Category Archives: Race Recap

ECSCA 50k Race Recap

Hello…it’s me.

(clenched teeth emoji)

So…yikes. This has been quite the hiatus from the blogosphere, and I’ll admit I’m a little overwhelmed at the thought of trying to paraphrase ALL that’s gone on since we last chatted.

In a few words: a lot has happened over the past year, which is entirely related to my internet absence. I can’t make any promises, but I would love to recap this year, my training, and my upcoming goals at some point before 2016 starts. Time will tell, but here’s hoping.

But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because something crazy happened this past Saturday.

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I ran my first ultramarathon!

Most likely, you didn’t even know that I was training for or even considering running an ultra, and with good reason. I’ve been a diligent servant to the roads since I started running, I’m scared of big hills, and I only really started trail running this year. But, all those excuses are part of the long list of things that changed this year.

For the past six-ish months, I’ve found myself entranced by the siren sound of the trails. The running is more enjoyable, more rewarding, and exponentially more scenic. I recover much quicker, and I can feel myself getting fitter and faster. Do I still have big goals for the road? Certainly. But I’m discovering that what I once thought were mutually exclusive identities (being a road runner vs. being a trail runner) are actually quite complimentary to one another. I’m really enjoying it all, which ultimately lead me to the decision to forego a fall marathon for the sake of a new goal: a trail 50k.

I chose the North Face Endurance Challenge Series – California for a number of reasons, but namely because of all the rave reviews I’d heard from my friends who did it last year. Specially Julia, who ran it as her first 50k, could not say enough great things about the experience. Not to mention that there would be a deep November Project field attending, it was uncharted terrain (for me), and at sea level. No brainer all around.

My training for this race was easily the least diligent I’ve ever been while training for an “A” race. I mainly just followed a week-by-week schedule, never really planning ahead anything tied to certain distances or paces. If I’m being honest, for maybe the first time in my running career, I felt a little under-trained going into it; not horribly, but my longest long runs were 18 miles seven weeks out and 24 miles three weeks out.

Regardless, I was really excited going into the race and shockingly relaxed. I kept waiting to get overwhelmed with nerves and incessant butterflies (as per usual), but it never really hit me. I was mostly just amped and ready to spend a day out on the dirt. The lack of pressure to achieve a specific finishing time helped a lot too, not to mention the knowledge that I would be walking and hiking for plenty of it.

Enough already! Onto the race.

My goals (you knew I’d have ’em) were as follows:

  1. Run with joy
  2. Be proud of my race
  3. If things went well, finish under 6 hours

The race took place in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco. The course traversed up and down the sweeping vistas along the peninsula, in and out of grassy farm pastures, and all around the Muir Woods. It was an enviable set up no matter what type of runner you are, and I highly recommend a visit to this area if you’re able.

We started at 7 am, which meant the sun was barely creeping into the valley when the gun went off. It was picture perfect conditions: 50-ish degrees, mostly cloudy, and a slight coastal breeze to ward off any glimpses of overheating. It would remain that way the entire day, and none of us could have asked for better weather.

My approach to the miles focused on two key things: maintaining my “coyote pace” (run like you can run forever) and staying mentally present. Remembering presence is not only a good distraction, but it really helps me to not get overwhelmed by how much more is left and to just enjoy the day. Sounds cliche (it is), but it works.

So with these thoughts in mind, we were off on a 31.1 mile journey! Considering the length of this race and the fact that I don’t want to water down its greatness with superfluous detail, I’m going to recap it in sections that stood out to me.

-Journey to Cardiac

Miles 1-8 of the race were a superb “warm up,” and I was entirely exhilarated the whole time. There was a lot of up and down, but nothing that was unmanageable. The rising sun was altering the surroundings by the minute, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the scenery and camaraderie. Everyone was amped up and so encouraging of one another. I loved feeling fresh, strong, and ready for a good day.

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-Cardiac

The longest climb of the day took place between miles 9-13, with 1,300 feet of gain up to the Cardiac aid station, and it was the part of the course I’d been nervous about ever since I saw the elevation profile. I’m not great at sustained climbs, and I knew mentally it would be challenging to be going up for that long.

I look less happy than I was. But I was! Also: views on point.

I look less happy here than I was. But I was! Also: views!

Turns out, this was one of my absolute favorite parts of the entire race! I focused specially on running a very steady, easy pace up and up the whole time, and I found that not only was I able to keep running, I was also passing people. I felt so good as I traversed up each of the winding switchbacks, and I tried to mentally preach to myself that I was a strong hill climber. Fake it til you make it, right? But it worked really well, and I’d say this was my proudest portion of the race. I made it the entire way up without stopping or walking, full of confidence when I reached the aid station on top (full elevation profile pictured below).

Muir Woods

Following Cardiac, we went into the woods for a long, long time. It was a lovely change of scenery as we quite literally dove down into a lush, shaded forest after spending hours atop the hills. I had a very love-hate relationship with this portion of the race. One minute I’d be thinking:

” I love this! My favorite kind of single track! This will definitely be my highlight of the race!”

Minutes later:

“Ugh, this is going on foreverrr. More wooden stairs?? When will we start going back already?”

So, some definite highs and lows in the Muir Woods. Specifically, there was one point where I was sure we were approaching mile 20 (my watch was showing the digital clock the whole time), and when the mile buzzed, it displayed “Mile 18.”

Womp womp.

But I pressed on, and I joined a little group of five men and women or so for the final 3-ish miles of the woods, which was wildly helpful. The terrain leveled out just enough to offer a big mental reprieve, and I pulled myself out of a low spot between miles 19-21.

Muir Beach to Alta

Miles 22.5-28 were definitely one of the toughest points of the race for me. I was so ready to just bring it home, but the big steep descents that we flew down at the beginning of the race were now ominous climbs, ready to taunt our already exhausted legs. My left IT band was tightening every time I tried to sustain a run uphill too, so I started an alternating pattern of hiking and running. I admitted to myself at this point, too, that I definitely could have afforded myself more hill training.

LIES. I was not smiling on the inside at this point.

LIES. I was not smiling on the inside.

We were granted a few big downhills along with all the ups in this section, however they were so steep that they didn’t offer much recovery for my already chewed-up legs. In terms of mental games, this section certainly required the most of them. Something I tried to remind myself of when I was overwhelmed with the obstacles, whether it was a climb, a descent, or just the overall time on my feet, was that I’ve hiked mountains for more than twice the amount of time I’d been out there. It might not be “running,” but reminding myself of the other high-intensity, high-vertical endurance endeavors I’ve done was a great confidence booster and calmed me down.

The Finish

The last 3 miles were almost entirely downhill, and although my legs were certainly not happy with the pounding, it was mentally very helpful to know that it was all down to the finish. And boy was I ready to be DONE. I just kind of let my legs go and catapulted as gracefully as I could down the big hills to the finish. We’d also met up with the course for the marathon relay at this point, so it was nice to have some fresher people around to share the ending with. I got a lot of “Yea NP!” high-fives, which certainly boosted my enthusiasm. I was moving pretty quickly too considering I’d already run almost 30 miles, but I was so close to being done I figured I might as well dish it all out.

The final quarter mile stretch toward the finish line was amazing. There were tons of people lining the way, full of cheers and woops and everything you hope for at the end of a big race. I felt really strong coming in, and full of pride for having just run further than I’d ever run before. Finishing amongst November Project people is truly the greatest way to finish a race, and I felt like a champion running through all their high-fives and screams.

“Finishing her first 50k from Denver, CO…welcome home Robyn Mayer!”

That was a highlight too 🙂

Numbers

I finished in 5:34:39, which I was incredibly happy with. Strava file tells more of the story.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

All in all, I could not have asked for a better first ultramarathon experience. It had it all in terms of playing on my strengths, highlighting my opportunities for growth, and generally showcasing the culture and joys of trail running. Not to mention my fueling was – I’ll just say it – flawless! I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to how my stomach and energy levels would do, but I’m mighty proud of the result. I never bonked and didn’t even have a glimmer of intestinal distress. I credit this to a superbly plentiful and nutrient-dense dinner the night before, ample hydrating in the days before and during the race, and starting to eat early on. I followed a menu of electrolyte drink, plain salt, PB&Js, and shot blocks the entire time, and it all sat really well. Sorry for the extensive nutrition tangent, but it is a big factor when it comes to super long races and it’s something I was really pleased with last Saturday.

