Beach to Beacon 10K, 6 August 2016

What: 10K

Where: Cape Elizabeth, Maine (course map)

Who: Me and a bunch of Shammies, with moral support from Drew

Time: 1:22:40

Splits: (according to Simon)
-Mile 1: 11:13
-Mile 2: 15:49*
-Mile 3: 15:24*
-Mile 4: 12:06
-Mile 5: 11:36
-Mile 6: 13:13
-Mile 6.2: 3:22

*These two mile splits include porta-potty stops:

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Two giant canyons in the first half represent long, long porta-potty stops. The other dips are walks up hills.

Check out my race review on BibRave!

Running in the footsteps of giants:

Two quick points about this race, to set the stage:

  1. It’s Joan Benoit Samuelson‘s race, and the course apparently follows her training route. That’s pretty stinkin’ cool.
  2. History was made this year, as native Mainer Ben True became the first American to win the race in its 19-year history. (Note: his winning time, 28:17, is faster than my best 5K time. Mind = blown.)

The background:

Beach to Beacon has been on my radar ever since I joined the Shammies. A contingent of the club heads north every year to run, and I’ve heard so many stories about what a great race it is, how fun it is, how you get to run with elites and sometimes even see Joanie, etc.

The more I heard, the more I wanted to run. The only problem is that it’s a notorious race in terms of getting in; this year, general registration sold out in less than 4 minutes! Most Shammies end up getting in by entering the team lottery, but it’s not always a given that they’ll get to run.

Well, luckily for me, general registration opens at 7am, exactly when I’m usually standing at my bus stop killing time on my phone. On that fateful day in March, I was stood on the sidewalk with my phone poised, and I somehow squeaked in within that 3:43 window. It was the second time the magical race gods were smiling upon me, and I was pretty smiley myself!

The expo:

Drew and I left work early on Friday to attempt to beat weekend traffic, but still wound up sitting on the highway for 4+ hours (it usually takes about 2). We still managed to arrive in Cape Elizabeth in time to hit the expo, which I was pumped about. With the exception of the Boston Marathon expo I sneaked into during a volunteer stint, I’d never experienced a race expo before.

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Inside the expo at Cape Elizabeth High School

Granted, it wasn’t very big, but I was still nerdily excited to be at my first expo! Bib pickup was well organized and quick (other Shammies said it took forever earlier in the day), and my bib came with a nice Nike Dri-Fit t-shirt and a car magnet. More goodies came in the expo, too: gift cards to LL Bean, Olympia Sports, and Dunkin Donuts, as well as free reusable grocery bags and snacks provided by Clif Bar and a local pasta place. Not too shabby! There were vendors and run clubs there too, but by that point Drew and I were hungry and wanted to eat an actual meal.

After a tasty, tasty dish of homemade gnocchi at Enio’s (go there if you’re ever in South Portland!), we returned to our Airbnb and settled in for an early night’s sleep.

Pre-race:

We were up with the sun, literally, on race morning:

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Sunrise over SoPo

I’ve never run a race big enough to need shuttle buses and such, so I’m not used to crazy-early wake-ups. 5:20 felt way too early! I stumbled around, donned my kit, shoved some mini stroopwafel (thank you, Kennebunk Service Plaza for surprising me with those treats!) and water down my throat, and then Drew was driving me to a shuttle point.

Another first for me – a point-to-point course. I’ve always run loops or out-and-backs, or point-to-points where the start and finish are so close that they’re not even considered point-to-points. So this made logistics interesting in terms of getting to the start, finding Drew at the finish, and the like.

Anyway, I squeezed onto the 6:20 shuttle (a good, old-fashioned yellow school bus) and we trundled down lovely wooded back roads for 5-10 minutes before arriving at the start area. And what a start area it was! I’ve never seen so many porta-potties – with every 4 alternating which way they were facing so all the lines weren’t on one side – plus there were so many volunteers! Some were staffing water and snack tables, which also had Gatorade and coffee, and some were loading up gear bag buses. I felt like I was in the big-time!

I was supposed to meet up with the rest of the Shammies at 6:45, so I had some time to kill. I ate the Clif Bar I’d gotten at the expo, wandered back to the tables to get some Gatorade, and pretty much just people-watched until I saw a bunch of green singlets coming my way.

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I love these ladies!

I also shoved a Honey Stinger waffle in my face (which is why I look so goofy in the above photo – I was chewing), not because I wanted to eat it, but because I didn’t want to carry it and no one else seemed to want it. Oh well, one can never have too many pre-race waffles… right?

We chatted and killed time until we heard the national anthem, then we walked over to take our various places at the starting line. Shammies E and K hung out with me near the back of the pack; it was going to be a hot day (“sneaky heat,” as one article called it later, due to high humidity and dew point) and we wanted to enjoy the day and each other’s company without needing a trip to the medical tent.

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View from the back(ish) of the pack… you can just make out the balloon arch where the starting line was

The race:

The wheelchair athletes had started around 7:30 (I think), and the elite women took off at 8 on the dot. Elite men and the rest of us (who were a respectable distance behind the elite corral) got our start at 8:12. It took us about 8 minutes to cross the start from when the race actually started.

