How I ran a sub-1:40 half marathon: A recap of the Historic Drawbridge Half

This past Saturday, I ran my 20th half marathon and broke 1:40 for the first time! I finished the Historic Drawbridge Half on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1:38:53, and I could not be more proud of myself.

As I’ve written previously, my goal was to break 1:40 in the half by the time I turn 40 next July, and I was training to do it at the Philadelphia Half Marathon on Nov. 23. This was actually the first time I ever followed a formal training plan for a half; when gearing up for a half marathon before, I just ran my normal 3-6 miles a few times a week, plus a long run of 10-12 miles on the weekends. That was always good enough for a solid 1:42-1:45 finish time, but I knew I had to kick it up a notch if I wanted to run a sub-1:40.

Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced Half Marathon Training Program, which prescribed a 15K (9.3 mile) race for last weekend’s long run. 15Ks are hard to find, so I started searching for a 10 mile race when I found out about the inaugural Historic Drawbridge Half from Tilghman Island to St. Michael’s. The race, organized by TCR Event Management, raised money for volunteer fire companies in the area.

It looked like a great PR course — pancake flat and point to point, with no turns until, the race director joked, mile 13.05 when runners turned left into the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum where the finish line was. Only a few hundred runners were expected, so I knew I wasn’t going to get caught up in the crowds like I did in the Baltimore Half. AND there was a 1:40 pacer! Six days before the race, I decided to sign up and go for it. I’m obviously really glad that I did.

I can’t say enough about how well-organized the race was. Because it was the first year for the race, I expected a few logistical hiccups, but everything went so smoothly. I picked up my packet at the Maritime Museum Saturday morning and boarded a bus to the start line on Tilghman Island, exactly 13.1 miles away. There were no delays whatsoever with the bus, and we were all treated to an absolutely beautiful sunrise as we waited for the race to begin.

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It was about 40 degrees outside and I wore running shorts, knee high VitalSox compression socks, my long-sleeved Boston race shirt and my Boston Celebration jacket. I was actually afraid of overheating in the jacket, but I felt pretty comfortable throughout the race. All in all, the weather was pretty ideal.

I started off with the 1:40 pacer and he said he was going to try to come within a minute of his goal time — so if I stuck with him, I’d have a 1:39:xx time. I was planning to run with the group until mile 10 or 11, then pull on ahead.

Mile 1: 7:29
Mile 2: 7:33
Mile 3: 7:31
Mile 4: 7:32

As it happened, I ran with the 1:40 group for the first few miles, then was feeling good so I pulled ahead. I knew it was risky and that I could blow up in the later miles, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Mile 5: 7:28
Mile 6: 7:21
Mile 7: 7:29
Mile 8: 7:25

Around miles 7 and 8 (I think), we started running into a headwind, and that was annoying. (Though I heard some other runners who live in the area say after the race that it was nothing like what they normally deal with.) One downside of this race is that it also got kind of boring after a while. We were running on the shoulder of the highway and there was zero spectator support. But to be honest, I wasn’t there to be wowed by the crowds; I’ll get that in Philly later this month. I was there for a PR.

Mile 9: 7:34
Mile 10: 7:45

Mile 10 was my slowest mile of the race. This is when the race got hard and I really had to rally mentally. I was recently asked what I think about when I am racing, and I didn’t have a good answer. But I realized during the race that I give myself pep talks. In this race, I kept telling myself I had trained for this and that it was time for me to finish the fight. (Seriously. I was really into the World Series this year and was cheering for the Nats, what can I say?)

Mile 11: 7:33
Mile 12: 7:35

I was really proud that I was able to hold a pace in the 7:30s that late in the race, because it was a huge struggle. After I passed the mile 12 marker, I told myself, “You could run a 9-minute mile right now and still meet your goal!” I ended up maintaining my pace pretty well, though.

Mile 13: 7:39

I ran the last 0.1 in 59 seconds, saw 1:38 on the finish line clock and broke into a huge smile! (The finish line announcer called out my name and said I was “grinning from ear to ear.”) Once I stopped, I must have looked pretty spent, though, because a volunteer handed me a bottle of water, asked me if I was OK and if I needed to sit down. I felt pretty good — just pooped! But so happy!

I later found out that I was the third female finisher, which was cool, but I was way more excited about breaking 1:40.

I cashed in my beer tickets (finishers got two free beers!) while I waited for the awards ceremony to start. Turns out I was a VERY distant third place finisher — the first female ran a 1:21 and the second place female ran a 1:25. So freaking fast.

The awards ceremony was awesome for several reasons:

1. They played the Jurassic Park theme song. Who doesn’t love that?

2. As I walked up to the podium, the announcer said, “Here comes Allison Sauntry, sauntering up to get her award!” and that cracked me up.

3. Of course I had one of my freebie beers in my hand, so I had to set that down by the podium so I could accept my prize. Afterwards, the second place female (I think) handed me her two free beer tickets — I’m sure she assumed I would put them to good use. Had I not driven myself to the race, I certainly would have.

I won a $15 gift certificate to TriCycle and Run on St. Michael’s (the owners also own TCR Event Management), which I used to buy awesome Brooks cushioned socks. I also won a nice trophy.

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I heard that TCR put this race together to replace Across the Bay 10K, the annual race across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that was put on hold this year due to bridge construction. As someone who prefers half marathons to 10Ks anyway, I am a huge fan. I would definitely recommend this race to other runners!

Recap of the 2019 Baltimore Running Festival

Last weekend, I participated in the Baltimore Running Festival for the fourth year in a row, running the half marathon.

