Run Doodle Run

The long road to 26.2


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Race Report: The Baltimore Marathon!!!

Fair warning – this is going to be a long one

I am the girl who used to make up excuses to get out of gym class. I was the girl who barely finished the mile in gym class. I was the girl who was never an athlete.

But I’m also the girl who always admired runners and wanted to be a runner. I just didn’t know how to start.

Nine years ago this upcoming Wednesday, I ran my first race – a 5k. It kicked my ass. But I loved it. And I loved the runners. I had never been around a more happy, encouraging, and inspiring group of people in my life.

At the 2008 Baltimore Running Festival, where I was running the 5k, someone put a bug in my ear – that anyone who can run a 5k can run a marathon. I didn’t say it out loud, but I had decided right then and there, before I even ran my second-ever 5k, that I would run a marathon some day.

Seven years and six days later, that day is here.

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After four long months of early Friday nights and even earlier Saturday mornings, grueling Tuesday nights, missed outings and social events, dozens of PT sessions, physically – and mentally – painful injuries, and over 500 miles, it was finally here. Marathon week.

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All week long I have been bouncing around, smiling like an idiot, super excited that it was almost showtime. As soon as our 8 mile long run was over last weekend, race day just couldn’t get here fast enough.

Tuesday I saw my orthopedist for a second cortisone shot. My bursitis had been acting up again, and she and the PT agreed that it would be best just to get it. I’d be hurting enough from running 26.2 miles – I didn’t need to go in with existing pain if there was a way to mitigate it. Tuesday night was also my last run.

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Thursday I went down to Ravens Stadium to pick up my packet and check out the expo. I’ve got to say, it was a little lackluster this year. The official race gear wasn’t nearly as great as it usually is, and the vendors just didn’t seem as interesting. It’s always hard when the expo is at the stadium, though, because the set-up just isn’t conducive to browsing – it’s conducive to frenetically rushing through.

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After the expo I had my (hopefully) last PT session. She taped me up, set me up on the PENS machine for a bit, gave me some last words of advice, and I was on my way.

Friday I found our that I was quoted in a Baltimore Sun article about the Baltimore Running Festival! And then I went down to DC to see a friend’s husband be sworn in as US Ambassador – and broke nearly every pre-race rule I have. Sleep well the night before the night before the race? Nope. I woke up at 3:28am. You know, just because. Comfy shoes all day? Nope. I wore high heels. Take it easy and stay off your feet? Nope. I spent 5 hours in commute and then walked around DC. Eat small, carb-dense snacks throughout the day? Nope. Had a steak lunch at 2:30pm – but it did have rice. Small win. Avoid alcohol? Nope. Had champagne at the ceremony. Have my usual salmon and sushi-rice dinner? I was so stuffed from lunch I only had the rice. Despite all of those deviations, it was totally worth it to see them. And, you know, to see witness something so amazingly important, not only for them, but for our country.

It took me nearly three hours to get home and I could’ve used a few extra hours of daylight to get ready for the race. Once (most) of my stuff was together, I went to bed early – I had an early wake-up call the next day!

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Every year my training group rents out Pickles Pub, a bar right at the marathon start line, which is a fantastic location! The bathrooms leave a bit to be desired, but at least they’re not freezing cold porta-pots. We chatted a bit while doing a last minute check of our stuff, and before we knew it, it was time to do a group photo and head out to the start!

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Getting ready for a chilly morning! Gloves, arm warmers, and a throw-away fleece…

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Charm City Run’s Marathoners (well, those that didn’t get cut off)

It was absolutely surreal standing at the start of a marathon! My usual group of girls – Tracy, Jennie, Anita, and Rebecca – and I planned on running together as much as possible. Somehow the group deemed me the pacer – no pressure!! And because Anita had enough energy for three runners, I deemed her the group cheerleader. We were all bundles of nerves and boundless energy, bouncing around and getting teary-eyed, all at the same time.

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I found Waldo – can you??

After the National Anthem, we were off! Ahhh!! It’s really happening!!! We’re running a marathon!!!

Last minute high fives!

Last minute high fives!

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The first three miles are up-hill, but barely seemed like it! It was amazing – unlike a most races where there’s the initial surge of people clearly going out too fast, that didn’t seem to happen at the marathon. Throughout that initial section, there were many people out, some still in their PJs, clutching their coffee, cheering us on!

After about a mile and a half the gloves came off, but I was sure glad I had the arm warmers! It was chilly, at 52, but not nearly as cold as they had forecasted (mid-30s). At 3 1/2 miles we turned into the Maryland Zoo – such a great part of the course! The Ravens’ ravens, Rise and Conquer, were out to greet us, as was a Kookaburra (!!) and several penguins! A number of people stopped to take photos with them, but we were on a mission! It was our first taste of downhill, too.

Before we knew it, we were leaving to zoo and heading into Druid Hill Park and onward to Johns Hopkins!

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We ran the first few miles a bit faster than intended, but allowed it to happen, taking advantage of the downhills; we weren’t so far ahead that we’d pay for it later. It felt like cruising pace, not like we were pushing it. No worries.

The first relay exchange was at Hopkins – as was Rebecca’s family! She ran off to give her husband and daughter a hug, while I helped myself to a munchkin (Thanks, Dunkin Donuts!) 🙂 That was the best damn munchkin ever….

Just past Hopkins, a guy behind us tripped and fell. Having been in the exact same position before, I ran over to help him – as did several others. It was great to see so many people stopping their races to help get him up and make sure he was okay. The spirit of the marathon was alive and well!

The next 3 1/2 miles took us downhill, heading right past the half marathon start at the Harbor, and onto the flat section of the course. Along the way we saw Tracy’s family and Anita’s friend! It was so great to see the support! We then ran past the second relay exchange, aiming for Under Armour’s World Headquarters – but then we saw the holy grail: porta-pots with no line! So we all took a quick pit-stop. It cost us a few minutes, but it was completely worth it. We were comfortable and our legs felt astonishingly fresh. We then continued on to Domino Sugars and UA and headed back to the Inner Harbor. On the return trip we passed the amazing Sid Busch! Obviously we had to cheer and yell for him.

