Oxford Half, 13 October 2019

What: Half marathon

Where: Oxford, UK

Course Map:

oxfordhalfmap

Who: Just me, with Drew and the Bairn offering their support in the muddy race village

Time: 02:30:47 Personal record!

Splits: *I messed these up a little, when I accidentally hit the lap button while trying to read a text from Drew on my watch. Most are 11:something, with an average pace of 11:31 per mile

RadSquare3My gosh, where do I even start?? I have a feeling this is going to be an epic recap, so here is the nutshell version: I ran my #1 bucket list race, in one of my favorite cities in the world, in the pouring rain, nabbing a PR, and every race from now on has been ruined by the awesomeness of this one.

Phew, okay. For those adventurous and/or bored enough to want to read the whole thing, buckle up because here we go:

Background

Back in 2014, I listed the Oxford Half as my number 1 bucket list race. I spent a semester in Oxford during college, and since then the city has had a special place in my heart. When I got into running and then learned that a race goes right through Oxford and right by the library that put me on the path to becoming a librarian (see below photo), I decided that I needed to run that race someday.

Posing in Radcliffe Square, very near where I’d run in the final mile of the half, nearly 15 years later

I don’t remember why now, but back in the winter I found myself looking up the Oxford Half. I saw that the 2019 race would be the first time runners would need to enter a lottery to run it (or else run for charity), since the race has exploded in popularity recently and the numbers were raging out of control. Just for grins, I threw my name in the lottery, then booked an airbnb with a flexible cancellation policy, just in case. Then I kind of forgot about it all until March 6, when I got the fateful email:

I still remember how my heart stopped for a second when I read that! Drew and I gradually planned out the trip, which included a stop in Ireland to visit my ol’ running buddies Colin and Gina (trip post forthcoming… maybe?) before spending a few days in Oxford. In the meantime, I was training for and posting about the Half-Marathon-by-the-Sea, which I had signed up for as a bit of a consolation in case I didn’t get into the Oxford Half. Maybe I should have waited to see if I got into Oxford before signing up for that? I was certainly kicking myself after destroying my toes in the HMBTS, knowing Oxford was only 3 weeks later (for those morbidly curious, you can check out those toes here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you – they’re gross).

Pre-Race: Number Pickup

I had opted to pick up my bib, rather than have it mailed, figuring I’d save on postage. I ended up regretting that decision a bit, after I found out bib pickup was only the day before the race from 10-5, and we had made plans to take the train into London early that day, to bring the Bairn to the London Transport Museum. With some fancy finagling we made it all work; Drew and the Bairn rode the bus to the train station and met me there, after I left early and walked to the race village to grab my number. I took the scenic route through Mesopotamia (a path between two branches of the River Cherwell):

getting to the number pickup booth just after it opened at 10. There were a bunch of volunteers working and only me and 2 others picking up just then, so it took all of 5 seconds to get my stuff.

Bib pickup area

It gave me a chance to scope out the race village a little, and I pictured myself wandering the vendors post-race, getting coffees and cupcakes and picking up samples and swag (ah, such a naive mental image… read on!). I had heard from a few people that this race is known for being incredibly well organized, and I could see evidence of that in the race village – they had six meeting points marked with flags (which can be seen below) in the village, and the village itself was mapped out on the website, in emails sent to runners, and in the Oxford Half app – yes, the race even has its own app! (Fun fact: my mom downloaded the app and was able to follow a little avatar of me as I ran the race, how cool is that? And hi Mum!)

Part of the race village

Another cool and efficient thing about number pickup – I was emailed a QR code beforehand, and when I handed my phone over to be scanned at the pickup tent, it told the volunteer which start pen I’d be in. All the numbers had a letter of the start pen, but those were just stickers that the volunteers added on at pickup, so the numbers themselves didn’t really matter – at least for non-elite runners like me. Rather than the volunteers needing to dig through number piles, they could just grab the next one on the stack, pop a sticker on it, and we were all good to go. A simple thing, and weird to dedicate an entire paragraph to it, but I thought it was a great idea.

Anyway, I got my number and my bag-check bag, took a quick selfie, and walked to the rail station to meet the lads.

Pre-race: The Morning Of

I set my alarm for what felt like an absurdly early hour, especially after a late night of wrangling an un-napped toddler into bed after an overstimulating day of train rides and museums and chocolate muffins. My kit was all laid out downstairs, so I snuck not-so-quietly down the creakiest stairs known to man to get dressed, have a cup of tea, and eat some instant porridge before the lads woke up.

The race was slated to start at 9:30 sharp, with all runners needing to be in the start pens by 9:10. There was also a group warmup scheduled for 8:45; anyone who reads this blog should know by now that I’m terrible at warming up, so I thought an awkward group warmup would at least force me to do a bit. (Can I just say that I love how each run I’ve done in the UK has involved awkward group warmups? They make me so happy.) That, and the walk to the race. Our airbnb was off Cowley Road in East Oxford, just shy of 2 miles from the race village at University Parks (you can see the route I took below):

Fun fact: the Iffley Road Sports Centre at the bottom of the image is where Sir Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4-minute mile!

I planned to just walk as a warmup, to be followed by whatever the group warmup was, but I ended up running a chunk of it. You see, it was raining that morning, and I had splurged on a spiffy new rain jacket at a running store in Headington two days prior, knowing that a bit of rain was forecast for race day. I had been stalking the weather for as long as my weather app would let me, and there had been anywhere from 30% – 80% chance of rain for the day, as well as all the days prior. Since the other days had been a bit drizzly early on and then just grey (ah, England), I thought race day wouldn’t be too bad. By the Friday before, I started internally panicking that there would be more rain than I was prepared for, hence the splurge on the fancy jacket. So, as I stepped into the not-really-heavy-but-heavier-than-drizzle rain that morning, I figured I should put my new jacket through some paces to see how it felt. Plus, I was just really excited to run through Oxford, so I ran maybe a half-mile before walking the rest of the way.

