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?


Fort Hill Brewery 5K, 15 April 2018

What: 5K

Where: Easthampton, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew (and two Shammies running the half)

Benefited: Easthampton High School’s track and cross country programs

Time: 32:39

-Mile 1: 10:13
-Mile 2: 10:47
-Mile 3: 10:33
-Mile 3.1: 01:17


This was my first race post-Bairn! I originally signed up for the half marathon back in November, but after training went awry, I switched my registration to the 5K and am quite pleased with how it all played out. Especially because we got a fun weekend of travel out of the deal!


Fort Hill Brewery*

Bib pickup happened the day before at a fitness studio in nearby Hadley, and was super easy and quick. I had signed up early enough to get a free shirt, which was a tech shirt with gender-specific sizing – always a plus! There was also bib pickup the morning of, but as we were out and about with the Bairn the day before anyway, it seemed prudent to get it done with.

The race itself was held at and around the Fort Hill Brewery in Easthampton, with parking onsite, on a nearby street, and at a community center next door. The brewery looked like an old farmhouse near Mount Tom (which you can see peeking out on the left of the above photo), and felt very picturesque.

We arrived just before the half marathon runners took off at 10am, and we took shelter in the brewery as we waited for the 10:30 start for the 5K. In addition to not feeling trained or physically ready at all for a half marathon, the fact that it was in the low 30s (with wind chill making it feel like the 20s) with freezing rain in the forecast made me even happier I had dropped to the shorter distance! It was awesome having the brewery to shelter in, especially since I had a Bairn in tow.


Checking out the ambulance with the Bairn, pre-race

A little before 10:30 the runners were summoned down to the starting line. It was frikkin’ freezing, guys. I’ve run in colder temps, but it had been quite a while, and my body was not happy with me for making it hang out in, and warm up in, such conditions. I did some half-hearted warmup jogs and dynamic stretching, then stood shivering with the rest of the 95 runners as we waited for the start.

We got some directional instructions before the start, as well as a reminder to take deep breaths and be in the moment, then the starting gun went off and we were away running. I started near the back of the pack, and had intentions of taking it pretty easy, but I was so cold that I found myself running faster than planned just to try to warm up. Also, my recent training runs have all started out fast, so I think that’s just what my body was used to.


Before the 5K start*

Maybe halfway through the first mile I checked Simon Mark II and saw I was chugging along at a 9:– something pace. I knew that wasn’t sustainable, but I was feeling okay, so I picked a runner near me who was wearing a sparkly skirt and decided to try to pace her. I managed to stay with her until the water stop just before Mile 2, when I took the opportunity to walk as I drank and she ran out of sight. While I was disappointed to see my pacer disappear into the horizon, I was pretty pleased that I had made it nearly 2 miles without needing a walk break.

The water stop was the last(ish) part of the race that was on roads – until then we had been running mostly residential roads near the brewery. After the water stop we turned onto the Manhan Rail Trail, which was beautifully paved (no potholes or rough patches like on the roads!) and which looked like it would be such a cool trail to have at one’s disposal. Not long after hitting the trail we passed behind an old, run-down mill building and I wanted to stop to take a picture… but I didn’t want to stop, as I had just started running again. So I wrestled with my ArmPocket to get my phone, and took a shot of the creepy-looking water tower attached to the mill:


It didn’t come out great, but it was cool-looking in person, I promise

I had been leapfrogging the guy in the blue hoodie in that photo, and at the time of the picture I had pretty much given up hope that I’d catch him again. The arm at the very far left of the photo was a lady I ended up chatting briefly with (we commented on the not-so-pleasant smell of some kind of factory or stream we ran past) before awkwardly passing her when I got my second wind.

Since I hadn’t warmed up properly, my first mile in this race was pretty much a warmup… as in I couldn’t feel my legs because they were so cold, and they didn’t warm up until the first mile had ticked by. I struggled a bit for the second mile… likely because I wasn’t hydrated (I am me, after all)… but then after taking that walk/water break, I had a few minutes and then BOOM my second wind appeared. I’ve written before about races where I’ve felt like I turn into a machine at the end, and that happened again in this race. Once I passed that lady, I felt like I couldn’t stop or slow down if I wanted to.

