Race Report: Spring Thaw 2014

I’m beginning my third week of Pittsburgh half-marathon training, and already it’s off to a helluva start.  We’ve been maintaining the runstreak (X days and counting!), and with it, a lot more cross-training. We planned in some 1-mile-minimum days to keep the streak alive, and given the weather this winter, it’s often preferable to just get it done on the treadmill and then get in a weights workout, rather than bundling up to go outside for less than 10 minutes.

So here’s where I stand so far:

Week 1

Monday:  Easy 6 miler in crazy snow with my guy to kick off training. Wore trail shoes – best idea ever.

Tuesday:  Easy 4 on the treadmill. Would have done a weights workout, but this began a couple of insane weeks at work, so I went to the office early instead. Extremely core-focused pilates class after work – my abs hurt for days.

Wednesday: 1 miler on the ‘mill, followed by squats-heavy legs workout. I’ve been doing a circuit type workout where I intersperse squat sets with calf raises and other ankle/balance exercises to keep my body moving and work different muscle groups. Minimal rest, and I get through it faster, but never overwork one muscle group in too short a period.

In the evening, we ran to True Runner to check out the Brooks Transcend wear test – the wonderful PGH Brooks rep Ally (pictured below) did her darndest to get a pair of size 15s to have NF try – they didn’t come in in time, unfortunately, but we had a nice 3+ mile loop with Danielle, and I tried the shoes out. They are AWESOME. I don’t need that “much” shoe, and they’re expensive and I already have three shoes regularly in rotation (four if you count trail), but for such a big shoe, they didn’t feel heavy or cumbersome. It was like running on clouds.

Thursday:  With the sidewalks a mess, I brought my tempo run inside again. And absolutely crushed it. I’m still concerned since I  haven’t done a real outside tempo in literally months, but these treadmill tempos are still a confidence boost. I’ve been starting with an easy 9-ish minute mile (slowly seeding to 8:30s since jumping up that much on speed on the console is a little intimidating to look at), then did the first two tempo miles @ 7:24, dropping to 7:13 for the last one, before easing into a cooldown. I finished up the long workout with biceps/triceps and a short but hard core workout.

Friday: Easy 1-miler on the ‘mill, followed by back/shoulders and more core.

Saturday: Well, we were PLANNING on going to the store runner at True Runner, but when we woke up, the roads and sidewalks were a MESS. Absolutely ridiculous. Not sure if the store run happened, but we bit the bullet and went to my gym, running side-by-side on the treadmill while watching USAvRUS hockey. Our treadmills stop at an hour, so I stopped at 6 miles to reset, then restarted to do the last 2 at half-marathon race pace (7:47 on the treadmill) per our training plan. I threw some hills into the workout and slightly altered the speed during the first six, but not much – just enough to keep me from getting totally bored.

Sunday:  1.6ish mile run to cap off the week.

Week 2

Monday: The sidewalks were a bit better, thogh still fairly covered and slick, but NF and I braved an 8-mile loop that took us up and up and up Shady, before looping back down Beechwood and into Shadyside. It was frigid – single digits – but an absolutely clear morning. At one point, near the top of the climb, we were running in a more open area, and the moon was just waning gibbous and everything was glittering all around us. I soaked it all in.

Tuesday: A warm-up started last week, so Tuesday morning was wet snow/rain and squishy slush everywhere – Danielle and I ran 6-ish together. Our toes were wet within the first five minutes, and on one main road we were running through ankle deep slush on the sidewalks. Yuck! But cars were kind enough to avoid splashing us (though we failed to dodge a couple buses that doused us). It was one of those runs where, had we been running alone, we’d been in pretty foul moods, but together it was just humorous and ludicrous.

Wednesday: 1-mile treadmill + legs workout

Thursday: We had a track workout schedule (4 miles with 2×1600), but despite the thaw, the track was still covered! I suppose when it looked like this only a week before, it was inevitable.

It was actually pretty solid, though. We warmed up 3/4 of a mile, cranked 2×1 mile with half mile rests, and cooled down 3/4. I did about 7:03/6:50ish for mine, fighting a stitch during the first one, but better on the second. I know the treadmill belt drives you a bit, but there’s not much to be done when the track is still frozen.  We then powered through a short workout with NF’s buddies Matt and Devin: back and shoulders, plus a short but painful core workout I led them through.

Friday: 1-miler near home – rough week and pre-race, we took it easy, and did a 20-minute yoga video (that was more meditative than we expected, but we probably needed that, too)

Saturday: Race day!

We’ve run this race the past few years, and for the first time, NF and I were BOTH using it as a half-marathon pace training run. Part of me was pretty pumped – I felt like I could make a strong showing at my goal pace for 10 miles. The other part of me wondered if I was foolish to think I could manage that this early in the training cycle. Kim and I had been talking a few weeks prior about running it together, since she was targeting a similar pace, and having a pacer buddy makes everything better. It took a bit of the weight off my mind, but I made it clear to her that if I wasn’t feeling it that she should let me go. Her A race is next month, and I did NOT want to be that person who dragged her down when she was kicking ass.

All that aside, I was psyched for this race – in addition to Kim, our friends Mark and Kelly were going to be there – with Mark pacing NF at 7:30 for 10 miles – and I was going to get to meet Oiselle runner and new twitter pal Jen Bigham! The day also dawned bright and sunny and warmer than it had been – starting in the 30s and creeping into the 40s, though gusts of wind were not our friends. We couldn’t complain, though – usually the name of the race, Spring Thaw, is more irony than anything else. This time it really was a thaw, however temporary.

NF and I were up and at ‘em at 7 a.m. (10 a.m. start – leisurely!) and left just after 8 a.m. to get to the race after eating some oatmeal, making sure we had all our gear, and changing our minds about what to wear about 10 times (or maybe that was just me). I had an A+ brain morning after two hard work weeks: we got on the bus to the start from the ice rink lot, when I realized I had my headphones but not my iPod, and then realized my bib was also in the car. D’oh! So we stayed on for the bus to circle back.

Photo Feb 22, 9 04 02
I have a tendency to photobomb panoramic shots.
Who's excited to race, guys? Btw, totally broke the rules and wore a new thing on race day - but Oiselle's lux side zip did NOT disappoint!
Who’s excited to race, guys? Btw, totally broke the rules and wore a new thing on race day – but Oiselle’s lux side zip did NOT disappoint!

We hung out at the Rose Barn to stay warm, bumping into Mark shortly before his warm-up,  and after a short bathroom stop, headed over to the boathouse to hang out in the sunshine with Kim and Kelly (actually two Kellys!) – it was kind of a wind tunnel, but when it wasn’t gusting, it was lovely. We got some photos before the start, and I caught sight of Jen as people were lining up to start. She is SO sweet – it was so awesome to meet her in person.

Left to right – new friend Kelly, Kim, Mark, me, Kelly, and NF photobombing/growing out of Kim’s head in the back (Kim’s photo)
Photo Feb 22, 9 56 30
Kim, Jen, and me

The national anthem played, we got our hats back on, and the race was off! The announcer was chattering a bit, but suddenly there was a gasp and silence, and the announcer made a sound of surprise – I figured someone had tripped at the start (as often happens in the tangled crowds) but couldn’t see what it was that happened, and quickly forgot about it as Kim and I maneuvered through the crowd.

We quickly dialed right into pace. The 5-mile lake loop is perfectly rolling, and Kim’s strategy of increasing pace before and after water stops and then power walking trough the stops worked great. I usually just try to jog through them and wind up with water all over myself, so I may have to try this strategy in the future instead. We chatted a little, mostly checking in on things like water stops, pacing, noting hills that were coming and going. We both didn’t really feel “locked in” – we wavered between feeling good and feeling like it was hard (though manageable). Kim really powered up the hills, which I thought I was getting decent at, but man, she pushed them! For my part I think I pulled us down the downhills, so it was a very symbiotic pacer relationship. I was measuring long already by the end of the first loop, but our paces were perfect and gave us wiggle room for GPS measurement issues: 7:43, 7:39, 7:49, 7:45, 7:38. The chip time at halfway had me at a 7:51 pace, to give you an idea of where we really were.

Near the start of the second loop, we caught sight of Mark leading a group, including NF, across the lake. They looked strong and steady, and I sent him good vibes. We kept clicking off perfect miles, though commented to one another maybe 7ish miles in that it was beginning to feel like a bit of a grind. Still manageable, but hard. I was doubting my ability to kick at the end, and thought maybe I’d just maintain. 7:40, 7:46, 7:49, 7:45. But as we approached the last aid station, right before the 9 mile marker, we decided that after the last hill (with just under half a mile to go) we’d see if we could gas it a bit. So we kept each other reeled in until we crested that hill, then I started to fly down the other side, with Kim just over my shoulder.

