Operation Get Speedy

(Source: Pinterest)

(Source: Pinterest)

Have you ever noticed, after telling someone how your race went- whether it was good or bad- the immediate follow-up question is, “So, when’s your next race/marathon?”

Maybe this is just the result of my environment – Runner’s World – and the fact that many of my close friends are also runners, but can a girl get a little bit of breathing room?

I recently read a post on our site by Coach Jenny Hadfield about the importance of resting during the off-season. Newsflash runners, we should be taking an off-season between training cycles. As I was training for Marine Corps I was beginning to feel extremely run down, tired, and almost resentful of my decision to run the marathon. I ran my first marathon in April, decided immediately after to run Marine Corps (because it seemed like everyone was doing it), and ended up feeling unmotivated and even injured for almost half of my training.

I also forgot to remind myself that I haven’t been running for that long. I’ve done all of this in less than two years and while I’m grateful and have enjoyed (almost) every mile of it, every runner has a breaking point, right?

So back to that question, “When’s your next race/marathon?” In all honesty, every runner, whether they admit to it or not, has their race schedule planned out at least six months, if not a year or more, ahead of time. I’m no different. But despite many inquiries, I’ve decided to take the spring off from marathoning and focus on the marathon’s sweet little step-cousin, the half-marathon.

At the beginning of my training for Marine Corps I started to get speedy. I’m still so new to running but I’m no novice to the fact that new runners tend to improve quickly- which was what was happening with me. My times were dropping in races and even my easy training runs were getting faster and faster. But then the high mileage of marathon training took its toll and I had to slow down a bit.

But I want that speed back and I want to get even faster, so I figure the half-marathon is a great place to start. With the slightly lower mileage demands, and increased speedwork, I should be warming up those fasttwitch muscles in no time. My plan is to start setting time goals and to stop being afraid of getting out of my pace comfort zone.

The Walt Disney World Half Marathon – January 11

Before I finished Marine Corps I knew I was going to be running Disney through work with our Runner’s World Challenge (we’re sold out now but check it out for next year, it’s awesome). My goal for Disney was to basically use it as a test of my fitness to see where I’m at going into spring and more importantly, break two hours.

Well, that plan was foiled when I actually broke two hours during the second half of MCM, setting a 13.1 PR of 1:59. I’m now going to readjust my plans for Disney to a little more aggressive goal but I’m still mulling it over with my coach. I also am not ready to go into super training mode so I want my training for Disney to be relatively doable but with speedwork and some decent long runs.

The St. Luke’s Half Marathon – April 27

St. Luke’s is going to be my goal spring race. I plan to train aggressively for this during the winter and spring and will set my time goal based on my results at Disney.

The Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon – June 6

Of course I’m going to run our own inaugural RW Heartbreak Hill Half in Newton, Massachusetts! This one will probably be more for fun but will serve as good training for fall race season. The course is challenging but I can’t pass up a chance to run on the fabled Heartbreak Hill

So far, that’s all I’ve got. There might be another half thrown in there but I hope to add in some 10Ks and 5Ks to work on my speed and just get out and run. Then, if everything goes as planned, I’ll be in pretty good fitness for a fall marathon – which one I’ll run is still to be determined!

How far out do you plan your race schedule? Any other races I should consider?

Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon

So happy at mile 18.

So happy at mile 18.

Marathon Magic

Before I ran my first marathon last April at Big Sur, one of my coworkers told me about something she called “marathon magic.” I was freaking out and anxious about the seemingly impending doom that was running 26.2 miles along Highway 1 and I told her I wasn’t feeling good and my legs felt slow and sore. She told me that come race day, undoubtedly, something called “marathon magic” would kick in and all of the pieces would fall into place.

I ended up finishing Big Sur (with some walking) in 4:33:41, not terrible for my first marathon and the challenging course. Leading up to Marine Corps last weekend I was feeling the same way. My left calf muscle had been irritable for weeks, I was starting to come down with a cold, and my hips (which had been fine all throughout training) were feeling oddly sore. I was nervous about my time goal of breaking 4:15, and even more nervous about my secret goal of breaking 4:10, and my “dream big” goal seemed completely out of reach.

But like clock work, come early Sunday morning, when I lined up with my pace group, the “marathon magic” set in. I finished Marine Corps in 4:07:06, a 26 minute, 35 second PR.

