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!

Summer running, had me a blast: A month of hot and humid racing

First of all, sorry not sorry for that title. I love Grease and even though I have not sat down to watch it in years, I used to pop it into the VCR on at least a weekly basis when I was in high school (and yes, I am giving away my age there! Ha!)

Anyway, summer running. You hot, humid beast. It’s funny because for most of my life, I preferred summer to winter. And I still do, when it comes to going to the beach or taking day trips or drinking margaritas. But when it comes to running? Give me 30 degrees over 80 degrees any day of the week!

Of course, I still run in the summer, as brutal as this time of year is in the Chesapeake Bay region. And I still race in the summer. This month, I ran three races — two 5Ks and a 5-miler!

The first 5K, the Red White and Blue Mountain 5K, was a literal hot mess. It was my slowest 5K in at least five years, thanks to the hilly terrain and humid weather. (You can read the full recap here.) Afterwards, I thought, “Well, that really sucked. It can’t get much worse!”

Wrong!

The following week, I traveled to Rehoboth Beach for my family’s annual summer vacation. My brother-in-law Justin and I signed up for the Seashore 5 Miler, which we had also run last year. In the 2018 race, I finished in 40:08 and won my age group, but was annoyed that I had just missed breaking 40 minutes. I went out too fast and wilted on the back half of the race, so I told myself I wouldn’t make that mistake again. (Psssh. Sure!)

The race started at Gordon’s Pond Bike Trail in Cape Henlopen State Park at 7:30 am, and thank the Lord it didn’t start a second later because it was hotter than Hades that day. (I think the temperatures climbed into the 90s by the afternoon.) Everyone was sweating just standing at the start line. After the race started, Justin and I stayed together for a bit and then I moved ahead. When my watch beeped at mile 1 and I saw that I had run it in 7:02, I thought, “Well, that seems a little fast.” But it didn’t feel all that fast to me….. At least not yet. It felt comfortably hard. I ran mile 2 in 7:29 and still felt good and like I could sustain a pace in the mid-7s for the rest of the race.

Except then the sun came out in full force and there was little to no shade. (The course, which is an out and back, is really flat, though!) I felt my pace starting to slow around the mid-way point and I think I ran mile 3 somewhere around the 8-minute range. I honestly can’t remember what my mile splits were after that, but I know I ran a big positive split again. However, I knew once I passed the mile 4 marker that I was going to squeeze under 40 minutes, which made me happy. Once I could see the finish line, I made myself sprint until I crossed it. And then I almost puked. But I broke 40! My official time was 39:18, I was the fourth overall female and I won my age group again.

There were a lot of other people complaining about the heat, too, so I know I wasn’t the only one affected by it. What do you expect for a race at the beach on July 14, though? Props to the race organizers, the Seashore Striders, for bringing a water mister to the finish line as well as more than enough cold bottles of water! I look forward to doing this race next year, too. The only real downside is that the bugs in the park were terrible and I got bitten badly on my right arm by some unknown critter. Two weeks later, the bites are still visible and just now starting to fully heal.

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The Ellicott City 5K

After I returned home from the beach, I had the Ellicott City 5K with Rip It Events the next day. This is another challenging course due to the hills. I had run the 10K last year and finished third overall female, but didn’t really feel the need to repeat that experience again, so I signed up for the 5K.

As it turned out, we were in the middle of a pretty bad heat wave that began when I was on vacation (it cooled down a bit the day after the 5 miler, then heated up again) and continued on into the weekend for the whole mid-Atlantic region. Some area races even got canceled, and our race directors decided the nix the kids’ fun run that was planned for the same time. But the 5K and 10K went off without a hitch at 8:30 am. The weather was already in the 80s and it was quite muggy, but the good thing is the course, which is in Benjamin Banneker Historical Park, is shady. So we weren’t running directly underneath the sun until the tail end (yay!)