The first mile was nice and chill. E, K, and I were going fast enough that my conversation was broken up with lots of breathing pauses, but not so fast that it was uncomfortable. All of a sudden, we saw balloons up ahead signalling the first mile – huh? E and I were both having some race nerves and decided to pull over at the porta-potty, and K ran off with a fellow runner who she had started chatting with about his t-shirt. We stood in line for about 5 minutes, realized we didn’t really have to go after all, and carried on.

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Looking relatively fresh and happy when the first photographer appeared

Mile 2 flew by as quickly as the first and, again, I made the decision to pull over at the aid stop’s porta-potty. E was being a trooper and running my race with me, so she grabbed us some waters and waited. It was another long wait, and my nerves were still playing tricks on me, so we set off once again.

Honestly, the rest of the race is a blur. Thanks to those epic porta-potty stops, I ran my personal worst time-wise… though it’s heartening to know that if I shaved those ~10 minutes off, I would have ran about my usual time in spite of the heat. So that’s cool! But despite the slow time, it was seriously the fastest race ever. The mile markers were flying at us, and E and I kept saying how quickly the race was going. It must have been the great company! We chatted up a storm the entire way.

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There were at least 4 photographers at Mile 5, where there’s a gorgeous ocean view behind the runners, but unfortunately we’re in focus, not the view!

The awesome crowds and scenery helped, too! I’ve never run a race with so many spectators, and they went all out to cheer for us. Though my name has been on bibs before, this was the first race where people actually cheered for me by name (such a cool feeling!), and people were ringing cowbells, holding witty signs, blasting motivational music (I remember E and I singing along to the Rolling Stones as we crested a hill), and even passing out bacon (Beach to Bacon, get it?). I truly felt like a rock star… a very red, tired one with a sheen of sweat, but a rock star nonetheless.

The course ends with a few steep hills, one of which is in Fort Williams Park. That part of the race was a little disheartening… you run into the park and up the “final hill,” and I sort of expected the race to end there. But no. We wound through a section of the park, curve after curve, with the end nowhere in sight. It was such a relief to finally see the balloon arch in the distance, and I zeroed in on it. Little did I know Drew was practically right next to me, shouting my name! E spotted him and posed for a silly picture as I stared off at the finish:

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At last we victoriously crossed the finish line. The Shammies had warned me that it would be a while before I could get my hands on some water (seriously, one of my biggest race pet peeves), so as soon as I crossed the line I had my eyes peeled for the far-off land of water tables. I was so focused that I jumped a little when E said “Thanks, Joanie!” and when I looked in front of me, there she was! Less than an arm’s length away – Joan Benoit Samuelson! I managed to say “Thanks, Joanie!” and she looked at me and smiled as I lurched past, wondering if it would be improper to take a picture with her. (I decided not to, even though I kind of regret it now!)

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Here we come -the finish at last!

Post-race:

E and I kept walking down the finishing chute, up a steep grassy knoll, and at last reached the far-off water tables. Drew found us, and together we all walked through the park to find the chocolate milk – our designated Shammies meeting point. We found the chocolate milk stand (unlimited free, ice cold, local chocolate milk!) and the rest of the Shammies, and I collapsed into a heap on the grass. There was a massive food tent with crackers, cheese, yogurt, blueberries, granola bars, trail mix, etc. etc. etc. as well as vendor tables, but I was so tired I couldn’t bring myself to traipse around anymore. And anyway, Drew was carrying a paper sack full of goodies from Scratch bakery, so we tucked into a raspberry coffeecake.

Despite my lethargy, Fort Williams Park was a really cool place to end a race, with a huge expanse of grass to splay out on, bits of old forts to climb on, a little beach with some Atlantic Ocean to cool off in, and Portland Head Light, the beacon we ran to:

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Photo credit: Drew

We sat around, chatting and eating snacks and comparing our race experiences (which ranged from our fastest getting 7th in his age group – in a race with 6,600 runners – to E and I hitting personal worsts) for just under and hour, and then set off for some much-needed showers. The Shammies did what Shammies do and hit downtown Portland for some well earned beers, while I attacked one of Scratch’s famous Super Duper Cinnamon Rolls:

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Freshly showered with a cinnamon bun the size of my head

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Now that’s what I call recovery!

Overall thoughts:

I absolutely adored this race. Despite my personal worst, despite my pet peeve water situation, despite lack of bling, this is a race I want to run every year for the foreseeable future! The course, the scenery, the crowds, Joanie!, and all the little details made it a fantastic race to run. It’s clear that it was a race created by a runner, and it’s also run by the same race director who runs the Boston Marathon. These people know what they’re doing, and know how to put on a good race! The registration fee is a little steep at $50, but for what you get, I think it’s worth it. I mean, the gift cards from the expo make up half that cost, plus there are plenty of 5Ks around Boston that cost $35-$40 and all you get is a pint glass. B2B is the race for me!

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My dodgy gait and I love this race!

