Race Report | 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival

Unlike my usual Race Reports, I’m dedicating this post to my dad and brother who raced at the 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival. I’ve always been “the runner” in my family, but this weekend proved that that’s so not true anymore. Here’s why:

A few weeks after the Boston Marathon this year, my dad texted me this: photo 1

Honestly, this text nearly brought me to tears. For years now, my dad has hopped on the running wagon only to fall off of it (no) thanks to roadblocks life decided to put in his way. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad could do it (back in January, I wrote about how I secretly wished he’d run the RW Half), but I knew all too well how god-awful it is to train through the summer in Texas. Not to mention a lot can go wrong in six months. Getting to the start line of a race healthy for anyone is a miracle. He had a long road ahead of him.

photo-2But sure enough, weekend after weekend all summer long, my dad reported successful early-morning long runs that started before the sun crested the top of the mountain and weekly 3.1-mile afternoon runs that got progressively faster despite the rising afternoon temps. He challenged himself with hills, pushed through the sweltering heat, learned the importance of hydration on long runs, and didn’t get bogged down or discouraged by the not-so-great runs. I might not have witnessed it in person, but his commitment and focus on his goal of completing a half-marathon was apparent and incredibly inspiring.

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Before we knew it, there he was at the expo, picking up his bib with my mom and brother in tow.

Later that night, we attended Dave McGillivray‘s keynote speech. Dave, the race director of the Boston Marathon, not only rocks a wicked Boston accent, but has notched countless running feats throughout his lifetime. (He runs his age in miles on his birthday, he has run across the country more than once, he has finished the Boston Marathon for 40+ years in a row, the list goes on…) The philanthropist had us laughing and crying, all the while teaching us life lessons he’s learned while pounding it out on the roads. I wish I could bottle up his talk and re-live it before ALL of my races. It certainly set the tone for the next day.

On race morning after we pinned on our bibs, my dad and I set off for the start line. The air was crisp, the clear-blue sky was bathed in sunlight – it was the PERFECT day to run. We lined up at the front so we could take it all in. The crowd’s energy was electric. A few minutes before the start, my dad and I snapped a couple pre-race photos and gave each other good-luck hugs. I can’t really put into words how much it meant to me to see my dad on the brink of accomplishing this goal he’d worked so hard for all summer long. It made my heart swell with happiness. Instead of crying nervous tears, I cried happy ones. (Click on the photos to enlarge!)

And with that emotional start, we were off!

The game plan was to finish my race, which doubled as my last long training run before Marine Corps, then run the course backwards until I found my dad. After I finished my run, I snuck back on the course, and it wasn’t long before I saw him cruising past a water stop just before Mile 12. He was crushing it.

With just over a mile to go, the two of us set off for the finish line. Then, with one last hill behind us, we made our way through the tunnel of cheering spectators, spotting Mom and my brother before crossing the finish line. He did it.

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My dad ran every step of the race at his 5K pace from January. He not only finished 13.1 miles, he demolished them.

Seeing my dad’s goal become a reality in the form of a hard-fought finisher’s medal was incredible. I’m literally in awe of the perseverance it took for him to get from “the starting line” he crossed on that day back in April when he texted me to the finish line of his first half-marathon. His accomplishment is the reason why running is awesome. My dad is my inspiration, always has been, and always will be.

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photo-1On Saturday morning, my youngest brother Kyle lined up for the start of the 5K at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. Had you told me that the kid who once quit soccer because he “didn’t like to sweat” would be voluntarily running a 5K, I wouldn’t have believed you. Unlike my other (older) younger brother and I who both dove headfirst into soccer (and eventually running for me) early on and obsessed over athletics more than pretty much anything else in life for years, Kyle tried different sports on and off, but nothing really stuck.

However now that he’s gotten a bit older, he started running for the track and cross country teams at his middle school. Just like I did when I was his age, he’s getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to log some miles at practice before going to school. What’s amazing about my brother is that he already knows how to run just for himself. He doesn’t get bogged down about what others think of his performance. He focuses only on improving from one race to the next, enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates along the way. He knows he’s not the best on the team, but that doesn’t matter to him. I think he just likes to run. Yup, he figured that out about 10 years before I did.

Smarty pants.

It makes me so happy to see my brother enjoy the sport I’ve been passionate about since I was his age. My hope is that it becomes something he enjoys doing for the rest of his life, in whatever way, shape, or form that may be.

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I have to take a second to do a quick shout-out to everyone in the “twitterverse” who I met in real life this weekend: Jocelyn, Ashley, the #RunChat dudes Scott and David, Jaime, Pam, Marcia and more! Y’all are so dang cool, and I seriously wish we all lived closer to one another so we could run together all the time. But hey, thank goodness for twitter, right? Thank you guys so much for coming to our event. I’m so thankful that we all got to connect in person, and I hope that our paths cross again many more times in the future!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” – Fred Lebow 

MCM Training | The Final Countdown

A quote from Lauren Fleshman - my mantra for MCM.

