Sunday, May 30, 2021

A happy ending after all: Miles on the Mohawk 10M Race Report

Let this be a lesson to myself in case I hadn't already learned it: the races that I go into with no expectations are ALWAYS the best. Today I ran a 10 mile PR, and I'm confident that if the race had been a half marathon that I'd have a 13.1 PR as well - I ran a smooth, strong, consistent race with some of the most even splits I've ever seen out of myself...oh, and did I mention that I didn't taper and hiked 25 miles during the past week, including 9 miles the day before the race? Because, YUP, that just happened.

Some back story: back in the wintertime Joy got an email about this new race going on in New York, which we thought would be a fun racecation weekend/vaccination celebration - which, with Massachusetts announcing it was fully open on May 29, it really turned out to be! I had decided that the half was going to be my goal race before we signed up for this, so it was always kind of a fun run/cherry on top of the weekend in my mind from the start. I won't recap the entire trip in too much detail here, but suffice it to say it was a TON of fun, and not at all the sort of activities that I'd plan on doing before a race that I cared about, lol. The weather turned out to be absolute trash with rain every single day, but we somehow made the most of the dry periods and saw a ridiculous number of sights including a run in downtown Albany, several waterfalls and state parks, several breweries, and an absolutely ridiculous 9 mile hike on Saturday which included rain, a porcupine sighting, ledgy cliff walks, and having to ford a river about 30 ft upstream of a 200 ft waterfall! We also didn't eat any snacks during our 4 hour hike and then went to a brewery immediately afterwards (we did consume 3 pizzas at the brewery, so that's a better example of prerace behavior lol).

My legs had felt pretty terrible all week, as Andrew and I had been hiking up in the Whites on Monday and Tuesday and the first hike of the year always just annihilates my quads and calves. I had legit DOMS until Wednesday, and then my legs continued to feel just fatigued and achy. By the time our hike on Saturday rolled around I was finally feeling a bit better, but still figured that the lingering fatigue of the week was not going to have a positive impact on my race. We didn't get back to our air bnb until like 8 pm on Saturday night and tried to figure out the logistics of the next morning. The 10 mile was a point to point, but we had to stop by the finish line to pick up our bibs (we missed all the pre-race pickup opportunities because of hiking and breweries...oops but also no regrets) and then Andrew would drive us ~2 miles from the start so that we could warm up.  I ended up eating MORE pizza at 11 pm because I suddenly realized I was hungry and we hadn't eaten lunch. We watched the Bruins win game 1 of their series, the first full game in the Garden since COVID, which was absolutely electric - I actually got chills watching - and then headed to bed.

Race morning we needed to pack up the Air BnB, and in between I downed some kona cola nuun and ate a banana, and then munched on a bagel in the car. We were all a little stressed about getting our bibs on time but it turned out to be totally smooth. The weather was ridiculous at 48 and cloudy, but as you know if you've read anything on this blog before, I was HERE for it. Needing a throwaway shirt on May 30? HELL YES! It had been in the 80s the past week in Boston so it really felt delightful. 

Our drive to the start worked out fabulously - we happened to drive by an aid station that not only had porta potties, but was almost exactly 2 miles from the 10M start. After using the facilities we waited in the car for a bit before setting off down the bike path towards the start. I was really thinking about how nice it would be to just do a chill long run at this point - I definitely wasn't nervous, but was more just like wow I don't FEEL like running fast right now. Jogging along sounded really nice at the moment. We got to the starting area, where the porta potty lines were atrocious (apparently the people who were supposed to come and open the indoor bathrooms at the historic site where we started never showed up), so as per usual I wound up nature peeing in an extremely awkward area off the road...pretty sure there was poison ivy in the vicinity but I don't appear to have been afflicted, so yay for that! We headed back to the starting area and surveyed the scene; there were some definitely fast looking girls around including a contingent from Central Park Track Club who appeared ready to roll (and they did! So fast!) As we shuffled into the corral I realized that I had forgotten my mask in the bushes! Derp...even though masks literally aren't required anywhere outdoors anymore, we were still supposed to be wearing them in the starting area sooo I was standing there awkwardly with my singled pulled up over my mouth, as if that was doing anything. It really added to the overall awkwardness of my vibe. But it was just so much fun being in a starting corral with Joy again! 

We were lined up in rows of 8 that moved up and started about every 15 seconds, and soon enough we were on the line and off! It was an interesting difference in feeling from two weeks ago - then, I was just SO giddy and happy to be out there. Today I was again, really happy to be out there, but in more of an emotional way. Something about the songs on my playlist and the rush of being out here again, starting off at 6:45 pace and seeing how long I could hold it, starting a race just feeling relaxed and free, felt totally magical. I found myself tearing up at least 3 times in the first 2 miles which is just silliness, but it was what it was. Happily at the outset my legs felt fine, not like let's go balls to the wall amazing, but not concerning in any way.