Having run the longer race last year, I knew what to expect. I knew that most of the first half of the 5K would be downhill, and the second half would be uphill. (And then 10K runners repeat that course a second time!) So even though going out too fast in 5Ks is pretty much always my downfall, I knew I would need to bank some time during the first mile and a half. And I did! I felt like I was flying during the first mile, clocking a 6:48 pace. Most of the second mile is downhill, but then you turn around and have to climb up and up and up as you slog toward the finish.

As I headed up the hill, runners who were headed down kept calling out to me that I was the first female, which was very exciting! But in general, this part of the race sucks (and again, I was very happy I was doing the 5K and wouldn’t have to do that hill twice!) I told myself to suck it up and keep going and it would be over with soon. The last half mile of the course is probably the biggest kick in the ass because there is zero shade and you are STILL going uphill. As I approached the finish line, I felt someone coming up behind me and I was like “OH HELL NO” and I started to sprint. Turns out it was a dude, he still beat me by like two seconds and I tripped and fell just after I crossed the finish line. SO GRACEFUL. Oh, and my split for that last mile was 8:43. 8:43! Nearly TWO MINUTES slower than my first mile! Maybe it was just poor execution on my part, but I think it would be damn near impossible to negative split that race.

When I checked my results, I saw that I was second overall female. Hmmm, I thought. Weird. I guess there was someone ahead of me and I didn’t realize it! I was announced as second overall female at the awards ceremony, but I’m pretty sure that was a mistake because the official results have me listed in first place. Oh well. It’s not like I’m doing this for a paycheck or anything!

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What’s next?

My next race is my favorite of the year, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, on Aug. 25. Then I’m going to start training for the Philly Half on Nov. 23. It will be my 20th half marathon and the first one I am following an actual training plan for, because I am determined to break 1:40 in the half this year! If I don’t do it in that race, the Rehoboth Seashore Half is in December, so I’ll have another chance. And before I know it, it’ll be time to start training for the Coastal Delaware Running Festival marathon in April! What’s a winter without marathon training?

Which do you prefer — summer training or winter training?

When it’s not such a good day for a run: The Red, White and Blue Mountain 5K

The race director for the Red White and Blue Mountain 5K minced no words as we all lined up at the start.

This is one of our toughest 5Ks, he said. It might even be the hardest one we have. If this is your first 5K, well, hopefully this doesn’t scare you away.

This race, held over Fourth of July weekend at the Blue Mountain Vineyards in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, was hardly my first 5K– I’m guessing I’ve run upwards of two dozen 5Ks at this point in my life, maybe more. And I was still a little intimidated by his warning, especially since I had hoped to run somewhere in the 21-minute range. I’d spent the last two months working more on my speed, going to the track every Wednesday night to grind out 200- and 400-meter repeats. 5Ks are tough for me, and I’d like to be able to pump out 21:xx 5K times more consistently.

This was not the race for such a lofty goal. Far from it.

And I came nowhere close to that goal. In fact, I ran my slowest 5K time — 25:26 — in at LEAST five years, maybe longer!

Shockingly, I was still fast enough to win my age group. I also finished fourth female and missed out on an overall award (which was a bottle of wine!) by nine seconds.

I still got a complimentary glass of wine afterwards, so I’d call that a win regardless of how I placed or what my time was!

The race was organized by a company called Good Day For A Run, which puts on a lot of races at wineries and breweries, as well as numerous holiday-themed races. My good friend Staci, who lives about 45 minutes away from the vineyard, found out about the race several months ago and asked if I wanted to come up and run it with her. I love races, I love wine and I love hanging out with Staci, so of course I was sold.

What made this 5K so hard? It was in a vineyard, that sounds really cool!

Sure, running through a vineyard does sound like fun — in theory! In reality, the terrain is uneven and it’s hilly as all hell. I did not look up the course ahead of time (I rarely do that with races anyway) so I didn’t realize quite how hilly it was going to be. I haven’t done one bit of hill training since Boston, and while I’m sure my track work helped a little, doing some dedicated hill work would have been much more beneficial!

