I ran a 5K in 2 degree weather: The Christmas Eve 5K in Allison Park, PA

I’ll be the first to tell you I like running in the cold. Give me 25 degrees over 85 degrees any day of the week. At least for running. I always say there is drinking margs outside weather and running weather, and those two types of weather are not the same. 

However. Running in single digits, with a wind chill in the negative teens, is just a little too cold even for me. 

The beyond frigid temps didn’t stop me on Christmas Eve, though, when I ran the coldest race of my life in Pittsburgh (Allison Park, to be specific. It’s like it was meant to be!) 

It was one of my slowest 5Ks in quite a while, but the entire course was covered in snow and the temperature was 3 degrees when I finished. So I was more than fine with that. My time of 23:51 got me 2nd place female and I won a sweet campfire mug! 

And I drank out of it all day at my grandma’s Christmas Eve party! 

Why a Christmas Eve race? 

With Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday this year, it dawned on me that just maybe there would be a local race happening. We were planning to travel to Pittsburgh for the holiday, so I started looking around to see what was going on. And sure enough, the week before Christmas, I found a 5K scheduled to take place in North Park in the suburb of Allison Park, about 15 minutes from my sister’s house. 

The weather didn’t look great. Meteorologists were calling for much of the country to be in a deep freeze, and at the time, the predicted race day temperature was 10 or 11 degrees. Brrr. I decided to sign up anyway. 

As Christmas weekend drew closer, the forecast got more and more brutal. The predicted high dropped to 6 degrees. Then 5 degrees. The wind chill looked like it was going to be positively cruel. My mom said the race would probably get canceled, and I thought it might as well. On Dec. 21, the race directors sent out an email saying they would still hold a live race, but also offered participants the option to run the race virtually any time the week after Christmas, once the weather warmed up. But I was committed to running the live race if it was going to happen. First, I’d already paid for a live race. Second, I ran enough virtual races during 2020. I’m over them! I kept checking social media and my email, expecting the race to get canceled anyway, but as of Dec. 23, it was still on. 

On Christmas Eve morning, I woke up and it was 0 degrees. I think the wind chill was around -15 (it got all the way down to -35 the night before!) I put on two pairs of running tights, two pairs of socks with toe warmers, two shirts, my Boston 2019 jacket, a running vest, two pairs of gloves with Hot Hands hand warmers, a hat, and a ski mask. I wasn’t going to wear sunglasses, but Micah was concerned about my eye protection and convinced me to wear his. He and my brother-in-law Justin drove me to North Park, where they waited in the warm car while I did my thing. Packet pickup was inside the North Park Boat House, and there was some drama going on with a fire alarm going off in the men’s bathroom and frozen water all over the steps – a few people slid and fell. But I was happy to have an actual bathroom to use before the race, rather than a port-a-potty! 

After getting my bib and race shirt, I did a quick warmup (LOL, “warmup”) outside. I realized quickly that the sunglasses were going to fog up, and that the Alpha Flys were a poor choice. There were several inches of snow on the ground and I stupidly assumed – you know what they say about assuming – that the roads would be clear. Oh well. 

More than 800 people had signed up for the race, and only a little over a hundred showed up for it in person. We were the crazy ones! The race kicked off right at 10 am when the temperature had risen to a balmy 2 degrees. Honestly, though, I never felt cold and the race was in an area that was wooded enough that the trees were blocking most of the wind. But two things made this race really difficult almost immediately. 1. The damn ski mask. I’ve run in it before on cold days, though it’s been a while and I’ve never worn it during a race when I’m trying to run at race pace. It was hard to breathe in this thing. And then there was the issue of the sunglasses fogging up! 2. The snow-covered roads. It was really hard to get a momentum going and again, the Alpha Flys were just not it. I knew within the first mile it was going to be a struggle and my whole goal was just to finish in one piece.

The course wasn’t very hilly, especially considering we were in western PA, but we did go up and down one long stretch of road in the second mile, with a turnaround right at the 1.5 mile mark. That’s when I slipped and fell on the snow. At least the snow made the surface feel a little softer, and I wasn’t hurt at all. I got back up and kept going. 

At around mile 2.5, I stopped to walk for a few seconds. Yes, in a 5K. It happens! A man who was running near me asked if I was OK and I assured him I was fine, just having a hard time breathing in the mask. I actually ended up finishing before him! 

When I stopped my watch after crossing the finish line, I saw I had just barely cleared 24 minutes. More than 3 minutes slower than my last 5K, the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, and more than 4 minutes off my PR, just set last October. But as I said, I was on the struggle bus immediately and just wanted to finish. 

I had read online that there was going to be an awards ceremony for overall winners and age group winners at 11 am, but when I went inside the volunteers told me they weren’t having it due to the weather and people wanting to get to their Christmas celebrations. One of them told me he was pretty sure I had at least won an age group award and to feel free to take a mug – so I did. I was happy to see later that I had placed second! 

My dad wasn’t happy at all that I did the race and told me later he was very concerned about my skin being exposed. But I felt that I dressed appropriately and was safe. Do I want to run in these conditions again? Not particularly. And I probably won’t. This sure made for a good story, though!   

I broke 20 minutes in the 5K at the Baltimore Running Festival

Last month, I broke 20 minutes in the 5K for the first time, taking almost a minute off of my previous PR of 20:29. I’m still pinching myself over it. 

I’ve run upwards of 50 5Ks in the last decade or so, at least. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I’m not a big fan of 5Ks, despite having run so many of them! I prefer the slow burn of a longer distance. But I end up signing up for a lot of 5Ks because friends want to run them, so I agree to run them, too. (And every time, when I’m in the red zone at mile 1.5 and I still have another mile and a half to run, I swear I’m never doing it again!!) 

