The 2021 Boston Marathon: My thoughts on this year’s race

Last week, the Boston Athletic Association announced a date for the 2021 Boston Marathon — Oct. 11, 2021. This all hinges, of course, on how the pandemic progresses over the coming months and whether the state of Massachusetts will even allow an event of that magnitude this fall. 

The BAA hasn’t announced when registration will open. But obviously, this announcement has stirred up major excitement throughout the running community. I belong to several Boston Marathon Facebook groups, and they’ve been lit over the past few days, with many people posting that they’ve booked their hotel rooms already. And of course, lots of speculation about the infamous cutoff. 

Because that’s the thing. The BAA has said that the qualifying period for Boston 2021 began Sept. 15, 2018 and continues through registration (whenever that will be.) So basically, that means everyone who qualified for Boston 2020 (the race that had to be held virtually due to the pandemic) can apply. Plus everyone who ran qualifying times during the typical 2021 qualifying period (September 2019-September 2020) and now, the typical 2022 qualifying period (September 2020-present.) 

My recent BQ, achieved on Oct. 31, 2020 at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, PA, would usually fall into that 2022 window — but now it looks like it will count for 2021. But there’s the issue of the cutoff. 

What is the cutoff, you ask? It’s a source of stress for everyone who qualifies for Boston, unless you’re one of the super fast runners who beats your qualifying time by 20 minutes or more every year. For the last decade or so, the BAA has declined to accept everyone who runs a qualifying time, due to field size limitations. This means they only accept the fastest qualifiers, and if you don’t beat your qualifying time by a certain amount — which varies every year, and there’s really no way of predicting it — your application to run the race is denied. 

For example, when I ran Boston 2019, the cutoff was four minutes and 52 seconds. I beat my qualifying standard by five minutes exactly. So I barely squeaked in. And then for the 2020 race, the BAA tightened the qualifying standards by another five minutes. I aged up and am now in the 40-44 year old group for 2021  — which just means I have to meet the same standard (3:40:00) I had to meet when I qualified for 2019, in the 35-39 year old group! Sigh. 

I ran a 3:36:34 at Chasing the Unicorn, which means I beat my qualifying time by three minutes, 26 seconds. I *highly* doubt that will get me into Boston 2021. Not if I’m competing against everyone who ran a BQ since September 2018. Right now, I’m just holding out hope that the BAA might also let me submit my time for the 2022 race. 

Here’s what I think they should do — not that my opinion holds any weight. I think everyone who was registered for Boston 2020 should get to run Boston 2021. Yes, they all got to run the virtual Boston if they wanted. But we all know that’s not the same as running Boston. All of those runners worked hard for their BQs and deserve to have the true Boston Marathon experience. As for the registered 2020 runners who were running for charity (about 20% of the field), they should also get to run in 2021. They still put in work to get there, and they raise money for many incredible and very worthy charities. 

So that would take care of the 2021 race. Then, the BAA should lump everyone who qualified in the usual 2021 and 2022 qualifying windows into one field for Boston 2022. And of course, leave room for charity runners, too.

Why? Think about it. Plenty of runners qualified for Boston between September 2019 and March 2020. But then COVID brought the racing world to a grinding halt. Slowly, races began to come back over the summer and fall — including small marathons like Chasing the Unicorn. However, all the major marathons that produce a lot of qualifiers (Chicago, Berlin, Philadelphia, the actual Boston Marathon) were canceled in 2020. And plenty of marathons scheduled for the first half of 2021 have already been canceled, too. So there are fewer BQs not only for the traditional 2021 qualifying window, but also for the 2022 qualifying window.  

I just think that’s the most fair thing to do — and not just because it would mean I’d most likely be in for 2022! 

I’m still going to apply when they open registration for 2021. And I will try not to get my hopes up. I got to run Boston two years ago, after all. And I’ll get there again. I’m still extremely proud of my Chasing the Unicorn BQ. It was not easy, what with the last minute cancellation, then last minute uncertainty over the rescheduled date ….. And then all the obstacles that happened at the race itself (I hope I never have to climb over a fallen tree at mile 23 of a marathon ever again. It makes for a good story after the fact, but yikes.) I did my best that day, and it was a great experience. If it’s not good enough for Boston this time — I’ll have other chances. I really believe that. 

