Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Gobble Gobble Gobble 4 Miler - finally, a decent race on the Davis Square course!

This race report is somewhat belated, but I felt like any PR should probably be documented somewhere! So, on Thanksgiving I ran the local turkey trot, the Gobble Gobble Gobble 4 miler. I actually went back and forth on signing up for various reasons, ranging from "I'm not really in shape" to "I hate the Somerville race course" to "am I REALLY going to want to get up and race on Thanksgiving with my family in town?" But in the end, the allure of a race that started less than a mile from my house was too much to ignore. I invited all family members in attendance to come and participate, but they all said no! Sigh.

My sister and brother in law flew in on Wednesday night, and what was intended to be dinner and drinks quickly escalated into staying out past midnight (I know, I know, SO LATE) and enjoying the luck-based "wheel of beers" at the local BBQ restaurant. Add to that that by the time we got home close to 1 am we still had to churn ice cream for the next day and were generally in a jovial mood, I went to bed far too late for my taste. Thankfully, due to the wonderful fact that the starting line of the race is literally half a mile from my house, I was able to wake up at 8 am, just an hour before the start. That being said, my interest in racing 4 miles upon waking up was....erm...reduced to say the least. But, I drank some coffee, ate some pumpkin bread, drank some water, and forced myself into my racing clothes. I left the house at 8:45 and added on a little bit to do a mile warmup and reach the start about 5 minutes before the gun went off.

It was actually an absolutely beautiful day for running, in the low 30s but brilliantly sunny and not a breeze to be found. I lined up further back than was probably in my best interest, but hey, we're a little hungover and just here to have fun, right? I told myself that my job for this race was to spend the entire time being grateful for the fact that I was out here running, doing the sport that I love, and that I've been able to stay healthy throughout this year to continue to do this thing I do. Without much ado, we were off!

I have had such trashy races on this course before because of the sneaky, long, and frequent uphills over the first 3 miles of the course, but at least this time I knew what to expect. The race starts off uphill, and that combined with the fact that I had indeed situated myself way too far back in the crowd resulted in kind of feeling like I was crawling for the first few minutes. Also, my stomach had a few complaints to make about the previous evening's libations. Oh well, no matter, I was running! The sky was blue, there was an adorable family dressed as pilgrims waving and cheering at the side of the road, and what's this, some girls who look like they'll be good to pace off of? Life is good. I came through the mile mark in 6:40, and felt like that was fine. The effort level I was putting in seemed just right for the circumstances, and while I figured I'd slow down over the next 2 miles which contained yet more hills, I was just fine with that start.  As we headed up another long, steady incline, I got this hilarious thought in my head - I was trying so hard to roll with the whole "gratitude" angle that I found myself thinking: Hills are great, because you GET to run up them! I don't know, maybe I need to have this positive attitude more often, because the hill up Powder House didn't bother me nearly as much as it had in the past, and I found myself passing people. Whee! I was also pleasantly surprised to pass the 2 mile mark in 6:42, barely slowing down despite the steady incline. Yeah!

I continued to feel pretty good about myself as we crested the long hill, setting my sights on a couple of women ahead and actually getting past them. I unfortunately knew that we were coming up on the bitchy spike of a hill that decides to sit at mile 3 on this course, but also knew that once we were past that I was golden, since the last mile is just about all downhill. I was getting surprisingly warm by this point and actually feeling the effort a bit! Somewhere around the steep hill, I noticed a girl who I thought was an acquaintance of mine, who runs for a rival club and who ALWAYS seems to be just in my sights but ahead of me every time we race. I somehow managed to pass her going up the incline (and in my peripheral vision, decided it was not, in fact, the person I was thinking of), and while the steep grade took quite a bit out of my legs I knew the hard part was just about over. I leapfrogged with two more Heartbreakers, a girl and a guy, for a bit before finally getting a surge past them over what I thought had to be the final uphill of the race. Mile 3, with the steep parts, was a 6:49. By this point I knew I was in good shape, considering when I ran this race in 2015 I think I went out in a similar pace for the first 2 miles, and then ran a 7:20 or some disaster for mile 3. Now all that was left to do was bomb down the downhill to the finish! Bombing down the hill actually turned out to be a little harder than expected (I was rather disappointed that I only managed a 6:29 for the last mile, which is half downhill and half flat), but I passed several people including a girl in a BAA singlet - a lifetime first for me! Soon enough we were back on the flat heading into Davis Square, and I crossed the line feeing great in 26:50, a 45 second PR! Nice! I honestly was pretty pumped - true I've only run a 4 miler three times in my life, but to run so much better on the same course in a similar phase of training felt great - especially on this damn course that I always seem to bomb on! I guess the attitude of gratitude worked regarding the hills!