Up ahead, I caught sight of a guy wearing a Marine Corps shirt from this past year. I put a target on his back – not because of the guy, but the symbol. The race that (okay I know – not really, but kind of) defeated me. I wanted to beat the symbol. It wasn’t my biggest kick ever, and I was pretty gassed, but I kept turning over faster and faster, and flew down through the finish at 6:32 pace for the last bit (last mile split – 7:29), finishing exactly at 1:18 for 7:49 average – my exact target pace.

finish4

 

My flippy right foot is out of control
My flippy right foot is out of control

finish2finish1

We were thrilled! Kim and I hugged and thanked each other, and chatted with NF about his race. Mark had already headed out on another loop, so we hung out by the finish for a bit, greeting Jen when she finished, and saying hi to Kelly as she started her third loop, looking strong.

He totally kicked ass - 7:33 average, and in the pain cave. So proud of his fight!
He totally kicked ass – 7:33 average, and in the pain cave. So proud of his fight!
Pacer buddies! Seriously could not have done this without her.
Pacer buddies! Seriously could not have done this without her.
Photo Feb 22, 12 02 15
She won the 10-miler. NBD. Look at our #flystyle! :)

We headed inside, chatting with Jen and her husband, Jeff, and grabbing some pizza before they headed out. I was waiting to hear from Danielle, who was running the 15, to see if she and her fiance had time to join us for our Bagel Factory tradition. When she texted back, turned out she had already left with a horrible headache. Turns out that noise at the start was the start line scaffolding and clock collapsing (how did I NOT notice it? I realized I did notice the lack of banner at the loop and finish, but I was in full-on racing mode and it didn’t faze me, apparently), and hit a few runners, knocking some to the ground. She wound up with a big ol’ bruise on her head. She admitted she cried (I would have!) but she kept running! She got in 10 miles and threw in the towel. I don’t blame her.

So NF and I headed back into the city, scarfing down food at the Craig Street Bagel Factory before getting cleaned up at home and lounging for a while. Not too shabby!

Sunday: NF and I ran a very quiet 4-mile loop at a recovery pace – it was cold again, but not bitterly so, and the sun was shining. We felt tired and beaten up, but it was so peaceful out that it was really restorative.

The cold has returned in full, but so far the snow has held off. I’m not holding my breath, but there’s a snowflake’s chance in hell (yuk yuk yuk) that Thursday I can actually do my tempo outside. Let’s see if I can drag Danielle along for it, too. ;)

News flash: it’s winter

From xkcd

So the notorious furball Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow (per usual). And no one anywhere was surprised. Six more weeks of winter? Also not a shocker. But, there’s a run streak to maintain (69 days and going strong!), and oh, btw…

tt1

That’s right – one week left of the off-season.  And I’m trying to enjoy every last second before the plan begins, with its inherent structure and planned workouts. Only a little more playtime left.

Danielle and I have been keeping up our weekly runs, sometimes as many as three times a week, pretty much regardless of the weather – extreme cold drove us inside, but we braved the snow and messy sidewalks. Extra strength workout, right?

I had snow all over my hair.

We got so coated the other morning that her eyelashes and eyebrows were completely white and frozen, and some of my hair sticking out from under my hat apparently looked like grandpa hair. Sh*t running friends say to each other…?

The weekend before last, I was back home in Ohio to get some wedding errands done, and we got hit by a deluge of snow.

Yeah. I wouldn’t call that “runnable.”

Fortunately, a kind woman at my hometown rec center (which I haven’t belonged to in years and am of course not a resident) took mercy on me and let me pay the drop-in fee and run. I had to drive back and forth twice because I left my shoes in the front hall buuuut that’s another story… as was the person the next day who wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t a current resident. Bummer.

I was relieved I’d been smart enough to pack gym clothes, and because of the nasty roads and back-and-forth-left-shoes-at-home oopsie, I only had time for five. I think the treadmill wasn’t calibrated well, because I ran the middle 3 miles of a 5-miler at half-marathon goal pace progressing to faster than tempo, and it felt effortless. At 2% grade. Or maybe I was just having a good day.

Last week I got an email from Kim, letting me know – in the way that runners nudge each other – that she was planning on 12 miles at North Park on Saturday. Well, of course I was going to join. I was a bit concerned about the distance – I hadn’t gotten past 10 in a while, and even that not for a couple weeks. So NF and I loaded up on delicious pancakes the night before, and I had one for breakfast with peanut butter and sliced up banana. We headed out to North Park and started just as the sky was starting to get lighter – at 7 a.m. There were plenty of runners out already, and I realized I hadn’t run the roads in North Park except for races. What a treat! Kim and I chatted the entire time and breezed through 12 miles at a quicker pace than I would have predicted.

The next day, I met up with Kelly and Kim at North Park to hit up the trails. It had warmed up the previous day so the ice was slushy but still slick, but with still a fair amount of snow in places. It was slow-going and tricky, but really beautiful, and sometimes the ridiculousness of what we were trying to navigate had us laughing. We wanted to try out a bit of the Rachel Carson, but with the narrow passages flanked by drop-offs and lots of ice, we wisely decided to bag it.

Kim contemplating how to cross the stream.
Frozen water – we have no idea how we’re going to cross, but how great is this?
Kelly and I take the opportunity for photos.

We sorta managed to get across – twice – without getting TOO wet.

Foot dunk! And I’m contemplating escape or something. (Kelly’s photo)
“Is that rock stable?” (Kelly’s photo)

Now I admit, I’m kind of a weenie when it comes to frigid river crossings and climbing up wet, icy rocks (which w also did). But did I want to look like a chump in front of my trail buddies? Hell no. So I laughed, took my time, and had a blast.

In the end, the RCT was just a bit much for the conditions. As Kelly put it, Rachel Carson is kind of a bitch. But we’ll be back!

So in five days time, training begins for my next goal race.

This will be my fourth time running the Pittsburgh half-marathon. Last year I crushed my expectations with a sub-1:50 finished, which I bettered that September at Air Force with a 1:43:56. And this year, well. There’s this whole deal:

seeded info

Gulp.

My half-marathon PR translates to a 7:56 average pace. Seven seconds away from being able to apply for (emphasis on “apply”) a seeded position at Pittsburgh. I’ve been gradually increasing my goal paces, so this should be within reach, as long as nothing goes horribly wrong. But can I make it happen this spring? Just a Short Run is at the end of March, right before the deadline for applications. It’s my last chance. It’s my only chance. I have to run 1:42:24 to qualify to apply. Just seven seconds per mile faster. Tiny. And huge.

Over the weekend, NF and I wrote our training plan – part of the snag being our wedding and subsequent honeymoon in early April – but with Just a Short Run being the week before, we scheduled a cutback for wedding week, and plan on doing a decent amount of treadmill running (at least for quality workouts) while we are on our honeymoon (in the Dominican Republic!). We’ll see what actually happens there. Either way, some miles are better than zero miles, and miles are better done together. Right?

We’re keeping a lot of elements from last year’s very successful plans: increasing distance tempo runs, mile repeats, and half-marathon pace miles during long runs. To give us more of a boost, we’re both starting the season with a much higher base than last year. I have us starting not too aggressively with a 30-mile week because we’ve been maintaining 30-35 the last month and loving it. Last year, we started with a 20-mile week (and I think I was whining because I’d been stuck in a rut of weeks in the teens) and peaked at 38. This year, we’re starting at 30 – conservatively – and peaking at 48 (also rather conservatively, given the previously mentioned wedding/honeymoon training roadblock. Love you, honey!)

But wait – if my goal for Just a Short Run is 1:42:24 – what about the Pittsburgh half itself?

Do I dare even mention it aloud? Should I tempt the running gods?

No, probably not yet.

