Chicago Marathon training: 5 weeks to go!

267 miles! 

That’s how many miles I logged in August! 

I’ve always considered myself to be a lower mileage marathon runner. For years, I’ve followed other runners on Instagram who regularly run 60, 70, 80 mile weeks when marathon training. I, on the other hand, usually peak in the 50s. Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training plan had me peaking at 53, and I think there were maybe two or three other weeks where I hit 50 miles on that plan – most of the weeks were in the 45-mile range. And that worked for me– I qualified for Boston three times following it. 

Then last fall, I had a goal to finish a marathon in 3:30 or faster, and I decided to switch up my training. I got Pete Pfitzinger’s book, Advanced Marathoning, and followed his 12/55 plan. While my peak wasn’t much higher than Hal’s plan, I ran more 50+ mile weeks and many, many more mid-week double digit runs. The end result was a 3:26:00 at the Coastal Delaware Marathon. Then I ran a 3:27:52 at Boston the following spring

Seeing some success with higher mileage, I decided to bump up my training for the Chicago Marathon and have been following a modified version of Pfitzinger’s 12/70 program, so I am peaking at 70 miles over 12 weeks. I say modified because I was supposed to hit 70 miles per week in my sixth week of training, but I was a little nervous since I’ve never run that kind of mileage before. So far, my weekly mileage has been 55 for week 1, 59 for week 2, 55 for week 3, 64 for week 4, 59 for week 5, and 62 for week 6. I just finished week 7 and ran 66 miles. This week, I’ll enjoy a cutback week with 61 miles, and then I’ll hit 70 the week after that before easing into the taper. There were also some days where I had 13-15 miles on the agenda on a weekday, and I broke those into doubles (usually, 10 in the morning and 3-5 in the evening, depending on the daily mileage. That’s just an awful lot to run all at once on a workday.) So far, I am feeling pretty decent. Just tired and hungry all of the time! 

Since I started training, I’ve run two races, and both have gone great – so I am feeling pretty content with this plan! Here’s a quick recap of the two races I just ran! 

The Annapolis Ten Mile Run

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know this is my favorite race. But I’ve had some great A10s and some really bad ones. The race was canceled the last two years due to COVID, and I really missed it. I was quite excited when I learned it would return in 2022 and signed up for it the day registration opened. The 2022 A10 fell at the end of week 6 of training, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. My legs were obviously going to be tired, and the weather was typical of August in Maryland – hot and humid. The night before the race, I asked my husband Micah if he thought I could run 1:10 and he outright laughed at me! I reminded him I ran the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in 1:08:03, and he countered that that was on a cool day. (It was also on a flat course – the A10 is hilly.) No matter – I decided to line up just behind the 1:10 pacer and see if I could hold on. 

And it paid off! 

This was my 8th time running this race, so I pretty much know the course like the back of my hand and it always seems to go by so fast, no matter what pace I am running. And I felt like that was the case this time. The first three miles, around the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, down Rowe Boulevard and Main Street, zipped by, in 7:08, 6:55 and 7:05. The 1:10 group was a little bit in front of me, but I was able to keep them in my sight. Then we were going up and down the Naval Academy Bridge (7:07 for mile 4) and into Pendennis Mount. When I crossed the timing mat at mile 5 (another 7:07) a volunteer told me I was the 20th female! Pretty good for a big race like the A10.

Then it was up and down B&A Boulevard for mile 6 (7:09) and 7 (7:06) and back toward the bridge. I picked up a lot of speed in the last three miles, which I was happy about! I ran mile 8 in 6:53 and mile 9 in 6:55 – special thanks to the mid who sprayed me with a hose at the mile 9 water stop! (Did I mention it was hot and humid AF out?!) 

My final mile was 6:57 and just as I was turning the last corner to go up to the finish at the stadium, I heard a “Go Allison!” Micah had pulled up on his motorcycle just in time to see me finish. The announcer called out my time as 1:11, but I later learned that my chip time was actually 1:10:40, so I was quite happy to prove Micah wrong! 

While not a PR, this was a huge course PR. My previous fastest A10 was 1:15, set five years ago. I also won my age group, which was a first. The A10 is pretty competitive, but I am in a new age group (hello Masters runner!) Check out this great mug I won, created by Annapolis Pottery! 

Can’t wait for the 2023 race! 

Mike Sterling 10K

This little race takes place every Labor Day weekend in Crisfield, Maryland, a town on the Chesapeake Bay that sits at the southernmost point in Maryland. I hadn’t initially been planning to race a 10K over Labor Day, but I saw Vanessa of She Runs By the Seashore post about it on Instagram. That week, I was supposed to run a 12 miler with 7 miles at 15K to half marathon pace. Truth be told, I don’t love long solo speed workouts and would much rather just run a race. Hmmm, this 10K sounds fun, I thought. I figured if I could find a cheap enough Airbnb, then I would travel for the race over two hours away from my house (further than I realized at first!) I did find a great Airbnb for less than $100 in town and Micah and I drove down to the Eastern Shore after work on Friday of Labor Day weekend. 

I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from this race, either. My 10K PR is going to be a tough one to beat, ever – 39:33 at the Bay Bridge Run in 2021. But I knew this course was flat and fast, so I thought I could run it in maybe 42 minutes. 

I actually finished in 40:52 and was first overall female! So excited about that – and most thrilled with how I paced it and how I was able to stay consistent when the last two miles got tough. 

The race began at 7:30 right at the Crisfield City Dock, and it was definitely warm and humid, but nowhere near as bad as the A10 was. I lined up at the front and went out the gate at a sub-7 pace. I ran mile 1 6:33 and mile 2 in 6:35. Somewhere in mile 2, I think, the woman who came in second place passed me and I didn’t think I’d be able to catch her, but then I did during mile 3 (6:37). I ran mile 4 in 6:39 and that’s when I started to feel really gassed. But I wasn’t going to give up and instead focused on the man who was running about 50 yards ahead of me. Just follow him, I told myself. And it worked! I ran both miles 5 and 6 in 6:35. It may not have been a PR, but this was easily the best pacing job I have ever done in a 10K. Maybe in any race, ever! 

As top female, I was awarded a handmade anchor crafted by a local artist. Unfortunately, as I was putting stuff in my car after the race, I absentmindedly put the award on top of my car and freaking drove off without it! I was absolutely devastated. But! I emailed the race director and the race crew found it! They are going to mail it to me. I’m so happy! It was such a special prize. 

This was a nice local race and it was worth the drive to do it. My only regret is that I did not get a Smith Island Cake while I was there. (Yes, I know you can get them all over Maryland – but we were so close to Smith Island! I still need to make a trip there some time.)  

Week 8 of training begins tomorrow – I’m so close to taper I can taste it. I can’t wait to run the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9 and hopefully finish around 3 hours and 20 minutes. And then I’m running the Philly Marathon on Nov. 20. Still haven’t decided exactly how I am going to approach training for that. Chicago is definitely my “A” race, so I’ll probably just work on maintaining my fitness after that’s over. It would be nice to run a BQ time at both and I feel pretty confident I can do that. Really, I just want a PR in Chicago! 

Have you ever run marathons close together like that – and if so, how did you approach them? Let me know!

The 2022 Boston Marathon is almost here, and I PR’d the 10 miler — twice!

And suddenly, the 2022 Boston Marathon is a little more than a week away and I’m in taper mode. How did that happen? 

I think my training has gone pretty close to perfectly and the weeks have flown by. I really like the 12-week plan from Advanced Marathoning that I followed last fall and then again this winter. First, I think 12 weeks is my sweet spot for marathon training – it’s long enough to get me in shape, yet short enough that I don’t get bored with it. Second, the plan is easily the most effective one I’ve ever followed. I’m running times I never thought would be possible for me, and I think I have that plan to thank for it. 

I ran three races in March – two 10 milers and a 5K. All of them went really well! Here’s a recap of each of them. 

The Tim Kennard River Run 10 Miler

My training plan advised that I race either an 8K or a 15K the weekend of March 20-21, so I was excited to see the Tim Kennard River Run 10 Miler was happening in Salisbury on March 20. (15K = 9.3 miles, so that’s close enough.) The race is named after Tim Kennard, a local runner who passed away in 2004 of renal cancer, and the proceeds fund organizations that help children and animals. I love 10 milers – I think that’s my favorite distance. I had also read good things about it from Vanessa with She Runs By the Seashore. Salisbury is about two hours from where I live in Anne Arundel County, so my husband and I decided to make a weekend out of it and stay in an Airbnb on the Eastern Shore, in a small town called Snow Hill about 20 minutes away from the race’s start/finish line. The race was on a Sunday, so I did my 17-mile long run on Saturday and then we hit the road. I wasn’t too worried about running a long run and then racing 10 miles the next day – I did that when I ran Cherry Blossom last fall and had a great race. We stopped in Berlin, which has tons of antique shops and bills itself as America’s coolest small town. We ate dinner at an excellent restaurant called Blacksmith and then relaxed in the adorable Airbnb, which was a two-story apartment that was part of an old house. It was so charming that I wish we could have stayed for longer – I’d love to go back sometime. 