The first mile was down a nice gentle downhill street, and then we turned onto the bike path which essentially made up the rest of the course. The course was really lovely - net downhill, but with enough flat sections and inclines to make it still feel honest and the bike path was really pretty! Once we were on the path, after making a few quick passes I latched on to a girl in a maroon lululemon tank top and an older guy in knee socks and gloves. My first couple of miles had clocked in around 6:45, and while I was pretty sure the downhill had helped me out a bit I was feeling relaxed and smooth, and so just tried to get into rhythm behind maroon girl as she seemed to be on a similar plane as me pace-wise. The bike path was quite pretty, and I just tried to let myself groove along, aiming not to work too hard in the early miles.

While the temperatures were cool and amazing (maybe low 50s?), it was definitely humid. The race was cupless so I actually had a bottle with me, which was amusing because it made me realize how much I rely on the water stations to dictate my drinking schedule! So, around mile 3 I was kind of like...uh...maybe I should drink? and just took a swig. It was actually kind of a pleasant surprise to just drink from a bottle and not just throw a cup at my face! I continued to stick like glue to maroon tank top girl. After about mile 3, there definitely wasn't the same ease to things as there had been the first few miles. We started encountering some minor inclines which I think woke up the feelings of fatigue in my legs, and while I ended up dropping the pace to around 6:55's, give or take, I definitely felt like I was slowing down more than I actually was. I actively tried not to look at my watch during this race and just kind of ran along by feel. I was passed by a couple of people who came blowing through from behind (I assume people who probably should have been in wave 1 but got stuck in the porta potty line or something).

Around mile 4 or 5, we encountered the end of the marathon runners running in the opposite direction, and because I literally cannot pass up the opportunity to cheer even if it's in the middle of my OWN race, I started yelling and whooping at each runner we passed. The girl in the maroon tank top totally gave me a side eye of confusion but I didn't care - I was cruising along, and those people had like 20 miles to go to my 6 - they deserved some positivity! Joy told me after the race that she had the exact same response and even threw some high fives across the bike path...amazing.

We headed into a more woodsy section, and by this point I was definitely noticing my perceived effort start to increase. Aerobically I felt completely fine (according to my Garmin, my heart rate was only in the 150s which I don't totally believe/almost hope isn't accurate because if true it means I was being LAZY) but my legs were absolutely starting to notice the effort. I eventually broke ahead of maroon tank on an uphill, which boosted my energy a bit, and was still managing to click off 6:55s at halfway. One thing that was really wonderful about the course was that everytime there was an incline, it seemed to be followed by a long/gradual decline, so just when you'd feel like "ugh, this feels hard", you'd have the opportunity to recover a bit. It really kept me in it mentally, and helped me to avoid the trap I think I sometimes fall into where I start to feel tired around 60% into the race and just totally give up. The forested bike path and the weather reminded me so much of all of the tempo runs I did this spring on a stretch of road along the Charles - for some reason, always in the mist or the rain. It just felt so fitting to be doing this race, running that same pace, in such a similar atmosphere, and I laughed a little bit thinking about how I LITERALLY had trained for this specific race. 

I took my Gu at 5.5 with a larger swig of water - totally threw off my flow trying to do all of that at once but I managed to get into rhythm again pretty quickly. I don't really have too much to say about the next couple of miles. I was getting tired, and was sort of sick of putting in the effort, but I kept telling myself that not feeling like putting in the effort wasn't a good reason to stop putting in the effort, so I had to keep doing it. 6:55s were still feeling relatively cruisy (in hindsight, I think I could have raced even FASTER if I'd really been willing to go to the red line in the second half of the race, but I've come to terms with the fact that that's something I have a really hard time doing.) I was telling myself that I could cruise for 2 more miles to 8, and then maybe start trying to pick it up. The fatigue was definitely starting to kick in, though, and "cruising" slowed from 6:55 to 6:57 to 7:05. I'd been trying not to look at my watch, but when I saw the 7:05 split I was like oh, goddamnit. You didn't come this far just to come this far. So I beat back the laziness and the total apathy of my legs (which is probably the best word for it - they weren't like completely donezo or anything, they were just like ugh, but WHY. We are so uninterested in this task right now) and forced myself to hang on.

Luckily, there was a girl in front of me in a black top with a french braid who I had been slowly reeling in, and continuing that process was a welcome mental distraction for the final 2 miles. It had started sprinkling a bit, which actually felt wonderful, and I could practically sense the moment the caffeine and sugar from my Gu kicked in. We came off the bike path and headed up an incline which truly felt like we were getting onto the highway, at which point I managed to pass french braid girl, and then entered by far the most annoying section of the course which consisted of running back and forth through a couple of side streets before the last stretch on the bike path to the finish. I had managed to pick it up to 7 flat for mile 9, and I willed myself to just hang on for one more. One more and I get a goddamn PR out of this ridiculous year and training cycle and whatever. Come on come on come on.