For those who don’t know, Sid runs races nearly every weekend in honor of fallen soldiers. Baltimore is his 200th marathon! And Baltimore truly rolled out the red carpet for him, bringing in seven relay teams to help pace him to the end! I’ll write an entire post about him later this week.

Before we knew it, we were at the half way point! It went by so fast! My parents were there cheering for us and Jennie’s husband had a fresh camelbak for her.

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We were a few minutes off pace, because of the pit stop, but it was okay. Nothing terribly concerning. Onward!

We continued on towards Harbor East, tip-toeing over the precarious cobblestones at Katyn Circle, then ran through Fells Point and Canton. At this point we knew the flat part of the course was quickly fading. We’ve all run the Baltimore Half before – we knew what was awaiting us when we turned left off of Boston Street.

A funny thing happened after we turned left – we started passing people. Slowly at first, but then we began passing more and more people. Huh.

The number of spectators picked up, too, with throngs of loud, cheering fans lining the streets near Patterson Park, where the half and full marathon courses merge. It was just the kind of energy we needed at mile 16!

This section of course has been called Baltimore’s Heartbreak Hill – a ruthless, nearly constant uphill from mile 16 to 20. But we persisted, calling on all of those hills we ran this summer. Talk had all but ceased by this point as we put our heads down and pushed up the hills, weaving through tired walkers, marveling at the relative ease with which we tackled them, compared to previous years. We breathed a sign of relief anytime the hills flattened out, while still fully aware of the even steeper hill that laid beyond.

The final – and worst- hill of this section was the hill from the awkward u-turn at Sinclair Lane up to Clifton Park. It’s mile 19. You’ve just run 3+ miles of nearly up-hill road. And if you’re like most people training for a marathon, you’re coming up on the distance of your longest training run. Clifton’s hill is particularly steep and is made more challenging by the relay exchange you have to navigate. And then just when you think the hill has peaked – you turn a corner and it goes up some more!

But shortly beyond the apex of torture, you are rewarded with 1.3 flat miles around Lake Montebello. Noe most people would relish in this flat terrain, but we all groaned. None of us enjoy flat courses. And the lake is so big that the exit seems to pull even further away, no matter how fast you run. Just as we turned the corner to run around the lake, we noticed something – we had caught up to the 5-hour pace group! They must’ve passed us while we had our pit stop. We followed them for a short while, but realized they were running a 10:45 pace – something which was not realistic for us to continue while we extended our longest-ever run with each step. We very, very slowly pulled back, but then passed them at the water stop. For the next mile or so we’d continue to leap-frog them.

After the long, tortuous road around the lake, we were rewarded with more hills! Many people erroneously believe that 33rd Street is flat; it is anything but. The hills are nothing like those that we just conquered, but they’re relentless and punishing on your tired legs.

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In the past Jennie has had some issues with nutrition on the run, so I began to remind (quite frankly, pester) her to keep on top of it at this point. I had no intentions of explaining to her husband why she, in her hypoglycemic confusion thought it would be a good idea to go hug a bus at mile 24.

We were all tired and aching at this point, but we just kept pushing. The November Project and Back On My Feet had amazing support at their water stops which helped so much – but only for so long. Each step caused my feet to hurt even more, but I kept going because it was the only option.

I quite frankly don’t remember much of the last few miles because I was staring at the ground – partly to make sure I wouldn’t trip and lose momentum, and partly because I was afraid to look up and see how much further I had to go.

Tracy and Jennie started pulling away from me a little bit, but I managed to catch up with them every time. We wound our way through Charles Village, past the Eye of the Tiger folks, back to Hopkins, and then, finally, made The Turn – the turn back down south, the turn that meant we had only 5k to go. The turn that meant the end was within our grasp.

There was only one more hurdle in our way – the Howard Street bridge. When I first ran (walked, really) the Baltimore Half in 2009, this bridge was my Everest. I barely made it 100 feet up before I had to walk – and it seemed to never end. It looked like a scene from The Walking Dead. But this year? This year, that son of a bitch was going down. Heads down, one foot in front of the other – and it barely even felt like a hill. I guess all those torturous sessions at Oregon Ridge paid off 🙂

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We kept running, weaving through the runners. At one point I yelled “coming through” to warn two walkers I was coming through the space between them (because, you know, at mile 24.5, weaving isn’t an option unless there are literally no other options), only to realize it came out much louder, and much more forcefully than intended. In the next breath, I apologized, also surprisingly loudly – they giggled and all was good.

When we made the final turn onto Eutaw Street, I knew it was real. This marathon was happening. Every time I thought about that, I got a little choked up – and then had to take a deep breath and focus on the moment so my throat wouldn’t close off. I continued to put one foot in front of the other, getting a little bit faster with each passing block, continuing to weave in and out of walkers. As we got closer, Jennie found another gear and was racing for the finish line! She’s usually a fair bit faster than me in the shorter distances (like 2-3 minutes faster in the 5k!), but I’m usually the faster one at long distances. I don’t know where it came from, but she was off and running! With about a mile left, I had lost her in the crowd. Tracy was just up ahead of me.

I don’t remember much of this part of the course. I remember hearing the cheering, I remember someone yelling “you all inspire me!!”, and I remember seeing Camden Yards come closer and closer. I remember staring at my Garmin, realizing that sub-5 was within my grasp. I remember thinking that I can go faster. So I did.

I remember crossing the photo mat at Camden Street, and not even caring – I had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I do remember, however, making myself look up at the crowds leading into the spine and take in that final stretch running through Camden Yards. I remember hearing the crowds on the other side of the stadium echoing through, and then bellowing as I exited the spine. I remember scanning the crowds, seeing all of them smiling and cheering for us. I remember crossing Lee Street and seeing the finish line up ahead. I remember pushing with everything I had. I remember thinking, in that ubiquitous Kona Ironman announcer voice, “STEPHANIE CHURCHILL – YOU ARE A MARATHONER!” as I crossed the finish line. And I remember screaming as loud as I could out of jubilation and relief. And I remember breaking down when I realized what I had just accomplished.

