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!)

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The Worcester Running Festival was a Wash… Literally

Back in April I signed up for my second half marathon – the Worcester Running Festival half. I felt like it was far enough away that I could train for it, and I always like running races in my home city (like the WFD6K and Canal Diggers, both of which I’ve run twice).

When my knee went wonky on me, it took me a while but I realized that the half would be out of the question. Even if it felt better in time to run the race, I wouldn’t have trained at all. So a few weeks back I switched my registration to the running festival’s 5K, and after a successful WFD6K last week, I was looking forward to another test of my knee. (Plus, this race had bling to look forward to!)

wrfRain lurked in the forecast, and by Saturday it was looking like it was going to be one wet race – 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms in the morning. Gun time was set for 7:15. I packed all black running kit so that I wouldn’t be a soaked, see-through mess, plus SmartWool socks, a visor with a big brim, and a rain jacket. I had studied Running World’s piece on dressing for the rain, and I was ready!

Drew and I arrived in Worcester Saturday night, and the sky was already spitting a bit. Given the super early gun time, we had splurged for a hotel a few blocks away from the starting line in order to avoid a 5am (or earlier) departure time from home the morning of. After a quick supper at Uno’s, I read and tried to psych myself up to run in the rain, which was sounding more unpleasant to me the more I thought about it. Plus, I’d likely be running with a headache, since I had been fighting one off all day and it didn’t show signs of subsiding.

What my evening looked like

I got an email from the race director around 5:30 saying that bib pickup and the post-race party would be held in a underground parking garage – instead of on the common – in an effort to keep everyone as dry as possible. That sounded altogether unpleasant as well… thousands of sweaty runners crammed in a small, low-ceilinged garage in thick humidity. Ugh. But better than standing in the pouring rain, I suppose!

After a night of not-great sleep on a hard hotel bed with trains blowing their horns relentlessly at 5am directly across the street, I dragged myself out of bed when my alarm went off at 6am. With a just-shy-of-blinding headache sitting over my right eye, I changed into my Ninja Kit (TM) and stared out at the pouring rain for a bit:

View out the hotel window, taken the night before when the streets were significantly less wet

I was really not feeling this run, but I really wanted that medal, and I wanted to run again, dagnabbit, dodgy knee be damned. On a whim I checked my email, and there it was – the cancellation. It had landed in my inbox at 5:55am, 5 minutes before packet pickup was about to begin:

The weather has changed for the worst with lightning predicted for the duration of the event. I cannot send runners and volunteers out into an environment where someone could get hurt. Again I am extremely sorry to have to announce this at such late notice. I will reschedule the event as soon as possible and let everyone know the new date as soon as possible.

For a brief second I was disappointed, then that changed to a flood of relief. I didn’t have to run in the driving rain with a searing headache! I didn’t have to feel bad about making Drew and my dad huddle under umbrellas as I ran! I could go back to sleep!! I threw my PJs back on and got another 3 hours of suboptimal sleep and it was glorious.

Also glorious was the peanut butter, Fluff, and banana french toast I had at the Miss Worcester diner, where we took my dad for Father’s Day brunch:

Look at this! The diner had a separate menu just for french toast!

Unfortunately I was unable to finish this thing of beauty… WAY too much food!

Despite my giddy relief about not having to run yesterday, I’m still a little disappointed that I didn’t get my sweet medal. And, given my luck with these sorts of situations in the past, I’m assuming I won’t be able to run the rescheduled race. I suppose we’ll see. For now, my Worcester Running Festival experience was a wash, indeed!

Have you ever run a race in the pouring rain? How did it go? Any tips to share?

Which stuffed french toast would you pick off that menu?
It was so hard to choose!

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 14 June 2015

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 43:44 Personal record!

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

Race swag:

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

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

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

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

photo(15)

Before the race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arms aloft in victory

Arms aloft in victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huzzah!

Huzzah!

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

Post-race party in Institute Park

Post-race party in Institute Park

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

Ice packs and ice cream

Ice packs and ice cream

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

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

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

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

Photos:

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.

Pre-race

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

Photos:

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!

29th Annual Cambridge CityRun 5 Miler, 29 March 2015

What: 5-mile road race

Where: Cambridge, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 53:30 Automatic personal record!

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

Photos: (click to open larger versions)

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

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

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

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

Drew's shot of me approaching the finish line.

Drew’s shot of me approaching the finish line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brr.

