Chasing the Unicorn: Canceled? Or just postponed?

So today I was supposed to run the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. That did not happen. 

At 4:30 pm on Thursday afternoon — less than three days out from the start of the race — it was canceled. 

Runners still have no idea why. I mean, obviously we know it was due to COVID. But the race directors had done so much to put such extensive COVID mitigation protocols in place. So I don’t know what the state of Pennsylvania thought was missing, but officials decided not to grant the race permit at the 11th hour. I was shocked when I got the email. Mind you, earlier in the day all the registered runners had gotten multiple emails from the race director about parking instructions and other race-related details. So this totally came out of left field! 

I said from the beginning that I knew this could happen. But once I started tapering and we were down to just days until the race, I figured we were safe. I had my packing list all ready to go and was ready to drive up to Pennsylvania Saturday, check into my hotel, explore Newtown and do a shakeout run on the trail where the race was supposed to happen. 

Instead, I canceled my hotel room immediately and was able to get a full refund. 

The race directors are now saying they have rescheduled for Halloween (a Saturday this year) and that they think all their issues will be worked out by then– of course, we have no idea what those issues are! I think what I’m going to do is keep rolling with my training — that’s only six weeks out anyway, and part of that will be another taper, so it’s not like I’m looking at another three months of intense training. Trust me, I don’t think I mentally have that in me right now. I printed out a fresh plan with an Oct. 31 race date, and according to that, I was supposed to run 20 miles one day and 10 miles the other this weekend. I ended up doing 15 yesterday and 5 today. That was good enough for me right now. Will re-start the plan for real tomorrow.

5 sweaty miles at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville.

I do love the idea of a Halloween race (not that I would run in costume) and the weather at the end of October is generally pretty good for running. But I’m not holding my breath that the race will ever happen this fall. But training is never wasted …. right?

I understand that these are unprecedented times, and that there are more important things happening in the world. It’s just a race. BUT STILL. For those of you keeping track at home, I have signed up for five marathons in 2020 and all five have been canceled. This is the second marathon that was canceled within days of the race. Back in the spring, when I had an inkling Coastal Delaware would be canceled, I impulsively signed up for the B&A Trail Marathon, which I had already done two years earlier. It was supposed to take place on March 15 — it was canceled March 11, which was the day everything really started to go to hell. 

I am very much in favor of taking precautions and following guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID. I wear a mask when in public. I social distance. I have been avoiding crowds since all this started. I think we all should be doing these things. However. The inconsistencies in enforcement are really irritating. This race was supposed to take place in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I have a bunch of family, friends and acquaintances who live all over the state. I see the things they post on Facebook. Somehow, plenty of weddings (even indoor weddings!) were allowed to happen this summer — weddings where people were not wearing masks, dancing, drinking, not social distancing. Plenty of political rallies went on, with crowds and zero social distancing. All that was totally fine, apparently. 

But a marathon where runners were starting off individually, 40 feet apart from each other (above and beyond social distancing guidelines), where spectators were not allowed and runners had to carry their own hydration to minimize the number of volunteers …. That was deemed to be too dangerous. 

Makes absolutely zero sense.   

15 Days Until I Chase the Unicorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I stopped hating on virtual races — and 4 reasons you should run one this year

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, most of the races that I had signed up for were canceled. Many were converted to virtual races, meaning the planned event wouldn’t happen but registered runners could still choose to run the distance wherever they wanted. Just not with a large group of runners! 

I wanted nothing to do with it. One of the best parts of racing is the atmosphere, I reasoned. A virtual race just sounded like an expensive training run to me. 

But then Rip It Events announced a series of virtual races this spring. I’m in my fourth year on their ambassador team, and I wanted to do what I could to support them, so I registered for these events. (As an ambassador, I get free registration.) 

Then, a 15K that I had been planning to do went virtual. Race organizers announced that all registered runners were automatically entered into the virtual race, and our T-shirts and medals would be mailed to us. Since I was getting a medal regardless, I decided I needed to earn it, and I did! 

