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.

Catching the unicorn: Boston Marathon 2019

Last week, I achieved a goal that was about two years in the making when I finished the 2019 Boston Marathon. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I am so happy and grateful that I had my husband, parents and one of my sisters there with me to see me accomplish my dream!

I finished in 3:47:46, slightly off my goal time (I was shooting for sub-3:45) but whatever! I ran Boston! I will be proud of that finish time forever!

Because I qualified in December 2017, I’ve had to wait a LONG time to actually run the race. As Marathon Monday approached, my neuroses kicked in and I started to get more and more nervous. What if I got suddenly injured and couldn’t run? What if the race got canceled because of some crazy weather event? (More on the weather in a minute.) What if I got a retinal detachment and had to have surgery? (Not as crazy as it sounds. I am extremely nearsighted and this probably will happen at some point in my life.) What if, what if, what if ….

But I made it to Boston with a big smile on my face, despite the doom-and-gloom weather forecasts that threatened to quite literally put a damper on the whole thing.

The 2018 Boston Marathon will always be known for its horrific weather conditions, with cold rain and 30 mph wind gusts. Last year, I remember watching coverage of the race and thinking, “That would never happen two years in a row.” Yet sure enough, a week out from the race, meteorologists were calling for very similar weather for Boston 2019. What were the chances?

Turns out, not very high, because that wasn’t even close to the weather I actually ran in! Luckily, I brought about five different running outfits so I could be prepared for any situation.

When I woke up on race morning at 4 am — wayyyyyy before my alarm, but I just could not wait to get going — it was raining, but it didn’t look too terrible outside. The temperature was in the 50s, which is actually quite nice for running, in my opinion. I decided to wear an ancient pair of running shorts (oldies but goodies!) and my Rip It Events singlet, with a sweatshirt I could toss at the start line and a poncho provided by Marathon Tours and Travel that I also planned to ditch before starting the race. I also put on an old pair of Target rain boots that I purchased back in 2011 during Hurricane Irene news coverage. I’d heard that Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton, where the marathon starts, was a mud pit last year, so I packed the boots at the last minute. My plan was to carry my running shoes and put them on just before the race. Since all of the discarded clothing is donated to charity, I was more than OK with leaving the boots behind, as well.

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Stylish!

I met up with two other runners that I connected with through a Boston Marathon Facebook group who were also staying in my hotel, and we decided to share a Lyft to go to Boston Commons and board the buses to Hopkinton. Right before we got in our Lyft, it started raining really heavily and there was thunder and lightning, and I started to wonder if they would in fact delay the marathon. I found out later that runners in the earlier waves were made to shelter in Hopkinton High School and Middle School, while other runners had to stay on their buses. Craziness. But by the time we boarded, around 8:30, the rain had slowed to a mild drizzle, and by the time we got to Athlete’s Village, it wasn’t raining at all! But it was muddy enough that I was glad I brought those boots with me. I hope they found a good home! I tossed my sweatshirt as I walked toward the start line and didn’t even feel chilly, so I knew the race was going to be much warmer than anyone had anticipated and was so happy I opted for shorts instead of running tights.

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At the start!

26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston   

As I’ve been reading everything I could get my hands on about the Boston Marathon, I knew that the race starts out on a pretty steep downhill and it’s really easy to go out too fast, something you never want to do in a marathon. So when my wave went off at 10:50, I did my best to pace myself and start out slow. I tried to take in all the sights and sounds around me, including the spectators (I’d always heard that people cheer you on the entire way from Hopkinton to Boston, and it’s so true!) I ran the first few miles in the 8:20s, which felt very comfortable and not too fast, but looking back, probably was a bit too speedy in light of the infamous Newton Hills that come in the back half of the race. Almost immediately, I was glad I was in a singlet and shorts and I heard a few runners around me commenting on/complaining about the humidity, but it was still overcast so it didn’t feel too awful to me yet.

After Hopkinton, we ran through the towns of Ashland and Framingham, and my trusty SpiBelt– which I’ve carried in numerous races including marathons for the last three years– started to annoy the crap out of me! I had stuffed it with four energy gels, which I take faithfully during marathons at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20. For whatever reason, it started bouncing all around my waist and flipping up and down and generally just making me uncomfortable. So I took one of the gels out and figured I would hold it in my hand until mile 5 when I would take it. That solved the problem of the SpiBelt sliding around, until I dropped the damn gel in the middle of the road. One of the spectators was blasting the Boston anthem Sweet Caroline, and when I raised my arms in the air to chant, “So good, so good, so good!” the gel went flying. For a few seconds I tried to run back to retrieve it, but didn’t want to be trampled by dozens of runners. I knew volunteers would be giving out energy gels on the course, so I hoped whatever they were giving out (I’ve always used Gu brand) wouldn’t jack up my stomach.