One final thought:

Drew and I opted to walk the 2 miles back to our Airbnb from the finish line, since traffic was ridonk. However, after all my failed pit stops during the race – and no thanks at all to the most disgusting porta-potties I’ve ever seen after the race – it was an uncomfortable walk back, to say the least. Enter The Cookie Jar, a lovely little bakery on our route. They let me use their gloriously clean real bathroom, and we returned the next morning for breakfast as a thank you. People rave about Holy Donut in Portland, but seriously – if you’re ever in South Portland and like donuts, you must stop at Cookie Jar! Maple glazed donut + Maine blueberry coffee = excellent way to cap off an excellent race weekend.

Review: Armpocket Aero i-10

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Aero i-10 image from Armpocket website

(Disclaimer: I wasn’t asked to review this product or given one to review; I bought it for my own use and decided to review it here. All opinions are my own and may differ from those of other users of this product.)

Once upon a time, I was running my favorite route by the pond. I was holding my phone in my hand as I ran, partly so it would be at the ready for photo opportunities, and partly because, well, I had no other way to carry it.

My phone, which I had never dropped while running, suddenly squirted out of my hand and crashed to the asphalt. I suppose it was inevitable, but I was seriously bummed. My phone, which I’d had for more than 2 years and had kept miraculously uncracked, now had a chip in its screen. I was sad.

I decided then and there that I needed a better way to carry my phone with me while running. But what? I had tried an armband holder a few years back, only to have its Velcro fail after a mere couple of uses – at the start of the B.A.A. 5k, leaving me to hold the thing for 3 miles. My Nathan water bottle has a phone pocket, but, well… I don’t love that bottle, to say the least. It regularly leaked into the phone pocket, as well as all over me. Plus, having something in my hand, even if it has a nifty little hand strap, tends to make me feel a little off-balance.

When I got home, I hopped on Running Warehouse and scoped out their products. I’ve been a bit wary of hip belt thingies, not knowing how much they’d bounce or how comfortable they’d be. And all the armband products were for phones newer and bigger than mine. Cue some googling and that’s when I found Armpocket.

Right off the bat, I loved Armpocket’s website, specifically the “fit my phone” feature. You choose the make of your phone, then whether you have a case and, if so, how big it is, and then Armpocket shows you which of their products will fit your phone. No guesswork needed! So easy!

My phone and its case yielded two results- the Racer, which is sleek and only holds your phone to allow for a lighter, more aerodynamic experience while racing, and the Aero i-10. Since I liked the idea of having a place to stow cards, keys, money, and fuel as well as my phone, I selected the Aero i-10.

My shiny new Aero i-10 in the flesh!

Description from the website:

Sleek, durable, convenient. The Armpocket Aero i-10 protects your mobile device whether you’re running errands or just plain running. The armband’s slim design allows you freedom of movement, and its extra interior compartment stores keys, ID, and more.

Featuring a double-zipper pocket, this sleek sports armband fits all devices and cases up to 5” (12.7cm), including the new iPhone SE, iPhone 5 and iPhone 4.

Another reason I’ve been hesitating to buy another armband after my Velcro disaster with my last one, is that they tend to cost more than I want to spend. (My first one was cheap… maybe that’s why it fell apart so fast!) The Aero i-10 costs $29.95, which isn’t bad but not the $15-20 I was hoping for. However, shipping in the US is free, and Armpocket was offering a deal at the time where first-time buyers got 10% off their purchase. Sweet!

On top of the decent cost, Armpocket products have a 2-year warranty, are water- and mud/dirt-proof, are machine-washable, and have apparently passed a military-grade drop test. Sounded good to me!

So, after that long preamble, how has my experience with my new Armpocket been? TL;dr I’m a fan!

Purchase: It was quick and easy to buy the item on their secure site. After that, Armpocket was great with communication, sending emails when the product shipped and was delivered. Sometimes I get no feedback like this and don’t know how long to wait for my purchase, but Armpocket was all over it.

Mail day!

Mail day: I loved the smiley face sticker on the package, and appreciated the personalized note inside. This company seems to really care about their product and making sure that buyers love the product too!

First test: I took it out for a quick 2-miler around the neighborhood. My phone fit perfectly with its case still on, as promised, and there were little pockets for my keys and cards/money, as well as plenty of room for fuel.

The inside: two pockets at the back and an elastic strap at the front to hold your phone against the clear plastic front, which makes it so much easier to use your phone while it’s inside the case!

It took me a bit to get used to having the thing on my arm, first to get the strap to fit right so that it wasn’t either too loose or cutting off circulation. Once I found the magic spot, it was great. A little weird having a bit of weight on my arm, but I soon got used to it and it was so much better to have my hands free! I took it on another quick run with the same results.

Big test: I wore this puppy during my half marathon last month. I had carried my water bottle (sans water) in my first half, and it worked okay other than the aforementioned off-balance feeling. I was looking forward to not having to carry anything in this hot race, and was also looking forward to trying it out as a music carrier, since this was going to be my first race rocking a motivational playlist.