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I FINISHED A MARATHON.

I finished a marathon in UNDER 5 HOURS!!!!!

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I finished a marathon with a brutally hilly second half in under 5 hours with NEGATIVE SPLITS!!!

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Jennie was just beyond the finish line – I don’t remember what we said, but I remember celebrating our triumph before getting our space blankets – and our massive MARATHONER medals!

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During the race I thought I’d have to stop at the med tent and get ice for my knee, but I realized I felt surprisingly good. I ached, and my muscles were tired, but I didn’t hurt. The wall was never a consideration. It never taunted me. I ran 26.2 miles and felt great. Relatively speaking, of course. 😉

The only spot of tarnish on an otherwise outstanding day was after the race. Whoever was “guarding” the finish line area refused to let people cross the finish line. Throughout the previous 26.1 miles, people could cross the course. But here they refused to let my parents, along with many others who had warm, dry clothes for their runners, cross the course at all – instead, telling them to walk around the entire stadium complex. Even though by the time I finished, there were frequent gaps through which spectators could cross. I’m sure some of it is governed by fear of a Boston-type incident, but fear ought not cripple life. I faced a similar problem last year – as an injured runner, who could barely walk, with multiple icepacks clearly strapped to my legs – when they dared to tell me to walk around the entire stadium complex to get to my car and my dry clothes. I told them off in words I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d utter to a police officer and pushed through anyway. I don’t know who was preventing spectators from crossing this year, and quite frankly I don’t care. But thankfully someone finally had an epiphany to finally let my parents, and the others, through. It’s a damn good thing, too, because it was an incredibly windy, cold day – far too cold to be standing around in cold, wet clothes after running 26.2 miles, and without family to celebrate with. I’m a runner – I get that we don’t need people darting across the course, especially at the finish line. But as a runner, I also want to be able to have my friends and/or family celebrate with me at the finish. It’s awful when such a great accomplishment and (what should have been) such an amazing celebration was sullied by someone on a power trip.

Once they got through I was finally able to get out of my wet shirt and put on some toasty warm clothes and wander around the celebration village. We checked out the official gear shop – they FINALLY had a cute 26.2 shirt! My wonderful parents got it for me, and then we went over to the Under Armour tent – WHICH HAD FOAM ROLLERS!!! I have never been so happy in my life to see these little nubby torture devices. Finally, I got my medal engraved with my time. I never pay for engraving, but this was my first marathon. I’ll never have another first marathon. I had to.

Horribly unflattering photo, but oh man were my hammies and glutes so ridiculously happy!

Horribly, horribly unflattering photo, but oh man were my hammies and glutes so ridiculously happy!

When I got home, I was amazed at just how good I felt. The stairs that I had been dreading just to get to the shower? Piece of cake. Seriously.

My expectation:

My reality:

Earned.

Earned.

I had such a blast running my first marathon! I was so fortunate to have such amazing coaches, who knew exactly what they were doing, a PT who understands runners and seriously works magic, an ortho who gets athletes and knows what he’s doing, truly amazing training partners who made this entire process such a joy that I looked forward to every single day, and parents who supported me 100% – even when they quietly questioned my sanity when I couldn’t stand up but was already planning my next long run. Without this perfect storm of support, I may have still accomplished my goal(s), but the journey wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.

As I sit here, nearly 36 hours removed from my first marathon finish, I already have dreams of my next marathon (and a 50k!) dancing in my head. So many options, but so little time and money. For now, I look forward to some well-deserved time off.

Amen

Amen

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Weekend Wrap up

It’s been a pretty low-key week training-wise for me. I managed to get in about 25 miles, but most of it was indoors due to weather. Typically I crosstrain on Mondays and Wednesdays, doing about an hour of cardio but really focusing on strength training. Our track session Tuesday night was cancelled due to 4 inch wide (yep) hail and a tornado warning. Although I still contend that potential tornado breathing down our necks could’ve motivated us all to our fastest time trials ever 😉 Thursday’s run ended up being moved indoors because of more storms. I need to get better at getting up super early on Thursdays to get some miles in before work (I’m the only person in the office on Thursday mornings, which makes it even more difficult to get the miles in and get showered before we open). Thursdays are so crucial to my training yet somehow always get the short end of the stick.

Saturday was my second long run with my group – we set out for 10 miles on a flat trail. A few weeks ago I ran on this trail, which I really do love, by myself for a much shorter run and it had never felt longer or more torturous; it’s amazing what a difference a few good training partners can make! It seemed to take no time at all this week. It was raining a bit, but the tree canopy mostly protected us from the worst of the rain. We set off at a nice, easy pace, just after 7:00am, and before I knew it we were at the turn around! I nearly forgot about my gel at mile 5 until one of the other people I was running with said they were taking theirs. I know I can do 8 miles without gel, but I’m not sure about 10, so it’s a good thing he said something! It must’ve rained harder than I realized because the trail was much muddier on the return trip than on the outbound trip.

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The best thing about rainy, sweaty runs? The insides of wet socks make surprisingly good rags for wiping the mud off of your legs… Kinda gross, but it worked! 😉

Sunday was the 40th annual Baltimore Women’s Classic. I’ve run it several times in the past (here, here, and here), but decided against it this year as the 5k just doesn’t fit in with my marathon training schedule. In hindsight, my legs felt good enough that I probably could’ve run, but I don’t see any benefit (but more than a few risks) in truly racing a 5k at this point. So instead I played sherpa for my mom and a friend of my parents. 🙂

The morning air was pleasantly chilly and it was overcast before the race, but the sun ended up coming out just in time for the start. Having run this race in some miserable weather, I know just how much of a difference sun vs. clouds can make.

