Life musings: Reflecting on the past 12 years in Maryland

On Sept. 1, 2007 –12 years ago today — I moved to Maryland. I packed up my life in small town Pennsylvania, where I had worked as a newspaper reporter for the previous five years, to follow my then-boyfriend to Towson, Maryland. Everyone but me could see it was a dead end relationship, but I was young and clueless. I took a job at the Maryland Gazette, a twice-weekly sister publication to The Annapolis Capital (way back before the papers merged.) It didn’t pay enough to cover the much higher cost of living in Maryland, and the commute to and from Towson was painful, but I figured I’d move on after a year or so anyway.

I wasn’t a runner then, and my exercise routine consisted mainly of evening walks with the BF.

My, how things have changed in the last dozen years.

I broke up with that boyfriend after years of treading water. I moved on to The Capital, then left the newspaper industry to work in online news for a TV station. Eventually, I left journalism and switched to a career in marketing. I moved to Annapolis. I joined a gym where I met my husband. And I became a runner.

How did that happen? Well, here is my story.

I wasn’t an athletic child, to say the least, preferring to spend my free time reading instead of engaging in any kind of sports activity. In gym class, I was a hot mess. I was a small kid who was usually picked last, and I usually embarrassed myself when it was time to play volleyball (did I ever get the ball over the net? I don’t think I did, even once!)

But the one thing I didn’t completely hate was when we had to run a mile on the track. In those days, I ran the mile in about eight minutes. I certainly wasn’t track star material, but I didn’t finish at the bottom of the class. Still, it never occurred to me to join the track or cross country team. That was for athletes, and I was no athlete!

So if you had told me 20 years ago that I’d be going to group fitness classes and running races for fun — let alone qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon! — I would never have believed it. (I’m pretty sure I had no idea what the Boston Marathon was back then, or why it’s such a big deal to runners.)

I can’t quite pinpoint when I went for my first run, but I know it was on the treadmill at the gym at my apartment complex in Towson. This was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere with a treadmill, so I figured I’d start to use it. I wasn’t particularly serious about it and my runs then were probably more like a slow jog, but it became part of my routine when I wasn’t taking walks or at the aerobics classes I signed up for shortly after my move to Maryland. At that point, I never considered running outside (only real runners did that.)

1917950_236344935175_2269923_n

In my early days in Maryland, I was more into partying than running.

When I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out of that apartment and into a new place in Annapolis in 2011, I no longer had access to a gym, so I joined the Pip Moyer Recreation Center. And that’s when I started to hit the treadmill religiously. As in, every single night after work. I was newly single and had extra time on my hands. This was a way to relieve stress and stay in shape. Still never thought about running outside, and certainly never considered entering a race at that point.

The treadmill became a source of comfort to me over the next year and a half as I navigated the dating world (boy, that was fun) and switched to a more demanding, stressful beat at the newspaper. It kept me sane. Then I started to see a really cute guy running on the indoor track who seemed to always be looking my way. After several months, he introduced himself to me and told me he was training for the Baltimore Marathon.

“Wow!” I said. “I could never do that.”

I did, however, sign up to run a Halloween 5K in Rehoboth in October of 2012 when my friend Staci suggested it. The race ended up getting postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, so Staci and I ran it in November. I think I wore sweatpants and a hoodie and finished in 27 minutes or something like that (we’d also been out partying at the Purple Parrot the night before and didn’t get to bed until after 2 am.) But I had fun, and so I decided to register for the Turkey Trot in my hometown on Thanksgiving Day.

This was about the same time the hot guy from the gym finally asked me out. We decided to go running together at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and I was so intimidated. He was a marathon runner, after all.

But not only was that the beginning of a beautiful relationship (we’ve been married for three years now), it was also when I started to run outside in addition to running on the treadmill. In the spring of 2013, I decided to register for the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, since I was regularly running between five and seven miles for fun and for fitness.

The 2013 A10 was a true turning point for me. That was when I became truly hooked on racing and began to see myself as a runner.

