A Week of Running Firsts

The final hill of the 2015 Jacobsburg 5 & 10-mile Trail Race.

The final hill of the 2015 Jacobsburg 5 & 10-mile Trail Race.

Last week was a week of running firsts.

I ran my first trail race, first track race, and first mile race. (The track and mile first were the same race, obvi.)

There’s something so exciting about doing something for the first time. You’re anxiously nervous, you don’t know what to expect, and conversely you don’t know what goals to set.

I tend to be very conservative in my goal setting. Setting a much-too-lofty goal increases the risk of failure. But setting a goal too shallow can leave you wondering what could have been.

I had two goals for these races. For the trail race, there was a 5-mile and 10-mile option. I registered for the 5-mile because I thought it would be a good starting point for a trail race. I knew the race was going to be much slower than my regular 5-mile time (which took some getting used to) but I chose to not look at my watch and just run by feel. I also wanted to finish the race not hating trails.

The race turned out to be a really fun adventure. I say adventure because: 1. I had no idea where I was going most of the time, 2. It was beautiful, and 3. I came in third female overall, which was fun!

More than anything I was happy to finish the trail race not hating racing on trails which was my ultimate goal.

Finishing time at the LV Mile Series.

Finishing time at the LV Mile Series.

Just five days later I had another race on tap—a mile on the track, a.k.a. the exact opposite of a trail race. This was going to be the first time I’ve ever raced a mile (in fact my first all-out mile effort ever) and my first time racing on a track. To say I was nervous heading into the race would be the understatement of the year. I think all of my coworkers at Runner’s World were absolutely sick of hearing my angsting all week leading up to the race. (Sorry!)

The angst didn’t stop until the gun went off on Friday evening. Luckily, I work with some pretty experienced runners who helped answer all of my questions like: how should I fuel for a nighttime race? How do I pass on a track? How should I pace each lap? Will I poop myself? So, going into the race I felt pretty confident with all the knowledge I had picked up over the week but that didn’t make me any less nervous.

I raced in an open heat that was comprised of all abilities, ages, and both male and female runners. My goal was to run a 6:40 mile so I knew if I could manage even splits of 1:40 per quarter, I’d be set.

I went out too fast in the first quarter, which was to be expected and ran a 1:35. I reined it in a bit for the second quarter and ran about a 1:37ish. I don’t really remember the third quarter (also to be expected) and before I knew it I was on the fourth quarter with the single goal to catch the girl a few steps ahead of me. I caught her on the final straightaway and crossed the line in 6:40 on the nose.*

I was pretty pleased with my time because I hit the goal I set at the start but I don’t think 10 minutes passed before I started analyzing my race and feeling like I could have run much faster.

Luckily, the mile races are part of a series this summer in the Lehigh Valley so now that I have a baseline I can refocus for next time.

So trail race vs. track race? I’d choose track. While the trail race was relaxed and a great community event, I liked the speed of the track and the excitement (OK, nerves) leading up to it. Since I’ve started focusing on shorter distances I’ve become a bigger fan of speed over distance. I like challenging myself to get faster and it’s just so different from distance. Plus, sometimes different is better!

*All of my splits and finish time were based off of my watch. My chip time got messed up so the race website was a little off my actual finish time.

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St. Luke’s Half Marathon & 5K

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I’m not one to bury the lead so I’m happy to say I set a new 5K PR by running 22:37 at the St. Luke’s 5K!

This was the first time I’ve run sub-23:00 and I broke my previous PR by about 30 seconds. I am so incredibly ecstatic to have finally broken through what seemed like a barrier for the past couple races and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

The race itself was really solid. I ran the half marathon last year and didn’t have such a good time but the 5K was perfect. In hilly Pennsylvania, the St. Luke’s 5K is known to be a fast course. I knew it started with a pretty significant downhill, followed by rollers on the out-and-back course, and finished with a slight (kind of steep but short) uphill before dumping runners onto a track where you run about 300 meters into the finish line.

