Race Report – Chicago Marathon

Where does the time go?! Chicago was marathon #4 and state #7. It doesn’t feel like all that long ago when I was in Boston chatting to my friend about entering the Chicago lottery…

Pre-Race

I flew in on Friday morning and my friend Beth & I grabbed tea (coffee for her) and headed to the expo. Luckily she lives in Chicago so I didn’t have to pay an outrageous amount for a hotel stay! *whew*

We spent 2.5 hours geeking out over all things running =D

We snagged all the freebies (including trying the beer of Chicago, 312) we could before leaving to check out the Nike store downtown so Beth could look for a new pair of shorts. It was supposed to be a warm race day and she wanted to look for something shorter and breezier than she had originally planned to wear.

Cue seeing my first DJ in an retail store. She was awesome BTW.

After that we went to the John Hancock Tower to see the view (from the women’s bathroom – the best view in town!), before heading to dinner at 9 pm. I was pooped. We had walked over 8 miles that day…far further than we planned. 

We had originally planned to do a 4 mile shake out on Saturday morning, and meet Deena Kastor & Bart Yasso, but after a long day Friday (I woke up at 3:30 EST for my flight!), we decided sleeping in was more important. The deal was sealed Friday night when Beth mentioned on the way home from dinner that her coach had told her sleep was more important than miles in the final week of the taper. Yes please.

In a nutshell (I swear I’m not trying to bore you with my whole trip…), Saturday was brunch (red velvet pancakes – YUM), and some more shopping (this time via Beth’s car) to see if she could find suitable race day shorts. No dice.

We finally came home and ate spaghetti while watching When Harry Met Sally and simultaneously being excited, and incredibly nervous about the race. It was supposed to reach 77 degrees on Sunday, and be fully sunny. Like not a cloud in the sky sunny. Beth had run Chicago in 2014 and said that the last miles of the race were not shaded, so it would be hot if the weather prediction was indeed correct. We fretted over race goals – should we go for the PRs we had trained for, or play it safe and try again another time?

We decided to go for it. We agreed we’d feel much worse after the race if we didn’t give it our all and go for the PR, than if we at least went for it and burnt out/hit the wall. Having decided my plan for race day – go out with the 3:20 pacers so I could save my mental energy for the final few miles when things got tough – I passed out immediately after the movie.

Race Day

Race morning was chilly, but I reminded myself to embrace it as we took the train to the start and parted ways. Beth was in corral G, so we couldn’t go through the gate together. We snapped a quick pic, wished each other luck, and were on our way.

I checked my bag, hit up the porta potty, and ate my Clif Bar before heading to Corral B. I lined up with the 3:20 pace group, and listened to other runners share previous marathon stories. I asked a random guy next to me to toss my jacket a few minutes before the start (he’d kind of become the go to guy for all the women’s throw away clothes), started the GPS on my watch, and at 7:30, we were off.

Instantly the pace felt fast. But not fast to my body, I was mentally freaking out over the thought that I was going to try and run a marathon at a pace just over 10 seconds per mile slower than my half-marathon pace. I focused on the ground in front of me since it was so crowded and I didn’t want to trip. We went through a short tunnel in the first mile and my watch lost it’s signal – it picked up again right after the tunnel, but cut out the entire length of the tunnel. I didn’t realize this until we hit the 1 mile mark and everyone’s watch beeped but mine. I glanced down and saw .75 miles. Womp womp. I took that as my cue to stick with the pace group for as long as possible.

The next few miles were dizzyingly crowded, but luckily with the pace group, we were all moving at the same speed, so I wasn’t too worried about tripping over anyone. I just would’ve felt more comfortable with some breathing room.

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We had 3 pacers, and they were all great in their own way. In the early miles, I was near the oldest of them, Coach Bob. As we would approach a turn I’d hear him shout “shorten your stride around the turn! we don’t want any tripping!” I tried his trick, and found it did indeed make rounding the turns in a crowded pack much easier. Good to know 🙂

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check out my arm…super flattering picture 😉

The main pace group leader was a young guy, fresh out of college, and he was great at telling us about the upcoming turns (for those of us who weren’t on, or couldn’t otherwise see the blue line). He also would run on the outside, just next to the spectators and drum up extra support/cheers/screams. It was awesome – like everyone was out there for us, the special little 3:20 pace group. Some of the other tips he’d shout I already knew, like to run in the middle of the road once you picked up your water/gatorade cup, or to pinch the cup to make it easier to drink out of.

The third pace leader was a quiet guy, who I ran near in the later stages of the race, but it was nice. It was nice to be near a quiet runner that wasn’t quiet because he was dying, or quiet because he was focused so hard on nailing his pace (because after all, this pace was easy for him).

At mile 6, I reached back to grab a GU and realized 2 of mine had fell out. UGH. I was pissed because I’d worn these shorts on several long runs during the summer, and in races and stored GUs without a problem, but for some reason it didn’t work out for Chicago. The thought that consoled me though, was when I had to rely on unfamiliar fuel in Boston when my fingers were too numb to unzip my shorts and retrieve 2 of my GUs. I sucked down a GU and kept moving.

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I didn’t feel as comfortable in these miles as I had during Boston, but I still felt like it was right. My goal was to PUSH myself in this race, and to finish with nothing left, so I didn’t want to be comfortable.

At mile 12, I took my second GU, and I took my one and only salt cap at the halfway point.

*Boredom alert* – At Boston, my GUs had no added sodium, so I took 2 salt caps – one before the race, and one at the halfway point. This time around, I couldn’t find a single GU without added sodium, so I went with the lowest amount I could find- Chocolate Outrage (apparently the new kind, not the ones I had during Boston) with 25 mg per packet. I did the math on Friday and figured that 4 GUs x 25 mg sodium each, + one salt cap (215 mg sodium) would equal roughly that of what I took in at Boston.