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If I had been thinking (you know, something that’s just not on the menu when I wake up at 5:00am two weekend-days in a row), I should’ve brought my DSLR camera, but the iPhone was the best I could do on sleepy brain cells.

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Just after the race started, my dad and I planed ourselves down at the finish line area. It’s so amazing to see the first finishers of the race. I wish that I could know what that feels like just once (hell, I’d even take running their pace for 100m!). The top 20 women ran the gamut of age and size, but they – and all of the finishers – were awesome. It was hot standing there cheering, so I can only imaging how hot it must’ve been out on the course.

My parents’ friend came in just under 31 minutes and won her age group! Did I mention she just had a pacemaker installed, a double mastectomy, and chemo 6 weeks ago? Seriously – what’s your excuse?

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My mom beat her 5k PR by 19 seconds and set a new personal course record by over 3 minutes! Woohoo!! *happy dance*

IMG_0949Later on Sunday, after a good, long nap, my dad and I went to check out a condo for me. I had been hoping to move this summer (I’ve been living with my parents for the last two years), but it’s looking less and less likely. All winter and spring there were gobs of really great condos on the market; now that I’m ready to plunk down some cash for a place, they’ve all taken their balls and decided to play somewhere else. The condo we looked at was the ideal layout and neighborhood, but the location of it wasn’t great (right next to a pool and a main road). It was the second time I looked at this unit, knowing it probably wasn’t going to be right for me because of the location, but I was hoping something would’ve won me over. Instead, we just found more dings against it. *sigh* Back to square one.

I still have one question mark of a race lingering on my summer calendar – the Dreaded Druid Hills. I know I really want to run it, but I’m trying to figure out where it fits in with training. I know we’ll be taking a cutback week the following week (for the Charles St. 12 Miler), which leads me to believe we’ll have a big long run the week of the DDH. Training for a longer race is really forcing me to reevaluate all of my usual races! But I think that’s a good problem to have 😉

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Race Report – Brooklyn Half Marathon

Over the years I’ve either run most of the local spring half marathons or decided they just weren’t for me. This year I was looking for something a bit different. A friend of mine had run Brooklyn last year and spoke highly of it, so I decided early on that this was going to be my target spring half.

I purchased my train tickets months ago, but had to alter them a few weeks ago when the unrest in Baltimore led to a curfew being implemented. Not knowing how long the unrest and/or the curfew would last, I rearranged my travel so I’d be coming in and out of the city during daylight hours. Well, three days before I was to head to New York, a Northeast Regional Amtrak train derailed, killing 8 people. With Amtrak out of commission, and the alternatives being far too complicated (Amtrak > SEPTA > local bus > NJ Transit), I decided at the last minute just to drive. This was the first time I had driven in the city – driving in NYC isn’t nearly as awful as most people make it out to be. If you know your car, and aren’t a total wuss, you’re set. The drive up was surprisingly enjoyable, albeit a bit long (nearly 5 hours).

The financial district and One World Trade Center from the (gridlocked traffic at the) Lincoln Tunnel

The financial district and One World Trade Center from the (gridlocked traffic at the) Lincoln Tunnel

I stayed with a good friend of mine in Manhattan, who was kind enough to pick up my bib for me when my travel plans changed. Unfortunately, staying in Manhattan meant an obscenely early wake up call on race day; she was in wave 1 and had to be there by 6:00am, which meant that we had to leave by 5:00am, which meant we had to be up by 4:00am. ugh. so early.

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Earlier in the week they had been calling for rain on Saturday, so I was super excited when we walked outside and it was dry (as in not raining, not as in not humid – it was definitely humid) and comfortable out. Despite the insanely early arrival, the organization of the race was spot-on – not that I would expect any less of the country’s largest half marathon! Bag drop was organized by corral, after which we went through security screening, which wasn’t a hassle at all, and then we had the run of the wave without being forced into corrals. The best part? They had giant vats of water in each wave where you could refill your bottles or just grab a cup of water; no guilt about wasted water bottles. And in each wave, there were literally porta pots for days. It was a wall of porta pots from one end of the wave to the other. It really is the simple things in life, isn’t it?

IMG_0440The race started at the Brooklyn Museum and started off with the usual fanfare, including a farewell to Mary Wittenberg, the outgoing president and CEO of the New York Road Runners. Unbeknownst to me, my friend was sitting next to the guy singing the national anthem at the start of the race while we were on the subway.

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Wave 1 set off at 7:00am (to what else? The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn”), with my wave following at 7:45am. There wasn’t a ton of crowd support at the beginning of the race, but it picked up just after the first mile or so. The course was mostly flat with some rolling hills, which made for a nice, easy warm-up mile.

Since the fall, I’ve developed this annoying habit of getting side stitches early in races. I had to stop to do some breathing exercises around mile 1.5 which helped briefly, but not for long. They came and went for at least the first 6 miles.

Photo: NYRR

Photo: NYRR

After about 3 miles we made our way into Prospect Park, which I loved – I would totally run here again on my own. There was plenty of shade and the road had curves and turns and some rolling hills to keep things interesting. I had heard some people lamenting “the hill” in Prospect Park, but I never actually saw a proper hill.

Just around mile 4, I was thinking to myself that it would be amazing if we could get a little spritz to help cool us down a bit. Not even minutes later, the clouds opened up; it started as a light rain at first, but quickly became a steady rain, which lasted through about mile 6.5. I hadn’t brought a hat with me, so I just had to put my head down and keep wiping the rain and sweat (and sunscreen) out of my eyes for nearly half an hour. I found a nice, big tree to hide under so I could grab a Gu around mile 5.5 without getting my phone soaking wet. Despite the rain (or maybe because of the rain?), I felt fantastic through the Prospect Park section of the race – my legs felt good, my lungs felt good, and my mind felt good.