There were very few flat stretches in this race, and most of the course involved weaving in and out of the rows of grapevines. So you’d run down one row, then make a very sharp turn, then run up the next row — and so on and so forth. I’ve never done a race with so many switchbacks, which basically force you to slow down or else you’ll slip and fall turning the corners. It was also tough to make up time on the downhills, because the ground was uneven and I was a little afraid of falling.

But the uphills were brutal. Brutal! Running uphill is always a challenge, but the heat and the humidity added an extra layer of difficulty. The race started at 9 am, and it was in the low 80s with high humidity. There was also zero shade and every uphill on the course was directly into the blazing sun. I said to Staci afterwards that it would have been better had the race started at 7 — of course, then we would have had to get up super early, so that would have sucked.

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Dying on the inside

I knew after about a half of a mile that this was going to be a rough race. I rarely stop and walk in 5Ks, but toward the end, I was stopping for a few seconds at a time, then running again. Fun fact, my average race pace was 8:12/mile. That was the same pace I ran in the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon, when I qualified for Boston. And I ran the last mile in this 5K at an 8:42/mile pace. My average pace in the Boston Marathon was 8:41/mile. Speed is all relative, of course, but it’s pretty clear that this race really chewed me up and spit me out.

One great thing about it — it finished on a downhill! However, it was a steep enough downhill that sprinting down it didn’t seem like the best idea. I was so happy to cross that finish line and grab a bottle of water from a volunteer (I was not ready to think about wine quite then, haha!) then I stood at the finish line and waited for Staci and got a video of her crossing the finish. She also thought the race was an ass kicker and we talked about doing it again …. If the weather was around 60 degrees!

In the future, if I am going to choose a “goal” 5K, I need to look at the course first and also consider the weather! It’s not like I’m incapable of running well on hills or in the heat, but I think the combination of the two really did me in.

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Very glad to be done!

What’s next for me?

Well, this weekend I’m running the Seashore 5 Mile Run in Rehoboth with my brother-in-law Justin. I ran this race last year and know it’s pancake flat (as are all races at the beach!) so I’m hoping my track workouts pay off. I finished in 40:08 last year and won my age group, but was annoyed that I wasn’t under 40 minutes. I’d like to be around 38ish minutes this year, but if it’s hot as Hades, who knows what I can pull off.

Then on July 21, I’m running the Ellicott City 5K with Rip It Events. This race is another hilly one– the second half of it is basically all uphill. I ran the 10K version of the race last year and finished third overall, so we’ll see what I can do in the 5K. I’ll be happy with any time in the 23-24 minute range, but maybe I’ll surprise myself!

There is still time to sign up for the Ellicott City 5K/10K
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I swam, I biked, I ran: My first triathlon

I am officially a triathlete!

Last weekend, I raced the Columbia Association Super Sprint Triathlon with Rip It Events. The race consisted of four laps/eight lanes (200 yards) in a pool, a 5-mile bike ride and a 1.75-mile run. I finished in 47:21, didn’t die during the swim and had a ton of fun!

Here’s my recap!

The day before

Kree convinced me to go get my race packet the day before to cut down on race day stress, which ended up being a great idea. Members of the Mid Maryland Triathlon Club were there sharing their race tips and explaining how the transition area worked. I’ve done the Maryland Duathlon twice, so I am somewhat familiar with transition and all its ins and outs, but it was still really helpful to hear from them (particularly how to lay out your bike gear so you can quickly get it on after the swim and get out on the bike.) It just made me feel more prepared — always a good thing!

I had planned to get up at 3:30 am on Sunday (yes, really) so I wanted to grab dinner no later than 7, but my husband was whitewater kayaking that afternoon and didn’t get back until closer to 8. THEN, on our way to dinner, we locked ourselves out of our house due to an epic miscommunication. Luckily, we had a window open upstairs and a ladder outside, so Micah broke into the house and got our keys, and we were sitting down to dinner around 8:30. I was in bed by 10:30, not ideal but what can you do? Micah didn’t go to bed until 1! Silly boy.