1235292_10153167535605176_845919394_n

Almost immediately, I signed up for a half marathon. Then a year after that, I signed up for my first marathon.

Pittsburgh Marathon 2015

The 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon was my first marathon — and Micah’s last!

I ran more 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, half marathons. In 2017, I set my sights on qualifying for Boston, and I BQ’d in December of that year.

image2 (1)

Just after finishing the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Running has remained a huge source of comfort and stability to me, particularly as I’ve navigated the ups and downs of my career. Journalism has never been an easy way to make a living, with the long hours, low pay and relentless deadlines, but the last 15 years have been brutal for the industry (I graduated college in 2002, meaning I entered the profession just as the bottom was starting to fall out.) In 2017, I left the field completely and to be completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way in this new world and figuring out what success means to me. Running allows me to feel like I am making progress toward a goal and doing something productive outside of work.

Would I have become a runner if I hadn’t moved to Maryland?

It’s hard to say how my life would have turned out. I wonder about that all the time — what if I’d split up with that boyfriend in 2007 instead of moving to be with him in Maryland? What if I stayed in Pennsylvania or just moved to another state? Of course, I would never have met my husband then, so I’m glad I came here. And I think there’s a good chance I might not have discovered my passion for running.

I don’t know what the next 12 years hold for me, but I hope I continue to be able to run. It’s become such a vital part of me.

How to survive running in the cold

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tough Pumpkin: No basic 5K

As cliche as it may be, I love fall. Where I live, it’s still pretty warm through October and even November, without the awful humidity that defines a Maryland summer (although this fall has felt awfully summer-like at times.) I love the colors on the trees. And I love anything that’s pumpkin-flavored. Bring me all the pumpkin spice lattes. If that makes me basic, then so be it!

So several months ago, when my friend Staci asked if I’d be interested in running the Great Pumpkin Run 5K, I was all in! Our other friend Cinnamon, who lives in Frederick where the race was held, also said she would run with us. Team Thrashing Pumpkins (Staci came up with the name) was born! At my husband’s urging, I signed up for the “Tough Pumpkin” option, meaning I would run the race with a pumpkin that weighed up to 10 pounds.

Cinnamon said afterwards that she was proud of herself for running the race because it was out of her comfort zone. I also felt like I stepped out of my comfort zone. I may run a lot of races, but I do not run while holding gourds or anything else, for that matter. Also, most of this race was on a trail, and I have very little experience trail running (although I do enjoy it.)

Even though temperatures topped out around 75 degrees the day before, the morning of the race was only in the 40s. Brrr. Fortunately, the race started at the very civilized time of 10 a.m., so it did warm up a little. I got there a little early so I could pick out my pumpkin, which I am guessing was around five pounds. It did not feel heavy when I picked it up, but I knew running with it was probably going to be a real pain.

image2

Me after the race.

That was correct. I’ve been running 5Ks lately in the 21-22 minute range, and I knew I was never going to hit that pace with a pumpkin in my hands. And I also knew running on a trail would slow me down. So I tried not to think about my time too much and focused on just enjoying the experience.

And despite having to constantly move the pumpkin from arm to arm (while the stupidly long stem kept jabbing me), I really did enjoy the run! The race was held at a place called Crumland Farms, which was still all decked out with haunted Halloween attractions. The first three-quarters of a mile or so was on a gravel road, then runners headed back into the fields, where the terrain was muddy, uneven and littered with fallen corn stalks. The race organizers did a nice job of placing funny signs all along the course (“What’s the best place for a pumpkin? In a pie!” was my favorite. I happen to agree with that.)

I was proud of myself for passing quite a few men out there (though maybe they carried larger pumpkins; I really don’t know.) At one point, one guy yelled out to me, “You’re doing great! I’m here drooling on myself, and you don’t even look tired!” I’m glad I made it look easy, because, again, it was not!