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Adam ran the marathon relay!

A few days later, I’m still buzzing from the entire experience. My legs are just now beginning to regain some normal functionality, and I’m looking forward to taking some real down time for the next little while.

If you’re still out there reading, thank you! And if you are even considering the idea of running an ultra, I highly recommend it. I ran my first half-marathon in 2010, and at that point I could not even fathom running a full marathon, let alone 31 freaking miles. Even just a year ago, I was scared of and intimidated by trail running. Often times, I still am, but it has completely redefined both my respect and love for the sport. The opportunity for running goals and adventures spans a whole new horizon with trail running, and I’m really excited for all that’s to come.

 

 

 

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Platte River Half-Marathon Race Recap

I will fully admit that I have actively avoided writing about this race.

photo by Dan Berteletti

photo by Dan Berteletti

It happened, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to, and I wanted to stuff it in my back drawer and forget about it.

The problem, though, is that keeping something hidden away doesn’t mean it’s gone; it mostly just means it’s taking up extra space and energy when it shouldn’t be. So here I am, putting this race in the proverbial recycle bin as opposed to letting it lay around, clogging up my life.

It’s not that it was even that bad, and it’s not that I’m necessarily “embarrassed” by it. It’s just that it was technically a goal race that went awry, and I didn’t want to really own the fact that my goal race for the spring didn’t go according to plan.

Which is pretty petty, in hindsight. Because c’mon…it’s running! Sometimes it goes great, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you can run fast and light and strong, and sometimes you feel like you’re trudging through hot mud.

The point is, bad races happen, and this bad race happened to be the race I had my eye on for a few months. There are several reasons it didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to, and I’ll take the blame for a lot of them. Regardless, here’s the recap:

I was feeling exceptionally fit going into Platte River, fitter than I’d felt since late 2013. I’d had an effortless tempo-long run just two weeks before in which my tempo pace was easily below my goal half-marathon pace, and it felt completely do-able. I thought that my PR of 1:36:11 was within reach for this race, and I had fairly solid confidence that it was going to be “that” kind of day. To be blunt, my instincts about how races are going to go is typically pretty accurate, and I’ve always thought that there is a direct correlation between my race execution and my “hunch” ahead of time.

Needless to say, I was excited on race day. Ready to run fast and prove to myself the huge strides I’d made since moving to Colorado. The race is a point-to-point that starts in Littleton and ends at the South end of Denver. I lined up near the front of the pack (overly cautious to not do any weaving), and after a beautiful National Anthem, we were off. I had a loose race plan to start between 7:25-7:30, then drop down after the first few miles or so to 7:15-7:20. It was moderately daunting, but again…I thought it was attainable. I’ve learned time and time again the advantages to negative splitting, so this race plan seemed perfect.

Well, somewhere along the way, that race plan was entirely forgotten. I have no explanation or justification other than getting caught up in the excitement of the start of the race and feeling really, really good. This was, however, where my race kind of imploded – without me knowing it at the time.

Mile 1: 7:10

Mile 2: 7:17

Mile 3: 7:09

I actively avoided looking at my splits after this race because I knew I would face-palm myself for the tangible proof of the mistakes I made. Really Robyn?! Really? There was no reason to run that fast, but I did…and it will explain more later on.

These miles wound through Littleton downtown and spit runners out onto the Platte River trail, where we would spend the majority of the race. At this point, I felt great; in control, working, but not overworking. I also noticed very quickly that it was going to be a warm race – and I’ll spare you from my ranting once again of how I feel about that.

The trail navigates along a river and is primarily a paved bike path. It’s a net downhill course, but the terrain itself is moderately rolling. I tried to control my pace a bit more after the first 5k and get into a rhythm, but around mile 5 – when I should have just been getting into a settled pace – I was already feeling like I was working.

Mile 4: 7:14

Mile 5: 7:16

Mile 6: 7:21

Right around halfway is when I started not feeling well. I was hot, my legs were heavier than they should have been, and generally I just felt kind of lonely. It’s a smaller race, and there weren’t a ton of people around me, which is typically fine – but the scenery itself was just kind of dull and lonesome.

Still, I was trying to hold a 7:20-7:30 pace. I knew I had gone out too fast, but I also knew I had the fitness to back up my effort. Alas, this became very difficult, very fast. I could not get under 7:30, no matter how hard I pushed, and when you’re already counting down the miles at mile 8 of a half-marathon, it’s hard to find a sense of confidence.

Mile 7: 7:32

Mile 8: 7:34

Julia and I had planned beforehand that she was going to jump in with me at mile 10 to run me into the finish. In my head (and probably both our heads) it was going to be a fast, celebratory finish with my training partner towards a new half-marathon PR (or close to it). So it’s no surprise that I was disappointed before I even got to her knowing this wouldn’t be the case. It’s not even that I had given up, as I was pushing as hard as I could, it just wasn’t happening for my legs. Regardless, focusing on getting to her was a good distraction, and I was desperate for anything I could get at that point. Again, there were little to no spectators, somewhat blah scenery, and I was feeling every little up and down we came across; getting to Julia felt like a beacon of hope.

Mile 9: 7:43

Mile 10: 7:50

I had certifiably hit a wall at this point. Yes, a full marathon wall. I wanted so badly to walk, to be done, to just be doing ANYTHING other than running that race. It felt crummy in all regards. When Julia picked me up, I signaled a thumbs down to her and told her it was not my day. I actually felt bad that the low-7 min/mile pace she’d been planning on was barely a sub-8 at this point (which, in hindsight is silly…but you know, race brain). I let her chatting distract me as much as possible, but I was confined to ugly death-march status at that point.

Mile 11: 7:48

Mile 12: 7:56

In the middle of mile 12, you hit the only significant uphill during the course, in which the course veers from the trail onto a highway overpass. It’s steep, it’s ugly, and at that point in the race…it’s unrelenting and brutal. I had Julia run in front of me and held on for dear life. The only saving grace was knowing the finish was close once we were up.

Mile 13: 8:33 (HA!)

Once we were on the other side of the hill, I did the mental math for the first time since the race started of what my finish time would be. Realizing that I still had a shot of running under 1:40, I gave all the gusto I had left when turning the corner toward the finish line.

Last .1 Mile (.19 Mile on my watch): 7:00 pace

The final sprint was brutal, but seeing Dan, Corey, and Adam was enough encouragement to sneak in right below the mark.

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Final time: 1:39:46

In all honesty, my first thought upon finishing was, “FUCK, that was so bad.”

Within a few minutes though, I was consoled with the realization that if a bad race for me right now is a sub-1:40 half-marathon, then I should have some confidence in where my speed is at. Sure, the race was terribly executed and it generally just was not my day, but knowing that just 6 months ago this would have been a very, very good time for me…I can hang  a hat on that.

I somehow used to run without this girl, I don't really know how though.

I somehow used to run without this girl, I don’t really know how though.

I considered for a hot minute trying to salvage my grand half-marathon PR spring goal plan, but truthfully…my heart wasn’t really in it. The true goal for the spring was to bring my speed back to the level I was once at, and I’m feeling very good about how that has progressed. The fact that I dropped nearly a minute off my 5k personal best in March and followed up Platte River with a 35 minute 5-miler is highly motivating that progress is happening. I’m also running Bolder Boulder this upcoming Monday which I’m hoping should be another fun test of where my legs are at.

So yes, this was not a great race, and generally just not a very smart race. But, all these experiences teach us a little something more about ourselves and our running – and I intend to utilize this hard-learned lesson in whatever is to come.

In the meantime, I’m loving the shorter, speedier races, as well as the training that gives me the option to run when I want, how far I want, and how fast I want. Hard to complain about a measly half-marathon when running life in general is just swell, and I’m grateful for it.

Onto the next!