Miles and miles and a return to racing

First off, thank you for the responses on my marathon predicament – it was helpful! In the end, though, a lot of it came down to logistics. We don’t know where we’re going to be after September. Not to mention that I’m familiar with this race, and have lots of friends running the half, and one running the full. Haven’t figured it out yet? Well, here it is… Yep. NF and I registered for AIr Force once more on January 1st – he registered for the half, ready to dominate. I registered for the full, and freaked out. But my friend and running buddy Danielle has run the full a few times and will be doing so again this year, so at least I won’t be alone at the start line with my nervous jitters! I did the math, and if I do a 16-week training plan, I’ll have three weeks “off” between the Pittsburgh half in early May and the start of training. With a 14-week plan – which should be plenty doable, given I’ll be starting with a strong base but would also like some more “training free” down time – I’d get five weeks off. I plan on picking the brains of some more experienced marathoners when figuring out how to handle it. In the meantime, I’m still in the off-season, at least for about another month, and enjoying it a ton. NF and I successfully completed the run streak – 35 days of running at least a mile a day! – and have kept it going. I’m still making use of the one-mile-minimum days as “rest” days or days to get in more cross-training. The streak also helped us get out the door when we were visiting my Grandmom over New Year’s up in Michigan with temperatures in the single digits to negatives, and wind chill frequently below zero. I have to say, neckwarmers are clutch in that kind of weather. Also, trail shoes on the snowy roads.

Post-5 miler on Jan. 1 – the last official day of the RW Run Streak. So bundled!
You can’t see it, but there was ice in my hair.
The only way I was able to get my hands warm without a painful, frozen first 1-1.5 miles: thumbhole + thin glove over + fleece glove over that. Chilly finger tips for about a half mile, then warm.

Some of the snowy runs were better than others – painfully cold hands made me cranky for the first bit of the Jan. 1 5-miler, and a snow-packed 3-miler was exhausting. But other times the beauty of it all was energizing.

This snowmobile path was tiring to run on, but man was it pretty.

When we got home,  the cold weather followed us with the polar vortex, so I did a lot of treadmilling – I bundled like I was going outside to run just to get in my car to drive to the gym! Hello -5* with -28* wind chill!

By the end of the week, though, the worst of the cold broke and I was back to running with pals! Danielle and I ran 6 hilly miles that Friday. The next day, I went to a Steel City Road Runners group run for the first time! And it poured. But I got to run 10 miles with Kim (first 5 with NF, too), and we chatted up the storm, almost not noticing that we were drowned rats – almost.

Soaked everything

Sunday morning was the annual Frigid Five Miler! (oh hey, look how I snuck in a race report!) After a false start leaving the apartment, having left our bibs at home (luckily we were only like 4 minutes from home), we got to the start in just enough time to park at the top of the hill.

Walking into the Lodge and just starting to get scan the crowd, I was immediately pounce-hugged by Kelly (birthday girl!), and a little bit later, found my my work pal Lara. I had emailed her earlier in the week about the race, and as she’s training for her first half-marathon, she was excited to check out another local Pittsburgh race.

Pre-race group shot, taken by my guy. As usual, I overdressed.

We chatted and waiting around until about 8:50 before stepping out to the start line (dumping off extra layers in the car, which was parked conveniently on the way. We didn’t have time for a warm-up and my Garmin barely found satellites in time. And I selected the wrong playlist on my iPod before tucking it in an inner pocket and then making it inaccessible with my bib pinned over it – oh well!

Before I knew it, we were off! I had no idea what I would have in me for this race, especially knowing full well how tough the course is. The first mile is rolling but a little uphill. The second mile is definitely downhill. Mile 3 starts as a screaming downhill, then levels off and heads to some more, tough rollers. Mile 4 gets hard, then kinda levels off. Mile 5? Oh… mile 5.

My playlist was still good, just a different one than what I’d originally wanted. Honestly though, I hardly listened to it. I spent the whole time just trying to pick people off as a way to stay focused. It had been sleeting/misting and some spots were icing – I never slipped, but could feel my feet skate out behind me a few times. I found if I stayed near the middle of the road (but off the painted line), it was better.

Mile 1 clicked off in 7:16. Mile 2, with a serious downhill, was 6:56. I tried to ride hard down the screamer at the start of mile 3, and didn’t have TOO much wind taken out of my sails after it leveled off, finishing that mile in 7:01. The pace was hard, and a few times I almost freaked out – I wasn’t fit enough for this – but I focused on my breath, the fact that it was very much in control, and told my brain to SHUT UP. And I kept pushing.

Mile 4 though, man, mile 4… there’s a cruel hill, that’s not even that bad in the scheme of things, but you can feel how dead your quads are already getting from all the pounding downhills, and you know what’s coming for you at the finish, so it’s just demoralizing. I got dropped by a few people I’d passed on the downhills and flats, but kept a woman in a neon yellow/green jacket in my sights, pulling ahead and falling behind at points.  7:44. Mile 5 starts out… almost relaxing. I was trying to focus on my breathing and maintaining the fast clip while I could. All too soon – almost precisely a third of a mile into that last mile – the hill started. The ridiculous, insane, crazy hill. Two-thirds of a mile climbing about 250 feet (according to my haven’t-taken-a-math-class-since-freshman-year-of-college calculations, it’s a 7% average grade). So I tried to relax my arms, keep my torso straight and leaned into the hill, picked up my knees and just trudged up it.

Every single year I have walked on this hill. Every single year I have tried to get to various checkpoints, but have always walked at least once (maybe at least twice, to be honest). This was the year I was going to do it. I wasn’t going to walk, not even once. Maybe I’d be going so slowly it may as well be considered walking. But dammit, I’d be lifting my feet high enough to consider it running! I ignored my pace. I tried to breathe. I saw people pass me and drop behind me as some people kept grinding it out and others felt the weight of the hill in their already tired legs. The woman in neon came up behind me, but we kept fairly even going into the steepest section – when I really really really wanted to quit. But I didn’t. I didn’t pass the woman in the end, and could barely push across the finish line, but I did it! 8:52 (6:52 sprint to the finish – so I guess I did sprint a little?). 38:03 chip time.

finish1
Could never get ahead of her, but shook her hand at the finish and thanked her for the motivation to keep trying!

A few minutes later, I hobbled a little ways before the finish line and watched Kelly and another woman encourage each other across the finish line, and I got to give her another birthday/yay-awesome-race! hug after she was done. And just a few minutes after that, Lara finished! She did kickass, finishing in about her usual 5-mile time, but on a MUCH tougher course.

Kelly had to take off shortly after and Lara, NF, and I stuffed our faces with pancakes and listened to the awards. I had only half an ear on it for a while, chatting with Lara, when Shannon started grabbing my arm, telling me to go up. “They’re on 20 to 24,” I said. But sure enough, they were calling my name. Whoops! I walked up and explained that I’d been called, and that I was actually 26. They rechecked the numbers, reissued the 3rd place 20-24 award to the right girl, and handed me a medal for 2nd place in 25-29! Well, okay!

I’ve got a few more weeks to goof off, and I’m trying to get in as much cross-training as I can, and the occasional speedwork/tempo workout, usually on the treadmill. I’d been doing 7:30 tempos but Sunday’s race showed me I haven’t lost all my speed, so I should probably push myself a bit more, little by little.  Thanks to Danielle the mileage enabler, I’ve already run 18 this week between Monday and today (and we won’t discuss how many miles I ran without a 1-miler “off” day from Thursday through Tuesday). NF and I are planning to do about 10 on Saturday, and I’ve got a trail run with Kelly and Kim on Sunday.

Weekend mornings packed with running? Yes, please.

Highs and Lows of Lucky ’13

Taking a tip from my nerdy fiance, who took it from @TheCranberryKid, instead of a full-on, way-too-detailed-to-be-interesting-to-anyone-but-me Year in Review, here are my highs and lows for the year. And I have to say, this really puts things into perspective – this was a great year for my running life.

Let’s get the low out of the way:

I can summarize my low of this year in three letters: DNF. Aye, there’s the rub. It burns. It stings. It rankles. It’s the monkey on my back. If I hadn’t rolled my ankle two days out… if I hadn’t decided to wear that ankle brace that seemed to cramp up my foot so badly (or bruise it, or whatever that agonizing feeling was with every step beginning around mile 16)… what would I have accomplished? Would I have gotten that sub-4? Or at least a PR by a few minutes? Would I have blown up, but at least have finished my second 26.2? Would I have surpassed all my wildest expectations?

Ice and bourbon were my only friends (okay, not true at all)

There’s no way of knowing. Like there’s know way knowing if not wearing the brace would have changed the outcome. But it’s hard not to dwell. Instead, I”m choosing to let it fuel my fire for next year. A strong marathon is my priority. I’ll still be working on my speed for the half, but with a heavy focus on building mileage and strength smartly.

First run back from MCM DNF/ankle sprain was 2 miles on the treadmill (with long walking warm-up). And I was ecstatic.