Brr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somerville Jingle Bell Run, 14 December 2014

What: 5K

Where: Somerville, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me, Colin, Julie, a bunch of Julie’s friends, and Kate, with moral support from Drew

Benefited: a whole bunch of things (list here)

Time: 32:43 (course PR!)

Splits (according to Simon):
Mile 1: 10:16
Mile 2: 10:41
Mile 3: 10:17
Mile 3.1: 1:28

Photos: (click to open larger versions)

The gang hanging out before the race

The gang hanging out before the race

I had just caught sight of Drew and was waving my arms like a madwoman

I had just caught sight of Drew and was waving my arms like a madwoman

Julie and Colin have also spotted Drew and are doing amazing things behind me

Julie and Colin have also spotted Drew and are doing amazing things behind me

Their amazingness gets better

Their amazingness gets better

And then I decide to do jazz hands while my tutu puffs out like it's possessed

And then I decide to do jazz hands while my tutu puffs out like it’s possessed

I enjoy this one because it looks like Kate is levitating

I enjoy this one because it looks like Kate is levitating

I'm hoping my T-Rex arms are just a result of my putting my hands down after giving a thumbs-up moments before...

I’m hoping my T-Rex arms are just a result of my putting my hands down after giving a thumbs-up moments before…

This was supposed to be our victorious arms-aloft finish line pose, but as you can see, I am M.I.A. Oh well.

This was supposed to be our victorious arms-aloft finish line pose, but as you can see, I am M.I.A. Oh well.

If we couldn't have a victorious finish line picture, at least there's this one of Colin and me sharing a mid-race laugh

If we couldn’t have a victorious finish line picture, at least there’s this one of Colin and me sharing a mid-race laugh

Recap: I have sad news to announce – this was my last* race with Colin. At least, my last race with him for the foreseeable future, as he’s moving away 😦 I’m very sad to be losing my running buddy (especially since I lost Gina already!), so this race was a little bittersweet. But it was also significant – the Somerville Jingle Bell Run was Colin’s (and Gina’s!) first 5K, so it seemed fitting that his first and last* here be the same race. It’s also the very same course as the Ras na hEireann USA, which was my first 5K, and I was eager to see if I could improve my course time. So when Julie floated the idea of a bunch of people dressing up and running the Jingle Bell, Colin and I jumped on board right away.

Originally I planned to deck myself out in a ridiculous outfit and just run-walk it for fun with Julie and her crew and then go out for drinks and frivolity after. However, once I realized that it would be my last* race with Colin, who was planning to gun for a PR, I knew I had to run it with him. (Plus, a shiny new PR sounded really nice!) We devised a plan much like what we did at our infamous Plymouth race – we’d run a fast first mile and then see how we felt from there, hoping that we had banked enough time to get us under the 30:40 mark. When we found out that another soccer teammate of ours, Kate, would be running, we decided to try to stick with her for as long as possible at the start, since she’s speedier than we are. Plan settled, we approached race day with our ambitions set high.

Packet pickup was a complete breeze for me, since Julie is awesome and picked up everyone’s packets the week before. (Thanks Julie!!) Julie had also helped me figure out my festive outfit, mostly by buying me a tutu and peer-pressuring me to wear it, and also by sending me links to tons of festive running gear. In the end, I opted for said tutu (we’ll file that under A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never* Do Again), stripey elf socks, a fabulous elf hat that was $3 at the Christmas Tree Shop, and Drew’s ugly-sweater-reindeer t-shirt that I wore at the Christmas to Give 5K last December. I came very close to draping some of Julie’s battery-powered Christmas lights over me as well, but they either choked me or got caught in the tutu so I opted out.

As gun time drew near, we all lined up between the 9 and 10-minute pace signs; Colin and I figured that trying to keep up with those around us would be a good way to ensure that we run a fast-for-us first mile. However, we quickly found that pretty much no one had paid attention to the pace signs (I’m slowly learning that most people tend to ignore them)… we felt really good about ourselves since we were keeping up with everyone and still feeling good, until we realized that we were going at about 11-minutes/mile. Oops. So much for the faster-than-usual start!

Kate was a trooper and stuck with us for the first 2 miles as we dodged around people and tried to pick up our pace. I figured the course would thin out after the first mile, but it was not to be. At the Ras, we had started in the 14-minute pace corral, so the course got quite sparse as we passed Mile 1. Starting farther up the pack AND the fact that about 1,000 more people were running this race than the Ras meant that we were jostling elbows with other runners the whole way this time around, and so we were never really able to fully speed up. I think we abandoned hope of a PR close to the first mile marker.

