Monday, December 20, 2010

A Year of Bests

I have lots of races to do updates about, but wanted to share some fun stats of just how well things have gone this year. Listed below are my best (pre-2010) times, and how they've changed this year.

2009 – 37:14 (Howard County Police Pace, 9/13/09)
2010 – 34:11 (Nat’l Police Week 5K, 5/8/10)

5 miler
2008 – 1:06:27 (Down’s Park, 11/1/08)
2010 – 59:19 (Celtic Solstice, 12/18/10)

2009 – 1:14:53 (MCM 10K, 10/25/09)
2010 – 1:10:43 (Cold Turkey 10K, 11/21/10)

10 miler
2009 – 2:21:22 (Cherry Pit, 4/5/09)
2010 – 2:00:01 (Cherry Pit, 4/11/10)

2009 – 2:54:47 (Long Branch, NJ, 5/1/09 FLAT course)
2010 – 2:46:50 (Baltimore, 10/16/10 HILLS, HILLS, HILLS)

January 2010 – 7:01:26
October 2010 – 6:04:35

It's been a fun year! And needless to say, seeing such great changes really helps with the motivation to keep going!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon 2010

Well, it is now nearly three weeks since the Marine Corps Marathon, and I have yet to publish a race report. This is not for lack of trying though. I have sat down in front of the screen on more than one occassion, and blankly stared at it, discovering how hard it truly is to sum up the sights and sounds you see and emotions you feel during the 6+ hours of a race.

The short short version of the story is that it was a perfect day. The weather was gorgeous, the support on the course amazing, and I found out that I am capable of things I never thought or imagined I was. My final time was 6:04:35, nearly one hour faster than January's race in Disney.

The long version of the story begins on Friday, when I headed into DC for the expo to pick up my bib and other race goodies. Between the official merchandise, registering for a Spring 2011 race, and other things, I'm surprised my credit card didnt' explode. I bought an MCM 2010 pendant from one vendor who offered to put it on the chain around my neck. I politely declined, explaining that that couldn't happen until after Sunday morning. While there, I got to meet up with some of my local running buddies, as well as my Running of the Ears friends who began their steady stream into town for all of the race festivites. As always, it was fun to see old friends and make new ones.

Even though I only live about 30 or so miles from DC, I had made the decision to stay in the Rosslyn area over race weekend. I spent Saturday morning lounging around the house, before packing up the car and driving to northern Virginia mid-afternoon. As I got off the highway, I drove past the Marine Corps Memorial and the excitement hit. I met up with my ROTE friends who were also staying at my hotel and we headed out to meet up with other friends for our pre-race carb load dinner. This was no easy task considering the hundreds of thousands of people who had descended into the city for the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally on the Mall. Metro trains were packed beyond belief and street closures and traffic rampant. To our surprise and delight, Erica and Mustapha appeared with a huge van for us all to pile into.

After dinner it was time to get all of my race day essentials together and settle in for the night. Unfortunately, sleep was extremely hard to come by. I tossed and turned, my body ready to sleep but my brain unwilling. I think I finally managed 4-5 hours. Refreshing it was not. I ate some breakfast, got dressed, grabbed my gear, and was out the door. Happily, nerves never really got the best of me. There were no stomach issues or nausea like the morning of Disney. It was almost business as usual, even though it had been over nine months since I'd done this before.

A group of us met in the lobby, bid farewell to our friends heading to the 10K start, and walked the mile-ish to the start line. The sunrise over Washington was breathtaking that morning. There was some hanging around, potty trips, and then finally time to say good byes and head to our appropriate corrals. Unlike many other marathons, MCM does not do a wave start or assign corrals based on expected pace. Instead, you line yourself up according to your expected finish time. I placed myself in the 5:30 corral. Slightly ambitious perhaps. I knew 6 hours, or under was possible, but wanted to push myself if I could.

I was mentally prepared that this would be MY challenge, as I had no plans to run the race with anyone else, despite the large number of people I knew running that day. I would do my 3:1 intervals, and push myself along, hopefully with the race energy to keep me going. This was definitely going to be a test of my own endurance since I was fortunate to have the company of three friends during my journey at Disney. Imagine my surprise as the pack pushed forward to cross the start that I crossed paths with a friend from my running club. She and a friend were running their first marathon and doing 3:1 intervals as well. Twenty-five minutes after the race started we finally made our way over the start line and were off together.

I had studied the elevation chart and knew once I got through the first eight miles, where the worst of the hills were, that I would be good to go for the rest of the race. The trick of course was not to go too fast in those opening miles, which would certainly spell disaster for the later miles of the race. The first miles went by very quickly, helped by Bonnie and Amy's company and seeing other friends from the Striders along the way as we made our way into Georgetown. I was so happy to see that we were keeping a steady 13:00-13:30 pace the whole time. For once I succeeded in not starting a race too fast! Having their company and distraction was definitely helping. Unfortunately, around mile 7 I began to pull ahead of them until eventually they were out of my sight. This had now become my race and I settled in for the 19+ left to go.

The crowd support leaving Georgetown and crossing into DC was awesome! We left Georgetown, and its hills behind, winding past the Kennedy Center and toward Potomac Park. I had a decent pack of runners around me the entire time, and, except for a couple of narrow spots, did not find it overwhelming or constricting. I had never been to Potomac Park before, and while beautiful, I found it very boring and desolate at times. It encompassed about three miles.

About mile 12 I decided to make a pit stop, taking advantage of the indoor plumbing the park facilities offered. After a couple of minute delay, I was back on my way. At mile 13 I turned my cell phone on. I had left it off for fears of running out of battery life should I need it to meet up with people post race. As it booted up in my pocket the txt message chimes went off one after another. I may have been tired and alone on the course, but my friends and family were making sure I knew they were with me in spirit. I read some of the message during my walk breaks, a smile coming to my face with each one.

Mile 16 took us past the Lincoln Memorial and towards the Mall. I got excited, as I knew my parents were on the Mall around mile 17.5. I was exhausted by this point, and my feet were killing me, but took some solace knowing there was less than 10 miles to go. I found my parents, got some needed hugs, Powerade, and pretzels, and was back on my way, heading towards the Capitol. A marching band was providing entertainment at the Capitol and helped buoy me a bit. Mom and Dad were waiting for me again at mile 19. I passed off my bag of pretzels and waved goodbye. The next time I'd see them would be at the finish.

As we left the Mall the time had come to face The Bridge. The Bridge is the 14th Street Bridge that takes you back into Northern Virginia. It is mile 2o, and one must "Beat the Bridge" and the sweepers. Even though I knew I would be ahead of the sweepers, the relief I felt having reached it was phenomal. And, I knew my ROTE pals would be at the end of it. I wish I could say the relief of getting to the bridge carried me across in no time flat, but honestly, it took the wind out of my sails. I chose to walk almost the entire thing, nearly two miles. I started to pick up my runs again as I got near the ramp and the end, and as I ran down it, I found Katie and Steph, my ever supportive and understanding roommate, waiting for me at the bottom with huge hugs.

I said Hi to everyone, got some water and Powerade refills, some Twizzlers and a few more pretzels, and then was pretty much kicked out by Colleen, who asked if I needed anything else, and if not, then what was I still doing there??? LOL. I left them and turned toward the out and back in Crystal City. I had feared that this might be a long and boring stretch, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't. I also got to see a few friends on their way out of Crystal City as I was headed in. As I got to mile 24, I was pleasantly surprised to find more of my friends waiting for me. More big hugs and I was on my way. TWO MILES TO GO!

I quickly discovered that the stretch of highway those last couple of miles was mentally the hardest part of the course. It was eerily quiet and those around me were clearly hurting with every step. As I looked at the Pentagon to my right and Arlington Cemetery to my left, I fought back tears. I was almost done, I just had to keep going. Then, suddenly it was mile 26. I turned left and power walked my way up the hill, knowing it was probably faster than trying to run it. As I did, I looked toward the spectator bleachers, knowing Mom and Dad were there somewhere. Then I saw Dad, standing on the top row waving his arms at me. I waved and smiled back, got to the top of the hill and took off for the finish line, exchanging high-fives with Marines all along the way. Then it was over.