Philadelphia Marathon Race Recap

I haven’t told many people this, but when I ran Eugene back in Spring 2013, I wasn’t very happy with my race. Of course I was glad I qualified for Boston, and I felt like a tool saying I was displeased with a 10+ minute PR, so I kept it to myself that I felt like I had a better race in me.

But ever since then, I’ve longed for a different kind of marathon; one that left me proud and satisfied that my execution, training, and heart were all acting in harmony for 26.2 miles. It’s a tall order, no doubt, but I refused to believe it wasn’t possible.

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Going into Philadelphia, I felt incredibly calm and prepared, but not prepared in the same way I felt before Eugene. At that point in time, I knew I had a BQ in the bag, and because I was so confident in that goal, I let the disappointment of the secret A+ goal (sub 3:30) overrule the achievement of qualifying. With Philly, I was hesitant to make time goals – not so much for fear of being disappointed, but because I didn’t really know what I was capable of in the same way I used to be. I trained loosely for a goal pace, but that pace never felt very easy or like I could keep it up for a full marathon. So, when pressed for some tangible goals, this is what I decided:

“A” Goal: 3:3x on the clock. Of course I wanted to re-qualify for Boston, but because I was so unsure of how the race would go, I thought it would be more realistic to go for a time frame instead.

“B” Goal 3:4x on the clock. It wouldn’t be great, but it wouldn’t be too bad. Not to mention it would still be 20 minutes under my time from Boston this year.

“C” Goal: Faster than my Boston time (4:08). I wasn’t really concerned about beating that time, but you never really know with these things.

So those were my goals. A very wide range, but they gave me some room to work with and kept me from being too stressed about pace or splits.

But there was one thing I didn’t really tell anyone, and in hindsight I probably should have paid more attention to it; I had an incredibly good feeling about this race. I don’t know if it was the amount of visualization I did ahead of time (there was a lot), the solid training cycle, or just a gut feeling, but there was something telling me that something special could happen.

So as not to bore you with all the details leading up to race morning, let’s just kick things off right from the get go.

"Pre-race details" includes being paranoid that I walked too much the day before and this is how I looked for a lot of the night beforehand. Also, I'm wearing the same shirt as I wore for the race. Underpacked? Yea...

“Details” include being paranoid that I walked too much the day before and this is how I looked for a lot of the night beforehand. Also, I’m wearing the same shirt as I wore for the race. My Oiselle jersey was going to be too cold, and this was my only long-sleeve. Underpacked? Yea…

We woke up around 4:30 am on Sunday, and I was fairly pleased with my sleep the night before. After some breakfast, our pre-ordered cab arrived at 5:30 on the dot. We were only about 1.5 miles from the start, but I didn’t want to waste any energy walking there. We arrived, went through security, and checked our bag really quickly…too quickly. We had just over an hour until the race started, and it wasn’t exactly toasty in the waiting area. Note to self: the next time I choose a late-November marathon, buy more throwaway clothes! We were freeeeezing, and I started to panic I would shiver off all my extra tapered energy before the race even started. While standing in the port-a-potty lines, Adam and I were “that” couple holding each-other way too closely just for warmth purposes. And speaking of…my PRP seriously left something to be desired. WTF? Luckily, this didn’t cause any issues during the race 🙂

After a few times through the bathroom line, it was time to line up in our start corrals..the race was about the start! I proceeded to strip down, toss my throwaway fleece directly into some dude’s face (we all had a good laugh about it), and take some deep breaths. And just like that…off we went!

Very standard crowded race start. I didn’t want to do any weaving, but it quickly became clear that people didn’t exactly start in their assigned corral. So I wound my way around some folks, trying to stay as streamlined as possible, but oh baby did it feel good to just be running! The sun was rising, and we were running right toward the Philadelphia skyline – good stuff! My goal for the first few miles was to stay around 8:15-8:20 pace, so I tried to sneak some peaks down at my watch early on to get into this rhythm. I managed to get pretty comfortable right around there, and I tried to just relax, soak it all in, and enjoy the city. Miles 1-4 or so wound all through the downtown streets and they were pretty packed with cheering crowds. It was awesome! There was such great energy, and I was feeling really calm and collected.

I don’t remember a ton in those earlier miles, except that I kept trying to remind myself to stay smart and stay boring. I would shake my hands out by my sides and wiggle my jaw loose to keep out any tension, and generally I was just trying to run by feel and keep my breathing easy. I wanted to just stay in the moment and not get carried away with the miles to come or the emotion I knew I had invested in this race. There was plenty of time for that later on.

In the back of my head though, I knew that running a negative split meant that the second half would need to be run under an 8:00 pace. I tried to block that out, although there was definitely a lingering feeling that at some point soon, I was going to need to step it up.

Mile 1: 8:15

Mile 2: 8:17

Mile 3: 7:54

Mile 4: 8:03

Mile 5: 8:14

I took my first two Shot Blocks and grabbed my first water cup at the 5.5 mile aid station, and it was the perfect time to start gearing up for the “hill” portion of the race. The first major hill of the course came around during mile 7, and this was the first time I definitly noticed the training-at-altitude advantage I had; it was no problem! I cruised up, and despite having planned on that mile being a bit slower, it ended up being right on pace with the rest of the race. I was definitely thankful for all the stair climbing and trail hills I managed to include in my training at this point. I also tried to capitalize on the downhill that followed, which always gives my turnover a good boost. Miles 9 and 10 had another up and another down, more water and Shot Blocks, and although I felt a little energy drain on the uphill effort, I was able to recover quickly and get back in the zone.

Mile 6: 8:11

Mile 7: 7:59

Mile 8: 8:10

Mile 9: 7:44

Mile 10: 8:15

At this point, we were running along the river, heading back toward the city. I knew that once we got close to the halfway point, everyone running the half-marathon would peel off toward the finish line, so I tried to keep focus and not think about the fact that I’d still have an entire half to run (with many fewer people along for the ride.)

Mile 11: 7:34

Mile 12: 7:47

Mile 13: 8:02

I clocked the first half right around 1:46, which is exactly where I’d hoped to be in terms of first-half pacing.

No idea when this was taken, but this is the expression I had for the majority of the race.

No idea when this was taken, but this is the expression I had for the majority of the race.

There was actually something kind of magical about heading back out along with the other marathoners; a shared battle we were all ready to take on together. Things were also spread out enough at this point that I could keep step with some people around me, and I started to listen in to some of the conversations happening. I had my iPod with me and had actually planned on plugging in once we completed the first half, but it didn’t feel necessary yet – so I stayed tuned into the race around me. The second half of the course is essentially an enormous out and back, with a small out and back tagged on in the middle, which I thought might be a little tedious, but again – I was just trying to stay in the mile. Mile 14 went by, mile 15 went by, and I still wasn’t interested in my headphones. I continued to shake my hands out, take deep breaths, and continue on at the pace I was holding. I felt good; strong, controlled, and ready to let my heart and emotions play a bigger role.

Mile 14: 7:40

Mile 15: 7:51

Right around mile 16, a girl saddled up next to me and asked if she could hang onto my pace for a bit. Indeed, new friend! I’d overheard her talking to someone else earlier, so I knew she was after a BQ, and after I told her I’d run Boston this last spring, I think she trusted I knew what I was doing. Ha! But fake it til you make it, right? I could tell she felt strong and ready to race the rest of this thing, so I figured for however long this lasted – we could help one another out. I learned her name was Sadie, she was from New York, and this was her second marathon. She had some sass, and I loved it. Around mile 17 or so, we started to see the lead runners coming back on the other side of the road, which was super fun. We both cheered everyone on, and these miles seemed to go by pretty quick. My watch was decently behind the mile markers, but since she was doing manual mile lapping, she read off our splits whenever we hit one. We were averaging right around or right below 7:50 miles, which at this point was exactly on par with my negative splitting ambitions.

Mile 16: 7:57

Mile 17: 7:44

Mile 18: 8:01

Mile 19: 7:43

At one point, we saw a man on the other side of the road with a Central Park Track Club jersey on and Sadie yelled, “Way to go NYC!” She explained that he was part of a big Central Park running group, and I had to stop myself from saying, “Homegirl, I read hella running blogs and I know way too much about both that club and some of its members already.”

