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The long road to 26.2


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Race Report: Frederick Half Marathon

It’s hard to believe that it’s May and this is only my first race of the year! I had toyed around with the idea of an early-spring race, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Plus, running on the brick promenade downtown back in the beginning of March irritated my hamstring tendinosis from last summer and sidelined me for a while. (Remember how I’ve complained about running on brick in the past? Yeah, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson – just 6 miles did me in this time. No more running on brick for me!) I ended up taking 12 days off completed at the beginning of April before going back to PT and slowly coming back. Before this race I hadn’t run hills in over a month; I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. When I originally signed up for Frederick, I had hoped to PR, but with the hiccups in March and April I put that goal aside; simply finishing and not being injured would have to be enough for me. After all, I have a long summer of marathon training to think about!

Two of the three women I regularly train with also ran Frederick with me – it made for a fabulous girls’ weekend! (though we certainly missed Jennie!) We met up Saturday afternoon and drove out to Frederick to get our packets and check in to our hotel, which was surprisingly nice. We were going to go to Olive Garden for dinner, but at 4:30pm there was a 40 minute wait! So we scoured Yelp to find the next best, safe option (e.g. no Mexican, cheap, or unknown restaurants) and settled on the ever-enthralling Carrabba’s on the other side of town. We got a table right away and immediately preceded to disappoint the waiter by ordering water, bland-ish pasta, and no wine or dessert. Afterwards we ran a few last-minute errands and went back to the hotel to watch the Kentucky Derby (we’re all from horse country), chat, laugh, and go to bed ridiculously early.

The last time I ran Frederick was 2009 – it was my first half – and my biggest memory from that race? The insane traffic to get parking. It was so bad Aaron and I had to bail out of my dad’s car just to get to the start on time while he and my mom dealt with parking. Intent on not repeating that, and much to the chagrin of the girls, I made us get up at 4:00am to leave by 5:15am. On the bright side, though, we got to park right next to the start and finish line! We sat in the car singing and dancing to Taylor Swift songs and enjoying the heated seats on a chilly, damp (but sunny!!) morning. It was seriously the first time we had seen the sun for more than a few minutes in almost two weeks…

Around 6:00am we made our way over to the start-line area to take care of pre-race business and get warmed up. Despite the 4,000 participants and all their supporters, the start area was very efficient and not at all crowded. We were able to take our places just a few minutes before go time without a problem.

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The incomparable Sid Busch, running in honor of fallen hero SSGT Gary John Homuth USAF, started us off, along with the Athletes Serving Athletes folks, and then we all followed!

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Photo courtesy of Dave Gell, Corrigan Sports (Facebook)

The course was fair bit different than the last time I ran it, but was well laid-out; it was crowded but not packed for the first couple of miles as we wound past the minor league stadium and down towards main street. Even at 54 degrees it was so humid that by mile 2, just as I passed Sid, I had sweat pouring down my neck. I even turned to the girls and said that I was already looking forward to my post-race shower!

We went out a bit faster than intended in the first few miles, but none of us could seem to hold back. As the group’s pacer I kept trying to pull us back, but it never really stuck. I was a little concerned with this, as I prefer to be a bit conservative in the early miles, but the pace didn’t feel so rushed that I was terribly concerned.

A fair bit of the middle of the course took us through some really nice residential neighborhoods (I had no idea there were such cute houses in Frederick!). Somewhere around mile 6 Rebecca began to fall off the pace; Tracy and I kept trying to keep an eye on her, but we lost her a little while later.

By the time we worked out way into Hood College the humidity had lifted and the sun was out in full force. This, combined with the quick pace in the early miles, was beginning to take a bit of a toll on me; perceived effort was definitely creeping up with each passing mile. Admittedly, I did end up having to take a few short walk breaks in the later miles, which disappointed me, but considering that the last two months of training had been less than ideal, I tried not to beat myself up too much and just keep going. Thankfully, it was also around this time that the wind began to pick up substantially.

The absolute worst part of this course awaited us at the end. Wide open road, no shade, full sun, an out-and-back, and then a hill. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love hills, but this was just brutal. It wasn’t a big hill, just a long, relentless hill. I wanted to stop and walk more than a few times, but walking wouldn’t have made it better, so I kept going. Tracy did her best to keep me going, but after a while I just needed quiet. It took a lot of focus to keep going that last half mile or so, and even when we finally turned onto the track at the fairgrounds, the finish still seemed so far away. But walking wasn’t an option, so I just kept moving my feet forward.