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Natick-Wellesley: Miles 6-13

The rolling hills (mostly downhills) continued through Framingham and Natick, and my pace remained in the 8:20s-low 8:30s. The crowds were thick through downtown Natick, and again I tried to concentrate on taking it all in, waving at people, high-fiving little kids, and reading all the funny signs. (My personal favorite of the day was one that read “Did Aunt Becky get you your Boston qualifying time?”) I knew the spectators were going to get even more exuberant with the Wellesley Scream Tunnel coming up near the halfway point, and they certainly lived up to my expectations!

The Scream Tunnel is seriously one of the best parts of the Boston Marathon. Students from Wellseley College line the the street, screaming their hearts out (you can hear them from at least a half mile away) and holding signs encouraging you to kiss them. “Kiss me, I’ve been in school with all girls for four years!” “Kiss me, I’m an Aussie!” “Kiss me if you’re dead, too!” (That one was held by a girl wearing a T-Rex costume.) I actually saw one dude stop running and grab one of the girls and start full on making out with her. OK then! I didn’t kiss anyone, but I did give out a bunch of high fives! It was so much fun.

Miles 13-16: Getting hot

Around the time I hit the halfway point of the race, I started feeling the unexpected heat. At this point, there wasn’t much shade and it was the middle of the day, so we were getting cooked. I was chugging water and Gatorade — I like to alternate between the two during marathons — at every aid station. At one point, someone turned on a huge sprinkler and I ran through it and it felt incredible. The race felt like it was going by so fast at that point — I remember looking down at my watch and thinking “I’ve really been running for two hours already?” I also was able to grab an energy gel (Clif brand, vanilla flavored) from one of the stations and took it at mile 15 and my stomach cooperated. I was feeling good at that point and ready to tackle the Newton Hills ahead.

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Miles 16-21: The Newton Hills

Numerous people who have run Boston before have said the race really begins at mile 16, and it’s true. There are four hills through the town of Newton, with the most famous being Heartbreak Hill. I did a lot of hill training for this marathon, so I feel like I was as prepared as I could have been — however, it’s tough to prepare for running several miles of uphill after many miles of downhill. (At least I live in a somewhat hilly area. I feel bad for runners from very flat parts of the country!)  

I didn’t actually think any of the hills were all that bad — what makes them challenging is where they fall in the race. For example, Heartbreak Hill is steep, but no worse than the Naval Academy Bridge where I do my hill training. It’s also not that long — but since it’s at mile 20.5 in a marathon, it’s a real kick in the ass. The spectators were on point, though, yelling words of encouragement and holding signs that said things like “Don’t let this hill break your heart.” I’m not exactly sure what my pace was through this part of the race — I know I was slowing down a bit, but I didn’t stop to walk at all. There were a lot of other runners walking by that point and I was passing quite a few of them, so I can thank training on the bridge for that. But I was very excited to get to the top of the hill and see the sign at Boston College that told runners “The Heartbreak Is Over.”

Miles 21-26: Oh my Quad

After you get over Heartbreak, the race is almost entirely downhill to flat until the end. But at that point, my quads were so destroyed from all the downhill and uphill that it hardly felt easy (of course, you’re at mile 21 of a marathon; nothing feels easy then.)

I realized I was distracted by Heartbreak Hill and had completely forgotten to take my fourth gel, so I took that when I passed the mile 21 marker. Then I focused on the fact that I only had a few more miles until I could see my family. They were spectating the race at mile 24 in Brookline, though I had no idea what side of the road they would be standing on.

My quads were screaming at me, and I was hot and thirsty (I continued to stop at every water stop.) Around mile 23, my trusty Garmin Forerunner 10 died on me, which was annoying. Usually it lasts through an entire marathon, and I am hoping I don’t have to replace it — I’ve run thousands of miles with it at this point and I have a sentimental attachment to it. I knew I was slowing down anyway, so at least I didn’t have to look at my mile splits and get depressed.

I saw my mom first, and I started yelling and waving to her and finally she and Micah saw me and started cheering. My sister Catherine started waving a sign she had made for me that said “Allison’s Cheer Squad” and yelled extremely loudly, prompting some other spectators to start chanting my name as well. So that was fun. I never saw my dad, so I assume he was still at the bar drinking his Guinness (kidding! But they did hang out at a Brookline bar while they were waiting for me to run by.)

It wasn’t long afterwards that I looked up and saw the famous Citgo sign, which signals you are at mile 25 and the journey is almost over. The crowds were deafening and probably at least six people deep along this stretch, and it’s like that until you cross the finish line. It’s awesome.

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston

Everyone always talks about making that right turn on Hereford Street and then the left turn on Boylston Street, where the finish line is. I started to get really emotional when I looked up and saw the sign for Hereford Street — like, I started crying and gasping and had to tell myself, “GET IT TOGETHER, you need to keep breathing to be able to finish!” When I turned onto Boylston, I could see the finish but it looked really far away (it’s about four blocks from that intersection.) By then, everything felt surreal and I kind of felt like I was floating toward the finish line. I ran as hard as I could, past the Convention Center where I picked up my race packet, past the random Trader Joe’s on Boylston (such a weird place for a TJ’s), past the New Balance store with Run Like a Bos written in huge letters on the side.