I went through the finisher area to get my mylar, and more importantly my medal from a Marine. I smiled widely, and headed toward the Iwo Jima memorial for my finisher's pciture. I kept looking over my shoulder to keep an eye out for my parents so we could meet up once I got out of the runner's area. After all of the Powerade on the course, I passed up the offer of a bottle and grabbed some water and ran (well, as best as I could at that point) to Mom and Dad. I got huge hugs and fought back tears. We trudged back toward my hotel so I could get off of my feet and get cleaned up before finding some real food. My journey had ended.

Everyone knows the saying "It takes a village." Well, I feel like it took a village to get me through my training and over the finish line. The support I had from friends and family, and my running family was amazing and more than anyone could ever ask for. I doubt I can ever repay them for the hours spent running with me, or waiting for me at a trail before the sun even rose. I would never have undertaken such a journey without them, let alone completed it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Baltimore 1/2 Marathon = Two Seconds

Yesterday marked the end of a crazy 5 weeks which saw 3 half marathons and my longest marathon training runs - 18 and 20 miles respectively. I never thought I'd survive it either mentally or physically, and did question at times whether or not all of this was really a good idea or not. I think it was a demanding schedule for even the most seasoned runners.

Not knowing what I would have left in my legs after weeks of use and abuse, I went into Baltimore with no expectations. One of the main reasons this was on my schedule for this fall was to finish the second half of the Maryland Double - a special medal given to those who finish both Frederick and Baltimore. Kim and I were going to run together, and I promised to help get her a nice PR, as this was only her second half. My main focus was to keep her moving and motivated.

This was a huge event for my Looper group, with 9 of us doing the half marathon alone. Other family and friends participated in the 5K and full marathon and others came from near and far to cheer everyone on. It was a wonderful day to spend with friends, and as the race grew closer I was more and more excited about running such a big race in my hometown.

The timing of the race was very odd compared to what I'm used to. The start time for the half was 9:45am. The full marathon and relay started at 8am, and the 5K went off at 8:30. With nearly 10,000 registered runners, the half was the largest event. Since I had to visit the race expo on Friday afternoon, I decided to spend the night just outside of the city with my parents. With over 22,000 registered runners for the Baltimore Running Festival, organizers urged everyone to take mass transit if at all possible. I decided to drive though, knowing I would not be able to stay for very long after the race due to other commitments. So, even though my race started so late, I left the house before 7am to get into the City and find decent parking in the stadium lots.

After we all got to the stadium complex and met up to cheer on the 5K runners, we headed to our corrals. The trick with them is that the half runners actually had to cross the path of the full runners in order to reach the start line for the half. Very odd. I felt bad for the full runners, as I know how much I hate having random people crossing in my path while in a race. I cannot imagine how it felt with that volume of people. Kim and I planned to start in the 4th wave, but as we were dropping some of our friends off in the 3rd, it was apparent from the crush of people that we might as well stay put rather than try and immitate salmon swimming upstream.

I had seen the elevation charts and knew this was a race known for nasty hills. I was prepared, or at least, thought I was, to take them on. The plan was for Kim and I to do 3:1 intervals and finish under 3 hours, if possible. Our wave started, we turned a corner and were greeted by our first major uphill. This had to be the worst, right? But, we made it through intact and kept plugging along, staying true to our intervals, even if it included walking downhills, much against my grain.

We were cruising along, every now and then doing some extra walks on the really steep hills. Sometimes you reach a point where the energy you're expending while trying to run them isn't really worth it and power walking will accomplish as much, if not more. We felt good and were joined by our friend Jen, and Tracy, someone Kim knew through the Howard County Striders. Our merry little band kept chugging along, feeling good and keeping a good pace. The weather was fantastic. While there were some pretty big wind gusts, overall it really helped keep you comfortable. One of the things that helped keep us going was knowing there was a pleasantly flat 1.3 mile loop around Lake Montebello awaiting us around mile 7, as well as our wonderful friend and cheerleader, Margaret.

Throughout the entire race, residents were out in the streets, whether it be cheering on the sidewalk and handing out high 5's, or waving from their porch stoops. In a couple of areas it was as if we entered a block party. This helped keep us so pumped up. After coming out of the lake area and making up out 33rd street, which had more hills for us to tame, we all looked at our watches and started doing the math. We were at mile 9 and began to think that 2:45 was possible. While we knew going into it that Kim would have a PR (just a matter of by how much), I had not expected to have a possiblity of one myself! Jen left us to see how hard she could push it those last 4 miles, and the 3 of us picked it up a bit, too. Fortunately, the worst of the hills were behind us, and we had a great downhill portion of the race left.

We passed mile 12 and I looked at my watch. Could I push it hard that last mile and actually manage a PR??? I handed Kim my watch we were doing intervals with and told her I had to see if I could do this. She and Tracy looked great and I knew would be able to make it in together. I would never had considered leaving her had it just been her and I.

There was a great downhill going down Eutaw Street and heading into Camden Yards and I was determined to make the best of it, and charged almost full steam ahead. In all honesty, I was having a blast at this point, but was also a little too focused on my GPS watch. Every second counted.

I allowed myself to take a minute or so walk break just before exiting the baseball stadium. I took a couple of deep breaths and charged towards the finish. Could I do it??? Then, I saw my watch hit 2:45 and knew I wasn't going to finish under 2:46. Crud. I kept charging ahead, crossed the finish line, and stopped by watch. I knew my time from Frederick was 2:46, but couldn't remember exactly what it was.

While standing in a very long food line (after being handed my finisher's medal in a plastic baggie!), I pulled out my phone and started looking it up. In the meantime, my ROTE friend Gina had already gone on the Baltimore website and looked up my chip time, 2:46:50. My Frederick time? 2:46:52. I had PR' two seconds. The smile on my face was ridiculous. This good of a time was so not expected. Frederick had been one of the best races fo my life, and it was quickly apparent that this was, too.

After exiting the finisher's area, I found Kim. Somehow she had managed to get past me while I was wandering around there. Her time? 2:48. She had PR'd by nearly an HOUR. So so so proud of her.

I didn't realize until afterward how much I mentally needed Baltimore to go well. The confidence gained from having a good 20 mile training run and then a fantastic race right after is immeasurable. I am now so pumped for MCM in two weeks, I can't even describe. And, if all goes according to plan, I will PR by well over 2 seconds.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Goodbye training, I feel like I hardly knew ya

Saturday I did my 20 mile training run, thus essentially closing the book on my MCM training. Even better, I managed a sub 14 minute/mile pace on a very hill route. My hopes of doing a sub 6 hour time are well within reach.

I was more than slightly intimidated by the combo of races and training runs this fall, but I do have to say that the advantage was keeping busy and never really being able to focus on more than what that week's goal was rather than get overwhelmed by the whole endeavour...not that I necessarily want to do a schedule like this again.

So, time to focus on the handful of quality (not quantity) runs left, and let the body rest a bit in prep for the big day. Of course, there's still one more race to get through, the Baltimore Half Marathon this weekend. I'm really starting to look forward to it, moreso than I did Philly or Wine & Dine. I think this is in large part to the fact I know the big training runs are behind me. This will be my first time running such a big race in my hometown, and I will be pacing Kim through it. Should be a fun time!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Disney Wine & Dine Half

I've kind of been putting off writing my Wine & Dine Half Marathon race report. Most of this was due to the craziness of life after returning for a whirlwind trip to Florida, but the rest was just because I wasn't sure what to write.

Wine & Dine is an inaugural race for Disney. While this was a first time race, it is certainly not Disney's first race or even their first nighttime race. It combined some of my favorite things - wine, food, and running. How could I not do it???

Katie, her dad (aka The Godfather), and I made it out of Maryland on Thursday evening, despite some fairly nasty weather. Remants of a tropical storm brought heavy rain and flooding to the area and had been moving up the coast for most of the previous 24 hours. This meant a pretty bumpy flight.

