Update on training for the Coastal Delaware Running Festival

It’s hard to believe that my 8th marathon is now less than two months away, and I’m past the halfway point in my training. This training cycle has gone really well, especially considering that it’s February and winter has yet to show up. We’ve had multiple days in the 50s and 60s, though it has been raining a ton. I am a bit paranoid that a huge Nor’Easter is going to hit Maryland in March — you know, right around the time that I’m supposed to run a 20-mile training run. But that’s what the treadmill is for, right? (Though I shudder at the thought of running 20 miles on a treadmill, ugh.) 

I’ve been following Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 Marathon Training Plan pretty religiously, with a few exceptions — I cut out hill training because the Coastal Delaware Marathon is pancake flat. I am running my Yasso 800s every three weeks and running tempo runs on the weeks that I am not running 800s. This is new for me. I’ve always been a big slacker on tempos, even when I was training to break 1:40 in the half, so I am hoping this is really going to help me reach my goal in the marathon! 

Since I still want to go to kickboxing twice a week, I’m doing an easy paced run before class on Thursdays (no more than three or four miles). I’m following the weekend run schedule exactly, and as you can see from the plan, it gets tougher and tougher — I have three weekends where I am running 20 miles one day and 10 the other. This is what I did when I got my first BQ, so I feel good about it even though I know it’s hard. Two weekends ago, I ran 17 miles on day and eight the next, and didn’t even feel sore. Just tired, like I wanted to sleep for days. This weekend, I have a 19-miler and a 9-miler (the latter at marathon pace) on tap. 

My “A” goal for the race is around a 3:30, which would be a 10-minute BQ and a 5-minute PR — I think it’s totally possible as long as everything goes well on race day. Marathons can be unpredictable, of course. I need a 3:40:00 or better to qualify for Boston, and who knows what the cutoff will be. I’ve seen commentary online from people who think the cutoff is going to be brutal for 2021, what with more people hoping to run the race for its 125th anniversary. But I would definitely be safe with a 10-minute buffer. I’d probably feel safe with anything more than a 5-minute buffer. But again, who knows what race day will bring! Just gotta keep grinding.

Other races on my calendar

On Super Bowl Sunday, I ran Rip It Events’ annual Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K, opting for the 10K. This is a trail race and while I’ve done the half marathon twice before, I didn’t want to risk injuring myself two months before a big goal race. (I’m klutzy.) This was actually the best weather we have EVER had for this race — it’s usually really cold and last year, it was icy in some sections on the trail. But this year, the weather was in the 40s and it was nice and sunny. I planned to run conservatively, and was very happy with my performance — I won my age group, finished fourth overall female and averaged a 7:58 pace for 6.55 miles (the 10K course is a bit long).

If you’re looking for a fun winter race, put this one on your calendar for 2021. It’s always on Super Bowl Sunday and while I can’t guarantee fantastic weather again, I can guarantee beautiful scenery and delicious food and hot chocolate afterwards (we’ve had a taco truck the last few years!) Registration usually opens in December and the race sells out VERY quickly, so watch Rip It Events’ Facebook page for details. 

Next weekend, I’ll be running in Rip It’s second race of the season, the Bigfoot Endurance 5 & 10 Miler. This is also a trail race and I’ll be running the 10 miler, as this will be the first of my three 20/10 weekends. I’m pretty excited for it. It’s the first year for this race and it just sold out earlier this week, so it should be a good time! 

(As a Rip It Events ambassador, I received a free entry to the Little Patuxent River Run and the Bigfoot Endurance 5 & 10 Miler. Contact me for a 15 percent discount off of any 2020 Rip It race!

On March 22, I’m traveling to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to run a St. Patrick’s Day 5K with Staci in Allentown. I’m excited to see how I do after all the speedwork and tempos I’ve been running– maybe I could squeak under 22 minutes? I know I CAN do it, it’s just the matter of committing to making myself really hurt for 3.1 miles. That’s where I always fall short in 5Ks. 

And then a week later, I’ll run in the Get Pumped For Pets 15K on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I ran the 10K last year and won it, two weeks before Boston. I opted for the 15K this year because it falls on the last of my 20/10 weekends, and a 15K is 9.3 miles, so it fits in nicely! Plus, some of my friends from work are planning to run it, too. (There are 5K and 10K options as well!)  

What runs are you looking forward to this spring?

My review of Vitalsox Equilibrium compression socks (including a link for you to try out your own pair!)

About a year ago, I got injured in a fun run.

It was my first running injury in six years of racing, so it freaked me out and totally caught me off guard. I was running with Kree and Matt in the Run for Wine 5K in Annapolis last September, and I definitely was not pushing the pace — I was probably a mile into the race and running an 8-minute pace and going downhill when all of a sudden, my left calf seized up and I felt pain shooting up and down it. I ended up jogging/walking the rest of the race, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to run the Baltimore Marathon a month later.

