Cramming a last-minute half marathon into Boston Marathon training

On Friday night, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to run the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware. This morning, I ran the race in 1:42, and had an absolute blast doing it! I love it when last minute decisions work out!

Let’s back up. This weekend, I was scheduled to run for two hours one day and race a half marathon the next, per my Hal Higdon Boston Bound plan. I figured that actually finding a local half marathon to do was going to be a long shot, so initially I planned just to run 13.1 miles all by myself. Then I saw that the Caesar Rodney Half was happening in Wilmington, less than two hours away from where I live, and it was being held at the very civilized time of 9:30 am (meaning I could drive in that morning without leaving in the middle of the night.) At first, I bulked at paying money for yet another race, but saw that the proceeds went to a good cause (the American Lung Association.) And running with a big group of people sounded way more fun than running a solitary half marathon. So I signed up.

This is a really cool race. The half marathon, now in its 56th year, is actually the oldest one in the country! It’s named for Caesar Rodney, who rode his horse from Delaware to Philadelphia to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence. There is a big statue of him in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, which is where the race started and ended. In addition to the half marathon, there is also a 5K and a relay option.

I wanted to get to Wilmington on the early side so I could find parking, get my bib, use the restroom, etc., before the race started, so I left my house at 6 am. There was zero traffic on 95 at that hour on a Sunday, plus I drive fast (which has gotten me into way more trouble than running fast has, hahahaha) so I arrived in Wilmington by 7:30. Packet pickup didn’t begin until 8. Whoops. Could have slept in more.

Once I got my bib, I hung out by the Rodney statue and chatted with another runner who is working toward running a half marathon in every state. He asked me my time goal, and I told him sub-1:45. He said his was 1:16. OK then! I caught up with him after the race, and he ended up placing eighth overall — so it was a very fast field today.

I was really excited to see there was a 1:45 pacer. After running for two hours yesterday, I really didn’t know if sub-1:45 was in the cards for me, but I figured I would just stick with the 1:45 guy and then move ahead in the end if I was feeling good. The back end of the race is hilly, and he said he was going to try to bank some time early on to make up for those hills.

We did the first three miles in the high 7s, which felt really comfortable. The temperature was absolutely perfect — high 50s to start — and the beginning of the course was pretty flat. The only annoying thing was how crowded it was during the part of the course that wove along the riverfront. We were running on a boardwalk and it was elbow-to-elbow at times. For all the other runners I bumped, I am sorry!

About those hills — the course was advertised as hilly, and it was, but none of them were all that steep. Just long. I felt like we were really cruising along until about the halfway point, when the hills started. Miles 6-9 were pretty much a continuous steady climb followed by a leveling out followed by another steady climb.

But after that, the inclines were pretty much done. In fact, there was some significant downhills from mile 9-12  …. meaning my quads will be feeling the burn tomorrow! But I was able to go pretty fast, even running mile 9 in a speedy 7:22, and passed the pace group for good. I was secretly hoping I could catch up to the 1:40 group, and finally beat my half marathon PR from 2016 (1:41:01, set at the Annapolis Running Classic half marathon.) But that never happened. One day! I still think I have a sub-1:40 half in me somewhere….

There was one last hill that kicked my butt pretty hard, and it was at the worst possible time in the race! The last quarter-mile of the race goes uphill, and it was actually probably the steepest hill of the whole entire race. What the hell? I did get some nice encouragement, though, from a spectator who noticed my Boston Marathon Qualifier shirt. “Just picture the crowds at Boston!” she yelled to me. “They’re all cheering for you!” That put a big smile on my face, and I made it up the hill and crossed the finish line in 1:42:35– 20 seconds faster than my last half, the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon.

Could I have gotten a PR if I hadn’t run a long run yesterday (and hill repeats Friday night?) Or if the course had been flatter? Maybe. Who knows. Races can be so unpredictable! All I know is I felt great the whole time and that I had a lot of fun, and what more can you ask for as a runner?

And while I know I just said races and race times can be unpredictable, I was curious to see what the McMillan Running Calculator predicts for my upcoming marathon — and it says 3:25:10. That seems like just a bit of a stretch, but I do think I could go sub-3:40 again! (Would need 3:35 or better to re-qualify.)

We’ll just have to see what happens on race day!

A near-PR in the Barlowe 5K Bolt +week 8 of Boston Marathon training complete!

“Almost only counts in horseshoes” may be an old and tired cliche, but I couldn’t be more excited about my almost-PR in last weekend’s Barlowe 5K Bolt, when I ran a 21:35 and won my age group!

Even though I’ve run a bunch of 5Ks in the last year and a half, I believe this was the first time I went under 22 minutes since I was training hard to BQ in the fall of 2017 (I ran a 21:55 in the 5K at the Baltimore Running Festival that year for a 2nd place AG award.) Yes, technically I did run a 21:08 in the Reindeer Run in December, but that course was short, so I don’t count it. Fall 2017 was also the last time I was doing serious speedwork, so I think there has to be a connection there. Hope it bodes well for my time in Boston!

My 5K PR is a fluke 20:49 that I ran when I relayed in the 2016 Waterman’s Sprint Triathlon, and I really don’t know if I will ever beat that. For all I know, the whole thing is a figment of my imagination, because I’ve tried to find proof of those results online and I can’t. *shrug* But that’s what I remember running that day. And so, to the best of my knowledge, last Saturday’s run was my second-fastest 5K time!

The annual race, held in Millersville, Maryland, raises money for a natural playground in the area. I ran with a huge group of friends from 5 Peaks, and because it was the day before St. Patrick’s Day, I got decked out my holiday best:

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It was the Lucky Hat that did it.

It was cold the morning of the race, but nowhere near as bad as last year. But it was VERY windy, to the point where I wasn’t sure my ridiculous hat was going to stay on my head! I got to the race, which started at 7 am, by about 6:15 to pick up my packet and do a quick warm up. I never warm up before 5Ks, but I had five miles on my training plan for the day, so I figured I would do a 1-mile warm up and a 1-mile cool down.  (Maybe the warm up helped, who knows!)