I should have been prepared for rain – it was England, after all – but I still wasn’t pleased

The jacket was awesome. It fits perfectly, it’s a nice bright color, it covers everything well, it’s nice and light, and it’s water resistant… for maybe 90 minutes. I had it on when I stepped out of the house around 8 and kept it on until just before the race started at 9:30. By that point, it had soaked straight through and I was wet under it, and I was worried that it would just chafe me if I ran with it, so I took it off and tied it around my waist. It almost felt like a waste at that point… if I had thought ahead, I could have bought a cheap touristy poncho to wear over it and then chuck when the race started, but as it was, the jacket was essentially my poncho. A very expensive poncho. Oh well. I’m sure I’ll get more use out of it!

Where was I? Oh yes. I got myself to the race village just in time for the group warmup, which was just as awkward as I’d been hoping. Some folks from a local gym were up on stage doing some dynamic stretches/dance moves to some sick beats, and there was even a big screen projecting them so we could all see. Except I placed myself just past a path that was full of people carrying huge umbrellas, so I couldn’t see a thing. I just did sorry versions of what the people around me were doing (most people around me were just standing around under umbrellas), so I’m not sure how great of a warmup it was.

Not that it really mattered, I suppose, because then I spent over 30 minutes standing in a pen elbow-to-elbow with a few thousand of my closest friends. Any warming up I had done surely would have been mostly cancelled out by my standing still in the chilly rain. But that’s okay, since I was just about bursting with excitement to be there, and not planning to race my heart out, so I figured the first few miles would be a warmup anyway.

View from start pen F

I was in pen F, which was the last one. All the other runners were on Broad Street, and we were off on a side street somewhere. The mood was jolly in spite of the rain, which was still a bit more than a drizzle and not showing signs of letting up, and we could hear everything at the start thanks to giant speakers. It would have been nice to be on Broad, to soak up a bit more of the atmosphere and see the big screens and everything, because once we all started moving toward the start, I was so focused on not getting trampled or trampling anyone else that I didn’t really look up and take any of it in. What can you do?

My running goal going in was mainly just to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the experience, but I also wanted to try for a PR, after coming so agonizingly close in the HMBTS. I figured I’d start near the 2:30 pacer and try to keep them in my sights for as long as possible. However, once I was getting into the pen, I didn’t see any pace flags anywhere, so I just kind of positioned myself near where I thought it might be. Just before the start, I looked up and saw I was near the 2:10 pacer, and the 2:30 was waaaaaay behind me. Whoops. Plan B was to keep up with everyone around me until there was space to move over, and then cruise at my own pace along the side and just do what I could, hopefully sticking close to the 2:30 pacer when they caught up to me.

Then the man on the PA was telling us to wake up Oxford and get out there and “smash it,” and then suddenly we were off.

The Race

I don’t remember much about the first few miles, other than that I was so cold. I had taken my jacket off before the start, worrying that I’d be fussing with it during the race and it would be a pain while running, but that meant I had stood around in the chilly rain (it was about 50* F / 10* C) in just a singlet for quite a while, and I was cold. It was one of those weird times of being cold where your body does strange things… like each time I tried to straighten my arms, painful tingling shot up each one and made me vaguely worried that I had damaged my circulation. I tried to push that and other weird panicky thoughts out of my head while dodging puddles and trying to find a decent pace without tripping up anyone around me.

Somewhere during the first mile or so

I wish I had paid a bit more attention to my surroundings in that first mile or so, mostly so I could soak up the amazing novelty of running through Oxford city centre with all its beautiful architecture, but honestly, I was trying to a) not get run over, b) avoid stepping into any of the many massive puddles that dotted the course, since I didn’t want to run 13 miles with soaked feet, and c) warm up my body so that I wouldn’t have any of the strange medical incidents that kept playing themselves out in my brain.

The course was pretty crowded at the start, and I was very aware that I was running with faster people than usual. I also learned pretty quickly that British rules of the road – like driving on the left – are true for runners as well, and that people pass on the right rather than on the left. When my autopilot kicked in and I made my way over to the right so I could slow down a bit to find my pace, I realized I was getting in the way of some speedy people. A quick glance over to my left revealed that the other side is where people were going to slow down and take walk breaks, so I had to keep telling myself to run on the left.

Around mile 3 or 4, the rain really started coming down. Like, the skies opened up Biblical-style. I was up in Summertown, and one section of the street had flooded. As I sloshed through ankle-deep water, I felt very silly for having so diligently avoided all the puddles in the first few miles, and started worrying about the god-awful blisters I’d surely end up with after running more than 10 miles with literal puddles in my shoes.

In Summertown

I think I had been worrying so much about the rain because I’ve never run more than a 5K in the rain, so I wasn’t sure how to avoid all the awful things that come with long distance running while wet – namely chafing and blisters. I also kept thinking how absolutely miserable it would be to run a silly amount of miles in sub-optimal conditions. And while I sloshed through Summertown in an absolutely pissing downpour, super happy that I was wearing a hat that kept the rain out of my eyes, I was surprised to find that I was kind of having fun. To be totally cliche, there was a very Keep Calm and Carry On vibe among all the runners around me – we were in it, we were wet, might as well just laugh it off and keep going – and that buoyed me. Had I been on a desolate course like HMBTS, or surrounded by people grumbling, it would have been miserable. But runners around me were laughing and joking and smiling, as were the supporters who were out in force despite the weather, and that made it fun.

The race organizers had promised entertainment at every mile, and while that ended up not being entirely true (maybe the weather made some groups not turn up?), there were still tents at key points along the course with awesome bands underneath. At the “top” of Summertown, where we turned around and ran back the other way, there was a jazz band totally grooving in the pouring rain. Along the course there was a pipe and drum band, steel drums, a brass band, and a Taiko drum group, and others. At one point, during what was the most desolate stretch of the course – between Summertown and Marston, where the crowds of supporters all but disappeared and there were just fields and a few cows – there was a random tent with a DJ spinning fun tunes, and it was seriously the best placed spot for music, because I was starting to drag and it boosted me just when I needed it.

At some point while I was out in Marston, the rain let up. It almost felt strange to run without getting rained on! And then between miles 9 and 10, I came upon the Zipcar Wash – a gate over the course that was a big misting thing. It probably would have been amazing had it been a warm day, but it felt incredibly silly to have it out on such a rainy day. Thankfully, the misting gate didn’t take up the whole road, and runners could opt to go around it (you can see the edge of it in the above photo).

