me and my man pack at the 24 mile. Look at our faces. MARATHONS ARE SO FUN GUYS!
We finally made the turn to head back towards the Capitol; of course, that also meant we turned directly into a headwind. Ouch. Conveniently, "Man Up" from The Book of Mormon chose this time to make an appearance on my ipod and it was so appropriate I almost laughed. Nothing I needed more right now than a song repetitively telling me to man up...perfect. The last 2 miles of this race exist in a haze in my  mind. I literally felt like my legs were going to collapse. I felt like I was running in a crouch because I physically didn't have the strength to fully extend my knees against gravity. It definitely hurt, but the feeling wasn't so much pain like I've experienced in other marathons as just extreme, unstoppable fatigue. Total muscular meltdown. The hills, the wind? Yeah, they took their toll. Despite that, I was really, really happy. While writing this it seems like I'm focusing on the negative feelings that happened during this race, I really want to emphasize the fact that I really did love the entire thing. Not only that, but I feel like mentally I was able to shut myself up when I felt the negativity creeping in and for once just embrace the pain and try to fight through it. I'm not sure I've ever been able to say that for myself during a marathon before, and that's something I am really proud of about this race.

As we approached the final turn, IT came into view. What is IT, you ask? Well, remember how I said the Maple Bluff hill was the worst hill ever? LIES. Because this hill, at mile frigging 25.8, is absolutely, without a doubt, THE WORST HILL EVER. I am 100% not joking when I say that the existence of this hill is the reason I did not PR this race. I gave it everything I had, but in the condition my legs were in, even the fact that I continued to "run" up the hill didn't prevent a massive slowdown. And it just seemed to go on. and on. and on. and on. I'm pretty sure time actually got slowed down or I was sucked into the matrix or something while I was running up that hill, because it felt like eternity. But things suddenly snapped back into focus at the top. ALMOST THERE. I come around the corner and my mom and sister are going crazy. There's a bit of a downhill to mile 26. I look at my watch and it's already at 3:20 - so close, damn it, so close. But what does that even matter? With every ounce of strength I have, I claw my way up State Street, and one final god-forsaken hill to the finish line. A woman passes me. I am not pleased, but my legs physically will not respond. I know I've given everything that I have and today, for the first time in 4 years, it was enough. I cross the finish line in 3:22:47, in front of the beautiful Madison capitol, and I feel nothing besides complete and utter joy.
The best. 

I am absolutely crying happy tears in this picture. 
Total success [Pretty sure I was too fatigued to smile normally in any of these photos]

I made my way through the chute and collected water, chips, and a sandwich, none of which I ate, before reuniting with my whole family, all of whom not only got to see me run a marathon, but got to see my run (I think) my best one yet! I was totally giddy with excitement and happiness and just the utter joy with having something turn out about 600% better than you expected. Then I got a calf cramp that was literally so bad that I fell on the ground. So that was fun! I also discovered that a thing that happens when you pee yourself while wearing spandex and then proceed to run for 2 more hours, it causes some pretty severe chafeage. To the point of bleeding. Also incredibly fun! I'm sure my family was impressed hahaha.  I eventually wandered over to the results area and discovered that while the water station guy from mile 15 was off by a little bit, he wasn't off by THAT much...I was 13th overall woman. Holy shit. I have never placed that highly in a race of 500 people, let alone 1200. I obtained my free Michelob Light and essentially chugged it, because now that I was no longer running, my racing outfit was no longer appropriate, and I was straight up freezing. 

As always, things happened after the race. I didn't feel like eating (except for cheese curds.) but I did feel like drinking a LOT of Wisconsin beer. All of which was exactly as delicious as I dreamed it would be.  At some point, I think I'm going to have to think a little bit (and most likely, write about) about HOW I actually managed to bust out this race. The weather definitely played a role to the positive (aside from the wind)...I think if I ever want to run a fast marathon, the temperature has got to be below 55, otherwise I might as well just do it for fun. I also genuinely believe this was the hardest course I've ever run, and I have zero doubt that if you superimposed my race onto the Baystate course, this would have been a 3:18 day... which almost makes the whole thing more hard for me to wrap my brain around haha, Sub-3:20 now, finally, seems like a totally realistic thing to shoot for if the day is right. I absolutely did not believe I could do it. With the lowest mileage and least structure to marathon training I maybe have ever done, I went into this race with zero expectations. And I think that just might have been the key. If it feels good, do it, is a good rule to live by...and sometimes, if the day is right, your legs just might decide that today's a day to fly. Being in a city you love, with the magic of the streets that made you a distance runner? Well, I guess that doesn't hurt either. And how good it feels to FINALLY prove to myself that I'm not just a one shot wonder, that I'm capable of being a good marathon, and that my PR is legit...honestly, for what that means to me, this race might as well be a PR. 

Madison Marathon 2014
121/1236 OA, 13/504 women, 7/118 F25-29

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Some taper thoughts and Madison training recap

I can't even begin to convey how weird it is to be "tapering" right now. I feel like I'm just starting to ramp things up! Which is, of course, a testament to what a weird training cycle this has been. What's equally weird is that despite the numbers saying I shouldn't, I'm not feeling too terrible about my fitness at this point. Let's talk training first, then we'll talk race.

Long runs
I think I'd give myself a B in this area of training. My progression of long runs was as follows: 11, 14, 13, 17, 20, 2 weeks without a true long run because of Heartbeat, 15 (race), 21, 22, 17, 14. Aside from that obvious 2-week hiatus, this looks like a pretty typical progression for me. In a perfect world those 2 weeks off would have been replaced by an 18 and another 20, but life isn't perfect and considering I've had a LOT on my plate over the last few months, I think I got it done pretty solidly here. I also feel like the quality of my long runs was above average for me, with only 1 really "LSD" run when the weather also happened to be 90 degrees and humid, so I think that's fair. 2/3 of the 20 milers included a decent chunk of miles at sub-8 pace. The half marathon I raced was horrible, but that was my own damn fault for racing like an idiot.

This was a little bit of an odd area this training cycle. I feel like I did fewer formal track workouts that I would normally (think I did maybe 6 or 7 workouts on the actual track), but the number of impromptu tempo/pickup runs I did was higher. I also think in general (and this could be interpreted as a good or a bad thing) the pace of my runs was faster than usual, even if the overall mileage was less.

Midweek medium-long
Big fat F here. I think I did one 10 miler, which was really only done because I wasn't doing a long run that week. Sacrifices had to be made somewhere this cycle and this is where it happened.