After that, I decided maybe virtual races were OK after all. 

If this Dumpster fire of a year has you bummed out and you really miss racing, you should consider signing up for a virtual race! Here are four reasons why.

  1. You pick the day and time that you run! If an in-person race starts at 7 am, you gotta be up at the crack of dawn and ready to race at 7 am. And if the race happens to fall on a day with horrible weather? Too bad! But if you sign up for a virtual race, you generally have a time frame during which you can complete it. So you can look at the weather forecast and choose which day you want to run. And if you’re not a morning person, no problem! Feel free to start the race whenever you want. 
  2. You pick your course! For an in-person race, you are at the mercy of the race directors. If they hold the race on a flat and fast course, cool! If it’s a hilly, difficult course, well, that’s another story. I’ve been running all my virtual races around my neighborhood. I know the area and it’s nice to have the start line right at the end of my driveway. I don’t have to drive anywhere!  
  3. You can use virtual races are an alternative way to test your fitness. Sure, you could look at a virtual race as a training run with a medal. Or you could push yourself and find out exactly what you are capable of. That’s how I have approached my recent 5Ks, which I’ve always felt are my weakest distance anyway. Prior to May’s Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K, I hadn’t raced the distance since Thanksgiving. So being able to race a 5K, even a virtual one, allowed me to see how fast I could do it! (And I had a great race that day, one of my fastest 5Ks, actually!) 
  4. You can use virtual races as mental strength training. The point of all of these virtual races is to practice social distancing and avoid crowds of people to stop the spread of COVID-19. You’re supposed to race them alone. And that’s not easy! It’s much different when you are racing in person against other people and there are crowds cheering you on. Pushing yourself when you are all by yourself is quite a challenge. But that mental toughness will come in handy when in-person races return and it’s near the end and everything is hurting.   

As for me, I’m racing the Quantico Virtual Duathlon and the I Just Kept Running Half Marathon this summer. The latter is a race my friend Staci saw advertised on Facebook. She wanted to do it for the Forrest Gump medal and convinced me to do the same. I’ve decided to race that virtual half the weekend of Aug. 9, when I have a half marathon on my training plan anyway. 

Then in September, I plan to race the virtual Market Street Mile. I ran the real thing in Frederick, Maryland last September and finished in 6:11. But this past May, I ran a mile in 5:56, my fastest ever and first time breaking six minutes, so I’d love to see if I can do that again! I can run the mile any time between Sept. 1 and Halloween. 

Rip It Events is also holding the Run Dirty Trail Challenge through the end of September. You can choose to run 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. They also just announced a real, live, in-person race: The Bear Trail Half Marathon and 10K at Lums Pond State Park in Delaware on Aug. 23, which is super exciting. 

I probably won’t do either of those because I’m not really a trail runner. I’d love to be, but I am too damn clumsy. I almost fell and twisted an ankle numerous times during the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler in March (the last in-person race I did before COVID!). But if you are into trail running, you should check out these events.

What virtual races are you excited about running?

A 5K on 4th of July weekend: Another virtual race in the books

I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about racing Rip It Events’ 5 on the 4th Virtual 5K when I woke up this past Friday morning.

Classes have resumed at my kickboxing school, so I went Thursday night and got absolutely destroyed when we had to do about a zillion and one weighted squats — I knew my legs would be feeling that workout for days. Plus, I knew it would be hot (because July 3) and since I had the day off work, I planned to sleep in a little (not too late, but later than I would normally be up for a race). My “A” goal for 5Ks is always to be in the 21s (it rarely happens) and my “B” goal is to be in the 22s (which happens pretty often.) I figured I’d be lucky to clock somewhere in the 23-minute range. 