In the previous half marathons I’ve done, I hit a place somewhere between miles 7 and 10 where I question my decision to run the race, and I spend a few miles being completely miserable and wanting to stop. The desolate stretch mentioned above, between Summertown and Marston, made up miles 5-9. I was dragging a bit (especially when the 2:25 pacer passed me and I started to worry that I’d miss a PR) but trying to bolster myself by enjoying the novelty of running through a bit of English countryside, and looking forward to the last 3.1 miles, which I had in my head would be a piece of cake. I kept thinking about my first half, and remembering how in the last bit of it I felt like a machine that couldn’t stop running… but that didn’t happen until the last mile of that race. During that long stretch in Marston, I was somehow convinced that the whole final 5K would be like that.

When I approached the water stop around mile 10, I was lifted a bit by the fact that I was back in civilization and the crowds of supporters were still there and being awesome, but I was hurting a little. I ran more in this race than I did in any of my other halves – I took fewer walk breaks – and I was going at a faster clip than those other races too. Most of that was because I was cold and just trying to stay warm, but I think it was also due to the presence of so many supporters… I tend to run faster when people are cheering, likely because I don’t want them to think I’m slow! Either that or I just thrive on encouragement. Whatever the reason, I was pushing myself, and my hip flexors were angry. I had finished my last gel just before the water stop, and was starting to wonder how I’d make it the last 5K, when one of the water stop volunteers started screaming so much encouragement at me that it was almost a bigger boost than a gel! She handed me a water and yelled “Yes!! Dana!! You made it TEN MILES AND YOU’RE DOING AMAZING! KEEP GOING!!” and I booked it away from the water table feeling amazing. Having random supporters cheer for you by name really does wonders! (I also love that English people always say my name wrong – Dah-na instead of Day-na. It makes me feel like I have a cool English alter ego.)

That boost lasted maybe a mile, as I wound through residential neighborhoods full of cheering supporters. But then I hit University Parks. Race village, effectively the end of the course, was in University Parks. I was only at mile 11, but I could literally see the end, just at the other side of a big field. I could hear the man on the PA cheerfully announcing people’s names as they crossed the finish line. But each glance at my watch told me I still had so much more to go. It was torture. It was also a difficult stretch of the course, because we were on a narrow path of rocky material that felt harsh under my feet after so many miles of asphalt, and any attempt to pass someone meant having to slip through muddy patches. It was a little disheartening after feeling so awesome when the volunteer shouted at me, and my official photos from this stretch all show me having a “can I just be done now??” look on my face:

You can also see mud dripping off my back foot

Leaving University Parks was wonderful – back to the slight give of asphalt under my feet, away from the mud, onto wider streets, and away from the torture of being able to see the finish area. The crowds also thickened a bit as we wound our way into the busy, touristy bits of the city centre, and I also was within my right mind enough that I was able to look up and breathe in the Oxfordness of it all.

When I hit the 12 mile marker, I sped up. Now there was just over a mile until I could stop running, and a glance at my watch showed that I had a really good chance at PRing. I wanted it. I wanted to PR in my favorite city, running past these places that were so formative and special. I ran past so many places that meant something to me – here is the building where I had my history tutorials, there is the tuck shop where I used to buy chocolate to make myself feel better after bombing those tutorials, here are the libraries I spent so much time in, and on and on.

Now the machine feeling kicked in, but it was different this time. Rather than feeling like I couldn’t stop if I tried, like something was controlling my legs, this time it was all me. I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to go faster. I had just run a stupid long distance with the fewest walk breaks ever, and I suddenly had all this faith in myself that I could do hard things. Also, I just wanted to stop running, and if I got to the finish line faster, I could stop sooner. So I pushed.

I ran through Radcliffe Square, past the Bodleian Library (“the Bod”) and the Radcliffe Camera (“Raddy Cam”), two of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and the inspirations for my becoming a librarian. (I was thankful that the race organizers had put down mats over the cobblestones in the square… I wasn’t looking forward to running over those!):

Determined

Just after that above photo was taken, I turned onto Turl Street, which made me smile. During my semester there, my friend Emily and I would make a weekly dash to Balliol College to turn in our papers to our history tutor, always leaving it to the last minute because, well, because that’s who I am. I nicknamed it the Turl Street Sprint, and just thinking of it makes my heart beat a little faster as I remember trying to make it to the porter’s window by the 4pm deadline. And here I was, 15 years later, running (not quite sprinting, because my tank was nearly empty) that same stretch of road, still racing the clock but thankfully without all the stress!

I knew the finish line was lurking so agonizingly close, and with a mental nod to my Turl Street Sprints of yore, I reached as far down into my tank as I could and kicked a little faster, all the way to the end. I ran that last stretch at an 8:30 pace, trying to pose for a cool finish line photo, but just wanting to collapse:

Tired hearts!

Post-Race

It had taken me almost 15 minutes to get from my spot in the start pen to the starting line, so I knew the finish line clock showing 2:43 wasn’t my finish time, but I didn’t quite trust my Garmin time of 2:30:51 since I had messed with the laps and didn’t want to get my hopes up for a 7-minute PR (my previous best time was 2:37:58). I let my zombie legs carry me through the finish chute, loving that I was handed water almost immediately, as well as a shiny new medal. I saw the 2:25 pacer wandering around and realized with hope in my heart that I had never noticed the 2:30 pacer pass me. I guzzled water out of my fancy cardboard drinking vessel – the Oxford Half was totally plastic-free with its bottles and bags – and followed the herd of runners to the race village.

I had made plans with Drew to meet him and the Bairn at Meeting Point #3, but when I approached the area with the meetup points, all I saw was mud. Race village was in University Parks, which is basically a giant grassy field… a field that had essentially turned into mud during the earlier downpours. My shoes, my brand new beautiful running shoes, were soaked through but very clean. But not for long. If I wanted to experience any part of the race village, I had to squelch through the mud. Telling myself that I was just christening my new shoes, I squelched my way over to the meetup flag and texted Drew. He was otherwise occupied, because the Bairn was having the time of his life:

A toddler’s dream

Drew later told me that he had intended to find a spot along the course so they could cheer me on, but the Bairn had thrown a fit when Drew tried to remove him from his mud puddle. So they hung out in the race village for most of the time I was running. At one point, a small crowd of runners had gathered and would cheer and clap every time the Bairn splashed. He was truly living the dream.