And then I ran across the finish line and just like that, it was all over. Then the skies opened up and we got the cold rain that meteorologists had been calling for all along. Boston weather is so bizarre.

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Can you see me in the middle? I wish I had a better finish line photo! 

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Final thoughts

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t *slightly* bummed about my time, at least initially. I think I could have run in the high 3:30s/low 3:40s if it had been a flat course, but the Boston Marathon course is what it is. It’s tough AF. This article sums it up better than anything else I’ve read, down to the sunburn I got only on the right side of my body!

I’m proud of my training and proud of the fact that I only ran the back half of the course five minutes slower than the front half, even though I felt like I slowed down a lot. I’m also really happy about the fact that I’ve broken four hours in all seven of my marathons, and beat 3:50 in five of them. I know that’s “slow” to a lot of Boston runners, but it’s all relative. And isn’t finishing strong and with a smile on your face the most important part of marathoning?

I’m also so grateful for all the support I got from friends and family! I had literally dozens of people who downloaded the Boston Marathon app and/or signed up for race day alerts so they could track me during the race — high school friends, college friends, former co-workers, current co-workers, my kickboxing crew, my cousins. It was a bit scary, because you never know when a race is going to go off the rails, but I was honored that everyone was so excited for me! Thank you all!

Oh yeah, and of course I had to get new ink to commemorate my Boston experience:

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Finish line coordinates! Thanks Ariana for the pic! 😉  

What’s next for me?

Everyone has been asking me this. My dad wanted to know if this was my last marathon. No way! I plan to do many more marathons, and I plan to run Boston again, too. But I need to qualify again, obviously. I’ll be aging up for Boston 2021, and would like to shoot for a qualifying time for that race. (Of course, with the new tougher standards, I’ll have to hit the same time I did for Boston 2019!)  Initially, I was planning to run a marathon this fall and go for it then, but I think I need a bit of a break from marathon training. I want to focus on running a fast half marathon this fall — sub-1:40, I am coming for you– and run my next marathon next spring. I’m thinking about the Coastal Delaware Running Festival next April, which is in Rehoboth. Since I’ve already had good luck BQing there, why not try again?

But my most immediate goal is training for and competing in the Columbia Association Triathlon in June. I’m signed up for the super sprint — a 200 yard swim, 5-mile bike ride and 1.75-mile run.

So my personal project for May is learning how to be more comfortable in the pool– something that will undoubtedly be as challenging to me as training for a marathon!

Cramming a last-minute half marathon into Boston Marathon training

On Friday night, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to run the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware. This morning, I ran the race in 1:42, and had an absolute blast doing it! I love it when last minute decisions work out!

Let’s back up. This weekend, I was scheduled to run for two hours one day and race a half marathon the next, per my Hal Higdon Boston Bound plan. I figured that actually finding a local half marathon to do was going to be a long shot, so initially I planned just to run 13.1 miles all by myself. Then I saw that the Caesar Rodney Half was happening in Wilmington, less than two hours away from where I live, and it was being held at the very civilized time of 9:30 am (meaning I could drive in that morning without leaving in the middle of the night.) At first, I bulked at paying money for yet another race, but saw that the proceeds went to a good cause (the American Lung Association.) And running with a big group of people sounded way more fun than running a solitary half marathon. So I signed up.

This is a really cool race. The half marathon, now in its 56th year, is actually the oldest one in the country! It’s named for Caesar Rodney, who rode his horse from Delaware to Philadelphia to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence. There is a big statue of him in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, which is where the race started and ended. In addition to the half marathon, there is also a 5K and a relay option.

I wanted to get to Wilmington on the early side so I could find parking, get my bib, use the restroom, etc., before the race started, so I left my house at 6 am. There was zero traffic on 95 at that hour on a Sunday, plus I drive fast (which has gotten me into way more trouble than running fast has, hahahaha) so I arrived in Wilmington by 7:30. Packet pickup didn’t begin until 8. Whoops. Could have slept in more.

Once I got my bib, I hung out by the Rodney statue and chatted with another runner who is working toward running a half marathon in every state. He asked me my time goal, and I told him sub-1:45. He said his was 1:16. OK then! I caught up with him after the race, and he ended up placing eighth overall — so it was a very fast field today.

I was really excited to see there was a 1:45 pacer. After running for two hours yesterday, I really didn’t know if sub-1:45 was in the cards for me, but I figured I would just stick with the 1:45 guy and then move ahead in the end if I was feeling good. The back end of the race is hilly, and he said he was going to try to bank some time early on to make up for those hills.

We did the first three miles in the high 7s, which felt really comfortable. The temperature was absolutely perfect — high 50s to start — and the beginning of the course was pretty flat. The only annoying thing was how crowded it was during the part of the course that wove along the riverfront. We were running on a boardwalk and it was elbow-to-elbow at times. For all the other runners I bumped, I am sorry!

About those hills — the course was advertised as hilly, and it was, but none of them were all that steep. Just long. I felt like we were really cruising along until about the halfway point, when the hills started. Miles 6-9 were pretty much a continuous steady climb followed by a leveling out followed by another steady climb.