Shortly after the halfway point, I saw a group of spectators holding out GUs, so I grabbed one and tucked it in my shorts for later.

Not much happened over the next several miles. I was still with the group, still just outside of my comfort zone, and getting hot. Over the past few miles, I’d been dumping cups of water over my head at every aid station.

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I grabbed a power bar gel at mile 17.8, and took it shortly after. I found myself drifting ahead of the pace group sometimes, but I always slowed down when it happened. Ideally, I had a goal way in the back of my mind to break 3:20, but I didn’t want to leave the pace group too early, then kick myself mentally later when they flew right by me. I wanted to wait at least until mile 20.

Then mile 20 came and I was hurting. My legs were aching – I felt like the last 20 miles had been run on concrete rather than asphalt.

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By mile 21, I was slightly ahead of the pace group, maybe by several yards, but I could hear the leader of the group shouting “fight through the pain, fight it!” I was so hot and so tired, but I kept chugging along.

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I slowly increased the distance between myself and the pace group over the next mile, but by mile 23, they had caught up to me again. I tucked in behind the quiet leader and just focused on moving forward.

After half a mile or so, I pepped up again and went ahead of the pace group. At mile 24, I down the GU I had grabbed from a spectator earlier in the race (salted caramel), and told myself to just hang on. I could do anything for 2 miles.

But oh my GOSH I was aching so badly. My lower back was hurting and my legs hated me. They hated me more than they had at Boston. I decided it was because the course was SO FREAKING FLAT that the same leg muscles were working for the entire race, and never got a break. Yea there were tiny inclines over bridges, but it wasn’t enough.

Finally I was at mile 25. But 1 mile left suddenly sounded like so much more than when I had 2 left. I knew I was on pace for a big PR, but I just wanted to be done.

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I saw the 800 meters to go sign, then 400…then 300. What?! I was expecting to see 200 left after 400. Those jerks! Right on the final “hill” too.

Finally I turned left towards the finish..and tripped. Luckily I caught myself before I went down, but the spectators saw a pretty glorious stumble. That confirmed to me just how tired I was, because I didn’t trip over anything but my own two feet.

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I crossed the line and instantly stopped. My mind was jumping for joy. I not only had a big PR, but I finished the race without an ounce of anything left! I knew I pushed myself the hardest I could on that day. My body on the other hand, was screaming. My legs felt like they were attached to splints. I hobbled on straight legs through the finish chute, grabbed my blanket, my medal, water, and gatorade. I didn’t even stop my watch since I knew it was way off.

I hobble/hurried back to bag check and grabbed my phone to see my text confirmation.

3:19:02

Overall: 2,563/37,408

Female: 375/17,234

Age Group (18-39): 117/3,414

YESSS!

Just over 6 months ago, my PR was 3:31:04.

When I ran 3:26:06 in Boston on April 20th, I was psyched.

To knock another 7 minutes off that (in semi-cruddy weather, again), I am happy

Beth got a 4 minute PR herself as well, so it’s safe to say we showed Mother Nature who’s boss 🙂

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ART & Graston Technique: there’s a first time for everything

Earlier this week I had my first visit to a chiropractor’s office to get ART & Graston Technique. I wanted to outline it here because I really didn’t know what to expect, except that it would hurt, and it works. Everyone I’ve heard talk about it, in person or online, never had much to say or would recount their experience. But I learned so much stuff I don’t want to forget.

I haven’t mentioned it on the blog, really because this has turned into a journal of my race recaps more than anything, but I was seeing a physical therapist for several weeks in July & August.

Long story short, my right hamstring was permanently aching. I could still run, and while it didn’t hurt, I wished it felt like…well, like my left leg felt. Sitting for long periods was so uncomfortable, and going from sitting, to standing, to walking was equally uncomfortable until I’d walked a few steps and loosened my leg up. I’d been diligent about my exercises at home during this training cycle, but was lacking on the cross training at the gym. Maybe that was it? Maybe it was that I built up to 65+ miles much quicker than I did in the spring than when I was training for Boston?

Either way, I saw the PT, and she gave me some exercises and stretches to add into my routine, and would use an electronic stimulater thing on my leg that would both warm my muscles and, I guess stimulate them 🙂 Then she’d massage my leg, and it all helped. The ache wasn’t as constant as it used to be, and I wasn’t worried about getting injured like I had been.

For real – I cried after a few runs before seeing the PT because I was convinced it was going to turn into an injury. Drama queen much?

Sooooo why see a chiro? Well, my leg isn’t 100% back to feeling like my left leg, and I know of other runners who’ve used either ART and Graston, or a combination of both to keep running while simultaneously working on their bodies.

I checked my insurance (hooray! it’s covered with a $30 copay, no referral needed!), and booked an appointment. I filled out a bunch of forms ahead of time explaining where I was hurting, what may have caused it, what activities it was impacting, etc, then showed up, ready to go.

Dr. C. spend the first 10 minutes or so asking me about my running history – how many marathons I’d done, what my goal was for Chicago, if I stretched before or after runs, what shoes I ran in, how many miles I put on shoes before retiring them, etc.

I quickly learned that I needed a foam roller. The Stick wasn’t enough. I needed to be able to use my body weight when rolling, not just the strength of my arms. It’s ok if someone else was using The Stick on me, but I haven’t yet been able to convince my boyfriend to do it for me 😉

Then I was up and Dr. C was examining my body to see what kind of condition I was in. She was touching and tweaking me, and pointing out her findings along the way.

A brush of her finger between my shoulders quickly pointed out that my left shoulder blade juts out more than my right.

Her hands on my hips, wrapped around me showed me that my left hip was higher than my right. This was when my jaw dropped.