Finish200

The Race

I got to the starting line early to get settled into my corral and be there in time to watch the Wounded Warrior Project paratroopers jump from the sky with flags attached to land at the start. It was pretty inspiring to watch them floating through the sky as someone sang the national anthem just outside of Arlington National Cemetery. (Pro tip: if you run MCM get to the start early to see all of this!)

I also wanted to get to the start early because MCM has you self-corral based on what you think you’re finishing time would be. I trained for a 4:15 but decided to line up a little closer to the 4:00 group. The start was very congested and when the howitzer went off to signal the start, it ended up being more of a slow crawl than a run. After about two miles and the first set of hills, the pack thinned out a bit.

My plan going into the race was to focus on 5-mile increments. I typically go on 5-mile runs during lunch so in my mind, breaking 26.2 miles down to 5-mile increments helped (I also fuel every 5 miles). Then I figured I’d give it my all in the last 1.2 miles to go with my mantra – Last mile, strong mile, kick it in.

I was lucky to see my parents really early on in the race around the mile 2 marker, which gave me the surge I needed in the very beginning. My boyfriend had also gone to the start but since there were so many runners, it was tough to find him in the crowd while focusing on not tripping over the runner in front of me.

Once the field thinned out, I focused on staying steady and consistent. I was trying my hardest to run even splits but between the spectators, the inspiring runners running alongside me, the military presence, and my own personal cheer squad, my paces darted around a bit. I joked after that every time I saw my parents or my boyfriend, I ran my fastest miles – I guess I got a little excited.

My cheer squad :)

My cheer squad :)

Takeaways

The race itself is all still a bit of a blur to me. I’m terrible at really breaking down races, mile by mile for recaps but there were some incredible highlights:

  • Seeing my family at the very beginning of the race and then again around mile 18/19.
  • Seeing my boyfriend at mile 10, 16 (he even ran with me a bit then!), and the finish.
  • Seeing Bart Yasso twice and having him yell my name!
  • Running the Run to Remember mile out on Hains Point in honor of fallen veterans.
  • Running alongside those running for their loved ones who have served, are active duty, or who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
  • All of the Marines who were genuinely cheering for all of us. It seemed odd because we really should be the ones cheering for them.
  • Surprising myself and running a huge PR.

The best part about my second marathon, besides my cheer squad, though was being able to run the entire 26.2 without walking and feeling like it was actually comfortable. It makes me wonder, and dream, about what I could do once I get more experience under my belt with the distance. I think the whole “marathon magic” thing happens for different reasons. At Big Sur, the marathon magic came to me because it was my first marathon. At MCM it came because I knew I had my family there cheering me on.

When my co-worker first told me about “marathon magic” I didn’t believe her. After Big Sur, I was still a little cynical about it but MCM confirmed it for me. Marathon magic is real, and I believe it.

Stats

Ran: 26.62 miles in 4:07:06 at 9:17/mile average

Splits:
(1)10:15 (2) 9:40 (3) 9:38 (4) 9:05 (5) 9:26 (6) 9:00 (7) 9:23 (8) 9:28 (9) 9:11 (10) 9:00

(11) 9:07 (12) 8:56 (13) 9:02 (14) 9:12 (15) 9:08 (16) 9:15 (17) 9:09 (18) 9:18 (19) 9:13

(20) 9:26 (21) 9:05 (22) 9:14 (23) 9:12 (24) 9:12 (25) 9:39 (26) 9:34 (27) 5:28 (for 0.60)

Race Recap: Runner’s World Half Marathon

Half-with-Ashley500Last weekend I ran my third half marathon at our very own Runner’s World Half & Fesitval in Bethlehem, PA. I had zero plan going into race day other than using the 13.1 miles as a final long run heading into Marine Corps Marathon week.

When I say I had zero plan, what I really mean is my plan was to keep it easy. It’s really hard to do that though in a race. Had I been out on my normal training run, keeping it easy is no problem, enjoyable even. But in a race, with people to pass and pacers to keep behind you, it’s tough. Add a Runner’s World singlet to that and it feels impossible.

Luckily, I was able to hook up with Ashley before the start and we had talked about running together. She also wanted to take it easy since she was on her final race of the Hat Trick (5K, 10K, and half) so we ran the entire thing together.

We stopped a few times to walk and took a pee break. Ashley got some speed work in when she chased after a guy who made fun of us for walking, saying “it might as well be called Walker’s World.” But other than that, I thought the half was really enjoyable.