Easy logistics are the best thing about a small town race! The race began and ended at a local church in Salisbury, and packet pickup and a full on breakfast spread was set up inside. There was plenty of parking and we had time to hang out inside the church hall while we waited for the start of the race. Thank you to all the church members who came out to help! Everyone was so nice. 

I really didn’t know what to expect as far as my time here. I ran a 1:11 last fall in the rescheduled Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run, which was a two-minute PR, and I thought that was pretty solid. But I also knew I was in good shape, maybe better shape, and the weather was good and the course was flat. So I thought maybe 1:10ish was possible. I also thought I could possibly win the Masters female race and come home with an extra $50 in my pocket. 

I ended up finishing in 1:09:12 (6:55 average pace) and was third overall female (which came with a $100 check!) I was pretty shocked – and thrilled – that I broke 1:10 by that much. I saw that I was averaging a sub-7 pace in the first three miles, and thought I was maybe going too fast, but I felt good so I just went with it. I really liked running around Salisbury, a town I had never been to before. We ran through some very pretty neighborhoods along the river! My only real complaint, which obviously no one can control, was the aggressive wind. OMG. During the part of the race where we ran through downtown Salisbury, the headwind was insane. (Why is it never a tailwind?) There weren’t a ton of people out on the course spectating, but the ones that were there were enthusiastic and encouraging. Around mile 7, I caught up to the woman who ended up finishing second, Maria. Pretty much everyone we passed yelled out “Go Maria!” I told her she obviously has lots of fans in the area and she said she lives in Salisbury and runs a lot of local races. She and I were neck and neck with each other until about mile 9, when she passed me for good and I was never able to catch her (though I was close behind.) As we were nearing the finish, I saw the vehicle that was leading the front runners was right in front of us and so I knew we were among the top female finishers. But I had no idea what place I was in – and when I crossed the finish line, stopped my Garmin, and saw my time, I didn’t really care! 1:09:12! It wasn’t that long ago when I had a hard time running a sub-7 minute place in a 5K, so that was extremely exciting.

I initially was told that I finished in fourth place, and was first Masters female, but then learned that the woman who they thought was second place accidentally took a wrong turn and was disqualified. That really sucks! So Maria came in second and I came in third. Again, that was great, and so was the $100 in prize money, but I was happiest about my finish time.  

Overall, I loved this flat, fast race and would like to do it again some day – and the Eastern Shore is such a pretty part of my wonderful state. Very glad I did it. 

Cruising to the finish!

Barlowe Bolt 5K

I love to hate 5Ks! 

Seriously, when you really push yourself, there is nothing more painful than a 5K! I signed up to run the Barlowe Bolt with my 5 Peaks kickboxing friends the week after the Tim Kennard 10 Miler. I’ve run this race three times before, in 2018, 2019, and 2020. I won the race in 2020 and set my 5K PR of 20:29 then. I did not run in 2021 because the race happened the same day as the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon. This year, I thought maybe I could win again and even beat my PR. Maybe I could even break 20 minutes? It didn’t seem out of the question with my recent 10 mile time!

Well, I did win the race – first female and first finisher, period! – but I did not break 20 minutes or even PR. My time was 20:39, so 10 seconds off my 20:29 PR. I wasn’t disappointed by it – as I said, 5Ks are not my thing.

The whole thing was kind of a blur, as 5Ks are. It was about 48 degrees on race morning and I was wearing a singlet, shorts, and arm warmers, which everyone thought was hilarious. “Where are your clothes?” multiple people asked me. I get really warm when I run and what I was wearing ended up being ideal! I lined up at the front and took off with two men, a younger kid and an older man who ended up coming in first place male. They were a few feet ahead of me for the first mile, and when I saw my friend Cindy on one of the turnarounds, she yelled out to me, “They’re the only two in front of you! You can catch them!” I ended up passing the younger guy about halfway through the race and the other guy some time in mile two. It hurt. I think that’s my problem with 5Ks– I have a hard time really making myself HURT for 3.1 miles. I prefer the slow burn of a longer distance race. The Barlowe Bolt is also pretty hilly. I don’t know if I’ll ever break 20 minutes, or even if I really care that much about it, but I probably need a flatter course to do so. 

All in all, it was a fun morning with friends. And I won $40 in gift cards to Giant! Groceries are awfully expensive these days, so I was pretty happy with that. 

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run

Once again, my plan recommended a race this weekend – either a 10K or a 15K, and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run was once again being held in the spring with things inching back to normal as COVID starts to fade into the background a little bit. I am honestly surprised at how well this race went. I thought I’d set a really strong PR at Tim Kennard and wasn’t expecting to beat that so soon. I figured I’d finish in the 1:10-1:12 range and be totally happy with that. Just like last fall, I also had a 16-mile run to do that weekend, so I did that the day before the race.  

I ended up PRing again, this time running a 1:08:03, a 6:49/mile pace – WOW! (My Garmin actually clocked just over 10 miles, 10.07 miles to be exact, which was a 6:46 pace. It doesn’t really matter either way.) Given how competitive this race is – a lot of pros and elite athletes come out for it – I did not get any kind of award, but I didn’t expect to. I came in 13th in my age group. Interestingly, last fall my 1:11 also got me 13th, but I know that the rescheduled race was much less popular with runners (I mean, the whole point is the cherry blossoms, which are not there in the fall!) 

I admit that I cursed myself a little bit for signing up for this on race morning. As logistically easy as Tim Kennard was, Cherry Blossom – and really, any race or event in DC – was pretty much the opposite. Back in the fall, the Metro opened early and I was able to take the orange line right to the start at the National Mall. But this time, the Metro didn’t open early enough. So I had to drive. With no traffic early in the morning, it only took me about a half hour, and I had booked a parking spot ahead of time through a parking app. But of course Google Maps got confused, because DC is confusing, and took me to the wrong garage. Luckily, I figured it out. The garage was about a mile from the start, so I was glad I allowed myself plenty of time to get there. Then I decided to check a bag with a jacket to wear after the race. I never do this and I may not make a habit of it. UPS was handling the baggage check and the trucks were late – they didn’t start accepting the bags until around 7, and I still had to pee and make it to my corral in time for the 7:30 start! It was so stressful, because I hate rushing around, but I did make it with time to spare. I decided to line up with the 7 minute/mile group and see how I felt. 

I ended up staying with the pacer for the first two miles, then pulled ahead. As in Tim Kennard, I was feeling good and just decided to see how long I could roll with the pace. And it paid off. This race is also fast and flat, and I do think 10 milers are where I shine. It’s kind of funny to think I can run a 10 miler at a 6:49/pace, yet my current 5K pace isn’t much faster than that. When my Garmin beeped at every mile marker, I would look down and see a pace in the high 6:30s or 6:40s and think, “Really? OK!” I felt like I was working hard, but that the pace was sustainable. The weather was absolutely perfect – high 40s, no wind, not too sunny, no precip – and there were tons of spectators cheering us on. And yes, it sure was nice to see cherry blossoms this time! 

 I didn’t start to really feel the pain until probably mile 8. At that point, I heard some other runners talking about Boston and I told them I was running, too. The one guy said how nice it would be to see the marathon happening in April again. Due to COVID, the Boston Marathon hasn’t happened on Patriots Day for three years, since the last and only other time I ran the race! We hit mile 9 and he said, “OK, one mile to go until the taper!” I told him I was ready! 

I actually had no idea I was PRing until I stopped my Garmin after crossing the finish, as I didn’t have it set to elapsed time. When I saw 1:08, I was pretty shocked. More than a minute faster than Tim Kennard! 

Photo credit: Charlie Ban of RunWashington

I even ordered one of the official race photos, which I never do because they are always so expensive, with my time overlaid on it. I can’t wait to get it! 

Is This My Peak? 

I’m really excited about my recent string of PRs, both last fall and this spring, and it definitely has me wondering how much longer I’ll be able to run like this. I turn 42 in July, and it’s inevitable that I’ll slow down eventually. I also know that running “success” ebbs and flows. I was on fire in the fall of 2017, PRing in several distances and running my first BQ. In 2018, I was running slower than I had in years – probably due to a combination of training mistakes and life stressors. Then over the next few years, I started to get faster again, and then in the fall of 2021 I had some major breakthroughs. I don’t know what’s around the corner for me, running-wise, but I’m determined to keep having fun with it. Bring on Boston 2022! 

Also – this is my 100th blog post!

I’m running Boston 2022!

Long time, no blog! 

It’s hard to believe Coastal Delaware was more than two months ago, and I’m about to embark upon another marathon training cycle – this time, for Boston 2022! I’ve still been running, of course, just haven’t been following a specific plan and have been running at whatever pace and distance I feel like. That’s about to change tomorrow, when I start my 12-week plan from Advanced Marathoning, the one that got me a huge PR and 2023 BQ at Coastal Delaware. 