I got to a point on the trail where I recognized the community center that’s next to the brewery, and I knew I was almost done. I had about a half-mile to go, but I ate that half-mile for breakfast. My jets turned on and while I didn’t sprint, I did pick up speed, and I felt strong. I even caught up to and passed Blue Hoodie, and left him in my dust. I picked off a few more people as the trail ended and we turned onto the road that leads to the brewery.


Cresting the last hill

The very last bit of the race was a cruel uphill to the finish line, but I ate that hill for second breakfast. Maybe I was just so excited to be done, or maybe I had energy stores galore from the breakfast sandwich and tasty coffee I’d had before the race (ordinarily I don’t eat that much or drink coffee before races), but I tore up that hill, waved excitedly at Drew and the Bairn who were waiting for me near the finish, and crossed the line with a much faster time than I had expected.



As a bonus, a race volunteer placed a medal around my neck after I crossed the finish line (according to all the race info, only half finishers were going to get medals, so bonus bling was awesome!), I grabbed a banana, and wobbled off to find Drew and the Bairn. I was well chuffed with my race, especially the last third or so, and also very glad that I didn’t have 10 more miles to run! The 5K was the right choice for me this time for sure.

We hung out in the brewery for a bit so I could warm up and guzzle some water, then we opted to leave early and skip the post-race party. The brewery was going to be serving beer, a local pizza place was already handing out slices to the runners (I think I’ve written before that I have a hard time with “real” food right after a race, especially things like pizza), and a DJ was ready to spin some tracks, but bad planning on my part meant we had no Airbnb to return to and a long ride home with a tired Bairn, so we bolted. The party pics on Facebook make it look like it was a fun time though!

Even though it wasn’t the half marathon I had planned on running, I’m glad I dropped down to the shorter distance. My training runs had gotten up to 5 miles so I knew I could grind out 3.1, and knowing my family wasn’t killing a long time in the cold eased me of guilt. I ended up feeling strong and finishing faster than expected, so I’d say it was a pretty successful return to the world of road races!

And I’m already putting feelers out for my next race…

*Photos with asterisks by Donna Gulow*


A Western Mass Weekend

Hello there! If you read my last post, or have been following along with my ill-fated half marathon training, you’ll know that I recently traveled out to western Mass for the Fort Hill Brewery half marathon/5k.

Western Mass is a place I haven’t spent much time in, considering I’ve lived my whole life in Massachusetts. I grew up in central Mass, and now live a bit outside Boston. Western Mass has always unfortunately been the driving equivalent of flyover country for me – it’s the two-lane bit of the Mass Pike that always feels endless on the way home from somewhere else. I’ve known there are cool things to do and see, but other than a childhood visit to the Yankee Candle Factory, I’ve never gone to see for myself.

Enter the Fort Hill Brewery race. In addition to being motivation to train (ha!!) it would allow me to check another town off my Massachusetts running map, and would give us an excuse to explore someplace new. I found a toddler-friendly airbnb close to the race, which was in Easthampton, and away we went.

Our neighborhood for the weekend was within walking distance of the center of town, and within gazing distance of Mount Tom (as seen above). We spent the first evening taking advantage of the 70-degree temps and exploring the shops and sights of the town center.

Easthampton seemed to me to be a town that had seen some hard days when its mills closed, but that has done a lot to reinvent itself. It felt like a mix of blue-collar and artsy hipster, with a dash of college town vibe. Several microbreweries have sprung up, and at least one of the giant old mills has had new life breathed into it by new businesses and an indoor park. There are also some non-revitalized mills still around (see below), which I’ve always been fascinated by… maybe because I lived near many such mills when I was growing up.


