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.

 

 

 

RnR New Orleans Runcation!

About a month ago, I journeyed to the Big Easy to run a half-marathon with a group of friends from my local running store run club and, spoiler alert, it was awesome!! This was my first time in New Orleans, and my first time traveling with this group of people (they’ve done some other destination races together in years past, but I’m kind of new to the group), so I was a little nervous. I was also a little anxious about the race, because switching from the full down to the half meant that this was now a Goal Race, and would be the first big test of how my training was going with the new coach and leading up to December’s Big Goal.

We left DC on Friday 3/2, which was that absurdly windy day on the East Coast, with gusts in the 40-50mph range and sustained winds well over 20mph. Just the kind of day you want to be flying! We were incredibly lucky though – the majority of flights out of National were cancelled, but somehow Southwest was still getting its planes off the ground.

On the plane, enjoying Southwest’s open seating policy:

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After the most nerve-wracking, stomach-rolling takeoff of my life, we had a short, uneventful flight to NOLA.

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We landed around 7pm, checked into the hotel, and immediately headed out to the French Quarter for dinner. We ended up at an Irish bar called Erin Rose, which has a tiny po’ boy shop in the back called Killer Po’ Boys. The seared shrimp was delicious!

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We didn’t go too wild and crazy the first night, and my roommates and I were up early on Saturday morning so we headed to the Warehouse District to find some coffee. We ended up at a cute little coffee shop and got fancy cups of pour-over, which were made with LOTS of flair by the barista. He even had different temperature water for different types of beans. That is a level of coffee snobbery that I will never reach. It might have been the tastiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had though!

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After our coffee outing, we met up with a few other people from the group for a 3ish mile shakeout run, which I ended up leading because I was the only person who had looked at a map to figure out a route. My route ended at Cafe du Monde, because I’m not stupid.

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(Also, after the cold, windy, gross weather we’d been having in DC for months, it was SO NICE to run in short sleeves and soak up the sunshine!)

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Some people spent the morning at a cooking class, others went to a yoga class to stretch out before the race the next day. I spent a couple hours wandering around the French Quarter, which is a very different place in the daylight!

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Later that afternoon, we walked to the convention center for packet pickup. I saw these beads adorning a mailbox on someone’s house.

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This was a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which was really poignant and interesting to see.

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We all reconvened at the expo, and managed to get one picture with the entire group!

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After the expo, I had an early dinner at a delicious Italian place with about half the group (the other half had made reservations elsewhere), and then called it an early night. But not before getting Flat Caitlin ready of course!

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I was up at o’dark thirty to eat my bagel and peanut butter in dark so as not to disturb my roommates, both of whom were cheering instead of racing and so didn’t need to be up anytime soon. Thank goodness for back-lit Kindles!

I left with most of the other half/full runners (the 10K started earlier than the half/full, so those runners had already left) to walk to the starting area, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. I dropped off my checked bag, did 5-10 minutes of light jogging and some strides to loosen up, and mostly just paced around nervously. It was already warm enough that I wasn’t very chilly in my tank and shorts, and the sun was strong. My goal pace, according to Coach, as 7:41. Which just seemed absolutely crazypants! My prior half-marathon PR was 1:52:26, an 8:35ish pace. To be going out with a goal of a PR in the 10-minute neighborhood felt way too bold. But I figured what the heck? It’s “only” a half! If I blew up, I blew up, and it would only be bad for a handful of miles. But I wouldn’t know unless I tried. The course was totally flat; the biggest challenge would be the weather, since at 70+ degrees and sunny, it was solidly 30-40 degrees warmer than what I’d been training in.

After a pep talk from Kathrine Switzer, the gun sounded and we were off! I definitely went out too fast, and that may have come back to bite me later. But I felt good for the moment! I got my pace back under control for the next 5 or so miles, but then the heat really started to get to me. I’ve learned that I am just not a warm-weather runner, despite 10 years of living in DC. I started to really feel off around the 10K mark, and struggled to keep my pace under 8:00/mile. I knew that I would be seeing our cheer crew at Mile 9, and told myself that I could stay strong and focused until then. I made it that far, and then no matter how many times I told myself that it’s only 4 more miles, then only 3 more miles, I just lost it. My legs felt like stone and I was so very hot. The last 5K felt interminable.

