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!

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.)

 

Closing out 2017

I know it’s already February, and some people might think that the ship has sailed on end-of-year bloops. But hopefully none of those people are here, and if they are, they’re free to move along. Maybe my blog posts just like to be fashionably late?

So. 2017. In retrospect, this year was really focused on race experiences more than goal times. I started out the year in questionable fashion, battling a nasty bout of piriformis syndrome in January and February after not quitting a long run when I should have because finishing that run would mean breaking 60 miles/week for the first time. In retrospect, that was real dumb, as running those last 11 miles on a bum piriformis (lol, pun intended) took me out of commission for 6-7 weeks, during which there were a LOT fewer than 60 miles/week. You’d think I’d know better than to let the numbers be the boss of me by this point. By early March, my butt was feeling much better but my training had taken enough of a hit that I dropped from the Whale Challenge (8K + marathon) at Shamrock to the Dolphin Challenge (8K + half-marathon). But that turned out kind of awesome because 1) the weather was f-ing AWFUL, even by Shamrock standards, and 2) I was able to PR in both the 8K and half-marathon! Yay!

My first marathon of 2017 came in April, when I went down to Raleigh to hang out with three of the most BA runners you’ll ever meet and we ran the Rock n Roll Raleigh marathon the day after spending lots of hours on our feet volunteering at a 100-mile ultra. I didn’t get a finish time PR, but I’m pretty sure I set a personal best for 1) elevation gained in a race (Raleigh is hilly yo!), 2) fun had working at an aid station. Despite the hills, I was able to finish in a very comfortable 3:56:xx, setting me up for a streak of sub-4:00 marathons last year.

In May I went home to Massachusetts for my birthday and a race weekend! My mom and I went to Martha’s Vineyard for the inaugural Martha’s Vineyard Marathon weekend, which was a lot of fun except for the race, which honestly kinda sucked. But nevertheless, Mom finished her very first half-marathon!! And I squeaked out a 1-min PR to finish in 3:51:xx, which was also good enough for 1st in my AG (serving to remind me to run tiny races more often, because that is kind of ridiculous). July contained my first 5K in 2.5 years, which turned out to be a PR even though it was an evening race and evening-time in DC in July is basically the worst running conditions ever. In August I returned to the wilds of Vermont to join my second Vermont 100 on 100 relay team, which was once again super fun and awesome except that it screwed up my back pretty badly.

I had big marathon plans for the fall, so coming out of August with a bad back was definitely not what I had in mind. Plus, just typing “bad back” makes me feel way too old. I’m only 31; I should not be worrying about throwing my back out. My mildly-herniated disc disagreed, apparently. And obviously I trained through that longer than I should have, because I had goals dammit! So I was finally forced to take some time off in early-mid September, right when I was supposed to be hitting my peak mileage for the Wineglass Marathon. On the plus side, I got to try muscle relaxants for the first time. I went into Wineglass weekend with some trepidation, but in keeping with the theme of the year I was really more focused on the whole weekend rather than just the race. Both of my parents were with me, because Mom was running half-marathon #2 and we’d planned a side-trip after the race to Ithaca, NY, to visit my college stomping grounds for the first time since I graduated in 2008. Plus there were going to be a whole bunch of Loopsters at Wineglass, so it was going to be fun no matter what! It ended up being an amazing weekend all around: I finished in a strong-feeling 3:45:21, a PR by nearly 6 minutes and had a ton of fun with my family and the other Loopsters.

A few weeks later I traveled north again, this time to the Big Apple for the most amazing race experience EVER: the NYC Marathon! My mom met me in the city and we had an awesome mother-daughter weekend staying in Hells Kitchen, going to a Broadway show, and soaking up the whole marathon weekend experience. The race itself was beyond incredible, and wrote an entire bloop on that if you need any convincing to throw your name into the lottery for a future race. Talk about an amazing race experience. My nearly easy-feeling 3:52:xx finish was just the icing on the NY-style cheesecake.

Finally, December brought my all-around favorite race weekend of each of the past 5 years: Rehoboth!! We had another houseful of Loopsters traveling to Delaware (plus one who lives there) for the race and accompanying shenanigans. I had a much better marathon than last year’s 12-mile puke-fest, thankfully! I felt really strong through the first half, and set a nice little 90ish-second PR at the halfway point (1:50:xx), and then crashed and burned pretty thoroughly, which was not exactly surprising as this was my 3rd marathon in 9 weeks. But I finished out my streak of sub-4:00 marathons with a 3:50:xx finish time and a smile on my face!