Around mile 19.5, we were getting close to the major turnaround and Sadie was clearly rearing to go. After she got a couple strides ahead of me and I noticed our pace was around 7:35s, I told her to go ahead. She’d definitely helped me out, and I wanted her to have the kickass finish I could tell she was after. Sadie, if you’re out there, I’m pretty sure you killed that BQ goal! Thanks for carrying me along.

We turned around right near mile 20, and I still felt great. I had grabbed some orange slices from a good samaritan a little while beforehand, and I could feel them kicking it. Time to finish this thing! It was a definite energy boost to be heading back toward the finish line as opposed to away from it. And although the crowds weren’t as thick as they were in the city, I was so impressed with the people that were out. Without my iPod I could hear all the times people yelled my name or “Go November Project!” which was so helpful. Speaking of, around mile 22 I ran by what had to have been the Philly NP cheering station. One guy (maybe the leader?) saw me and yelled, “NP DENVER! WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!” I wanted to accept/give so many hugs, but their high fives and cheers would have to suffice; I couldn’t stop now!

Mile 20: 7:53

Mile 21: 7:45

Mile 22: 8:00

I refused to do any mental math in my head in terms of finishing time, but I was certainly running at this point with the hope that something awesome could happen at the finish line. I kept reminding myself that I was in control; the was my race, my story, and I was the one in charge of the outcome. I’d told myself for 16 weeks that I was capable, and now was the time to bring all that visualization to life.

Maybe I was in more pain than I remember, according to this photo. Definitely getting a little harder...

Maybe I was in more pain than I remember, according to this photo. Definitely getting a little harder…

So on I ran. I kept waiting for my pace to slow, for the wall that I knew all too well to smash right into me. But there was no wall, and although my legs were aching and my feet were killing me, I kept pushing. I continuously replayed over and over in my head the mantras I’d told myself all through my training, and I let those emotions I’d kept in check all week beforehand and throughout the first half of the race pour energy into my legs. I was writing this story, and I was going to make it a good one.

Mile 23: 7:52

Only a 5k to go. That was once around Green Lake in Seattle, right? I remember running that loop when I first started running again in February; it was the first time since being sick and injured that I kind of felt good again.

Mile 24: 7:52

Ugh, I’m .2 miles behind on my watch! So is that 2.2 miles to go? Or 2.4? I don’t know anymore. Keep running!

Mile 24.5: Are those gummy bears? Yes! Gummy bears! GIVE ME!

Mile 25: 7:56

Wait a minute, holy shit, I might be under 3:30. How long have I had these gummy bears in my mouth? I can’t swallow them, I can’t spit them out, I guess I’ll just carry them in my mouth.

Mile 25.5: Less than a mile. Make this happen, Robyn. This is the race you’ve been waiting for. This is yours. Go get it.

Mile 26: 8:07

We saw that mile marker flag this morning! It looks so much prettier now! There’s the finish line! Goooooo.

I was flying. Without even thinking about it, my finishing kick came from somewhere else; an energy source that was stored away just for this moment. I peaked down at my watch just in time to see that with enough gusto, my finishing time wouldn’t just be faster than Boston, wouldn’t just be a PR, but would be under 3:30.

Final .38 (clearly ran the tangents like a boss): 7:24 pace

With 50 yards to go, I spotted Adam in the crowd, waving and then motioning for me to finish the damn thing (he knew I was within seconds of that 3:30 mark). I strode and strode, realizing that the dream I didn’t even know was possible today was coming true, and I had made it come true.

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I heard my name, raised my arms in the air, stopped my watch, and let out some sort of exclamatory yell.

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Official time: 3:29:49. Booyah! I was elated, overwhelmed, and in a daze. Did that actually just happen? Who was that person running for the past 10 miles at a faster pace than they’ve run in almost a year? Holy shit, that was me! I did it!

The trudge back through the recovery area include a little eye mistiness, a lot of looking for my fiancee, and a quick realization that everything, literally everything, hurt. While I may have been able to block out the pain while running, it was quickly catching up with me.

At some point I got a bag of food and some water, and after calling Adam on a random cell phone, I finally was able to meet up with him – at which point it all came out; lots and lots of tears. Adam killed the half too, finishing in 1:54, way under what he expected for the day! So proud.

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I’m still kind of processing the entire experience, and I still can’t really believe it. It was the race I’d been picturing ever since I started running marathons, the race that I visualized when I needed inspiration throughout the past year, and the race that kept me training and kept me pushing even when none of it felt worthwhile.

I have a lot of thoughts on the things that I felt I did well in terms of both preparation and race execution, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I’ll just say thank you to all of you; your encouragement, your cheers, and your support over this past year in every capacity was in the front of my mind for all 26.2 miles. I feel unbelievably lucky to have a system of friends and family who without question have supported this crazy sport, and none of it would be possible (or fun) without you.

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Now, when’s the next one??

3 Races, 1 Recap (Deschutes 5k, ADT Half-Marathon, Equinox Half-Marathon)

AKA: I’m lazy and busy, sorry.

So I’m missing a couple of race reports. I ran a 5k in August and a half-marathon on Labor Day weekend. Each race should have received its own recap, but by the time I managed to surface from of all the work I had around that time, it was suddenly weeks later and I had other races to run/recap.

So here’s the deal:

Deschutes Brewery Twilight 5k: 22:06, 10th AG

I was mostly okay with this race. I’ve done a lot of self shit-talking about my speed in the last few months, and while it was nearly a minute off my PR, I was still content with a 7:07 average pace. But, at the same time, I’m still itching for a fast 5k…because I think it’s in me. While I knew this wouldn’t be “it,” I still wanted a little bit more. Oh well, next time. 5ks are hard.

American Discovery Trail Half-Marathon: 1:46:13, 8th overall female, 1st AG

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I ran this race as a training run and as a way to see my friend Julia finish her 6th marathon. It wasn’t a goal race, I went in with very tired legs, and I had little expectation time-wise. I did, however, want to practice a few things— which I deemed the three “p”s: patience, presence, and power. I wanted to be patient in the beginning with my pace, present (“in the mile”) during the long middle miles, and powerful in the final miles. I think I executed this “plan” well, as I felt incredibly consistent in my effort and pleased with my overall place.

Equinox Half-Marathon: 1:41:32, 5th AG

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As you can probably imagine, this was a little more encouraging. And this report will be a little longer than the first two, not because the time was more satisfying, but because it was 11 days ago so it is still fresher in my brain.

This is a relatively new race, but with a fast course profile, ideal seasonality, and beautiful scenery, it drew quite the crowd. Its price tag was a bit off-putting for a  small, non-RnR race, but I bit the bullet and registered anyway. I can’t resist a fall half-marathon. It was also an excuse for my family and me to check out some wedding-related spots in Ft. Collins, so we made a weekend out of it.

This was a point-to-point course, so we were bussed to the start line beforehand. I presumed this meant we’d be freezing for an hour ahead of time while waiting around, but when we arrived at the start area I was pleasantly surprised to see we could hang out inside a lodge until the start time. Score! Not to mention there were lots of porta-pottys and coffee available.

The start was a little anti-climactic, but what can you expect from a smaller race in its third year? It was obvious, however, that there were some FAST runners there to race, and whoa baby did they get out of sight quickly. My plan was to try and average around 7:50s or so, which I thought would be do-able considering there was a good amount of downhill to capitalize on.

The first few miles clicked off well. My hamstring and glute have been ridiculously tight lately, so I was a little concerned about running fast on them. Luckily though, it was a non-issue for almost all of the race. The first 4-5 miles felt smooth and controlled, and I had a decent amount of company for the most part. Around mile 3, something happened that has literally never happened once before in a race…my shoe came untied! More than a few profanities were uttered, as I had double-knotted both shoes immediately before the start. Oh well.

The middle miles felt a little tougher. My legs were tired, as once again I was quite un-tapered and on my 6th day of running in a row. But, I took advantage of the downhills when they came, kept my head in the mile, and enjoyed the feeling of running fast.