Photo: NYRR

Photo: NYRR

As much as I loved Prospect Park, I hated Ocean Parkway twice as much. From mile 7.5 to 12.75, we were on Ocean Parkway, a straight-and-flat-as-a-pancake highway through Brooklyn. There is nothing I hate more with regard to running than straight, flat courses, where all you can see up ahead are teeny, tiny specks of runners off in the distance. To make matters worse, the cross-streets are Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C, all the way down through the alphabet…. omgggggggggg. Somewhere around mile 8.5, the mental toughness went out the window; around mile 9.5, I started getting physically exhausted. I briefly considered just curling up in the fetal position, but realized that doing so wouldn’t alleviate the discomfort nor would it make my dry clothes appear. I gave myself a quick SIUP and plodded on.

Photo: NYRR

Photo: NYRR

For the first time ever, I took gatorade and water at every station from mile 7 – 11. By the time I got to mile 12’s water station, I just flat out refused to stop, for fear that I might not be able to start back up. Normally I’m pretty okay for the last 5k of a half, but this seemed like the longest 3.1 miles of my life.

One of the great things about NYRR races is that they have an “800m to go” sign and a “400m to go” sign, but I swear those bastard signs were lying. The crowd in the last mile or so, but especially that last half mile, was just amazing. So many people cheering and so much energy coming from them, but I was just so drained it couldn’t energize me for that last segment. I honestly don’t even remember seeing Coney Island as I came in for the finish – I vaguely even remember seeing the Cyclone, but only because it was standing between me and the finish line.

Photo: NYRR

Photo: NYRR

Typically I can pull on one last surge to power through the last .1 mile, but I had nothing left in the tank as I came towards the finish line. I saw the finish line, but it felt like it wasn’t coming any closer, no matter how hard I pushed – but finally, I was there.

Unofficial finish time: 2:15:52.

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I’m not sure this is technically a time PR (my last half’s course was short, so I’m putting a big ole asterisk next to that PR), but I beat my Baltimore Half PR by about 2.5 minutes. I had nothing else in me when I crossed the finish line – I left everything on the course.

The after party was at the minor league ballpark next to Coney Island. Aside from having to wait 45 minutes to get a damn hotdog (a damn good hot dog, admittedly), it was a great place to have the after party – there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out and there were real bathrooms (!!!) which made changing into dry clothes a whole lot more enjoyable.

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My best friend, Lauren, and I at the after-party

I truly enjoyed this race. I don’t know that I would necessarily run it again because of that awful flat section, but I would definitely recommend it to someone who does like flatter courses. The pre-race logistics were well-organized, and the race-day organization was top-notch. Based on this experience alone, I wish I lived closer to New York so I could run more NYRR races, but it’s just too much of a hassle (and too expensive) to get to NYC for a race.

After the race and after-party, Lauren and I headed back to her place to shower and nap before heading out to see an old friend of mine staring in Don Giovanni down in the East Village. It was a really great performance, but both of us got kind of antsy in the second act – my legs and butt just got uncomfortable from all the running and the chilly air conditioning. Afterwards we met Dan for wine and cheese, fully expecting to pass out at the first sip of wine, but luckily we both got our second wind right about then and had a really great night. It was the first time I’ve been out until 1:00am in a long time 😉

All in all it was an awesome weekend 🙂


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Race Report: Oldfields School Half Marathon, Powered by Back on My Feet

Late last year I decided that I wasn’t going to run any early spring races – a wonky winter can totally throw your training off and I had bigger goals for the year. Well, that all went out the door when I heard that Back on My Feet was hosting a half marathon at the end of March. 🙂

When you think of running in the end of March, you think of warm(ish) weather, daffodils, sun, and birds chirping, right? Ha! Nice try. I woke up to snow. Snow! The meteorologist on the morning news assured her viewers it would only be intermittent and pass pretty quickly. Ha! Right.

Knowing it was going to be a cold race, I wore the same kit that I wore for the Father Time Frolic on New Year’s Day, as the temperatures were forecasted to be pretty similar.

Yeah, I don’t care what the thermostat said – it felt way colder than the New Year’s Day race. It was a damp, bone chilling 32 with snow and about a 10-15 mph wind. Even standing around the snow blew right into your eyes and the wind just cut right through whatever you were wearing.

I got there pretty early and only left my car for the portapot and the BOMF pre-race circle.

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The race started at 8:30, and I finally crawled out of my car at about 8:20 to do some quick dynamic flexibility warmups, run a quick bit to see how everything felt, and then joined my friends at the starting line. One of the women from my summer and winter training groups was there, as was an old friend of mine from high school.

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It was as cold as we all look.

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The first .63 mi of the race was downhill, from the school to the trail. In an effort to warm up and keep up with my high school friend, I (surprise, surprise) went out a bit too fast. My first mile was 9:15, and the second wasn’t too much slower. At around 1.5 miles I decided to try and pull back the pace, but I had a really hard time with pacing for some reason. I honestly don’t know if it’s from the cold or from the wonky winter training season, but I just couldn’t get it under control. It didn’t matter if I went by feel or by Garmin.

We passed by the first relay point at about 3.3 miles – and surprisingly there was a really big crowd! That was a much needed mental boost. The rest of the outbound trip was pretty quiet, as there’s really no where for spectators to stand, but I was well with the pack. The leaders started passing back on their return trip somewhere around mile 5. En route I managed to tie my 5k PR and set a new unofficial 5 mile PR (48:42). Awesome, but not good. This wasn’t a short race.

I hit the turn around point, which was a cone with ridiculously, but much welcomed, large smily face ballon in about 1:03:45 – which kinda shocked me. I’m not sure what happened at this point, but I kind of got into a dark place. My achilles was starting to hurt, my piriformis, which I admittedly have gotten lazy about, was tightening up, and my legs were just feeling heavy. And I was cold. Really cold.

As I watched my pace plummet on my Garmin, that place just got darker. I stopped to stretch two or three times, walked through the remaining water stops, and watched as the pack in front of me got thinner and thinner; and then I got passed, by more than a few people. I presume some of them were relay runners, fresher than I, gunning to get to the exchange, but the sting is still the same. The wind never ceased, the snow kept falling, and it felt like the temperatures were mimicking my pace. I high-fived the racers that were still heading out to the turn-around, but I’m not sure if I was doing that more for them or for me.