I found the lads and the big puddle, and by that point I was starting to feel miserable. It was still pretty chilly, even though it wasn’t raining anymore, and I was wearing a singlet and shorts that were soaked through. I didn’t stretch, because I’m me, and my muscles were starting to seize up in the cold. I’m sure the shivering wasn’t helping either. My usual race day assistant/photographer/pack mule was otherwise occupied with a splashing (and later, tantruming) toddler, and I hadn’t thought to check a bag with a change of clothes or even a jacket, so I just stood there shivering until Drew put his raincoat on me. I felt like such a n00b, with all the runners around me changing into their warm, dry clothes and me standing there like a frozen weirdo.

Drew also pointed in the direction of a cupcake cart that was selling poffertjes, mini Dutch pancakes, which are one of my favorite foods ever. He had bought some for the Bairn, who still had chocolate sauce on his face along with streaks of mud. I limped over to the cart and bought some topped with sugar and lemon, and, reader(s), post-race food had never tasted so good. They were warm and tasty and heaven-sent, and gave me enough energy to haul myself out of the muddy race village in the company of a screaming, angry toddler and a very annoyed husband.

Gone were my imaginings of a tired but happy me strolling around the race village, sampling different bits and bobs and buying coffees and making Drew take pictures of me near the giant poster photo-op thingies. Races and post-race experiences are a whole different animal when one has a toddler in tow! The Bairn was NOT happy that we were removing him from his mud puddles, and he made his anger known to all as we wrestled him into a carrier and squelched our way out of the race village and across town. I almost had to manually move my legs for each step, my hip flexors were so stiff. And we had quite a ways to walk to get to a bus stop, because there was no way in heaven or hell I felt capable of walking the almost-two-miles back to our airbnb.

We finally caught a bus and got back to our house, the Bairn screaming and/or crying the whole way, where I immediately dragged myself by the lips to the bathroom so I could run the hottest shower known to man. A hot shower has never felt so amazing, and was made all the better by the cup of sweet milky tea that Drew made and brought in to me. Some people relax with a shower beer, but that day I experienced the glory of a shower cuppa. Ahh. (The glory was only slightly marred by the die-cast London taxi that the Bairn kept throwing at me while laughing maniacally… I guess that’s what I get for trying to kill two muddy birds with one shower stone.)

After I was finally thawed out, I remembered to check my results and found that I had officially PRed, with a time of 2:30:47! I was chuffed, and proud of what I had accomplished in less-than-perfect conditions, with less-than-perfect toes. Interestingly, the worst of my blisters and bruising from HMBTS totally cleared up after running Oxford… the rain must have had magical healing powers! Or, more likely, the race was essentially a two-and-a-half-hour-long foot soak. Either way, I’ll take it.

I am so, so glad that I was able to run this race. When I put my name in the hat, I really didn’t think I’d get in, and even when I did, I didn’t think it would be as awesome as it was. It was incredibly well organized, amazingly supported, and the course was gorgeous. Yes, it had a wee desolate patch, but I’d take running over streams and by cows in England over running through random stretches of woods or by abandoned buildings any day. I also loved that there were pace flags for “joggy” and that the race organizers acknowledged those who’d be running at “party pace” and finishing after the roads re-opened at the 3-hour mark. It all felt so cozy and inclusive. And the group warm-ups, and people running in costumes for charity… runners in the UK – if I may make a sweeping generalization – seem to take themselves less seriously than runners in the US, and I’m here for it.

I remember saying to Drew, after all was said and done, that I don’t want to run any other races now… this one was too awesome, and all other races have henceforth been ruined for me. [At the time of writing, 3.5 weeks later when I’m finally able to wrap up this epic post, I’ve already run another race, so fear not! I’m not really swearing them off.] Before running Oxford, and after running HMBTS, I told myself I wouldn’t run any more half marathons. It’s just too many miles, it destroys my poor toes, and I’d rather spend my time focusing on getting faster at 5 and 10Ks. But after Oxford, I think maybe I’d run another… if I could get into Oxford again 😉

Half-Marathon-by-the-Sea, 22 September 2019

What: Half marathon

Where: Manchester-by-the-Sea (and Hamilton), Massachusetts

Course Map:

Who: Me and Co-Worker J, with Drew, the Bairn, and J’s boyfriend for moral support

Time: 02:39:55

Splits: (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 10:49
Mile 2: 11:11
Mile 3: 11:35
Mile 4: 11:52
Mile 5: 11:32
Mile 6: 11:53
Mile 7: 11:50
Mile 8: 12:55
Mile 9: 12:59
Mile 10: 12:07
Mile 11: 12:10
Mile 12: 12:54
Mile 13: 13:13
Mile 13.1: 2:52

Race day finally happened! I feel like my training for this half was slightly more consistent than trainings past; training for my second half barely counts as training, and my first… I at least got up to 10 miles for my long runs, but don’t remember doing a lot of other running or cross-training (besides soccer and kickball). So I felt relatively ready!

Race day dawned bright and hot. Hotter than I was prepared for. The Worcester Running Festival Half was in late June and I knew it was going to be a scorcher, so at least I was mentally prepared. J and I liked the sound of this September race because we figured it would be coolish. (Cue climate change laughing in our faces.)

Bib pickup was pretty easy. We managed to snag one of the last spots in the parking lot on-site, and getting my bib and race shirt took no time at all. We could pick what size we wanted there, which was cool, and they had men’s and women’s sizes, which was also appreciated!

Another cool thing was the tiny playground near the start/finish, so the Bairn was chuffed and entertained while I pinned my bib, waited in portaloo lines, and posed for pics with other Shammies who were running the race:

J and I posed for more pics once she arrived too, and I have to say I’m partial to our nerdy librarian pics!

Our shirts say “librarians know how to book it!”

We lined up near the back of the pack, both agreeing that we’d take it easy and walk when either of us needed to. I’d originally wanted to try for a PR in this race, but due to a) the heat, b) my not feeling well thanks to an ill-timed visit from everyone’s favorite Auntie Flo, c) this being J’s first half, so I wanted to stick with her and be moral support – I changed my goal to just finishing and having fun. (And, let’s be honest about point C up there… the moral support totally went both ways!)

