Coronavirus and running: How COVID-19 spoiled my spring racing plans

About three weeks ago, Micah and I got into an argument over the Coastal Delaware Running Festival. 

“You know that’s not going to be happening,” he said. “Coronavirus is coming here and that race is going to be canceled.” 

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. (At this point, COVID-19 was merely a threat overseas, though I knew it was likely to show up in the U.S.) 

“No, it’s not. It will be here and we are not equipped to deal with it,” he said. “I would look for another marathon just in case, and soon.” 

I kept on training for Coastal Delaware, and news about the coronavirus continued to swirl. Doesn’t the flu kill more people? I thought. Why would this lead to cancellations of events like races? 

Micah and I kept arguing about it. “I’m in the best shape of my life and I know I can qualify for Boston again,” I told him. “Yeah, that may be true, but coronavirus doesn’t care,” he retorted. 

And last week, I started to get nervous. Speculation that the Boston Marathon would be canceled for the first time ever caused a ruckus in numerous running groups I belong to on Facebook. There were people in Maryland who were tested for COVID-19 infection. The first confirmed cases of the virus began to appear in my area, and the governor declared a State of Emergency. 

So, with a week and a half ago, I signed up for the B&A Trail Marathon.

And then this week, everything blew up. 

Public schools in Maryland are closed for two weeks beginning Monday. Restrictions were placed on visitors to hospitals across the state. Public gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned in an attempt to stop the virus from infecting more people in Maryland (as of this post, there are 17 confirmed cases.) The NBA and the NHL suspended their seasons. MLB’s Opening Day has been pushed back at least two weeks.

On Wednesday, the Annapolis Striders announced B&A was canceled. The next evening, Coastal Delaware followed suit. And so did just about every road race in the DMV and beyond. The St. Patrick’s Day 5K Staci and I were going to run in Allentown, Pennsylvania got canceled. The Get Pumped For Pets race on the Eastern Shore has been postponed. (I co-authored a story about the coronavirus and race cancellations for RunWashington, but it’s largely out of date now.)

I contemplated continuing to search for another marathon to save my hard work from going to waste — the Pittsburgh Marathon in May is still on as of this writing, but I feel like it’s only a matter of time until that gets canceled, too. There’s really no point in registering. I’m still registered for the Chicago and Philly marathons this fall, and I assume things will have calmed down by then — but that’s outside of the Boston 2021 qualifying window, so I’ll have to shoot for 2022. 

(As an aside, the Boston Athletic Association announced today that they are postponing the 2020 marathon until September. Totally the right decision — runners work way too hard to get there to have that just taken away from them!)

I’m bummed out, but I also recognize that these are steps that we need to take to hopefully prevent a major public health crisis. Am I worried about getting COVID-19? Not really. I’m very healthy and rarely get sick. I can’t even recall the last time I was seriously ill. I am pretty sure that if I got coronavirus, I’d be like the vast majority of people who get it and recover relatively quickly. Maybe I’d barely notice the symptoms. The bigger concern is passing it along to someone who is not as healthy and has a compromised immune system. I don’t want to get the virus and then pass it on to someone who could develop pneumonia and die. 

And is running Boston 2021 really THAT important? I ran the marathon last year. I loved it. Seriously, the day I ran the Boston Marathon is easily among my favorite days ever. But there are so many more Bostons to come and I know I have so many more chances to qualify and run from Hopkinton to Boston. 

Lining up at the start of the 2019 Boston Marathon
I was just so excited to be running the Boston Marathon!

It sucks, because I really thought a BQ and a marathon PR were mine next month. But I’ll dial back on my training (I’ll still keep on running a lot — I just won’t be following any kind of training plan at the moment) and then kick it back up again in June to prepare for Chicago. My calendar is now clear of races until the Get Pumped For Pets 15K and the St. Michael’s Half Marathon, both in May. We’ll see if things are back to normal then — I know there is a chance they won’t be. (Hence my hesitation at signing up for Pittsburgh.)

At the end of the day, it’s just running. I’ll keep on doing it because I love it and look forward to the day that I can race again. Because that day will come!   

Recapping the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler + an update on a last-minute marathon

First of all, I’d like to start out by saying that I love the idea of trail running. I love being out in the woods — hiking in places like Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite leisure activities. I love the peacefulness and solitude. I love the scenery. And I admire the relaxed vibe of trail runners and the fact that trail runs always seemed to be followed by craft beer. I can totally get on board with that. 

Problem is, I’m just not very good at trail running! Or, I should say I’m just a much more comfortable and confident road runner. 

Last weekend, I ran the inaugural Bigfoot Endurance 10 Mile Trail Run with Rip It Events. Bigfoot Endurance’s races raise money for Parkinson’s disease research, and this was Rip It’s first time partnering with them. The race, which also included a 5-mile option, happened to fall on a weekend where I was supposed to run 20 miles one day, 10 the next. So I decided to sign up for the 10-miler, knowing I’d likely be pretty sore from the 20 miler the previous day. 