I was extra excited to discover upon returning home and looking at the results that I was 13th woman overall, and actually placed 3rd in my age group. There aren't even age group awards for this race (or any awards, for that matter), but to crack the awards at any big race in Boston feels like an accomplishment to me. Perhaps even more exciting was when I discovered that girl-who-I thought-wasn't-the-girl-I-knew WAS ACTUALLY the girl that I knew! So I actually managed to beat her! This is the great thing about running- no matter what level you're at, you can find people to be competitive with if you want to look at it as a competition.

One final thing that I think needs to be mentioned is that my grandmother passed away at the ripe old age of 95 the day before Thanksgiving. She was an amazing person, and while I don't think she fully understood my hobby of running specifically she was always proud to hear about my latest races and I think her general passion for life and the things and people she loved have inspired me in a lot of ways throughout my life. I wrote her initials on my bib on Thursday because it just felt right to have here there with me - so thanks Grammy, for the extra little push up those hills and the beautiful, sunny day.

Overall, it was a great day! I'm not exactly sure what my plan is from here - I'm kind of enjoying the laziness of just running, not training for anything in particular, and am still sort of basking in the glory of October's marathon PR. But it's just about time to figure out what the heck I'm actually doing/training for this winter...I'm sure I'll figure it out as I go.

Gobble Gobble Gobble 4 Miler
26:50 (6:40 pace, PR)
96/2779 OA, 13/1500 F, 3/478 F30-39

Monday, October 23, 2017

Break the ceiling: Baystate Marathon 2017

I wanna cut through the clouds, break the ceiling
I wanna dance on the roof, you and me oh boy
I wanna cut to the feeling, oh yeah
I wanna cut to the feeling, oh yeah
-Cut to the Feeling, my Carly Rae Jebsen JAM this training cycle

I actually don't even know where to begin with this race report. So, I suppose, I'll start with the facts: yesterday, I ran a 3:12:34 marathon at Baystate, and I can hardly even type that number without my eyes starting to fill up with tears. I keep saying "I can't believe it", but obviously, since I went for it during the race, somewhere inside I must have believed I could do it. But after 2 and a half years of training, training, training, and feeling like I never got anywhere with my race performances, to FINALLY go out there and do what I had almost given up hope of ever being able to do, and then some, almost feels unreal. That crazy spreadsheet I made in July, checking the boxes, the doubles, the early mornings, the runs in endless shit humidity in September, the races with 6 mile warmups and cooldowns - I did it all on the faith that it would all add up to something. I was nervous going into the race because I KNEW I was in shape. I had read this post by elite runner Sarah Crouch sometime in the week leading up to the race and it completely summarized how I felt. I knew I was in the shape of my life. I knew that my training had gone about as perfectly as it could have, that I had worked harder than I ever had before. Would I be able to step out into the unknown, take that risk, and run the race that I trained for? That the answer turned out be yes, and more, was absolutely incredible.

I feel like I typically get a pre-race burst of anxiety that requires a rambling blog post in the last week of taper, but I didn't even do that this year! My last week of taper was actually horrible - I took a really bad fall during my run on Wednesday, busting up my knee, and felt sick all day Friday. I'm somewhat convinced that my body mounts an immune response to pre-race anxiety, because EVERY marathon I've ever run I've felt genuinely sick at some point in the week before. So Friday I literally spent like $30 on various cold-fighting items including Zicam, an outrageously expensive pressed juice (delicious, but $8 for a 16oz bottle of juice? Only in desperate times) and thankfully all of that seemed to do the trick. I realized on Saturday that I haven't run a marathon that wasn't a) Boston, with all it's pageantry and general intensity of the whole weekend, or b) something that required travel in 7 years, so it was actually really nice to have a completely normal day on Saturday. I went for a shakeout run, watched the Badgers beat up on Maryland, went on a "I can't sit still" anxiety induced bout of cleaning/laundry, and finished the night with my ultimate prerace meal of the last several years, this pasta (seriously, it's so easy and absolutely amazing), garlic bread, and of course my obligatory pre-race beer. This year's selection was a Night Shift Morph IPA, an excellent choice. I paged through Once a Runner, which I usually re-read in the week before a marathon but this time was otherwise engaged with a *classic* YA dystopian novel called "Qualify" (semi-awful futuristic novels where teens have to compete for something or another are a huge guilty pleasure of mine) hahaha.