At the start of the 5K I told myself, “Don’t go out balls to the wall in the first mile. Pace yourself!” But…. I wasn’t successful. The first mile is largely flat, with maybe a small, small incline or two, and my watch beeped 6:47 at me when I finished it. Well, shit, I thought. At that point, I was keeping up pretty well with Tammi’s husband, Drew. I told myself I would try to run with him or very close to him for as much of the race as I could.

Somewhere during the second mile, which is more up and down, I passed him. I *definitely* slowed down in mile 2, to a 7:15, but that was better than the Valentine’s 5K when my second mile was in the 7:30s following a sub-7 first mile. And I was feeling pretty good and like I could still finish strong.

I ended up staying ahead of Drew until the very end when, no joke, he passed me on the exact same little hill that Tammi passed me on last year. I would have laughed out loud if I hadn’t been extremely gassed at that point. I ran another 7:15 mile and he ended up finishing three seconds ahead of me! Tammi didn’t do the 5K this year because she ran the 1 mile fun run with their son, who won that race! Fast family!

I won a car care package with a free car wash to a local place and a goodie bag of other prizes, including a nice water bottle and some gift cards to Ledo Pizza.

Honestly, I am MOST excited that my average race pace was 6:58. I’ve only ever seen my race pace begin with a 6 one other time — that freak 5K I mentioned above — so that was huge for me!

If you’re looking for a local and low-key race that raises money for a good cause, I highly recommend the Bolt!

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5 Peaks life! 

An update on Boston training 

The day after the 5K, I ran the first of two 20-milers on my training plan. The weather was great — it got into the 50s with no wind — and I headed to Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis to run. An entire loop around the park is five miles, so I planned to do that four times. That may seem a little boring, but I love Quiet Waters and find running there so peaceful.

The run went fine except for the fact that I tripped and fell a mile and a half into it. There are a lot of hills in the park — which makes it a good place to do a long run if you are training for a hilly marathon like Boston. Well, I was running down one of the steeper inclines and I tripped over a root and fell. I wasn’t seriously hurt, fortunately. My knee got scraped up and I snagged one of my favorite pairs of Under Armour leggings, which really made me mad. (On the bright side, I almost wore a brand new pair of leggings and decided at the last minute not to, so at least there is that.)

And life being the way it is, of course I had an audience for my spill. A man was walking with his son and I fell as I ran past them. If an Allison trips and falls in the park and no one witnesses her complete lack of gracefulness, did it really happen?! Ironically, I was just talking with my friends at brunch after the 5K about the time I fell off a treadmill at my old gym (someone left the machine on, I stepped on it to run and flew ass-backwards off of it … you can visualize the rest) and how it had been a while since I’d fallen. Totally jinxed myself there!

But it could have been worse. I got my 20 miles in, though it wasn’t as fast as I would have liked. I was trying for three hours, and it took me three hours and 10 minutes. I was trying to be very conscious of where I was running after my fall, so that slowed me down a little. It happens.

The next day, I came down with a mild cold that has messed up this week’s training a little bit. Ran my easy 5 on Monday after work, but felt like crap on Tuesday and skipped kickboxing. I felt MUCH better yesterday, but the plan called for 7 hill repeats and I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk a relapse by pushing through that workout, so I just ran another easy 5.

I’ll do the hill workout tomorrow. I mean, who doesn’t love spending Friday night running up and down the Naval Academy Bridge? 😉

 

Halfway through Boston Marathon training + a note on the comparison game

The 2019 Boston Marathon is 39 days away, and I am officially more than halfway done with Hal Higdon’s 12-week Boston Bound training plan!

Last weekend was a big training weekend for me — 8 mile tempo on Saturday and 18 miles on Sunday. I feel really good about how both runs went. I averaged a pace in the 7:50s for my tempo, and felt awesome throughout. I think the weather definitely helped– Saturday it was in the low 40s and dry, totally ideal running weather!

Sunday, well, it was less than ideal for my long run. About six miles in, it started to sleet, and it only got worse from there. I actually felt OK when I was running– I had on running tights, my long-sleeved Boston Qualifier Adidas shirt, my tried-and-true windbreaker from the 2014 Annapolis Ten Mile Run, and a hat from the 2017 St. Mary’s Half Marathon to keep water off my face. My goal was to run an easy pace and finish within 2 hours and 45 minutes, which I did, almost on the nose. But as soon as I stopped running, I was FREEZING (it was only about 35 degrees outside.) I was also starving (18 miles will do that to you!) I drove home, took a hot shower and made a huge bowl of pasta with meatless meatballs, spinach and pesto, and lounged around the rest of the day!

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18 miles later….

That was probably the crappiest weather I’ve had to endure during this training cycle, although tonight wasn’t fun. I had six hill repeats to run, so I headed to the Naval Academy Bridge after work. It was about 30 degrees and windy, and I did not feel like grinding out that workout. But I did it and feel good about it. Fitness coaches like to say, “How bad do you want it?” Well, tonight I had to want it really f*cking bad.

Overall, though, I feel I’ve really lucked out. This winter has been fairly mild, really, and it’s already March 6! I know sometimes we get Nor’easters in March here, but hopefully that won’t happen this year. I have two 20-milers on the schedule this month, so let’s not have like a foot of snow falling on a Saturday or Sunday, thanks!

The comparison trap

I wanted to spend some time talking about an unhealthy habit I’ve struggled with for years — comparing myself to others.

We all do it, and I think this behavior can be helpful as a form of self-motivation — but it can also be destructive, too.

I’m trying to find a balance between those two things.

I’m in several Boston-related groups on Facebook, and I’ve learned a lot about the race and gotten some great pointers on everything from training to running the race itself to sightseeing in Boston.

