Half-Marathon-by-the-Sea, 22 September 2019

What: Half marathon

Where: Manchester-by-the-Sea (and Hamilton), Massachusetts

Course Map:

Who: Me and Co-Worker J, with Drew, the Bairn, and J’s boyfriend for moral support

Time: 02:39:55

Splits: (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 10:49
Mile 2: 11:11
Mile 3: 11:35
Mile 4: 11:52
Mile 5: 11:32
Mile 6: 11:53
Mile 7: 11:50
Mile 8: 12:55
Mile 9: 12:59
Mile 10: 12:07
Mile 11: 12:10
Mile 12: 12:54
Mile 13: 13:13
Mile 13.1: 2:52

Race day finally happened! I feel like my training for this half was slightly more consistent than trainings past; training for my second half barely counts as training, and my first… I at least got up to 10 miles for my long runs, but don’t remember doing a lot of other running or cross-training (besides soccer and kickball). So I felt relatively ready!

Race day dawned bright and hot. Hotter than I was prepared for. The Worcester Running Festival Half was in late June and I knew it was going to be a scorcher, so at least I was mentally prepared. J and I liked the sound of this September race because we figured it would be coolish. (Cue climate change laughing in our faces.)

Bib pickup was pretty easy. We managed to snag one of the last spots in the parking lot on-site, and getting my bib and race shirt took no time at all. We could pick what size we wanted there, which was cool, and they had men’s and women’s sizes, which was also appreciated!

Another cool thing was the tiny playground near the start/finish, so the Bairn was chuffed and entertained while I pinned my bib, waited in portaloo lines, and posed for pics with other Shammies who were running the race:

J and I posed for more pics once she arrived too, and I have to say I’m partial to our nerdy librarian pics!

Our shirts say “librarians know how to book it!”

We lined up near the back of the pack, both agreeing that we’d take it easy and walk when either of us needed to. I’d originally wanted to try for a PR in this race, but due to a) the heat, b) my not feeling well thanks to an ill-timed visit from everyone’s favorite Auntie Flo, c) this being J’s first half, so I wanted to stick with her and be moral support – I changed my goal to just finishing and having fun. (And, let’s be honest about point C up there… the moral support totally went both ways!)

Being goofy and waving at Drew and the Bairn at the start

We cruised along pretty decently for the first few miles. It was hot, and we were both questioning why we signed up for this, but it was okay. We were going a little faster than I had started out in my other halves, and I worried a bit that I’d flag sooner and do a massive positive split, but tried to quiet the nerdy voice in my head and just run and see how it went.

The first mile or so was in the town center of Manchester-by-the-Sea, and was quite pleasant. After that, we ran a long stretch by the highway, and it felt pretty boring until we hit some pretty lakes. We kept the chatter up for the first half of the race or so, commenting on the scenery and whatever popped into our heads.

Several miles in, I started feeling like I had at least one blister forming. I had Body Glided the crap out of my toes before the race, but the heat and the fact that I didn’t wear the best socks in terms of blister prevention (love my Legend compression socks! But now I know they’re better suited to distances 10k and below for me… at least on hot days) combined to work against me. My toes hurt more and more as the race went on, and our faster-than-expected pace at the start began to catch up with me. Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 or something (it’s all a blur), I told J I might not be able to talk anymore because I needed to reserve my oxygen. I was trying so hard not to be done, but I wasn’t optimistic!

My “let this be done alreadyyyyy” grimace, taken at about the halfway mark

Interestingly, moments when I was wanting to quit, J was feeling decent and was a fantastic motivator. When J was hitting a wall, I had a second wind and was able to drag her along for a bit. We complemented each other nicely! However, by the last few miles, we were both just done and it was so hard to keep going. Honestly, the only thing preventing me from stopping was the fact that we had to get ourselves to the finish line somehow, so might as well keep running.

Double thumbs-down!

Closing in on the finish, we welcomed the sight of civilization once again as the desolate and boring roads were replaced with the town center, and our cheering crew! They were a sight to behold, as were the familiar sights near the finish… except that when we saw the finish line itself, we realized we had to run a big loop around to get to it, rather than the merciful straight line we both expected. J had it at that point, and we had to stop for a walk break. It was pretty disheartening, but once we rounded the curve we were able to run it in:

We finished in just shy of 2 minutes over my PR, which was really amazing considering the heat and my super painful feet, but also a little disheartening to be so close and not quite doing it. I kept thinking, if only I hadn’t taken that walk break… or that other walk break… or that other one… but really, given everything, it was a very good time. And we were both so happy to be done.

Our bibs came with beer tickets, but to be honest, I don’t even know where the beer was. There was some kind of after party, but not at the finish, and god knows my brain had melted and it was all I could do to remember to stretch and drink some water. Drew and the Bairn did take me out for ice cream at Captain Dusty’s afterward, and a sugar cone of my favorite White Russian Chip is better than beer any day!

So, to sum up, I’m pleased enough with my performance. It wasn’t ideal conditions for several reasons, and to come that close to my PR given all that is pretty great, even though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about missing a PR. Running a half with a friend is way better than running a half alone, PR or no PR!

