What’s next? Looking ahead to 2021

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

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

OK, maybe not that last part. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Big and Unexpected PR at the Barlowe Bolt 5K

Yesterday, I ran my first LIVE race in seven months, the Barlowe Bolt 5K in Millersville. And I had a PR that I truly never saw coming, running a 20:29 (6:36 pace!) I was also the first female finisher. To say I was thrilled is an understatement.

I had set my previous PR, a 20:49, almost exactly four years earlier on Oct. 2, 2016, as part of a relay team at the Waterman’s sprint triathlon on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. That was the only time I’d ever managed to sneak in under 21 minutes, and it wasn’t even at a stand-alone 5K. I figured it was a fluke and that I’d never beat it. I often struggle in 5Ks and have a hard time breaking 22 minutes consistently.

But then 2020 happened. All of the races after early March were canceled and many were replaced by virtual races. I kept on running and training, with hopes of running a fall marathon (as of today, that hope is still alive!) This past summer was the hottest, most humid and most disgusting summer I can recall in recent years. But I kept grinding and I think it all paid off on a crisp fall morning when the temperature was only in the mid-40s.

This annual race, which raises money to build a natural play space at Barlowe Field in Millersville, Maryland, always happens in March. The organizers postponed it until October this year, and I am so glad they were able to have a live event! Everyone was required to wear masks when not running and asked to keep social distance. The race size was also limited to 50 people. I think they handled the COVID restrictions well, and I felt safe.

Team 5 Peaks!

A bunch of my friends from 5 Peaks came out to race, and several won age group awards! We were all just so pumped for a real, in-person race. I’m grateful for all the virtual opportunities we had in this bizarro year, but nothing beats an in-person race.

The morning of the race actually got off to a terrible start. After not sleeping so great anyway, I awoke at 4:30 and my cat immediately started whining to go outside. She’s an indoor cat, but we let her outside often because she knows not to leave our yard. Well, that morning she decided to wander into our neighbor’s yard (I think she may have climbed into a small tree) and I couldn’t find her. She wouldn’t come when I called her, and it was dark. I frantically woke my husband up and finally, she came running in our direction. But I really thought I would be missing the race to look for my lost cat. Maybe all that early morning adrenaline helped me?!

The race started right on time at 7 am, and I started off running with a group of young kids (high school age) and an older gentleman in a Howard County Racing Team singlet. He ended up pulling ahead of me at the end of the first mile, and I was never able to catch up. He ended up winning the race, finishing 10 seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a little bit after the race, and I learned he is 63 years old. Talk about goals!

At the end of the first mile, my watch beeped and told me I ran a 6:20. Yikes. This is usually the time in a 5K where I realize I went out wayyyy too fast and then I’m ready to die. But this never really happened for me in the race. I felt really good. I did slow down in miles 2 and 3 (to 6:53 and 6:57, respectively), but kept my pace under 7 minutes! The Barlowe Bolt course isn’t pancake flat, either— it’s a lot of rolling hills. But none of them are particularly long or steep, and my neighborhood has similar terrain. So I had an advantage, since I run around my neighborhood so much. I’ve also run this race twice before, and I knew what to expect.

At about the halfway mark, I saw my friend Matt, who had provided all of the finisher medals and trophies for the winners. I also passed him again just before the final right turn to the finish, and he yelled out, “You’re going to be under 20:30!” I hadn’t really been looking at my watch for most of the race, instead just concentrating on running as fast as I could, so while I knew I was having a strong race …. I didn’t think I was going to PR. But when I looked at the clock and saw the time began with a 20, I started sprinting as fast as I could. When I crossed the line, I yelled out, “Holy shit, I PRed!” right in front of a bunch of kids, so that was nice. My apologies to their parents.

In addition to a nice little trophy, I won a $50 gift card to Giant — always appreciated! But I think I’m most excited about the fact that I PR’d my first official race as a 40-year-old, and in a distance I always say I love to hate!

How did I manage to do it? I think there are a couple of reasons why I ran so well. I’ve always heard the joke that humidity is the poor runner’s altitude training. Well, I think there is something to that. Again, this summer was absolutely brutal and running felt so. damn. hard. Lately, it’s felt a lot easier … and I know my body loves the fall weather.

But more importantly, I think, I’ve also just been running more. As far as marathon runners go, I’ve always been a relatively low mileage runner, often peaking with mileage in the high 30s. I did bump up my weekly mileage back in 2017, the last time I trained for a Boston qualifier … but I’m running even more now. Two weeks ago I ran 53 miles. This week, a cutback week, I ran 41 miles. This coming week will be around 53 again. I’ve been adding a Wednesday medium-long run (8-10 miles) into my schedule, and running before kickboxing class twice a week. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been running six days a week. Again, nothing for a lot of marathoners. But still more than I usually run. I’ve been feeling great and my body has responded well to the increased mileage, so I’m going to keep rolling with it and hope that my rescheduled marathon is able to occur in 27 days!

