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.

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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 sixth consecutive A10: At least I finished!

I’ve almost puked in the Annapolis Ten Mile Run before.

It was back in 2013, my first time running the race. I had spent the day before boozing it up on my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s boat. Things got kind of crazy — my sister fell off the boat right into the Chesapeake Bay at one point. When I got up the next morning to run the A10, I think I was still drunk. Once I started running, I felt absolutely terrible and the only thing that prevented me from emptying the contents of my stomach onto the road at mile 5 is that there were a bunch of little kids watching. #rolemodel

I ran that race in 1:24:59, not bad at all for feeling like hell, and I vowed to never make THAT mistake again.

And I never have. But on Sunday, I ran the A10 for the sixth time — and almost got sick again, this time at mile 8.

Why? I wish I knew. It was humid that morning, but I’ve run in worse conditions. I had black coffee and a bagel with sunflower seed butter and half a banana for breakfast — my typical pre-race fuel. I only drank one beer with dinner last night — again, very typical before a race. The only thing I can really think of is that I strayed from my usual veggie burger and ordered a “sushi burger” — essentially, an ahi tuna patty. I’ve been leaning more toward a strict vegetarian diet lately after living the pescatarian life for the last 20 years, so maybe my body just rejected it. But it’s so hard to say.

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Maybe I’m getting too old for these shenanigans.

I finished in 1:23:29, which I know is still a good time! But last year, I ran a 1:15:37 and felt amazing (the weather was pretty perfect last year, though.) I finished 13th in my age group last year out of 235 women, and this year, was 16th out of 187. Like I said, still a decent time. I was just really hoping to be under 1:20 and am reasonably sure I’m in shape for it — but something went wrong for sure.

If you’ve followed my previous race recaps, you’ve probably noticed that the common theme is that I tend to start out too fast. So I told myself I would stick with the 1:20 pacer and hopefully hold back for at least the first half of the race, then run ahead of then.

This is the strategy that helped me run a 3:35 marathon last December, and I do think it’s a smart race strategy — if you stick to it.

I didn’t.

I stuck with my pacer, who was a familiar face — he also ran the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler and the Rehoboth Marathon last year, and led the 1:50 group in the Annapolis Running Classic. The first two miles felt super easy, exactly what I was going for. But then, going into mile 3, I got cocky and decided I could push it. I surged ahead and kept probably about a minute or two ahead of the group, until I stopped at the water station shortly before the Naval Academy Bridge. I’ve yet to master the art of drinking while running, and decided to walk for a few seconds. The 1:20 group passed me, but I totally figured I could catch back up to them. Then I hit the damn bridge.

When I lived in Annapolis, I used to run over that bridge all the time. Last fall, when training for Rehoboth, I ran hill repeats on the bridge every three weeks. But this year, I’ve gotten away from training on the bridge and it shows. I didn’t feel prepared physically or mentally, and had to stop and walk up part of the incline. I’m going to need to start incorporating the bridge into my long runs again if I want to be prepared for the hilly Baltimore Marathon (just two months away!)

At least the decline felt good. Once runners get to the bottom of the bridge, the course makes a right turn into the Pendennis Mount neighborhood (and up another hill.) And at that point, you’re nearly half done with the race. Most years, I’m like “yay! Just five more miles!” This year, I thought, “crap, five more miles?” I was discouraged after feeling like the bridge kicked my butt, and my stomach started to feel — not great. The bagel I ate felt like a brick just sitting in my tummy. The 1:20 group was only about a minute or so ahead of me, maybe less, but that gap would widen as we ran through the neighborhood.

Mile 6 of the race is another solid decline, with a turnaround point at the bottom of the hill. So I got to see all the faster runners as they ran back up, including my friends Daniel (another Rip It ambassador) and Tammi (who was running her first A10 and is running the Baltimore Marathon with me!) They both did awesome and finished sub-1:20. At this point, I was probably two minutes behind the 1:20 group, and my stomach continued to be cranky. My feet were hurting, too — it may be time for new shoes. Better take care of that before the marathon!

Running back up the hill to hit the mile 7 marker wasn’t too bad, but once we turned out of Pendennis Mount to get back on the highway, my stomach started churning. At the mile 8 marker, I felt like I was going to throw up for sure, so I stopped and bent over the side of the road. I just dry-heaved for a few seconds, then kept on running, then stopped again and dry-heaved some more. After that, I was like, “screw it, I have less than two miles of this s*!& left” and just powered through. Coming over the Naval Academy Bridge the second time wasn’t as bad, though I suspect that side of the bridge is a little shorter. Whatever. I needed all the help I could get at that point.