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Ready to rock

For the most part, it was fantastic. Again, once I found the right strap position it felt fine on my arm, and wasn’t hot and sweaty… or at least, no more than I’d expect. It was a really hot race, and my arm was a bit damp when I took it off, but during the run it wasn’t uncomfortably warm/sweaty and didn’t chafe.

The back of the Armpocket, which is surprisingly non-sweaty. (Ignore the little sunscreen stains!)

It passed the waterproof test, too, when a neighbor of one of the water stops sprayed me and some other runners with his sprinkler. My Armpocket took a direct hit, but my phone and everything inside stayed lovely and dry.

The only two problems I had were:

  1. Only one pouch of Honey Stinger chews fit inside. I was hoping to take 2, but 2 wouldn’t fit with my phone in there too. Maybe if I’d taken the chews out and combined them in a ziploc bag they would have fit, or if I’d used different fuel, but what I had chosen didn’t work. I ended up running out of chews 8 or 9 miles in, but was saved by gels at an aid stop.
  2. My headphone cord was a pain to fit in the Armpocket’s cord slot. I struggled for a while to get it to fit and align with my headphone jack, and ended up surrendering it to Drew (who studied engineering and is better at these sorts of problems). He found that if you shove the cord through the slot before sliding the phone all the way down, you can the align the cord using the clear window. This whole problem might have stemmed from the fact that my headphones have a square plug thing, and maybe this wouldn’t be an issue with normal, round ones.

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Little velcro thingie that holds headphone cords and zipper danglies in place – love it!

Other than those two hiccups, I’ve loved my Armpocket, and am so glad I relented and got one. I love the happy bright color, I love the zipper/cord holder so I’m not driven mad by flapping cords or hanging zipper pulls, and I love that I can finally tote my stuff around on runs without having to hold everything. Huzzah!

What’s your preferred method of carrying your stuff while you run?

I am Legend

Hello and happy Wednesday!

I’m wicked excited to share with you that I’ve been chosen to be a 2016 ambassador for LEGEND Compression Wear!

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LEGEND was launched in 2015, on a mission “to improve the performance of every athlete – from the casual jogger to the competitive triathlete.” In addition to traditional athletic compression gear like performance socks, leg sleeves, and recovery socks, they also offer socks for hiking, golf, and even business socks and stockings.

One thing that really caught my eye about LEGEND is their commitment to the long-term health of their customers’ legs, in addition to their athletic performance. The compression level in their performance socks is medically designed to be just right, and not too tight. As someone who’s tried other compression socks and sometimes struggled with a too-tight, constricted feeling, the #rightnottight movement definitely appealed to me.

You know what else is awesome? As a LEGEND ambassador, I get a discount code that I can share with my readers! (I know this will make me sound like a huge dork, but I’ve always thought it would be cool to be one of those bloggers with a “use X code to save Y% on this cool product!”splashed across the blog. And now I can do that! Woohoo!)

Use the code AmbFriend2016 to get 15% off any LEGEND purchase!

Have you used compression gear for running or recovery? What brands have you tried?

Worcester Running Festival Half Marathon, 19 June 2016

What: Half marathon

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts

Course Map:

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Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Time: 02:42:50

Splits: (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 11:21
Mile 2: 12:33
Mile 3: 13:25
Mile 4: 11:57
Mile 5: 12:12
Mile 6: 12:22
Mile 7: 12:42
Mile 8: 12:45
Mile 9: 13:16
Mile 10: 13:14
Mile 11: 12:39
Mile 12: 11:25
Mile 13: 11:18
Mile 13.1: 1:59

To read a nitty-gritty race-specific recap, check out my review on BibRave!

To read about my pre-race (mis)adventures and neuroses, check out my last post.

Quick background: This was my second half marathon, and I didn’t train properly at all. My longest training run for it was a mere 5 miles, and the farthest I’d run in 2016 was a 10K. So it’s fair to say I was a little nervous going into this race!

I was grateful that I had splurged on a hotel room close to the start, because not only did it mean extra sleep before the 7am start, but it also meant I didn’t have to suffer the porta-potty SNAFU that happened before the race. Rumor had it the porta-potty delivery man got lost on the way to the race, and there were no porta-potties on-site until right before the race started. Oops! They opened up City Hall so the runners could use the bathrooms in there, but I heard there weren’t many stalls, so the line was ridiculous. It ended up delaying the race start by 10 minutes, as the race director wanted everyone to have a chance to use the loo if they needed.

At last everyone was gathered at the start, and after Beyonce sang the national anthem (recorded, unfortunately… would have been ridiculously awesome if she had been there!) we were under way.

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Eventual winner leading the pack on the left.

It was forecast to be about 87* F (30.5 C) by 11am, so I was also grateful for the early start! It was in the low 60s at start time, and I was almost a little chilly in my minimalist kit. I wasn’t complaining!

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As usual, being goofy after crossing the start.

In addition to my run club singlet, I was rocking my Under Armour shorts that are so light and cool that they feel like they’re not even there… only without the awkward naked feeling. I love them.