I took a few brief walk breaks when I felt really pooped, then just tried to keep going as fast as I could. In the end, I crossed the finish line in just over 25 minutes. A volunteer told me that I was the first woman to cross the finish line carrying a pumpkin, but there was no awards ceremony, so I’m not totally sure. Still, I was happy with that time!

I need to add that I wasn’t the only one running with a little extra something — Staci is about three months pregnant, so she also was carrying a little pumpkin! Maybe with the early exposure, her little boy or girl will grow up to be a runner!

The swag for the race was on point. Runners got a hoodie with a pumpkin face on it — even though some people look down on those who wear race swag the day of the race, I totally did anyway — a big medal and a pumpkin to take home, even if you didn’t run the Tough Pumpkin. Tough Pumpkin runners got an extra medal. They also advertised apple cider, but it was apple juice (womp womp). I heard someone complaining about that.

This was also Staci’s third 5K race, and she summed it up accurately when she said every race is a new and different experience. That, to me, is the best and worst part of running! You never know quite what you are going to get every time you line up at the start of a race. But that’s what keeps it interesting! I’d definitely run this one again.

image3

The 2017 Baltimore Running Festival: Two races, 16.2 miles

I almost changed my registration for the Baltimore Running Festival to the full marathon at the last minute.

It was tempting. I’m certainly in physical shape to run a full right now — I did one of my 20-milers last weekend, and a 19-miler before that as part of my Rehoboth Marathon training. But your body does need adequate time to taper and rest for the 26.2-mile distance in order to run your best, and I was afraid that pushing it too soon by jumping into an unplanned marathon would derail my overall training goals. So, I went with my original plan and ran the Baltimoronathon.

What’s that, you ask? It was actually two races — the 5K race at 7:30 a.m., followed by the Baltimore Half Marathon at 9:45 a.m.

And I am so glad I did! I ran better than I ever expected– second in my age group in the 5K, and third overall female in the Moronathon. The Baltimore Running Festival is a huge race and I never thought I would place in any of the races. I believe I have at least one award coming in the mail!

Runners most definitely got a nice boost from the weather today. It’s been so unseasonably warm here lately, and today was in the 70s. But for the 5K and at least part of the half, the temps hovered in the 60s, which, in my opinion, is perfect running weather. And I can’t complain about running in shorts and a singlet on Oct. 21.

The 5K and the half started in the same place at the Inner Harbor, but followed different routes. 5K runners ran down Key Highway and toward Port Covington, then turned back toward the Inner Harbor for a finish on Pratt Street. It was a flat and fast race (very much unlike the full and half marathons!) I clocked 21:55, fast enough for 2nd place among women in the 35-39 age group. I was really ecstatic over my splits, which according to my watch were almost perfect: 7:07, 7:04, 7:01. That never happens. Maybe I’m not so terrible at pacing myself during 5Ks after all.

BaltRunFest2

The only annoying thing about the race was the crush of runners at the start. I felt like I was dodging a lot of people for maybe the first quarter of a mile or so. But that’s typical for most big city races.

I finished the race before 8 and then had tons of time to kill before the half started, so I pretty much just walked around the Inner Harbor and tried to hydrate.

And didn’t that come back to bite me in the ass! About 10 minutes before the gun went off for the half, I realized I had to pee, and didn’t have time to hit the port-a-potties. So I tried to tell myself it was just nerves. NOPE! Had to stop around mile 3 to relieve myself. I hate stopping during a race, but I reasoned I’d be able to run faster if my bladder wasn’t screaming at me. This is always my struggle — I try to drink a lot of water, but then I have to pee constantly. Sigh.

I ran the Baltimore Half last year, and the course was like I remembered — HILLY. Especially miles 3-6 (which I believe correspond to miles 16-19 of the full marathon). It’s just one hill after another. It’s tough, but there’s a lot of downhill on the last few miles of the race. Still kinda brutal on the quads, but I try to look on the bright side!