Originally, I had planned to run this half as a training run for my goal race, the Philadelphia Half Marathon. But my training has been going really well and I’ve been crushing my weekly speed workouts, so I decided to just see what I could do. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to go sub-1:40, especially because the Baltimore Half is notoriously hilly. But you never know! And the weather was looking pretty darn perfect — no wind and low 50s at the start!

I ended up finishing in 1:42:11, a pace of 7:48 per mile. I’m proud of it, but I know I could have done better in a less crowded race. I wasted a lot of time and energy weaving in and around slower runners, and actually ended up with an extra 0.2 on my watch at the end of the race. If I’m calculating things correctly, I would have PRed with a 1:40:30 had I run a true 13.1. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

The race started promptly at 9:45 am. Why so late? The Baltimore Running Festival is comprised of three different races — a 5K, a half marathon and a full marathon — and so all the start times are staggered. The 5K begins at 7:30, followed by the marathon at 8 and the half at 9:45. The half begins at the 13th mile of the marathon, and the two races then go off in two different directions before merging at the 3rd mile of the half and the 16th mile of the full.

Kree and Matt were running the full marathon (Matt signed up for it the day before — who does that?) and Tammi and Cindy were also doing the half. It was Cindy’s first half marathon! We drove up early so we could see them start their race, then had plenty of time to kill before our race started. We decided to hang out at mile 9 of the marathon and cheer for Kree and Matt.

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I was assigned to wave 1, based on my expected finish time that I registered with (I can’t actually remember what that was.) But I was a bit late getting into the start corral because we were spectating, so I went off with wave 2. Almost immediately, I realized it was going to be hard to get into the rhythm I wanted because it was so packed. It was annoying, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I could either slow way down or I could add distance onto my race by going around people. I chose the latter option, but neither were ideal.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a hilly half marathon and the hills pretty much start immediately. (None are really that steep or that long — there are just a lot of them!) I ran miles 1 and 2 in 7:53 and 7:58, respectively. Then mile 3 has a nice downhill, so I logged a 7:28. However, at that point the roads get even more clogged since we were now running alongside the marathoners. But I was able to get into more of a groove then and my next two miles were both 7:39. Yay for some consistency!

Miles 5-10 are probably the hilliest part of the race, but there are also a ton of spectators out cheering the runners on, so that’s good motivation. I heard one local resident yell out “Wow, that’s a hell of a lot of runners!” or something like that, which made me laugh. Mile 6 is a long, steady climb, and I logged an 8:01, my slowest mile of the race. Then mile 7 is around Lake Montebello, which is super flat but also daunting because you can see allllllll the way around it and it looks like you have so far to run. When Tammi and I ran the full marathon last year, she said this was her least favorite part.

My watch was not syncing up with the mile markers at all — it was beeping nearly a quarter of a mile before each marker. That’s exactly what happened to me last year in the full marathon, so I should have known to expect it. But again, what could I do? I ran mile 7 in 7:46.

Miles 8 through 10 are rough. After you exit Lake Montebello, you run up a long hill, then down, then up again. Then there are more rolling hills through the Waverly neighborhood before the course (mostly) flattens out as you run back toward the Inner Harbor. Still, these are fun miles to run. The November Project is out around mile 9 cheering all the runners on extremely loudly, and so is the charity group Back On My Feet. There’s also a guy dressed up in a tiger suit who blares Eye of the Tiger on his boombox every year. This year, there was a group of African dancers, too.

Mile 8: 7:37
Mile 9: 7:40
Mile 10: 7:51

My last couple miles were truly awesome. I was tired, but I was so determined to keep pushing even though I knew sub -1:40 wasn’t happening. At this point in the race, you also get some nice downhills (which sucks in the full marathon because your quads are shot by then, but in a half it isn’t so bad!) There was apparently a church group giving out “holy water” around mile 12 or so, but I was so in the zone that I didn’t even notice. There is one last steep incline in the 11th mile, but it’s very short.

Mile 11: 7:37
Mile 12: 7:36

After I passed the 12th mile marker (again, after my watch had already told me I’d run 12 miles!) I knew there was just one more left turn and then I’d see the finish line. When I turned onto Pratt Street, crowds were lining both sides of the street and the finish line looked like it was so far away. I don’t have the last-minute kick in races that Tammi does, but I did my best to leave it all out there and finish strong.

Mile 13: 7:31
Last 0.3: 1:58

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It was a beautiful day to run a half marathon!

I was the first one of my friends to finish, so I waited to see everyone cross the finish line (although I somehow missed Tammi, who finished about 10 minutes after me.)

Overall, I’m really pleased with my performance, especially with how I was able to stay strong and consistent late in the race. I finished 6th out of 527 women in my age group, and 69th out of 3,725 women total. Super proud of those stats!

I think sub-1:40 next month in the Philadelphia Half Marathon is very possible, though that’s also a big half and I wonder if I’ll get hindered by the crowds then, too. Well, there’s always the Rehoboth Half Marathon on Dec. 7, which is a smaller race as well as a flat, fast one!

One annoying thing: I apparently didn’t show up in any race photos! I always look forward to the free photos from this race because I usually look completely absurd. But I keep checking and there are no photos of me. Weird. At least I show up in the results!

My side hustle: Freelancing for RunWashington

About two and a half years ago, I switched careers. I left the journalism industry after 15+ years to go work in PR and marketing for a hospital.

Lots of newsies like to call this type of career move “going to the dark side.” Even when I was a full-time journalist, I never cared for that expression — it just sounds so sanctimonious. Because the truth is, while journalism is an important job and plays such a vital role in our democracy, it’s not a great industry to work in.

I certainly don’t miss the financial struggles. When I left the newspaper business in 2014 to work in digital news for a TV station, I was making $34,000/year. No one goes into journalism to get rich, but that salary was not sustainable, especially where the cost of living is high, as it is in central Maryland. I wasn’t married at the time, so that made things even more difficult.

