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? 

Racing plans for 2021

Happy New Year! Bye, 2020. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. 

I know we have a long road ahead of us, but I’m still relieved and hopeful about what’s to come. I’m even getting my first dose of the COVID vaccine this week, and feel so grateful for that. 

So what’s going to happen with road racing this year? Will most races return in the spring? Summer? Fall? 

Who knows. 

A few weeks ago, I decided to register for the Runners Marathon of Reston (Virginia) on April 11. It’s a small race (less than a thousand runners) and the organizers are offering full refunds if they have to cancel. Registration for Coastal Delaware 2021 was on hold indefinitely, so I decided to take a chance. And sure enough, the organizers of Coastal Delaware sent out an email this week saying they were postponing the race from April to November. 

I’m not really sure what I am going to do, as I am still planning to run the Philly Marathon in November. The rescheduled race date is a week before Philly. Sooo…..I could train for CoDel and then just run Philly for fun. Or I could drop down to the half. Or I could see about getting my money back and just bagging it all together. I’ll run it eventually. 

I was planning to run Rip It’s Little Patuxent River Run, both the half marathon and the 10K, on the last weekend of this month. But COVID has forced that to be postponed until the weekend of March 6-7. This will make things challenging, as that is a weekend when my marathon training plan has me running 20 miles one day, 10 the next. I will probably just end up tacking on extra mileage after each race — 6.9 miles after the half, 3.8 after the 10K. (The half and the 10K are being held on separate days this year to minimize crowd size.) 

Overall, I am trying to be conservative as far as what I sign up for, at least during the first half of the year. I deferred last June’s Columbia Association Triathlon after it was canceled, so that is on my calendar for this June. Rip It is still planning for it to be a live event. Philly was a deferral from 2020. I was also registered for the 2020 Chicago Marathon, and I’m planning to defer that until 2022. That is one of the biggest marathons in the world and I am just skeptical that it could happen by October. That does free me up to run the Baltimore Running Festival in October, assuming it happens. I just signed up for the 10K, a new distance for the event, this week. 

And…… that’s it so far. I want to race more in 2021, but it is what it is! 2020 has taught me many things, but one of the main things is that I don’t need to race to enjoy running. I’m very thankful to have had running as a positive outlet in a very odd year.

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?