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. 

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?

My running goals for 2020 and a look back at 2019

I ended 2019 doing two of the things that I love the most: Drinking beer and running a race. 

Yes, in that order.

 I love to have a beer or two the night before a race, but I have never had a beer the hour before a race. First time for everything! I had a free race entry to the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year’s Eve through my freelance work with RunWashington, and got to the race about an hour and a half early since I needed to pick up my race bib and premium. Since I had time to kill, my husband and I wandered over to Ornery Beer Company so he could get some wings and have a beer. (He was not running.) I didn’t want to just sit there and sip my water, so I ordered a beer, too — the West Indian Viagra, 7.1 percent ABV, which I knew was risky but the name indicated it would give me stamina, right? Ha.

In the end, it didn’t really have any effect on me aside from me feeling like I had to pee about halfway through the race. I finished in 29:20, meeting my goal of finishing in under a half hour, and I felt really strong. Maybe I can run it again and not drink first and see if I can improve!    

 That race — a rare nighttime race that was an awesome way to start ringing in the new year — capped off a busy 2019. I ran the Boston Marathon and finally broke 1:40 in the half marathon — three different times! I also raced my first triathlon and didn’t drown, and I enjoyed the experience enough that I am going to do it again this June! 

I did a triathlon!
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My first time breaking 1:40 in the half!

Looking back at my 2019 goals, I said I wanted to run a fall marathon. I never did that and decided just to stick to Boston this past spring. But in 2020, I am running three marathons — Coastal Delaware on April 19, Chicago on Oct. 11 and Philadelphia on Nov. 22, so I am making up for it. 

Which brings me to my goals for 2020: 

  • I want to qualify for Boston again and I want to PR in the marathon. This is my goal for Coastal Delaware. I need to run 3:40:00 or faster to qualify, as I will be 40 (!) for Boston 2021. In reality, I have no idea what the cutoff will be, so it’s hard to say what I actually need to run to get into the race. I suspect I would be safe with a 3:37 or so, but I want to PR and run sub-3:35 — my “A” goal is around 3:30. I feel like it’s attainable based on my recent half marathon times, and I just finished up week four of Hal Higdon’s Advanced Marathon Training plan, which is what I followed when I BQ’d at the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon in December 2017. I am running with my friend Tammi, who is also shooting for a BQ. She needs 3:35:00 or better, as she is a few years younger than I am. I have to admit that I am a *little* salty that the Boston Athletic Association chopped five minutes off the qualifying standards starting with the 2020 marathon. I was soooo looking forward to that 3:45 standard, but I do understand why they did what they did.

It’s too soon for me to have goals for Chicago and Philly — I registered for both with a projected finish time of 3:40 (might as well dream big, right??), but mostly I want those weekends to be fun girls’ weekends. I’m going to Chicago with my sisters as a belated birthday trip, and I’ll be in Philly with some of my good friends who live in Pennsylvania!  

  • I want to run fewer 5Ks. I ran 10 5Ks in 2019. Including two in one day. Why?! I don’t love shorter distances and I don’t think I do great at them, but I always end up signing up for 5Ks because I have friends who want to run them and then I get FOMO. I am vowing to only sign up for 5Ks that I am excited about! I’m planning on a St. Paddy’s Day 5K with Staci (whose birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day) and I will likely do my annual Turkey Trot in November, but that’s it for now, I swear to God.
  • On that note, I want to to be more selective about my races in general. I love to race, but in previous years, I jumped on the opportunity to run every race that my friends are running (that FOMO again.) I need to be more selective. Racing can take a lot of time and money, and I do think it’s a good use of both of those things, but I also don’t want to burn out.      

On another note, I’m pumped to be back on Rip It Events’ ambassador team for the fourth year in a row. Contact me for 15 percent off any 2020 Rip It race. I’ve also joined Nuun Hydration‘s ambassador team, which is awesome as I have been a loyal user of their products since I was training for my first marathon back in 2015.

Happy 2020! What are your goals for the year?

