15 Days Until I Chase the Unicorn

I hope I am not jinxing myself by writing this, but I actually think I am going to get to run a live marathon this year. 

As of right now, the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon is happening in 15 days. All of the swag, including medals, shirts and yes, branded masks, have been ordered and the state of Pennsylvania has approved all of the race director’s COVID mitigation plans. I have every reason to believe the race will happen, unless things really start going downhill again with COVID in PA. So cross your fingers for me. 

It’ll be a really weird marathon in a really weird year. First of all, it’ll be strange and definitely a bummer not to have any spectators, especially considering the last marathon I ran was Boston last year and of course that race was lined with spectators from Hopkinton to Copley Square! I don’t even think my husband is going to travel with me to the race (which is actually OK, it’s not really a bad thing to have a bed to myself the night before a big race. :)) Runners are going to be spread out in socially distanced waves, seeded by our projected finish time, and we have to wear our masks before and after the race. Then there’s the whole thing with needing to carry our own hydration and refill our bottles at hands-free water stations. I’ve been taking my new handheld water bottle out on all my long runs, including my 20-miler last week, and I don’t actually mind it. I just hope I don’t have to waste too much time stopping and refilling my bottle. 

My hope is still to qualify for Boston 2021, though I think it’s entirely possible that I could qualify and then not have an in-person Boston Marathon to run next year. I just don’t know what the spring is going to look like in terms of races, particularly big races. The Boston Athletic Association hasn’t said anything about when registration for 2021 will open — usually it’s the second week of September (Chasing the Unicorn was established years ago as a last chance for Boston hopefuls to qualify for the following spring’s race.) I suspect the BAA might try to have a live Boston Marathon in fall 2021 instead of April, and if that can’t happen with the pandemic, they might do another virtual Boston. I can tell you that is the *only* virtual marathon I’d consider running. 

I’m also still registered for the 2021 Coastal Delaware Marathon in April, since I deferred my entry after the 2020 race was canceled. That race is only a few thousand people, I think, but I have my doubts on whether that will happen next year as well. Basically, I think next spring will be as much of a wash as most of 2020, but maybe I’m wrong! I hope so! (And obviously, if I qualify for Boston and there is actually a live Boston in April, I’m doing that instead of Coastal Delaware. But that’s a whole lot of ifs!)

And as for my chances of BQing in 15 days? I think I have a good shot. Granted, I’m not as well-trained as I would like to be, as I was initially following a plan with the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 as my end goal. So I had to chop off a month and I only got to run one 20-miler before my taper started. (I did run a 19-miler, though, as well, so is there that much of a difference? Probably not.) I also only did three rounds of Yasso 800s, but I was diligent about weekly tempo runs, which I feel are just as important, if not more so, than the 800s. I have felt really strong running in some pretty brutal weather this summer, so I think I have that in my favor. After one of the hottest, most humid summers in recent memory, could we have a nice crisp fall day for the marathon? Please?  

Runner selfie
I feel like this photo shows just how sweaty I’ve been getting on my runs!

The rest of the year

The weekend after the marathon, I actually was supposed to run a live 5K in Cape May, New Jersey, but that unexpectedly went virtual this week. I was surprised because the race company, Good Day for a Run, has been having live races all summer with participant limits and social distancing requirements. But this one was going to take place at a winery, and space was too limited for the race to be done safely. My friends and I are still going on our beach trip, though. Good Day for a Run is offering refunds, and I might just get my money back and run for fun with my girls. Do I really want to race a 5K a week after a marathon, anyway?

Aside from that, I’m doing the virtual Quantico Duathlon tomorrow, and I have to run my virtual Market Street Mile some time between Sept. 12 and 20. (I thought I had until Halloween to do it. Whoops. Nothing like trying to race an all-out mile a few days after a marathon…. That might be more difficult than racing a 5K! Yikes.)

Then in October, I’m planning to run an in-person neighborhood 5K, the Barlowe Bolt! This race usually takes place in March and I ran it in 2018 and 2019. The organizers rescheduled it for Oct. 3, but it will be a live event. I’m also running the virtual Baltimore Running Festival half marathon that month. 

And finally, I am registered for the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon in December, which is still moving forward as a live race. I know another Rehoboth-based race company has been holding live races this summer, but none are as large as this particular race, so I’m a bit skeptical. Also, this race is known for its banging after party, with everyone crammed into a tent and runners passing around a bottle of Fireball and chugging from it. It’s a GREAT time under normal circumstances. During a pandemic? Ummmm……..  

So, we’ll just have to wait and see….. Which is pretty much this year’s theme.

Running a virtual half marathon + an update on the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

Many, many years from now, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is hopefully a distant memory, I know what I’m going to say if people ask me how I spent my time. 

No, not sharing memes and screwing around on Instagram — though plenty of that happened, too. 

I will say that I just kept running. Even as all my races got canceled and life felt so uncertain. Running has truly been a bright spot, despite the fact that so many races that I had been looking forward to have now been postponed until 2021. (And honestly, I don’t mean to be negative, but I think spring 2021 races are in jeopardy, too. But we’ll just have to wait and see!) 