Overall mileage
When I looked at my weekly training mileage going back to when  I started officially training in August, I was APPALLED. The numbers looked so, so low. Really, I would say I've put together about 7 weeks of really genuinely solid training in the 45-55 mpw range. There are unfortunately also about 5 weeks of awkward 30-35 mile weeks scattered in there...and 2 weeks of 20 miles total while Heartbeat was going on. Ouch. I think I've made up a lot of ground over the last month but I definitely wouldn't say that my overall mileage base is ideal going into this marathon. What can you do?

Since moving to Cambridge I have encountered a lot fewer hills on my daily 5-7 mile runs. I've made solid efforts to seek them out particularly for long runs, but let's face it, at the end of the day, I probably could have used to run more hills. Couldn't we all.

Cross training
This is the real mystery ingredient to this training cycle. For the first time, I own a bicycle and have been putting in at least 20, but some weeks >35 miles on the bike commuting to and from work as well as other errands, rehearsals, etc. I also danced a LOT over the first 2 months of training, and while that slowed down a bit during October that was also when my actual running mileage ramped up. I'm VERY intrigued to see whether all of this has been able to replace some of the lost running mileage as far as fitness goes. I assume that my legs are stronger with all of the biking and dancing, but will that make a difference at mile 22? Hoping that this will be my ace in the hole.

Soo with all of that being said...let's talk about the race! Honestly, even as I sit here and think about all of the training details I just went over, I can't even begin to guess how this race is going to play out. Some things I think I have working in my favor are:
-The weather: hot weather is the devil for me, and current forecasted high is 36 degrees.
-Familiarity with the course: while I don't know miles 16-22 very well, I have experience running on at least 70% of the course and am prepared for most of the little rollers/"bigger" hills (Observatory, Edgewood, etc).
-Miles run at something vaguely resembling marathon pace: When I've done runs over the last few weeks at "relaxed" pace, it always seems to come up somewhere between 7:36-7:47. It doesn't escape me that that's just the pace I was hanging around at when I PR'd at Baystate.
-Emotional connection to Madison: The excitement of getting to run through that city for the first time in 5 years is definitely going to be worth something
-Mileage base over the last year + (this will be marathon #3 since September '13)
-Cross training benefit, maybe?

Things that I think are working against me:
-The above-mentioned lower overall mileage
-Lack of hill training. I know that Madison is a somewhat hilly place (although, having run there for 4 years I still don't know if I'd describe the course that we're running as a "really hilly course", which people seem to be. That's psyching me out and it needs to stop.)
-Decreased awareness of my fitness level. Honestly, I have NO CLUE what I'm capable of running right now. Not the slightest idea. I keep coming back to the fact that I don't think my marathons the last few years have accurately represented me as a runner because all of them were run in temps over 70 degrees, which I know I don't handle well. But, is cold weather enough to overcome (what I feel) is less that awesome training? Or is my training actually fine with all of the cross training that went on? I have no idea. And that's a big unknown to think about going into a race because you've got to pick a pace to go out at. What pace is too slow, what pace is suicidal, what pace is OK? I don't have a guess.

Thinking about all this. here are the vague goals I've decided on:
GOAL ABOVE ALL ELSE: Have the most fun and love the fact that I GET to run a marathon through the city where I became a runner. Love it 100% of the time, even when it hurts.
A+ goal: 3:25 +/-
A goal: Better time than Boston 2014, getting me a better corral for 2015
B goal: BQ (sub 3:35)
C goal: sub 3:45 (this just can't be worse than Lehigh)

Even putting that 3:25 out there seems bold; it's been 4 years since my PR and that was on a much flatter course, with significantly more miles under my belt. But damn it, I just KNOW that I should be able to run in the 3:20s more consistently. And I want to embrace the cold, embrace my beautiful Madison, and just do the damn thing, hills, doubts, and demons be damned. You can see I'm not even gunning for a PR (I mean, obviously if the moment strikes) because that's not even what I care about right now. I just want to prove once and for all that my PR is NOT a fluke. And that even on not the best training ever, I CAN put together a solid marathon. And no matter what, I want to love every moment I get to spend running through those Madison streets, because those streets made me a runner. And hopefully, with some mental fortitude and a little bit of luck, they'll make me the marathoner I know I can be, too.

One week.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A very belated Harwich Half Report, or, how to race like an idiot

Back at the beginning of October, I ran the Harwich Cranberry Harvest Half Marathon down the Cape in Harwich, MA. I initially picked this race because my mom was in town for the weekend, and since she couldn't watch me in my dance show as planned, she could at least see me run (something she, for some reason, totally enjoys). I figured the Cape would be a fun destination since she was kind of hoping to get there, what the heck! Let's drive almost 2 hours to do a random half! I was also coming off of what nearly turned into a 2 week hiatus from running due to Heartbeat...between hell weekend, first show, soreness from first show, and second show, I got minimal running in for about 10 days, so I figured a half would be a good "workout" and a good way to get some vague sense of where I was in my fitness. Um. Let's hope that this race doesn't represent where I am in my fitness, because if it does? Bad news bears.

I potentially have never prepared less for/done a better job of pretending I WASN'T racing the next day than I did the Saturday before this race. I started off the day with a 2 hour hike in Middlesex Fells, which was gorgeous, but also extremely hilly. Whatever! We love hills! It's just hiking! I then proceeded to head to the Baseball Tavern to watch the Badgers game with Andrew and my mom, where we proceeded to drink several beers and eat various bar-type foods. Ideal preparation, yes? The day concluded with us eating at a sushi restaurant, where I ate raw eel and drank a martini. Let's be real for a second here. This obviously was not an "A" race, but could I really have sabotaged myself any more? I love that I'm no longer intensely superstitious about being a perfect human being the day before races -hell, having (one) beer is now part of my pre-race tradition!  Buuuut this was a little intense.

I headed down to the Cape with my mom on Sunday morning, and it was a PERFECT fall day. Absolutely gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky, light breeze, temps in the upper 50s. I of course managed to forget my breakfast at home so we had to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a bagel and an iced coffee. The race itself was a smedium (small/medium haha) affair with 250 or so runners in a 7.3 mile race and about 600 in the half. Packet pickup was pretty frills, and we received a lovely cotton t-shirt with a logo that I can't decide if it's hideous or adorable. We had gotten there relatively early so I had time to locate a porta-potty and hang out with my mom for a bit before the race. I had EXTREME difficulty deciding what shoes to wear for this race for some reason. I haven't found a pair of Mizunos that I love for racing yet but I was thinking I wanted to wear flats of some sort (because I thought I was going to run fast...ohhhh hahaha silly Audrey). I eventually chose my Saucony Fasttwiches, definitely flats, which I wore for a 10 miler the week before so assumed they would hold up OK.