The course is tough, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s impossible to find an “easy, flat” course in the Lehigh Valley. It’s a valley. There are hills. But hills definitely make you stronger and running up and down them gave me the confidence boost I needed going into MCM.

One thing I took away though is that I really do like the half marathon distance. Like I said before, this was only my third half so I don’t have a ton of experience with them but I really think it could be a good starting point for me to start focusing on speed. It’s a manageable enough amount of miles to be able to come up with a solid race plan- I’m definitely not there yet with the marathon. But with a half, I can focus on my speed without dealing with the breakdown that comes with the territory of training for a marathon.

I’m feeling good going into Marine Corps but I think I need a break after. Running at the RW Half this weekend really made me realize I should try to focus on gaining speed after MCM to PR in the half which will eventually help me get better at marathons so I can one day reach my “dream big” goal.

Did you ever have to re-assess your running plans to focus on a larger goal?

A Tale of Two Races

Pain face vs. Strong face

Pain face vs. Strong face

A couple weeks ago I ran my anniversary race at the York Beach Four on the Fourth, a 4-miler. This was my very first race ever so I knew I had to go back this year and run it again.

Since it was the week before my marathon training for Marine Corps would begin, I decided not to race it but rather to have fun. I would be running it with two of my cousins, my friend, and my uncle so I just wanted to enjoy it with them. Well, that lasted all of an hour and a half because when I got to the starting line I knew I wanted to run, and run hard.

The Race

I ran the Four on the Fourth last year in 37:16, an average pace of 9:19/mile, not too bad for a newbie runner. This year I knew I wanted to set a PR but I had a secret goal of beating my cousin. She’s been my running buddy since I started but she’s always been faster than me. I’ve finally caught up to her pace so I thought I’d make a go of it.

On race day, it was already 80 degrees when we got to the starting line with 76 percent humidity. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so I knew the final 2 miles, which run along the ocean, of the race would be tough because we’d have direct sunlight.

When I turned onto the shore road the thought of DNFing crossed my mind more than once. I swear I had a stream of curse words flowing through my mind the entire time. I couldn’t cool my head down at all. People had sprinklers set up along the road but every time I ran through the icy cold water, I felt my muscle seize up. During the quarter-mile, my mom saw me said she thought I was going to pass out, which I nearly did at the finish. I had to get out of my head and focus on the goal- the finish line.

I ended up beating my cousin, by more than a minute, and setting a 2-minute PR, so all the pain of racing in the heat was worth it. Right?

4 on the Fourth

Post-race happy faces, kind of.

The Run

A week later I ran the Lehigh Valley Summer Series 5K, a free race series in one of the local parks. I wanted to run this but since it was during the first week of MCM training I knew it would be smartest to take it easy. The conditions were less than ideal for a race, 86 degrees and super humid, so that also made the decision to just run for fun easier.

I set out running with Erica (of Erica Sara Designs, check out her stuff, it’s amazing) and was feeling pretty good. My legs felt fresh and although it was extremely hot and at the time I was just thinking about the finish line and the huge pile of watermelon waiting, I really enjoyed running the 5K.

The Point?

I didn’t set a 5K PR and I didn’t cry about it. I had fun. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun at the Four on the Fourth. That was a different kind of masochistic fun. At the same time, it probably wasn’t smart to run that hard during the heat, especially when I didn’t come close to my fastest 4-mile time (done on a training run).

What I’m saying is you don’t have to PR or beat a friend or have the best race of your life to have fun at a race. Not every race is going to a PR but that doesn’t mean you didn’t learn something from it. Sometimes too, when you take the pressure off you’ll run even better. No one can complain about setting a new PR (except maybe your legs for putting them through hell) but sometimes running a race just for fun can reaffirm your reason to run.

Have you ever run a race just for fun? 

Mantra Me that PR

My own personal pacer, Megan, and me postrace.

My own personal pacer, Megan, and me postrace.

I set a 5K PR today and I have my new running mantra to thank.

On Thursday, I set out for my usual 5-mile lunchtime loop run. I had done intervals the day before and wanted to take it easy to prep for my race this weekend, a 5K. So, I started the run around 9:04/mile pace and I was feeling pretty good.

It was an overcast day and it was one of those runs where I was able to just let my mind wander, not worry about the work waiting for me when I got back, and just enjoy the miles. My second mile pace dropped down to 8:37. Huh. I guess I’m feeling pretty good, I thought. I decided to try to just maintain the 8:30ish pace for the remainder of the run and finish feeling good and fresh for my race.

