My running goals for 2019

Happy New Year! This year is already off to a good start, running-wise. Today I ran Charm City Run’s Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore and finished second in my age group with a time of 23:54. To be honest, that was my slowest 5K in years! There are a few reasons why I believe that was the case:

  1. It was at 2 pm, which makes fueling a challenge! Usually I like to eat my bagel, peanut butter and half a banana in the morning for breakfast before a race– today, we slept in (duh, last night was New Year’s Eve), then got up and made omelettes before heading out about two hours later. By the time my husband and I got to Baltimore and lined up at the start, I was hungry again! I might not have made it had it been a longer race.
  2. There was a loooonngg hill at mile 2 that really took the gas out of me.
  3. It was so windy. It actually felt like an early spring day — I believe it was about 60 degrees — but running into the wind is never any fun.
  4. I didn’t feel 100 percent. No, not because I was hungover (seriously!) We went to Florida for Christmas and both brought home coughs. I feel mostly OK, but I’m sure it had an impact — once I crossed the finish line, I started coughing hard immediately.

I really enjoyed this race, though. It was held in Patterson Park in Baltimore, which is a lovely park, and proceeds benefited Earl’s Place, which helps men in the city who are homeless. Afterward, runners got chili (and there was a vegetarian option!) and cornbread, plus there was an epic cookie spread. Yum!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for 2019, which is a big year for me because I get to run the Boston Marathon on April 15! That is obviously going to be my main focus for the next few months, but I have a lot of other plans, too.

  1. I am going to race a triathlon. I can’t believe I am going to do this. I can barely swim! So it looks like I’ll need to take some refresher lessons. Rip It Events’ Columbia Association Triathlon in June has two options: A sprint and a super sprint. The super sprint, which is what I am going to do, is a 200 yard swim, a 5 mile bike ride and a 1.75 mile run, and fortunately, the swim is in a pool (open water freaks me the hell out.) This is so far out of my comfort zone — in addition to not being a good swimmer, I do not excel at sprinting anything — but hey, why not? As a Rip It ambassador, I am racing this tri for free. I do have a 15 percent discount code to share with anyone who is interested, so if you would like to sign up, let me know! 
  2. I would like to run a sub-1:40 half marathon. I have run 17 half marathons, with a two-year-old PR of 1:41:01. I have yet to actually follow a training plan for a half — I just kinda wing it. Maybe if I followed an actual half marathon plan, I could see some real improvements in my time. We’ll see. I’m already signed up for two halfs late in 2019 — the half at the Baltimore Running Festival in October and the Rehoboth Seashore Half in December — so I guess my training for those will depend a lot upon my training for a bigger race in the fall. Which brings me to my next goal….
  3. I need to settle on a fall marathon — or maybe something more? I have long said that I have no interest in going beyond 26.2 miles, but one of my friends was raving about an ultramarathon he did in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area a few years ago and encouraged me to consider it. It’s a 50K, so not THAT much more than a marathon … right? I’m torn. I really love the 26.2 distance and am already thinking about trying to shoot for a 2021 BQ, since I will be in a new age group. (Yet my standard will still be 3:40, thanks to the recent changes the Boston Athletic Association made to the qualifying times.) If I do run a fall marathon in 2019, it will either be Steamtown in Scranton, Pa., Marine Corps, Philly or Richmond. Gah! So many marathons I would love to run. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

What are your goals for 2019?

I finished my 6th full marathon! Recapping the 2018 Baltimore Marathon

3:53.

I had a weird premonition last week that my time in the Baltimore Marathon would be 3:53.

And — it came true! I finished my 6th marathon in 3:53:21. It may have been the toughest course I’ve run.

It’s way off last December’s PR and BQ, but that’s fine. I didn’t train anywhere near as hard for this race as I did for that one, and PRing in Baltimore wasn’t my goal. My goals were to have fun, and more importantly, run with my friend Tammi as she conquered her first marathon — and hopefully help her accomplish her goal of a sub-4 marathon!

And she did it! We crossed the finish line at the same time (actually, she was a few seconds ahead of me!) Honestly, knowing what a great runner she is, I had no doubt she could and would run a sub-4 marathon. I am so proud of her!