I slept pretty well, though I did wake up around 3:30 thinking my alarm was going to go off any second. The alarm eventually did go off at 5:10 and thanks to my prep the day before, I didn't have much to worry about. Just get dressed, grab food bags, make a bagel, GO. I think typically my nerves are the most aggressive the night before and during the "travel" phase of the marathon, and I was being a class A diva the morning of the race. I had agreed to drive to the nearest Dunkin Donuts and then Andrew would take it the rest of the way, but I couldn't find one close enough and was just being ridiculous haha. We eventually did get coffee AND get to Lowell in one piece, parked, and made our way into the Tsongas Arena, where the race volunteers were kind enough to let Dayton join us inside! Yes, the night before we decided that our dog should come to spectate the race too. We met up with some of my GBTC teammates and just relaxed for a bit, goofing off and taking "mugshots" in front of the random curtain we had posted up near. I'm thrilled to report that with the addition of my makeshift second pocket (made from a dance 1/2 sock!) my racing shorts can now hold 4 Gus, plus another baggie of salt tabs - it was definitely nice not to have to shove anything in my bra #chafagealert. My stomach was being a little sketchy - while I pretty much have my pre-race fueling down to a science at this point, some days it just goes down easier than others, and so around 7:35, we decided to try to hit up the porta potties one last time which was probably the most anxiety provoking point of the day. The lines were just NOT moving and I started anxiously stripping off layers and retying my shoelaces and stretching so I'd be ready to just get myself to the start as soon as I was done. I finally got to the porta potty just as the national anthem was starting, and I kind of laughed to myself because all I could think was that Trump would not approve of this 😂. I quickly finished my business, threw my bag at Andrew (he's a great sherpa!) and dashed to the start line - I ran into Deepti on my way there and we somehow managed to find our other two teammates, so that the whole women's GBTC squad was together at the start! This was really my first experience starting a marathon with a team, and it was pretty cool. Maybe it was because I missed the anthem, or maybe it was just the headspace I was in, but I didn't get my usual rush of emotion before starting the race. I said something to Deepti like "just a nice long run!". We both agreed that we were going to go out nice and relaxed, and a few moments later the horn sounded and we were off.

The race

Miles 1-7: 7:13, 7:22, 7:20, 7:19, 7:23, 7:25, 7:21
I took off at what felt like an extremely relaxed, easy pace. Deepti and I were running side by side and she said "OK can we agree that even if we're running relaxed, that we're not going to talk?" No issues from me on that score - and anyway, I had the suspicion that her relaxed and my relaxed weren't the same thing, and that we wouldn't be running together for long. (She would go on to run a PR of 3:06). Still, it was nice to have a familiar face nearby for those first couple of miles! The first 2 miles are always a little confusing since the half marathoners and marathoners start together, and it can be more difficult to keep calm when people are blowing past you because they're running the half. I had a couple of girls almost elbow by me which I found really annoying - like, come on, there's plenty of room on the road and plenty of time to go for us all. The weather at the start was pretty solid, just under 50 degrees, and while there was definitely some morning humidity it was really comfortable overall. So I just bopped along, focusing on staying relaxed and calm. I felt a little bit tight the first couple of miles but I basically chalked that up to warming up the gears, and tried not to put too much stock in it. After a slightly fast first mile, I seemed to be settling in right about where I wanted to be. Actually, in my head, I had planned on going out behind the 3:15 pacer and starting even more slowly, but because of my position at the start I was in front of them and running what, I knew, was faster than 3:15 pace. That was a little bit scary, but I had told myself before the race that I was basically not going to pay attention to splits and totally run on how I felt, especially in the first half. So, I told myself, whatever. If 7:20 is what feels good, then it's what feels good! Don't question it. I had been telling a few people about my 'YOU'RE A PONY!' mantra from my PR at Boston in 2015, so naturally as I urged myself to stay calm and relaxed, I found a ridiculous little jingle from a toy unicorn hobby horse that I had gotten as a gag gift in high school in my head. "I'm a pretty pooooony, clippity clop, clippity clop. Such a pretty pooooony, clippity clop, clippity clop." It was completely ridiculous, yet also perfect. No one needs pump up jams at mile 3 of a marathon - you need whatever is going to keep you calm.