I know I have it in me, especially from my list of highs:

Air Force half

PRs: I lowered my 5K PR twice (distance corrected about 22:20, but I have since bettered that in a 10K so I can do it faster next time). I lowered my 10K PR three times (now 44:02). I lowered my half-marathon PR three times (now 1:43:56)

I raced new distances. The 26.2K Run for Gold was a beautiful course, I made a new friend, and stunned myself by how well I could keep my goal marathon pace (or faster) for 16+ miles, even early on in training. The 3K Sweet Sprint the previous month showed me that yes, there was something more painful than a 5K. It also got the ball rolling with new running friends…

26.2k
3K

I ran a lot with new friends. NF and I met Mark finally in person at the Sweet Sprint, and I connected with Danielle, whom I had encountered at the Burgh 10K in April, getting caught up in a race with a pack of girls, including her. We didn’t introduce ourselves then, but by November, we began a regular weekly run together.  Mark and Kelly joined NF and I on my birthday run, and I have since gone on a few trail runs with Kelly and our friend Kim. Snow? Fabulous. Mud? Bring it. Tons of deer and wild turkeys – okay!

Muddy trail feet! Kelly’s photo (also featuring Kim’s feet – we need a picture of our faces at some point!)
We’ll never actually run “with” Mark. Just near him. Using a broad definition of “near.”
Actually chatting with Danielle for the first time! Beginning of a great running friendship

Running with old friends – I had a couple of opportunities to run with Keeley, as well as our former Ragnar teammate, Rose. I paced a lot of the Pittsburgh and Air Force half-marathons with Danimal, and NF and I continued to run together regularly. We realized just how great it is to not just be in a relationship with a running buddy, but to live with that person. Don’t want to get up? Tough. The other person is dragging you out of bed. Here, take this foam roller. Need a foot rub? I gotcha. I also traveled to Seattle and ran with my bet friend from college, Abby. Abby is in many ways responsible for my reignited passion for running during the last couple yeas of college, senior year in particular. We got each other out the door and I learned the joy of exploring the city and telling endless stories over miles, an aspect of running I had been missing for the first several years.

Higher mileage – I hit 50 miles in a seven-day period at least twice this year, and it’s something I”d like to manage more often. First: it felt GREAT. Second, the speed gains from high mileage are amazing. Sure, I know I got faster in the last year-plus period because I’ve been diligent about my speedwork and tempo runs, but both marathon training cycles (fall 2012 and this fall) led to explosive speed gains.

The run streak. I kind of love it. I know I”m sort of an obsessive and self-competitive person, so it remains to be seen how long I keep it up (without being dumb, of course), but I love how the easy 1- or 2-mile runs on “rest” days have led to fewer aches. Running those short guys on the ‘mill made it easy to cross-train more, since I was already at the gym and warmed up, as a result. It also got my mileage back up, gradually, post-marathon season, and I hit over 30 miles last week! And over 100 in the month of December. That is UNHEARD OF for me, especially in the cold, busy, travel-laden final month of the year.

A DNF, especially one related to a stupid injury so soon before a goal race, can overshadow a great deal, but looking at my year in the rearview like this, all I can hope is to keep it up. The fire is there – I re-fell in love with running this year – more than once. I have a lot more running buddies who make me laugh, make me push, make me so excited to lace up, even in the roughest conditions, even in the darkest of moods.

There will be more bumps on my running road, to be sure, but for now, to 2014 I say: bring. it. on.

A marathon-sized decision

The end of the year is fast-approaching, and with it, the one-day, January 1 fire sale the Air Force Marathon always holds. The last two years, NF and I have registered on January 1 to get the lowest price on the half – we figure, we’re GOING to run it, why not just go for it on day one for the lowest price?

Except right now, I’m still not sure what marathon I want to run next year, including whether I want to attempt the Air Force FULL this year. So here I am, blogging about the 26.2 thoughts spinning around my head. I’m looking for feedback, to be sure, but I also know that in writing it all down, pros and cons and all, I’ll probably get a better idea what I really want. Like when you flip a coin to decide, and when it lands against your secret gut choice, you know for sure.

So, with that, here are my top three four choices – in no particular order (or are they? Okay, actually just put them in calendar order, SO THERE YOU GO):

Air Force Marathon

September 20, 2014 – Dayton, OH

Pros

+We know this race, at least by its half-marathon brethren. It’s an easy enough drive from Pittsburgh. We’ll be going regardless because we love this race and its amazing atmosphere and great organization. I mean, the flyovers! (please, no more sequester), the flat, fast course! the amazing house we rented this year! the free beer!

+I have a bunch of friends who have run the full, including some who have PR’d the shit out of it, so I have plenty of ears to bend about the 26.2 course.

+We are 99.9% (or more) guaranteed to still be in Pittsburgh at this point, as NF will be just about to defend or have JUST defended (or lord, see the cons section), and if we are moving after he graduates, we won’t have yet, so getting there should be straight-forward. This is not necessarily the case with the other options.

+The weather has been great the last three years. Chilly in the morning at the start line, not really above low to mid-60s by the finish. Humid sometimes, but totally doable, especially after a long summer of training in the heat.

+Would make for a long off-season (late September through at least the end of the year/whenever we start training for our first 2015 race. Though I suppose nothing is set in stone, given we may be moving)

Cons

-Not much downtime after the Pittsburgh half in early May. A 16-week plan would begin about three weeks after that half. A 14-week plan (which I could probably get away with, since I wouldn’t be starting from zero and would – hopefully – have a solid base to build marathon fitness off of) would give me a solid month of mini-offseason/maintenance before jumping back into training.

-NF doesn’t want to run the full, at least not in 2014. I don’t blame him. Thesis stress + marathon training don’t necessarily mix well. So while he’d probably do a lot of the training with me, I might have some high double-digit runs solo/partly solo, and we wouldn’t be lining up at the start line together. Womp womp.

-He could have to defend within a few days of the race. Which would all kinds of suck. We lost one of our group going to Air Force this year because he defended the day before. Hopefully we’d be able to control this, but who knows?

-Our luck could run out as far as weather and it could be an extension of summer. September in southern Ohio can be hot.

 

Steamtown Marathon

October 12, 2014 – Scranton, Pa.

Pros

+Fast effing course, and supposed to be beautiful.

+Still driveable from Pittsburgh

Cons

-Should I save this fast effing course for a BQ attempt in the future? You saw nothing.

-Will we even be in Pittsburgh still? If not, how are we going to get to Bumfuck, PA, if we’ve moved across the country or something? But it’s in earlyish October, so chances of this happening this quickly I suppose are still on the low side.

-Training plan headaches: Air Force half is 3 weeks before this race, which would mean a 20-miler, which obviously does not quite work. Maybe I should just delete this one? Oh well, you can see my process. LEAVING IT. *z snap*

 

Columbus Marathon

October 19, 2014 – Columbus, OH

Pros

+Close enough to drive from Pittsburgh, but also has a semi-major airport so flying in wouldn’t be impossible if needed.

+I still have friends who live in Cbus, so we’d have places to stay. Plus, parents could come watch (if they wanted/I wanted).

+Flat, fast course, from everything I’ve heard. And ends in Ohio Stadium, so that’s cool.

+Perfect time of year for running a marathon, unless global warming bites us in the ass.

+Not too huge of a race, but still seems like decent crowd support

+Has a half option, if NF does not want to tempt the 26.2 gods in 2014, given the Big Life Changes happening

+Timing for the final 20-miler is much better – would be the week after Air Force half, so that week would be at least somewhat of a cutback week.

Cons

-The last 20-miler would fall on the weekend of the Great Race 10K. But whatever, because we can’t seem to race a 10K without screwing over our legs with a long run the day before. SO WHY THE HELL NOT?

sprint suffer face
Great Race 2012 – day after 16 miler. PR.
finalpush2
Great Race 2013 – day after 12 miler. GIANT PR.

Not pictured: Burgh 10K – day after 15 miler – another big PR.

So… case closed? PR guaranteed after long run? K, cool.

 

Richmond Marathon

November 15, 2014 – Richmond, Va.

Pros

+Have heard nothing but great things from several people who ran it this year.

+Good time of year for running weather

+Still pretty driveable from PGH, and decent-sized airport otherwise if necessary? Maybe?

+Almost 2 months after Air Force, so pretty good for a tune-up half before this full.

+Has a half-option for NF, if he wishes.

+Not too big, but seems like still a good amount of crowd support.

Cons

-Makes for a long season (though I’ve survived a pretty long season before. Albeit ended up pretty burned out, but…)

-Housing may be expensive for just us two traveling there (compared to others where we could stay with friends or score another cheap house rental with a big group)

 

So there you have it. My rundown. This has helped a little, but honestly I’m still not sure. So I throw it back at you – the reader: Have you run any of these marathons before? Any pros/cons to add to my lists? Any favorites? Ones you’d rule out based on experience? What marathon are you running next year? Lay it on me!

