Over the river and through the woods: The Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K

I was in the middle of running the seventh mile of Rip It Events‘ Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon when I saw a runner just ahead of me lose his footing and slide down the hill.

“Are you OK?” I called out to him, just as I started to slip and fall, too.

That’s racing on a trail for you. Luckily, neither of us were hurt.

Rip It’s second annual Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K was held on Super Bowl Sunday– and it was just as cold as it was last year, except this year, we had snow and sleet in the mix! It definitely made the race even more challenging — and trail running is already a challenge! Before last year’s race, I had never raced on a trail before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I learned then that when you run on a trail, you can expect the unexpected, as cliche as that sounds. You never know what roots or leaves or branches can trip you up — literally.

I went into this year’s race hoping I could break the 1:50:00 I got last year, which earned me second place in my age group. Instead, I ran it in 1:53:09, which might have still gotten me second place! To be honest, I’m not sure — I was SO cold during the awards ceremony that I sat in my friend and fellow Rip It ambassador Kree’s car, and she got my medal for me. The medal says third place in my age group, but she insists I got second. Either way, I was happy to place, considering I was a few minutes slower than last year!

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The race was held on the Patuxent Branch Trail near Columbia, Maryland, and the first mile and a half or so are mostly on a flat, dirt path. Once you near mile two, the trail gets technical and you have to start watching where you are running a little more closely. It’s actually really beautiful and scenic with the Patuxent River running alongside the trail, and the woods all around you. There are two significant hills, one at around mile three and another around mile 4.5 or so. Most people speed walked up them, myself included– no shame in that game. Of course, as mentioned before, there were some significant downhills, too– which can be just as, if not more, treacherous!

Once I hit the second mile of the race, it started to snow. I am generally not a snow lover, but this was just light enough to be peaceful and pretty. Unfortunately, that didn’t last and it started to sleet, which was much less fun.

The race course is a loop, so everyone who ran the 10K did the loop once, and the half marathoners ran it twice. (Technically, those who ran the 10K actually ran 6.55 miles, not 6.2.) I have to admit, when I started on my second loop around the course, part of me wished I decided to run the 10K and call it a day. It was cold, I was getting wet and to be honest, I screwed up my pacing from the beginning, running my first mile in 7:40 something. That might have been OK in a road half, but not on a trail, with those big climbs ahead of me. My watch died in the middle of the race, but I know my splits were very positive. Oh well.

In addition to my Rip It team, I ran with a bunch of friends from 5 Peaks Martial Arts Academy, all of whom did the 10K. For some of them, it was their first 10K race ever — and it was on a trail! Pretty awesome!

Next up on the Rip It calendar is the Columbia 10-Miler on April 22. (This race used to be a half marathon.) Interested in running? Contact me for your 10 percent discount code!

A full list of 2018 Rip It events can be found here.

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I ran this race for free. Opinions are entirely my own!

100 miles in one month: Mission accomplished!

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m not a goal-oriented person. But it always makes more sense to me to set personal goals on my birthday than on New Year’s. (This could be because I think New Year’s is the most overblown, overhyped holiday out there. But I digress.)

That said, I LOVE a good challenge, especially when there is a competitive edge to it! So I am happy to announce that I completed my friend Matt’s annual 25/50/75/100 Mile Challenge for the month of January.

The rules are simple: You choose your goal (could be 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles) and commit to completing that mileage by Jan. 31. Every time you finish a run, you log your miles and report them to Matt, who keeps a daily leaderboard that he posts in a private Facebook event. Several dozen of his friends signed up for the challenge, and it’s so fun to see all the participants proudly reporting their miles each day — especially because not everyone is a hardcore runner. It’s inspiring to see people who insist they aren’t runners crush their goals!

Since I am training for yet another marathon, I knew reaching 100 miles would not be a problem for me, but I thought I’d get there sooner than I did. I hit 100 on Jan. 26, after being sick with a nasty cold/cough the week earlier that ruined my long run plans for last weekend. And as I said, having a friendly competition is a powerful motivator! I knew my friend Kree (Matt’s wife) would be at 100 miles on Jan. 26, so I made sure I met my goal that night — even though it was Friday night and I totally did not feel like getting on the treadmill. But I ran those last five miles anyway!

Then the next day, I ran 16 miles in keeping with my marathon training plan — so I am now at 116 miles for January. I should be able to finish out the month somewhere in the low 120s. I was hoping to be in the 130s, and I probably would have been had I not gotten sick. But what can you do? It is cold and flu season, after all.

January is my least favorite month by far — it’s cold (though we’ve had some mild days the past week), the holidays are over and spring and summer feel SO far away. Having a goal definitely makes the month go by faster — which is probably why I just can’t quit spring marathons!