I did have to DNS the Charm City Run 20-Miler two days later, but fortunately my calf healed and I was able to resume my training and ultimately, run the marathon.

But I got really paranoid that I would hurt my calf again, so I went out and bought several pairs of compression socks to run in — and so far, so good! My calf has held up well through long runs and speedwork and races and everything in between.

So when Vitalsox reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try out their Equilibrium compression socks, I was so excited! A girl can never have too many compression socks, right? 🙂

(And handbags, but this is a blog about running, not fashion.)

According to Vitalsox, the Sensory Technology in each pair of socks has the following benefits:

*Improved balance
*Increased motor control
*Better athletic performance and posture
*Better ankle support
*Light cushioning in targeted impact zones
*Faster post-trauma recovery

So you may be wondering, how do these socks do all of that?

Vitalsox says the socks stimulate your ankles’ proprioceptors, or the sensory signals found in muscles, tendons and joints that are caused by movement. For example, proprioceptors allow runners to move safely.

If you have issues with your proprioceptors, because of prior injury or another issue, your stability could suffer and you could up your risk of falling and hurting yourself. The company believes if you apply pressure at your ankle to simulate proprioception, you can improve your motor skills and avoid injury.

OK, all that was pretty technical. How do they actually make my legs and ankles feel?

Vitalsox sent me three pairs of knee-length socks — two pairs were a size small and one pair was a medium. I received a black pair, a hot pink pair and a lime green pair (of course the hot pink ones are my favorite.) To be honest, I didn’t notice a major difference in sizing. All of them felt tight as I was putting them on, which is what you want in a compression sock — that’s the whole point. (Here’s a quick tutorial on how to put them on.)

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Wearing a size small here

I’ve worn my Vitalsox on several training runs as well as in the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler and most recently, the Market Street Mile in Frederick. As noted before, they feel snug like they are supposed to, but not so tight that they are uncomfortable. And it’s important to note that they were still relatively easy to pull onto my legs. I have other pairs of compression socks that make me feel like I’m getting my workout in before I even start running because they are just so stiff. These are nice and soft.

Since I haven’t had any recent injuries, thankfully, I can’t speak to whether the socks were responsible for keeping me pain-free. But they certainly felt good, and my legs felt good, while I was wearing them! They also were pretty easy to get off, too (again, some other kinds of compression socks are so stiff that I have to really wrestle with them to get them off my legs!)

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Running in one of my pairs of Vitalsox at the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler

The downside to Vitalsox — and really any kind of knee-high compression socks — is they are kind of hot. This past summer here in Maryland has been very hot and humid, so I’ve definitely been noticing every extra layer on my body. That said, I’m going to sweat like hell anyway when running this time of year, so I’d rather wear the socks then risk injuring my calf again.

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On a recent run around my neighborhood (wearing size medium)

Would you like to try out your own pair of Vitalsox? Claim your pair here (you’ll just have to cover the cost of shipping.)

Vitalsox sent me three pairs of Equilibrium socks in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own!

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!

Giving up drinking while marathon training: Worth it?

I joke a lot that I run for beer — except it’s not really a joke. Seriously, if there’s anything better than a cold beer after a long run, I don’t know what it is. (OK, maybe Bloody Marys at brunch after a race. Those are also pretty legit.)

But would I be a better runner if I stopped drinking during marathon training?

A recent article in Women’s Running took a look at the drawbacks of drinking during training, including dehydration, empty calories and its negative effect on your muscles.

The author, Charlie Watson, writes that studies show alcohol consumption decreases the use of glucose and amino acids by skeletal muscles. This, in turn, hurts your energy supply and metabolic process, and it also hurts your body’s ability to store glycogen, which you need for those long runs. As a result, you’ll be slower, and you’ll crash sooner.

“Ultimately, it’s up to you. Personally there have been training cycles filled with weddings and bachelorette parties where I wouldn’t have wanted to give up alcohol,” Watson writes.

I can certainly relate to that.

And honestly — I don’t know if I could do it! To be honest, I like drinking! And while I don’t get slammed the night before a race (anymore — learned my lesson after the 2013 A10) I usually have a beer or two with my pre-race dinner and I’ve always been fine. Even before marathons. Moderation is obviously key, of course.

But maybe I’d run even faster if I abstained.

Watson, the author of the article, said she gave up drinking while training for a BQ, which is what I am gunning for, as well. Perhaps it is something I should consider.

Have you ever ditched drinking in the weeks before a big race? If so, how did it affect your training and your race time?