Around Mile 2 we gave Kate our blessing to run ahead, and she took off like a track star. Colin started breathing hard by this point and looked like he wanted to stop, and since I had decided to run this race his way, I told him that I’d stop with him if he needed to. When he didn’t answer, I asked if he wanted me to push him the rest of the way, or if I should coddle him, and after only a slight hesitation he said “Push me.” My inner running coach surfaced immediately and I began spouting what I hoped was encouragement and motivation; I tried to do for Colin what he had done for me at the Ras when I tried to stop – lots of “Okay, let’s just make it to that corner,” “One small hill ahead and then it’s downhill for a while!” “You’re doing great, we have less than a mile to go!” etc. Focusing on getting Colin to finish the race strong also took my mind off my own niggles, of which I had plenty since we hadn’t warmed up at all. Will I never learn?!

As we tackled the last two hills and fought our way to the straightaway that would bring us to the finish line, I couldn’t help but marvel at how relatively easy the race felt compared to the Ras. At the Ras, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other, and I averaged a 12:07 pace. On Sunday, the course was flying by so much faster, and Simon was giving me paces all under 11 minutes each time he beeped. I’m sure it helped that I actually knew the course this time, so I knew when to expect hills and turns, but it was a huge confidence boost to see how far I’d come in less than 2 years!

When we turned the final corner and caught sight of the finish line banner in the distance, I glanced at Simon and saw that we were at 28:something. If we could sprint the rest of the way (maybe a quarter-mile?), then we still had a slight chance of PRing. I told that to Colin, and I saw a steely determination enter his eyes. Our pace quickened for a bit, but the finish line was farther than it seemed, and we had been expending too much energy to sprint more than a few hundred meters. I asked Colin what his course PR was, and if he wanted to try to beat that even if we couldn’t PR overall, and he nodded his approval. Then I caught sight of it – a Shammies singlet up ahead. I’m *never* that close to another Shammie during a race, and that gave me a boost too. So much of a boost, in fact, that I decided to pick that Shammie off… something that makes me feel ashamed to admit. BUT, I figured if we could beat a Shammie then we’d have a good chance of getting Colin his course PR, and what a good way to end his season here!

We kicked into the next gear and drew level with the Shammie. Overcome with warm fuzzies, I yelled out “Nice job, Shamrock!!” (quite possibly into a stranger’s ear… if so, I’m sorry, person!) We grinned at each other and then I upped the pace even more, because the finish line was getting so close. As we got to the place where we usually sprint to the finish, we somehow verbally agreed to go for it and began running harder… only to wind up behind a wall of 5 or 6 people across, all running nice and slow toward the finish line. The course narrows right there too, so there was no way around them, and screaming “Make way!!!” seemed a tad unsportsmanlike. So we had to throw on the brakes and coast over the finish, though we did hold our arms victoriously over our heads for the finish camera. (Photos forthcoming… maybe?)

People at the finish line were yelling at everyone to keep moving, and volunteers were herding finishers into two finish chute-type-areas. We were herded straight, and I was looking so forward to a nice bottle of water, which had been obtained quickly at the Ras. Not so much at this race. I had to walk the length of the street to find any liquid whatsoever, and ended up with a bottle of raspberry tea – not water, but it was liquid and I drank it gratefully. There were also no smiling volunteers handing out medals right near the finish like there had been at the Ras; instead, a huge crowd of finishers were swarming one poor boy way down by where the water was, and he was fishing medals out of boxes as fast as he could as people crushed in on him. It was a little intense.

Despite the lackluster finishing area, the Jingle Bell was definitely a fun experience. There were nearly 5,500 runners, most of whom were dressed in festive costumes (including a water-skiing Santa being pulled by a runner-powered speedboat, as well as Santa in a sleigh being pulled by running reindeer). There was an air of fun over the whole event, and even though we didn’t PR, we still enjoyed ourselves! Plus, I knocked almost 5 minutes off my course time (37:38 at the Ras, 32:43 on Sunday), which is nothing to shake a jingle bell at! Running at a faster pace felt easier than ever, and made me want to sign up for a bunch more cold-weather races to see just how fast I can go! (Then my runner’s high evened out and I wrote this post instead of signing up for millions of races. Probably better that way.) All in all, it was a fab running sendoff for Colin, and I sincerely hope I get to run with him and Gina again. After all…

*You never know what will happen in the future!

Did you run any Jingle Bell races? Did you dress up?

What are your thoughts on running in tutus – yay or nay?

Ever gotten stuck behind slow runners right at the finish?