Friday morning was some park time at Hollywood Studios before heading over to the opening of the race expo. The expo was decent and on par with Princess. The Disney merchandise was disappointing though. The women's shirts were "junior" cut. I really wanted an "Eat, Drink, Run" shirt, but even the largest size was unplesantly tight. I considered a couple of other items, but by that point was frustrated and decided to move on.

Packet pick up went smoothly. I was picking up my packet, as well as at that of a friend who was arriving on Saturday afternoon. The packets themselves were disappointment #2. I learned from the marathon to be cautious of the shirt sizes, so was sure to order a M since they were unisex. It's still a bit large, but I can probably live with it. It is a rather thick shirt though. In January and March, we received mesh goody bags with an assortment of items. For this race, we got a plastic bag filled primarily with just flyers.

After the expo we headed to Epcot and did some rides there before dinner at Via Napoli (the new pizzeria) in the Italian Pavilion with our friends from Running of the Ears (ROTE). I had a delicious spaghetti and meatballs, but unfortunately, think the sauce played havoc with my system, as I was very ill once we got back to the house later in the evening. Hmmm, I hope this isn't a sign of how the rest of the weekend is going to go. Fortunately, I went to bed early and woke up feeling MUCH better.

Up early on Saturday to head towards the Magic Kingdom to cheer on Katie, her mom (the Fairy Godmother), and other ROTE friends at the 5K. It was a beautiful morning, quite the change from the chilly weather in March and downright frigid temps in January. After the crew was done, we headed into the Magic Kingdom to play for awhile before our lunch reservations at Liberty Tree Tavern.

As I mentioned, this was a night race, so it really made for challenge as far as meal planning went. We decided early on that lunch would have to be our biggest meal on Saturday. Given my experience after dinner the night before, I knew this would also have to be a bland meal in order to avoid any GERD issues later. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing made for a good and filling lunch. Afterward, we all went our separate ways, and the group of us returned to Mickey Manor to get off our feet and rest a bit. I slept on and off for about a hour and a half. Around 5pm, it was time to get moving. I had a small turkey sandwich, hoping the protein and carbs would help hold me through the evening. I also took a Luna bar with me to eat around 8.

Since this is a point to point race, they had everyone park at Epcot and then board buses to shuttle us over to Wide World of Sports where the start line and staging area were. The staging area for this race was far better than for the marathon or Princess. Unlike those, we were in a large field as opposed to standing around in a parking lot for hours. We had a couple of hours to kills, so I checked my bag with a dry tshirt and some comfy shoes, and plopped in the grass with the ROTE crew. I was glad I had turned my bag in early, because later on the line weaved what seemed like half way around the field. Thousands of runners were standing in ONE line to check bags. Why did Disney think this would be a good idea?

About 9:30 we headed to the corrals. I was placed in corral C, but had brought previous race results with me that allowed me to jump to B if I so chose. Katie and I had originally planned on running together, but due to a slight injury, she was planning on taking it easy. So, I went back and forth about which corral I wanted to be in. My post dinner issues from the night before made me slightly fearful to push too hard, and I was worried I would go out too fast in B. Plus, my buddy Kim was doing the first 5 miles of the relay, and was able to get herself moved from D to C, so we decided to hang together. We always have a good time whenever we run together.

The race started at 10pm. It was quickly apparent that this was not going to be a wave start. This caused for a very congested course for pretty much the entire race. I'm not sure why this was not a wave start since Princess is. Now, granted alot of other races this size don't do wave starts either, however, I'm not sure that portions of those courses are necessarily as narrow as parts of this one were. My GPS watch recorded a final distance of 13.41 miles. Yes, I did A LOT of weaving.

The first 3+ miles were all on the highway between WWoS and Animal Kingdom. I knew to expect this from my previous Disney races, and Kim and I kept one another entertained. We even spotted our buddy Greg, on RnR from Iraq, as he was making the return on the other side. We headed into Animal Kingdom. I was looking forward to this, as we spent much more time in the park itself than we did for the marathon course. It was lit well, and lots of cast members were on the course. As we left the park, Kim had to split off for the relay exchange, so I pressed on alone.

The highway between the parks was mostly uneventful. I saw several friendly ROTE faces, sadly not realizing how poor some of their races were going. I chugged along, feeling like I was pushing harder than I should have since in reality this was yet another MCM training run. Just before Hollywood Studios was the "food stop" with energy chews. I carry my own fuel, so I kept moving, but the open packages were littering the course and I found myself doing some fancy footing to avoid getting any stuck in my shoes. The course went up the highway ramp and made the final turn towards the park entrance. Unfortunately, all of the street lights were out and it was pitch black except for the flashing police car lights. It was dizzing, and I found myself looking down to avoid them. Why no one thought to check this or perhaps bring in a generator once it was apparent there was a problem, I don't know.

We spent alot of time in Hollywood Studios, weaving through the park as well as the backstage areas. I stopped for a couple of pictures - one with Buzz Lightyear and another with some of the cast of Up. There were much better character photo ops here than in the first half of the course. I was very surprised that there were little to no lines for photographs, unlike January and March. I ducked into one of the bathrooms for a minute and then continued on my way. Before leaving Studios, the course went through the Osborne lights display. It was breaktaking, and I think the highlight of the race for everyone.

The course took us out of the Studios and then narrowed immensely as we merged onto the walkway that lead to the Boardwalk and nearby resorts. I couldn't believe we were past mile 11 and it was still this crowded. The rest of it was pretty uneventful. I was exhausted, running primarily on the little bit of adrenaline left at this point, and my feet were killing me from running on so much concrete and uneven pavement for so long. I was just ready to be done and couldn't imagine how I had possibly run twice this distance here back in January. I was excited not to be running in the sun for a change, but it was still warm and VERY humid. That began to take it's toll as well. I walked most of the last mile, reminding myself not to overdue it. I did just run 18 miles the weekend before and had 20 on the horizon. I ran up the final hill and crossed the finish.

I crossed the finish line, moved forward to collect my medal, and then pretty much came to a dead stop. There were 5 or so lines feeding into a tent, and none were moving. I saw some folks with mylar blankets and I really wanted one, but they were nowhere to be found. I think they must have been giving them out at the medical area, but I wasn't about to get out of this crazy line and search for one. Plus, I worried if I went to medical and said I had goose bumps that they would insist on examing me to make sure it wasn't a sign of a bigger issue even though I knew it was only because I was damp and cold. I just kept reminding myself of the dry tshirt in my checked bag.

The 5 or so lines into the tent fed into ONE line for baggage pickup. It was hot and people started going down around me. It easily took me 20-25 minutes to get my bag. Pretty ridiculous. I kept trying to shift my weight around a bit while standing in line, hoping to avoid getting stiff since I had had nowhere to really stretch my legs out after coming to screaching halt after crossing the finish line.

After I escaped the tent with my bag, I found some ROTE friends. I joined them and swapped out my shoes and put on my dry shirt. Katie found me and we made the fatal error of sitting down. We kept an eye on our friends until they left and then just sat there, completely wiped. We knew we had to meet up with the rest of our group, so eventually, after mentally and physically gathering ourselves together, we pushed forward into the after party in World Showcase. It was ridicuously crowded. Everywhere I looked there was a line. Having just stood in a long line, that was the last thing I really wanted to do, nor did I really feel like eating or drinking much at this point. It was close to 2am. We meet up with the rest of the ROTErs who were still hanging around and visited with them before finally making the long walk back to the car.

So, I think there were clearly some organizational flaws with this race that Disney needs to address before next year. Yes, they are already advertising next year's race. I won't be there, but not because of my so so experience, but simply because there are other, non-Disney races, I want to do as well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rock N' Rolling

After a great Annapolis Ten Miler, I got to focus entirely on marathon training, well, mostly. Back in the beginning of the year I agreed to do three half marathons in the fall, all with the plan of taking them nice and easy and treating them more as training runs and a fun way to get mileage in. The plan was to do them on my "fallback" weekends and do my long runs around them.

Marathon training resumed with a decent 16 mile run over Labor Day weekend up on the NCR Trail. Couldn't even begin to give you an idea of my pace, and such, because I was a bit dense and forgot to charge my Garmin the night before. Doh! Fortunately the trail is very well marked, so I know I got the 16, if not actually a little more than, in.that.