But I’ve also gotten a glimpse into others’ training plans and it makes me second-guess my own training and wonder if I’m doing enough. For instance, I noted earlier that I’m following Hal Higdon’s 12-week Boston plan, which means I started officially training in January for the April race. I know I had a good base going into the training — I ran a 1:42 half in December and maintained long runs of 10-12 miles on the weekends, so it wasn’t like I was starting from nothing — but I also know a lot of my fellow Boston runners started training back in November or December. Should I have started training earlier? Too late now, I guess.

And while I’ve always known my weekly mileage as a marathon runner is lower than average, it’s become REALLY obvious that it’s WAY lower than your average Boston Marathoner. During marathon training, I typically run somewhere in the 30s for my weekly mileage. I will probably top out in the low 40s for this training cycle. I run four days a week and go to kickboxing class the other two days. (And I take a rest day.) I suppose I’d run more if I didn’t do kickboxing — but I love kickboxing and the friends that I’ve made through my class, and I’m not willing to give it up even if running more would theoretically make me faster.

I generally don’t even keep track of my monthly mileage, unless I’m doing a monthly challenge as I did in January. But boy, every runner on Instagram sure does! I see post after post of runners posting their monthly tallies of 200+ miles, and I can assure you I am nowhere close to those numbers. It’s hard not to feel like a bit of a slacker!

I also don’t watch my diet as closely as a lot of other more serious runners seem to. I don’t eat horribly, but I like to treat myself, too. I drink good beer on the regular. I’m obsessed with edible cookie dough lately. I eat a lot of cheese (except on days before long runs, ’cause that’s a gastrointestinal disaster waiting to happen.) I’m a smaller, thinner person anyway, but when I see others talking about dropping five pounds to get to their “racing weight,” I think, should I try to get leaner, too?

I try to tell myself that I earned my spot in Boston just like everyone else who qualified, and if my training works for me, then that’s enough.

It’s going to have to be!

A 10K, a 5K and an update on Boston Marathon training!

The first time I trained for a full marathon (the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon), I swore I would never train for a spring marathon again. That winter was awful, with numerous snow storms and ice storms and brutally cold temperatures. My now-husband and I were forced to run three long runs on the treadmill — a 10-miler, a 14-miler and a 16-miler (my God, it was brutal.) Nope, nope, nope, I said to myself. If I ever do a marathon again, it will be a fall marathon. Screw this.

Then I ran the marathon that May and loved it. And the next month, I signed up for the 2016 Rock ‘N Roll D.C. Marathon, held the following March. And now I’m spending my fifth consecutive winter training for a marathon and I truly can’t imagine a winter without having a marathon to look forward to! Honestly, I wouldn’t say I’ve become a fan of winter, but having a goal to train and work toward during the darkest, coldest months of the year helps me get through a time of year that I’d always dreaded. Plus, I warm up a lot when I run (and I maintain that I’d rather train in 25 or 30 degree weather than 80 or 85 degree weather, especially with how humid and gross Maryland summers can be!)

And last weekend, I got a true taste of winter running when I ran in Rip It Events’ 3rd annual Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K. This race, held every year on Super Bowl Sunday, takes place on the Patuxent Branch Trail in Howard County. I had run the half marathon the past two years, but opted for the 10K this year. Why? Honestly, I was paranoid about falling and injuring myself with less than three months to go until Boston. I’ve fallen off the treadmill and also while running in downtown Annapolis on the cobblestone streets, so yeah, it’s safe to say that I am not always the most graceful. Wasn’t worth the risk this year. (You can read my recaps of the 2017 and 2018 Little Patuxent halfs here and here!)

That turned out to be the right decision, because this is what the trail looked like at the start of the race:

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Pretty, but slick!

Yikes. Because it was only in the 20s that morning, there was no chance any of that was melting any time soon. My only goal was not to fall and hurt myself — I knew I wouldn’t be setting any PRs (which would have been extremely unlikely at a trail race in the very best of conditions anyway!)

Because I had run this race twice in the past, I was familiar with the trail, and I remembered how beautiful the surrounding woods and river were — especially with the snow. So I tried to enjoy the scenery while also paying close attention to my footing. For the first mile or so, there were a lot of icy patches that we had to dodge around, and because the race is an out-and-back, I knew I’d have to watch out for the ice at mile 5, too!

The course is a challenge even when there isn’t snow and ice on the ground. There are two rather steep climbs, at miles 2.5ish and mile 4, that force even the speediest runners to slow wayyyyy down or even walk. There are some long declines, too, which can be equally scary if you trip over a rock or a root or something. And when packed snow covers the trail and you can’t even see any tripping hazards, well, it’s really tough!

But I never once fell, so mission accomplished! My finish time was 56:32, by far my slowest ever 10K time. Somehow, that was fast enough to get me 3rd in my age group, which surprised me!

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As a Rip It Events ambassador, I ran this race for free. Opinions are entirely my own! A full list of 2019 Rip It events can be found here. If you’re interested in running any of them, let me know and I’ll share my 15 percent discount code with you! 

Annapolis Striders’ Valentine’s 5K

Wow, that was a cold one. My husband and I ran the Valentine’s 5K at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville yesterday with a bunch of friends, but it was so frigid I couldn’t bear to take my gloves off to take out my phone and get some pictures at the race start/finish. 16 degree windchill, ughhhhh! This is the two of us thawing off in the car afterwards:

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I had hoped for an age group award, and even looked at last year’s winners to see how fast I needed to run to be a contender. It appeared that I needed to run sub-23, which I thought was doable. And I did, finishing in 22:43, but it wasn’t fast enough. There were some SPEEDY runners out there, and I finished 6th in the 30-39 age group. (Although, Tammi, who finished a few seconds ahead of me, pointed out that if there had been a 35-39 age group, she would have finished first and I would have been second. And then her husband said, “Well, if my aunt had nuts she’d be my uncle.” So. Yeah.)

The run was OK. As I’ve said before, 5Ks are my nemesis and I often execute them poorly. This race reminded me of the Turkey Trot 5K that I ran on Thanksgiving Day. You know, that time I ran the first mile in a blazing 6:34 and then blew up during the rest of the race?? That basically happened again, except this time I ran the first mile in 6:46 (such restraint), then the second mile in 7:32 and the third in 7:35. At least those miles were consistent? But just think if I hadn’t busted out a sub-7 mile right out of the gate! Stupid! At least this 5K was faster than the Turkey Trot.