Race morning!

I told Micah I wanted to leave by 4:45 am — the race location is about 40 minutes or so from our house, and he still needed to get his race packet. While the race didn’t start until 7 am, all athletes had to be on the pool deck ready to go by 6:30 am. Everything was going according to plan until we started loading the bikes onto the rack on my car, and the strap holding the rack to the back of my Bug just fell apart. So we had to take the wheels off our bikes and pile them in the back of Micah’s Outback. Fortunately, that only took a few minutes and we were on our way.

Once we got there, I realized with all the rushing around that I had left my phone behind. I couldn’t have it out on the course anyway, but I did want it to take pictures for Rip It social media (and my own accounts as well!) Luckily, I had plenty of friends who were taking pictures!

We got our bikes racked relatively quickly and had plenty of time to hit the portapotties more than once. (Haha, coffee + race day nerves.) The tri club members who spoke with us told us that our time in transition before the race started would go fast, and it did! Before I knew it, we were being told to assemble at the pool.

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Rip It ambassadors before the race

The swim

Everyone racing the sprint version of the race had to enter the pool and complete their swim before the super sprint even started, so that meant Micah and I were waiting around for a long time. I thought this would just make me anxious, but it was actually really helpful to see the other swimmers navigate the pool and cheer them on. Everyone was self-seeded by their 100-yard swim time, and the paces started at 1:15 and went all the way up to 3:30. I planned to line up with the 2:30 swimmers for my race.

I’m not sure exactly what time the super sprint field lined up, but it was well after 8. At that point, I was just ready to get going. There were way less people registered for the super sprint, which surprised me. But it meant that once the first swimmers started entering the pool, the line went fast and before I knew it, it was time for me to cross the timing mat and start my race.

If you read my last blog, you know I am not a natural swimmer. I dislike getting my face wet, and I also prefer the water to feel like bath water. When I have been practicing my laps, I usually gingerly lower myself into the pool and let myself get acclimated to the water. Of course, I didn’t have that luxury in the race, because other swimmers were lined up behind me, so I just got in the pool and went off. The water was ….not warm. We’ve had a few gross, humid days that are typical of Maryland in the summer, but for the most part, it’s been unusually mild. So the pool (which was outside) felt chilly to me. However, once I finished my first lane, I forgot that I was cold and just focused on finishing. My friend and fellow Rip It ambassador Richard, who had already finished the sprint tri (and won his age group) by the time I got in the pool, came back to the pool to cheer me on. “You don’t have to put your head in the water if you don’t want to,” he kept telling me. But I did swim with my head in the water, and I also only took minimal breaks (a few seconds) between lanes! I’m proud of that.

Once I got out of the pool, I knew the hardest part (for me) was over! My official swim time was 7:19, which I was happy with. I thought I would be closer to 10 minutes!

The bike

The transition to the bike went smoothly (thanks again to the Mid Maryland Tri Club for your organizational tips!) and I was off on the course. Admittedly, I hardly trained on the bike, but I did do the course preview with other Rip It ambassadors a few weeks ago, so I was familiar with the route. I knew it was somewhat hilly but not too bad, particularly for Columbia! And I knew I wouldn’t be particularly fast — partly because I didn’t really train and partly because my bike is a hybrid that isn’t exactly optimized for speed. (It has a basket and a bell on it. Enough said. I do love it, though.) I thought the bike went well and I was relieved that Howard County delayed some road work that had been planned for part of the course. There were some sections that were a little rough during the last mile and a half of the 5-mile loop, but I was able to avoid them. Official time was 23:38 and I did pass a few other people — and yes, I rang my bell, which seemed to amuse them!

The run

“OK,” I thought to myself when I dismounted from my bike. “This is my sport! This is where I can really kick ass!” I ran my bike back into transition, where Kree, who had finished the sprint, was. “Take off your helmet!” she yelled at me. “Don’t forget your bib! Put it on while you start running!” I took her advice and fastened my Spibelt with my bib already attached to it around my waist while I booked it out of transition. (I was only in the second transition for 44 seconds!) I was so excited that I almost ran the wrong way out of transition (thank you Matt for guiding me!)