It's been a long time since I've run this course but I remember it well, and it was nice to pretty much know exactly what was coming next. Right before the marathon/half marathon split around mile 3, I saw my cheering squad as well as coach Tom, who I think almost missed me haha. We then headed into what I've always thought of as the "little neighborhood section", which in my head was always a couple of miles, but in reality is maybe half a mile long? Hah. There are a couple of little rollers in this section, nothing major, but just enough to get you thinking. I was looking at my splits every time they came up but not really doing anything with that information, just sort of being like, yup, OK, that's a number. Nothing means anything yet. I had a hilarious inner monologue going on during this section of the race because I was trying so hard to stay relaxed and not focus on running, so I was reading signs and looking at the leaves, and going off on silly trains of thought. I remember looking at a sign for "the historic village of North Chelmsford" and spending a good 2 minutes being like, what a delightful village, but what exactly is so historic about it? Somewhere in this area I also had to sidestep a dead opossum on the road and couldn't help just saying EW out loud. In general, though, the course was much prettier than I remembered! Maybe it was because we're having a late fall this year, so the foliage is out right now, but this back stretch which I remembered as being hideous and industrial was actually not bad at all. We were running parallel to the river and some railroad tracks, and there were far fewer sketchy businesses than I remembered - though there is some sort of super dumpy Chinese restaurant that I definitely did remember, and giggled as I passed it.

While I was taking in the sights and sounds of exciting Chelmsford/Tyngsboro, I was continuing to run at a pretty good clip. Again, I really couldn't let myself think anything of the numbers at this point - they just were what they were. I was sticking to my plan of running what felt relaxed, and if that meant some fluctuations in the pace that was fine. I took my first Gu at around mile 5 after some difficulty getting it out of my pocket...practically had to pull my shorts down to get a hold of it with my left hand. The water stops are every 1.5-2 miles in this race and while I applaud people who don't need to take a boatload of liquids during marathons, I'm not one of them. With the temps during the race likely to hit the mid 60s and the sun out in force, hydrating early and often was my policy. This stretch in particular was pretty much in full sun, and I remember thinking that it maybe would suck on the second loop as things warmed up. But that was a problem for the second loop. Meanwhile, my brain's song choice had shifted from the pony song to, of ALL things, The Wheels on the Bus. I'm seriously trying to remember if a school bus passed us or if I'm just completely insane, because I don't have the slightest idea where that came from and it was both hilarious and awkward because I could NOT get it out of my head. I started thinking up my own lyrics to go with the song (ie "the guy in front of me has a yellow shirt, yellow shirt, yellow shirt, the guy in front of me has a yellow shirt, all through the town"). Yeah. I don't know either.

We passed the mile 7 mark and received an absolutely beautiful view of the bridge we would soon be crossing - again, not sure how I have NO recollection of this from the past two times I've run this course, maybe because this was the first time I was trying to relax in the first half, but it was truly lovely. There wasn't even a breeze so the bridge was reflected in the calm water, with the autumn foliage all around - I've never cared much about the scenery when I race marathons, but it was so nice to be able to appreciate something pretty during the course of the race! Heading up to the bridge, I was feeling pretty good. I hadn't yet run a mile at goal pace (everything was under), I felt totally in control and calm, right where I wanted to be at this point. Oh, and I still had the Wheels on the f*cking Bus in my head hahaha.

Miles 8-13: 7:19, 7:22, 7:18, 7:13, 7:19
There's a miniscule incline leading up to the bridge that for whatever reason I really felt on the first loop - it might have been that there was some really uneven pavement here but I felt like I slowed down a lot (turns out that was completely false, but whatever). We then headed over the bridge, which again, was a lot bigger and cooler than I remember it being? I feel like they must have done some construction on the bridge in the past 7 years (seems reasonable hahaha) because not only were we running on a pretty wide road under the arches, but the bridge DOESN'T BOUNCE anymore! One of my strongest memories of my first marathon is feeling that bridge bounce underneath me, and honestly, I wasn't mad to have a more firm surface this time. The mile 8 mark is just after the bridge, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that if anything, I'd actually picked it up a bit that mile. Plus, now we were into the stretch of the course that is definitely my favorite - a beautiful, mostly flat or downhill stretch by the river on much nicer roads. There was almost zero crowd support here this year but that really didn't bother me - I didn't need it. Somewhere in here a girl came up on me and we chatted briefly; she asked what I was going for and I said "uh, 3:15? I think I'm a little fast for that but who knows. Just trying to stay relaxed" She went on her way (I think she ran around a 3:10), but I had a flashback to basically the same conversation which I had at mile 10 of Boston 2015. And I remembered. Mile 10, I'm feeling relaxed, feeling good enough to be talking with people... I passed a WMDP woman and gave her some encouragement (this would be the LAST WOMAN I would see for the rest of the day). I got my next split and I suddenly got that chills, emotional feeling. I had this vision of myself holding on to this pace and running - what, what pace even is this? 7:20 pace is a 3:12. A 3:12! And then I got a hold of myself. Steady Zaferos, steady. Lots and lots of miles left to go. Let's get to the second lap before we start getting any big ideas.