I got to the race with not a whole lot of time to spare but began my warm-up immediately with a few loops around the block near the finish line. I only managed to do about three strides before heading over to the starting area but I wanted to make sure I’d be able to line up closer to the front so I felt that was enough.

I might have been a bit ambitious with my self-seeding but it’s always tough to gauge, especially when there’s a significant amount of younger kids running the race. Regardless, I decided it would be better to get closer to the front than to get jammed up in the middle.

Instead of getting nervous before this race I decided to take a Shalane Flanagan approach to my racing and just go balls to the wall from the beginning. I figured if I blew up later on, at least I tried. My mantra for this one was the same as Shalane’s—f–k shit up.

When the starting gun went off, I did just that and raced down the downhill letting my legs take me at whatever speed they felt was right. Turns out racing a downhill at the very start of a race is hard. With all the excitement and adrenaline pumping I felt almost as if my legs were getting ahead of me but I tried to keep up as much as possible. Once the road flattened out a bit, I reined it in and settled into a steady pace.

I decided again not to use my watch during this race. I feel like this helps me focus on how I’m really feeling instead of worrying about pace. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing this every 5K I race but I really like the feeling of tuning into my body and listening to what it’s telling me instead of what my GPS says.

I kept a steady pace until the turnaround when I decided to try to pick it up a bit. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to pick off a few runners on some of the rollers. Hills are usually not my specialty but I think I’ve gotten strong enough where I can really charge up them.

By the time I passed the 2-mile marker on the out-and-back the half marathoners had begun their race and were coming towards the 5Kers. This was a bit tough because it really squeezed the 5K into almost a single file lane, which made any passing or surges hard. Soon enough though the course took us up the final hill and onto the track. At this point, Adam—who was volunteering in the medical tent—was waiting at the top with the rest of the St. Luke’s medical volunteers and I started hearing them cheer my name which gave me a boost of energy for the final trek around the track. I tried for one last surge and as I was coming up on the finish I saw the race clock and knew I was going to break 23 minutes.

I crossed the line at 22:35 (although the official results list me at 22:37) and was thrilled with my time! I feel like breaking 23 minutes has remained elusive to me in the past two 5Ks I’ve done. It always felt in reach but either conditions weren’t great or something was off and it didn’t happen but today it felt easy. Yes, I said easy. I know I had more left in the tank and I know I probably could have run even faster. I still need to practice on getting uncomfortable in the 5K. I think I’m still a little hesitant to reach that point but I know once I do, I’ll be able to really see some improvement.

Big Hearts Bright Hope 5K

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I won—yes, outright won—a local 5K. WHUT. Here’s the story.

As many of you know, I’ve been training for 5Ks lately. It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience and so far, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done more speed workouts than ever before and my average pace per run has dropped significantly.

The thing I like about training for 5Ks is I’ve been training for a season as opposed to training for a goal race. I actually really like this because it takes the pressure off of one day and one race.

I raced a 5K a few weeks ago (and completely neglected to post about it–sorry!) and was pretty disappointed I didn’t automatically snag a new PR. I came close, but didn’t get it. It was a cold, windy day and I was pretty nervous–like marathon nervous–to start. I ran even splits and my legs felt great but my breathing was way off. I ended up placing third in my age group, which was great, but I wanted more.

Two weeks ago I ran my second 5K race of the season. The weather wasn’t ideal, steady winds at 16-20mph with gusts of 25+ mph. (Wind is my nemesis when it comes to running weather.) Right off the bat I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a PR race. I decided to run sans watch because I knew if I kept checking my pace I’d just get disappointed.

The race started at a local community center which was surrounded by a park. I did my 15-minute warmup trhough the park before heading over to the start line. I wasn’t as nervous as my first 5K of the season, I think because the pressure was off.

I also finally had the balls to line up relatively close to the start and when the gun went off I just went with the leading pack of guys.