I actually wasn’t that sore, but man, that race was HARD. It was hilly, though no worse than the Little Patuxent River Run. However, the terrain was pretty uneven, with roots and rocks all over the place. I estimated that I almost fell about a dozen times. And I was running conservatively and trying to watch where I was going! 

The race took place at Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge, Maryland, about a half hour or so from where I live in Anne Arundel County. Even though it’s been an extremely mild winter, temperatures were in the mid-20s on race morning– surprisingly, much colder than Little Patuxent was! Runners were lined up by their estimated pace, and I lined up with the 8-minute/mile group. (I ran my last 10-mile race at a 7:27/mile pace, but that was on pancake flat roads in Delaware. I had no idea what to expect at this race.)

Runners doing the 5-miler ran one loop of the course, and 10-mile runners did two loops. I could tell not even a mile into the race that it was going to be a challenge because of the technical terrain (and I do not own trail running shoes, so I was wearing my trusty Brooks Ghosts.) It was a really pretty course, and we even crossed a few streams. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful, if cold, day. But it was also pretty muddy in some parts, and as I mentioned, there were roots everywhere. By the time I finished my first loop, I was pretty spent and wished I could just be done then. However, I am not a quitter and my marathon training plan did tell me to run 10 miles, so of course I continued. 

I heard later from a fellow Rip It ambassador that one runner had fallen and broken her leg, and I feel like that could have so easily been me! This is no reflection on the race — it was perfectly safe and well-organized — but trail running is just riskier.

At least I knew what to expect with the second loop, but I ended up running it about three minutes slower than my first loop. Maybe the 20-miler the previous day caught up to me, I don’t know. My finish time was 1:28:10, my slowest 10-miler ever by about four minutes, but I didn’t really care too much. I was just glad to have finished uninjured! I came in sixth in my age group and ninth overall female, which I was pleased with. 

Oh, and there was beer afterwards from Hysteria Brewing Co. and a taco truck with vegetarian tacos as an option, so of course I was happy about that! I think if I do this race again, I’ll run the 5-miler. I’m just not coordinated and sure-footed enough for longer trail races. Maybe someday I will be! 

Just thinking of that post-race beer

(As a Rip It Events ambassador, I received a free entry to the Bigfoot Endurance 5 & 10 Miler. Contact me for a 15 percent discount off of any 2020 Rip It race!

Signing up for a last-minute marathon

I’m running the B&A Trail Marathon on Sunday, March 15, breaking two big rules I have always followed as a runner. (ETA: This race is on a paved trail, so it’s not really a “trail race” despite the name.)

  1. I don’t run marathons as a way to train for a goal marathon (in this case, the Coastal Delaware Running Festival.)
  2. I don’t run the same marathon twice, unless it’s Boston (I ran B&A two years ago.)

So, why am I doing it? One word: CORONAVIRUS. Unless you are living under a rock, you know about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19, which has spread around the world and has led to cancellations/postponement of events including road races (the Paris Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, the Rome Marathon…..) I initially wasn’t too worried about Coastal Delaware being canceled; it’s a smallish local race, without a lot of runners traveling from other countries to run it. However, my husband has made me really paranoid and started telling me several weeks ago that I should find a backup marathon in case everything really went to hell and Coastal Delaware was canceled. 

I went back and forth about it and last week, decided to go for it and sign up — and saw on the website that the race was full. Balls. OK, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, I thought. 

But then, two days later, I saw the Annapolis Striders posted on Facebook that there were actually less than 10 spots remaining in the marathon! So with 11 days to go until the race, I registered. 

I figure this could go one of two ways. I know I can run the marathon distance now, but am I ready to run the race I want to run and have been training for? Best case scenario, I have an amazing race, PR the crap out of it and punch my ticket to Boston 2021. Worst case scenario, I have a mediocre-at-best race (as I did in 2018) and then it kind of throws a wrench into my training for Coastal Delaware. (I’m still banking on that race being a go.) It’s a total gamble, and I’m not adequately tapered and I’ve only run one 20-miler (sufficient for a marathon finish, but in my opinion, not sufficient for me to run a marathon PR.) 

But. I am going to go for it. And now I’m pretty excited about it.  So wish me luck!

Update on training for the Coastal Delaware Running Festival

It’s hard to believe that my 8th marathon is now less than two months away, and I’m past the halfway point in my training. This training cycle has gone really well, especially considering that it’s February and winter has yet to show up. We’ve had multiple days in the 50s and 60s, though it has been raining a ton. I am a bit paranoid that a huge Nor’Easter is going to hit Maryland in March — you know, right around the time that I’m supposed to run a 20-mile training run. But that’s what the treadmill is for, right? (Though I shudder at the thought of running 20 miles on a treadmill, ugh.) 

