Squeaked out: I missed the cutoff for the 2021 Boston Marathon

On Tuesday, I found out I was one of more than 9,000 qualified runners to be rejected from the 2021 Boston Marathon.

It wasn’t a surprise, with the longer-than-usual qualifying period and the smaller-than-usual field. But it still sucks. 

For those of you who are not in tune with all things Boston, the Boston Marathon is usually held every April. But we are still in a pandemic. So last year’s race was turned into a virtual marathon, and this year’s race was postponed until Oct 11, 2021. For October’s race, the Boston Athletic Association accepted entries from qualified runners who ran BQs from September 2018 through the start of registration on April 20. And they only accepted 14,000 entries. So, in order to actually gain a spot in the marathon, you had to beat your qualifying time by seven minutes and 47 seconds. 

I was three minutes and 26 seconds under my BQ time at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon last Halloween. So, I guess it’s better to be a few minutes off than a few seconds off?

On a positive note, the B.A.A. announced that for the 2022 Boston Marathon — planned for the usual third Monday in April next year — the qualifying window began on Sept. 1, 2019, and will end sometime later this year (I am guessing after Boston 2021 happens.) In other words, I’ll be able to reapply with my Chasing the Unicorn time from October 2020, which would have been in the usual 2022 qualifying window anyway. I guess my Tidewater Striders BQ will be a “throwaway” BQ, since it’s in the same window and was only two minutes and 38 seconds under my standard. Of course, you can only register with one race result! 

And it could be worse. I feel terrible for everyone who was registered for Boston 2020, which ultimately went virtual, then registered for 2021 and didn’t make the cutoff. Especially those who were first time Boston Marathoners. At least I’ve run the race already. 

So, what’s next? 

After I finished Tidewater Striders in March, I swore I wasn’t running a marathon this fall unless it was Boston. The end of that race was SO painful. And I’ve essentially been training for a BQ marathon since December 2019. First for Coastal Delaware 2020, which got canceled, then Chasing the Unicorn, which was canceled and rescheduled, then the Reston Marathon. When Reston got canceled, I registered for Tidewater Striders. It’s been a lot. But I’m not going to lie, when I found out I got rejected, I definitely thought about finding another marathon early this fall to make sure I have enough of a cushion to get into the 2022 race.

There is also a part of me that is intrigued by the ultramarathon world, too. The iconic JFK 50 Miler happens every November in western Maryland. I thought, that would give me a new challenge! An extremely terrifying challenge, but it’s good to do stuff that scares you, right? 

But honestly — I think I may just focus on crushing a half marathon this fall and hope my Chasing the Unicorn time is good enough for 2022. I’ll be honest — I didn’t have a lot of fun marathon training last summer. Training through a hot and humid Maryland summer sucks! I would pick winter training over summer training any day of the week. And when I was training last summer, work was bananas stressful and I wasn’t even sure I’d actually get to run a marathon in the end anyway. And I almost didn’t! This summer is thankfully going to look different, but I still think I need a break. I want marathon training to continue to be something I WANT to do, not something I feel like I HAVE to do. 

In any event, I am optimistic that I have enough of a cushion for Boston 2022. Yes, the qualifying window is still two years long (in normal times, the window is a year long.) But think of all the marathons that were canceled starting in March 2020. Sure, small marathons began to resume in fall 2020, but I think there have been very few marathons that have had more than a few hundred finishers. So, way fewer opportunities to qualify and way fewer qualified runners. I do think a lot of runners will re-qualify at this fall’s Boston. But I’d also venture to say that plenty of them won’t want to turn around and run another Boston six months later. Boston is expensive!  

Did you get squeaked out of this fall’s Boston Marathon? Are you running another marathon this fall to try to improve your time, or just hoping for the best like I am?

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

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

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

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

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

Before the Race

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

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

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

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

26.2 miles up and down the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail 

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

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

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

But I couldn’t. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston bound — maybe?

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

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

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

A magical Halloween: I qualified for Boston at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

I really did it. 

I ran a real live marathon in 2020 — and I qualified for the Boston Marathon! 

I’m honestly still in shock that it happened. Not that I ran a BQ — I was confident in my training and felt pretty certain that I could qualify. I just can’t believe the race itself actually happened. 

To recap, I registered for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Washington Crossing, PA earlier this summer, when I thought that the Chicago and Philadelphia marathons would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. (I was right about that.) The marathon was originally scheduled for Sept. 13, with a ton of COVID mitigation protocols in place. It seemed very likely that it would occur as planned. I never missed a beat with my training, putting in 40- and 50+ mile weeks in the most disgustingly humid summer in recent memory. And then, three days out, the race was called off and rescheduled for Halloween. Still no idea why that happened. I almost said the hell with it, but my husband encouraged me to keep going with my training. I do love Halloween, and I thought running a Halloween marathon sounded like a blast. So I rejiggered my training plan with an Oct. 31 race date in mind, and ordered a pair of running shorts and matching arm warmers with a fun candy corn design on them. 