I was also trying out an EnduraCool multi-cool thingie (the wicked bright orange scarf thing around my neck), which one of my Shammie friends had been raving about in recent weeks. Knowing how terrible I am in the heat, I liked the idea of having a cool thing to put against the back of my neck to keep my temp down. It was a little awkward and floppy, and the part against my skin warmed up pretty quickly, but all it took was a quick adjustment and it was cool again. Plus, when kindly locals were handing out ice along the course, it was a perfect place to store it, and kept it from melting for way longer than I expected. That was pretty sweet.

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Is that an excited smile, or a grimace-smile trying to mask my worry?

The first mile was through downtown and had a nice downhill section, and I was feeling pretty good. Mile 2 was also decent, and had some shady bits near Elm Park which were nice.

My plan going in to the race (or, at least the one I sort of came up with as I ran the first mile and realized I should have a plan) was to stop every mile to have a short walk break and a chew, and to take water at every water stop, along with another walk break. Also, I told myself it was totally okay to walk anytime I started feeling even a little bit fainty… having not trained, and knowing how hot and hilly this race would be, I knew I wouldn’t be gunning for a PR. My only goals were a) to finish, however long it took, and b) to stay conscious, even if it meant walking slowly for most of the race.

There were a good number of runners near me for the first 2.5 miles, and I was leapfrogging with several who were also run-walking. One of my worries going in was that I’d be the only run-walker and that I’d finish last, but that worry was completely unfounded. And anyway, there’s no shame in finishing last… I’ve done it before!

The feel of the race changed a bit between miles 2 and 3, when I hit The Hill. Worcester is known for its hills, and I knew going in that at least one of its famous hills would be part of the course. Thankfully the hill came early in the race… at first I was annoyed that I hit it so early, but then I tried to think about how much worse it would have been if The Hill had happened in Mile 12! Yeesh.

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Google Street View of the start of The Hill. Notice the lovely shade and an example of the giant houses that line the street!

Against my better judgment, I tried to run The Hill. Slowly, but still. Maybe it was all the hills I ended up accidentally scaling during my training runs, but it didn’t feel too bad, at least for a while. I made it maybe halfway or 2/3 of the way up before I needed to walk the rest, and that was enough to put me in front of all the runners I’d been leapfrogging. I ended up being on my own for a few miles starting at this point, which was a weird sensation. Especially when I’d come upon a turn without obvious course markers and had to cross my fingers that I was going the right way.

Luckily The Hill was shady and populated with giant, gorgeous houses that I could look at and distract myself with. And, when I got to the top, there was a small group of people with cowbells cheering me on, offering high-fives, and shouting “You’ve beaten the hill! That’s the worst part of the race!” That was awesome!

The next mile consisted of winding my way downhill through quiet, shaded neighborhoods. I liked the downhills, but it was a bit boring and lonely for that stretch. That is, until I took a walk break and a guy came out of nowhere to pass me, yelling “Pretty far from the pond, eh?” and pointing at my singlet. I was silent with confusion for a second or two, then he yelled “You’ve been pacing me this whole race so far! Keep it up!” and took off. Turns out he was the only other runner from my city in the race, and – as I found out later when I caught up with him – he does most of his running at my favorite pond path. Small world!

The next mile was pretty uneventful, except for the sparkliest water stop I’ve ever seen. There were tables on both sides of the street (this part was out-and-back, so the lead runners were starting to pass me going the other way) that were decorated with shiny streamers, and people were ringing cowbells and cheering. One lady had a giant bucket full of ice, and I took some to tuck into my EnduraCool, where they melted slowly and kept me cool for a few miles. One of the neighbors had his sprinkler going for us, too. I loved these people.

At the end of this street, just before Mile 6, we turned onto Mill Street for my least favorite stretch of the race. We ran right on Mill St. for a while, then turned around and ran the other way for a long time, then turned around and ran back. For nearly four miles we were on an endless, nearly shadeless, stretch of road that had nothing to look at along it. Well, at one point there was a pond with a little beach, but that was it. It was all woods, fields, and abandoned-looking buildings, with a few houses in the middle bit. It was bleak. Some of my slowest miles happened along this stretch, and I walked a lot. It was also open to traffic, and cars were coming awfully close to our narrow little coned-off running section. I didn’t love it.

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A particularly bleak stretch of Mill St., courtesy of Google Street View.

The only bright spots along this stretch were 1) the aid station that had Honey Stinger gels, and 2) my pond-runner buddy. I caught up to him early on during this stretch, when he was walking. He grinned and said “welcome back!” and we chatted for a bit as I took a welcome walk break with him. Turns out we had both missed the race last year and had taken the deferment, but then neither of us had trained beforehand, him due to injury and me due to, well, me being me. We ended up leapfrogging each other a few more times, each time shouting encouragement to each other. That definitely helped me get through the Mill St. stretch!

My chews ran out at Mile 9, and I stopped at Mile 10 to take the gel I picked up at the aid station. I’d never had a gel before – chews have always been my fuel of choice – and wow. (I know, I know… never do anything new on race day.) I should have taken it near a water stop because I almost choked on its sweetness and it made my mouth so sticky. But, it also gave me a serious kick start; once I started running again after taking it, my legs didn’t feel as tired and my energy levels definitely went up. It was like a miracle gel. Cheers, Honey Stinger!