My spine had a slight curve in it.

When I was lying on my back, with my knees bent, my left knee is lower than the right.

So my left side needed adjusting, and to be strengthened. All along I thought my right leg was the weaker of the two since it had developed the problem, but it’s because I was putting more pressure on it during runs because my dang left side can’t do it’s job as well!

Dr C. explained that every muscle in the body has at least one trigger point. We are happy when these trigger points are sleeping. When they wake up, they cause pain, and the pain can radiate from that trigger point along the muscle, and hit another muscle where the pain continues spreading, until it reaches another trigger point. So on and so forth. Of course, this is assuming someone doesn’t take any action when they first feel pain.

She explained that I likely had a couple trigger points in my leg that needed to “go back to sleep”. The hamstring connects to the quads and IT band just around the knee, where I sometimes indicated I could feel a twinge. She explained she was going to use Graston and ART to separate the muscles and hit the trigger points.

What’s the difference between the two?

Graston Technique was developed by athletes, and uses stainless steel tools to find and break down scar tissue and fascial restrictions.

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source

Active Release Therapy (ART) was developed by Dr. Michael Leahy and is a soft tissue massage technique. – source

Then she got to work. She started with Graston on my right leg, rubbing a thin tool about 8 inches long up and down my hamstring. She pointed out when she was lower on the hamstring, toward my knee, there was a grittiness. I felt it – it was like just underneath my skin there was rough sandpaper, then as she slide the tool up my leg, it smoothed out.

After a few minutes of that, she started with ART. It was SO painful. I could see her digging into my hamstring with her elbow while she chatted to me about races she’d done, and I shared some of my experiences and goals with her. (Who doesn’t love to talk about running?) But there were times all I could do was gasp and clench my hands tight on the table, waiting for it to be over. She used her thumbs to press between my hamstring and IT muscles, were they come together on the outside of the knee, then it was time for me to flip over. I thought it would be less painful on my quads since they weren’t the reason I sought out treatment, but it felt just as bad. Once I even repeated “that hurts so much, omg that hurts, that hurts” repeatedly to her, in total shock as it felt like she was stabbing my muscles.

I’d heard it doesn’t feel good, but I was expecting something like how tempos don’t feel good. They aren’t fun, but they don’t hurt, they’re more uncomfortable than anything. This, on the other hand, does. I’m not sure if it’ll get less painful the more often I go (I hope so!), but I do absolutely consider it worth it.

After beating my muscles into submission, I was out of Dr. C’s office and working Dr. B. This part reminded me of PT – I was hooked up to a muscle stimulator, while lying on padded table with a back massager built in, almost like you’d find at Brookstone.

This was nice. I layed there relaxing for a while before Dr. B. showed me a quick foam rolling routine to hit the major leg muscles, and a few new stretches to incorporate for my hamstring.

I won’t be heading back again until after Chicago……but I’m excited to have these experts to work with, and to continue with the therapy 🙂

Have you ever tried ART or Graston Technique?

Race Report – Charles Street 12

Spoiler alert: I’m pretty darn psyched with how this race turned out given my attitude going into it the week of, and the fact that this wasn’t a goal race.

Also, my race pictures are by far the funniest I have ever seen. I snagged the best ones below 🙂

First things first: why wasn’t I excited? I signed up months ago when I remembered how much fun last year’s race was – the perfect whether, the first feel-good run I’d had in a while, plus fun chatting with old blogger friends & meeting new ones afterwards.

What I didn’t realize when I signed up was that this race fell on Labor Day weekend. My family has formed a tradition in the past few years of hanging out together on this weekend since my brother & I have birthdays early on in September…usually falling on Labor Day weekend. So when I signed up, I didn’t even consider the Sept. 5th race date. I glossed over it thinking our family weekend fell before that. The entire week before the race I was kicking myself for signing up for a race on Labor Day weekend, meaning I couldn’t drive down to my parent’s lake house on Friday night. Nor could I linger after the race to hang with some Lisa, Salt, or Sara.

I had a stressful day at work on Friday, and the second I was off work, I was fretting about the logistics of the race, and the fact that as soon as I was done, I had to book it from Baltimore to Rockville, then all the way down to Smith Mountain Lake in southern VA. What can I say, I’m a high strung person.

I tried to set all my thoughts aside that night, but didn’t end up falling asleep until sometime after 9, and I woke up at 3:30, unable to get back to sleep. I shrugged it off, got dressed, and headed to the city.

My training plan called for 18 miles total, with 14 at MGP (7:37). So I arrived early enough to catch the first bus at 5:30 from the finish line to the start, up in Towson. Once there, I quickly scarfed down a Clif Bar (Crunchy PB of course!) while I pinned on my bib, then checked my bag and headed out.

I ran 6 miles at an 8:30 pace overall, 2 of those miles at “MGP”: 7:34 and 6:59. As soon as I finished the warm up, I had 30 minutes until the start, so I ate one of my GUs while I waited in line for a porta potty. I didn’t bring any salt caps since these GUs had 125 mg sodium each, while my old GUs (which I used with salt caps) had no sodium. I’m not a fan of these new GUs- they make my mouth so darn dry for what feels like a good half or 3/4 of a mile afterward. Salt caps don’t, hence my preference.

After waiting in the porta potty line for just short of a millennium, I booked it up to the starting line, and slid in up front. The fastest pace group was 1:35, so I strolled in front of them, but stopped about 15 feet back from the line.

As the race director & other folks rattled through the announcements, and the singing of the National Anthem, I felt the familiar racing of my heart, excited to actually be on the line. I was surprised. All week I’d been far from excited for the race. I knew the course was wonderful and I’d loved everything about the race last year, but I had wanted to wake up at 5 am and knock out 18 miles ASAP all week long. But here I was, moments before the start, absolutely excited. I thought to myself I’d surely be in for a PR if I could manage MGP for 12 more miles since I ran last year’s at a 7:41 pace.

