RAW Series: The Halfway Point

(…well, maybe a little past the halfway point by now, but let’s go with it, shall we?)

I’m a bit of a sucker for a good race series, especially if there is special swag involved. Back when I was still pretty new to running, I did (most) of the Let’s Run, Have Some Fun, and Be Fit series in Cambridge, which looks way cooler this year than when I ran it! I ended up not completing the series, but still got the series swag (a jacket!) because a friend ended up getting one that was too small. Score!

Then, I actually completed the Tour de Worcester in my home city, which was more fun than the Cambridge one. The Let’s Run series was 5 races of the same course… so it was cool to see how I improved over time, but the course got a bit boring. The Tour de Worcester was 3 different races in different parts of the city, which I liked. The swag was a nice beanie, which I still wear on cold runs.

Well, it’s been 5 years, but I’m in the midst of my third series, the RAW Series:

This one is a 6-race series, and like the Tour, it’s 6 different races in different parts of the city. A woman in my run club did it a year or two ago and got a sweet jacket as swag, so I was intrigued! Plus, Waltham is a cool city with lots of history (*history nerd klaxon*) so I signed up quick.

The first three races were back in April and May, and the next one is in September. I appreciate the summer hiatus, especially since it’s been so hot! Here is a quick recap of the first three:

JB Blastoff 5K, April 7, 29:38

AKA the 5k when I finally broke 30:00!!

Just thinking of this race makes me wistful for running weather that’s cloudy and in the 50s!! The JB was a mostly flat race through residential neighborhoods, and to be honest, I don’t remember much about it at this point. I should have written the recap way earlier, but… alas. My post about breaking 30 will have to do. I do remember that I started further up the pack than usual, since the first stretch was on a busy road not blocked to traffic, so the course was very narrow and I didn’t want to get stuck. I remember it being a decent race, with access to real bathrooms at a restaurant pre-race and what sounded like a cool after-party that I did not attend.

Moody St 5K, May 5, 31:51

I ran this race with some friends, who all happen to be librarians! We may have nerded out and gotten some matching t-shirts to wear that said “librarians know how to book it” 🤓

This was a fun race. There were sponsor booths with giveaways and treats, and a big Zumba warmup in the street before the starting gun. Moody St is one of the main thoroughfares in Waltham, so only part of it was closed to traffic (the rest was down to one lane). The course cut through some residential streets until hitting a path along the Charles River. That path went behind the looming Waltham Watch factory, which pleased my inner history nerd.

I would have come very close to breaking 30:00 again in this race if the running buddy I was with hadn’t had a losing-her-breakfast situation around the Mile 2 mark. I stopped nearby (afraid that if I got too close, I, too, would lose my breakfast) to make sure she was okay, until another of our pack of librarian friends came by and told my slightly green self to run away. Even with that diversion, I made great time and was pleased! Again there was an after-party, and again we didn’t attend.

St. Jude School 5K, May 18, 33:45

Attempted selfie with a toddler…

Unlike the first two races, Drew wasn’t around to Bairn-wrangle, so I popped the wee lad in the jogging stroller and took him with me. It was a warmer day than the previous RAW races, but still not too bad. The course was mostly on leafy residential streets, and took us by a farm and under a train bridge, both of which the Bairn loved.

This was also a very family-friendly race, as it was benefitting a K-8 school; lots of kids running and parents with strollers. This made for a fun after-party too, complete with a playground and free giant Italian ices! The Bairn had never had Italian ice before this, and he was an instant convert. There was also a misting tent, which was appreciated:

Thoughts So Far

The RAW Series has been great! I enjoyed the first three races, and was pleased with my times in each. We’ll see how the next ones go, since they’re coming up and it’s still hot and gross. Plus, the next one is basically up a mountain, so… yeah. I have a feeling I won’t do as well in the second half!

This series is different from the others I did in that there’s a scoring system, based on how you perform at each race. The top male and female runners get special prizes (I think) or at least bragging rights.

I’m looking forward to the second half, even if I don’t think my times will compare to the first half. Two of the races are trail races (or maybe one trail and one hybrid?) which will be different, and hopefully a cool change from the baking asphalt.

I’m also dying to find out what this year’s swag will be! #priorities

Hopefully my write-up of the second half won’t be as delayed as this one…

Have you run any race series? Do you prefer them to feature the same course over and over, or to change it up?

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Samantha’s Harvest 5K, 9 June 2019

Hi there! How in the heck is it June already?! I am way behind with race recaps… I’ve run 5 already this year (I’m back, baby!) and have written up exactly 0. Until now. Please excuse the lack of chronological order and maybe someday I’ll get my blogging act back together again.

Let’s press on, shall we?

Samantha’s Harvest 5k

What: 5K

Where: Reading, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me and the Bairn and a bunch of Shammies

Benefited: Samantha’s Harvest

Time: 32:50 Stroller PR!