Right after the mile marker we turned up what, again, was not a large hill by any stretch of the imagination but for some reason just made my legs balk, and I could feel my form totally dissolve - hunched trunk, shuffling gait. Nope nope nope. Get up tall, eyes up, you'll go down the hill on the other side. And I did! When we turned downhill I knew there was one more ramp and then flat to the finish, and I was confident that I could finish it out. And then, as I made the turn into the final stretch, it started DOWNPOURING.

I love to run in the rain. I find such a magic to it, and as I ran down this bike path knowing I wasn't holding anything back because I was so close now, it felt like magic. I knew that I had run a strong race, a race I was proud of, and I gave that last half mile everything I had to give (it was a 6:55, which is actually sort of perfect) I motored into the finish in the pouring rain, hands up, with a PR. It wasn't a huge PR, it's not one of those PRs that I think of as a "big one", like the half and the full marathon, but damnit who knows how many PR days you get in your lifetime, and this, in the pouring rain, after a week spent doing things I love no matter the cost to my performance, after this training cycle that I thought was a bust after the half two weeks ago went south, was one of them. 

Maroon girl and sock guy both came in immediately behind me, and we exchanged high fives and pleasantries on a race well run. Upon stopping running it immediately became apparent that this was a COLD rain, and so after grabbing a space blanket I began jogging back up the course to go and find Joy, who showed up not long after and cruised in to finish well under 1:20. We quickly attempted to start cooling down, but realized that our original plan to run to meet Andrew at a park a couple of miles away wasn't going to be feasible because there was no pedestrian way across the river. Soooo mission aborted, and we hung out in a random parking garage while we waited for our amazing chauffeur to come and pick us up. 

We changed in the warm car and headed off towards lunch and beers, and about 10 minutes out I decided to check the official results. I had 100% written off receiving any sort of award as soon as I'd seen the CPTC girls, so imagine my surprise when I discovered I actually was 3rd in my age group! I was a little mad at myself, because I hadn't even thought to check and so missed out on my pint glass award. Just goes to show that I shouldn't write myself off!

I feel like this race report is all over the place, but I will summarize by saying that I really ran a beautiful race. I NEVER run even splits - NEVER - and while today wasn't perfectly even the differential between my fastest and slowest mile was much less than my norm, and I ran the majority of the race right at the pace I ended up running overall. I'm really pleased with the way I hung tough even when the pace didn't feel "good" or "easy", and am extremely surprised with how well my legs were able to cope with the overall fatigue of this week. And I'm just so, so pleased to get my happy ending of this weird training cycle/COVID year - I had such a dream of coming out of the pandemic and proving to myself that I was stronger than ever and that all the work that I'd done in the dark of 2020 would come into the light. And even though it wasn't exactly how I pictured it, it did. Not to mention, I have a newfound confidence in my ability to handle different/more challenging workouts and training weeks than I have in the past, more confidence that sub 7 pace doesn't half to be scary and a half at that pace is just around the bend, and maybe even more importantly, that I can do it without sacrificing the other things I love to do. I have always prided myself on being a runner who loves to run, and wants to train hard and run fast, but is never willing to give up the other things I love to do for the sake of one pursuit. Some might say that that's a negative trait, but I'd argue that the satisfaction I got from running PR under today's circumstances trumps anything that an extra 15 or 20 seconds faster would have given me. It just goes to show what I've always said about myself: my best races never come when I psych myself up, taper, prepare. I want to be that athlete, have that intensity, but at the end of the day, I think I'm my best athletic self when I break free of my own expectations and stop building things up in my mind, and just go out there and freaking run. And if there are weird extenuating circumstances like "25 miles of hiking the week of the race" or "rain" or anything of that sort...well, I guess that's all the better. 

Miles on the Mohawk 10M

1:09:07 (PR)

51/ 635 OA, 13/375 F, 3/51 F30-34

Sunday, May 16, 2021

New Boston Half Marathon Race Report

I'm sitting here drinking a beer that I've been saving for my first race back, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping it would be a PR beer too - see last post. But it wasn't to be, and I am OK with that. I'm convinced that the fitness was/is there, the execution was as good as it could be, but too many pieces of the puzzle refused to line up for me today - notably the weather (though I hate to be someone who uses the weather as an excuse on a day that many would consider to be great running weather, but the truth is 60+ degrees and sun just doesn't work for my body to race optimally, and that's all there is to it). And you know what, those racing skills get rusty after a year and a half of disuse! But let me focus on a couple of things I'm really proud of about this race:

- Most importantly, even despite the shitshow that was the second half, I was SO happy to be out there, just doing the thing. I definitely caught myself thinking a few times that feeling this awful and dealing with cramps and missing times was definitely an argument for NOT racing, but honestly I wouldn't trade it for the world. 

