Blown away at The B&A Trail Marathon

“Make sure you’re at the finish by 11 a.m.,” I told my husband Micah the night before the B&A Trail Marathon. “In case I beat my Rehoboth time and finish in 3:30 or so.”

“But I should be finished by 11:45 a.m.,” I continued. “No way will I be over 3:45.”

Man, I run one BQ on the most perfect race day ever, and get all cocky.

On Sunday morning, I finished my fifth full marathon, The B&A Trail Marathon in Anne Arundel County, in 3:47:19– 12 minutes, 19 seconds slower than my Rehoboth Marathon time.

Am I bummed? A little. I really thought I would be in the 3:30s and pull out another BQ (not that it would really matter, unless I beat my 3:35 PR). But any marathon finish is a victory, and anyway, remember two years ago when I was soooooo excited to run a 3:48 at the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in D.C.? I have no reason to complain.

That said, I did not have a great race. It was unseasonably cold — I seriously doubt spring is ever going to get here in the Mid-Atlantic — and windy. I think the wind really hurt me, as I have a history of running below my expectations in windy conditions. But that’s the thing about racing, and marathons in particular — you never know what you are going to get weather-wise, so you have to do the best you can!

Snow in the forecast?

So this winter in the Northeast, including the Mid-Atlantic region, has sucked snowballs. OK, so maybe Maryland hasn’t gotten anywhere near the snow that our neighbors to the north have, but temperatures have been below average for weeks. Then, four days before the race, forecasters were calling for snow over the weekend — during the second week of April. Which is nearly unheard of in this area. So the Annapolis Striders, who are the race organizers, freaked out and sent out a message saying they were monitoring the weather report and there was a chance the race could be canceled. Then I freaked out and started looking for backup marathons this month (the Coastal Delaware Running Festival in Rehoboth in two weeks was going to be my Plan B.) Fortunately, it did not snow — but it was in the 30s the morning of the race. Brrr.

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With fellow Rip It ambassador Dan before the race.  (This was not a Rip It event.) 

This race — which is both a half and a full marathon — begins and ends at Severna Park High School and takes place primarily on the B&A Trail. Luckily the school was left open for runners to stay warm before the race, and, more importantly, use the bathrooms! I loved not having to use a nasty porta potty to do my pre-race business. I would recommend the race based on that alone.

Both races kicked off promptly at 7:30 a.m., and I quickly warmed up during the first mile. But to be honest, I didn’t feel amazing. My calves felt a bit sore, which isn’t usually a problem for me, so I don’t know what that was about. And I was tired — Micah snored the night before and woke me up around 2:30 a.m. and I never really got back to sleep. Nevertheless, I held a pace that hovered in the low- to mid-8s for the first half, and the miles seemed like they were going by really fast. Then it all fell apart.

The dreaded wall

All runners turned around at mile 7 and began running straight into a headwind, which I suspect really wiped me out. I think all  in all, those of us who ran the full marathon ran 12 miles into the wind — from the bottom of the trail in Annapolis all the way up to Glen Burnie.

I started to notice that my pace was slowing into the 8:30-8:40 range around mile 14, and felt discouraged. I know that was probably silly, but I kept comparing my pace to my Rehoboth pace, where I was cruising along in the low 8s/high 7s at that point and feeling like I could keep going forever. At mile 18, I felt the wall coming on. In all of my marathons, I have never hit the wall that early. It’s pretty common to start to feel it around mile 20; I’ve always hit it around mile 22-23, except in Rehoboth when I didn’t really experience that until mile 24.

But I knew I had some cheerleaders waiting for me at the turnaround at mile 19 — Kree and Matt were there and I was really looking forward to seeing them. “Just keep hanging on until then,” I kept telling myself. Kree got video of me running past and I still looked pretty high energy, though I yelled to them, “This wind is killing me!” Matt told me not to worry, that I’d enjoy a nice tailwind on the way back.

Except … I really didn’t! Yeah, I was no longer running into a headwind, but I didn’t really feel the benefits of the wind at my back, either. Sigh.

My pace stayed in the 8s until mile 23, when it dipped into the 9s. I just couldn’t make my legs move any faster than that. I kept looking at my watch and doing “runner math”– “if you run this last 5K in XX minutes, you’ll still be under 3:40!” Except I was all fatigued so my math was probably off, haha.

At mile 25, I started talking to another runner who helped push me to the finish (“as long as you’re not in my age group,” she joked. I wasn’t– she was 10 years older than me — and she did win an age group award!) We chatted about Boston, which she had already run, and I told her I BQ’d several months ago. I also told her I couldn’t wait to be 40 so I get an extra five minutes to qualify, assuming the standards don’t change by then. “Only a runner would say that,” she laughed. So true.