A quote from Lauren Fleshman – my mantra for MCM.

This morning I finished my last real long run of 15 miles before diving head-first into the “taper crazies” a.k.a. “maranoia.” After two weekends with my twitter feed full of amazing race results, I won’t lie, I’m itching for it to be my turn. I’m so curious/excited/anxious to see what I can do two weeks from now on October 27 because I know I have a solid race in me. I feel like I’m due for a good marathon, one where I’m running smart from the gun, smiling at the spectators, and just cruising along, enjoying and embracing the ride (at least until mile 18 or 20!). It’s been just over a year since I ran my first 26.2, and I haven’t run as fast since. BUT I’ve got four marathons worth of experience and a solid 14 weeks of training under my belt, so I’m feeling confident that good things will come.

Since Steamtown was my best marathon yet, the goal for this build-up was to replicate last year’s training but supplement it with strength, yoga, and speed sessions. (Here’s my first post about my game plan). I’m pretty pumped to say that that happened. Sure, I wasn’t perfect from start to finish. But this time around was a vast improvement over last year. I’m feeling fitter overall and have been able to finish many of my long runs with some race pace miles instead of slow-painful slogs that defined the end of those runs last year.

To recap this cycle, I flipped back through the pages of my Believe I Am training log (and my log from last year) to see how it all shakes out by the numbers:

(2013 Marine Corps Marathon Training | 2012 Steamtown Marathon Training)

Total Mileage: 475.5 (34/week) | 456 (32/week)

# of Workouts/Speed Sessions: | 3

I did my best to do one speed session per week (not including race weeks) to maintain the quicker leg turnover I gained over the summer. Not only did it change things up a bit, but those sessions got me to push myself harder than I would on long runs. I also managed to eek out a post-collegiate 5K and mile PR and a 10K PR. And PRs are always good confidence boosters!

# of Two-a-Days: 5 | 1

I typically take two days off per week, so doing these doubles allowed me to sneak in a few extra miles and teach my body to run on tired legs. Most of these runs were quicker efforts, too. I learned that I’m a big fan of two-a-days, and I definitely plan to integrate them into my training in the future! Read about my first double that I did with my local running store here.

# of Gym Workouts: 16 | 0

I went from not being able to do a push-up or two to knocking out eight+ controlled, arms-tucked-in ones. I’ve also reached a new bench press PR of 80 pounds. I can’t say I’ve ever really had this much upper body strength, and it feels good to not be so one-dimensional with my fitness. I’ve also discovered how to enjoy planks–which I used to avoid like the plague–and will happily do any variation of them.

# of Yoga Sessions: 9 | 0

I can’t stress how much yoga benefited me this cycle. My Monday yoga sessions became a staple post-long run recovery tool, helping me stretch out, loosen up, build strength, and relax. I really believe yoga and running go hand in hand.

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Races: 4 – Steps4Stellar 5K, Hood to Coast, Saucon Rail Trail 10K, Fifth Avenue Mile |
4 – Revolutionary Run 10K, LVRR 5K, Falmouth Road Race (7 miles), Fifth Avenue Mile

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I wasn’t sure I how felt about chronicling this training cycle from start to finish, but I won’t lie, it’s been worth it. I’ve been able to jot down what when well, work through rough patches, and keep myself honest with my goals. It’s amazing to look back and read about all that went down in just 14 weeks, from the high highs to the low lows. I plan on re-reading it all in the days before the race, too, to remind myself to trust in my training. I hope to go into Marine Corps with the same mindset that I had before Steamtown – I was genuinely happy, purely excited to just see what I could do. Not a single negative thought crept into my mind. I stayed calm and in control. I didn’t become intimidated by the distance. I just kept pressing forward. I ran smart. I ran by feel. I started slow, reigning in the horses so I’d have some juice left for the end. I didn’t stress about the outcome or worry over every mile split. I just ran. That’s what I’m hoping to do at MCM.

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Between now and the big day, I’m doing my last training run at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. My parents and youngest brother will be in town, which is beyond awesome. My dad is going to run…no crush his first half-marathon, and words can’t express how much I can’t wait to see him accomplish this goal he’s worked toward for months. Just thinking about it literally fills my heart with joy. Ahh!

I’ll write a recap of the weekend early next week and possibly share one last update before the race. Can’t wait to kick off the next few weeks of racing!

QUOTE OF THE POST:   ontheline500

MCM Training | Derailed

My ER dream team - made me smile despite the gash in my lip!

My ER dream team – made me smile despite the gash in my lip!

Just when my training should’ve hit its peak before the “taper crazies” set in, life threw a wicked curve ball at me.

I haven’t run since Sunday.

A dog bite and eight stitches in my lip later, my fingers (and toes!) are crossed that come this weekend, the train will get back on the tracks for the final three weeks before Marine Corps.