After the swim and the bike, the run definitely did not feel as easy as I expected it to! My legs felt like jelly and my effort felt like a sprint, yet at the same time I also didn’t feel like I was running all that fast, if that makes any sense.

I had also practiced the run course during the race preview, so I knew it was on a narrow, paved trail that was nice and shady. I did pass a lot of people (though it wasn’t clear who was doing the sprint, which had a 5K run at the end, and who was doing the super sprint.) At one point, I passed another woman who said to me, “You are fast as hell!” “Thanks!” I said. “This is the part of the race I’m good at!”

My run time was 14:01, an even 8 minute pace, and I’ll admit I was a little disappointed in that since it was 1.75 miles. I thought I’d be in the low 7s, but then again, this was after swimming and cycling. And it was my first ever tri. So I’ll take it. As you’ll see below, I came in fourth overall on the run and second overall female.

Final stats

I finished 11th out of 62 triathletes, and was sixth out of 43 women. Yay! The final breakdown:

Swim: 40/62 (23/43 females)

Bike: 27/62 (16/43 females)

Run: 4/62 (2/43 females) ——-> It’s pretty obvious what my strong suit is!

I’m pleased with my race and I don’t think this will be my last triathlon. I really enjoyed myself. I don’t have any plans for another one at the moment, but I could see myself doing the sprint version next year!

And you know how I joked that I wanted to beat Micah in the race because he didn’t really train for it?

I beat him by 30 seconds.

I’m trying not to rub it in too much!

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!

“Tri”-ing something new: Training for a super sprint triathlon

One of my earliest memories takes place in a pool.

Unfortunately, it’s not a good memory.

I was about two years old, and my parents decided to sign me up for beginner swim lessons at the local YMCA.

While most of the details are fuzzy (I mean, I was two!), I can recall the swim instructor picking me up and saying, “1, 2, 3, DUCK!” (or maybe it was DUNK?!) and plunging me underwater. When she pulled me to the surface after what I assume was just a second or two, I was coughing and crying.

Shockingly, this was not an effective way to teach a toddler to swim, and my parents pulled me out of swim lessons soon after. But a lifelong fear and suspicion of the water took hold, and when they re-enrolled me in swimming lessons at a popular public pool in our town several years later, I refused to put my face in the water. Like, at all. Eventually, after MANY years of lessons, I did learn to get my face wet, and I learned to swim, though not with any real proficiency.

As an adult, most of the “swimming” I’ve done has consisted of splashing around in the shallow end of a pool, preferably with a drink in my hand.

Until now. Because I’m doing my first (maybe only?!) triathlon in a week!

What possessed me to sign up for such a thing when I’m kind of afraid of the water? Rip It Events is holding its inaugural Columbia Association Triathlon, which features a super sprint and a sprint option. The super sprint is four pool laps, followed by a 5-mile bike ride and a 1.75-mile run. Surely I can do four pool laps, I thought when I signed up at the beginning of the year. (Full disclosure: As a Rip It ambassador, I am doing this race for free. But I have a 15 percent discount code to share if you want to do it, too! Send me a message if so!)

I admit training for this most definitely took a backseat to Boston training, so by the time May rolled around, I knew I needed pool time stat. I recruited my friend Kree, swimmer extraordinare and two-time Ironman triathlon finisher, to help me during my first swim practice. I warned her that it would be rough, and she assured me she would be patient and we could get Mexican food and margaritas afterwards. (I can be easily bribed with food and drink.)  

The day of my first practice, I was SO nervous and even questioned whether I really wanted to do this. I mean, I didn’t pay anything to enter the race — I could bail and it totally wouldn’t be a big deal. Except I’d told a bunch of friends I was doing it, and I knew they’d be disappointed if I chickened out. So, I sucked it up and met Kree at the North Arundel Aquatic Center for my first swim lesson in decades.