The rest of the race from there was a repeat of earlier bits of the race, so I had an idea of the terrain and knew how many more water stops there’d be. Other than those water stops, I ran (and somehow negative-split) the last 5K. I think I just really wanted to be done running at that point!

As I got to the last .1, I kicked it as hard as I could without wanting to faint. I turned the last corner and spotted Drew, making sure to make another goofy face at him:

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Plenty of porta-potties by this point!

I have a memory of smiling big at the photographer at the finish line, but my picture says otherwise:

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Sigh. I made this pic small because it’s much too terrible to look at larger.

I was handed a bottle of water and a medal immediately after crossing the finish (yessss!), wandered off to some shade, and tried to stretch. My legs were so wobbly. Drew found me, and together we waited for my race buddy to cross the finish so we could cheer for him. Then I wobbled off to find a snack – there was plenty of pizza (at 10am, ugh) and a handful of bananas left, so I grabbed a banana before attempting stretching again. I also posed for a hometown pride photo:

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Wormtown represent!

…then wobbled off back to the hotel for ice cold water, a protein shake, and a much-needed shower. I had finished! And, somehow, despite the heat, the hills, and the lack of training, my finishing time was only 5 minutes slower than my other half, which was run on a cool day in October on a flat course. Not too shabby!! However, despite pulling off a surprisingly decent race, I think next time I’ll make sure I train. And… maybe no more summer halfs. I think one was good enough.

Half Marathon #2: The Build-Up

Hi there! Remember me? Apologies yet again for abandoning the blog for a bit… I know I’m overdue for a recap of the Worcester Running Festival Half (spoiler alert: I finished!!), and I have a large handful of other posts I’ve been meaning to write. It’s my same old excuse, but life and work have been crazy, leaving me not much time or mental energy to write. But a long weekend is upon us and hopefully I can get back in the swing of things!

I started drafting a race recap for the half, but found that I was rambling on a LOT about the build up and pre-race stuff. So instead of deleting it (my first instinct) or posting one honkin’ long race recap, I decided to break it in two. And so… let’s get on with the rambling, shall we?

logo_worcOnce upon a time I signed up for the Worcester Running Festival half marathon, both as a fit of hometown pride and as a goal to work toward. Then I injured my knee and grudgingly dropped to the 5k option, and then the race was postponed due to lightening. Since I was going to be out of town on the make-up day, I took the waiver they offered to run it the following year, and bumped back up to the half in expectation that I could be properly trained by then. Again, it would be a great goal to work toward.

Well, that year has come and gone, and this is my story.

As you’ll know if you’ve been reading my blog or following me on Instagram these past few weeks, I was freaking out a bit before this race because, well, I hadn’t trained properly [sad trombone]. I had only got up to 5 miles in my training runs, and the farthest I had run all year was a 10k. I was vastly unprepared.

Add to that anxiety about being under-trained the fact that the forecast for race day was upper 80s and sunny, and I was dreading things. My first and only half marathon was run in October when it was a crisp 50s with cloud cover (perfect running weather!) and I’ve run no more than 5k or so when it’s been wicked hot, so I was nervous. I don’t usually do well in the heat!

Appealing to the camerawoman for help during one of my hottest races to date

Appealing to the camerawoman for help during one of my hottest races to date

Maybe the smart thing would have been to drop to the 5k once again, or just not do it at all, but I was already registered, darn it, and I couldn’t bring myself to have yet another DNS on record, so in spite of my anxiety I was determined.

The Day Before

The race started bright and early at 7am, so I splurged and booked us a room in a hotel that’s a 5-minute walk from the starting line. I spent the first part of the day before packing and trying to make sure I remembered everything, then I accompanied Drew on a work errand before making a quick stop at my work to pick up the earbuds I had forgotten. (I’ve never listened to music during a race, but I knew I’d need all the help I could get at this race!)

Earbuds in hand, we set off westward for Worcester… only to get a good ways down the Pike before I remembered that I had forgotten – of all things – my running shoes. Seriously, how did I forget those??

I'm not cut out for this. I need my kicks! (source)

I’m not cut out for this. I need my kicks! (source)

Another detour home to grab the shoes and we were once again on our way. We managed to just get to Sneakerama in time for me to pick up my bib (anything to buy me 5 extra minutes of sleep the next morning!). I was the only one there, and got my bib, shirt, and a few coupons within a minute. I even got a friendly reminder from the race director to set an alarm for the next day.

We checked in to the hotel, and I realized that I hadn’t grabbed any breakfast for pre-race… just a Honey Stinger waffle. I felt like I could use something more substantial for a half, so we went across the street to the convenient store to pick up Honey Nut Cheerios, a protein bar, a giant bottle of water… and a pack of mini-donuts and a protein shake for post-race recovery. And Polar orange dry, because we were in Worcester and you kind of have to rock the Polar when you’re there (and anyway, orange dry is my love!)