Third mile: 8:34/mile. Ok, not too far off the previous one but getting faster and still feeling good. Fourth mile: 8:24/mile. This mile gave me pause because I thought I was on my way to a pretty solid progression run so at that point I set the intention to finish strong and fast (hoping for a 7:?? for my fifth mile).

This is when I came up with my new run mantra- “Last mile, strong mile. Kick it in.”

I wanted the 7:?? For my last mile. I really wanted it. So I channeled my inner Mary Cain, known for her incredible final kick, and kicked it in… “Last mile, strong mile. Kick it in.”

When I finally went in for the last 200m of my run and heard the beep of my Garmin for mile 5, I looked down at my watch- 7:45/mile.

I was really proud of myself after this run and it truly taught me the importance of having a mantra that you can fall back on to help you kick it in during that last hard mile.

Saucon to Boston 5K

So today when I went to run the Saucon to Boston 5K, I told myself, if it starts to feel too hard and I’m beginning to feel too uncomfortable I’ll just remind myself of my mantra. Well, I used it today and it worked.

I went to the race with Megan and Kelsey. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with this race. It was local, we signed up last-minute, and it was very small but it meant a lot to me to be able to do a run dedicated to Boston and the victims of the bombings. It was a beautiful morning, a little warmer than I would’ve liked, but it just felt great to get outside with friends and the local running community.

We did an easy warmup mile and Megan told me if I wanted to PR she would pace me for the race. Secretly, I really wanted to set a new PR but I hadn’t really done my normal race day prep so I wasn’t sure if my body would cooperate. I was feeling pretty good on our warmup so I told Megan I was all in, let’s set this PR.

My previous 5K PR was set at the Boston Marathon B.A.A. 5K on April 14, the day before the Boston Marathon. My time there was 25:23, a 5K PR by more than 2 minutes. I knew my next PR wouldn’t be that big this time, but I really wanted to break the 25-minute mark.

Race Time

This was a no-frills race- no chip time, about 100 people, no corrals- but I almost like those races better than the bigger ones. We lined up kind of close to the start and when the gun went off, Megan and I set off, dodging running strollers, people running with dogs, and little kids. Despite the obstacles, we were able to get into a break and ran the first mile in 7:56.

I wasn’t feeling 100 percent, my breathing was heavy, and my arms kept creeping up instead of staying in the optimal 90 degree position. But Megan, being the awesome pacer she was, kept reminding me to take a deep breathe and relax my arms. She said we’d run the next mile a little easier since we got a bit too excited at the start.

This was an out-and-back course on a gravel rail trail so when the turnaround point was in sight I could feel my body settle in- this is it. We kept trying to pick people off and Megan continued to remind me to keep my arms relaxed and ease my breathing. It all helped but by mile 3, I was starting to enter the pain zone. I had yet to look at my watch, I didn’t want to know where we were in the race or what my pace was, but at 2.58 miles, an 800 to go, I looked and saw we were on pace to PR. Megan yelled at me for looking but I feel like that’s when I was able to kick it into gear. I didn’t feel great but I reminded myself of my mantra: “Last mile, strong mile. Kick it in.”

The finish line was in sight and Megan turned to me and told me to open up my stride and that it was “balls to the wall here on out.” I did as I was told and gunned it to the finish coming in at 24:59, squeaking just under my goal of breaking 25-minutes. I was ecstatic and so proud of myself! Was it fun? No, not really, I felt like crap most of the time. But I did it, thanks to Megan and my mantra.

Thumbs up for PRs!

Thumbs up for PRs!

Postrace

We walked through the finishing chute grabbed our waters and went to pick up our shirts. Not too long after Kelsey joined us. She set a PR too of 25:50, nearly a 3-minute PR! Her race strategy was the keep us in sight for as long as she could, and it clearly worked.

I never knew the benefit of having a mantra because I never had my own. I tried to use other people’s mantras but I truly believe a mantra is something that can only be manifested on a really tough run. Mantras are so deeply personal in that respect, but I think that’s why they work, right? “Last mile, strong mile. Kick it in.”

What is your running mantra and how has it helped you?

Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day 10-K Race Recap

Post race celebrations with Paige and Lindsey!

Post race celebrations with Paige and Lindsey!

Last weekend I ventured back to Massachusetts to run the infamous Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Road Race, a 10-K in the small western Massachusetts city known to have the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the country (this is no joke).