Surveying the situation                                               Being paparazzi'd by my mom while "stretching"

I warmed up a little bit on the high school track and then headed to the starting area, where I felt like I was standing FOREVER. Finally they had us get into the starting area with a vaguely seeded system - signs posted for 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, the usual. I hung out near the front of the 7:00 sign group, and it was pretty empty. There were maybe 2 women lined up ahead of me with a couple right around the same area. Well, this is where the stupid thought started to go through my mind. "Hey, there aren't even that many people lining up in the 7:00 area. You knew this race was kind of small. Could you win something today? Maybe? Huh?" Damn it, brain. I'm never listening to you again.

The national anthem played and shortly after we were off. And I immediately became WORLD'S DUMBEST RUNNER. Off the line I was maybe 4th woman, and I decided I wanted it to stay that way. I latched on to a woman in her 40s or 50s and we started running what (I perceived for the moment) as a comfortably hard pace. Said woman went on to run a 1:30. My PR is 1:34. I think we can all see where this is going. I either missed the 1 mile marker or there was none, but I heard someone's Garmin trill and I looked at my 1 mile split. 6:47. Oh sweet lord. For some reason I decided to ignore that useful information that I had just been provided and kept running with the master's woman. I came through the 2 mile split in under 14:00 and was (for obvious reasons) already feeling it. Houston, we have a problem...this runner is an idiot!  I feel like I should also mention that the course, until maybe the last 1.5 miles, was entirely rolling hills. Up, down. Up, down, up. Up down. I have run very, very few rolling hills in my training recently. This was...unpleasant.

Once I started to realize that I had gone out way, WAY too hard, things started to go downhill in a big way. I consciously tried to slow my pace but I also quickly realized I didn't have a choice, because my legs were already going to crap. I got passed so. many. times. between miles 3 and 5. It was unfortunate but I couldn't even bring myself to care. I was not enjoying my Sunday. Up, down. Up, up, up, down. I hate these hills so. effing much. At one point I got "Shake It Off" stuck in my head and I was like, yeah, you're gonna be fine, just shake the hill off! That was an unsuccessful mind game. It's really been awhile since I felt AWFUL in like mile 4 of a long race, but that was happening, and I had to find a way to suck it up and just get through it. I eventually settled on repeating in my brain every time I hit a hill "This is just making you SUCH A STRONGER RUNNER...think of how much mental fortitude you are building right now...seriously WHAT A GREAT WORKOUT THIS IS YOU ARE GOING TO BE SO MUCH STRONGER AFTER THIS". And having a rationale for the unpleasantness strangely helped a little bit. I actually held on to around 7:25-7:30 pace through about 7 miles, which surprised me a little given how I felt. For a second I thought, OK, well I could run a 1:38 and be totally OK with that! Annnnd then we hit mile 8.

I should mention that along with the rolling hill death there was a wind situation going on. It wasn't noticeable all of the time, but right after mile 8 we made this turn along the water and all of a sudden there was just this ridiculous wind gusting in my face. There happened to be a water stop right there as well, which I attempted to use, but I got distracted as the water essentially just blew in my face and at the same time, my hat (which is so ratty and gross but for some reason is my favorite running hat) blew off of my head. I was SO unhappy. Of course I wasn't going to go back for the stupid hat, but I couldn't help being pissed off that I had lost my favorite hat over this dumb race I was running. The next mile I became very grouchy. The pack had thinned by this point and so I was basically running by myself, and it was a lonely, lonely time. Some people screamed at me out of a car which got me to crack a smile, but other than that I was basically just thinking, ugh, when will this end. The only saving grace was that things flattened out a little bit at this part of the course and we got some shade, which was pleasant. But the BEST news was when I suddenly heard someone coming up behind me..."Excuse me, is this yours?" MY HAT!!! A girl running behind me had caught it, and of course she was now going to pass me, and beat me, but I honestly could not have cared less because I had my hat back.

I kept running. The pack thinned out even MORE. I felt like I was just chilling out for an extremely unpleasant long run by myself. I felt like poop. I knew I was slowing down and I couldn't bring myself to care. All I could think about was getting through the next few miles so I could just be DONE with this stupid race and eat some food and not think about running for the rest of the day. At mile 11, suddenly a giant hill appeared out of nowhere. I tried running up it. It was one of the most pathetic things I've ever done. I ended up walking for about 30 seconds because I just couldn't even do it anymore. I finally shut down my negative stupid-brain and was like, shut up, you're almost there, just get it done. Around mile 12, I suddenly remembered that I had a Gu in my pocket. How does one even manage that?! Remember how I was just a total idiot in this race? Something tells me that my small breakfast + no fuel = unpleasant last several miles of race. Herp, derp. I decided better late than never and I took it anyway, but it was ridiculous.

The last mile and a half or so of the race were on this Cape rail trail which was actually really delightful - the leaves were gorgeous and it was flatter than the rest of the course had been. I was still absolutely not enjoying my day but at least it was about to be over shortly.
I look so relaxed here. Not entirely sure how I managed that one. Bad race =good photos?

The distance between mile 12 and 13 seemed excessively long as we turned off the rail trail and I thought we were going to immediately hit the finish line. Nope, still need to run around a parking lot thing before you can be done. This was the point where I finally saw my mom cheering (adorably, as always). I think I made a face at her but at least now I knew I was almost done. The finishing straight, as always, seemed to last years, and I suddenly became aware of breathing behind me and people saying something to the effect of "he's right behind you!". Well. After all of the shit that had happened in this race I REFUSED to get outkicked at the finish line. I have no idea where I found any strength to do anything, but I literally outleaned this dude, sprinter style. We shook hands afterward. Sadly by chip time he actually beat me by 15 seconds...but gun time for life, beyotches.
 Epic sprint to the finish. At least my calves look awesome?

FINALLY it was over. My final time was a 1:42:12 which just...ugh. So far off of my PR and by far the slowest half I've run since moving to Boston. I guess now I know why they say New Bedford is a fast course...maybe I need to adventure into other halves to find out where I really stand. I grabbed several beverages (Gatorade, Honest Tea, water) from a tub and headed over to get some food. Unfortunately, nothing sounded appetizing in the slightest. Eventually I thought I might want a hot dog, but at that point there were none readily available, and by that point I was just over it. So my mom and I left without much further ado. I did meet an ADORABLE bulldog puppy while sitting on the ground which more than made up for how crappy I felt. 

"That was exactly zero fun"

I actually had to go to a dance rehearsal afterward, but not before we stopped at A&W for some hot dogs, root beer and CHEESE CURDS. If anything makes life better, it's cheese curds.

