Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10K, 3 September 2016

What: 10K

Where: London, UK (course map*) aka, my first international race!

*This wasn’t the exact course we ended up running, due to another event being set up for later in the day. We ended up going down by the stadium on the “Old River Path” a few times.

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Time: 1:17:49

Splits: none, because Simon failed me, losing all memory of the race as soon as I paused him at the end. Boo.

Note: This recap is way overdue. Please see my last post for excuses!

Background

You may be asking, “What the heck were you doing running a race this far afield? London??” That is a good question, observant reader(s). A few days prior to this race, I was attending a conference for work in Wembley…

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Quick pause for a Wembley Stadium selfie!

Having attempted to run an international race a few years back but being thwarted by a race cancellation, I really wanted to fit one in this time around. However, I didn’t want to take over an entire day of sightseeing or what-have-you just so I could get some foreign bling, plus I wasn’t sure how ever-more-pregnant me would handle a 10K. I figured I’d see how Beach 2 Beacon went, and would decide then. Since B2B went quite well, and with Drew’s supportive “you never know when you’ll get another chance to run a race in London… go for it” in my head, I searched for races and landed on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10km Series.

The race sounded pretty cool – running around a park where Olympians roamed four years ago?? – and came with bling and a goody bag, so I was won over pretty easily. I signed up, found a hotel close to the Overground which would allow for easy transit to the race, and eagerly awaited the big day.

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A view of (part of) Olympic Park

Pre-race

After I carboloaded with some tasty ramen the night before, race day dawned not-so-bright and early. I was pleased with the overcast sky that looked like it would spit rain at any moment… at home it was still in the high 80s and I had been looking forward to cool race weather!

Drew and I hopped on the Overground and made our way to Hackney Wick, then strolled to and through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. We had stayed nearby a few years ago, when the park was still at the early stages of reconstruction, so it was fun to see all the work that had been done since. We had the ArcelorMittal Orbit (the weird reddish tower in the above photo) as a homing beacon, and it led us to the race start area and packet pickup. Pickup was super easy and quick, and I spent the rest of pre-race time trying to both stay warm and poke my own pin holes through the bib, which didn’t come with any pre-made.

After a very half-hearted warmup on my part, a man with a megaphone (who shall henceforth be referred to as Megaphone Man) started strolling through the crowd of runners, reminding us all to double-knot our laces and treating us to witty banter in a Cockney accent. He then led us all in a group warm-up:

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(Note the not-so-overcast sky in those pictures… I was beginning to regret not bringing a hat or sunglasses at this point.)

After some butt-kicks and jumping jacks and sky punches, we made our way over to the 2012 Walk, where the start/finish line was. It was nice and shaded, and looked charming, and I had hope in my heart that it would be a lovely race:

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The start from Drew’s point of view…

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…and from my point of view at the back

The race

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Drew caught a picture of a bunch of charity runners dressed as monkeys

I wanted so badly to take off with most of the rest of the pack when the starting gun went, but I forced myself to hang back and take it easy. Though B2B had gone well, a month had passed since that race, and I was now carrying more baby weight and was unsure of how my body would handle running 10k.

The first little portion of the race was decent – down the shady flat path, marveling at the fact that I was actually running a race in another country – and both Drew and the race photographer caught me looking chuffed to be running:

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Photo: Drew

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Photo: Basil Thornton

Not long after those smiley pictures, however, things went downhill. It was hot. And sunny. I was thoroughly unprepared for hot and sunny. I hadn’t hydrated enough (surprise!), hadn’t brought water like almost everyone else had, and hadn’t brought sunglasses or a hat, so I was squinty and worried about sunburn. Plus, I was really feeling the extra baby weight. Things were more jiggly and, as a result, quite sore, and I also got out of breath very quickly. I had to stop to walk before the first mile clicked by.

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Stopping to walk meant I could take pictures!

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And then I started to run so I could take a running selfie. I was all ready to be done!

The course was mostly exposed to direct sun, so I was hot and red and sweaty and unhappy pretty quickly. There were also more hills than expected; the race description mentioned “slight undulations” but we had to scale some steep ramps to get onto bridges, and our detour included more hills than the usual route. I walked a lot, more than usual (with my midwife’s “listen to your body, stop whenever you get any pain” echoing in my head), and found myself soon getting lapped by the lead runners.

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About to get lapped by fast people

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Trying to muster a smile for Drew

Right after the above picture was taken, the course took us past a huge crowd of cheering people. Drew later told me that Megaphone Man had rallied a bunch of random passersby together so that we could have a cheering section! That was a fun little surprise.

The first water stop wasn’t too long after, and I savored my drink as I took a slow walk break in the shade. I had two laps to go, and I was mentally and physically done already. I strongly considered stopping, since I knew Drew was close by, but then I thought of the finisher’s medal and how I didn’t want to have my first international race also be my first DNF. So I soldiered on.

I started to hate the scenery. Three laps of the same thing gets very old when you no longer want to be running, no matter where you are. I kept taking frequent walk breaks, pausing every now and then to shove a Percy Pig – my chosen fuel – in my gob. (While tasty, those little suckers are hard to chew while walking, let alone running! I missed my Honey Stingers.)