I’m not trying for a PR in Boston – my 3:26 is really solid and Boston is pretty darn far from a PR course. I do have a lofty goal of running a BQ time there, even though I already have one for 2023, just because I think that would be really cool! And it doesn’t seem completely out of the question. But I mainly just want to beat my 3:47 from Boston 2019 and above all else, HAVE FUN and soak in the whole experience! 

I didn’t think I’d be as excited to run Boston a second time, but I totally am. Qualifying for Boston is hard – we all know that. But my 2022 BQ was particularly hard to achieve. Why? One word: 2020! I don’t have to tell anyone reading this what kind of year that was! And I don’t think I even had it anywhere near as bad as a lot of people – I worked remotely and my husband’s job in the maritime industry was essential, so we didn’t have any financial issues. And we have no children for whom we had to manage virtual schooling and that whole mess. But still, 2020 was shitty for everyone. At the time, I was working in the PR department of a local hospital, managing social media, and once COVID hit, had to start monitoring our accounts around the clock for messages, comments, questions, etc. It was a lot, and I quickly learned that I really don’t care too much for crisis communications (which surprised me– when I was a reporter, I thrived on breaking news!) I left that job a year ago for a new communications job in an entirely different industry, and as the pandemic continues on, I am thankful every day I’m no longer doing healthcare comms. Shout out to those who continue to plug along every day in these challenging times. 

That being said, running was my sanity in 2020 and the fact that I was actually able to BQ at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon on Halloween 2020 was really special. Especially after it was canceled and rescheduled at the last minute. The race itself had plenty of “only in 2020” vibes (the cold standing water flowing up over the race course! The fallen tree!), and I missed my 3:30 goal by six minutes, but I got that BQ. 

Boston qualifier at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon
I qualified for the Boston Marathon at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Washington Crossing, PA

Then, there was the whole confusion over which Boston the BQ was even for – the cancellation of Boston 2020 and the postponement of Boston 2021 from April to October obviously screwed everything up. Turns out the BQ was good for both, but I got squeaked out of the 2021 race because the Boston Athletic Association decided to take qualifying times from all the way back through September 2018. For those unfamiliar with the process, in the last decade or so, Boston hasn’t had enough room to accept all qualifiers, and will instead take only qualifiers who run a certain time under their qualifying standard, otherwise known as the cutoff time. Except you never know what the cutoff time will be until you register for the race and get your acceptance or non-acceptance email. It’s all very stressful!

But I was allowed to resubmit my time for 2022, and this time, EVERYONE who qualified and applied for the race was accepted! No cut off time! I first saw the news on Instagram, and shed happy tears. This is the first time in years there has been no cut off. I suspect that’s largely in part to the COVID vaccine mandate that the BAA put in place. Plenty of people were angry about that, but the BAA can do whatever it wants and I think we’ll see more and more of these rules moving forward.

Less than 90 days to go until the race! Check out my Boston 2019 race report for a detailed recap of my experience that year

Knocking Out a Few 5Ks

I’ve said it a million times on this blog – 5Ks are not my thing! They just hurt so bad! Yes, I know marathons are painful, too, but it’s a different kind of pain – I think I just prefer the slow burn of a longer race rather than the all out push of a shorter race. I still run them fairly frequently, but yeah, not my favorite distance! 

I’ve run two since my marathon, both on holidays. The first one was the Greensburg Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. I’ve run this annual 5K in my hometown every year since 2012, with the exception of 2020, when the pandemic canceled it. From 2016 through 2019, I was able to win second in my age group. (I never placed in prior years, most likely because I was out at the bar on Thanksgiving Eve and hungover for the Turkey Trot. Haha.) Finally, in 2021, I won my age group! (I’ve also aged up into a new age group since the last time I ran this race.) I ran a 20:54, which is a pretty big course PR. My previous fastest time was a 22:10. I’m always psyched to break 21 minutes in the 5K, and this course is tough – it is hilly western PA, after all!

Then on New Year’s Day, I won a 5K in Harrisburg, PA. My husband and I decided to go to Hershey for New Year’s, and of course I looked to see if there were any local races happening. I saw a 5K and a 10K happening on New Year’s Day at City Island, where I ran a St. Patrick’s Day 5K with Staci last year. I also set a PR at a half marathon there last May. I opted for the 5K over the 10K because I just PR’d the 10K in October and wanted to see what I could do in the 5K. I really had no expectations for the race, though. We were out late on New Year’s Eve, but didn’t drink too much and the race wasn’t happening until 11:20 in the morning, so I got plenty of sleep. But the weather was pretty yucky – very foggy with a cold drizzle – and I was a little afraid of slipping and falling.

I stuck with my usual 5K strategy – go out like a bat out of hell and see if I can hold on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That day, it worked. The course was similar to the one I’d run last March with Staci – you run over a bridge over the Susquehanna River and on a path beside the river. Before the race, one of the organizers told us to be careful of goose poop, and I remembered there being goose poop EVERYWHERE when I ran the half last May. But I very quickly entered the pain cave, and didn’t even think about goose poop. (Fortunately, none got on my beloved Alpha Flys!) My splits were positive, but not overly so – 6:30 for mile 1, 6:40 for mile 2, 6:50 for mile 3, and I’m not sure what I ran the last 0.1 in. My time was 20:33  – just seconds off my PR of 20:29! I was really happy about that. I was first female finisher, 11th overall. I am waiting for my award to arrive in the mail! 

But wait! When I checked my results, I saw that my gun time was 20:33, but my chip time was 20:30. So, literally ONE second off my PR. If only I had run two or three seconds faster! Per U.S. Track and Field rules, if you place among the top three overall spots in a race, your gun time is recorded as your official time instead of your chip time. Guess I should have lined up at the very front of the race with those speedy teenagers who clocked 17:xx finish times. LOL. 

Overall, it was a fun day and a great start to 2022. I have a few more 5Ks in mind over the next few months, despite my love-hate relationship with them! But training for Boston will still be my main focus. 

Marathon training and Nike Alpha Flys: How I’ve been able to run faster than I ever thought I could

October was a really busy month for me in terms of racing. I ran four races and was able to maintain a sub-7 minute pace in all of them. 

I never thought that would be possible for me, and that’s not me being falsely modest or trying to sandbag. It’s the truth. 

So, where has all this newfound speed come from? I have a few theories. But first, let’s take a quick look at the races I ran. 

Oct. 3: I went home to Pittsburgh to visit my family and run the Mario Lemieux 6.6K Run with my sister and brother-in-law. Why 6.6K? Well, that’s the number of famed Penguins star, and team owner, Mario. It equals out to roughly 4.1 miles. Given that I’d maintained a 7:08 pace in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler a few weeks before, I thought maybe I could hold onto a sub-7 pace here, but I had no idea. The race was in downtown Pittsburgh, obviously a hilly place, and it was pretty humid that morning. Plus I’d had a few too many delicious stouts the night before. Because of course. I decided that my strategy would be to go out like a bat out of hell and see how long I could hold on. And it worked! I finished in 28:38, a 6:49 average pace (per my watch, which clocked 4.2 miles. The race results had me running a 6:59 pace. Either way, sub-7!) I won my age group and was 6th overall female. My prize was a hockey puck! 

Oct. 9: I was really excited for the Baltimore Running Festival, which is one of my favorite fall running events. It offers something for every runner — a marathon, a half marathon, a 5K, a “moron-a-thon,” which is the 5K and the half marathon together, and now a 10K. I have participated in some way, shape, or form in the BRF since 2016 — I even ran the half marathon virtually in 2020. This year, they added the 10K distance, so I signed up for that because I had done all of the other races before. I was hoping to beat my PR of 44:50, which I set in the 2017 Across the Bay 10K. I felt confident, but the course didn’t make it easy. I think the first 2.5 miles were totally uphill, haha. There were a few times I looked at my watch and saw a pace in the 7:25 range and thought, that’s it, it’s not my day. But then there was some significant downhill on the back half and I was able to fly. 

At one point around mile 4.5, someone told me I was the second female and I thought that couldn’t be right. I was definitely in the pain cave at that point and just kept pushing, telling myself it would be over soon and if I kept going hard, a PR wasn’t out of the question. When I turned onto Pratt Street and saw the finish line clock said 43, I was thrilled. I crossed the timing mat and a volunteer gave me a little card that said 2nd place female. So cool! I ran a 43:36 — my watch said I ran 6.3 miles (probably because I did some weaving around people earlier in the race and didn’t run the tangents) for an average pace of 6:55.

But wait! At the awards ceremony, I was announced as the third place female. I was a little confused, but super pumped about the PR and the big trophy I won. It got a TON of attention as I carried it around afterwards, LOL. Well, as I found out a few days later, I actually did get second place. The woman they thought got second was actually a dude — I’m assuming he probably ran with his wife or girlfriend’s bib or whatever. So he obviously got disqualified. 