- Until the wheels fell off (which is sort of a separate problem), I executed my pacing PERFECTLY. I did not go out too fast - I went out 3 seconds under goal pace, and proceeded to run right at goal pace feeling relaxed and glorious for 6.5 miles. I'm convinced I can run the full distance at this pace one day.

- Despite an overall physical meltdown in the second half, I really managed to stay mentally positive in what might have been a really devastating situation in the past. Rather than beat myself up when things started to break down, I just focused on staying in the mile and trying to problem solve with what I could do to improve the situation. Also, by the last couple of miles, so many things had gone wrong that I actually started to find the whole situation funny, which I can't say I've ever thought before. Like, actually comically bad. So if comically bad for me is a 1:34 half these days, there are certainly worse places to be in fitness.

-I gave my best effort for 98% of the race, even when things were really spiraling down the drain. I had to stop and stretch out my quad several times, and had to walk through a water stop to get down some fluids, but the alternative to doing those things was either slowing down to a jog or dropping out, so I don't view them as moments of weakness as frustrating as they were. I had one moment where I feel like I walked because I was kind of giving up (mile 9 was nothing short of a disaster to the tune of 7:40 lol) but thankfully a girl passing me slapped me on the back and gave me some words of encouragement and snapped me out of it, and I definitely felt like I was able to rally a little bit at the end. 

And as a counterpoint, a couple of things that I'd like to improve on:

- Just...figuring out how to deal with my body's response to "warmth". The race today wasn't hot by any means - I think it was approaching 60 at the start and probably in the mid to high 60s at the finish - and my perception was never really specifically "I'm hot". The problem was that something was off in my electrolyte/fluid situation and once I fall into that hole it's impossible to climb out of. The fact that my dropoff happened really abruptly and dramatically leads me to believe that there was basically a moment when I became dehydrated, and the fact that the water stops were pretty spread out and I wasn't able to get more than a sip from the first two lends to that theory (absolutely not a slight at the race by any means - I totally get having grab from a table vs. volunteers due to COVID). So I'd really love to figure out how to prevent myself from falling into that hole, or at least hold it off a little longer. Can I hydrate more aggressively the morning of the race, or in the days before? Salt tabs? Again, I'm never going to try for a PR in the dead of summer, but it kind of sucks that at the moment I basically have 4, maybe 5 months of the year where I can actually have any shot at racing well and the rest I have to write off due to this problem. 

OK, moving on to the actual race report! This race had a time trial start from 7:30-9, but since we were seeded by pace I was relatively far up in the field and so was assigned a start time in the first wave, 7:35. With an 80 minute drive to the venue, it was an EARLY morning. I was up at 4 am, ate my banana and started in on a can of iced coffee, braided my hair, and got out of there. Thanks to a last minute zipcar change I had to walk about a mile to get to my car, but it was actually quite pleasant - there's something about being out on the way to a race as the sun is coming up, when the streets are totally empty that I just love. The drive was uneventful, I was jamming to my playlist and we can mark down instance #1 when I almost cried for the day while jamming to some of my latest pump up jams, and I made it to Goffstown in perfect time, right at 6:25 which is what had been recommended for me to park. Perfect! I was in desperate need of a porta potty after drinking a full bottle of nuun (still not enough fluids, apparently...) en route and was delighted to find a random porta potty, not associated with the race, in the lot of a car repair shop on the way to the start. Secret porta potties for the WIN! I walked down to the starting area, and here we have instance #2 of me almost crying as I took in the sight of the finish line arch, runners milling around, music blasting through speakers somewhere. There's just something so special about the atmosphere of a race that you can't recreate on your own and I just felt overwhelmed to finally be back in that electricity after so long. 

I picked up my bib and shirt, and then rearranged my bag before heading back towards the course to warm up. I ended up stowing my bag in some trees so I could use the secret porta potty post warmup, which turned out to be the move as the lines were nuts at the real ones by the time I got back to the start. I literally don't remember how to warm up? I figured 15 minutes was sufficient, and if not that was too bad because it was literally all I had time for. I returned to the secret potty, grabbed my stuff, and had barely enough time to change shoes and put my bag in bag check before we were being called to the start!

So obviously mass starts are not a thing right now, but Millennium is just killing it with their system of a time trial start - everything ran super smoothly but still "felt" like a normal race. We stood at our little cones in the starting corral area as announcements were made - Molly Seidel randomly was running this race I think as a workout? Which I thought was pretty cool. I was fiddling around with the laces on my shoes since I've only worn the Endorphin Speeds for a couple of workouts and was still a little nervous about pressure from the lacing. Swinging my legs out a bit and shaking loose. But also just sort of standing there in am here in this corral with all of these people, literally the most strangers I've seen in a year and a half, and we are going to do a race, and it's happening, holy shit. And then the national anthem played and I almost cried again! Because of course I did, and I knew I would. Just so much gratitude and joy to even have the opportunity to be here. I closed my eyes and just soaked it in. 