Splits*:
-Mile 1: 10:38
-Mile 2: 10:33
-Mile 3: 11:03
-Mile 3.1: 1:08

*I forgot to stop my Garmin until I’d been across for a while, so my Garmin splits don’t add up to my official time

Background

I ran this race last year as my first stroller run ever with the Bairn (you can read the recap here). It was a decent race, supporting a good cause, and it was fun to hang with the Shammies, but I wasn’t planning on running it again this year. It just felt like a once-and-done experience. But, a Shammie who’s a new mom said she might be there with her new wee Shammie, plus the club pays our race fees, and it would be something to do while Drew played soccer that morning… so I thought what the heck and signed up. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t get to meet the newest Shammie, but it was still a good time!)

Pre-race

Much like last year, Drew had a soccer game at the same time as the race, so the Bairn and I hopped in the car and drove to Reading. Sam’s Harvest is a relatively small race, so there’s plenty of parking on-site and bib pickup is fast and easy.

In lieu of warming up like I should have, I made the rounds with the Shammies for the obligatory cooing over/getting high fives from the Bairn and “OMG he’s twice the size he was since I last saw him!” comments. I also wrestled the Bairn in and out of his stroller a few times because toddlers gonna toddler.

The Race

The field felt a lot smaller this year… potentially because the race started an hour earlier than in years past and that fact wasn’t heavily advertised. There were a bunch of runners with strollers last year, but I was one of only two this time around.

The Bairn and I started near the back and were on our own, as all the Shammies running this year were speedy and off winning their age groups.

I don’t remember there being so many hills last year – oof! Otherwise the course was wonderfully shady and on pleasant residential back roads. There were two water stops and both had ice-cold water, which was glorious! Every other race I’ve done so far this year had water that was vaguely cool at best, so the icy hydration felt even more amazing on this hot morning.

Another nice thing about the course being on all residential streets is that several families were out on their front lawns cheering on the runners. The best moment of my race was when I ran by a mom sitting on a blanket with her baby, who looked maybe 10 or 11 months old, and the mom excitedly pointed at the Bairn and said to her wee one “there’s a kid like you! Oh wow, they’re running with a stroller!” Then she looked at me and said “That is so awesome! I’m so proud of you!!” This happened between miles 2 and 3 when I was struggling a bit, and her words totally lifted me for the rest of the race. I feel like you hear so much about moms judging each other these days, and I tend to feel self-conscious a lot about what other moms might be thinking, so to hear such sincere praise from another mom meant so much!

The second best part of my race was as I neared the finish. Like last year I was the last Shammie on the course, and as I came down the hill toward the track where the finish line is, a bunch of Shammies were walking toward me as they headed off for a cool-down run. They all started cheering when they saw me and I reached out for a high-five and ended up high-fiving almost all of them. It felt like running a half-gauntlet of awesomeness!

As we turned onto the track and came down the final straightaway, the rest of the Shammies were clustered by the finish line, cheering. I saw one of them with his phone out for pictures and jokingly flexed, and then made a silly excited face, which got caught on camera:

I was also excited because both my Garmin and the ever-nearer finish line clock both said 32:–, which would not only be a solid 6 minutes faster than last year’s time, but also a PR for me in terms of stroller races. I was pumped!

Post-race

After I crossed the finish and the nice timing person ripped off the bottom of my bib and a nice volunteer handed me an icy, full-size bottle of water (seriously, this race does hydration RIGHT), all I wanted to do was lay down in the shade for a few hours. I was hot and red and probably dehydrated, and had pushed myself harder in this race than I planned to, so I was a bit wobbly. I pushed the Bairn over to some shade, ignoring his protests about wanting to come out and walk around, and plopped down gracelessly to chug water.

After the initial I-might-faint feeling, I felt awesome! I was still feeling pumped from both the nice mom and the Shammies high fives, and was totally chuffed about my time. It blows my mind a little that I’m finishing races faster pushing a toddler in a stroller than I was in most of my pre-Bairn races. I think it’s a combination of mom-strength (hefting an ever-growing child is my answer to weight-lifting and core work, I guess!) and ~cheesy alert~ believing in myself. The more I run faster, the more I know I can do it, and the more I push myself to keep it up. If I can be arsed, I may ramble on about these thoughts in another post. Someday. Maybe.

Anyway, back to post-race. The Bairn and I joined the rest of the Shammies, who were gathering by the leftover donuts in the shade by the registration area. We snacked on some donuts and stretched, and the Bairn joined in clapping for the award winners. We took a club photo:

And then everyone sort of trickled to their cars and left. Not a lot of fanfare or post-race partying, which was fine as I wouldn’t have been able to join in much anyway! The Bairn and I drove home, stopped for some iced coffee, and then repeated last year’s recovery: relaxing in the shade of our yard with a water table:

While I assumed Sam’s Harvest was a one-time race, it’s turning out to be a fun start-of-summer tradition. I wonder how many more years I’ll be pushing the Bairn? Maybe he’ll even run with me in a few!