But I finally made it to the last stretch leading into the park where we finished, and I was able to push my pace back down for the final 0.1 to finish strong in 1:45:27! A PR by almost exactly 7 minutes!

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I was so very happy to be done!

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It is a pretty cool medal.

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I found a few of the faster half runners, and the 10K runners and we wandered back down the course to cheer on the rest of the people running the half. I stayed and cheered for a bit, but then needed to get back to the hotel to change for lunch. It turned out that an old friend and her husband happened to be in NOLA that weekend too, so I was able to meet up with them after the race! She’s a runner too, and is currently training for her first marathon back after a 4-year hiatus to have her kids, so we had lots to talk about! She’s crazy fast even after such a long break, and is going to be running Providence with a goal of BQing (again) so that she can run Boston 2019 for her 40th birthday.

Later that evening, I met up with my run club crew again and we headed out to the French Quarter for some shenanigans now that the work was done!

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We were told by locals that Frenchman Street is way better than Bourbon Street, so we headed that way for some live music.

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Monday morning, I got up and went to Cafe Beignet to do a scientific comparison with Cafe du Monde. My verdict: Cafe du Monde’s beignets are denser and chewier, and therefore better. But these were still delicious!

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Later in the morning, several of us did a cemetery tour in one of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries. It was super interesting!

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On Monday afternoon, I went for a nice easy run with one other girl from the group. I hadn’t met her before this trip (she used to live in DC and run with Pacers, but had moved to Tuscon for a job, so our paths hadn’t crossed), so it was really nice to chat with her on the run. We ran through the Garden District, which was much more enjoyable this time around than it had been the day before while I was suffering in the race. The houses were beautiful, and the flowers definitely lived up to the neighborhood’s name! One of my favorite things was that almost all the trees had Mardi Gras beads strewn all over them.

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We went four miles out, and then hopped on a streetcar and took it back a ways to meet up with some other folks for lunch at a Caribbean/Tiki place (what do those themes have in common? Rum!) While we were there, a sax player came by, and totally enthralled a baby a few tables over.

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Monday evening we explored some more bars in the French Quarter. At one point we successfully took over a cocktail bar and became the only people in it, which was a pretty solid accomplishment.

Our flight out wasn’t until 1pm on Tuesday, so I had time for one last beignet outing! I think these were beignets #10-12 of my weekend…

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Tuesday dawned pretty gross and rainy, so it was just as well that we were leaving.

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At the airport, my roommates and I enjoyed one last Abita Purple Haze before boarding.

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It was a blissfully short, uneventful flight back to DC! And this guy was definitely happy to have me back home.

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I’m so glad that I went on this trip! New Orleans was such a fun city to visit, and even though the race didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I’m really happy with it. I think if it had been 20 degrees cooler, it would have been a whole different ballgame. And who can be sad about a 7-min PR??

Next up: the George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler, one of my favorite local races! It’ll be my 7th year running it, and apparently my goal pace is 7:30-7:40! My speed workouts have been going super well in the last month, and it’s a fast course (net downhill, only 2 turns) where I’ve PRed all but one year (I was injured). So we’ll see!

But first, I’m heading down to North Carolina this weekend to hang out with some of my most favorite people in the world! Carissa, Jen, Angie, and I will be volunteering at the Umstead 100 in Raleigh on Saturday for the second year in a row. And this time we aren’t running a marathon the next day, so it should be even more fun!

2018: Let’s Do This

My 2018 running year is off to a great start, and I think it’s time to share my Big Goal with you. Putting it in writing for consumption by an audience other than my mom and a few select friends who have gotten previews is absolutely terrifying for me, but I think it’s the good kind of terrifying. Which is largely how I feel about my goal for 2018 in the first place.

In 2018, I want to BQ minus 5 minutes. That will be a 3:30:00 marathon. A PR by 15 minutes and 21 seconds from last October. And I want to do it at Rehoboth in December.

Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag for a few minutes…

Ok, I’m back.

Like I said, 2018 is off to a great start. I’ve run two 5Ks and a 10K in the first two months of the year, and I have a half-marathon coming up this Sunday. In New Orleans! Yay!

