Running in the time of coronavirus: An update on my fall racing plans

In terms of my running goals, I had big plans for 2020. 

I was going to run the Coastal Delaware Marathon in April and qualify for Boston 2021, hopefully with a 10-minute margin. Then I was going to run the Chicago Marathon in October and the Philly Marathon in November. Maybe I’d get 2022 BQs at one or both of those races, but that really wasn’t my objective when I signed up for them. Chicago was supposed to be a belated 40th birthday celebration with my sisters, and Philly was going to be another fun girls weekend with my friends who live in PA. I have never run three marathons in one year and I was so excited for all of these races. 

Then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic happened and life as we knew it changed. 

Coastal Delaware got canceled five weeks before the planned race date, and I got over it pretty quickly. I mean, what else could I do? And hey, that meant I could just make Chicago my next big “goal” marathon. Things would be back to normal over the summer, right?  

Uh, not so much. 

As of today, the Chicago Marathon is still happening. But the governor of Illinois has flat out said no mass gatherings, such as concerts or large events, until there is a vaccine or viable treatment for the virus or it’s gone completely. Doesn’t seem super likely at this point to happen by October. The marathon is one of the largest in the world, with about 45,000 runners and who knows how many spectators and volunteers. Boston 2020 has already canceled (after first being postponed) and gone virtual, and New York canceled last week as well. I don’t see any way how the race is going forward, so last week I decided to proactively cancel my registration and defer to 2021. I qualified for a spot in the race, and I don’t want to risk losing it if (when) it is canceled. It’ll be there next year, unless we are still living in COVID hell. 

I’m still registered for Philly and am just waiting to see what happens at this point. The race hasn’t even acknowledged COVID on their website or social channels, which is bizarre, to say the least. I haven’t even seen them share a “we’re monitoring the situation!” type of statement. Given how much chatter there is around race cancellations within the running community, that type of silence is really strange to me.

With all that said, I decided to do something impulsive (what? me? never!!!) and register for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on Sept. 13. As the name indicates, the marathon is mainly for runners who are going for a last-minute BQ attempt. Registration for the Boston Marathon usually opens in mid-September, though who knows what will be going on with 2021 registration. I had pretty much written off Boston 2021 at this point, but I saw people talking about this marathon in one of my running groups on Facebook and I decided to look into it.

Apparently, they are taking a ton of corona-related precautions. The race is limited to 220 runners (and they want you to plan on being within 10 minutes of your BQ time), runners have to bring their own hydration, and no spectators are allowed. You have to wear masks before and after the race when you are in common gathering areas, but not while running.  It sounds like they are thinking of giving out boxed lunches at the “after party” (so probably no beer, wahhhhhh) and only awarding prizes at the race to the top overall runners — other awards will be mailed. 

They were also upfront about the fact that the race could still be canceled if COVID numbers start escalating again, BUT if that happens, you’ll get a credit to use for the 2021 or 2022 race. So I decided I really didn’t have much to lose and signed up for it. And now I am really pumped and trying to tell myself not to be too bummed if it doesn’t happen!

I only just finished my third week of what was to be my Chicago training, so this will shorten things by a few weeks and I’ll have to make some tweaks to my training plan. Will I BQ in September, if the race happens? Who knows. I am sure as hell going to try. But honestly, I will just be so happy to run a marathon during this trash fire of a year that I will take what I can get. 

So that’s my next in-person race, for now! I am also still registered for a 5K in Cape May, New Jersey the weekend after Chasing the Unicorn — some of my friends and I were planning a girls weekend then and the race organization that is holding that event has started resuming in-person races with staggered starts and other precautions. Everything else has either been canceled or gone virtual. I’m running my next virtual 5K with Rip It Events on July 4, which somehow is this weekend already. Crazy. For such a weird year, it sure is going by fast. 

What’s your next in-person race? Do you have any planned, or are you just waiting to see what happens with COVID?

Why I’m not interested in running a virtual race

With races this spring getting canceled left and right because of coronavirus concerns, many race directors are offering up an alternative to runners who still want to earn their T-shirts and medals: A virtual race. 

A virtual race allows participants to run their race, well, virtually anywhere they choose. For example, the Coastal Delaware Running Festival offered entrants a virtual option when they decided to cancel next month’s race. Had I chosen to switch my registration to the virtual race, I could have run my marathon at home and then gotten my T-shirt and medal in the mail in a few weeks. 

Instead, I deferred my entry until the 2021 race. I have really no interest in running a virtual race. 

Why? I just can’t see myself paying actual money for something that doesn’t seem like a real race to me. I mean, I can just run whatever distance that is for free (though I don’t see myself ever running 26.2 miles just for the hell of it, as I’ll explain in a little bit.) For example, the Across the Bay 10K offered a virtual option in 2019 when the road race was canceled due to Bay Bridge construction. I was super bummed — I was one of the race’s legacy runners, meaning I’d run it every single year that it took place, from 2014 through 2018. 