The morning of the race was a bit of a cluster, but that was entirely my fault. Micah and I got up to Baltimore around 6:45 am, plenty of time to park and use the bathroom before the 8 am race start. I merely skimmed the runner’s handbook and all of the other bazillion emails that the Baltimore Running Festival organizers sent out, so I dragged us several blocks away from the marathon start line and toward the start line of the half marathon and 5K. When we realized my mistake, Micah, who was not running and was there to cheer me on and support me, was understandably annoyed.

“Why can’t you read directions?” he asked.

“I don’t know! Why did you bring that huge camping chair here?” I snapped.

(True story. He said standing for several hours to watch me run a marathon would be too hard — um, harder than RUNNING IT?! — so he brought a camping chair to sit in. I was nervous for the race and it pissed me off more than it should have, especially when I realized my mistake. My husband is really kind of a saint for putting up with me. But I digress.)

Anyway, after a bathroom stop at Starbucks, I finally got my shit together and we headed back to Camden Yards, where the marathon began. I got in line around 7:45 am and Tammi found me a couple minutes later. I told her we should start out with the 4-hour pace group and then see how we felt later on in the race. I thought we could stay with them for maybe the first half or so and then surge ahead in the second half to go sub-4.

Uh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I think we moved ahead of the pace group by mile 4.

The thing about the Baltimore Marathon course is, the first half is kind of a breeze. It’s mostly flat with some big downhills, and that makes it tough to hold back. My favorite part of the race was running through the Maryland Zoo, where zoo workers stand along the course with animals, including a penguin and a rabbit. So fun. We ran miles 6 and 7 in the low 8s, but we also knew that the back half of the course was really hilly, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to bank some time where we could. (Yes, I know the strategy of “banking time in the marathon” isn’t usually the best, but I don’t regret it with this course.)

We hit the Inner Harbor at mile 9 and saw Tammi’s family, including her sister, her husband and little boy (who was holding a sign that said “My mommy is faster than your mommy!”) and her parents. Her sister was running her first half marathon, and she and their mom and dad flew in from Texas to watch. (I did not see Micah and his camping chair then, but I’ll let that one slide ;)) Mile 9 was actually our fastest of the day– we ran that one in just under eight minutes.

At that point, the course cruises down Key Highway and through Locust Point with a turnaround at the Under Armour headquarters, and then back through the Inner Harbor, so Tammi got to see her family twice! We also ran past the start line of the half marathon just as we were hitting the halfway point in the full marathon.

We also started to notice that our Garmin watches were not matching up with the mile markers, and we were hitting our mile splits about a third of a mile before we actually saw a mile marker sign. I realized that we probably added extra distance onto our race by weaving in and around other runners earlier. Whoops.

I was still feeling really good, though I was not thrilled to hit the Harbor East neighborhood and step onto those big cobblestones. Oof. Tammi and I jumped up on the sidewalk to run on a more forgiving surface, and fortunately, the road evened out soon after.

Around mile 15, Tammi told me she was starting to feel negative. “We’re more than halfway there,” I told her. “You can do this.”

Mile 16 is where the infamous merge of the half marathon and full marathon takes place at Patterson Park. I’ve heard a lot of runners complain about it, and for good reason. If you’re running the full, you’re cruising along at your pace and all of a sudden hundreds of half marathoners pour into the street and it really clogs things up. I ran the half in 2016 and 2017, so I remembered the merging of the races, but I definitely noticed it a lot more running the full. I definitely almost crashed into another runner and we added another tenth of a mile onto our race by trying to maneuver around slower runners.

Because I had run the half before, I knew we were in for some hills. (I’ve heard people compare this course to the Boston Marathon and its hills through miles 16-20, so I hope the Baltimore Marathon was good practice!) The course was hilly from about mile 16.5 until we hit Lake Montebello at mile 20 — then we had more hills from miles 21-22. By now, my feet were really starting to wear out, but we hit mile 22 at around the three hour, 14 minute mark — so I knew sub-4 was happening unless one of us got sick or injured. And we were tired, but determined.

This is where the Baltimore Marathon really reminded me a lot of the Pittsburgh Marathon, which was my first full marathon back in 2015. In that race, I remember hitting a steep decline at mile 24 and my quads just screamed at me. The Baltimore Marathon had a similar downhill at a similar time in the race. Downhills feel great in the first few miles of the marathon — they feel terrible in the last few miles, at least to me! (And again, I hear Boston is the same way, so now I know what to expect!)