The following weekend I took on a whole different challenge - a 25 mile bike tour through Amish country in Dover, Delaware. I had never biked more than 16 or so miles, and had only purchased my bike back in March. It sounded like a great time though, and definitely a chance to see what my body was up for as far as biking goes. I only had an 8 mile run planned for the weekend, so figured that the bike ride and a 5K the next day would surely cover that.

The bike ride was a blast! We had amazing weather for it, and the course is pancake flat. I used higher gears that I even use when riding on the B&A Trail, and Laura tried to teach me some basics of gears and drafting out on the wide open country roads. Several miles from the finish was a food stop at the one room schoolhouse, complete with fresh pies. After relaxing on the playground and listening to some Irish musicians while enjoying our pie, we got back in the saddle and heading towards the finish back at Legislative Mall. Once there we packed our gear up and enjoyed a bbq lunch on the Mall. The pie stop and lunch were all included in our registration fees. I can definitely see this becoming an annual event for me!

I planned on running the Howard County Police Pace 5K the next day. Proceeds from the race benefit the department's police foundation, a charity near and dear to me. Unfortunately, the weather was a complete 180 from the day before. I awoke to chilly temps and rain. I also woke up with a slight headcold. I decided sleep was a better option for me than possibly agrevating a developing cold and skipped the race. In retrospect it was probably a good decision, as the cold ran it's course in just a couple of days.

Finally came the Rock N' Roll Philadelphia half marathon. This race is a rebranding of the Philly Distance Run, which I did the year before. The course was similar, but slightly reversed from the previous year. The usual suspects heading up to the city early Saturday morning. We were joined by our friend, Lauren, who flew down from Boston. After wandering the expo, we grabbed a big pasta lunch, and then tried to walk some of it around the city, exploring Independence Mall and all of the historic buildings and neighborhoods nearby.

After a pretty comfy night in our hotel, we headed towards the start line and met up with several of our friends from the Philly area who came out to cheer and be support crew. We were in one of the last corrals, and seemed to wander forever trying to find the entrance to it. We finally found it and basically had to break through some fences to get into it. Then the long wait began. While the race itself started at 8am, they were releasing each corral in about 90 second or so windows to help spread out the crowds on the course. We were in corral 21, so it took us about a half hour to even cross the state line. I felt the temps already rising.

So, we crossed the start line and alot of people around us were walking. Sigh. This was my fear of being in the next to last corral. We weaved alot trying to get into a good pace, and probably a bit too fast at times while trying to get some distance ahead. We weaved several miles through the heart of center city, through alot of the same streets we had walked the day before. Eventually, around mile 5, we headed down towards the River. We knew our friends would be cheering around the 5.5-6 mile mark and were so happy to see them. We exchanged hugs and chatted for a couple of minutes while refilling water bottles and getting some goodies. Hooray for Twizzlers. They took such great care of us!

The run along the river was pretty anti-climatic. I did after awhile look to my left across the river and saw runners ahead of us making their way back towards the finish at the Art Museum. I turned to Katie and mentioned that I didn't like the way this looked. It seemed we might be in the sun for the last handful of miles. Ugh. I knew I didn't like the looks of this reversed course when I first saw it on paper a couple of weeks earlier.

Since this was a "training run" for me rather than an all out race, Katie was helping me keep my pace down. She was recovering from a half a couple of weeks earlier, and by about mile 10.5, we both came to the realization that we were going to have to go our separate ways. She was hurting and needed to walk, and I was hurting from going slow and needed to run a bit harder. We got some water, gave each other a hug, and I was on my way. By all intense purposes, I was really just ready for this race to be over. My fears of being in the sun proved true. It was hot and I was miserable.

I plowed ahead and at mile 12 passed a friend from work. I kept pushing knowing this was almost over. I probably passed 20 people in that last quarter mile and was happy with what I still had left in the tank. I got some interesting looks from spectators and volunteers as I cruised in with a strong finish. Overall, I just really didn't enjoy this race as much as the Distance Run the year before. I think the altered course was not fun at all. Other than the fact we were in the direct sun for those last miles, the previous year we ran past the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Why wouldn't you include these in a race in Philly???? I do not feel the need to repeat this race again next year.

So, one of the three halfs was in the books. Now time to focus on the pivotal 18 mile MCM training run. I decided that rather than do this on the nice crushed stone surface of NCR, that I wanted to head back to the BWI Trail so I could do it on hilly terrain, a necessity for both MCM and the upcoming Baltimore 1/2. As the week went on, I started watching the forecast. We were having 90+ degree temps, but I held out hope that the temps would break by the weekend. Saturday's forecast ended up being a high in the low to mid 80s. Hopefully if I started out around 6:30 I could avoid most of this.

Kim and I did 8 miles together. The first 3 or 4 miles were rough as the muscles warmed up and tried to remember the hills they had been on so many times before. By the time she and I made it back to the parking lot after our out and back we were in a really great groove and I was ready to tackle the full 10 or so miles loop around the airport. I made it through the first handful of miles and took a Gu at mile 12 as normal. I started to hit a wall around mile 12.5 and just kept pushing on, upset that the energy gel clearly had not done anything for me. I took another one before mile 16, hoping maybe I could get things back on track, but by that point I was mentally and physically exhausted and nothing I was doing (energy gels, energy chews, and even a couple of bites of a protein bar) was helping. I was also in the sun, which had really become my nemisis these last couple of weeks.

Finally, once I hit mile 16 I decided if I was going to safely make it back to the parking lot where my friends were so kindly waiting for me, I was going to have to walk it. I was heartbroken. Please let this not be a sign of how MCM is going to be! My head filled with doubt. I tried to get myself to even run the downhills and it didn't happen. The trail was eerily quiet, too. Except for a couple of cyclists here and there, I was all alone, and completely miserable. Then, I heard some cheering. Katie and Margaret had decided to hop in the car and check on me. I put on a brave face and waved and kept moving. They came back a couple of minutes later to make sure I didn't need anything. I probably could have used some more water, but knew I was only about a half mile from finishing, so told them I was ok and would see them soon. They drove off. I cried.

My head was filled with doubt and disappointment in myself, but I was also proud I didn't run towards the car when I first saw them and demand they take me with them. I made it back on my own and 18 miserable miles were done. When I finally downloaded the data from my watch, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though I walked those last two miles, my average pace was still under a 14 minute mile. Clearly I had been booking it on those hills and had a good run up til that point. This has been some solace for me. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative for my 20 miler (my last long training run) as well as the marathon itself.

Next up: Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. The race itself doesn't even begin until 10pm, so this will be an entirely next experience!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Annapolis 10 miler

Yesterday marked my first running of the Annapolis 10 Mile Run (A10). Even though I live in the town and have been running the distance for over a year and a half, this was the first year I felt confident enough to take it on, and even then I was still anxious about it even until the race was underway. It is a very fast race, technically requiring a 12 minute per mile pace. I had no real time goal in mind. I hoped not to exceed 2:15, not knowing how my body would react to the combination of hills, heat, and humidity.

The A10 is legendary in the area, perhaps part of my initial intimidation about doing it. This year marked the 35th anniversary, and it has been recognized by Runner's World as one of to 10 milers in the country to run. I almost felt like I was going through some kind of initiation right or something.

I actually slept til about 5:30. Not knowing what traffic would be like near Navy-Marine Corps Stadium (where start and finish are), I wanted to be on my way there around 6:30. Fortunately it's only about a 10 minute drive for me, and the parking staff had everyone moving very well. By 6:45 I was with my Looper buddies Jen, Sean, and Margaret, as well as Sean's sister, Heather, who came to town to join us in our craziness. We hit the bathroom and then stood around and waited for the 7:45 start. Why a race in late August starts that late in the morning I will never understand. Even the Frederick Marathon/Half Marathon started at 6:30 and that is in early May. We got pretty lucky on the weather, it was around 70 degrees at the start, with humidity equal to that or a bit higher.