One thing that really struck me about western Mass was how nice everyone was… people smiled and said hello, and cars stopped to let us cross while the drivers smiled. Maybe it was because we were pushing a stroller, but I also saw people being nice to other people who weren’t pushing adorable bairns around. It was slightly unsettling, but not in a bad way! Maybe it’s a sign that I need to get out of Boston and its environs more often…

My favorite places we visited while in town:

  • Tandem Bagel Company – an old train station turned into a cool cafe serving a huge variety of bagels and yummy coffees. I loved their special maple latte! This place was hopping each morning we visited, and made me wish we had something similar in my city.
  • New City Brewery – tucked in the back of the old revitalized mill I mentioned earlier, specializing in alcoholic ginger beer but offering other brews as well. They have a nice outdoor patio with river views. I highly recommend the New City Mule!
  • Easthampton Diner – old school, no-frills place serving breakfast all day and big portions for reasonable prices. They make good waffles and grilled cheese!
  • Manhan Rail Trail – well kept paved bike/multi-use path that runs along the Manhan River. A good chunk of the Fort Hill Brewery race was along the path, and it was great! It looked like the path runs from Northampton to New Haven, which would make for an epic run.

We also spent an afternoon in nearby Florence, visiting Look Park. It cost $9 to drive in, but the park boasts lots of grassy space for Bairns to run around, trails to hike/ride bikes on, several playgrounds, a small zoo, a picnic area with grills, a cafe, a theater, and even a train you can ride around in. On a lovely spring day like we had on Saturday, it’s well worth the $9!


Riding the train in Look Park

Have you been to Western Mass? What are your favorite things to do/see there?

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 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:


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:


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.


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:


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:


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!)


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!)


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:


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.))

Shamrocks on the Rocks 5K, 13 March 2016

What: 5K*

Where: Lunenburg, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me and a bunch of Shammies

Time: 29:30*

*For those of you keeping score at home, this time should be a 5K PR for me… however, it turns out the race was only ~3.01 miles according to everyone’s Garmins, not 3.1… boo!!

I ran this race with Colin two years ago. We chose it for its swag and bling, and also because it takes place where Whalom Park – the now defunct amusement park of my childhood – was. Ahh nostalgia.

I had only just joined the Shammies at that point, and proudly rocked my shiny new run club singlet at the race, which felt fitting as it was the Shamrocks on the Rocks race. That idea stuck with me, and this year I shared the race app with my club in hopes that I could rally some interest. The name did drum up some intrigue, as well as the cheap registration fee ($15) and promise of swag and a fun road trip, and a decent crowd of Shamrocks descended on the small town of Lunenburg for a day of fun:

sotrMuch like two years ago, there was a small field of runners (just over 100), and there was a cold wind whipping off the lake. Unlike last time, however, it was a downright tropical 61*; 2014’s race fell in the middle of a polar vortex and it was in the 20s as well as windy. I much preferred the weather this time around! (Even if it did result in my getting sunburned…)

2014 (left) vs 2016

2014 (left) vs 2016

The “on the rocks” part of the race name comes from the sports bar located near the start/finish line – On the Rocks. Packet pickup and registration was held there, as well as the post-race party, and they provided ever-wonderful real bathrooms for us – awesome! We spent a good chunk of time before the race hanging out in the bar, mainly to get out of the wind, until it was time to warm up.

The race started at 1 (something I hate during the summer, but really love during the winter… slightly warmer!), and I tried to take a picture of the runners taking off from my spot near the back, but my phone decided it didn’t want to cooperate. So here’s one I found on facebook (my friend E and I are lurking behind the 3rd dude from the right in the tan shirt):

Photo by Michelle Haggstrom

Photo by Michelle Haggstrom

E and I had decided we’d run-walk the race together – me because I’m just starting my gait retraining stuff all over again, and she because she’s coming back from an injury. However, any time E and I have decided to walk something we always end up running it (case in point: Thanksgiving), so I don’t know why I went into the race expecting to run-walk. Of course we’d run it.

When I first signed up, before my dodgy knees started acting up again, my goal for the race was to beat my time from 2014 (33:08). That had been my second fastest 5K at the time, but as I was doing speedwork again and in the middle of a training program, I thought I’d be prime for a course PR, if not an overall PR. Going into the race – when I still thought I’d be run-walking it – my only goal was to have fun and not get hurt.

Me and the fabulous E, who kept me going the whole way! (Photo by Michelle Haggstrom)

Me and the fabulous E, who kept me going the whole way! (Photo by Michelle Haggstrom)

E and I started at a decent pace, probably faster than I would have chosen, but it felt alright so I kept it up. I didn’t look at Simon at all except for when he beeped the mile marks, because I didn’t want to tempt myself into pushing too hard. I know how competitive I can be with myself!