What’s next? Looking ahead to 2021

We have just over a month left of 2020. I think I can speak for all of us when I say thank God for that. 

However, I think we all know at this point that the clock isn’t going to strike midnight on Jan. 1 and the pandemic is going to end and we’ll go back to life as we once knew it. I know there are people out there who believe we’ll never go back to normal, that we will live with a “new normal” involving mask wearing and social distancing. I disagree. I’m very optimistic about a COVID vaccine and believe that once we have widespread distribution of it, we’ll finally start to return to our pre-COVID lives. Lives where we don’t have to wear face masks everywhere, and it’s OK to hug friends, and we can crowd into bars and dance and lick the floor if we feel like it. 

OK, maybe not that last part. 

But I would imagine that vaccine distribution is probably going to take a while. Will it be widely available to the general public by next spring? Next summer? Next fall? I don’t know.  

Against all odds this year, I accomplished my main running goal, which was to qualify again for the Boston Marathon. It didn’t happen the way I thought it would. I’d hoped to qualify in April for Boston 2021 at Coastal Delaware, but obviously that race didn’t happen. And when it was canceled, I thought, no big deal. I’m signed up for Chicago and Philly this fall! Yay Boston 2022! I can wait an extra year! But by early summer, it became very obvious that those races were not going to happen, either. 

Then I impulsively signed up for the tiny Chasing the Unicorn Marathon, which was canceled, then rescheduled, and I got my BQ! But is it good for Boston 2022? Seeing as we don’t actually know when Boston 2021 will happen (not this April), and the Boston Athletic Association hasn’t opened registration for it, it’s all a big question mark. In a normal year, my BQ would have fallen into the 2022 window. But very few marathons are happening these days, so will I be lumped in with those who qualified for 2021 between September 2019 and March 2020, before everything shut down? And what about everyone who ran the virtual 2020 race? So many unknowns! 

As for my 2021 running goals, well, I would still like to PR in the marathon. I still believe I have a 3:30 marathon in me. In fact, I think I could go sub-3:30 if I train hard, have a great day and run a smart race (i.e., don’t blow up on the back half. Easier said than done!) But what marathon will I run? If you had asked me back in April if COVID would prevent Coastal Delaware from happening for a second year in a row, I’d have told you that you were nuts. Now? I’m going to be shocked if it happens this spring. I deferred my 2020 entry to 2021 and I’m going to begin training in December just in case it happens. But I expect it to be called off, hopefully sooner rather than later! 

I got an email from the Chicago Marathon this week, reminding me that it was time to claim my 2021 registration if I wanted. Because the race was canceled this year, they allowed everyone to defer and register for either 2021, 2022 or 2023. I’m pretty sure I will opt for Chicago 2022. With 50,000 runners, not to mention all of the spectators and volunteers, there is absolutely no way that marathon will happen unless there’s a large-scale distribution of the vaccine. Again, just not sure we will be there by fall of 2021. 

The Philly Marathon offered the same deferment options, I believe, but I think I will cross my fingers and plan to run it next November. It’s smaller than Chicago, but still a big marathon. And the whole event also includes a half marathon (which I ran last year and loved) and an 8K. So I still think it’s very much up in the air, but I might as well hope for the best.

All that said, I’m hesitant to sign up for too many 2021 races yet. A lot of them haven’t even opened for registration anyway — race directors are as much in the dark as anyone else. In addition to the Coastal Delaware, Chicago and Philly marathons, I deferred a few other 2020 races to 2021, so I hope they can happen. I’m also interested in running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May, and since I’m going to plan for Chicago 2022, that frees me up to run the Baltimore Running Festival in October. 