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 3 June 2018

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 37:01 Personal record!

2018 was my fourth year running this race, and I PRd by a over a minute – and with a time more than 10 minutes faster than the first year I ran! (!!)

My streak ended in 2017 when I decided it was too hot for my out-of-shape postpartum self to attempt. I don’t regret that decision. To read my recaps from years past, see 20162015 and 2014.

Maker:S,Date:2017-11-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The Bairn waiting for the start of the race

Pre-race:

To be honest, this race happened so long ago now that many of the details from the day have fled my brain! Let’s see what I can recall.

I seem to remember feeling a bit more rushed than usual upon arrival… usually we got there early enough for me to pick up my bib and warm up. This year was the first time I registered on-site – my first time ever doing day-of registration for any race, actually! Rather than pre-register and have to DNS for some reason, it felt smarter to go this route. It worked out totally fine. I didn’t get a t-shirt, but hey, I’m getting to the point where I have so many race shirts I’m not sad if I miss out on another.

By the time I was pinning my bib, it was time to head to the starting line. Drew and the Bairn set off to find a good spectating position, and I weaved my way through the crowd to attempt to find a good starting spot. This is one area this awesome race could improve in – an organized starting area! No matter where I position myself in the crowd, I’m always weaving around walkers. I love, love, love that this race is so community-oriented and that so many people of all different abilities participate. But it would also be cool if people planning to walk could be encouraged to start at the back.

Anyway. The pipe and drum band marched by, remarks were given, and we were away.

Maker:S,Date:2017-11-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The start. Can you find me?

Maker:S,Date:2017-11-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Well, my running form is back to wonky, but hey, I was out there!

The race:

One cool thing about running this race so many times is that I’m getting to really know the course – know the turns, the hills, where the shade and water stops are, and when I tend to start to flag.  I know when and where I can push myself, and where to take it easy.

That plus the gorgeous 70-something temps made this year’s race feel easy. This race is held at midday, and the past years I’ve run it’s been in the high 80s or low-to-mid 90s, so 70s made it feel downright cool!

I also was determined to push myself this year, and I ran hard. Not all out by any means, but definitely harder than in years past. Granted, it was easier to push myself in the cooler temps, and I didn’t have an injury slowing me down, but it felt really good to actually try to race, rather than just dally my way toward the finish.

I think I was pushing myself to see how I could do, since I don’t try it too often. I knew I had another race the following week (recap to come… sometime in the future!) that I was going to push the Jogging Stroller in, and I knew that wouldn’t be a prime opportunity to really run, so I told myself I could take it easy the next time. This was the time to see what my body was capable of (at least with minimal training), and a chance to run hard to run through parenting and work and general frustrations. Huzzah for running to keep one’s sanity!

The first 2 miles or so felt pretty awesome and I felt strong, but sometime in the final third I started struggling a bit. I was determined to only walk during water stops, and I managed to run the rest of the time, but I was definitely flagging near the end. I forced myself up the last hill to the finish, then wobbled off to sit under a tree and focused very hard on not puking.

Post-race:

stroller

The Bairn spent most of the race trying to climb Mount Stroller

This was the first year I ran where the giant misting fan wasn’t at the finish line – boo! It took longer than usual to recover, thanks to my determination to push it despite not training at all. I sat under that tree for quite a long time, while my dad took the Bairn to inspect some fire trucks. Some water and ice cream helped!

Yet again, we didn’t stick around for the post-race party. One of these years I’d love to take more advantage of the park and the barbecue and adult beverages and general frivolity. This year our excuse was a grumpy Bairn who was bored of the scenery and getting close to naptime.

I did walk away from the race with a nice runner’s high, feeling strong and accomplished, and especially chuffed when I saw my official results – a PR of over a minute, and a whopping 10+ minutes faster than my first time running the WFD6K! The cooler temps certainly helped, but I was still proud of managing to finish the race with an average pace of 9:55.

Can I nab another PR in next year’s race? Will I actually get around to training? Will the scorching temperatures make a vengeful return? Only time will tell!

 

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*:

jjr_splits

*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:

IMG_6646

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:

IMG_6628

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.

FullSizeRender

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:

IMG_6632

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:

jjrcollage

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!)

IMG_6636

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.))

Dockweiler New Year’s Conquest, 9 January 2016

What: 5K

Where: Los Angeles, California (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Benefited: Lupus LA

Time: 30:26 Personal record!

Splits:
-Mile 1: 9:38
-Mile 2: 9:46
-Mile 3: 9:59
-Mile 3.1: 1:03

Recap:

So, this happened. I finally beat my Moby Dick 5K PR, on a weekend when I hadn’t thought I’d be able to fit any running in. How did this happen? Get comfortable, kids… I have a story to tell about my New Year’s Conquest at Dockweiler Beach.

Victory!

Victory!