We squeezed into a spot at the start. I think we were kind of in the middle of the 5,000 runner pack. Definitely far more forward than I am generally comfortable with, but there was not a whole lot of choices in the sea of humanity. Plus, the area where the start/finish is has horrible drainage and a small pond had formed from the hoses being use to fill water cups for after the race. Last year I had to run through a river in the same spot at the start of the Zooma 10K. The start came and it took us nearly 5 minutes to cross thanks to the crowds and manuevering around the water.

The first mile took us around the stadium complex. I felt like the pace around me was pretty good, but it was far too crowded for me to do intervals, so I ran the first 1/2 mile+ nonstop until things spread out a bit. We headed towards the historic downtown area. The first water stop was around the mile and half point, and conveniently across the street from my office, lol. We continued on towards the State House and hit the mile two mark. Someone trying to help cheer everyone kept saying "You only have 8 miles left!" While I appreciated her enthusiasm, I hope someone told her that wasn't really a good idea.

At this point I was averaging under a 12 minute mile, feeling pretty good but hoping I wasn't overdoing it too early on. We continued on and hit the second water stop just before heading down Main Street, one of the most picturesque spots in town. This is a great long downhill and I opened up to take advantage of it. The crowds were great. Then my buzzkill happened as I hit the bottom - a family decided to cut in front of me and cross the street. Not only was it a family, but it was a man pushing a woman in a wheelchair and they were accompanied by a woman in a full arm cast. WTH???? There easily had to be another 1,000 runners behind me at this point.

I was mad but kept moving, as we swung past the historic Market House and past the main gates of the US Naval Academy. In previous years the course had actually gone through the Academy, but post 9/11 security concerns have changed that. We kept chugging along, this time a mostly uphill mile journey on King George Street as we headed out of downtown. At this point I caught back up with Jen and Heather. We stayed with each other for the majority of the race. I had mentally prepared to go it alone, so it was wondeful to have the company.

We kept going and I knew the mile 4 marker and the infamous Naval Academy/450 bridge were looming. At the water stop just before the bridge, the lead runners passed us on the left on their return to the stadium. They were at mile 9. We hit the bridge and I took a walk break and Gu. The rest of the incline was a mixture of a light jog and a walk. Why push it now when you know you've got to climb this thing again in 4 miles? We reached the summit and opened up to about a 10 minute pace on the downhill. Ah, the joys of gravity and ability to make up some time.

We turned towards some neighborhoods, happy to be off the bridge and into some shade. Jen commented that this was the hardest 4.75 mile she'd ever done. We loooped through the houses near the Severn and residents were out with houses, sprinklers, and radios. As we continued on, we grew excited knowing that are awesome Looper cheering squad - Erica, Jon, Kelly, Kim, Laura, and two week old little Madison - would be just ahead. They provided great smiles and encouragement, as well as ice cold towels to take with us on our journey. Ah!

The next couple of miles were uneventful - an out and back with rolling hills and a couple of turns and cambers. The residents though were awesome - more hoses, cheers, and music. It seemed like it was a party. When I did this stretch of road in my dry run the week before I had really struggled, luckily thing went smoothly this time. After the out and back and we headed out of the community - again another steep downhill. We were on our way towards mile 8 and our final journey back over the bridge.

At mile 8 we had the pleasure of seeing our cheer squard again. What a wonderful surprise that was! Another downhill and soon we were back to the bridge. We trudged up it, pretty much everyone around us was walking as well. It was comforting though knowing that when we reached the other side we'd be at the 9 mile mark. At mile 8 I had looked at my watch and been pleasantly surprised to see that I was at 1:40. With Jen and Heather's help, I had been keeping a really good pace. I knew I wouldn't meet my two hour PR, but I was happy knowing I probably wouldn't be that far over it either.

The last two miles were pretty much completely in the sun, and it was getting hot. While the downhill coming off the bridge at mile 9 felt great, there was another incline right after. This is where knowing this portion of the course as well as I do became a negative. Rather than giving my all and focusing on what I was facing then and there, I just kept thinking about what was ahead and worrying about whether or not I could do it. I knew there was going to be some flat ground, but not alot. I got into a zone and pulled slightly away from Jen and Heather at this point. I kept willing myself along. I knew there was a quarter mile uphill finish in my future and I feared flaking out partway there. I walked much more of that final three quarters of a mile than I wanted to, trying to reserve whatever I had.

I made the final turn towards the Stadium. For some reason they took us through an area of grass, but not only that, it was wet and slightly muddy. Huh? Not cool. I can't imagine what kind of mess that would have been had it rained. I kept moving, turning off the path and onto the parking lot. I saw the finish arch and immediately thought, wow, it's closer than I thought it would be. I was oblivious to everything around me except for a couple trying to decide whether or not to hold hands as they crossed the finish. I decided to get ahead of them and charged over the line.

I would love to tell you my time, but they are still sorting out some "issues" with database. By best estimates from my watch, I was just at or under 2:05. I was exstatic. To be that close to my PR on a hot and humid day was definitely an accomplishment. The leg strength I've been developing thanks to my awesome trainer definitely helped me propel up some of those hills. And, to make it better, I finally beat the joggler! He shows up to many of the same races I do, and I always hate to see him juggling as he runs past me. Surely there are fewer signs of how slow you can be than that, right?

I couldn't have asked for a better first A10 experience. It was such a treat to run this race on my home turf. I lost track of the number of friends I saw along they way, whether it was fellow runners or friends volunteering their time at water stops or as course monitors. Seeing friendly faces and exchanging a quick Hello definitely helped make the time go faster. Having the support of my Loopers was priceless as well. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to help me get through all of this craziness. I also got to meet up with some of my "scary internet friends" as Kate (one of them) likes to call ourselves. Kate and Meredith are friends I've met through my online knitting community and this was the second race I've gotten to see both of them at. I was touched when Kate said she recognized Kelly from our meeting at the Baltimore 10 miler in June and how seeing a friendly face even helped her. I also got to touch base with Kim, a blogging buddy, and her husband. I was happy to hear everyone had good races, especially since I was partially response for getting Kate and Meredith to register.

Next year, I bet I can beat two hours. ;)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Training schizophrenia

This time last year I had just signed up for and begun my training for the Disney Marathon. This August, I've kind of felt like I've had training schizophrenia while trying to train for two races at the same time - being knee deep in MCM training, while trying to bring in some additional elements for the Annapolis Ten Miler (A10). Add to that my twice a week Summer Intensive boot camp and needless to say it's been a hectic month.

The good news is that the IT Band has been cooperating. I've had two great long runs - 12 and 14 miles respectively. I've been trying to do the long runs up north of Baltimore on the NCR Trail. It's nearly an hour drive for me to get there at the crack of dawn, but the crushed stone surface is so much kinder on my body, and the shade the tree cover helps provide has been a savior some days this summer.

I've been using the "fall back" (i.e. 8-10 miles) weekends in my training schedule to re-introduce hills, thanks to trying to stay on mostly flat surfaces because of the ITB, and prepare for the A10. I have run portions of the course before through either training or other races, but not a large chunk of the middle section, so I had total fear of the unknown.

I was fortunate a couple of weeks ago to run the majority of the course with Margaret. While it was good to catch up with a friend, she also played the vital role of course guide (I had misjudged it a bit from the course map and would have missed nearly a half mile chunk without her!) and calmer of nerves. She patiently reminded me as we approached and finished each section "see, that wasn't bad at all, was it" and "you've done FAR worse than this before." Her wonderful coaching worked, and I finished our 9 miles that day feeling much more confident about the race.

With the race quickly approaching next Sunday, this morning I did another dry run of the course, about 8.5 miles this time. In true fashion, when left to my own devices, I started off way too fast and hit a wall around mile 4.5. I walked more than I wanted to while trying to recover - the speed, hills, and high humidity took their toll on me. I kept plugging along though, knowing the goal I had to fulfill that day. In the end I finished strong, under two hours, and just under a 13:30 pace, good stats for a training run.