That said, breaking 20 minutes was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t a big important goal for me like qualifying for the Boston Marathon was, or breaking 1:40 in the half marathon. If I did it, cool. If I didn’t, that was fine, too. 

But then it actually happened! By a pretty big margin, too. I ran a 19:37 at the Baltimore Running Festival 5K. 

Here’s how it went down! 

A fast 5K 6 days post-marathon

On October 9, I ran the Chicago Marathon and PR’d with a 3:18:46. After marathons, I typically like to take at least 5 days off of running, sometimes 7 or 8 (though I’ll usually return to kickboxing if I’m feeling decent.) But I love the Baltimore Running Festival, which was taking place 6 days after Chicago. I’ve participated in it every year since 2016, and have run every distance from the 5K to the marathon. I even ran the half marathon virtually on the B&A Trail in 2020. It’s a fall running tradition that I just don’t want to miss. I also had a free entry for coming in second in the 10K last year, so I used it to enter the 5K. I’d last run the 5K five years earlier, and came in second in my age group with a 21:xx – can’t remember the exact time. It’s a flat, fast course! 

I genuinely had no idea how I’d feel racing a 5K 6 days after a marathon. I posted on Facebook that it would either be a PR or a complete dumpster fire. A few friends on Instagram encouraged me to shoot for sub-20. Of course it was in the back of my mind, having just run a sizable PR in Chicago. But 5Ks and marathons are completely different beasts. Still, I had nothing to lose by going for it! I also had run the Kensington 8K at a 6:30 pace just two weeks before Chicago, so that indicated to me like a sub-20 was possible.

We had great weather for the race, which is always the case with the Baltimore Running Festival. That may be why I like it so much– it always takes place on a gorgeous fall day.

The race started at 7:30 and I was in Baltimore by 6:30 or so, which gave me more than enough time to pee approximately 80 billion times and find my way to the start line on Light Street. 

We went off shortly after 7:30 and my strategy was the same as it always is for 5Ks and 10Ks– go out hard and see how long I can hold on! The course, which as I mentioned is flat, goes from the Inner Harbor and then down Key Highway and back again, finishing along Pratt Street. 

I tried not to look at my watch too much and worked on running by feel (and I could feel that I was working very, very hard!) I ran the first mile in a zippy 6:19. 

The turnaround to head to the finish is at mile 1.5, and that’s when I saw my friend John, who runs 17 minute 5Ks every weekend. He was obviously several minutes ahead of me, and I noticed he was probably in 10th place at that point– so I knew it was a very fast field. 

Somewhere around mile 2, I saw my friend Normailed, who was doing the Baltimore-on-athon, which is the 5K plus the half marathon. She snapped a picture of me where I actually don’t look like I am dying! I ran the second mile in 6:23 and thought, OK, just hang on for 1.1 more miles. 

The last mile was a complete blur. I just kept pushing and pushing. It hurt like hell. I remember looking down at my watch just before I hit the 3 mile mark and saw a 6:00 flat pace. Ran mile 3 in 6:16. Then I made the final right turn onto Pratt Street and saw 19 on the clock up ahead. I had done it!

I ran the final 0.1 in 37 seconds, stopped my watch, and grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer. I couldn’t really speak for about two minutes! I hugged another runner who had also broken 20 for the first time– and then later learned she was an Instagram follower! – and then met up with John. 

To say it was a fast field was an understatement! My 19:37 got me 2nd in my age group. The top three women all finished in the 16 minute range, and the top three men were in the 14s! Maybe that helped me run faster, too. 

Afterwards, I spectated the marathon for a bit and saw my friend Josh around mile 9. He yelled out to me, asking if I’d gone sub-20, and it felt so good to say yes!

I joked afterwards that it’s time to retire from 5Ks, but of course I won’t. I am planning on the Greensburg Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, a Thanksgiving tradition. Of course this is only 5 days after I run the Philly Marathon, but hey, I now have learned that I can run really strong 5Ks on the heels of marathons! This 5K course is extremely hilly, though, so not counting on another sub-20!

A look back at three 5Ks in three weeks

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that 5Ks are my running kryptonite. I think they are, hands down, the hardest distance. If you truly push yourself to your limit, nothing hurts more, in my opinion. Not even the marathon. 

At least they’re over quickly? 

And every time I run a 5K, I say to myself – that’s it. I am DONE with this distance. And yet. I keep registering for them, mainly because other people ask me to do them and I have a hard time saying no! 

But this time, I might REALLY be done with 5Ks until 2023, because I just ran three 5Ks in three weeks. Surely, I have met my quota for the year! 

Here’s a look back at my personal 5K series! 

Father’s Day 5K Farm Festival: 23:38 

My friend Josh, who is also a Rip It Events ambassador, told me about this one and encouraged me to sign up. (He actually loves 5Ks and says it’s his favorite distance. Wild!) I agreed to run and true to form, did zero research about the course or anything. So imagine my surprise when the race organizer sent an email to participants the day before and casually mentioned that it would be 99% on grass. The hell? I never ran cross country or anything in high school, and I barely do any trail running (too prone to falling!) This should be interesting! I thought. I already knew I wasn’t in 5K PR shape, but I really had no idea what to expect. My main goal was not to trip and fall, or twist my ankle on the grass. 

The race, held at the Baltimore County Ag Center, actually reminded me of the hellish Red, White and Blue Mountain 5K that Staci and I have run twice together, and she ran for the third time this year. And it was definitely one of the slowest 5Ks I’ve run in recent years. Not only was the course almost all on the grass, but it was HILLY and I went out way, way too fast. Once I finished the first mile, I felt like I was already bonking, and the next two miles were torture. I had to stop and walk a few times, which always sucks in a 5K. At least the weather was good – high 60s at the start (almost unheard of for June in Maryland!), though it was pretty windy. 