When I decided that pursuing a BQ was going to be a real thing this year, and not just something I passively wanted but didn’t do anything in particular to accomplish, I knew I needed to step up my training game. I’ve been following the Hansons Marathon Method training plan for the last couple of years, and have had success with it, but I knew I wasn’t really making the most of it. I talked myself out of about ⅓ of the interval and tempo workouts in any marathon cycle because I didn’t like doing them, and it was easy to come up with reasons why I should just do an easy run instead. I still made improvements in the marathon, and ran them pretty well, but I wasn’t seeing anything like the improvements people were posting about in the Facebook group and I felt like my fitness was plateauing. Just being accountable to myself wasn’t cutting it, so I decided last fall that after Rehoboth 2017 I would sign up for Hansons Coaching Services and bring in reinforcements. Knowing that I was paying someone every month to get the Garmin data from each and every workout seemed like an effective way to make sure that I did each and every workout. Signing up for coaching also meant that my training plan would be customized not just to my running abilities and goals but also to my race plans and travel schedule. Since I’m me, by December 2017 I’d already registered for three marathons, a half-marathon, and a 10-miler for 2018! That is definitely more racing than Hansons recommends with their off-the-shelf training plans, so I was excited about working with a coach who could shape a training plan around the things I already wanted to do, and still aim for the Big Goal in December 2018.

And so far, it’s been everything I was hoping for and then some! My coach, Melissa, is awesome and was completely unfazed by both my ambitious (some might say audacious or even flat-out ridiculous) goal and the excessive amount of racing that I like to do each year. I only get 2-3 weeks of workouts at a time, which is VERY helpful for me as I am definitely prone to looking ahead in a training plan and getting all psyched out over the paces and distances in the later weeks. It also allows us to adjust the plan easily if anything comes up, like illness, injury, ridiculous winter weather, or work travel to places where running outside is a no-go. And every time I finish a run, my Garmin data is automatically uploaded to the Final Surge app, where she can see every last detail of my run. Because of that, I haven’t skipped a single run since we started working together in mid-December. That’s HUGE for me.

In addition to the added accountability making a difference in my consistency, having a coach tell me how fast I’m supposed to be doing speed and tempo workouts and the races I’ve done so far has been AMAZING for my confidence. For the first few speed workouts she had me do in January, the paces made me look like that bug-eyed emoji face and I was like, “Omg no way can that be my target pace! I can’t run that fast! What is Coach thinking?!?”

But you know what happened?

I DID run that fast.

As part of my ongoing realization that running is so very much a mental game, having Coach prescribe target paces that I thought were beyond my current abilities has made me faster. I might start out a workout with some doubts, but I also tell myself that I have to at least try because Coach told me to. And then I run the first interval or first tempo mile and absolutely nail the target pace and say to myself, “Oh! I CAN do it!”

2018 so far has already been vastly different than it would have been if I hadn’t gotten a coach. One thing that I’ve avoided like the plague has been racing short distances. I’m a marathoner! Why would I race a 5K? Those things hurt! Well, because Coach said I have to. And it turns out that they’re actually kind of fun in a weird, masochistic way. Kind of like speed work, as I’m also discovering.

So over MLK Day weekend, I ran my first race of the year: a small 5K along the C&O Canal Towpath out in Maryland that was organized by the DC Road Runners. This was intended to be sort of a benchmark race to see where my fitness was. I’d only been back to normal running for a few weeks after recovering from Rehoboth and had done just one very short speed workout beforehand. My 5K PR from last July was 23:54 (7:43 pace), but since that was set in an evening race in the heat and humidity of the DC summer, I was pretty sure I could beat that time in a small, flat race in January. The only daunting thing (you know, other than the entire idea of racing) was the wicked 20+ mph wind that day! But the race was an out-and-back, so I’d really only have the wind in my face for the second half.

I positive split the race like whoa, but that was pretty much inevitable with that wind. I went out a little bit faster than I probably should have, but the first half of the race felt surprisingly good (albeit tailwind-assisted). I finished in 22:56, a PR by 58 seconds!