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Struggling up a hill on the last lap

Two of the course marshals helped me carry on – one saw me struggling during the first lap and yelled out encouragement, then remembered me on subsequent laps and kept saying awesome things to me. The other saw the Shamrock on my singlet and said things as I struggled past, but her Irish accent was so thick I couldn’t make out her words! They sounded friendly though, and I like to think she was looking out for me especially because of the Shamrock. Seeing Drew at the end of each lap was a huge help too!

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Struggling up the last hill!

I can’t even express how happy I was to crest that final hill, knowing the finish line was close! I considered trying for a sprint finish, but the worrywart in the back of my head didn’t want to overdo it.

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Nearing the finish!

And then Megaphone Man appeared. I was a little ways behind the lady in front of me, and as he saw the two of us approaching, he started yelling that we should “make it a race!” and have a photo finish. The other lady had earbuds in and didn’t speed up at all, despite his goading her:

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Megaphoning into her ear

So he turned his megaphone on me and started shouting encouragement, urging me to beat the lady in red. So I thought, what the heck? I enjoy the first picture in this next series (all courtesy of Basil Thornton), because you can see the exact moment I tried to kick it up a notch – arms flailing and goofy look on my face:

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Clearly I didn’t beat the lady in red (she was going just a little too fast for me to catch up, though I did get close!), but I did manage to remember what Megaphone Man told us all we had to do at the finish – put our hands up. He joked that results wouldn’t count if our hands weren’t up, and that made looking through the race photos pretty fun – almost everyone has their hands up!

I made a bee-line for the water table, sucked down a couple cups’ worth (I was one of the last finishers, so didn’t think taking multiple cups was bad), and then stumbled off to get my goody bag and bling.

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So red, so sweaty, so tired… so happy to be done

I then made Drew hang out for a bit so I could hop up on the podium they had set up. Clearly I hadn’t won anything, but other people were leaping up for photo opportunities and I decided it would probably be the only time I’d have a podium picture, so darnit, I was going to make it happen:

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I can almost safely say that I was indeed the first place preggers American!

Mission accomplished, we set off for Stratford tube station, making a quick stop at Marks and Spencers so I could get some food to refuel (the recovery drink in the goody bag had sucralose in it – boo!). I got some interesting looks as I stood in the corner of the mall between M&S and the tube station, sweaty and wearing tiny shorts while pounding a milky coffee beverage and shoving chocolate in my face, but whatever – I had just finished my first international race despite really wanting to DNF, and was enjoying my runner’s high.

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Bling

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Goody bag contents

In the end, I’m so happy I opted to run a race while in London, even if I had been cursing myself while running the thing. I may have finished 313th out of 327 runners (91st out of 99 ladies), but I finished! And, once the runner’s high kicked in and my body forgot about the pain and exhaustion, I realized I’d even had a bit of fun too. It was a cool experience to run through an Olympic park, let alone experiencing an international race for the first time, and it will be fun to tell my wee running buddy about it someday 🙂

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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.

James Joyce Ramble, 24 April 2016

What: 10K

Where: Dedham, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me and a few Shammies

Time: 1:07:53 (personal record!)

Splits*:

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*Splits from Simon, who was misbehaving and didn’t start working until I was a ways past the start line

The Background:

This race has the honor of being the first one I’ve crossed off my bucket list (huzzah!). It caught my attention two years ago – I was an English major in college and am a lover of literature in general, so a race in honor of James Joyce sounded very appropriate for me to run! – and, after being unable to run it last year, I made sure to register right away this year.

I wasn’t expecting a good race at all because, let’s face it, I had run one measly mile since mid-March. When I registered, I assumed I’d be making my way through a half marathon training plan and thus in decent shape, but the wheels fell off somewhere along the way and I was facing having to run 6+ miles wholly unprepared.

However, this was a bucket list race, and I was determined to not DNS it. I decided I’d follow my Gait Retraining Guru’s (GRG) advice and run-walk (like I was supposed to do at the Shamrocks on the Rocks 5K), and if I had to walk more than run, then so be it. It would be another “do it for the experience” race rather than a PR quest, and I accepted that.

The Race:

I carpooled down to the race with a few Shammies, and we left HQ bright and early to ensure a good parking spot on-site. We had plenty of time to pick up our bibs and t-shirts:

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Race shirt

…wander around to the vendor tables to get free snacks, and warm up a bit. Before long, announcements were being made for the runners participating in the USATF Masters Championship part of the race to go to the starting line – they started a few minutes before everyone else – and my bladder went into panic mode. (I shared a semi-TMI story about my dodgy bladder’s antics before my first half marathon… similar things were happening here.)

I missed the start of the Masters race, and was scurrying to get to the back of the pack before the race started when I heard the announcement that Uta Pippig would be hitting the starting gong for our race. I happened to glance to my left after that announcement and realized that I was right in front of the little podium that held both the gong and Uta! I fangirled pretty hard for a second – I love Uta and watched her win the Boston Marathon a few times from the comfort of my couch – before scrabbling for my phone and taking a terrible picture:

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Uta (with ponytail) is standing behind the gentleman who crossed my path right as I spun to take the picture… sorry for getting all up in your grill, sir!

