Stacking Up More Hay in the Barn

Immediately on the heels of a fantastic Parkway Classic 10-Miler I dove head-first into another fantastic race weekend, this time involving some of my favorite Internet weirdos!

Saturday, April 29th, was the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K and 50 Miler (and a marathon, but we didn’t know anyone running it, so who cares?), which Angie, Steve, Abby, and Chris were all participating in, and which Vanessa, Bob, Ken, Sara, and I were all spectating/cheering for. And then Sunday, April 29th, was the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon, which Liz, Sara, and I were all running, and everyone else was spectating! So much moral support to fit into two days ❤

To kick things off, I met up with Angie for lunch on Friday afternoon when she came into town to pick up her and Steve’s packets for the 50 Milers. The fact that we’d just seen in each other in Raleigh only three weeks earlier didn’t slow down the talking. It also gave us a chance to strategize for the next day, when I was planning on jumping in to pace her for the last of three loops that she’d be running on the section of the course that was accessible to spectators and pacers. Let’s be honest: I was more nervous about the 7 miles I’d be running than she was about all 50! I’m so inexperienced on trails, and obviously didn’t want to do anything horribly wrong as a pacer that could negatively impact her race. But this was kind of a perfect first pacing opportunity, because Angie can run 50 miles in her sleep at this point, and was basically letting me tag along for my own fun and not because she actually needed the assistance.

On Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early, picked up my rental car (car-free life is great most of the time, except for when you need to get out to the middle of nowhere for races!), and drove across town to pick up Sara from the friend’s house where she’d been staying earlier that week. We then hit the road out to Great Falls, VA, about 45 minutes outside DC. We got to the aid station area and met up with Ken, Vanessa, and Bob just in time to see Angie come through for the first time (Mile 15ish). We’d just missed Steve, but we’d see him again after each of the three loops they ran around Great Falls park. It was great to see Bob and Vanessa and Ken, since it had been a long time since I’d hung out with any of them! After Angie went through, we moved closer to the aid station and set up our chairs and picnic blanket to mark our spot for the rest of the afternoon. This is the central hub of the race, and we’d see the 50K runners come through on their way in and again on their way out after a single loop, and we’d see the 50 Mile runners a bunch of times as they completed three loops: at miles 15, 22, 29, and 36 before they set back out on the 14-mile trek to the Start/Finish at a different park. It was a lot of fun to hang out in the park with my fellow spectators, chit-chatting about all manner of things and cheering for all of the runners coming through the aid station.

At 11:45am, Angie came in from her second loop and picked me up to run her third and final loop. By this point it was hot (75*) and sunny, but Angie looked as strong and steady as ever. We set out onto the trail after she’d replenished some fluids, and met up with another runner that she’d been running with for most of the day. Rachel was doing her first 50 Miler that day, and had been wisely taking in all of the advice Angie was doling out! The three of us ran together for most of those 7 miles, and chatted on and off as we navigated the technical terrain of the park. I was having SO MUCH FUN running and power-hiking in the woods and soaking up the dramatic change of scenery from my usual road and bike path routes. It was a gorgeous day to be out in the woods, the technical course was an awesome challenge for me, and the volunteers were so helpful and perky at all of the check points and aid stations. Plus I was running with a totally badass ultra veteran who makes this stuff look easy.

All too soon for me (though probably not for Angie given how much farther she’d run by then!) we came back into the main aid station and heard the cheers of our friends.

Angie and Caitlin

Angie took off for the last 14 miles, and we packed up our picnic stuff and headed back to our cars to drive over to the finish area and wait for our runners. Abby and Chris had already finished by the time we got to the beer garden, and they met up with us shortly after we got ourselves settled at a table. There was more chatting, with beer this time, and watching the tired, muddy, happy runners come through the finish chute. Sara and I were able to stay and see Steve finish, and then we had to drive back into the city to meet up with the final member of our weekend crew: Liz!

The three of us met up for dinner at a pizza place downtown (because carb loading is important!), and then called it an early night in preparation for our own race the next morning: the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon. We shared a ride home since Liz’s hotel was near my apartment (Sara was staying with me that night to simplify race morning logistics), got our flat girls ready, and hit the sack.

flat caitlin

This half-marathon was just supposed to be a fun run for me, since I’d raced hard the previous weekend, and had two more long races in just a couple of weeks (to be continued in the next bloop…) So I decided that since it was a women’s race, and I wasn’t going for a time goal, it was the PERFECT opportunity to bust out the Wonder Woman running costume that I’d gotten last summer for the Vermont 100 on 100 relay! I’d decided on this race outfit several weeks ago, when I assumed that a race on April 29th in Washington, DC, would likely be pretty warm. The reality was that it was 35 degrees out with a windchill in the mid-20s (!!) that morning. But I was way too invested in my costume plan at this point, so I added some arm warmers and called it good. It would only be a couple hours of suffering, right?