But I actually ran this virtual 5K three seconds faster than last month’s Donut Worry. Be Happy. Virtual 5K, finishing in 22:15. Just goes to show you how unpredictable racing is! There were times when I wanted to stop so bad, but told myself to just keep pushing and that it would be over before I knew it. I did actually stop once, because my phone was ringing. I let it go to voicemail, but it caught me completely off guard so I did stop for a few seconds. Wish I hadn’t, but whatever. 

I’ve been really happy with my recent 5K times. Especially because they were during virtual races. It’s undoubtedly a lot harder, at least for me, to push myself to run my 5K race pace when I am all by myself. I’m pretty curious to see what I can do when real races resume. I actually have gotten a few emails recently about some smaller 5Ks, but none have been very close to me, and I don’t love the distance enough to drive an hour-plus to run it.  

This was Rip It’s third and final virtual 5K, at least for now. I ran the same course around my neighborhood for each one, which makes comparing my times easy. The 5K loop I run has some rolling hills, so it never feels like a PR course. But then I run it all the time, which gives me an advantage. 

Although this was a 4th of July race, I ran it on July 3 because we had plans to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park on the actual holiday. I also ran a one-mile warmup and a 1.9-mile cooldown to make it an even six miles, per my marathon training plan. 

 And then on July 5, I did a long run of 13 miles in 87-degree weather (the heat index was well into the 90s.) Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the weekend and was happy to spend Sunday afternoon at my neighbor’s pool and Sunday night on my couch binge-watching The Babysitters Club reboot on Netflix. (Calling all my fellow children of the ‘80s and ‘90s — it’s fantastic!) 

Though there are no more 5Ks on Rip It’s virtual race calendar, there is the Run Dirty Virtual Trail Challenge, which runs, no pun intended, through the end of September. Participants can choose to run either 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. It’s not a virtual ultra — the runs aren’t meant to be completed in one day. You can learn more and register here. I’m not doing it, only because I am marathon training and I am not sure-footed enough to run very fast on trails. In other words, I am klutzy. But it sounds fun! 

The Clyde’s 10K, originally scheduled for April and postponed until September, has now also gone virtual due to COVID-19 and the sudden closing of Clyde’s Restaurant of Columbia. I would do this one, but I am supposed to be running the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon on Sept. 13, if it still happens. Learn more and register here

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I receive free entries to all of their races, including their virtual races. 

Running in the time of coronavirus: An update on my fall racing plans

In terms of my running goals, I had big plans for 2020. 

I was going to run the Coastal Delaware Marathon in April and qualify for Boston 2021, hopefully with a 10-minute margin. Then I was going to run the Chicago Marathon in October and the Philly Marathon in November. Maybe I’d get 2022 BQs at one or both of those races, but that really wasn’t my objective when I signed up for them. Chicago was supposed to be a belated 40th birthday celebration with my sisters, and Philly was going to be another fun girls weekend with my friends who live in PA. I have never run three marathons in one year and I was so excited for all of these races. 

Then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic happened and life as we knew it changed. 

Coastal Delaware got canceled five weeks before the planned race date, and I got over it pretty quickly. I mean, what else could I do? And hey, that meant I could just make Chicago my next big “goal” marathon. Things would be back to normal over the summer, right?  

Uh, not so much. 

As of today, the Chicago Marathon is still happening. But the governor of Illinois has flat out said no mass gatherings, such as concerts or large events, until there is a vaccine or viable treatment for the virus or it’s gone completely. Doesn’t seem super likely at this point to happen by October. The marathon is one of the largest in the world, with about 45,000 runners and who knows how many spectators and volunteers. Boston 2020 has already canceled (after first being postponed) and gone virtual, and New York canceled last week as well. I don’t see any way how the race is going forward, so last week I decided to proactively cancel my registration and defer to 2021. I qualified for a spot in the race, and I don’t want to risk losing it if (when) it is canceled. It’ll be there next year, unless we are still living in COVID hell. 