So, to summarize, I think we have a few morals to this story:
1. Don't be an idiot.
2. Remember your damned Gu
3. Don't be an idiot
4. Run more hills 

Harwich Half
78/610 overall, 9/107 F 20-29

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Today I found out I made the cut for Boston 2015 by 1 minute, 44 seconds. Initially I was like, OK, of course, I figured that being 2:46 under the qualifying time would get me in. But then, as I was sitting and thinking about it a bit more, I had another thought.  Looking back on that race, there was such a long period of time where I felt like total shit and was dying. And there were also the opening miles where I went out just a bit too aggressively. And that got me thinking: how much did I have to fight for that 1:44? And the answer is, a LOT.

I could have slowed down in Natick when the heat started to get to me and everything was crowded. I could have eased off instead of following the girl with the neon yellow shorts through Wellesley. I could have let myself walk for an extra 5 seconds, 10 seconds, when my leg was cramping. I could have stopped to hug my boyfriend. I could have not sped up, making my last mile the fastest of the final 10 miles. When I'm in a marathon race, I'm not thinking about those choices. I try to remove myself from the situation as much as I can and objectively assess: can I keep this pace? Do I need water? Is something hurting? Should I slow down? become less questions than data entry points: a + b  = c.  But in the end, they are choices. And I want to remember that, when I have the privilege of toeing the line in Hopkinton this April, that I am there because of the choices I made to keep fighting on a warm April day in 2014.

In the meantime, I'm in the midst of an extremely unconventional training cycle for the Madison Marathon at the beginning of November. Between the fact that I've been dancing semi-professionally in a show and with a company, bike commuting virtually everywhere, and working full time, this training cycle has turned into a game of "how many physical activities will Audrey do today?" Aside from this weekend and next (show weekends for Heartbeat), I've been religious about getting in my long runs, even if that meant running 20 miles, then riding my bike to a 4 hour dance rehearsal. There's certainly a high level of intensity going on, although in a much different way than I feel during a typical training cycle. If nothing else, this marathon will be a fascinating case study in how well I can perform based on less running, but a significant amount of strength/cross training. Dance brought me to a half marathon PR on 20 miles a week 2 years ago, so shouldn't it be able to get me to a marathon PR on 40? I guess we shall see come November...

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The 118th Boston Marathon

[Note: this was written over the course of 2+ weeks so...excuse any weird jumping around of tenses and overall bad writing. This race report is about remembering all of the ridiculous, perfect stuff that happened out there on the course. And it's really long.]

I made it through the entire day yesterday with only a couple of instances of getting emotional, but now, as I start writing this, and browse through pictures and tweets from yesterday, and kind of process the whole thing, I am finding myself getting choked up. This was not my fastest marathon (although, it was my second fastest, and my fastest ever trip from Hopkinton to Boston, which is saying something). I will never run a PR when it's 70 degrees outside. But this race, god, I fought. And the entire race - the crowds, the emotion, everything - was so incredibly wonderful. And I will never forget what it meant to run Boston 2014.

The days leading up to the race were a bizarre mix of nerves, excitement, and trying to calm myself down. At work on Thursday, I walked in to find the entire clinic decorated with banners, signs, and blue and gold for me (and promptly burst into tears haha). I think that was when everything sort of became real for the first time. It's a good thing I had a light schedule and not much doc to do, because my brain was off on some other planet. I also had to sit through an inservice at the end of the day and I'm not sure I could tell you one thing that I learned from it...oops. Friday was when the nerves started to hit me pretty hard and my body started playing tricks on me - am I feeling stuffed up? What's going on with my hip? Thankfully, by Saturday my nerves had dissolved into mostly excitement and the thrill of being here and doing Boston - actually racing it.
Some of my amazing

Saturday was expo day! I headed down to Hynes to meet up with a few of my teammates, and like an idiot managed to make it 90% of the way there before realizing that I had forgotten possibly the only thing I ACTUALLY needed - my number pickup card. Nothing like taking a cab back home from ~2 miles away and then taking the train back downtown - as Andrew called it "that was a $10 mistake". I met up with Joy and Brenda, and after spending some time watching the elite miles, we headed to the expo! The feeling is always so incredibly electric on race weekend, and this year more than ever. The Old South Church near the finish line was handing out scarves to runners to wrap us in courage and love. The woman who gave me mine was so sweet and gave me a hug, telling me "I hope you have the race of your life". That was the first of several times prior to the race that I got just a little teary. The expo was, as usual, completely overwhelming in it's own amazing way. I bought myself several items (including a singlet designed by my friend Brenda!), was told by the nuun sales guy about a "secret" nuun station in the Newton hills, and said hi to another friend who was working at the marathon tours booth. And of course, we took pics.
Expo photo ops. Loved the Mizuno booth "If everybody ran, there'd be 135 million more victory beers"

After the expo I headed back to Joy's place to puffy paint our throwaway clothes for the expo. With the new rules this year, anything that you brought to Hopkinton you either had to wear or toss, so I had spent some time at Goodwill picking out some gloriously tacky warmup apparel. Since we couldn't wear official Greater Boston gear, Joy and I had decided to puffy paint our ridiculous clothes appropriately. This is how, for a brief period of time, I owned tiger striped pants with the words "run like a cheetah, rawr" puffy painted in orange glitter on the butt.

Saturday night I was nicely distracted by dinner with my dad, who came to town for the race, at South End Buttery where I enjoyed some fantastic chicken parm and perhaps a glass of pinot noir. I got a FANTASTIC night's sleep on Saturday night and woke up on Sunday full of all sorts of nervous energy. I got out for my standard 10 minute shakeout run and a couple of strides, then it was off to lunch at The Abbey (coincidentally at mile 23 of the course). There I looked longingly at the jar of sangria behind the bar but settled for iced tea instead. The rest of Sunday was spent watching the Bruins game, playing video games (the only thing that I could actually sustain attention to for more than about 5 minutes...I tried to read a book, would get through approximately 3 pages, and have to go do something else), and watching the last hour of Seabiscuit, which I had fallen asleep watching on Thursday night. Nothing says "prerace movie" like an inspirational story about horse racing...I love that movie.  Andrew also was a wonderful boyfriend and pretty much waited on me all day...prepping our pasta dinner, delivering me nuun to the couch, etc. I got everything prepped to take to the start, racewear and throwaway clothes laid out, Gu set. Nothing left to do but wake up the next morning and run a marathon.
Please take note of the glorious "saber tooth tigerrrr" pants. 