Book review: Long Road to Boston

I love to read just as much as I love to run, so I am always looking for books that inspire me as a runner.

Long Road to Boston: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Marathon, by Mark Sutcliffe, did just that. This book is a must-read for anyone who aspires to run the Boston Marathon.

As the title indicates, this book is largely a memoir of marathoner Sutcliffe’s attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But it’s also a well-researched book that goes into a lot of detail about the history of the Boston Marathon. For example, probably all marathon runners (and lots of people who don’t run marathons) have heard of Heartbreak Hill. They may even know it’s at mile 20 of the Boston Marathon. But did you know why it’s called Heartbreak Hill? Back in 1936, defending champion Johnny Kelley passed another runner, Ellison Brown, patting him on the shoulder as he surged ahead of him. Brown then ended up winning the marathon in the end, leading to Kelley’s heartbreak.

I did not know this — I always thought Heartbreak Hill was so named because it’s at the point in the marathon where runners often begin to hit the wall and maybe miss their goal times, therefore breaking their hearts.

I also learned a lot about the history of the Boston Marathon qualifying standards and how much they have changed over the years. At one point in time, male runners had to post a 2:50 marathon to be allowed to run Boston, and female runners had to run a 3:20. Glad the Boston Athletic Association has relaxed the standards since those days!

In the author’s case, his qualifying standard was 3:25 when he started seriously trying to qualify after he’d already run many marathons. After missing his qualifying standard by a few minutes again and again, Sutcliffe qualified for and ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. The cutoff that year was 1:38, meaning runners had to run 1 minute, 38 seconds below their BQ time, and Sutcliffe made it by 22 seconds!

I felt pretty fortunate reading all about his journey to a BQ, because it didn’t take me nearly as long to qualify. I qualified in my fourth marathon, the first time I’d ever truly attempted to BQ. I say that not to brag, but to point out that I most definitely had an advantage being a woman in the 35-39 age group, where the standard is 3:40. The standards are much tougher for men, and there is some debate about whether that’s fair or not.

However, I definitely related to Sutcliffe’s comments that getting older is something a lot of runners look forward to, because it means they’ll be in a new age group with new qualifying standards. I’ll be 40 in two and a half years, and you can bet I’m excited for a 3:45 standard (assuming the BAA doesn’t change the standards, which they very well might in the next couple of years.)

What I loved the most about his book, though, was his vivid descriptions of the race. From the start of the race in Hopkinton to the famous Wellesley scream tunnel to the Newton Hills to the finish line on Boylston Street, reading the book has made me more excited than ever to run the 2019 Boston Marathon! (Assuming the BAA accepts my time with its 4:59 cushion — or five-minute cushion, depending on whether they count that extra 7/10 of a second! It”s still unclear to me.)

I’ve read several other memoirs written by runners trying to get to Boston, but this was my favorite because Sutcliffe also included so much historical information about the marathon itself. That made the book more than just a typical running memoir, and I know will make me appreciate my Boston experience all the more when I line up at the starting line in Hopkinton.

January running goal: 100 miles in one month

Happy New Year! This year has gotten off to a bitterly cold start. This morning, it was 12 degrees when I woke up — and it’s been like that for days. And it will be like that for many more days to come, according to the forecast. I really fear for the upcoming winter months — and for my B&A Trail Marathon training. (Every year, I say I won’t run another spring marathon. Yet I can’t seem to help myself.)

That said, my goal for January is still to run at least 100 miles. My friend Matt, owner of 5 Peaks Martial Arts Academy, always does a running challenge to kick off the new year. Participants can choose to do 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles. As I typically hit 20-25 miles a week, even when I am not in marathon training mode, I always opt for the 100 mile challenge.

I’ve been running on the treadmill a lot lately after joining Edgewater Fitness, the gym in my new neighborhood. While I would rather be running outside in beautiful weather, I don’t hate the treadmill like a lot of runners do. When the days are so short, and I work until 5 p.m. during the week, I don’t have much of a choice. I just don’t feel safe running alone at night, or in the early morning hours. And as I mentioned before — it’s damn cold out there right now.

I’ve also been hitting the treadmill at the gym for the last four days for a reason unrelated to training goals. My husband is renovating our main bathroom (you know, that one with the shower!) and asked me last week if I would mind showering at the gym while he lays tiles. Um, can’t say I was thrilled about that idea, but at least the showers at Edgewater Fitness are nice — and I’ll have a beautiful bathroom when he’s (finally!) finished!