Pre-race dinner

Pre-race dinner

We picked up some takeout pasta from a local Italian place – fettuccine primavera for me, so good! – and I spent the rest of the evening watching tv with my legs up. And hydrating. And still freaking out a little. And regretting not dropping to the 5k. And worrying that I wouldn’t sleep well (we stayed at the same hotel last year and it’s literally right across the street from a railroad crossing where trains lay on their horns all night. It’s a good time. And plus there was a wedding reception and all the rowdy guests seemed to be on our floor).

I eventually managed to fall asleep (and only got woken up once by a train, miraculously), and after a night of stress dreams about the race, was up at the crack of dawn and donning my kit and fighting back crazy pre-race nerves.

Would I make it? Would I faint on the course? Would I have to DNF? Stay tuned for part 2 to find out the answers to these and more! (Except I already told you I made it, oops!)😉

Do you have any rituals for the night before a big race? Certain foods you eat?

Anyone else experience race-related stress dreams?

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 12 June 2016

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew and my dad

Benefited: Worcester Firefighters Scholarship Fund, Community Harvest Project, Genesis Club, American Society for Suicide Prevention, and NEADS

Time: 38:14 Personal record!

2016 was my third year in a row running this race, and I PR’d by 5:30 (last year’s result, also a course PR, was 43:44)! To read my recaps from years past, see 2015 and 2014.

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Pre-race

Drew and I arrived at the park about an hour before the start, and there was already a great crowd. Music was blasting, kids were playing with the little firehose demonstration thingie, and the atmosphere was great as always.

Registration was pretty straightforward, but a little hard to find. Each year I’ve run this race the registration table has been in a different spot, and each year I go to where it was the year before, only to be a little confused. This year’s location took a bit more hunting than last year’s, but once I found it I had my bib and shirt within 3 minutes.

The porta-potties had also changed location this year, and the lines were much longer than last year’s (the field this year felt significantly bigger than the last 2 years’, but it was only about 200-250 people bigger). Thankfully the lines moved relatively fast, and I was able to get in and out and still have 10-15 minutes left to warm up before the start.

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Warmed up and ready to run!

The race

Unlike the previous 2 years, when I lined up near the very back of the pack, this time I tried to find a spot a bit further up; last year I remember being frustrated at how many walkers I had to dodge in the first quarter-mile, and hoped that moving up a bit would help avoid that.

All the runners moved aside to let the WFD Pipe and Drum band through, which has been one of my favorite parts of this race. I love bagpipes, and love all the ceremony in honor of the Worcester 6 and other fallen firefighters.

Last year I complained a bit about how all the runners were made to stand in the sun on the hot asphalt while the race director and others spoke for upwards of 15 minutes. There was quite a bit of talking this year too, but it didn’t seem quite as long… maybe because last year it was in the 90s and this year was only in the 70s? I also feel like I wouldn’t mind all the talking so much if I could hear it at all! Even closer to the start line I heard nothing that was said, which is a shame because this was the race director’s last year in charge and I’m sure lovely things were said. Oh well.

After the national anthem – which I could hear! – the horns on the fire trucks parked at the start blasted the beginning of the race and we were off!

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Motorcycles leading the way

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Here I come, doing an awkward wave thing

I didn’t have to do quite as much dodging as last year, but the road definitely felt more congested, which made any dodging I had to do a little trickier than in the past. One unsettling thing that happened in the first half-mile – where the road is only blocked one-way and the other half is open to traffic – was when an ambulance was trying to go the other way, but was stymied because of all the backed-up race traffic. It felt wrong to have a firefighters race interfere with first responders, but what can you do at that point? I squished as far over to the right as I could and the ambulance eventually got through, and I hope it got to where it needed to go in time!

The first mile ticked by pretty quickly, though I wouldn’t have known because I’d forgotten to take Simon off the manual lap setting and so he didn’t beep at the mile marks. D’oh! I happened to glance down around 1.2 and saw my time was roughly 9:26. What?? No wonder the first mile went by quickly… I was flying! I guess that’s what can happen when I start further up the pack than usual.

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I don’t have any mid-race pictures, but check out my form in this one! Who am I and where are my flingy shins??

I took a brief walk break at that point – though not as hot as years past, the sun was hot and radiating up off the asphalt and I was feeling quite warm. I started running when I spotted the firehouse where the firefighters always have a hose out to spray down the runners, and ran through the glorious spray and yelled a thank you.