Tammi told me she was starting to cramp up, and I encouraged her to keep pushing. We hit one last steep (but short) hill at mile 25 and my stomach started to churn. I drank Gatorade at just about every aid station and I may have overdone it — usually I alternate water with Gatorade.

“Let’s finish strong and sprint when we see the finish line,” Tammi said.

“I don’t know if I can,” I said (more like whined).

At mile 26 (our watches already showed 26.2x by then!), we turned onto Pratt Street and saw Kree and Matt yelling and cheering for us. Then I saw Micah smiling and waving. Tammi and I sprinted as fast as we could — my watch shows we did the last few tenths of a mile at a 7:05 pace! — and crossed the finish line.

She cried, I cried, we hugged, and then I promptly vomited into a grate in the road. My first finish line puke! I’m so proud! A medic came over and asked if I needed to go to the medical tent, but I was really OK. I just OD’d on Gatorade.

My final stats (Tammi was 13th in our age group, so she beat me by at least a second!)

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Finishing a marathon in ANY time is quite an accomplishment, but going sub-4 for your first marathon is really something to be proud of, so HUGE congrats to Tammi! And by the way, she had some annoying stomach troubles early in the race and wasn’t feeling great, but she still pushed through and finished well under her goal!

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If you’re looking for a fun fall race to do, I highly recommend the Baltimore Running Festival. In addition to the full and half marathons, there is a 5K as well as a relay option. You can also do the Baltimoron-a-thon, and run both the 5K and the half. I did that last year and it was a blast! The crowd support is great, and you’ve gotta love the crab-shaped medals (which open up to reveal a picture of the city!)

Just know that your quads are likely to hurt the next day. 🙂

Blown away at The B&A Trail Marathon

“Make sure you’re at the finish by 11 a.m.,” I told my husband Micah the night before the B&A Trail Marathon. “In case I beat my Rehoboth time and finish in 3:30 or so.”

“But I should be finished by 11:45 a.m.,” I continued. “No way will I be over 3:45.”

Man, I run one BQ on the most perfect race day ever, and get all cocky.

On Sunday morning, I finished my fifth full marathon, The B&A Trail Marathon in Anne Arundel County, in 3:47:19– 12 minutes, 19 seconds slower than my Rehoboth Marathon time.

Am I bummed? A little. I really thought I would be in the 3:30s and pull out another BQ (not that it would really matter, unless I beat my 3:35 PR). But any marathon finish is a victory, and anyway, remember two years ago when I was soooooo excited to run a 3:48 at the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in D.C.? I have no reason to complain.

That said, I did not have a great race. It was unseasonably cold — I seriously doubt spring is ever going to get here in the Mid-Atlantic — and windy. I think the wind really hurt me, as I have a history of running below my expectations in windy conditions. But that’s the thing about racing, and marathons in particular — you never know what you are going to get weather-wise, so you have to do the best you can!

Snow in the forecast?

So this winter in the Northeast, including the Mid-Atlantic region, has sucked snowballs. OK, so maybe Maryland hasn’t gotten anywhere near the snow that our neighbors to the north have, but temperatures have been below average for weeks. Then, four days before the race, forecasters were calling for snow over the weekend — during the second week of April. Which is nearly unheard of in this area. So the Annapolis Striders, who are the race organizers, freaked out and sent out a message saying they were monitoring the weather report and there was a chance the race could be canceled. Then I freaked out and started looking for backup marathons this month (the Coastal Delaware Running Festival in Rehoboth in two weeks was going to be my Plan B.) Fortunately, it did not snow — but it was in the 30s the morning of the race. Brrr.

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With fellow Rip It ambassador Dan before the race.  (This was not a Rip It event.) 

This race — which is both a half and a full marathon — begins and ends at Severna Park High School and takes place primarily on the B&A Trail. Luckily the school was left open for runners to stay warm before the race, and, more importantly, use the bathrooms! I loved not having to use a nasty porta potty to do my pre-race business. I would recommend the race based on that alone.

Both races kicked off promptly at 7:30 a.m., and I quickly warmed up during the first mile. But to be honest, I didn’t feel amazing. My calves felt a bit sore, which isn’t usually a problem for me, so I don’t know what that was about. And I was tired — Micah snored the night before and woke me up around 2:30 a.m. and I never really got back to sleep. Nevertheless, I held a pace that hovered in the low- to mid-8s for the first half, and the miles seemed like they were going by really fast. Then it all fell apart.