MLK 5K splits

That race was a major confidence booster for me, and I spent the next few weeks ramping up my workouts a bit in preparation for back-to-back race weekends in February.

First up: the Love the Run You’re With 5K on February 11th, organized by my favorite LRS Pacers Running. I had hopes of another PR here, but I really should have looked at the course first. I made the mistake of assuming it was flat. It was very not flat:

Love the Run You're With elevation

So I gave up on the idea of a PR early in the first mile when I was panting my way up that first hill. But even though my pace was not what I was hoping for, I did manage a lovely negative split for this one:

love the run you're with splits

I finished in 23:48, which I’m actually pretty happy with. I didn’t realize until now that it was a faster time than last summer’s PR on a flat course, despite the hills. My coach also helped me realize that with there being so little room for error in a 5K, it’s not necessarily helpful to compare results from different races/different courses at that distance. So for this course, she was really happy with my pacing.

The weather was something of an improvement over the January race: low 50s and pouring rain instead of 20s and howling wind. There was a photo booth at the start line, so I hopped over to get my souvenir picture before we started:

2018 Love the Run Youre With 5K photo booth

The following weekend I ran the By George 10K, which was another very small race put on by the Potomac Valley Track Club. It was held down at Hains Point, which anyone who’s run the Marine Corps Marathon or Cherry Blossom 10-Miler will be familiar with. On the plus side, it’s very flat. But it’s sort of the Mt. Washington of DC – whatever weather the city is having, it’s amplified at Hains Point. Luckily on race down, it wasn’t tooooooo windy, so the wind down on the Point was only around 10mph.

The 10K course was a double version of the 5K course, which meant a double out-and-back. Not the most interesting course, but that was ok. It was actually kind of fun to get to see the other runners so many times during the race.

This was the first 10K I’ve actually raced. My only other time at this distance was the TinkerBell 10K that I ran/walked with my mom in Disneyland in 2014. I was pretty sure I could PR this one!

My strategy was to go out at a controlled pace and hold that for the first half, and then see if I could bring it down for the last three miles. My target for the first three miles was 7:40ish, and then I was hoping that I could get down to 7:30 in mile 4 and then closer to 7:20 for the final two miles. I didn’t quite manage that, but I’m still happy with how this race went:

By George 10K splits

The first three miles felt great, though mile 3 was back into the headwind, which I blame for the slight uptick in pace. While miles 4 and 5 weren’t quite as fast as I’d hoped, I was happy to see my pace dropping. But then mile 6 was back into the headwind, and I was spent. I was hoping for a final mile under 7:30, but I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I gave it all I had.

And my 47:40 time was good enough for 2nd in my Age Group of 30-39, which earned me an apple pie!

By George 10K pie

Next up: the Rock n Roll New Orleans half-marathon! I was originally planning on running the full, because it was there. But I’m trying to be more strategic this year and think in terms of the long term and the Big Goal. While I have no doubt that I could finish the marathon, I haven’t been running anywhere close to normal marathon training mileage since Rehoboth so it would basically just be a 26.2 mile easy run that would still require a solid couple of weeks to recover from before I could pick up with the intense training again. I decided that there wasn’t really a benefit to running a “fun run” marathon right now, whereas if I dropped to the half, I could race it, because my mileage and workouts have been much more in line with that distance. And I’m discovering that I really like pushing the pace! So that’s what I’m going to do.

Based on how the 10K went, I’m planning to target a pace of 7:50-8:00 for the half and hopefully come in right around 1:45:00. This would be a 7ish-minute PR, so it’s definitely a lofty goal! But more importantly, I’m going to really focus on race strategy and pacing rather than a specific pace target. I want to negative split the race and practice being patient in the first half and then picking it up on tired legs. Basically the opposite of how I’ve run almost every race ever. Not-so-coincidentally, 8:00 is the pace that I will need for that 3:30 marathon, so if I can hit it in a half right now, I will feel really good about building up to that for a full by Rehoboth.

After this, I have a goal 10-miler in April (the GW Parkway Classic, which I loooooove) where I’ll definitely have a goal time that will probably be informed by how New Orleans goes. Then at the end of April is the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon, which will just be for fun and where I’ll be joined by a couple of friends from out of town.