I got a significant raise at this next job and was finally able to crack $50,000/year — still not a ton of money for this area, but at least it was a living wage! However, that job came with long hours on top of a long commute, and after a while it became clear that my role at the station was more about getting page views and clicks than it was about doing good journalism that I could be proud of. The burnout was insane and I was so grateful that I found a new opportunity when I did.

Now, for the first time in my life, I make a comfortable salary AND I work normal hours. And my commute is 15 minutes. Sometimes I still can’t believe it.

But while I still do some writing in my new career, it’s not my focus, and I do miss it. I miss meeting new people and talking to them and telling their stories. Not only did I love doing that, but I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

So last winter, I reached out to the editor of RunWashington Magazine and asked if he needed any more freelancers. It seemed like the perfect fit — I’m obviously very passionate about running, I have a background in journalism and I love writing feature stories. (I covered just about everything in my years as a journalist, but my dream was really to be a features writer. I will say I don’t miss covering politics one bit!)

This year, I’ve gotten to write several fun stories for the magazine, including a profile of a woman who ran more than 50 marathons last year to honor fallen soldiers and a story about how race T-shirts are designed. And now, my bio is live on the site!

You can see the rest of my work here.

And, as a side note, I am always interested in new freelance opportunities, so please feel free to reach out if you’d like to work with me!

A 5K double header: One in the morning, one in the afternoon

Have I mentioned how much I hate 5Ks?

OK, I don’t hate them. I mean, if I’m counting right, I’ve done nine in 2019 alone, and we have three months left in the year! So, obviously, they can’t be too terrible!

Except almost every time I run one, I think, “Well, that sucked!” and “I could have done better.” They just hurt so bad and I struggle with pacing myself correctly. Earlier this year, I attempted to train to run a fast 5K (anything under 22 minutes for me), and then targeted a race that ended up being a total disaster. “5Ks just aren’t my thing,” I told myself afterwards. “It’s fine.”

And yet — I keep signing up for them. Like this past Sunday when I ran a 5K at 9 am and then another 5K at 2 pm.

I mean, why not? I do like to challenge myself. (I actually have run two races in one day before, but the second one was a fun run.)

The first 5K was the Together in TEAL — Ending Ovarian Cancer — 5K Run/3K Walk to benefit the Central Maryland chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. My employer was one of the sponsors, and we had a team at work, so my co-worker and friend Ariana and I decided to run it.

The second was the 9/11 Heroes Run benefiting the Travis Manion Foundation, named in honor of a Naval Academy graduate who was killed in Iraq in 2007. I had written about the Heroes Run when I was at ABC2 in Baltimore, and my first ever story for RunWashington was a profile of a woman who works with the Foundation to honor fallen soldiers. So I was very familiar with the organization and all that it stands for.

The two runs obviously totaled 6.2 miles, far less than I would typically run on a Sunday, but of course the effort was much faster. Oh, and it was really hot out, even though it was the day before the official start of fall. I’m so ready for cooler running weather.

I got to the NOCC run at 8 am, since I planned to take pictures to share on social media for work. Before the race started, several ovarian cancer survivors spoke, as well as those who had lost their loved ones to ovarian cancer. It was very emotional and I know I wasn’t the only one in the audience who got teary.

The race started promptly at 9 and to be honest, I did not care for the course, which was entirely in the Annapolis Mall parking lot. It was just really boring, and of course, there was no shade (except for around mile 1.5, when we turned into the Nordstrom parking garage and did a small loop.) It was mostly flat, but running around a mall for 3.1 miles isn’t exactly the most scenic or exciting route!

I did a HORRIBLE job of pacing this one. HORRIBLE. I took off way too fast and hit the first mile in 6:15. 6:15!!! WTF! That’s only four seconds slower than I ran the Market Street Mile, and it’s at least 45 seconds too fast for the first mile of a 5K.

I never stopped to walk, but my splits were UGLY. My second mile was a 7:07 and my third mile was a 7:34. And that’s why I suck at 5Ks! I have such a hard time holding back and I all too often expend all my energy in the first mile.

I pretty much felt like crap halfway through and just kept telling myself it would be over soon. (But I also asked myself, “Why are you doing another one of these this afternoon? What is wrong with you?”) There weren’t many spectators and there was nothing to really look at except for the parking lot, so like I said, it was boring. The course was also not that well marked, and if I had been in the lead, I probably would have made a wrong turn and messed up my race. At around mile 2.6, we approached the finish line and I thought, “Man, this course is really short!”

I started to make a right turn toward the finish line and a volunteer steered me away and in the direction of one last half-mile loop before turning around and actually running through the finish. My final time was 22:13, which was good for first in my age group and second overall female. The age group situation was different — I was in the 31-40 year old group, whereas usually I fall in the 30-39 group or the 35-39 group. Whatever. An age group win is an age group win!

Even though I didn’t love the course, I would recommend the race because it is for a good cause. Learn more about the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, and the annual race, here.

9/11 Heroes Run

I had a few hours of downtime until I had to head to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the Heroes Run. As I mentioned earlier, it got hot — temperatures neared 90 degrees by early afternoon. Awesome. I didn’t have high expectations, time-wise, for this race, given the heat and the fact that I had already raced that day. My biggest hope was to run more even splits!

Because Lt. Manion was a Naval Academy grad, it seemed like at least half of the race participants were midshipmen. In fact, there was one whole age group for 19-year-olds, one for 20-year-olds and one for 21-year-olds! My age group for this race was unusual, too– 36-44. Never seen that before!