Up until Sunday’s not terribly dramatic (but still unfortunate) incident, I’ve been feeling fresh, fit and ready to get after a PR on race day. Highlights? I turned my cut-back weekend 10-miler into a perfect progression run that felt awesome. I successfully completed my first Yasso 800s with David, who’s shooting for his BQ of 3:25 (I would be THRILLED to run that time at MCM!). And I pushed through nasty tummy issues in the final four-ish miles of Sunday’s 16-miler, dropping down to goal race pace despite feeling like I was going to s*** myself. (I’ve also been able to up my weights at the gym and can now do about eight real push-ups – I’m so excited to see some progress in that department!)

That paragraph of good news is a huge reason why I’m not freaking out that much about missing three days of running. I’m much more concerned about letting my lip heal properly than getting a few runs in. I know the rest can only help. At this point, the hay is in the barn, right? I’ve told friends this advice before, so I’m trying to take a dose of my own medicine (along with some horse-pill-sized antibiotics) this week.

I’d say the worst part is that I’m starting to get antsy because I just don’t feel like myself when I’m not sweating it out on the roads. BUT…I’m staying focused on the positives. It could’ve been much worse. It could’ve happened closer to race day. The list goes on… I’m so thankful that, despite it being a sucky experience, I’ll be back in business soon (and that I won’t look like the Joker at the RW Half or MCM. Booyah!)

QUOTE OF THE POST:  “To get to the finish line, you’ll have to try lots of different paths.” – Amby Burfoot

Friday Faves | Top 10 For September

Here are the top 10 coolest running things I stumbled upon this month:

1. I love this, especially because I’m a week away from my one-year marathon anniversary!

2. Shared by my girl Jenny, we’ve all decided this needs to be turned into an alarm tone.

3. My roomie Kelsey DOMINATED her very first half-marathon in Philly! Couldn’t be more proud of her!

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 9.51.32 AM4. Oiselle rocked the RUNway at New York Fashion Week. Could not get enough of seeing real, strong ladies working that catwalk in clothes that, well…basically, I want it all. (Click the link for more photos! // Photo by Arthur Mandel Nolcha.)Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 9.54.23 AM5. Yogi-runner goddess and friend of mine Rebecca Pacheco debuted her first yoga class for runners video for Runner’s World. It’s perfect for all levels of runners and new/old yogis alike. (Not to mention it means I can “take” Rebecca’s class without having to drive up to Boston!) Try it out!14DZkDL6. My co-worker Mark Remy, who decided to come out of marathon retirement to try to BQ for 2014, qualified and GOT IN! I trained with him on and off this cycle, and I could see how much he wanted to run Boston next year. I couldn’t be more thrilled and relieved for him. As for his reaction on social media? “WOO HOO!”

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7. Marathon Survival Strategies, including: “Do not, under any circumstances, think, ‘Where, for the love of god, is the 2-mile mark?'” // This is hysterical and totally worth a read.

8. I cannot get enough of this.

9. A photo of RW Gear Guy’s daughter aka “Gear Baby,” who has already figured out how to use the stick. Adorable.large

10. My youngest brother has started running cross-country for his middle school team. And get this, he’s only 13 and has already figured out how to run for fun without getting bogged down by his brain. Totally jealous. I hope he continues to run just for the enjoyment of it; that’s the way it should be. Love that kid way too much. kyleXCWhat are your favorite things from the month of September? Share ’em with me in the comments below!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Passion is pushing myself when there is no one else around – just me and the road.” – Ryan Shay

Race Report | Fifth Avenue Mile

Screen shot 2013-09-24 at 9.04.12 PMThere’s nothing quite like flooring it for a mile to remind you what racing fast really feels like. One: It’s incredibly exhilarating feeling smooth, speedy and powerful. Two: After teaching myself to hold my horses for at least 13 miles in a marathon, getting to unleash them over just a mile is a rush. And three: It still manages to wipe me out after just 5,280 feet.

On race morning, after watching my friends run their heats of the Fifth Avenue Mile, I genuinely couldn’t contain my excitement for my turn. Unlike last year where I lined up with cold legs and paid for it for 800 meters, I wanted to do it right this year and give myself a chance to drop my post-collegiate PR of 5:40. So I snuck into Central Park for a few miles and did some striders with my coworkers. I won’t lie, going through the motions of prepping for a race put me right back in college, reigniting those pre-race nerves. My body and brain knew it was time to race (even if it was purely for fun!).

My favorite part of this race is the start. Since I was in the Media Heat, the field was small so the corral wasn’t jam packed like the normal ones. That meant I could put my toe right on the start line. Ahead of me was the pace truck and a straight stretch of Fifth Avenue framed by skyscrapers and elm trees from the park. For a moment, I could imagine what it’s like to be an elite. Not to mention the anticipation of tearing down the middle of a wide open NYC road was killing me.