 I had finally kicked the wheels on the bus to be replaced by Imagine Dragons' Polaroid: all my life I've been living in the fast lane, can't stop now gonna roll like a jet plane...(turns out the lyric is actually "I'm a rolling freight train" lol). Another Gu at mile 10, followed by water shortly after. I was still feeling comfortable both temperature-wise and legs wise, and cardiovascularly I felt like I could go all day. Wait, wasn't that something Tom said "just run at a pace where you assume you're going to be running all day"? That was what this felt like. It just felt so RIGHT. Every time a split in the 7 teens would pop up I would think for a second, wait, this is crazy. That's so fast. But then I would check in with my body and be like yup, this still feels exactly like it should feel, let's just roll with it. Trust yourself. You're doing just fine, in fact, you're doing great.

The backstretch passed quickly, and soon enough we were heading up towards the halfway point. After several miles pretty much devoid of fans, it definitely brought a smile to my face that you could hear the roar of the crowd about a half mile out from the bridge that essentially marks the halfway point of the race. In fact, I did a lot of smiling in general during this race - I smiled at volunteers, at cops, tried to smile at every person who yelled "Go Greater Boston!" And let me tell you, I was grinning as I rolled through the spectator alley, particularly when I saw Joy and Brenda pop out of the crowd, Joy holding some kind of ridiculous pony sign, and saw Brenda literally sprint across the road to scream and form a cheer tunnel for me. I threw my arms around and did what can best be described as an awkward pony dance, then left the roar of the crowd behind and headed onward into the second lap, the lap where you really find out what you're made of. I thankfully remembered from running this race in the past that the bridge you run over to start the second lap is fully at an incline, so I was prepared for the fact that running suddenly felt just a little bit harder than it had before. A guy in blue came up on my left and said something like "you've got a great cheer squad!" to which I smiled and said "yup, I've got some great friends!" I later figured out guy in blue was named Bob, and we ended up pacing each other for the next 8 miles. I've never run "with" anyone for anywhere near that long in a race! But at this point in time, he was just "guy who thinks my cheer squat is great" We came over the bridge and headed back towards the neighborhood, and I did a quick systems check. Cardio, perfect. Legs, feeling it a little, but still comfortable at this pace. Stomach, OK. Heat, OK. And then I laughed because I came through the half in just over 1:36, aka literally 30 seconds slower than the half that I *supposedly* raced all out 6 weeks ago. Ummm. OK. Looks like I don't have an excuse for ever racing a 1:35-1:36 half again...

Miles 14-20: 7:24, 7:20, 7:17, 7:23, 7:13, 7:12, 7:16
We headed back into the neighborhood, and I continued to focus on just staying relaxed, calm, focused and running on feel. The pack had thinned out substantially now, and it was just me, Bob, and a few dudes up ahead. Several people who'd gotten ahead of me on the first loop were coming back to me now, and I applauded myself for staying so calm on the first lap. And yet, I had run the first half faster than I've run the first half of any marathon in my life. I think that was the key with this race, and really every good marathon I've run: you HAVE to go with how you're feeling on the day, and not how some random arbitrary number says you're supposed to be feeling. At any point yesterday I could have been scared off by the fact that the numbers were faster than what I expected to be running, but I trusted the way that I felt and figured as long as I kept feeling that way through mile 20, there was really no reason to change what I was doing. Bob and I ran along over the couple of small rollers into Chelmsford, and he commented "I thought this course was flat!" I mentioned that I had definitely forgotten about some of the small uphills since the last time I'd done the race (I'm actually chatting while running along at sub 7:20 pace, what is my life....)  At 15 I took my 3rd Gu, and I was definitely starting to feel like I wanted the carbs, and the salt. The sun was out but I still wasn't too bothered by the heat - it probably got into the mid 60s by the time I finished, but I think it's the old "frog in boiling water" thing...the temperature was rising slowly enough that my body wasn't perceiving the change. I also continued to really be aggressive about my hydration, taking water at every stop. I did get a minor side stitch somewhere in here but was able to head it off by jamming my hand into the spot as soon as I started to feel it, counting to 10, and then taking a deep breath - worked like a charm.