Holy heck and then it was time to race! I had carefully crafted my playlist with a super specific order and so I knew what song I was going to start to: Kesha's "Raising Hell". I really can't wait to see the race photos, because we stood on the line until the little racecar lights turned green, and as I hit play I ran out of the start with a smile on my face, singing along, so. fucking. happy. (I bet in photos this looks totally ridiculous lmao). Now you'd think that this could lead to some stupid behavior, but no, I became a smarter runner during the pandemic, and I actually turned my watch to current pace mode just for the first mile, to make sure I did not go out like an idiot. And IT WORKED! I ran a perfect 6:48 for the opening mile. I was aiming for 6:50 pace overall, so that was beautiful. I felt relaxed, smooth, delightful. One small and extremely stupid wrench in my plan when I realized that the second song that was playing was not, in fact, the song that was supposed to be playing...because I am a DUMB DUMB, and left my specifically curated playlist on SHUFFLE mode. The first of many things that I would laugh at during the race...and probably an omen of things to come.

The course was a lollipop, with the first 5 miles running out, then completing a loop in Goffstown, and then running back on the same road for the last 4 miles. My goal for the entire out section was just to lock into a rhythm and cruise, which was exactly what I did. The course does have the unfortunate feature of running slightly downhill on the out and uphill on the back (like, can we switch that around next year?) but the overall profile didn't have a ton of elevation and I had convinced myself that it wouldn't have a huge impact. I'm still convinced it didn't, really, because there were other fish to fry, but I digress. I was bopping along, happy as could be. Because of the time trial start and seeding, there wasn't a ton of passing to be done, but I actually did mow down 3 or 4 people who'd started ahead of me, which was of course a confidence boost. I felt like I was exerting the perfect level of effort and the pace looked like exactly what I wanted it to be. 6:50, 6:50, 6:51. All systems go. The first water stop came relatively early, and because it required grabbing a cup off a table while moving at 6:50 pace I unfortunately managed to throw most of the water all over myself and get very little into my mouth, but I didn't worry because at this stage we were in the shade and I was feeling just fine. One thing I did notice somewhat (which I think turned out to be a BIG thing) was that the road was significantly slanted towards the left, enough to be noticeable while running. We could only run on the lefthand side of the road, so it wasn't really avoidable, but I think for me it took it's toll in ways I would see shortly.

Anyway, for the moment things were grand, and were about to get even more wonderful, because as I looked off in the distance I saw a couple of people cheering pretty aggressively, one of them holding a sign. Since the majority of "spectators" to this point had mainly been people taking a break from doing yardwork to clap a little bit, this was something new. And then I got closer and damn near burst into tears because I realized it was JOY AND ELISE! I actually clapped my hand over my mouth in the most theatrical gesture and shrieked YOU GUYSSSSS!!! My heart. My friends. That they would come all the way up to this race t the crack of dawn to cheer because they knew it mattered to me - in case you're keeping score at home CRY TIME #4! A guy who'd been running in front of me was kind of chuckling and I gasped "That was a SURPRISE!" to which he laughed "I guessed that" hahaha. I was in the hyperventilating try not to cry breathing stage of life for a couple of minutes, during which I looked down at my watch to see that I'd just run a 6:46, my fastest mile yet. Everything was going SO WELL!

*Spoiler alert: things would stop going so well very, very shortly*

About a half mile later, we turned off the main road and onto some kind of uphill, which was really the first time I'd noticed any sort of effort at all. Which was fine - I chalked it up to "no shit, Sherlock, we're going up hill" and forged ahead. But then the hill...continued. Continued into a stretch of road where there was no shade and the sun felt very hot. "That's OK," I reassured myself, "just get through this stretch, relax, calm down, you'll be fine". (proud of your self talk, self). However, positive self talk didn't mean squat when my left quad all of a sudden decided that it was peacing out of this party, and proceeded to absolutely seize up. Ummm....WTF? My first reaction was actually sort of, I was literally feeling fine? What is this about? I had taken a Gu at 5 and was definitely hoping for a water stop, but nothing that seemed to precede whatever the hell was happening. And I swear, I've had a lot of races where you take the slow slide down into oblivion, but this felt like I took a flying leap off a cliff and never looked back. All of a sudden, without warning, my body was just done. It was like the quad cramp set off some kind of alarm system where my legs were like "huh, oh no, we all should cramp up too!" and my stomach was like "oh no, I'm not happy either!" and my overall physiology was like "hang on a second, we don't have enough of either water or salt OR BOTH we're NOT SURE" and everything went to shit. Add the fact that I was stumbling down a desolate street with shitty pavement, and the fact that the entire pack of people who started before me and who I had previously passed swallowed me up, and it was not a good time.