I ran 1,870 miles in 2017, a new personal best by 315 miles. There were some ups and downs in there, but overall it was an awesome running year, and I’m so glad that I got to hang out with Loopsters for five of my races this year and have some incredible new race experiences! I have some big goals for 2018 (really, just one BIG goal), but that’s for another blog post. Maybe I’ll even get that written before another month has passed? Anyway, happy 2018!

Wineglass Marathon Race Report – Everything is Awesome!!

TL;DR: Wineglass Marathon was amazing! I ran my most consistent race and got a PR by nearly 6 minutes. Parents and Loopsters made it extra-special. 10/10, would run again.

The parents and I arrived in Corning, NY, late Friday afternoon. We checked into our hotel and met up with Liz and Peg for a drink and bite to eat nearby. It’s always great to catch up with Loopsters, and it was fun for my parents to meet some of the people that I talk about so much. It had been a long day of driving from Massachusetts, so we called it a night pretty early.

Saturday morning started out with a short and fun shakeout run with the Loop ladies:

shakeout run

Later in the day, we went to the Corning Museum of Glass, where the race expo was held. Very cool venue for sure! The expo was surprisingly large for such a small race, and the swag we got was top-notch. High quality half-zip pullover specific to the race distance (which I LOVED! I’m always kind of disappointed when there’s a single shirt for all distances), a wine glass, a split of sparkling wine, and a nice drawstring backpack to put it all in. After the expo, the parents and I visited the museum itself, which was very cool! We saw some contemporary art installations made of glass, as well as some breathtaking glass mosaics made and/or designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

On Saturday evening, the parents and I went to the official pre-race pasta dinner, because securing a dinner reservation in Corning turned out to be way more stressful than I would have expected. So the official dinner seemed like the safest bet, and the menu we saw online was much actually really great-looking! Turns out that this was one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend! I shouldn’t have been surprised, because runners are the best people ever. But our tablemates were completely delightful, and we quickly got into sharing race stories and training experiences and our goals for the next morning. The food was plentiful and delicious, and I tried a couple of new things that worked out amazingly well and might become part of my goal race routine: gluten-free pasta (this one was corn-based) and a baked potato. I picked the corn pasta because it was spaghetti-shaped, while the regular wheat pasta was short (farfalle or something) and I just like long pasta better. But my stomach was noticeably calmer than usual the next morning, so maybe it’s something to consider for future races.

Anyway, the main attraction of the pre-race dinner was the featured speaker: Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray! He was funny, self-deprecating, charming, and inspiring as hell. It was such a great way to get pumped up for the next day’s race, and definitely further stoked my desire to qualify for and run Boston in the near-ish future (more on that eventually. I’m not ready to put my plans down in black and white yet.).

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and got ready for race day! Mom and I got our flat girls ready (she was running her second half-marathon!) and we put ourselves to bed. #racenailsonpoint

The next morning dawned cold and crisp, which was exactly perfectly right for an October race in central NY! But for this pseudo-Southerner used to the never-ending DC summer, it was soooooooo cold!! I just kept telling myself how good it would feel once we got running. Mom and I caught our respective buses to the half- and full-marathon start lines (the half-marathon started at the half-way point of the full course), and I quickly found the other Loopsters once I got to the marathon start line staging area. Another awesome thing about Wineglass: they had a lovely big tent for us to wait in, which got nice and toasty once several hundred runners were packed inside! It was so great to be able to stay warm-ish and sit down on actual chairs while waiting to toe the line.

loopsters prerace

Eventually it was time to walk over to the start line and get this show on the road! I chucked off my layers of Dad’s old sweatshirts and lined up next to the 3:45 pacer. Most of my training this summer had been done with a 3:40 in mind, but then I hurt my back in August and missed about three of the highest-intensity weeks of the training plan. I’d felt good in the few weeks leading up to the race, but I knew those weeks off had cost me something. I thought that an 8:35 pace seemed reasonable, all things considered, and figured I’d start there and if I had to back off, then so be it. The gun went off and we ran into the misty morning. The fog was pretty thick for almost the first half of the race, and it kept the air quite chilly! I didn’t ditch my gloves or makeshift tube sock arm warmers until at least 10 miles in, which is highly unusual for me.  I stuck to the pacer like glue, and to my pleasant surprise, the 8:35ish pace felt practically effortless. After battling the heat and humidity of DC for so many months, feeling cold while running was kind of amazing and definitely made a huge difference in my race.