Being goofy and waving at Drew and the Bairn at the start

We cruised along pretty decently for the first few miles. It was hot, and we were both questioning why we signed up for this, but it was okay. We were going a little faster than I had started out in my other halves, and I worried a bit that I’d flag sooner and do a massive positive split, but tried to quiet the nerdy voice in my head and just run and see how it went.

The first mile or so was in the town center of Manchester-by-the-Sea, and was quite pleasant. After that, we ran a long stretch by the highway, and it felt pretty boring until we hit some pretty lakes. We kept the chatter up for the first half of the race or so, commenting on the scenery and whatever popped into our heads.

Several miles in, I started feeling like I had at least one blister forming. I had Body Glided the crap out of my toes before the race, but the heat and the fact that I didn’t wear the best socks in terms of blister prevention (love my Legend compression socks! But now I know they’re better suited to distances 10k and below for me… at least on hot days) combined to work against me. My toes hurt more and more as the race went on, and our faster-than-expected pace at the start began to catch up with me. Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 or something (it’s all a blur), I told J I might not be able to talk anymore because I needed to reserve my oxygen. I was trying so hard not to be done, but I wasn’t optimistic!

My “let this be done alreadyyyyy” grimace, taken at about the halfway mark

Interestingly, moments when I was wanting to quit, J was feeling decent and was a fantastic motivator. When J was hitting a wall, I had a second wind and was able to drag her along for a bit. We complemented each other nicely! However, by the last few miles, we were both just done and it was so hard to keep going. Honestly, the only thing preventing me from stopping was the fact that we had to get ourselves to the finish line somehow, so might as well keep running.

Double thumbs-down!

Closing in on the finish, we welcomed the sight of civilization once again as the desolate and boring roads were replaced with the town center, and our cheering crew! They were a sight to behold, as were the familiar sights near the finish… except that when we saw the finish line itself, we realized we had to run a big loop around to get to it, rather than the merciful straight line we both expected. J had it at that point, and we had to stop for a walk break. It was pretty disheartening, but once we rounded the curve we were able to run it in:

We finished in just shy of 2 minutes over my PR, which was really amazing considering the heat and my super painful feet, but also a little disheartening to be so close and not quite doing it. I kept thinking, if only I hadn’t taken that walk break… or that other walk break… or that other one… but really, given everything, it was a very good time. And we were both so happy to be done.

Our bibs came with beer tickets, but to be honest, I don’t even know where the beer was. There was some kind of after party, but not at the finish, and god knows my brain had melted and it was all I could do to remember to stretch and drink some water. Drew and the Bairn did take me out for ice cream at Captain Dusty’s afterward, and a sugar cone of my favorite White Russian Chip is better than beer any day!

So, to sum up, I’m pleased enough with my performance. It wasn’t ideal conditions for several reasons, and to come that close to my PR given all that is pretty great, even though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about missing a PR. Running a half with a friend is way better than running a half alone, PR or no PR!

The race itself… I didn’t love it. Even though the course map wasn’t a secret, I thought there’d be more “by the sea” than there was, and the course was desolate in places… though not as bad as the Worcester half. The course could have used another portaloo or two; there were 2 about 2-3 miles in, that we didn’t come back to until mile 11 or so (does that math add up?), and I could have used one more in the middle somewhere. The aid stations were okay, with two offering Gatorade as well as water, and one offering Honey Stinger gels. The race site made a big deal about free race photos, but J and I didn’t make it into any. Browsing through, it’s like the photographer took a few of the fast runners and then got bored and left to shoot spectators and police bikes. Not a huge deal, but kind of lame. I definitely thought Green Stride put on a better half in Newburyport, but I wouldn’t rule out doing another YuKan race in the future.

And hey, my inner map nerd is psyched to add two new towns to my maps! 🤓 So that’s something.

I did get all philosophical about half marathons and my running future – mostly inspired by the ghastliness that befell my toes during this race – but that’s a topic for another post, because this one is long enough as it is.

For now, I just have to heal my feet and pray I don’t lose any fitness I may have developed in the meantime, because Oxford looms! Stay tuned…

HMBTS Training, Week 12

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AKA the final stretch!! This wasn’t so much a week of training as just a week. But let’s press on.

Monday

Rest | Rest

My legs were a bit tired after running my second fastest 5k ever the day before, so this was a welcome rest day. Plus, the Bairn had come down with a random fever bug the night before, so we laid low, watched Cars, and had lots of snuggles.

Tuesday

4 mile run | 3.5 mile stroller walk

I started getting paranoid that I’d hurt myself if I pushed too much this week, so instead of going for a stroller run like I had originally planned, the Bairn and I took a leisurely stroll to a playground and back. We had a great time picking clover and looking at bugs in between swings and slides, so I think it was a good choice.

Wednesday

Cross-training | 4 mile run

I had Wednesday off, and it was a lovely cool day, so I decided to do Tuesday’s run after all. I told myself to take it nice and easy, and then I got all cocky at my relatively fast mile times for the first 2 miles and decided to push a little. I ended up trying to run all 4 without stopping, since I had made it 3.5 a few weeks back and was so chuffed, and I wanted to see if I could go a bit further. I ended up making it 4 miles without stopping (huzzah!) but then everything hurt afterwards. Sigh.

Thursday

Rest | Rest

I rested my arse off, especially as I was even more paranoid about having injured myself the day before!

Friday

2 mile run | Rest

Yep. Still paranoid. After ending my run on Wednesday, I decided I’d just cool all my jets until race day. I tend to run better after long rest periods (and/or just straight up periods of zero running or non-toddler-related cross training) so I opted to gamble on that.

Saturday

Rest | Rest

I worked all day, so it wasn’t a nice, put-your-legs-up-and-hydrate pre-race rest day, but what can you do?

Sunday

The big day!! I’m writing this Saturday night, so it hasn’t happened yet, but I will write a recap in what I hope will be a relatively timely manner.

What I do know – tomorrow is supposed to be hot. Like, upper 70s – mid 80s range. I’m undertrained, underhydrated, and it’s not my favorite time of month to run, so it probably won’t be pretty. But I’m going to do it, whether it’s pretty or not! See you on the other side…

HMBTS Training, Week 11

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I think we can officially say that this is the week the wheels fell off this training plan. At this point, we’ll just have to see how the race goes. I was originally going to try for a PR, but since a) I trained crappily and b) it’s supposed to be hot on race day, I’ve lowered my expectations and goals.