Race Day

Hopkinton (race morning-mile 2)
One of the perks of being in the last wave was that I didn't have to get up at an ungodly hour to make it to the buses on time. My alarm was set for 6:30 but I actually woke up half an hour before - aka, the time I would typically be getting up for work on a Monday. And as I lay in bed, that was sort of what it felt like. I felt calm and sort of like I could very well just be getting up and taking the T to another day on the job. I gathered up my stuff put on my fantastic pants, walked some laps around the living room to try to determine the status of a strange ache in my left hip, and then headed out to get on the T, just as I would on a normal work day. There were a few other runners on my train mixed in with commuters and random people who were headed downtown for one reason or another. If our gear bags and mishmashed clothing didn't give us away, the focused looks, hands gripping bananas and coffee cups, and legs bouncing with nervous energy certainly did. Actually one of the few times I got a little emotional on race day was sitting on the train, flipping through my ipod to some of my power songs from this training cycle. One of them is "This Is The New Year" by A Great Big World, with a pounding beat and the lyrics 'another year you made a promise...another chance to turn it all around...and do not save this for tomorrow...embrace the past and you can live for now...' seeming so fitting for this day.

I made it to the Common with about 5 minutes before I was meeting Joy, so I ducked into Dunkin' Donuts for a coffee. And who should I run into there but my friend James, who was also running the marathon! Kind of an amazing coincidence that we actually happened to cross paths given how many people are running this race. The atmosphere at bus loading was, as always, electric. As a sqaudron of school buses packed with runners began to pull out, crowds of runners and non runners on the sidewalk clapped, cheered, and waved, wishing them well on their journey. I met up with Joy around 8 and we headed onto the bus...and who should I run into on the bus but James, again! Seriously crazy. We found our seats in the back and soon enough we were pulling out onto the highway. Joy and I chatted and made some small talk with the guy I was sitting next to, an older gentleman from California whose son is a huge Green Bay Packers fan...go figure. I was kind of hungry but forced myself to hold off on eating my bagel until 2 hours before race time. 

Of course, the bus ride always seems to take an eternity when you think about the fact that you eventually need to run back the way you came. We finally arrived at the athlete's village and immediately got in line for a porta potty, where we would be hanging out for the next 30 min or so. It was definitely primetime, with wave 1 just leaving the village and waves 2/3/4 all still hanging out. We chatted with the people in line in front of us, women from Iowa and Tennessee. After eventually making it into a porta potty, I came to a horrible which I had prepared for in past years but completely neglected this time around...NO TP. And friends, this situation called for TP. I sat for a second considering my options, and then I made a difficult gray t-shirt which I had so lovingly puffy painted just days before unfortunately ended its journey before anyone really even got to see it. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and luckily I still had my super sweet ELON sweatshirt. Hilariously, at one point a guy excitedly came up to me in the athletes village: "Did you go there? To Elon? I went there!" I had to crush his dreams when I told him that I had in fact just picked up this sweatshirt from Goodwill. He walked away looking a little dejected haha. 

Another perk of being in the last wave was taking advantage of all of the crap people in earlier waves people had left behind. I finally got to achieve my life dream of sitting on an inflatable pool raft prior to a marathon - YES! We made our last minute preparations, I hit the porta potty twice more (another perk of wave 4: at a certain point, pretty much everyone is gone and there are no more lines. Excellent.), did leg swings against a recycling bin, stretched out, and just waited for the signal for us to head to the corrals. I was definitely a little anxious about just how warm the sun was already, but there was nothing to be done for it. Finally, the announcement was made: yellow bibs, corrals 1-3. I said a farewell to my tiger pants and we were off to the start!

The walk from the athlete's village to the start line has always been one of my favorite parts of this race - the energy is just electric and there are people already cheering you on along the road. Almost makes me think of when racehorses walk along the track before a race and people just go crazy. There's always the tent with people giving out gatorade, bandaids, vaseline etc, and then the guys on the other side of the road advertising "beer, cigarettes, and donuts". There was also a trio of ladies doing some sort of 80s Jazzercise type dance on their front porch which was pretty fantastic. In the past, I actually remember it being really, really quiet with everyone kind of alone with their thoughts of what they were about to undertake. In wave 4, the atmosphere was different. The vibe I got was of many people running for the experience, just to finish, to honor a charity or a loved one. Which is amazing, but definitely puts you in a different headspace than the one Joy and I were in as we hoped to gun down PRs. Still, it was hard not to tear up when the Boston Fire Department contingent entered the stream, with shirts honoring the two firemen who lost their lives a few weeks ago (spoiler alert: I did tear up) We shimmied our way up to the very front of corral 2, at which point I found myself standing right next to another friend, Cara, who was also racing - again, what are the odds? Joy and I hugged, checked our shoe laces one more time, and then suddenly the countdown was saying 1 minute to go, I almost started to cry again, 30 seconds, and then the gun.

I knew I was going to have to be calm in the first mile and avoid wasting too much energy dodging people. I remembered advice I had read somewhere to stay out of the middle and so I stuck to the very left edge of the road, which gave me a surprising amount of room to pass people. My first mile was only a touch slower than I would have ideally liked at 7:55, and the crowd had pretty much cleared out by then, so I was pleased to see that the crowds weren't going to be a major factor. I made up the time lost in the first mile during mile 2 with something around a 7:15 - certainly a little quick. I was purely trying to run on feel and stay relaxed, and at the time, this pace felt good. I almost had to laugh as by mile 2 I was running almost by myself with a nice stretch of open road ahead - NOT what I had anticipated with all of my stressing over starting from wave 4.

Ashland (miles 3-5)
It's funny, because in the past I've only remembered the uphills at the beginning of this race (negating the "oh, it's all downhill at the start!" saying), but I was quite enjoying the downhills this year. The uphills provided a nice change of pace and I was settling into a nice groove over the rolling terrain. I came through 5K at 23:xx, somewhere around 7:35 pace. This seemed like a good situation to be in. I had said that if I was going to run a PR I was going to need to go out at pace, since there was no way I was making up time in Newton. So the fates would have to decide how things played out from here. Soon enough I was at the point where we had started our 22 mile long run, and I thought to myself, welp, you know how everything goes from here. I felt smooth and controlled, and as Joy had told me before the race, I was passing people CONSTANTLY. By mile 4 or so I started running into a lot of people walking, which surprised me (already?) until I realized that what I had just run into was actually the back of wave 3. Surrounded by blue bibs, I continued on. I was passed by a GLRR guy who briskly asked me "what are you aiming for?" to which I responded "3:20ish..maybe" before he passed me by. Not sure if he was looking for someone to pace off of or just looking for some running club camaraderie. Around mile 5 I was still solidly hitting pace, passing people left and right, and I started to hear spectators making comments about my yellow bib (my personal favorite: as I passed a cop he did a double take and says "yellow?!") I was feeling great, so excited about the day, to be here and ready to run my best. There was this station just blasting music at the bottom of a hill, and the song that happened to be playing as I went by happened to be Alicia Keys "Girl on Fire". Now, that song hasn't even been on my ipod this cycle, but that was the one moment during the race when I almost burst into tears. I was just feeling so strong and so proud as I powered up that hill and it was truly a beautiful moment. 