I would like to get better at 5Ks, but it’ll take some specific 5K training (i.e., not running them as part of marathon training.) I think I’m going to run another 5K on March 16, just about a month before Boston, so we’ll see what I can do then and if the speed work I am doing as part of my plan might actually help me run a good 5K.

Boston 2019 training

Nine weeks until Boston 2019! Having BQ’d in December 2017, I’ve been waiting SO long to run this race and I can’t even believe it’s almost here! I’m following Hal Higdon’s Boston Bound 12-week plan, and so far, it’s going well. He has me alternating hill repeats with speed work (Yasso 800s) every week, similar to what I did when I followed his Advanced plan to get my qualifying time. The long runs also alternate by mileage and time. For example, last weekend I had to run an easy 14 miles. This weekend, my long run was an hour and a half, with the first three-quarters run at an easy pace and the last quarter run at marathon pace. I’ve never done a long run by time before now, and I have to say I am liking it a lot. The time passes quickly, and it’s fun to finish a long run strong!

So what marathon pace am I shooting for in Boston? Good question. In a perfect world, I’d BQ again, but with the tighter standards for 2020, I’ll have to run 3:35 or better. And Boston is known to be a tough course, and my last two marathons were 3:53 (Baltimore) and 3:47 (B&A). I think continuing to work on my speed will get me back closer to where I was when I ran Rehoboth and qualified with a 3:35:00, but I’ve got a long way to go. That said, I believe a finishing time somewhere in the 3:40s is feasible.

And if I don’t meet that goal — it’s Boston! It’ll be awesome no matter what.

Have you run Boston? What advice do you have for me?

 

My running goals for 2019

Happy New Year! This year is already off to a good start, running-wise. Today I ran Charm City Run’s Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore and finished second in my age group with a time of 23:54. To be honest, that was my slowest 5K in years! There are a few reasons why I believe that was the case:

  1. It was at 2 pm, which makes fueling a challenge! Usually I like to eat my bagel, peanut butter and half a banana in the morning for breakfast before a race– today, we slept in (duh, last night was New Year’s Eve), then got up and made omelettes before heading out about two hours later. By the time my husband and I got to Baltimore and lined up at the start, I was hungry again! I might not have made it had it been a longer race.
  2. There was a loooonngg hill at mile 2 that really took the gas out of me.
  3. It was so windy. It actually felt like an early spring day — I believe it was about 60 degrees — but running into the wind is never any fun.
  4. I didn’t feel 100 percent. No, not because I was hungover (seriously!) We went to Florida for Christmas and both brought home coughs. I feel mostly OK, but I’m sure it had an impact — once I crossed the finish line, I started coughing hard immediately.

I really enjoyed this race, though. It was held in Patterson Park in Baltimore, which is a lovely park, and proceeds benefited Earl’s Place, which helps men in the city who are homeless. Afterward, runners got chili (and there was a vegetarian option!) and cornbread, plus there was an epic cookie spread. Yum!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for 2019, which is a big year for me because I get to run the Boston Marathon on April 15! That is obviously going to be my main focus for the next few months, but I have a lot of other plans, too.

  1. I am going to race a triathlon. I can’t believe I am going to do this. I can barely swim! So it looks like I’ll need to take some refresher lessons. Rip It Events’ Columbia Association Triathlon in June has two options: A sprint and a super sprint. The super sprint, which is what I am going to do, is a 200 yard swim, a 5 mile bike ride and a 1.75 mile run, and fortunately, the swim is in a pool (open water freaks me the hell out.) This is so far out of my comfort zone — in addition to not being a good swimmer, I do not excel at sprinting anything — but hey, why not? As a Rip It ambassador, I am racing this tri for free. I do have a 15 percent discount code to share with anyone who is interested, so if you would like to sign up, let me know! 
  2. I would like to run a sub-1:40 half marathon. I have run 17 half marathons, with a two-year-old PR of 1:41:01. I have yet to actually follow a training plan for a half — I just kinda wing it. Maybe if I followed an actual half marathon plan, I could see some real improvements in my time. We’ll see. I’m already signed up for two halfs late in 2019 — the half at the Baltimore Running Festival in October and the Rehoboth Seashore Half in December — so I guess my training for those will depend a lot upon my training for a bigger race in the fall. Which brings me to my next goal….
  3. I need to settle on a fall marathon — or maybe something more? I have long said that I have no interest in going beyond 26.2 miles, but one of my friends was raving about an ultramarathon he did in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area a few years ago and encouraged me to consider it. It’s a 50K, so not THAT much more than a marathon … right? I’m torn. I really love the 26.2 distance and am already thinking about trying to shoot for a 2021 BQ, since I will be in a new age group. (Yet my standard will still be 3:40, thanks to the recent changes the Boston Athletic Association made to the qualifying times.) If I do run a fall marathon in 2019, it will either be Steamtown in Scranton, Pa., Marine Corps, Philly or Richmond. Gah! So many marathons I would love to run. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

What are your goals for 2019?

The Rehoboth Seashore Marathon and Half Marathon should be on every runner’s holiday checklist

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is one of my favorite places in the world.

I’ve been vacationing there since I was two years old, and I look forward to my annual beach week in Rehoboth every year. I take comfort in the fact that in so many ways, Rehoboth in 2018 looks a lot like Rehoboth in the 1980s. Very little about the boardwalk has changed in 30 years — and I like that.

Still, even though I’ve been going to the beach for most of my life, last year was the first year that I ever visited during the holidays! I ran the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon to qualify for Boston, and had such a wonderful experience that I decided I will try to run the half marathon every year that I am able. (I don’t like the idea of repeating a full marathon unless it’s Boston — there are just too many I want to run! But I’ll happily run the same half more than once!)