Giddy, I made it to the back of the pack with seconds to spare, where I exchanged smiles and “have a good race”s with a few nearby runners, and then we were off.

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About to cross the starting line

It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a run, and I was chuffed to be running… or attempting to run, anyway. I started off nice and slow, knowing I’d be doing a run-walk but with no strict plan in mind. The race is in Dedham, which has a lovely, historic downtown that I hadn’t visited before, so I was tried to distract myself from the fact that I was already winded by enjoying the scenery as I lolloped along:

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One of the unique features of this race that piqued my interest in the first place, is the presence of actors along the course who dress up in 1920s-ish-era clothes and read selections from James Joyce novels. My inner nerd was positively giddy each time I spotted another actor along the course, and I took a bunch of pictures:

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The run itself was going surprisingly well. I was trying to keep up proper form, as per my GRG, which makes me run a little faster than usual. Even with walk breaks, I was finding that my miles were almost all clocking in under 11:00, which got the competitive part of my brain thinking that perhaps a PR was possible. Even if it weren’t, I was still pleased with how I was doing, considering my utter lack of preparation!

The course was lovely, with a mix of residential neighborhoods, woods, and the charming downtown providing changes of scenery to keep me distracted. There was one section of killer hills in Mile 4, which made me slow down a bit and mentally kick myself for choosing to wear a long-sleeved hoodie. (I usually opt for minimal clothing, as I tend to go into furnace-mode during races, but my Shammie running buddies were both wearing jackets to race in and I let myself be peer-pressured into wearing something more substantial. I need to learn to go with my gut!)

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Hating my clothing choice. And hills.

The last bit of the course loops back through downtown Dedham and is a long, slow uphill. I mistook the last turn onto a straightaway as a sign that I was quite close to the finish, and I sped up just a bit in an effort to finish quicker so I could get the running over with. Turns out the last straightaway is much longer than it seems! But I surprised myself by steadily pushing faster, and at last I cruised over the finish line to a very welcome bottle of water.

Post-Race – The Rant:

I tottered away from the road to walk a bit before stretching, and set my sights on a shady spot under a tree that looked like a nice place to catch my breath. It was as I trudged toward that tree that I realized something a bit disheartening about the race. It’s hard to put into words, and it certainly wasn’t enough to ruin the day, but… I felt almost like a second-class citizen because I didn’t run the race competitively.

The USATF championship part of the race is a big draw, and people and running clubs from all over the country come to Dedham to compete. I’m guessing that’s why Uta Pippig was there too – it’s kind of a big deal. Big-name run clubs were present, like B.A.A., even if their members weren’t Masters, and the race is definitely geared toward those runners. And those runners definitely act like it.

One of the things I love the most about the running community is just that – the sense of community. Maybe I’ve just run mostly small-time races, but race day is always accompanied by a friendly atmosphere like we’re all in it together, all there for the love of the run. But at the Ramble, me and my non-run-club purple hoodie just felt in the way, or like I was crashing the Big Kids’ party that I was technically invited to but not really welcome at. Remember the smiles and well-wishes I mentioned at the back of the pack before the start? Race-wise, that was the only real community feeling I experienced.

Maybe it was the annoyed glances I got when a Real Runner had to wait in the porta-pottie line behind me, or behind others not wearing singlets. Maybe it was how, as I struggled up the hill toward my Tree of Shady Goodness, I had to bail off the sidewalk to make way for the B.A.A. runners doing their cool-down 4-abreast, and who were certainly not slowing down for or giving room to the red-faced mess just trying to stay upright and moving… and when there was an entire road, still closed to traffic, that was open for them to run in. Maybe it was how, about 30 seconds later, I had to stop suddenly to avoid getting run over by another cluster of singlets who decided – after I had gotten off the sidewalk to give them room – that they needed to make their way across the grass in the exact spot that I was about to step into. Maybe it was because the race photographers only took photos of the Real Runners at the finish line.

Typing those things out, they really don’t seem all that bad, and I feel a little whiny reading it back, like everyone should have been paying attention to me instead of their cool-down runs. (But still! It’s not hard to look where you’re going and/or be considerate of others, especially others who are clearly not in as good as shape as you and probably look ready to faint!)

Anyway. Like I said, it’s hard to put into words. People talk about the Ramble as a great community event – and it is! – but there was still this underlying feeling that I wasn’t really welcome, and that got under my skin a little. There’s a good chance I’m blowing things out of proportion, and that I’m the only one who felt this way about the race. After all, it is billed as a USATF Masters Champsionship first and foremost, so maybe I should have expected this. Maybe I’m just turning into an old curmudgeon! Moving on…

Post-Race – The Fun:

After doing some angry stretching after the singlet bombardment described above, I found my Shammies and we made a bee-line for the beer line. I was chuffed to see that there was cider available – and a yummy new summer blend I hadn’t tried yet! – and took a can with a proud smile after hearing the hipster with the lumberjack beard behind me complain about how lame cider is. (More for me!)