Then, three days before the race, Pat, the race director, sent out an email saying that he still didn’t have the permits for the event, but didn’t anticipate any issues. Didn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but OK.

THEN, the day before the race, I woke up and checked Facebook and saw he had posted a link to an article about a rally for Trump happening near Washington Crossing Historic Park. “Tell me this is why we still don’t have a permit,” he wrote. 

WTF? At that point, I’d already taken the day off of work and it was too late to cancel my hotel room for free. But whatever happened was completely out of my control. I figured we would travel to Washington Crossing and if I had to, I would run an unofficial marathon on the towpath along the Delaware River Canal where the race was supposed to take place. I wasn’t super excited about that, but I figured there would be other disappointed runners who would be doing the same thing. It’s 2020—of course that would happen.

BUT! Around 11 am, Pat posted on Facebook that he had the permit. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. Neither could I! However, Micah and I piled into my car and headed north to Bucks County, PA. I checked my email obsessively all day long, wondering if I was going to get an email telling me that the race was a no go.

Once we got to Newtown, near Washington Crossing, we checked into our hotel room and I headed to the towpath so I could do my shakeout run on the race course. The area was so gorgeous! I did notice that there were a lot of fallen leaves on the towpath, and I knew I would have to be careful not to slip and fall while running. But the scenery was so pretty. I also ran into Pat, who was setting up for the race. “Is this really happening?” I asked him. He assured me that it was, and even gave me my race packet so I didn’t have to pick it up on race morning.

Everything seemed good to go! I ran 5K on the trail because I had registered for Rip It Events’ virtual Day of the Dead 5K, back when I thought the marathon was happening on Sept. 13. I certainly wasn’t going to race a 5K either the day before or the day after a marathon, so I ran the 5K in 26:23 — an 8:30 pace. Everything felt great. 

Race Day! 

The marathon was scheduled to begin at 10 am — really late for a race, but I’m not a natural early bird, so I was fine with that! I set my alarm for 6:45 am and pretty much leapt out of bed when it went off. I felt so ready. I got dressed, drank my coffee and ate my usual bagel with peanut butter and half a banana and went to the bathroom about a million times. I was a little concerned about the temperature, which was only in the mid-30s. I had packed my candy corn shorts and arm warmers, plus my Rip It Events singlet and knee-high compression socks. I hadn’t thought to bring a throwaway sweatshirt. I knew I would be fine while running, but worried about freezing my ass off at the start. I decided to just take an extra blanket from the hotel room to wrap myself up in, and hoped that I would be able to retrieve it at the end of the race. (And I was! I promise I didn’t steal from the hotel!) Since no spectators were allowed at the race due to COVID protocols, Micah dropped me off about a half hour before the start and I wrapped the blanket around me while I waited. Per COVID restrictions, everyone had to wear masks in the starting corral and we were all asked to space out six feet apart from each other to adhere to social distancing guidelines. With only about 220 runners total in the full and half marathon, that was pretty easy to do. Runners crossed the start line individually three seconds apart, putting well more than six feet in between each of us. I thought that was handled very well. We were allowed to take off our masks while running, and I did, though I noticed some runners opted to keep them on through the whole event. 

As expected, I warmed up pretty quickly, and never felt too cold or too hot (though I am glad I made the last-minute decision to pack my running gloves! My hands tend to get colder than any other part of me.) My goal for this race was to run a 3:30, which for my age group, 40-44, is a Boston Marathon qualifying time by 10 minutes. Based on my training times, I thought this was totally feasible. I started off running around an 8-minute pace and was able to hold that consistently through the first half and then some of the race. There were two other women who were running around the same pace, so I decided to stick with them (while keeping proper social distance!) One of them commented that I looked really strong. “You’re going to crush a 3:30 if you keep it up,” she told me. “That’s what I’m trying to do!” I replied. I was trying to focus on keeping a steady pace and also just enjoying my surroundings, which again were so pretty! 

The marathon was an out-and-back course — it went from the Washington Crossing Historic Park up to New Hope, PA, then back. Marathoners repeated the course twice. Between miles 5 and 6, I think, runners encountered an unpleasant surprise — the canal was actually flowing up over the trail. So we had the privilege of running through several inches of cold ass water. “Great,” I thought. “So I get to run over this four times?!” My socks and shoes luckily dried quickly, but it really sucked. I’m glad it wasn’t any colder outside. An Instagram follower of mine commented that she injured her foot by stepping in a hole in the concrete under the water. Ugh! I was lucky that didn’t happen to me. 