Technically, the race requires a 12 minute pace. I did this in April at the Annapolis Striders' other 10 miler, the Cherry Pit. This requirement has kept me from even considering doing the A10 until this year. Many of my local running friends gave me a hard time last year for not doing it, and when I said I'm too slow, they laughed in my face. While yes, there is an advertised pace requirement, if you look at the results from previous races, there are people who finished with over a 14 minute pace. So, while I do want to push it, I do have a bit of a mental cushion.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hitting a Speed Bump and Refocusing

I am woefully behind in updating ye olde blog, mostly because I have very little progress to report. It turns out the hills I had so happily cheered defeating actually beat me in the end. I spent most of the month of June on the "injured reserve," forcing myself to rest due to some knee unhappiness. I had to pass on the Baltimore 10 miler. I went to support all of my friends who were participating, but it killed the Type A me not to be out there with them. I started June running the Zooma 10K in my beloved Annapolis, and ended it walking (with some running) two women's 5K's. I admittedly did some serious feeling sorry for myself and some stress eating in there, too.

A Dr's appointment on July 1st confirmed my suspicions that it was most likely an IT Band issue. No PT was ordered, and was told to run and do other activities as tolerated, with the help and ice, stretches, and a foam roller. Marine Corps training plan was officially out the window.

So, that's where I've been. The good news is that I think I'm on an upswing. I did less than 30 miles for June and am already above that for this month, with no major discomfort in the knee. I fortunately had some wiggle room in my MCM training plan, so I should be able to salvage a decent plan. I'm also continuing lots of cross training now that my twice a week Summer Intensive group has started with the trainer. We're definitely doing alot to help strength the legs.

Next race is the infamous Annapolis Ten Miler in late August. I'm freaked. I honestly avoided doing this race last year, and having to switch up my training is making me worry about this year. Plus, the way the heat of this summer has been, my luck is that it'll be 105 that day. Since I've been babying the knee a bit on mostly flat surfaces, need to test things out on some hills or there's no point in even stepping up to the A10 starting line.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Taming the Hills

In the quest to do 4 halfs in 5 weeks, I seem to have saved the most challenging ones for last - the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksbug, VA, on May 16th, and the Maryland Half Marathon in Timonium on May 23rd. I knew both of these had pretty significant inclines on the elevation charts, but it couldn't be that bad, right?

The motley crew of us headed down to Fredericksburg on Saturday for packet pick up and to get settled into our hotel for the night. My plan for this race was to support my friend and gym buddy, Kathryn, through her first half, one in fact that I had gently prodded her into registering for. Time wasn't important to me, especially knowing I had to hold back a bit with a half the next weekend as well. Kathryn's friend Jamie was also running her first half and had decided to try and run with us and Katie.

The race started with the firing of a musket. Oh yeah, this was totally up my alley! We wound our way around the businesses along Jefferson Davis Highway, and made our way towards downtown Fredericksburg and along the Rappanhannock River. This was my first time in the area and I really enjoyed the course. Unfortunately, we started out too fast, having got caught up in the excitement of the race. There was no way we could comfortably do that pace for 13 miles, especially knowing hills were coming up.

Around mile 8 or so, Jamie and I split off from Katie and Kathryn. I was so happy to know that she was in such good hands. Katie would get her over the finish line. Jamie and I picked up our pace a bit and continued our way through town. She grew up there and had actually worked at some historic homes in the area, so she was basically giving me a tour the entire time. What fun and a great way to make a new friend and learn about a new area.

Sadly, our time in downtown Fredericksburg was coming to and end. We hit a mile long incline by Mary Washington Hospital, and then another long, steep hill around mile 11 or 12. Finally we were back on Jefferson Davis and near the finish. We picked up the pace, grabbed each others' hands, and over the finish line we went. 3 hours flat. Not bad considering the hills we had trekked. We grabbed some snacks and met up with Jamie's family and waited for our friends. Once everyone finished, we cleaned up and headed out to celebrate before heading home. Another one, and in a couple of cases hopefully the first of many, was in the books.

Later that night and for the next day or so, I relived almost every step, and not in a good way. I felt horribly beaten up by this one, especially in my hips and knees, which had never really been an issue before. This had me really concerned heading into another notoriously hilly race so soon. I substituted a run for a bike ride to help loosen me up a bit, managed a 4ish mile run a couple of before the race, and otherwise took it mostly easy to rest up for Sunday's race.

As the week went on, I began to look at the weather forecast. The chances of rain for the weekend kept get higher. I had been really fortunate so far in that it had not rained for any of my Spring races. A far cry for the year before, where I got drenched in almost all of them. It was lightly raining when I left Mom and Dad's house early Sunday morning to meet up with the Loopers, and our dear friend Colleen from Philly. We met up and the sought shelter under the grandstands at the fairgrounds. We got lucky, it stopped raining pretty much as soon as the race started. The rain stopped, but the humidity hung around, so much so you could see the moisture just hanging in the air at times.

Again, I had no time goals in this one - just wanting to make it through unscathed, especially given how I had felt in the days immediately after the Historic Half. I started off with Katie and decided just to see what happened. We encountered our first noteworthy hill around mile 3, taking our time powerwalking up it. The community support was great. Families were out cheering and working water stops, but official and not. One group even had trays upon trays of Swedish Fish, what fun!

About mile 6 I started to hit a groove, and pulled away from Katie. It was pretty uneventful until about miles 7 and 8 when the long, steady, STEEP hills hit. I pulled myself along, powerwalking with long steps. All of the hours of squats and lunges were paying off as I hauled myself up. The race benefitted a cancer center, and signs of encouragement were along the shoulder in the really rough spots: "Think this is hard, try fighting cancer"; "I'm running for my parents, who can't"; "Survivors: Did you ever think you would be doing THIS". I got a bit emotional seeing those.

Once we got through the ugliness of those hills, we were treated to about a mile and a half of a straight downhill. This is where the race course differed greatly from Historic Half's - despite all of the uphills in Fredericksburg, we were never really rewarded with any good downhills. This was my time to have some fun and pick up some speed and time. It became a mental game in those final couple of miles. I was exhausted and my body was done. I was sightly energized as we turned back into the fairgrounds, knowing I was almost done. The last few yards were on the track itself. I did a slight sprint and was done. 2:54:33, my third best half time to date. Even more impressive when you consider that #'s 2 and 4 were on pretty much entirely flat courses.

I had done it - 4 halfs in 5 weeks. I am amazed at myself, but definitely happy to have a few weeks of rest before I start up my official MCM training.

Monday, May 10, 2010

National Police Week

Saturday was a race that has become of one of my favorites, and one of the only ones I've done every year during my running career, the National Police Week 5K. Proceeds from the race go to Concerns of Police Survivors, an organization which helps the families of fallen officers. As the child of a retired police officer, I was fortunate my father came home at the end of each shift. I figure this race is at least a small thing I can do to support the families of those who suffer such a terrible and needless loss. As a reminder of why we are there, each race bib has the name of a fallen officer on it. This year I ran in honor of Off. Brandon Sigler.

The race itself began and finished next to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Judiciary Square and takes you around the Capitol, Library of Congress, and U.S. Supreme Court buildings, among others. This includes a climb up Capitol Hill around mile 1. I had debated on how I wanted to race this - do I stick with my 3:1 intervals (I've been in such a good groove with them lately) or do I just all out run, taking a brief walk break with each mile? Since I had not done a 5K since September, and given my PR success this Spring, I knew this would be a new personal best, it was just going to be a matter of by how much.

I got caught up in the race atmosphere and took off. First mile was just about 10 minutes flat. I got slower with each mile, partly due to the climb up the Hill at the start of mile 2, but mostly because of the weather and how hard I was pushing myself. Temps were in the 70s and the sun was beating down. Winds died almost immediately as soon as the race started. I underestimated how warm it would be. I normally carry a small 10oz. handheld bottle, but chose not to in this race. By the end of the race I was exhausted and my mouth felt like a desert. Fortunately, I had the cadence of some of the local police academy groups I had been pacing off of to keep me going. My time was 34:11, a PR of just over 3 minutes.