Recap of the 2019 Philadelphia Half Marathon

When I ran my first half marathon in 2013, I finished in an hour and 53 minutes. I was happy to break two hours right out of the gate. A few more half marathons, and I was finishing in the 1:40s. In my fifth half, I ran a 1:42. So the next step was breaking 1:40! That would come easily, too, right?

It didn’t. It took me 15 more half marathons, and some very specific training, to run a 1:38:53. It wasn’t easy and I wondered if I’d be able to do it again.

Well, I did, at the Philadelphia Half Marathon last weekend! And I even got a 10-second PR! The Philly Half was absolutely incredible and I think it should be on every runner’s bucket list.

My trip to Philly, however, did not exactly start off on the right foot. I left work around 4 pm on Friday before the race, hoping to arrive at the race expo shortly after 6 and meet up with Staci, who was running the 8K, and Sarah, who was there to cheer us on. I’ve been to Philly numerous times; Sarah and another good friend of ours, Melissa, live there. But I wasn’t sure exactly which exit to take to get to the Convention Center, so I plugged the address into the maps function on my iPhone. Well, for some unknown reason, the GPS diverted me off I-95 and into New Jersey! I figured it out that this was, um, not right pretty quickly, but then I had to find my way back (the GPS kept telling me to go toward Trenton — WRONG!) and it added an extra 45 minutes or so onto my drive. Staci and Sarah got my race packet for me and I eventually got there, but it was stressful. We did spend a little bit of time at the expo before we went to Iron Hill Brewery for dinner, but I was anxious AF and wondered if it was a bad omen for the race.

I do wish I’d had the opportunity to spend more time at the expo — there were some great speakers earlier that day, including 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezigi, 2018 Boston Marathon champ Des Linden and Bart Yasso, creator of my favorite Yasso 800s speed workout. Staci and Sarah listened to a local running coach who had run every single Philadelphia Marathon give his tips on the course, and Sarah took detailed notes for me. Thanks, Sarah!

The half marathon and 8K take place on Saturday, with the full marathon on Sunday. I woke bright and early on Saturday morning and felt calm and ready to run. There was shuttle service to the race from our hotel, and I was so pleased with how easy that was. (Getting to the start of the race on time can be stressful, especially in a big city race, and I’d already had enough transportation drama for the weekend!) I walked out of the hotel shortly after 6 am and right onto one of the buses lined up in front of our hotel. It was awesome! Unfortunately, Staci’s shuttle experience for the 8K, which started at 10:45 am, did not go quite as smoothly. Note to race organizers for the future: Don’t neglect the 8K runners! Make sure you have reliable shuttle service for the 4,500 people who run that race, too.

The weather for the race was supposed to be in the 40s and sunny, so I wore running leggings, compression socks, my Rip It Events singlet and arm warmers. I knew I’d be fine while running, but was a bit worried that I would freeze my butt off while waiting for the race to start. However, there was a warming tent set up for runners. Major props to the race for this! I have run a fair amount of cold weather races, and this is the first time I’ve seen a warming tent — what a great idea. There were so many runners packed in there that it was almost too hot.

When I signed up for the race earlier this year, I optimistically listed my finish time as 1:39:00, so that put me in the corral behind the elite runners. The gun went off at 7:30 with the elites kicking off the race, then my corral followed soon after. Unfortunately, there were 1:45 and 1:30 pace groups, but no 1:40 pacer, so I knew I’d basically be on my own this time.

The first two miles are in the Center City section of Philly, and my Garmin did not like the tall buildings along this part of the course. At mile 1, my watch said I ran a 6:54. My first thought was, “Shit. You’ll be paying for that in about eight or nine miles.” My second thought was, “Wow, that felt pretty comfortable! I must be in better shape than I thought!” And my third thought was, “Your GPS is off because of the buildings.” I remembered hearing that other runners have experienced the same thing in Philly races, so I figured that was what was happening here, too. My second mile was a 6:50, according to my watch, but who knows how fast I actually ran it. By the end of the race, my watch said I ran 13.46 miles, and I really didn’t do too much weaving around other runners, so it was definitely the GPS that was messed up. (Not a good weekend for GPS, right??) Kind of annoying, but what can you do?