The course (or at least what we could see of it through the fog) was pretty and quiet and rural. There were small pockets of spectators as we went through small towns, but it was pretty zen overall. I just listened to my music and tried to trust the pacer rather than check my own watch every few minutes. The pace group was pretty big, and several people were chatting steadily as we ran. I tried to tune them out and just keep my breathing steady and not worry about anything more than taking my gels on time.

The pace was still feeling really good at the halfway point, and when the pacer peeled off to use the bathroom I took the opportunity to surge ahead a little bit. I was tired enough that his banter and people’s talking was getting annoying, and I wanted to just run my own race from this point on. I tried to keep my pace as steady as I could just ahead of them. I felt pretty good about the fact that they never passed me after that.

Around Mile 18 or so I really started to drag, and I focused on just getting through the intervals in between gels. I felt so good about how the race had gone thus far, and worked hard to maintain that psychological momentum if not the physical. I didn’t let my pace stray too far above the 8:35 target, and I tried to take it one mile at a time.

Eventually I reached the little bridge that leads into downtown Corning, and there was only one left turn remaining between me and that finish line. I took out my earbuds when I made the turn onto Market Street with about half a mile to go. This would be the greatest number of spectators I’d seen all day and I wanted to soak up the cheering, because I knew that I’d run my butt off for a nice PR!

This was my face when I knew that I was about to finish in 3:45:xx:

Finish line excited

Official time: 3:45:21. A PR by 5 minutes and 39 seconds, and my most steady marathon splits ever:

splits

I definitely credit the pace group with keeping me in line during the first half of the race, and enabling me to save up the energy for the second half.

Such an awesome race calls for another Bangle Pump:

Finish line BP

I spotted Peg shortly after I finished and got the quick version of her race. After getting some snacks, I found my parents back along Market Street. My mom had finished her race with a 7-minute PR! Then I got to see Liz finish looking crazy fast and strong!

Eventually we got all the Loopsters back together for a group picture. PRs all around!! Wineglass is just that awesome!

loopsters

I printed out my official results, which I have almost certainly since lost but it was nice to have the record in-hand even briefly.

official results

In another super cool feature, they had these race clocks where you could punch in your bib number and bring up your time for a photo op:

time clock

Everything about this race weekend fell into place perfectly. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I was really worried about how my unplanned time off would affect my fitness. This may not have been exactly the time I’d planned for at the beginning of my training cycle, I really couldn’t be happier with how I felt or how I did once it all came together.

medal selfie 2

Now that the goal race for the fall is behind me, I’m focusing on having fun! To that end, I leave on Thursday for what will surely be a VERY different New York marathon experience: the New York City Marathon on November 5th!! I can’t wait to get to the city and see all of the craziness of the expo and race pavilion and everything. It’s sure to be an unforgettable race experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shamrock Dolphin Challenge race report: Sparkle Skirts and PRs!

Two weeks ago I picked up my rental car (a cherry red Hyundai something; the cherry red was the best part!) and made my way south to Virginia Beach for my third year participating in the Shamrock race weekend. I did the Dolphin Challenge (8K + half marathon) in 2014, then the Whale Challenge (8K + full marathon) in 2016. This year, I’d planned to do the Whale Challenge again, with the marathon being my big goal race for the spring. But as my last bloop described, I had a nasty bout of piriformis syndrome in the 5 weeks before the race and my interrupted training left me uncertain about being able to even complete the marathon, never mind attempt a big PR. Thankfully I was able to drop down to the Dolphin Challenge a couple weeks before race weekend, which eased my anxiety considerably.

Saturday

We got up nice and early on Saturday morning to run the 8K, which I think is the largest of the three races offered. You get four beer tickets for each race, so the beer:miles ratio is definitely tops in the 8K. There are always lots of people dressed in their best green running finery, and I was no exception. Sparkle skirt #1 of the weekend!