I’ve been following Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 Marathon Training Plan pretty religiously, with a few exceptions — I cut out hill training because the Coastal Delaware Marathon is pancake flat. I am running my Yasso 800s every three weeks and running tempo runs on the weeks that I am not running 800s. This is new for me. I’ve always been a big slacker on tempos, even when I was training to break 1:40 in the half, so I am hoping this is really going to help me reach my goal in the marathon! 

Since I still want to go to kickboxing twice a week, I’m doing an easy paced run before class on Thursdays (no more than three or four miles). I’m following the weekend run schedule exactly, and as you can see from the plan, it gets tougher and tougher — I have three weekends where I am running 20 miles one day and 10 the other. This is what I did when I got my first BQ, so I feel good about it even though I know it’s hard. Two weekends ago, I ran 17 miles on day and eight the next, and didn’t even feel sore. Just tired, like I wanted to sleep for days. This weekend, I have a 19-miler and a 9-miler (the latter at marathon pace) on tap. 

My “A” goal for the race is around a 3:30, which would be a 10-minute BQ and a 5-minute PR — I think it’s totally possible as long as everything goes well on race day. Marathons can be unpredictable, of course. I need a 3:40:00 or better to qualify for Boston, and who knows what the cutoff will be. I’ve seen commentary online from people who think the cutoff is going to be brutal for 2021, what with more people hoping to run the race for its 125th anniversary. But I would definitely be safe with a 10-minute buffer. I’d probably feel safe with anything more than a 5-minute buffer. But again, who knows what race day will bring! Just gotta keep grinding.

Other races on my calendar

On Super Bowl Sunday, I ran Rip It Events’ annual Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K, opting for the 10K. This is a trail race and while I’ve done the half marathon twice before, I didn’t want to risk injuring myself two months before a big goal race. (I’m klutzy.) This was actually the best weather we have EVER had for this race — it’s usually really cold and last year, it was icy in some sections on the trail. But this year, the weather was in the 40s and it was nice and sunny. I planned to run conservatively, and was very happy with my performance — I won my age group, finished fourth overall female and averaged a 7:58 pace for 6.55 miles (the 10K course is a bit long).

If you’re looking for a fun winter race, put this one on your calendar for 2021. It’s always on Super Bowl Sunday and while I can’t guarantee fantastic weather again, I can guarantee beautiful scenery and delicious food and hot chocolate afterwards (we’ve had a taco truck the last few years!) Registration usually opens in December and the race sells out VERY quickly, so watch Rip It Events’ Facebook page for details. 

Next weekend, I’ll be running in Rip It’s second race of the season, the Bigfoot Endurance 5 & 10 Miler. This is also a trail race and I’ll be running the 10 miler, as this will be the first of my three 20/10 weekends. I’m pretty excited for it. It’s the first year for this race and it just sold out earlier this week, so it should be a good time! 

(As a Rip It Events ambassador, I received a free entry to the Little Patuxent River Run and the Bigfoot Endurance 5 & 10 Miler. Contact me for a 15 percent discount off of any 2020 Rip It race!

On March 22, I’m traveling to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to run a St. Patrick’s Day 5K with Staci in Allentown. I’m excited to see how I do after all the speedwork and tempos I’ve been running– maybe I could squeak under 22 minutes? I know I CAN do it, it’s just the matter of committing to making myself really hurt for 3.1 miles. That’s where I always fall short in 5Ks. 

And then a week later, I’ll run in the Get Pumped For Pets 15K on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I ran the 10K last year and won it, two weeks before Boston. I opted for the 15K this year because it falls on the last of my 20/10 weekends, and a 15K is 9.3 miles, so it fits in nicely! Plus, some of my friends from work are planning to run it, too. (There are 5K and 10K options as well!)  

What runs are you looking forward to this spring?

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?

Run hard, party hard: The 2019 Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon

Earlier this month, I ran my 22nd half marathon, the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon. This annual race, which also includes a full marathon, happens every year on the first weekend in December. I ran the full marathon to qualify for Boston two years ago, and decided that I’d like to return for the half every year that I am able to. (I don’t really want to repeat marathons unless it’s Boston.)

There is just so much to love about this race — it’s in Rehoboth, one of my very favorite places, it’s pancake flat, and the weather is usually pretty good. It’s cold, because duh, it’s in December, but I much prefer that to the heat anyway. And the after party! You won’t find a better one, seriously.

Last year, I ran a 1:42:56 half, and was hopeful that I could break 1:40 for the third time this fall. And I did, finishing exactly four minutes faster in 1:38:56!

My husband and I got to Rehoboth Friday afternoon and waited for my sister Catherine to join us. (She recently moved back to the Pittsburgh area from Georgia, so we are excited to be able to see more of her!) Of course, we went to Dogfish Head for dinner, where I got my usual veggie burger, fries and a beer (actually, two beers. I’m sure there are a lot of runners out there who won’t drink before a race, but I’m not one of them! Everything in moderation!) This was Catherine’s first time in Rehoboth during the Christmas season, and she kept marveling over how empty the boardwalk was. It definitely looks much different when we are there in the summer!

Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

We love Dogfish!

Rehoboth Beach at Christmas time

Rehoboth at Christmas! (Photo by Catherine Rebitch)

The next morning, I awoke promptly when my alarm went off at 5. The race starts at 7 and I like to eat my bagel with peanut butter and a banana (and drink my black coffee) about two hours before a race. We were staying in the Atlantic Sands hotel, about a block from the start line (another awesome thing about this race — getting to the start is so convenient!) Catherine walked to the start line with me so she could get some pictures of the beautiful sunrise and I did a very quick warm up on the boardwalk, mainly so I could literally warm up. It was in the 30s and windy — very windy. I was a bit concerned about that headwind, but it didn’t end up being too bad for most of the race. I lined up with the 1:40 pacer, planning to stick with him for a few miles and move on ahead.

As it turned out, I ran with him for about two miles, then sped up. As always, I knew this was risky, but I was feeling fresh. The wind picked up significantly around mile 1.5 and we were running into it until around mile 3, when the half marathoners turned around and the marathoners continued into Cape Henlopen State Park. To be honest, I didn’t feel much of a tailwind then, but I’m sure it was there because my pace picked up significantly after that.

Mile 1: 7:41
Mile 2: 7:31
Mile 3: 7:31
Mile 4: 7:13

At this point, the race takes you back through the residential streets of Rehoboth and then toward the Junction and Breakwater Trail, which is a lovely trail that I never even knew existed until I ran the marathon in 2017. Miles 7-11.5ish of the half marathon are on this trail, and it’s also home to the “flag alley,” where flags from all around the world are hung above the trail. There is a DJ and a timing mat at this part, too, so the DJ calls out runners’ names as you go past.

Mile 5: 7:23
Mile 6: 7:20
Mile 7: 7:35

I was hoping to hit mile 8 right at right around an hour, which I did. The turnaround is at mile 9, and I was starting to feel tired but like I could hold onto my pace. I’m pretty proud of how consistent these next few miles were. After the turnaround, we were running directly into the sun, which was somewhat annoying because I couldn’t see all that well even with my sunglasses on! The trail is pretty even, but I still kept worrying that I was going to trip and fall over a rock or something.

Mile 8: 7:33
Mile 9: 7:33
Mile 10: 7:37
Mile 11: 7:31

The last mile and a half of the race is back out on the road and for some reason, hitting the pavement after spending the previous few miles on the trail kind of bothered my feet this year. But I told myself I was almost done at that point and could power through. Micah and Catherine were at mile 12.5 and they started screaming as soon as they saw me. They told me my Maryland flag print tights helped me stand out (apparently — at least a dozen spectators called out “Go Maryland!” as I ran past them!)

Mile 12: 7:35
Mile 13: 7:36

Last 0.18 (per my watch): 1:21

Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon

Almost at the finish

When I ran the half last year, I remember thinking the finish line was sooooo far away, and I thought the same thing this year. The last straightaway before the final right turn toward the finish seems extra long. I saw the clock read 1:39 something when I crossed, but I figured my official time would be in the 1:38s since it probably took me 20-30 seconds to cross the start line. I collected my medal and sat down on a curb to wait for my cheering squad. We walked over to the tent where the after party is held and quickly learned that the beer wasn’t available yet because apparently you have to wait until 9 am to serve alcohol in Delaware. Such silliness! Of course, we totally made up for it. The after party for this race is the absolute best I’ve ever been to, with a kickass DJ taking requests via Twitter, three Dogfish beer tickets for runners (with guests having the option to buy beer bracelets for themselves) and a spread of yummy food.

Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon

Dogfish Head beer at the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon after party!

An off-centered pyramid for off-centered people!

I placed sixth in my age group out of 197 (I think I was 11th or 12th last year), 23rd out of 1,132 females (really proud of that!) and 118th out of 1,743 half marathoners. I plan on returning in 2020 for the half marathon — registration opens every year at noon on New Year’s Eve. If you’re looking for a flat, fast course in a beautiful beach town, check this one out!

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. 🙂

Recap of the 2019 Philadelphia Half Marathon

When I ran my first half marathon in 2013, I finished in an hour and 53 minutes. I was happy to break two hours right out of the gate. A few more half marathons, and I was finishing in the 1:40s. In my fifth half, I ran a 1:42. So the next step was breaking 1:40! That would come easily, too, right?

It didn’t. It took me 15 more half marathons, and some very specific training, to run a 1:38:53. It wasn’t easy and I wondered if I’d be able to do it again.

Well, I did, at the Philadelphia Half Marathon last weekend! And I even got a 10-second PR! The Philly Half was absolutely incredible and I think it should be on every runner’s bucket list.