#RWRunStreak Day 12 and 26.2 thoughts…

It’s Day 12 of the #RWRunStreak and it’s still alive! Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of shorties, but I’m also very carefully building my base back up. It makes for a lot of one-milers, but it’s also jump-starting me back into the mileage I’d like to hold off-season. I say this now, of course, two weeks BEFORE Christmas travel/mass hysteria begins, but let’s just wave our hands around and ignore that for the moment.

As the running gods and RW editors intended, Day 1 of the streak began with a Turkey Trot – we ran an absolutely freezing, snow-coated, slippery, totally insane five-miler in downtown Cleveland on Thanksgiving morning. In better conditions, the course had the makings of a very fast five-miler. Which would’ve been nice, since my five-mile PR is still on a course that is all downhill four for miles, than an excruciating .66 mile climb in the last mile that completely obliterates my overall pace. *sad trombone*

But the stars did not align for a fast day. We drove downtown early in the morning for packet pickup and it was FREEZING. We braced against the cold as we marched into Public Hall to get our bib and sit inside in the warmth. I stripped off a lot of my layers so they wouldn’t lose their effectiveness. About 15 minutes to start, we approached the doors, and with maybe 7 minutes to go, we followed the herd outside into the bracing cold.

This was also a much larger race than we had anticipated. All told I think there were about 8,000 runners (I think 10,000 signed up – shows you how brutal it was out there, wind chill in the teens, along the lake, and actively snowing) and we didn’t line up very far to the front. It was a slow start, but given the slick conditions, a layer of now dusting the road and still falling, it was probably for the best. I lost NF within a half mile, and a little later, I saw a guy completely wipe out crossing marble in front of a statue where a lot of folks were cutting a sidewalk. It was snow-covered and like a sheet of ice, so his feet went completely out from him and he landed straight on his back. I knew then this was not a day to race.

Except for the half-a-dozen huskies I saw on the course who looked like they were on cloud nine. This as THEIR race.

I managed to crank out decent paces, all things considered. The first mile was a sea of humanity, so I squeaked in just under 9:00, but I started picking it up.

CLE TT 13 splits

The middle miles were fast and flat and not too slick, though it got dicey again at the end, and the last 200 feet were VERY slippery. No finishing kick for me! But it was a pretty good tempo-ish effort with extra resistance from the snow. And hey! I haven’t lost all my speed! Success!

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And look how great and happy I look! …
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Best race face ever?

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The rest of Thanksgiving weekend, we kept it pretty short: two 1.5-milers the next two days, and a 3-miler Sunday morning on an old standby route of mine from summers I was home from college.

Last week it was back in business: cross-training, running longer, and sprinkling in short runs for the “off” days. Last Tuesday, we put our run off til the evening, having woken up feeling pretty awful. We ran 3.25ish after work in the low 50s. I overdressed in shorts and a long sleeve (Oiselle’s long sleeve flyte = best. thing. ever.) Is this really December?

Next to our light up spinny Christmas tree for comparison. FOR REALZ. SHORTS WEATHER.

That Thursday was an absurd 57* at 5 a.m. when I woke up to run with Danielle. I checked the temperature on my phone. Didn’t buy it. Checked weather.com. Nope, that’s ridiculous. Half-stepped onto the balcony. Well, yes, okay, it’s warm. I hopped into a singlet and my bum wrap and felt absurd.  It was December. I was going to FREEZE. But a few minutes later I stood outside my building waiting for Danielle and knew I made the right choice. Last shorts/singlet run until at least April? Possibly, but who knows. Either way, we had a great run, heading through Oakland and Shadyside for 6.7ish miles and chatting about wedding planning adventures, our respective Thanksgivings, and work.

Then, the weather got gross. Like, the next day. My wonderful guy brought me hot chocolate when a packet of cocoa mix I found buried in the pantry was kind of blech. He made a special trip in the freezing rain to give me this treat (blah blah it was just a little bit of a walk from the bus stop blah blah, he’s still a prince)

His and hers hot cocoa

Fortunately the freezing rain turned to snow and the roads were nicely cleared for Saturday morning, because I had a trip out to North Park that I’d been looking forward to all week! I met up with Kelly and Kim to hit the trails, and we made tracks following the red blazes, seeing a handful of deer, a couple hikers, one (maybe two?)other  trail runner, and a couple of mountain bikers. It was quiet and perfect breaks in conversation punctuated only by our breathing, the crunch of the snow, and the swishing off all of our tech fibers as our limbs moved.  Gorgeous.

Momma and baby
No spots, but this little guy was SUPER fuzzy

I stopped by Starbucks on the way home to get some hot chocolate for NF and myself – and treated us btoh to some apple fritters. He joined the True Runner group for 9 miles on icy sidewalks, which I think calls for an extra treat.

Two more one-milers – outside on the hazardous sidewalks yesterday (including me saying “NOPE NOPE NOPE going in the street” at one point) and one on the ‘mill today before a legs workout) – and that brings us to today. I’ve got 7 miles planned with Danielle tomorrow, and am thinking of attempting a very short tempo run on Thursday if the sidewalks allow. We’re traveling down to Athens, GA, to see NF’s youngest sister graduate, but we’re hoping to get a long-ish run in and keep the streak going otherwise.

I know that, all things considered, it’s still early in the streak, but so far I feel good. Been stretching and foam rolling plenty, and the very short runs in between longer efforts seem to shake out soreness. I’m also loving running all the more. Yeah, sometimes I don’t want to be out there in inclement weather, but it’s “only a mile,” and quite a few of my short runs I’ve been doing on the treadmill as warm-ups for other workouts.

And of course, as my mileage builds, and with hopes to get a higher base than the lackadaisical 15-20 mpw I’ve been beginning my season with the last couple years, there’s still a big ol’ monkey on my shoulder: the marathon.

Here’s the thing: we don’t know where we’re going to be next fall. NF is slated to graduate next September, so we could stay in Pittsburgh … or we could end up on the other side of the country. Right now it’s way too soon to tell. So can we really commit to a fall marathon that’s maybe convenient for us here right now, but may not be when it actual rolls around?

I’m not ready to commit yet, but it’s very tempting to just say I’ll sign up or the Air Force Marathon rather than the half. We always register on January 1 when the rate is the absolute cheapest, which means we only have a couple of weeks to decide.  NF doesn’t really want to run the full then – I don’t blame him. It’ll be a very, very stressful time for him. But do I? Can I train for it partly/mostly on my own? Do I want to marathon train during peak summer and possibly race in the heat (though we’ve lucked out with pretty good to great temps on race day at Air Force every year since 2011)? Or should we wait for later in the fall? There are so many options: Steamtown. Columbus. Grand Rapids. Atlanta. Towpath. Richmond. Philly (done it, probably would rather run something new). Toronto.

There’s a lot to consider. But mark my words. Come hell or high water, unless some stupid misstep and subsequent ankle injury hits me again, I’m getting my sub-4 marathon next year. I’m getting my revenge.

We’re goin’ streaking!!!

It’s been about four weeks since my DNF. Four weeks and a half weeks since the ankle sprain that started it all. Am I back 100%? Well, yes and no. My ankle is at that 90 to 95% back-to-normal place. The swelling is minimal to nonexistent (I can’t tell anymore if I”m seeing things, even staring back and forth between my uninjured right and ankle and the healing left one). There is zero pain – when bearing weight, making strides, both walking and running. The flexibility isn’t all the way back, but seems to get incrementally better every day. It’s a slow, grueling process, but I’m going to keep on keeping on.

So what have I been up to?

First two weeks

For two weeks, I didn’t run a step. I knew I would take at least a week off and try to evaluate from there, but keeping a close eye on things, I decided two full weeks off were what I needed.  In fact, for the first five days or so, I did basically nothing. NF took me through some ankle exercises using a resistance band, but I did zero cardio, zero strength, zero Pilates/yoga. I was pretty much an emo kid, whiling away my time working and mulling over the DNF and injuring, fielding question after question about the marathon: “How did it go?” “Did your race go well?” “Oh, that’s too bad… how’s the ankle now?” “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a week – how was your marathon?”

And on, and on.