Due to some unfortunately timed family events, Drew and I found ourselves getting ready to return to LA a mere 10 days after having gotten home from a Cali Christmas. This second trip was really only 3 days long not counting flights, so I hadn’t even entertained a thought of sneaking in another warm winter race until a few Shammies, having heard my tale of conquering LA hills over Christmas, asked if I would be racing again. Though I said no, the seed was planted.

Soon I was on Running in the USA, checking if there would be any races happening during my small window of free time in LA. Sure enough, there was a 5K/10K/15K being held a short drive from my in-laws’ house, and – not only that – it was a race with bling AND registration was pretty inexpensive. I checked with Drew to make sure he wouldn’t hate me for signing up for a 7am race, then giddily signed up for the Conquer Our Run race at Dockweiler Beach.

Saturday morning arrived, and with the help of a brain still set (mostly) on east coast time, I was up before dawn and ready to run. Bib pickup started at 6:30 and the race was due to start right at 7, so the sun was only starting to rise during our journey to the beach.

Bib pick-up

Bib pick-up**

The race was small (77 participants total for the 3 distances, according to the results), so bib pick-up was quick and easy. Volunteers with lists greeted runners, who were directed into a line upon arrival. Shirts were available for purchase, and each runner got a goodie bag with vitamins, chocolate-covered pretzels, a sports drink, and some protein powder:

IMG_5612The sun was rising spectacularly as I pinned my bib, and just seemed to get increasingly beautiful as the seconds ticked by. I took about a million pictures, but here are two of my favorites:

IMG_5611IMG_5613The race photographer even captured a shot of me running warm-up laps with the sunrise as a backdrop:

If only my gait didn't look so messed up. Sigh.

If only my gait didn’t look so messed up. Sigh.**

With several minutes to go until start time, all the runners got called over for some group warm-ups, led by a coach at a local fitness training place. I liked warming up as a group… not only did it force me to actually warm up (which I’ve been known to skip a few too many times), but it was also way more fun in a group setting.

Circled up for warm-ups

Circled up for warm-ups

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Arm circles**

Once that was done, the race director called us in for a huddle. She explained about the series of races she directs (Conquer Our Run), explained the course (a straight-line out-and-back along the service road, with one out-and-back for 5K runners, 2 for 10K, and 3 for 15K), and pumped us up to run and have some fun:

Pre-race pep talk... you can see me (and Drew!) looking pretty cold, directly under the tanker ships in the distance

Pre-race pep talk… you can see me (and Drew!) looking pretty cold, directly under the tanker ships in the distance**

Quick note about the temperature. I talked big in my last recap about how lots of runners were bundled against the “cold” which was my ideal running temp. This time was quite a bit chillier (though still much warmer than it would have been at a race closer to home!), with the wind coming off the ocean and the fact that the sun wasn’t out yet. I was so glad I had brought my arm sleeves.

On your mark, get set...

On your mark, get set…**

...go!

…go! Look how happy everyone is!**

Drew caught us as we crested the little hill and turned onto the service road

Drew caught us as we crested the little hill and turned onto the service road

He also caught me in the middle of the pack, looking positively giddy

He also caught me in the middle of the pack, looking positively giddy

Here’s a glimpse into where my brain was at the start of this race: I had gone into the hilly Christmas 2 Give 5K worried about injury and intent on taking it easy, and yet sub-9:00 paces felt easy at the start. I ran with that feeling (literally) and ended up doing way better in the race than I expected… so good, in fact, that it was my 3rd fastest 5K ever, even with the ridonk hills.

This race was flat as a pancake, with the exception of the short incline at the start and the occasional speed bump. If I could match my Christmas 2 Give effort, then I could probably do pretty darn well. I could maybe even PR. In fact, I was sure of it. This was the first race I started with actual confidence that I’d do well, and the first race I actually went all* out in. (*More or less.)

Rather than start at the back of the pack and cruise easily for the first mile or so like I usually do, I passed a bunch of people and ran. Not an all-out sprint, but not a leisurely jaunt… I actually felt like I was putting in an effort. I was obsessive about glancing at Simon and saw lots of high 8:00s and low 9:00s and felt pretty chuffed with myself.

Until I started slowing down. I was frustrated, because those speedy paces had felt so easy at the last race… then I realized, those speedy paces happened because a good chunk of the start of that last race was downhill. There were no downhills here, no gravity to help me, just me and the flat, flat road.

I pushed a little until Simon beeped for 1 mile – 9:38. Not bad! However, I was already being battered by my Blerch. My knee was hurting, my ankle was hurting, my foot was slapping the pavement weirdly, and my right arm was weirdly tingly and kind of hurt, and it was freaking me out a little. Despite the warm-up, I wasn’t very warm, and all I could focus on was my freezing hands, and all the other things I just listed. The Blerch was telling me to stop, to walk for a bit, but I didn’t want to. I decided to push until the turnaround, where we were told there would be water, and then I’d take some water and walk to drink it.