I still count that race as a huge success! 

Oct. 16: Ben’s Run 5 Miler in Silver Spring. My marathon training plan called for me to race an 8K this weekend, which is basically five miles. I didn’t think I’d be able to find a five mile race, but I did! Ben’s Run raises money for cancer research at Children’s National Hospital and is named after a little boy who passed away of cancer in 2009. This was the last year for the race and I’m glad I got to run it. I once again decided to go out hard and see how long I could hold on. The neighborhood where the race was had a lot of rolling hills, but luckily, so does my neighborhood, so that wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. I moved into first place pretty early on and was able to maintain that, finishing in 34:41, a 6:56 average pace. I won a $50 gift card to Dick’s for being the first overall female. I had only run a few five milers before, but my previous fastest time was from 2016 when I ran the Great Chocolate Race 5 Miler in Arlington, Virginia in 36:58. So that was a big PR, too. 

Oct. 31: This is the race I’m still pinching myself over. On Halloween, I ran the Bay Bridge Run (formerly Across the Bay 10K) and I honestly had no idea what to expect for the race. Seeing as I had just run a really strong 10K a few weeks earlier, I didn’t have any expectation of PRing again, even though I knew this was an easier course. (There’s a long uphill in the beginning, but it’s not that steep and you get a sweet downhill stretch afterwards.) 

I literally flew once I got onto the flat and downhill portions of the race. I ran mile 3 in 6:03 and mile 4 in 5:54 — my fastest mile EVER. I looked at my watch and questioned whether that could be accurate. Apparently it was. After runners get off the bridge, you have another mile and a half or so to go and there are two more small inclines, but nothing crazy. The race ends in a business park in Stevensville on the Eastern Shore and when I turned the corner to go toward the finish line, I saw the clock said 39. 39!!! I’d just PR’d again in the 10K by FOUR FREAKING MINUTES. WHAT. Final time was 39:33, which is a 6:22 pace (!!!) and I was fourth overall female out of 6,423 women (!!!!) and first place Masters female out of 4,059 (!!!!!) 

To say I’m ecstatic is putting it mildly. That’s more than five minutes faster than my old 2017 PR on the same course. Truly cannot believe it. 

How did that happen? Again, I have a few thoughts on why. 

I have been running more mileage. Yes, I’m training for a marathon. But I’ve been following a plan that’s new to me, a 12-week plan from the book Advanced Marathoning that maxed out at 55 miles per week. The big difference for me is that this plan has me running multiple double digit runs per week in addition to the weekend long run. So for example, during my peak week last month, I ran two 12-milers (one of which had seven miles at half marathon pace), plus a 20-miler on the weekend. These runs were hard — I was mostly running them after work, and that’s tough to do after a long day! But I think these extra “medium-long” runs made a difference in both my endurance and my speed. 

I have been keeping my easy runs easy. Like a lot of runners, I struggle with this. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of running your easy/recovery runs too fast. When I was training for my last two marathons, I did a lot of “easy” runs at an 8:20-8:30 pace, which didn’t *seem* too hard for me … but probably was. I mean, I ran the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon at an average 8:17 pace…. So yeah. I’ve been really working hard to keep my easy runs in the high 8s/low 9s, and I’ve been mostly successful at it!   

Nike Alpha Flys! OK, so these are a game changer. I LOVE these shoes and they are currently one of my most treasured possessions. These carbon-plated super shoes are a dream to run in and I’m really glad I invested in them. And at nearly $300 a pair, they were quite an investment. (I had a gift card that covered part of the cost, at least.) But so worth it. You can read more about what makes these shoes so special and fancy here. I cannot wait to wear them in the Coastal Delaware Marathon in a week and a half! 

TEN DAYS TO GO! I am so ready and excited to crush it.    

Checking two races off my running bucket list: The St. Michael’s Half Marathon and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

In the past month, I’ve checked two races I’ve always wanted to do off my running bucket list — the St. Michael’s Half Marathon in St. Michael’s, Maryland and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington, D.C. Both are traditionally spring races, were canceled in 2020, and rescheduled for late summer 2021. And I was able to run both of them! 

St. Michael’s was fun — absolutely nowhere close to a PR, but I was not expecting to PR on a hot, humid August day when I hadn’t done any speedwork or structured training all summer. Cherry Blossom was fun AND I had a pretty significant PR, smashing my old PR from 2017 by more than two minutes! I’m so happy about that! 

Here are my recaps of the two races. 

St. Michael’s Half

The St. Michael’s Half Marathon is part of the St. Michael’s Running Festival, which also includes a 5K and a 10K. It is always held in May, and I was supposed to run it in May 2020. But of course, like all spring 2020 races, it was canceled due to COVID. I ended up donating my race entry and registering for the 2021 race, scheduled for Aug. 21. I knew the weather would likely be miserable. But I didn’t really care, especially once I found out that my favorite August race, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, was canceled for the second year in a row. My sister Catherine and her husband Justin, who live in Pittsburgh, signed up for the 5K and came down to visit. Neither had ever been to St. Michael’s before and I was excited to have a fun day with them. 

We woke up STUPID early on race day to make sure we were there in time for the 7 am start. I had tried to find an Airbnb in St. Michael’s, but there was nothing, so we stayed at my house in Anne Arundel County about an hour away and woke up at 3:45 am. UGH. But the thought of being late stresses me out, so there was no way I wanted to be rushing around. We got there by 6 or a little thereafter, with plenty of time to use the bathroom and line up for the race. My plan was to start with the 1:40 pace group, and hopefully finish sub-1:40, but again, it was hot and humid and I had no real expectations for the race. 

Which was good, because…. The 1:40 pacer went out of the gate like a bat out of hell. 

I really don’t want to come off like I’m throwing shade at the pacer, because he was lots of fun and very entertaining when I was able to keep up with him! But I knew within the first half mile that we were going way too fast, particularly considering the weather. We ran the first mile in 7:19. 7:19!!! A 1:40 half marathon is roughly a 7:39 per minute pace, so 20 seconds faster than we needed to be going, in the first mile of a half. Yikes. Once we hit the first mile marker, he said “Is anyone tired yet?” Well, I wasn’t tired yet, exactly, but I definitely felt like I was working harder than I should be at that point in a half. 

The St. Michael’s Half bills itself as the flattest and fastest half in the mid-Atlantic, and the course is definitely flat as a pancake. But there’s also not much shade, so the sun was beating down on us pretty heavily. I was able to hang on with the pacer, who was hitting some of the mile markers probably at least 20 seconds before he needed to be (we ran mile 3 in 7:15), until around mile 7. Then I knew it was a lost cause. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. My husband told me later that the pacer came through the finish line all by himself — I bet just about everyone fell back! Maybe there were a few that finished ahead of him? I don’t know. 

Anyway, after I knew I wasn’t going to be under 1:40, I just focused on enjoying myself and taking in the scenery. I was pushing as hard as I could, but my splits were definitely a hot mess. Mile 8 was 7:52, 9 was 8:08, 10 was 7:51, 11 was 8:05, 12 was 8:13, 13 was 8:15. Ah well. They can’t all be perfectly executed races. I was for sure ready to be done by mile 12 and was excited to see my husband, sister, and brother-in-law waiting at the final corner before I made the left turn toward the finish.

About to finish!

At the finish line, volunteers were handing towels drenched in cold water and it felt so good around my neck! My final time was 1:42:36, which got me second in my age group! 

My favorite running store, Charm City Run, sponsored the race and put on such a fun after party with great beer and music! I missed race after parties so much. We walked around St. Michael’s afterwards, had brunch, and then headed back to my house. We were quite exhausted after our early morning (middle of the night?!) wake up call and we all took long naps once we got back. 

I’d love to do this race again on its traditional spring date! 

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run 

I wasn’t even planning to run this race. 

As the name indicates, this race usually takes place in April, when the cherry blossoms in D.C. are in full bloom. The race is extremely popular and you have to enter a lottery to get into it, so when I learned it was rescheduled for Sept. 12, I decided to throw my name in. Except I belatedly realized that the race would conflict with an annual girls trip to Dewey Beach, where I always run the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler. Whatever, I thought. I won’t get in anyway. 

Except — shocker!– the demand to run the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run without cherry blossoms just wasn’t there, so everyone who entered the lottery got into the race. And there were still enough spots left for runners to register after the lottery had closed! 

Thinking I was still going to Dewey that weekend, I tried to pawn off my entry on someone else, but there were no takers. But in early August, my beach plans fell through, leaving me free to run the race! And I am very glad I did. 