My trip to Philly, however, did not exactly start off on the right foot. I left work around 4 pm on Friday before the race, hoping to arrive at the race expo shortly after 6 and meet up with Staci, who was running the 8K, and Sarah, who was there to cheer us on. I’ve been to Philly numerous times; Sarah and another good friend of ours, Melissa, live there. But I wasn’t sure exactly which exit to take to get to the Convention Center, so I plugged the address into the maps function on my iPhone. Well, for some unknown reason, the GPS diverted me off I-95 and into New Jersey! I figured it out that this was, um, not right pretty quickly, but then I had to find my way back (the GPS kept telling me to go toward Trenton — WRONG!) and it added an extra 45 minutes or so onto my drive. Staci and Sarah got my race packet for me and I eventually got there, but it was stressful. We did spend a little bit of time at the expo before we went to Iron Hill Brewery for dinner, but I was anxious AF and wondered if it was a bad omen for the race.

I do wish I’d had the opportunity to spend more time at the expo — there were some great speakers earlier that day, including 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezigi, 2018 Boston Marathon champ Des Linden and Bart Yasso, creator of my favorite Yasso 800s speed workout. Staci and Sarah listened to a local running coach who had run every single Philadelphia Marathon give his tips on the course, and Sarah took detailed notes for me. Thanks, Sarah!

The half marathon and 8K take place on Saturday, with the full marathon on Sunday. I woke bright and early on Saturday morning and felt calm and ready to run. There was shuttle service to the race from our hotel, and I was so pleased with how easy that was. (Getting to the start of the race on time can be stressful, especially in a big city race, and I’d already had enough transportation drama for the weekend!) I walked out of the hotel shortly after 6 am and right onto one of the buses lined up in front of our hotel. It was awesome! Unfortunately, Staci’s shuttle experience for the 8K, which started at 10:45 am, did not go quite as smoothly. Note to race organizers for the future: Don’t neglect the 8K runners! Make sure you have reliable shuttle service for the 4,500 people who run that race, too.

The weather for the race was supposed to be in the 40s and sunny, so I wore running leggings, compression socks, my Rip It Events singlet and arm warmers. I knew I’d be fine while running, but was a bit worried that I would freeze my butt off while waiting for the race to start. However, there was a warming tent set up for runners. Major props to the race for this! I have run a fair amount of cold weather races, and this is the first time I’ve seen a warming tent — what a great idea. There were so many runners packed in there that it was almost too hot.

When I signed up for the race earlier this year, I optimistically listed my finish time as 1:39:00, so that put me in the corral behind the elite runners. The gun went off at 7:30 with the elites kicking off the race, then my corral followed soon after. Unfortunately, there were 1:45 and 1:30 pace groups, but no 1:40 pacer, so I knew I’d basically be on my own this time.

The first two miles are in the Center City section of Philly, and my Garmin did not like the tall buildings along this part of the course. At mile 1, my watch said I ran a 6:54. My first thought was, “Shit. You’ll be paying for that in about eight or nine miles.” My second thought was, “Wow, that felt pretty comfortable! I must be in better shape than I thought!” And my third thought was, “Your GPS is off because of the buildings.” I remembered hearing that other runners have experienced the same thing in Philly races, so I figured that was what was happening here, too. My second mile was a 6:50, according to my watch, but who knows how fast I actually ran it. By the end of the race, my watch said I ran 13.46 miles, and I really didn’t do too much weaving around other runners, so it was definitely the GPS that was messed up. (Not a good weekend for GPS, right??) Kind of annoying, but what can you do?

After the first few miles, I settled into a rhythm and focused on relaxing and taking in the sights. Around mile 4, I found myself running with a group with Achilles International, a nonprofit that pairs runners with disabilities with able bodied running partners. I asked them if they had a time goal, and they told me 1:40. “We can do that!” I said. I ran with them through most of the race, though they ended up finishing about a minute ahead of me.

The half marathon (and I assume the marathon as well) has great crowd support, especially along South Street and around Independence Hall. Another awesome thing about this race is that runners’ first names are printed on their bibs in large font, so I had a lot of spectators calling out my name, which was fun!

The race was, for the most part, pretty flat until we got to mile 8. But even then, the hills weren’t that long or that steep. At around mile 10, we passed a really cool mural of Patti LaBelle, which Sarah had told me about, then headed toward the Philadelphia Zoo. I had read beforehand that we’d be running through the zoo, but to be honest, by this point in the race I was kind of zoned out and didn’t even register that I was in the zoo. (It wasn’t like the Baltimore Marathon, where zoo employees are standing along the course holding animals.) I do know that after mile 11, the race was mostly downhill until the finish, which I loved! Downhill at the end of a half marathon is great! Downhill at the end of a marathon sucks — my quads are usually too beat up by then. Maybe that’s just me?

I kept looking at my watch, telling myself to maintain my pace and trying to figure out if a sub-1:40 finish was likely. It seemed like it was, but I had to remember that my GPS was off and that I was probably going to end up with way more than 13.1 miles on my watch. Overall, though, I felt tired (as one does around mile 12 of a half marathon) but like I could hold my pace without struggling too much.

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I look like I’m having fun!