8K outfit

 

 

My 8K PR was from this race in 2014, when I ran a 44:55. I was absolutely gunning for a PR this time, since I’d improved so much as a runner in those three years, and I knew that, bum hip or no, I could definitely run faster than a 9:00 minute mile for 5 miles. My plan was to start out at my goal pace for the half (8:25) and see how things went from there. When Mile 1 clocked in at 8:08, that plan was clearly out the window. But I felt good, and my hip was holding up, so I figured what the heck? How bad could things get in 5 miles?

8K homestretch

Mile 1 – 8:08

Mile 2 – 8:12

Mile 3 – 8:14

Mile 4 – 8:11

Mile 5 (technically 0.98 miles) – 7:48 (!!)

8K finish line

Official time: 40:35, and a PR by 4 minutes and 20 seconds! Definitely a great start to the weekend. And best of all: my hip felt completely fine the whole time!!

 

The weather for the 8K was chilly and fairly windy, but not too terrible by Shamrock standards. Things were definitely about to get worse though.

Sunday

Shamrock is a little weird in that it starts the half marathon at 7:00 on Sunday, and the full at 8:30. So I got up super-duper early and tried to eat my bagel very quietly so I didn’t wake up Abs and Ang, who were both running the full. I’m sure I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, but they were good sports about it regardless.

I tentatively looked out the window to have my fears confirmed: it looked like a freaking hurricane outside. Pouring rain and whipping winds. The weather app confirmed a “feels like” temperature in the low 20s due to the 30+ mph winds from the north.

But fretting about the miserable couple of hours I had in front of me wasn’t going to make them any less miserable. So time to get dressed!

Sparkle skirt #2 of the weekend!

Half outfit

I dawdled in the warm, dry hotel room as long as I could, but finally had to start the mile or so long walk to the half marathon start line (our hotel is right near the finish line, and the marathon start line, but the half starts at the 13.1 mile mark of the full, so it’s a bit of a hike). I wrapped myself in a foil blanket from an earlier race (I love saving those – they always come in handy!) and donned one of the plastic rain ponchos that Santa brought me for Christmas and headed out the door. It was every bit as wet and cold as I expected. My shoes were pretty well saturated before I even found the start line. But misery loves company, and it was kinda fun to share this particular misery with all the other runners in my corral. There was even a photographer on hand to capture our “excitement.”

Half start line

(ok, my “excitement” was actual excitement because it was race day!! And given the weather, my healthy decision to drop to the half kinda worked out pretty well…)

After a few minutes of standing around, we were off! Well, sort of. The wind was coming straight out of the north, and guess which direction we were running? Yep, straight north into the wind. It was so very cold, and so very wet. The wind made the rain quite painful as it hit us directly in the face. I realized quickly that my goal of holding the 8:25 pace that I’d been training for was just not going to happen with this kind of headwind. My goal became just trying to keep it under 9:00 and not blow away before getting to the turnaround point at Mile 7 (at which point the wind would hopefully be at our backs!).

Mile 1 – 8:42

Mile 2 – 8:56

Mile 3 – 8:54

Mile 4 – 8:47

Mile 5 – 8:44

Despite the weather, I was reminded that I really do like the Shamrock half course. The first few miles go through neighborhoods, and then the next few are through the woods, which is a peaceful change of pace for this city dweller. Usually there are Irish-themed jokes and riddles on signs next to the road through this stretch, but I think the wind was too much for them this year. I saw a couple, but not nearly as many as in past years. We didn’t even see any vertical mile markers until Mile 5 I think; they’d all either blown over or hadn’t been put out in the first place because of the wind.

We finally got to the entrance of Fort Story, and started the gradual turn back towards the south. Changing direction meant that for a while, the wind was coming at us from the side, and this section coincided with the presence of big sand dunes next to the course. Can you see where I’m going here? It was like running through a sandstorm! I had to keep my eyes closed for much of it, and just hope that I didn’t run into anyone. The sand was building up on the road, and was already a couple inches deep when I ran across it. I imagine it was considerably worse by the time the full marathoners traversed this section! When I got back to the hotel to change after the race, I not only had sand covering the side of my face (great exfoliant?); it managed to get through both of my shirts and get all up in my sports bra!

We made it through that section, and went past the two lighthouses on the course. There’s always a photographer near them to get cool pictures of the runners with the lighthouses.

Half with lighthouse 2

The wind gave me a bit of a Marilyn moment, but the woman behind me was definitely struggling with her trash bag. It was an impressively long time to keep the trash bag on though!