There are two things I love about this race. One is the amazing crowd participation. Baltimore really gets into the Running Festival and so many people line the streets of each neighborhood the race goes through, holding up funny signs, ringing cow bells and handing out water, oranges and in some cases, beer. It really motivates me to keep running when I feel tired.

The other thing I really like is the loop around Lake Montebello at mile 7-8. It’s flat after several miles of hills, and it’s scenic — and you know you’re more than halfway done at that point and are heading toward the finish!

Speaking of the finish — all runners finished at the Inner Harbor, which was a much-hyped change from previous years. Before, the finish line was at Camden Yards. I ran into one of my Rip It friends afterwards, and we both agreed we preferred the finish at Camden Yards. If I remember correctly, the celebration village (AKA BEER TENT) was pretty close to the old finish line — not so much the case today. I mean, who wants to walk that far for post-race beer after 13.1 or 26.2 miles? (Of course I still did!)

To accommodate the new finish, there was a slight change to the course at the last mile and a half that involved a fairly steep, albeit short, hill. I’m pretty sure I yelled out “WHAT THE &%$%$ IS THIS HILL?” to another runner, who echoed my thoughts.

In the end, I finished in 1:45 and some change. It was about three minutes slower than last year, but then again, last year, I didn’t run a fast 5K first! Because I did the Baltimoronathon, my half marathon time wasn’t recorded as part of the results for that race. (UPDATE: I lied! My time was recorded after all. I finished in 1:45:29, 16th in my age group.) BUT I was very surprised to see that I was the Moronathon’s third overall female finisher! Total time was 2:07:25 for both races.

BaltRunFest3

 

I felt pretty good after finishing the half and obviously high-tailed it to the aforementioned beer tent. Runners got two drink tickets and I used mine to get two Dogfish Head Seaquench Ales, a favorite beer of mine. It’s probably more of a summer beer, but whatever, it still felt very summer-like out there.

BaltRunFest.jpeg

My friend Staci says I should see if a brewery will sponsor me, much like Nike or Wheaties sponsors Olympians. If any brewery owner is reading this, and is interested, contact me!

After hanging out for a little bit, I hopped in my car and headed home — and it was then that I realized I’d made a crucial mistake by paying a few extra bucks for parking near the Inner Harbor. Traffic was so bad after the race that I’m pretty sure I spent as much time sitting in my car as I did running. Had I opted for the free parking near the stadiums, I would have had a much longer walk to my car, but I think I could have jumped right on the highway. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Did anyone else do the Baltimore Running Festival this year? What did you think of the finish line changes?

 

Giving up drinking while marathon training: Worth it?

I joke a lot that I run for beer — except it’s not really a joke. Seriously, if there’s anything better than a cold beer after a long run, I don’t know what it is. (OK, maybe Bloody Marys at brunch after a race. Those are also pretty legit.)

But would I be a better runner if I stopped drinking during marathon training?

A recent article in Women’s Running took a look at the drawbacks of drinking during training, including dehydration, empty calories and its negative effect on your muscles.

The author, Charlie Watson, writes that studies show alcohol consumption decreases the use of glucose and amino acids by skeletal muscles. This, in turn, hurts your energy supply and metabolic process, and it also hurts your body’s ability to store glycogen, which you need for those long runs. As a result, you’ll be slower, and you’ll crash sooner.

“Ultimately, it’s up to you. Personally there have been training cycles filled with weddings and bachelorette parties where I wouldn’t have wanted to give up alcohol,” Watson writes.

I can certainly relate to that.

And honestly — I don’t know if I could do it! To be honest, I like drinking! And while I don’t get slammed the night before a race (anymore — learned my lesson after the 2013 A10) I usually have a beer or two with my pre-race dinner and I’ve always been fine. Even before marathons. Moderation is obviously key, of course.

But maybe I’d run even faster if I abstained.

Watson, the author of the article, said she gave up drinking while training for a BQ, which is what I am gunning for, as well. Perhaps it is something I should consider.

Have you ever ditched drinking in the weeks before a big race? If so, how did it affect your training and your race time?