But at the same time, I also didn’t want to pay a race fee to run 6.2 miles and get a medal in the mail. I have enough medals, it’s not like I would have been able to run across the bridge (the whole allure of that race!) and I can run 6.2 miles any old day. Not interested! 

And I REALLY don’t see myself paying money for a virtual marathon. First of all, I may have run seven marathons, but every one is still a BIG deal to me. Marathons involve a ton of training. They involve a ton of commitment. They involve a ton of energy gels, LOL. And at the end of all those weeks of training and commitment and energy gels, the race is like a big celebration. I love lining up with other runners at the start line and seeing the crowds cheering us on and high-fiving little kids and reading the funny signs spectators hold up. I love hamming it up for the race photographers (when I see them — when I don’t, I usually look like I’m about to pass a kidney stone or something). I love the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and taking my bottle of water and medal from a smiling race volunteer. 

You don’t get any of that at a virtual race. 

And above all that, my goal for Coastal Delaware was to qualify for Boston. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Boston Athletic Association doesn’t accept virtual race times as BQs. So the last thing I wanted to do is race a marathon to the best of my ability, get a Boston qualifying time and know that I can’t use it! 

Yes, I realize I could just run a virtual race as a “fun run,” but why would I do that when I spent all those weeks training? 

So virtual races really aren’t my thing, but based on my social media feeds, a lot of my runner friends are doing them to make up for their races being canceled. 

If you’re running a virtual race this spring, which one(s) are you running? What do you like about virtual races?

Coronavirus and running: How COVID-19 spoiled my spring racing plans

About three weeks ago, Micah and I got into an argument over the Coastal Delaware Running Festival. 

“You know that’s not going to be happening,” he said. “Coronavirus is coming here and that race is going to be canceled.” 

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. (At this point, COVID-19 was merely a threat overseas, though I knew it was likely to show up in the U.S.) 

“No, it’s not. It will be here and we are not equipped to deal with it,” he said. “I would look for another marathon just in case, and soon.” 

I kept on training for Coastal Delaware, and news about the coronavirus continued to swirl. Doesn’t the flu kill more people? I thought. Why would this lead to cancellations of events like races? 

Micah and I kept arguing about it. “I’m in the best shape of my life and I know I can qualify for Boston again,” I told him. “Yeah, that may be true, but coronavirus doesn’t care,” he retorted. 

And last week, I started to get nervous. Speculation that the Boston Marathon would be canceled for the first time ever caused a ruckus in numerous running groups I belong to on Facebook. There were people in Maryland who were tested for COVID-19 infection. The first confirmed cases of the virus began to appear in my area, and the governor declared a State of Emergency. 

So, with a week and a half ago, I signed up for the B&A Trail Marathon.

And then this week, everything blew up. 

Public schools in Maryland are closed for two weeks beginning Monday. Restrictions were placed on visitors to hospitals across the state. Public gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned in an attempt to stop the virus from infecting more people in Maryland (as of this post, there are 17 confirmed cases.) The NBA and the NHL suspended their seasons. MLB’s Opening Day has been pushed back at least two weeks.

On Wednesday, the Annapolis Striders announced B&A was canceled. The next evening, Coastal Delaware followed suit. And so did just about every road race in the DMV and beyond. The St. Patrick’s Day 5K Staci and I were going to run in Allentown, Pennsylvania got canceled. The Get Pumped For Pets race on the Eastern Shore has been postponed. (I co-authored a story about the coronavirus and race cancellations for RunWashington, but it’s largely out of date now.)

I contemplated continuing to search for another marathon to save my hard work from going to waste — the Pittsburgh Marathon in May is still on as of this writing, but I feel like it’s only a matter of time until that gets canceled, too. There’s really no point in registering. I’m still registered for the Chicago and Philly marathons this fall, and I assume things will have calmed down by then — but that’s outside of the Boston 2021 qualifying window, so I’ll have to shoot for 2022. 

(As an aside, the Boston Athletic Association announced today that they are postponing the 2020 marathon until September. Totally the right decision — runners work way too hard to get there to have that just taken away from them!)

I’m bummed out, but I also recognize that these are steps that we need to take to hopefully prevent a major public health crisis. Am I worried about getting COVID-19? Not really. I’m very healthy and rarely get sick. I can’t even recall the last time I was seriously ill. I am pretty sure that if I got coronavirus, I’d be like the vast majority of people who get it and recover relatively quickly. Maybe I’d barely notice the symptoms. The bigger concern is passing it along to someone who is not as healthy and has a compromised immune system. I don’t want to get the virus and then pass it on to someone who could develop pneumonia and die. 