Right now, the only 2021 race I am registered for is Rip It Events’ Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K. Scheduled for the last weekend in January, the half marathon and the 10K will be held over two separate days to accommodate social distancing requirements. We had the option of doing both races, so I said why not? Since I don’t know if I will have a spring marathon to run, I might as well try to challenge myself any way that I can. 

When it comes to racing, I am approaching 2021 with flexibility– a skill I have definitely honed in 2020. And, as I have said many times in the past, you don’t need to race to enjoy running. No matter what happens in 2021, I’ll keep on running. 

A magical Halloween: I qualified for Boston at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

I really did it. 

I ran a real live marathon in 2020 — and I qualified for the Boston Marathon! 

I’m honestly still in shock that it happened. Not that I ran a BQ — I was confident in my training and felt pretty certain that I could qualify. I just can’t believe the race itself actually happened. 

To recap, I registered for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Washington Crossing, PA earlier this summer, when I thought that the Chicago and Philadelphia marathons would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. (I was right about that.) The marathon was originally scheduled for Sept. 13, with a ton of COVID mitigation protocols in place. It seemed very likely that it would occur as planned. I never missed a beat with my training, putting in 40- and 50+ mile weeks in the most disgustingly humid summer in recent memory. And then, three days out, the race was called off and rescheduled for Halloween. Still no idea why that happened. I almost said the hell with it, but my husband encouraged me to keep going with my training. I do love Halloween, and I thought running a Halloween marathon sounded like a blast. So I rejiggered my training plan with an Oct. 31 race date in mind, and ordered a pair of running shorts and matching arm warmers with a fun candy corn design on them. 

Then, three days before the race, Pat, the race director, sent out an email saying that he still didn’t have the permits for the event, but didn’t anticipate any issues. Didn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but OK.

THEN, the day before the race, I woke up and checked Facebook and saw he had posted a link to an article about a rally for Trump happening near Washington Crossing Historic Park. “Tell me this is why we still don’t have a permit,” he wrote. 

WTF? At that point, I’d already taken the day off of work and it was too late to cancel my hotel room for free. But whatever happened was completely out of my control. I figured we would travel to Washington Crossing and if I had to, I would run an unofficial marathon on the towpath along the Delaware River Canal where the race was supposed to take place. I wasn’t super excited about that, but I figured there would be other disappointed runners who would be doing the same thing. It’s 2020—of course that would happen.

BUT! Around 11 am, Pat posted on Facebook that he had the permit. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. Neither could I! However, Micah and I piled into my car and headed north to Bucks County, PA. I checked my email obsessively all day long, wondering if I was going to get an email telling me that the race was a no go.

Once we got to Newtown, near Washington Crossing, we checked into our hotel room and I headed to the towpath so I could do my shakeout run on the race course. The area was so gorgeous! I did notice that there were a lot of fallen leaves on the towpath, and I knew I would have to be careful not to slip and fall while running. But the scenery was so pretty. I also ran into Pat, who was setting up for the race. “Is this really happening?” I asked him. He assured me that it was, and even gave me my race packet so I didn’t have to pick it up on race morning.

Everything seemed good to go! I ran 5K on the trail because I had registered for Rip It Events’ virtual Day of the Dead 5K, back when I thought the marathon was happening on Sept. 13. I certainly wasn’t going to race a 5K either the day before or the day after a marathon, so I ran the 5K in 26:23 — an 8:30 pace. Everything felt great. 

Race Day! 

The marathon was scheduled to begin at 10 am — really late for a race, but I’m not a natural early bird, so I was fine with that! I set my alarm for 6:45 am and pretty much leapt out of bed when it went off. I felt so ready. I got dressed, drank my coffee and ate my usual bagel with peanut butter and half a banana and went to the bathroom about a million times. I was a little concerned about the temperature, which was only in the mid-30s. I had packed my candy corn shorts and arm warmers, plus my Rip It Events singlet and knee-high compression socks. I hadn’t thought to bring a throwaway sweatshirt. I knew I would be fine while running, but worried about freezing my ass off at the start. I decided to just take an extra blanket from the hotel room to wrap myself up in, and hoped that I would be able to retrieve it at the end of the race. (And I was! I promise I didn’t steal from the hotel!) Since no spectators were allowed at the race due to COVID protocols, Micah dropped me off about a half hour before the start and I wrapped the blanket around me while I waited. Per COVID restrictions, everyone had to wear masks in the starting corral and we were all asked to space out six feet apart from each other to adhere to social distancing guidelines. With only about 220 runners total in the full and half marathon, that was pretty easy to do. Runners crossed the start line individually three seconds apart, putting well more than six feet in between each of us. I thought that was handled very well. We were allowed to take off our masks while running, and I did, though I noticed some runners opted to keep them on through the whole event. 