This race required another 3:45 am wakeup call. OK, maybe if I were the type of runner who could just roll out of bed and go to a race, it would be different. But I like to wake up, eat breakfast, have my coffee, use the bathroom a bunch of times, and as I said above, not feel rushed …. Plus, I had to take the Metro into D.C., which always really stresses me out. The New Carrollton Metro station is about 25 or so minutes away from my house, so I got there around 5:30 and I think I was at the Washington Monument, where the start line was, by 6ish. This left me with a ton of time to kill before the 7:30 start time, but again, I wasn’t rushed and I was happy about that.    

This race also had pacers, and my plan was to line up with the 7:30 minute/mile pace group (1:15 finish time) and hopefully finish ahead of them. But when I got to the starting corrals, I saw that I was placed in the second corral, while the pace group I wanted to run with was in the first corral. Balls. I knew they were going to go off several minutes ahead of my group, so I figured I would either try to catch up with them or just run my own race. And my experience in St. Michael’s taught me pacers can be hit or miss anyway! 

I was wearing my new race shoes that I had splurged on, the much hyped Nike Alpha Flys. I really went back and forth over whether to spend close to $300 on running shoes. Is that really necessary for a hobby runner like myself? I ran my marathon PR in Brooks Ghosts. Hell, I ran the freaking Boston Marathon in Brooks Ghosts! But I had a gift certificate to Charm City Run from my birthday that covered part of the cost and just decided to go for it. And maybe they helped me in this race. 

I will tell you that I ran faster than I ever thought I could. Like, I’m looking back at my splits and shaking my head in disbelief: 

Mile 1: 6:55

Mile 2: 7:06

Mile 3: 6:52

Mile 4: 6:56

Mile 5: 6:58

Mile 6: 6:58

Mile 7: 7:13

Mile 8: 7:16

Mile 9: 7:09

Mile 10: 7:13

I mean, I definitely slowed at the end, but I was running directly into a headwind during those last few miles. But look at that string of sub-7 miles! I usually struggle to run a 5K at a sub-7 pace, and I ran five miles at sub-7?! Like huh? I had also run a 16-mile long run the day before, which was definitely not a smart race strategy. But I needed to get my long run done and I also wanted to run the race … and it worked out. 

My finish time was 1:11:17, a 7:08/mile pace, which got me 13th in my age group out of 476 women. It was a very competitive race! 

Excited about that PR!

Was it the super shoes? The flat course? The cool morning? (It’s still pretty hot and muggy here most days, but we actually had nice weather for this race.) Was it my marathon training? At the time of the race, I was three weeks into my training plan for Coastal Delaware, so it’s hard for me to imagine that I would have gotten into 10-mile PR shape that fast. But who knows. All I know is that I was SUPER pumped.  

As for the race itself — I really liked the course, which winds through the Tidal Basin in D.C. As I just mentioned, it was very flat, though I could have done without the wind whipping off the Potomac in the later miles. I liked how in the last mile, there were markers indicating that you had 1600 meters, then 1200 meters, then 800 meters, then 400 meters to go. Would it have been a lot prettier with the cherry blossoms in bloom? For sure. So I’d love to come back in the spring. And as long as the standards don’t change, it looks like my time will qualify me for a seeded bib and allow me to bypass the lottery next time, which is pretty darn cool! 

What’s next? I’m about to finish up week four of a 12-week marathon training plan from Pete Pfitzinger’s book Advanced Running. It’s pretty challenging and has me running several double-digit runs during the week in addition to the long run on the weekend. I’ve never done that before. This past week, I ran 5 easy miles Monday, 11 easy miles Tuesday, rested Wednesday, 10 miles with five at half marathon pace Thursday, rested Friday, 17 miles today and 5 easy tomorrow. (I also went to kickboxing class on Tuesday and Thursday, because I am a firm believer in the importance of cross training! On those days, I ran early before work and went to class after work. Keeping hard days hard!) So far, so good! 

My next goal is to PR the 10K at the Baltimore Running Festival on Oct. 9. I technically PR’d the distance in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, so I think I could do it at an actual 10K. My current 10K PR is from 2017 and I would love to take that down! 

And then of course I am also hoping to PR the marathon this fall. My marathon PR is ALSO from 2017. See a pattern? 2017 was a really good year for my running … but I think 2021 can be even better!

Am I beating the heat, or is it beating me?

It’s been forever since I’ve posted an update here! It’s hard to believe the summer is more than half over — and honestly, I can’t WAIT for fall. I was always a summer girl growing up in western PA, because our winters were so terrible. And then I moved to Maryland and learned that hey, summers can be terrible, too! The older I get, the more I despise the heat and the humidity. Particularly when I’m running in it! 

On that note, remember when I insisted I wasn’t going to train for a fall 2021 marathon? That I didn’t have a ton of fun last summer when I was training for Chasing the Unicorn and I just wanted to enjoy a “post-pandemic” (in quotes because COVID cases are on the rise again, thanks to the Delta variant) summer? Yeah, I lied. I’m registered for the Coastal Delaware Marathon on Nov. 14, a deferral from April 2020. I had every intention of dropping down to the half marathon, but the race won’t let me unless I pay for the half marathon in full, rather than transferring into that distance. It’s a little frustrating, since there are spots in the half — but I know that the race organization also lost a lot of money in 2020, as they all did, so I can’t blame them for doing what they can to stay afloat.

I tried to see if anyone wanted my bib, but couldn’t get anyone to commit. So I said the hell with it. I have been running, and complaining miserably about the weather the whole time, but haven’t officially started training yet. I will probably start with the St. Michael’s Half Marathon on Aug. 21 and either follow Hal Higdon’s three-month Boston Bound plan (which I used to train for Boston, but I don’t see why it can’t be used for other marathons) or Pete Pfitzinger’s 12-week plan. I’m a devotee of Hal’s Advanced Marathon plan — it’s gotten me three BQs — but I don’t have it in me, mentally, to follow a four-month marathon training plan right now. I still want that 3:30 and don’t think it’s out of the question if I train smart and can link up with a pacer to keep me from going out too hard (I think Coastal Del has pacers, which was definitely a point in its favor!) 

In addition to the St. Michael’s half, I’ll be running the Balboa Park 8 Miler in San Diego when I travel there for vacation next week! The hills in Balboa Park will probably make up for the lack of humidity, but I am excited nonetheless. I also ran Good Day For a Run’s Red, White, and Blue Mountain 5K a few weeks ago in northeast PA with Staci. I ran this race with her two years ago and it really sucked. The course, the weather, really, everything but the wine afterwards! In fact, we said we would never do it again. And yet, we did. I did much better this year, though! I was more than a minute faster than I was two years ago, and came in third place.  

Wannabe Triathlete?

Last month, I also did my second triathlon — the Columbia Association Super Sprint Triathlon! I really loved this race when I did it in 2019 and I had another great experience this year, despite my general dislike of the water. The super sprint is basically the shortest triathlon distance you can do — this one was four laps in a pool, a 5-mile bike ride, and a 1.75-mile run. I finished in about 46 minutes, which was around a minute faster than my 2019 time.

Feeling strong!

I was also 5th overall female, but that’s mainly because of my run time! It took me nearly eight minutes to complete the swim. And I had been going to the pool regularly to swim laps, but….. When it comes to swimming, I have one fatal flaw and that is the fact that I reallllllly don’t like to put my face in the water. Like, I really, really, really do not. This is a problem when you’re trying (tri-ing?) to swim, to say the least. Swimming freestyle with your head up out of the water is just about the most inefficient thing possible. So, no wonder it took me almost eight minutes. 

But I am determined to improve. I don’t have any more triathlons on my schedule, but my goal is to do a sprint eventually (and maybe a longer distance– who knows? I once said I’d never run a marathon….) I’ve been going to the pool, though not consistently, and I have even attempted two open water swims. I tagged along with my friends Tammy and Theresa to an open water swimming session in the South River a few weeks ago. I admittedly panicked when I got in the water and ended up just swimming in the shallows, going back and forth between two piers. The instructor suggested I come back on a Sunday morning, when there are more newbie swimmers and I could get a little bit more guidance. So I returned last Sunday morning and was less fearful. 

They had two buoys set up– one 50 meters out into the river and one 300 meters out. I wasn’t quite brave enough to swim out to the 50 meter buoy, and the 300 buoy was definitely a hell no, but! I put my face in the water more! That alone was a victory for me. I really have a hard time with my breathing, and I certainly didn’t retain a damn thing I learned in swim lessons as a young girl, so I’m contemplating signing up for adult swim lessons. Interest in doing a longer tri aside, swimming is an essential life skill and I do think I need to get more comfortable doing it. 

I just turned 41 a few days ago, so I can add that to my list of goals this year! 

I ran my 3rd BQ at the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational

This past Saturday, I ran my 9th marathon — the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational in Chesapeake, Virginia. It was quite an experience. 

The good news — I ran a BQ, my third one! And I won 3rd place in the female Masters division, for runners who are 40 and older. 