So yesterday I ran six miles on the treadmill to kick off the challenge. I have kickboxing class on Tuesdays, so I normally would not have run today. However, I needed to shower this morning, so I woke up at 5 a.m. to haul my butt to the gym before work. Because it is super weird to go to the gym just to take a shower, I obviously ran three miles, too.

Not a bad start to the month at all.

Tell me — do you see the treadmill as something to be avoided at all costs? Or do you embrace it?

How to survive running in the cold

“There is no such thing as bad weather,” my husband likes to tell me. “Only bad clothes.”

Although I think that is a bit of an exaggeration — let’s face it, an ice storm sucks no matter how many layers of fleece you’re wearing — he’s not completely wrong. Dressing properly is the key to getting through winter in the Northeast — especially if you have any kind of active lifestyle.

However, there is such a fine line between wearing just enough clothes, and wearing too many. Everyone warms up when they run, so you can easily find yourself overheating if you bundle up too much.

I’ve found this Runner’s World What to Wear tool to be really helpful. Personally, if it’s below 40 degrees, I probably wouldn’t go out for a run without grabbing a hat and gloves. If it’s below 30 degrees, I’ll grab a scarf or neck gaiter. But it’s different for everyone, as the guide will tell you.

This week, I’m in my hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh. Winters are cold here, and the last few days have been no exception. Today, I ran four miles in 17-degree weather (it felt like 3 degrees outside.) I put on running tights, knee-high running socks, a long-sleeved technical T-shirt, my Rock ‘N Roll Marathon Finisher jacket, a hat, gloves and a scarf (I pulled the scarf over my face). Once I started running, I felt pretty toasty!

What do you wear to run in the cold? Or do you say the heck with running outside, and just run on the treadmill? (No shame in that game — I do plenty of that, too!)

My running goals for 2018

There’s nothing like running a marathon to make me want to sign up for another marathon!

I don’t have kids, but I’ve joked that running 26.2 miles is probably like birthing a child, in that your body totally forgets the pain and you decide you want to do it again someday. (Mother runners, can you relate to this?)

Assuming the Boston Marathon accepts me for 2019 (with my 5-minute cushion, I’m pretty sure I’m good!), I need to find a marathon to run in 2018– or maybe two!

I have a few friends who have expressed interest in running a fall marathon. I’ve heard really good things about the Richmond Marathon in Richmond, Va., which happens every November. It’s just a few hours away from Annapolis, and it’s a marathon that a lot of runners use to BQ. Never too early to start thinking about 2020, right? 😉 I’d also be interested in the Philly Marathon, because I love Philadelphia and have several friends who live there, but I believe it conflicts with the Annapolis Running Classic.

Many people have also raved about the Marine Corps Marathon, which I would like to run some day. However, the fact that it’s in October puts me off a little bit. It would require me to spend the entire summer training, which means dealing with long runs in the swampy humidity of a central Maryland summer, plus trying to plan around vacations, day trips, etc. A November marathon buys me a little more time!

All that said, I’ve spent the last several winters training for marathons. And as much as I stress about forecasts of snow and ice, and complain about the cold, I can’t imagine not doing a spring marathon in 2018. Mainly because I hate winter THAT much and having a goal to work toward makes me hate it ever so slightly less.

I think I’m going to sign up for the B&A Trail Marathon, run by the Annapolis Striders (who organize my favorite race of all time, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run). As the name indicates, the race takes place primarily on the B&A Trail, where I do most of my long runs during marathon training. It’s a very small race, just a few hundred runners, and it’s practically in my backyard. So why not? The race, which is both a half and a full marathon, takes place on April 8.

Has anyone ever run a marathon that small? What did you like/dislike about it?

Other 2018 goals

My friend and kickboxing coach Matt always does a running challenge to kick off the new year, so in January, I am going to commit to running 100 miles during that month. Since I’ll be in marathon training mode once again, it should not be too hard to hit that mark.

I’m once again an ambassador for Rip It Events, so I plan to run and/or volunteer at as many of the 2018 events as I can. This year, I only missed one race, and it was because it was during my sister’s wedding weekend! Coming up first is the Little Patuxent River Half Marathon & 10K on Feb. 4. It’s the second year for this trail run, and it sold out in one day! I’ll be running the half, which will also fit in nicely with my marathon training.

Then in April, we have the Columbia 10 Miler and the St. Mary’s 10 Miler. Both of these races used to be half marathons, so if you weren’t quite ready for 13.1 miles, here’s your chance to try a shorter distance.

You can find the whole schedule for 2018 here.

What are your running goals for 2018?

I’m a Boston qualifier! Recapping the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon

No need to bury the lede — I qualified for the Boston Marathon in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday!