The start of the race was VERY crowded, which was probably a good thing for me because it kept me from going out too fast. The race began at the stadium and went through the Admiral Heights neighborhood before returning to the stadium. I ran the first mile in 7:14 and felt good about it. The neighborhood was a little hilly, but nothing too crazy — it was comparable to the rolling hills in my neighborhood in Edgewater. I was able to pass a lot of other runners after the first mile, when the field thinned out. Even with the hills, running in Admiral Heights was way better than running in the mall parking lot — there was at least a little shade and lots of the residents came out to watch the race and cheer us on! I ran the second mile in 7:23.

After we left the neighborhood, we headed back toward the stadium and ran a loop around it before heading toward the finish line. Veteran A10 runners are very familiar with the infamous uphill finish — this race had the same finish. My third mile was a 7:22, so I can definitely say that I accomplished my goal of running more even splits than in the NOCC 5K (not like that would have been hard, LOL!)

My watch read 22:25, and I was pretty excited that I ran this 5K only 13 seconds slower. I thought I had a good chance of winning another age group award, as I didn’t see any women near me on the course who looked to be around my age. Ariana came out to spectate this race and she stayed with me through the awards ceremony, but they didn’t call my name. Oh well, I thought.

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Conquering the 911 Heroes Run, benefiting the Travis Manion Foundation!

But! The day after the race, I looked up the results online (mostly because I wanted to see what my official time was — I usually stop my watch a second or two after I cross the finish line) and realized I wasn’t listed in the results at all. I also looked at the award winners in the female 36-44 year old age group and saw that the winner was listed as running a 22:47.

I emailed the race director, and apparently I wasn’t the only one who experienced this. The race timing company had a major issue with its equipment and a lot of other results were missing. The race organizers are still looking into getting the results sorted out as much as they can, so maybe I won something, maybe not! It’s not really that important — it’s not like this was a BQ marathon or anything. The important thing is that I had fun and helped raise money for a good cause.

Next up for me is the Baltimore Half Marathon on Oct. 19! I don’t really have a time goal — I’m mainly using it as a training run for the Philly Half Marathon in November, when I’ll try to break 1:40. I figure I’ll stay with the 1:45 group in Baltimore and see how I feel. The Baltimore Running Festival is one of my favorite fall running events in Maryland, and I always look forward to it.

The Frederick Market Street Mile: It hurt so good

Racing the mile has been on my running bucket list for a while. The thing is, there aren’t too many 1-mile races in my area.

So last year, when I saw that the Frederick Steeplechasers host the Market Street Mile every year, I excitedly signed up for it. But then I realized that the 2018 race fell on the same weekend as the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler, and I bailed.

But this year’s race was scheduled for the weekend after Bottle and Cork, so I again registered for it and had been looking forward to it for months.

I knew it would be hard. As I’ve said many times before, short distances aren’t really my thing. I don’t excel at making myself hurt and going hard and fast the way you have to in a 5K or even a 10K. So I really had no idea what to expect for the mile. I’ve run a 6:34 mile in a 5K before (which, by the way, was way too fast since it was the first mile of the race!) but haven’t actually been timed in the distance for years. I think I ran a timed mile in kickboxing back in 2015, and clocked a 6:56. I figured I could do better now, and was hoping for a sub-6:30.

My official time at the Market Street Mile on Saturday? 6:11!!!

I still can’t believe it.

Again, I went into this race mentally prepared for it to hurt. I joked to my coworkers the day before that I planned to run until I felt like I was going to die, then keep running. And if I puked at the finish, well, whatever. (Seriously. But I didn’t puke, so yay!) The name of the game, I kept telling myself, was to just feel the burn and know it would be over soon.

The race, now in its 38th year, was organized into five different heats — the women’s race, the youth race, the men’s race, the coed master’s race (for runners 40 and over — if I do this next year, I’ll have the option of running as a master or just running in the women’s open in the 40-49 year old group) and the family fun run. My heat was scheduled for 9 am, so Micah and I got to Frederick around 7:30 am for me to have ample time to get my packet, warm up and obviously, use the bathroom five thousand times (OK, just twice that morning!)

After I got my packet, I started chatting with an older man about the race. He was probably in his late 50s and said he had run it last year. I asked him what his time was. “5:10,” he said casually. Holy hell, I thought. So there are some serious runners here. We talked for a bit more and he said he had actually run as a pro in his 20s and tried to get to the Olympic Trials. I don’t usually feel intimidated by other runners at races, but I sort of did after talking to him, even though he was very nice!

I’m glad I had ample chance to warm up beforehand. I hardly ever do that, and maybe I should start doing it at least before 5Ks. I didn’t turn on my Garmin for the warmup, so I’m not exactly sure how fast or far I went, but I’d guess around two miles and it was at a very easy pace. I got back to the start line just as the announcer was telling the women to line up. I got in place right up front — confident? Cocky? The race website did say to start up front if you were going to be running a pace around six to seven minutes, and I did plan on breaking seven minutes at the very least.

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Go on. Look as awkward as possible.

The mile starts at the Frederick YMCA and ends right in the middle of the historic downtown area. I loved the fact that it was a point to point course — mentally, I think that was so much better for me than running four laps around a track. But of course, once the gun went off, the whole thing was kind of a blur and I barely registered my surroundings.

There were people calling out our times at each quarter of a mile mark. I hit the first quarter mile in 1:25, which is roughly a 5:45 pace. I honestly can’t tell you much about the race after that. I do know that when I hit the half-mile mark, a man called out “2:59!” and I was excited because I’ve never broken three minutes in the half-mile. (We do run a timed half mile in kickboxing quite a bit, and my PR is 3:09. So this felt like a big deal!)