Framingham (miles 6-8)
I had mentioned to Joy before the race that I always HATE running through Framingham because it's this long, endless stretch of flat road that seems like a desert, and if the sun's out (which it has been every time I've raced Boston) you feel like you're being fried. However, this year I was feeling good enough during this section of the course that I was able to actually kind of laugh at how much I had hated it in the past. It was like all of a sudden I thought "LOL, look where I am, and I don't feel like shit!" It was also at this point that I happened to spy a familiar GBTC singlet was Joy herself! I lost her pretty much immediately at the beginning of the race and I didn't even know she was in front of me so it was fun to see her out there. I immediately ran up beside her and yelled "EFFING FRAMINGHAM" due to the conversation we'd had earlier. I don't know, it seemed inspirational at the time. I asked how things were going and she told me she was trying to keep things conservative. I, on the other hand, was being the exact opposite of conservative and continued on ahead. I just can't stress enough how delightful it was to not feel like death at mile 8 of this marathon. The past 2 times I've done Boston by the time I hit Framingham I was already ready to give it all up. So at least at this point, it seemed like the odds could be swinging in my favor.  My biggest issue with getting through Framingham was that I was weaving all over the place trying to dodge large packs of people. Every couple of minutes I would notice myself doing it (or notice that I had drifted over to the complete opposite side of the road) and I would think to myself, pick a side and stay there, damnit!! Eventually I got over to the far right and decided to hang out there for a bit. I high fived some kids and drunk people and generally enjoyed myself for a bit. I also saw what I think was my favorite sign of the entire race, which said very simply. GO NAD. Again, the excitement of not feeling terrible in Framingham pretty much overpowered any other emotion at that point. As always, I enjoyed the window showroom where a guy on a stepladder is yelling into a microphone "LOOK AT HOW GOOD YOU LOOK! JUST LOOK AT IT!". My 10K split was 47:05, so right on the money from the start. I had locked into that "I could go all day like this pace", and it felt great. 

Natick (miles 8-11)
Out of my previously most hated part of the course and into Natick, a part of the course that I quite enjoy. Santa Claus was hanging out at mile 7 or 8 as (apparently) he does every year, and I also remember someone in a ridiculous duck suit that almost made me burst out laughing. We headed through the little section that runs near Lake Cochituate, and as much as I adore the amazing crowds at Boston, it was sort of pleasant to have just a couple of minutes to take a deep breath in and hear nothing but the pounding of feet. I slowed down a tiny bit from 10K-15K, coming through at 1:11:03 for a 24 min 5K. I think at that point my mental math was like, meh, that's just fine. I made my usual attempt to smile/not look like an idiot for the 15K camera. As I rolled into Natick I would say that I'd downgrade my feelings from "great" to "good", but "good" was still sounding totally OK with me. Just after the 15K mark I saw a familiar looking figure in the distance in a Bruins Foundation shirt...I had to run right up beside him just to make sure, but sure enough it was James! I slapped him on the back (after confirming it was him) as he had told me to do "for energy" when I ran into him in the morning, and I almost burst out laughing when his response was "What?? It's too early!!" Definitely gave me a boost that I was starting to need. Natick Center was actually the only part of the race where I got a little frustrated with the crowds. There were SO many spectators, and it was really just fantastic, but it also seemed to be a place where a lot of people just decided to stop in the middle of the road for no reason, and this was not a time in the race when I was prepared to deal with that. Right around the 10 mile mark was also where the heat/sun went from "meh, it's there" to "definitely noticeable" and I went from feeling pretty comfortable about my 7:35-7:40 pace to not so comfortable at all. I had already been taking water at every single aid station so far and I continued with that pattern, but now with the addition of dumping water on my head every mile as well. It being only mile 10, and me knowing that a) it was only going to get warmer as the race went on, b) that my pace I could sustain at marathon effort was getting slower, and c) that I still had 16 miles in the blazing sun to go, I began to reevaluate.  Without much fanfare I watched the dream of a sub-3:20 go fluttering away. It was just too hot. I was not yet sure what my new goal would be, but it became clear as I ran through Natick that unfortunately, today wasn't going to be a PR day.

Wellesley (miles 12-16)
Damnit, Welleseley. I talk constantly before the race about how much I love running through you, and what do I get in return? My least favorite 4 miles of this race.  All of a sudden, with no particular warning, I became very hot, very thirsty, and very much not enjoying running anymore. It was a strange feeling as I did a systems assessment: Legs - feeling basically fine. Cardio? I'm not even breathing hard. But my general physical state had started to take a turn for the worse. I had kind of had dry mouth since the beginning of the race, and I found myself really, really craving the water stops when they weren't nearby. I was even starting to grab water from random spectators (including one little kid who I totally biffed the handoff with and ended up dumping the entire cup on him...hahaha) I had spent all of this time thinking about and planning my mantras for this race ("This is your story" and "Let it burn"). As it turned out, I used neither of those, and the one that happened to pop into my head at this point in time was a nonsensical quote from Firefly: "It's just an object. Doesn't mean what you think."

In my addled brain, that "object" was each of the mounting symptoms that I was trying to deal with all at once. Side cramp? Just an object. My face is hot? Just an object. I'm feeling dehydrated? Just an object. I tried to compartmentalize my problems: which ones needed to be dealt with immediately, and which ones had to just be put in the pain cave and endured? I was feeling a little lightheaded, a problem which I felt needed to be I took off my headband, and instantly felt better. Legs starting to feel tired, on the other hand? Too bad for you legs, DEAL WITH IT. I came through the half at 1:40:45, which is 7:41 pace. I had two realizations at this point, the first being, yeah, you're not speeding up from here. And the second being, you know, self, I think your plan to go out in 1:36 actually made NO SENSE AT ALL (that's 7:20 pace, if you're wondering, and no I can't do math).  Well, OK, now what? Onward, I guess.

 My main recollection of Wellesley is of feeling very hot, and also sort of detached from myself. I was dealing with everything with cold logic: OK, you are slowing down. Well, can you speed up? No, because when you speed up you start getting nauseous and dizzy. OK, then let's not speed up. Keep passing these people. You're not walking yet. Around this time I started to kind of tail this girl wearing neon yellow shorts and a Melanoma Foundation singlet. She seemed to be running around my pace and I latched onto her as someone to drag me along a little bit. I can't even remember if I ever ended up passing her or if I lost her, but it made for a nice distraction either way. As we ran through the park in the middle of Welleseley, I was suddenly jolted out of my bubble by someone SCREAMING my name as I went by. I turned to see one of my co-workers sprinting off the curb, almost bowling over a couple of runners and waving her hands at me.  It was hilarious, and exactly what I needed to snap myself out of the well that I had started falling down into. I started thinking about landmarks, because I've run this part of the course so frequently. Just get to Marathon Sports. Then, nice big downhill. BUT, ugh, then that hill over 95...I tried not to think too far ahead. Get to the next landmark, and deal with whatever problems come up then. 