As soon as the gun sounded, I was off. I tried to settle in behind 2 women, but around half a mile in, glanced down at my watch and saw a 6:50 something pace. I winced. Not what I was aiming for. I slowed down a bit, but still grimaced when I saw my first split: 7:20.

The next 5 miles were all roughly 7:10 – 7:25. I was telling myself to slow down with each passing mile, but to be honest, my pride was getting the better of me. Deep down, I knew I might be blowing it, but I was relatively close to the front for women in a race of this size and couldn’t let go of how good it felt to be semi-near the front.

I downed my 2nd and final GU at mile 6 and kept chugging along. The next mile was something in the mid-7s, then I found another gear.

My final 5 miles of the race were all at a sub-7 pace, mostly between 6:50-6:55. I’ve never in my life run sub-7s for anything longer than a 5k, so to say I’m happy would be an understatement. To run that fast for me on an 18 mile day just makes my heart sing and tells me I’m doing something right!

I was reeling people in, and feeling good. After seeing a 6:51 for the 8th mile, I was shocked. It didn’t feel nearly that fast. I was sure the next mile would be back in the mid-7s, if not high 7s. The next mile was 6:49. I was confident it wouldn’t last. Then I ran a 6:53.

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all the lolllllls at my race face(s)

I didn’t get a true runner’s high, but in my mind, I was ecstatic. I was running alone, but steadily passing people. I stopped doubting myself and just went off effort. I’d glance at my watch to make sure I’d catch the mile split, but otherwise didn’t let whatever it displayed affect my speed.

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During the last half mile or so I was feeling a little sick to my stomach. It wasn’t awful, just uncomfortable – like if I pushed to my max I’d surely be sick. I was confident though, that if this had been a half marathon, I could’ve kept going, since it wasn’t all out.

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While it wasn’t a serious hurt in my stomach, it is something that makes me consider my fueling situation. There’s just something about my GU + salt cap combo that works for me. These added sodium GUs make me thirsty, make me drink more, and fill my stomach nearly until it’s sloshing. Far from how I want to feel in the late stages of a longer race.

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you’d think facing a mirror on all treadmill runs might help me with my grimace problem…but it doesn’t 😉

Regardless, I was psyched to stop my watch and see 1:25:50 for 12.14 miles – a 7:08 pace overall! To be fair, this is a net downhill course. While there are some tough uphills in the the first few miles, the last 9 miles are comparatively easy. So negative splitting this course isn’t the hardest thing to do in the world, but I was really happy with how consistently I ran, and for running a new 5 mile PR in the midst of a 12 mile race.

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Officially I ran a 1:25:48, or 7:09 pace –close to a 7 minute PR 🙂

Overall: 25/1859

AG (20-29): 3/272

Who else raced this weekend?

Do you notice how salt in your race fuel affects you?

Race Report – Pikes Peak Ascent

Wow, state #6 is in the books! Sometimes I still can’t believe I did it.

I don’t usually run on, or race on trails, and I’ve never run at altitude, so I knew this race would be different than any other I’d ever done. It definitely was.

My boyfriend, S and I stayed in Manitou Springs, about 20 minutes west of Colorado Springs, and at the base of Pikes Peak, the night before the race. I laid out my outfit and packed a backpack with warm layers. In the emails sent out before the race, one of them mentioned the need to bring layers and carry them during the race. One year, several people were forced to drop out when they were nearing the end because they didn’t have enough clothes and it was snowing on the summit. I also packed a drop bag to pick up at the finish with fresh clothes and even more layers. Once runners reach the summit, they have to take a shuttle down, so it would be a while before I could freshen up, and the emails recommended packing warm, dry clothes for the ride down.

I was up at 5:20, and quickly changed, sprayed on my sunscreen, grabbed my drop bag and headed out the door with S. We only had a half mile or so drive to the nearby middle school parking lot where runners were recommended to park. I ate my Clif Bar while we headed to the porta-potties and drop bag area.

I instantly loved that our bibs had our names on them when one of the volunteers called me over by name to grab my stuff and wished me luck. Seriously, every race needs the option to personalize their bib. I wasn’t expecting any spectators during the race, but appreciated the acknowledgement from a friendly volunteer.

Then S & I headed off to the porta-potties. There was a U-shaped group of potties, and 2 far off ones, so we booked it for the 2 far off ones since the line was shorter. Turns out the shorter line meant the wait was still long since there were only 2. Duh.

After that, S and I headed to start line. The first wave started at 7:00, but I was in the 5th wave, so my start time was 7:05.

Like Boston, your bib number was based off your qualifying time, determining which wave you were assigned to start in. Loved this.

Soon I was passing off my jacket to S and kissing him goodbye before tucking in with the other 500 numbered bibs in my wave. I was nervous, mostly about the altitude. I hadn’t felt any effects in my short time in Colorado (we arrived Thursday night, and the race was Saturday morning), and knew the recommended time to race at altitude if you’re not accustomed is either within 48 hours of arriving, or 10+ days after. So you either get it over with before your body starts trying to adjust, or wait until you’re mostly adjusted. So I was within one of the recommended times, but I really didn’t know what to expect.

The website said the Ascent (13.32 miles) takes roughly the time of a runner’s standard marathon. But given that I hadn’t done any hill specific training (and obviously no altitude training), I told S that 3 hours & 30 minutes was the fastest time I’d meet him at the summit.

I tried to catch a signal on my watch at the start, but wasn’t surprised when it wasn’t happening since we were in a small town at the bottom of a mountain. I figured I’d take GUs and salt cap based off time. Speaking of, I took my first salt cap just before the start.

