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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

The 2019 Annapolis Ten Mile Run: What a perfect day

I had one main goal for this year’s Annapolis Ten Mile Run.

My God, have a better race than last year.

Now, I love the A10. It is my favorite race, and even the bad years are still pretty good. That said, the 2018 A10 was an absolute disaster for me. I started to run out of gas at mile 5, dry heaved at mile 8 and all but crawled across the finish line in 1:23 (a perfectly respectable time, don’t get me wrong, but I’d run a 1:15 the prior year!) I’m still not entirely sure how that race went off the rails so badly, though I suspect it was the ahi tuna burger I’d eaten the night before. Always get the veggie burger before a race! Always!

Anyway, I am happy to report that this year’s A10 went amazing! I ran a 1:17:26 — my fastest 10-miler in two years!! — pulled off a negative split, and felt super strong from start to finish.

So what went RIGHT this year? Honestly …. Aside from the fact that I didn’t eat ahi tuna for dinner the night before, the weather probably had a lot to do with it! After days and days of hot, disgusting, humid Maryland weather, things finally cooled off for the weekend. It was in the 60s when I woke up the day of the race, and I was actually chilly while waiting for it to start. It certainly didn’t feel like August in Maryland, and I was totally fine with that. The cool temps were pretty much all anyone was talking about because you know no one likes to bitch and stress about the weather more than runners! Haha.

Oh, and after packet pickup the day before, Kree and I went downtown to get Painkillers at Pusser’s and later, a margarita at Vida Taco Bar. Maybe that was literally the secret sauce?

My plan was to start with the 1:20 pace group (a flat 8-minute/mile pace) through the halfway point, then pass them by so I could have a sub-1:20 finish. I recognized the main pacer, as he led the 1:20 group last year, and he always runs the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach, too. He’s very upbeat and does a great job of running an even, steady pace (the worst is when you have a pacer that goes out too fast — that’s the whole point of running with a pacer, so you don’t blow your race in the first few miles!)

With the exception of last year, since it was such a shit show, I’ve always felt like the A10 just flies by. That was definitely the case this year. From the Navy-Marine Corps stadium to Main Street to the Naval Academy Bridge to Pendennis Mount and back across the bridge and to the stadium, the miles just ticked by. As per my plan, I did stick with the group until we hit mile 5, then sped up. I wasn’t sure how far in front of them I could get, but I was feeling good so I just went with it. When I hit the turnaround between miles 6 and 7, I saw that I was probably around 2-3 minutes ahead, and hoped I could finish in the 1:17-1:18 range.

I felt like I was working hard, but also like I could keep pushing, so I did. I’m really proud of the fact that my last three miles were 7:22, 7:23 and 7:25. (Mile 9 even included the second trip over the Naval Academy Bridge!) The clock read 1:18-something when I crossed the finish line, though I knew my chip time would be faster than that. I was thrilled!

The A10 is highly competitive, so I knew there was no chance of me getting any type of age group award. I think the winners in my AG finished, like, more than 10 minutes ahead of me. I ended up finishing 13th out of 212 women, which oddly enough was about the same as my ranking last year, even though I was six minutes faster this year.

One of my favorite things about this race is the fact that I always have a lot of friends who run it as well. This year was no exception. As always, 5 Peaks Martial Arts Academy was well represented. My friend Cindy ran her first A10 and even though she said it was awful after she finished, she admitted it was also fun and that she’d run it again.

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My other favorite thing about this race is the swag. The premium is usually pretty fantastic. This is what we got this year:

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And we also got medals! This is the first time they’ve ever had finisher’s medals! They’re pretty nice, too.

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Afterwards, Kree wanted to run another six miles because she had an Ironman triathlon coming up in about a month, so she asked me to join her. We grabbed brunch/second breakfast at Grump’s, then headed across the street to Quiet Waters Park. We ran a very easy six miles, and I felt pretty good considering I hadn’t run anything longer than about 10 or 12 miles since Boston. And considering the fact that I drank a mimosa with brunch. (Hydration, am I right?!)