So, as I start to transition from races to using them as training runs, I have had quite the Spring, setting new bests in 5K, 10K, 10 mile, and half marathon distances. It has been so rewarding to see the hard work I've been doing in the gym and out on the trails paying off, and keeps me more and more excited about how Marine Corps will be in the fall.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Frederick Half Marathon, 5/2/10

Yesterday was the Frederick Half Marathon. This is the first part of the Maryland double. The second is the Baltimore Half in October. You get a bonus medal for completing the two.

This was my 7th half, and probably one of the most difficult to date due to the weather. When I woke up at 4:30, the temps were already over 70 degrees, and humidity over 80% (it had rained in the wee hours of the morning, but did burn off a bit after daybreak). Fortunately, the race started at 6:30, so we were going to be able to finish before the heat got too bad. There was also a full marathon and relay, and I really felt for those would be running into the late morning/early afternoon. A friend of mine was volunteering at the bag check, and I stopped by to say hi while we were walking to the cars post race and he said that medical was pretty overwhelmed from people succumbing to the heat. Right near the water stop at mile 9, I saw a woman being treated by paramedics. Later I found out it was actually one of my friends who had seen her starting to go down, and helped her to the ground and signaled for medical help.

For weeks I planned on this being a “give it all” race in hopes of a great PR. I really had not raced a half since this same weekend last year when I did the Long Branch Half, choosing to do others between then and now at a more relaxed pace. So, as I saw the forecast, my hopes began to fade. Finally I just decided to go out there and see what I could do, but while listening to my body and being sure to hydrate well along the way. My hope was for a time around 2:50, a steady 13 minute pace. Given my performance at last month’s 10 miler (a 12 minute pace), I thought it could be a bit better than 2:50, but with the weather, who knew what would happen.

My first 2 miles were under a 12 minute pace. Clearly the race hysteria had caught me and by mile 2 1/2 I was drenched in sweat and telling myself I need to slow down, and sooner rather than later. I ping ponged into a couple of folks from my local running club. One made a comment that I was “hard to keep up with these days”, lol.

The first half seemed to go quickly, suddenly I was at mile 6. I caught up with one of my training buddies around mile 8 and we ran together on and off for the next couple of miles. One of our ROTE friends was cheering just before mile 10, and was armed with cold water and popsicles. Sooo good!

The race then became a mental game. How much harder could I push myself? I’d been lucky that up to this point it had been fairly cloudy. I was right around mile 10 when the sun decided to come out. No fun, as there really is no shade in those later miles. I kept going, happy to see a couple of training buddies at points along the way. I knew I had a PR by this point, it was just a matter of by how much. I got a second wind at mile 12, but it was gone by mile 13. Whomever put a steep hill right around mile 13 is cruel. I decided to walk it. Seemed like the safer way to go. Got to the top of the hill and turned to corner and then we were on the horse track and headed toward the finish line.

Final time was 2:46:52, a 6 1/2 minute PR.

Despite the heat, this was a very enjoyable race. Residents of some of the communities we ran through stood out with hoses, or had sprinklers set up for you to run through, which was a wonderful thing, and probably one of the things that kept me going. One couple even stood in front of their house and had a “restroom here” sign in their yard. As we ran past, everyone thanked them for being willing to open their house up to smelly runners like that!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Next Journey

The next journey has begun. I am officially registered for the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon.

While registration opened today, I signed up a week and half ago after finishing the Run to Register 10K in Quantico. My wonderful pals Erica and Kelly come along as my ChEAR squad and were there to help me celebrate a new PR with an 11:30 pace.

When I first started running, I said to myself, one day if I am crazy enough to ever want to run a marathon, this is "the one". For some reason it has always had some kind of mystique for me, perhaps due in part to growing up in the MD/DC area and knowing how big an event it is. I remember going to a chiropractor while in college and up on the wall was his medal. Wow, I thought, this guy's nuts.

Another part of the mystique for me also comes from its association with the Marine Corps. My grandfather served in the Marines during World War II and was a drill sergeant during Korea. During World War II, he served at Iwo Jima and witnessed the famous flag raising, the memorial to which now serves as the finish line for the Marathon. After the War, he put a flag up every day, and carefully folded it each night. He taught his grandchildren, one of whom is now a Marine officer, the ritual and honor in doing this. It wasn't until a few years ago when my father and I watched "Flags of Our Fathers" together that I think I truly understood the impact of this event and his service.

The next 6 months are going to be extremely demanding both physically and mentally, as I push my body harder than ever before in an effort to be in the best condition possible for this race. Then, on October 31st, I will join the ranks of Marine Corps Marathon finishers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Disney Princess Half Marathon Race Recap

I kicked off Spring running season, and the year of absurd number of half marathons, by traveling back down to Disney for the Princess Half Marathon. I had a great marathon recovery plan/Princess training plan laid out, and then Snowmageddon came to screw it all up. Instead of 10, 12, and 14 mile runs, I was lucky to get one 10 miler under my belt before race day. With the prospects of Princess being my longest run since the marathon itself, my "race plan" quickly took on being more of a training run that anything else. With the crazy race schedule planned for the year, taking it easy, and avoiding doing something stupid so early on, became the plan.

Unlike January when the main plan/goal of the marathon was simply to finish, Princess was more about taking my time and having fun along the way. I was happy to end up in the second corral - there were 5 total with 7 minutes between the starts of each - thanks to taking proof of time with me to the expo, as I had originally been in the third while most of my friends were in the second. This meant we had a really nice buffer between ourselves and the course sweepers.

Disney races mean another 2:45am wake up call and being in the corrals for the initial start at 6am. Fortunately, the weather, while slightly chilly (mid to upper 40s?) at the beginning, was a significant improvement over January's. I didn't need the hand warmers and trash bag, even though I had brought them to FL with me. I wasn't taking any chances. Once the sun came up and we hit mile three or four, I was actually able to ditch my throwaway mittens and long sleeve tshirt. The thsirt was the same I had ended up wearing throughout the marathon, and I actually felt a little sad getting rid of it. It served me well. After a horrible winter though, I realished being in short sleeves and compression shorts while running under the Florida sun.

The race itself was rather uneventful. Katie and I kept up a slow, but steady pace, although we did manage at least one 12-13 minute mile in there. This was the first race I was doing a higher running interval in - after the marathon I switched from my 2:1 to 3:1. Things have been going very well doing it, and my plan to use the higher intervals to help build up more speed in prep for MCM training is on track. Our pace at times was impeaded by congestion on the course, particularly in the narrow areas. This was even more noticeable with this race than it was during the marathon.

The atmosphere for the race was awesome! Everyone was totally into the spirit of the day - the course was littered with folks in costumes, tutus, and tiaras. The on course entertainment provided by Disney was great, too. There were tons of picture opportunities on the course and music to keep us going. We stopped for several photos along the way, skipping the ones with fairly long lines, with Katie holding a picture of our partner in crime Margaret on her cell phone. Although she couldn't be there with us, she was definitely there in spirit.

Our time was 3:17 - my slowest half to date by a huge 15 minutes - but the fun had and memories made, with new friends and old, throughout the weekend mattered more than anything else.

Next up for me is the Marine Corps Run to Register 10K, which will secure a spot for me in the Marathon.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's next?

So, it's been about 7 weeks since the Disney Marathon. Sadly, it's already beginning to feel like ages ago. These feelings are probably due in large part to the horrific winter Maryland has seen. Not one, but two, blizzards arrived in one week during February and needless to say they severely limited my running. My year to date mileage so far is just over 100 - with a goal of 1,001 miles for the year, I should be averaging 80 or so miles a month. I just keep reminding myself that warmer temps and lots of races are coming.

With the beginning of the local running season peaking around the corner, it is shaping up to be a hectic, crazy, and challenging, but fun Spring. Things start off with the Disney Princess Half Marathon next weekend. Keeping my fingers crossed for significantly better than there was for Marathon Weekend in January. I've got no time goals for this one at all, especially since my training suffered so much thanks to the weather. Fun is the main plan for the whole weekend.