We finished where we started, in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and since my watch hit 13 miles early, it seemed like the finish line was sooooo far away. It was actually kind of hard to see since it was so bright out, even with my sunglasses, making it rather difficult to do a final sprint to the finish (not that I am all that great at the last-minute sprint, haha!)

I saw 1:39 on the clock when I finished, so I was excited. A few minutes later, Sarah and my mom, who were tracking me, texted me my official time: 1:38:43.

For what it’s worth, here are my splits according to my watch, though they aren’t accurate:

Mile 1: 6:54
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 7:17
Mile 4: 7:18
Mile 5: 7:22
Mile 6: 7:22
Mile 7: 7:20
Mile 8: 7:26
Mile 9: 7:44
Mile 10: 7:37
Mile 11: 7:41
Mile 12: 7:14
Mile 13: 7:22
Last 0.46 miles (again, according to my watch): 3:19

Philadelphia Half Marathon

Checking my time!

Philadelphia Half Marathon

I truly loved this race, from the easy race day transportation to the excellent crowd support to the course itself. I told Sarah and Staci afterwards that I was thinking of signing up for the full marathon in 2020. I’m running the Chicago Marathon next October, so I’d just have to maintain my fitness for another six weeks or so.

And a few days ago, I got an email from the Philly Marathon saying that registration for 2020 was open. Sooooo I took advantage of the low introductory registration fee and signed up for the full on Nov. 22, 2020. That means I’m running three marathons in 2020: Coastal Delaware on April 19, Chicago on Oct. 11 and now, Philly. I’m so excited, though! Life is short — why the hell not run all the races as long as I am healthy and able to do so?

I have one more half marathon left in 2019 — the Rehoboth Half Marathon this Saturday. I’m hoping to break 1:40 for the third time, and think it’s very possible with the assistance of a 1:40 pacer and the fact that that the course is pancake flat. Maybe I could even knock a few more seconds off my PR!

I have to also give a shout out to Staci for running her first 8K! She has run a bunch of 5Ks before (including this one that may as well have been run on the surface of the sun), but this was her longest race to date. I told her a 10K is next!

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How I ran a sub-1:40 half marathon: A recap of the Historic Drawbridge Half

This past Saturday, I ran my 20th half marathon and broke 1:40 for the first time! I finished the Historic Drawbridge Half on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1:38:53, and I could not be more proud of myself.

As I’ve written previously, my goal was to break 1:40 in the half by the time I turn 40 next July, and I was training to do it at the Philadelphia Half Marathon on Nov. 23. This was actually the first time I ever followed a formal training plan for a half; when gearing up for a half marathon before, I just ran my normal 3-6 miles a few times a week, plus a long run of 10-12 miles on the weekends. That was always good enough for a solid 1:42-1:45 finish time, but I knew I had to kick it up a notch if I wanted to run a sub-1:40.

Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced Half Marathon Training Program, which prescribed a 15K (9.3 mile) race for last weekend’s long run. 15Ks are hard to find, so I started searching for a 10 mile race when I found out about the inaugural Historic Drawbridge Half from Tilghman Island to St. Michael’s. The race, organized by TCR Event Management, raised money for volunteer fire companies in the area.

It looked like a great PR course — pancake flat and point to point, with no turns until, the race director joked, mile 13.05 when runners turned left into the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum where the finish line was. Only a few hundred runners were expected, so I knew I wasn’t going to get caught up in the crowds like I did in the Baltimore Half. AND there was a 1:40 pacer! Six days before the race, I decided to sign up and go for it. I’m obviously really glad that I did.

I can’t say enough about how well-organized the race was. Because it was the first year for the race, I expected a few logistical hiccups, but everything went so smoothly. I picked up my packet at the Maritime Museum Saturday morning and boarded a bus to the start line on Tilghman Island, exactly 13.1 miles away. There were no delays whatsoever with the bus, and we were all treated to an absolutely beautiful sunrise as we waited for the race to begin.

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It was about 40 degrees outside and I wore running shorts, knee high VitalSox compression socks, my long-sleeved Boston race shirt and my Boston Celebration jacket. I was actually afraid of overheating in the jacket, but I felt pretty comfortable throughout the race. All in all, the weather was pretty ideal.

I started off with the 1:40 pacer and he said he was going to try to come within a minute of his goal time — so if I stuck with him, I’d have a 1:39:xx time. I was planning to run with the group until mile 10 or 11, then pull on ahead.

Mile 1: 7:29
Mile 2: 7:33
Mile 3: 7:31
Mile 4: 7:32

As it happened, I ran with the 1:40 group for the first few miles, then was feeling good so I pulled ahead. I knew it was risky and that I could blow up in the later miles, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Mile 5: 7:28
Mile 6: 7:21
Mile 7: 7:29
Mile 8: 7:25

Around miles 7 and 8 (I think), we started running into a headwind, and that was annoying. (Though I heard some other runners who live in the area say after the race that it was nothing like what they normally deal with.) One downside of this race is that it also got kind of boring after a while. We were running on the shoulder of the highway and there was zero spectator support. But to be honest, I wasn’t there to be wowed by the crowds; I’ll get that in Philly later this month. I was there for a PR.