It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to get around that track, but we finally made it – in record time! I was stunned to look at my Garmin and see that I had PRed by a minute and seventeen seconds! Woohoo!!

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We made our way to the finishers’ village to get our water and food (but no space blankets! wtf!) and wait near the finish line for Rebecca. Unfortunately I missed seeing her finish because I got dizzy and decided to lay down with my legs up on the fence. 😦 She had a bit of a rough race, and was (I think) being unfairly hard on herself, but Tracy and I did our best to try to console her.

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We didn’t stick around too long – I was starting to get chilled from the wind and I think Rebecca just wanted to get back to the room – but the celebration village seemed really great. The only downside (other than the lack of space blankets)? The beer line was 45 minutes long. Now I don’t normally drink beer, but there was one that I wanted to try because it sounded like something I’d actually like (Harpoon UFO White – I went out and got some after I got home and it turns out I do actually like it).

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Thanks for the great photo, Coach Dawn!

All in all it was a really great weekend! I got a new PR and had a blast with the girls, something I think all three of us needed!

I got a massage this evening and am taking a much-needed week off (I have been training since mid-December!) and then working on some easy mileage/cross training taking me in to marathon training (and preparing for my first coaching gig!!) at the end of June!


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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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Race Report: Charles Street 12 Miler

After nearly 2 weeks off, my second run back was going to be a race. Good plan, right?

Because this is a point-to-point race, my mom dropped me off at the beginning of the race so I didn’t have to drive allllll the way downtown just to take a bus allllll the way back out to the suburbs. 4:45am was early enough, I didn’t need to make it 3:45.

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The day before the race I received an email from one of my marathon coaches, letting us know that all training group participants were welcomed to use a local PT clinic as a pre-race gathering point – real bathrooms!! woohoo!! It was super nice of LifeStrength Physical Therapy to let us crash there and have a brekkie/fuel spread for us. It made meeting up with running buddies a whole lot easier and made the whole morning a lot less stressful.

About 15 minutes before the race we headed over to the start area and I ran in to one of the women I ran with last year. We all chatted and did our dynamic warmups, then headed up to the starting line.

Naturally, the joggler was there

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two inflatable baseball bats and a football this time

And then I ran into a local runner (more accurately, he ran into me) who I’ve been chatting with on twitter and instagram for about a year but had never actually met. Smalltimore at its best!

Given that I really hadn’t run in nearly two weeks and my leg was questionable at best, I was pretty nervous through the announcements and the anthem. Luckily, the race started on time without much delay – much less time to worry!

My main goal for this race was getting through it. In one piece. As my PT (and mom, and running buddies, and friends) reminded me on Friday, this isn’t a race for me – it’s just a well-supported training run. No racing.

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Tracy, Ivan, Jenni, and I all started together, but Ivan peeled off after about a half mile, as he was planning on doing a run/walk to get through it with his injury. Jenni was chomping at the bit from the get go, and although I could see her for the first mile or so, she pulled away in the second mile. Tracey ran with me the whole time, graciously putting up with my aches and pains and walking.

This race is billed as a downhill race (it is net-downhill), but the first couple of miles are full of uphills – and the first mile is all uphill! I knew this, though, and was well prepared for it.

We ran through the campus of my undergrad alma matter and finally hit the race’s namesake in the 3rd mile and hit a few more hills as we ran through Rolland Park, past the Cathedral, the College of Notre Dame of of Maryland and Loyola University Maryland. The pain I had in my femur after the 20 miler came back around mile three. The pain level held pretty steady, but it was enough to cause me to walk up a few hills (*tear*) and walk through every water stop.

As we approached Johns Hopkins University’s main campus, the route turns decidedly more urban. The road turns to the right as you leave Rolland Park and enter Homeland, which gives you your first glimpse of the Baltimore skyline – a view you keep the entire way downtown. It’s easily one of my favorite views in Baltimore.

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I’ve honestly never seen so many cops on a race course as I did on this one – most of the intersections had 2-3 officers holding traffic for us. It’s been a rough year for officers in Baltimore (and around the country, really), so I made sure to thank as many as I could. Most of the cars they had stopped were being respectful and patient, but in certain areas they were getting mouthy with the officers. Maybe if they ran with us they’d be a bit more chilled out 😉 And they just might’ve gotten to their destination quicker…

It’s really amazing that this race goes on as it really does muck up one of Baltimore’s main arteries. We ran in the southbound lanes, allowing traffic to flow northbound, but cross-traffic was held up for quite a while as the pack spread out throughout the course of the run. It really says a lot about Charm City Run and Charm City that we get the opportunity to run down such a scenic route.