With a 30-second warning (cue another round of adrenaline), then the gun, off we went! I think I went through the first quarter in maybe 82 or 83 (WAY too fast) and the 800 in 2:42. Then began the internal battle – I had only 800 meters to go, but man was I hurting already. I might be rusty racing distances like this, but they were tricky then and it was tricky on Sunday. To keep pushing or save something for a kick, that was the dilemma.

I held on and attempted to keep my pace, shifting into a slightly faster gear for the last 100 meters. The crowds got progressively louder and more awesome the closer I got to the finish line, so I tried to feed off their energy. I might’ve been dying inside, but I was having a blast.

And with that, it was over. Short, sweet, and seriously ass-kicking. (It’s amazing how racing a mile and cram the feeling of hitting “the wall” in a marathon into just 1,609 meters.) I ended up sneaking just under my PR, running 5:39 for a second Media Heat win in a row. The funny thing about the mile? I want to do it again, like now. It’s like riding a roller coaster. Let’s go again! Let’s go again!

My with my coworkers Budd and Robert. Thanks Erica for the shot!

My with my coworkers Budd and Robert. Thanks Erica for the photo!

The cherry on top of the cake was watching the pro race that was jam-packed with Olympians and World Champions, then sneaking in a quick congrats to Jenny Simpson (who’s back AND better than ever!) and Nick Symmonds.

This race is definitely making it’s way onto my yearly must-do list. The 20 blocks turn into a running party all morning long and it’s just flat out fun. If you want to read more about my experience, check out this post I wrote for RW’s Race Tour Book Column!

2013 Nissan Fifth Ave Mile

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I told him I was nervous about this because Brussels didn’t go well and I haven’t really raced at 1500 for a while, and he said ‘If you’re nervous, just run as far as you can.’ So that’s what I did. Sometimes the easiest instructions are the best instructions.” – Jenny Simpson to her coach Mark Wetmore before her win on Sunday

A Note To My Future Self That Summer Marathon Training IS Worth It!

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 4.57.36 PMDear Future Megan,

Next summer when you inevitably return from a long run dehydrated and defeated, remember Sunday’s 20-miler. It was epic, it was ahh-MAZ-ing, it was confidence-boosting, you name it. That single run made up for a summer’s worth of slow, sluggish death marches. Yes, it’s hard to see now with stinging sweat in your eyes that the cooler weather will bring with it faster, easier running. But remember that this run proved that it does.

More than once that day, I caught myself experiencing the “runner’s high.” Around mile 12 or 13, we dropped the pace to 7:35. And it felt easy, like we had only 10 steps, not 10 miles, under our belt. I felt smooth and in control, my breathing was relaxed, and I shifted into cruise-control so I could fully take in the gorgeous, sun-soaked scenery around me. (Mind you, I’d been struggling to hold my pace within 8:15-30 range on my long runs so far, so stop feeling discouraged about your long-run splits so far this summer. It’s not worth your time or energy!) Then with four miles to go, I still felt strong, so I decided to try to dip down into the 7s again. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when my splits were all 7:30 or faster. I was giddy for the rest of the day (and week for that matter).

Remember how this run completely changed your mentality going into Marine Corps and how it revealed that yes, you really do love this sport even when you’ve sweat buckets at the butt-crack of dawn Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Remember to feel grateful and thankful for the ability to feel that runner’s high and rush of endorphins that sometimes get dampened by the summer haze. It’s all worth it, I swear. This is your mantra: Summer marathon training IS worth it! 

So go take a cold shower, cozy up in bed, cue up Netflix, and get excited. Fall will be here before you know it!

(One-Month-Out-From-MCM) Megan

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?” – Peter Maher

MCM Training | Hungover

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 12.33.46 PMBetween Hood to Coast and a 10K on back-to-back weekends, my body withdrew into a full-blown racing hangover that lingered for days. Marathon training is a lot like beer. It’s slow to kick in, but can still knock you off your feet if you have a few too many. I made the mistake of mixing in a couple shots of tequila. Yes, racing offered a quick buzz that felt great. But…it probably wasn’t the best idea. I had a little too much fun.

So despite the arrival of gorgeous fall weather, my legs were anything but fresh and springy for a full week and a half post-10K. I just felt flat, empty of any real energy. On Monday, I was torn between officially returning my regular routine and cutting it back for a few extra days to let my body fully recover. I opted for the later. To fight the fatigue, I actively cut back on my mileage and eased up my mid-week runs to make up for the harder weekend efforts.

Thankfully, it paid off. Come Wednesday, I felt like myself again. Thursday and Friday felt good, too! Crisis averted. Whew.

Side note: The past couple of weeks made me realize that I’ve been treading that fine line between training hard and overtraining. Usually I’m pretty good at not crossing it, but I have to admit that scaling back felt a bit like… cheating? I didn’t want to fall further away from my solid streak of training weeks, but I also didn’t want to risk get injured either. Regardless, feeling off was no fun and certainly wasn’t doing any favors for my confidence.