I registered for the race with a group of my best friends from home, which included my cousin (and faithful running buddy) Paige, my other running buddy Lindsey, another friend Lindsay, and Paige and Lindsay’s’ boyfriends, Johnny and John. No, we never get confused with all the common names.

Anyway, we all had very different goals going into this 10-K. Paige, Lindsey and myself are all training for marathons and had a long 17-miler on the schedule for the day after the race. Lindsay is training for her first half and was using this as a training run. John was trying to PR and go for a sub-50 10-K which he blew out of the water with a 46-minute finish. And Johnny just joined in for fun and beat all the girls.

Because I had a long run to do the next day I made myself promise not to race this road race. That last all of a mile and a half before I got way too excited and wanted to run faster.

The race began at 1:00 p.m., which was the latest start time I’ve ever experienced and made fueling beforehand difficult. We got to the start early because there were 7,000 people registered to run (just under 6,000 actually crossed the finish) so we wanted to ensure we’d have time to park and get to our corral.

We didn’t even know there would be corrals until we got there and made the joint decision to jump in the 8:00/mile section. The corral was packed and there was hardly enough room for me to sync my Garmin, let alone tie a shoe or stretch. But this helped because it was a cold, windy day so body heat was welcomed.

The race itself went really well. The course was pretty hilly, with the first major hill coming at mile 2, followed by a stretch of rolling hills until about mile 4. A huge downhill came just around 4.5 miles and it was a great opportunity for runners to kick up the pace and eat some time. I came running down the hill at 7:40/mile pace.

Overall the race was well organized and I thought the course was great. The people of Holyoke came out in droves and provided excellent spectator support along the entire route, which really helped to power runners up the hills. I think it would have been great if the race organizers provided an elevation chart prior to the race so runners could know where the hills were to better strategize how they were going to handle the course but I couldn’t find any so I just had to wing it.

My official time came in at 53:55, an 8:34/mile average. Splits:

Mile 1 – 9:14/mile
Mile 2 – 9:22/mile
Mile 3 – 8:55/mile
Mile 4 – 8:42/mile
Mile 5 – 7:41/mile
Mile 6 – 7:56/mile
Mile 7 – 2:03/mile (for 0.28)

I think, had I intended to actually race the course and planned out a strategy, I could have done better but this is a hard race to race if you’re not at the front of the pack. The first two miles were slow because the field was so congested. I think the hills split up the field a bit which helped but the beginning definitely hurts times for runners not at the front.

Despite some minor changes, I would absolutely run this race again, especially given the same company I had during and after the race. There’s a huge block party following the race and being able to spend the time with my friends was the icing on the cake!

A prerace photo with my friends before the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day 10-K!

A prerace photo with my friends before the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day 10-K!

Walt Disney World Half-Marathon Race Recap

Last Saturday I ran the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon and shocked myself with a huge PR! I went into this race thinking I’d just run it and take it easy- I’d be happy with whatever finish time I got. But at a certain point in the race, I knew I was on track to set a big PR so I decided (literally mid-race) to start racing.

I was put in corral B and lined up with Megan and Cait, two of my speedy Runner’s World co-workers, and we all had on our matching Runner’s World singlets. They were doing the Goofy Challenge (running the half and the full the next day) so they said they were going to take it easy during the half, which meant they would run at my pace (#slowpokediaries).

Disney Singlet pic

Cait, Megan and I before the race started (at about 4 a.m.)

We were right next to the 2:00 pacer but soon realized he was actually going much faster than he was supposed to.  Some of our other coworkers, Robert, Jeff, Mark and Chris, who were a little farther back in the corral, caught up to us and promptly zoomed by because they were taking it easy too- which meant 7:38 pace for them.

I forget exactly when Megan and Cait got away from me but it was somewhere around 5 miles. I was fine with this though because I really didn’t want to push it too hard or hold them back. However, it was also around this point when I realized I was pretty far ahead of the 2:00 pacer. This is when I decided to kick it up.

Looking back this was probably the worst time to kick it up because we were about the enter the Magic Kingdom where the course would narrow down from a four-lane highway to a three-abreast road, but we all make mistakes- especially in races. I did a lot of weaving and dodging going through the park but I have to admit it was pretty cool to run through it and see all of the characters.

Running through the Magic Kingdom got me really pumped and my pace reflected that- I was running 8:50’s which is a bit quick for a half for me. But once we left the park we were back to the highway and back to boredom and I also saw the 2:00 pacer get ahead of me.

