Run Doodle Run

The long road to 26.2


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Closing Out 2014

In many ways 2014 has been the best and worst year of my life. I still haven’t been able to find a new job (seriously, so many people who can’t think their way out of a paper bag have high paying jobs – what’s wrong with me??), my marriage and relationship of over a decade (you know, 1/3 of my life) ended, and I’m still living with my parents (no offense, mom and dad).

In many other ways, this has been a great year. I hit all but one of my New Year’s Resolutions – I don’t know why, but I have a very hard time reading here. I used to plow through books but just can’t seem to even get interested in them now. My running has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. I ran more miles than I thought possible. I massively PRed at every distance and in all but one race (technically, I didn’t PR at the Dreaded Druid Hills 10k, but its hills are so intense I’m classifying it separately from all other 10ks). I lost 30 pounds. And I’ve gotten more comfortable with doing things that make me uncomfortable (learning how to be single, going to parties or events where I know maybe one person, etc.). I’m still a stubborn ass, but I’m learning to be less stubborn. And although my marriage ended, we’re still friends, so it hasn’t been a total wash.

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All said and done, though, I can’t wait for 2014 to be over. I’ve been over it for some time, now I just need to wait for it to officially be over. 2014 did end on a happy note, though – I got to spend the afternoon with my Beast 🙂 Having her lean up against me and wag her tail simply melts my heart. I’m a sucker for leaners.

Looking towards 2015, many of my usual New Year’s Resolutions are continuing, but my old stand-by, try new things, isn’t even really a resolution at this point, it’s just part of my life.

2015 Goals

Hold me to these. I’m starting 2015 off with a 5 mile race on New Year’s Day morning. I’m missing the ball drop, but I’m okay with that – I had no desire to stay up until midnight anyway this year. As much as I’d love to get a kiss from my loverboy at midnight, I don’t think he can even stay awake that late.

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Anyway, it’s already 2015 in Sydney, where my heart still lives, so I’m not really missing anything.

Here’s to a great 2015! Be safe tonight, everyone!

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When Will I Feel Like a Runner?

This is a question that new runners often ask. They lament that they are too slow, or too awkward, or plod too loudly when they start out. They believe that you must run a certain way, look a certain way, or dress a certain way in order to be considered a runner. No matter what their pace, they all believe they are slow.

In a way, they are right. Running is natural, but it can also be awkward for those who have spent a great deal of time sitting rather than communing with their limbs and lungs. Beginners often do plod, quite loudly, because they are attempting to run faster or longer than they are used to; tired legs are rarely quiet legs – even less so when the body that those legs are attached to is (quite literally) running on fumes.

But what running teaches you, if you stick with it, is that there are no fixed definitions. We are all slow at the beginning because we all have room to improve. Some have more room to improve, some have more will and capacity to improve, but all runners improve if they stick with it. Runners who have been running for a longer period of time “look” more like runners because their bodies have had the time to adapt to this odd and wonderful pursuit and determine what works and what is more efficient for that particular body – they are no longer fighting it, but joining it.

What running teaches you, is that is it all in your head. Your fast is my slow, and my slow is her fast. My body feels zen-like on some runs and awkward on others, like it’s fighting me the whole way – yet the onlooker cannot identify any discernible difference.

The definition of a runner, much like a runner, is not static – it is dynamic and ever-evolving. In middle school I defined a runner as a person who was pretty much anyone other than me and my awkward friends who forged notes and feigned injury to get out of running the mile in gym class. In high school I defined it as those who played sports or ran for one of the school’s teams, even if they “just” jumped over a single, towering poll or chucked heavy things across a field. In college I defined it as anyone who got out the door and went for a run.

Two years ago I defined myself as a runner, but with an asterisk. Yes, I ran, but neither well nor fast. Nor consistently. Nor at length without stopping to walk.

Today I define myself as a runner, period. Why the change? Because in order to appreciate what a runner is, one must go through the process of becoming a runner. To truly understand what defines a runner, one must test out all theories before settling on one.

I entered 2014 as a runner*, but leave 2014 as a runner. One year ago I was coming back from my first real running injury (that must mean I’m a real runner, right??) but wasn’t yet allowed to run. I grew agitated that I wasn’t allowed to run. I desired to run like I used to desire ice cream and a sofa. I built myself up in the gym and on the roads, tackling milestone after milestone. 3 miles? No prob. 4 miles? Now we’re getting serious… 10k? Really need to train just to get through it.