Deep down, I wasn’t too worried because I trust in myself to listen to my body and do what feels right. Since my calendar is (thankfully) clear now of any major races, my hope is that everything will naturally fall back into place within the next week or so and it’ll be smooth sailing through to October 27.

Here are the highlights from Weeks 9 and 10 of training:

  • A 10K PR! PRs are always a good thing. Here’s my recap!
  • An impromptu mid-morning trail run at work, which, like any trail run in general, was way too much fun.
  • A plank-off with a coworker. I lost BUT we went for over two minutes. It was nice to see physical evidence of my strength training. Fun fact: We did this in work clothes in our cubicles.Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 12.34.47 PM
  • Spectating the VIA Marathon with my yoga goddess of a friend Rebecca. (Seriously, check out her blog – this Boston girl is the Dorothy Beal of the yoga world!). I had such a blast cheering on my friends who BQ’d the heck out of that course. I couldn’t be more proud, impressed, and inspired by their races.
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Surprise! Rebecca’s BF (gray) and my old Lehigh teammate (yellow) ran the first 13 miles together! And there’s the cheer squad. They’re such cutie pies!

  • Pacing elementary and middle schoolers at a cross country meet. I love seeing kids participating in running, especially the ones that love it even at such a young age when kicking around a soccer ball is probably way more fun that just running. Also, the 3rd/4th grade girls I lead through their mile race were friggin’ FAST, like they almost beat me fast. (And I got a head start.)Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 12.34.06 PM
  • Completing a 5-miler in what felt like a 104-degree sauna. Just finishing this run was enough.
  • Soaking in the cool fall weather on my run yesterday, which was especially wonderful after the inferno we ran through on Wednesday.

As of this post, we are only 42 (AHH!) days away from race day! Hopefully by this time next week I’ll have a more positive training report to share!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Erase from your mind that your preparation must be perfect. Hard work + dedication = a shot at your dreams. Keep believing.” – Kara Goucher

Race Report | Saucon Rail Trail 10K

Screen shot 2013-09-02 at 5.36.37 PMIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from my year of post-collegiate racing, it’s this: After crossing the finish line, head directly toward the nearest trash can or open field because I’m… about to throw up. (Don’t mind me, it’ll pass! Just gimme a sec…)

My coworker Meghan, who also won her age group at the 10K today (RW represent!), wondered out loud why we keep racing when, frankly, running so hard that you want to throw up at the finish really isn’t that much fun. Why exactly did we choose to race 6.2 miles in 90% humidity when we could’ve stayed in our cozy beds and let the thunderstorm lull us back to sleep?

Because it’s fun to test ourselves. It’s fun to be able to justify a post-race root beer float (and possibly a doughnut). It’s fun to write “PR” in your training log and decorate it with highlighters. It’s fun to endure those tough miles knowing that you might catch a second wind down the road. And it’s fun knowing that everyone around you is hurting just like you are and that they, too, made the decision to get after it instead of sleeping in today.

I know this isn’t a revolutionary realization, but today’s race reminded me that feeling like crap during a race–because let’s face it, it’s inevitable–IS FUN.

I’ll be the first to admit that there were many weekends in high school and college where I absolutely dreaded racing. Sometimes I’d be so nervous that I’d cry during warmups. Ugh.

I was afraid of the pain I knew was coming. I was afraid of the outcome, good or bad. I was afraid of what others would think of my results. I was afraid of letting myself down. You don’t need a glaring newsflash to know this isn’t a good way to go into a race.

But this morning I stood on the line with 10,000 meters ahead of me, anxious to find out what I could do. The difference between today and most of my racing career, though, was this: I was excited to see what I could do, too. I wasn’t afraid. I was confident. Granted, this wasn’t a goal race by any means, but I knew a PR and an age group (or maybe even an overall) award were within reach.

Before now, even that tiny bit of self-imposed pressure had the power to ruin a race before the gun fired. And because every race felt like the end all, be all of my running career, I was blind to the bigger picture.

A starting line is a runner’s opportunity to do something great, something meaningful. By stepping over that line, you make yourself vulnerable to both success AND failure. That moment is never wasted if you dare to cross it fearlessly in the first place. The key is to learn and grow from both outcomes. Strive for and cherish the good races; remember to accept and move beyond the bad ones.

Today was one of the good ones. I knew my legs might still feel Hood to Coast and Saturday’s 16-miler. I knew it was friggin’ humid outside. I knew that I usually avoid 10Ks at all costs. BUT I felt surprisingly fresh during my warmup, and I had a summer’s worth of speedwork and steamy lunch runs under my belt. I had nothing to lose, everything to gain.

The first three miles felt smooth and under control. I was definitely a bit fast, but lord knows I can’t go out slow and run negative splits for the life of me. I played cat and mouse with the other women around me, sticking to their hips, surging ahead before they’d pass me back. We went back and forth for the entire second half of the race. It hurt like heck, but that didn’t matter. I was competing. And it was fun. 