I definitely felt like I was working a little bit harder from 15-16 and perceived that I was slowing down, but my splits show that not to be the case. In fact, upon seeing my mile 17 split I laughed out loud and said to Bob "I can't believe I'm still running this pace!" My favorite water stop was also at 17, which included an amazing high school XC team dressed up in all sorts of costumes ranging from one of those T-rex suits to a crocodile to a pirate (I saw on Twitter later that they were apparently Peter Pan and the lost boys...didn't catch that one during the race, but still amazing!). I made a snap decision to grab another Gu - as an aside, they had ALL different brands of gels which I thought was amazing. Personally I can only stomach Gu, but the fact that they had Gu, Clif gels, and I think Powerbar gels as well I thought was really a nice touch so that everyone can get the fuel they need. The Gu was Triberry flavor, my weird superstitious flavor that I just HAD to have early in my marathon career, and I thought, perfect. It was just what I wanted and I was immediately happy with my choice - I felt like I gained some energy as we headed back toward the bridge. "8 miles to go after the bridge", Bob, who I had decided I was enjoying running with, said. Holy shit, 8 miles, and I'm still running under 7:20 pace. I'm running SO FAST right now, and it feels great, and I'm having so much fun! Again, that flash of adrenaline. This could be it, I thought. This could be the race I've been waiting for for over 2 years.  And again: steady now. A lot can happen in 8 miles.

We headed back up to the bridge, where a guy was still clanging on a cowbell (Bob: "He was doing it the last time I came by here too!") and back over the bridge, where Bob and I took it upon ourselves to put in a surge and pass by about 5 guys. When I saw mile 18 was a 7:13 I literally almost started laughing, because I knew the next 2 miles were some of my favorite of the race and given how I was feeling, would also probably be fast. By now I had FINALLY found something off of my pump up mix to play in my head, and Taylor Swift was singing "look what you made me do" over and over and over. At 19, Bob's Garmin beeped a little before mine and he casually mentioned "well that was the fastest one yet, that was a 7:10!" You know the noise someone makes when they spit out a drink? I made that noise, and then said, in the most ridiculously silly disbelieving way possible, "shut UP! No way!" I grinned. "I still can't believe this is happening," I said. "Well, sometimes you've just gotta go with it!" Bob replied. He was right. The marathon is such a fickle beast, and I've had more bad ones than good, but man, when you are having a day, don't think about it. Just let it roll. We ran on, continuously coming up on people and passing them. This was an experience I've never had in a race before, the experience of running side by side with a stranger (I didn't even know his name until I caught a glance at his bib around mile 20, and he never knew mine), but there was indeed this invisible force that I felt, a pull between us, that I think kept me pushing just a little bit more than I otherwise would have. It was a really cool feeling.

We continued to pick up the pace through this stretch and I kept blinking at my watch in awe every time another 7:1x popped up for a mile split. I remembered how every time I ran "goal marathon pace" in a workout, it came out right around 7:15, but I always assumed I was just being an idiot and failing at my workout. No, holy shit, I was running 7:15s. IN A MARATHON! We came up over a little crest around 19 where there were volunteers directing traffic. I beamed at them. Everything was amazing. One of them said something like "wow, look at that, still smiling!" I was feeling a little thirsty/hungry and grabbed some Gatorade at the next aid station - again, I don't have any strict rules about when/if I take Gatorade vs. water, I just try to let my body tell me what to do. The Gatorade was exactly what I wanted. Somewhere in here, we also encountered Bob's cheering crew, who passed him a bottle and he commented "I found myself a pacer!" Hey, that's me! He offered me some of his bottle, but it was skratch labs which I've never tried before so I passed - still, BOB YOU'RE THE MAN. Soon enough, we hit the mile 20 mark, where "The Wall" is painted on the ground. I giggled at the clock, which read 2:26 something, just a casual 2 minute PR for that distance. From here on out, I thought to myself, 4 more miles to stay relaxed and hold this line, then 2 miles to go for it. 6 miles left. It's amazing the difference in the way that time passes between a good race and a bad one - the miles were clicking off so quickly that I could hardly believe we were already here at mile 20. Or maybe that was just because of how good I was still feeling at the pace I was running? Either way, at mile 20, there was no wall in sight.