I finished the first half in just under 1:45, and was feeling strong. Of course, if you’ve run a marathon before, you know that first 13.1 doesn’t really mean a whole lot. I was hoping I could eek out another 1:45 for the second half, and it was looking really good up until about mile 20. Isn’t that always the way it goes? When I started running marathons, I heard that when you get to mile 20, you are halfway there. It’s so true. And it was REALLY true for me during this marathon. 

There weren’t traditional water stops with volunteers handing out water during this marathon because of COVID– rather, there were self-filling water stations where you could step on a pedal on the ground and refill your own bottle of water. I had been carrying an 18-oz. handheld bottle with Nuun Kona Cola in it, but I’m not sure I was taking in enough water. Usually, I grab either water or Gatorade at every single stop on a marathon course. I was trying to remember to drink from my bottle at least every two miles, but not sure how well I did. At one point I accidentally spilled most of what I had, so I did have to stop and refill with water. Also, I was carrying the bottle in my left hand and my left arm started to get really sore around mile 16. This never happened to me during training, so maybe I was gripping it too hard. 

Anyway, I don’t think I was drinking as much as I normally would  in a marathon, and when it was time to take my 4th energy gel at mile 20 — I like to take one at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20 — I wanted to puke. But I forced it down anyway. 

My stomach was pretty unsettled for the last 10K of the marathon. I kept trying to tell myself that a 10K was nothing, and I had well under an hour left of the race! The fourth time running through that cold water was brutal. I knew I was slowing down at that point, but that a finish time of 3:30 or very close to it was within reach. I hit mile 22 at around 2:58, and I knew I could run the last 4.2 miles in 32 minutes if I kept pushing. But I was fading and it was getting much, much harder!

Somewhere between mile 22 and 24, I came upon a huge tree that had fallen right in the middle of the towpath. Seriously! It definitely wasn’t there when I had run through the area earlier …. But there it was blocking the whole path. I had to climb over it, which is NOT IDEAL that late in a marathon. Yikes. I hope no one got hurt by it. It wasn’t even windy, so I have no idea why it suddenly fell then. 

The final two miles were brutal. BRUTAL. I felt every stone and twig on the towpath beneath my feet. I looked at my watch and knew my 3:30 goal time was slipping away, but it looked likely that I could be sub 3:35 (which would be a PR.) I knew at that point I was definitely going to run a BQ unless I completely gave up and decided to walk it in. Which of course I was not going to do!

When I made the final left turn of the course, I saw my car parked in the grass and knew Micah was nearby, even though we weren’t supposed to have spectators. Sure enough, I saw him standing alone in the field just before the finish line. I waved to him and as I got closer, I heard him yell, “Empty the tank!” which is what he said to me just before I crossed the finish line and BQ’d in Rehoboth in December 2017. “It’s already empty!” I yelled back. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 3:36:34. It’s a minute and 34 seconds slower than my PR, and about six minutes off my goal time, but it’s a solid BQ and I am proud of it.   

Approaching the finish!
Boston qualifier at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon
I’m a Boston Qualifier again!

I finished third in my age group, and I think I will be getting a prize in the mail. Don’t get too excited — there were only five women in my age group. It was a competitive race! I was 9th overall out of 67 women.

I qualified for Boston! But which Boston?

Great question! I have no idea. 

Because of the pandemic, the Boston Athletic Association has said there will be no Boston Marathon in April 2021. They said they may try to hold the marathon in the fall of 2021, but there is no guarantee of that. In “normal times,” this race would have fallen into the 2022 qualifying window anyway. So I’m going to assume that I qualified for Boston 2022. 

But again, there are so many unknowns. Maybe we will still be dealing with COVID in spring 2022. (I sure hope not, but I didn’t think we’d be dealing with it this fall, either.) Everyone who had 2020 qualifying times also is waiting to run the race. Sure, they got to run the “virtual” Boston experience, but we all know that is not the same and everyone who qualified wants the experience of running from Hopkinton to Boston! So, when it is safe to hold the Boston Marathon in person again, the 2020 qualifiers would likely get first dibs, as well they should! Then, of course, there are the 2021 qualifiers. What about all of those runners who ran 2021 BQ times from September 2019 through March 2020? They should get their shot, too. But if there’s no Boston Marathon in 2021, that means that group of runners will be pushed back a year, I’m guessing. 

I’ll say this, I definitely don’t envy the BAA for having to sort all of this out, and I feel very lucky that I got to run Boston 2019. I’ll get back there eventually. 

Of course, there’s also the issue of the cutoff — I ran 3 minutes and 26 seconds under my qualifying standard, which means I will have to wait until the second week of registration (whenever that occurs) to try to squeak in. It will probably be enough to get into the race, but you never know.

At the end of the day, I’m just so excited that I actually got to run a live marathon this year and put all of my training to good use. It did pay off, even if I didn’t hit my goal time. I qualified for Boston again! I will look back on this race as one of the bright spots in 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wearing a size small here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!