Mile 6 – 8:29

Mile 7 – 8:29

Being out of the crazy headwind improved my mood tremendously! I was able to acknowledge the fact that my hip felt totally and completely normal!! I realized that a PR (sub-1:53:44) wasn’t totally out of the question if I could take advantage of the tailwind and push the pace for the rest of the race.

Mile 8 – 8:20

Mile 9 – 8:24

Mile 10 – 8:37

Mile 11 – 8:30

Mile 12 – 8:32

I really, really wanted to get under 8:00 for the final mile of this race. I did it in the Reston 10-miler two weeks prior, and in Saturday’s 8K. I was definitely feeling gassed at this point, but tried to dig deep for my last dregs of energy.

Half homestretch

Mile 13 – 7:58 (!!)

Mile 13.14 – 1:04 (7:29 pace)

Official time: 1:52:24, a PR by 1 minute and 20 seconds!

Half with medal 2

I picked up my half marathon medal, my hat, towel, snacks, backpack (Shamrock is great at swag), and Dolphin Challenge medal as quickly as I could and hustled back up to the hotel room to thaw out! Once out of the rain, I took a minute to enjoy how well that race had just gone:

Half medal selfie

Abs and Ang were out running the full, so I had the room to myself and enjoyed a nice long, HOT shower. Eventually, the shivering subsided. I had another couple of hours before Abs was likely to be back, so I took myself out to breakfast nearby since I was hungry, and the beer tent isn’t much fun when you’re alone.

Abs got back after surviving twice as long in that crazy weather, and Ang came in not too long afterwards. Once they were thawed out and in dry clothes, the three of us headed out to the beer tent.

But first I stopped to ring the PR bell!

PR bell

The cold beer and hot Irish stew in the beer tent tasted pretty good, and we’d all had races worth celebrating!

Yuengling sign

Some people celebrated a whole lot!

beeramid

 

 

Monday morning dawned infuriatingly sunny and beautiful.

sunny monday

 

Seriously, where was this weather during the race?? I dropped Ang off at the airport and headed back to DC. The weather was perfect the entire way.

 

Hartford Marathon Race Report: All Kinds of Awesome!

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get this race report written up! But I figured I at least needed to do it before running my next race on Sunday!

The Hartford Marathon was my big goal race for early fall, and I’d trained hard for it all summer and was so excited that the weekend was finally here. I grew up in western Massachusetts, so Hartford was practically in my backyard and racing there also meant a long weekend at home with my family, which was awesome. I flew home on Thursday night, hoping that I’d remembered to pack all my race essentials (spoiler alert: I did! No drama there, thank goodness.).

On Friday afternoon, Mom and I drove down to Hartford for the expo. As a bonus, we got to have lunch with a couple of friends first! They work near the expo location, and it was great to catch up with them. The Irish pub and pints of Guinness were an awesome throwback to my Ireland trip last month (dedicated blog(s) on that are surely forthcoming!), and I think the extra carbs from the beer helped on Saturday!

loopster-lunch

After lunch, Mom and I headed over to the expo! These “Go Big!” signs were all over the sidewalk leading to the building, and plastered to all the doors. Given my goal of a big PR for this race, they seemed like a good sign indeed! (pun slightly intended)

go-big

The expo was a pretty good size, but I was able to pick up my packet quickly and take the requisite pre-race decorated wall picture.

hartford-pop-art

That evening, I laid out my Flat Caitlin and made it an early night.

flat-caitlin

mm-diva-race-nailsrace-toenails

Cute and thematic race nails are essential for marathon success!

My parents, sister, and I got up obnoxiously early on Saturday morning to make our way back down to Hartford. I was wide awake and excited! They were less so, and probably didn’t appreciate my enthusiastic pop music sing-a-long during the drive…

We got to the start area, and my family went off to stake out their first cheering location. I found a couple groups of fellow Marathon Maniacs for some pre-race pictures.

marathon-maniacs-1

marathon-maniacs-2

Soon enough, it was time to line up! We listened to some pre-race announcements and the National Anthem, and then we were off!

The race started on a nice gentle downhill as it wound through downtown Hartford. I was feeling good, and trying to hold steady at my goal pace of 8:45ish/mile. We ran along a really nice park bike/walking path along the river, and then back up to downtown before crossing the river. I saw my family around Mile 5.5, and was able to toss them my gloves as the day was warming up.