At 7:05 – we were off. Slowly 🙂

I was actually surprised how long it took to reach the hiking trail. We ran through Manitou Spring for about 1.5 miles before we hit it.

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I ran slowly and monitored my breathing closely, but felt ok. I was also trying to stay near the back of my wave. Shortly after hitting the trail, I started walking quickly with the runners around me.

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It was a cool morning, but it felt wonderful – just perfect for a long hike up a mountain 🙂

Around 45ish minutes in, I took a GU. By this point, mostly everyone around me was using a run/walk method. We’d walk the steepest sections, and run (more like trot) through the smaller inclines. I’d also noticed that rather than counting up miles like most races, this race counted backwards. The first sign I saw was 11 miles to the summit, then 10, etc.

The trail we were running on (Barr Trail), was a series of switchbacks in the beginning, so the race wasn’t as steep as I’d anticipated. I was actually surprised at how much “running” I got to do.

Barr Trail

source

I was also pleasantly surprised that there were spectators and aid stations (bring on the cowbell)! I didn’t see much about it on the website (pretty much my only complaint about the race, the website was not set up spectacularly), so brought my water bottle to the race. The volunteers were fantastic – so positive and supportive, and always cheering  runners on by their name. They also had pitchers to refill water bottles/backpack bladders, in addition to just cups. I ended up refilling my bottle twice during the race, and taking advantage of the Gatorade at most of the stations.

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Around and hour and 45 minutes into the race I took my second GU. It was it little under 7 miles to the summit I think, and the switchbacks were far and few between. I heard a girl behind me say we were probably at around 10,000 feet, since that’s always when her fingers started swelling. I checked my own, and confirmed my fingers looked like little sausages. Around 20 minutes later, I took my second salt cap.

While I was breathing hard, I felt like I was at marathon effort, and would even zone out from time to time, like I would in a runner’s high. What I did notice was that my legs were toast. My calves, quads, and hamstrings were sore. I liked the running parts more than the walking because it felt like a break for my muscles – if I was running it wasn’t as steep and therefore not as strenuous on my legs.

Eventually, we were above the tree line and back to the switchbacks, I think around 3 miles to the summit. I took another GU and kept on trucking. The views were gorgeous, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as I liked, because I was nervous. I was tired and the trail wasn’t super wide, so I didn’t want to stand around and lose myself in the view.

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While it was breezy up there, it was hot. I felt like I was right next to the sun and it was just roasting my pale skin. By now, I’d passed a couple people sidelined with cramps, and one guy was on his hand and knees and clearly very sick. He seemed determined to finish though when most people passing asked if he was ok.

With 2 miles left to the summit, I was feeling drained. It was very steep again. Every time I wanted to slow down, just to make it feel a little bit easier, I’d think of the finish line and get a little emotional. I was sooo close. But not quite there. I could hear the cheers of everyone at the summit for all the runners finishing and couldn’t wait to be there myself.

For a while, we were walking on small pieces of gravel and it was agonizing. My calves were screaming at me, and I was hunched over like I had a weight around my neck. It felt like charging up a hill made of sand.

When I saw the sign for 1 mile to the summit, I considered taking my final GU (like I would around mile 24 of a marathon), but just couldn’t stomach the thought of it. I was huffing and puffing, but I was close gosh darn it! I’d be at the finish in another 20 minutes or so, and I didn’t feel drained of energy, I just had very sore legs, and my breath was heavy from the altitude.

At one point, I stopped to lean against a big rock and dig a piece of gravel out of my shoe. When I pushed off the rock to get going again, I got dizzy. I slowed down a bit, worried for my safety, but keep moving forward.

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It was the hardest mile of my life – it took me 25 minutes. Every time I reached a switchback and had to change directions, I was hit with another bout of dizziness. I kept thinking of the finish line to keep myself going.

For maybe the last quarter mile, I was following a guy in a green shirt. He was like my little guiding light on a dark night. I just focused on him, and nothing else. At one point he moved to the side and offered to let me pass, but I blabbered something that I can’t remember, and he started moving again for me to follow him.

I felt like I was holding my breath for the last few minutes of the race – just hanging on for dear life and oh so ready to see the finish line. Finally I did, and I started trotting behind green shirt guy to the line. The announcer said our names & where we were from as we crossed, and I felt instant relief.

3:54:25

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Overall: 328/1694

Female: 74/634

Age Group (25-29): 16/79

I instantly started shaking uncontrollably, and burst into tears – from overwhelming happiness to have finally made it, and the need to just sit down and gather my bearings. The volunteers were amazing – they tossed a medal around my neck and grabbed me right away, then passed me off to one another up the hill, until of of them wrapped my arm around his shoulder and helped me to an area near the drop bags to sit down. On that short walk he was so encouraging. Maybe he thought I was disappointed from my tears, but he was saying how fantastic I was, that I did it!, and I kicked butt!

I sat for a while just slowing my breathing, and not moving as I people watched. They passed my drop bag to me, and I had signal for a brief second on my phone. I texted S to see where he was, and waited…and waited. Long story short, he didn’t have signal the entire time he was at the summit, and we were never able to find each other! He had pictures and videos of the finish line, but somehow we slipped by each other.

After 15 minutes or so, I got to my feet, changed in the summit store’s bathroom, and snapped a happy picture showing how I really felt about my accomplishment.

7,815 ft vertical gain over 13.32 miles…finishing elevation 14,115 ft (not at this sign :))

Then it was off to the shuttle vans to head down the mountain. A little ways down the mountain, they switched us from vans to school buses, and staring out the window, I was astounded at what I’d just power hiked (for lack of a better word) up. I rested my head against the window and watched the scenery pass my by.