But after that, the inclines were pretty much done. In fact, there was some significant downhills from mile 9-12  …. meaning my quads will be feeling the burn tomorrow! But I was able to go pretty fast, even running mile 9 in a speedy 7:22, and passed the pace group for good. I was secretly hoping I could catch up to the 1:40 group, and finally beat my half marathon PR from 2016 (1:41:01, set at the Annapolis Running Classic half marathon.) But that never happened. One day! I still think I have a sub-1:40 half in me somewhere….

There was one last hill that kicked my butt pretty hard, and it was at the worst possible time in the race! The last quarter-mile of the race goes uphill, and it was actually probably the steepest hill of the whole entire race. What the hell? I did get some nice encouragement, though, from a spectator who noticed my Boston Marathon Qualifier shirt. “Just picture the crowds at Boston!” she yelled to me. “They’re all cheering for you!” That put a big smile on my face, and I made it up the hill and crossed the finish line in 1:42:35– 20 seconds faster than my last half, the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon.

Could I have gotten a PR if I hadn’t run a long run yesterday (and hill repeats Friday night?) Or if the course had been flatter? Maybe. Who knows. Races can be so unpredictable! All I know is I felt great the whole time and that I had a lot of fun, and what more can you ask for as a runner?

And while I know I just said races and race times can be unpredictable, I was curious to see what the McMillan Running Calculator predicts for my upcoming marathon — and it says 3:25:10. That seems like just a bit of a stretch, but I do think I could go sub-3:40 again! (Would need 3:35 or better to re-qualify.)

We’ll just have to see what happens on race day!

Halfway through Boston Marathon training + a note on the comparison game

The 2019 Boston Marathon is 39 days away, and I am officially more than halfway done with Hal Higdon’s 12-week Boston Bound training plan!

Last weekend was a big training weekend for me — 8 mile tempo on Saturday and 18 miles on Sunday. I feel really good about how both runs went. I averaged a pace in the 7:50s for my tempo, and felt awesome throughout. I think the weather definitely helped– Saturday it was in the low 40s and dry, totally ideal running weather!

Sunday, well, it was less than ideal for my long run. About six miles in, it started to sleet, and it only got worse from there. I actually felt OK when I was running– I had on running tights, my long-sleeved Boston Qualifier Adidas shirt, my tried-and-true windbreaker from the 2014 Annapolis Ten Mile Run, and a hat from the 2017 St. Mary’s Half Marathon to keep water off my face. My goal was to run an easy pace and finish within 2 hours and 45 minutes, which I did, almost on the nose. But as soon as I stopped running, I was FREEZING (it was only about 35 degrees outside.) I was also starving (18 miles will do that to you!) I drove home, took a hot shower and made a huge bowl of pasta with meatless meatballs, spinach and pesto, and lounged around the rest of the day!

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18 miles later….

That was probably the crappiest weather I’ve had to endure during this training cycle, although tonight wasn’t fun. I had six hill repeats to run, so I headed to the Naval Academy Bridge after work. It was about 30 degrees and windy, and I did not feel like grinding out that workout. But I did it and feel good about it. Fitness coaches like to say, “How bad do you want it?” Well, tonight I had to want it really f*cking bad.

Overall, though, I feel I’ve really lucked out. This winter has been fairly mild, really, and it’s already March 6! I know sometimes we get Nor’easters in March here, but hopefully that won’t happen this year. I have two 20-milers on the schedule this month, so let’s not have like a foot of snow falling on a Saturday or Sunday, thanks!

The comparison trap

I wanted to spend some time talking about an unhealthy habit I’ve struggled with for years — comparing myself to others.

We all do it, and I think this behavior can be helpful as a form of self-motivation — but it can also be destructive, too.

I’m trying to find a balance between those two things.

I’m in several Boston-related groups on Facebook, and I’ve learned a lot about the race and gotten some great pointers on everything from training to running the race itself to sightseeing in Boston.

But I’ve also gotten a glimpse into others’ training plans and it makes me second-guess my own training and wonder if I’m doing enough. For instance, I noted earlier that I’m following Hal Higdon’s 12-week Boston plan, which means I started officially training in January for the April race. I know I had a good base going into the training — I ran a 1:42 half in December and maintained long runs of 10-12 miles on the weekends, so it wasn’t like I was starting from nothing — but I also know a lot of my fellow Boston runners started training back in November or December. Should I have started training earlier? Too late now, I guess.

And while I’ve always known my weekly mileage as a marathon runner is lower than average, it’s become REALLY obvious that it’s WAY lower than your average Boston Marathoner. During marathon training, I typically run somewhere in the 30s for my weekly mileage. I will probably top out in the low 40s for this training cycle. I run four days a week and go to kickboxing class the other two days. (And I take a rest day.) I suppose I’d run more if I didn’t do kickboxing — but I love kickboxing and the friends that I’ve made through my class, and I’m not willing to give it up even if running more would theoretically make me faster.