Miles 21-26.2: 7:16, 7:12, 7:19, 7:28, 7:24, 7:16, 6:55 pace for the last bit
Sadly, just after mile 20 I lost Bob as he dropped behind me. I was a little sad to lose my pacing buddy but I sent good thoughts his way and continued on. I'm looking at that 7:12 mile 22 split right now and I STILL CANNOT BELIEVE how strong I was still feeling at this point in the race. I took my last Gu at 21, I had planned on saving it until 22 but I was getting hungry again and I could feel my legs starting on the downward spiral towards lack of glycogen so I felt like the time was right. In other news, I think I absolutely NAILED my fueling and hydration during this race - I got exactly what I needed, when I needed it. It may have taken 12 marathons but I think I finally know what I need to do to fuel myself correctly for this distance. Anyway, by this point the field was VERY spread out and I actually found myself having to go around groups of people who were still on their first lap of the marathon. The fact that they were completely oblivious was somewhat annoying but luckily the road was wide enough that I didn't really have to expend any extra effort going around. There's sort of a long, wide stretch leading up to the bridge where there aren't many spectators, but at some point I heard a guy yell "Yeah Greater Boston" and 5 seconds later one of my teammates popped out of the woods yelling GO AUDREY! Exactly the laugh I needed at that point - we made eye contact and both cracked up. I also knew I'd be seeing Joy and Brenda again soon and I was just so damn excited to be feeling so strong that I couldn't stop smiling. The fatigue was definitely starting to come on now, and perhaps more annoyingly I was feeling my knee that I had fallen on on Wednesday starting to tighten up pretty painfully. Luckily, while it might have made my stride look a little awkward, it was something I could put in the "things to deal with later" box. I actually remember thinking to myself "well, if I have to go to the medical tent and get some ice at the end of this race, I suppose that's not the end of the world". The roar of the crowd returned and soon I was running through the gauntlet of fans at the bridge, including Joy who I think was like doing ridiculous squats?? And who then jumped in running with me. She asked me how I was doing and I'm pretty sure I said "Um. Running REALLY FAST". I couldn't say much after that but I remember being weirdly happy in my brain that she was wearing the shirt from the half we ran together hahaha. She ran with me for a couple of minutes and then had to peel back. Soon enough down the road I saw Brenda, who had jumped in to run with Deepti for a bit. This was the point where the fatigue was really and truly starting to set in, but I was excited to see my friend and finally at a place in the race where I could really and truly know that I was having a great one.

Smiling at mile 22 :)

Mile 23...oh boy....was where all of a sudden things started to get very, very hard. The exertions of the past 3 hours finally were catching up to me, but I knew this was where I had no choice but to put my head down and do it. I was running a PR. I kept looking at my watch and doing this thing I always do, which is calculating how slowly I could run the next xyz distance and still run a PR. "You could run 3.2 miles in 30 minutes and still run a PR". But of course, I didn't want to slow down. It was just getting so, so hard to keep moving forward. My knee was really becoming aggravating and the general muscular shutdown was coming on. Mile 24 definitely felt like the longest mile of the race. It's a straight shot and I think it actually might be slightly downhill, but I'll be damned if it didn't take 9 hours and not 7 minutes and 28 seconds (my ONLY mile of the day that was over my original goal pace of 7:26 seconds, lol). I had told Bob earlier on that I never let myself think about times or PRs until the 24 mile mark. At mile 24, I looked at my watch, knew I had slowed down way less than I thought, and realized that I could practically walk it in and still run a PR. I was fighting and fighting, and I kept thinking too myself: THIS is where it's all worth it. I made a list as I ran of all the things that were worth it right now: the early mornings. The doubles. The 70 mile weeks. The suffering through the endless humidity and heat that never seemed to quit. The 6 mile warmup you ran alone in 75 degrees and humidity before tempoing a 10K. The workouts. The long runs. Everything. Everything you did, every risk you took, every mile you ran, it's worth it. This, THIS is what makes it worth it. There's a beautiful downhill after the 24 mile marker that I welcomed with open arms. The field was super spaced out by this point but I found myself still running by dying men like they were standing still. We had to run through what I can only describe as a construction zone which was not super enjoyable, and my spaced out brain at one point interpreted a brown towel lying in the road as a giant piece of roadkill, awesome haha. But we hit mile 25, and I had somehow run a 7:23, and oh my God I just couldn't even believe this was happening. Everything hurt so, so much but it was happening. All that was playing through my mind was this quote from Once A Runner, at the very end of the book when Cassidy wins the culminating race: He kicked from 500 yards out but it was YOU, Quenton Cassidy, it was YOU all the way. It was you all the way. It was me, all the way. After 2 years of mediocre racing, Boston breaking my heart twice over, practically convincing myself that 3:17 was about as good as I'd ever be, and deciding to commit to really going for it, one more time, it was me. And in mile 26 of this race, with my legs straining at the edge of their limits, feeling like even the slightest misstep would send me tumbling to the pavement, in as much pain as I've ever been in during a race, I thought again and again: it was you, it was you all the way. 