Once my bus arrived at the starting area, I picked up my finisher’s jacket and grabbed the best food ever while I texted S and my cousin to come pick me up.

Not something I’d normally eat, except for the grapes (ok..maybe that sugary treat too ;)), but this was spectacular after the race. I hadn’t had anything since finishing the race about an hour earlier, and was starving. Salt, carbs and sugar was just what I was craving.

Would I recommend this race to another runner?

Ab-so-freaking-lutely! 

  • Stunning scenery
  • Fantastic volunteers – beyond helpful, kind, supportive, etc.
  • Manitou Springs (where the race starts, and the after party is held) is a pretty cool place 🙂 My cousin showed S and I around town that evening, and I fell in love with the small town, hippie feel
  • For the swag lovers: nice medal (has the elevation, distance, and vertical gain on it, as well as mountains on the ribbon), finisher’s jacket
  • Challenging in a new way – this race doesn’t have me wanting to do another race at altitude right away, but I’m definitely interesting in seeing what I can find for some of my other states 🙂

Training Check In

It’s hard to believe I’m already in the middle of my 7th week of training for the Chicago Marathon – I swear time passes by more quickly with each passing year!

Since I haven’t been doing weekly training recaps for this training cycle like I did for Boston this Spring, I figured I could do a quick check in post to say how things are going, and what’s different this time around from training through winter/spring 🙂

Biggest change: I’m not using Hansons Marathon Method. (Whattt??) I know, I know. Hansons helped me nail a PR in Boston, and I felt good doing it too. I absolutely plan to use this method again, but I’m doing so for next year’s Boston Marathon. The reason I really chose Hansons in the first place was that the longest run on the schedule was 16 miles. I hate winter weather, and the thought of suffering through multiple 20-milers in the dead of winter really turned me off. I completely loved Hansons, and think the cumulative fatigue worked to my advantage on race day, especially on Boston’s course when my legs felt trashed after 16 miles downhill (ok rolling hills…but mostly down).

This time I’m using a plan from Advanced Marathoning. I got the book for Christmas back in 2012 and read through it then and there. But I used Run Less, Run Faster for my Baltimore Marathon in 2013, and Hansons for Boston this year. I didn’t want to use Hansons 3 cycles in a row (especially since I don’t mind super long runs in the summer), and I didn’t want to go back to Run Less, Run Faster.

Enter Advanced Marathoning. I chose the 55-70 miles per week plan since with Hansons I topped out at 66 and felt good (meaning no injuries or soreness, just general tiredness). I’m using the plan as prescribed for the most part, except for the addition of progressive runs throughout, and adding speed to a couple of the longer runs.

Most weeks look like this:

Monday – 9-11 miles with 5-6 at tempo

Tuesday – Body Pump

Wednesday – 13-15 miles

Thursday – 10-12 miles

Friday – 5 miles

Saturday – 15-21 miles

So far I haven’t done any speedwork, which Hansons had me doing from the start. This plan has an endurance build up before the speedwork comes in, so I’ll be starting it in the next week or two.

One of Alison’s recent recaps reminded me about fast finishes as well, so I’m incorporating those into my runs more often as well. I used to run fast finishes or some variation of progressive runs ALL.THE.TIME. in the winter – but that’s because at least 25% of my weekly miles were on the treadmill, and it became second nature to pick it up at the end. Since I returned to nearly 100% outside running, I kind of zoned out and stuck to the same pace for my entire run. Not anymore though 🙂

Cross-Training: For Boston, my cross-training was solely yoga and a variety of planking after pretty much every run. I’ve kept up the planking, but have switched out yoga for body pump. The truth is, I get bored of whatever cross training it is I do after doing it week after week for months on end. I’ll go back to yoga at some point, but for now I wanted a break. Back to body pump it is.

I’m also using the app 30 days, again from something Alison mentioned. It builds challenges for you based on what you can already do for a specific exercise, over a 30 day time span. So if you can do 10 push-ups, over a 30 day period, it might build you up to 45. I’m trying to do better about “the little things” during this cycle, and this app keeps me on top of it – I’m using is specifically for push ups, mountain climbers, and wall-sits. Additionally, I’m doing bridges and leg lifts since my right glute and IT band have been feeling the mileage. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about (yet), but definitely want to be diligent about the prehab so I can keep running. Last but not least, I try do do some calf raises or shin strengtheners each night.

Saddest Change: I said goodbye to Sammy 😦

We met about a year ago on our first run each with the Montgomery County Road Runners, exchanged numbers, and never went back to the club. We ran together twice a week, in the morning or evening, in the heat and cold, wind and rain. But it was time for her to fly out to CA for a road trip across the country with her boyfriend before starting grad school in PA – awesome way to spend some vacation days before starting school, but she is sorely missed.

Races before THE GOAL RACE: Just 2 weeks before I fly out to Colorado for the Pike’s Peak Ascent! Have I done any specific training for it? Nope. I find it kind of funny that I signed up for a 13.32 race up a mountain 2 months before my goal marathon that’s known for being one of the flattest courses around. But really, I just want to have fun in Colorado. I have no time expectations. They say the ascent takes you roughly the amount of time it takes to finish a marathon, but given that I’m not training at altitude, or on hills specifically, I’m not really taking that into consideration. Crossing the finish line alone will put a smile on my face 🙂

After that, it’s the Chuck 12, then my first 8K race – the Kensington 8K. Then Chicago with Beth! Luckily for me, she just moved to Chicago, and will know all the cool places to go 😀

2.5 months to go!

How’s your training going?

What “little things” do you do daily to for your running body?

Ragnar Relay WV

Though this is a new state for me, I didn’t consider it for my 50 states list. I only want to consider individual races, running specific (no obstacles like the Tough Mudder I did in NC in 2013). I’m so glad I wasn’t going to consider it though, given the end result.