I logged a few miles in the 7:30s, which I was really happy about. Not once did I do the calculation of my finishing time, but I knew that if I could stick around 7:50s, I would finish in 1:42ish.

The end was a mini-battle, which I’m finding is pretty standard in half-marathons. The course started a gradual upward slope which never really stopped. I was getting hot, my legs were beat, and I really just wanted it to be over. But all the while, I still felt in control and mainly happy to be out racing. It didn’t take long for the finish area to come into view, and as always I was so happy to cross that line.

Here’s my splits, which I’m pretty proud of in terms of even pacing:

7:42, 7:45, 7:43, 7:43, 7:31, 7:37, 7:32, 7:35, 7:39, 7:42, 7:54, 7:55, 7:55, 7:15 (last .1)

Highlights of this race:

-My dad and stepsister road their bikes up the road to cheer us on, and seeing them around mile 8 was a definite high moment for me. My dad road alongside me for a bit, and it was a nice distraction to have him there. He also managed to catch me about half a mile from the finish line, and while I may not have been exactly interested in chatting at that point, it was nice to have him there 🙂

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I just realized that looks like a beer can. HA. Negative, it’s la croix. Beer came later.

-Pretty immediately after finishing, my dad and I got in the car and he drove up the course to where my stepmom was so I could run the rest of the race with her. She started the race with a big goal (sub-2), which I knew about, so I wanted to help in any way I could to help her get to the finish line satisfied. And oh man was it impressive, and a serious display of guts. She finished in 1:58, 11 minutes under her PR! Really fun to experience that with her, I was/am proud!

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-Feeling like myself again (mostly). Not that my running is entirely correlated to the time on the clock, but I am certainly a runner who is motivated by speed. More than that though, I felt strong and in control during this race— which is a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. After a lot of clamoring to get back to where I was this time last year, I’m finally feeling that I’m getting there, slowly, which makes my ambitions for Philly seem a little less daunting.

 

A Lesson in Suffering: Sand Creek Half-Marathon Race Recap

An alternative title for this post (obviously imagined around mile 9) was:

“How to Positive Split Like a Champ” or “I Used to Love the Half, Now I Hate it”

I was in a weird middle-ground going into this race, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about running it.

For starters, I’m running Ragnar Northwest Passage on an ultra team this weekend (tomorrow…yikes), so going all-out in a half marathon 7 days before was not an option. Also, I’m in a spot with running where I’m as far behind in terms of speed as I was a few months ago, but I’m not back to my “normal” paces yet either. This left me pretty unaware of what I could run with a moderately-decent effort. And finally, this was a half marathon in July: it was going to be hot, which always rattles my running chains.

So, needless to say – I didn’t really know what to hope for or try for going into this race. I decided I’d be very happy running around a 1:45 (~8:00 pace) and decided to play around with that idea. Also, I really hoped to not stop once for a porta-potty, which would be a big step in my running/Crohn’s recovery.

Well, turns out, despite having a multitude of unknowns going into this race (see above), the only thing I really should have considered was the one “known:” it was going to be hot.

And it was hot. I’m not really one for excuses, but shit, this race was hard. As in, harder than a few marathons I’ve done.

The Beginning

It was a pleasant/easy enough start to the race. There definitely weren’t enough bathrooms, but generally things were organized and it started right on time at 7 am. I’d been able to find people I knew, and generally I was excited to be wearing my singlet and a bib.

Jess and I, all smiles at the start line.

Jess and I, all smiles at the start line.

The first three miles felt exceptional; breathing was easy, legs felt good, and low and behold…I was keeping up a decent pace. I felt happy, strong, and generally gracious to be out there.

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Then right about mile 4, I realized pretty quickly that it was going to be a long finish to this race. I was already sweating way more than normal, and it became clear that while I originally thought this was a fairly flat course – it was actually rolling up and down essentially the entire way. Not to mention the fact that the sun was creeping further overhead, and there was absolutely zero shade.

Despite how early on it still was, I could feel the bitter, negative thoughts barge into my head. I tried to reel them in and remember that everyone was going to be battling through these conditions – it wasn’t just me.

The Middle

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I really never like the middle miles of half-marathons. There’s excitement at the beginning, and excitement at the end, but the middle always seems to drag on. And this race was definitely the definition of “dragging” between mile 6-10. While the course was really beautiful, there were a lot of out-and-backs which got a little tedious. I really like seeing the top runners, but I don’t like knowing exactly how much further I have to go back in the opposite direction. It was fun to see Adam and Jess along the way, which helped give me some boosts, but generally I wasn’t a fan of all the turnarounds.

Around mile 8 I decided I needed to walk through the aid stations to make sure I was getting enough water since I was sweating so much and couldn’t really get a break from the direct sunlight. My strategy would be to grab a cup and a water bottle, drink the cup, swig from the water bottle, then pour the rest of the bottle on my head and shoulders. It took my breath away a little bit every time, but I think it was helpful to have a wet shirt for periods of time.

Needless to say, these walk/water breaks did nothing to help my “goal pace” or my even-split aspirations.

But, it was what it was. I realized fairly early on that surrendering my loose goals didn’t mean I was giving up, and in fact it was actually probably the smart thing to do – given the conditions and the bigger race I have this upcoming weekend. And truth be told, I don’t really think I could have pushed it much more than I already was. Suffering had already settled in, so all I could do was accept it and survive it.

Adam said I look "lost and confused" in this picture. I agree, I'd also add "hating life" and "about to fall over."

Adam said I look “lost and confused” in this picture. I agree, I’d also add “hating life” and “about to fall over.”

The End

My energy picked up some around mile 11, perhaps solely out of knowing that I had less than 20 minutes to run. I wasn’t really paying attention to pace anymore and just did what I could between my precious walk/water dump stops. Truly, I’d never felt this bonked during a half, and while it was disappointing – I knew I wasn’t the only one in the pain cave.

I clocked my splits manually when I’d see mile markers, but I somehow missed mile 10 so my distance was a little off. However, I’m convinced the distance between miles 12 and 13 was at least 1.25 miles…it took forever! Not to mention the entire last mile was along an open sidewalk that passed right by the finishing area before looping back around to complete the 13.1 miles. Such torture…I hate the end being physically so close but seemingly so far.

But, I mustered up my final dregs of energy and was determined to just finish the damn thing. At this point I could feel my skin burning and the sweat was pouring into eyes – it was time for this business to be over. Once I was finally approaching the finish line, I could see that I was going to be just below or just above 1:50 – and I think you know I wasn’t going to let that “4” change to a “5.” So, despite my grumbling and suffering over the past 8 miles, I found a little sprint left in me and gutted it out to the end.

flat-footed and pretending to run fast

flat-footed and pretending to run fast

I finished in 1:49:50 and 20th female,  7th in my age group.

After finding shade, cheering in friends and Adam, and stuffing ice in my sports bra, I began to feel like a human again. I don’t think I stopped sweating until we were back in the air conditioned car.

November Project 5280!!!

November Project 5280!!!

Am I happy with that time/result? On the surface, not really. I’m traditionally highly driven by time, and while I knew that I’d be nowhere near where my PR is, admittedly I thought I might be able to work a little magic.

But at this point in time, when I’m in flux in terms of fitness and speed, I’m learning to take anything I can from races, even those without pretty numbers tied to them.

This race was a lesson in not quitting, because more than once – I did want to quit. Even when my pace increased, there was no part of this run that was a “fun run” for me. It was brutal nearly the entire way, and while I may have had some not-so-pleasant, self-doubting thoughts, I did manage to endure. Suffering is a part of this sport, and it’s only by learning to suffer – and eventually embracing it – that we can reach a higher level and a higher respect for our own accomplishments.

Other key takeaways from this race:

-Hard, non-PR races give you ample respect for the races you do PR. More than once on this course I thought, “How in the hell did I run a 7:20 pace for this long at one point?”

-My body is (literally) getting it’s shit together. No bathroom stops, people! Not even a fleeting need for one. This was a big win.

-I still like to compete. Passing women (and getting passed) were the only things firing me up during this race, if only for a a few minutes.

-Heat training is solid gold. Sure, this was a sufferfest, no question about it. But I can guarantee that on a different (read: winter) day on that same course, I would have been able to run a very different race – I have no doubt about it.