I’m still registered for Philly and am just waiting to see what happens at this point. The race hasn’t even acknowledged COVID on their website or social channels, which is bizarre, to say the least. I haven’t even seen them share a “we’re monitoring the situation!” type of statement. Given how much chatter there is around race cancellations within the running community, that type of silence is really strange to me.

With all that said, I decided to do something impulsive (what? me? never!!!) and register for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on Sept. 13. As the name indicates, the marathon is mainly for runners who are going for a last-minute BQ attempt. Registration for the Boston Marathon usually opens in mid-September, though who knows what will be going on with 2021 registration. I had pretty much written off Boston 2021 at this point, but I saw people talking about this marathon in one of my running groups on Facebook and I decided to look into it.

Apparently, they are taking a ton of corona-related precautions. The race is limited to 220 runners (and they want you to plan on being within 10 minutes of your BQ time), runners have to bring their own hydration, and no spectators are allowed. You have to wear masks before and after the race when you are in common gathering areas, but not while running.  It sounds like they are thinking of giving out boxed lunches at the “after party” (so probably no beer, wahhhhhh) and only awarding prizes at the race to the top overall runners — other awards will be mailed. 

They were also upfront about the fact that the race could still be canceled if COVID numbers start escalating again, BUT if that happens, you’ll get a credit to use for the 2021 or 2022 race. So I decided I really didn’t have much to lose and signed up for it. And now I am really pumped and trying to tell myself not to be too bummed if it doesn’t happen!

I only just finished my third week of what was to be my Chicago training, so this will shorten things by a few weeks and I’ll have to make some tweaks to my training plan. Will I BQ in September, if the race happens? Who knows. I am sure as hell going to try. But honestly, I will just be so happy to run a marathon during this trash fire of a year that I will take what I can get. 

So that’s my next in-person race, for now! I am also still registered for a 5K in Cape May, New Jersey the weekend after Chasing the Unicorn — some of my friends and I were planning a girls weekend then and the race organization that is holding that event has started resuming in-person races with staggered starts and other precautions. Everything else has either been canceled or gone virtual. I’m running my next virtual 5K with Rip It Events on July 4, which somehow is this weekend already. Crazy. For such a weird year, it sure is going by fast. 

What’s your next in-person race? Do you have any planned, or are you just waiting to see what happens with COVID?

Running for Donuts: Recap of the Donut Worry. Be Happy. Virtual 5K

Twenty-five degrees, give or take, and a much higher dew point sure makes a world of difference when you are running. 

Particularly when racing. 

So when I was able to run Rip It Events’ Donut Worry. Be Happy. Virtual 5K within a minute of my finish time for the Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K, I was pretty happy. On the morning of the Cinco De Mayo 5K, the weather was cool enough for me to wear arm warmers with my race outfit. On the morning of Donut Worry (held on National Donut Day on June 5!), the temperature was in the 70s and it was muggy as all hell. But that’s Maryland — summer comes in hot and heavy, literally, every year and sticks around for months. 

As I did with the other virtual races I have done this spring, I treated this like a real race, waking up early (shortly after 5, as I wanted to knock this out before work) and eating my peanut butter and banana on naan bread (sometimes it’s bagels, other times it’s English muffins, but I need that peanut butter and banana on race morning!) for breakfast. Given the weather forecast, that was for the best. I did a quick warm-up around 6:30, then set off following the same course I ran a month earlier on Cinco De Mayo.

At first, there was a nice breeze coming off the water and I thought, “OK, this isn’t going to be so bad!” That lasted approximately a half mile before I started to feel the humidity. Not only that, but my legs were still feeling pretty beat up from three days before, when we ran sprints in the parking lot in kickboxing. The duration of that workout wasn’t very long at all (each of my sprints took me six seconds, and we did that 10 times, so that was a minute), but the next day, I felt really sore! And I was still feeling sore on Friday! Particularly when running over the rolling hills in my neighborhood. 