And then I got to the turnaround and there was no water. Womp womp. (I later realized the director had said we could ask for water, but I didn’t see any at the time so I didn’t bother asking.) I steeled myself to keep going. Simon beeped for 2 miles – 9:46. I was happy to see I was still sub-10:00, which I couldn’t remember happening for more than 1 mile in a race before. A shiny grail with “PR” engraved on it appeared in the clouds before me, and I gritted my teeth and pressed on.

Gone was the giddy smile from my picture at the start. I had warmed up, but my knee still hurt. My ribs were starting to hurt, and the sinuses in my head were so pissed off at me. But the grail was still there, so I kept pushing. I caught up with another runner who was going just ever so slightly slower, and I decided to pace her. I was lurking over her shoulder for a good quarter-mile or so – no intention of pipping her at the end, I was just desperate for someone to keep up with – until I just couldn’t anymore.

At around the 2.5 mark I stopped. I gave myself from a signpost to the next speed bump to walk and shake things out, but when I got there I couldn’t bring myself to run. My head was pounding, my ribs were killing me, I was *this close* to vomiting, and I was sucking wind like crazy. This is why you don’t start too fast!! I was scolding myself. I switched Simon to overall time and saw I was still within PR range, but just barely. That was enough. I was off again.

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On the home stretch

I tried to summon all the mental tricks I could. Telling myself I only had a half-mile to go, trying to remember the machine feeling I’ve had at the end of races before, trying a thing Colin told me once, where you visualize hammers in your hands and you swing them forcefully backwards to propel you forward. I chicked a guy and tried to stay ahead of him. I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery and the novelty of planes from LAX taking off directly over my head. I repeated the mantra “Don’t puke don’t puke don’t puke.”

"Don't puke don't puke don't puke" (far right)

“Don’t puke don’t puke don’t puke” (far right)**

I spotted the finish line, and I saw Drew with his phone ready to snap my usually goofy near-the-finish picture. I didn’t even have the spare energy to look at him, let alone smile:

IMG_5625

That view though.

That view though.

And then there it was: the finish line. My brain was yelling “sprint!!!” but my body was all “oh helllllll no.” I cruised down the incline, trying to wish the race photographer away:

This is what you look like when you're wishing the photographer away

This is what you look like when you’re wishing the photographer away… like you’ve aged 20 years**

I stopped Simon, heard someone at the finish line yell out my bib number and a time (the time didn’t register), and staggered away to find water. A volunteer stopped me dead in my tracks to give me a medal (a dog tag) and ask my name, which I croaked out, swaying a little, and then I lurched over to another volunteer to ask for water. The race photographer caught this moment too, which looks much more cheerful than I remember:

23652048143_6f343ee5cd_o

**

I finally found water, guzzled some, wandered about a bit, and then looked at Simon for real. 30:26. A 23-second PR, official results pending. Drew found me dazed but smiling. I looked at my splits and saw that all 3 miles clocked in under 10:00 – something I had never* done before (*I guess I must have at the Moby Dick race, but wasn’t tracking myself so don’t know what my splits were). As my urge to projectile vomit settled down, the runner’s high began to hit… and then it got better – I got a prize!

The pre-race info promised that top finishers would get swag from the movie 13 Hours (seriously, how LA is it to give out movie swag as prizes?). As I was still a bit dazed, the race director came up to me and handed me a poster. Since I am never considered a top finisher, I assumed they had extras and the director was just being nice. After all, there had been a bunch of runners ahead of me. Then Drew told me that most of the runners ahead of me had kept going – they were running the longer distances.

Brandishing my movie poster

Brandishing my movie poster

Turns out, I finished 9th out of 40 women, and 15th overall for the 5K. What?!?! Damn yo, small races are awesome! And, the official results match my Garmin time, so my 23-second PR stands. Moby Dick has been harpooned, and that elusive sub-30 finish is looming ever nearer! My quads are still killing me 3 days later, but it was a pretty fabulous way to start the year!

**Photos with asterisks courtesy of the race director**

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 14 June 2015

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: 43:44 Personal record!

Splits (according to Simon*):
-Mile 1: 12:27
-Mile 2: 11:43
-Mile 3: 12:10
-Mile 3.6: 7:26
*My splits are a bit off because I started Simon late

Race swag:

I love the design of this year's shirt but - again - the small is way too big for me!

I love the design of this year’s shirt but – again – the small is way too big for me!

Recap: This was the second year I ran the WFD6K (you can read my recap of last year’s race here). As I explained in last year’s post, this race means a lot to me as it’s a memorial for the Worcester 6, the six firefighters who gave their lives protecting their city (my hometown) during the Cold Storage Fire in 1999. This race has been run in their memory every year since 2000, and has grown every year; this year there were 1500 participants, according to the race director.