Wonder Woman pre-race

Sara and I had coffee and breakfast, and then headed out to pick up Liz at her hotel, and then share a Lyft down to the start line near the Lincoln Memorial. It was dark and oh so cold out! Definitely not what anyone expected of a late-April race in this area. We got the start area soon enough, and joined the crowd of bundled-up women heading over to the port-a-potties and the bag check. The wind was pretty relentless, but I was somewhat comforted by the fact that what would likely be the windiest part of the course was in the early miles, so we’d get it out of the way quickly.

My race plan was simple: run comfortably and have fun. Ideally I wanted to run strategically enough to negative split, because that type of pacing isn’t deeply ingrained yet, and it’s always good to practice racing that way (or so Coach says). I figured I’d start off at an easy 8:45-9ish minute pace, and see how that felt after a few miles, and pick up the pace from there, with an aim to finish a bit under 2:00:00. After all, I’d just raced a week ago and there wasn’t much point in pushing myself to run hard in a non-goal race.

Well. My legs had other ideas.

half marathon splits

I FELT SO FREAKING GOOD!! I blame the costume. There was just no reasoning with it. The first mile felt super easy and fun, but the first mile often does when you’re burning off the adrenaline of the start corral. I figured around Mile 2 or 3 I’d start to feel a little tired and would rein things in, and deal with the bonk when it happened. But the bonk never came! And I felt so energized the entire race! It definitely helped that I was getting SO MANY wonderful cheers from both the spectators and from the other runners, especially on the out-and-back section. I’d expected a race like this to have a pretty strong costume game, but I was the only one that I saw, and I totally soaked up all the extra mojo.

Wonder Woman 2018 half

I figured the crash would come eventually, and I’d just enjoy the ride until then. But nope! I hit halfway still feeling great, and figured I might as well step it up a little bit and try to negative split. I finally started feeling a little bit tired at Mile 11, but shortly thereafter I saw the whole gang of friends cheering! I got high-fives down the line, and that gave me a great boost. I made the final big turn back towards the finish line, and ran into (pretty much literally) the only negative part of this whole race: the back of the pack of the 8K. They’d apparently been instructed to stay on the left side of the road, but of course they didn’t and there were many people walking the last mile of the 8K (in large groups, naturally) all over both sides of the road and I, and the other half runners, had to dodge and weave around them. Not the end of the world by any means, but pretty darn annoying when you’re trying to finish strong in the last half-mile of a race!

I crossed the finish line in 1:45:46! Only 19 seconds slower than my PR from New Orleans in March! (I 100% blame the 8K walkers for those 19 seconds, but oh well).

I got my medal, hurried over to bag check so that I could get back into my warm coat, and then walked over to where the friends were cheering to join them! We cheered for a while longer and saw Sara come by (apparently I’d just missed Liz), and then we walked up to the closest coffee shop to thaw out before our brunch reservations.

Medal and coffee

It was so cold out and the coffee tasted so good!

post-race coffee

Liz had waited for Sara to finish, so they walked up together and met us at the coffee shop just in time for us to all walk over to our brunch spot. We enjoyed warm food and bottomless brunch beverages!

Brunch mimosa

All in all, an extremely successful race weekend!

Loopster brunch

I still can’t quite believe how fantastic I felt during that race. It makes me feel so good about my training and fitness, especially since I still have six months to go until Rehoboth. The barn isn’t close to full yet, but the hay is definitely starting to pile up.

 

 

 

My Favorite Race of the Year!

There are some sure signs of spring’s arrival that I look forward to each year. Birds singing in the mornings again. The sun coming up before I’m done with my pre-work run. Daffodils and tulips poking their colorful heads out, even through the snow sometimes. Cherry blossoms of course. And the George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler! This was my very first double-digit run back in 2012 (only a couple of weeks before I broke my ankle), and I’ve run it every year since. It’s become my favorite DC-area race due to its beautiful course, reliably crisp spring weather, and well-organized logistics. It is also typically held the Sunday after the Boston Marathon, so I’m usually still a little high on all the excitement of tracking superstar Loopsters on Marathon Monday as I head to my own race. The fact that I’ve PRed there all but one year doesn’t hurt either…

This year, the Parkway Classic was designated as my big spring goal race by Coach, so most of my workouts over the last few months have been aimed at this, with a target 10M pace of 7:40-7:30. This would be a good 30+ seconds per mile faster than I ran this race last year, so this felt like an audacious goal. But I’ve learned to do as Coach says, and even if things went poorly, it was “only” a 10-miler, and life wouldn’t be terrible for too long before the finish line.