I generally don’t even keep track of my monthly mileage, unless I’m doing a monthly challenge as I did in January. But boy, every runner on Instagram sure does! I see post after post of runners posting their monthly tallies of 200+ miles, and I can assure you I am nowhere close to those numbers. It’s hard not to feel like a bit of a slacker!

I also don’t watch my diet as closely as a lot of other more serious runners seem to. I don’t eat horribly, but I like to treat myself, too. I drink good beer on the regular. I’m obsessed with edible cookie dough lately. I eat a lot of cheese (except on days before long runs, ’cause that’s a gastrointestinal disaster waiting to happen.) I’m a smaller, thinner person anyway, but when I see others talking about dropping five pounds to get to their “racing weight,” I think, should I try to get leaner, too?

I try to tell myself that I earned my spot in Boston just like everyone else who qualified, and if my training works for me, then that’s enough.

It’s going to have to be!

My running goals for 2019

Happy New Year! This year is already off to a good start, running-wise. Today I ran Charm City Run’s Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore and finished second in my age group with a time of 23:54. To be honest, that was my slowest 5K in years! There are a few reasons why I believe that was the case:

  1. It was at 2 pm, which makes fueling a challenge! Usually I like to eat my bagel, peanut butter and half a banana in the morning for breakfast before a race– today, we slept in (duh, last night was New Year’s Eve), then got up and made omelettes before heading out about two hours later. By the time my husband and I got to Baltimore and lined up at the start, I was hungry again! I might not have made it had it been a longer race.
  2. There was a loooonngg hill at mile 2 that really took the gas out of me.
  3. It was so windy. It actually felt like an early spring day — I believe it was about 60 degrees — but running into the wind is never any fun.
  4. I didn’t feel 100 percent. No, not because I was hungover (seriously!) We went to Florida for Christmas and both brought home coughs. I feel mostly OK, but I’m sure it had an impact — once I crossed the finish line, I started coughing hard immediately.

I really enjoyed this race, though. It was held in Patterson Park in Baltimore, which is a lovely park, and proceeds benefited Earl’s Place, which helps men in the city who are homeless. Afterward, runners got chili (and there was a vegetarian option!) and cornbread, plus there was an epic cookie spread. Yum!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for 2019, which is a big year for me because I get to run the Boston Marathon on April 15! That is obviously going to be my main focus for the next few months, but I have a lot of other plans, too.

  1. I am going to race a triathlon. I can’t believe I am going to do this. I can barely swim! So it looks like I’ll need to take some refresher lessons. Rip It Events’ Columbia Association Triathlon in June has two options: A sprint and a super sprint. The super sprint, which is what I am going to do, is a 200 yard swim, a 5 mile bike ride and a 1.75 mile run, and fortunately, the swim is in a pool (open water freaks me the hell out.) This is so far out of my comfort zone — in addition to not being a good swimmer, I do not excel at sprinting anything — but hey, why not? As a Rip It ambassador, I am racing this tri for free. I do have a 15 percent discount code to share with anyone who is interested, so if you would like to sign up, let me know! 
  2. I would like to run a sub-1:40 half marathon. I have run 17 half marathons, with a two-year-old PR of 1:41:01. I have yet to actually follow a training plan for a half — I just kinda wing it. Maybe if I followed an actual half marathon plan, I could see some real improvements in my time. We’ll see. I’m already signed up for two halfs late in 2019 — the half at the Baltimore Running Festival in October and the Rehoboth Seashore Half in December — so I guess my training for those will depend a lot upon my training for a bigger race in the fall. Which brings me to my next goal….
  3. I need to settle on a fall marathon — or maybe something more? I have long said that I have no interest in going beyond 26.2 miles, but one of my friends was raving about an ultramarathon he did in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area a few years ago and encouraged me to consider it. It’s a 50K, so not THAT much more than a marathon … right? I’m torn. I really love the 26.2 distance and am already thinking about trying to shoot for a 2021 BQ, since I will be in a new age group. (Yet my standard will still be 3:40, thanks to the recent changes the Boston Athletic Association made to the qualifying times.) If I do run a fall marathon in 2019, it will either be Steamtown in Scranton, Pa., Marine Corps, Philly or Richmond. Gah! So many marathons I would love to run. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

What are your goals for 2019?

When every second counts: I got into the Boston Marathon with 8 seconds to spare

Did you ever think about what you could do in eight seconds?

Read a sentence in a book? Give someone you love a hug? Walk up a flight of stairs?

I never did, either. Until the Boston Athletic Association announced that the qualifying cutoff for the 2019 race was four minutes, 52 seconds.

I qualified for Boston 2019 at the 2017 Rehoboth Seashore Marathon with a perfect five-minute cushion — meaning I squeaked into the race with eight seconds to spare.

As many of you know, qualifying for the Boston Marathon has gotten tougher and tougher in recent years. It’s no longer enough just to hit the qualifying standard for your age and gender (which is already no easy feat for most runners.) Since 2012, the BAA has implemented a cutoff for qualifying runners, meaning you have to run a certain amount of time faster than your standard to be accepted. The frustrating thing is, you never know what that time is going to be, so it’s a moving target. Also, the cutoff has been trending upward over the last few years because more and more runners want to run Boston and are training harder and racing faster to get there. For the 2018 Boston Marathon, runners had to be three minutes, 23 seconds faster than their qualifying standard to get into the race.