It only took about a quarter of a mile for me to realize I was the only woman around. The lead pack went out and got ahead (with Adam leading the group!) and then it was me and two guys. Seriously, no women to be found, anywhere. I kind of assumed there must have been a woman in the lead group but I really couldn’t recall seeing one. I didn’t want to worry about it too much though so I kept focusing on my pace and try to build a gap between myself and the guy behind me.

The wind was pretty brutal though at some points. It wasn’t a cold wind but it definitely increased my level of effort a lot and made it hard to breathe at points. The course was also pretty confusing though. It was through neighborhoods by the community center but there were tons of turns (which slowed me down) and most of the turns were lacking volunteers telling the runners which way to go. Since I’ve never been so far in front of a race, I’ve never not known where I should be going. Usually you just follow the pack. But not this time. There were at least two points in the race where myself and the two guys running near me totally guessed which way to go. We ended up running the right course which was good but the added stress didn’t help.

Since I didn’t wear my watch, I don’t know what my splits were so I’m not going to do a mile-by-mile breakdown of the race. But, before I knew it I was headed back toward the community center and the cops holding traffic yelled out at me “First female! First female!” That was pretty surreal!! I came into the parking lot where the race finished and Adam was yelling for me (he had already cruised into first place!). I ran around the parking lot and into the finish and asked him, “Was I the first girl?!” And I WAS! It was so incredible.

Now, if I’m being honest, the race was not that competitive but I don’t care. I still was the first woman to cross the finish line and I am damn proud of it!

Race Recap: Palmer Township Firecracker 4-Miler

MedalThis should really be called, “How I Did All of the Running No-No’s and Still Set a PR and Got an Age Group Award.”

Ooops!

Let me start from the beginning. I love running Fourth of July races. It’s been a tradition since I started running. So, imagine my disappointment when after weeks of searching for a July 4th race in the Lehigh Valley, I was coming up with nothing. That is, until three days before the fourth, I finally found one not too far from where I live.

The night before the race Adam and I decided to register. Did I mention we ate super greasy burgers and wings that night too? Mmmm, good pre-race nutrition decisions.

Anyway, I went into the race thinking, “I’ll just run it easy and have fun.” Plus, it gave me a chance to wear my Fourth of July #RUNootd, so I was happy. Only problem was I only had one pair of running shoes with me and I had never worn them before. Ooops, again.

I did a half-mile warmup around the neighborhood before the start of the race and the shoes felt a little stiffer than I would normally wear for a race, but they weren’t terrible. I was planning on running it easy anyway, so it wouldn’t matter so much how my shoes felt.

Well, I went out in 7:48 for the first mile. I haven’t seen 7:xx in quite some time so I thought, “Oh no, this is going to be bad.” The course took a slight incline up to a rail trail where it did an out-and-back. I told myself to rein it in and try to just run comfortably. My second mile clocked in at 7:43. Woah, nelly.

At this point, I was surprisingly feeling pretty good but I had just reached the turn around and were on the way back to the finish. I thought I’d try to push it to the end to see what would happen. I was doing well until I had some trouble trying to pass people on the narrow rail trail. A young kid (probably 10-12 years old) was running near me and clearly didn’t know proper race etiquette, i.e. when I passed him, he stayed on my heals (like actually on my heals, there was almost contact) until he would pass me and tuck in right in front of me. Not cool kid, not cool. I had to get a bit more aggressive with my passing here to get beyond him but unfortunately the mess caused my pace to suffer a bit. Mile 3 came in around 8:26.

For the last mile, I was starting to get tired, mostly due to the humidity, but I tried to reach deep and fell on my old mantra “Last mile, strong mile, kick it in.” Also,  being it was July 4th I told myself to do it for Amurica! Well, whatever it was worked and I ran my last mile in 6:55. Holy speedballs!

I finished in 30:57 officially (30:55 according to my watch) which was a 5-minute PR. I was pretty happy with my time, especially since I was expecting to run a very leisurely 4 miles that morning. I met Adam at the finish, he came in second overall in 22:32 (proud girlfriend!), and then we waited around for the awards.