Getting dressed the morning of the Army Ten Miler this October, putting on the same shirt, compression pants, and shoes I’d run in all summer, I looked in the mirror – I looked like a runner. I ran a 10 miler and a half marathon in the same week – I felt like a runner. A training partner asked me to pace her through her first half marathon, a request I happily obliged, and a distance which felt easy – someone else believed I was a runner.

Two and a half years ago when I began running again after b-school, I couldn’t even run .15 mi when I set out for my first training run. Ouch. Yet, I didn’t second guess my resolve to run 13.1 miles four months later. This morning I voluntarily left my cozy, warm bed at 5:30am, got dressed, wandered out into the 28 degree darkness, and went out with my training group for a six mile run. I barely batted an eye at the distance (except for the chilled breeze which was causing them to water). I didn’t try to keep up with others, outpace others, or run anyone else’s run – I knew my cruise pace, I knew how this role played into my goal, I ran my run. This distance barely seemed worthy of attention. It seemed boring. That made me realize – I am a runner.

Looking back, I now know I was always a runner. But I had no way of knowing that without going through the journey.


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Hilly Rainy Run

you get wet

And get wet we did… Tonight was a rainy hill run kind of night. It wasn’t too bad, though, because it was 50 degrees out. Woohoo!

Our group looked like a roving Christmas light display, glowing and blinking as we weaved through the neighborhood in all of our neon, reflective glory.

We weren’t out there long – only did about 3.2 miles – but it was fun none the less. Well, until I stepped in a deep puddle on the way home. Whatev. We all get bragging rights for running hills in the dark, when it’s raining, the day before Christmas. 🙂


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Twas the Week Before Christmas…

And my house turned into an infirmary.

Sunday night/Monday morning my mom started getting sick. Uh oh. I haven’t really gotten sick since I had my nose surgery a couple years ago and was hoping to keep it that way. But no luck. Luckily I didn’t get as sick as her (she was literally in bed for 4 days straight), but it still kinda sucked.

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the pups took good care of my mom while she was sick

Monday night I forced myself to do a light workout which actually helped me to feel better. My coaches kept me in line.

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That look from her means I’ve stopped for too long. No more dillydallying, woman! (He’s just hoping I get down on the ground so he can clean all the salty goodness off of my face)

Tuesday I was feeling worse but it was my first track session with my new group! And it rained. Ugh. It was in the upper 30s/low 40s, but a surprisingly large group of people showed up. This run was fueled by Claritin D and Advil, which apparently made me darn fast. We ran 6x400s and I was running each 400 25-40 seconds faster than I did this summer. Holy moly! Maybe my last quarter mile at Celtic last weekend wasn’t a total fluke… Afterwards our group and the full marathon training group met up for drinks, food, and camaraderie at a bar around the corner.

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I was going to workout Wednesday and Thursday, but felt super crummy, so I just took the rest of the week off to get healthy again. This winter is all about building a solid base, not driving myself into the ground before the season even comes around.

Saturday my group met downtown for our long run. I love and hate running downtown. It’s flat, tends to be pretty windy (which super sucks in the winter) and the brick is hard on my legs. But the view is pretty nice and it’s always nice to get a change of scenery. It was an ugly sweater run, but I don’t own an ugly sweater – so I painted my nails festively and had a Santa hat instead. I was going to try to do something with tinsel and bells, but Target failed me.

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5:00am wakeup calls for Saturday long runs are rough no matter what time of the year, but they’re extra awful in the winter. During the summer the sun typically rises shortly after I get up, my parents and dogs are up and about in the house, people are on the roads, the birds are chirping – you know, signs of life. During the winter? It was literally me and the creepy blow up Santa on the neighbor’s portico. No bueno.

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On the bright side, though, the moon was absolutely gorgeous on the drive downtown. Just before the sun came up you could see the entire moon, even though only a sliver of it was lit up.

I ended up running 5 nice, easy miles with two women in my group, averaging about 11 minute miles.

After the long run I did a little bit of damage at Charm City Run (hey, it’s Christmas), grabbed a donut from Dunkin Donuts, and got a Christmas gift for the Beast at the doggie boutique next door, before heading home to shower, change, and head back down to the city to meet a friend for high tea at Gertrudes at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It was surprisingly fun and un-stuffy! We were there chatting for several hours (the wait-staff seemed like they were trying to nudge us out so they could turn the table over for dinner), then I headed off to a party for a bit. I was so exhausted from the long day that I didn’t stay too terribly long.