I was also trying to run the way Jen (Gait Retraining Guru) wants me to run, and how I had run twice during the week leading up to the race. I had managed two 1-mile treadmill runs just to test things out, and both had felt great. So I focused on driving my knees up (rather than flinging my shins forward using my toes, as is my style), and lifting my feet up behind me (rather than just pendulum-ing them around), taking shorter strides, and trying to lean forward a bit at the ankles. (I also tried proper breathing but that was a hot mess.)

My more proper running style made me travel a bit faster than usual – as I found during my last C25K experiment – and so all 3 miles clocked in under 10:00 (!). This only happened once before (well, officially… the Moby Dick PR race has unknown metrics), at the LA race I ran and PRd in back in January. At that race, I started out fast and got slower, having to walk for a bit. This time, however, I negative-split the race, didn’t have to walk once, and was even able to sprint to the finish! Boo yeah!

The sprint to the finish (photo by Jim Fay)

The sprint to the finish (photo by Jim Fay)

E totally carried me mentally through this race. She kept reminding me to breathe, talked me up the Hill of Terror (which I had to walk up in 2014), and kept the pace. When we were approaching the final 100m or so, she mentioned that we were about to break 30 minutes. Even though I had seen the speedy paces on Simon at the mile marks, I hadn’t dared to do the math.

I was so excited at the prospect of breaking 30 that I asked her if I could go for it, got her blessing, and took off at a full sprint. With the speedier Shammies cheering me on from the sidelines, I flew over the finish line at 29:30… and then was forced to come to a complete and immediate stop so that the volunteers could record my time (it wasn’t chip-timed). Ugh. It was all I could do to not keel over, especially because my ribs were angry; they had started feeling funny during the last mile or so, and the final sprint probably wasn’t the best idea in hindsight. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

After staggering around to find water, having E keep me walking a bit so that I wouldn’t actually keel, and stretching (hey! I remembered!), we all crowded into On the Rocks for celebratory beers and the prizes. Every Shammie had run an awesome race, and most people thought they had placed in their age groups. The race was so small, though, that they only gave prizes to the top 3 male and female finishers – Shammies took 2nd place male and 1st place female! And despite lack of age group awards, we swept the raffle prizes, and the beer was cheap, so we were all winners!

Post-beer pizza party!

Post-beer pizza party!

Overall, I’m so pleased with how this race went. I am proud (and a little surprised) that I was able to run with more-or-less proper form for the whole distance, and super pumped that I managed a good time and didn’t have to walk once! I do have to admit, though, that I’m pretty bummed it wasn’t a full 5K… I really want to know if I would have finally broken 30! Regardless, it was a fun road trip with the Shammies, and everyone had a blast and is already talking about running it again next year. Maybe I’ll run it even faster in 2017!

(Want to know more about the race itself? Read my review at BibRave!)

WFPL 5K, 31 May 2015

What: 5K road race

Where: Watertown, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me, Drew, Julie, Joelle, and Jesse, all representing Team Okay!

Benefited: Watertown Free Public Library

Time: 59:51


The library photographer took this sneaky picture of my awesome shirt before the race (photo credit: WFPL)

The library photographer took this sneaky picture of my awesome shirt before the race (photo credit: WFPL)


Team Okay! showing off our fabulous shirts - "World's Okayest Runner"

Team Okay! showing off our fabulous shirts – “World’s Okayest Runner”


The skies opened up as we were waiting at the starting line... perfect time for an umbrella selfie, right?

The skies opened up as we were waiting at the starting line… perfect time for an unflattering umbrella selfie, right?


Julie and me, excited for the race to start... if only we both didn't have wonky knees!

Julie and me, excited for the race to start… if only we both didn’t have wonky knees!


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

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


The course took us past Victory Field, where Colin and I started Couch to 5K oh-so long ago

The course took us past Victory Field, where Colin and I started Couch to 5K oh-so long ago


Our official finish line picture. (My arms is wrapped in my race shirt to protect my newest tattoo from the sun)

Our official finish line picture. (My arm is wrapped in my race shirt to protect my newest tattoo from the sun)


Look at my knock-knees! No wonder they're so dodgy.