Three days later, and the excitement still hasn’t worn off. I really did it! All that hard work paid off! Next September, I will get to register for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

My BQ standard is 3:40, and I ran a 3:35:00:7 — that’s right, seven-tenths of a second over a perfect 3:35, which was my goal. If you run five minutes or more under your standard, the Boston Athletic Association lets you register during week one of registrations — not sure if this counts. Anyone know? The field for the Boston Marathon has gotten so competitive over the past few years that to gain entrance into the 2018 marathon, you had to run a whole three minutes, 23 seconds under your standard — which is why I was shooting for 3:35 instead of 3:40. I should have a pretty good cushion for 2019, barring any major jumps in the cutoff time.

The road to a BQ goes through Rehoboth 

The Rehoboth Marathon was my fourth full marathon, and the first time I trained specifically for a BQ. I decided to go for it after I ran the Charlottesville Marathon last April in 3:42:15, surprising myself — it was a difficult course, and my last long run before my taper was a disaster of a 20-miler. I always train hard, but I knew if I pushed myself even harder, I could earn a Boston qualifier. Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training plan, which had me running Yasso 800s (I truly believe this is what got me the 3:35 … more on that in a bit), hill repeats and three 30-mile weekends comprised of 10 miles one day, 20 miles the next.

It was a damn tough plan, but it worked. I chose Rehoboth because I’ve been vacationing there most of my life, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The course is also super flat, unlike, well, every other marathon I’ve run. I think the fast course, coupled with that training plan and the amazing weather on race day, helped me meet my goal.

Speaking of the weather, I was REAL nervous about it. The race (which is both a full and a half marathon) has a really active Facebook group, and about 10 days out from the race, people started posting forecasts. One of the early forecasts called for 30 mph winds, and my heart sunk immediately when I saw that. I really feel the crazy winds hurt me in the Annapolis Running Classic and the Turkey Chase 10K two weekends ago, so I was not happy about possibly facing the same thing in the marathon. Fortunately, the forecast changed and there was almost no wind at all! With temperatures at the start of the race in the 40s, and the sun shining, it really was pretty ideal weather for a December race.

The race

My plan was to run with the 3:40 pace group for at least the first half of the marathon, then pass them by. I figured staying with the 3:40 group in the beginning would keep me from starting out too fast, then burning out late in the race. It ended up being the right strategy.

Both the half and full marathon started off at the Rehoboth Bandstand on Rehoboth Avenue, and right away, I noticed how crowded it was. I was pretty much running shoulder to shoulder with other runners until I broke off from the pace group at mile 14. That was the only thing I really didn’t like about the race — but when you’re running on narrow-ish streets, through a state park and down a rail trail, it’s kind of to be expected. I definitely had to apologize a few times to other runners I elbowed!

That aside, I thought the course was just beautiful. After starting in downtown Rehoboth, runners in both races ran through Cape Henlopen State Park, a favorite place of mine. The half marathoners turned around at a pavilion inside the park, while everyone running the marathon ran through the park and into Lewes Beach. We even got to run along the coast line for a hot second. At around mile 10, we ran past a Dairy Queen, where workers were handing out small servings of vanilla ice cream. While that was a nice idea, there was no way I was brave enough to try eating ice cream when I still had 16 miles left to run — I’ve had issues with dairy during training as it is. I stuck with my typical marathon fueling plan, which is taking Gu at miles five, 10, 15 and 20. It worked, though I felt my stomach start to grumble just before I hit mile 15 and got worried that a crash was imminent. Fortunately, the Gu (shout out to the lemon sublime and toasted marshmallow flavors!) did its job.

After turning around in Lewes Beach, the marathon runners went back through the park, and I decided it was time for me to go off on my own. At that point, I had been running a steady 8:20 pace, and it felt really comfortable. I started to speed up into the low 8s, while still making a point to appreciate the view around me (if you haven’t visited Cape Henlopen State Park, you totally should!) When I looked at my watch and saw I ran mile 15 in 7:58, I got a little nervous that I was going too fast, but I still felt great. I ran mile 16 in 8:07 and 17 in 8:16, and then came upon two runners who were chatting about running Boston.

I told them I was trying to qualify, and the one runner, James, asked me what time I was shooting for. I said I needed 3:40, but wanted a 3:35. He offered to pace me the rest of the marathon, which was so nice of him. He told me he was trying to take it easy with a 3:40 time, so he was quite obviously a much faster runner than I am! At this point, I was still feeling really strong and we hit miles 18 and 19 (which were back in the town of Rehoboth) at a sub-8 pace.