I had hoped to see a big crowd again at the relay exchange point, to get that little bolt of energy, but it was pretty quiet. Not that I can blame them – it was #$)@(ing cold. I wouldn’t want to stand around either.

The last 3.3 miles were very quiet. The snow had started to lay on the adjacent fields, and parts of the trail, which had been perfectly clear just an hour or two ago, were now covered. I tried to take a picture, but even my phone gave up – the cold sapped the battery and I was left with a shiny paperweight.

It turned out to be a good and a bad thing that I knew this part of the trail well. Good, because I knew where I was and how much further I had to go. Bad, because I knew where I was and how much further I had to go. But being this close, I couldn’t let that dark place bully me in to slowing down.

In order to distract myself I kept taking sips of water, “in preparation for the hill.” Yeah. That hill that I sped down at the beginning? It’s an out-and-back course.

As I got closer, I could see the other smily-faced balloon bobbing in the wind like some deranged bobblehead, telling me it was time to climb the hill. I swung wide and transitioned from packed stone to pavement, reminding myself that there was only .63 mi to go. Trying not to look too far ahead, I focused on the snowdrops which were blooming next to the road – the only sign that spring might actually still consider happening. As I slowed down, the cold only got more pronounced, so I tried to push harder and faster, making an extra effort to run the tangents, just to get to the finish sooner.

When I came upon the last bend in the road, I could hear the crowd at the finish line cheering people through and I kicked it into over drive. It didn’t matter how much my achilles, my piriformis, or my pride hurt, the finish line was mine. As I turned the corner and hit that slight downhill, I broke out into a sprint – and then I was done.

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I didn’t even stop when I crossed the line – I made a beeline for my car, where fresh clothes and a warm second layer awaited. Once dressed for the weather, I went back to the finish area, grabbed some food and drink and chatted for a bit before heading home with dreams of a blisteringly hot shower dancing in my head.

The less-than-stellar winter training definitely took a toll on a few of us, but we had our first half of the year in the books, a good baseline for the rest of the year.

I should be much more ecstatic than I am. I got an awesome new PR – 2:11:21, officially – but for some reason I just feel kind of deflated. That feeling from the second half of the race just took over the joy of the PR. Even today, I just can’t shake it and still don’t feel pride in the PR.


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Race Report: Kelly St. Patrick’s Day 5k

My training group!

My training group before the race!! I’m in the closed orange jacket and my mom is in the opened orange jacket.

After last year, I had decided not to run this race anymore. Not that it’s not fun, but it’s just too crowded to really race it and, honestly, I just don’t like the insane emphasis that’s put on drinking beer and getting trashed in order to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day in this country. I changed my mind, though, because my mom wanted to run this race – I didn’t want to come all the way down for the race and not run it myself! 😉 So I signed up.

Prior to the 5k I ran in Florida a few weeks ago, this was going to be my target 5k for the season – where I ran my butt off for the sub-30 5k. Well, seeing as I already did that (!!) I had very few expectations going into the race. I would’ve liked to have PRed, but it wasn’t going to ruin my day if I didn’t – after all, I’m a long distance runner, not a short(ish) distance runner! 😉

The weather was darn near perfect for a race this morning, except for one small detail: insane winds! It was about 50 degrees or so, sunny with lots of clouds, and winds like no other.

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After meeting my training group at the finish line area, we walked to the start together. The start is always super congested, but I did my best to get close to the front of the pack so I would have fewer people to dart around (although looking at throngs of runners in front of me once the race started, I think it’s safe to say I didn’t get close enough to the front). My mom and I met my dad and one of his employees near the start to pass off our extra layers. At the last minute I decided to ditch my long sleeve shirt and run in a tank top and heatgear pants. I’m glad I did.

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The race began at 1:15 and I, predictably, spent the entire downhill portion darting in between and around slower runners. Despite all of that, I had managed to get about an 8:58 pace, which is right where I wanted to be to set a PR – quick, but not exerting a whole lot of effort.

The first 6/10 of a mile is down hill. How do I know this? Just after the course flattened out, I fell. Hard. Again. The pack had opened up a bit and I felt like I was getting into my groove, and then all of a sudden I felt my left toe catch on something, and then I felt like I was flying; I tried to catch myself, frantically trying to get my feet back under me, but instead landed squarely on my left knee, then right knee, right hip, and right elbow, as I skidded down the road. I laid on the course in the fetal position for what felt like a minute, but was only about 2-3 seconds, trying to internalize that I had, in fact, fallen again, before a kind gentleman helped me back up to my feet. After making my way to the sideline, I tried running again, but was in too much pain – at which time I looked down and realized I had ripped my pants and was bleeding. As much as I wanted to go on, I knew it would’ve been too painful, so I made the difficult decision to take my first ever DNF. Walking hurt, but was doable – there was no way I could’ve run another 2.5 miles.

I made my way back to the finish line area (which luckily was pretty close to where this all happened) to get cleaned up. I made myself a sandwich (which I felt like a fraud for eating because I totally hadn’t earned it) and waited for my mom to finish her race. She got herself a shiny new PR!! 🎉 By over a minute and a half!! 🎉 AND can finally say she beat me in a race 😉

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Poppy was dreadfully concerned about the sounds I was making while pouring hydrogen peroxide on my road rash

Poppy was dreadfully concerned about the sounds I was making while pouring hydrogen peroxide on my road rash

Walking up and down the stairs (hell, just sitting and standing) hurt so I’m going to give me knees a few days to recover before I run again. I have a half marathon in just 13 days, so I need to focus on taking extra good care of my body. And maybe on finding one of those self-deploying airbags…


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Race Report!! Army Ten Miler

Back story: This is the third time I’ve registered for the Army Ten Miler. I’ve had this race in my sights for five years. In 2010 I got in but had to DNS because three weeks of ridiculously intense MBA orientation totally derailed my training. Last year I was registered and on target with my training until I got put into the walking boot – there was no way I could have walked hobbled the race in my boot and still hit the time cutoffs. This year… this year nothing was getting in my way. 