I had planned on going to bed embarrassingly early when I got home but someone on the street was having a party and the windows in my room are so thin that I knew they’d wake me up when they all left, so I plopped down in the living room with my parents to watch the never-ending Thursday Night Football game on Saturday Night (as if I wasn’t having a hard enough time remember what day it was this week…). I had no stake in the game but it was surprisingly good.

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This morning I slept in a bit and then met Aaron and Beast at the trail for a quick 3.5-4 mile walk. The trail was surprisingly crowded for a chilly Sunday, but we got to see some people running in festive garb – one guy passed us wearing a Santa hat and a lei of big Christmas lights 🙂

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Then I came home to see the awful Ravens “game” (I’ve never been more embarrassed to be a Ravens fan). There were surly a few bad calls, but it was 95% on the team. Now I’m watching the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Finals (watching skating on TV always reminds me of just how much I miss skating…) and drooling over the smell of roasting veggies that’s filling the house.

that's not hot chocolate. that game called for something a *bit* stronger...

that’s not hot chocolate. that game called for something a *bit* stronger…

How was your week(end)? Any great holiday plans coming up?? 


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Race Report – Celtic Solstice

This is easily my favorite race of the year! It’s usually a week or two before Christmas and because most people are outside of their major training seasons they are just there to have fun with it.

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Coming into the race, my primary goals were simple: 1) not re-injure myself, and 2) set a new PR. The last time I ran this race, two years ago, my dad bet me $1,000 to finish in under an hour, and I couldn’t do it – I finished in 1:01:58 (which was still a PR). All season long I have been smashing this in my training runs, but I know my fastest times for the season are behind me right now. I was realistically expecting to come in somewhere between 52:00 and 55:00.

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I was nervous about this race for multiple reasons. First, I’ve only run outdoors in the cold a handful of times because of my injury rehab; second, it was my first run in my old shoes since injuring myself at Baltimore (more on that another time); and third, because the temperatures were forecasted to be 32-37, right at that annoying point where it’s cold, but not COLD. The night before I spent almost two hours going back and forth between what I wanted to wear – but I finally settled on ColdGear tights, smartwool socks, HeatGear long-sleeved shirt, and gloves, with a ColdGear long-sleeved shirt in reserve in my bag.

I misjudged my travel time and ended up getting there about 20-30 minutes earlier than anticipated (I always forget there’s no traffic at 6:00am on a Saturday!) but I got prime parking for easy exit after the race. After reluctantly parting with the heat in my car I walked over to the start area and man was it cold! (duh, it’s December) It wasn’t windy, but just that kind of cold that bites right through whatever you’re wearing. I always remember the tent being warm, but I think that’s mainly from the collective body heat – there weren’t enough people in it that early to heat it up yet!

The first thing I did was get my timing chip, pin my bib on, and use the porta-potty (ah, fresh, unused porta-potty – a runner’s race-day dream come true!). For the coffee drinkers, Zeekes had coffee available all day, and there was a DJ and a band playing. Outside the tent were two massive and lovable Irish Wolfhounds – the “official” mascots of the race. Lots of people were dressed for the season, ranging from ugly sweaters to sparkly red and green skirts to full-on Santa and elf costumes; a number of the guys had on kilts, as is tradition.

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…umm? sure hope no one was inside…

All morning I continued my internal debate about what to wear. I had decided to stick with the HeatGear shirt – until 10 minutes before the start and I walked outside. Holy cow was it cold! I quickly went back in to the tent and changed my shirt, before heading off to the start area to warm up (although I’m pretty sure I felt colder after my warm-up than I did before). Waiting, I noticed that my fingertips were tingling and my toes and forefeet had gone numb. Not cool.

The race is officially “opened” by the race director, the Irish Wolfhounds, the bagpipers, and those who have run the race every year walking through the crowd to the start.

Just a few minutes later we were off! The first half mile or so is uphill, then we turned off to a small road, which was far too narrow for the size of the crowd at this point. I’m all for people running for fun, but I was far from the only person who was irritated about having to dart around “fun runners” three- and four-abreast and people walking uphill this early in the race; I easily lost about 30-40 seconds. I could feel my Achilles grumbling with every cold step, especially when I had to run in the uneven grass alongside the path. I strongly believe that everyone who wants to run should run, but all runners, regardless of ability or speed, need to be honest with themselves about where they start in the pack. It’s not about being snobby, it’s about being safe and fair for all involved.

