Cramming a last-minute half marathon into Boston Marathon training

On Friday night, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to run the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware. This morning, I ran the race in 1:42, and had an absolute blast doing it! I love it when last minute decisions work out!

Let’s back up. This weekend, I was scheduled to run for two hours one day and race a half marathon the next, per my Hal Higdon Boston Bound plan. I figured that actually finding a local half marathon to do was going to be a long shot, so initially I planned just to run 13.1 miles all by myself. Then I saw that the Caesar Rodney Half was happening in Wilmington, less than two hours away from where I live, and it was being held at the very civilized time of 9:30 am (meaning I could drive in that morning without leaving in the middle of the night.) At first, I bulked at paying money for yet another race, but saw that the proceeds went to a good cause (the American Lung Association.) And running with a big group of people sounded way more fun than running a solitary half marathon. So I signed up.

This is a really cool race. The half marathon, now in its 56th year, is actually the oldest one in the country! It’s named for Caesar Rodney, who rode his horse from Delaware to Philadelphia to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence. There is a big statue of him in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, which is where the race started and ended. In addition to the half marathon, there is also a 5K and a relay option.

I wanted to get to Wilmington on the early side so I could find parking, get my bib, use the restroom, etc., before the race started, so I left my house at 6 am. There was zero traffic on 95 at that hour on a Sunday, plus I drive fast (which has gotten me into way more trouble than running fast has, hahahaha) so I arrived in Wilmington by 7:30. Packet pickup didn’t begin until 8. Whoops. Could have slept in more.

Once I got my bib, I hung out by the Rodney statue and chatted with another runner who is working toward running a half marathon in every state. He asked me my time goal, and I told him sub-1:45. He said his was 1:16. OK then! I caught up with him after the race, and he ended up placing eighth overall — so it was a very fast field today.

I was really excited to see there was a 1:45 pacer. After running for two hours yesterday, I really didn’t know if sub-1:45 was in the cards for me, but I figured I would just stick with the 1:45 guy and then move ahead in the end if I was feeling good. The back end of the race is hilly, and he said he was going to try to bank some time early on to make up for those hills.

We did the first three miles in the high 7s, which felt really comfortable. The temperature was absolutely perfect — high 50s to start — and the beginning of the course was pretty flat. The only annoying thing was how crowded it was during the part of the course that wove along the riverfront. We were running on a boardwalk and it was elbow-to-elbow at times. For all the other runners I bumped, I am sorry!

About those hills — the course was advertised as hilly, and it was, but none of them were all that steep. Just long. I felt like we were really cruising along until about the halfway point, when the hills started. Miles 6-9 were pretty much a continuous steady climb followed by a leveling out followed by another steady climb.

But after that, the inclines were pretty much done. In fact, there was some significant downhills from mile 9-12  …. meaning my quads will be feeling the burn tomorrow! But I was able to go pretty fast, even running mile 9 in a speedy 7:22, and passed the pace group for good. I was secretly hoping I could catch up to the 1:40 group, and finally beat my half marathon PR from 2016 (1:41:01, set at the Annapolis Running Classic half marathon.) But that never happened. One day! I still think I have a sub-1:40 half in me somewhere….

There was one last hill that kicked my butt pretty hard, and it was at the worst possible time in the race! The last quarter-mile of the race goes uphill, and it was actually probably the steepest hill of the whole entire race. What the hell? I did get some nice encouragement, though, from a spectator who noticed my Boston Marathon Qualifier shirt. “Just picture the crowds at Boston!” she yelled to me. “They’re all cheering for you!” That put a big smile on my face, and I made it up the hill and crossed the finish line in 1:42:35– 20 seconds faster than my last half, the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon.

Could I have gotten a PR if I hadn’t run a long run yesterday (and hill repeats Friday night?) Or if the course had been flatter? Maybe. Who knows. Races can be so unpredictable! All I know is I felt great the whole time and that I had a lot of fun, and what more can you ask for as a runner?