Overall, I actually did pretty well. I came in third place female with a 23:38 (7:37 pace) – the second place female passed me just before we hit mile 3 – and won my age group, and I received a $25 gift card that’s good for some Baltimore restaurants. And we got pizza and beer after the race, always a plus! I can’t say I was disappointed in my time since I had no real expectations, and I got to try something new, so that’s a win in my book! 

Dewey Beach Patrol 5K: 20:33

OK, so this 5K I signed up for without any peer pressure, so I have no one to blame but myself. 🙂 When I found out my family vacation to Rehoboth was happening on June 25, I immediately started looking for a local race and found this annual 5K. (Four years ago, I ran the 10K version of the race – the 10K appears to have been discontinued.) When I woke up this morning of the race, I told my husband, “I wish this was a 10 miler!” It’s true! But I got ready and ran into Dewey for the race. It started at the northbeach bar, about two miles from the beach house my family rented, so that was a nice warmup. Dewey and Rehoboth are flat as can be, so I knew it would be a fast course.

And it went well! The course went from northbeach into the residential neighborhoods of Dewey and then back to northbeach. Not a hill to be seen. I focused on pushing hard and trying not to look at my watch too much. I had seen ahead of time that the first place Masters female would win a $25 gift card, so I was hoping I could maybe win that. 

And I did! At the turnaround around mile 1.5, some other runners started calling out to me that I was in second place. (The first place female was a 16-year-old girl who finished in a blistering 18:08. Her 15-year-old brother came in first place male with a 16:40! Fast family!) I felt the way I always do halfway through a 5K – like death. I just kept telling myself it would be over soon. I ended up finishing in 20:33 (6:37 pace) – four seconds off my PR! – and was thrilled with that. 

I won a wine glass that I sadly left at the beach house – it’s OK because I have a bunch of them from previous beach races – and a $25 gift card that was good for several of the bars in Dewey. Of course, I almost missed the awards ceremony altogether because I was drinking a beer at the after party. Typical. 

Race4TheWorld 5K: 17:35

OK, don’t get too excited! I did not run a 17:35 5K. The course was a half mile short!

This race happened on Fourth of July, and Race4TheWorld reached out to me on Instagram to ask me if I would be interested in running it. The race benefitted Luminus, a Howard County-based nonprofit that helps immigrants. Full disclosure, they offered me a free race entry as well as some extra comp codes! The race took place at Merriweather Post Pavilion and at the start of the race, the company that was handling the timing said they had had to unexpectedly shorten the course. No idea why. I wasn’t too bummed about it, though. I’d just run a really strong 5K a week before, and I wasn’t going for a PR. Also, as I just said, I always feel like death when I’m halfway through a 5K. Cut the race a little short? No problem! 

The race was in and around Merriweather, and it was quite hilly, as all races in Columbia are. We started right there in front of the concert stage, and immediately went up a short but steep hill, then circled the area and ran on the tree-lined paths around the venue. I was behind one other woman for about the first half mile, then was able to pass her and held onto the first place spot (among females) until the end. My average pace was 6:48, and I think I could have held onto that had it been a true 5K. I still felt completely gassed at the end. I won a $25 gift certificate to The Common Kitchen, a food emporium in Clarksville, so I am looking forward to checking that out. 

Thanks again to Race4TheWorld for inviting me to run the race! You can learn more about all the great work Luminis does here

What’s Next? 

I actually don’t have any more races planned until Aug. 28, when I run the Annapolis Ten Mile Run – my very favorite race! It was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, and I am so happy it’s back! That kicks off a BUSY few months of racing. I think I am racing something like every weekend in September. 

And then I run the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9 and the Philly Marathon on Nov. 20! I start training in earnest on July 18, but I’ve been running upwards of 40 miles a week the last few weeks so I’m already kind of in training mode. The plan I am about to start following is intense and I want to make sure I have a good base in place before I really start hammering it hard. 

I can’t wait!  

The 2022 Boston Marathon is almost here, and I PR’d the 10 miler — twice!

And suddenly, the 2022 Boston Marathon is a little more than a week away and I’m in taper mode. How did that happen? 

I think my training has gone pretty close to perfectly and the weeks have flown by. I really like the 12-week plan from Advanced Marathoning that I followed last fall and then again this winter. First, I think 12 weeks is my sweet spot for marathon training – it’s long enough to get me in shape, yet short enough that I don’t get bored with it. Second, the plan is easily the most effective one I’ve ever followed. I’m running times I never thought would be possible for me, and I think I have that plan to thank for it. 

I ran three races in March – two 10 milers and a 5K. All of them went really well! Here’s a recap of each of them. 

The Tim Kennard River Run 10 Miler

My training plan advised that I race either an 8K or a 15K the weekend of March 20-21, so I was excited to see the Tim Kennard River Run 10 Miler was happening in Salisbury on March 20. (15K = 9.3 miles, so that’s close enough.) The race is named after Tim Kennard, a local runner who passed away in 2004 of renal cancer, and the proceeds fund organizations that help children and animals. I love 10 milers – I think that’s my favorite distance. I had also read good things about it from Vanessa with She Runs By the Seashore. Salisbury is about two hours from where I live in Anne Arundel County, so my husband and I decided to make a weekend out of it and stay in an Airbnb on the Eastern Shore, in a small town called Snow Hill about 20 minutes away from the race’s start/finish line. The race was on a Sunday, so I did my 17-mile long run on Saturday and then we hit the road. I wasn’t too worried about running a long run and then racing 10 miles the next day – I did that when I ran Cherry Blossom last fall and had a great race. We stopped in Berlin, which has tons of antique shops and bills itself as America’s coolest small town. We ate dinner at an excellent restaurant called Blacksmith and then relaxed in the adorable Airbnb, which was a two-story apartment that was part of an old house. It was so charming that I wish we could have stayed for longer – I’d love to go back sometime. 