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Hydration, New England-style

Shammie C had packed a bag full of snacks, and we splayed out on the grass and tucked in. It was such a perfect day, with that not-too-warm, not-too-cool temperature in the low-60s that made me so happy to spend a few hours lazing about in the sun. We chatted with friends, chatted with strangers, and pet some friendly dogs.

After the awards ceremony – winning runners got James Joyce novels along with their prize money, how cool is that? – as the band started rocking, I checked the race results and saw that I PR’d by 7 minutes. Wait, what?! I was gobsmacked. I had forgotten to look at the race clock when I crossed the finish, and Simon was off because, with all my fangirling, I had forgotten to start him in time, so a PR – especially one that significant! – was a total surprise. Shammie C got me another cider to celebrate and Shammie E got a picture of us doing a celebratory dance:

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All things considered, it was a fun day. Curmudgeonly grumblings aside, it was a fun race – I liked the course and loved the literary actors reading to us as we ran by – and the post-race festivities were a good time. I am still amazed at my PR, and at the fact that I did so decently in spite of not training, and I’m glad I got my lazy bum out and moving on such a gorgeous spring day. Am I glad I ran the Ramble? Totally. Would I run it again? Meh…

Have you ever run a race that left a bit of a bad taste in your mouth?

Be honest – did I blow things out of proportion?
Have I been too spoiled by races that celebrate the accomplishments of every runner?

(Check out my less verbose and complainy* review of this race on BibRave!)

*((I started a version of my above rant on BibRave, but it raged out of control and I decided to rein it in. After all, it was my personal feelings, not the race itself.))

Bucket List Races: One Down… Lots to Go

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Aren’t you in awe of my MS Paint skills right now?

A few summers ago, while resting an injury and daydreaming of a time when I would be whole once again and running with reckless abandon, I posted about my bucket list races – races that sounded so awesome to me at the time that I decided I would do my darndest to run them someday (you can read the posts here and here). The list included:

  • James Joyce Ramble 10K
  • Maine Lobster Festival 10K
  • Oxford Half Marathon
  • Great North Run
  • Boston Marathon
  • London Marathon
  • Yorkshire Marathon
  • Santa Rosa Marathon/Half
  • Rock n Roll New Orleans (or any RNR) Marathon/Half

The reasons for wanting to run these particular races varied from “I was an English major and am still a literature nerd and this race sounds awesome” (James Joyce Ramble) to “OMG an excuse to travel to England” (4 of the 9) to “The course looks beautiful, and also wine” (Santa Rosa).

At the time, the list felt definitive. I was injured and sad, and these races were a way for me to dream my way back to fitness. Or something. Now? Meh… there are still several on that list I’d love to run someday (Boston, London, Oxford Half), but I don’t feel the need to keep the list definitive. I don’t think I’d be sad if I never ran a Rock n Roll race, for example.

That said, I’ve finally signed up for one of my bucket list races, so I can finally put a check mark on my not-so-definitive-but-still-cool list: the James Joyce Ramble!

Because I’m feeling list-y today, here is why I am particularly excited to run this race:

  1. I’m an English/literature nerd. It’s a race in honor of an author. Performers read Joyce’s works on the course as the runners go by. I will be in my nerdy glory.
  2. It’s in Dedham, which means I’ll get to check another town off my map.
  3. Some of my favorite Shammies will also be running it, and I love me some Shammies bonding!
  4. I like the 10K distance and have been wanting to run more 10K races.
  5. Checking anything off my races bucket list is pretty exciting, whether the list is definitive or not!

Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed that I can keep my various wonky body parts in line so that I can actually run the Ramble!

Do you have any Bucket List races? Have you ever run one of them?

Have you ever run a themed race for something you’re proudly nerdy about?

2014 in Review: Going Strong Despite Setbacks!

This past January I wrote a 2013 in Review post, looking back over my first “real” year of running. It had been a pretty big year for me running-wise… I ran an entire mile in one go for the first time ever, ran my first race, and considered myself a runner for the first time. It’s fun to look back on that post and see how far I came in just one year… and then to think about how far I’ve come just since January! So, to continue that tradition, here is my 2014 in Review.

First race of 2014 - ready to take on the year!

First race of 2014 – ready to take on the year!

2014 saw a massive increase in mileage for me, compared with 2013. Last year was big too, going from a quarter-mile being the longest I could run without needing a break to being able to run a 5K without stopping. In 2014, I started small by completing a 4-miler in March, and ended the year having completed a half marathon (I did take walk breaks, but still… the miles got done!) I’m not entirely sure how far I could go without needing to walk… 4 miles might still be my limit, but it’s definitely an improvement.

2014 also saw more injuries that put a damper on my year. In 2013 I suffered a bad back/neck injury that kept me from running for quite a while, and then I had a foot niggle that made running not fun at the end of the year, but otherwise I was mostly whole. 2014 saw a tendon tear that benched me from April to June, dodgy shins, dodgy toes, dodgy knees, and now a bout of peroneal tendonitis to end the year with. Hopefully the plan of attack laid out in my last post will help 2015 be a year of less injury!