It would have been awesome if I could have held onto that pace, but it was not to be. I positive split the hell out of the race. Still, the effort was there, so I can’t complain. I have no idea what my time was at the three-quarters mark — I’m sure someone told me, but I was in the pain cave and totally oblivious! Micah was stationed at the end, at around the 0.9 mark, and he called out, “One more block to go!” As I crossed the finish line, I saw the clock said 6:10, but when I stopped my watch, it said 6:13. My official result, as I mentioned earlier, was 6:11. I came in eighth out of 33 in my age group and 14th out of 74 women. It was a really competitive group! The winner finished in 5:01.

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This hurts.

I grabbed a cup (actually three) of water and walked around a bit to cool down. Micah joined me shortly thereafter and we settled in to watch the other heats. The men were sooooo fast. The top 15 men were all under five minutes. I can’t even fathom running that fast!

The race kicked off Frederick’s In The Streets festival, so afterwards we walked around downtown, checking out some of the local stores and browsing at the booths. We ate an early lunch at La Paz, a Mexican restaurant where I’ve eaten before with friends. Drank a Bloody Mary with tequila, which sounds weird, but I think it was an excellent way to recover from a short, hard, fast race!

I would love to do this race again. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keep thinking about the fact that I was 12 seconds away from breaking six minutes. I know 12 seconds is a lot of time in a mile, but I think I might be able to do it if I really trained strategically for the distance. That’s the thing — do I want to actually train to run my fastest mile ever, or would I rather focus on the longer distances? I guess I have to decide that.

If you’re a runner who’s looking to test yourself at the mile, I highly recommend this race. Learn more at FrederickMarketStreetMile.com.

My review of Vitalsox Equilibrium compression socks (including a link for you to try out your own pair!)

About a year ago, I got injured in a fun run.

It was my first running injury in six years of racing, so it freaked me out and totally caught me off guard. I was running with Kree and Matt in the Run for Wine 5K in Annapolis last September, and I definitely was not pushing the pace — I was probably a mile into the race and running an 8-minute pace and going downhill when all of a sudden, my left calf seized up and I felt pain shooting up and down it. I ended up jogging/walking the rest of the race, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to run the Baltimore Marathon a month later.

I did have to DNS the Charm City Run 20-Miler two days later, but fortunately my calf healed and I was able to resume my training and ultimately, run the marathon.

But I got really paranoid that I would hurt my calf again, so I went out and bought several pairs of compression socks to run in — and so far, so good! My calf has held up well through long runs and speedwork and races and everything in between.

So when Vitalsox reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try out their Equilibrium compression socks, I was so excited! A girl can never have too many compression socks, right? 🙂

(And handbags, but this is a blog about running, not fashion.)

According to Vitalsox, the Sensory Technology in each pair of socks has the following benefits:

*Improved balance
*Increased motor control
*Better athletic performance and posture
*Better ankle support
*Light cushioning in targeted impact zones
*Faster post-trauma recovery

So you may be wondering, how do these socks do all of that?

Vitalsox says the socks stimulate your ankles’ proprioceptors, or the sensory signals found in muscles, tendons and joints that are caused by movement. For example, proprioceptors allow runners to move safely.

If you have issues with your proprioceptors, because of prior injury or another issue, your stability could suffer and you could up your risk of falling and hurting yourself. The company believes if you apply pressure at your ankle to simulate proprioception, you can improve your motor skills and avoid injury.

OK, all that was pretty technical. How do they actually make my legs and ankles feel?

Vitalsox sent me three pairs of knee-length socks — two pairs were a size small and one pair was a medium. I received a black pair, a hot pink pair and a lime green pair (of course the hot pink ones are my favorite.) To be honest, I didn’t notice a major difference in sizing. All of them felt tight as I was putting them on, which is what you want in a compression sock — that’s the whole point. (Here’s a quick tutorial on how to put them on.)

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Wearing a size small here

I’ve worn my Vitalsox on several training runs as well as in the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler and most recently, the Market Street Mile in Frederick. As noted before, they feel snug like they are supposed to, but not so tight that they are uncomfortable. And it’s important to note that they were still relatively easy to pull onto my legs. I have other pairs of compression socks that make me feel like I’m getting my workout in before I even start running because they are just so stiff. These are nice and soft.

Since I haven’t had any recent injuries, thankfully, I can’t speak to whether the socks were responsible for keeping me pain-free. But they certainly felt good, and my legs felt good, while I was wearing them! They also were pretty easy to get off, too (again, some other kinds of compression socks are so stiff that I have to really wrestle with them to get them off my legs!)

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Running in one of my pairs of Vitalsox at the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler

The downside to Vitalsox — and really any kind of knee-high compression socks — is they are kind of hot. This past summer here in Maryland has been very hot and humid, so I’ve definitely been noticing every extra layer on my body. That said, I’m going to sweat like hell anyway when running this time of year, so I’d rather wear the socks then risk injuring my calf again.

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On a recent run around my neighborhood (wearing size medium)

Would you like to try out your own pair of Vitalsox? Claim your pair here (you’ll just have to cover the cost of shipping.)

Vitalsox sent me three pairs of Equilibrium socks in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own!

Feeling strong at the 2019 Bottle and Cork 10 Miler

Two years ago, I killed it at the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach, running a 1:13:27.

I will never beat that, I’ve thought to myself so many times since. I’m unlikely to even get close. Indeed, last year I had a terrible race, running a 1:23 (not a bad time, but I had been running sub-1:20 10-milers for the previous four years. In my defense, I was in the thick of Baltimore Marathon training and had grinded out six miles before the race even started.)

But on Saturday at the 2019 10 Miler, I got damn close, finishing in 1:14:28 — only a minute and a second off my PR! To say I was thrilled with that is an understatement. It was my second fastest 10-mile time ever and I felt pretty incredible the whole time.