Post-race medal photo!

Post-race medal photo!

We knew he was getting an award but I was completely shocked when I heard my name for my age group. I won second place for females age 19-24! I’ve never won an age group award so I was really excited!!

Could I have done things differently and possibly run even faster? Probably. But I was more excited to discover that my speed is still there, I just need to work on it and not be afraid to push a little harder.

{Race Recap} St. Luke’s Half Marathon

On Sunday, while running the St. Luke’s Half Marathon (one of my goal races this spring), I almost had my first DNF.

The week leading up to the half was a bit hectic but I woke up on race morning feeling really good despite being filled with pre-race nerves. My legs felt rested. I wasn’t sleepy or exhausted. I felt ready to go after a sub-1:50 finish at the race.

Prerace photo with Team St. Luke's. (Photo credit: St. Luke's University Health Network FB page)

Prerace photo with Team St. Luke’s. (Photo credit: St. Luke’s University Health Network FB page)

We got to the start in time to take a team picture with Team St. Luke’s (since Adam works at the hospital) and had enough time to see our friends, take care of all the prerace necessities and get into the corrals. I had decided I would run with the pacer to at least the halfway point to try to keep my pace controlled. I found him in the corral and was happy to see one of my coworkers (who went on to absolutely crush his previous PR) in the pace group too.

We were aiming to average 8:24/mile for the race. The first few miles were a little quicker but I was actually shocked at how good I felt. Everyone had been telling me all week that I would crush the 1:50 time goal but as always self-doubt sunk in. However, after we ticked off about 6 miles around 8:17/mile I was surprised to find that my legs still felt fresh.

Around 6.5 miles into the race, the pacer told us, if we were feeling good, now would be the time to pick it up to get closer to 1:45. I decided at this point to not necessarily pick up my pace but to try to keep the pace group behind me. Just stay ahead of them and keep at a comfortably hard pace.

I managed to do this until mile 8 when everything suddenly fell apart. My legs still felt great and my energy was up but all of a sudden I started to experience a sharp pain in my chest and tightness. My heart rate was racing and my breathing was becoming increasingly labored.

This had never happened to me before. I mean, in speed workouts I’ve had some difficulty breathing but I’ve always just assumed that was because I was pushing myself. Never had I experienced the tightness in my chest or sharp pains. I decided at this point to stop and walk a little to try to get my heart rate down. After walking about 10 meters or so I started running again but much slower.

I walked once more during this mile up a hill and saw mile 8 tick off at 9:42/mile. There goes my sub-1:50 I thought. A man wearing an orange shirt ran up behind me and tried to give me words of encouragement, “Come one, you’ve got this,” he said. So I tried to pick up the pace again and work the downhills to see if I could at least get close to my goal. Just after passing the man who was trying to cheer me on my heart rate jacked up again. I started to walk and a volunteer asked me if I was ok. I really, really wanted to quit at this point. I was fighting back tears when orange-shirt-man passed me again and I decided to take some water and just try to finish.

I don’t remember how many more times I walked the rest of the race but it was a lot. There are a lot of hills in the last miles of this course and I wasn’t prepared for them. I came up the final hill right before entering the high school stadium where you run about 200 meters around the track before finishing and I saw Adam there cheering me on but I’m pretty sure my face said it all.

Usually in races I can give a good final surge into the finish but I just didn’t have it in me on Sunday. I came through the finish in 1:53:32, met Adam, and just wanted to sit down and cry in the bleachers. I felt so defeated and pissed off that something so out of my control had ruined my race.

It wasn’t until later on that I really was able to put it into perspective. My dad has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, “a disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is also the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes – it’s no joke. When I told my parents what happened they were pretty concerned. I haven’t gone to see a doctor yet but hopefully I don’t have my dad’s condition and it was just a fluke thing that happened.

Either way it was a scary experience and it made me realize that no matter how hard you train, sometimes the outcome is completely out of your control. I think I did the right thing on Sunday by reining it in but in all honesty it probably would have been smarter to take the DNF and get checked out at the medical tent immediately.