The gigantic downhill out of Wellesley was a pleasant boost, and my new phrase was "let the hill take you". I felt good for a hot second there, until we started up the overpass to the hill over 95. Interestingly, I felt REALLY strong over the uphills throughout this entire race, and this one was no exception. Sure, I wasn't loving running uphill over the highway, but I distinctly recall thinking to myself "huh, I actually feel kind of good right now". Of course, then we crested the hill and I felt like complete crap again. As I headed down past Newton-Wellesely, all I could think of was the Newton Hills coming up, and feeling this bad/heat exhausted already did not bode well. I thought to myself, well, maybe you can still run like a 3:40 and run a best for the course. I was mentally in a place where I couldn't imagine myself ever feeling better until the race was over. I kept taking in the spectators, the crowds, the blue and yellow "Boston Strong" signs framed against the azure blue sky. It was, truly, a beautiful day. And I thought, well, this might not be the race that you visualized, but you're getting to do this. This one's special.

Newton (miles 16-21)
I finally turned the corner into the Newton hills after feeling like I could see the firehouse for miles away. I began plugging up "ass panther", the first and my least favorite of Newton's onslaught of inclines. I was keeping an eye out for the "secret" nuun station on the left because if I needed one thing at that moment, it was electrolytes, and I needed them STAT. I finally located the nuun near the top of the hill, and, feeling proud that I had somehow just hauled myself up my least favorite hill ever at a RUN despite how shitty I was feeling, I let myself take a 10 second walk break to chug my newfound beverage. That turned out to be a terrible mistake, because as soon as I started to run again I was hit with an absolutely devastating side cramp. I actually think it was the EXACT same spot, both on my body and on the course, where I was hit by one during Boston 2010. I tried, desperately, to detatch myself and breathe it out. "Its just an object...just an object..just an objoh FUCK this!" The more I ran through it, the worse it got, so I gave myself another 10 seconds to pull it together while shoving my fingers as far under my ribcage as they could go. That seemed to alleviated it enough at least for me to start running again, so that's what I did. Shortly after my nuun cramp of death, around mile 19, I passed one of my friends (the fiancee of James) who was cheering on the side of the road. I made some kind of ridiculous face, and she got this picture of me:
I'm only laughing because if I don't I might cry?

On and on. Oddly, for as much as I felt like I was struggling, the hills seemed to pass really quickly, with the uphills seeming shorter than I ever remembered in training. It was actually the downhills that were starting to get rough, and I could feel my quad muscles start to feel like they were on the verge of a cramp (best I can describe, it felt like one of the 4 quad muscles was very quickly spasming over and over again. Wasn't painful - yet - but very bizarre). Still, I was actually amazed to find myself at the bottom of Heartbreak so soon. Only 6 more miles? Well, OK then.

And this, this was The Moment. The moment that I've never had before in a bad race, the one where I've always just been like, meh, it's too hard. I took a look ahead and I gave myself a little internal monologue. This is essentially what ran through my head as I ran up Heartbreak:
 You have 6 miles to run right now. Six. 6 miles over your home course, where you have put in so much damn work over the last 3 months, when it was snowing, raining, there was freaking ice everywhere, when you got caught in a random freak thunderstorm in the middle of February, when you didn't feel like doing it or had better things to do - this, right here, right now, is where all of that is worth it. You can put in the miles all you like, and sure, this sucks that it's 30 degrees warmer than your warmest long run. But right here? Right now? THAT DOESN'T MATTER. This isn't going to be a PR. Fair enough. But shit, are you going to let all that training, all of that work, the heart and soul that you put into this, die out here because mother nature decided to be a cruel bitch? NO. (And then, here's where that mantra finally came into play): This is where you decide. Do you give up and live with the regret, or do you push on as hard as you can and FIGHT for this race that you trained so hard for? Only you can decide...this is your story.

Suddenly it was like all of the detachment from the my legs and the crowds and the heat and everything became too much and it exploded outward. I was so wonderfully aware of the kids handing out freeze pops (you had better believe I ate one), of the cowbells, of the signs, and of the fact that despite the cramps beginning to overtake me, despite the heat and everything else, I felt strong. As I approached the top of Heartbreak I was overjoyed to encounter a guy in full kilt playing the bagpipes - my New Bedford dream, finally come true! I crested the hill with new vigor in my legs. Sure, I wasn't exactly dropping back down to 7:30 pace, but for the first time in quite awhile I felt like finishing strongly was actually a possibility. Now requalifying was at the forefront of my mind, and I would stop at nothing to run under a 3:35. I ran down the BC hill - how many times did I visualize the race playing out here in my mind? I certainly didn't feel as strong as I had imagined all of those times, but I went back to thinking "let the hill take you" and tried to let the massive downhill do all the work. By this point, my quads were just toast. The cramps in my left leg were starting to move from 'uncomfortable/awkward' to 'ouch', and my right leg was starting to join in. But when I reached the bottom of the hill, I noticed something interesting - strangely, from a heat/body standpoint, I was starting to feel better? The pre-heat exhaustion symptoms of nausea and lightheadedness that I had been feeling over the past hour had subsided and I was feeling somewhat like a normal human again. I continued to pass people at a constant rate, which continued to boost my spirits. Maybe I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted to be, but I was moving faster than a lot of people out there at this point in the race.

Brookline (miles 22-25)
As I passed mile 22 and made the turn at the reservoir, the process that had been in motion over the last couple of miles reached a head, and I went from hanging on to actually turning on the gas a little bit. I definitely grinned as I ran down that hill, coasting off the energy of the throngs of people waving signs, hands for high fives, the noise and energy infectious. I knew in that moment that I had made it past the breaking point, and I was going to make it after all. With the crowds getting louder by the second and the knowledge that my cheering sections were ahead, I pushed on, sending positive vibes to my legs. Strong, push off the ground, fast. I need to take a second to talk about the crowds - now, I've done this race twice and I know that the crowds are completely beyond compare. But the thing that got to me this year was how many times I heard spectators saying "thank you" to us. The runners. Thank you for coming back, thank you for not being afraid, thank you for showing the world what we, as a community and a city, are. And I've never been more proud to be wearing my Greater Boston singlet - hearing "Boston Strong!" "Greater Boston!" "Let's go Greater Boston!" "Alright Boston!" all the way along the course, I think my heart got a little bigger every time.  I was too deep in the pain cave during the actual race to fully process it or get emotional about it at the time, but thinking back on it makes me start to tear up a little bit. It was beautiful. The entire mood was just one of such joy, gratefulness, celebration. Because we are here, running together, beneath an azure blue sky.