This was my fifth year doing the race, and it’s always hard to know what to expect from the weather– September is an iffy time at the beach. The first year I ran it, it was 90 degrees and humid outside– just awful. Two years ago, it was cool outside, which I think definitely helped me PR. And this year, when I woke up, it was a brisk 57 degrees and I was so happy about that.

Regardless of the weather, I love this race (I love any race at the Delaware seashore.) Last year, the race organizers changed the course and now I like it even more. Before, the race route went from Dewey Beach down into Rehoboth, through Henlopen Acres, onto the boardwalk in Rehoboth, then through the neighborhood around Silver Lake and onto the highway before heading back to Dewey. I never liked the highway part, especially when it’s really hot — you just bake in the sun.

On the new course, you head out from Dewey and instead of going straight into Henlopen Acres, you turn by Silver Lake to go onto the boardwalk and then into the neighborhood. Miles 3-6.75ish are in Henlopen, and there are some minor rolling hills, but nothing serious. Then you had back onto the boardwalk and back into Dewey.

This race falls during an annual girls weekend, and we stay at a hotel about two blocks from the start line, so it’s super convenient. My friend Jill and I left the room shortly after 7 to arrive in plenty of time for the 7:30 am start time.

The race started right on time and we were off. I ran the first mile in 7:48, and definitely felt like I could go a lot faster, but it was pretty crowded at that point and I knew it would thin out. Plus, I didn’t want to make the mistake I usually do and go out too fast.

I ran mile 2, which was partially on the boardwalk, in 7:40, then started to speed up from there, running mile 3 in 7:29 and mile 4 in 7:24. At that point, we were in the residential area. The runners started to get more spread out at that point and we passed a few people who were out walking their dogs or riding their bikes. I frequently run through Henlopen Acres when I’m on vacation in Rehoboth, so I’m very familiar with the area. (Gorgeous homes!) The only part of the race I wasn’t crazy about is the entrance/exit into the neighborhood — runners basically have to cut through an opening in a line of trees along the main road to get in and out of Henlopen Acres. It’s just weird.

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In last year’s race, I started to tank midway through, so I was happy when I ran mile 5 in 7:31. But I told myself it was time to start cooking with gas (really, that’s exactly what I said to myself) and that I could go faster. I ran mile 6 in 7:19 and mile 7 in 7:14 (my second fastest mile of the race).

Then I was back on the boardwalk and it was crowded, but not with other runners in the race — just lots of people walking, cycling, etc. It was a gorgeous weekend, so there were a ton of people at the beach. I was afraid I was going to expend a lot of extra energy weaving in and out of groups of people, but I managed to run the tangents pretty well and logged a 7:24 for mile 8.

As I ran around and across Silver Lake, I looked at my watch and saw a sub-1:15 was very likely. I was getting tired at that point, but told myself to keep grinding and I’d be in the 1:14s. I hit the mile 9 marker in 7:29 and I knew I had it in me to pick it up from there. I pushed as hard as I could, ran my fastest mile of the race (7:13) and made it under 1:15 with 32 seconds to spare! I heard someone say “second female!” and I thought I might have gotten an overall award, but I ended up with second in my age group instead. Honestly, it would have surprised me if I had won an overall award. This race attracts some really fast runners. In fact, the course record was even broken this year by a guy who ran it in 51:41 (he was so fast I never even saw him out on the course.)

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I almost always stop for water during longer races (which to me are 10 miles and up), but I didn’t this time and also didn’t during the A10. I was well-hydrated from the previous days and the weather was so nice that I didn’t feel like I needed water. In both races, I was feeling so good that I knew stopping for water would just slow me down anyway …. So I didn’t!

I can’t say enough how excited I am about my time, and how hopeful it makes me feel. To be honest, I was starting to think I really peaked as a runner in 2017. I still haven’t had a PR since then, but these recent race times are making me feel more confident that I can smash my three-year-old half marathon PR and break 1:40 this fall. And even better, I think I can run a BQ again when I run the Coastal Delaware Running Festival marathon in April.

Time will tell, of course — but I think I’m on the right track.

Life musings: Reflecting on the past 12 years in Maryland

On Sept. 1, 2007 –12 years ago today — I moved to Maryland. I packed up my life in small town Pennsylvania, where I had worked as a newspaper reporter for the previous five years, to follow my then-boyfriend to Towson, Maryland. Everyone but me could see it was a dead end relationship, but I was young and clueless. I took a job at the Maryland Gazette, a twice-weekly sister publication to The Annapolis Capital (way back before the papers merged.) It didn’t pay enough to cover the much higher cost of living in Maryland, and the commute to and from Towson was painful, but I figured I’d move on after a year or so anyway.

I wasn’t a runner then, and my exercise routine consisted mainly of evening walks with the BF.

My, how things have changed in the last dozen years.

I broke up with that boyfriend after years of treading water. I moved on to The Capital, then left the newspaper industry to work in online news for a TV station. Eventually, I left journalism and switched to a career in marketing. I moved to Annapolis. I joined a gym where I met my husband. And I became a runner.

How did that happen? Well, here is my story.

I wasn’t an athletic child, to say the least, preferring to spend my free time reading instead of engaging in any kind of sports activity. In gym class, I was a hot mess. I was a small kid who was usually picked last, and I usually embarrassed myself when it was time to play volleyball (did I ever get the ball over the net? I don’t think I did, even once!)

But the one thing I didn’t completely hate was when we had to run a mile on the track. In those days, I ran the mile in about eight minutes. I certainly wasn’t track star material, but I didn’t finish at the bottom of the class. Still, it never occurred to me to join the track or cross country team. That was for athletes, and I was no athlete!