As expected, I warmed up pretty quickly, and never felt too cold or too hot (though I am glad I made the last-minute decision to pack my running gloves! My hands tend to get colder than any other part of me.) My goal for this race was to run a 3:30, which for my age group, 40-44, is a Boston Marathon qualifying time by 10 minutes. Based on my training times, I thought this was totally feasible. I started off running around an 8-minute pace and was able to hold that consistently through the first half and then some of the race. There were two other women who were running around the same pace, so I decided to stick with them (while keeping proper social distance!) One of them commented that I looked really strong. “You’re going to crush a 3:30 if you keep it up,” she told me. “That’s what I’m trying to do!” I replied. I was trying to focus on keeping a steady pace and also just enjoying my surroundings, which again were so pretty! 

The marathon was an out-and-back course — it went from the Washington Crossing Historic Park up to New Hope, PA, then back. Marathoners repeated the course twice. Between miles 5 and 6, I think, runners encountered an unpleasant surprise — the canal was actually flowing up over the trail. So we had the privilege of running through several inches of cold ass water. “Great,” I thought. “So I get to run over this four times?!” My socks and shoes luckily dried quickly, but it really sucked. I’m glad it wasn’t any colder outside. An Instagram follower of mine commented that she injured her foot by stepping in a hole in the concrete under the water. Ugh! I was lucky that didn’t happen to me. 

I finished the first half in just under 1:45, and was feeling strong. Of course, if you’ve run a marathon before, you know that first 13.1 doesn’t really mean a whole lot. I was hoping I could eek out another 1:45 for the second half, and it was looking really good up until about mile 20. Isn’t that always the way it goes? When I started running marathons, I heard that when you get to mile 20, you are halfway there. It’s so true. And it was REALLY true for me during this marathon. 

There weren’t traditional water stops with volunteers handing out water during this marathon because of COVID– rather, there were self-filling water stations where you could step on a pedal on the ground and refill your own bottle of water. I had been carrying an 18-oz. handheld bottle with Nuun Kona Cola in it, but I’m not sure I was taking in enough water. Usually, I grab either water or Gatorade at every single stop on a marathon course. I was trying to remember to drink from my bottle at least every two miles, but not sure how well I did. At one point I accidentally spilled most of what I had, so I did have to stop and refill with water. Also, I was carrying the bottle in my left hand and my left arm started to get really sore around mile 16. This never happened to me during training, so maybe I was gripping it too hard. 

Anyway, I don’t think I was drinking as much as I normally would  in a marathon, and when it was time to take my 4th energy gel at mile 20 — I like to take one at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20 — I wanted to puke. But I forced it down anyway. 

My stomach was pretty unsettled for the last 10K of the marathon. I kept trying to tell myself that a 10K was nothing, and I had well under an hour left of the race! The fourth time running through that cold water was brutal. I knew I was slowing down at that point, but that a finish time of 3:30 or very close to it was within reach. I hit mile 22 at around 2:58, and I knew I could run the last 4.2 miles in 32 minutes if I kept pushing. But I was fading and it was getting much, much harder!

Somewhere between mile 22 and 24, I came upon a huge tree that had fallen right in the middle of the towpath. Seriously! It definitely wasn’t there when I had run through the area earlier …. But there it was blocking the whole path. I had to climb over it, which is NOT IDEAL that late in a marathon. Yikes. I hope no one got hurt by it. It wasn’t even windy, so I have no idea why it suddenly fell then. 