By week two, I was back in action. Not running of course, but working out most days. I made it back to Pilates. I rode the bike, took it easy in spin class, even managed the elliptical (easy effort, and very carefully). In addition to the resistance band exercises, I added in calf raises, body weight only: two sets with both feet, then two more sets going up on both feet, then lowering slowly on one. After that, I’d do running strides to land on one leg: do a little ply jump to land on a single leg, hold a couple seconds, then return. 30 repetitions on each side. To wrap up, I did 60-second balances on the bosu ball on one leg. These were HARD, and worked every part of my leg. I”m getting better the more I do them, but am still noticeably better on the right side than the left. I think these exercises are ones that should always be in my strength arsenal. They not only keep my ankle strong, but work my calves, quads, glutes, and hips.

I still needed my outdoor fix, though, so I took care of that with hiking. The first weekend, NF, my friend Ellen and I went on a short hike/walk in Frick Park on a beautifully sunny but chilly day. The colors were peaking – it was magnificent.

The following weekend, NF and I headed up to McConnell Mills and managed a 6.5ish mile hike on the beautiful, technical trails. I was highly aware of my ankle, and wondered about my plan to start running again a couple days after.  It felt sore, but didn’t hurt except for a couple missteps I took, though that pain dissipated quickly. We turned around early than I had hoped on our out-and-back hike, but I didn’t want to play games with it. It was a slow, leisurely hike, so I was still on my feet a good three-and-a-half hours, so it was still a really good workout and test for my ankle.

Weeks 3 to 4: return to running!

By Monday, I was itching to run, but knew I had to be smart. I walked to the gym that morning, did a 10 minute walking warm-up on the treadmill, then a super easy 2 mile jog, mostly at 10:00 mile pace, 2% grade to reduce impact. Normally I hate the treadmill, and running at a constant pace and incline drives me particularly batty, but I was so happy to be running again, it barely mattered. I was giddy the rest of the day.

I like to think my Brooks Ghost and Oiselle roga shorts were happy, too.

The next day, I did almost the same, with a bit more speed at the end, for just over 2 miles of running. Both days, I did my full ankle regimen to make sure I was keeping my up strength and working on getting that mobility back.

On Thursday, after nixing a morning run by being a whiney brat about the cold – especially since the evening forecast was MUCH better – I went for a post-work 4ish miler, staying very close to home for my first outdoor run since the DNF. I also wanted to try out some new Oiselle duds I’d gotten for my birthday – which I had refused to even open or look at until I was able to run again. Worth the wait! In love with the Flyte long sleeve and Lesley knickers (though the latter won’t see many workouts for a few more months as it appears winter is here to stay).

And since then? Well, I’ve been slowly building my mileage back. On my birthday, I went for a 5.6ish mile run in Schenley Park with my friend Kelly, while NF and our friend Mark crushed it up ahead. We stayed back and let the boys duke it out while we chatted up a storm. We started and ended the run at Bagel Factory, getting coffee and bagels after and continuing to run-geek like crazy. I was in a terrific mood the rest of the day, high off a great run with friends.

On Tuesday, I went for a 6-mile run in the early darkness with Danielle, whom I met through the local racing scene, and who has pushed me to more than one PR already, before we even “officially” met.” We had a great time, and I probably pushed a bit, but felt great after. Ankle seemed a tad swollen that evening, but was fine by the next morning and I haven’t seen that happen since. I kept Thursday and Fridays runs short, and NF and I went out for 7 on Saturday (WHOOPS ran three days in a row).

Week 5 – almost time to streak!

I finally feel like I’m really back in action. Sure, still not 100% flexible, but zero pain, and my runs have felt great. I’m also cross-training a ton: keeping up with Pilates (mostly – ignore the fact that I skipped class tonight and am instead blogging. WHOOPS), and especially getting back into a weights routine. I ran an easy 6 miler in the falling snow this morning – it was quiet and perfect. I overtook a couple of women running together at one point, and as they let me pass, one of them said, “Let’s let this *real* runner go past us.” I countered, “*You guys* are real runners. You’re out here in this, too!” I saw way fewer runners than usual for the 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. crowd, but the ones I saw made me smile. As did the folks I saw actually putting salt on their driveways and sidewalks. Thank you!

Tomorrow I”m taking a full rest day – MAYBE doing yoga – since it’ll be my last day off until January 2. Yes, I’m going to give the Runner’s World Holiday Run Streak the ol’ college try. Maybe this is dumb coming off an ankle sprain, but I don’t plan on being stupid about it. If I need to change it to a be-active-every-day-from Thanksgiving-til-New-Year’s-Day because by body is saying NO!!! to all the running, I absolutely will do so. But I have a good feeling, especially if I do a lot of one-mile days, and especially if I take it easy and do it on the treadmill, which makes getting my cross-training and weights in those days a lot easier. I hope to blog semi-frequently during the streak, but the holidays may keep my posts either short or infrequent (or both). I will do my best?

Anyone else doing the RW Run Streak? First timers? Seasoned veterans – have any tips?

MCM: Anatomy of a DNF

DNF – runner-speak for Did Not Finish.  It’s a hard pill to swallow, but at one point or another, every runner experiences it, at least once. Ever since my ankle twist on Friday, I knew it was a possibility – it was also possible I would DNS (did not start). But I was walking fine, had good strength and mobility, and wanted to give it a shot.

I don’t think I have it in me to write too much about all the excitement and build-up, because usually i do that to emphasize how great the race was – especially this year, which until this weekend was an absolutely stellar one (and still is, really, this race being the only blemish). But I want to be as frank as possible because if even one other injured runner who had to pull out of a race reads this, I want him/her to know that he/she isn’t alone – it’s a hard decision, and no one else can make it but you. Only you know what’s going on in your own body and mind. So here are my most raw and honest thoughts.

The expo and weekend

This was our biggest race expo ever. The packet pick-up was in a separate tent, run by super-friendly Marines who had me grinning from ear-to-ear (they were all awesome, and so, so inspiring).

And the expo itself? Doesn’t even fit in an instagram photo

I got myself a couple bondi bands, which I’d been meaning to buy as an in-between to keep my ears covered when I don’t need a full, super-warm earband.

We had an awesome sushi dinner out with our lovely hosts, Emmarie and Chris. They took awesome care of us, especially considering they had had a crazy week as well as a busy weekend. Emmarie, for the record, makes a FANTASTIC bourbon Manhattan (pictured in my previous post). Between that and continuing to RICE my ankle, I figured I could be in good shape in no time (despite that by that evening when I removed the ace bandage, I saw how swollen and black-and-blue the ankle was. Eek. But still walking fine!)

Saturday we spent a little time touring around after attended the charity luncheon I was invited to as a runner on the ZERO Cancer team. We spent a bit too much time on our feet for being the day before a marathon, but my ankle still felt fine, and was less swollen that day.

Oh hey, the White House!
Basically a photobomb.

That night, we made our usual pre-race grub: granola and cinnamon pancakes, with tons of syrup, eaten in front of an episode of Stargate SG-1.

Baby pancake!

We got to bed late, and I was pretty wired, and slept like absolute garbage, pure usual pre-race. But the pre-race nerves in my chest were not the usual: Will I make my goal? Will I hit the wall? Will I quit or will I push? Will I have an amazing, magical, stars-falling-into-line kind of day?

The knot in my stomach told me one thing: I wasn’t even sure my left foot would allow me to finish the race. The bruising and swelling was way down, sure. I had done ankle exercises with a resistance band to check mobility and loosen it a bit, and done some careful calf raises, and everything felt pretty good (I couldn’t quite get my left foot to the very top of the calf raise, but that was no biggie, and it mostly just felt tight). I set aside my soft brace with the rest of my race morning gear in case I decided to wear it – I knew I would for sure be wearing compression socks.

Race day

The alarm blared at 4:30 a.m. and I’m pretty sure I was already wide awake. I snuck out of bed to get the oatmeal going and discover that I wasn’t quite as adequately hydrated as I would have liked (ahem) so I chugged 16 ounces of water (trust me, this matter later. Hydration strategy fail). I got the perfect consistency for both bowls, so hoped that this was a good omen for both of us. After much waffling in the days prior, I settled on a long-sleeve tech tee, charity singlet layered over, Oiselle bum wrap, purple ProCompression socks, gloves, bondi band, and of course of my trusty Brooks Launch.

Our LOVELY WONDERFUL KIND SWEET AMAZING HOSTS got up at like 5:20 to drive us to one of the parking shuttle pick-up points, since the bus we would have needed wasn’t running that early, even on race morning. We said our goodbyes, knowing we wouldn’t see Emmarie again and not expecting to see Chris, and jumped to the back of the line, which was HUGE but pretty fast moving, before climbing onto the super-swank charter buses with the super-cheesy but motivational information video playing as we drove to the starting area.