Look at my knock-knees! No wonder they’re so dodgy 😦


I love this race shirt - look at the headband the dino is wearing! - except for the fact that it's giant. I also love the tagline on the bib - "Book it and run!"

I love this race shirt – look at the headband the dino is wearing! – except for the fact that it’s giant. I also love the tagline on the bib – “Book it and run!”

Recap: The WFPL 5K first came on my radar last year; as a former citizen of Watertown who frequently used and occasionally volunteered at the Watertown Free Public Library, a 5K that supported that very library seemed like the perfect race for me to run. (As a bonus, it would check another MA town off my list!) Alas, I had to DNS it last year, which made me all the more determined to run it this year…

…and then my dodgy knee happened and running it this year became very unlikely, and even a bit frowned upon by my physio. But my determination stuck, and I decided to walk it. Luckily/unluckily my friend Julie also has a dodgy knee at the moment, so she agreed to walk it with me. I was still sad I didn’t get to run it – especially since friends from Team Okay! were running it – but at least I’d still get to participate.


The race was a nice, small 5K – there were 138 finishers according to the Race Wire results. The packet pickup was a cinch, and since it was at the library there were real bathrooms… always a plus! Pre-registered runners picked up bibs by name, and runners could still register at pickup by making a donation to the library on one of three laptops that were set up at the registration table. Since Julie and I were going to walk the race, I roped Drew into walking it with us, and was able to register him there no problem.

We also all got tech t-shirts, which is always a nice bonus at races like this one that have reasonable registration fees ($25). Unfortunately, the shirts ran pretty large. They had a super cute design that I would have loved to wear around, but I ended up giving my small to Drew and taking his medium to add to my t-shirt quilt pile. I’ve found that most of the cool tech tees I’ve gotten at races run too big for me to wear without swimming in them, but understand that getting fitted ones would probably cost the organizers more. If I had to choose between a fitted shirt and giving more money to the library, I’d choose the latter every time!

After pinning our bibs and having a joyful reunion with our Team Okay! friends, we headed outside to take a picture of our “World’s Okayest Runner” shirts. The weather could not make up its mind… the forecast called for clouds and high humidity before raining around noon (the race started at 10:15), but in a span of about 10 minutes while we chatted and took pictures, the sun came out strong, then it started to rain, then the sun came out again. Having stupidly assumed the forecast would be correct, I hadn’t brought anything to cover my newest tattoo, which is still too new to have sunscreen on. Drew came to the rescue and swaddled my arm with my new race shirt. Looked ridiculous but worked a treat!

We found the start of the race to be a little confusing, mostly because we didn’t know where the starting line actually was! The race website only said to go to the library to register if you had missed online registration. We assumed the start would be at the library, but where? In the street out front? Behind in the parking lot? If I had thought to look closely at the course map, I would have seen that the race start was next to the park next to the library, but as it was I had to dig through the library’s facebook page to find the course map, and once I did find it, it was tiny and a little hard to read. We just followed people as they started moving en masse away from the library and ended up at the starting line.

The race itself

After a few quick announcements thanking the runners, the library Board of Trustees, and the volunteers and cops for helping out, the race began and off we went! We managed to not get swept up in the excitement and kept our walk to a relatively slow, steady pace – neither Julie nor I wanted to exacerbate our knee issues by overdoing it. The weather continued to be wishy-washy, and we experienced both beating sun and rain showers as we walked. The rain felt quite nice though… it cut the humidity for at least a few minutes!

The course was nice, heading down Main Street for several blocks before turning up a big hill and into some residential neighborhoods. We walked through a section of town I had never been in before, and it was fun to get to explore new-to-me areas of my old stomping grounds. A few people were out on their sidewalks to cheer us on, but for the most part we were on our own. At each turn in the course there was a volunteer with a big, glittery sign, but we were left to fend for ourselves at most intersections (I’m not sure how it was for the runners at the front of the pack, but we had to stop and wait at a few red lights). I enjoyed walking by Victory Field and reminiscing about the cold evenings back in 2011 when Colin and I first started Couch to 5K at that very track!