I’ve embraced the idea of virtual racing, despite some initial hesitations. So when my friend Staci told me about the I Just Kept Running virtual race she saw advertised on Facebook, I knew I wanted to register for it. How could I say no to the Forrest Gump medal?

I had until the end of August to complete the run, and saved it for this weekend, when I was supposed to run a half marathon per my training plan for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. I didn’t have a real serious goal in mind and would have been happy with anything under 1:45. I figured setting a PR or even going sub-1:40 would be pretty difficult during a virtual race with no one around to push me. This was actually the longest virtual race I’ve ever done, too. And of course it was pretty warm, as it always is in Maryland in August. Although it was cooler than it has been the last few weeks! This summer has actually been one of the hottest, most humid summers I’ve experienced in my 13 years living here, so that’s made running a challenge.  

I ended up clocking in at 1:42:14, running a 7:48/mile pace. I went out WAY too fast in the beginning, running my first two miles in 7:25 and 7:10, respectively. What?! No. Better not pull that shit in my marathon. The last few miles were a struggle as a result (though my pace in the last three miles was still in the high 7:50s. Not bad!) 

I ran on my favorite B&A Trail, where I’m back to doing most of my long runs. At the beginning of COVID, I avoided the trail and stuck to just running from my house. Once things started to open up a bit more earlier this summer, I felt more comfortable running there, though it can get crowded. Last weekend, it was packed. And I’ve been waking up early in an attempt to beat the heat and humidity, but I guess so has everyone else! There are a lot of people wearing masks, though to be honest, I am not one of them. I wear masks everywhere else, and believe everyone absolutely should be doing the same. But I draw the line at running in them, especially in this heat. I know there is a lot we don’t know about COVID. However, experts have said that outside activities are safer than inside activities, and I’m never within six feet of anyone on the trail for any sustained period of time. But I digress. 

Usually, I run from the Annapolis trailhead, which involves running up a fairly long hill right at the beginning. I didn’t want to do that during my race — one of the perks of virtual races, you get to pick your own course! — so I drove to Pasadena and parked at the Earleigh Heights trail entrance. I ran north on the trail five miles, then back five miles to where I began, then another 1.6 miles south to Severna Park and then 1.5 miles back for 13.1 miles. 

The race mailed me a bib, which I wore to feel official! I saw a few people looking at it when I was running, probably wondering what race I was doing. Even though I obviously wasn’t in a race environment, some of the other runners and cyclists on the trail cheered me on, so I felt like I had some crowd support. That was really fun. And I got to see my friend Jessica, who is training for her first marathon, the Baltimore Marathon. That’s now virtual, and she’s planning to run it in October.

I also tested out what it is like to run while holding a water bottle. At my upcoming marathon, there will be no volunteers handing out water due to COVID restrictions, but there will be hands-free refilling stations for your water bottles. They are basically these large jugs with a lever on the ground that you step on to release the water. I’ve never carried my own hydration during a marathon, so this is super unfamiliar to me. I do have a hydration belt, but it’s kind of heavy and slides around a lot and messing with the bottle always wastes time. I thought I’d run with a Camelbak, so I bought one and tested it out on last weekend’s 17-mile run. It was awful. I thought the water was really hard to get out of the straw, the bouncing on my back was annoying and it chafed me badly (I was running in a sports bra because it was so hot and I have scabs all over my stomach and back from the chafing!) This week, I bought an 18-oz. water bottle at Charm City Run with a holder that loops over my hand. I thought it was really easy to use and when I was ready to drink from it, I just used my other hand to unscrew the lid and didn’t have to worry about readjusting the belt, etc. I’m a fan! 

Speaking of Chasing the Unicorn, it is still happening as of right now. In fact, I tuned into a Zoom call that the race organizer held for participants today. It was …. interesting (you can read my rant about it on Twitter), but I did learn a few things, including the fact that the state of Pennsylvania will be on the premises on race day and will shut the whole thing down if people are not abiding by the guidelines. Like, right in the middle of the race. I think the race director has some really solid plans in place; I just hope everyone follows the rules. It’s cool, though, people have been great about following all COVID regulations! /s

My training has gone really well, and now I only have two more weeks until it’s taper time. They’re pretty challenging weeks, and I’m looking forward to them, but at the same time …. If the race is going to get canceled, it would be nice if it happened before those 19- and 20-mile runs. 

I’ve been following the Hal Higdon Advanced Marathon plan, with the end date being the Chicago Marathon in October, which of course got canceled. I’m essentially cutting the training short by a month to do Chasing the Unicorn on Sept. 13, and I’m not totally sure I will have done the training to run the race I hoped to run. I’m only going to have time to squeeze in one 20/10 weekend (20 miles one day, 10 the other) before I have to taper. Hal’s Advanced plan calls for three of those weekends, with the first being six weeks before the race. 

It is what it is, I guess. At this point, I’ll just be happy to run a marathon…. Boston qualifier or not.