Besides my awful race, it was a great day overall. Adam ran the half (just six days after PRing in Boston!) and set a new half marathon PR. We also saw three of our friends run their first ever half marathon, which was really exciting. Other friends and coworkers set some really awesome PRs as well and I’m so happy for them! I’ll take another stab at running a sub-1:50 in three weeks at the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Hopefully it’ll go better!

Celebrating with friends postrace.

Celebrating with friends postrace.

Race Recap: Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 5.48.57 PMGoing into the Disney half marathon last weekend, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous. I hadn’t really done any serious training since running Marine Corps at the end of October and my mileage was no where near where it should have been to properly prepare me for the half. But the good thing about Disney is you can tell everyone you’re “running for fun” – and that’s totally what I did.

That is, until I set a 10-minute PR and ran my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon running a 1:52:55.

I’ve got to admit, it didn’t hit me right after the race, but I’m pretty freakin’ excited about this PR. I wasn’t expecting it. I don’t feel like I had really pushed myself, in the race or in training. But I still PR-ed, by a lot.

I think several factors came into play. For one, the Disney course is extremely flat, save for a few minor hills here and there. I’m used to running in the Lehigh Valley, PA where the only way to avoid hills is the drive to a rails to trails path, and even then there’s a slight gradient.

I also think my fitness has improved dramatically. Since running Marine Corps, I’ve added in at least one strength training session a week by doing IronStrength every Monday. I’ve also started running with faster people, including my speedy boyfriend. When you run with fast runners, you get faster- simple as that.

On Friday night as I was laying out my race outfit I thought, “I really just want to go under two hours.” That was doable. That was a 9:05/mile. And that goal is the one I told everyone, including my running partner for the day, Cait, during the prerace retreat. But secretly I thought to myself, “How cool would it be to run a 1:54?” That was roughly a 8:42/mile average and many of my long runs had been around that pace.

When it was time to start the race, I found myself lined up on the starting line, and feeling good. It was warm, about 70 degrees, and extremely humid, 94 percent humidity, but I was ready to see where my fitness was at. The race itself is a bit of a blur but I remember feeling confident in my sub-2 goal and increasingly more confident in hitting 1:54.

Towards the end though the humidity was really starting to get to me. I felt my hamstrings starting to tighten up because of the flatness and the windy finish began to take its toll. But with the help of Cait, I made it to the finish line and could not believe the time on my watch. I beat both of my goals!

I felt exhausted at the end of the race probably because I think I sweat out about a pound per mile from the humidity. I’m pretty happy with my results but the race left me craving more. More speed. More PRs. More training.

Training for my spring goal half marathon won’t start for another few weeks but I’m going to start building mileage. If I learned anything from Disney it’s that, the speed is there, I just need to believe in it and make it happen.

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.

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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?

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?

Race Recap: Big Sur International Marathon 2013

I thought after two days passed I would know how to begin this race recap because I would have time to let the race ruminate but I’m still having trouble finding the words to describe just how incredible my first marathon was.

I know what I don’t want to do with this race recap and that is to give you a mile-by-mile breakdown of every moment on the course, because who really cares? Plus, I don’t think I can really remember what happened during each mile the moment it happened because honestly, I can’t remember some of the miles. Seriously, mile 19, I don’t know what happened to it.

What I do want to do is to try to express just how fantastic the Big Sur International Marathon was for me. It was an experience of a lifetime and I made every effort to soak in each moment of the weekend and the race. So instead of a typical race recap I’m going to give you highlights from the weekend.