-I can’t wait for fall. See point above. I have a good feeling about how my legs and motivation will react once the temperatures cool a bit. Fall is my golden zone of running and training, and if a productive fall marathon training season necessitates a brutal summer, then bring it on.

I’m expecting this upcoming weekend at Ragnar to hold similar types of takeaways in suffering. I’m a little unsure of what to expect, other than I know if will both be very hard and very fun. 30+ hours in a van full of runner friends interspersed with 35 miles of running: what’s not to love? 😉

Runners, we’re weird.

Happy Thursday!

Boston Marathon Race Recap

If I’m being perfectly honest, I actually have very little recollection on the specific details of the 26.2 miles I ran during the Boston Marathon.

It’s not because I was too tired and cloudy-headed; in fact, the entire time my mental energy was mostly upbeat, and I felt very aware of everything going on around me. But when you have an experience that wasn’t about pace, goals, or PRs as I ordinarily do, something different happens. Or at least, it did for me.

You see, my experience wasn’t really about my race. Because this time around, perhaps for the first time ever, very early on I let go of my always-competitive, tooth-and-nail means of running a race. And in doing so, I became aware of everything else: the other runners, the volunteers, the kids handing out orange slices, the college girls offering kisses, and the millions that came together to make this marathon come to life.

All those factors carried me throughout the Boston Marathon, and when you use as many distractions as you can to pull your aching legs and tired body to the finish line, you tend to forget the nuances of each and every mile.

Let’s see what I can remember though, because it was a special day.

This is happening!

This is happening!

As I’ve talked about perhaps one-too-many times, I went into this race with a lot of self-doubt regarding my running abilities and my stomach’s disabilities. I accepted that it wouldn’t be a great performance by my standards, and I accepted that more than likely it would be a personal-worst time. Knowing those things ahead of time certainly lessened the pressure, but I also envied those with big goals and impressive training.

Nevertheless, I wanted to enjoy the experience no matter what, which is exactly the mentality I woke up with on Marathon Monday. Shockingly, I slept great the night before. Perhaps at least 7 hours, with a few wake-ups here and there. Solid gold by race-eve standards, so I was feeling chipper and excited when it was time to get up and going.

Does anyone ever not take a picture like this?

Does anyone running a marathon ever not take a picture like this?

I ate a quiet breakfast by myself before starting to get ready, which was a nice time to really try and relax and focus on the day to come. Before too long though, it was time to suit up in my race kit and all my various throwaway layers and make the short walk over to the Boston Commons with Adam.

I met up with the wonderful Julia and we loaded up on the buses to head out to Hopkinton. I tried not to focus too much on the distance it took to get from Boston all the way to our starting point, but between chatting and admiring the scenery it wasn’t all that bad. Generally, there was an excitement among all the runners, and it was pretty contagious.

Arriving in Hopkinton and heading into Athlete Village was a little surreal; it was something I’d read about and heard about so much before, however to actually be there myself preparing to run the Boston Marathon was a pretty crazy feeling. The Village was totally outfitted with all pre-race necessities, including water, bagels, coffee, and lots and lots of port-a-potties. There were long lines even so, and I feel like a lot of our time was spent waiting in line multiple times.

Mckendree and Julia. Both are kickass runners and people.

Mckendree and Julia. Both are kickass runners and people.

Here’s where I tell you that despite months of having unhappy and overactive intestinal issues…on race morning, I had nada. Zilch, zero. WTF? While ordinarily this would have been a welcome change, it was not part of my “maybe I won’t have to stop a lot” race plan. My biggest fear going into this marathon wasn’t the hills or the distance…it was urgently needing to make pit stops. I’d gone over lots of bad-scenarios in my head, and none of them were pretty at all. Needless to say, this lack-of-activity I was experiencing on race morning wasn’t a good sign.

The show needed to go on though, and knowing there would be plenty of places to stop along the route helped ease my mind. Those none-goals I already had? Yea, they became much more lax given this new factor.

Enough already, let’s get to the race.

Once the B Wave was called to the start line, we all headed out, I made one more bathroom attempt (fail) and there was no turning back: it was time to run the Boston Marathon!

It all seemed to happen faster than I anticipated. All of a sudden, there was the start line, lots of television cameras, screaming fans, and holy shit…we’re running!

The first few miles felt very downhill, as expected. I’d heard over and over again that going out too fast was the surest way to screw up during Boston, so I drilled it into my head to not do so. I dialed it back, watched people fly past me, and did everything I could to feel really comfortable and relaxed. Of course, still, these miles ended up being my fastest overall, although the 8:35-ish pace I was holding felt so slow. It was really nice to be cruising so comfortably though, and I tried to soak up the atmosphere and be as present as possible.

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The whole time, though, I was worried about my stomach. Full disclosure: recently when I’ve been running, the urgency comes on without much warning and very quickly, so I was really hyper-aware of where the upcoming aid stations would be. It was around mile 6 or so that I decided to duck into a bathroom for the first time. I’m not going to provide the details of every stop (there were 5 of them total) but none were necessarily satisfying, and I ran the entire race with a good deal of bloat and some unwelcome cramping. Love you, Crohn’s.

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Lucky for me, there were plenty of distractions along the way. Every time we entered a new small town, the sides of the roads were completely lined with cheering people. In fact, I would say that 95% of the course had people supporting all the runners, and it was pretty unbelievable. I noticed early on that wearing your name on your shirt was a huge crowd-pleaser, and I think it would have been helpful to have had my name on me somewhere. Although I did get a fair amount of “Oy-sell!,” “O-sell!,” and my personal favorite, “Go Giselle!”

Regardless, the energy from the onlookers was palpable, and I definitely used their encouragement to keep me motivated.

I don’t remember much between miles 6-10, except that it was getting warm. I’ve definitely said this too many times, but I am NOT a fan of running in hot weather. Not one little bit. It’s the reason I typically dislike spring marathons (disregard the fact that I’ve run 3 of them now). I was happy for my tank top and shorts and remembering to wear sunscreen, but I could tell that the heat was going to take its toll on the race. The road was fairly exposed the whole time, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Lovely for a spring day, not lovely for running a marathon.

I was paying marginal attention to my pace, but mostly to make sure I was staying comfortable and not running too fast too soon. I was around 9 minute miles which felt really smooth, although it was hard to guess exactly since I had stopped already and didn’t know how that had affected my pace.

After mile 10, I began to notice that my quads, specifically my left quad, was feeling a little sore. Fantastic. I had heard so many times of those downhill beginning miles taking their toll later on, but I suppose I didn’t really believe it until it snuck in all at once. Of course, my downhill training was nonexistent, but even still I figured that I might be spared since I started off conservatively. Wrong. Sad.

I spy...bathroom stop #2.

I spy…bathroom stop #2.

I began focusing on checkpoints, since I started to get overwhelmed by the thought that I wasn’t even halfway done. I thought about getting to mile 13, since that’s where Wellesley would be with all the screaming college girls I’d heard so much about. After that I thought about getting to 16, since I’d heard that if you feel good at 16, you’d have a good finish to the race. I didn’t exactly feel “good” at this point, but my spirits were still high and my legs still felt (mostly) strong.

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I didn’t stop smiling the whole way. Fake it til you make it, right?

Right on cue around mile 13, all the Wellesley girls showed up in full-force, and it was awesome. They were so enthusiastic, so encouraging, and hilarious. I appreciated all of their signs and watched many of my fellow runners accept their kisses. I myself opted to stay on the shaded side of the road, but I definitely blew the girls a few kisses. It was really fun to see that tradition, and the whole time I kept thinking that college girls look really…young. Has it really been 4 years since I was there?

It was time now to focus on 16, since thinking that I still had the entire second half to go was too overwhelming. Ordinarily, I really like reaching the halfway point in a marathon, but this time I had more a feeling of dread than one of “it’s all downhill from here!” My legs were definitely feeling tired, specifically my quads, and I knew the hills were coming soon. And it was hot. I took another bathroom stop around this point, and decided to start taking water at every aid station instead of every other. I had a system where I’d grab two waters, slurp most of one down, and throw what I had left on my shoulders and my back. The temporary relief from the sun was very welcomed.

