Samantha’s Harvest 5K, 10 June 2018

What: 5K

Where: Reading, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me and the Bairn (his first race outside of the womb!) and a ton of Shammies

Benefited: Samantha’s Harvest

Time: 38:09

Splits:
-Mile 1: 11:08
-Mile 2: 12:44
-Mile 3: 13:18
-Mile 3.1: 1:15

Background:

I’d been wanting to run this race for a few years. It’s one that always has a big Shammie representation, it’s in a town I hadn’t run in before (see my race maps which badly need updating!), and it benefits a great charity. Unfortunately, it almost always falls on the same day as the Worcester Firefighters 6K… until 2018, that is! (Dang, this recap is waaayyyy overdue.)

Pre-race:

Drew had a soccer game at the same time as the race, so I didn’t have my usual personal cheering squad. Feeling like part of an especially sporty family, I loaded the Bairn and the jogging stroller into the car and set off for Reading High School. By the time we got there, there was already a sizeable Shammie crowd; I don’t often show up at races alone, so it was nice to be met with so many familiar faces! Bib pickup was super easy, and the Bairn and I milled around and socialized a bit before gun time. (Warmup? What warmup?) After a quick Shammies group photo:

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Shammies representing

all the runners were led off the high school campus to a cul-de-sac, where the race started.

The race:

The Bairn and I brought up the rear as the gun went off, and Shammie E kept us company for the first half-mile or so, until I just couldn’t keep up anymore. (Those of you who’ve read this blog before may remember Shammie E, who kept Fetus Bairn (is that too weird of a name?) and I company at the Beach 2 Beacon 10K!) This was my first time ever pushing the jogging stroller while running, and I wasn’t even really in 5K, non-stroller-pushing shape to begin with, so I was content to run as slowly as I needed and take walk breaks whenever. I didn’t want to hold E back, so we waved goodbye as she sped off.

The road guards for this race were mostly high school students, and they did a great job (for the most part). There was one confusing intersection where the Bairn and I took off up a hill, because one road guard gestured in that direction as his friend was texting someone, and then the friend looked up and yelled at us that we were going the wrong way. Eh, it wasn’t like I was gunning for a PR or anything, right? I was only mildly annoyed because the hill was so frikkin’ steep!

Honestly, I don’t remember too much else about the race, which I guess is unsurprising as it’s now almost 9 months later and I’ve got a bad case of Toddler Brain (like Pregnancy Brain, except it’s accompanied by a ball of energy who throws tantrums at the drop of a hat). I do remember being excited to see the high school track, where the finish line was, and hearing a random Shammie yell “Yay, go Shammie!!” at me.

When I saw 38:something on the clock as I crossed the finish, I had a teeny pang of disappointment as my competitive-with-myself part of my brain was upset I hadn’t miraculously PR’d. Mostly, though, I was chuffed that I finished in under 40 minutes, considering I was doing my first-ever stroller run on an unfamiliar course when it was kind of hot!

Post-race:

I freed the Bairn from his stroller and let him wander around a little. He mostly wanted to escape the fenced-in track area to explore the open fields, but I was trying to chug water and focus on making my face less red. Several people complimented his “crawl walk run” shirt, which he wore special for race day.

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A partial view of the Bairn’s race day shirt. You can also see his blurry wee hand as he spins the stroller wheel

Post-race activities seemed pretty low-key. Awards were given to overall and age group winners (the Shammies cleaned up nearly every category), then people just kind of dispersed. I may have been so distracted by Bairn wrangling that I didn’t hear any announcements, but that’s just as well. I did notice some Shammies enjoying post-race beverages in the parking lot, which would have been fun to join in if I hadn’t been a) lugging a Bairn and b) driving said Bairn home.

Once home, I did luxuriate for a while in the shady part of our backyard while the Bairn played with his water table:

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It was a cool experience running with the Bairn (even cooler than running with him in-utero, because we got to chat and I could see him sitting up and taking everything in), and something I’d love to do more. I did manage one more stroller run last summer, but it was *such* a crazy hot summer that I opted for slow stroller walks with iced coffee way more often. Here’s hoping the snow and ice melts soon so we can hit the pavement together again!

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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.

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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.

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The start. Can you find me?

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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:

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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!

 

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.

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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.

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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!

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Riding the train in Look Park

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

Worcester Running Festival Half Marathon, 19 June 2016

What: Half marathon

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts

Course Map:

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Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Time: 02:42:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eventual winner leading the pack on the left.

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

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As usual, being goofy after crossing the start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plenty of porta-potties by this point!

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

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

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

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Wormtown represent!

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

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 12 June 2016

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 38:14 Personal record!

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

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Pre-race

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

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

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

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Warmed up and ready to run!

The race

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

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

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

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

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Motorcycles leading the way

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Here I come, doing an awkward wave thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race

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

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Love. This. Thing.

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

James Joyce Ramble, 24 April 2016

What: 10K

Where: Dedham, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me and a few Shammies

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

Splits*:

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

The Background:

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

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

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

The Race:

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

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Race shirt

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

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

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

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

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About to cross the starting line

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

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

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

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

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Hating my clothing choice. And hills.

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

Post-Race – The Rant:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Race – The Fun:

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

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Hydration, New England-style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)