So I ran the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon on Dec. 8, finishing in 1:42:55– a 7:51/mile pace, and my fastest half in almost two years! Truthfully, I had dreams of finishing under 1:40, and I know I can do it eventually — but I’m going to need to train smarter. This was my 17th half marathon, and I’ve yet to follow an actual training plan for that distance. I just run my normal 3-5 mile runs three or four times a week, and try to do a long run of 10-12 miles every weekend for about 4-6 weeks leading up to any half. It works for me, but maybe I could do better if I trained more seriously!

Anyway, my husband and I drove in Friday night after work and got to Rehoboth about 15 minutes before the race expo closed, so I was able to grab my bib and swag bag before we hit dinner at the Dogfish Head Brewpub. My eating habits before a race tend to be a little unconventional — if at all possible, I prefer to eat a veggie burger and French fries and wash it all down with a beer or two. Hey, it’s carb-loading! I wish I could remember the name of the stout I drank when we first got there — it was rich and chocolate-y and, at 10 percent ABV, probably a risky move before a race, but it was worth it. I also had a Seaquench Ale with dinner, one of my favorites and also one of the beers given out to runners at the post-race after party! (Did I mention that runners each get three beer tickets with their race registration? Seriously, if you are a beer lover who loves to run, sign up for this race!)

I knew it was going to be cold the morning of the race, but I wasn’t too worried. Like most people, I run much better in the cold. Last year, it was 45 degrees and sunny for the marathon; this year, it was about 15 degrees cooler. I was prepared for it in running tights, compression knee socks, a long-sleeved shirt, my Rock ‘N Roll Marathon windbreaker, neck gaiter and gloves. Oh, and my goofy “Meowy Christmas” cat hat that I wore last year.

Runners were treated to an amazing sunrise just before the start of the race! Sooooo many people were taking selfies, haha.

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The gun went off promptly at 7 am, and once I started running, I warmed up almost immediately. All runners start off at the Rehoboth Bandstand and head down Rehoboth Avenue, then turn off into the side streets to head toward Cape Henlopen State Park. There’s a turnaround for half marathoners around mile 3, with marathoners heading into the park and half marathoners going back through Rehoboth and then onto the Junction & Breakwater Trail for much of the back half of the race.

I ran my first mile in 7:56 and it felt comfy. My next few miles grew progressively faster, and I held pretty steady between 7:30-7:40 for miles 3 through about 9! I was proud of that — not just the pace, but the fact that I was able to stay so consistent. I even had a woman run with me for a mile or two on the trail because she said I was pacing so well. Again, I think the cooler temps helped me a lot, as well as the flat terrain. There are pretty much ZERO hills in both the full and the half marathons, making both races good for PRs.

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Look how pretty and even! 

I did start to hit a bit of a wall around mile 11/11.5. By then, I’d been running on the trail for several miles and it is more uneven and tougher than road running — plus, I’m sure I was paying for all those earlier miles in the 7:30s. Whoops. That said, the Junction & Breakwater Trail is lovely and is home to one of my favorite parts of the course –the “flag alley,” with a variety of different flags hanging above the trail. I’m not sure who sets that up, but it’s so colorful and fun! There is also a DJ playing music right around that point in the race, too.

At mile 12, I was officially off the trail and back on the road, heading toward the finish line behind the Cultured Pearl sushi restaurant. I started thinking about finishing the marathon a year earlier, and seeing my husband standing on the side of the street at mile 26 yelling at me to “EMPTY THE TANK!” I can’t believe that was a whole year ago, and I’ll finally get to run Boston in four months.

It was really all such a blur that I don’t remember much about actually finishing (I legit look like I’m about to pass a kidney stone in the finish line pictures). This year, I was paying a bit more attention and felt like that last turn by the Cultured Pearl and through the finish line went on forever. Like, that last .1 might as well have been a mile long. Of course it wasn’t, but that’s how it felt!

I collected my finisher’s medal and called my husband (who decided to sleep in rather than see me finish — part of me wanted to be annoyed, and part of me was like, “well, it was your 17th freaking half marathon, this is not exciting for him anymore.”) I walked back to the hotel about two blocks away, showered and then he and I grabbed some breakfast and then came back for the after party.

The post-race party is LIT. The DJ was taking requests all week long in a Facebook group dedicated to the race, and he was playing all of them — including lots of ’90s music, my personal favorite. Everyone was dancing a lot and a group of runners who call themselves Team Fireball were there passing around, what else, a bottle of Fireball. I even saw the race director take a shot or two. I love me some Fireball, but it gives me two-day hangovers and so I stuck with my beloved Seaquench instead. 🙂

The party continued well into the afternoon, and some of the volunteers even walked the last finisher into the tent, to huge applause! I thought that was so awesome.

As for me, I probably had a little *too* much fun at the after party and then at the Purple Parrot that night for karaoke. If you had to hear me singing Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” (among other gems) …. well, I am truly sorry.

Registration for the 2019 race opens on New Year’s Eve! I believe both the full and the half sold out this year, so don’t wait until the last minute if you are interested!

I won a 5K! Kicking off December with the Reindeer Run 5K in Edgewater

Exciting news for me — I won Edgewater Fitness’ Reindeer Run 5K last weekend!

OK, so it wasn’t a “true” 5K — my Garmin logged 2.95 miles — but I was still the first female finisher, I think by about a minute or so! Official time was 21:08, so I might have still been able to come in under 22 minutes if the race had actually been 3.1 miles. No complaints, though. I was super happy!

I won a medal, a gift card to Chic-fil-a (which, full disclosure, I’ll regift because I’m a pescatarian who hasn’t eaten chicken since the 1990s), a gift card to Weis and a Blender Bottle for shakes, plus some shake mixes. It was quite the haul, especially for a small neighborhood race!

In fact, that race, which is organized by the gym I belong to, goes right through my neighborhood, on the streets I run on. We even ran past my house! I think that gave me somewhat of an advantage.