I honestly really hated the highway portions of the half, which unfortunately was the majority of the course I think. The highways were pretty bare except for the water stops and some marching bands along the way. Also, the on-ramps killed me because the contour of the ramp was really hard on my hips.

I tried not to look at my watch during the race because I wanted to run at a pace that felt comfortable, not at a pace that would predict an ideal finish time but around mile 11, just before a huge on-ramp, I checked and saw that I was doing much better than I anticipated. However, at this point the sun was starting to come over the trees and it was getting HOT.

This last on-ramp killed me. After running on a flat course for the majority of a race and then hitting a quarter mile on-ramp with a tough contour, I was exhausted. I just wanted to be done. But I knew I was so close, I could hear the announcer yelling out finisher’s names so I decided to push.

The course had us run around the big space ball at Epcot and come in for the home stretch. I glanced at my watch to see the distance and it read 13.08 but the finish line seemed so far away. Nevertheless, I pushed through the pain in my legs and my possibly dehydrated self and crossed the finish line in 2:02:22- a HUGE 17-minute PR! I really thought I was going to go sub-2 (and my Garmin said I ran 13.28 miles so I probably did go sub-2 for 13.1) but I was so ecstatic!

As soon as I crossed I was delirious and tired and just wanted water. I got my medal and made it back to the race retreat somehow where I was greeted by all of my coworkers with congratulations.

Finished!

Finished!

I learned a lot from this race that I didn’t expect going into it.

  • This was not a goal race for me by any means but I knew I’d do better than my first half but I honestly didn’t expect to PR by that much.
  •  I knew the course was going to be pretty flat, which to me meant it would be fast, but it ended up being really hard on my legs. I couldn’t believe how tired they were after the finish.
  • I was nervous because I didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before (race started at 5:30 a.m. and I had to be on the bus to the race retreat at 3 a.m.- i.e. 2:30 a.m. wake up) but I don’t think it effected my running too much.
  • I wish I hadn’t been on my feet the Thursday and Friday before the race but I was working so there wasn’t much I could do about that.
  • I thought the heat was going to be hard but really it was the humidity that killed it. I have been used to running in the northeast so suddenly running in completely different weather conditions was a shock.
  • I ran in new running apparel, which is usually a bad idea, but I had to wear my awesome Runner’s World singlet and now, I will forever think of it as lucky.

I know this is a super long recap (and I usually hate race recaps like this) but I think this race deserved it. The Disney Half-Marathon was a great race and although it would have been amazing to run sub-2, I am really, really happy with the outcome!

Final stats:

13.28 miles in 2:02:22

9:11 average pace

1585 calories

Did you run at the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend? If so, how did it go?

Registered for my second half marathon!

Exciting announcement folks! I have registered for my second half marathon! Literally before I even crossed the finish line at the Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon I kept thinking, I cannot wait to sign up for another 13.1. Well, as of yesterday morning I am registered for the St. Luke’s Half Marathon in Allentown, PA on April 28.

I’ve heard really good things about this race already. For one, it is in the town next to me so it will be really nice to not have to travel far for a race. Also, it’s a scenic course through some of Allentown’s parks. The race is about medium sized with a 4,000 runner limit and has a course time limit of 3 hours so it should be pretty competitive.

Why did I sign up? Well, I’ve come up with a semi-informal race schedule for 2013 that will (hopefully!) end in a full marathon in the fall. My plan is to first work on some speed by training for a sub-50 minute 10K, which I’ll run in January. Then, I want to run two half marathons in the spring/early summer before I start training for a full.

I realize this is a little bit ambitious but if all goes as planned I know I’ll be able to have the endurance to run a full marathon and with any luck I’ll lower my half marathon time. While the St. Luke’s Half Marathon is about six months away, the 14-week training plan, designed by Runner’s World’s own Chief Running Officer, Bart Yasso, begins on January 19- the weekend after my 10K (perfect timing, right?). So for now, I’ll focus on my 10K training until it’s time to ramp up for the half!

Have you been thinking about your 2013 race schedule? What’s your running goal?

Race Recap: Cambridge Oktoberfest 5K and a new PR!

This past weekend was absolutely fantastic! I was able to see my Dad play for his acoustic duo (probably the last time I’ll see him play for awhile), I had a great going-away dinner with my entire family and my closest friends and on Sunday I PR’d at the Cambridge Oktoberfest 5Kand ran the race with some of my best friends! I don’t think it can get much better than that.