The dreaded wall

All runners turned around at mile 7 and began running straight into a headwind, which I suspect really wiped me out. I think all  in all, those of us who ran the full marathon ran 12 miles into the wind — from the bottom of the trail in Annapolis all the way up to Glen Burnie.

I started to notice that my pace was slowing into the 8:30-8:40 range around mile 14, and felt discouraged. I know that was probably silly, but I kept comparing my pace to my Rehoboth pace, where I was cruising along in the low 8s/high 7s at that point and feeling like I could keep going forever. At mile 18, I felt the wall coming on. In all of my marathons, I have never hit the wall that early. It’s pretty common to start to feel it around mile 20; I’ve always hit it around mile 22-23, except in Rehoboth when I didn’t really experience that until mile 24.

But I knew I had some cheerleaders waiting for me at the turnaround at mile 19 — Kree and Matt were there and I was really looking forward to seeing them. “Just keep hanging on until then,” I kept telling myself. Kree got video of me running past and I still looked pretty high energy, though I yelled to them, “This wind is killing me!” Matt told me not to worry, that I’d enjoy a nice tailwind on the way back.

Except … I really didn’t! Yeah, I was no longer running into a headwind, but I didn’t really feel the benefits of the wind at my back, either. Sigh.

My pace stayed in the 8s until mile 23, when it dipped into the 9s. I just couldn’t make my legs move any faster than that. I kept looking at my watch and doing “runner math”– “if you run this last 5K in XX minutes, you’ll still be under 3:40!” Except I was all fatigued so my math was probably off, haha.

At mile 25, I started talking to another runner who helped push me to the finish (“as long as you’re not in my age group,” she joked. I wasn’t– she was 10 years older than me — and she did win an age group award!) We chatted about Boston, which she had already run, and I told her I BQ’d several months ago. I also told her I couldn’t wait to be 40 so I get an extra five minutes to qualify, assuming the standards don’t change by then. “Only a runner would say that,” she laughed. So true.

The last 0.2 felt like forever and I just kept looking for Micah and my parents, who were visiting us in our new house for the first time. They were right there at the finish line and as soon as I crossed, I did the post-marathon shuffle over to where they were standing and told them I “got my ass handed to me out there.” They laughed and congratulated me and reminded me they can’t all be PRs.

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Me with Mom and Dad after the race.

Differences in training

When I trained for this marathon, I didn’t do any hill training and was not as diligent about the speed work, but I followed the same long run schedule as when I trained for Rehoboth. Maybe that made much more of a difference than I anticipated. Or maybe it was the wind that hurt me. Or maybe I just had a bad day. Who knows! I’m still glad I ran this race and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a small, low-key marathon. At just under 300 runners for the full, it is definitely the smallest marathon I have ever run.

So what’s next? Kree, Tammi and I are all running the Baltimore Marathon on Oct. 20, so I’ll start training for that sometime in June. I have a few other races planned over the next few months, including the Columbia 10-Miler and the St. Mary’s 10-Miler, both of which are Rip It races. (Let me know if you want a 10 percent off discount!) I am also running the Wayfarer’s half marathon on June 2 in Annapolis. So I’ll take a bit of a break, but will still be running, of course.

What’s your next big race?

Book review: Long Road to Boston

I love to read just as much as I love to run, so I am always looking for books that inspire me as a runner.

Long Road to Boston: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Marathon, by Mark Sutcliffe, did just that. This book is a must-read for anyone who aspires to run the Boston Marathon.

As the title indicates, this book is largely a memoir of marathoner Sutcliffe’s attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But it’s also a well-researched book that goes into a lot of detail about the history of the Boston Marathon. For example, probably all marathon runners (and lots of people who don’t run marathons) have heard of Heartbreak Hill. They may even know it’s at mile 20 of the Boston Marathon. But did you know why it’s called Heartbreak Hill? Back in 1936, defending champion Johnny Kelley passed another runner, Ellison Brown, patting him on the shoulder as he surged ahead of him. Brown then ended up winning the marathon in the end, leading to Kelley’s heartbreak.

I did not know this — I always thought Heartbreak Hill was so named because it’s at the point in the marathon where runners often begin to hit the wall and maybe miss their goal times, therefore breaking their hearts.