In my plan/hopes of keeping up my mileage this Spring in preps for training for the Marine Corps Marathon beginning in the summer, I have succumbed to the pressure of my awesome (but sometimes crazy ;)) running partners, and am currently looking at doing 4 half marathons in 5-6 weeks between the end of April and late May. It'll be a challenge, but all part of this crazy journey.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Disney Marathon Weekend Recap - Race Day

Suddenly, race morning was here. Woke up at 2:40. Since when did that become a time to wake up and run rather than crawl home and go to bed? Ah, the life of a runner. As I get ready, the calm, cool, collectiveness, and business as usual attitude went completely out the window. I was hit was nausea and painful stomach cramps. As I met up with my running partners I loudly exclaimed that I was going to throw up. Fortunately, I never did, and while the stomach cramps came and went through most of the race, I never needed to make any emergency bathroom trips.

While no snow or sleet appeared like the previous day, race morning temps hovered in the upper 20s. Apparently weather like this is a sign for me - it was 26 degrees in February 2007 when I did my first ever 5K, and again at or near freezing in March 2009 for my first half marathon, complete with slush on the ground. It seems I truly am earning my "Hardcore" nickname. We all huddled together like penguins trying to stay warm in our multiple layers. Whoever invented hand warmers is a genius. They kept me comfortable for quite awhile.

I was fortunate to have many Disney marathon vets with me to help me navigate baggage check, the final porta potties, and make the long trek to the start and find our corral. Once we where there, time flew by. The National Anthem played and fireworks went off. I was happy to discover that we were in the second start wave, as I figured we were in the third and final. This would definitely help give us a buffer against any sweepers, not that I feared they would be a problem for us anyway. We crossed that start line around 5:55am.

A second set of fireworks went off to mark our start and we were on our way, looping around the roads surrounding Epcot before finally entering the park itself. As we ran through, Olympic music was playing over the speakers. We hit World Showcase, where I ditched the knit cap I had on over my running hat (the only one of my "throw aways" I actually gave up), merged with the other part of the course around mile 4, and headed our way towards the Magic Kingdom.

By the time we got to the Magic Kingdom, the sun was up. We had been doing a really strong and steady 15min/mile pace. We successfully avoided starting out too fast, and hoped this would help us stay strong in the later miles. We ran up Main Street and stopped for a quick picture with Buzz Lightyear before finding the bathrooms. Fortunately friends had tipped us off to one just a hop off the course that was near empty the previous day during the half. We were in and out in record time and continued on our way. Cinderella's castle awaited us before we turned back out onto the roads, this time towards Animal Kingdom.

The course narrowed a bit in places here, and it slowed us down slightly was we weaved around slower folks. We hit the half mark in at 3hrs 24min, a bit slower than the 15min pace we had been doing, but still strong. I couldn't believe how quickly the miles were going by. This definitely was in large part to the great company of Annette, Katie, and Margaret.

We had the pleasure of seeing ROTE friends and family members cheering along the course, and got another huge lift at the mile 13 water stop, where many were volunteering. The hugs and smiles kept us going. The water stops themselves became a little tricky as time went on - due to the cold temps and wind, the water and Powerade actually began freezing. You had to squeeze the cup a bit to break it up, and had to be careful how quickly you drank it in order to avoid a brain freeze. We also had to be careful where we stepped, as black ice began to coat the course.

The sites and sounds (I won't get into the smells) of Animal Kindgom were really enjoyable, as I had not been there before. As we entered the park, African drummers were playing. We turned another corner, and there was the tree of life looking over us. Another bathroom stop (aka hydration check), and we were back on our way. Sadly our stay in Animal Kindgom seemed very brief. We were around mile 18 at this point, less than 10 miles to go!
It was somewhere on the highway between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (about 4 miles total) that I felt us slowing down, and the aches and pains starting to set in. I knew we'd finish, I knew we'd never see any sweepers, but moving became difficult and painful, especially around mile 21. It's also around this point that a bone chilling wind hit, too. I had not planned on this, and should have worn a long sleeved tech shirt. Fortunately, while I had taken off the long sleeve "throw away" cotton tshirt earlier, I tied it around my waist in case I needed it again. My mittens though had gone into a hamper for ROTErs at the mile 13 water stop. It was getting to be a complete mental game at this point.

We entered Hollywood Studios, the final park. I only remember the first part of this. Somewhere after mile 23 it became a blur. Luckily, I knew what awaited us for these last miles, as it was the same course as the 10K I did in Disney back in October 2008. Not that that made it any easier.

I had tape wrapped on my foot to help support my arch and deal with some planter fasciitis issues I'd been having. This was the only physical worry I had going into the marathon. While the arch itself felt great, the tape began to curl at the edge and attach itself to my sock. It painfully tugged with each step. There was nothing I could do about it though, I wasn't going to stop and I wanted the arch support. My feet began to hurt, too. The running on lots of cement in the parks had taken its toll. My legs began to revolt when we did our transitions from our run to walk intervals. Once I was running, they wanted to keep going, but I wasn't going to leave my partners and our race strategy. We were a team and finishing this together.

Mile 25 and we were back at World Showcase. The end was less than 20 minutes away. I got discouraged seeing people walking around in medals and fresh clothes, clearly they had been done for quite awhile. Katie, Margaret, and I were all very quiet at this point, just mentally pushing ourselves along. Finally, we took one final walk break before deciding to run it in the rest of the way. One more turn and the spectator bleachers and finish line were in sight. We grabbed each others' hands, and suddenly it was all over. Our final time, 7:01:26.

We wrapped up in mylar blankets, got our medals and some refreshments, and quickly retreated to the car in search of warmth. We successfully finished the journey we started together months ago, and one I never could have envisioned doing without them.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Disney Marathon Weekend Recap - Part I

Back in August when I first registered for Disney I worried about training in cold weather in November and December in preps for a warm weather race. Little did I know in early December as I struggled to get nearly 18 miles in in snowy conditions that that would be the best training I could possibly do in prep for race day.

About 10 days before the race the tracking of the weather forecast began. As it got closer, panic set in. Race day temps would likely be in 40s, maybe 50s. Panic set in - what the heck am I going to pack for race morning??? I ran out to Target and Walmart. Next to my sunblock and short sleeves were hand warmers and fleece. This was going to be an interesting trip.

We arrived in Florida on Thursday afternoon and immediately flew down the highway to get to the race expo. Picked up my bib number and hit up the vendors for some necessities. Margaret and I met up with our fellow partner in crime, Katie, as well as some friends from Running of the Ears (ROTE).
Friday we hit up Hollywood Studios for a bit (my first time there) and then made our way to the ROTE Rally at Downtown Disney. I also had the pleasure of meeting up with my adoptive Florida parents for a quiet dinner at their home. It couldn't be a late night though, the alarm was going off at 3am on Saturday. Even though I wasn't running til Sunday, I wanted to get up and head out onto the half marathon course to cheer for all of my friends. I also figured getting up that early would help prep me for the next day, too.

The local news was highlighting marathon weekend and the record breaking cold sweeping through Florida at the time. They even said snow might happen. Really??? This isn't what I signed up for when I envisioned a marathon in Florida. Race organizers were sending out numerous advisories to participants reminding them to dress appropriately, and saying that any clothes throw to the side in good condition would be laundered and donated to local charities.

As we stood around on Saturday morning before the half, the unthinkable happened - snow, sleet, and rain all arrived.

My fellow ROTEr Rooters and I headed out and set up our spot on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, right were the course turned and runners headed into Tomorrowland. We cheered from the lead runner to the last walker, growing louder whenever we saw one of our ROTE friends, or I caught a glimpse of my friends from the Striders.

Afterwards, we all sought warmth, and basically just rested up for Sunday's big race. Saturday night we headed to a special ROTE carb load dinner. Good food, good friends, and good laughs. We all retreated to our rooms for an early lights out. I laid my clothes out, packed up energy gels, and put warm clothes and a change of shoes in a bag to check at the start line. A wake up call was arranged for 2:40am, and the alarm for 2:45. Diane and I weren't taking any chances. I settled in for the night, still totally calm about what awaited me in the morning.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I am a Marathoner

A race report to come soon. I'm still kind of digesting everything.