I ran the first mile in 6:42, which was too fast. Last month, I was proud of my negative splits in the Cinco De Mayo 5K, because I can never manage them in this distance. Sure enough, I did what I always do and went out way too fast. I ended up taking two (short) walk breaks in mile 2. Between the weather, my already-sore legs and that fast first mile, I already was feeling spent and ready to be done. But I ran that second mile in 7:39, when I was sure it was going to be in the 8s, so that wasn’t too bad. 

Right after I finished the second mile, I saw my friend Shannon, who was outside walking her dog. I gasped out hello and she snapped my picture. At this point, I knew I was in the home stretch and that the rest of the way was flat (and that I might get a nice breeze off the water again.) 

I ran mile 3 in 7:16 and after my watch beeped, I pictured seeing a finish line ahead and gunned it as best I could. Of course, since there wasn’t actually a finish line because it was a virtual race, I was running while staring at my watch and waiting to see 3.1 on it. The second I did, I stopped my Garmin and saw my time — 22:18. Pretty solid, especially given the humidity! It’s always a struggle for me to break 22 minutes, and I didn’t think I’d be able to run another 21:35 as I did in the Cinco De Mayo race. But I wasn’t too far off, and honestly, if I hadn’t taken those walk breaks, I might have pulled out a sub-22. Oh well. I ran the best I could that morning. 

I ate real donuts aftwards, don’t worry!

And since it was National Donut Day, obviously I had to pick up Sandy Pony Donuts that afternoon! Best donuts in the Mid-Atlantic, in my opinion. 

With races still canceled for the next few months, virtual races are all we have. The next one on my calendar is Rip It’s 5 on the 4th, another 5K that I will run on the 4th of July. This year’s July 4 celebrations will definitely look a lot different than they have in past years, so this will give me something to look forward to. Even though it is sure to be sweltering again! 

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I receive free entries to all of their races, including their virtual races. 

New PR: I broke 6 minutes in the mile

As I’ve written here before, I started running as an adult. I have zero athletic background and never participated in any sports as a kid. Part of that was lack of interest — I preferred to spend my free time reading (and I still love to read.) And part of it was, honestly, lack of talent. I sucked at team sports and was always picked last in gym class when it was time to play volleyball or basketball or whatever kind of ball. 

Sports were just not my jam. 

And when I did start running races about eight years ago, my goal was never really to be “fast.” I just wanted to have fun with it. But then I started winning age group awards in races and realized I was actually a decent runner. I was more surprised than anyone, but it made me love the sport even more.

Fast forward to May 2020, just about two months before my 40th birthday. I did something I truly thought was beyond my capabilities and ran a sub-6 minute mile — 5:56 to be exact. 

When my watch beeped, I screamed and yelled out a “holy *$$#!” (sorry to my neighbors). For a brief second, I wondered whether my Garmin was broken. A 5:xx mile? Me?! Only really fast people can run a mile that begins with a 5. 

I hadn’t been training to PR the mile or anything. In fact, I haven’t done any speedwork in more than two months, stopping once my spring marathons got canceled. That said, I haven’t been really running “easy,” either. When I was training for Coastal Delaware, I was conscious of not running my long runs too fast and keeping the easy days easy. Now that I’m not training for anything, all that is out the window and I just run what I feel like running. These days, my pace tends to vary between the 7:50s and the 8:20s. The paces don’t feel difficult, but I know they aren’t my true easy pace, either, which would be probably around 8:45-9:00.

That said, maybe this strategy is working for me, at least for shorter distances. I ran a 21:35 a few weeks ago in the Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K, and now I’ve had this huge breakthrough in the mile. 

It happened at the beginning of my fourth sprint duathlon in Rip It Events’ V5 Virtual Duathlon series. For the sprint, you have to run one mile, bike 10 miles and then run two more miles. I decided at the beginning of the series that I was going to try to go all out with the beginning mile just to see how fast I could do it. 

