Run Doodle Run

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: 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…


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Race Recap – Father Time Frolic

Happy New Year!

Some people talk big about getting active/healthy for the new year, but far too many people balk at the idea of exercising outside when it’s cold. What’s a great antidote to this? A race! To ring in the New Year properly, I woke up early, bundled up, and went and frolicked through the woods 🙂

Today’s race was a first for me – the winner isn’t decided based on who crosses the finish line first, it’s based on who comes in closest to their predicted time. I honestly have no chance of ever winning a race based on time, so the idea of an alternate type of race was really kind of enticing. Plus it was only $2. Can’t argue with that 😉

I’m not going to lie, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to determine by predicted time, looking as past paces at this distance, on this course, considering the nagging strains I’ve been feeling, etc. and finally settled on 52:38. The course is mostly rolling hills with one large hill at the turn-around point and I had no real intention of racing this one.

Low-key races put on by the Road Runners tend to be a bit smaller, and I’m sure the cold kept a few people away, but there were probably around 70 runners (and four dogs). At 8:45am runners started to emerge from their warm, comfy cars to “warm up” (a bit of a misnomer on a 23 degree day like today, if you ask me) and then line up for the 9:00am start.

Based on my goals for this race and predicted time I started out a bit slow and moved up to a comfortably fast pace after the first mile. I lost a few seconds stopping to tie my shoe, but didn’t seek to make that up. Surprisingly I ended up having to walk up the big hill for a few seconds, something I haven’t had to do in a long, long time. At the top of the hill was the turn-around, which meant a good half-mile of downhill. The rolling hills always seem larger on the return trip, and today was no exception. I ended up having to walk twice more, just a few seconds each time, and started to doubt my predicted time; I pushed harder, trying to catch up with the guy running ahead of me.

At a typical race you can see the clock as you come to the finish line, but not this one! It would be cheating if you knew your time and could adjust your pace accordingly. My legs had been feeling heavy and that, coupled with the walking, led me to believe I had really fallen off my time. I ran hard for the last half mile – even more so when I could see the finish line.

The race wasn’t chip timed, so it took a few seconds to get the finish tag off of my bib before I could turn around and look at the clock. Despite how hard the run felt, I came in at least 30 seconds ahead of my goal pace. I’m estimating a finish time of 52:04, but official times and placements haven’t been published yet. I’m not expecting to win anything, based on the past several years’ winners, but I am looking forward to seeing my name closer to the top than the bottom 🙂

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Race Report – Celtic Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

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…umm? sure hope no one was inside…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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can i please take them home with me??

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

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