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!

 

Fort Hill Brewery 5K, 15 April 2018

What: 5K

Where: Easthampton, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 32:39

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

Recap:

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

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Fort Hill Brewery*

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

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

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

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Checking out the ambulance with the Bairn, pre-race

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

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

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Before the 5K start*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cresting the last hill

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

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Done!*

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

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

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

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

*Photos with asterisks by Donna Gulow*

 

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10K, 3 September 2016

What: 10K

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

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

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Time: 1:17:49

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

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

Background

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

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Quick pause for a Wembley Stadium selfie!

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

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

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A view of (part of) Olympic Park

Pre-race

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

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

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

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

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

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The start from Drew’s point of view…

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…and from my point of view at the back

The race

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

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

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

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Photo: Drew

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Photo: Basil Thornton

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

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Stopping to walk meant I could take pictures!

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

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

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About to get lapped by fast people

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Trying to muster a smile for Drew

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

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

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

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Struggling up a hill on the last lap

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

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Struggling up the last hill!

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

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Nearing the finish!

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

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Megaphoning into her ear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bling

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Goody bag contents

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

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!)

Dockweiler New Year’s Conquest, 9 January 2016

What: 5K

Where: Los Angeles, California (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Benefited: Lupus LA

Time: 30:26 Personal record!

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

Recap:

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

Victory!

Victory!

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

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

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

Bib pick-up

Bib pick-up**

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circled up for warm-ups

Circled up for warm-ups

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Arm circles**

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

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

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

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

On your mark, get set...

On your mark, get set…**

...go!

…go! Look how happy everyone is!**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the home stretch

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

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

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

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

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That view though.

That view though.

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

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

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

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

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**

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

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

Brandishing my movie poster

Brandishing my movie poster

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

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