I ran the Market Street Mile in Frederick last September in 6:11, and was insanely proud of it (and thought it was insanely hard). I hadn’t raced a mile since then, so when I ran a 6:25 mile in my first duathlon, I was happy with it. The following week, for my second duathlon, I ran a 6:11. Then for my third duathlon, I ran a 6:14.

Two weekends ago, it was hot and I honestly wasn’t sure I had it in me to push really hard, so I told myself to just do my best. I started at my house and set off on the one-mile loop around my neighborhood that I’ve been running. 

The mile itself was, of course, a blur. It hurt. I honestly don’t really remember any meaningful details, though at one point I glanced at my watch and saw I was running a 5:40 pace and thought “whoa that’s really fast.” Then it was over. And I saw the final time on my watch. 5:56! (I stopped my watch at 1.01 miles, so it read 5:59, which was the time I submitted for that portion of that virtual duathlon.) 

Even though this was not part of a standalone mile race, I’m still counting it as a mile PR — I mean, it is the fastest I’ve ever run the mile! That said, I would still like to see what I could do in a real mile race, whenever we have those again. The 2020 Market Street Mile is still scheduled to happen in September, but I suspect it will be canceled like everything else this year.   

I’m proud of myself for being able to go as hard as I did even though I wasn’t at a real race. I’m hoping that’s a good sign for when races do come back — whenever that is!    

5 duathlons in 5 days: My experiencing racing virtual duathlons

About six years ago, my now-husband and parents teamed up to buy me a Jamis hybrid bike for my birthday. I love to ride it, but I find that running takes up so much of my time (especially when I am marathon training) that I don’t take it out as much as I should or would like to. 

That’s changed over the past few weeks as I took on Rip It Events’ V5 — 5 Virtual Duathlons series, and raced five virtual run-bike-runs in five days. I wrapped up the challenge today after five weeks — I did one duathlon every weekend and opted for the sprint version (1 mile run, 10 mile bike ride, 2 mile run) for the first four duathlons, then bumped up to the intermediate version (2 mile run, 20 mile bike ride, 4 mile run) for the last one. Woo, that was tough! It’s been years since I’ve ridden my bike that far.

It was a ton of fun and reminded me that when things get back to “normal,” I’d like to start signing up for more duathlons. Before this series, I did Rip It’s now-defunct Maryland Duathlon in 2017 and 2018. It always was held the day I left for Rehoboth for vacation, and honestly it was a struggle to wake up before the sun, drive an hour to do the race, race, and then drive to the beach. (In 2017, I stupidly went to an Orioles game the night before the race and got about two hours of sleep! I don’t know how I managed.) So last year, I decided not to do it, and unfortunately that was the last year for the race. 

Duathlons are definitely a different kind of challenge than running. While I love to ride my bike, I am not fast on it, and part of that is because I do fear crashing and hurting myself. (You don’t have to worry about that with running!) Aside from that, doing the last run after getting off the bike is HARD — my legs always feel like Jello. (How do my friends who race Ironman triathlons do it?) 

I also decided to push myself with the sprint duathlons and run the one mile at the beginning as an all-out effort to see what I could do. I’ve only raced the mile once, and that was last September when I did the Market Street Mile in Frederick in 6:11. I haven’t been doing any real speedwork lately, so imagine my shock when last weekend, in my fourth Du, I actually broke six minutes in the mile and ran a 5:56. I truly did not think I was capable of that. I’ll write a blog post on that in a few days, but needless to say, I was so excited. 

I believe I completed all of my sprints in around an hour and 10 minutes, and last week’s duathlon with the mile PR was right around an hour and five minutes. Today’s intermediate effort took me about two and a half hours to complete. I’ve been treating other virtual races, including Get Pumped For Pets and the Cinco De Mayo 5K, as real races in that I am waking up early like I would for a real race and even wearing race bibs. I didn’t do that with the duathlons, mostly because I don’t like to wake up early and also because I didn’t necessarily have goal times in mind for these races. As I am not an experienced duathlete (yet?!), simply completing them was the challenge.