The final two miles were brutal. BRUTAL. I felt every stone and twig on the towpath beneath my feet. I looked at my watch and knew my 3:30 goal time was slipping away, but it looked likely that I could be sub 3:35 (which would be a PR.) I knew at that point I was definitely going to run a BQ unless I completely gave up and decided to walk it in. Which of course I was not going to do!

When I made the final left turn of the course, I saw my car parked in the grass and knew Micah was nearby, even though we weren’t supposed to have spectators. Sure enough, I saw him standing alone in the field just before the finish line. I waved to him and as I got closer, I heard him yell, “Empty the tank!” which is what he said to me just before I crossed the finish line and BQ’d in Rehoboth in December 2017. “It’s already empty!” I yelled back. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 3:36:34. It’s a minute and 34 seconds slower than my PR, and about six minutes off my goal time, but it’s a solid BQ and I am proud of it.   

Approaching the finish!
Boston qualifier at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon
I’m a Boston Qualifier again!

I finished third in my age group, and I think I will be getting a prize in the mail. Don’t get too excited — there were only five women in my age group. It was a competitive race! I was 9th overall out of 67 women.

I qualified for Boston! But which Boston?

Great question! I have no idea. 

Because of the pandemic, the Boston Athletic Association has said there will be no Boston Marathon in April 2021. They said they may try to hold the marathon in the fall of 2021, but there is no guarantee of that. In “normal times,” this race would have fallen into the 2022 qualifying window anyway. So I’m going to assume that I qualified for Boston 2022. 

But again, there are so many unknowns. Maybe we will still be dealing with COVID in spring 2022. (I sure hope not, but I didn’t think we’d be dealing with it this fall, either.) Everyone who had 2020 qualifying times also is waiting to run the race. Sure, they got to run the “virtual” Boston experience, but we all know that is not the same and everyone who qualified wants the experience of running from Hopkinton to Boston! So, when it is safe to hold the Boston Marathon in person again, the 2020 qualifiers would likely get first dibs, as well they should! Then, of course, there are the 2021 qualifiers. What about all of those runners who ran 2021 BQ times from September 2019 through March 2020? They should get their shot, too. But if there’s no Boston Marathon in 2021, that means that group of runners will be pushed back a year, I’m guessing. 

I’ll say this, I definitely don’t envy the BAA for having to sort all of this out, and I feel very lucky that I got to run Boston 2019. I’ll get back there eventually. 

Of course, there’s also the issue of the cutoff — I ran 3 minutes and 26 seconds under my qualifying standard, which means I will have to wait until the second week of registration (whenever that occurs) to try to squeak in. It will probably be enough to get into the race, but you never know.

At the end of the day, I’m just so excited that I actually got to run a live marathon this year and put all of my training to good use. It did pay off, even if I didn’t hit my goal time. I qualified for Boston again! I will look back on this race as one of the bright spots in 2020.

Chasing the Unicorn: Canceled? Or just postponed?

So today I was supposed to run the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. That did not happen. 

At 4:30 pm on Thursday afternoon — less than three days out from the start of the race — it was canceled. 

Runners still have no idea why. I mean, obviously we know it was due to COVID. But the race directors had done so much to put such extensive COVID mitigation protocols in place. So I don’t know what the state of Pennsylvania thought was missing, but officials decided not to grant the race permit at the 11th hour. I was shocked when I got the email. Mind you, earlier in the day all the registered runners had gotten multiple emails from the race director about parking instructions and other race-related details. So this totally came out of left field! 

I said from the beginning that I knew this could happen. But once I started tapering and we were down to just days until the race, I figured we were safe. I had my packing list all ready to go and was ready to drive up to Pennsylvania Saturday, check into my hotel, explore Newtown and do a shakeout run on the trail where the race was supposed to happen. 

Instead, I canceled my hotel room immediately and was able to get a full refund. 