We walked in and the smell of chlorine took me right back to the 1980s. Anxiety washed over me immediately. Isn’t it crazy how smells can just do that to you? “Welcome to my happy place!” Kree said, totally serious. Get me the eff out of here, I thought to myself.

We suited up and walked out to the pool and I still wanted to run away, but I gingerly lowered myself into the pool and tried to acclimate to the water. “Want me to show you how I swim?” I asked Kree. “Sure,” she said.

I swam to the other end of the pool, head out of the water and freestyling the whole way. That’s not so bad, I thought. Then I swam back. OK, that was harder. But hey, I’m only swimming four laps, so I’m half done!  

“Good job!” Kree said. “But let’s try getting your face in the water now.”

“Ugh, OK. But hey! I made it halfway!”

“Uh, no,” she said. “It’s four laps. That’s eight pool lengths.”

Well, crap.

Kree showed me how to blow bubbles underwater and take a breath when I lifted my head up. Sounds simple, and I’m sure I learned this all those years ago in swimming lessons — and yet actually doing it was a huge mental hurdle for me. Honestly, if I had accomplished nothing else that day, I would have considered that a victory! But I actually did swim a few laps with my face in the water. It wasn’t perfect, and I wasn’t fast, but I did it. And man, I was TIRED afterwards.. So tired. How do people like Kree swim 2.4 MILES in Ironmans? I can’t fathom it. I guess a lot of people think that about marathons, though!

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First real swim in years! 

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Will swim for margs

Since then, I’ve gone once or twice a week to the county’s other Olympic swim center that’s close to my home and work. It’s not easy, but it’s getting easier (I still get anxious when I smell the chlorine! It’s hard to undo all those years of believing that the pool is a scary place where someone is just going to dunk my head underwater suddenly.) I do need to take a breather in between laps, but because this is a pool swim, that shouldn’t be a problem on race day. I’m totally fine being a slow swimmer — as this is my first triathlon, I just want to finish without completely embarrassing myself!   

I’ve even convinced my husband to do the triathlon, too. He claims he doesn’t need to train and that “swimming is like walking” to him. I joked that my only goal is to beat him because he’s not taking it seriously, but I might not be able to. In addition to being a very strong swimmer, he’s faster and more comfortable on the bike. I get nervous about going too fast and having an accident. My running race pace is about three minutes per mile faster than his, but I don’t know if that can make up for the swim and bike portions!  

We went swimming together this morning and after I swam my first lap, he giggled (yes, actually giggled) and said, “Good job, sweetie! You are trying so hard!” He might as well have added a “bless your heart!” afterwards. Then later he said, “It will be nice to actually beat you in a race.”

Whatever. I’m just going to “tri” my best….. That’s all I can do, right?

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Goofing around after laps

A hilly Herald Harbor 5K

For the second year in a row, I ran the Herald Harbor 5K with my friend Cindy. Last year, I was the first female finisher, but didn’t get a medal because those went to the top three overall finishers, both male and female. I finished sixth. This year, I had heard that the top three finishers were getting trophies, so I was hopeful that I could run fast enough for a trophy! I’ve been doing a lot of speedwork this past month in hopes that I can get better at 5Ks, so I was optimistic.

No such luck. Even though I was about a minute faster than I was last year, I finished third female and eighth overall. There were some fast people this year, and I got passed early enough in the race that I knew within the first mile I would not be in the top three. Finish time was 21:34, but the course was short. My watch measured 2.9 miles, so if it had been a true 5K, I’m guessing I would have been in the high 22s. The hills of Herald Harbor got me, again! (I have not done a damn bit of hill training since Boston, although my neighborhood does have rolling hills.)

Cindy, who lives in Herald Harbor and runs on the hills regularly, did great, beating her time last year by about three minutes! The race raises money for a new pavilion at the community’s park. It’s a fun and low-key race, and I definitely recommend it as long as you aren’t going for a PR, since the course is short. 