Easy logistics are the best thing about a small town race! The race began and ended at a local church in Salisbury, and packet pickup and a full on breakfast spread was set up inside. There was plenty of parking and we had time to hang out inside the church hall while we waited for the start of the race. Thank you to all the church members who came out to help! Everyone was so nice. 

I really didn’t know what to expect as far as my time here. I ran a 1:11 last fall in the rescheduled Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run, which was a two-minute PR, and I thought that was pretty solid. But I also knew I was in good shape, maybe better shape, and the weather was good and the course was flat. So I thought maybe 1:10ish was possible. I also thought I could possibly win the Masters female race and come home with an extra $50 in my pocket. 

I ended up finishing in 1:09:12 (6:55 average pace) and was third overall female (which came with a $100 check!) I was pretty shocked – and thrilled – that I broke 1:10 by that much. I saw that I was averaging a sub-7 pace in the first three miles, and thought I was maybe going too fast, but I felt good so I just went with it. I really liked running around Salisbury, a town I had never been to before. We ran through some very pretty neighborhoods along the river! My only real complaint, which obviously no one can control, was the aggressive wind. OMG. During the part of the race where we ran through downtown Salisbury, the headwind was insane. (Why is it never a tailwind?) There weren’t a ton of people out on the course spectating, but the ones that were there were enthusiastic and encouraging. Around mile 7, I caught up to the woman who ended up finishing second, Maria. Pretty much everyone we passed yelled out “Go Maria!” I told her she obviously has lots of fans in the area and she said she lives in Salisbury and runs a lot of local races. She and I were neck and neck with each other until about mile 9, when she passed me for good and I was never able to catch her (though I was close behind.) As we were nearing the finish, I saw the vehicle that was leading the front runners was right in front of us and so I knew we were among the top female finishers. But I had no idea what place I was in – and when I crossed the finish line, stopped my Garmin, and saw my time, I didn’t really care! 1:09:12! It wasn’t that long ago when I had a hard time running a sub-7 minute place in a 5K, so that was extremely exciting.

I initially was told that I finished in fourth place, and was first Masters female, but then learned that the woman who they thought was second place accidentally took a wrong turn and was disqualified. That really sucks! So Maria came in second and I came in third. Again, that was great, and so was the $100 in prize money, but I was happiest about my finish time.  

Overall, I loved this flat, fast race and would like to do it again some day – and the Eastern Shore is such a pretty part of my wonderful state. Very glad I did it. 

Cruising to the finish!

Barlowe Bolt 5K

I love to hate 5Ks! 

Seriously, when you really push yourself, there is nothing more painful than a 5K! I signed up to run the Barlowe Bolt with my 5 Peaks kickboxing friends the week after the Tim Kennard 10 Miler. I’ve run this race three times before, in 2018, 2019, and 2020. I won the race in 2020 and set my 5K PR of 20:29 then. I did not run in 2021 because the race happened the same day as the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon. This year, I thought maybe I could win again and even beat my PR. Maybe I could even break 20 minutes? It didn’t seem out of the question with my recent 10 mile time!

Well, I did win the race – first female and first finisher, period! – but I did not break 20 minutes or even PR. My time was 20:39, so 10 seconds off my 20:29 PR. I wasn’t disappointed by it – as I said, 5Ks are not my thing.

The whole thing was kind of a blur, as 5Ks are. It was about 48 degrees on race morning and I was wearing a singlet, shorts, and arm warmers, which everyone thought was hilarious. “Where are your clothes?” multiple people asked me. I get really warm when I run and what I was wearing ended up being ideal! I lined up at the front and took off with two men, a younger kid and an older man who ended up coming in first place male. They were a few feet ahead of me for the first mile, and when I saw my friend Cindy on one of the turnarounds, she yelled out to me, “They’re the only two in front of you! You can catch them!” I ended up passing the younger guy about halfway through the race and the other guy some time in mile two. It hurt. I think that’s my problem with 5Ks– I have a hard time really making myself HURT for 3.1 miles. I prefer the slow burn of a longer distance race. The Barlowe Bolt is also pretty hilly. I don’t know if I’ll ever break 20 minutes, or even if I really care that much about it, but I probably need a flatter course to do so. 

All in all, it was a fun morning with friends. And I won $40 in gift cards to Giant! Groceries are awfully expensive these days, so I was pretty happy with that. 

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run

Once again, my plan recommended a race this weekend – either a 10K or a 15K, and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run was once again being held in the spring with things inching back to normal as COVID starts to fade into the background a little bit. I am honestly surprised at how well this race went. I thought I’d set a really strong PR at Tim Kennard and wasn’t expecting to beat that so soon. I figured I’d finish in the 1:10-1:12 range and be totally happy with that. Just like last fall, I also had a 16-mile run to do that weekend, so I did that the day before the race.  

I ended up PRing again, this time running a 1:08:03, a 6:49/mile pace – WOW! (My Garmin actually clocked just over 10 miles, 10.07 miles to be exact, which was a 6:46 pace. It doesn’t really matter either way.) Given how competitive this race is – a lot of pros and elite athletes come out for it – I did not get any kind of award, but I didn’t expect to. I came in 13th in my age group. Interestingly, last fall my 1:11 also got me 13th, but I know that the rescheduled race was much less popular with runners (I mean, the whole point is the cherry blossoms, which are not there in the fall!) 