The race directors are now saying they have rescheduled for Halloween (a Saturday this year) and that they think all their issues will be worked out by then– of course, we have no idea what those issues are! I think what I’m going to do is keep rolling with my training — that’s only six weeks out anyway, and part of that will be another taper, so it’s not like I’m looking at another three months of intense training. Trust me, I don’t think I mentally have that in me right now. I printed out a fresh plan with an Oct. 31 race date, and according to that, I was supposed to run 20 miles one day and 10 miles the other this weekend. I ended up doing 15 yesterday and 5 today. That was good enough for me right now. Will re-start the plan for real tomorrow.

5 sweaty miles at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville.

I do love the idea of a Halloween race (not that I would run in costume) and the weather at the end of October is generally pretty good for running. But I’m not holding my breath that the race will ever happen this fall. But training is never wasted …. right?

I understand that these are unprecedented times, and that there are more important things happening in the world. It’s just a race. BUT STILL. For those of you keeping track at home, I have signed up for five marathons in 2020 and all five have been canceled. This is the second marathon that was canceled within days of the race. Back in the spring, when I had an inkling Coastal Delaware would be canceled, I impulsively signed up for the B&A Trail Marathon, which I had already done two years earlier. It was supposed to take place on March 15 — it was canceled March 11, which was the day everything really started to go to hell. 

I am very much in favor of taking precautions and following guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID. I wear a mask when in public. I social distance. I have been avoiding crowds since all this started. I think we all should be doing these things. However. The inconsistencies in enforcement are really irritating. This race was supposed to take place in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I have a bunch of family, friends and acquaintances who live all over the state. I see the things they post on Facebook. Somehow, plenty of weddings (even indoor weddings!) were allowed to happen this summer — weddings where people were not wearing masks, dancing, drinking, not social distancing. Plenty of political rallies went on, with crowds and zero social distancing. All that was totally fine, apparently. 

But a marathon where runners were starting off individually, 40 feet apart from each other (above and beyond social distancing guidelines), where spectators were not allowed and runners had to carry their own hydration to minimize the number of volunteers …. That was deemed to be too dangerous. 

Makes absolutely zero sense.   

15 days until I chase the unicorn

I hope I am not jinxing myself by writing this, but I actually think I am going to get to run a live marathon this year. 

As of right now, the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon is happening in 15 days. All of the swag, including medals, shirts and yes, branded masks, have been ordered and the state of Pennsylvania has approved all of the race director’s COVID mitigation plans. I have every reason to believe the race will happen, unless things really start going downhill again with COVID in PA. So cross your fingers for me. 

It’ll be a really weird marathon in a really weird year. First of all, it’ll be strange and definitely a bummer not to have any spectators, especially considering the last marathon I ran was Boston last year and of course that race was lined with spectators from Hopkinton to Copley Square! I don’t even think my husband is going to travel with me to the race (which is actually OK, it’s not really a bad thing to have a bed to myself the night before a big race. :)) Runners are going to be spread out in socially distanced waves, seeded by our projected finish time, and we have to wear our masks before and after the race. Then there’s the whole thing with needing to carry our own hydration and refill our bottles at hands-free water stations. I’ve been taking my new handheld water bottle out on all my long runs, including my 20-miler last week, and I don’t actually mind it. I just hope I don’t have to waste too much time stopping and refilling my bottle. 

My hope is still to qualify for Boston 2021, though I think it’s entirely possible that I could qualify and then not have an in-person Boston Marathon to run next year. I just don’t know what the spring is going to look like in terms of races, particularly big races. The Boston Athletic Association hasn’t said anything about when registration for 2021 will open — usually it’s the second week of September (Chasing the Unicorn was established years ago as a last chance for Boston hopefuls to qualify for the following spring’s race.) I suspect the BAA might try to have a live Boston Marathon in fall 2021 instead of April, and if that can’t happen with the pandemic, they might do another virtual Boston. I can tell you that is the *only* virtual marathon I’d consider running. 