Other races on my calendar

I completed a few more virtual races over the last few weeks. At the end of August, I did the virtual Quantico Duathlon, which was a 5K run, a 20.4K bike ride and a 5K run. It took me around an hour and 48 minutes, and I ran the first 5K in 21:37 (which I was excited about, and about what I was expecting for the Barlowe Bolt!) Ran the second 5K in 23:32, which I thought was pretty decent after one 5K and a 12.67 mile bike ride. It was lot of fun. I would still like to race more duathlons in the future, when I am not busy marathon training.

Then, in September, I raced the virtual Market Street Mile and ran a 6:11 — exactly what I ran last year, when the race happened in person. I ran it on my lunch break — yay for working from home for the foreseeable future — and was hoping to squeak under six minutes, since I somehow ran a 5:56 mile earlier this year. This run burned like hell and I have no idea how I could have run it 15 seconds faster. But I’m happy with that effort. According to the online results, I was the second female overall. The first place female was a 46-year-old who ran a 5:46! Fast!!

In two weeks, I am also running the virtual Baltimore Running Festival half marathon. I am probably not going to race it, since it’s two weeks out from my marathon. That said, I did race a half marathon two weeks before my BQ race in 2017. (And raced a 10K the day after that. This was a stupid decision — don’t do it.) That half marathon went badly, but then I crushed my marathon. So, who knows?

I also registered for Rip It Events’ Day of the Dead 5K, back when I thought I was running a marathon on Sept. 13, not Halloween. I am supposed to run that between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. I certainly am not going to race a 5K right before a goal marathon …. nor do I want to race one after having just run 26.2 miles! I may just run it as an easy shakeout run the day before the marathon.

Speaking of Rip It Events, we have the Greenbrier Trail 5 & 10 Miler coming up on Oct. 25. I’m not a great trail runner and definitely would not want to risk running a trail race the week before a marathon — but it sounds fun and the race organizers have done everything they can to make it a safe event in this era of COVID-19! If you are interested, use SAUNTRY2020 for 10 percent off.

Chasing the Unicorn: Canceled? Or just postponed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 sweaty miles at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville.

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

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

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

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

Makes absolutely zero sense.   

15 Days Until I Chase the Unicorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of the year

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

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

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

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

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

Why I stopped hating on virtual races — and 4 reasons you should run one this year

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, most of the races that I had signed up for were canceled. Many were converted to virtual races, meaning the planned event wouldn’t happen but registered runners could still choose to run the distance wherever they wanted. Just not with a large group of runners! 

I wanted nothing to do with it. One of the best parts of racing is the atmosphere, I reasoned. A virtual race just sounded like an expensive training run to me. 

But then Rip It Events announced a series of virtual races this spring. I’m in my fourth year on their ambassador team, and I wanted to do what I could to support them, so I registered for these events. (As an ambassador, I get free registration.) 

Then, a 15K that I had been planning to do went virtual. Race organizers announced that all registered runners were automatically entered into the virtual race, and our T-shirts and medals would be mailed to us. Since I was getting a medal regardless, I decided I needed to earn it, and I did! 

After that, I decided maybe virtual races were OK after all. 

If this Dumpster fire of a year has you bummed out and you really miss racing, you should consider signing up for a virtual race! Here are four reasons why.

  1. You pick the day and time that you run! If an in-person race starts at 7 am, you gotta be up at the crack of dawn and ready to race at 7 am. And if the race happens to fall on a day with horrible weather? Too bad! But if you sign up for a virtual race, you generally have a time frame during which you can complete it. So you can look at the weather forecast and choose which day you want to run. And if you’re not a morning person, no problem! Feel free to start the race whenever you want. 
  2. You pick your course! For an in-person race, you are at the mercy of the race directors. If they hold the race on a flat and fast course, cool! If it’s a hilly, difficult course, well, that’s another story. I’ve been running all my virtual races around my neighborhood. I know the area and it’s nice to have the start line right at the end of my driveway. I don’t have to drive anywhere!  
  3. You can use virtual races are an alternative way to test your fitness. Sure, you could look at a virtual race as a training run with a medal. Or you could push yourself and find out exactly what you are capable of. That’s how I have approached my recent 5Ks, which I’ve always felt are my weakest distance anyway. Prior to May’s Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K, I hadn’t raced the distance since Thanksgiving. So being able to race a 5K, even a virtual one, allowed me to see how fast I could do it! (And I had a great race that day, one of my fastest 5Ks, actually!) 
  4. You can use virtual races as mental strength training. The point of all of these virtual races is to practice social distancing and avoid crowds of people to stop the spread of COVID-19. You’re supposed to race them alone. And that’s not easy! It’s much different when you are racing in person against other people and there are crowds cheering you on. Pushing yourself when you are all by yourself is quite a challenge. But that mental toughness will come in handy when in-person races return and it’s near the end and everything is hurting.   