That pace continued as we ran miles 20 and 21 together, then we entered the Junction and Breakwater Trail, a rail trail that I didn’t even know existed until this race. (Now I have a new place to run when I come to the beach!) The trail was a little uneven, but not too bad, and I was able to hold a steady pace in the high 7s/low 8s. One big highlight was the dozens of flags hanging above the trail at mile 22, representing countries from all around the world. The volunteers at that stop were playing awesome music, too. At that point, I remember looking down at my watch and seeing I was at three hours, and knew that I could conceivably finish in the low 3:30s. After the turnaround point at the end of the trail, it was time to head back into Rehoboth, and I knew the finish line was near!

At mile 24, I started to hit “the wall,” and even began to feel a bit queasy. But my running partner cheered me on and I managed to power through. At mile 25, as we were running into Rehoboth, a spectator called out, “You look so athletic!” which made my day. At that point, I kept my eyes trained on the sidelines looking for my husband (who was in the bathroom when I crossed the finish line at the Charlottesville Marathon, haha.)

This time, he was right there at mile 26, and when he saw me, he yelled “EMPTY THE TANK! The finish line is right around the corner!” So I pretty much pushed as hard as I could mentally, ran that last 0.2 with everything left in me and crossed the finish line in a hair over 3:35. I hugged my new friend, who congratulated me on the BQ. Then I met up with my husband, who had brought a change of clean clothes for me, and it was time to hit the after party! I got three beer tickets, for three Dogfish Head Seaquench Ales (one of my favorite beers), and boy, did they taste good!

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Why I qualified 

Aside from the kindness of a fellow marathoner, there are a few reasons why I had such a successful race.

  1. Yasso 800s. This speed workout is named after its creator, Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso, who realized he could predict his marathon time, more or less, by how fast he could run 800 meters. My training plan had me doing the 800s every three weeks, starting off with repeats of four, all the way up to repeats of eight. I ran my repeats in 3:35, and ….. voila, a 3:35 marathon! Of course there is probably more to it than that, but I was amazed at how accurate the 800s turned out to be. I tweeted Yasso after the race, and he said he was actually in Rehoboth cheering on the runners — so I ran past him and didn’t even realize!
  2. I ran more than ever before. This is a no brainer, but the more miles you log, the faster you will get. In previous training cycles, I’d always run one 20-miler before tapering. This time, I ran three. Plus, the day before the long run always included a medium-long run– for example, eight miles Saturday then 16 on Sunday; nine miles, then 19 miles; and finally, three weekends of 10 miles, then 20 miles. Some weekends I felt like I did nothing but run!
  3. The weather! Totally out of a runner’s control, but bad weather can make or break a race. I struggled with what to wear during this race, and settled on a long-sleeved technical top and running tights. I did not wear a running jacket, and I’m glad I didn’t, because even with temperatures in the 40s, it started to warm up pretty quickly. I never felt too hot or cold, and I feel like I really lucked out there.
  4. I followed the long, slow distance rule during long runs, but also worked on finishing fast. You’re supposed to do your long runs during marathon training at a pace that’s easy and comfortable for you, which is probably not your race pace. I usually have a hard time doing that, but this time, I ran my long runs in the 9-minute range. But I also threw in a few marathon pace miles in there and worked on finishing fast (I ran the last two miles of my 20-milers at a sub-8 pace.) I feel that definitely helped me in the last few miles of the Rehoboth Marathon, when I was pushing hard physically and mentally.
  5. I believed in myself. Simple, but true! I’ve spent the last few months thinking about my goal and dreaming of what it would feel like to run a BQ time. I knew I had the physical ability to do it, and I’d certainly put in the work. I truly saw this as my race. And it was.

Since I qualified for Boston 2019, that leaves me in search of a marathon in 2018! What should my next one be? I’m thinking of targeting a November marathon, but I’m so used to training for marathons over the winter that I kind of want to do a spring one, too. I welcome your suggestions!

 

Why turkey trots are a great Thanksgiving tradition

Life has been pretty busy lately. In the last week, I bought a house, traveled to Pennsylvania and Virginia to see family for Thanksgiving and … ran two Thanksgiving-themed races, Rip It Events’ Turkey Chase 10K and Relay in Columbia, Maryland, and the Greensburg Turkey Trot in my PA hometown on Thanksgiving Day. So please forgive the relative lateness of this post!

I’ll start with last weekend’s Turkey Chase — my final race of the year for Rip It Events!