I ran for about half a mile in this shambling gait still trying to parse out what the hell was actually going on with my leg before making a decision that deeply frustrated me but I felt was for the best to stop and stretch out my leg. At this point I still had a thought that if I could work out the cramp I could somehow get back into it, especially because that mile (where I literally stopped and stood still for at least 10 seconds) still somehow clocked in as a 7:12. But it soon became apparent that the writing was on the wall. Despite the stretching, despite grabbing water at another stop, the cramp wasn't going away. I had lost all fluidity in my gait and as soon as I saw a 7:2x for mile 8, I knew: I was fucked.

But what could I do? I wasn't going to drop out of my first race back, as appealing as that seemed. I had to try to find a way through it. So first I had to find my way through the nightmare of mile 9, by FAR the worst mile of the race. Checking in with all systems: left quad, still seizing, low back trying to join the party as well. Stomach: not happy! Hydration: poor! Core temperature: above nominal limits! Every little incline felt like a mountain, and once again my stupid left leg reduced me to a walk up one. This was really the place where I almost completely gave up. Thankfully, a girl who started behind me happened to come up on me just then, and gave me a pat on the back and some kind of encouragement. That woke me from my stupor and my little pity party. I could find my way through this; it wasn't going to be what I wanted or what I'd hoped for, but I could problem solve and salvage something of the situation. I started running again; by this point I felt like what I desperately needed was hydration. When I got to the next water stop I made the executive decision to walk through, drinking a full cup of gatorade (or actually I think powerade, which oddly I have never had in a race before? Blue flavor was sort of a nice change from lemon lime lol). This was clearly what I needed, because while I wasn't able to fully reclaim my sub 7 pace of the earlier miles, I really got back into things for miles 10-11, locking my eyes on the back of the girl who'd encouraged me and clicking off some very reasonable 7:1x splits. I had been thinking for a bit about what sort of signal I'd give Joy and Elise when I saw them again, and I think I just gave them a shake of the head and a "disaster!!", hopefully with a little bit of a laugh. It was just so amazing to have friends to look for on the course though, just another thing that kept me going. I took some more water somewhere in there, and then promptly got a side stitch, because, like, of course I did. This was around the time where things began to become comical. We've got leg cramps, nausea, side stitches, dehydration, oh and now my phone is wet and is randomly skipping my music around, there's Gu all over my hands, this is AWESOME, this is what I've been WAITING FOR! 

We hit mile 11 and I was like OK, cool, you can DO THIS, and then my ridiculous leg seized up, again, and I had to walk, again. And thinking back on this now, I wonder, should I have just pushed through? I just feel like when I cramp like that I really...can't? My quad is sore as hell now so I know it was a real thing, but I hate thinking back on how many times I had to actually stop running during this race. Oh well. It happened. And in the actual moment, I was just like, you know what, it's fine, get it under control and get back to it. No pity, no sadness, just like...get through it, deal with it, get to the finish line. There was a lady sitting by mile 12 with a dog that was just cashed out on the ground, and I laughed and pointed and was like..."I wish I was doing that right now". I was gradually starting to reel in a guy who I had passed early and then been passed by, and that was a nice little carrot on the stick in the final miles. Don't worry...I passed him, then had to stop, AGAIN (this time accompanied by a nice shout of FUCK) and then just begged my body to pull it together for one last quarter mile and was able to get back ahead of him. I am sorry, random man, for being such an awkward end of race compatriot. By this point I was also starting to get unpleasant flickers of cramps in my calves and I was just praying that they could stay flickers for like...3 more minutes. 

We finally came around the corner and into the finishing chute, and despite the utter mess of the last 6 miles I somehow found it in me to turn it on as I came around the corner. The good thing about the chaos of the second half of this race was that I had completely given up on a PR, a decent time, anything, and so I had no idea or particular attachment to my finish time. But let's finish strong, anyway! So I powered across the line in 1:34:08. Ah, it was far from perfect. 1:34, I think, is now my most ubiquitous time for the half. But you know, there are worse things in life than a 1:34 half being "disappointing". 

I sort of wanted to vomit as soon as I crossed the line (lovely!) but managed to hold that in and receive my medal and some water, while ignoring the usual assortment of snacks that I never want any part of at the end of the race. Things I want at the end of a race: potato chips, soda/seltzer, a popsicle. Things I do NOT want at the end of a race (which are always there): banana, bagel, fruit cup, granola bar. I roamed out of the finish chute, pausing to thank the girl who helped me pull it together and congratulating her on her race, and plopped down in the grass, where Joy and Elise eventually found me! Now there are probably a bunch of times in the past when a race like today would have made me want to cry. Today it just made me want to laugh! Despite the time and the atrocious second half...I was happy. Happy that I'd put myself out there without fear and taken a shot, laughing at the fact that at least if I was going to blow up I was going to do it spectacularly. 