As for me, I’m racing the Quantico Virtual Duathlon and the I Just Kept Running Half Marathon this summer. The latter is a race my friend Staci saw advertised on Facebook. She wanted to do it for the Forrest Gump medal and convinced me to do the same. I’ve decided to race that virtual half the weekend of Aug. 9, when I have a half marathon on my training plan anyway. 

Then in September, I plan to race the virtual Market Street Mile. I ran the real thing in Frederick, Maryland last September and finished in 6:11. But this past May, I ran a mile in 5:56, my fastest ever and first time breaking six minutes, so I’d love to see if I can do that again! I can run the mile any time between Sept. 1 and Halloween. 

Rip It Events is also holding the Run Dirty Trail Challenge through the end of September. You can choose to run 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. They also just announced a real, live, in-person race: The Bear Trail Half Marathon and 10K at Lums Pond State Park in Delaware on Aug. 23, which is super exciting. 

I probably won’t do either of those because I’m not really a trail runner. I’d love to be, but I am too damn clumsy. I almost fell and twisted an ankle numerous times during the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler in March (the last in-person race I did before COVID!). But if you are into trail running, you should check out these events.

What virtual races are you excited about running?

A 5K on 4th of July weekend: Another virtual race in the books

I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about racing Rip It Events’ 5 on the 4th Virtual 5K when I woke up this past Friday morning.

Classes have resumed at my kickboxing school, so I went Thursday night and got absolutely destroyed when we had to do about a zillion and one weighted squats — I knew my legs would be feeling that workout for days. Plus, I knew it would be hot (because July 3) and since I had the day off work, I planned to sleep in a little (not too late, but later than I would normally be up for a race). My “A” goal for 5Ks is always to be in the 21s (it rarely happens) and my “B” goal is to be in the 22s (which happens pretty often.) I figured I’d be lucky to clock somewhere in the 23-minute range. 

But I actually ran this virtual 5K three seconds faster than last month’s Donut Worry. Be Happy. Virtual 5K, finishing in 22:15. Just goes to show you how unpredictable racing is! There were times when I wanted to stop so bad, but told myself to just keep pushing and that it would be over before I knew it. I did actually stop once, because my phone was ringing. I let it go to voicemail, but it caught me completely off guard so I did stop for a few seconds. Wish I hadn’t, but whatever. 

I’ve been really happy with my recent 5K times. Especially because they were during virtual races. It’s undoubtedly a lot harder, at least for me, to push myself to run my 5K race pace when I am all by myself. I’m pretty curious to see what I can do when real races resume. I actually have gotten a few emails recently about some smaller 5Ks, but none have been very close to me, and I don’t love the distance enough to drive an hour-plus to run it.  

This was Rip It’s third and final virtual 5K, at least for now. I ran the same course around my neighborhood for each one, which makes comparing my times easy. The 5K loop I run has some rolling hills, so it never feels like a PR course. But then I run it all the time, which gives me an advantage. 

Although this was a 4th of July race, I ran it on July 3 because we had plans to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park on the actual holiday. I also ran a one-mile warmup and a 1.9-mile cooldown to make it an even six miles, per my marathon training plan. 

 And then on July 5, I did a long run of 13 miles in 87-degree weather (the heat index was well into the 90s.) Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the weekend and was happy to spend Sunday afternoon at my neighbor’s pool and Sunday night on my couch binge-watching The Babysitters Club reboot on Netflix. (Calling all my fellow children of the ‘80s and ‘90s — it’s fantastic!) 

Though there are no more 5Ks on Rip It’s virtual race calendar, there is the Run Dirty Virtual Trail Challenge, which runs, no pun intended, through the end of September. Participants can choose to run either 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. It’s not a virtual ultra — the runs aren’t meant to be completed in one day. You can learn more and register here. I’m not doing it, only because I am marathon training and I am not sure-footed enough to run very fast on trails. In other words, I am klutzy. But it sounds fun! 

The Clyde’s 10K, originally scheduled for April and postponed until September, has now also gone virtual due to COVID-19 and the sudden closing of Clyde’s Restaurant of Columbia. I would do this one, but I am supposed to be running the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon on Sept. 13, if it still happens. Learn more and register here

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I receive free entries to all of their races, including their virtual races. 

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

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

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

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

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

Uh, not so much. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I’m not interested in running a virtual race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then this week, everything blew up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recapping the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler + an update on a last-minute marathon

First of all, I’d like to start out by saying that I love the idea of trail running. I love being out in the woods — hiking in places like Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite leisure activities. I love the peacefulness and solitude. I love the scenery. And I admire the relaxed vibe of trail runners and the fact that trail runs always seemed to be followed by craft beer. I can totally get on board with that. 