That said, I was a bit nervous going into the race. Because it is a small race, I thought I had a good shot at an age group award, but since my Turkey Trot was such a tactical disaster, I worried that I once again wouldn’t be able to stop myself from going out too fast.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen! I ran the first mile in 7 minutes flat, my second in 7:22 and my third not-quite-full mile in 6:48. Not perfect splits (who does that, haha), but much more even than my last 5K. I’m registered for the Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore on New Year’s Day, so we’ll see if I can make that happen again.

The description for the Reindeer Run described the course as “rolling hills,” but I didn’t find that to be the case. My neighborhood is a little hilly, but the race didn’t follow any of the hillier roads. Totally fine by me, and it definitely helped keep my splits from being all over the place.

I ran with three friends, two from work and another from the neighborhood. My friend Eileen was third overall female, and my friend Ariana came in second in her age group!

Reindeer Run

It was a fun way to kick off the month of December and the busy holiday season!

 

November running: Lots to be thankful for!

I ran four races during the month of November, and my pace was in the 7s for each one!

I haven’t seen those kind of times since…. last fall. What can I say? Running in the fall in Maryland is my absolute favorite and my race times reflect that.

I also ran way more races over this past summer than I ever have before, and I struggled quite a bit in the heat and humidity. Plus, I’m getting to the point with my running where PRs are not going to be as easy to come by. I’ve been racing for six years now, and last fall, I was at the top of my game, setting new PRs in the 10K, 10 miler and marathon. I didn’t set any PRs in 2018, but who knows what 2019 will bring? I will say this past month has given me renewed confidence in my abilities.

Here’s what I raced in November 2018:

Across the Bay 10K

The Across the Bay 10K is one of Maryland’s best races, in my opinion. If you are a runner in the mid-Atlantic region, put this one on your race bucket list! The point-to-point race, which takes runners (and walkers) across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, began in 2014 and is one of the largest 10Ks in the country. You start at Northrop Grumman on the west side of the bridge, then travel across the eastbound span, ending on Kent Island. The first mile and a half or so is uphill (it’s long, but not that steep), then it levels off and then you have a nice long downhill.

For this reason, I think it’s a great PR course. In 2017, I ran a 44:50, my 10K PR, and I knew beating that was unlikely this year. I finished the 2018 race in 47:52, 7:42 pace, and was 10th out of 1,499 females in my age group. I had an awesome time, as I do every year, though there was some controversy surrounding this year’s medals. The medals for the first five years of the race were supposed to form a completed puzzle, but instead, the 2018 medal had a little groove on its right side to presumably fit into the 2019 medal. A lot of runners were PISSED and flocked to the race’s Facebook page to let the organizers know. I have no idea why that was such a big deal to people, but then again, I had no plans to stop running the race after five years, either.

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Rocky Run Italian Stallion Challenge

The following weekend, I traveled to Philadelphia to run what was technically a half marathon. The annual Rocky Run, an homage to the famous Rocky movies, features three options — a 5K, a 10-miler, or you can choose to do the Italian Stallion Challenge and run both to equal 13.1 miles. I hadn’t run a half since February, so I decided to do the challenge. My friends Staci and Sarah ran the 5K, and our other friend Melissa, who lives in the Philly suburbs, graciously woke up early with us, drove us into the city and cheered us on.

If you do the challenge, you have to finish the 5K and be back in your starting corral by the time the gun goes off for the 10-miler. I knew that wouldn’t be a problem, as I had 45 minutes to complete the 5K. I ended up running it in 23:23, 7:32 pace, though I truly think I could have been faster. It was just so crowded in the beginning that I wasn’t able to go as fast as I would have liked. My splits were negative, though, always a good thing!

The 10-miler course was fun. Most of it takes you along the Schuylkill River, and because it was mid-November, all of the trees were so colorful and beautiful. The course was overall pretty flat, but there was a killer hill around mile 4 that was really tough. It was both steep and long. But the good part was, you then got to turn around and fly down it, which was when I logged my fastest mile of that race! Finish time for the 10-miler was 1:20:02, and you can be sure that I was SO bummed when I saw I just missed breaking 1:20. Still, my total time for the challenge was 1:43:25, a 7:54 pace and a time I’d love to see in the Rehoboth Half Marathon next weekend!

Afterward, my friends and I even ran up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum! #extracredit If you’re looking for a fun fall race in Philly, check out the Rocky Run. (Although it’s almost guaranteed to be cold and windy.)

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I don’t know who that guy to the left of Staci is….

Turkey Chase 10K

The Turkey Chase 10K in Columbia was Rip It Events’ final race of 2018, so I got up early to volunteer at packet pickup, then ran the race. Last year, I ran the race the day after the Annapolis Running Classic half marathon, and struggled hard, barely finishing under 50 minutes. (Five minutes slower than my PR just a few weeks prior!) It was also VERY windy. But this year, I felt well rested and much better. There’s a lot of downhill in this race, but I don’t remember even appreciating that when I ran it in 2017. This year, I felt like I was cruising the whole time, and my pace stayed consistent, mostly in the mid-7s, for the entire race. I actually beat my Across the Bay 10K time and finished in 47:39, a 7:40 pace — and came in third in my age group!

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I’m also excited to announce that I’ll be on Rip It’s ambassador team again for 2019. If you’re interested in running any Rip It races, give me a shout and I’ll hook you up with a discount!

Greensburg Turkey Trot

Oooh boy! I took home second in my age group for the third year in a row, but this race was a hot mess. (Well, not literally. It was 21 degrees outside, and it felt like 13! Brrrrr!) But yeah, it was a pacing disaster. 5Ks are not my strong suit, and this particular 5K in my hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania — which I’ve run every Thanksgiving for the past six years — is challenging. It’s very hilly — it is in southwestern PA, after all — but the first mile is mostly downhill. So it’s easy to go out FAST, which I sure did. I ran that first mile in a blistering 6:34!!! While I’m really proud of that pace, it was stupid because I couldn’t sustain it past mile 1, so miles 2 and 3 just absolutely sucked. I think my pace on those miles was more than a minute slower than my first mile. I even had to stop and walk a few times. I crossed the finish line in 23:03, about 30 seconds slower than last year, but still fast enough for second place in my age group for the third year in a row. In fact, it’s now become a joke in my family that I keep “losing” my age group. Oh well — there’s always 2019! And 2020, when I’ll be in a whole new age group!