2014 was also my first year being part of a running club, the Shammies. I joined in January, hoping the camaraderie would help snap me out of my first bout of running doldrums, and it’s been an awesome year of new friends, new races, and new experiences. I’m looking forward to (hopefully!) many more years as part of this club!

And now, my year in numbers:

Races completed: 19 (up from 15 in 2013)

States raced in: 6 (Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington, New Hampshire; up from 4 in 2013)

MA towns raced in: 11 (Worcester, Lunenburg, Boston, Cambridge, Woburn, Shirley, Somerville, Newburyport, West Newbury, Salisbury, Winchester; up from 7 in 2013)

5K PR: 32:43 (still not as fast as my all-time PR of 30:49)

10K PR: 01:14:52

Half marathon PR: 02:37:58

Races missed: 3 (Spring Classic, Kick In For Kids 5K, and WFPL 5K; same number missed as 2013)

And now, let’s see how I did on the goals I set last year:

1. Get my 5K PR under 30 minutes – not met. I tried, but that shiny PR of 30:49 is still my Moby Dick. I’ll keep trying.

2. Complete a 10K – heck yes! In fact, I ran two – the Old Wethersfield 10K in August and the Beat the Blerch 10K in September. Boo yeah! (And for good measure, I completed a half marathon in October! This time last year I would have laughed in my own face at the thought of running an entire half marathon. My, how a year can change things!)

3. Run in a BAA event, hopefully the 5K – I did this too! I was injured, but slathered BioFreeze all over my ankle and ran gleefully around the city with 9,999 of my closest friends. It was awesome, and totally worth the extra time I had to spend resting after running on an injured ankle.

Two out of three ain’t bad, right? Now, my goals for 2015:

1. Get my 5K PR under 30 minutes (worth another shot!)

2. Get my 10K PR under 01:10:00

3. Beat my fastest Garmin mile (currently 9:25.5)

4. Add 3 more towns and 1 more state to my map

It’s tempting to add “get injured less!” to my list of goals, but that’s just tempting fate. So we’ll leave it at that.

All in all, it was a pretty good 12 months! Here’s to an even better 2015!

How was your 2014?

What accomplishment from 2014 are you most proud of?

Have any goals for 2015?

Beat the Blerch 10K, 21 September 2014

What: 10K

Where: Carnation, Washington (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew… and not much help from a few Blerches

Benefited: Washington Trails Association and National Wildlife Federation

Time: 01:19:07

Splits: (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 10:57
Mile 2: 11:27
Mile 3: 13:56
Mile 4: 15:34
Mile 5: 12:28
Mile 6: 11:38
Mile 6.2: 4:37*

*I wandered around for a few minutes after crossing the finish line before I remembered to turn Simon off

Photos:

Packet pickup on Friday morning. That line stretched down the block!

Packet pickup on Friday morning. That line stretched down the block!

I thought I'd give toe socks a try in hopes that they'd help my dodgy toes... toes so dodgy they fought against going into their individual slots!

I thought I’d give toe socks a try in hopes that they’d help my dodgy toes… toes so dodgy they fought against going into their individual sock compartments!

Since only the toes on my right foot are dodgy, I stuck with the tried and true sock on my left.

Since only the toes on my right foot are dodgy, I stuck with the tried and true sock on my left. You can never have enough bright colors in your running outfits, right?

My view before the race. I was in the very last wave of runners for the 10K.

My view before the race. I was in the very last wave of runners for the 10K.

I overheard some ladies complaining about how humid it was. Aww, bless. Must be nice to have 43% humidity feel oppressive!

I overheard some ladies complaining about how humid it was. Aww, bless. Must be nice to have 43% humidity feel oppressive!

The course was pretty gorgeous... mostly on trails, over a few rivers, past a pumpkin farm, and within sight of some mountains. Parts of it were really breath-taking!

The course was pretty gorgeous… mostly on trails, over a few rivers, past a pumpkin farm, and within sight of some mountains. Parts of it were really breath-taking!

A scene from the course

A scene from the course

...and another. I kept wanting to pull off to the side to take pictures!

…and another. I kept wanting to pull off to the side to take pictures!

Ahh, the aid station. I opted for a Nutella sandwich and some magic purple drink.

Ahh, the aid station. I opted for a Nutella sandwich and some magic purple drink.

My first Blerch sighting! She was wandering around asking "Why are you running? Slow down!"

My first Blerch sighting! She was wandering around asking “Why are you running? Slow down!”

When I stopped to take a selfie (Blerchie?) she tried to keep me chatting but I would not be lured into Blerchiness!

When I stopped to take a selfie (Blerchie?) she tried to keep me chatting but I would not be lured into Blerchiness!

That is, until I came across the couch. Who could resist this photo opportunity?? It was tough to get up though... that Blerch was comfortable!

That is, until I came across the couch. Who could resist this photo opportunity?? It was tough to get up though… that Blerch was comfortable!