I’m also still registered for the 2021 Coastal Delaware Marathon in April, since I deferred my entry after the 2020 race was canceled. That race is only a few thousand people, I think, but I have my doubts on whether that will happen next year as well. Basically, I think next spring will be as much of a wash as most of 2020, but maybe I’m wrong! I hope so! (And obviously, if I qualify for Boston and there is actually a live Boston in April, I’m doing that instead of Coastal Delaware. But that’s a whole lot of ifs!)

And as for my chances of BQing in 15 days? I think I have a good shot. Granted, I’m not as well-trained as I would like to be, as I was initially following a plan with the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 as my end goal. So I had to chop off a month and I only got to run one 20-miler before my taper started. (I did run a 19-miler, though, as well, so is there that much of a difference? Probably not.) I also only did three rounds of Yasso 800s, but I was diligent about weekly tempo runs, which I feel are just as important, if not more so, than the 800s. I have felt really strong running in some pretty brutal weather this summer, so I think I have that in my favor. After one of the hottest, most humid summers in recent memory, could we have a nice crisp fall day for the marathon? Please?  

Runner selfie
I feel like this photo shows just how sweaty I’ve been getting on my runs!

The rest of the year

The weekend after the marathon, I actually was supposed to run a live 5K in Cape May, New Jersey, but that unexpectedly went virtual this week. I was surprised because the race company, Good Day for a Run, has been having live races all summer with participant limits and social distancing requirements. But this one was going to take place at a winery, and space was too limited for the race to be done safely. My friends and I are still going on our beach trip, though. Good Day for a Run is offering refunds, and I might just get my money back and run for fun with my girls. Do I really want to race a 5K a week after a marathon, anyway?

Aside from that, I’m doing the virtual Quantico Duathlon tomorrow, and I have to run my virtual Market Street Mile some time between Sept. 12 and 20. (I thought I had until Halloween to do it. Whoops. Nothing like trying to race an all-out mile a few days after a marathon…. That might be more difficult than racing a 5K! Yikes.)

Then in October, I’m planning to run an in-person neighborhood 5K, the Barlowe Bolt! This race usually takes place in March and I ran it in 2018 and 2019. The organizers rescheduled it for Oct. 3, but it will be a live event. I’m also running the virtual Baltimore Running Festival half marathon that month. 

And finally, I am registered for the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon in December, which is still moving forward as a live race. I know another Rehoboth-based race company has been holding live races this summer, but none are as large as this particular race, so I’m a bit skeptical. Also, this race is known for its banging after party, with everyone crammed into a tent and runners passing around a bottle of Fireball and chugging from it. It’s a GREAT time under normal circumstances. During a pandemic? Ummmm……..  

So, we’ll just have to wait and see….. Which is pretty much this year’s theme.

Running a virtual half marathon + an update on the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

Many, many years from now, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is hopefully a distant memory, I know what I’m going to say if people ask me how I spent my time. 

No, not sharing memes and screwing around on Instagram — though plenty of that happened, too. 

I will say that I just kept running. Even as all my races got canceled and life felt so uncertain. Running has truly been a bright spot, despite the fact that so many races that I had been looking forward to have now been postponed until 2021. (And honestly, I don’t mean to be negative, but I think spring 2021 races are in jeopardy, too. But we’ll just have to wait and see!) 

I’ve embraced the idea of virtual racing, despite some initial hesitations. So when my friend Staci told me about the I Just Kept Running virtual race she saw advertised on Facebook, I knew I wanted to register for it. How could I say no to the Forrest Gump medal?

I had until the end of August to complete the run, and saved it for this weekend, when I was supposed to run a half marathon per my training plan for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. I didn’t have a real serious goal in mind and would have been happy with anything under 1:45. I figured setting a PR or even going sub-1:40 would be pretty difficult during a virtual race with no one around to push me. This was actually the longest virtual race I’ve ever done, too. And of course it was pretty warm, as it always is in Maryland in August. Although it was cooler than it has been the last few weeks! This summer has actually been one of the hottest, most humid summers I’ve experienced in my 13 years living here, so that’s made running a challenge.  