For the 2019 Boston Marathon, a woman in my age group (35-39) had to run a 3:40:00 marathon to register for the race. When I was training to BQ in Rehoboth, I figured a 3:40 wouldn’t actually get me into Boston, so my goal was to run a 3:35. When I met that time exactly, I was thrilled! But as my registration date neared, I started to stress — especially as I started to see chatter online that the cutoff for 2019 would likely be higher than ever before. Would my extra five minutes be enough?

I registered on Friday, Sept. 14, and I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous about waiting for an acceptance. I wasn’t that anxious when I applied for college. I’ve certainly never been that stressed over a job application. Does that seem ridiculous? Maybe. But I knew I’d earned my BQ, and felt I deserved to be able to run this historic race. And the fact that I knew I qualified, but didn’t know if I’d make that yet-to-be-determined cutoff …. well, it drove me crazy.

Thankfully, I got my official acceptance Monday, Sept. 17! I was surprised it came that fast — there were people in my Boston Marathon groups on Facebook with much larger buffers than myself who had to wait longer. Maybe the BAA knew my impatient self couldn’t stand it? Haha.

About a week and a half later, the BAA announced the 4:52 cutoff, and I realized just *how* close I came to not getting in. I mean, eight seconds! What if I’d stopped to pee? Or lingered too long at a water stop? Eight seconds is nothing over the course of 26.2 miles.

The BAA also announced they were tightening the standards for Boston 2020, making them five minutes faster for all age groups. So, for 2020, I’d have to run a 3:35:00 or better to BQ. Personally, I’m a little bummed because I’ll be aging up for 2021 (I turn 40 in July 2020), and was looking forward to getting an extra five minutes. But now if I want to BQ for 2021, I’ll need to run a 3:40:00 or better once again.

While I’m thrilled that I got into Boston, I’m so sad for all of the qualified runners who were turned away for next year. The BAA said more than 7,000 runners were shut out of the race, which really sucks. I do feel that they all earned their spots and they all deserved to be there — but the BAA limits the field to 30,000 runners. I’ll be really curious to see what the cutoff will be for Boston 2020, if there even is one with the new standards. I’m sure there will be — but I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near 4:52.

What’s next?

In less than two weeks, I’ll be running the Baltimore Marathon! It’s my sixth marathon, and my main goal is to have fun and not blow up like I did in the B&A Trail Marathon. I’d like to run a 3:45 or better, which seems doable.

I’ve followed a 12-week training plan this time around, and it’s mostly gone well. I’ve been able to work a few races into the plan, including the A10, the Charles Street 12 and the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach. I actually had 16 miles to run the day of the Bottle and Cork, so I ran six miles before the race. Given that extra mileage, I ran the race about 10 minutes slower than last year, but that was still fast enough to get third in my age group. Can’t complain about that.

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99 percent sure I can see mascara from the previous night still smeared around my eyes. Because Dewey Beach.

I also dealt with an annoying calf strain that appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago. I was running the Run Now, Wine Later 5K fun run in Annapolis and wasn’t even a mile into the race when it just seized up. I had to DNS the Charm City 20-Miler two days later, and was so bummed. But it feels good now. I ran 20 miles last weekend and 12 this weekend, and I also got a spiffy new pair of hot pink calf sleeves to wear that will hopefully prevent this from happening again! Bring it on, Baltimore!

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My friend Tammi is going to crush her first marathon! 

Book review: Long Road to Boston

I love to read just as much as I love to run, so I am always looking for books that inspire me as a runner.

Long Road to Boston: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Marathon, by Mark Sutcliffe, did just that. This book is a must-read for anyone who aspires to run the Boston Marathon.

As the title indicates, this book is largely a memoir of marathoner Sutcliffe’s attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But it’s also a well-researched book that goes into a lot of detail about the history of the Boston Marathon. For example, probably all marathon runners (and lots of people who don’t run marathons) have heard of Heartbreak Hill. They may even know it’s at mile 20 of the Boston Marathon. But did you know why it’s called Heartbreak Hill? Back in 1936, defending champion Johnny Kelley passed another runner, Ellison Brown, patting him on the shoulder as he surged ahead of him. Brown then ended up winning the marathon in the end, leading to Kelley’s heartbreak.

I did not know this — I always thought Heartbreak Hill was so named because it’s at the point in the marathon where runners often begin to hit the wall and maybe miss their goal times, therefore breaking their hearts.

I also learned a lot about the history of the Boston Marathon qualifying standards and how much they have changed over the years. At one point in time, male runners had to post a 2:50 marathon to be allowed to run Boston, and female runners had to run a 3:20. Glad the Boston Athletic Association has relaxed the standards since those days!

In the author’s case, his qualifying standard was 3:25 when he started seriously trying to qualify after he’d already run many marathons. After missing his qualifying standard by a few minutes again and again, Sutcliffe qualified for and ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. The cutoff that year was 1:38, meaning runners had to run 1 minute, 38 seconds below their BQ time, and Sutcliffe made it by 22 seconds!