I loved the mile markers.

I loved the mile markers.

I beat the Blerch! I was so tired and hot that I couldn't decide how I wanted to pose with the Nutella, which meant I ended up doing this. Not my best work.

I beat the Blerch! I was so tired and hot that I couldn’t decide how I wanted to pose with the Nutella, which meant I ended up doing this. Not my best effort.

Race swag (not including the medal).

Race swag (not including the medal) – a magnet, two stickers, an ad for the Ragnar relay, and a super sweet long-sleeved shirt.

Back of the shirt

Back of the shirt

Blerchandise (bought separately)

Blerchandise (bought separately)

Recap: Blerch Day finally arrived! I jumped on the Blerch bandwagon last year when The Oatmeal posted his comic, “The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances” and I realized that I, too, suffered from bouts of Blerching a bit too often. The comic was a hit, and soon there was demand from Oatmeal-fan-runners for Blerch-related goods (like this shirt). Realizing the potential for awesomeness, Matthew Inman (Mr. Oatmeal) organized the Beat the Blerch race, complete with three distance options and the promise of free race photos, beautiful scenery, and lots of cake and Blerches. Registration sold out in 29 minutes when it opened back in March, and somehow I squeaked my way in there for a spot in the 10K. I was pumped! Drew and I decided to make a trip of it (photo-heavy travel post coming soon!) and last week made our way out to Washington to meet (and beat) the Blerch.

The race was originally scheduled for Sunday, but Inman organized a second race for Saturday (as well as a virtual option) after finding thousands of unhappy people on the registration wait-list. About 1700 runners took part in the races each day (with approximately 700 in the 10K I ran on Sunday). Given the fact that there were 6 races over 2 days and thousands of runners descending on the town of Carnation, the whole event was well organized and seemed like quite a success!

Packet pickup was available Friday and Saturday at Road Runner Sports in the Green Lake neighborhood Seattle (with Inman signing autographs in-store on Friday) as well as on-site at the course Saturday and Sunday mornings. I opted for the Friday pickup at Road Runner. Drew and I headed to Green Lake right after breakfast, arriving at the store around 10:30 (pickup was scheduled from 10am – 7pm). The line was already down to the end of the block (see the first photo above) and soon stretched out of sight. Road Runner staff popped out every now and then to make announcements, hand out free samples of Clif Gels and Honey Stinger Waffles (and possibly other goodies as well), and make sure the crowd was happy. Everyone seemed in good spirits and the line moved relatively quickly. Once inside, the line snaked through the store, ending in back where volunteers were taking people’s IDs to fetch their packets. It was a very well organized process and the volunteers were great – friendly, speedy, and efficient. Another line then formed for Blerchandise to be bought separately (see last photo above), and yet another line formed for autographs. It looked like Inman was drawing a picture for everyone (for example) and while I really wanted that, the line was immense and Drew and I were both itching to explore the rest of the city, especially having already stood in line for an hour to pick up my packet. I bought some Body Glide and a pair of toe socks, hoping to ease my toe woes, and then we skedaddled with a vague twinge of regret at not having stayed to meet The Oatmeal.

Fast forward to race day! We stayed at a B&B just outside Redmond the night before, and from there had a 20-minute drive to Carnation. The races were set to start at 30-minute intervals, with the marathon starting at 9am, the half marathon at 9:30, and the 10K at 10. I was super nervous for some reason, and could barely get down my half-waffle B&B breakfast. We left around 8:30 and, as I had been worried about, hit traffic going into town. The designated parking lots down the street from the course were all full, but Inman had prepared well and there ended up being plenty of parking at a dog park adjacent to the field where the race began. There were volunteers organizing the parking, and they did a great job; we left before most people and had no trouble at all maneuvering our way out of the park.

When we got down near the starting line, the half marathoners were just starting to line up. We heard the end of Inman’s talk to the runners before he lined up to run too (he ran the half marathon both days!), and cheered the runners as they started. The start of the race seemed well organized too… volunteers armed with police tape were sectioning off waves (there weren’t official corrals, just a few pace signs) so that the start of the race wouldn’t be too crowded (such a good idea!). After all the half marathoners had left I jogged around the soccer pitch that was next to the starting line and did some dynamic stretches while taking in all the costumes (I felt outnumbered wearing just regular running clothes!) and gawping at the mountains in the distance.

When the PA guy gave the 10-minute warning for the 10K, Drew walked over to the starting area with me. Out of habit I hung out at the very back, and ended up being in the last wave. Only when I got close to the starting line itself did I notice the pace signs… not that they were helpful for me! I saw “8 minutes” and “9+ minutes.” (Or maybe it was “10+” my memory is a little fuzzy.) People around me had been (good-naturedly) complaining that there weren’t more specific pace signs for people who run slower than a 9-minute pace, and as my wave was allowed to start I realized I agreed with them! Most of the people in the last few waves were walking the race, so my first mile was spent bobbing and weaving around people. Many people were walking several abreast as well, and the course wasn’t very wide at the beginning, so there were a lot of jog-comically-slow-behind-a-line-of-walkers-and-then-sprint-to-get-around-them-when-I-spot-an-opening moments for me. Thankfully the course widened (and switched from asphalt to gravel/dirt) after about a quarter-mile or so, so it was easier to go around people. Having only run one 10K – and one which was held alongside a 5K that many people walked – I naively assumed no one would be walking a 10K, but I passed close to 100 walkers before I found runners going at my pace.