I registered for the 5K sometime during the summer and hadn’t really been focusing on it at all because I had been focusing so much on the half marathon. However, last week I did a little speed work to prep for the race and was feeling pretty good about the race. I was also looking forward to it because I was going to run it with my cousin Paige and my friend Lindsay who had both run it last year and said it was a blast!

I stayed over my friend’s apartment the night before the race to spend some time with her and be closer to where the race was actually taking place. I was pretty disappointed when I woke up however because it was cloudy and raining- I swear, every single race I run has been in the rain, I’m over it. But I got dressed, had a slice of toast, put on my hoodie and we were off.

Pre-race shot of myself at the finish line!

We met up with Paige, Lindsay and their boyfriends at the starting line outside of Cambridge Brewing Company, who was sponsoring the race, in Cambridge, Mass. We had quite some time before the race started so we took a bunch of pictures and did some dynamic stretching to get ready.

Around 9:45 a.m. we started to head over to the start line, which was about a quarter of a mile away from where the race would finish. Paige really wanted to line up at the front of the pack because she didn’t want to get lost in the sea of runners. I thought this would probably be a terrible idea because although we’re good runners, we’re not THAT good and I thought we’d be trampled. Lucky for us, when the gun went off, we were able to get out front and keep a really solid, fast pace for the beginning of the race.

I was SO disappointed my Garmin didn’t find a signal in time for the start but Paige was tracking the course on her iPod nano so we knew we’d have the most accurate times. Lindsay and I kept pace with Paige and her boyfriend for the first mile but they’re much faster than us so we lost them after that. Lindsay’s boyfriend was trying to PR with a time under 21 minutes so he was long gone ahead of us too.

I forget exactly when I lost Lindsay but she was dealing with a pretty bad stomach cramp and had to slow down a bit. I was feeling really good however and thought I had some extra energy to kick it up. As I came to the 2 mile marker I was feeling great and I knew I was going at a pretty good pace. My legs felt fresh and my breathing was steady.

When I passed the 3-mile mark the timer read 26:32 and I could not believe it! My last 5k I ran in 28:09 so I was going much faster for this one. Then something weird happened, the last leg of the race, which should have been .1 miles seemed like it went on forever! When I finally crossed the finish line the timer read 27:32- this is arguable still a huge PR for me but I was dying to get 26:??. I was still extremely proud of myself and at that point I was just focused on finding Paige and the two boyfriends while we waited for Lindsay to cross.

When I finally found them in the sea of runners Paige told me her watch said the course was actually 5.58 kilometers which we clocked out to be roughly 3.5 miles. I don’t know exactly how much time off that would mean to get my 3.1 mile time but it is most certainly in the 26:??-area!! I was on cloud 9 at this point and was ready for the much-talked-about Oktoberfest after party.

We met up with Lindsay and all went to claim our complimentary beers. The race coordinators were blasting some German techno music and even though we had zero idea what the lyrics were, we had a blast dancing in the streets with all of the runners. There was a dance off and Lindsay and I even took part in an impromtu limbo contest- it was awesome!

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After the race we grabbed a bite to eat at the Cambridge Brewing Company and drank some much needed waters. After lunch I said goodbye to Lindsay and Paige, arguably the worst part of my weekend because I knew I wouldn’t be seeing them for a very long time but it was definitely the best way to spend my last weekend with them!

Overall the weekend was amazing- an unexpected huge PR, fun times with my friends and family- doesn’t get much better than that!

Have you ever had a completely unexpected PR? Tell me about it in the comments section below!

Hampton Rockfest Half Marathon race recap

After months of training, the race day finally came last Sunday and I ran my very first half marathon. I feel like I have so, so much to share about the experience of running this half that it frankly will not fit into one post. Therefore, I’m going to break it up into two- a race recap (this one!) and then a lessons learned reflection.

For those of you who have been following my running escapades over the last eight-ish months, you know where I started- a couch to 5k program last March. Before starting this program, I could barely run a mile and the only running I ever did was for sports in high school. But for some reason, I decided I needed to start, so I started slowly. Before I knew it I was running more than 3.1 miles and my cousin, Paige, convinced me in June to register for a half marathon with her- the Hampton Rockfest Half Marathon. At this point, the most I had ever run was just under 6 miles, but we were both convinced we’d have plenty of time to train in the four months before the half.

Turns out we had plenty of time and before we knew it we were running even more than 13.1 miles on our weekend long runs! All of our hard work and dedicated training finally came to fruition this past Sunday when we crossed the finish line on Hampton Beach.