I felt pretty fortunate reading all about his journey to a BQ, because it didn’t take me nearly as long to qualify. I qualified in my fourth marathon, the first time I’d ever truly attempted to BQ. I say that not to brag, but to point out that I most definitely had an advantage being a woman in the 35-39 age group, where the standard is 3:40. The standards are much tougher for men, and there is some debate about whether that’s fair or not.

However, I definitely related to Sutcliffe’s comments that getting older is something a lot of runners look forward to, because it means they’ll be in a new age group with new qualifying standards. I’ll be 40 in two and a half years, and you can bet I’m excited for a 3:45 standard (assuming the BAA doesn’t change the standards, which they very well might in the next couple of years.)

What I loved the most about his book, though, was his vivid descriptions of the race. From the start of the race in Hopkinton to the famous Wellesley scream tunnel to the Newton Hills to the finish line on Boylston Street, reading the book has made me more excited than ever to run the 2019 Boston Marathon! (Assuming the BAA accepts my time with its 4:59 cushion — or five-minute cushion, depending on whether they count that extra 7/10 of a second! It”s still unclear to me.)

I’ve read several other memoirs written by runners trying to get to Boston, but this was my favorite because Sutcliffe also included so much historical information about the marathon itself. That made the book more than just a typical running memoir, and I know will make me appreciate my Boston experience all the more when I line up at the starting line in Hopkinton.

I’m a Boston qualifier! Recapping the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon

No need to bury the lede — I qualified for the Boston Marathon in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday!

Three days later, and the excitement still hasn’t worn off. I really did it! All that hard work paid off! Next September, I will get to register for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

My BQ standard is 3:40, and I ran a 3:35:00:7 — that’s right, seven-tenths of a second over a perfect 3:35, which was my goal. If you run five minutes or more under your standard, the Boston Athletic Association lets you register during week one of registrations — not sure if this counts. Anyone know? The field for the Boston Marathon has gotten so competitive over the past few years that to gain entrance into the 2018 marathon, you had to run a whole three minutes, 23 seconds under your standard — which is why I was shooting for 3:35 instead of 3:40. I should have a pretty good cushion for 2019, barring any major jumps in the cutoff time.

The road to a BQ goes through Rehoboth 

The Rehoboth Marathon was my fourth full marathon, and the first time I trained specifically for a BQ. I decided to go for it after I ran the Charlottesville Marathon last April in 3:42:15, surprising myself — it was a difficult course, and my last long run before my taper was a disaster of a 20-miler. I always train hard, but I knew if I pushed myself even harder, I could earn a Boston qualifier. Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training plan, which had me running Yasso 800s (I truly believe this is what got me the 3:35 … more on that in a bit), hill repeats and three 30-mile weekends comprised of 10 miles one day, 20 miles the next.

It was a damn tough plan, but it worked. I chose Rehoboth because I’ve been vacationing there most of my life, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The course is also super flat, unlike, well, every other marathon I’ve run. I think the fast course, coupled with that training plan and the amazing weather on race day, helped me meet my goal.

Speaking of the weather, I was REAL nervous about it. The race (which is both a full and a half marathon) has a really active Facebook group, and about 10 days out from the race, people started posting forecasts. One of the early forecasts called for 30 mph winds, and my heart sunk immediately when I saw that. I really feel the crazy winds hurt me in the Annapolis Running Classic and the Turkey Chase 10K two weekends ago, so I was not happy about possibly facing the same thing in the marathon. Fortunately, the forecast changed and there was almost no wind at all! With temperatures at the start of the race in the 40s, and the sun shining, it really was pretty ideal weather for a December race.

The race

My plan was to run with the 3:40 pace group for at least the first half of the marathon, then pass them by. I figured staying with the 3:40 group in the beginning would keep me from starting out too fast, then burning out late in the race. It ended up being the right strategy.

Both the half and full marathon started off at the Rehoboth Bandstand on Rehoboth Avenue, and right away, I noticed how crowded it was. I was pretty much running shoulder to shoulder with other runners until I broke off from the pace group at mile 14. That was the only thing I really didn’t like about the race — but when you’re running on narrow-ish streets, through a state park and down a rail trail, it’s kind of to be expected. I definitely had to apologize a few times to other runners I elbowed!

That aside, I thought the course was just beautiful. After starting in downtown Rehoboth, runners in both races ran through Cape Henlopen State Park, a favorite place of mine. The half marathoners turned around at a pavilion inside the park, while everyone running the marathon ran through the park and into Lewes Beach. We even got to run along the coast line for a hot second. At around mile 10, we ran past a Dairy Queen, where workers were handing out small servings of vanilla ice cream. While that was a nice idea, there was no way I was brave enough to try eating ice cream when I still had 16 miles left to run — I’ve had issues with dairy during training as it is. I stuck with my typical marathon fueling plan, which is taking Gu at miles five, 10, 15 and 20. It worked, though I felt my stomach start to grumble just before I hit mile 15 and got worried that a crash was imminent. Fortunately, the Gu (shout out to the lemon sublime and toasted marshmallow flavors!) did its job.