I admit that I cursed myself a little bit for signing up for this on race morning. As logistically easy as Tim Kennard was, Cherry Blossom – and really, any race or event in DC – was pretty much the opposite. Back in the fall, the Metro opened early and I was able to take the orange line right to the start at the National Mall. But this time, the Metro didn’t open early enough. So I had to drive. With no traffic early in the morning, it only took me about a half hour, and I had booked a parking spot ahead of time through a parking app. But of course Google Maps got confused, because DC is confusing, and took me to the wrong garage. Luckily, I figured it out. The garage was about a mile from the start, so I was glad I allowed myself plenty of time to get there. Then I decided to check a bag with a jacket to wear after the race. I never do this and I may not make a habit of it. UPS was handling the baggage check and the trucks were late – they didn’t start accepting the bags until around 7, and I still had to pee and make it to my corral in time for the 7:30 start! It was so stressful, because I hate rushing around, but I did make it with time to spare. I decided to line up with the 7 minute/mile group and see how I felt. 

I ended up staying with the pacer for the first two miles, then pulled ahead. As in Tim Kennard, I was feeling good and just decided to see how long I could roll with the pace. And it paid off. This race is also fast and flat, and I do think 10 milers are where I shine. It’s kind of funny to think I can run a 10 miler at a 6:49/pace, yet my current 5K pace isn’t much faster than that. When my Garmin beeped at every mile marker, I would look down and see a pace in the high 6:30s or 6:40s and think, “Really? OK!” I felt like I was working hard, but that the pace was sustainable. The weather was absolutely perfect – high 40s, no wind, not too sunny, no precip – and there were tons of spectators cheering us on. And yes, it sure was nice to see cherry blossoms this time! 

 I didn’t start to really feel the pain until probably mile 8. At that point, I heard some other runners talking about Boston and I told them I was running, too. The one guy said how nice it would be to see the marathon happening in April again. Due to COVID, the Boston Marathon hasn’t happened on Patriots Day for three years, since the last and only other time I ran the race! We hit mile 9 and he said, “OK, one mile to go until the taper!” I told him I was ready! 

I actually had no idea I was PRing until I stopped my Garmin after crossing the finish, as I didn’t have it set to elapsed time. When I saw 1:08, I was pretty shocked. More than a minute faster than Tim Kennard! 

Photo credit: Charlie Ban of RunWashington

I even ordered one of the official race photos, which I never do because they are always so expensive, with my time overlaid on it. I can’t wait to get it! 

Is This My Peak? 

I’m really excited about my recent string of PRs, both last fall and this spring, and it definitely has me wondering how much longer I’ll be able to run like this. I turn 42 in July, and it’s inevitable that I’ll slow down eventually. I also know that running “success” ebbs and flows. I was on fire in the fall of 2017, PRing in several distances and running my first BQ. In 2018, I was running slower than I had in years – probably due to a combination of training mistakes and life stressors. Then over the next few years, I started to get faster again, and then in the fall of 2021 I had some major breakthroughs. I don’t know what’s around the corner for me, running-wise, but I’m determined to keep having fun with it. Bring on Boston 2022! 

Also – this is my 100th blog post!

A big and unexpected PR at the Barlowe Bolt 5K

Yesterday, I ran my first LIVE race in seven months, the Barlowe Bolt 5K in Millersville. And I had a PR that I truly never saw coming, running a 20:29 (6:36 pace!) I was also the first female finisher. To say I was thrilled is an understatement.

I had set my previous PR, a 20:49, almost exactly four years earlier on Oct. 2, 2016, as part of a relay team at the Waterman’s sprint triathlon on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. That was the only time I’d ever managed to sneak in under 21 minutes, and it wasn’t even at a stand-alone 5K. I figured it was a fluke and that I’d never beat it. I often struggle in 5Ks and have a hard time breaking 22 minutes consistently.

But then 2020 happened. All of the races after early March were canceled and many were replaced by virtual races. I kept on running and training, with hopes of running a fall marathon (as of today, that hope is still alive!) This past summer was the hottest, most humid and most disgusting summer I can recall in recent years. But I kept grinding and I think it all paid off on a crisp fall morning when the temperature was only in the mid-40s.

This annual race, which raises money to build a natural play space at Barlowe Field in Millersville, Maryland, always happens in March. The organizers postponed it until October this year, and I am so glad they were able to have a live event! Everyone was required to wear masks when not running and asked to keep social distance. The race size was also limited to 50 people. I think they handled the COVID restrictions well, and I felt safe.

Team 5 Peaks!

A bunch of my friends from 5 Peaks came out to race, and several won age group awards! We were all just so pumped for a real, in-person race. I’m grateful for all the virtual opportunities we had in this bizarro year, but nothing beats an in-person race.

The morning of the race actually got off to a terrible start. After not sleeping so great anyway, I awoke at 4:30 and my cat immediately started whining to go outside. She’s an indoor cat, but we let her outside often because she knows not to leave our yard. Well, that morning she decided to wander into our neighbor’s yard (I think she may have climbed into a small tree) and I couldn’t find her. She wouldn’t come when I called her, and it was dark. I frantically woke my husband up and finally, she came running in our direction. But I really thought I would be missing the race to look for my lost cat. Maybe all that early morning adrenaline helped me?!

The race started right on time at 7 am, and I started off running with a group of young kids (high school age) and an older gentleman in a Howard County Racing Team singlet. He ended up pulling ahead of me at the end of the first mile, and I was never able to catch up. He ended up winning the race, finishing 10 seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a little bit after the race, and I learned he is 63 years old. Talk about goals!

At the end of the first mile, my watch beeped and told me I ran a 6:20. Yikes. This is usually the time in a 5K where I realize I went out wayyyy too fast and then I’m ready to die. But this never really happened for me in the race. I felt really good. I did slow down in miles 2 and 3 (to 6:53 and 6:57, respectively), but kept my pace under 7 minutes! The Barlowe Bolt course isn’t pancake flat, either— it’s a lot of rolling hills. But none of them are particularly long or steep, and my neighborhood has similar terrain. So I had an advantage, since I run around my neighborhood so much. I’ve also run this race twice before, and I knew what to expect.