Our trio was cheered down the home stretch by Joelle and Jesse, who had already finished, and we crossed the finish line in just under one hour. Bottles of water were easily accessible past the finish – one thing I love about small races is that they’re usually awesome about finish line water! – and we stood chatting about our race experiences as the organizers packed up. It was very no-frills, and I don’t think there were any awards, though I may be mistaken since we finished SO long after the winners did.

All in all

I liked this race! It would have been helpful if race information had been easier to find – info about parking and easier-to-find info about the start and finish locations would have been especially useful – but this is such a small race that most people who ran it probably thought that information was obvious anyway. Plus, considering it was only the second year this race existed, I think the organizers did a pretty good job. The most important pieces of this race – having fun and supporting the library – were successful, and I’m glad I was able to take part this year! Hopefully next year I’ll be able to run it…

I’m looking forward to more Team Okay! adventures too… Elapse the time! Traverse the distance! #TeamOkay!

Kick in for Kids Road Race, 3 May 2015

What: “5K” road race (actually 3.5 miles)

Where: Woburn, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with a whole bunch of Shammies

Benefited: James L. McKeown Boys and Girls Club of Woburn

Time: 36:22

Splits (according to Simon):
-Mile 1: 10:11
-Mile 2: 10:47
-Mile 3: 11:22
-Mile 3.5: 5:08


Bringing up the rear, as per usual.

Bringing up the rear, as per usual. (Photo credit: Bob Hurkett)

This is probably the most intense I've ever looked in a race photo... yikes. (Photo credit: Bob Hurkett)

This is probably the most intense I’ve ever looked in a race photo… yikes. (Photo credit: Bob Hurkett)

A nice, awkward selfie of me looking a bit shell-shocked after I crossed the finish and stumbled into some shade.

Recap: Kick in for Kids is a race I’ve been meaning to do for a few years now. I remember seeing signs for it when I first started running, but back then it was a 4-mile race (hence the “official” name of Kick in 4 Kids) and 4 miles seemed way beyond me at the time. I actually signed up for it last year, but between my ankle injury and it falling on the same day as my good friend’s baby shower, it just wasn’t meant to be. So this year I was determined to run it!

Packet pickup was held the night before, but I stupidly lost track of time and forgot about it until it was already over. Oops! I got to race day pickup earlier than I ordinarily would have, just so that I’d have time to grab my packet and bring it home… I was flying solo for this race and so couldn’t rely on Drew to hold my stuff (or “be my pack mule” as he always puts it), and didn’t like the idea of stashing it in a corner of the parking lot, so back home I went. Race swag was frill-free – a tech t-shirt (for the first 200 people who registered) and a packet full of advertisements for fitness clubs and physical therapy offices in the area. I dumped that stuff home, pinned my bib, and returned to the race to warm up.

And warm up I did… temperature-wise! Race day was the first day it hit 70 degrees in this area since 2014, and I was wholly unprepared. My last race happened when it was 20-something degrees, and all my other runs outside have been in the low-50s at the warmest. Then here comes race day, with a blazing sun, no clouds, and temps in the upper 60s/low 70s at race time (11am). Plus the course had hardly any shade at all. It was going to be interesting.

My warm-up run felt a little rough and wore me out (and I didn’t even run that far!) and, given the heat, I knew I should take it easy out of the gate, despite having been training at faster speeds at track workouts. I started at the back of the pack and ran what felt wicked easy, but was around a 10-minute pace. It amazed me that that speed felt easy… usually in hot races I go at a 12-minute pace and think it’s fast!

I kept trying to reign myself in and not go too fast, knowing that I’d struggle later in the race, but I got caught up in it all and was passing people left and right for the first mile, which I finished in 10:11. I was feeling pretty good at this point, and tried to keep up the same pace for the second mile. I slowed a little, since the second mile had several uphills (the first mile was mostly downhill) but continued to feel decent. I completed the second mile in 10:47.

Then I started feeling rough. The second mile had been in the only partly shaded section of the course, and the third mile was in complete sun. I had worn a hat, partly so that I wouldn’t get sunburned on my head/face, and partly because I figured it would help me squint less (my sunglasses do nothing), but hats tend to hold all the heat my running-furnace of a body emits, and during this part of the race it felt like my head was pulsating with all the heat. Around Mile 2.5 I had to slow to a walk because I thought I might faint, but walking ended up feeling worse than running. I focused on breathing and was super thankful that I had decided to bring my water bottle at the last minute, and walked for maybe a quarter-mile before trying to run again.