April 22nd looked to be another perfect spring race day: sunny with an overnight low in the mid-40s and a high in the mid-50s, with a light breeze. I got Flat Caitlin ready and made it an early night given the ridiculous time that I needed to leave the next morning to get the shuttle to the start.

flat caitlin

I left my apartment at o’ dark thirty to board the shuttle bus that would take me from downtown DC to the start line out at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA. It was a long ride, but I chatted with a few of the runners sitting near me, mostly about how crazypants Boston was, and about upcoming race plans. We got to the start just as the sun was coming up and illuminating the little athletes’ village on the lawn of George Washington’s estate. I like to get to the start excessively early (one year of having to sprint off the bus, drop my bag, and race to the start corral just in time for the gun to go off was enough, so now I over-correct), so I found a nice place to camp out and killed some time on social media, since runner friends are reliably up early.

This was my second time running, and first time racing, in my new Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes, which look pretty darn cool with neon socks.

Neon socks and magic shoes

Eventually it came to be time to ditch my warm layers, check my bag, and go do my prescribed 2-mile warmup. I headed off down the bike path alongside the parkway we’d be running on, and immediately didn’t feel awesome. There was no reason not to feel awesome: the weather was perfect, all my workouts leading up to today had been stellar, it had been 7 full weeks since the New Orleans half-marathon, and I was wearing my magic shoes. But I just didn’t have any pep in my step, and it was a struggle to get those warmup miles under a 9:00 pace. I tried hard not to dwell on that, and told myself that race-day adrenaline would kick in once I was in the company of the other runners. I made my way back to the start line, and got into my corral.

A few minutes later, the gun sounded and we were heading off down the parkway! There’s a big downhill right at the start, so I made sure to keep my pace in check and tried to just stay relaxed. My plan (i.e. Coach’s plan) was to try to hit the upper end of my pace target (7:40/mile) right away, and camp out there for the first 3-4 miles. Then I would try to drop the pace by 5 seconds or so for the next 5K, and then try to drop the hammer as much as I could for the final 5K and bring it in at whatever pace I could manage (preferably under 7:30).

I clicked off the first mile right on target, but the downhill start provided a big assist. Once the road leveled out and we entered into several miles of small-but-noticeable rolling hills, it was a much harder effort to hold that 7:40 pace than I wanted it to be. I tried to focus on the mile I was in, rather than worrying about how I was possibly going to drop the pace come Mile 4 when Mile 2 felt so hard. I also had the added mental boost/torture of knowing that Coach had signed up for live tracking, so she would know if I’d been able to follow our plan before I’d even finished the race.

I finished Mile 4 and knew that it was time to pick it up. I told myself that it was just one mile at a time. I could run this one mile at 7:35 pace and then see where I was. I focused on the upbeat tempo of my music and dug in.

7:34. Boom. Ok self, you’re halfway done now, and the back half of the course has more downhills. You got this. And COACH IS WATCHING.

Hitting my Phase 2 target right when I was supposed to provide a major confidence boost (as did finally getting to the nice long downhill in Mile 6!). Miles 6 and 7 clicked off relatively quickly, and then it was just the final three miles to go. Phase 3. Drop the hammer and race. I pretended to be the kind of runner that actually “races” during a race and started picking out people ahead that I could try to catch up to and pass. I tried not to look at my watch as much as possible during this last phase and just ran as hard as I could manage. There was one final short-but-steep hill right at the Mile 9 marker, a left-hand turn onto Union Street, and then about 0.75 miles straight to the finish line. I caught up to one of the women I’d chatted with on the bus who had been just ahead of me for the last few miles, and as I passed her she picked up her pace and we raced each other down the last quarter-mile or so (I won by a few meters).

Finished!!

Finish line picture

I waited a minute for my new friend to finish (we follow each other on Strava now). We high-fived and congratulated each other as we made our way over to where they were handing out breakfast tacos (totally a step up from the usual boring snack boxes from past years!).