HUGE BUS
HUGE (GOOFY) SMILE

We immediately headed for the porto-potties before squatting in one of the tents to get all our gear arranged – we were running without water, so had to jam all our gels in our spibelts, plus our cell phones which we decided to run with (I’m glad I did – I could notify people ASAP who were tracking me that, no, I wasn’t dead).

Cutie :)

Before long, it was time to walk over to the self-sorting corrals, marked by estimated finish time (seriously, run-walkers – I adore all of you, you seriously rock, but please, for the love of all things holy, line up where you should), listen to the National Anthem as sung by a fabulous a cappella group, watch at least half a dozen parachuters float down, some carrying huge American flags, and wait for the howitzer to fire.

The Race

This was our biggest race ever, so even the previous crowded starts weren’t really a match for this. It was truly a sea of humanity. The start is on a split highway with a median strip, and we happened to be on the left, which within the first mile went a totally different way than the right side for like a tenth of a mile and completely flipped me out. I mean, it was fine – they merged back up again and I’m guessing there is zero (or minimal) distance difference, but man was that weird. Our first few splits were slow – very slow – especially the second mile which probably has the only hill of consequence in the entire race, and it really wasn’t a joke. I had kind of written it off, but it was already hard to find a solid pace in the thick of so many runners, let alone when clawing through going uphill. Won’t underestimate it again should I run this race in the future (hopefully).

It stayed pretty crowded through mile five, but we were able to lock in by mile 4 and hovered between 8:3x’s and 9:0x’s. I kept my watch to overall time for a while, though I eventually switched to lap estimate, but generally tried to ignore it and soak things up. It’s a really beautiful course. At one point we were on rolling hills bordered by a thick grove of trees, then we were running along the Potomac. It was spectacular. We saw WAY more public urination than ever before (we’d been warned of this) and saw at least one runner totally bite it on the ground (yeeowch! Like I said – crowded), but most of the sights were very positive.

I had had that “nervous pee” feeling at the start line, but as the miles ticked off toward 10K, I realized it wasn’t going away. It wasn’t just nerves – I had to go. I passed up a porto opportunity and begged the feeling to subside, but my gut was very uncomfortable, and during mile 9, I apologized to my guy and told him I needed a potty break, and that I’d see him at the finish. We exchanged “I love you’s” and “good luck” wishes and parted ways. I lost probably 60 to 90 seconds to the stop, but it was totally worth it. That was a first for me – must figure out how not to let that happen again (like not chugging 16 ounces of water when I woke up, without allowing for a secondary pre-race potty stop?).

After that, I was locking into 8:30s and 8:40s and feeling pretty darn good. I got a great boost a couple miles later when I saw Bart Yasso and yelled out “Bart!” (because we’re friends, obviously) and got a high five. I saw him again a few miles later and got similarly amped.

Around the halfway point, I saw I was coming in around 2:01.30ish – slower than I had wanted, but it was basically all the bathroom break, and I was still clocking sub-9s, so I knew I could make up the time and could still nab a sub-4:00, or close to it. I ran astride with another woman holding a similar pace for a while, and I think we kind of silently paced off each other.

Then there was the blue mile. Oh, the blue mile. It’s silent, and lined with photographs and flags – photos of fallen Marines, each one with his name, his age, and when they were killed in action. I tried to force myself to look – to dwell on the memory of these brave men and women, to feel the way I know that mile is supposed to make you feel: humble, grateful, saddened, yet filled with patriotic hope. But I had to spend a lot of time looking away and focusing on my pace and my rhythm, or else I’d have been struggling all the more to breathe as I choked back the tears that continually threatened.

Past the halfway point, I felt myself getting into my own head, but my pace was still right on. I had known for a while that my distance was pretty thrown off – when I was still with NF, we ran under a long overpass, and satellites went haywire, clocking us at 10:00+ min/mile pace, when we weren’t slowing down at all. The pace corrected, but we lost a good quarter mile, so I knew I’d have a little more time to make up, and of course the mile markers came in very strangely compared to the course.

Mile 16 was my decision point. I had decided, somewhat last minute, to go ahead and wear the soft ankle brace. I had brought it with, attached it to my fuel belt, and slipped it on over my compression sock as we were getting situated pre-race. Now it was noticeably digging into my foot and getting uncomfortable. I took a minute to pull off to the side and remove it, and then jogged off, sliding it onto my fuel belt so it would be secure and out of the way.

But the damage was done. I’ll never know if it was just the brace pinching/bruising/cramping my foot, if it was the ankle, if my gait was ever so slightly altered those first 16 miles, but I was very suddenly in a lot of pain. The outside of my left foot felt like it was being stabbed. I tried to walk it out, tried to figure out if it was just a cramp, but nothing seemed to be working. I broke it a jog, and almost immediately had to stop again.

So many people saw the agony on my face, the limp in my walk. Onlookers tried to encourage me to keep going, telling me I could do it. Runners who passed me tried to buck me up, one even patting me on the shoulder and trying to press me onwards. But I could barely walk, let alone run.

I stupidly passed up a med station just before my absolute breaking point, and as I searched for another one – or for a Marine, or a volunteer, or anyone who could help, I saw a PIttsburgh legend – the shirtless guy (yes, he has a name, but so many of us know him as the shirtless guy). He is at EVERY Pittsburgh race, and he’s always – yes, running shirtless – kicking ass, and when he finishes, high-fiving everyone coming in. I said hello and told him I recognized him from the local race scene. We asked each other how our races were going, and I admitted I was injured and about to drop out. He said he wanted to just make it to mile 18 and consider it a good training run (he was walking, too). We parted ways after a water stop, and soon after I saw a couple Marines and stepped to the side.

“I need to drop out,” I said, tears choking my words as I finally was saying it out loud. I hit stop on my watch. “Where’s the next med tent?” I stepped to the side as a woman tried to hand me a bottle of water, and fell to a crouch and burst into tears. It was over. Sixteen weeks of preparation – of blood, sweat, and tears. Of long tempos and endless mile repeats and shattered PRs at the half-marathon and 10K and early mornings and sacrifices to my social life and sleep and sometimes even almost my sanity. It was over, and had probably been over the moment I took that misstep Friday morning and rolled my ankle during an easy three-miler.

The Marine directed me across the grass to the next med tent, around mile 19. My watch read 18.13 when I quit but it was closer to 17.75 on the course because of GPS screw-ups. I hobbled over, starting to get cold, and had to jog across to the other side when there was the slightest break in runners.

The Marines in the med tent were amazing. They sat me down and examined my foot, had me fill out an intake form, and then took me inside, helping me ice my foot and wrapping me in wool blankets. I spent the next ninety-minutes contacting family and friends who were tracking me, and chatting with another injured runner – a 43-time marathoner who had to drop out around the same time as me with a gnarly IT band injury. She comforted me when I cried once more and we bitched about our frustrations and we heard each other’s war stories.

After a lot of waiting, the sweeper bus came by a little before 1:30, and I was stuck on it (despite it being full) for the next two hours. I’ve never been on a sweeper before, so I don’t know the usual system, but there were runners who were on there for three hours. There must be a better way. Everyone was pretty nice, though, and there was lots of clapping for those who didn’t quite “beat the bridge” and got pulled for not making it to mile 20 by 1:30 p.m. for road re-openings. And the ladies sitting around me were very sweet as they saw me limp on (not to mention the Marine I had to send back to the med tent when I left my phone on the cot like a dumbass. Thank you, sir!).

It was about 3:45 when I finally reunited with my guy, and at that point I wasn’t teary-eyed, just relieved to see him (you can read his race report here).  We hobbled through the Metro and made our way back to the apartment, where Chris was there to greet us (since it took so friggin’ long to get back). We had zero time to relax – it was shower, pack, hit the road immediately, though we took a leisurely dinner stop at Buffalo Wild Wings (which we haven’t had since JUNE), before making the rest of the drive, getting home after 11 p.m.

My handsome guy with his medal :)

So… what now?

Well, now it’s time for me to heal. At this point, my ankle is still a little swollen but fine to walk on (though I’ll continue to drive to work until the swelling is totally gone, so I don’t overtax it). I’ve been finding a heating pad feels better on the foot and ankle than ice at this point. I’m taking a week off from running, bare minimum, but possibly two depending on how this injury heals.

And my psyche? Well, it took a hit. As you can see from my data, I was totally fine… until I wasn’t (first three miles were the crowds, mile 9 was the potty break). Part of me wants redemption, right-friggin’-now. But another part of me wants a big ol’ break, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I had just hoped it would feel like a great reward to cap off a very successful season.

