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.

 

 

 

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?