  • The shakeout- On Saturday morning I went for a shakeout run led by the one and only Bart Yasso. The shakeout was with the Runner’s World Challenge, our marathon training program, and I was finally able to meet the runners I had been interacting with for the past few months. Bart led the shakeout run and took us to the beach. With the size of the group we had, it looked like a scene out of Chariots of Fire. A bunch of kayakers even cheered for us as we ran by.

shakeout

  • Strategy- Runner’s World hosted a race strategy session on Saturday afternoon where I learned some helpful tips about how to run the course the next morning. One of the best tips I got out of the session was to take the downhills easy. “Gentle, gentle, gentle should be your mantra on the downhills,” Jen, our special projects editor, said during the session and let me tell you, I repeated that mantra to myself on every single downhill the next day.
  • Ravioli (carbs, yum!)- Myself and the Runner’s World ladies (Megan, Caitlin, Laura and Lindsey) went to an Italian restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey called Café Fina to carb up before the big day. Our waiter was hysterical and I’m pretty sure he thought we were all crazy for running a marathon.
  • Driving the course- After dinner, Megan, Laura, Jeff and I hopped into Jeff’s white Mini and took a drive down Highway 1 to review the course (and take a ton of pictures). I was a bit hesitant about driving the course before racing it. I thought either I’d get really intimidated and become even more nervous than I already was, or I would feel more prepared and ready to go into the race knowing what lay ahead. Luckily for me, I came out of it the latter, feeling prepared and less intimidated than I felt by simply looking at the elevation chart. I took mental notes about where the hills were, when I needed to save my legs and when I should look around and take in all the views. (The answer for that last point is- look at the views all the time. The entire course is so unbelievably picturesque that it’s impossible not to appreciate every moment of it. )
Big Sur - 26 miles

Big Sur – 26 miles

  • Race day nerves- I must have had quite the nervous look on my face when I got to the hotel lobby for our 4:30 a.m. bus ride to the start, because people either steered clear of me or tried to console me somehow. Except when I told them it was my first marathon, many of them gave me a look of concern and said something along the lines of, “Well, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” That didn’t help.
Can you see the fear in my eyes?

Can you see the fear in my eyes?

  • Race game plan- I decided to hang back in Wave 2 and start with the 4:30 pacer. The rest of the RW ladies hung back with me so I had some support while we waited for the race to start. As I stood there, listening to the race announcer over the loud speaker, I was in my own head going over my race plan, deciding how I was going to run this, what my mantras were and what I was going to do if it got too hard.
  • Big Sur, Boston and doves- Big Sur has a unique partnership with the Boston Marathon in their Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge where runners run both marathons, less than two weeks apart. Because of the bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon, the B2B Challenge seemed even more special. A man from the B.A.A. served as the official race starter and they released white doves (something they always do) right before the bullhorn started the race.
We wore blue and yellow ribbons for Boston.

We wore blue and yellow ribbons for Boston.

  • And we’re off!- Before I knew it the bullhorn sounded again and it was time to go! The first four miles of Big Sur are a complete downhill and in the strategy session I learned I should take these first few miles extremely slow to save my quads for the hills that were to come. The only problem is a lot of people don’t know this and they take the first few miles hard and try to bank time. Not a good idea. So as I was taking it slow, other runners were passing me in waves. I didn’t get discouraged though because I knew I was on my way to running a smart race and it definitely paid off in the end.
  • Confidence boost- I got a bit of a rush around mile 5 or 6 (I can’t remember) and the Runner’s World truck went by with Bart, Amby Burfoot and Warren (Runner’s World brand manager) in it. They actually spotted me too and started beeping and yelling “GO HANNAH! LOOKING STRONG!” When Amby, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner, and Bart, the mayor of running, tell you you’re looking strong as you’re running a marathon, you can’t help but get a little confidence boost.
  • Along the course I saw– a whale (!), taiko drummers, the piano man, some pretty good bands, cows (moo!), and lots of happy volunteers!
  • Hurricane Point (dun, dun, dun…)– I had settled into a really slow and steady pace in preparation for Hurricane Point, the 2-mile stretch from mile 10 to 12 where the course ascends more than 500 feet. Everyone talks about Hurricane Point like it is Mt. Everest so of course I prepared as much as I possibly could by doing hill workouts and making my long runs pretty hilly. The taiko drummers were set up at the base of the incline at the mile 10 marker and that got me pumped to run up this infamous hill. The verdict? I’m glad I did all those hill workouts because honestly, I didn’t think Hurricane Point was that bad and I HATE hills. The incline is a gradual 6 percent ascent and it twists and turns so you never get a glimpse of the whole thing. Climbing for 2-miles is no easy task, don’t take this as me diminishing it, but for me it helped to not be able to see the entirety of the hill. I knew it ended around mile 12 so I just waited until I saw the mile marker and once I did I knew it was over.
  • For every uphill, there’s a downhill– Once I got up to Hurricane Point I was greeted with a long downhill, about a 9 percent elevation drop. This descent allowed me to catch my breathe but Jen’s mantra came back into my head, “Gentle, gentle, gentle.”
  • Bixby Bridge and we’re halfway there!– This downhill spits runners out onto the iconic Bixby Bridge at mile 13. I couldn’t believe I was already at mile 13 when I saw the bridge- I was halfway there! I saw the pianist and it was amazing how his melodies echoed throughout the entire area. I could hear him playing from across the bridge!
Running across the Bixby Bridge.