BUT my day got even better, because after sending Joy and Elise off for the rest of their long run, I got to spend the next hour CHEERING FOR RUNNERS which we all know is my other favorite thing to do, and something that I sort of forgot I haven't gotten to do in a REALLY long time. This is so dumb, but do you know what the 5th thing that almost made me cry today was? I'm out there clapping, cheering, screaming, the works, and some guy sticks out his hand for a high five...and I literally was like oh my god I'm going to high five a stranger for the first time in two years. And it seriously felt like the best high five of my life. Like something so simple, so normal, and like yes, COVID is still a thing but I'm just so thankful for science and for the vaccine, and for the fact that today I was able to run a road race, to high five a stranger, to hug my friends. Stuff I'll admit I definitely took for granted until it was gone.

Joy and Elise and I met up at Kelsen Brewing and sipped some beers in the sun with some nachos and hot pretzels before heading home, and I've pretty much been laying in bed reading my new favorite cheesy fantasy novel series ever since. My left quad hurts like a B, so that cramp was definitely a real thing. And I know, without a doubt, that today wasn't an accurate representation of my fitness. But for today, that's OK. I was there in the arena, I took a chance and didn't let fear hold me back, and I found the positives when in the past I would have only seen failure. I hugged my friends, I high fived strangers, I ran a RACE today, and it feels so, so good to be back.

Oh and importantly, I ran a 10K PR today! Which you know what I am TAKING because there's an official split for it, and it's a 30 second PR, and my 10K PR is dumb. I suspect that I probably can run faster in the 10K, given that the first 10K of this race didn't feel hard at all...but whatever. So take that half marathon, I still got my PR! (42:41)

New Boston Half Marathon


76/833 OA, 23/516 F, 8/85 F30-34

Monday, May 10, 2021

Race week? RACE WEEK!

The last time I stood on a real life starting line was Superbowl Sunday, 2020. 

I remember goofing off with Taylor as we stood shivering, waiting for the national anthem to play, huddled in a mass of hundreds of bodies. I remember telling myself to play it cool as we pushed off the starting line, shouting at Taylor that I wished I'd brought my arm warmers as some cold wind blasted down the side street near Kendall, and forced myself to practice patience as I watched my teammates take off at low 6 minute pace. I had a plan, to finish strong, and I executed that plan to perfection. I ended up with my last mile the fastest, tying my 5 mile PR, and overall I was pleased. I remember cooling down with Taylor, Erin, and Elise, jogging in blissful sunshine on the bridge over Memorial Drive, giddy with the feeling of an effort and a race well run, and most of all the possibility of more. We all knew that we were just at the beginning of the season and that as strong as we'd performed on this day, we were just getting started. 

If you had told me that day that I wouldn't race again for over a year, that pretty much no one would, that we were standing on the cusp of a global pandemic that would change everyone's lives forever, there's no way I would have believed you. My eyes were on the future, and it wouldn't be long before I impulsively would sign up for the New Bedford half, a race that I have a long love/hate relationship with, convinced I could run a PR. The race was cancelled days later and...well, we know how the rest of that story goes.

The past year has given me plenty of time to think about the why behind my running, and to reevaluate what my goals are/were and how I hope to achieve them. But more than that, and in a way that I never expected, running without knowing when I'd get to show up to a starting line again also set me free in a way I never anticipated. Suddenly, it didn't matter whether or not I did a workout, or how fast my long run was (not that it ever mattered necessarily, but certainly not in the last year). I didn't have to think about proving to myself or anyone else how fast I was, that I could run a good race, because there was no such thing. And out of this year of no expectations, no pressure, and nothing much to do besides run, I rediscovered the fact that I actually just like running in a way that I had almost forgotten.

I only admitted this to myself recently, but Boston 2019 truly did something to my relationship with running that I think it has taken the better part of the past couple of years to repair. The fact that I could train so hard, be so fit, do everything right, and come away with the latest in a series of awful disappointments just absolutely made me want to throw in the towel. My shift into the triathlon sphere was not a coincidence, and picking up a new sport where everything was new definitely helped to bring back some of the joy I'd been missing, but there was truly a part of me that wondered if I'd really be willing to put myself on the line to try to train and run fast at the longer distances again. I had discussions with friends as the pandemic wore on; friends talked about "moving on" from running or similar concepts. As months turned into a year and more, I found I had made my peace with what running had to offer me right now. I ran as much as I wanted, ran fast when it suited me, and enjoyed the tradition of "adventure long run Saturdays" which Joy and I have had going for almost 6 months now. 