After wiping out on Charles Street during the St. Patrick’s Day 5k, I was a bit paranoid about tripping on the road again – unfortunately, this meant that I spent more time looking at the road than I did looking at the gorgeous scenery (seriously, I barely even remember running past the Washington Monument).

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If only Charles Street was actually a flat surface!

Once we cleared the spot where I tripped in March, I was able to relax a bit. We ran through downtown and into the Federal Hill neighborhood, where we did a u-turn and headed back towards the Inner Harbor. The end was near! As we approached the finish, we veered off the road and onto the promenade (another known trip risk for me!), past Harbor Place and the World Trade Center, before heading back onto the road for the final approach. One of our coaches was there cheering us on, which helped take my mind off of the pain for a moment. One more turn and we were home free!

My goal for the race was to finish around 2:15 – which would mean I kept a comfortable pace, consistent with recent long runs. Tracey and I finished together in 2:13:35. Nearly perfect. 🙂

It felt weird to not race a race, but I knew why I was there. I got through it, without letting the rust legs and pain stop me. Jenni ended up finishing a few minutes before us, but we never saw Ivan again.

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To top off a great race, they had a party for us at Power Plant Live, with a live band, boxed lunches (that were actually pretty good!), and free beer for those who wished to partake.

Despite being in pain for the rest of the weekend, I’m calling this race a success. I made it through the run and through the pain. I kept a good pace throughout and, other than the left thigh, felt pretty good.

But I’ll find out just how much of a success this truly was when I meet with the orthopedist tomorrow morning. I’m hoping to get an MRI to rule out (I hope, I pray) a femoral stress fracture. Keep your fingers crossed for me!!


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Race Report: Too Hot to Trot 10k

I ran this race last year and had a blast, but given the distances that are required during marathon training, I had all but put it out of my mind until I saw the race director at the trail last week, mapping out the distances.

Originally we were supposed to run 16 miles, but our coaches told us we could go down to 10 miles this week if needed (and boy did I need it). Plus, this allowed me to go rock climbing yesterday 🙂 (more on that when I get some pictures) So the plan was to run the Too Hot to Trot 10k and then follow it up with 4 miles afterwards to bring me to a nice 10 miles for the weekend.

Considering that I’ve been focusing on the longer distances for the last couple of months, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with the race. When I left the house, it was unseasonably crisp – couldn’t ask for better racing conditions 🙂

I got to the race early, registered, and just spent some time relaxing. About 10 minutes before, I started my warm up, running about a half mile easy, and then a few strides.

My goal going into this race was a) to beat my time from last year and b) to break 60 minutes – to do this I’d need to maintain a 9:39 pace, definitely a tall order considering that I’ve been struggling to maintain that during speed work.

The plan was to start off slow and then pick up the pace, but even my slow was faster than I expected! I certainly felt like I was racing, but I never once felt like I was pushing harder than I could. My form felt amazing, and it sounds silly, but almost effortless. At the turnaround, I have unofficially set a new 5k PR – 29:27. I took one of my remaining cliff chomp blocks, which is much harder running than standing, and pushed on. I tried to keep my pace somewhat conservative on the return trip, as there’s a slight uphill tilt to the trail, but even that kind of went out the window.

As soon as I was within the final 1.2 miles I knew I was okay to start pushing the pace again. My legs still felt amazing and my breathing was more than comfortable. When I hit the house that’s 1/4 mile from the end, I push even harder, and kicked it in to second gear as I could see the finish line appearing around the bend, through the bushes. I was honestly astonished to see the time on the clock – 58 minutes. Whoa! As I sped towards the finish, I knew I had totally decimated my goal. My official time was 58:08!! Ahh!!! *happy dance*

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My Garmin sometimes loses signal on the trail, which is why it comes up a little short.

After I had my own little personal celebration, I spent some time chatting and watching the other finishers, including the final finisher:

Yeah, his arm's in a sling.

Yeah, his arm’s in a sling. What’s your excuse? 

I stuck around for the awards ceremony, but couldn’t hang out too long, because I still had more miles to run! Off I went, and got another 5.25 miles in. My legs definitely felt worse for the wear, but I got it done. Not too shabby 🙂

Who have I become?? 😉

The best part of the day? Seeing the official results posted and finding out that I WON MY AGE GROUP!!!! HOLY CRAP!!!!! Only once before have I ever placed, and I absolutely had no expectation of that today. The 30-something women in these races are amazingly fast. But I guess they all graduated to the 35-39 group 😉

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What a way to end an awesome weekend 😀

P.S. – the shoes worked out well 🙂


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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…