And while I know I just said races and race times can be unpredictable, I was curious to see what the McMillan Running Calculator predicts for my upcoming marathon — and it says 3:25:10. That seems like just a bit of a stretch, but I do think I could go sub-3:40 again! (Would need 3:35 or better to re-qualify.)

We’ll just have to see what happens on race day!

My running goals for 2019

Happy New Year! This year is already off to a good start, running-wise. Today I ran Charm City Run’s Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore and finished second in my age group with a time of 23:54. To be honest, that was my slowest 5K in years! There are a few reasons why I believe that was the case:

  1. It was at 2 pm, which makes fueling a challenge! Usually I like to eat my bagel, peanut butter and half a banana in the morning for breakfast before a race– today, we slept in (duh, last night was New Year’s Eve), then got up and made omelettes before heading out about two hours later. By the time my husband and I got to Baltimore and lined up at the start, I was hungry again! I might not have made it had it been a longer race.
  2. There was a loooonngg hill at mile 2 that really took the gas out of me.
  3. It was so windy. It actually felt like an early spring day — I believe it was about 60 degrees — but running into the wind is never any fun.
  4. I didn’t feel 100 percent. No, not because I was hungover (seriously!) We went to Florida for Christmas and both brought home coughs. I feel mostly OK, but I’m sure it had an impact — once I crossed the finish line, I started coughing hard immediately.

I really enjoyed this race, though. It was held in Patterson Park in Baltimore, which is a lovely park, and proceeds benefited Earl’s Place, which helps men in the city who are homeless. Afterward, runners got chili (and there was a vegetarian option!) and cornbread, plus there was an epic cookie spread. Yum!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for 2019, which is a big year for me because I get to run the Boston Marathon on April 15! That is obviously going to be my main focus for the next few months, but I have a lot of other plans, too.

  1. I am going to race a triathlon. I can’t believe I am going to do this. I can barely swim! So it looks like I’ll need to take some refresher lessons. Rip It Events’ Columbia Association Triathlon in June has two options: A sprint and a super sprint. The super sprint, which is what I am going to do, is a 200 yard swim, a 5 mile bike ride and a 1.75 mile run, and fortunately, the swim is in a pool (open water freaks me the hell out.) This is so far out of my comfort zone — in addition to not being a good swimmer, I do not excel at sprinting anything — but hey, why not? As a Rip It ambassador, I am racing this tri for free. I do have a 15 percent discount code to share with anyone who is interested, so if you would like to sign up, let me know! 
  2. I would like to run a sub-1:40 half marathon. I have run 17 half marathons, with a two-year-old PR of 1:41:01. I have yet to actually follow a training plan for a half — I just kinda wing it. Maybe if I followed an actual half marathon plan, I could see some real improvements in my time. We’ll see. I’m already signed up for two halfs late in 2019 — the half at the Baltimore Running Festival in October and the Rehoboth Seashore Half in December — so I guess my training for those will depend a lot upon my training for a bigger race in the fall. Which brings me to my next goal….
  3. I need to settle on a fall marathon — or maybe something more? I have long said that I have no interest in going beyond 26.2 miles, but one of my friends was raving about an ultramarathon he did in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area a few years ago and encouraged me to consider it. It’s a 50K, so not THAT much more than a marathon … right? I’m torn. I really love the 26.2 distance and am already thinking about trying to shoot for a 2021 BQ, since I will be in a new age group. (Yet my standard will still be 3:40, thanks to the recent changes the Boston Athletic Association made to the qualifying times.) If I do run a fall marathon in 2019, it will either be Steamtown in Scranton, Pa., Marine Corps, Philly or Richmond. Gah! So many marathons I would love to run. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

What are your goals for 2019?

The Rehoboth Seashore Marathon and Half Marathon should be on every runner’s holiday checklist

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is one of my favorite places in the world.