Around the Mile 3 marker is when things got confusing. The marker was at an intersection, and then there was a “3.1” marker a bit down the road, and that’s where Simon beeped for Mile 3. Now, everywhere this race was advertised it was billed as a 5K, and I had thought I signed up for a 5K. So when I passed the 3.1 marker and knew the finish line was still quite a ways away, I was partly flummoxed and partly ticked off that I still had more to run when I felt like I was about to keel over! However, I knew I was close to the finish, and could hear the crowd cheering, so I willed myself to just get it over with.

This last bit of the race I’m pretty proud of. All I wanted to do was lay down in a kiddie pool full of ice, but I pushed myself to make it to the end. I knew the last bit of the race was a cruel uphill finish that I really didn’t want to tackle, but I forced that thought out of my head, focused on breathing and not fainting, and chugged along. My stride shortened as I chugged, so I assumed I was going pretty slow, but frequent checks of Simon showed I was managing a 9:55 or so, which was a pleasant surprise. As I got to the last corner I had a good-sized cluster of people ahead of me, and I took off and passed all of them. I just wanted to finish and be done running so bad, plus it felt kind of good to pass the people who had passed me during my quarter-mile of walking. The crowd cheered really loud as I sprinted past everyone, but all I had my eyes on was the lady handing out bottles of water past the finish line!

I crossed the line, grabbed my water, and wobbled off to find some shade. I spotted tons of Shammies singlets as I lurched around, and I wanted to stop to talk to people, but I also knew I had to sit down before I fell down. I found a quiet spot next to a building and sat down on the pavement, guzzling my water and trying to make my head stop pulsating. (This is when I took my one race picture. Not really sure why I thought it was a good time to do so…) Finally it did, and I got up and joined my run club in post-race festivities – a massive cookout with free beer, including shandies which I was chuffed to see! (Usually Shammies-related festivities only have Bud Light, which isn’t exactly my preferred post-race beverage.) What better time to enjoy a shandy than when standing in the sun after just finishing the first hot race of the year?

I don’t usually hang out at post-race parties, often because Drew is with me and I feel bad making him stand around after having just stood around while I ran, so it was fun to just hang out with the Shammies guilt-free. Everyone was in high spirits, and a ton of Shammies placed, so there was a lot of cheering and hugging when they got their awards, and plenty of general frivolity. I may have stood out in the sun for too long (I had doused myself in sunscreen before the race, but had sweat most of it off by this point), but it was a good time and I’m glad I did it!

As for my result… I had kept Simon set to pace during the race, because I wanted to see how close to my goal pace I could stay given the heat, and even with my walk break I was pretty happy with my pace overall. So when I checked the posted results during the party, I was disappointed to see that I had finished in 36:22. I tried to shake it off, telling myself that it was actually a really good time considering how hot it was – usually the heat brings my times up over 40:00 – but I couldn’t shake the disappointment since my pace had seemed so good.

The more I thought about it though, the more it didn’t add up. Even the posted results said my overall pace had been good for me at 10:24… I had a vague memory of last year’s Old Port 5K, which I had finished with a respectable 34:03, with a pace of 10:40-something… yeah, something’s not adding up. Then it hit me – I passed a 3.1 sign way before the actual end of the race, and people had been giving the race organizer a half-joking hard time about how the race wasn’t actually a 5K. The course was actually 3.5 miles! Once I realized that, the 36-minute finish was actually really good, especially given the heat that I was unprepared for! Huzzah!

Apart from being incorrectly advertised as a 5K, Kick in for Kids was a great race, one that I’ll probably do again in the future. There were tons of volunteers along the well-marked course, packet pickup was easy, and it was a good deal – $25 (pre-registration) for a chip-timed race with police detail, a tech t-shirt, entry into a ton of raffles with great prizes, and a free cookout afterwards with unlimited food and beer – not bad! Plus it’s a Shammies favorite, so I’m sure I’ll be kicking in for kids for years to come!