The last mile of the race was actually one of my strongest miles. There were a lot of people lining the course cheering the runners on, so the last thing I wanted to do was stop and walk. The final push of the A10 is up a hill into the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (races that end on an incline are so mean!), but you can at least see the finish, so I hauled ass as fast as I could.

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Almost done! (Tammy Sheetenhelm photo)

I crossed the finish and eagerly grabbed a bottle of water and a wet towel from one of the volunteers. I must have looked rough because another volunteer came over to me and asked if I was OK. I did start to feel better after a few minutes. I caught up with Tammi and we waited for her husband and some of our other friends to finish. Matt and Kree, who also run the A10 every year, had disappointing races, too, so maybe it was just a tough year all around.

I’m running the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler again in three weeks, so we’ll see if I can do better then. (It’s a way easier course, but sometimes the heat is downright oppressive.) I still love the A10 — I always say it is my favorite race of the year — and will look forward to the 2019 race! As I wrote on social media earlier, you can’t appreciate the good races without the bad ones!

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Rocking our new premiums! Apparently my stomach had no problem handling two Bloody Marys. Also, ignore Matt’s grumpy face. (Tammy Sheetenhelm photo)

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A10 finishers! (Wendy Bernard photo)

The Annapolis Ten Mile Run: My favorite race of the year

It’s fitting that I kick off this blog by talking about the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, which I ran for the fifth time on Sunday.

The A10 is the first major race I ever did, and I believe it’s what made me a marathoner.
Back when I signed up for my first A10, on a whim, in 2013, I was a loyal gym-goer and a regular treadmill runner who was a little intimidated by the idea of running in a race with thousands of other runners. What if I totally sucked and embarrassed myself? But I decided to take a leap and run it anyway.

The day before the 2013 A10, I spent the day on my now-husband’s boat, carbo-loading with beer after beer. My sister partied so hard that she ended up in the Chesapeake Bay. Needless to say, when I woke up the next morning, I was in rough shape. But I powered through. I mean, I almost puked around mile 5, but I finished strong and wanted to sign up for the following year’s A10 almost immediately.

Lesson learned: No more than one beer (OK, maybe two!) before a long race! I’ve mostly stuck to that ….

In the years since, I’ve run countless 10-milers, a dozen half-marathons and three marathons. I like to say the 2013 A10 was my gateway drug. It made me fall in love with racing, and it made me proud to be a part of Annapolis’ wonderful running community.

The weather could not have been more perfect for the 2017 A10. And any runner knows what a difference the weather can make! A hot, humid day can really slow you down– and since the A10 is always the last weekend of August, well, there have been some muggy race days. On Sunday morning, the temperature was in the high 60s, the sun was shining and there was no humidity whatsoever (a rarity for a summer day in Maryland.)

The A10 follows the same route every year. Runners start at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and head through historic downtown Annapolis before running over Weems Creek and the Naval Academy Bridge. Then, you run miles 4.5-7.5 through the Pendennis Mount neighborhood before heading back toward the bridge (yes, you run over it twice. And yes, it’s steep and challenging!) Runners finish at the stadium.

The race is hilly, but I think the difficulty is what makes it appealing for a lot of runners. But aside from that, the course is so scenic. Running over the Naval Academy Bridge may kill your quads, but you’re rewarded with the most beautiful view at the top. The crowd support and the volunteers are just awesome, too. One surprise this year– a group of nuns in full habits who were out cheering on the runners around mile 9.5. Maybe they thought the runners needed some extra prayers!

The Annapolis Striders, the local group who organizes the race, also don’t skimp on the swag. Aside from the hoodies runners got as the finisher’s premium, we also got hats and these fantastic commemorative bottle openers:

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I finished the race in 1:15:37, my personal best for the 10-mile distance! I felt like the race went by SO fast, probably because I know the course so well at this point. I truly loved every mile.

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My friend Kree and I. We both PR’d!

I’m actually running another 10-mile race in two weekends — the Bottle and Cork Ten-Miler in Dewey Beach, Del.– so we’ll see how my times compare. That’s a much flatter course, but the weather can be just as hot and sticky.

Thanks to the Annapolis Striders for putting on another quality A10! I’ll see you next year!