But then, something interesting happened.

After finally digging myself out of the injury hole that I'd found myself in from October to December, I realized that the amount of running I was doing "for fun" was...increasing. I was closing in on 50 mile weeks, something I rarely touch outside of marathon training and something I hadn't done at all since pre-pandemic. Not only that, I was in a good groove with cycling and swimming,'s the all felt like fun. I was just bopping along, doing my thing, when one day I realized: I was actually training. I described it to my friends as the frog in the slowly heating pot: by the time things came to a boil, it was too late to jump out. So naturally, I did the next logical thing: I started doing some workouts. Little ones at first, my classic favorites of short fartleks at a pretty moderate pace. Then I started randomly doing tempo runs (which I should mention is a workout I DETEST and have never done willingly in my life). We started to build the long runs from 12 to 14 to 15. And for the first time in a long time, I felt that feeling of wanting to test myself, wanting to get on a starting line, just wanting to SEE what I could do starting to build up inside of me. The problem was, there was nowhere to do it. By mid-March I was fully vaccinated and genuinely starting to get antsy. I needed a race, and I needed it bad. 

And then one day, I was scrolling facebook when I got a targeted ad for a race I'd never heard of, the New Boston Half. I investigated and discovered it's a race put on by a company that has been successfully operating races since the fall, being run on a new course in NH as a replacement for a race that they typically put on in MA (since we are ridiculous and road races are only FINALLY being allowed by the state). I scoped out the "flat" course and confirmed that for once, it appears that the race directors aren't totally bullshitting with that description. I closed the browser window. And then, we had a work happy hour and after 1 beer I came home and proclaimed to Andrew: "I think I'm doing a half marathon in May. In fact. You know what? I'm signing up RIGHT NOW" and proceeded to do so as my bemused husband looked at me with an expression that could only mean "oh god, she's back at it". 

Which brings us to today. 

I signed up for the race at the beginning of April, knowing that my fitness was already reasonable, and for some reason got it into my head that I actually wanted to TRAIN for the thing. And so, over the past 5 weeks I've completed some of the best workouts of my entire life. I decided to focus my attention entirely on half marathon pace work, something I've never really DONE - I haven't run a standalone half for anything other than the purposes of a marathon tuneup since maybe my first or second half of my life? So I would set these workouts up for myself - 4 mile tempo, 3 x 2 mile HMP, 5K tempo followed by some speed - and look at them in terror, and then I would go out and execute them and just stare at my splits in disbelief wondering how the hell I had become this person who could do these things. But now, as we know, comes the true test.

Sometimes I think I'm just really bad at racing. I can have these amazing workouts, I can be super fit, but often when push comes to shove the end result just doesn't pan out for whatever reason. And I've been grappling with that fact, because objectively, I KNOW I'm in shape to run a half marathon PR. That's not a question. There are two questions: will I be able to execute? And just how far am I willing to go? With very few exceptions, my best races have been those where I've gone in with no expectations, totally fly by the seat of my pants, welp let's see what happens sort of attitude. And quite honestly, I do think I've got a hefty dose of that attitude to bring to this race - hey, first race after the pandemic, I'm pretty sure that's a get out of jail free card! On the other hand, I don't want to sell myself short because I'm too scared to actually try. And this, my friends, is my ETERNAL conundrum of racing!

I can't predict what I'm going to feel like on Sunday, what emotions are going to be running through my head as I stand with a bib number pinned on for the first time in 469 days, nails painted, race braid done, staring down a half marathon, my white whale of a distance. I'll probably cry, and I'll probably be nervous, but I'm hoping that I'll also feel fierce, calm, ready. Will I even remember how to race? (I'll tell you what, I DEFINITELY do not remember how to taper lol). But a thought occurred to me on a run last week: for me, maybe forgetting how to race is a GOOD thing. Maybe it's time to relearn how to race a half; how to be willing to stare discomfort in the face, to stand at the edge of the fire, and to say fuck it, I can keep going. I've not nothing to lose, nothing to prove, and I am just so damn grateful to get to be out there again, that I hope I can let that gratitude and joy carry me. 

Look, I'm just going to say it: I am so sick of my half marathon PR being 1:3x:xx. I'm over it. I want my goddamn 1:29. And if I blow up trying to make it happen in my first race back after the pandemic, so be it, no one will blame me. I absolutely never would have thought that I'd be coming back guns blazing like this, especially in a distance that has eternally scared me.  But I'm sick of putting these limitations on myself, telling myself I'm 'not good at the half', all this bullshit. I've been waiting a year and a half to have this chance again, and if that time has taught me anything it's that you can never take any race, any opportunity for granted, because you absolutely never know when it might come around again. So damn it, it's time to take a chance. 

Holy shit, it's race week.