So if you had told me 20 years ago that I’d be going to group fitness classes and running races for fun — let alone qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon! — I would never have believed it. (I’m pretty sure I had no idea what the Boston Marathon was back then, or why it’s such a big deal to runners.)

I can’t quite pinpoint when I went for my first run, but I know it was on the treadmill at the gym at my apartment complex in Towson. This was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere with a treadmill, so I figured I’d start to use it. I wasn’t particularly serious about it and my runs then were probably more like a slow jog, but it became part of my routine when I wasn’t taking walks or at the aerobics classes I signed up for shortly after my move to Maryland. At that point, I never considered running outside (only real runners did that.)

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In my early days in Maryland, I was more into partying than running.

When I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out of that apartment and into a new place in Annapolis in 2011, I no longer had access to a gym, so I joined the Pip Moyer Recreation Center. And that’s when I started to hit the treadmill religiously. As in, every single night after work. I was newly single and had extra time on my hands. This was a way to relieve stress and stay in shape. Still never thought about running outside, and certainly never considered entering a race at that point.

The treadmill became a source of comfort to me over the next year and a half as I navigated the dating world (boy, that was fun) and switched to a more demanding, stressful beat at the newspaper. It kept me sane. Then I started to see a really cute guy running on the indoor track who seemed to always be looking my way. After several months, he introduced himself to me and told me he was training for the Baltimore Marathon.

“Wow!” I said. “I could never do that.”

I did, however, sign up to run a Halloween 5K in Rehoboth in October of 2012 when my friend Staci suggested it. The race ended up getting postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, so Staci and I ran it in November. I think I wore sweatpants and a hoodie and finished in 27 minutes or something like that (we’d also been out partying at the Purple Parrot the night before and didn’t get to bed until after 2 am.) But I had fun, and so I decided to register for the Turkey Trot in my hometown on Thanksgiving Day.

This was about the same time the hot guy from the gym finally asked me out. We decided to go running together at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and I was so intimidated. He was a marathon runner, after all.

But not only was that the beginning of a beautiful relationship (we’ve been married for three years now), it was also when I started to run outside in addition to running on the treadmill. In the spring of 2013, I decided to register for the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, since I was regularly running between five and seven miles for fun and for fitness.

The 2013 A10 was a true turning point for me. That was when I became truly hooked on racing and began to see myself as a runner.

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Almost immediately, I signed up for a half marathon. Then a year after that, I signed up for my first marathon.

Pittsburgh Marathon 2015

The 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon was my first marathon — and Micah’s last!

I ran more 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, half marathons. In 2017, I set my sights on qualifying for Boston, and I BQ’d in December of that year.

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Just after finishing the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Running has remained a huge source of comfort and stability to me, particularly as I’ve navigated the ups and downs of my career. Journalism has never been an easy way to make a living, with the long hours, low pay and relentless deadlines, but the last 15 years have been brutal for the industry (I graduated college in 2002, meaning I entered the profession just as the bottom was starting to fall out.) In 2017, I left the field completely and to be completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way in this new world and figuring out what success means to me. Running allows me to feel like I am making progress toward a goal and doing something productive outside of work.

Would I have become a runner if I hadn’t moved to Maryland?

It’s hard to say how my life would have turned out. I wonder about that all the time — what if I’d split up with that boyfriend in 2007 instead of moving to be with him in Maryland? What if I stayed in Pennsylvania or just moved to another state? Of course, I would never have met my husband then, so I’m glad I came here. And I think there’s a good chance I might not have discovered my passion for running.

I don’t know what the next 12 years hold for me, but I hope I continue to be able to run. It’s become such a vital part of me.

The 2019 Annapolis Ten Mile Run: What a perfect day

I had one main goal for this year’s Annapolis Ten Mile Run.

My God, have a better race than last year.

Now, I love the A10. It is my favorite race, and even the bad years are still pretty good. That said, the 2018 A10 was an absolute disaster for me. I started to run out of gas at mile 5, dry heaved at mile 8 and all but crawled across the finish line in 1:23 (a perfectly respectable time, don’t get me wrong, but I’d run a 1:15 the prior year!) I’m still not entirely sure how that race went off the rails so badly, though I suspect it was the ahi tuna burger I’d eaten the night before. Always get the veggie burger before a race! Always!

Anyway, I am happy to report that this year’s A10 went amazing! I ran a 1:17:26 — my fastest 10-miler in two years!! — pulled off a negative split, and felt super strong from start to finish.

So what went RIGHT this year? Honestly …. Aside from the fact that I didn’t eat ahi tuna for dinner the night before, the weather probably had a lot to do with it! After days and days of hot, disgusting, humid Maryland weather, things finally cooled off for the weekend. It was in the 60s when I woke up the day of the race, and I was actually chilly while waiting for it to start. It certainly didn’t feel like August in Maryland, and I was totally fine with that. The cool temps were pretty much all anyone was talking about because you know no one likes to bitch and stress about the weather more than runners! Haha.

Oh, and after packet pickup the day before, Kree and I went downtown to get Painkillers at Pusser’s and later, a margarita at Vida Taco Bar. Maybe that was literally the secret sauce?

My plan was to start with the 1:20 pace group (a flat 8-minute/mile pace) through the halfway point, then pass them by so I could have a sub-1:20 finish. I recognized the main pacer, as he led the 1:20 group last year, and he always runs the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach, too. He’s very upbeat and does a great job of running an even, steady pace (the worst is when you have a pacer that goes out too fast — that’s the whole point of running with a pacer, so you don’t blow your race in the first few miles!)