I ended up clocking in at 1:42:14, running a 7:48/mile pace. I went out WAY too fast in the beginning, running my first two miles in 7:25 and 7:10, respectively. What?! No. Better not pull that shit in my marathon. The last few miles were a struggle as a result (though my pace in the last three miles was still in the high 7:50s. Not bad!) 

I ran on my favorite B&A Trail, where I’m back to doing most of my long runs. At the beginning of COVID, I avoided the trail and stuck to just running from my house. Once things started to open up a bit more earlier this summer, I felt more comfortable running there, though it can get crowded. Last weekend, it was packed. And I’ve been waking up early in an attempt to beat the heat and humidity, but I guess so has everyone else! There are a lot of people wearing masks, though to be honest, I am not one of them. I wear masks everywhere else, and believe everyone absolutely should be doing the same. But I draw the line at running in them, especially in this heat. I know there is a lot we don’t know about COVID. However, experts have said that outside activities are safer than inside activities, and I’m never within six feet of anyone on the trail for any sustained period of time. But I digress. 

Usually, I run from the Annapolis trailhead, which involves running up a fairly long hill right at the beginning. I didn’t want to do that during my race — one of the perks of virtual races, you get to pick your own course! — so I drove to Pasadena and parked at the Earleigh Heights trail entrance. I ran north on the trail five miles, then back five miles to where I began, then another 1.6 miles south to Severna Park and then 1.5 miles back for 13.1 miles. 

The race mailed me a bib, which I wore to feel official! I saw a few people looking at it when I was running, probably wondering what race I was doing. Even though I obviously wasn’t in a race environment, some of the other runners and cyclists on the trail cheered me on, so I felt like I had some crowd support. That was really fun. And I got to see my friend Jessica, who is training for her first marathon, the Baltimore Marathon. That’s now virtual, and she’s planning to run it in October.

I also tested out what it is like to run while holding a water bottle. At my upcoming marathon, there will be no volunteers handing out water due to COVID restrictions, but there will be hands-free refilling stations for your water bottles. They are basically these large jugs with a lever on the ground that you step on to release the water. I’ve never carried my own hydration during a marathon, so this is super unfamiliar to me. I do have a hydration belt, but it’s kind of heavy and slides around a lot and messing with the bottle always wastes time. I thought I’d run with a Camelbak, so I bought one and tested it out on last weekend’s 17-mile run. It was awful. I thought the water was really hard to get out of the straw, the bouncing on my back was annoying and it chafed me badly (I was running in a sports bra because it was so hot and I have scabs all over my stomach and back from the chafing!) This week, I bought an 18-oz. water bottle at Charm City Run with a holder that loops over my hand. I thought it was really easy to use and when I was ready to drink from it, I just used my other hand to unscrew the lid and didn’t have to worry about readjusting the belt, etc. I’m a fan! 

Speaking of Chasing the Unicorn, it is still happening as of right now. In fact, I tuned into a Zoom call that the race organizer held for participants today. It was …. interesting (you can read my rant about it on Twitter), but I did learn a few things, including the fact that the state of Pennsylvania will be on the premises on race day and will shut the whole thing down if people are not abiding by the guidelines. Like, right in the middle of the race. I think the race director has some really solid plans in place; I just hope everyone follows the rules. It’s cool, though, people have been great about following all COVID regulations! /s

My training has gone really well, and now I only have two more weeks until it’s taper time. They’re pretty challenging weeks, and I’m looking forward to them, but at the same time …. If the race is going to get canceled, it would be nice if it happened before those 19- and 20-mile runs. 

I’ve been following the Hal Higdon Advanced Marathon plan, with the end date being the Chicago Marathon in October, which of course got canceled. I’m essentially cutting the training short by a month to do Chasing the Unicorn on Sept. 13, and I’m not totally sure I will have done the training to run the race I hoped to run. I’m only going to have time to squeeze in one 20/10 weekend (20 miles one day, 10 the other) before I have to taper. Hal’s Advanced plan calls for three of those weekends, with the first being six weeks before the race. 

It is what it is, I guess. At this point, I’ll just be happy to run a marathon…. Boston qualifier or not.

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?