Monday

Rest | Rest

I took the Bairn to a Kindermusik class, and then we hit up one of his favorite playgrounds:

Anyone want to guess why this park is a favorite? 😉

Tuesday

5 mile run | 6.5 stroller run/walk

It was Election Day in my city (a primary), so I figured I’d work our traditional stroller walk to the polls into my workout. I popped the Bairn in the jogging stroller, we walked to the polls, then jogged to the pond and ran just over halfway, til we got to the bubblers. Then I took him on a detour to a rail trail for a quick out and back, then walked to a new playground, then home. There were a decent amount of walk breaks, and a long stop at the park, but all together we traveled just shy of 6.5 miles. Not too bad.

The Bairn rocking his “I voted” sticker and eating stroopwafel

Wednesday

Cross-training | Rest

Another Wednesday, another day of me not feeling like doing cross-training. Ho hum.

Thursday

Rest | Rest

Pretty run-of-the-mill rest day.

Friday

5 mile run | Rest

My FIL arrived for a visit Thursday night, and while I was working late, all the lads had a dinner out and the Bairn spent hours playing with his Baba. So he went to bed wicked late, meaning he slept in forever on Friday, meaning I had no time to squeak in a run before work. (I mean, I could have woken him up, but he was so cozy and needed the rest!) Which is too bad, because the weather was nice and cool and a run would have felt great!

Saturday

60 mins cross-training | Rest

At this point in the training plan, why even pretend that I’m going to cross-train?? I took the Bairn to his first soccer practice:

Most of the practice was spent doing this, or climbing the nearby bleachers. Toddlers gonna toddler.

Then met a Shammie friend for an afternoon beer, then went out for a nice anniversary dinner with Drew.

Sunday

10 mile run | 5k race

Sunday was the 5th race in the RAW Series, the Shoppers Cafe 5k. I arrived at the race a wee bit hungover from Shammie day drinking / wine at dinner / fancy post-dinner cocktail / a general refusal to drink water during all that, and it was in the upper-70s/lower-80s at race time, so I didn’t have high hopes.

I ran with some friends, and we ended up starting a bit higher up in the pack than we intended to (the start wasn’t very well organized), and one friend who usually runs a bit slower than I do took off like a bat out of hell and was cruising along between an 8:45 and 9 pace. I was just trying to keep her in my sights, then somehow ended up passing her when she started to lose a bit of steam. I lost steam as well – no surprise – but made it a strong 2 miles before stopping for water.

After that it was a woozy run-walk to the finish… until the very last bit. For the last half-mile or so, I was randomly on my own without other runners around me. Little did I know a dude was creeping up on me quietly, and when I rounded the final corner he tried to squeak past me on the inside. Nope!

I didn’t think I had anything left in me, but I wasn’t going to let some guy edge past me out of nowhere and beat me. (Who me? Competitive?) I turned the jets on and sprinted to the finish, with a finish time of 30:05… less than 30 seconds off my PR! I was not expecting that, not with the heat and my hangover. (I’d had vague plans of adding some miles onto this race to fit better with my training plan, but said heat and hangover – and how much I pushed myself in the race – made that not seem like a winning idea.)

So, even though I didn’t make it through my training plan for this half, I’m at least going into the race feeling somewhat confident in myself. I made it further in my training plan than I did for either of my other two halves, and I’ve been consistently surprising myself in races this year. I may not be doing as much intentional cross-training as I should, but honestly… I pick the Bairn up multiple times a day and sometimes even do squats (“Mummy pick up my car? No Mummy, keep holding me and pick up car!”) Stroller running’s got to be some kind of cross-training too. So maybe I’m not in as bad shape for this half as I think I am. We shall see in less than a week!

HMBTS Training, Week 10

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This week got a bit complicated, as it saw the first of some scheduled 5k races lurk its way into my training plan without any thought for mileage or sticking with plans or my sanity or anything. So, yeah this week was a mess. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Monday

Rest | Rest

Monday was Labor Day, and we celebrated by having my folks over for a wee cookout.

Tuesday

5 mile run | Rest

A friend invited the Bairn and I out for a play date at a farm, which honestly sounded way more fun than running 5 miles with the stroller. I also knew I had Wednesday morning off, so I mentally switched days and figured chasing toddlers around a farm would count as cross-training (weak, I know).

Adorable.

Wednesday

Cross-training | 4.65 mile run

When I was first awake and getting the Bairn ready for school, I checked my weather app and I swear it said 81% humidity. So I was kind of dreading this run.

It might not have been quite 81% at run time, but I distinctly remember thinking “Huh, I feel like I’m running through soup.” It wasn’t entirely pleasant. However, the first 3 miles were surprisingly good, considering. I managed to run 3 without having to stop, my body felt okay, and I returned to my cocky “eh, it’s just 5 miles, easy peasy” mindset from last week.

Though I was able to make it through those 3 miles, by roughly 2.5 I was wishing I had chosen a route with access to water. True to form, I had not hydrated before the run and I was parched. Luckily I remembered I was relatively close to a playground I’ve brought the Bairn to before, and I vaguely remembered a bubbler there, so I changed course to find it.

The playground did have a bubbler – huzzah! – but the water was nastily warm and not refreshing at all. I had a bunch anyway, but the stop killed my momentum. The remaining 1.65 miles were rough, and I couldn’t bring myself to push for an even 5. I waved the white flag and stumbled inside to chug some Gatorade before getting ready for work.

Thursday

Rest | Rest

Typical rest day; nothing to report.

Friday

5 mile run | Rest

Here’s where the week began to get complicated. I was supposed to run 5, do some cross-training Saturday, and then run 9 on Sunday. I even had a route planned out that I was moderately excited about. Then I remembered I had a 5k Saturday. “Eh, not a problem,” I thought. “It’s a trail run, so I’ll take it super easy, maybe even walk it, count it as cross-training, then still run 9 on Sunday.” It seemed like a brilliant plan, so I turned Friday into a rest day…..

Saturday

60 mins cross-training | PBR 5K

… then the race actually happened. The Prospect Bandit Run (PBR 5k) is a race up Prospect Hill through the woods, and is notorious for being tough. I was wary of doing it two weeks out from my half (and 5 weeks out from one of my bucket list races!) but it’s part of the RAW Series, so I knew I had to complete it whether I walked or ran or whatever. I was planning to do it alone, so I figured I’d walk most of it and maybe run bits and pieces.