At about the halfway mark, I saw my friend Matt, who had provided all of the finisher medals and trophies for the winners. I also passed him again just before the final right turn to the finish, and he yelled out, “You’re going to be under 20:30!” I hadn’t really been looking at my watch for most of the race, instead just concentrating on running as fast as I could, so while I knew I was having a strong race …. I didn’t think I was going to PR. But when I looked at the clock and saw the time began with a 20, I started sprinting as fast as I could. When I crossed the line, I yelled out, “Holy shit, I PRed!” right in front of a bunch of kids, so that was nice. My apologies to their parents.

In addition to a nice little trophy, I won a $50 gift card to Giant — always appreciated! But I think I’m most excited about the fact that I PR’d my first official race as a 40-year-old, and in a distance I always say I love to hate!

How did I manage to do it? I think there are a couple of reasons why I ran so well. I’ve always heard the joke that humidity is the poor runner’s altitude training. Well, I think there is something to that. Again, this summer was absolutely brutal and running felt so. damn. hard. Lately, it’s felt a lot easier … and I know my body loves the fall weather.

But more importantly, I think, I’ve also just been running more. As far as marathon runners go, I’ve always been a relatively low mileage runner, often peaking with mileage in the high 30s. I did bump up my weekly mileage back in 2017, the last time I trained for a Boston qualifier … but I’m running even more now. Two weeks ago I ran 53 miles. This week, a cutback week, I ran 41 miles. This coming week will be around 53 again. I’ve been adding a Wednesday medium-long run (8-10 miles) into my schedule, and running before kickboxing class twice a week. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been running six days a week. Again, nothing for a lot of marathoners. But still more than I usually run. I’ve been feeling great and my body has responded well to the increased mileage, so I’m going to keep rolling with it and hope that my rescheduled marathon is able to occur in 27 days!

Other races on my calendar

I completed a few more virtual races over the last few weeks. At the end of August, I did the virtual Quantico Duathlon, which was a 5K run, a 20.4K bike ride and a 5K run. It took me around an hour and 48 minutes, and I ran the first 5K in 21:37 (which I was excited about, and about what I was expecting for the Barlowe Bolt!) Ran the second 5K in 23:32, which I thought was pretty decent after one 5K and a 12.67 mile bike ride. It was lot of fun. I would still like to race more duathlons in the future, when I am not busy marathon training.

Then, in September, I raced the virtual Market Street Mile and ran a 6:11 — exactly what I ran last year, when the race happened in person. I ran it on my lunch break — yay for working from home for the foreseeable future — and was hoping to squeak under six minutes, since I somehow ran a 5:56 mile earlier this year. This run burned like hell and I have no idea how I could have run it 15 seconds faster. But I’m happy with that effort. According to the online results, I was the second female overall. The first place female was a 46-year-old who ran a 5:46! Fast!!

In two weeks, I am also running the virtual Baltimore Running Festival half marathon. I am probably not going to race it, since it’s two weeks out from my marathon. That said, I did race a half marathon two weeks before my BQ race in 2017. (And raced a 10K the day after that. This was a stupid decision — don’t do it.) That half marathon went badly, but then I crushed my marathon. So, who knows?

I also registered for Rip It Events’ Day of the Dead 5K, back when I thought I was running a marathon on Sept. 13, not Halloween. I am supposed to run that between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. I certainly am not going to race a 5K right before a goal marathon …. nor do I want to race one after having just run 26.2 miles! I may just run it as an easy shakeout run the day before the marathon.

Speaking of Rip It Events, we have the Greenbrier Trail 5 & 10 Miler coming up on Oct. 25. I’m not a great trail runner and definitely would not want to risk running a trail race the week before a marathon — but it sounds fun and the race organizers have done everything they can to make it a safe event in this era of COVID-19! If you are interested, use SAUNTRY2020 for 10 percent off.

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. 

Maybe virtual races aren’t such a bad thing after all

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I have zero interest in virtual races. Why would I pay money for that? What’s the point when I would just be by myself and unable to enjoy the race atmosphere? Can’t I just go on a regular old training run? 

I may have *slightly* changed my tune. I don’t see myself running a virtual marathon any time soon (or ever), but maybe I’m down with virtual versions of smaller races after all. 

My change of heart started when Rip It Events announced a Cinco de Mayo virtual 5K. I’ve been a proud ambassador for Rip It for several years, and I’m so sad to see their spring race season just disappear due to COVID-19. First they had to postpone the Clyde’s 10K, then cancel both the Bear Triathlon and the Columbia Association Triathlon. (That last one really stings, personally. Last year’s Columbia Association Tri was my first and only tri, and I was really looking forward to doing the super sprint again. Next year, I will be there!) 

So to make up for these postponements and cancellations, Rip It owners Danny and Suzy decided to organize the Cinco de Mayo virtual run. It sold out so quickly that they pulled together a second virtual 5K, the Donut Worry Be Happy Virtual 5K Run to coincide with National Doughnut Day in June. 

I registered for both, because as an ambassador I want to show my support. I figured that was probably it for me for virtual races. 

But then I got an email from Get Pumped For Pets, a race that I was supposed to be running on May 3 on Kent Island. The original race had been scheduled for March 29, but when coronavirus started blowing up, the Seashore Striders optimistically rescheduled it for May 3. I figured they would end up either rescheduling it again or canceling it all together, and earlier this week, they decided to do the latter. They also decided to convert everyone to a virtual race and mail out finisher medals and T-shirts (which apparently have a special quarantine-themed logo on them, LOL) afterwards. 

So, I’m already getting all the swag associated with that race, including a medal. I hate the idea of hanging up a medal (yes, I display every medal for every race I do) for a race I never ran. Therefore, I decided that I am going to race a virtual 15K on May 3. That way, I’ll feel like I have actually earned the medal and the shirt! 