The idea came about one Thursday night a few months ago when a Ragnar ambassador visited my Thursday night run club’s Fleet Feet store. It sounded amazing when she said “It’s like any Ragnar race, but instead of vans, you just camp out in one place while your runner hits the trails.”

Teams were comprised of either 8 people, or for an ultra team, 4 people. The course encompassed 3 loops: a green (3.5 miles), a yellow (4.6 miles), and a red (6.7 miles), all run on trails of the Appalachian Mountains. For a standard team, 1 runner started on the green course, then passed the bib off to the second runner who’d run the yellow course. The third runner would take the red loop, and the fourth would hit the green. So on and so fourth until each runner had run each loop one time, for a total of 14.8 miles.

Appalachians Course Map 2015

I signed up with 2 friends from my run club, Brett and Mike, and their friend Dan, who use to run with the club before he moved to Florida. So as an ultra team, we were responsible for running each loop twice – or 29.6 miles. We could run 6 legs, or 3 legs of doubled-up loops. I was excited at the thought of my first “ultra”, though it would be broken down into legs.

Our heat was scheduled to start at 2 pm on Friday afternoon, but a few days prior, we received an email that due to the weather predictions, all start times had been moved up an hour. So we hit the road at 7:30ish on Friday morning, and arrived at the campsite around 11. We set up the tents in the rain (this may have been an omen of things to come), and got checked in. 

Team Stay Vertical: myself, Dan, Brett, and Mike

I volunteered to go first, with the decision among team Stay Vertical to run single loop legs during the day, and double up at night. So at 1 pm, I was off on the green trail. It was disgusting. I ran maybe half of it (very slowly I should add), but the other half was a muddy mess. I didn’t have trail shoes, and quickly realized that it was a huge mistake on my part. People were passing me left and right, something I’m not used to once I get going in a race. I couldn’t settle into a pace or find my groove which really threw me off. I had to stay mentally engaged through the run as I watched my footing and tried to keep a pace faster than a slow walk. I managed to stay on my feet through the end, and I passed the bib off to Dan. 

the aftermath from my first leg

While Dan was out running, I headed back to our site with Brett and Mike, telling them the conditions were pretty sucky. I rubbed off as much of the dried mud as I could, and put on my running gear for leg 2.

Dan came back and passed the bib off to Mike, then Mike to Brett. We all agreed the trails weren’t great, but hey, we were just out to experience the relay and have some fun.

When Brett finished the green loop I headed out on the yellow. This one was even muddier than my first loop. Again, I was walking much of the course, or running very slowly and carefully when I could. It was absolutely gorgeous scenery if you didn’t pay attention to the ground. I ran with a woman for a bit who was celebrating her 50th birthday, though she considered herself more of a cycler. We chatted about races and the terribly muddy trails, which helped passed the time and distract me from the frustrations of not being able to really run. Once I finished, I again handed the bib off to Dan as he headed out for the red course.

 

after my second leg

I tried once again to scrub as much of the dried dirt off me as possible (did I mention the campsite had showers, but were out of water?), and I changed into my next running outfit.

Dan took much longer than expected to run the red loop – it had apparently taken a turn for the worse since Mike had run it for his first leg. Dan passed the bib off to Mike, and we grabbed dinner. The dinner options weren’t bad – a hamburger, hotdog, chicken, or pasta, all with a  side of a roll and a salad, with cookies for dessert. I opted for the pasta (with veggies mixed in, hooray!) and tried to wrap my head around running the red and green loop next.

As soon as we finished eating, Mike came in and passed the bib off to Brett. I headed back to the site to rest for a bit, but before I knew it, I was back at the exchange station with a flashlight in hand, grabbing the bib from Brett, along with her headlamp. It was sometime shortly after 8 when I left, and I remember thinking to myself, “it’s just 10ish miles. On trails. Maybe 2 hours of running.”

No.

Not even close.

The trails has disintegrated into layer upon layer of thick, shoe-sucking mud. It was a struggle to walk at times because the mud’s hold was so strong on my feet and I would find myself nearly losing either my shoe, or my balance as I tried to move forward. Darkness quickly feel and I clicked on the headlamp wondering what on Earth I’d signed up for.

The red loop went through a swamp, which by this time was just a giant, muddy pond. At one point the mud swallowed me up to my waist and I shrieked, alone in the swamp. I was scared. I’d see someone maybe every 15 or 20 minutes. It was dark, and it was lonely.

By the time I hit the green loop, it was unrecognizable. I struggled to maintain forward progress and the situation had turned me bitter.

I did not sign up for this. If I wanted a bleeping mud run, I would’ve signed up for a bleeping mud run!

I was nearly in tears and I was so frustrated and I felt so alone. Those who passed me were either on the same end of the spectrum as me, silent and clearly miserable, or freakily chipper. Some wished me luck as they slid past me and I couldn’t help but wonder how they were possibly enjoying themselves if they didn’t have an endorphin rush.

I finally made it back to the exchange point and passed the bib off to Dan shortly before 11:30. I tossed it to him with an “I’m so over this” and wished him luck on his loop before I trudged back to the tent. I was exhausted and miserable. Brett and Mike asked me how it went when I returned and I said something along the lines of it was awful, but at least I’m done…I just need some rest. They left me alone and I crawled into my sleeping bag too tired to care about scrubbing the caked mud off of me. It didn’t matter anyway, it seemed like a waste of time when I’d be running another muddy loop in several hours.

I checked my step count, curious to see where I was for the day, and saw the highest number ever since getting it (I didn’t wear it for the Boston Marathon). Seeing the number gave me a brief moment of happiness.

 

Then I texted my boyfriend and passed out.   