We wound through the course a bit more before hitting the loooooooong out-and-back that makes up Miles 10-24. I was feeling great, and enjoying the gentle ups and downs of the small inclines. The weather was perfect for a marathon, crisp and breezy. The foliage was spectacular, making it a classic New England fall day.

I hit the halfway mark at 1:52:30, exactly on target (and a 4-ish minute half-marathon PR!). Still feeling good, although I was increasingly aware of how much longer there still was until the turnaround. However, it was fun to see the front-runners coming back our way, and the crowd support was surprisingly great along this stretch given that we were running through a quiet residential area.

Around Mile 16, things started to get a little tougher. My left foot started cramping, which has never happened to me before, and was not a fun surprise mid-race! It wasn’t excessively warm, but I started taking fluids at every aid station in case it was dehydration-related. That seemed to keep the full-on cramp at bay, though that twinging feeling just shy of a muscle cramp lingered for the rest of the race.

Around Mile 19 I bonked pretty hard. I was really struggling to keep my pace under 9:00/mile, and my quads were more shaky than usual for mid-race. I started walking through the water stops, and then taking a little bit longer each time to start running again. By this point I was really over the out-and-back section and just wanted to see downtown again and know that I was almost done!

Finally a little past Mile 24, we turned right and headed back into the city! Except that we were heading up the biggest incline on the course! In my opinion, it’s just rude to put a hill at Mile 24-25 in a marathon. To add insult to injury, there were photographers right at the top of the hill! I’m sure they captured some stellar pain faces. Another Marathon Maniac passed me going up the hill and offered some words of encouragement, which was much appreciated. Hopefully he didn’t take my grunt of a response personally.

We ran back down a slight incline through downtown and past lots of cheering spectators who really boosted my energy. There was one more turn at the very end to run through the big arch in Bushnell Park (the one on the magnet that gave me the color scheme for my toenails), and then the finish line!

Official time: 3:52:03!!! A PR by 7 minutes and 54 seconds!

I think I scared a volunteer with my gasping/ugly crying, but I pulled it together enough to get a foil blanket and my medal, pick up a water bottle (they gave out nice sport bottles instead of disposable ones!) and my food bag, and make my way through the chute towards the family reunion area. On the staggering, stumbling walk towards where my family was waiting (my quads were all kinds of not cooperating by this point), I really couldn’t hold back the ugly crying! I don’t know what it is, but all of the emotion from the last 26.2 miles always comes out my eyeballs at the finish line. I was so excited about my PR and so happy that my whole family was there to celebrate with me that the tears seemed completely silly, but such is life. After doing a mini rehash of the race with my family, we walked over to where Mazda (one of the race sponsors) had set up this really cool photo booth where half and full finishers could pose with their finish time.

finish-line-262

Obligatory selfie with the super-cool medal:medal-selfie

I really like the medals from this race! The half marathon medal has a blue ribbon and background, and both medals feature different famous buildings in Hartford. Mine shows (I think) the State House, the Bushnell, and Founders Bridge (which we crossed during the race). And it’s one of my very few gold race medals, so that’s pretty cool.

We hung out in the finish line festival area for a while so I could regroup a bit and enjoy my free beer, and then we headed to lunch so that everyone else could eat and enjoy a well-deserved beer themselves!

Garmin record!

garmin-record

The end of the race was tough for me both mentally and physically, but I’m so happy with the final results! I don’t know that there’s anything I could have done differently earlier in the race that might have preventing the cramping or the bonking. I figure now I should just turn my attention toward getting ready for the half-marathon in Philly (my first in two years!) and the full marathon in Rehoboth Beach, which is far enough away that I think I might be able to improve my time at least a little bit.

But first up: Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday! This’ll be my TENTH marathon (and second MCM), which I’m finding a little bit hard to believe. I still vividly remember working my way through Couch 2 5K for the first time 5 years ago and thinking that running for more than 30 minutes straight would be impossible!

Since it’s only been a few weeks since Hartford, I have exactly zero time goals for MCM. I’m focused only on having ALL THE FUN! I want to soak up the electric atmosphere of this amazing event and enjoy the crap out of running through my city and partake in every unofficial beer, donut hole, and candy station and take as many selfies with hot Marines as I can. It’ll be my own personal tenth marathon-i-versary runparty!