And honestly? I’ve been struggling with feeling like I have nothing to look forward to. I’m normally a pretty upbeat person, but this is a challenging time for everyone, no matter your life circumstances. All of my races are canceled through at least the month of June. I can’t go anywhere. Who knows if I’ll be able to take my planned summer vacation. At least virtual races will give me something fun to plan for.

I doubt I’ll be seeking out virtual races to sign up for, unless they are Rip It races (update as of April 27: I’m now also registered for Rip It’s V5 Virtual Duathlon series! Check it out and sign up for one of four different distances), or unless my favorite A10 goes virtual this year. But I think if a race I’m signed up for automatically converts my registration to a virtual one, I might as well do it. If there’s a deferment option, I’ll take that instead, but if not — why not do the virtual race? This is our life for the foreseeable future.  

Might as well make the best of it.

As a Rip It ambassador, I received free entry to these races and other Rip It races.

Running through a global pandemic: Staying motivated in uncertain times

I miss racing. It’s such a small thing in the grand scheme of all the awful things that are happening in the world, but man, I can’t wait until I get to do it again. 

First both the B&A Trail Marathon in March and the Coastal Delaware Running Festival in April got canceled. The West End St. Patrick’s Day 5K that Staci and I were going to run together got canceled. The Get Pumped For Pets 15K, which was supposed to happen on March 29, has been rescheduled until May 3, but I assume that will be either rescheduled again or canceled all together. 

Then last week, I learned that the St. Michael’s Running Festival on May 16 had been canceled. I had wanted to do that race for years and was registered for the half marathon, so I’m disappointed, but again, not surprised.  

Even though I just wrote about my disinterest in virtual races, I’m now starting to change my tune … a little. 

I’m an ambassador for Rip It Events, which, like many other race companies, has suffered the effects of the pandemic. Their Clyde’s 10K, originally supposed to happen on April 26, has been postponed to the fall, and they had to cancel the Bear Triathlon in May. 

So, to fill those gaps, Rip It Events pulled together two virtual 5K races — the Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K and the Donut Worry Be Happy Virtual Run. I signed up for them because I want to support Rip It and at least with the Cinco de Mayo race, we’ll probably still be under a stay-at-home order and so I won’t be going out for Mexican food and margaritas like I usually do! People responded really well to the Cinco de Mayo race and it sold out in less than a day. I’m expecting the Donut Worry run to fill up fast as well, so sign up here if you want to join in on the fun

After that, I don’t have a “real” race scheduled until Rip It’s Columbia Association Triathlon in June, which is still happening as of today, but if I can’t get into a pool to train before, well, mid-May at the absolute latest, I might as well defer. (I haven’t swum since last year’s Columbia Triathlon — my first and only tri — last June!) And who knows what things are going to look like this summer. I was going to register for the Seashore Striders 5 Mile Run in Rehoboth in July again, but I’m holding off on that for now. I hope things will be back to normal and I’ll get to enjoy a vacation at the beach like I do every summer, but I really don’t know. 

I don’t know what the future holds. No one does. 

I’m still running at least four days a week, including a long run on the weekends. I’ve backed off on the speed work and tempos, and haven’t been paying much attention to my pace. Two weekends ago, I ran 15 miles at an 8:06/mile pace. If I were still officially marathon training, that would probably be way too fast for a long run, but that was the pace that felt good to me that day so I went with it. It was bittersweet because I really feel I would have met my goal and then some at Coastal Delaware. But things happen.

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff on social media about how to stay motivated when there are no races on the horizon. Honestly, habit is driving me more than motivation these days. I run. That’s what I do in my free time. And aside from that, if I couldn’t run (and take kickboxing classes via Zoom! Yes, we actually punch invisible targets!) I feel like I might go crazy.

I’ve been working from home for three weeks now, and I am fortunate that I have the ability to do this. I also work in communications for a hospital, so to say things have been stressful lately is an understatement. I’ve been busy with work, and of course I’ve been following all social distancing requirements. Going outside to run — which is allowed, as long as you stay six feet away from others — is really the only time I leave my house/yard. 

It’s really tough. And it’s hard not to know when the end date is going to be. I try to remember that I’m pretty lucky. My job sure isn’t going anywhere, and my husband is still able to work, too. He works in the marine industry and has been physically going into work daily, but it’s just him and two other coworkers and they wear masks and keep their physical distance. We are OK financially. And so far, we are healthy and everyone in our families is healthy.  

How is everyone managing in these crazy times?

My running goals for 2020 and a look back at 2019

I ended 2019 doing two of the things that I love the most: Drinking beer and running a race. 

Yes, in that order.

 I love to have a beer or two the night before a race, but I have never had a beer the hour before a race. First time for everything! I had a free race entry to the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year’s Eve through my freelance work with RunWashington, and got to the race about an hour and a half early since I needed to pick up my race bib and premium. Since I had time to kill, my husband and I wandered over to Ornery Beer Company so he could get some wings and have a beer. (He was not running.) I didn’t want to just sit there and sip my water, so I ordered a beer, too — the West Indian Viagra, 7.1 percent ABV, which I knew was risky but the name indicated it would give me stamina, right? Ha.

In the end, it didn’t really have any effect on me aside from me feeling like I had to pee about halfway through the race. I finished in 29:20, meeting my goal of finishing in under a half hour, and I felt really strong. Maybe I can run it again and not drink first and see if I can improve!    

 That race — a rare nighttime race that was an awesome way to start ringing in the new year — capped off a busy 2019. I ran the Boston Marathon and finally broke 1:40 in the half marathon — three different times! I also raced my first triathlon and didn’t drown, and I enjoyed the experience enough that I am going to do it again this June! 

I did a triathlon!
HistoricDrawbridgeHalf
My first time breaking 1:40 in the half!