And is running Boston 2021 really THAT important? I ran the marathon last year. I loved it. Seriously, the day I ran the Boston Marathon is easily among my favorite days ever. But there are so many more Bostons to come and I know I have so many more chances to qualify and run from Hopkinton to Boston. 

Lining up at the start of the 2019 Boston Marathon
I was just so excited to be running the Boston Marathon!

It sucks, because I really thought a BQ and a marathon PR were mine next month. But I’ll dial back on my training (I’ll still keep on running a lot — I just won’t be following any kind of training plan at the moment) and then kick it back up again in June to prepare for Chicago. My calendar is now clear of races until the Get Pumped For Pets 15K and the St. Michael’s Half Marathon, both in May. We’ll see if things are back to normal then — I know there is a chance they won’t be. (Hence my hesitation at signing up for Pittsburgh.)

At the end of the day, it’s just running. I’ll keep on doing it because I love it and look forward to the day that I can race again. Because that day will come!   

My running goals for 2020 and a look back at 2019

I ended 2019 doing two of the things that I love the most: Drinking beer and running a race. 

Yes, in that order.

 I love to have a beer or two the night before a race, but I have never had a beer the hour before a race. First time for everything! I had a free race entry to the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year’s Eve through my freelance work with RunWashington, and got to the race about an hour and a half early since I needed to pick up my race bib and premium. Since I had time to kill, my husband and I wandered over to Ornery Beer Company so he could get some wings and have a beer. (He was not running.) I didn’t want to just sit there and sip my water, so I ordered a beer, too — the West Indian Viagra, 7.1 percent ABV, which I knew was risky but the name indicated it would give me stamina, right? Ha.

In the end, it didn’t really have any effect on me aside from me feeling like I had to pee about halfway through the race. I finished in 29:20, meeting my goal of finishing in under a half hour, and I felt really strong. Maybe I can run it again and not drink first and see if I can improve!    

 That race — a rare nighttime race that was an awesome way to start ringing in the new year — capped off a busy 2019. I ran the Boston Marathon and finally broke 1:40 in the half marathon — three different times! I also raced my first triathlon and didn’t drown, and I enjoyed the experience enough that I am going to do it again this June! 

I did a triathlon!
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My first time breaking 1:40 in the half!

Looking back at my 2019 goals, I said I wanted to run a fall marathon. I never did that and decided just to stick to Boston this past spring. But in 2020, I am running three marathons — Coastal Delaware on April 19, Chicago on Oct. 11 and Philadelphia on Nov. 22, so I am making up for it. 

Which brings me to my goals for 2020: 

  • I want to qualify for Boston again and I want to PR in the marathon. This is my goal for Coastal Delaware. I need to run 3:40:00 or faster to qualify, as I will be 40 (!) for Boston 2021. In reality, I have no idea what the cutoff will be, so it’s hard to say what I actually need to run to get into the race. I suspect I would be safe with a 3:37 or so, but I want to PR and run sub-3:35 — my “A” goal is around 3:30. I feel like it’s attainable based on my recent half marathon times, and I just finished up week four of Hal Higdon’s Advanced Marathon Training plan, which is what I followed when I BQ’d at the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon in December 2017. I am running with my friend Tammi, who is also shooting for a BQ. She needs 3:35:00 or better, as she is a few years younger than I am. I have to admit that I am a *little* salty that the Boston Athletic Association chopped five minutes off the qualifying standards starting with the 2020 marathon. I was soooo looking forward to that 3:45 standard, but I do understand why they did what they did.

It’s too soon for me to have goals for Chicago and Philly — I registered for both with a projected finish time of 3:40 (might as well dream big, right??), but mostly I want those weekends to be fun girls’ weekends. I’m going to Chicago with my sisters as a belated birthday trip, and I’ll be in Philly with some of my good friends who live in Pennsylvania!  

  • I want to run fewer 5Ks. I ran 10 5Ks in 2019. Including two in one day. Why?! I don’t love shorter distances and I don’t think I do great at them, but I always end up signing up for 5Ks because I have friends who want to run them and then I get FOMO. I am vowing to only sign up for 5Ks that I am excited about! I’m planning on a St. Paddy’s Day 5K with Staci (whose birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day) and I will likely do my annual Turkey Trot in November, but that’s it for now, I swear to God.
  • On that note, I want to to be more selective about my races in general. I love to race, but in previous years, I jumped on the opportunity to run every race that my friends are running (that FOMO again.) I need to be more selective. Racing can take a lot of time and money, and I do think it’s a good use of both of those things, but I also don’t want to burn out.      

On another note, I’m pumped to be back on Rip It Events’ ambassador team for the fourth year in a row. Contact me for 15 percent off any 2020 Rip It race. I’ve also joined Nuun Hydration‘s ambassador team, which is awesome as I have been a loyal user of their products since I was training for my first marathon back in 2015.

Happy 2020! What are your goals for the year?

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!