And it sure was a fun one! I truly looked forward to “du”-ing each one, so thank you again to Rip It Events with coming up with such fun and creative virtual events in these bizarre times.

Proceeds from the race also benefited Food It Forward, a collaboration between a small group of restaurants to drive business, save restaurant jobs and provide food to those in need throughout the pandemic.

In fact, I enjoyed these duathlons so much that I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon’s virtual Quantico Duathlon (originally supposed to be a triathlon that obviously got canceled). I have until the end of August to complete it, and I may save it for July 26. That’s two days before my 40th birthday, and the half marathon I was scheduled to run that day got canceled, so this might be a good substitute. If it’s not 100 degrees, I guess.

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I receive free entries to all of their races, including their virtual races. 

A solid performance at the Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K

I surprised myself with my performance in Rip It Events’ Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K earlier this week! My 21:35 was one of my strongest 5Ks ever, especially when I thought I’d be lucky to be in the 22s. 

There were a few reasons why I didn’t think I’d run that great. First of all, I had raced the second of five virtual duathlons in Rip It’s V5 Duathlon series on Saturday, then turned around and did the virtual Get Pumped For Pets 15K the next day. I ran an easy three miles Monday evening, then Tuesday was Cinco De Mayo, so I wasn’t sure how recovered I was. 

Second, I always say 5Ks are my nemesis, and try as I might, I almost always end up going out way too fast and the last mile feels like a death march. 

Third, it was still a virtual race, and without the race atmosphere, it can be hard to really push. 

So why DID I run well? Again, a few reasons. First, the weather was freaking fantastic Tuesday morning — high 40s and little wind. Ideal running weather. Second, I ran a 3.1 mile loop in my neighborhood that I run allllll the time, so I knew my course really, really well. 

Third, much like with Get Pumped For Pets, I treated it like a real race. I went to bed early the night before and set out my race clothes before falling asleep. This time, I didn’t have to make my own bib — Rip It made one for me!

 I woke up early to eat my breakfast (peanut butter and banana on an English muffin, not a bagel …. I find a bagel is just too heavy for a shorter distance like a 5K) and do the race before work. I could have waited until after work, but that makes fueling effectively more challenging. 

I’m thrilled that I actually negative split the race, running the first mile in 7:09, the second in 7:00 flat and the third in 6:46. (I didn’t look to see what my pace was for the final 0.1.) That almost never happens for me, especially in 5Ks! 

I started my race around 6:40 am, so actually earlier than most race start times, but like I said I wanted to knock it out before I started my day of work (from home). There were a few people out walking and running, too, and I don’t know if anyone noticed I was wearing a bib, but one woman called out “nice pace!” as I ran past.     

5Ks hurt, there is no doubt about that, but I had a lot of fun doing this. I shouldn’t have discounted virtual races as much as I did, because I am loving the V5 Duathlon series and I was legitimately excited to wake up and race Get Pumped For Pets and the Cinco De Mayo 5K. These events are really giving me something fun to look forward to in very challenging times. 

That’s probably been my biggest struggle through this pandemic — I haven’t had anything to look forward to, and it’s been hard for me to get excited about much. I know this makes me very privileged in the grand scheme of things, but that’s how I’ve been feeling. So I am very grateful to these virtual races for giving me some of my enthusiasm back! 

My next virtual race is Rip It’s Donut Worry. Be Happy. Virtual 5K on June 5, which is also National Donut Day. It’s on a Friday, so again I plan to be up early before work (I’m assuming at this point I’ll still be WFH) and I’ll run the same course I did this week. It’s likely to be much warmer then, so we’ll see how it goes! 

Have you signed up for any virtual races this spring? 

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I receive free entries to all of their races, including their virtual races. The Donut Worry 5K is sold out, but you can register for the V5 Duathlon series here!