Because I love a holiday-themed, well, anything, I decided it would be a fantastic idea to order a ridiculously huge pumpkin pie-shaped hat to wear in these races. (Thanks, Amazon Prime!) When it arrived in the mail, I realized it didn’t quite stay on my head, but I figured that pinning it to my hair with a half-dozen barrettes would do the trick. Except you know those winds I battled during the Annapolis Running Classic the day before? Yeah, those gusts stuck around for another day. So the hat flew off probably within 10 feet of the start line and I just carried it with me for 6.2 miles. Super cool.

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My buddy Kree, a fellow Rip It ambassador, dressed as a turkey and had a very sweaty race as a result! 

Although I had run a half the previous day, I wasn’t too worried about racing a 10K that morning — I’ve had higher mileage weekends recently as part of my marathon training. That said, my legs weren’t feeling particularly fresh, especially since the Annapolis Running Classic really kicked my butt this year. And Columbia, where most of the Rip It races are, is about as hilly as Annapolis.

The course is an out-and-back, and one of the nice things is that the first half of the race contains more uphill, so you get the hardest parts out of the way early on. I ran the first mile in 8:16, which felt more difficult than I expected it to (as a comparison, I ran the first mile of the Across the Bay 10K in 6:43!) Aside from the rolling hills, that first mile was really crowded, which always makes it harder to run your race pace. I tried to just focus on enjoying the scenery — aside from the wind and the brisk temperatures, it was a beautiful fall day. Most of the leaves were still on the trees, so running through the tree-lined streets of Columbia felt like running through a tunnel of reds, oranges and yellows.

I also wore my Annapolis Running Classic premium during the race, and one volunteer yelled out as I ran past, “Wow, you ran Annapolis yesterday? You’re a bad ass!” That felt pretty good. We had wonderful support from volunteers all along the race — I really appreciate everyone who gives up their Sunday morning to help us out! We couldn’t have these races without you.

I ran my second mile in 8:02, my third mile in 8:15, fourth in 7:48, fifth in 7:37, sixth in 7:52 and the final 0.2 in 1:44. I’m happy with those negative splits, although it was my second-worst 10K time ever: 49:28. I don’t mean to sound unhappy with that. Is that still a solid 10K time? Absolutely. But compared to my recent PR in the Bay Bridge run? Not so much. I’m trying to tell myself that my body just knew it was in taper mode for the Rehoboth Marathon and it was trying to conserve energy. And the wind, well, blew. No pun intended. It is what it is!

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I ran this race for free. Opinions are entirely my own! 

Greensburg Turkey Trot

I run the Turkey Trot in my hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania every Thanksgiving, and it’s something I always look forward to. It’s a 5K run/walk through downtown Greensburg, the seat of Westmoreland County, nestled in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. And those hills are no joke. The race organizers did change the course last year and removed one long, super steep hill, but they added in a bunch of smaller hills instead.

Last year, I came in second in my age group with a time of 22:59, and so I was hoping for first this year. I did beat my time from last year, but still came in second with a time of 22:37. I have no idea what my splits were, because my Garmin took its sweet time finding a signal in the few minutes before the gun went off, so I just used the timer function. I can’t complain about a sub-23 minute 5K or second place in my age group, especially over those hills. It was a darn cold morning, too — 27 degrees at the start. Yikes!

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This was the 26th year for the Turkey Trot. The race has raised more than $500,000 for local nonprofits, including the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Laurel Region. Runners are also asked to bring a canned good or two to the race. It’s a well-run local event and something I’ve been able to introduce my husband to in our years together. My dad usually walks in the Trot, too!

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Per Running USA stats, Thanksgiving is the most popular racing day of the year, second only to the Fourth of July. Is it because runners are looking for an excuse to chow down on that third helping of stuffing, or that second piece of pumpkin pie? Maybe. Is it a fun holiday tradition? Absolutely!

Hilly and chilly: The 2017 Annapolis Running Classic

I went into this year’s Annapolis Running Classic feeling really confident (well, maybe even a little cocky.)

I set my half marathon PR, 1:41:01, on this course a year ago. Which was somewhat of a surprise — the half marathon course in the Annapolis Running Classic is not what anyone would consider a PR course. It is extremely hilly — think the A10, just hillier and longer! But last year, the weather was absolute perfection and I run so much around Annapolis that the hills are really familiar to me. That said, with all the training I’ve been doing the last few months, I was expecting to kill it this year and get a brand new PR.

But it wasn’t meant to be! I finished five minutes slower than last year (five minutes, three seconds, to be exact!) In fact, it was one of my slowest half marathon times ever. My husband was waiting near the finish line to watch me finish and he said he could tell I was struggling. I’ve never really felt like I hit “the wall” in a half before, but I totally did on Saturday, and it was no fun.