Dan came back around 4:30 in the morning from his loop and passed the bib off to Mike. I woke up incredibly thirsty, but out of water. I’d chugged it all when I got back from my last loops. I grabbed 2 water bottles and headed down to the filtered water station shivering in the cool night weather. I can’t be the most miserable one here I thought.

I made it back to the tent and crashed hard.

Mike woke Dan & I up around 7:30, sometime after he passed the bib off to Brett.

“We’re not fast enough. They’re calling a bunch of teams up who aren’t on pace to finish before 3 pm. Apparently there’s a big storm coming in, so they want everyone out of here by then.”

Dan and I just looked at him. What? Um it’s hard to actually run, never mind “fast” on these muddy wrecks of trails! 

“They want us to start doubling up. 2 runners going at a time. So we have less rest, but knock out miles twice as quickly.”

We all just stared at each other. I’m not sure who even said it first, but soon we were all admitting just how awful our last legs were.

“I was a little bummed to hear you were pretty much over it last night, but after I ran my leg I’m with you. Bleep this. If I wanted a nighttime walk through the mud, I could’ve done that on my own without shelling over money” Mike said.

Mike and I were ready to leave. Dan said he was up to leave, but if Brett wanted to stay and finish it out, he would do it. It all came down to Brett. She’s not a quitter either.

I looked down at my muddy legs.

guess who forgot her flip flops. Me. Thankfully Mike had a pair in addition to his Crocs he brought

Mike & I looked at each other.

“I hope she’s miserable. Not injured. Just miserable”

Same here I thought.

Mike flagged Brett down as she was passing by our camp during her loop and she was down to leave.

I’m not trying to bash Ragnar Relays here, but we all felt this one was poorly run. There were injured runners on the trails and frankly, what we were doing couldn’t be called trail running. With each passing hour, the trail got worse and worse. We were shocked they actually held the thing on a weekend after several days of rain.

Dan turned in our bib and grabbed our medals while Brett hitched a ride from another member of a quitting team to the car. Mike and I packed everything up (mostly in trash bags since the ground was soaked from on and off rain throughout the night), and each tossed a pair of shoes in the trash. 

Then we left.

I found a little comfort in knowing we were one of many teams to leave early that day, but I still left a little frustrated. It was the first time I’d ever not finished a race. Same for Dan and Brett. I’m hoping one day I get the chance to do another relay, but under much better conditions.

Have you ever DNF’ed?

Race Report – Baltimore 10 Miler

This might be my shortest race recap ever 🙂

It was nice weather for a June race, 68 degrees & overcast at the start. My boyfriend (S) and I got there early to beat the traffic and got to see a beautiful sunrise over Druid Lake as a reward.


Just before the race we met up with Sammy & her friends – Sammy and I were running, S and her friends were spectating.

Based on recent race times, I knew I was capable of running a 10 mile PR, but I had only really trained for 3 weeks for this, after taking 3 weeks easy after Boston. That, and I knew this course was ridiculously hilly in the second half, so I was doubting my PR chances before I toed the line.

I tucked in with the 1:15 pacers and told myself to stay with them for as long as possible, and if I felt strong, leave them at mile 7.

The first 5 miles were pretty easy, mostly rolling downhills, and the pace didn’t feel too hard. But it wasn’t comfortable either. At the the start, the pacers said they’d be running even 7:30 splits and I thought that sounded easy. I mean my half marathon pace is faster than that, and many of my tempo runs while preparing for Boston were around a 7:15 pace.

But my legs just didn’t feel speedy. I felt like I’d lost so much after Boston, and there was no way I could get back to were I was in 3 short weeks.

So I stuck with the pacers for most of the race, all the way through to mile 8.5. Then I slowly started drifting ahead, but I didn’t feel like I could kick it in either. I was thanking my lucky stars that it was partly cloudy and there was a nice breeze over the last few miles.

I passed Sammy coming into mile 9, but was too tired to say much to her other than hello.

For the final mile, I approached a guy who I have to thank for the way I finished. I mentally wasn’t feeling it, though I probably could’ve pushed harder. I wasn’t hurting the way I normally am at races where I give my all. He said “don’t leave me! You can stick with me!” anytime I drifted back. So I stuck with him though I knew I wasn’t running a strong race. When we had maybe .15 miles left, we came up behind a guy in a blue shirt and he said “you can catch him, do it!” So I pushed a little harder and he went with me. We passed the guy and blue and came into the finish together at 1:14:35.

I didn’t catch his name, but afterwards we exchanged a sweaty hug and words of thanks before I made my way through the finisher’s chute. I grabbed an ice cold towel and draped it around my neck, snagged a banana, and ran into Sammy on my way to meet S.

We grabbed a free shirt & our premium, I grabbed one of my free beers, and we all sat in the grass to listen to the band play and relax for a bit.

The band wasn’t bad, but I found it funny that the singer kept congratulating everyone on their 10K race. Then somebody would correct him, and next time he mentioned the race it was a 10 miler. Then he’d go back to calling it a 10K. Poor guy couldn’t get it straight.

So I squeaked out a 5 second PR, but didn’t really feel like celebrating. I know I should.

  • My previous PR was run in crappy conditions- on snow and ice – but, it was flat as a pancake. So now my current PR is on a hilly course.
  • My PRs are usually run when it’s between 40 – 60 degrees. Not nearly 70.
  • Again, I didn’t train for months for this race like I did Boston. I took plenty of time off, then squeezed what I could into 3 short weeks of training.

I think I can’t shake the post race blues this time because I didn’t give the race my all. I could have run faster towards the end, I could have left the pace group behind earlier, but I didn’t. Mentally, I just wasn’t there.

I will say though, next time I sign up for a 10 miler, I’ll be focusing on it for more than 3 weeks. I’m ready for a big PR.

The question is…when will I do it?