I’ve been vacationing there since I was two years old, and I look forward to my annual beach week in Rehoboth every year. I take comfort in the fact that in so many ways, Rehoboth in 2018 looks a lot like Rehoboth in the 1980s. Very little about the boardwalk has changed in 30 years — and I like that.

Still, even though I’ve been going to the beach for most of my life, last year was the first year that I ever visited during the holidays! I ran the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon to qualify for Boston, and had such a wonderful experience that I decided I will try to run the half marathon every year that I am able. (I don’t like the idea of repeating a full marathon unless it’s Boston — there are just too many I want to run! But I’ll happily run the same half more than once!)

So I ran the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon on Dec. 8, finishing in 1:42:55– a 7:51/mile pace, and my fastest half in almost two years! Truthfully, I had dreams of finishing under 1:40, and I know I can do it eventually — but I’m going to need to train smarter. This was my 17th half marathon, and I’ve yet to follow an actual training plan for that distance. I just run my normal 3-5 mile runs three or four times a week, and try to do a long run of 10-12 miles every weekend for about 4-6 weeks leading up to any half. It works for me, but maybe I could do better if I trained more seriously!

Anyway, my husband and I drove in Friday night after work and got to Rehoboth about 15 minutes before the race expo closed, so I was able to grab my bib and swag bag before we hit dinner at the Dogfish Head Brewpub. My eating habits before a race tend to be a little unconventional — if at all possible, I prefer to eat a veggie burger and French fries and wash it all down with a beer or two. Hey, it’s carb-loading! I wish I could remember the name of the stout I drank when we first got there — it was rich and chocolate-y and, at 10 percent ABV, probably a risky move before a race, but it was worth it. I also had a Seaquench Ale with dinner, one of my favorites and also one of the beers given out to runners at the post-race after party! (Did I mention that runners each get three beer tickets with their race registration? Seriously, if you are a beer lover who loves to run, sign up for this race!)

I knew it was going to be cold the morning of the race, but I wasn’t too worried. Like most people, I run much better in the cold. Last year, it was 45 degrees and sunny for the marathon; this year, it was about 15 degrees cooler. I was prepared for it in running tights, compression knee socks, a long-sleeved shirt, my Rock ‘N Roll Marathon windbreaker, neck gaiter and gloves. Oh, and my goofy “Meowy Christmas” cat hat that I wore last year.

Runners were treated to an amazing sunrise just before the start of the race! Sooooo many people were taking selfies, haha.

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The gun went off promptly at 7 am, and once I started running, I warmed up almost immediately. All runners start off at the Rehoboth Bandstand and head down Rehoboth Avenue, then turn off into the side streets to head toward Cape Henlopen State Park. There’s a turnaround for half marathoners around mile 3, with marathoners heading into the park and half marathoners going back through Rehoboth and then onto the Junction & Breakwater Trail for much of the back half of the race.

I ran my first mile in 7:56 and it felt comfy. My next few miles grew progressively faster, and I held pretty steady between 7:30-7:40 for miles 3 through about 9! I was proud of that — not just the pace, but the fact that I was able to stay so consistent. I even had a woman run with me for a mile or two on the trail because she said I was pacing so well. Again, I think the cooler temps helped me a lot, as well as the flat terrain. There are pretty much ZERO hills in both the full and the half marathons, making both races good for PRs.

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Look how pretty and even! 

I did start to hit a bit of a wall around mile 11/11.5. By then, I’d been running on the trail for several miles and it is more uneven and tougher than road running — plus, I’m sure I was paying for all those earlier miles in the 7:30s. Whoops. That said, the Junction & Breakwater Trail is lovely and is home to one of my favorite parts of the course –the “flag alley,” with a variety of different flags hanging above the trail. I’m not sure who sets that up, but it’s so colorful and fun! There is also a DJ playing music right around that point in the race, too.