Thankfully it wasn’t as hot for the race this year as it was last year… last year (if I remember correctly) it was in the upper 80s and very humid. This year, the temperature at gun time was 78 and it wasn’t too bad humidity-wise. It was definitely still a hot race to run – especially with a midday start, a high in the 80s, and not much shade on the course – but it certainly wasn’t as bad as last year. This year I made sure to hydrate properly, downing 96oz of water and Nuun the day before, as well as 32oz before the race. I remembered my red, throbbing head from the year before, and I wasn’t messing around this time!

photo(15)

Before the race

Packet pickup was a breeze. Each preregistered runner got an email a few days prior with their bib number, saying to hang on to the email to make pickup quicker. The bibs were organized by number, so knowing yours beforehand definitely sped things up (they also had everyone’s numbers posted in case people weren’t sure). The registration tent this year was actually down in the park adjacent to the start/finish line, whereas last year it was on the sidewalk and very crammed. Much better this way!

With our bib we got a tech t-shirt (see swag above), which unfortunately ran very large. I went back to the shirt people to ask if they had anything smaller than a small, but the guy just shrugged and told me to eat a few ice creams before wearing mine. So Drew will inherit yet another of my sweet race shirts. Oh well! With our shirts we also got bags full of papers – ads, coupons, race apps, brochures… basically a small tree.

Worcester Firefighter Pipes and Drums marching before the start of the race

Worcester Fire Brigade Pipes and Drums marching before the start of the race

I sought out some shade to pin my bib and don sunscreen, then waited in the long but fast-moving porta-potty line (there were maybe 9 or 10 porta-potties total), and, again remembering how rough last year’s race was, started warming up. Last year I didn’t warm up at all and my right calf gave me grief for the entire first mile. This year I made sure I had plenty of time to do some high knees, butt-kicks, skipping, quad-stretch-toe-touching-thingies, toy soldiers (or “Hitler walks” as Colin used to call them), hackey-sacks, and the leg-swinging stretches. I’m still working on fine-tuning my ideal warmup routine, but felt pretty good about this one. My dad found us about 10 minutes before gun time for a good-luck hug, and then he and Drew set off one way while I made my way to the back of the pack at the starting line.

My view of the starting line from the back of the pack

My view of the starting line from the back of the pack

The one complaint I have about this race is what happened next. Around 11:15/11:20, the lady on the PA was telling everyone to get to the starting line, as gun time was set for 11:30. The vast majority of people obeyed and we all milled around, finding good spots in the crowd, and waited for the start. Then, at 11:30, announcements started. The race director talked for a while, then handed the mic over to a few others. Balloons were released in memory of the Worcester 6, some more people talked, and then the national anthem was played. And then they requested a moment of silence. And then, after some more talking, the fire engine horns signaled the start of the race… 15 minutes after the race was supposed to start.

I understand that this is a very special event for the city of Worcester and for the firefighters and their families. That’s the whole reason why I run this race! Moments of silence and ceremonial gestures are special parts of the event. But if you’re going to make announcements and thank sponsors while all the runners are standing in the beating midday sun, for the love of god, please don’t ramble on for 15 minutes! Had I known that there was going to be that amount of talking, I would have moved off the course and stood in the shade. People around me were beading with sweat just standing there. Plus, being in the back, we couldn’t hear about two-thirds of what was being said anyway… most people around me didn’t even join in the moment of silence because they all started talking excitedly after the national anthem and didn’t hear the announcement (either that or they were just rude, but I like to think not). By the time the race finally got going, any warming up people had done before toeing the line was probably moot. It was a little ridiculous.

And we're (finally) off! I'm 4th from the left, looking super serious.

And we’re (finally) off! I’m 4th from the left, looking super serious.


Drew caught me (circled) a few minutes later, giving a thumbs-up and happy to be running once again

Drew caught me (circled) a few moments later, giving a thumbs-up and happy to be running once again

My plan for the race – in addition to the general rule of TAKE IT EASY – was to run-walk a ratio of 4 minutes to 2 minutes. My PT had recently bumped me up to 3:2 (running for 3, walking for 2) and I figured I’d try a 4:2 at the start to see how it felt.

The first half-mile or so was spent dodging so many people. Knowing I’d be walking part of the race, I started at the back, but in front of people who were talking about walking the whole thing (there were no pace signs). I was amazed at how many walkers had started so far up the pack, but as I was clearly not gunning for any time records, I just calmly bobbed and weaved (gently) and did my thing.

During my first walk break I was passed by some firefighters in their gear

During my first walk break I was passed by some firefighters in their gear

Despite my best intentions with my warmups, my right calf was a jerk again for the first mile – just like last year. (Though, to be honest, by the time the race *actually* started, did my warming up even matter?) However, I was chuffed at how I felt otherwise… I felt great! Landmarks that had felt so far into the race last year were appearing way faster than expected, like the hairpin turn and the fire station with a hose out to spray runners. I felt like I could run for more than 4 minutes at a time, but didn’t want to overdo it.