Mile 9: 7:34
Mile 10: 7:45

Mile 10 was my slowest mile of the race. This is when the race got hard and I really had to rally mentally. I was recently asked what I think about when I am racing, and I didn’t have a good answer. But I realized during the race that I give myself pep talks. In this race, I kept telling myself I had trained for this and that it was time for me to finish the fight. (Seriously. I was really into the World Series this year and was cheering for the Nats, what can I say?)

Mile 11: 7:33
Mile 12: 7:35

I was really proud that I was able to hold a pace in the 7:30s that late in the race, because it was a huge struggle. After I passed the mile 12 marker, I told myself, “You could run a 9-minute mile right now and still meet your goal!” I ended up maintaining my pace pretty well, though.

Mile 13: 7:39

I ran the last 0.1 in 59 seconds, saw 1:38 on the finish line clock and broke into a huge smile! (The finish line announcer called out my name and said I was “grinning from ear to ear.”) Once I stopped, I must have looked pretty spent, though, because a volunteer handed me a bottle of water, asked me if I was OK and if I needed to sit down. I felt pretty good — just pooped! But so happy!

I later found out that I was the third female finisher, which was cool, but I was way more excited about breaking 1:40.

I cashed in my beer tickets (finishers got two free beers!) while I waited for the awards ceremony to start. Turns out I was a VERY distant third place finisher — the first female ran a 1:21 and the second place female ran a 1:25. So freaking fast.

The awards ceremony was awesome for several reasons:

1. They played the Jurassic Park theme song. Who doesn’t love that?

2. As I walked up to the podium, the announcer said, “Here comes Allison Sauntry, sauntering up to get her award!” and that cracked me up.

3. Of course I had one of my freebie beers in my hand, so I had to set that down by the podium so I could accept my prize. Afterwards, the second place female (I think) handed me her two free beer tickets — I’m sure she assumed I would put them to good use. Had I not driven myself to the race, I certainly would have.

I won a $15 gift certificate to TriCycle and Run on St. Michael’s (the owners also own TCR Event Management), which I used to buy awesome Brooks cushioned socks. I also won a nice trophy.

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I heard that TCR put this race together to replace Across the Bay 10K, the annual race across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that was put on hold this year due to bridge construction. As someone who prefers half marathons to 10Ks anyway, I am a huge fan. I would definitely recommend this race to other runners!

Recap of the 2019 Baltimore Running Festival

Last weekend, I participated in the Baltimore Running Festival for the fourth year in a row, running the half marathon.

Originally, I had planned to run this half as a training run for my goal race, the Philadelphia Half Marathon. But my training has been going really well and I’ve been crushing my weekly speed workouts, so I decided to just see what I could do. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to go sub-1:40, especially because the Baltimore Half is notoriously hilly. But you never know! And the weather was looking pretty darn perfect — no wind and low 50s at the start!

I ended up finishing in 1:42:11, a pace of 7:48 per mile. I’m proud of it, but I know I could have done better in a less crowded race. I wasted a lot of time and energy weaving in and around slower runners, and actually ended up with an extra 0.2 on my watch at the end of the race. If I’m calculating things correctly, I would have PRed with a 1:40:30 had I run a true 13.1. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

The race started promptly at 9:45 am. Why so late? The Baltimore Running Festival is comprised of three different races — a 5K, a half marathon and a full marathon — and so all the start times are staggered. The 5K begins at 7:30, followed by the marathon at 8 and the half at 9:45. The half begins at the 13th mile of the marathon, and the two races then go off in two different directions before merging at the 3rd mile of the half and the 16th mile of the full.

Kree and Matt were running the full marathon (Matt signed up for it the day before — who does that?) and Tammi and Cindy were also doing the half. It was Cindy’s first half marathon! We drove up early so we could see them start their race, then had plenty of time to kill before our race started. We decided to hang out at mile 9 of the marathon and cheer for Kree and Matt.

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I was assigned to wave 1, based on my expected finish time that I registered with (I can’t actually remember what that was.) But I was a bit late getting into the start corral because we were spectating, so I went off with wave 2. Almost immediately, I realized it was going to be hard to get into the rhythm I wanted because it was so packed. It was annoying, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I could either slow way down or I could add distance onto my race by going around people. I chose the latter option, but neither were ideal.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a hilly half marathon and the hills pretty much start immediately. (None are really that steep or that long — there are just a lot of them!) I ran miles 1 and 2 in 7:53 and 7:58, respectively. Then mile 3 has a nice downhill, so I logged a 7:28. However, at that point the roads get even more clogged since we were now running alongside the marathoners. But I was able to get into more of a groove then and my next two miles were both 7:39. Yay for some consistency!