Somewhere around a mile the course opened up and the crowd thinned just enough. I hit my cruising pace about this time, choosing to run by feel and avoid looking at my Garmin. Around mile two feeling finally returned to my fingertips and toes – woohoo!

Every time I’ve run this race before I’ve had to walk at least once on the half-mile climb to the turn-around point – not this year! This year I barely even noticed that it was a hill. Regardless of how the race turned out, I knew that, despite late-season injury, all the training this year had paid off.

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Just before the turn-around I saw Melissa heading back, which signaled that I was keeping a healthy pace. A bit further on the bagpipers had relocated to the course and were playing for us, which was a nice pick-me-up.

After the turn-around, it’s an easy return, with half a mile downhill a short-ish up-hill section, a meandering mile and a half that’s mostly flat around the lake, and then just under a quarter mile downhill to the finish. I looked at my watch a few times, noting that I was holding pretty steady at around a ten-minute mile. Not bad considering the last two months!

As we made the final turn off of the lake loop, I looked at my watch – I had just over 2 minutes to cover the last ¼ mile. I knew it would be pushing it, but I picked up the pace and as soon as the path straightened out to the downhill I pushed all the way to the end (thank goodness Melissa and I would occasionally do sprints at the end of our long runs this summer!). I knew it would be close so I made sure to run the tangents as much as possible (other runners be damned!), turned the last corner (when did the bridge between that corner and the finish line get so wide??) and crossed the finish line sprinting – and finished in 50:00 even! Yes, I’m kinda peeved that I couldn’t’ve cut one more second off somewhere to get a 49:xx time, but I gave it everything I had and blasted my old PR out of the water. I have officially PRed in every race but one this year. I think it’s safe to call 2014 a success!

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After a quick pit-stop to let my stomach calm down I made my way back to the tent for the most important treat of the day – Boordy Wassail! Yes, I can (and do) buy this stuff at any store, but race-day wassail is sooo much sweeter. They had an impressive spread of cookies, bananas, and apples (I’m also vaguely remembering oranges). The tent was buzzing with adrenaline and holiday spirit and the band was great. I ran into an old friend and some people I know from training, cuddled with the Wolfhounds, and then called it a day.

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can i please take them home with me??

If you’re ever in the Baltimore area and looking for a great December race, I highly recommend this one. Roughly 5,000 people run it each year and the race swag is always fantastic. This year was the 15th anniversary, so they went all out on the swag – a men’s Brooks running jacket. It can be a bit pricey for the distance, but is totally worth it, hands down.

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Next year I would like to see them address the early log-jam a bit better. I’m not sure if a wave start is strictly necessary, but there does need to be a better system for segregating the start-line by pace (and encouraging people to be realistic about their pace) or letting fewer people through at a time. That said, I can’t wait to run this race again next year!


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Let’s Play a Game – This or That, Christmas Edition 🎄

Admittedly, I’m having a very hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. The holidays have always been one of my favorite times of the year, but not having my own house to decorate and the end of my marriage has marked the end of many of our little family’s Christmas traditions and has just left me in a less-than-festive mood (yet no one seems to understand this…).

That being said, I do like the little “Christmas this or that” that all the cool bloggers seem to be posting this year. So, without further adieu…

Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Christmas Eve. My family as always celebrated Christmas in the old European tradition. There’s just something much more magical about the buildup throughout the day (cooking and baking and the sun setting and everyone coming together) – and the lights at night are gorgeous. Christmas morning to me has always been just another morning to sleep in.

Real tree or fake tree?

I love the idea of a real tree, and we always had a real tree growing up, but I am all about the fake tree. You set it up whenever you want to, never have to water it, can move the branches around as necessary to fit your ornaments, and never have to vacuum up those annoying needles.

Tree ornaments or tree lights?

You really need both, but if push came to shove, I’d go with just lights. To me the holidays really are all about bringing some light and brightness into the darkest part of the winter. Plus, our outdoor tree only has lights and looks quite nice 🙂

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-Going Christmas caroling or watching Christmas movies?

Christmas movies. Not a singer, not into singing, and Christmas movies can be enjoyed wrapped up in a warm blanket with a cup off hot wassail.

Indoor or outdoor decorations?

It’s like the tree lights or decorations – you need both.

Santa or the elves?

Elves. I refused to sit on Santa’s lap as a kid because he was a stranger, but I was okay with elves.

Eating the Christmas cookies or leaving them out for Santa?