Problem is, I’m just not very good at trail running! Or, I should say I’m just a much more comfortable and confident road runner. 

Last weekend, I ran the inaugural Bigfoot Endurance 10 Mile Trail Run with Rip It Events. Bigfoot Endurance’s races raise money for Parkinson’s disease research, and this was Rip It’s first time partnering with them. The race, which also included a 5-mile option, happened to fall on a weekend where I was supposed to run 20 miles one day, 10 the next. So I decided to sign up for the 10-miler, knowing I’d likely be pretty sore from the 20 miler the previous day. 

I actually wasn’t that sore, but man, that race was HARD. It was hilly, though no worse than the Little Patuxent River Run. However, the terrain was pretty uneven, with roots and rocks all over the place. I estimated that I almost fell about a dozen times. And I was running conservatively and trying to watch where I was going! 

The race took place at Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge, Maryland, about a half hour or so from where I live in Anne Arundel County. Even though it’s been an extremely mild winter, temperatures were in the mid-20s on race morning– surprisingly, much colder than Little Patuxent was! Runners were lined up by their estimated pace, and I lined up with the 8-minute/mile group. (I ran my last 10-mile race at a 7:27/mile pace, but that was on pancake flat roads in Delaware. I had no idea what to expect at this race.)

Runners doing the 5-miler ran one loop of the course, and 10-mile runners did two loops. I could tell not even a mile into the race that it was going to be a challenge because of the technical terrain (and I do not own trail running shoes, so I was wearing my trusty Brooks Ghosts.) It was a really pretty course, and we even crossed a few streams. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful, if cold, day. But it was also pretty muddy in some parts, and as I mentioned, there were roots everywhere. By the time I finished my first loop, I was pretty spent and wished I could just be done then. However, I am not a quitter and my marathon training plan did tell me to run 10 miles, so of course I continued. 

I heard later from a fellow Rip It ambassador that one runner had fallen and broken her leg, and I feel like that could have so easily been me! This is no reflection on the race — it was perfectly safe and well-organized — but trail running is just riskier.

At least I knew what to expect with the second loop, but I ended up running it about three minutes slower than my first loop. Maybe the 20-miler the previous day caught up to me, I don’t know. My finish time was 1:28:10, my slowest 10-miler ever by about four minutes, but I didn’t really care too much. I was just glad to have finished uninjured! I came in sixth in my age group and ninth overall female, which I was pleased with. 

Oh, and there was beer afterwards from Hysteria Brewing Co. and a taco truck with vegetarian tacos as an option, so of course I was happy about that! I think if I do this race again, I’ll run the 5-miler. I’m just not coordinated and sure-footed enough for longer trail races. Maybe someday I will be! 

Just thinking of that post-race beer

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

Signing up for a last-minute marathon

I’m running the B&A Trail Marathon on Sunday, March 15, breaking two big rules I have always followed as a runner. (ETA: This race is on a paved trail, so it’s not really a “trail race” despite the name.)

  1. I don’t run marathons as a way to train for a goal marathon (in this case, the Coastal Delaware Running Festival.)
  2. I don’t run the same marathon twice, unless it’s Boston (I ran B&A two years ago.)

So, why am I doing it? One word: CORONAVIRUS. Unless you are living under a rock, you know about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19, which has spread around the world and has led to cancellations/postponement of events including road races (the Paris Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, the Rome Marathon…..) I initially wasn’t too worried about Coastal Delaware being canceled; it’s a smallish local race, without a lot of runners traveling from other countries to run it. However, my husband has made me really paranoid and started telling me several weeks ago that I should find a backup marathon in case everything really went to hell and Coastal Delaware was canceled. 

I went back and forth about it and last week, decided to go for it and sign up — and saw on the website that the race was full. Balls. OK, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, I thought. 

But then, two days later, I saw the Annapolis Striders posted on Facebook that there were actually less than 10 spots remaining in the marathon! So with 11 days to go until the race, I registered. 

I figure this could go one of two ways. I know I can run the marathon distance now, but am I ready to run the race I want to run and have been training for? Best case scenario, I have an amazing race, PR the crap out of it and punch my ticket to Boston 2021. Worst case scenario, I have a mediocre-at-best race (as I did in 2018) and then it kind of throws a wrench into my training for Coastal Delaware. (I’m still banking on that race being a go.) It’s a total gamble, and I’m not adequately tapered and I’ve only run one 20-miler (sufficient for a marathon finish, but in my opinion, not sufficient for me to run a marathon PR.) 

But. I am going to go for it. And now I’m pretty excited about it.  So wish me luck!