Last weekend was amazing. The end.

Okay, really, it was great. I stayed in Bethesda, outside of the District, because hotels are way cheaper, but also because it’s an area that I know well and am happy in. It’s urban but suburban, all American but very global (big French influence there). And I had a one-bedroom suite with a kitchen all to myself. Heaven! I am very happy that my parents graciously let me move back home last year when life got a bit rough, but there’s just something about having your own space – even if just for four days.

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the lunch of champions – aka my travel-day guilty pleasure

Maybe it was because I was bummed out from not running and just happy to be at the expo, but last year’s expo seemed to be a lot better than this year’s. It was super empty (not necessarily a problem, that’s why I went so early) and I didn’t really have any intentions of buying anything, but there just wasn’t as much to look at nor a lot of free stuff. I did “splurge” and get myself a logo-ed glass from the event, but it promptly got dropped and smashed to bits by the valet guy at the hotel. Sad face. To make myself feel better I drove out to my favorite Japanese place in Rockville and got myself takeaway dinner. A big pile of rice counts are carbo-loading, right??

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I stayed up far later than I ought to’ve Friday night watching the O’s game then went to a job fair on Saturday morning down in Crystal City. The job fair wasn’t exactly a rousing success, but it did give me an opportunity to see the race area before hand, which always helps to calm my nerves before a big, new race. Afterwards I came home and made myself some fettuccine alfredo, watched the second O’s game, and foam rolled until I could foam roll no more. Saturday evening I enjoyed some apricot chicken with rice that I made earlier in the week and brought with me. Super yum. Yes, it really is all about the food.

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Saturday night I got everything ready – and quadruple checked everything – and set my alarm for 4:45am. The metro train left at 6:06am and I was paranoid about missing it, even though the station was only two blocks away. I know.

So naturally, I was wide awake at 3:30am. After checking the news, facebook, and twitter on my phone I admitted defeat and rolled out of bed at 4:10am. At least I could enjoy a leisurely morning? I was admittedly a bit apprehensive about going to a big race by myself – this would be the first time I’ve ever done that – but it turns out that’s something I’ll have to worry about some other time. My ex and I are on good terms and are trying very hard to be friends, and he came down and surprised me so I wouldn’t have to be alone on race day. It was nice to have someone to talk to who knows my race day routine and moods.

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It was a quick and easy ride to the Pentagon for the race. If you’re not familiar with DC, the Pentagon is on the other side of the river from DC and when you ride the yellow line to the Pentagon, the track goes over the water. It was so dark still when we popped out of the tunnel that I actually had to stop and focus to see that we were, in fact, above ground. Off to the east you could see the slightest hint that sunrise was approaching, but it was still pitch dark. Just a few minutes later, after arriving at the Pentagon, the sun decided to join the party.

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This was the first time I had ever been to the Pentagon so it was super awe-inspiring for the foreign policy/strategy nerd that I am. After taking in the location for a few, we walked over to the race staging area. I have never seen so many ports-pots in my life. Truly. It was like a runner’s dream come true. Every where you looked – porta-poties. Every corral had them. The non-secure area for the public had them. They had them lined up by the starting line. It was truly amazing. Kudos to whomever placed that order! Job well done.

As part of the morning ceremonies several men parachuted in.

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Those little dots are the parachuters

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Then I made my way over to my corral to begin the long wait. There were a few announcements, a prayer for the Army and the runners both here and abroad, and the National Anthem (I have never heard such silence during the Anthem – even the porta-pot line stopped) and before we knew it the wounded warriors and the first wave were off! There were 8 waves in total, 8 minutes in between each wave – and I was in wave 6. The soldiers escorting us did a great job of keeping everyone in order and keeping us moving. I didn’t get a really good warm up in, but at least I got something in. Before too much longer we were lining up at the start. I was three rows back – the farthest up I’ve ever been! And with the heart-stopping boom of the Howitzer, our race was under way!

The race starts on a highway and runs along the highway for the first mile, just near the corner of Arlington Cemetery. I was trying my best to run by feel rather than by Garmin, but I must admit I was surprised to see how quickly I was moving without even realizing it. My side stitches came back just around this point, but they weren’t nearly as painful as they were at the track on Tuesday.

The second mile was spent crossing the Potomac, running right towards the Lincoln Memorial, then we veered off towards Constitution for a bit before running up 21st St. past the State Department. Having worked in this area of DC it was bittersweet being back “home.” It made me smile to see my old haunts, but I wish I didn’t have to refer to them in the past tense. After running around State we made our way over to the Watergate Complex and down the Potomac towards the Kennedy Center. If you’ve never had the opportunity to run along the riverfront, I highly recommend it. It is surprisingly serene and the view is amazing no matter which direction you turn.

Up until this point the crowd support had been fairly modest, much less than I would have expected for a race of 30,000 and I felt like I was doing a lot of dodging and weaving of walkers and super-slow-motion runners. I thought the wave start wouldn’t helped thin that out a bit, but it just never ended.

Just as we came to the Washington Monument we hit the halfway point – and I did it in under 50 minutes!! Woohoo!! Once I hit five miles I stopped to take a Gu and get a good drink of water (and catch my breath). I truly had no idea just how fast I had been running. Luckily we had had some shade, but that was about to change. Running along Independence Ave we gained a lot more crowd support, but the majority of the road was in the sun at this point. Just after mile 7 we began the surprisingly long journey back to Virginia – I never knew the river was so damn wide!! It isn’t really, but the bridge was easily a mile and a half long. In the direct sun. With no breeze. And no crowd.