Then in May I have the craziest part of the year: the 39.3 Challenge at the Maine Coast Marathon. Coach definitely thinks this is nuts. I think it’ll be fun! Plus, I’ll get THREE different mermaid medals! But needless to say, both the half and full that weekend will be run at easy paces! This is the 2nd annual Mother-Daughter birthday weekend race experience; Mom will be running her 3rd half-marathon that Saturday!

On September 1st I’m running my first international marathon: the Dingle Marathon in Ireland! I’ve been planning on this race since my first trip to Ireland in fall 2016, but it turned into a family vacation when my mom discovered that there was a half-marathon too and my parents invited themselves along! I’m not complaining though; it’s going to be amazing! But as the coast of the Dingle Peninsula is crazy hilly and this course is not USATF-certified, this will be another “just for fun” marathon rather than a goal race, followed by a week of recovery in Ireland. I know it’s tough, but someone has to do it.

I’ll probably (be forced to) do some more short races in the summer and early fall as tune-ups for the REAL marathon training leading up to Rehoboth. After the Dingle Marathon, it’ll be time to get down to serious business! I’m not thinking too much about what that’ll look like yet, but based on the last 10 weeks or so, I have all the faith in the world in my coach’s ability to guide me to my Big Goal.

I’m so excited for what this year has in store!

#Rehoboth2018 #BQorBust #Chasingtheunicorn

(Please tell me when my obsessing over BQing at Rehoboth becomes insufferable and I’ll try to tone it down. Maybe.)

 

Not the spring I’d planned, but for once that’s ok

Oh man. Since my last entry, I’ve run a half-marathon (Philly), a marathon (Rehoboth Beach), and a 10-miler (Reston, VA), started and almost finished a new-to-me training plan, gotten injured, and come most of the way back from it.

After Rehoboth, I kept my runs easy for a couple of weeks and then jumped into the Hansons Marathon Method beginner plan in preparation for marathon #12 at Shamrock. I’d used the Higdon advanced training plan for my last couple of races and was feeling eager to step up my intensity a little bit. A few running friends have had amazing results with Hansons, so it seemed like an experiment worth doing. I chose the beginner plan because that was still a pretty decent increase in both weekly mileage and intensity from what I’d been doing, so jumping right into the advanced plan felt like a bridge too far.

I must admit that I enjoyed working my way through Hansons a lot more than I expected to! I was more than a little intimidated by the weekly speed workouts, especially the first one of 12×400. 12 is just SO MANY. Each week’s workout increased in distance and decreased in number, and I really liked the variation. With Higdon, every week is 800s, and you do more of them as the plan progresses. I hate 800s. But with Hansons, only one workout was 800s! I still hated them, but that was the week I learned how to set up intervals on my Garmin, so I started taking my speedwork “free range” rather than on the track. Turns out that much of my hatred for speedwork stemmed from my hatred of running in small circles, so I had a lot more fun doing those workouts over the more varied terrain of bike trails and the National Mall.

It was a lot (a LOT) of miles for me, and it made for some very long days when I had 10+ miles of workout to do after working all day. But I was so enjoying seeing myself improve! There was one particular week where things just seemed to click, and suddenly those 8:23/mile tempo runs didn’t feel like an endless struggle, and hitting a 9:06 pace on my long runs felt (almost) easy. I broke out of the “speed” category of speedwork and into the longer intervals of the “strength” workouts. I actually really loved the 4×1.5 mile one. Few enough repeats that I felt like I was almost done after the first one, and short enough intervals that I nailed my goal pace without feeling like I was dying the whole time. The 16-mile long runs (following the 10-mile easy runs the day before) didn’t wipe me out for the rest of the day like 20-mile runs had in the past. This plan definitely worked and I was really eager to see how things played out in my attempt at a 3:40 marathon at Shamrock.

Until February 11th. It was the second-to-last 16-miler, and the cap of my highest mileage week ever (60 miles!) following two monthly mileage PRs in a row. I set out on the Capital Crescent Trail for a challengingly hilly 16-mile route, and around mile 5 my left hip/glute got super tight. I stopped to stretch it, then proceeded with my run, hoping that it would loosen up with movement. Yeah, not so much. Despite the fact that it was just getting tighter and more painful as I went on, I finished the run like an idiot. By mile 13 or so, my hip hurt so badly I could barely lift it up to step up a curb. This was not good.