I even dug down deep for the final .2, missing third overall female by a second. And yes, I rushed through the chute to go gag in private and spare the poor spectating kids from witnessing a potentially nasty, but necessary scene. (Thankfully, it was a false alarm today!)

I pushed myself this morning, and it was worth it.

Annnnd an apparently meaningless 10K can inspire me to hash out the finer details of my running career. Who knew? (I certainly didn’t before I started writing this post!)

Here’s to hoping I choose to fearlessly cross many, many more starting lines knowing that I very well may end up looking like this (taken after Big Sur in April) when I finish: photoQUOTE OF THE POST: “What I’ve learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you’re hurting like crazy and you want to give up. Success is often just around the corner.” ― James Dyson

MCM Training | Highs and Lows

1234640_10151604678672467_119144239_nThanks to an epic adventure in Oregon at Hood to Coast last weekend, I’ve been a bit M.I.A. in the MCM training update department. A week of gearing up for the relay followed by a week of recovering from it meant I didn’t check off everything on my weekly workout to-do list, but it was worth it for everything I experienced on the West Coast. My 16-miler yesterday went A-okay despite summer’s sauna-like nastiness that just refuses to go away. But from here on out, it’s smooth sailing until October 27! Here are the highs and lows from the last two weeks of training:

Highs: 

  • Every second spent running the Hood to Coast relay. I raced hard and forged friendships with inspring, strong women from around the U.S. You can read about my journey here and here.
  • A muddy, wonderful trail run at lunch after a torrential downpour earlier that morning. The best part? The guys let me lead so I didn’t have to make ’em wait at the bottom. Not having to play catch-up made the run that much more fun. (I’m a very slow trail runner – I’d rather not crack my head open!) And heck, you just can’t beat a trail run to break up the work day!
  • Monday’s yoga session was just what the doctor ordered after the relay. It was an hour’s worth of recovery that my body desperately needed. I also managed to NOT fall asleep in shavasana, thankfully.
  • Choosing to gut out a short tempo run rather than skipping it outright or after the first mile or so. My body and brain were wrecked after Hood to Coast, but I decided I just couldn’t duck out of Thursday’s three-mile tempo. I knew I’d feel worse not doing it than getting it done and having it hurt like hell.

Lows:

  • That short tempo run hurt like hell. I know I was still tired after racing, but a sucky workout is never fun. Blehhhh…
  • Out of the four gym sessions I should’ve completed, I did just one. Yes, I was out of town most of last week, but I just couldn’t get myself down there to workout. I was too dang tired.
  • Failing to get to bed early to recover from the relay. I swore up and down all week that I’d be in bed by 9:30 so I’d get a full night’s rest, but… I didn’t. And my runs suffered because of that.

A quick side note: I’ve been feeling somewhat discouraged about my long runs throughout this training cycle. Since I want to PR at MCM, I’ve been worried about hitting certain paces each weekend. BUT I learned two things over the past couple weeks that have helped me realize that I shouldn’t be stressing out :

1) Yes, it’s been hot and humid. I know this makes for slower miles. And thankfully my trusty training log confirmed that I, indeed, ran the pretty much the same paces last year, too. Those “slow” training runs translated into my fastest marathon yet.

2) A speedy HTC roommate told me that she’s run in the 3:1X’s off of long runs at 8:15 pace. Yes, I know long, slow distances runs are supposed to be slow, but it took a real live person telling me just how slow to make me understand that I don’t need to run at or near “race pace” to actually hit it on the big day. Clearly, I’m still SUCH a stubborn marathon newbie! Learning as I go, right? Anyway….

….We’re just TWO months away from the big day! Until next week!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running has thrown me into adventures that I would otherwise have missed.” – Benjamin Cheever

Race Report | Hood to Coast With Nuun Part II (The Race)

1150250_10101725276174613_2136966220_nJust about this time last week–it’s nearly 7 p.m. in PA at the moment–Van #2 of Nuun‘s Team Watermelon was gearing up to kick off our first legs of Hood to Coast. Thanks to the memories created in that (thankfully not too stinky) van, it’s been seven days, and I’m still feeling the #HTChangover. Damn.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of facing over 24 hours of van “sleeping,” Stacy’s and gummy bears doubling as dinner (although there was no complaining in my corner of the van about it!), and three mini races. And that’s just the start of it. A relay is like sleep-away camp crammed into 200 miles worth of running.  Even though you’re up for hours, the time flies by. You witness the sunset, and, though that nighttime run was exhilarating, you welcome the sunrise. At times you can’t keep your eyelids open. But after each leg, without fail you’re wide awake, high on life and endorphins. Somehow, when it all comes to an end, that van feels like home away from home and your teammates feel like family. Parting with both leaves a lump in your throat.