Somewhere around 7.5-7.75 mi my mind started telling me “it’s okay to walk.” I had to beat it into submission sooner rather than later before it got the best of me. I did take one short walk break, about a minute, half way across, but stubbornly pushed onward as hard as I could. As I was ascending the third hump of the bridge, I could finally see the exit point – which meant the race was almost over! I didn’t know exactly what the distance was, but I knew 9 miles wasn’t too far beyond that. We finally worked our way down the off ramp, enjoying what little shade there was and turned left back towards the Pentagon. I didn’t know these roads and was having a hard time playing the mental games you sometimes have to play in a hard race, but I kept telling my mind to shut up and commanded my legs to keep moving. There was one bridge (!!) to get over and then we were all but home free. Just after crossing that bridge I could begin to see familiar sights. Then a little bit further, I saw the black Army flags lining the home stretch. Yes! We’re really almost there!!

For the last half mile I battled my mind and my legs. My hip was getting tight and it took all my willpower to keep my feet moving. But I couldn’t stop. Not here. No matter how dizzy I was, no matter how tired I was, I wasn’t voluntarily stopping at 9.5 miles. If my body wasn’t to stop that badly, it’d have to take some drastic measures.

I remember passing the photographers and forcing a smile for one, but then saying to myself “fuck it – it takes energy to smile, energy which my legs need. I feel like crap, let me look like crap in the pictures.” Plus, the pictures are so horribly over-priced it’s not like I was going to be buying one anyway. Just a few more steps. As soon as the finish line was in sight I turned on the afterburners. Finally! I did it! I ran and finished the Army Ten Miler!!

Photo Oct 12, 1 42 39 PMThis was one of the first times I truly raced. I raced myself, I raced the voices in my head telling me to walk, I raced the person I used to be. And I beat all of them. Last year, before breaking my leg, my goal was going to be 2:00:00. My goal going into the race this year was 1:45:00. I smashed both of them and finished in 1:41:35!! It was my second fastest race ever.

There was a seemingly-endless death-march from the finish line to the finisher’s coins and food. Fortunately they had several water stops along the way (seriously) and an area for us to greet friends and family from across the barriers. I stopped to stretch out my super tight hip and get my feet up for a few before gathering a plethora of food. It was truly one of the best food tents I’ve seen – muffins and cookies and bananas and hummus kits and I’m sure a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten. People were given boxes to carry their food in there was so much of it.

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Aaron and I hung around for a while, taking in all the sights, and then began the long, slow walk back to the Pentagon metro station. Along the way we could see something glistening off in the distance. Everyone walking back seemed to notice it about the same time – the slow walk slowed even more and everyone was pointing up. As they got closer, I realized what it was – there was a flyover of WWII planes scheduled for Saturday which had been postponed due to poor weather. They flew in bomber formation over the Pentagon, which was a bit eery, but I’m so glad I got to see it.

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It took a while to get into the metro station, but once we got through a ghost train came and entered service just as it pulled onto the platform – perfect timing.

While I was showering Aaron ordered pizza for us – a wonderful treat after a hard-fought race. We watched the Ravens wallop the Buccs (even as a Raven’s fan that game was hard to watch), then he went home and I napped until my parents came down for dinner. We went to a wonderful tapas place, Jaleo. I highly recommend it in you’re in the DC area (they have several locations) – it’s one of my favorites. We had so many dishes and so much food, but didn’t leave feeling stuffed. And their hazelnut ice cream is to die for. I spent one more night at the hotel and then went home the next morning happy as a clam.

Yesterday I visited my PT to get my legs and hips worked on – because I have another race on Saturday!! Between his massage and the epsom salt bath yesterday, my legs feel about 97% today. Despite a bit of discomfort in my achilles, that makes me feel good about Saturday’s half. Today I went to get my bib, shirt, and packet and tomorrow I rest! *phew*


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Race Report! NCR Half Marathon

Half Marathon #5 is FINALLY in the books! It only took a year and a half, but I finally did it.

When I did Baltimore in 2012 I was nervous as I liked up at the start, but yesterday was the first time I’ve ever been nervous the night before a race. I’m not sure why – I wasn’t planning on racing this. The only thing I can think of is because I had agreed to pace someone else. I was also a bit nervous that my achilles wouldn’t make it through the entire distance.

I was so anxious about this race that I got there even before the race director was there to set up the registration table! That’s okay though, because I got to see a gorgeous sunrise.

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Registration was at an old burned down school and started a quarter mile down the road.

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It was very cold this morning, so cold that I wish I had had throw away gloves. I was supposed to be on a Skype call with my girlfriends from Hopkins, who are spread out around the world, but I wasn’t able to get enough cell signal to connect to the call – kind of a crummy way to start the day.

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Being a low-key race, we all gathered right at 8:00am for a quick overview of the course from the race directors and then we were off! The way the race was structured, it was basically a 5k out, then we turned around and did a 10k, followed by one more 5k to finish up the day.

The woman that I was pacing uses a run-walk method of 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking, which was certainly new to me. Her goals for the race were a) to finish, and b) to not finish last. I told her if we ended up being the last people in that she would finish in front of me so she wouldn’t be last.

We kept a comfortable pace on the first 3.3 miles out. After the turn around, I convinced her to push the pace a bit, taking advantage of the slight down-hill grade. She was really strong through the first 8 miles but started to slow down a bit on 9. I remember my first half and how mentally challenging it was so I tried to build her up as much as I could and keep her moving – it’s always so much easier to keep moving, even at a slow pace, than it is to start moving again after stopping.

On the final 3.1 miles back she really needed to dig deep to find the extra gumption to push through the discomfort. It took a lot of cajoling, but she did it! We finished just about 2:39:00 – nearly 20 minutes better than my PR in 2012.

I’m really glad I did the race today. Aside from helping someone else to achieve their goal of finishing her first half marathon, I was able to get my scheduled mileage in for the weekend (first time all month!) and know that I can easily do the mileage I have coming up with Army. I also now know that my achilles is strong enough for this. With all the disappointments I’ve had this month, I really needed this. And it was also nice to hear from her that I had an annoying level of energy and optimism in the later miles 🙂 That really kinda made my day.