I also learned a lot about the history of the Boston Marathon qualifying standards and how much they have changed over the years. At one point in time, male runners had to post a 2:50 marathon to be allowed to run Boston, and female runners had to run a 3:20. Glad the Boston Athletic Association has relaxed the standards since those days!

In the author’s case, his qualifying standard was 3:25 when he started seriously trying to qualify after he’d already run many marathons. After missing his qualifying standard by a few minutes again and again, Sutcliffe qualified for and ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. The cutoff that year was 1:38, meaning runners had to run 1 minute, 38 seconds below their BQ time, and Sutcliffe made it by 22 seconds!

I felt pretty fortunate reading all about his journey to a BQ, because it didn’t take me nearly as long to qualify. I qualified in my fourth marathon, the first time I’d ever truly attempted to BQ. I say that not to brag, but to point out that I most definitely had an advantage being a woman in the 35-39 age group, where the standard is 3:40. The standards are much tougher for men, and there is some debate about whether that’s fair or not.

However, I definitely related to Sutcliffe’s comments that getting older is something a lot of runners look forward to, because it means they’ll be in a new age group with new qualifying standards. I’ll be 40 in two and a half years, and you can bet I’m excited for a 3:45 standard (assuming the BAA doesn’t change the standards, which they very well might in the next couple of years.)

What I loved the most about his book, though, was his vivid descriptions of the race. From the start of the race in Hopkinton to the famous Wellesley scream tunnel to the Newton Hills to the finish line on Boylston Street, reading the book has made me more excited than ever to run the 2019 Boston Marathon! (Assuming the BAA accepts my time with its 4:59 cushion — or five-minute cushion, depending on whether they count that extra 7/10 of a second! It”s still unclear to me.)

I’ve read several other memoirs written by runners trying to get to Boston, but this was my favorite because Sutcliffe also included so much historical information about the marathon itself. That made the book more than just a typical running memoir, and I know will make me appreciate my Boston experience all the more when I line up at the starting line in Hopkinton.

Halfway done with training for the Rehoboth Marathon

The Rehoboth Marathon is just two months away!

Yesterday was my longest run to date of this training cycle — 17 miles. As I was running along the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail, enjoying the absolutely perfect fall weather, I thought about how much harder the training is going to get in the next few weeks.

This weekend calls for 9 miles on Saturday and 19 miles on Sunday, then I have three 20-milers sprinkled over the next six weeks. This plan I am following is all new to me — with previous marathons, I’ve followed a plan that called for one 20-miler, then the taper. It’s challenging, but I’m confident in my abilities and so far, I feel really good.

(In non-running related life happenings, the husband and I are also in the process of buying a house, so I’m trying to jam house tours into my weekend schedule, as well. Fun times. Who needs a social life?)

Here’s what I’ve learned after the first two months of training for my fourth marathon:

Running long and slow is HARD. I have more trouble with the “run slow” part, which probably sounds really cocky. But like most runners, I’m in the habit of pushing myself as hard as I can, including on long training runs. But running as fast as you can isn’t the point of the long run — it’s to build up strength and endurance so you aren’t burned out on race day. Makes sense. It’s just hard to put into practice. But I think I did all right on this weekend’s long run. Tried to take it nice and slow — just like Usher said. 🙂

Eating the right foods is important. That’s not exactly groundbreaking information, but like running long and slow, it’s sometimes easier said than done. An example: This Sunday, I was fairly lazy. I didn’t get up until 10:30 (I wish I was one of those runners who’s up at 6 a.m. sharp pounding out those miles! But I like sleep.) Then, I wanted to watch the Steelers-Ravens game (go Steelers!) at 1 p.m. I didn’t actually make it out for my run until 4:30 p.m.

For a late breakfast, I ate a bagel with sunflower seed butter and banana (protein and carbs, good choice), but then my pre-run snack was … a piece of beer bread and three Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins. FAIL. I brought an energy gel along on my run, but I was pretty hungry by the end of it. Not good.

My expensive gel pedicures are a necessity! My husband complains about the cost until he looks at my feet. They’re a freaking train wreck even after the best pedi my money can buy, so imagine if I didn’t take care of them. Right now, I’m rocking a sexy blood blister on my left foot. Based on past training experiences, I know a black toenail or two isn’t far behind. Whatever. Sandal season is almost done for the year anyway!

Two months down, two months to go. Bring on the next eight weeks!