The bad news — I missed my 3:30 goal by seven minutes, clocking in at 3:37:22. I had hoped to improve my time from Chasing the Unicorn last fall, but I was actually 48 seconds slower. The last six miles were a shit show. My feet were on fire, I was nauseated and dehydrated and when I saw Micah at mile 25, I told him I hated marathons and was done with them. Oh, and I dry-heaved at the finish line.

Of course I’ll keep on running marathons — but if I don’t get into the fall Boston, I don’t plan on running a different marathon this fall. I need a break. 

Before the Race

This marathon, put on by the Tidewater Striders of southern Virginia, was for runners who had already qualified for Boston or were within 20 minutes of their BQ times. I wasn’t planning to run this marathon initially — rather, I had signed up for the Runners Marathon of Reston, Virginia, on April 11. When that race was canceled in February due to COVID concerns, I jumped into this race. It meant losing two weeks of training, but I wasn’t too worried about that. I found a nice place to stay in Virginia Beach, the Founders Inn and Spa, and looked forward to a fun weekend in an area I don’t travel to very often. 

The weekend before the race, I ran the Lucky Charm 5K in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with Staci. I told myself I wasn’t going to go all out and instead just run the 5K at goal marathon pace (8 minutes per mile.) Well, I ended up going faster than intended — shocker! — and ran a 22:34, or 7:11 pace. But! That pace didn’t feel like an all out push, and I felt that I definitely could have gone faster, so I was optimistic that I could hold onto an 8-minute mile for a marathon. 

Micah and I drove down the day before the race, and that was a disaster. Traffic was a hot mess on I-95 for no reason than it was an unseasonably warm day and a lot of people were out. (What pandemic? Haha. I mean, I was out and about, too.) It took us about six hours to get to our hotel when it should have taken four. Annoying. Once we got there, we headed to TGI Fridays so I could get my standard veggie burger, fries and a beer. Probably weird, but it works for me! 

I didn’t sleep well at all the night before the race, and I think I was just anxious, which is rare for me. I get anxious about a lot of things, but running isn’t one of them. I trust my training and, well, it’s not like I get paid for this. But the forecast wasn’t great — it was going to get into the 70s for the race, and that’s hot for a marathon (particularly after training through the winter.) And it had only been about five months since my last marathon. Was that too short of a turnaround time? Could I be overtrained? Would I bonk bad? I was going to find out. 

26.2 miles up and down the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail 

Micah, saint of a husband that he is, drove me to the start line about 20 minutes from our hotel, bright and early. The race took place on a trail called the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail — sounds lovely, right?! It actually was a really beautiful trail, through the woods and along a creek, and it was nice and flat! It was a double out and back, just like Chasing the Unicorn. With just 75 runners registered, this was the smallest marathon I’ve ever run. I later found out that only 59 people showed up to the start line that morning. We all had to sign COVID waivers (though since I am fully vaccinated, I just had to write “VA” on my form and didn’t need to answer a bunch of questions) and then get our temperatures taken. Masks were required at the start line, but we could remove them as soon as we began running. And runners were grouped into socially distant waves, with the fastest runners going first. We were all seeded by projected finish time, and I was ranked no. 58 out of 75 registered runners. Talk about humbling! But it was a very fast and competitive field. 

The race began at 7:30, and my wave went off at 7:34. I started off running near two older men. One of them was shooting for a 3:30 as well, and his friend was there pacing him. I told them I was going to hang with them because I also wanted to run 3:30 (or better if things really went my way.) We spent about half the race together before the guy who was going for a 3:30 fell behind, and his friend pulled ahead. I tried to look for both of them after the race to see how they fared, but couldn’t find them. 

I told myself before the race that I wasn’t going to start out any faster than an 8:15-8:20 pace. That didn’t happen. Whoops. But I was consistent for about the first 16 miles, logging miles in the high 7s/low 8s, which would have put me right around 3:30 had I been able to maintain it. 

But I couldn’t. 

The weather was actually OK at the beginning of the race — it was in the low 60s and not too sunny. But once the sun came out and the humidity rose, it got pretty toasty. I started to fade around miles 17 and 18, and I’m sure part of that was the weather, but it’s also very possible I just went out too fast. When I ran Rehoboth in 2017, I started out with the 3:40 pace group and then pulled ahead at the halfway point. I felt fantastic through most of that race and never really got tired until about mile 24. I ran a negative split and finished strong in 3:35:00. It’s the best race I’ve ever executed. Even though my last two marathons have been Boston qualifiers, I ran positive splits both times and basically felt like I limped to the finish line. 

I was stopping for water and Gatorade at every aid station, which were set up about every three miles, but I was just so thirsty and my stomach was starting to feel queasy. I usually take my gels at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20, but once I passed the 20 mile mark, I couldn’t bring myself to have that fourth gel. 

The last 10K really sucked. I thought the final 10K in Chasing the Unicorn was painful, especially when I had to climb over a fallen tree at mile 23. I think this was worse. In addition to the heat, my feet REALLY hurt. I wore my Brooks Hyperion Tempos, which I bought last summer and have only worn in Chasing the Unicorn, the virtual Baltimore Half Marathon and the Before the Game Half Marathon last month. Oh, and in the 5K last weekend. The shoes have always felt great, so I don’t know what the problem was on Saturday. Maybe my feet swelled up in the heat? I don’t think that’s ever happened before, but there is a first time for everything! 

So those last few miles were basically a sad little shuffle. I was excited to see Micah at mile 25, but that’s when I had a pity party and told him marathons sucked. “The finish line is just up there,” he told me. “One foot in front of the other!” He even ran with me for a little bit to keep me going. In his flip flops. Like I said, he’s a saint. 

At that point, I knew my goal was in the toilet, but I also knew that I was going to break 3:40, so I could add another BQ to my running resume. I actually wanted to stop and walk at the mile 26 marker, but told myself no! I pushed as hard as I could and finally made it across the finish line in 3:37:22- a BQ with two minutes and 38 seconds to spare. One of the race volunteers asked me if I qualified, and I said yes, and she handed me my finisher’s medal and a special shirt they were giving to everyone who ran a BQ. It says Boston Qualified on the front and Destination Boylston St. 2022 on the back. I thanked her, and then I went over to the side of the road to dry heave.    

I wasn’t expecting to win anything since the field was so competitive, but when I checked my official results, they handed me this huge trophy for coming in 3rd place in the female Masters division! I was so surprised. Overall, I was 18 out of 22 females and 51 out of 59 runners. With a 3:37! And a BQ! The top 12 runners were all under three hours, and all but three runners finished under four hours. That is a CRAZY fast field. 

Overall, I am happy with how I did. I felt like crap and pulled through anyway, which is what marathoning is all about! I do think I would benefit greatly from running a race with a dedicated pace group going five minutes slower than my goal pace that I could link up with and then hopefully pull ahead at the halfway point — like I did in Rehoboth. I just saw today that the Salisbury Marathon, which is happening next weekend and which I had considered as a backup marathon, actually has a 3:35 pace group. But no, I am not running another marathon next weekend. Ha!  

Boston bound — maybe?

So now I’m currently sitting on two BQ times. Last October’s time is -3:26 under my qualifying standard; Saturday’s gives me a -2:38 buffer. I could use either one to register for the 2021 Boston Marathon, which, due to COVID, is planned for October this year instead of the traditional Patriots Day in April. However, the field size has been cut to 20,000 runners and the Boston Athletic Association decided they’ll take BQ times from September 2018 until when 2021 registration opens on April 20.

And, even in normal times, simply running a BQ is not a guarantee that you’ll get into Boston. The marathon has gotten increasingly popular over the last decade, and runners are getting more competitive, so more runners are qualifying than the race has room for. So, every year there’s an unknown “cutoff” time, meaning you have to run that much under your BQ standard to be allowed into the race. When I got into Boston 2019, I had that 3:35:00 from Rehoboth, exactly five minutes under my then-qualifying standard (standards have since been tightened, and as a 40-year-old woman, I now have to meet the same BQ time, 3:40:00, as when I was in the 35-39 age group!) The cutoff that year was -4:52– meaning I got in with just eight seconds to spare!

So I’ll use my 3:36 from last October to register for the race this fall, but I’m not optimistic it’ll get me in. I AM crossing my fingers that I can use one of these times for Boston 2022, presumably happening next spring! I mean, the shirt the Tidewater Striders gave everyone who qualified yesterday does say Destination Boylston St. 2022!

A recap of the Little Patuxent River Run, and some more thoughts on the 2021 Boston Marathon

I ran my second live race of 2021 last weekend, and my first live race with Rip It Events in over a year! 

When COVID hit a year ago, Rip It, like every other race company, was forced to either cancel races outright or make them virtual. Rip It did a fantastic job of adding several themed virtual races to their race calendar for 2020, too, including virtual 5Ks for Cinco de Mayo, Donut Day and Fourth of July

They were also able to add two socially distant live races in the later part of 2020, the Bear Trail Half Marathon and 10K last August and the Greenbrier Trail 5 and 10 Miler in October. I’m not a confident trail runner, so I declined to participate in those races. 