Speaking of my other 10K, I figured this race would be a piece of cake since I had already run one, and since I had hit 7 miles in my long runs. Nope. I struggled. I had hydrated pretty well (maybe not perfectly, but better than I normally do) but had deviated from my usual pre-race food (bagel with peanut butter and jelly and maybe a banana… or at least a Clif Bar or something high in energy) because I didn’t want to be rude and refuse the breakfast the B&B offered. I ended up eating a quarter of a waffle, a small coconut-ginger scone, and a few tiny pieces of strawberry, and that was an hour and a half before race time. I had brought the free Honey Stinger Waffle from packet pickup but forgot it in the car, and hadn’t brought any fuel along with me, figuring I’d grab some at the aid station.

At the Old Wethersfield race, I ate my bagel and banana much closer to race time and purposefully ran slow, and the race ended up feeling relatively easy. For the Blerch race, my deviation from pre-race fueling combined with all the surging paces as I ran around people (and the half-mile or so of gravel trail during the first mile that tried to squirt out from under my heels and turn my ankles at every step) made for some very tired legs after only a mile and a half. After scoffing at people at the start of the race who were complaining about the humidity (43%! Oh the humanity!) and the heat (75*! God forbid!), I started realizing the the sun was indeed quite warm (and I had forgotten to put on sunscreen… geez I was a mess!) and was pushing myself just to make it to the 2-mile marker. It was a little disheartening… it shouldn’t have been that hard!

I slowed down at the 2-mile mark for a quick walk break, and was embarrassed back into running by some cheering volunteers. My slow times in miles 3 and 4 were thanks to a few more quick walk breaks and – more importantly – the aid station at Mile 3! Just before the station, the fast 10Kers were already looping back past me and a bunch of them were yelling out “Cake ahead!! You’re almost there!” Just before the aid station I saw my first Blerch. She was wandering around yelling out things like “Slow down!! Why are you all running? You paid for this?! Just stop for a minute and hang out with me!” I stopped for a selfie with her, then got asked to take pictures by a few other runners. The Blerch was chatty and was clearly trying to distract us. I finally managed to peel away and ran toward the aid station. As promised, there were Nutella sandwiches and little cups full of cake, as well as water and Clif shots. I grabbed a sandwich (they were cut into quarters) and a Clif shot, and slowed to a walk so I could enjoy my Nutella. (Also because running and eating is hard, and running while eating a sandwich made me want to puke!) I passed on the cake because just the thought of it really made me want to hurl!

Sandwich consumed (with a selfie for proof, because, why not?), I started running again and quickly reached the turnaround. I ran the short way back to the aid station and this time grabbed a magic purple drink (which really did feel magical!) and stood in the short line for a turn on the couch with some more Blerches. I had gone into the race wanting to enjoy the unique experiences rather than to run for a good finishing time, but still had to try hard to ignore the competitive part of my brain that wanted to PR. I sat on the part of the couch that was least sweaty (if you look at the couch picture above, you can see the massive sweat patch in front of the “feeling tired?” sign… gross) and sank right into the Blerch. His Blerchiness was pretty much a giant pillow and OH MAN did it feel so nice to sit and cuddle a giant pillow! I did not want to get back up, let alone run. If it hadn’t been for a growing line of people waiting for a turn on the couch, I might not have gotten back up.

After peeling myself off the couch, I trundled my way back down the path away from the Blerches. The Nutella sandwich turned out not to be the best fuel, but the magic purple drink gave me a good boost and I was able to run for a while before having to walk again. The race site had mentioned Shot Bloks being at the aid stations, so I had planned on getting one of those for the second half of the race, but there were only gels. To be honest I was a little intimidated by the gels, having yet to consume one, so I tried to make do with fumes from the purple drink.

Around the 4-mile mark I started getting passed by half marathoners and I was simultaneously inspired and disheartened by their speed as they flew past me. One slowed down to tell me “Great job, keep it up” before speeding off again and I was a little torn yet again as to whether I should be inspired or annoyed. I was walking when he said it, and he didn’t talk to any of the runners or walkers ahead of me, so I started wondering if I looked particularly pathetic and like I needed a verbal boost. Who knows. When I hit the 5-mile mark I steeled myself to run the rest of the way, but I couldn’t do it. The last mile or so was back on the ankle-turning gravel, and the walkers were using the dirt path along one side and the half marathoners were using the dirt path on the other side so I just gritted my teeth and tried not to sprain anything. This part of the race was also out from under the shady woods and man, the sun felt hot. I also had a very strong urge to pee myself all of a sudden and had to slow down so that I wouldn’t actually do it. It was rough going.