With the exception of last year, since it was such a shit show, I’ve always felt like the A10 just flies by. That was definitely the case this year. From the Navy-Marine Corps stadium to Main Street to the Naval Academy Bridge to Pendennis Mount and back across the bridge and to the stadium, the miles just ticked by. As per my plan, I did stick with the group until we hit mile 5, then sped up. I wasn’t sure how far in front of them I could get, but I was feeling good so I just went with it. When I hit the turnaround between miles 6 and 7, I saw that I was probably around 2-3 minutes ahead, and hoped I could finish in the 1:17-1:18 range.

I felt like I was working hard, but also like I could keep pushing, so I did. I’m really proud of the fact that my last three miles were 7:22, 7:23 and 7:25. (Mile 9 even included the second trip over the Naval Academy Bridge!) The clock read 1:18-something when I crossed the finish line, though I knew my chip time would be faster than that. I was thrilled!

The A10 is highly competitive, so I knew there was no chance of me getting any type of age group award. I think the winners in my AG finished, like, more than 10 minutes ahead of me. I ended up finishing 13th out of 212 women, which oddly enough was about the same as my ranking last year, even though I was six minutes faster this year.

One of my favorite things about this race is the fact that I always have a lot of friends who run it as well. This year was no exception. As always, 5 Peaks Martial Arts Academy was well represented. My friend Cindy ran her first A10 and even though she said it was awful after she finished, she admitted it was also fun and that she’d run it again.

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My other favorite thing about this race is the swag. The premium is usually pretty fantastic. This is what we got this year:

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And we also got medals! This is the first time they’ve ever had finisher’s medals! They’re pretty nice, too.

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Afterwards, Kree wanted to run another six miles because she had an Ironman triathlon coming up in about a month, so she asked me to join her. We grabbed brunch/second breakfast at Grump’s, then headed across the street to Quiet Waters Park. We ran a very easy six miles, and I felt pretty good considering I hadn’t run anything longer than about 10 or 12 miles since Boston. And considering the fact that I drank a mimosa with brunch. (Hydration, am I right?!)

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I’m already looking forward to the 2020 A10, as well as Bottle and Cork in two weeks. That course is much flatter, but it can also be brutally hot, so you never know how it’ll go. My goal would again be to go sub-1:20, and even better, to beat my time from this weekend.

The Dreaded Druid Hills 10K lived up to its name

I wasn’t planning to sign up for another August race, but the description for the Dreaded Druid Hills 10K was just too intriguing.

“The race you love to hate is back! What a better way to spend a Saturday morning running thru the hills of Druid Hill Park. This isn’t your grandfathers 10K – expect a challenging course that will test your love of racing, in addition to hill repeats thrown in the middle.”

Sounds fun, right?

I casually mentioned on Facebook that I was thinking about running the race, and luckily, I have a lot of friends who are equally as crazy as me. A group of eight of us headed to Druid Hill Park in Baltimore this Saturday morning, ready to run a 10K that basically promised to be a complete suckfest — in a good way!

I had zero expectations for my time. I have been running on the Naval Academy Bridge more over the past few weeks to get ready for the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, but I haven’t done any specific hill training since Boston. I also haven’t done any speed work in weeks (that’ll start up again as I ramp up training next month for the Philly Half.) Plus, it’s been roughly the temperature of Satan’s armpit over the last few days, so I was expecting the weather to be gross per usual. (Spoiler alert: It was.) I knew there was no chance in hell I’d be anywhere close to a PR, and I was more than fine with that. I was mostly just looking forward to a fun morning with friends!

Also, it was a good chance to take my new Hoka CarbonX racing shoes out for a spin! I splurged on these for my birthday last month. I’m planning to wear them in races only, so this was my first time running in them.

The race, put on by Falls Road Running Store and held entirely in the park, started promptly at 7:30 am. Tammi and I started off together — I told her I thought I’d be running at around an 8-minute pace. We ran the first mile in 7:56 and our second in 7:59, so I was pretty close. At that point, the race was mostly rolling hills, nothing too crazy. There was a nice long downhill between miles 1 and 2, which of course meant we’d be climbing back up those hills on our way back!
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We hit the first major incline shortly after we passed the mile 2 marker. “Don’t let me hold you back,” Tammi said. I assured her she wasn’t and that she might need to motivate me up the hill, as she is a very strong hill runner. We stayed together up the hill and then she told me she was having trouble breathing and that I needed to go ahead without her. I asked if she was OK and she insisted me that she was. The humidity was just oppressive and I think that really got to her.

I slowed down in mile 3, logging an 8:32 per my watch, then an 8:16 for mile 4. Mile 5 was a nightmare, as we then ascended the hills that we ran down earlier in the race. I saw a lot of people taking walk breaks, which motivated me to do the same, and I finished that mile in 9:20. Oh well. I managed to pass a few men — not that I was trying to compete with them, really — and one of them cheered me on, telling me that I came out of nowhere. “That’s what I do,” I joked.

I was able to end the race on a high note — mile 6 was my fastest mile of the race, with a split of 7:35! Did I mention the race actually ends on a downhill? I love it when that happens! All races should be this way! I crossed the finish line in an official time of 50:06, just missing breaking 50 minutes. According to my watch, the race was a little short — I logged 6.08 miles, while Tammi and Kree both said their watches recorded just under six miles.

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In any event, I’m happy with my race. I felt pretty strong throughout despite the hills and humidity — the humidity, in my opinion, was harder to deal with than the hills. (Though most of the course was shaded, thank goodness!) I finished third among women 35-39, and all finishers got pint glasses — can never have too many of those! I originally opted not to get a race shirt, since I already own so many of them. But then when I saw how cute the shirts were, I decided to buy one anyway.

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Then afterwards, most of our group went to kickboxing class. Because, as I said earlier, we’re kind of crazy. Kree was teaching it and she wasn’t too tough on us (coulda done without the leg raises, though. Just saying. ;))

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Next up is the A10 next weekend! My favorite race of the year!