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I’m already looking forward to the 2020 A10, as well as Bottle and Cork in two weeks. That course is much flatter, but it can also be brutally hot, so you never know how it’ll go. My goal would again be to go sub-1:20, and even better, to beat my time from this weekend.

My quest to get better at running 5Ks

I hear it all the time when I talk about how difficult I find 5Ks.

“But you run marathons! 5Ks must be a breeze for you.”

Well, sure, a 5K would be pretty easy for me if I run it at my marathon pace! But that’s not how you are supposed to run 5Ks — you are supposed to run them as hard and fast as you can, and they hurt like hell but are over quickly. The marathon, on the other hand, is a slow burn and a whole different kind of hurt. If I had to pick which one I prefer, I’d say the marathon, but I can only run so many of those a year (my limit is two) while I can bang out multiple 5Ks a month if I feel like it.

In fact, I decided to run a 5K last weekend as sort of a comeback race after Boston. My coworker had told me about the Champions for Children 5K at Quiet Waters Park, one of my favorite places to run in Annapolis. The race raised money for the county’s Family Assistance Fund, so it was for a good cause.

Naturally, I’d also checked out last year’s times and thought I had a good chance at winning my age group, and maybe even placing overall. But I also knew that I was less than two weeks out from Boston and my body was still recovering, so I wasn’t sure how fast I could run it.

Well, I ended up finishing in third place overall, about 20 seconds behind a young man and woman who were both Naval Academy students. (When I told my mom about this, she said, “Great job! You are like twice their age!” Haha, thanks. It’s true.) My official time was 21:17, but the course was short. I logged 2.8 miles per my Garmin. Shrug. I’ve run 5Ks in Quiet Waters before, and for some reason, they are always short. So the race results list my pace as 6:52/mile, which looks great but is not accurate!

That said, I did a decent job pacing myself in this race. As I’ve said before, I have a bad habit of going out at a sub-7 pace in 5Ks and sometimes even 10Ks, but then can’t hold it and crash bad in the last mile. This time, I ran the first mile in 7:20, the second in 7:22 and the last 8/10 of a mile in 6:35. I imagine if the race had actually been 3.1 miles, I would have finished in the 22:xx range. Not the 21:35 I ran in the Barlowe Bolt, but a time I could be proud of!

Since I frequently run in Quiet Waters, I know the paths really well, but I was also afraid of tripping and falling if I ran too fast. (I fell and scraped myself up good on one of my 20-mile training runs for Boston, and I was definitely not running a 7:xx pace then!) That fear probably kept me from going balls to the wall right out of the gate, which was good.

I was actually leading the race for the first half mile or so, then the mids passed me and I was never able to catch up to them. But I did keep them in my line of sight for the entire race! I wish I could have outkicked them in the end, but sprinting is definitely my weakness as a runner. Afterwards, I congratulated them and the guy said he was looking over his shoulder the entire time to see how close I was! As the third overall winner, I took home a bunch of swag from The Greene Turtle, including a gift card, pint glass and two T-shirts (both of them are sadly way too big for me).

Getting better at running 5Ks is one of my running goals for this summer. I think with proper 5K-specific training, I can more consistently go sub-22– I know I have it in me, it’s just a matter of sucking it up and being more comfortable with being uncomfortable for 3.1 miles. So now I am on the hunt for a training plan geared to helping more experienced runners improve in the 5K. I’ve actually never followed a training plan for anything but a marathon, so I have some research to do. Any recommendations? Hit me up in the comments!

Right now I have three 5Ks on my calendar for this summer:

June 1: The Herald Harbor 5K. I ran this last year and it was hot as hell, and the course was short (again, about 2.8 miles.) I was the first female and sixth overall finisher.

July 6: Red White and Blue Mountain 5K with Staci in the Poconos. This run is at a winery– what’s not to love about that?

July 21: Ellicott City 5K/10K with Rip It Events. I ran the 10K last year and finished as third overall female, but my God, this race is hard. I decided to stick with the 5K this year and see what I could do with it. As a Rip It Events ambassador, I am running this race for free and have a 15 percent off code to share if you are interested in running, too– message me for details!