I gave it a few days off, stretched and foam rolled, and got a massage. The next couple of weeks were spent in that awful cycle of optimism, failed test runs, more stretching and rolling (with the addition of a lacrosse ball to really dig in deep – SO PAINFUL but effective), and trying to find any cross-training activities that didn’t hurt. At the worst of it, I couldn’t go more than 2 miles without serious pain and muscle freak-out. I didn’t run anything other than a super easy pace or more than 6 miles at a time (and that was only once) until March 5th. I was getting increasingly despairing about the Shamrock marathon: my PR hopes were long out the window, and I was far from sure that I could even cover the distance.

On March 5th, I ran 10 miles and it was almost ok! I’d signed up for the Reston 10-Miler because it coincided with what was supposed to be the last long run of the training plan and I figured why not get a medal and a shirt out of it? Plus, my bestie and her adorable kids live in Reston, so I could pair the race with a sleepover at their house and post-race breakfast with them.

I figured this would be a good make-or-break test run for Shamrock. I had the option of deferring to 2018 or switching down to the half until March 14 (thanks for being so flexible, Shamrock!). Race morning dawned sunny but so very cold! It was 20 degrees at the start line. I ran into a runner friend in the high school where we were all congregating (and waiting until the last minute before having to go outside), so it was nice to catch up with him a bit. We went outside a few minutes before the start, and I made my way back to the 9:00-10:00 pace area. My plan for the race was to keep the pace easy and just see how my hip did. I was a little nervous about the elevation because Reston is pretty hilly in general, and inclines definitely aggravated my hip. There were some rolling hills, but nothing too crazy, and thankfully Shamrock is flat like a pancake so at least that wouldn’t add to my concerns.

The first few miles clicked off in 9:08, 8:42, and 8:53. Other than it being considerably colder than I was used to given how mild the winter has been, I felt pretty good. My hip started feeling a little tight in mile 4, but it was tolerable. I walked for a minute and took a Gu and some water. 9:31. It still felt kinda tight, but wasn’t getting any worse. I pressed on. 8:35, 8:26, 9:07. Around mile 7, it actually started feeling better! This was a happy new development! Last three miles: 9:05, 8:45, 7:43 (yeah, I don’t know where that came from either!). I finished in 1:28:03, celebrated with some chocolate chip pancakes, and decided that the half-marathon at Shamrock felt doable. So I switched my registration from the Whale Challenge (8K Saturday, Full Sunday) to the Dolphin Challenge (8K and Half) because getting the extra challenge medal is something I enjoy probably more than I should.

I was more sore than I would have liked after 10 miles, and the hip was noticeable, but definitely not as bad as it had been over the last few weeks. I took it easy the next few days and opted for an elliptical shakeout rather than running. I had a so-so 4-miler on the 9th, and a few genuinely good-feeling treadmill runs since. I’m cautiously hopeful that I can put in a couple of decent performances this weekend, and even if I blow up spectacularly, it’ll still be a fun weekend with a couple girlfriends.

I’m honestly less disappointed about not doing the full than I thought I would be. Maybe I’m gaining some of that mature runner perspective?? Sure, that’s one less full that I’m doing less year, and now I most likely won’t hit 17 lifetime marathons in 2017. But that was a silly, arbitrary goal that literally no one but me cared about. And yeah, that 3:40 marathon might take me a little longer to achieve than I’d hoped now that I’ll need to re-start some of my winter training, so I might not bring my time down as much by this fall as I’d hoped. But I’ll get there sooner or later, and then hopefully to 3:35, and 3:32, and maybe even 3:30. I’m 30 now, and have until Boston 2021 to qualify at the current standard (thanks, May birthday). So there’s no rush. 2021 is as far into the future as my very first marathon (with its 4:48 finish time) is in the past. And that feels like eons (and 6 marathon PRs) ago, so how’s that for perspective?