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I kept pressing on, pretty oblivious to my Garmin. I don’t know if it was denial or the fact that I truly didn’t care, but I just didn’t want to do the math of predicting paces and finishing times. I knew I’d be slowing down on the hills, and I knew I’d be stopped more at the bathrooms, so I suppose that I just didn’t want to add the mental exhaustion of hoping for a certain time.

After mile 17, I was really excited that I was into single digits in terms of miles left to go. Even so, the thought of running so much longer was daunting, and I knew the best mode of operation would be to stay in the mile I was in. It became a systematic game of, “Okay, get to 18.” Then at 18, I would take my short walk break through the water station, gather myself up, and repeat the whole process over again. I’ve never really needed to go mile-by-mile that early in a marathon, but it was necessary on Monday.

I direct contradiction to "not paying attention to my Garmin." Busted Broker! I swear this was one of a handful of times :)

A direct contradiction to “not paying attention to my Garmin.” Busted Broker! I swear this was one of a handful of times 🙂

Between my precious water stops, I did everything I could to stay distracted and stay in the moment. I’d written “Be Here” on one of my wrists that morning, and I really tried to focus on remembering the fact that I was running the Boston Marathon. It was never lost on me how cool of an experience it was to be having, and I thank the spectators for that in large part. They never stopped reminding me of the pride that’s held for this race and its runners. Multiple times I heard, “Thank you for running!” and saw signs like, “You make us Boston Strong,” which was such an incredible reminder of the honor it was to be running the race. There would be moments where I was so enamored with the energy of the crowd that I’d temporarily forget my wavering stomach and my fatigued legs.

See? Smiling!

See? Smiling!

The hills of Boston begin in Newton, and while I didn’t really think they were anything to write home about, they definitely do not come at a welcome time. My quads were getting more tired by the mile, and when we started on the uphills I focused a lot on trying to get different muscles to engage. Regardless, each uphill was met with another downhill, and I had to accept that the true marathon pain wasn’t going away. On my other wrist I’d written “embrace” which was supposed to be a reminder to embrace the pain when it came. This was that time, and I knew it would be a battle to the finish.

Things are getting real now...

Things are getting real now…

I’m pretty sure I tried using a bathroom again around mile 21 (as evidenced by the stellar pace below), but it’s all kind of blending together at this point. Like I said, there were 5 total stops, one of which was useless since the person using the singular port-a-potty decided to take their sweet time and I bailed after over a minute of waiting. That was a little blood-boiling.

Heartbreak Hill came during mile 20, and I didn’t actually think it was too bad. Sure, my pace sucked big time and my legs were dying, but the people were incredible and carried me up the entire way. I discovered that smiling and acknowledging the crowd was the surest way to solicit some cheering, and I smiled as much as I could up that hill. Heartbreak was definitely one of my checkpoints though, as I knew the bulk of the climbing would be done after it was over.

A fairly accurate representation of how I felt from miles 16-26.1. I'm also convinced this was on a hill which makes my form a little more excusable...yikes.

A fairly accurate representation of how I felt from miles 16-26.1. I’m also convinced this was on a hill which makes my form a little more excusable…yikes.

I was still playing my “stay in the mile” game, and it had turned into, “Just get to mile 22…23…etc” I think I managed to trick my brain this way, especially since I’d surrendered to walking every aid station we came by. In part, I felt a little lazy since I’d never done this before, but more so I think it was necessary to keep my energy up and to keep my head in the game. Quite simply, I just wasn’t in shape enough nor prepared for the heat enough to fight through the pain of those miles, and without a goal other than to finish…why suffer more?

Yep, definitely some stopping and walking in there :)

Yep, definitely some stopping in there 🙂

If miles 21-24 were a chug-a-long fest, I’d say that I started to rise in spirits when we got to mile 24.5 or so. The crowds were thick and loud, and knowing I had less than 2 miles to go was encouraging. Anything more than that had seemed demoralizing before that, but now I started to feel the excitement of finishing. While I didn’t have a lot of doubt that I would finish the race, I realized early on that I would be completely heartbroken if for some reason I wouldn’t be able to finish. That thought was motivation enough to push through, no matter how slow it felt.

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And slow it was. I knew my pace had dropped considerably and my form was nowhere to be found. But I kept smiling, and it was hard not to with the support of the cheering crowds. I tried to focus a lot as well on the other runners around me. Thinking that we’d all taken on this journey together was a really moving thing, and I tried to take in the moment of being one of the people who were nearing our way to the Boston finish line. After mile 25, I vowed to ignore my desire to walk, push the pain aside, and take in the rest of the race. I remembered my mantra that the marathon is supposed to be hard, and that’s why it’s so great. Channeling that internal motivation didn’t stop me from grabbing a grape ice-pop from a little boy at this point though…desperate times, man. And oh baby did that taste good.

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Approaching the right turn onto Hereford, I started to get really excited. Excited to be done, obviously, but excited to experience the moment that 5 months ago I didn’t think was possible. I remembered how running this race was just a dream to the girl who was too sick to leave the house, and how I owed it to her to savor and love every moment of the finishing stretch. I drew so much energy from the crowds, and despite how slow I may have been moving and how tired my legs were, I don’t really remember feeling anything other than joy.

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The left turn onto Boylston was euphoric. It was the picture that kept me motivated through these past few months of frustrating runs, and to see it in real life was the most beautiful and satisfying thing. I soaked it all in, smiled at every face I saw, and choked up a bit when I finally saw my fiancee cheering for me near the finish line. After a few more strides, the blue paint came into view and I had made it: I was a Boston Marathon finisher!

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I stopped my watch and looked at the cumulative time for the first time since the halfway mark. 4:08, an average pace of 9:25/mile, and over 20 minutes slower than I’d ever run a marathon before. But I couldn’t have cared less. My heart was so full, and I was so happy to have just been a part of a race that was so much bigger than the time on the clock or the outcome of individuals.

Afterwards, it was fairly standard post-marathon procedure: I received my medal (a highlight!), was draped in my finisher’s cape, and very, very slowly made my way toward the exit. Luckily, I didn’t really feel sick or light headed much at all, but my legs were like bricks. I met up with my cheering crew, and Adam and I made our way back to our temporary apartment to rest, shower, etc. Climbing the two flights of stairs to get to the apartment was laughable.

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The rest of the day isn’t all that exciting. I took an ice bath (big self-pats on the back for that one), laid on the bed in a curled up ball for a while, and made all necessary phone calls to my family. I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of support I’d received throughout the day, and I floated like a cloud throughout the rest of the night.

pain...lots of pain.

Pain…lots of pain.

Soreness, stomach, and personal-worst times aside, this was an incredible experience. I felt so honored to have been a part of such a historic race, and the outpouring of love for one another was an incredible thing to witness. This race was a true testament to the glory of the marathon; the demonstration of the power of the human spirit. This glory was glowing throughout every runner, fan, and volunteer out there, and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Thank you all so much for your support over these past several months and this past weekend. This community has been an incredible source of comfort and strength for me through the good times and the bad, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.

image_3Congrats to all who participated in Boston on Monday!!!

Snohomish River Run Half-Marathon Race Recap

A lot of the time, you don’t really know who will show up on race day.

This is something I’ve learned time and time again, however I tend to forget how true it is until after I’ve finished a race.

Yesterday, I tried to keep it in the front of my mind from the get-go: It may not have been ideal race-preparedness, but that didn’t mean that big things couldn’t happen.

Backing up. Late Friday afternoon, I decided I wanted to try and run below 1:38. This would mean a PR, but in my mind it was more than that; I’ve felt a little stuck in the 1:38-1:41 range in the half-marathon, and I wanted to set the bar higher. It wasn’t going to be the best pre-race set up as I had a wedding to attend on race eve—which I was fully intent on enjoying as much as possible. But, I didn’t want to use that as an excuse for not trying hard at a race I’d been anticipating for a while. So, I didn’t even let myself have the out, and instead just went with it.