After the first few miles, I settled into a rhythm and focused on relaxing and taking in the sights. Around mile 4, I found myself running with a group with Achilles International, a nonprofit that pairs runners with disabilities with able bodied running partners. I asked them if they had a time goal, and they told me 1:40. “We can do that!” I said. I ran with them through most of the race, though they ended up finishing about a minute ahead of me.

The half marathon (and I assume the marathon as well) has great crowd support, especially along South Street and around Independence Hall. Another awesome thing about this race is that runners’ first names are printed on their bibs in large font, so I had a lot of spectators calling out my name, which was fun!

The race was, for the most part, pretty flat until we got to mile 8. But even then, the hills weren’t that long or that steep. At around mile 10, we passed a really cool mural of Patti LaBelle, which Sarah had told me about, then headed toward the Philadelphia Zoo. I had read beforehand that we’d be running through the zoo, but to be honest, by this point in the race I was kind of zoned out and didn’t even register that I was in the zoo. (It wasn’t like the Baltimore Marathon, where zoo employees are standing along the course holding animals.) I do know that after mile 11, the race was mostly downhill until the finish, which I loved! Downhill at the end of a half marathon is great! Downhill at the end of a marathon sucks — my quads are usually too beat up by then. Maybe that’s just me?

I kept looking at my watch, telling myself to maintain my pace and trying to figure out if a sub-1:40 finish was likely. It seemed like it was, but I had to remember that my GPS was off and that I was probably going to end up with way more than 13.1 miles on my watch. Overall, though, I felt tired (as one does around mile 12 of a half marathon) but like I could hold my pace without struggling too much.

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I look like I’m having fun!

We finished where we started, in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and since my watch hit 13 miles early, it seemed like the finish line was sooooo far away. It was actually kind of hard to see since it was so bright out, even with my sunglasses, making it rather difficult to do a final sprint to the finish (not that I am all that great at the last-minute sprint, haha!)

I saw 1:39 on the clock when I finished, so I was excited. A few minutes later, Sarah and my mom, who were tracking me, texted me my official time: 1:38:43.

For what it’s worth, here are my splits according to my watch, though they aren’t accurate:

Mile 1: 6:54
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 7:17
Mile 4: 7:18
Mile 5: 7:22
Mile 6: 7:22
Mile 7: 7:20
Mile 8: 7:26
Mile 9: 7:44
Mile 10: 7:37
Mile 11: 7:41
Mile 12: 7:14
Mile 13: 7:22
Last 0.46 miles (again, according to my watch): 3:19

Philadelphia Half Marathon

Checking my time!

Philadelphia Half Marathon

I truly loved this race, from the easy race day transportation to the excellent crowd support to the course itself. I told Sarah and Staci afterwards that I was thinking of signing up for the full marathon in 2020. I’m running the Chicago Marathon next October, so I’d just have to maintain my fitness for another six weeks or so.

And a few days ago, I got an email from the Philly Marathon saying that registration for 2020 was open. Sooooo I took advantage of the low introductory registration fee and signed up for the full on Nov. 22, 2020. That means I’m running three marathons in 2020: Coastal Delaware on April 19, Chicago on Oct. 11 and now, Philly. I’m so excited, though! Life is short — why the hell not run all the races as long as I am healthy and able to do so?

I have one more half marathon left in 2019 — the Rehoboth Half Marathon this Saturday. I’m hoping to break 1:40 for the third time, and think it’s very possible with the assistance of a 1:40 pacer and the fact that that the course is pancake flat. Maybe I could even knock a few more seconds off my PR!

I have to also give a shout out to Staci for running her first 8K! She has run a bunch of 5Ks before (including this one that may as well have been run on the surface of the sun), but this was her longest race to date. I told her a 10K is next!

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