Then a coworker signed up to run with me, and she roped a third to join us. We all said we’d take it easy, as none of us were in hill- or trail-running shape, but when the race started we were off running.

Well… “running” is a relative term. The race started uphill, on a paved access road. A steep access road. Like, straight up. We were running, but my Garmin clocked us as going at a 17:00 pace. My quads gave up the ghost after about a minute, and I don’t remember much about that hill other than just being in pain and wanting to lay down to whimper. But my friends were still trying to run, so I pushed on.

Then we ran through the woods for a while:

And it wasn’t too bad. Then we started climbing again and it just kept going up. We stopped running and just tried to climb. There were some lovely observation points with a gorgeous view of Boston, but I just wanted the climb to be over so I barely even looked (though I wish I had!). I didn’t stop until we reached the tower at the very top:

And then we ran back down the woods, down some crazy stone steps much like ones we had traveled up:

It’s hard to tell in the picture how much of a slope there is, but it was pretty steep

We then ran back down the super steep paved access road to the finish line. I knew it was going to be a hard race, but it was hard. I kept saying “yep, that was a one-and-done for sure!” and I still feel that way two days later as my ankles are still screaming at me for making them roll all over roots and rocks and acorns. Definitely not the smartest race to do before a half, even if it was slightly fun to do with friends.

Sunday

9 mile run | Rest

At some point during the PBR, I told one of my coworkers – one who happens to be running the HMBTS with me – that I still planned on doing 6-9 miles Sunday, depending on how my legs felt. She laughed at me. Even Drew, who has hiked Prospect Hill in the past, said something after the race along the lines of “Yeah, you won’t be running tomorrow after running up Prospect Hill today.”

They were right. My legs were in agony on Sunday. They hadn’t so much as peeked at a technical trail in a few years, let alone try to run one, and those stabilizing muscles are pissed at me. Plus, holy hill Batman. I’ve been actively avoiding hills, or walking up them, because they aggravate my dodgy hip/IT band and I haven’t wanted to anger them too much before the half.

Whose idea was the PBR anyway? Dang RAW series.

Instead of running, I went to the zoo with Drew, my dad, and the Bairn:

Now I’m trying to figure out how the rest of my training will look. I’m supposed to run 10 this Sunday, but have a 5k that day. I figured I’d run that and then do 7 later, but my HMBTS-running colleague said something about tapering this weekend and now I’m totally second-guessing my training plan. Did I pick a plan with no taper week, or did I miscalculate?? Do I run long this weekend, my last weekend before the half, or do I taper, even though I didn’t run long this past weekend? Do I try to run long during the week somehow?

Help!

HMBTS Training, Week 9

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Happy September! Race month! Oh man it’s getting real now. I flipped the calendar page and “half marathon” is just staring up at me. Plus two other races, both 5ks, in the weekends leading up to the half. I’m starting to get nervous.

Monday

Rest | Rest

A glorious rest day. Still August, still blissfully unaware at how close September and race day were lurking.

Tuesday

5 mile run | 5 mile run

The Bairn had his first dentist appointment on Tuesday, and I can’t get my act together to get him out of the house for a run before 10 these days, so both things happening was out of the picture. Instead, I set off for a post-supper run around the pond. It had been a while since I’d done an evening run, and I was treated to a lovely sunset:

I managed to eke out this run in just under an hour, which I was mostly pleased with. I think my best 5 miler was around 52 minutes, so a 59-and-change didn’t feel so bad.

Wednesday

Cross-training | PT exercises and stretching

Oh hey! Look who finally got off her arse on a Wednesday and did some leg and core work!

Thursday

Rest | Rest

Glorious, glorious rest day.

Friday

5 mile run | 4.6 mile run

So, one thing I really noticed this week is how much of a mental exercise running is. Obviously it’s physical too, but bear with me. Just a few weeks ago, 5 miles was my long run. I was mentally preparing myself, breaking up the run into smaller bits, bringing fuel along, etc. On Tuesday, I think I actually said to Drew “oh, it’s just a quick 5 miles, I won’t be gone too long” and hopped out the door like it was no biggie. That made me marvel a little at how great actually training is… it’s helping me build a base and work up to actually long long runs.

And then Friday happened. The running gods decided they didn’t like how cocky I’d become, and 5 miles kicked my butt. I barely made it 4.6. It was hotter than I was prepared for, I hadn’t hydrated in forever (even less than I normally do) and I didn’t really eat anything beforehand. I set myself up to get my butt kicked, I guess. Plus, I either have terrible late-summer allergies all of a sudden, or I have a cold, because I was congested and my eyes were running like crazy for this whole run.

So, the whole mental part of running needs to be handled smarter, since “only 5 miles” is still a significant enough amount of miles that I can’t just pop outside and get it done without putting fuel and water in my body. Running is full of lessons!

Saturday

Rest or easy run | Rest

Drew and I took the Bairn to the Children’s Museum to meet up with some friends:

Even though this was supposed to be a rest day in anticipation of a Sunday race, I still took it as a rest day. I still didn’t feel 100% and chasing toddlers around the Children’s Museum is pretty exhausting.

Sunday

10k race | 8.15 mile run

I did NOT want to run on Sunday. Oh man. I hadn’t slept great for two nights in a row thanks to allergies/cold, and woke up super congested and miserable. After my Friday run had gone so bad, I didn’t want a repeat performance. But, I also don’t want this half to kick my butt, so I forced myself to get dressed and throw my pack on, and out I went.

I stopped by Shammies HQ, secretly hoping P or another runner or two might still need some miles and want some company, but when I got there everyone had finished and was just chatting. I really need to get myself out the door earlier if I want to run with people!

Running alone did give the freedom to pick my route, and I decided to check out some more of the newly finished greenway that’s nearby. Shammies HQ is near a spur of the Tri-Community Greenway (the spur is what some Shammies call the Bunny Trail), but I had never ventured onto the rest of the Greenway.

Most of the greenway seems to be on streets, which was a little disappointing; I’ve been spoiled with the Minuteman Bikeway, which is a trail unto itself! There are a few spots on the Greenway that aren’t well marked too, so I took a few wrong turns and had to double back to get back on the trail. There were some pretty sections though:

Can you spot the tiny waterfall?