The last 0.2 felt like forever and I just kept looking for Micah and my parents, who were visiting us in our new house for the first time. They were right there at the finish line and as soon as I crossed, I did the post-marathon shuffle over to where they were standing and told them I “got my ass handed to me out there.” They laughed and congratulated me and reminded me they can’t all be PRs.

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Me with Mom and Dad after the race.

Differences in training

When I trained for this marathon, I didn’t do any hill training and was not as diligent about the speed work, but I followed the same long run schedule as when I trained for Rehoboth. Maybe that made much more of a difference than I anticipated. Or maybe it was the wind that hurt me. Or maybe I just had a bad day. Who knows! I’m still glad I ran this race and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a small, low-key marathon. At just under 300 runners for the full, it is definitely the smallest marathon I have ever run.

So what’s next? Kree, Tammi and I are all running the Baltimore Marathon on Oct. 20, so I’ll start training for that sometime in June. I have a few other races planned over the next few months, including the Columbia 10-Miler and the St. Mary’s 10-Miler, both of which are Rip It races. (Let me know if you want a 10 percent off discount!) I am also running the Wayfarer’s half marathon on June 2 in Annapolis. So I’ll take a bit of a break, but will still be running, of course.

What’s your next big race?

B&A Trail Marathon training: It’s taper time!

This weekend was my last weekend of heavy duty marathon training for the B&A Trail Marathon. The Hal Higdon Advanced 2 marathon training plan that I am following called for 10 miles on Saturday and 20 miles on Sunday, but I also had plans to travel out of town for my friend Staci’s baby sprinkle and birthday, which happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day. So I banged out my 20 miles Friday morning before heading out of town, took a rest day Saturday, and then ran my 10 miles when I got home this afternoon. One thing I’ve learned over my years of marathon training is that you have to be flexible. I have no problem flipping my workouts around if that’s what suits my schedule.

So now I am officially in taper mode! The B&A Trail Marathon is on April 8, three weeks from today.

I am excited to see how I do in this marathon. When I decided to sign up for it, I initially told myself that I would take it easy — I already had my BQ from the Rehoboth Marathon, with five minutes to spare. And the Hal Higdon plan I followed to get that time was certainly aggressive. I thought of going back to the plan I’d followed for my previous three marathons, which had me taking two rest days per week and running only one 20 miler, three weeks out from the race.

But at the same time, I really enjoyed pushing myself and seeing what I was capable of. So I decided to follow the same plan again, with some modifications. I followed the exact same long run schedule, which included three 20 milers, beginning seven weeks out from the race. On those weekends where a 20-mile long run was on the schedule, I also had 10 miles to run either the day before or the day after (the plan says to run the 10 miles Saturday and the 20 Sunday, but again, I modify depending on my schedule). I took one rest day, usually Friday, every week.

This time around, I omitted the hill training on the Naval Academy Bridge — the B&A Trail is super flat anyway — and I wasn’t as diligent about my speed work. I only did three rounds of Yasso 800s instead of six rounds, as I did last time. (This training cycle, I ran four 400s, then six 800s, then eight 800s this past week. In my opinion, this workout is the hardest of all. Give me the long run any day!)

I also run four days a week instead of the six days the plan calls for, because I do kickboxing on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I am reluctant to give that up! When I trained for Rehoboth, I sometimes squeezed in a run before kickboxing class — but only sometimes. Would I be faster if I focused exclusively on running? Probably. But I love kickboxing, and I think the cross-training keeps me strong and injury-free. It works for me!

I think I am capable of going sub-3:40 in the B&A Trail Marathon, which would be another BQ. Of course, unless I can beat my 3:35:00 time from Rehoboth, it’s not going to matter. Could it happen? Maybe, but if it doesn’t, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Hell, if I don’t BQ again, I’m not going to beat myself up over it, because I already have a solid time. (Although the other night, I did have a dream that I ran a 3:43 marathon and was really upset about it! My God, get a grip, woman.)

It will be really interesting to see how backing off the speed training and omitting the hill training affects my race time. If I end up running 3:35ish again, I’ll know that the key to my success is likely running multiple 20-milers. And if I finish in the 3:40-something range, I’ll know that speed work and possibly hill training is what makes me a faster marathoner.

I’m going in with one big advantage — I have run just about all of my long runs on the B&A Trail! I’ve never been so familiar with a marathon course.

Questions for anyone reading this: Do you prefer speed training/sprint workouts or long runs (or do you think both suck, haha!) Do you think they are equally important in marathon training?