We crossed over the final bridge, the one I vividly recall referring to as a "speed tunnel" the first time I ran this race, and I ran down 3 more men. Passing by the baseball stadium where the race used to finish, I knew there was just a little more. For the first time all race, I looked at my Garmin to try to know how much I had left, how much more pain to endure. 25.65 miles Nearly there now. Nearly there. Another long stretch behind the arena and I can start to hear the finish line now. I literally feel like I'm on the verge of stumbling and falling over, like I have no idea how I'm still even moving forward. We make a right hand turn, and on my left I see Andrew and Dayton, cheering for me. We pass the 26 mile marker and I nearly roll my ankle in a hole, but I somehow stay on my feet. Less than 200 meters to glory. Another left hand turn, and I honestly haven't been doing the overall time math in my head, so when I make the final turn into the finish chute and I see 3:12 low on the clock it is almost too much to believe. 3:12. Oh my God. The super secret, I've never told anyone this except that one time I mentioned to my coworker that I "weirdly have 3:12 as this number I think I could run in my mind", so much better than just sub 3:15 or just a PR or just ANYTHING goal, 3:12, is actually happening to me. I almost wish I could relive those 30 seconds just before I crossed the finish line over and over again. I probably lost 5 seconds closing my eyes and waving my arms but I don't even care, because this moment is the one that you dream of. It's the moment that gets you up at 5 am to run before work and the one that brings you back after race after race goes poorly, it's the one that makes you do that extra interval or run 10 miles after work instead of 6. I've been running long enough to know that these moments come once in a blue moon, but when they come, well, they are something that anyone would be willing to fight another few years to have again.

I crossed the finish line and immediately went hands to knees, hyperventilating and nearly crying. One delightful thing about this race being fairly small was it seemed they actually had an individual volunteer to walk each runner through the chute - my volunteer got me water, my space blanket, my medal, asked me about my race. I was grinning ear to ear - again, a volunteer said something like "she looks so happy for having just done that". And then I locked eyes with Andrew from across the fence. "I ran a 3:12!!" I yelped, and I felt the tears start to come. I came through the chute, flew into his arms, and promptly began SOBBING. "Oh my god. Oh my god. I can't believe I did it. I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID IT." Andrew, simultaneously trying to wrangle a dog and a ridiculously emotional post-PR fiance, was an excellent sport. We headed through to the post race area where I got absurdly excited about the fact that there was soda (whatever, I crave Mountain Dew after hard running, what about it?), got my special BQ and PR keychains that they were handing out (also a really nice touch) and was interviewed for a promotional video - I guess I must have really looked good! BOB also found me which I was really happy about - he finished just a couple of minutes behind me, and I thanked him profusely for being such a great support during the race. We eventually ran into Deepti, who had also run a PR - it was really an incredible day for the GBTC team, with tons of PRs and everyone was really excited about their races. I feel so proud to be a part of such a fast squad!

So even as I've relived this day writing this recap, I am still pinching myself that this race unfolded the way it did. My marathon training progress has never been linear, but I feel like when I PR I tend to do it gigantically (3:39 --> 3:22 --> 3:17 --> 3:12). But even though I felt like 3:17 was really good, 3:17 to 3:12 feels like a HUGE jump. I actually ran an entire marathon at a pace that still, even now having done it, sounds insanely fast to me. But I took what the day gave me, stayed calm, bided my time, didn't let the numbers freak me out, and knew that I had the training to back it up. But even all that being said, this really goes beyond my wildest expectations for this race. Like I said, I had had 3:12 deep down as this weird "super A goal" that I didn't tell anyone about, but I was convinced that I would be too afraid to ever even go for it. Early on in the race, when I was clicking off 7:20s and it felt so easy, I thought to myself "well, if nothing else, I guess you're giving yourself a chance". And I feel like I finally achieved my goal for the year of being brave - of going out there, doing my thing, not giving a damn how crazy the numbers seemed or what anyone else expected of me, and just feeling what I had inside of me, taking what my training had built, and capitalizing on it. It was me, it was me all the way. And holy shit, I guess now a sub 3:10 is the next big goal in the crosshairs. Who would have ever thought. 

Baystate Marathon 2017
3:12:34 - PR
173/1328 OA, 24/594 women, 12/163 F30-39

Sunday, October 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Mount Washington Road Race 2017 Race Report

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ummmm what are we actually doing right now

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

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

Here we gooooo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Run Through The Pines Half Marathon Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are 100% normal people

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