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Posing inside the historic Westmoreland County Courthouse, in front of a miniature version of said courthouse.

 

So that wraps up November! Yesterday, on Dec. 1, I had a much more successful 5K to kick off the new month — details to come in a blog post this week! I’m also looking forward to the Rehoboth Half Marathon next weekend. No super specific time goal, but breaking 1:45 would be nice!

Happy holidays! What’s on your race calendar for December?

I finished my 6th full marathon! Recapping the 2018 Baltimore Marathon

3:53.

I had a weird premonition last week that my time in the Baltimore Marathon would be 3:53.

And — it came true! I finished my 6th marathon in 3:53:21. It may have been the toughest course I’ve run.

It’s way off last December’s PR and BQ, but that’s fine. I didn’t train anywhere near as hard for this race as I did for that one, and PRing in Baltimore wasn’t my goal. My goals were to have fun, and more importantly, run with my friend Tammi as she conquered her first marathon — and hopefully help her accomplish her goal of a sub-4 marathon!

And she did it! We crossed the finish line at the same time (actually, she was a few seconds ahead of me!) Honestly, knowing what a great runner she is, I had no doubt she could and would run a sub-4 marathon. I am so proud of her!

The morning of the race was a bit of a cluster, but that was entirely my fault. Micah and I got up to Baltimore around 6:45 am, plenty of time to park and use the bathroom before the 8 am race start. I merely skimmed the runner’s handbook and all of the other bazillion emails that the Baltimore Running Festival organizers sent out, so I dragged us several blocks away from the marathon start line and toward the start line of the half marathon and 5K. When we realized my mistake, Micah, who was not running and was there to cheer me on and support me, was understandably annoyed.

“Why can’t you read directions?” he asked.

“I don’t know! Why did you bring that huge camping chair here?” I snapped.

(True story. He said standing for several hours to watch me run a marathon would be too hard — um, harder than RUNNING IT?! — so he brought a camping chair to sit in. I was nervous for the race and it pissed me off more than it should have, especially when I realized my mistake. My husband is really kind of a saint for putting up with me. But I digress.)

Anyway, after a bathroom stop at Starbucks, I finally got my shit together and we headed back to Camden Yards, where the marathon began. I got in line around 7:45 am and Tammi found me a couple minutes later. I told her we should start out with the 4-hour pace group and then see how we felt later on in the race. I thought we could stay with them for maybe the first half or so and then surge ahead in the second half to go sub-4.

Uh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I think we moved ahead of the pace group by mile 4.

The thing about the Baltimore Marathon course is, the first half is kind of a breeze. It’s mostly flat with some big downhills, and that makes it tough to hold back. My favorite part of the race was running through the Maryland Zoo, where zoo workers stand along the course with animals, including a penguin and a rabbit. So fun. We ran miles 6 and 7 in the low 8s, but we also knew that the back half of the course was really hilly, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to bank some time where we could. (Yes, I know the strategy of “banking time in the marathon” isn’t usually the best, but I don’t regret it with this course.)

We hit the Inner Harbor at mile 9 and saw Tammi’s family, including her sister, her husband and little boy (who was holding a sign that said “My mommy is faster than your mommy!”) and her parents. Her sister was running her first half marathon, and she and their mom and dad flew in from Texas to watch. (I did not see Micah and his camping chair then, but I’ll let that one slide ;)) Mile 9 was actually our fastest of the day– we ran that one in just under eight minutes.

At that point, the course cruises down Key Highway and through Locust Point with a turnaround at the Under Armour headquarters, and then back through the Inner Harbor, so Tammi got to see her family twice! We also ran past the start line of the half marathon just as we were hitting the halfway point in the full marathon.

We also started to notice that our Garmin watches were not matching up with the mile markers, and we were hitting our mile splits about a third of a mile before we actually saw a mile marker sign. I realized that we probably added extra distance onto our race by weaving in and around other runners earlier. Whoops.

I was still feeling really good, though I was not thrilled to hit the Harbor East neighborhood and step onto those big cobblestones. Oof. Tammi and I jumped up on the sidewalk to run on a more forgiving surface, and fortunately, the road evened out soon after.

Around mile 15, Tammi told me she was starting to feel negative. “We’re more than halfway there,” I told her. “You can do this.”

Mile 16 is where the infamous merge of the half marathon and full marathon takes place at Patterson Park. I’ve heard a lot of runners complain about it, and for good reason. If you’re running the full, you’re cruising along at your pace and all of a sudden hundreds of half marathoners pour into the street and it really clogs things up. I ran the half in 2016 and 2017, so I remembered the merging of the races, but I definitely noticed it a lot more running the full. I definitely almost crashed into another runner and we added another tenth of a mile onto our race by trying to maneuver around slower runners.

Because I had run the half before, I knew we were in for some hills. (I’ve heard people compare this course to the Boston Marathon and its hills through miles 16-20, so I hope the Baltimore Marathon was good practice!) The course was hilly from about mile 16.5 until we hit Lake Montebello at mile 20 — then we had more hills from miles 21-22. By now, my feet were really starting to wear out, but we hit mile 22 at around the three hour, 14 minute mark — so I knew sub-4 was happening unless one of us got sick or injured. And we were tired, but determined.

This is where the Baltimore Marathon really reminded me a lot of the Pittsburgh Marathon, which was my first full marathon back in 2015. In that race, I remember hitting a steep decline at mile 24 and my quads just screamed at me. The Baltimore Marathon had a similar downhill at a similar time in the race. Downhills feel great in the first few miles of the marathon — they feel terrible in the last few miles, at least to me! (And again, I hear Boston is the same way, so now I know what to expect!)

Tammi told me she was starting to cramp up, and I encouraged her to keep pushing. We hit one last steep (but short) hill at mile 25 and my stomach started to churn. I drank Gatorade at just about every aid station and I may have overdone it — usually I alternate water with Gatorade.