I stayed to the left side of the road because I knew that's where my friends would be, and sure enough, just before mile 23 I spotted a "hey Audrey, nice legs!" sign and 4 of my Boston Badgers going crazy (apparently one of my friends screamed 'YOU'RE A SEXY BITCH!' but I have no recollection of that lol). And a couple of blocks later, there was Andrew (holding our dog!) and my dad. Words can't express how happy I was to be able to run past them actually feeling strong, even thought I yelled at Andrew "you win, I hate you!" as I went by, in reference to his bet that I would run over a 3:30.  One more little hill to crest and then down, down, down towards Boston. My quads were absolute toast. The cramps were escalating to the point where I had to walk for a few seconds to try to massage the left one out (of course, a moment that MarathonFoto just HAPPENED to catch on film, thanks a lot haha). When I started running again after that, I decided that that was it. My leg could fall off mid stride and I would continue running.
So much exhaustion in that smile, but so much happiness too

The last 2 miles were by far the most joyful, fun last miles of a marathon I've ever run. It was the first time that I've ever hit rock bottom earlier on in a race and then instead of continuing the decline, actually going back uphill. I was giddy with the fact that I had actually picked up the pace again, still passing people after all this time, and I had like 16 minutes left to run. I grabbed a delicious freezy pop from someone - really, isn't there always someone handing out freezy pops on Beacon? And aren't they always the most delicious thing I've ever tasted? At some point after Coolidge Corner, I ran past a man playing "Roll Out The Barrel" on a tuba...not sure if it was the Wisconsin connotations of that song, or just the fact that it was a guy playing the tuba, but I absolutely was grinning from ear to ear. I could see the Citgo sign in the distance, and the steep uphill that precedes it. And I knew that for the first time, I was going to RUN up that hill and crest it with pride. There was a moment - I can't quite remember if it was on Beacon, or running through Kenmore - when I literally closed my eyes for a second and thought to myself: "Remember this. Remember this moment, and how you feel. Soak it in. Because it really doesn't get much better than this." The crowd was somehow managing to become even MORE intense as we approached Kenmore, which hardly seemed possible given how insane Beacon had been. And there it is, the Citgo sign, and 1 mile to go, and this is just going to be the most wonderful mile you've ever run in your life. (I'm actually tearing up as I remember this, no joke).

So there I am, running through that tunnel under Mass Ave when suddenly the roar in your ears is replaced with a moment of silence, like a deep breath. There's a sign overhead that says 1K to go. And immediately my mind is back at the track, at dice workout of insanity, at that stupid mile repeats workout, running strong with my teammates. 1000 meters. 5 laps around the indoor track. Finish it strong. Strangely enough at that moment I happened to come across a GBTC master's runner (who I later found out was live-tweeting every mile) and it was just cool to have that moment of recognition with a teammate. Right on Hereford. I'm passing people, still, after all this time, and I know that the next turn, well, it's happening. At some point I think I took a glance at my watch and deep in my brain processed the fact that I was definitely going to go under 3:35, 3:33 was looking like more of a possibility. As I made the turn my entire left leg cramped for a moment - quad, calf, toes, everything. With a little hitch step, I shook it off - that shit could wait. Because now I'm running down Boylston. I'm exhausted, but I feel like I'm sprinting at full out speed. The sky is the most perfect blue, and beyond, the blue and yellow banners are even more perfect. So many people going crazy on the sides of the road; I can see colors in a blur in my periphery. I pass McGreevy's ('the official training restaurant of GBTC'), and I think of it just as I said that I would. I am running past the places where a year ago there was so much devastation, and today there is nothing but glory. The 26 mile sign passes. The arch gets closer and closer. And the pain fades to the background, and all I can feel is joy, pride, love, gratitude. I sprint my heart out and as I cross that blue and yellow line, I essentially blow a kiss to the sky. I've been running for 3 hours, 32 minutes, and 14 seconds. And I am purely happy.

Pure joy.

My joy was multiplied when I realized that I was finally DONE running. I began shuffling through the chute and all of my happiness began bubbling over into talking to the people around me. I grinned at and thanked volunteers. I chatted with people who had finished near me about how warm it had been. I then caught sight of a group of 3 20-something guys on the left side of the fence. One of them was holding a case of Bud Light, and they were screaming at the now-finished runners "WHO WANTS A BEER? YOU DESERVE IT!" I saw a couple of guys veer off towards them and turned around to see a guy shotgunning a beer in his post-marathon poncho. I hesitated. It didn't take more than about 10 seconds to decide that a) this would be a great story and b) I DID deserve it! So I made my way over, received my beer, toasted with the runner next to me, and guys. I can't stand Bud Light, but was ice cold and it was quite possibly the best beer I've ever tasted. I continued to make my way through the chute, randomly taking items that were handed to me and occasionally deciding to take a break from walking on the side of the road. I had plans to meet up with Joy at "the horse statue" back on Dartmouth St. Unfortunately, by the time I came down from my high enough to realize that I should probably leave the chute at some point, I was several blocks in the opposite direction. Longest. walk. ever. The outside of my left foot had randomly started to hurt and my quads were no longer liking the whole "upright" thing. I finally made it to our meeting spot where we lay in the plaza and rehashed the race for a bit. Joy and I had originally planned on grabbing a beer post race, but both of us were so drained that we decided to head home. Walking to the Hynes T stop in my poncho was just the greatest thing ever. When else in life do you get to walk down the street and have random people giving you high fives and congratulating you? I still couldn't stop grinning. 

Post race with my goob in his mylar blanket. This is also the most "liked" photo/status I have ever posted on

Some more things happened after the race. I felt incredibly nauseous (actually, my stomach didn't feel right for about a week and a half after the race) and literally the only thing that tasted good to me was beer. So...I went to the Publick House, and I drank beer! And it was glorious. But the stuff that happened after isn't as important as the stuff that happened during, and before. I may not have met my time goal for this race - but hell, I think I know a single person out of the 30+ people I know who did this who did. I've said this before about Boston, but when I look back on this race I'm not going to remember that 'damn, I was training for a 3:20 and I ran a 3:32'. I'm going to remember the guy playing the tuba, the Elon guy in the athletes village, my self-motivational speech that pushed me over Heartbreak hill and back into the race. The insanity of the spectators, THANKING the runners, and blue and yellow Boston Strong everywhere. And I'm going to remember the training that got me there, which, more than ever, I loved. Every single run. And I'm going to remember how unspeakably proud I am to live in this city, to run for my club, and to have this magnificent race be my "home course", as much of a sneaky bitch as it may be. And since I've already got my qualifier for next looks like I'll finally be trying Boston in an odd numbered year. :)