So now that I’m back to reality, I’ll try to capture what Hood to Coast with Nuun was really like without writing a novel. Onward to the ocean!

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After Van #1 crushed the first six legs down Mount Hood for Team Watermelon (and then were subsequently renamed Team Holly Roberts), our first runner, Meghan, got Van #2 on the road, rockin’ our team’s green sparkly skirt. We joined the parade of vans, slowing to cheer on Meghan with our duck boat quackers and cowbells. And then… she yelled this to us before we drove off to the next exchange:

Oh yeah, we were off to a good start. 🙂 Before I knew it, I was up to bat.

Leg 8 – 4.55 (Finish Time: 29:54, 6:36/mi)

Leg8

I knew going into Hood to Coast that I wanted to try to challenge myself and really race. However, when I saw that my projected time was in the 6:XXs, I thought, Man, there’s no way in heck I’ll hit that pace! My brain’s in slow marathon mode, so 6-somethings seemed fast. But once I got my bib on and saw Meghan cruising toward me baton in hand, the track runner in me took over. I set off out of the exchange–God forbid I start slower to actually let myself warm up a bit–and focused on keeping a steady pace, notching as many “road kills” as I could. (Side note: It’s sweet passing people in a sparkle skirt. Ask my teammates; they’ll agree!)

I felt alright, but it took most of the run to work the kinks out of my legs. I’d already been sitting in a van too long. Then just when I needed it, my van drove up beside me, music blasting, cowbells clanging. I’ll never forget seeing Casey grooving to the music while the girls cheered. I wish I could’ve captured their awesomeness from my perspective, but instead, here’s my (overly excited) reaction:

563422_10151604678307467_1956912036_n

Yup, b-e-a-Utiful.

I realized during my run that I had inadvertently trained for Hood to Coast while training for Marine Corps. For over a month, I’ve been doing speed workouts and two-a-days almost every week. Yes! Talk about a confidence boost. Maybe I could race this thing without killing my legs.

The sun was already setting when I finished, but I was thrilled when I caught a glimpse of Mount Hood in the distance from the exchange lot. It gave me chills to think that the girls had run alllll the way from its peak already. And this was only the beginning!

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1149027_10151604679727467_578312417_nWith the baton (a.k.a. slap bracelet) handed off to Laura, we set off for the next exchange. I took the opportunity to break open the trail mix and gummy bears, which made for a quality sugar rush to build on my post-run high. I also dove into the huge bag of Nuun tubes, otherwise known as the “Nuun bar.” We were all still very giddy with excitement each time our baton was handed off, not to mention the high-energy craziness that is getting to each exchange on time despite the darkness and vans-on-vans-on-vans traffic. It’s absolutely nuts, but Casey navigated like a pro from the gun. We all reported great first runs and it felt sweet marking off that first checkbox on the window.

One down, two to go.

Our first big break around 11 p.m. meant real food. It also meant my energy levels were taking a nose dive. We stopped at a bar/kid-friendly restaurant (it even had a play area, which we turned into a stretching spot) near Portland, briefly considered drinking a beer, thought better of it, then ordered some pre-run-friendly dinner. Mid-relay meals are always tricky: you want to eat a lot, but it has to sit well in your tummy for your next leg that’s only four or five hours away. I settled for some margarita pizza and kept chugging Nuun like it was my job so I’d stay hydrated. Dinner was delicious, but all I could think about was sleep.

I curled up and passed out the second we hit the road toward the next big exchange. I think I managed a couple hours of sleep before it was time for Van #2 to take over again. I was incredibly groggy, but I forced myself to wake up so I’d be alive once Meghan finished her leg. Our second round meant empty one-lane roads through the wilderness. Not only was it pitch black, but there was really nothing out there but the runners, vans and nature. It was wild.

Leg 20 – 5.75 (Finish Time: 44:18, 7:50/mi)

Leg20

My second leg was insane. Running in the darkness with only a flashlight or a passing van’s headlights to guide you is equally terrifying and thrilling. The adrenaline rush kicked in quick, which meant I, again, probably took off too quickly, especially because this leg was longer and quite a bit hillier. I’m not a huge fan of running in the dark–I got a nasty gash on my shin during a night run a few years ago–so I had to work to stay focused on the road ahead of me. Man, was it spooky running at 4:30 a.m. in the middle of nowhere. It’s silent other than the sounds of your footsteps and breathing.

The whole way up, I was so thankful for PA’s gigantic hills. They’ve made me actually enjoy running hills, so I had fun getting after it from start to finish. The only downside to this leg was running on a gravel road for the last few miles. It made seeing the now rocky ground that much harder, and I got a mouthful of dust that made my teeth feel gritty. Breathing was okay, but now I was grimy on the outside and inside. Yuck! The few times I was able to look up, though, and all I could see was a string of headlights climbing the road ahead of me. It was surreal and awe-inspiring. Definitely one of those pinch-me-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-doing-this-right-now-moments. Ahh it was incredible.