Race Report: International Edition! Killarney 10 Mile Road Race

Let me preface this by saying that I am generally not an impulsive person. I’m a planner through and through. I planned this trip to Ireland over the course of about 6 months. I usually only buy something unexpected if I couldn’t stop thinking about it over the course of a few days. I have always had my race schedule mapped out months in advance. Signing up for a race the night before was a new experience for me, and I’m so glad I went for it!

I drove into Killarney on Friday night, my 5th day in Ireland. It had been a long (but wonderful!) day of wandering all over the southern coast of the country:southern-coast-driving-route

I started in Baltimore, drove to Mizen Head, then all around the Beara Peninsula, and finally up to Killarney. Lots more on the trip later!

So far, I’d run in Dublin and in Kilkenny, but not more than 5 miles. For this weekend, I was supposed to do my last long-ish run of marathon training (12 miles), and I was more than a little apprehensive about finding a safe route for that distance in a place that was so unfamiliar. Outside of the main part of town, it seemed like the sidewalks quickly disappeared, and the very narrow Irish roads didn’t feel very pedestrian-friendly.

As I was driving into the center of town on the way to my B&B, I saw a little sign on the side of the road advertising the Kilkenny Road Race the next day! What were the chances that I could participate in that?? After I got checked into my B&B and onto the wifi, I quickly Googled the race and learned that not only was it a 10-miler (close enough to 12 for me!), but that registration was still open for another hour that night, AND registration and the start/finish were less than half a mile away from the B&B! Talk about luck of the Irish!

So I hurried over to the school where registration was still happening (the purpose of the race was to raise money to build a track at the school), found the room with the volunteers and asked if I could still sign up. A guy who turned out to be big in the Killarney running club pointed to the table and told me that “Team USA signups are right over here!” I filled out the registration form, paid my 20 euro (total bargain!), and got my tshirt and bib. Less than an hour after seeing the sign by the road, I was in the race!

race-shirt-and-bib

I dropped by stuff off at my room, and headed back out to find some dinner. I was in such a state of euphoric excitement! Not only would I get a solid long run in on the trip, but I’d get to be part of the running community here! And have an awesome unexpected souvenir running shirt!

The next morning dawned gray and wet, but that didn’t dampen my excitement in the least! And I felt so well-rested with the luxurious 9am start time and short walk to the race area. It was pretty warm (high 50s/low 60s), so the rain and medium wind made for a nice crisp racing temperature. I spent about half a second telling myself that this was a LONG RUN and not a race, and I should just keep to a nice comfortable pace. And then I said whatever, just run the way you feel.

I got to the start line about 20 minutes before 9:00, and it was quite a different experience than I’m used to! I knew that this was going to be a much smaller race (only a few hundred people, compared to the smallest one I’ve done in DC which is about 2,000), but I was still surprised by the bare-bones start. No port-a-potties, no start line arch, no music playing, no corrals, nothing. Just a bunch of runners huddling under trees trying to stay dry!

group-pic

(I’m in the blue tshirt and white hat on the right side)

There were a couple photographers there taking pictures for the race’s Facebook page, so this is just a random group of us who were near each other, trying to look happy to be there (I didn’t have to try very hard, but some of the other runners were grumpy about the weather).

It was fun to chat with some of the other runners while we waited for the gun, and several of them were pretty amused by my spontaneous race entry. It was also fun to check out the shirts from other races that people were wearing, since most of them weren’t races I’d heard of (though I did see one Boston tshirt and one NYC Marathon jacket). I learned that there’s a Dingle Marathon on the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula, which totally went to the top of my bucket list since I didn’t have time to drive around Dingle like I’d hoped on this trip.

Once it was time to start, everyone moved out of the trees and into the road, the pacers took their places (I was a little surprised that there were pacers at all in this small a race!), and without much pomp or circumstance, we were off! The beginning of the race wound back through town, and right past my B&B. Then we turned out towards the more rural areas, and things just kept getting prettier (not to say that Killarney isn’t a pretty town, because it definitely is). Mile 3 was mostly uphill, but the view from the top was just amazing! Lush green pastures with sheep and cows in the foreground, and the hills and lakes of Killarney National Park in the background. I didn’t even give a thought to muscle fatigue while taking in that landscape.

killarney-national-park-view

(I don’t carry my phone in races, so this is not that exact view, but it was pretty close. Taken while hiking in the park later in the day.)