After turning around in Lewes Beach, the marathon runners went back through the park, and I decided it was time for me to go off on my own. At that point, I had been running a steady 8:20 pace, and it felt really comfortable. I started to speed up into the low 8s, while still making a point to appreciate the view around me (if you haven’t visited Cape Henlopen State Park, you totally should!) When I looked at my watch and saw I ran mile 15 in 7:58, I got a little nervous that I was going too fast, but I still felt great. I ran mile 16 in 8:07 and 17 in 8:16, and then came upon two runners who were chatting about running Boston.

I told them I was trying to qualify, and the one runner, James, asked me what time I was shooting for. I said I needed 3:40, but wanted a 3:35. He offered to pace me the rest of the marathon, which was so nice of him. He told me he was trying to take it easy with a 3:40 time, so he was quite obviously a much faster runner than I am! At this point, I was still feeling really strong and we hit miles 18 and 19 (which were back in the town of Rehoboth) at a sub-8 pace.

That pace continued as we ran miles 20 and 21 together, then we entered the Junction and Breakwater Trail, a rail trail that I didn’t even know existed until this race. (Now I have a new place to run when I come to the beach!) The trail was a little uneven, but not too bad, and I was able to hold a steady pace in the high 7s/low 8s. One big highlight was the dozens of flags hanging above the trail at mile 22, representing countries from all around the world. The volunteers at that stop were playing awesome music, too. At that point, I remember looking down at my watch and seeing I was at three hours, and knew that I could conceivably finish in the low 3:30s. After the turnaround point at the end of the trail, it was time to head back into Rehoboth, and I knew the finish line was near!

At mile 24, I started to hit “the wall,” and even began to feel a bit queasy. But my running partner cheered me on and I managed to power through. At mile 25, as we were running into Rehoboth, a spectator called out, “You look so athletic!” which made my day. At that point, I kept my eyes trained on the sidelines looking for my husband (who was in the bathroom when I crossed the finish line at the Charlottesville Marathon, haha.)

This time, he was right there at mile 26, and when he saw me, he yelled “EMPTY THE TANK! The finish line is right around the corner!” So I pretty much pushed as hard as I could mentally, ran that last 0.2 with everything left in me and crossed the finish line in a hair over 3:35. I hugged my new friend, who congratulated me on the BQ. Then I met up with my husband, who had brought a change of clean clothes for me, and it was time to hit the after party! I got three beer tickets, for three Dogfish Head Seaquench Ales (one of my favorite beers), and boy, did they taste good!

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Why I qualified 

Aside from the kindness of a fellow marathoner, there are a few reasons why I had such a successful race.

  1. Yasso 800s. This speed workout is named after its creator, Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso, who realized he could predict his marathon time, more or less, by how fast he could run 800 meters. My training plan had me doing the 800s every three weeks, starting off with repeats of four, all the way up to repeats of eight. I ran my repeats in 3:35, and ….. voila, a 3:35 marathon! Of course there is probably more to it than that, but I was amazed at how accurate the 800s turned out to be. I tweeted Yasso after the race, and he said he was actually in Rehoboth cheering on the runners — so I ran past him and didn’t even realize!
  2. I ran more than ever before. This is a no brainer, but the more miles you log, the faster you will get. In previous training cycles, I’d always run one 20-miler before tapering. This time, I ran three. Plus, the day before the long run always included a medium-long run– for example, eight miles Saturday then 16 on Sunday; nine miles, then 19 miles; and finally, three weekends of 10 miles, then 20 miles. Some weekends I felt like I did nothing but run!
  3. The weather! Totally out of a runner’s control, but bad weather can make or break a race. I struggled with what to wear during this race, and settled on a long-sleeved technical top and running tights. I did not wear a running jacket, and I’m glad I didn’t, because even with temperatures in the 40s, it started to warm up pretty quickly. I never felt too hot or cold, and I feel like I really lucked out there.
  4. I followed the long, slow distance rule during long runs, but also worked on finishing fast. You’re supposed to do your long runs during marathon training at a pace that’s easy and comfortable for you, which is probably not your race pace. I usually have a hard time doing that, but this time, I ran my long runs in the 9-minute range. But I also threw in a few marathon pace miles in there and worked on finishing fast (I ran the last two miles of my 20-milers at a sub-8 pace.) I feel that definitely helped me in the last few miles of the Rehoboth Marathon, when I was pushing hard physically and mentally.
  5. I believed in myself. Simple, but true! I’ve spent the last few months thinking about my goal and dreaming of what it would feel like to run a BQ time. I knew I had the physical ability to do it, and I’d certainly put in the work. I truly saw this as my race. And it was.

Since I qualified for Boston 2019, that leaves me in search of a marathon in 2018! What should my next one be? I’m thinking of targeting a November marathon, but I’m so used to training for marathons over the winter that I kind of want to do a spring one, too. I welcome your suggestions!