I was eager to get my checked bag so that I could upload my Garmin data and look at all my splits together. I knew that I’d hit my target paces and had negative split as we’d planned, but I wanted to see the pretty pretty graph that proved it.

Splits

Official results:

official results

PR by 7 minutes!

I went over to the beer garden and found some run club friends who had finished earlier, and enjoyed some liquid recovery.

medal and beer

More people joined the party as they finished, and it was fun as always to rehash the race, talk about upcoming race plans, etc. with runner friends. I love this race so much.

Pacers group

medal selfie

I headed out with one of the run club friends to go meet some other run club friends (who didn’t race this morning) for brunch. Obviously, such a great race called for an appropriately celebratory brunch drink.

celebratory milkshake

Another year, another fantastic Parkway Classic.

Parkway Classic medal collection

(They didn’t start giving out medals until my third year, which was the race’s 30th anniversary, so I don’t have a medal for all my times doing it. But it is pretty cool that I have all the medals that this race has ever given out!)

Next up: the National Women’s Half-Marathon in one week!

The hay is in the barn

This morning I ran my third and final 20-miler in preparation for the Hartford Marathon! Three weeks until race day!!

It was long and hot and muggy, much like summer in DC. I opted for an out-and-back along Rock Creek Parkway and the Capital Crescent Trail today, which ended up being quite lovely, aside from the long, slow climb from miles 6-10 on the CCT. I also encountered not one, but two races during my run! The first was the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon, which is done in part on Rock Creek Parkway. I got to see the hand-cyclists out front, and lots of runners heading north on the Parkway as I ran south. Then when I got onto the Capital Crescent Trail, I saw that there was a marathon going on on the C&O Canal Towpath today too! Fall race season has definitely started here!

I really hope that I’m ready for a great race in Hartford on the 8th. My mind keeps dwelling on the handful of workouts that I skipped over the last 18 weeks for one reason or another. I think most were easy runs that I skipped because I was still feeling extra sore and/or fatigued from whatever harder workout had happened the day before, and figured that a day of rest might be more productive. But there were also at least a couple of speed workouts and pace runs that didn’t get done. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes other running interferes, like when I skipped a 9-mile pace run the day after the Vermont 100 on 100 Relay, because there was no way I was running at all, let alone at race pace, after battling those hills all through the day before. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like it. That’s usually what happens with track workouts. I really, really hate 800s. They’re the worst. And there was one week when I just didn’t want to do them. So I didn’t, even though I knew the only person on God’s green earth who cared whether or not I got my run done was me. So yeah, a few workouts got skipped here and there over the last several months. But I have a hard time believing that any one of those is going to make or break my race next month. So now that the taper is here, it’s time to put my faith in my training (the majority of which went really well!) and just think positively. Hopefully this all leads to a big PR in Hartford! And if not, there’s always another race. (For real: Marine Corps is only three weeks later!)

But right now, I have other things on my mind: I’M GOING TO IRELAND!! Like, tonight!! What better way to start the taper than to go on my first big solo trip, to a foreign country no less? I’m flying out tonight, and will arrive in Dublin tomorrow morning, maybe not quite as fresh as a daisy (is anyone fresh after a red-eye?), but ready for adventure! I’ll be spending the first couple of days in Dublin, and then heading out for two weeks of driving around the country and seeing all the things! I certainly hope to run some while I’m there, but 1) that’s not the main focus of this trip, and 2) a big reason I chose to travel during my taper is so that I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m running much. The important work is done, and if I can just get in enough miles to balance out all those full Irish breakfasts, I’ll be a happy lass.

Confession time: I’m terrified. This will be only my second time traveling overseas at all, and I’m doing it alone. I’m scared that I’ll get lost and panicky, and that I’ll be incredibly lonely, and that I’ll miss having someone to share these stories with. But I am also so excited to prove to myself that I can do this. I’ve planned out the important stuff, like where I’m sleeping each night and how I’m getting around. Everything else will fall into place. Probably. I may wish that someone was there to talk to when I feel isolated, but I’m also going to relish being able to do my own thing the whole time. No one will get impatient with me if I take forever trying to capture the perfect photo. I can take whatever detours strike my fancy, and eat whatever and whenever I feel like it. And everyone and their brother keeps telling me what a fantastically friendly place Ireland is, so if I can get over my own shyness and be open to chatting with strangers, I know I’ll encounter some friendly faces. So I am scared, for sure. But I’m also confident that this trip is going to be amazing, and something that I’ll be so glad I worked up the courage to do.