Running across the Bixby Bridge.

  • The weather and the wind– The weather was near perfect for the entire race. It was clear in the beginning but became slightly overcast. It also wasn’t too warm at any point during the race and I felt pretty comfortable. The one factor was the wind which was so strong at points, I felt like I was moving in slow motion.
  • Camaraderie and a new running friend– I met Sabrina around mile 20. We had been going back and forth, chasing each other for the last couple of miles and decided to support each other the rest of the way. I knew she would be a good running partner when I told her I couldn’t talk and she said, “I can’t either.” This was her second marathon and she was aiming for a PR. I told her it was my first and I was aiming to finish.
A shot of Sabrina and me nearing the finish.

A shot of Sabrina and me nearing the finish.

  • Carmel Highlands– We were about to enter the Carmel Highlands, arguably the hardest portion of Big Sur. The Highlands are the last few miles of the course and they include some steep hills and the canter of the road is hard on your legs. My running buddy, Sabrina, and I took these hills easy and willed each other up and over them. We stayed on pace, checked with each other at the water stops to see if we needed anything and kept trudging along. We stopped around mile 23 to get the fresh strawberries we had heard so much about (if you ever run Big Sur, do this! They are amazing) and continued along the route.
  • Mile 25 hill– At mile 25 an insult of a hill hits you like a slap in the face. Thank God Sabrina was with me here because at this point in the race, I just wanted to see the finish line and if I never saw a hill again it would be too soon.
  • 200 meters– When we hit mile 26 she said she was on pace for that PR and before we knew it, the yellow finish line was in sight. I started to get emotional and we both took all the energy we had left to finish the last 200 meters of the marathon. As we came barreling down to the finish line we grabbed hands and threw our arms into the sky and she said, “You’re going to be a marathoner!” We crossed the finish line in step with one another and she gave me a huge hug. She got her PR and I became a marathoner.

Finish line

Sabrina and I parted ways soon after crossing the finish but Megan was right there to capture my post-marathon reaction face and give me a huge hug. I got my medal, a hand-crafter ceramic medal with a leather necklace, and we headed over to the RW Challenge tent. The first person I wanted to find was Jen since she was the one who convinced me to train for the marathon in the first place. I went up to her and said, “Jen, I did it!” and she just gave me a hug and said, “Look at you, marathoner!”

I finished the marathon in 4:33:41 and came in 28th in my age group, not shabby for my first 26.2! I was so proud of the other RW ladies who cleaned up the rest of our age group category. The entire experience was more than I ever could have imagined it would be. I’m planning on writing another post in the coming days about what it really meant to me but I had to get all the memories down on paper before they left my mind. But honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Big Sur.

The race director talked to me before the race and had told me, “You’re life will change when you cross that finish line.” After I finished he found me in the Challenge tent and asked, “So, was I right?” I smiled and said, “Absolutely.”