I had to walk again by the 6-mile marker (so darn close to the end!) because I wanted to puke, lay down, and pee all at once and didn’t really enjoy the sensation. I got passed by some people I had been leapfrogging for the past 2 miles, including one lady in a tutu who I swear gave me a smug look as she ran by me. I very well may have imagined it. She was probably very nice, and I have nothing whatsoever against tutus, but for some reason her passing me pissed me off. I started running again and then there it was, the finish line looming ahead of me. I saw Drew under the finish banner and I saw the tutu lady approaching it and a sudden burst of energy hit me and I sprinted past her. Ha-HA! I heard some people cheer as I started to sprint, then the PA guy called out my name, and then it was over. I had beat the Blerch! Someone handed me a medal and I wandered past the finish line in search of water, only to be stopped by a bunch of people telling me I had to turn in the chip on my shoe. I hadn’t forgotten – I was going to return it after I had some water – but apparently they needed it NOW. I was worried that I might keel if I bent over, but luckily there were volunteers set up with little step-stools, so we could put our feet on them while the kneeling volunteers undid our laces for us. I felt so fancy and spoiled!

Chip removed, I thanked the volunteer profusely and continued my quest for water. Drew met me and handed me his water bottle (he’s the best) while we walked through the post-race festivities area. Like at so many other races, water was way too hard to find. Inman had thought of pretty much every other thing in this race, but easily found water right after the finish was not one of them. Past the line for autographs (already ridiculously long and Inman wasn’t even there yet) and another for photos in front of the “I beat the Blerch” backdrop, we finally found the refreshments on a giant table. There were magical purple drinks galore, as well as thousands of Nutella sandwiches and pieces of cake. Still feeling nauseated at the thought of cake and more sandwiches, I grabbed some purple drink and a banana and plopped down in the shade, not caring that the grass was soaked. Drew made a few trips back to the drinks table for me since the cups were teeny-tiny. I didn’t feel great (the nausea had passed but it wasn’t the best time of the month for a race, if you know what I mean) so I grabbed a quick picture at the Blerch backdrop and we left.

All in all, it was a fun race and I’m so glad I had the chance to do it! The packet pickup and race itself were both very well organized and the volunteers were all fabulous. My time wasn’t even too far off my current PR, which is pretty good considering how much time I spent hanging out with Blerches! I adore the race shirt and the medal is awesome, though the promised “ridiculously awesome goodie bag stuffed with stickers, snacks, and Blerch surprises” eluded me. (I got a bag at packet pickup with one Blerch sticker inside… was that it?) Inman also promised free race photos which have yet to surface, but to be fair I’m sure he and the other race organizers have a lot on their minds as sadly one of the half marathoners collapsed on Sunday and never got back up. I felt so bad when I heard about this (it happened after I had left) and my heart goes out to his family and friends.

(Whew, my race recaps keep getting longer and longer, don’t they?! Cheers to anyone who made it this far! 🙂 )

Did you run Beat the Blerch, either in Carnation or as a virtual race? How did your Blerch-beating go?

Weekend Wrap-Up, 9/21

This week’s wrap-up is a bit wonky, mostly because I’m writing it before the week’s even half-over! Bear with me…

Monday (scheduled): rest day/anniversary celebrations
Monday (actual): rest day/anniversary celebrations

In addition to really needing to rest my toes after their anger flared up again on Sunday, Monday was also time for celebrations with Drew in honor of our second wedding anniversary! He skipped a soccer game and I skipped book club and we went out for a fancy(ish) dinner after work. There was wine, there was yummy food, there was incredible dessert, and there was the lovely company of a handsome man (all together: awwww). I think he’s a keeper.

A bit crazy that this was 2 years ago already!

A bit crazy that this was 2 years ago already!

Tuesday (scheduled): speed workout
Tuesday (actual): packing!

Much like last week, I was practically chomping at the bit to get back to workouts with the Shammies, but it was not to be. For one, my toes were still angry and I wasn’t sure a speed workout would help them much. For another, Drew and I would be hopping on a plane after work Wednesday and I hadn’t packed yet. Combine that with getting home late on Tuesday because the T is useless, and that didn’t leave a whole lot of time to get organized for our trip. So no speed workout for me… though it was probably for the best, since I’d want my toes in tip-top shape for…

Wednesday-Saturday

… our trip to Seattle! Way back in March I surprised myself by actually squeaking my way into registering for the Beat the Blerch race in Washington. I tried to register, figuring I probably wouldn’t get in, but when I actually did Drew and I decided to turn the event into an anniversary trip to the Seattle area, where neither of us has ever been. So we’re spending a few days in Seattle being touristy, then heading out to Carnation for the race on Sunday. Keep an eye out for a travel post, because I plan to take a ton of pictures!

Sunday

Beat the Blerch! I’m running the 10K race, and plan to run for the experience rather than to beat my 10K PR. I want to take full advantage of the Nutella sandwiches at the aid station! Keep an eye out for a race recap in addition to a travel post!

How was your week?

Have you ever been to Seattle? What are your favorite things about the city?