Looking back at my 2019 goals, I said I wanted to run a fall marathon. I never did that and decided just to stick to Boston this past spring. But in 2020, I am running three marathons — Coastal Delaware on April 19, Chicago on Oct. 11 and Philadelphia on Nov. 22, so I am making up for it. 

Which brings me to my goals for 2020: 

  • I want to qualify for Boston again and I want to PR in the marathon. This is my goal for Coastal Delaware. I need to run 3:40:00 or faster to qualify, as I will be 40 (!) for Boston 2021. In reality, I have no idea what the cutoff will be, so it’s hard to say what I actually need to run to get into the race. I suspect I would be safe with a 3:37 or so, but I want to PR and run sub-3:35 — my “A” goal is around 3:30. I feel like it’s attainable based on my recent half marathon times, and I just finished up week four of Hal Higdon’s Advanced Marathon Training plan, which is what I followed when I BQ’d at the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon in December 2017. I am running with my friend Tammi, who is also shooting for a BQ. She needs 3:35:00 or better, as she is a few years younger than I am. I have to admit that I am a *little* salty that the Boston Athletic Association chopped five minutes off the qualifying standards starting with the 2020 marathon. I was soooo looking forward to that 3:45 standard, but I do understand why they did what they did.

It’s too soon for me to have goals for Chicago and Philly — I registered for both with a projected finish time of 3:40 (might as well dream big, right??), but mostly I want those weekends to be fun girls’ weekends. I’m going to Chicago with my sisters as a belated birthday trip, and I’ll be in Philly with some of my good friends who live in Pennsylvania!  

  • I want to run fewer 5Ks. I ran 10 5Ks in 2019. Including two in one day. Why?! I don’t love shorter distances and I don’t think I do great at them, but I always end up signing up for 5Ks because I have friends who want to run them and then I get FOMO. I am vowing to only sign up for 5Ks that I am excited about! I’m planning on a St. Paddy’s Day 5K with Staci (whose birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day) and I will likely do my annual Turkey Trot in November, but that’s it for now, I swear to God.
  • On that note, I want to to be more selective about my races in general. I love to race, but in previous years, I jumped on the opportunity to run every race that my friends are running (that FOMO again.) I need to be more selective. Racing can take a lot of time and money, and I do think it’s a good use of both of those things, but I also don’t want to burn out.      

On another note, I’m pumped to be back on Rip It Events’ ambassador team for the fourth year in a row. Contact me for 15 percent off any 2020 Rip It race. I’ve also joined Nuun Hydration‘s ambassador team, which is awesome as I have been a loyal user of their products since I was training for my first marathon back in 2015.

Happy 2020! What are your goals for the year?

The Greensburg Turkey Trot: A Thanksgiving Day tradition

It’s almost the end of 2019, and I’ve run 10 5Ks this year.

One of my running goals this year was to get better at the 5K — as I’ve written many times before, I always go out way too fast and then bonk halfway through. I wanted to be able to consistently run the 5K time I know I am capable of (mid-high 21s.)

Did I accomplish that goal? Well….. no. I haven’t run a sub-22 5K since the Barlowe Bolt in March. I did run two 5Ks on the same day in September, both of which were under 22:30. And on Thanksgiving Day, I ran my fastest 5K since the Bolt – a 22:10 in the Greensburg Turkey Trot in my hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

So do I have a goal for the 5K in 2020?

Yes, and that’s to run fewer freaking 5Ks!

What can I say? It’s not my distance and I’m not sure I care enough about excelling at 5Ks to focus my training on them. I don’t enjoy them the way I enjoy a 10-miler or a half marathon or a marathon. Those are fun to me (maybe not always the last few miles, but I still genuinely enjoy the experience.) Every time I run a 5K, I think, “This sucks! Why am I doing this?”

I’m sure I’ll end up running a few 5Ks anyway, but not 10. That’s just excessive.

Now, onto the Turkey Trot!

This annual Thanksgiving Day race, which benefits Big Brothers/Big Sisters, has become a holiday tradition for me — it was the second race I ever ran back in 2012, and this year marked my eighth time running it! My husband Micah has run it with me every year that we have been together, and my dad usually walks it. This year, my cousin Tony and my Uncle Doug joined us, too. The 2019 Turkey Trot was the largest ever, with more than 2,500 runners. I’m glad it’s gotten so popular over the years!

Since I’ve run this race so many times, and I grew up in Greensburg, I am obviously very familiar with the course! So I know it’s brutal. It’s very hilly (hello, western PA!) and most years, it’s very cold (still better than the heat and humidity!) The first mile is mostly downhill, the second mile is rolling hills (but really more uphill!) and the third mile is more rolling hills (with one long downhill stretch, but then the race ends on an uphill — mean!)

I had a terrible race last year — it’s never good in a 5K when the pace of your first mile begins with a 6 and the pace of your third mile begins with an 8. Ha. I figured I’d likely run a positive split again this year, just given how the course is set up, but I was hoping my splits wouldn’t be quite so ugly.

They were definitely better! I ran mile 1 in 6:43, mile 2 in 7:17 and mile 3 in 7:29. Not great, but it could have been worse! I ran the final 0.1 in 44 seconds. I did stop twice during the second mile for a few seconds at a time, which probably cost me a sub-22 finish. I just didn’t feel like I could push any more up those hills.

But my 22:10 was actually the fastest I’ve ever run on that course, so I can thank all the speedwork I did in half marathon training for that!

For the last three years, I’ve won second place in my age group. It’s become a joke in my family. So I was hoping this year would be my year! Well, it wasn’t….. I won second place yet again. Oh well. All the more reason to be excited about turning 40 and aging up into a new division, right? Right?!

Greensburg Turkey Trot

My dad and I

I can’t say I’m super excited to be turning 40 in 2020, but I do feel optimistic about my running. I think 40 will be a great year for me as a runner. Just not a 5K runner. 🙂