Definitely eating. The month of December is fueled by sugar.

Putting presents in front of the tree days in advance, or waiting until late Christmas Eve?

We have always put the presents under the tree as they were purchased and wrapped, but sometimes the extra special gifts don’t come out until Christmas eve. It just looks much more festive with the presents shining under the lights of the tree.

A white Christmas or a green Christmas?

White! As long as I don’t have to shovel it and it does’t impede my activities.

Going to church or volunteering at a soup kitchen?

Soup kitchen – always better to do things that’ll bring joy and happiness to others at the holidays.

Religious Christmas or a festive one?

Festive.

Spending the holiday with immediate or extended family?

Immediate. I’ve never been close with my extended family, with the exception of one aunt and my grandparents before they passed.

Eggnog or hot chocolate?

I see your eggnog and raise you a Coquito.

Spending Christmas with or without children?

I never want to spend time with children (bah humbug, I say!)

Giving or receiving?

Both!

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Choosing your first marathon

So you’ve decided to run a marathon, huh? Awesome! First hard decision – done!

Second hard decision – which marathon???

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There are so many marathons in this country, let alone other countries, in any given year that it can seem incredibly daunting to pick just one!

Admittedly, I’m not expert on this subject, but as I look towards choosing my first marathon, here are the criteria that I am weighing:

1) Crowd Support. This one’s huge for me. I’ve learned through countless races large and small that I NEED crowd support in order to get through long mileage. This was most evident to me this fall when comparing my experiences are Army and Baltimore. I loved the start/finish atmosphere of Army, but the lack of crowd out on the course was excruciating for me. There’s a wonderful little marathon nearby that runs on a mostly-flat trail, but there are maybe 5 spectators outside of the start/finish area; unfortunately, that knocks it out of contention for my first.

2) Ease of access/transit. Also huge. I am not a morning person – I am not going to get up at 2:00am (voluntarily…) to drive two hours to get to a marathon. I need one where I can stay nearby and which has easy parking or public transit options. Because of possible international travel at the end of 2015, I also need to consider…

3) Cost of getting to and from the race. Would I LOVE to do a fantastic destination race, a la the London or Sydney Marathon? Absolutely! And I am all for combining a race and vacation, but costs to add up. Hotel? Airfare? Parking? Eating out? $$$ Like I said, this is particularly pressing because of a possible international trip shortly after marathon season, but regardless it’s something that really does need to factor in to the calculus.

4) Course. Love hills? Hate Hills? Do your hips ache at the thought of running 26.2 long, flat miles? Very personal choice, but extremely important. I love hills, but I don’t want to run a super-hilly first marathon (I want to have a good experience, after all). But I also know flat courses at the beach can be boring as sin.

5) Location. Running a marathon in the south during the winter sounds awesome until you remember that you’ll be training in colder-than-cold winter weather. For me it’s important to find a race where the climate will be similar enough to what I’m training in or can reasonable adapt to. I’d rather runner a race in a colder climate than my training than a warmer climate, but only because I know my body adapts easier to cold than heat and humidity. I’m going to be out there for 5-6 hours, so I know that no matter what time the race starts, I’ll likely be running during the hottest part of the day – definitely not something you want to leave out of the equation! Hopefully you’ve played around with this and had some trial-and-error experiences with shorter races and know in what conditions you run your best.

6) Race Amenities. You want me to fork over how much for a race? I expect a little something in return. Good porta-potty availabilities, good quality swag, frequent water/medical stops on course, top-notch medical team, well-organized start line, easy post-race runners’ village (major points are lost if I hear about runners having to stand around for long times to get their blankets, medals, and/or food and drink). Speaking of…

7) Cost of Race Entry. Yeah, it’s a marathon, it’s going to be expensive. But there’s expensive and there’s EXPENSIVE (like NYC and Disney expensive). We all have a threshold of what we consider reasonable – know it and own it. And yes, it’s relatively subjective based on the previous criteria.

8) Friend/Family/Run Group Support. For some people, this is way up on the list. For me though, no amount of friend/family support can bolster up a hot, humid race on a flat road with no shade and no crowd support.

I think I’ve narrowed down my list, mostly constricted by overall cost this year, but I’m still weighing the options. I have time to figure it out, but I also need to get moving on this decision because before you know it spring will be here. I’m planning on putting my name in the hat for NYC, but I know that the odds are not in my favor and need a back-up plan or two.

What criteria did you use when choosing your first marathon? Did I leave anything important off of the list??