Of course, as always, the will to run well can only go so far—which is why when I prepped for the race on Sunday morning, I kept in mind the above mentality that anyone can show up on race day, and all I could do was the best with what the day gave.

Hotel room selfie. Oiselle jersey, Flyte shorts, arm warmers, and Brooks Pure Connects.

Hotel room selfie. Oiselle jersey, Flyte shorts, arm warmers, and Brooks Pure Connects.

So, I showered (new race day routine must-do!), ate a little, hydrated a lot, and attempted to psych myself up. We had stayed in Everett after the wedding as the race was only about 5 minutes away from the guest-designated hotel, so ease of transportation and convenience was definitely on my side. The weather, however, was not.

I opened the curtains of our hotel room after being 100% ready to go and was greeted with the disheartening sight of huge puddles that were filling by the minute from the incessant rain. It had been so long since we had real rainfall in Seattle (somehow) that I hadn’t even considered it could be an issue on race day. It was also still dark and cold, so needless to say…my gun-ho attitude was waning on the drive to the start line.

However, the show must go on, and after retrieving my bib and chip, I did some warm up drills and tried to get in the zone. There were more people doing this race than I’d anticipated, which helped fuel the pre-race energy. Before I knew it, we were all lining up just as the rain subsided a bit. Score! I saw two teammates at the start line as well, Caryn and Erica, who went on to finish as 2nd and 3rd women overall. No big deal, right? After the race director gave some course instructions and wished everyone good luck, we were off!

All I knew about the course was that it was flat, but otherwise I was a little blind in terms of what to expect. It became obvious pretty quick that we were in for a pretty lengthy out-and-back for the majority of the race, which was a little disheartening, but I tried to not think about it. I do like seeing runners pass on the other side, so this would be a plus. Additionally, we were on the course with the 10k runners who had started at a different time, so there were people around pretty consistently.

Flatty flat flat. I don't know what that was...sorry.

Flatty flat flat. I don’t know what that was…sorry.

For the first 3 miles or so, I tried to stick to the loose “plan” I’d put together. I figured if I started off around 7:30s, I could gradually drop down and still have some left for a kick at the end. Not exactly what happened, but not too far off:

Mile 1: 7:19

Mile 2: 7:28 (my attempt to get back to the plan)

Mile 3: 7:20

Eh, okay, a little fast, but I felt in control and that’s what I tried to focus on the most. I was a little oblivious to everything else aside from keeping myself “comfortably uncomfortable.” Once I get below a 7:30 pace, there are very narrow ranges for what feels okay and what feels like too much, so I paid a lot of attention to keeping tabs on my perceived effort.

I was trying to think of the whole endeavor as a 10-mile race followed by a 5k; keep it steady and controlled for 10 miles, and expect it to hurt in the last 3 miles. In this respect, I was very focused on staying in the mile and letting each individual mile be its own mini effort. It seemed to work, and despite being quicker than I’d planned…I was somehow staying incredibly consistent.

Mile 4: 7:22

Mile 5: 7:24

The course was quite flat as expected and wound along a small county highway. It was pretty, but a tad boring, and I was really glad to get to the turnaround around mile 4.7. At this point, I noticed there was a man about a stride and a half behind me, and he stayed either right there or next to me all the way back to the start of the out-and-back. It was incredibly helpful to share the pace with someone. I was running a little scared since I was running so much faster than I’m used to, and even the smallest mental reprieve of matching someone else’s pace was pretty clutch. I think I would have started hurting a lot earlier if it hadn’t been for the tall dude in the all-black compression clothing. Thank you, sir.

Mile 6: 7:16

Mile 7: 7:18

I ripped open a gel around mile 7, and slowly sucked it down for the next few miles. I also started taking water every ~1.5 miles or so, and I think maintaining this consistency was a big help. I was also starting to hurt around this point, too. My legs were getting a little toasty, and the increased pace was burning my lungs a little. It had also started to rain again, which coupled with a small headwind wasn’t making things better. However, I was able to maintain my “stay in the mile” mentality, and as long as I focused on each individual mile—I was able to push the fears of bonking to the back of my mind.

Mile 8: 7:21

Mile 9: 7:16

Tall man and I seemed to be picking it up at the very end of each mile, as we’d be between 7:20-7:25 throughout the mile and then drop in the final .1 or so. But I went with it. I could always feel it when we dropped below 7:20 (crazy just how noticeable it was), but I’d tell myself, “Okay, the next one can be 7:25,” and it somehow was a mental save.

Mile 10: 7:15

Tall man pulled ahead around this point, and we were passing back by the starting area and heading down to a paved path along the river. This is where I think my real mental battle began: It was time for those final 3 miles that I knew would hurt, and it was just me, alone. Since I was near-ish the front, we had all thinned out just enough that you felt like you were running alone, and it didn’t help that the winding river path obscured any forward looking. It was beautiful though, and I welcomed the change of scenery.

This portion was also an out-and-back, and it was a definite fight to get to the turnaround point. The most defeating part was when I saw the “Mile 11” marker when my watch read “11.2” No!!! The mile markers had been so accurate throughout the course, and it was so saddening to not only think I’d have to run further than I thought…but that I’d be logging another long half-marathon course.

Mile 11: 7:13

But, I kept on, and finally the turnaround point appeared. I’d been able to see the top runners coming back by the other way, and I thought I was probably within the top 10 females. There were two women about 100 yards or so ahead of me, but for the first time maybe ever in a race…I didn’t really care. I was already giving everything I had, and I was completely content letting that be enough.

Mile 12: 7:20

I was thrilled when the mile 12 marker appeared right on schedule with my Garmin, and the thought of “only a mile let to go” was so relieving. I was so excited to finish and anxious to see what my finish time would be…because not once during the entire race did I have the energy to try and compute it myself.

Mile 13: 7:21

I was closing in on the girl immediately ahead of me in the last 1/4 mile, but there wasn’t much more I could do at that point. Even my “kick” wasn’t much more than the pace I’d already been maintaining. Regardless, I was elated to see the finish line come into view, and I dug deep into the dregs of energy I had left and strode my way as best I could to the end.

Last .1: 54 seconds (6:43 pace)

There's a smile on that face!

There’s a smile on that face!

I saw the clock ahead reading “1:36:xx” and I was ecstatic. I figured I’d be below 1:38, but this was better than I could have hoped for.

Smiling big, I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch and saw a “1:36:14” flash back.

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Official time: 1:36:11, 9th female overall (<– lucky number alert!), 2nd in age group

How did that happen?!

I was in pretty immediate need of my space blanket and water (and my medal, duh 🙂 ) and gingerly made my way to the finishing chute exit. Despite the plethora of post-race food (hot soup, cheese samples, bagels, etc) I couldn’t even think about getting anything down. I did manage to grab a bowl for BF though, who’d been dutifully waiting in the rain for me to finish.

I wanted at least one photo of the pretty river we'd been running along.

I wanted at least one photo of the pretty river we’d been running along.

After a little bit of meandering, I wanted to skedaddle back to Seattle as soon as possible. There were football games to watch after all! I also felt ridiculously wiped; the kind of fatigue that normally only comes after a sleepless night. Needless to say, you can probably guess how the rest of the day played out 🙂

I’m really, really happy with how this race went. I was glad I was able to stay composed and strong despite the intimidating speeds, and I’m satisfied with the consistent pace—probably the most consistent I’ve ever done. Primarily, it felt great to break through the threshold I’d been dancing around for a while. No, the time isn’t the 1:35:xx I’ve been lusting after, but I can honestly say I left nothing out on the course…which in no way can I be disappointed about. This race gives me the motivation that with a little more time, more training, and more practice, there are big things to come.

No running blogger has ever posted this type of picture ever. But look! Consistency!

No running blogger has ever posted this type of picture ever. But look! Consistency!

Running is a fascinating sport, and it was races like yesterday that keep me wanting to discover the mysteries of running even more.

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I’m tempted to say that this is the end of my racing season for the year, but who really knows. For right now though, I’ll be hibernating for a little while, and I’m definitely looking forward to some rest time.

Thanks all for the good luck texts, tweets, and notes. Your encouragement is invaluable.