We planned out our weekend accordingly. Because we would have to travel to New Hampshire for the race, I stayed over Paige’s apartment on the North Shore (of Massachusetts) with our friend Lindsey, who was also running with us. This would be the first half for Paige and myself but Lindsey had run a few before. Once we were all settled in at Paige’s we decided to head up to NH to pick up our bib numbers so we wouldn’t have to deal with picking them up before the race. Turns out, that was a great decision and the packet pickup was also super easy.

My lovely number after the packet pickup.

We came home after and made a delish baked ziti, drank one glass of red wine each to calm the nerves and watched a few episodes of some trashy reality television before heading to bed at 10:30 p.m. Of course, I had a hard time falling asleep because I was thinking about what was about to go down the next day but eventually I fell asleep and woke up to my alarm blaring at 5 a.m. After making our breakfast and fueling up on coffee, we headed out of the house by 6 a.m. to get to the race with enough time to spare.

We arrived at the race around 7:15 and spent most of the time before the race waiting in line for the port-a-potty. When we were all set and warmed up, we headed to the start line. I couldn’t believe how many runners there were (more than 5,000!) and the start line was a little claustrophobic because of it, but the mass of bodies helped to keep us warm.

Awkward pre-race selfie at the start line.

That was the other problem. I think we may have had the WORST weather ever with temperatures in the low 50s and a steady, cold rain falling the entire time. Needless to say, after I crossed the finish line and stopped moving I was a frozen popsicle.

The race itself was pretty amazing and the course was pretty easy. It started off with a roughly 1-mile loop around the corner which crossed back over the start line. This was great because we were able to run through the crowd of spectators for a second time. The course then traveled down the beach road for about 2 miles before it cut off into the neighborhoods of Hampton, NH. This was kind of weird because we were literally running through residential neighborhoods and for awhile there were hardly any spectators which was not fun. However, because there were so many runners, the morale along the course was really high and we were even able to talk to a bunch of other runners along the route.

We had decided at mile 7 we would pick up our first cups of water and take our gels. This proved to be a little more difficult than we had anticipated because the water station was so crowded and some runners kept stopping before we could get to the water. Water in hand, we took off, ripping our gels open and refueling. After taking the gels I definitely had some fresh energy and felt great. However, some point right after mile 7 I got lost in the pack and Paige and Lindsey went on ahead. This was ok for me though because I knew they were going to speed off eventually (they are a lot faster than me) but I felt good at my pace and wanted to maintain it.

The last few miles went pretty smoothly. The course was extremely flat except for a moderately steep hill around mile 9, but once I got to the top of the hill I had a breathtaking view of the ocean and could almost make out the finish line down on the beach. I felt really good at this point but had to take it easy going down the hill because the pavement had gotten SO slippery because of the rain.

As I crossed into mile 11 I heard someone screaming my name and saw my parents jumping up and down on the side of the road. I knew they were going to be there but I wasn’t sure where they would be along the route because it wasn’t super well-routed for spectators. It was incredible to see them though and it gave me the extra encouragement I needed to blast to the finish line. With two miles left, my legs were started to feel crampy and heavy, mostly because of the cold. My hands were also freezing so I kept having to shake them to try to keep them warm. But overall, the last two miles were fantastic. With about a half mile left, the spectator crowd got thicker and I saw my parents again screaming my name. As I pushed hard to get across the finish line and pass a few more people I started to get emotional because I honestly could not believe I had done it! I crossed the finish line at 2:18:09 (not my best but the weather definitely took a toll) and someone placed a medal around my neck and I was ecstatic!

Finisher’s medal!

After finding my parents, I was walking around to find water and I heard two people call out my name and all of a sudden I was embraced by my two best friends Sydney and Angela! They had come all the way up to NH from Boston to see me cross the finish line. I’m getting emotional now as I write this because I was just so happy that they had come out to see me. They’ve been with me this whole time and have even wondered if I was going a little overboard with running but have been supportive no matter what. It meant so much to me that they were there.

At the finish line with my mom, and two best friends, Angela and Sydney!

Unfortunately because it was so cold and Paige, Lindsey and I were soaking wet, we didn’t want to stay around too much for the race after-party so we decided to all go out to lunch somewhere warm. I’ll talk more about the lessons learned in another post but overall the half was an amazing experience and the first thought I had after crossing the finish line: I can’t wait to do it again!