We ran along that high rural road for a while, and then turned downhill for a long stretch. Wheeeeeee!! And then we ran right into the national park! Sometimes not looking at the course ahead of time can have its advantages, because this was an awesome surprise! Nearly the entire rest of the course was run on bike/walking paths through the park. At one point I saw a sign saying that it was the red deer’s rutting season, so visitors should stay on the path and not disturb them. Then just around the next turn I saw a huge group of those red deer! Probably about 20 of them hanging out along the pathway.

There was another big uphill later in the race, but again, the view from the top was completely spectacular. The path carried us through wide meadows with deer and cattle, and then through thickly wooded areas smelling wonderfully of pine and cedar.

In the last mile of the race, the path ran parallel to a stream, which had flooded badly due to all the rain. So we ended up with two surprise water crossings! The water was about 6-8” deep, and thoroughly soaked me from the knees down when I splashed through, but I thought it was great fun! Especially since we only had about ¾ of a mile left to endure with sodden shoes.

Finally, I came around the final turn and back onto the ground of the school where we’d started. Around the field and under the arch (there was at least an arch for the finish line!). Final time: 1:24:49. A 38-second PR from my George Washington Parkway Classic 10-miler in April! I was very pleasantly surprised by my time, as I hadn’t really been aiming for a particular pace throughout the race in my enjoyment of the experience, and the hills had been no joke. But it was just an added bonus on what was already a fantastic race morning.

I enjoyed a sausage breakfast roll in the cafeteria where there was a post-race gathering (way better than a stale bagel and banana!), and then headed home.

medal-selfie

Here’s the elevation chart from Garmin:

elevation-chart

And my splits:

splits-edited

I was shocked to see that sub-8:00 mile split flash by, but it was definitely a fun downhill!

I’m so, so happy that I stumbled upon this race. It was a fantastic addition to an already-wonderful trip, and so much fun to experience a race in a very new place!

2018 Dingle Marathon anyone??

 

 

 

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.

 

A beautiful run

Yesterday was my second 20-miler (of three planned ones for this training cycle) and it was a great run. Not super fast (my long runs are always at an easy pace), and it hurt as much as you’d expect for 3 hours of running. But it was such an enjoyable morning! The weather in DC cut us a break this weekend: it was warm and brilliantly sunny but with a lovely cool breeze rather than the still, stifling, sticky humidity we’ve endured for weeks. I’d had a good feeling about this run all week. I was psyched up for it rather than dreading the hours on my feet, and I held on to that positivity throughout the run.

My planned route was to head south through DC, across the 14th Street Bridge, and then down the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria, VA, to the Jones Point Lighthouse, and then back.

About 2.5 miles in, I crossed the National Mall and thankfully looked up, because THIS was the sky over the Capitol (you can see the dome way off in the distance).

#nofilter

Mall sky

I continued on across the bridge, and headed south on the MVT. At one point, the asphalt trail turns to boardwalk as you cross through some wetland areas.

Boardwalk

Right at 11 miles, I reached the historic Jones Point Lighthouse. It operated from 1855-1926, and is the last river lighthouse still standing in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Lighthouse

There’s a little park around the lighthouse, and I noticed these bear prints cast on the sidewalk. “Lumber like a bear” definitely seemed apt during the last few miles of this run!

Bear prints

After a quick pitstop to refill my hydration pack (it was cooler than it has been lately, but still in the 80s!) I headed back north on the trail. This was the view from the bridge over Four Mile Run, which splits off from the Potomac near the airport. I love DC (obviously!) but Virginia has its moments.

River view

On my way back across the 14th Street Bridge, I crossed paths with another woman running and heard her say, “Go Maniac!” as she went by! I don’t often wear my Marathon Maniacs hat on training runs, but I’m glad I did on this run because that moment of encouragement gave me such a boost through my last two miles! Maybe I need to wear it on long runs more often…

I just so happened, completely by accident of course, to hit 20 miles a block away from Starbucks. So it seemed only natural to grab a nice big frappuccino to enjoy on my cool-down walk back home! It was frosty and delicious and the perfect way to cap off such a great summer run.

Post-run

Happy running!