I don’t remember how often I took walk breaks… I know I took a few more, and I know I slowed down pretty significantly after that first speedy mile, but the rest of the race sort of blurs together. Some highlights:

  • The same firefighter who is always road guarding the same spot, who always tells the runners how awesome we are and thanking us and handing out high-fives… and high-fiving him each time I passed him.
  • The glorious, cool tunnel and people whooping and being echoey in it, and cheering for the eventual winner who flew past us under there.
  • The awesome football team and their coach who were manning the water table, and who looked slightly overwhelmed by all of us but who did a fantastic job!
  • The lines of older folks dressed in their Sunday best who were trying to cross the street as we can barreling down the road at them, and the lady behind me who muttered a “are they serious right now?” as some of them stepped out into the road and the rest followed, making a kind of obstacle course for us.
  • Getting to the point last year where I had to stop and eat some chews, only to realize I was so close to the finish line that I could actually see it… and knowing not to stop because I was closer than I felt to the end.
  • Being passed by sprinters as I chugged up the hill to the finish, fighting the head-wind coming at me and trying to blow my hat off, and being disheartened that I didn’t have anything left in the tank to do my usual sprint to the finish and chase them down. It was all I could do to not puke, and the pics Drew got of me show a big grimace:
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Grimacing and… it looks a little like I’m doing comedy tip-toeing

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I look pretty unhappy in the official pic too, but so does everyone except the lady celebrating up front

Post-race

Crossing the finish line was wonderful, and I was met with a medal and a full-size bottle of water within steps of crossing the mat. Glorious indeed!

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Love. This. Thing.

I made a bee-line for the giant misting fan and stepped into the spray before finding Drew and my Dad and sitting/stretching in the shade. Last year we enjoyed the post-race party and free ice cream, but this year we opted out, which I’m a little sad about. My dad was fresh off an overnight shift and Drew was hungry and a little cranky… and were already almost at our cars, whereas the party was quite a ways in the other direction. So we opted to go out for lunch instead. It was nice, but part of the awesomeness of this race is the block-party atmosphere, and I missed that. Ah well, there’s always next year! And the next, and the next, and the next…🙂

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

…and there you have the facts of (running) life. Am I right?

I know I owe a race recap from the Worcester Firefighters 6k (spoiler alert: I PRd by 5:30!!), but this post has been bouncing around my brain since last night’s suboptimal track workout, so it gets to go first.

  
Right. Track workouts. Speedwork. It’s terrible and it’s awesome and and I hate it and I love it all at the same time. Coach Steve is great at putting together tough workouts and people always give him a joking hard time because everyone hates them, but they’re also so good. Even before I was working on changing my gait, the speed workouts I was doing with the Shammies were definitely making me a little faster. 

Anyway. Last week’s workout was one of the “you take the good” kind. It was 12x 200s with 200 recoveries between, and I killed it. It was hot and humid but I was ready and hydrated and I killed those 200s (for me, at least!)! I felt awesome during (I’m running fast! I’m running pain-free! This is awesome!!) and I felt awesome and accomplished after. I couldn’t wait to do it again the following week. 

And then last night’s workout happened. It was rough. It started with a 10-minute tempo run at 10k pace, then went to ladders on the track at mile pace – 3x 200, 2x 300, 1x 400, 2x 300, 3x 200. 

I attempted the tempo and made it barely 5 minutes in before I got all kinds of side-stitches. Since I had already warmed up, I cut the tempo short and took a water break while I waited for everyone else to finish. 

Then the 200s. I was so excited for these, after nailing them last week. But, silly me, I wasn’t only doing 200s this time around, so I should have paced myself, right? Heh.

I took off on the 200s (mile pace? pshh) and, once again, killed them. Then I ran the first 300 and promptly died (metaphorically, of course). Seriously though, why do 300s feel so much longer than 200s??

I had a crazy cramp in my side and an attack of shin splints, which I haven’t had in almost 2 years. What the heck? I was miserable and barely made the last 100m. I limped off to my bottle of Nuun and sat out the next 300, then promptly realized there was no way I could do a 400 without something going wrong. 

Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I am so scared of injuring myself now before my horrifying half marathon on Sunday, and so I used that as an excuse and I stopped the workout. I stretched and sipped my Nuun while I watched everyone else zip around the track. And I felt anything but accomplished on my way home, a much different scenario than the previous week when I was practically throwing myself a mental victory parade. 

But that happens, right? How many bad runs have I had over the past few years that I’ve bounced back from? Quite a few. But even knowing that, I really let last night’s run get to me. I felt like a facsimile of a sham of a runner and that was a bit of a bummer. I’ve never had to quit a speed workout that fast before, and I’m still bummed out about it today. 

But, trying to think on the bright side, what better time to learn from a crappy run than now? What went wrong that made the run so crappy? Let’s see…

  1. I probably wasn’t hydrated enough (anyone surprised?). That could explain the side stitches. 
  2. I wore different shoes than I’ve been wearing for track. Maybe this is why my shins freaked out?
  3. I completely ignored any kind of pacing, let alone my goal pace. Steve has a chat that lists goal paces for each distance based on your most recent 5k result. My 200s were way faster than my goal pace, which is probably why I crapped out so quickly. 

So, yeah. I wrote this rambly post mostly to hammer into my brain what can happen when I don’t do anything I’m supposed to do, like drinking water and following Steve’s instructions, and, you know, using proper footwear. You think I’d know these things by now, but… alas. 

I’d say I’m hoping for a better workout next week, but that will be 2 days post-half so I probably won’t be doing any speedwork yet! But hopefully the week after or so will be better. 

When do you stick a fork in a workout that’s not going so well? 

How do you move on after a run or a workout totally bums you out?