Miles 5-10 are probably the hilliest part of the race, but there are also a ton of spectators out cheering the runners on, so that’s good motivation. I heard one local resident yell out “Wow, that’s a hell of a lot of runners!” or something like that, which made me laugh. Mile 6 is a long, steady climb, and I logged an 8:01, my slowest mile of the race. Then mile 7 is around Lake Montebello, which is super flat but also daunting because you can see allllllll the way around it and it looks like you have so far to run. When Tammi and I ran the full marathon last year, she said this was her least favorite part.

My watch was not syncing up with the mile markers at all — it was beeping nearly a quarter of a mile before each marker. That’s exactly what happened to me last year in the full marathon, so I should have known to expect it. But again, what could I do? I ran mile 7 in 7:46.

Miles 8 through 10 are rough. After you exit Lake Montebello, you run up a long hill, then down, then up again. Then there are more rolling hills through the Waverly neighborhood before the course (mostly) flattens out as you run back toward the Inner Harbor. Still, these are fun miles to run. The November Project is out around mile 9 cheering all the runners on extremely loudly, and so is the charity group Back On My Feet. There’s also a guy dressed up in a tiger suit who blares Eye of the Tiger on his boombox every year. This year, there was a group of African dancers, too.

Mile 8: 7:37
Mile 9: 7:40
Mile 10: 7:51

My last couple miles were truly awesome. I was tired, but I was so determined to keep pushing even though I knew sub -1:40 wasn’t happening. At this point in the race, you also get some nice downhills (which sucks in the full marathon because your quads are shot by then, but in a half it isn’t so bad!) There was apparently a church group giving out “holy water” around mile 12 or so, but I was so in the zone that I didn’t even notice. There is one last steep incline in the 11th mile, but it’s very short.

Mile 11: 7:37
Mile 12: 7:36

After I passed the 12th mile marker (again, after my watch had already told me I’d run 12 miles!) I knew there was just one more left turn and then I’d see the finish line. When I turned onto Pratt Street, crowds were lining both sides of the street and the finish line looked like it was so far away. I don’t have the last-minute kick in races that Tammi does, but I did my best to leave it all out there and finish strong.

Mile 13: 7:31
Last 0.3: 1:58

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It was a beautiful day to run a half marathon!

I was the first one of my friends to finish, so I waited to see everyone cross the finish line (although I somehow missed Tammi, who finished about 10 minutes after me.)

Overall, I’m really pleased with my performance, especially with how I was able to stay strong and consistent late in the race. I finished 6th out of 527 women in my age group, and 69th out of 3,725 women total. Super proud of those stats!

I think sub-1:40 next month in the Philadelphia Half Marathon is very possible, though that’s also a big half and I wonder if I’ll get hindered by the crowds then, too. Well, there’s always the Rehoboth Half Marathon on Dec. 7, which is a smaller race as well as a flat, fast one!

One annoying thing: I apparently didn’t show up in any race photos! I always look forward to the free photos from this race because I usually look completely absurd. But I keep checking and there are no photos of me. Weird. At least I show up in the results!

My side hustle: Freelancing for RunWashington

About two and a half years ago, I switched careers. I left the journalism industry after 15+ years to go work in PR and marketing for a hospital.

Lots of newsies like to call this type of career move “going to the dark side.” Even when I was a full-time journalist, I never cared for that expression — it just sounds so sanctimonious. Because the truth is, while journalism is an important job and plays such a vital role in our democracy, it’s not a great industry to work in.

I certainly don’t miss the financial struggles. When I left the newspaper business in 2014 to work in digital news for a TV station, I was making $34,000/year. No one goes into journalism to get rich, but that salary was not sustainable, especially where the cost of living is high, as it is in central Maryland. I wasn’t married at the time, so that made things even more difficult.

I got a significant raise at this next job and was finally able to crack $50,000/year — still not a ton of money for this area, but at least it was a living wage! However, that job came with long hours on top of a long commute, and after a while it became clear that my role at the station was more about getting page views and clicks than it was about doing good journalism that I could be proud of. The burnout was insane and I was so grateful that I found a new opportunity when I did.

Now, for the first time in my life, I make a comfortable salary AND I work normal hours. And my commute is 15 minutes. Sometimes I still can’t believe it.

But while I still do some writing in my new career, it’s not my focus, and I do miss it. I miss meeting new people and talking to them and telling their stories. Not only did I love doing that, but I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

So last winter, I reached out to the editor of RunWashington Magazine and asked if he needed any more freelancers. It seemed like the perfect fit — I’m obviously very passionate about running, I have a background in journalism and I love writing feature stories. (I covered just about everything in my years as a journalist, but my dream was really to be a features writer. I will say I don’t miss covering politics one bit!)

This year, I’ve gotten to write several fun stories for the magazine, including a profile of a woman who ran more than 50 marathons last year to honor fallen soldiers and a story about how race T-shirts are designed. And now, my bio is live on the site!

You can see the rest of my work here.

And, as a side note, I am always interested in new freelance opportunities, so please feel free to reach out if you’d like to work with me!