At mile 12, I was officially off the trail and back on the road, heading toward the finish line behind the Cultured Pearl sushi restaurant. I started thinking about finishing the marathon a year earlier, and seeing my husband standing on the side of the street at mile 26 yelling at me to “EMPTY THE TANK!” I can’t believe that was a whole year ago, and I’ll finally get to run Boston in four months.

It was really all such a blur that I don’t remember much about actually finishing (I legit look like I’m about to pass a kidney stone in the finish line pictures). This year, I was paying a bit more attention and felt like that last turn by the Cultured Pearl and through the finish line went on forever. Like, that last .1 might as well have been a mile long. Of course it wasn’t, but that’s how it felt!

I collected my finisher’s medal and called my husband (who decided to sleep in rather than see me finish — part of me wanted to be annoyed, and part of me was like, “well, it was your 17th freaking half marathon, this is not exciting for him anymore.”) I walked back to the hotel about two blocks away, showered and then he and I grabbed some breakfast and then came back for the after party.

The post-race party is LIT. The DJ was taking requests all week long in a Facebook group dedicated to the race, and he was playing all of them — including lots of ’90s music, my personal favorite. Everyone was dancing a lot and a group of runners who call themselves Team Fireball were there passing around, what else, a bottle of Fireball. I even saw the race director take a shot or two. I love me some Fireball, but it gives me two-day hangovers and so I stuck with my beloved Seaquench instead. 🙂

The party continued well into the afternoon, and some of the volunteers even walked the last finisher into the tent, to huge applause! I thought that was so awesome.

As for me, I probably had a little *too* much fun at the after party and then at the Purple Parrot that night for karaoke. If you had to hear me singing Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” (among other gems) …. well, I am truly sorry.

Registration for the 2019 race opens on New Year’s Eve! I believe both the full and the half sold out this year, so don’t wait until the last minute if you are interested!

November running: Lots to be thankful for!

I ran four races during the month of November, and my pace was in the 7s for each one!

I haven’t seen those kind of times since…. last fall. What can I say? Running in the fall in Maryland is my absolute favorite and my race times reflect that.

I also ran way more races over this past summer than I ever have before, and I struggled quite a bit in the heat and humidity. Plus, I’m getting to the point with my running where PRs are not going to be as easy to come by. I’ve been racing for six years now, and last fall, I was at the top of my game, setting new PRs in the 10K, 10 miler and marathon. I didn’t set any PRs in 2018, but who knows what 2019 will bring? I will say this past month has given me renewed confidence in my abilities.

Here’s what I raced in November 2018:

Across the Bay 10K

The Across the Bay 10K is one of Maryland’s best races, in my opinion. If you are a runner in the mid-Atlantic region, put this one on your race bucket list! The point-to-point race, which takes runners (and walkers) across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, began in 2014 and is one of the largest 10Ks in the country. You start at Northrop Grumman on the west side of the bridge, then travel across the eastbound span, ending on Kent Island. The first mile and a half or so is uphill (it’s long, but not that steep), then it levels off and then you have a nice long downhill.

For this reason, I think it’s a great PR course. In 2017, I ran a 44:50, my 10K PR, and I knew beating that was unlikely this year. I finished the 2018 race in 47:52, 7:42 pace, and was 10th out of 1,499 females in my age group. I had an awesome time, as I do every year, though there was some controversy surrounding this year’s medals. The medals for the first five years of the race were supposed to form a completed puzzle, but instead, the 2018 medal had a little groove on its right side to presumably fit into the 2019 medal. A lot of runners were PISSED and flocked to the race’s Facebook page to let the organizers know. I have no idea why that was such a big deal to people, but then again, I had no plans to stop running the race after five years, either.