So what was it? I think it was a combination of two things: The wind (which was absolutely terrible all weekend and also hurt me at this morning’s Turkey Chase 10K in Columbia … stay tuned for more on that) and a tough week of workouts. I’m in taper mode now for the Rehoboth Marathon, but I did six hill repeats Wednesday on my favorite bridge and then had a really brutal kickboxing class on Thursday. I just felt tired on Saturday morning. Oh yeah, and my cat woke me up at 3 a.m. that day just to be annoying, so there was that.

The race kicked off at 7:30 a.m., and my plan was to run with the 1:45 pace group until about mile nine or 10, then speed up and finish in the low 1:40s or better. It was a bit crowded in the beginning of the race, which slowed me, but I quickly caught up to the 1:45ers. I did notice they seemed to be running pretty fast for a 1:45 finish — we ran the second mile in 7:25. I’m guessing their strategy was to take the flat portions of the course fast and slow down for the hills, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting that. It came back to bite me in the butt later on.

I was feeling pretty decent and keeping up with them just fine until around mile seven, which is right after the half marathoners cross the Naval Academy Bridge for the first time and continue their climb up a long incline on Route 2. I stopped at a water station — I have yet to master the art of drinking while running — and the pacers kept on running. After that, I was probably like 20 seconds behind them, and the gap between us continued to widen.

The race continued up Route 2, then turned onto Winchester Road, which is another long, steady incline. I’ve been running up it every weekend because it connects with the B&A Trail, where I have been doing my long runs. As I was about to hit mile eight, I said to myself, c’mon! You run this all the time! But my legs were already starting to feel fatigued and I knew there were still plenty of rolling hills ahead of me, plus another trip back across the Naval Academy Bridge. Mentally, I felt the wall coming on — and again, that wind! I was running into the wind no matter which direction I was going! Is that even possible? That morning, it was!

Around mile nine, I started to take a few walk breaks for maybe 10 or 15 seconds at a time, and I knew I was never going to PR, nor even finish with the 1:45ers. I told myself I wanted to stay ahead of the 1:50 pace group, and I was relieved to see on one of the turnarounds that I was probably still a few minutes ahead of them.

The run back down Winchester Road (mile 10) felt good, but once I was back on Route 2, I began to struggle. I had a chocolate Gu in my Spi Belt, so I sucked that down, but I don’t feel like it helped much. (Side note: When my husband saw me at the finish, he said I had Gu smeared on my face, so I clearly didn’t do the best job of ingesting it. Classy.) I tried to keep a smile on my face as I headed back over the bridge, but I think I was really grimacing. I did high five a woman standing on the bridge dressed as Santa and didn’t yell at her for wearing a Christmas costume five days before Thanksgiving, so there’s that.

By this point, my watch had died, which was probably a good thing — I wasn’t stressing about my pace. The 1:45ers were within sight, so I thought I probably wasn’t running as badly as I thought. At that point, I just wanted to be done.

In the last mile of the race, which leads back up to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, I took another brief walk break. I never do that at the end of a race because hey, I’m almost done at that point and I can usually push myself to keep running — plus, that’s where everyone is lined up to see the finishers! But oh well. My legs were just dead by then. I do feel like I ran the last quarter of a mile hard and had a strong finish overall.

1:46, while far from my best time, is still a pretty decent half marathon, especially when I felt like the last four miles sucked so hard. Truly,  I haven’t felt that bad while running in a long time. I’ve heard that you have to have a bad run to really appreciate the good ones, so I am trying to keep that in mind. I finished 10th out of 164 women in my age group, which is nothing to complain about (although I will point out that last year, I finished fourth!)

Afterwards, I met up with a friend from work and one of her friends — this was the first half marathon for each of them! This race was the first half I ever ran, too, and it’s definitely not an easy introduction to half marathons! They both did great.

Unfortunately, because it was so cold and windy, I didn’t feel like sticking around for the awesome after party, which included music and craft beer (wah). I really hate to turn down free beer, but …. I hate being cold even more!

This was my 14th half marathon and my fourth time running the Annapolis Running Classic — and my second year serving as an ambassador for the race. Even though I didn’t have the best race, I still love running it every year, and hope to be back as a member of the #NapRunATeam in 2018!

As an Annapolis Running Classic ambassador, my entrance fee for the race was waived. All opinions are my own!

Beating the Bridge: Across the Bay 10K

A brief back story: My family has been traveling to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for vacation since I was a baby. Every year, I would spent MONTHS looking forward to that seven-hour road trip from our hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylania. And one of the highlights of that road trip? Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just east of Annapolis.