Drew and my dad were waiting just before the course crosses at Mile 2. They were in the same spot last year, when I had to force myself to run when I saw them… I was already struggling in the heat pretty bad by that point. This year, however, I was feeling amazing and greeted them with my arms in the air and a huge grin:

Arms aloft in victory

Arms aloft in victory

Just past this point in the race, the faster runners started passing us on the other side of the street, and we dipped down into a lovely, shaded tunnel for a bit. I high-fived a few runners going the other way, and I was keeping my eyes peeled (with no success, sadly) for Day of the Dead arm sleeves so I could yell “Go LunaSea!!” I ran through the second water stop, high-fived some firefighters who were road guards, and was chugging along quite happily until about Mile 3.

Mile 3 was when I realized my head was throbbing and that I was quite warm, actually. The one thing that was keeping me going was that I knew a water stop was coming up… except by the time I got there the water was hot. Not refreshing at all! So I steeled myself to just keep going until the next spot where firefighters the year before had been spraying runners with a hose… except they weren’t there this year. When I realized that, I slowed to a walk and broke out my packet of Honey Stinger chews that I had brought just in case.

What I forgot was that at that point in the race, I was so unbelievably close to the finish line! Simon had turned off during the epic pre-race announcements (even though I had managed to save him from power-saving twice) and I didn’t get him started until I was already a ways past the starting line, a fact which I had forgotten by this point and I still thought I had quite a distance to go before the end. I struggled with the packet of chews for a bit and was just stuffing the first one into my gob when I realized that I could see the finish line. I crammed another chew or two in and then steeled myself to run the rest.

Flashing Drew a smiley thumbs-up as I approach the finish line

Flashing Drew a smiley thumbs-up as I approach the finish line

Last year I had managed to sprint the uphill finish, but this year I didn’t want to exacerbate my knee problems so I just cruised relatively easy up the hill. A cluster of people were in front of me, crammed over on the right side of the road, but the finish line stretched the whole width so I moved over, passed the little cluster, and felt like a rock star with half the course to myself:

Huzzah!

Huzzah!

I floated across the finish, slowed to a walk, and made a beeline for the water table and, of course, the giant misting fan. A million thank-yous to the Sutton Fire Department for bringing that thing to this race each year! After standing in the cool mist with a huge grin on my face, I met up with Drew and my dad and we walked off to the post-race party to get some snacks.

Post-race party in Institute Park

Post-race party in Institute Park

There was an ice cream truck giving out free ice cream (yay!) so I grabbed one and then found a quiet, shady spot behind the bandstand where I could sit and ice my knee, which had bravely carried me the distance:

Ice packs and ice cream

Ice packs and ice cream

We sat for a while, enjoying the cool shade by the pond, and I couldn’t stop smiling at the fact that I had just run (run-walked, but still) a race after 5 weeks of only the most minimal bouts of running since being diagnosed with patellofemoral syndrome, and that my knee wasn’t hurting! We heard the pipes start up and wandered over to the other side of the bandstand to watch the WFBP&D play:

photo(12)My dad ran over to the posted results to see how I did, and came back with a report of 43:something… I had PR’d even though I was taking it easy! As it turned out, I finished about 3.5 minutes faster than last year. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to run it injury-free!

I love the WFD6K. I don’t like that it starts at 11:30… if it were during the winter I’d be okay with that, but mid-June? Ugh. I also didn’t like the long-winded announcements at the start of this year’s race. Otherwise, it’s awesome. I love the course, I love that the road guards are mostly firefighters and that they applaud and thank the runners (many of whom thank the firefighters too), I love that the fire station we pass puts out a hose to cool us down, I love that runners high-five each other when our paths cross at the tunnel, I love the Pipes and Drums, I love the post-race party, I love the charities that benefit, I love that we run for the Worcester 6… I love it all, and I hope to run this race every year for many years to come!

29th Annual Cambridge CityRun 5 Miler, 29 March 2015

What: 5-mile road race

Where: Cambridge, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me and my Couch to 5 Miler classmates, plus a coworker, with moral support from Drew

Benefited: Friends of Cambridge Athletics and the Andrea Harvey Memorial Fund

Time: 53:30 Automatic personal record!

Splits (according to Simon):
-Mile 1: 10:36
-Mile 2: 10:37
-Mile 3: 11:01
-Mile 4: 10:55
-Mile 5: 10:06

Photos: (click to open larger versions)

Against my better judgement, I experimented with a new pre-race breakfast... scrambled eggs with spinach, peanut butter toast, and a tiny bit of tea.

Against my better judgement, I experimented with a new pre-race breakfast… scrambled eggs with spinach, peanut butter toast, and a tiny bit of tea.

Most of the members of my Couch to 5 Miler class, posing before the race start. (I don't know what I was doing... talking/eating??)

Most of the members of my Couch to 5 Miler class, posing before the race start. (I don’t know what I was doing… talking/eating??) Photo from GetFit’s facebook page.

Drew's shot of me approaching the finish line.

Drew’s shot of me approaching the finish line.

And my official finish line photo, complete with a photobombing Drew.

And my official finish line photo, complete with a photobombing Drew.