I stuck to the Greenway for just about 5 miles, then reached a point where it felt safer to run back to HQ rather than risk going too far for the sake of more adventure. Part of me wanted to try for 9 miles, but once I hit 5.5 or so, my right knee started giving me grief, I was hotter than I wanted to be, and I was out of gel, so I opted for the safer, closer-to-HQ route.

The first half of this run was pretty nice. I felt okay, felt like my form was good and my pace was relatively decent. Then it all started to unravel. The Greenway dumped me onto a busy street with no shade, my body started to hurt, and I just wanted to stop running. I’m glad I made it a full 8 with a tiny bit of change, and the last 2 miles or so really weren’t bad, but it was a struggle for a while.

After being pleased with my time from last week’s 8-miler, this week’s was back to the disappointment zone. I can’t help calculating what 13.1 miles will be at the rate I’m going, and it’s disheartening to think that it will be slower than my PR. I feel like I’m actually training this time around, shouldn’t I be a little fitter and faster? Maybe in the race-day atmosphere things will be different. Maybe the weather will be a bit cooler. Maybe it will all be terrible, who knows?

Next week is up to 9 miles. Maybe I’ll try to go a little further on the Greenway, which according to maps looks like it’s more off the road a little past where I left it this week. Maybe I’ll actually get going in time to run with the Shammies! Tune in next week…

HMBTS Training, Week 8

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The weeks keep ticking by, and my training plan is finally starting to gently careen off the rails. If I look on the bright side, this is the best I’ve done/longest I’ve gone in terms of trying to stick to a training plan. It’s not great, but it’s better. So that’s something? Let’s see how the week went.

Monday

Rest | Rest

As they tend to be, this was a welcome rest day. My right leg had killed me all day Sunday after my 7-miler, AND I went and gave myself a huge bruise on the top of my left foot when I accidentally knocked the Bairn’s milk cup out of the fridge. So now both my feet are wonky. Huzzah!

Tuesday

4.5 mile run | 4.5 mile stroller run

On the bright side, we had a successful stroller run! If you follow my Instagram, you might have seen that I got ahold of some bug netting for the jogging stroller, after our last attempted Bikeway run was thwarted by nasty fly swarms. Best $4.50 I might have ever spent on amazon!

With the Bairn happily not getting attacked by bugs, I was able to run all the way to the bridge over the “fast highway,” where the Bairn loved seeing all the cars and trucks.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the run back from the bridge was SO much harder than the way out. I mean, it’s the Bikeway, it’s pretty flat. But running to the bridge felt surprisingly easy, and it was disheartening that I was trying so much harder and going so much slower on the way back. It wasn’t until I got home and checked Garmin Connect that I figured out why:

Yep. There was a hill. Barely perceptible while on it, but clearly there! Seeing that felt pretty validating.

Wednesday

Cross-training | Rest

I don’t know why, but my motivation to continue my PT exercise/stretching routine is totally gone. I just don’t feel like it. To be honest, I’m surprised I kept doing it for as long as I did. I seriously need to get better about cross-training.

Thursday

Rest | Arm workout

This wasn’t planned, but I ended up lifting a bunch of heavy things at work on Thursday, and holding some of them for quite a while, to the point of my arms shaking a bit. So I’m totally counting this as an arm day.

Friday

4.5 mile run | Rest

I got a haircut, so didn’t have time to sneak in a run between daycare drop-off and work. And then it was a long, crazy day at work and I just didn’t feel like running afterward. So I talked myself into resting my janky leg and toes.

Saturday

50 minute cross-training | Rest/work

I worked a full day Saturday, which felt like a workout. It wasn’t really, but could kind of be considered cross-training if you squint and tilt your head a bit.

Sunday

8 mile run | 8 mile run

Aha! One of two successful and on-purpose workouts this week. I tried out my shiny new hydration pack (a Nathan VaporAiress) even though the temps were cooler this week. Eventually I’ll write a review once I test it out a bit more, but I like it so far. It was nice to have water right there without having to hold it in my hands, the pack was comfortable and didn’t bounce at all, and it held some fuel and my phone. The mouthpiece was a bit awkward, and the sloshing noise made me feel like I had to pee for the first few miles. It also made my back so sweaty that I thought the pack had leaked. But tbh, I was less sweaty than I was on the really hot long run days when I didn’t have a pack, so I didn’t really care.

Okay, the run itself. I set out too late to run with the Shammies – so I thought. I ran by HQ just in case anyone was still hanging out after, and everyone was there chatting. Huzzah! Shammie P was looking to add 3 more miles on to what he had already run, so I changed my intended route to run with him. He took me down some new-to-me trails in the lagoon, and it was nice to run with someone! Apart from the Bairn, I’ve been running solo a lot this training plan, and it was nice to chat and have someone to distract me from my usual internal whinging.

After going about 5k with him, I waved the white flag and set off on my own. We were going about 10:30 without stopping, which is faster than I usually go for long runs, and I didn’t want to overdo it.

I definitely stop more when I’m alone, to walk up hills (hills bother my leg quite a bit right now) and/or stop for fuel and water. Today I tried out a Gu gel to see how that went. I’ve run with gel once, during my last half, and it was a huge jolt of energy. I wanted to see if I could get more out of having gel once or twice than out of stopping for chews every few miles. The energy definitely seemed to last longer. I may switch my fuel to gels… they’re easier too.

One thing I noticed with the hydration pack is that I seem to pay more attention to my posture and cadence. I felt like I was running “right” today, like the way my Gait Retraining Guru of Yore was trying to get me to run. You can even see from my Garmin stats… my cadence was in the green way more this run than in past long runs:

I was pretty pleased with my pace today too. Starting fast with P definitely helped my overall time, and I think the Gu gave me better energy to run more without stopping (or maybe I just had to stop less to consume gel than I would to eat a few chews?). My time wasn’t much off from last week, and it was 1 mile longer. I’ll take that as a win.

Next week’s plan calls for a 10k race, but I might do what I did last time it called for a race and just run long again. I have a few 5ks coming up that are going to make my long runs interesting, so I’d like to get one more “real” long run in before race day, which is coming up quickly!