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Cindy and I afterwards

 

 

 

 

My quest to get better at running 5Ks

I hear it all the time when I talk about how difficult I find 5Ks.

“But you run marathons! 5Ks must be a breeze for you.”

Well, sure, a 5K would be pretty easy for me if I run it at my marathon pace! But that’s not how you are supposed to run 5Ks — you are supposed to run them as hard and fast as you can, and they hurt like hell but are over quickly. The marathon, on the other hand, is a slow burn and a whole different kind of hurt. If I had to pick which one I prefer, I’d say the marathon, but I can only run so many of those a year (my limit is two) while I can bang out multiple 5Ks a month if I feel like it.

In fact, I decided to run a 5K last weekend as sort of a comeback race after Boston. My coworker had told me about the Champions for Children 5K at Quiet Waters Park, one of my favorite places to run in Annapolis. The race raised money for the county’s Family Assistance Fund, so it was for a good cause.

Naturally, I’d also checked out last year’s times and thought I had a good chance at winning my age group, and maybe even placing overall. But I also knew that I was less than two weeks out from Boston and my body was still recovering, so I wasn’t sure how fast I could run it.

Well, I ended up finishing in third place overall, about 20 seconds behind a young man and woman who were both Naval Academy students. (When I told my mom about this, she said, “Great job! You are like twice their age!” Haha, thanks. It’s true.) My official time was 21:17, but the course was short. I logged 2.8 miles per my Garmin. Shrug. I’ve run 5Ks in Quiet Waters before, and for some reason, they are always short. So the race results list my pace as 6:52/mile, which looks great but is not accurate!

That said, I did a decent job pacing myself in this race. As I’ve said before, I have a bad habit of going out at a sub-7 pace in 5Ks and sometimes even 10Ks, but then can’t hold it and crash bad in the last mile. This time, I ran the first mile in 7:20, the second in 7:22 and the last 8/10 of a mile in 6:35. I imagine if the race had actually been 3.1 miles, I would have finished in the 22:xx range. Not the 21:35 I ran in the Barlowe Bolt, but a time I could be proud of!

Since I frequently run in Quiet Waters, I know the paths really well, but I was also afraid of tripping and falling if I ran too fast. (I fell and scraped myself up good on one of my 20-mile training runs for Boston, and I was definitely not running a 7:xx pace then!) That fear probably kept me from going balls to the wall right out of the gate, which was good.

I was actually leading the race for the first half mile or so, then the mids passed me and I was never able to catch up to them. But I did keep them in my line of sight for the entire race! I wish I could have outkicked them in the end, but sprinting is definitely my weakness as a runner. Afterwards, I congratulated them and the guy said he was looking over his shoulder the entire time to see how close I was! As the third overall winner, I took home a bunch of swag from The Greene Turtle, including a gift card, pint glass and two T-shirts (both of them are sadly way too big for me).

Getting better at running 5Ks is one of my running goals for this summer. I think with proper 5K-specific training, I can more consistently go sub-22– I know I have it in me, it’s just a matter of sucking it up and being more comfortable with being uncomfortable for 3.1 miles. So now I am on the hunt for a training plan geared to helping more experienced runners improve in the 5K. I’ve actually never followed a training plan for anything but a marathon, so I have some research to do. Any recommendations? Hit me up in the comments!

Right now I have three 5Ks on my calendar for this summer:

June 1: The Herald Harbor 5K. I ran this last year and it was hot as hell, and the course was short (again, about 2.8 miles.) I was the first female and sixth overall finisher.

July 6: Red White and Blue Mountain 5K with Staci in the Poconos. This run is at a winery– what’s not to love about that?

July 21: Ellicott City 5K/10K with Rip It Events. I ran the 10K last year and finished as third overall female, but my God, this race is hard. I decided to stick with the 5K this year and see what I could do with it. As a Rip It Events ambassador, I am running this race for free and have a 15 percent off code to share if you are interested in running, too– message me for details!