However, one trail race I do feel good about is the Little Patuxent River Run, which I have done every year since it began. It’s challenging, but still appropriate for those of us who prefer the roads to the trails. The race was supposed to take place at the end of January, with a half marathon on one day and a 10K the next, and plans called for both races to be spaced out in waves to allow for proper distancing. 

I had initially signed up for both races, but once COVID restrictions forced the races to be postponed until the first weekend of March, I decided to drop down to just the 10K. And I’m glad I did. I didn’t have high hopes as far as my time — I had run 20 miles the day before, and my legs were trashed. Plus, I’m a lot more cautious when trail running. I approached the 10K purely as a training run (I also had to run a full 10 miles that day, so I knew I’d have to get some bonus miles in after the race).

So I was pretty surprised to finish as the second place female. I have always gotten an age group award at this race before (and I’ve run both the half and the 10K), but never an overall award.   

My final time was 53:13 — and for reference, I recently ran a time trial/virtual 10K and finished in 45:09, so yeah, big difference between the roads and the trails for me. Overall, I felt pretty strong, though yeah, I definitely felt those 20 miles I’d run the previous day when climbing the two big inclines in the race. I did feel a little nauseous/dehydrated toward the end, which I’m going to blame on the previous night’s dinner — mushroom ravioli with a cream sauce and two Moscato Mojitos at Maggiano’s. Nothing I would normally consume the night before a race, but like I said, this wasn’t a goal race! Oh yeah, and I ate a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon for breakfast. That probably wasn’t smart, either. Peanut butter and banana on a bagel for life! 

It’s possible I also felt nauseous because I spent a good mile of the race running near a guy who kept spitting on the trail. Like, for real? That’s nasty when we aren’t in a pandemic. Glad I’m fully vaccinated.

All in all, it was a great morning and everyone was so happy to be out racing in person. Thank you, Rip It Events, for putting on such a fun and safe event! 

(As a Rip It Events ambassador, I received a free entry to the Little Patuxent River Run. Contact me for a 15 percent discount off of any 2021 Rip It race!)

Boston Marathon 2021

The 2021 Boston Marathon is scheduled to happen in person on Oct. 11. The Boston Athletic Association has not yet opened up registration, but they have said they will take qualifying times from September 2018 until registration closes. 

This means two things. One, my BQ from October will count for the 2021 window. Two, the pool of qualifiers is going to be much larger than usual if they are going all the way back to September 2018. I beat my qualifying standard by 3 minutes and 26 seconds, but I don’t think there is any way in hell that’ll get me into the race. No, we obviously don’t know the mysterious cutoff yet, but the BAA has ALSO said the field is going to be much smaller this year due to the pandemic. So, I’m not holding out hope that I will run Boston this fall. 

The BAA also announced last week that they’ll offer a virtual Boston Marathon for anyone who wants to run it –no qualifying time required. This virtual race will be open to 70,000 runners. Needless to say, this decision has been controversial, with some runners saying it devalues Boston and other runners saying this is an opportunity to allow more people to participate. Personally? I think it’s stupid and I have my doubts that 70,000 runners will jump at the chance to pay to run a virtual Boston. The whole allure of Boston, in my opinion, is qualifying for it — very tough to do for most people! — and then running IN BOSTON. Yeah, I know they offered a virtual Boston last year, but that was for people who already qualified and were registered to run the real deal. I’m just not a fan of this — and at this point, I remain hopeful that I can run Boston 2022, either with my Chasing the Unicorn time or my finish time at the BQ Marathon Invitational at the end of the month. Fingers crossed for a big PR there! No idea what the qualifying window will actually be for Boston 2022, but I do know that in “normal times,” my October 2020 BQ would have been in the 2022 window. But who knows what they’ll decide to do as far as that race goes. 

Future Marathon Plans

I’m still registered to run the Coastal Delaware marathon this November, but I’m on the fence about it. Really, I’m on the fence about running any marathon this fall. 

Here’s the thing — I’ve basically been training for a marathon for a year. I was training hard for Coastal Delaware 2020 before it got canceled last spring. I backed off my training plan for a few months, then started hitting it hard again in June, with the hopes that I might be able to run some fall marathon somewhere. And I did. But then after Chasing the Unicorn on Halloween, I took a break from training (still running, just not following a structured plan) until mid-December, then I started up again. 

All that happened in a year that was, of course, extremely challenging. I rarely discuss my career on here, but I recently switched jobs. I had been working in marketing/communications for a hospital, focused mainly on social media marketing. Running social media in the healthcare space during a pandemic is not as glamorous as it sounds. LOL. I won’t go into all the details of why I left, but suffice it to say I am happy that I don’t have to spend every day (nights and weekends included!) answering questions on Facebook about the COVID vaccine. I got a new job as a communications specialist in the home services industry, and so far I am really enjoying it. It’s more relaxed, and I get to tap into the journalism skills I honed in my first career as a reporter. I’m glad I took a leap and I truly wish I’d done it sooner.

So yeah, last year was stressful AF, and I fit in marathon training because it was important to me (I obviously do not have kids– otherwise I would never have been able to do that.) And it honestly kept me sane and made me feel like I was accomplishing something, when I felt like I was spinning my wheels most days at work. But I’m thinking I need a break from the intensity of marathon training.

I wouldn’t need to start a structured fall training plan until July, so I guess I have some time to decide. But I’m leaning toward just dropping down to the half marathon. If I am lucky enough to be able to run Boston 2022, I’d have to start that training in December anyway, so this would probably be for the best.  

But like I said, I have time.

Change of plans: I’m running the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational on March 27

What’s that old saying — make plans, and God laughs? 

#NowMoreThanEver, during this pandemic life we’re all stuck in, this rings true. 

Back in December, I registered for the Runners Marathon of Reston, scheduled for April 11 in Reston, Virginia. Obviously, I knew the race could ultimately be canceled, but it’s a small race — less than 1,000 runners — so I thought there was a good chance it could proceed as planned. The race organizers said they would refund everyone’s money if the race was canceled due to COVID, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose. I started training, following Hal Higdon’s Advanced Marathon plan, with an April 11 marathon date in my mind. 

I also found my March filling up with opportunities to run live races. And before I knew it, I was planning on running a real, in-person race every weekend! 

Then, three days ago, I got the email from Runners Marathon. Canceled. Unsure if they’ll be able to get permits for the race. 

Luckily, I already had a backup plan in mind — The Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational in Chesapeake, Virginia on March 27. The race is only for people who have already qualified for Boston and want a faster time and better cushion, like me, or for people who have run within 20 minutes of their BQ time within the last three years. Runners had to submit qualifying times from previous races to be admitted into the race, so I registered with my Chasing the Unicorn finish time from last fall

This obviously chops two weeks off of my training plan, but I’m not too worried. I feel excited and ready. It does royally screw up everything I had planned to do, running-wise, in March. Here’s a look at what I was going to do, and what I’ll be doing instead. 

March 6-7: I was supposed to run the Little Patuxent River Run with Rip It Events. Due to COVID protocols, the half marathon and the 10K were going to be held on separate days, giving runners the opportunity to run both races if they wanted to. When I signed up in November, I decided I wanted to do both races. At that point, the race(s) were scheduled for the last weekend of January, and I wasn’t even sure then if I would be able to run a spring marathon. 

But then, race weekend was postponed until March due to COVID restrictions. I was already a bit nervous about running a trail half marathon, followed by a trail 10K, a month out from a marathon. Plus, the races fell on a weekend when I was supposed to be running 20 miles one day and 10 miles one day. So I basically would have had to tack another seven miles onto the half marathon and four miles onto the 10K. Not ideal. 

When I realized I was going to be running a marathon on March 27, I got even more nervous. I’ve run LPRR every year that Rip It has had the race, and I love it. I’ve run both the half and the 10K. But let’s face it, I am not a trail runner and the potential of me tripping and falling and maybe hurting myself is definitely there. Do I want to risk that three weeks out from a marathon? Nope. But I didn’t want to miss the race, either! In the end, I decided to just do the 10K, which will be on Sunday, March 7. I’ll run my 20-miler the day before, then on race morning, I can warm up for two miles, run the 10K, then cool down for two miles. And I never really push the pace when trail running, because I get too scared, so I’m not worried about going too hard.

March 14: After I ran Bishop’s Events’ Before the Game Half Marathon, I posted my picture on Instagram and they chose it as their social media pic of the week, rewarding me with half off the registration fee for a future race! I saw they were having a St. Paddy’s Day 5K, 10K and half marathon on March 14 on the C&O Towpath, and so I registered for the half marathon. I could race a half a month out from a marathon.