(Yeah, it probably sounds weird, but while we have lots of bridges in the nearby city of Pittsburgh, there’s nothing like the Bay Bridge in southwestern PA.)

So, many years later, after I’d moved to Annapolis as an adult, I got the chance to run across the Bay Bridge when the Across the Bay 10K started in 2014. Of course I signed up for it — and I’ve been doing it every year since! If you’re a runner in Maryland, you NEED to run this race. It’s just so fun to run over such an iconic symbol of our great state. It’s now the 5th largest 10K in the country, and the biggest race in the state, so apparently, lots of other people agree with me!

This year’s race was held Sunday, and the day before, it looked like the weather could be absolutely terrible. In fact, the race organizers posted an update to the event’s Facebook page, warning that they were monitoring the rainy forecast and hinting that the race could be postponed or perhaps canceled. Fortunately, when my alarm went off at 4 a.m. (yuck — at least Daylight Saving Time just ended, and I got a bonus hour of sleep) it was only drizzling. And the rain had completely stopped in Annapolis by 5 a.m.

I put on leggings, a long-sleeved technical T-shirt and my running jacket from the Rock ‘N Roll D.C. Marathon — and was worried that I would be overheating. That happened to me during the first year of the race, when I layered up and was ripping off my hat and gloves after the first mile. But with the wind whipping right off the Chesapeake Bay, it ended up being just fine.

Because there are almost 20,000 runners who run this race, runners are assigned to start waves, depending on their speed. Every year, I’ve been assigned to the first wave, which starts at 7 a.m. But this is the first year I’ve actually run in my assigned wave– I’ve always popped into the 8:30 or 8:45 wave, partly to run with family and/or friends, partly because I think getting up at 4 a.m. to board a shuttle bus at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by 5:30 a.m. royally sucks.

This year, my friends Matt and Kree were adamant about starting the race at 7 a.m. so they could get to church on time. So I sucked it up and, along with our friend Mindy, joined them bright and early at the starting line.

Let me tell you — going early has its benefits. First of all, because the fastest runners are put in the first wave, there’s no dodging walkers along the way. (No disrespect to the walkers. My dad walked this race two years ago. That said, I do want to run it as fast as I can and when walkers stop at the top of the bridge to take selfies, well, it can be a hazard, not to mention annoying.) Second of all, we were done so early that we hopped back on the shuttle buses and were back in Annapolis before 9 a.m.– meaning I had the whole day free then to do whatever I wanted! (*cough* drink pumpkin spice coffee spiked with Baileys *cough*)

I have always said the Across the Bay 10K is the ideal 10K for a PR. And that is because the race starts uphill — in fact, almost the first two miles are uphill — but then it levels out for a mile or so, and then you have a nice long downhill to enjoy. So you get the hardest part out of the way first, then you can just gun it!

I PR’d this year with a time of 44:50 — my fastest 10K ever! However, I might have actually had a better time had I not totally screwed up my pacing in the beginning. My first mile was my fastest at a 6:43 pace. As soon as my watch beeped and I saw how fast I was running up the bridge, I thought, “Well …. crap.” That’s not even my 5K pace! Apparently, I was REALLY in a hurry to get to the top of the bridge (and to keep up with Matt, who always beats me in this race!) Sure enough, I paid for that during mile two, which I ran at a 7:50 pace. More than a minute slower. Yikes.

But then I ran mile three at 7:12, mile four at 6:59, mile five at 7:16 and mile six at 7:18 — so much more even pacing. By the time I hit mile six, I was sooooo ready to be done with this race. When I saw I was on target to finish under 45 minutes, I pushed as hard as I could, and just barely made it!

A better strategy, obviously, would have been to run, say, an even 7:00 pace. But whatever. I still PR’d!

According to the results, I finished eighth in my age group and 26th out of more than 12,000 women. I’m pretty blown away by that. I truly credit my Hal Higdon Advanced Marathon Training program for that finish. The plan is kicking my ass, but it is making me fast. Hoping this means good things for the Rehoboth Marathon in a month! (Only a month?! Really?)

I really can’t emphasize enough how cool it is to run over the Bay Bridge. No matter how fast I am running, I try to make it a point to take in my surroundings and look out over the water. I really do live in the most beautiful place, and I don’t take it for granted. That said, I also try hard not to look down at the road, because there are sections on the bridge where you can see through down to the water, and it’s a bit disconcerting. Sometimes you also can feel the bridge swaying.

Luckily, I’m not too afraid of heights — and I love the view!

One of the really fun things about running this race are the finisher medals that are actually puzzle pieces. Each year, you get a new piece of the puzzle:

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I can’t wait to see what the fifth piece looks like!