Splitting up your long run: A do or a don’t?

Let me start off this post by saying that this discussion wouldn’t even be necessary if I got out of bed at a reasonable hour on the weekends.

I was doing so well when I was training for the Rehoboth Marathon. On the days that I was scheduled to run 20 miles, I set an alarm for 5:30 a.m. and named it, “You won’t BQ by lying in bed!!!” (Hey, it worked!) But this time around, I’ve been, shall we say, much less diligent.

I’ve been sticking to the same long run schedule, including the three 20-milers, but I haven’t been waking up at the butt crack of dawn to get it done. Last week, when it was time to run the first of those 20-milers, I didn’t get underway until after noon. (The night before was a girls’ night out in downtown Annapolis, so, well …. you know.) This week was a stepback week, so my long run was 12 miles — and I didn’t get out of the house until close to 11 a.m.

That would have been OK, except that I had planned to go to Cat Yoga with some work friends at 1 p.m. in Galesville, about 15 minutes south of where I live, so I knew I would be cutting it real close. In the end, I decided to run 10 miles, go to yoga (which was awesome — cats are awesome) and then run the last two miles after class.

I’ve never split up my long run before, and I don’t know how I feel about it. At least I did the majority of the run in one chunk, and it felt great — today’s weather was drizzly and overcast, but it was in the 50s. While I loved the random 80-degree day we had a few days ago, I do think I run better when the temperatures are in the 50s and 60s. I probably ran the 10-miler a hair faster than I should have for a long run, but it was hard to pace myself when I was feeling that good.

After class, I ran the last two miles at a 7:40ish pace, which I’m happy with because I’ve been working on finishing the long runs fast anyway. Plus, after a run and a yoga class, I was ready to take a shower and relax and just get it done for today.

Have you ever split up your run like that? Does it make a difference in the, well, long run?

My running goals for 2018

There’s nothing like running a marathon to make me want to sign up for another marathon!

I don’t have kids, but I’ve joked that running 26.2 miles is probably like birthing a child, in that your body totally forgets the pain and you decide you want to do it again someday. (Mother runners, can you relate to this?)

Assuming the Boston Marathon accepts me for 2019 (with my 5-minute cushion, I’m pretty sure I’m good!), I need to find a marathon to run in 2018– or maybe two!

I have a few friends who have expressed interest in running a fall marathon. I’ve heard really good things about the Richmond Marathon in Richmond, Va., which happens every November. It’s just a few hours away from Annapolis, and it’s a marathon that a lot of runners use to BQ. Never too early to start thinking about 2020, right? 😉 I’d also be interested in the Philly Marathon, because I love Philadelphia and have several friends who live there, but I believe it conflicts with the Annapolis Running Classic.

Many people have also raved about the Marine Corps Marathon, which I would like to run some day. However, the fact that it’s in October puts me off a little bit. It would require me to spend the entire summer training, which means dealing with long runs in the swampy humidity of a central Maryland summer, plus trying to plan around vacations, day trips, etc. A November marathon buys me a little more time!

All that said, I’ve spent the last several winters training for marathons. And as much as I stress about forecasts of snow and ice, and complain about the cold, I can’t imagine not doing a spring marathon in 2018. Mainly because I hate winter THAT much and having a goal to work toward makes me hate it ever so slightly less.

I think I’m going to sign up for the B&A Trail Marathon, run by the Annapolis Striders (who organize my favorite race of all time, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run). As the name indicates, the race takes place primarily on the B&A Trail, where I do most of my long runs during marathon training. It’s a very small race, just a few hundred runners, and it’s practically in my backyard. So why not? The race, which is both a half and a full marathon, takes place on April 8.

Has anyone ever run a marathon that small? What did you like/dislike about it?

Other 2018 goals

My friend and kickboxing coach Matt always does a running challenge to kick off the new year, so in January, I am going to commit to running 100 miles during that month. Since I’ll be in marathon training mode once again, it should not be too hard to hit that mark.

I’m once again an ambassador for Rip It Events, so I plan to run and/or volunteer at as many of the 2018 events as I can. This year, I only missed one race, and it was because it was during my sister’s wedding weekend! Coming up first is the Little Patuxent River Half Marathon & 10K on Feb. 4. It’s the second year for this trail run, and it sold out in one day! I’ll be running the half, which will also fit in nicely with my marathon training.

Then in April, we have the Columbia 10 Miler and the St. Mary’s 10 Miler. Both of these races used to be half marathons, so if you weren’t quite ready for 13.1 miles, here’s your chance to try a shorter distance.

You can find the whole schedule for 2018 here.

What are your running goals for 2018?