Recap: Yikes… this recap is way later than I intended it to be! Let’s get down to it, shall we? (Apologies for how disjointed this post reads!)

As I’ve written about before, I signed up for a Couch to 5-Miler class through my work’s GetFit program, and this Cambridge CityRun race was the end goal for that class. In our first class, I set a time goal for the race (finish in under 55 minutes) based on my time for the leg I ran of the Mill Cities Relay, and also set a goal to stick to the training plan we were given.

Everything started out peachy keen, and then I hurt my rib cartilage during a coughing fit and was sidelined for an unfortunate amount of time. I missed a bunch of training classes, couldn’t stick to my training plan, and was just hoping that I’d still be able to run the race, let alone meet any kind of goal times. I think I managed one run in the month leading up to the CityRun, so I didn’t have high hopes for race day.

Packet pickup for the race was simple enough – Marathon Sports had set hours for pickup at their Cambridge store all week before the race, and there was day-of pickup as well. I chose in-store pickup and it was super easy. In fact, I was the only one there for pickup, so it was super fast as well! I got my bib, some safety pins, and a shirt, and that was all for swag.

I had been keeping an eye on the weather for race day all week, and had been so excited that the day looked to be mid-40s and sunny. Warmth at last! But, being New England, and this being the winter from hell, of course the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. As I walked from the car to the starting line, here’s what the weather looked like:

Brr.

Brr.

The sun was relatively warm, but the wind was frikkin cold. So I decked myself out in tights, a hat, and thermal base layers and grumbled about how sick I am of this winter!

The GetFit team had a table near the start/finish line where we all gathered. I expected that our 5-miler instructor, who was also running the race, would lead us in warmups beforehand, but everyone just milled around and chatted. When I saw the instructor getting ready to take off on a solo warmup run, I jumped at the chance to run with her. We ran at a good clip for maybe a quarter-mile and then everyone started gathering at the starting line. Had I known I was on my own for warmups, I would have actually done some on my own! Oh well.

The starting line was at the bottom of a hill, and I assumed we’d be starting uphill. Thankfully we started downhill, but the “flat” description of the course was pretty inaccurate. There were some hills! Not giant ones, but we certainly felt the inclines… especially the steepest one in the last mile! Despite my lack of training and complete lack of hill running all winter, I was able to run them all without having to take walk breaks. That made me happy!

What also made me happy was the unexpected running buddy I had for the race. I’m currently part of a “strike force” [to be read as STRIKE FORCE!!] at work, and one of my colleagues from that appeared at the GetFit table before the race. I had no idea she was running the race, and we were both excited to see a familiar, friendly face. We stuck with each other for almost the whole race, which ended up being just what I needed… running with a new person made me not want to slow her down, so I pushed myself to keep going several times when I would have stopped had I been running alone. We only separated with about a half-mile to go, when she pulled off to the side of the road looking like she was going to lose her breakfast. She waved me on to keep going, which I felt torn about… I was running at a decent pace and looked to be close to meeting my goal time, so I didn’t want to stop, but I also didn’t want to abandon the poor girl on the side of the road! Luckily our 5-miler instructor appeared, having already finished the race and doubled back to see how her proteges were faring, and she ran to help my buddy, leaving me free to dash for the finish.

I was pretty stoked at this point – I had only stopped to walk ever so briefly at the first water stop (I managed to run through the second one and was able to drink and run without choking, which I was quite proud of!) and despite not being adequately prepared for running a 5-mile race, I was doing way better than expected. I even got a second wind as I neared the final quarter-mile… it helped to see one of my classmates ahead of me. I really hate when my competitive side rears its ugly head, but I had been the fastest runner in the class and did NOT want someone else to finish ahead of me [insert sheepish face here] so when I spotted the GetFit t-shirt in front of me I kicked into the next gear and flew past her, all the way to the finish line and to a finish time 1:30 faster than my goal time!! I was so giddy, and as a result my official finish line picture is me with a ridiculously goofy grin on my face. Yay!

The race itself was pretty okay. For my first race of the year and first race back from injury, I was chuffed at how well I did, but I’m not sure I’d run the CityRun again. It was certainly not flat (lies!!), and there were one or two places where the course was a little confusing and no volunteers or signs were present to help direct the runners. Also, while it was nice to run around Fresh Pond and not on the streets, the paths were still open to the public and were surprisingly packed with people out for Sunday morning walks with their dogs and strollers, making it a bit of an obstacle course. These things couldn’t really be helped, and to be fair, the registration fee was really low compared to other races I’ve done in Cambridge, so the lack of swag or frills or perfection is understandable. That said, I don’t think it’ll be a repeat race for me.

(One bonus that comes from writing this recap so long after the fact is that I know about the training run I did with the Shammies the week after the race, in which I beat my 5-mile time again! Woohoo!)

Have you ever had a race go surprisingly well despite injury or lack of training?

What’s your favorite distance to race?
I quite enjoyed the 5-mile distance!