But here’s the thing – it still was a very successful season. I lowered my half-marathon PR three times this year: as of the very beginning of this year, my PR had been 1:59:03. It is now 1:43:56. I’ve also lowered my 10K best three times, and my 5K PR twice. If that’s not an incredibly successful year, I don’t know what is.

Yes, I’m probably going to cry some more over this DNF. Yes, I’ve cursed and I’ve yelled and I’ve gotten irrationally angry. But I made the right choice. I didn’t quit – I stopped when I knew it was wise to do so. When I knew I would be doing more damage, setting myself back more than just pushing past a little marathon pain.

And now, I have a score to settle. Next year, it’ll be mine. Next year, I’ll get that sub-4 hour marathon… and who knows what else?

Ankle freak-out

So I had grand plans for writing an inspiring, excited, nerve-riddled post about how much I planned to push myself tomorrow: run a smart, controlled race and push hard at the end, laying my heart out on the line.

Then Friday morning happened.

It started off innocently enough. It was very cold for late October – low 30s in the morning – and NF and I bundled up while saving our best warm layers for MCM possibilities (we packed every option). So I was probably overdressed, but it was just an easy 3-miler. We kept it very easy, in the 9:1x’s, very relaxed.

We were a quarter mile from home when it happened. I can’t even really tell you what it was that happened. There was a large rock on the sidewalk I had noticed on the way out, but that was on the wrong side, so I think more likely it was  a bad patch of sidewalk. But regardless, I did something that caused my left ankle to roll – hard. I shrieked and started to cry, not even entirely because it hurt (it did), but mostly because I saw my marathon flash before my eyes. All those weeks of training. All the stretching and foam rolling and rest and maintaining a balanced diet and abstaining from some of my favorite things and pushing through tempos and mile repeats and early wake-ups and, and, and…

I sat down on the ground and tried to wait for the pain to subside. He wanted me to try to walk but I knew I needed a minute for it to dissipate, for it to stop throbbing so badly. A couple minutes later, he helped me to my feet and we headed home. The pain dissipated but didn’t disappear, and when we went inside I put on a hoodie (since I knew I’d get chilled – fast) and put ice on it immediately. I also popped a couple ibuprofen within the first couple hours.

Since then it’s been just trying to do all the right things for it. My guy has gotten a lot of rolled/sprained ankles, so he knew that I shouldn’t judge it by the first day. He had an early meeting before we hit the road, so after I showered up and iced a bit more, I headed to the drug store to get a few things we needed, including a new ace bandage and a soft brace (I lost my other one – plus I think it was a wee bit small). I wrapped my ankle in the ace bandage fairly tightly (though not throbbing tight – just compression-tight) and was able to walk on it fine. No pain. It hurt worse immediately after icing since it was stiffen up, but I knew this was still for the best.

When we got to D.C., I unwrapped it, and it was pretty swollen (hadn’t been swollen in the morning at all, even a couple hours after it happened) and bruised. I iced more and treated my mental anguish as well.

RICE on the left, Maker’s Manhattan on the right

After a little touring around, we came back to the apartment where we’re staying with friends, and I took off the ankle brace I was wearing all day today (almost slept in it last night but it was too hot). Still swollen but the bruising seemed to have lessened. And it still didn’t hurt. NF has three types of resistance bands, and started me on the lightest just to test my strength and mobility, and check for any problematic pain. I did a few sets of 10 reps in every direction, as well as some calf raises. No pain. The only troublesome point was at the very top of a calf raise, I could feel tension below my ankle bone, but that’s at least partly just stiffness from being so immobilized from all the compression and swelling.

So where does this leave me?

I’m going to try to run it. I’ve been training so long and hard for this (not to mention all the carbs I’ve been eating this week – ha). But I plan to leave my stubborn pride at home. Every pain-free, successfully completed mile will be a gift. If I can run it – even if it’s slowly – that will be a success at this point. But if I experience pain that doesn’t dissipate after a few minutes, or if I’m badly altering my gait to compensate, I’m drop out.

Those are hard words to write, let alone say out loud.

But I would rather live to fight another day. Just don’t mind me if I end up weeping at the sideline at the hard-fought decision to DNF should the time come.

Fingers crossed. Getting to the start line healthy is the hardest part of any marathon training cycle. Here’s hoping for a little bit of luck.

MCM Training Week 15: Biding my time

Week 15. The hay is in the barn. All that remains is patience, and I have to tell you, I don’t have much of it. I haven’t had a full-on taper tantrum, but I can feel myself freaking out a bit more than I normally would. IT band sore after a run? Oh no, an ITBS flare-up! Eat something spicy 15 days out? I’m going to trash my gut before the race! 10-day forecast shows overnight low of 35*? I’m going to be a popsicle at the start line!

That’s enough of that.

Monday I wound up taking totally off. I had arrived back to my mom’s house in Cleveland after our trip to New York pretty late Sunday night, and given I had a deadline at work, wanted to get started pretty early. Nothing wrong with a little extra rest during the taper.

On Tuesday, we had an easy 6 in the morning – during which I hammered up Forbes hill (a little to NF’s dismay, I think, since it occurred to him halfway through the run that he had not really eaten dinner the night before – whoops). That evening, I made it to Pilates, where she told is to go get the pump bars to add a little stabilization for some standing squats. Oh, okay. Just some stabilization.

Then she had us use them for extra resistance during sidelying series near the end of class and as my hips and glutes were screaming for mercy, I knew I was right not to trust her. ;)

Wednesday I made it to spin for the first time in WEEKS. I got stuck on a squeaky bike, but it was a good class – a good amount of sprinting, plus a ton of hills.

It was tempo time on Thursday, or first “real” tempo run in a while (since my last one was progressive given I had been fighting a head cold), and “only” 6 miles (1-4-1 tempo). I was actually pretty psyched for this. I decided to ignore my watch as much as possible, and just went by feel and caught my splits. 7:18. Okay, I’ll slow down probably. 7:17. Guess I”m feeling pretty good! But seriously, I’ll ease off the gas. 7:17. This is getting ridiculous – okay let’s check my lap pace on this last one since it’s all uphill until the last maybe two-tenths of a mile. 7:15.

I almost did a fist pump and happy dance as I slowed into the cooldown, and I got my breath back quickly, having to force myself to really ease off during the last mile, since I was still clocking around 8:30s for a bit (it was a little downhill). I came up tot he apartment, where NF had been stretching for a couple minutes, and we shared our tempo successes, feeling really, really good. It was quite honestly my only good tempo of the training cycle, despite stellar race times, so it was a boost I really needed.

On Friday we shook it out with an easy 4-miler that included running up part of Shady.  That night we had our (very belated) house warming party, and pretty much our last food splurge until the race. Mmm, alcohol. Mmm, chips and salsa. Mmm, cookies. Mmm, buffalo chicken dip and buffalo cheese fries (I made the latter).

We recuperated on Saturday, detoxing with green smoothies for breakfast. We also both got haircuts so we can be stealth on race day (kidding – sort of). I was just kind of over having long hair, and it turns out this isn’t so bad (so far) for dealing with while running, especially now that it’s getting to be headband/hat weather anyway.

Frumpy before picture on the left – after on the right, natch

Sunday morning we had a double run date with our pals and former Ragnar teammates, Tim and Alys. They live in an apartment building that has part of the Steel Valley trail right behind it – right along the river. Serious jealousy. I used the cold weather as an opportunity to test run my charity singlet. Have I mentioned how I’m running MCM for ZEROCancer, raising money for prostate cancer research?

New hair, new pullover, dead eyes.

It was maybe in the high 30s that morning, but really sunny and pretty out. We stayed at a reasonably relaxed pace, though Alys likes to push it a bit, and my competitive edge gets the best of me and I follow her. But we stayed chatting almost the whole time, so the pace was still very doable. We stopped a couple times for things like potty breaks, but otherwise just kept on at a good clip for our 8 mile “long” run (only in quotes because 8 feels like a blip at this point in training).

We warmed up at their apartment with pumpkin spice coffee, pancakes, fried cinnamon apples, and apple chicken sausage. And pumpkin biscotti from Trader Joe’s – which is dangerous to know of it’s existence.

Now we’re in the final week. We have a short track workout tomorrow morning – just 2×1600, confidence-boosting, rust-shaking workout. Otherwise it’s all patience and biding our time and stretching and foam rolling and carbo-loading and SLEEPING until race day.

Taking lessons from the master

I’ll hopefully update once more before we head to D.C. I still have a race plan to concoct!