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Rocky Run Italian Stallion Challenge

The following weekend, I traveled to Philadelphia to run what was technically a half marathon. The annual Rocky Run, an homage to the famous Rocky movies, features three options — a 5K, a 10-miler, or you can choose to do the Italian Stallion Challenge and run both to equal 13.1 miles. I hadn’t run a half since February, so I decided to do the challenge. My friends Staci and Sarah ran the 5K, and our other friend Melissa, who lives in the Philly suburbs, graciously woke up early with us, drove us into the city and cheered us on.

If you do the challenge, you have to finish the 5K and be back in your starting corral by the time the gun goes off for the 10-miler. I knew that wouldn’t be a problem, as I had 45 minutes to complete the 5K. I ended up running it in 23:23, 7:32 pace, though I truly think I could have been faster. It was just so crowded in the beginning that I wasn’t able to go as fast as I would have liked. My splits were negative, though, always a good thing!

The 10-miler course was fun. Most of it takes you along the Schuylkill River, and because it was mid-November, all of the trees were so colorful and beautiful. The course was overall pretty flat, but there was a killer hill around mile 4 that was really tough. It was both steep and long. But the good part was, you then got to turn around and fly down it, which was when I logged my fastest mile of that race! Finish time for the 10-miler was 1:20:02, and you can be sure that I was SO bummed when I saw I just missed breaking 1:20. Still, my total time for the challenge was 1:43:25, a 7:54 pace and a time I’d love to see in the Rehoboth Half Marathon next weekend!

Afterward, my friends and I even ran up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum! #extracredit If you’re looking for a fun fall race in Philly, check out the Rocky Run. (Although it’s almost guaranteed to be cold and windy.)

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I don’t know who that guy to the left of Staci is….

Turkey Chase 10K

The Turkey Chase 10K in Columbia was Rip It Events’ final race of 2018, so I got up early to volunteer at packet pickup, then ran the race. Last year, I ran the race the day after the Annapolis Running Classic half marathon, and struggled hard, barely finishing under 50 minutes. (Five minutes slower than my PR just a few weeks prior!) It was also VERY windy. But this year, I felt well rested and much better. There’s a lot of downhill in this race, but I don’t remember even appreciating that when I ran it in 2017. This year, I felt like I was cruising the whole time, and my pace stayed consistent, mostly in the mid-7s, for the entire race. I actually beat my Across the Bay 10K time and finished in 47:39, a 7:40 pace — and came in third in my age group!

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I’m also excited to announce that I’ll be on Rip It’s ambassador team again for 2019. If you’re interested in running any Rip It races, give me a shout and I’ll hook you up with a discount!

Greensburg Turkey Trot

Oooh boy! I took home second in my age group for the third year in a row, but this race was a hot mess. (Well, not literally. It was 21 degrees outside, and it felt like 13! Brrrrr!) But yeah, it was a pacing disaster. 5Ks are not my strong suit, and this particular 5K in my hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania — which I’ve run every Thanksgiving for the past six years — is challenging. It’s very hilly — it is in southwestern PA, after all — but the first mile is mostly downhill. So it’s easy to go out FAST, which I sure did. I ran that first mile in a blistering 6:34!!! While I’m really proud of that pace, it was stupid because I couldn’t sustain it past mile 1, so miles 2 and 3 just absolutely sucked. I think my pace on those miles was more than a minute slower than my first mile. I even had to stop and walk a few times. I crossed the finish line in 23:03, about 30 seconds slower than last year, but still fast enough for second place in my age group for the third year in a row. In fact, it’s now become a joke in my family that I keep “losing” my age group. Oh well — there’s always 2019! And 2020, when I’ll be in a whole new age group!

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Posing inside the historic Westmoreland County Courthouse, in front of a miniature version of said courthouse.

 

So that wraps up November! Yesterday, on Dec. 1, I had a much more successful 5K to kick off the new month — details to come in a blog post this week! I’m also looking forward to the Rehoboth Half Marathon next weekend. No super specific time goal, but breaking 1:45 would be nice!

Happy holidays! What’s on your race calendar for December?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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