But do I want to race a half two weeks out from a marathon? That worries me. Yes, I could go and run it at an easy pace, but I’m too damn competitive for my own good. I’ve placed in all of the Bishop’s races I’ve done, and it would be hard for me to hold back, knowing that I could probably do it again. So, I asked if I could transfer into a different half marathon later this spring, and Travis, the owner of the organization, said that was fine. So I’m going to run the Georgetown Half, also on the C&O, on May 23. 

March 21: Staci and I are running the Lucky Charm 5K in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on March 21. I am still running this, but I was originally planning on racing it. I will not be doing that a week out from a marathon. Yes, I’m competitive, but 5Ks have never been my jam and the marathon is more important to me …. So I’m just going to have to show some restraint. My goal is to not run it any faster than marathon pace. 🙂 

March 27: I was signed up for the Barlowe Bolt 5K in Millersville and was hoping to defend my title from the October 2020 race. Now because of the marathon, I’ll be a big ol’ no show that day. Luckily, the money raised through the race registration fees goes to a good cause — upgrading the neighborhood’s playground.  

So — that’s that! As for my goal for the BQ Invitational, I’m still hoping to run around a 3:30. I think my training shows that I can. I need to make sure I don’t go out too fast in the beginning and I also just need to have a good day! Marathons can be so unpredictable, and sometimes you can do everything right in training and it can all go to hell on race day. My “B” goal is to run any BQ time (under 3:40:00 for a 40-year-old woman) because everyone who qualifies gets a special prize. 

I can’t wait!

I won a half marathon — but I almost screwed it up

I ran a real, live half marathon yesterday! And — I won! 

What a great outcome for my first live half marathon in more than a year. I typically run at least four half marathons in a year, but of course COVID-19 has put a halt to that. I did run two virtual half marathons in 2020, which I count because I ran them at race effort, but I hadn’t run an in-person half since the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon in December 2019

As I’ve written previously, I am training for the Runners Marathon of Reston on April 11, and I had a half marathon on my training plan for this weekend. I didn’t think I’d find one — in normal times, it’s not that easy to find a half marathon in February in the Northeast. Add in COVID, and it’s even harder. But I actually did find one. Virginia-based Bishop’s Events was putting on the Before the Game 5K, 10K and Half Marathon at Lake Accotink Park in Springfield, Virginia the day before the Super Bowl. The race benefited the Boulder Crest Foundation, which works with combat veterans and first responders who deal with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. I’ve run a few of Bishop’s races before and they always benefit similarly worthy causes. I know they’ve been having small, socially distant races over the last few months in D.C. and Virginia, so I wasn’t too worried about the race potentially being canceled. So I signed up. 

Springfield is only about an hour away, and the half marathon didn’t start until 8:30, so Micah and I drove down Saturday morning. (Reston is also about the same distance away, but I booked a hotel room for the marathon in April. It starts at 7:30 and I don’t need the stress of driving from Maryland to northern Virginia on marathon morning.) It was cold (duh, February in Virginia) but clear and sunny. I decided to dress up like a human Maryland flag and donned my Maryland flag print tights from Route One Apparel, my matching arm warmers, my Maryland flag headband, and my Maryland flag neck gaiter with my Rip It Events singlet. Oh, and my Maryland flag print face mask, because 2021. I was definitely cold while standing at the start, but knew I’d warm up quickly. There was snow and ice all over the ground near the dam, and Micah warned me to watch my footing. 

Just before the race started, Travis Bishop, the owner of Bishop’s Events, announced that the ice around the park had forced a last-minute change in the race course. He explained that half marathoners would run one small loop that would equal 5K, followed by another, longer loop that would equal 10 miles to bring us to 13.1 miles. He joked that we probably wouldn’t like that, but it seemed fine to me. I hadn’t even looked at the planned course map before the race, so I had no expectations anyway. 

We took off shortly after 8:30 and though we were allowed to take off our masks while running, I kept mine on for the first two miles just to keep my face warm! I had never been to Lake Accotink before and focused on taking in my surroundings, while also watching where I was going. Much of the race was on a dirt trail, and there were lots of roots and stones all around. And it was pretty hilly, though mostly small, rolling hills, nothing crazy. Pretty park — I’d love to return when it’s warmer outside. I ran the first mile in 8:06 and then dropped down to a 7:20 for the second mile. 

I was feeling really good and knew that I was the first female, behind three men (and I wasn’t anywhere close to the top two guys, as they were definitely running a 6:xx pace.) I kept hoping that I was headed in the right direction since there wasn’t anyone around me and the course really wasn’t very well-marked — probably because they’d had to pivot at the last minute. Once I hit the first turnaround point at around mile 1.55, I felt reassured. I passed a bunch of runners on my way back who called out “Go Maryland! Love the outfit!” which put a smile on my face. I ran all the way back to where we started to finish that first, smaller loop, then back out again for the second, longer loop. 

This is where I screwed it all up.

As I mentioned, the course wasn’t marked all that well, and I don’t really fault the race organizers for that — they had to scramble at the last minute. And because there were other distances mixed in with the half marathoners, it was a little confusing trying to figure out who was running what. But then once I approached the initial turnaround point again (now at just past the 4.6 mile mark for the half marathon), the volunteer told me to keep on running straight ahead. So that’s what I did. 

This part of the course was mostly paved, which was nice, though there was one pretty icy patch that I had to be careful on. I just cruised from there, but was concerned again because no one was around me and there were no signs. Was I headed in the right direction? Did I miss the turnaround and mess up my race? My Garmin beeped to let me know I had hit six miles and I still didn’t see a sign telling me to turn around or any volunteers. I hit 6.5 miles and thought, OK, well, that’s halfway through the race — I guess we’re just supposed to know to turn around here! 

Except, whoops, that math was entirely wrong. Think about it– I’d run a 5K out and back, then another 1.55 miles to equal about 4.65 miles, then another 1.85 miles for 6.5. If I ran from that point back to the start, which was also the finish, that would only equal …. Not even 10 miles. 

But I didn’t realize I’d effed it up until I got back to the volunteer at the first turnaround. She was clearly surprised to see me so soon. “ Wow, you overtook those guys?” she said, clearly meaning the men who were way ahead of me. I looked at my watch and saw that I was only at like 8.3 miles. “No, I think I f*cked up and turned around too soon,” I told her. I was so pissed at myself since it seemed like I was the first place female and I sure didn’t want to win the race by cheating/cutting the course. “It’s OK. I’ll just double back and run some of the course again to make sure I get to 13.1 miles,” I said. 

Sooooo…… that’s what I did. Feeling like a dumbass, I turned back around and ran another mile and some change in the direction I had just come from, then turned around again. When I passed the volunteer again, I was at just over 10 miles. But…. I knew she was 1.55 miles from the start/finish. Shit. I was going to have to backtrack again!  

I ran back toward the start/finish, and was at mile 11.6 when I saw another volunteer directing runners about a quarter or so mile from the finish. “I screwed up the course!” I yelled at him. “I’m only at 11.6, I’m going to turn around and cover the extra distance!” He probably thought I was a moron. But once again, I turned around and ran back the way I came. Once I saw my Garmin hit 12.3, I thought I was probably safe to turn around again, that I would be at 13.1 miles at the finish or possibly a little more. 

I ended up crossing the finish line in 1:41:50, not my best (I know I lost a solid minute when I stopped to chat with the volunteer after I realized I messed up the course), but I also had 13.22 on my watch when I finished so I did run a little tiny bit extra. A volunteer handed me my plaque for coming in first overall female. I thanked him, but explained that I’d messed up the turnarounds and had to double back a few times to hit 13.1. I showed him my watch, too. But they were totally cool about it — one of the many nice things about a smaller race! 

Proof that I really did run a half and then some

A few other runners congratulated me afterwards and Micah said he saw me make that last turn, then turn back around again. “I couldn’t figure out what you were doing,” he said. Yeah, clearly neither could I. LOL. 

I felt really good after finishing, though on the way home I started to develop baaaddddd stomach cramps. Like what I’m guessing menstrual cramps must feel like (I’ve never had them. I’m a freak of nature, I guess). Only thing I could figure out is that, uh, I didn’t poop before the race. Sorry for the TMI, but I have no idea why I didn’t feel the urge. Usually coffee takes care of that problem on race morning, or any morning, really. So that was quite unpleasant and they didn’t go away until early afternoon.

Despite those hiccups, though, it was a really fun morning! I’m so glad I got to run a LIVE half marathon and I thought Bishop’s did a great job with COVID protocols — staggered waves, masks required at the start and finish, etc. Half marathons really are my favorite distance. Next up is Rip It Events’ Little Patuxent River Run in a month, which will be a trail half marathon on Saturday followed by a 10K on Sunday. I’ve also signed up for the St. Michael’s Running Festival half marathon in August. That race usually happens in May, and I was registered for the May 2020 race before it was canceled. This year, the organizers are planning for August. I’m hopeful it can happen and that life will have returned to some semblance of normalcy by then. Then again, I once thought fall 2020 would be business as usual, too, so what do I know?