I was able to finish strong thanks to that lovely downhill, and with that, my favorite leg of the relay was over.

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I absolutely loved the second third of the race because the runners pretty much owned the road. By now it was daylight, and other than the vans, there were no other cars in sight for miles. So here we were, among thousands of other runners, racing through the night and into the sunrise from Mount Hood to the Pacific Ocean. It was a remarkable human feat to witness and be a part of. You were near other runners the entire time, so it really felt like you were racing, not just running along alone with a bib number on.

We also became familiar with a other vans, some of which were flat out fascinating and creative. My favorite was the Superhero van, which had six huge flags emblazoned with superhero logos attached to its rooftop plus a cape coming off the back of it. The Bed Intruder van was also hysterical. Oh, and if you thought “Spit don’t swallow” on Van #1 was dirty, we saw plenty of vans with slogans that were way worse than ours (“My wife is doing my third leg” and “It’s too late to pull out” to name a few). That’s Hood to Coast for ya folks!

Since we had to follow the course for our second chunk of downtime, we got to cheer on a few of the girls from Van #1. We blasted Taylor Swift for Hannah, sang Ke$ha a capella for Mallory, and blew our duck quackers like crazy from the side of the road. Oh, and did I mention the now sun-soaked Oregon countryside is GORGEOUS!?!1239575_10151604681407467_1540288286_nI also loved this section because we had no cell service for over eight hours. It felt amazing to be able to unplug and take it all in. Every second of it. It also sparked the #tweetsfromwhenwehadnoservice hashtag. What can you expect from a bunch of bloggers without internet?

And then….the real traffic set it.

Leg 32 – 4.09 (Finish Time: 27:40, 6:42/mi)

Leg32

To make it to my last exchange on time to catch Meghan, I had to hop out of the van and run a half mile or so with Lisa. The quick jog was a blessing in disguise because I got to shake out and warm up my tired legs. Lisa also offered some wonderful words of encouragement that stuck with me for the whole run. This inspiring mother runner is a saint, that’s all I need to say.

I wanted to leave everything I had left out on the road for that final leg. My legs definitely felt the first two runs, but I tried to dig down and hold my pace as long as I could, soaking up every second. For the last time, my van pulled up beside me, this time blasting Justin Timberlake. Ahh, it made the run. Team Watermelon #Van 2 = My heroes.

I pushed it up one last insult of a hill toward the exchange, and with that, my three checkboxes were filled. The moment was incredibly bittersweet, rewarding, but sad. The race was almost over.

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For the final four legs, the name of the game was hurry up and wait. Traffic made getting to each exchange on time even harder, but our ever-patient driver Casey handled it all with skill. The warm sun was out now in full force, and Laura, Lindsay, and Lisa absolutely crushed their legs. We all squealed with excitement when we saw the Pacific Ocean peaking out from between the mountains.

1234842_10151604681882467_1212920787_nOnce Devon set off on Leg 36 screaming down the mountain toward the beach (left), our drive became a mad dash to the finish. Casey’s patience finally (and hysterically!) broke while we inched down the road to the shore. When we arrived, we all hopped out and sprinted through to the finish in time to meet Devon who had just crossed the line. We had made it.

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Ending our 200-mile journey on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, toes in the sand with a cold beer in hand, was perfect. I think it’s safe to say that we all took in every second of it, appreciating the significance of what we’d just accomplished and experienced together. Though we came from all over the country, here we all were watching the sunset over the ocean and the fireworks later that night together, not as strangers, but close friends. It was hard to believe that just a few days earlier, we were struggling to even remember each other’s names.

This relay encapsulated so many of the reasons I love running. We might’ve come from different backgrounds, but running unified us. It didn’t matter that our ages, abilities, lifestyles and goals weren’t the same. We’re all runners and that’s what mattered. We got to explore the Pacific Northwest on foot, which was even cooler than the Duck Boat tour through Seattle. We got to meet our online running community IRL (a term that Mason learned means “in real life”). I thought the girls were inspring enough through their blogs and social media, but they’re even more amazing in person (not that that’s surprising!). It makes me so happy that I can now call them my friends, not just my “twitter friends.” Running is usually considered an individual sport, but relays like Hood to Coast elevate what we do to another level with greater meaning. We couldn’t have done what we did without the tireless effort from every member on the team, gutting it out in our sparkle skirts from the first leg to the last. Again, I can’t thank everyone at Nuun for making it all happen.

With that, I can only hope that our paths will cross again! I’m SO thankful for the opportunity and yes, for social media that’ll keep us all connected until that day comes!

Here are more photos from the race:

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Want to read about my pre-race adventures in Seattle? Check out Part I of my Hood to Coast Race Report.

#HeardInVan2: “I feel like f-ing David Copperfield!” – @devonamills

“I can’t justify paying for chocolate.” – @shoenerd13

“Use your indoor duck!” – @devonamills