When it’s not such a good day for a run: The Red, White and Blue Mountain 5K

The race director for the Red White and Blue Mountain 5K minced no words as we all lined up at the start.

This is one of our toughest 5Ks, he said. It might even be the hardest one we have. If this is your first 5K, well, hopefully this doesn’t scare you away.

This race, held over Fourth of July weekend at the Blue Mountain Vineyards in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, was hardly my first 5K– I’m guessing I’ve run upwards of two dozen 5Ks at this point in my life, maybe more. And I was still a little intimidated by his warning, especially since I had hoped to run somewhere in the 21-minute range. I’d spent the last two months working more on my speed, going to the track every Wednesday night to grind out 200- and 400-meter repeats. 5Ks are tough for me, and I’d like to be able to pump out 21:xx 5K times more consistently.

This was not the race for such a lofty goal. Far from it.

And I came nowhere close to that goal. In fact, I ran my slowest 5K time — 25:26 — in at LEAST five years, maybe longer!

Shockingly, I was still fast enough to win my age group. I also finished fourth female and missed out on an overall award (which was a bottle of wine!) by nine seconds.

I still got a complimentary glass of wine afterwards, so I’d call that a win regardless of how I placed or what my time was!

The race was organized by a company called Good Day For A Run, which puts on a lot of races at wineries and breweries, as well as numerous holiday-themed races. My good friend Staci, who lives about 45 minutes away from the vineyard, found out about the race several months ago and asked if I wanted to come up and run it with her. I love races, I love wine and I love hanging out with Staci, so of course I was sold.

What made this 5K so hard? It was in a vineyard, that sounds really cool!

Sure, running through a vineyard does sound like fun — in theory! In reality, the terrain is uneven and it’s hilly as all hell. I did not look up the course ahead of time (I rarely do that with races anyway) so I didn’t realize quite how hilly it was going to be. I haven’t done one bit of hill training since Boston, and while I’m sure my track work helped a little, doing some dedicated hill work would have been much more beneficial!

There were very few flat stretches in this race, and most of the course involved weaving in and out of the rows of grapevines. So you’d run down one row, then make a very sharp turn, then run up the next row — and so on and so forth. I’ve never done a race with so many switchbacks, which basically force you to slow down or else you’ll slip and fall turning the corners. It was also tough to make up time on the downhills, because the ground was uneven and I was a little afraid of falling.

But the uphills were brutal. Brutal! Running uphill is always a challenge, but the heat and the humidity added an extra layer of difficulty. The race started at 9 am, and it was in the low 80s with high humidity. There was also zero shade and every uphill on the course was directly into the blazing sun. I said to Staci afterwards that it would have been better had the race started at 7 — of course, then we would have had to get up super early, so that would have sucked.

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Dying on the inside

I knew after about a half of a mile that this was going to be a rough race. I rarely stop and walk in 5Ks, but toward the end, I was stopping for a few seconds at a time, then running again. Fun fact, my average race pace was 8:12/mile. That was the same pace I ran in the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon, when I qualified for Boston. And I ran the last mile in this 5K at an 8:42/mile pace. My average pace in the Boston Marathon was 8:41/mile. Speed is all relative, of course, but it’s pretty clear that this race really chewed me up and spit me out.

One great thing about it — it finished on a downhill! However, it was a steep enough downhill that sprinting down it didn’t seem like the best idea. I was so happy to cross that finish line and grab a bottle of water from a volunteer (I was not ready to think about wine quite then, haha!) then I stood at the finish line and waited for Staci and got a video of her crossing the finish. She also thought the race was an ass kicker and we talked about doing it again …. If the weather was around 60 degrees!

In the future, if I am going to choose a “goal” 5K, I need to look at the course first and also consider the weather! It’s not like I’m incapable of running well on hills or in the heat, but I think the combination of the two really did me in.

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Very glad to be done!

What’s next for me?

Well, this weekend I’m running the Seashore 5 Mile Run in Rehoboth with my brother-in-law Justin. I ran this race last year and know it’s pancake flat (as are all races at the beach!) so I’m hoping my track workouts pay off. I finished in 40:08 last year and won my age group, but was annoyed that I wasn’t under 40 minutes. I’d like to be around 38ish minutes this year, but if it’s hot as Hades, who knows what I can pull off.

Then on July 21, I’m running the Ellicott City 5K with Rip It Events. This race is another hilly one– the second half of it is basically all uphill. I ran the 10K version of the race last year and finished third overall, so we’ll see what I can do in the 5K. I’ll be happy with any time in the 23-24 minute range, but maybe I’ll surprise myself!

There is still time to sign up for the Ellicott City 5K/10K
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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?

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.

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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.

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Runaway Bridesmaid: The Bridesmaids 5K

Like most women of a certain age, I have a whole collection of bridesmaids dresses that I’ve only worn once, and will probably never wear again. I’m not hating on any of the dresses — they’re actually all really nice — but it’s not like I go to fancy parties on the regular. Seriously, my Halloween costumes get more use!

So, when Rip It Events announced a new race this fall, the Bridesmaids 5K, I jumped at the chance to recycle one of my dresses!

The Bridesmaids 5K was held Saturday night in Columbia, and about a hundred men and women showed up dressed in their best wedding attire. Most of the men wore tuxedo T-shirts, but a few wore actual suits. The women came in a rainbow of bridesmaids dresses, both long and short, and there were even a few women who wore their wedding dresses! (I would have dearly loved to wear mine again, but my mom paid to have it preserved, and I know she would have been sad if I trashed it during a race!)

I chose to wear the purple dress I wore in my sister’s June wedding. It’s short, and it’s sleeveless, making it relatively easy to run in. Plus, I have purple running shoes. Fortunately, the race was on a Saturday and not a Sunday — being a Steelers fan in Ravens country, I would never wear head-to-toe purple on Sunday around these parts. Ha.

Because I’m in the thick of my marathon training, I had 10 miles to knock out on Saturday, so I ran seven before the race. The weather was pretty cool during the late morning, but by the time of the race, the sun was glaring and it was toasty. Is it not autumn? I’ve had quite a few sticky runs lately and I am over it. It’s mid-October! But I digress.

The run was a “fun run,” meaning it wasn’t timed, meaning I probably didn’t need to push it as hard as I did. All runs in Columbia are usually pretty hilly, but this one didn’t feel quite as punishing as some of the other races. I finished in 21:47, with positive splits: 6:51, 7:02, 7:14. I just don’t think I’m that great at pacing myself during 5Ks. The Glow Run was a fluke. But more importantly, I had fun, which is the whole point!

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To that end, the race was sponsored by AIDA Bistro and Wine Bar, so every runner not only got a wine glass for finishing, but two drink tickets! I usually run for beer, but I don’t exactly hate wine, either. Although I used one of my tickets for beer, and gave the other to my husband, who was nice enough to volunteer along the race course.

AIDA also gave all the runners a 15 percent off coupon for dinner, so that’s where Micah and I ate after the race. Check them out on Facebook — they posted a few live videos of the race!

Rip It Events has one last race this year — the Columbia Turkey Chase 10K and Relay, coming up the Sunday before Thanksgiving on Nov. 19. If you’re interested, shoot me a message and ask me for your 10 percent discount code!

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