“Let’s finish strong and sprint when we see the finish line,” Tammi said.

“I don’t know if I can,” I said (more like whined).

At mile 26 (our watches already showed 26.2x by then!), we turned onto Pratt Street and saw Kree and Matt yelling and cheering for us. Then I saw Micah smiling and waving. Tammi and I sprinted as fast as we could — my watch shows we did the last few tenths of a mile at a 7:05 pace! — and crossed the finish line.

She cried, I cried, we hugged, and then I promptly vomited into a grate in the road. My first finish line puke! I’m so proud! A medic came over and asked if I needed to go to the medical tent, but I was really OK. I just OD’d on Gatorade.

My final stats (Tammi was 13th in our age group, so she beat me by at least a second!)

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Finishing a marathon in ANY time is quite an accomplishment, but going sub-4 for your first marathon is really something to be proud of, so HUGE congrats to Tammi! And by the way, she had some annoying stomach troubles early in the race and wasn’t feeling great, but she still pushed through and finished well under her goal!

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If you’re looking for a fun fall race to do, I highly recommend the Baltimore Running Festival. In addition to the full and half marathons, there is a 5K as well as a relay option. You can also do the Baltimoron-a-thon, and run both the 5K and the half. I did that last year and it was a blast! The crowd support is great, and you’ve gotta love the crab-shaped medals (which open up to reveal a picture of the city!)

Just know that your quads are likely to hurt the next day. 🙂

When every second counts: I got into the Boston Marathon with 8 seconds to spare

Did you ever think about what you could do in eight seconds?

Read a sentence in a book? Give someone you love a hug? Walk up a flight of stairs?

I never did, either. Until the Boston Athletic Association announced that the qualifying cutoff for the 2019 race was four minutes, 52 seconds.

I qualified for Boston 2019 at the 2017 Rehoboth Seashore Marathon with a perfect five-minute cushion — meaning I squeaked into the race with eight seconds to spare.

As many of you know, qualifying for the Boston Marathon has gotten tougher and tougher in recent years. It’s no longer enough just to hit the qualifying standard for your age and gender (which is already no easy feat for most runners.) Since 2012, the BAA has implemented a cutoff for qualifying runners, meaning you have to run a certain amount of time faster than your standard to be accepted. The frustrating thing is, you never know what that time is going to be, so it’s a moving target. Also, the cutoff has been trending upward over the last few years because more and more runners want to run Boston and are training harder and racing faster to get there. For the 2018 Boston Marathon, runners had to be three minutes, 23 seconds faster than their qualifying standard to get into the race.

For the 2019 Boston Marathon, a woman in my age group (35-39) had to run a 3:40:00 marathon to register for the race. When I was training to BQ in Rehoboth, I figured a 3:40 wouldn’t actually get me into Boston, so my goal was to run a 3:35. When I met that time exactly, I was thrilled! But as my registration date neared, I started to stress — especially as I started to see chatter online that the cutoff for 2019 would likely be higher than ever before. Would my extra five minutes be enough?

I registered on Friday, Sept. 14, and I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous about waiting for an acceptance. I wasn’t that anxious when I applied for college. I’ve certainly never been that stressed over a job application. Does that seem ridiculous? Maybe. But I knew I’d earned my BQ, and felt I deserved to be able to run this historic race. And the fact that I knew I qualified, but didn’t know if I’d make that yet-to-be-determined cutoff …. well, it drove me crazy.

Thankfully, I got my official acceptance Monday, Sept. 17! I was surprised it came that fast — there were people in my Boston Marathon groups on Facebook with much larger buffers than myself who had to wait longer. Maybe the BAA knew my impatient self couldn’t stand it? Haha.

About a week and a half later, the BAA announced the 4:52 cutoff, and I realized just *how* close I came to not getting in. I mean, eight seconds! What if I’d stopped to pee? Or lingered too long at a water stop? Eight seconds is nothing over the course of 26.2 miles.

The BAA also announced they were tightening the standards for Boston 2020, making them five minutes faster for all age groups. So, for 2020, I’d have to run a 3:35:00 or better to BQ. Personally, I’m a little bummed because I’ll be aging up for 2021 (I turn 40 in July 2020), and was looking forward to getting an extra five minutes. But now if I want to BQ for 2021, I’ll need to run a 3:40:00 or better once again.

While I’m thrilled that I got into Boston, I’m so sad for all of the qualified runners who were turned away for next year. The BAA said more than 7,000 runners were shut out of the race, which really sucks. I do feel that they all earned their spots and they all deserved to be there — but the BAA limits the field to 30,000 runners. I’ll be really curious to see what the cutoff will be for Boston 2020, if there even is one with the new standards. I’m sure there will be — but I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near 4:52.

What’s next?

In less than two weeks, I’ll be running the Baltimore Marathon! It’s my sixth marathon, and my main goal is to have fun and not blow up like I did in the B&A Trail Marathon. I’d like to run a 3:45 or better, which seems doable.

I’ve followed a 12-week training plan this time around, and it’s mostly gone well. I’ve been able to work a few races into the plan, including the A10, the Charles Street 12 and the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach. I actually had 16 miles to run the day of the Bottle and Cork, so I ran six miles before the race. Given that extra mileage, I ran the race about 10 minutes slower than last year, but that was still fast enough to get third in my age group. Can’t complain about that.

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99 percent sure I can see mascara from the previous night still smeared around my eyes. Because Dewey Beach.

I also dealt with an annoying calf strain that appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago. I was running the Run Now, Wine Later 5K fun run in Annapolis and wasn’t even a mile into the race when it just seized up. I had to DNS the Charm City 20-Miler two days later, and was so bummed. But it feels good now. I ran 20 miles last weekend and 12 this weekend, and I also got a spiffy new pair of hot pink calf sleeves to wear that will hopefully prevent this from happening again! Bring it on, Baltimore!

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My friend Tammi is going to crush her first marathon!