The race itself… I didn’t love it. Even though the course map wasn’t a secret, I thought there’d be more “by the sea” than there was, and the course was desolate in places… though not as bad as the Worcester half. The course could have used another portaloo or two; there were 2 about 2-3 miles in, that we didn’t come back to until mile 11 or so (does that math add up?), and I could have used one more in the middle somewhere. The aid stations were okay, with two offering Gatorade as well as water, and one offering Honey Stinger gels. The race site made a big deal about free race photos, but J and I didn’t make it into any. Browsing through, it’s like the photographer took a few of the fast runners and then got bored and left to shoot spectators and police bikes. Not a huge deal, but kind of lame. I definitely thought Green Stride put on a better half in Newburyport, but I wouldn’t rule out doing another YuKan race in the future.

And hey, my inner map nerd is psyched to add two new towns to my maps! 🤓 So that’s something.

I did get all philosophical about half marathons and my running future – mostly inspired by the ghastliness that befell my toes during this race – but that’s a topic for another post, because this one is long enough as it is.

For now, I just have to heal my feet and pray I don’t lose any fitness I may have developed in the meantime, because Oxford looms! Stay tuned…

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HMBTS Training, Week 11

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I think we can officially say that this is the week the wheels fell off this training plan. At this point, we’ll just have to see how the race goes. I was originally going to try for a PR, but since a) I trained crappily and b) it’s supposed to be hot on race day, I’ve lowered my expectations and goals.

Monday

Rest | Rest

I took the Bairn to a Kindermusik class, and then we hit up one of his favorite playgrounds:

Anyone want to guess why this park is a favorite? 😉

Tuesday

5 mile run | 6.5 stroller run/walk

It was Election Day in my city (a primary), so I figured I’d work our traditional stroller walk to the polls into my workout. I popped the Bairn in the jogging stroller, we walked to the polls, then jogged to the pond and ran just over halfway, til we got to the bubblers. Then I took him on a detour to a rail trail for a quick out and back, then walked to a new playground, then home. There were a decent amount of walk breaks, and a long stop at the park, but all together we traveled just shy of 6.5 miles. Not too bad.

The Bairn rocking his “I voted” sticker and eating stroopwafel

Wednesday

Cross-training | Rest

Another Wednesday, another day of me not feeling like doing cross-training. Ho hum.

Thursday

Rest | Rest

Pretty run-of-the-mill rest day.

Friday

5 mile run | Rest

My FIL arrived for a visit Thursday night, and while I was working late, all the lads had a dinner out and the Bairn spent hours playing with his Baba. So he went to bed wicked late, meaning he slept in forever on Friday, meaning I had no time to squeak in a run before work. (I mean, I could have woken him up, but he was so cozy and needed the rest!) Which is too bad, because the weather was nice and cool and a run would have felt great!

Saturday

60 mins cross-training | Rest

At this point in the training plan, why even pretend that I’m going to cross-train?? I took the Bairn to his first soccer practice:

Most of the practice was spent doing this, or climbing the nearby bleachers. Toddlers gonna toddler.

Then met a Shammie friend for an afternoon beer, then went out for a nice anniversary dinner with Drew.

Sunday

10 mile run | 5k race

Sunday was the 5th race in the RAW Series, the Shoppers Cafe 5k. I arrived at the race a wee bit hungover from Shammie day drinking / wine at dinner / fancy post-dinner cocktail / a general refusal to drink water during all that, and it was in the upper-70s/lower-80s at race time, so I didn’t have high hopes.

I ran with some friends, and we ended up starting a bit higher up in the pack than we intended to (the start wasn’t very well organized), and one friend who usually runs a bit slower than I do took off like a bat out of hell and was cruising along between an 8:45 and 9 pace. I was just trying to keep her in my sights, then somehow ended up passing her when she started to lose a bit of steam. I lost steam as well – no surprise – but made it a strong 2 miles before stopping for water.

After that it was a woozy run-walk to the finish… until the very last bit. For the last half-mile or so, I was randomly on my own without other runners around me. Little did I know a dude was creeping up on me quietly, and when I rounded the final corner he tried to squeak past me on the inside. Nope!

I didn’t think I had anything left in me, but I wasn’t going to let some guy edge past me out of nowhere and beat me. (Who me? Competitive?) I turned the jets on and sprinted to the finish, with a finish time of 30:05… less than 30 seconds off my PR! I was not expecting that, not with the heat and my hangover. (I’d had vague plans of adding some miles onto this race to fit better with my training plan, but said heat and hangover – and how much I pushed myself in the race – made that not seem like a winning idea.)

So, even though I didn’t make it through my training plan for this half, I’m at least going into the race feeling somewhat confident in myself. I made it further in my training plan than I did for either of my other two halves, and I’ve been consistently surprising myself in races this year. I may not be doing as much intentional cross-training as I should, but honestly… I pick the Bairn up multiple times a day and sometimes even do squats (“Mummy pick up my car? No Mummy, keep holding me and pick up car!”) Stroller running’s got to be some kind of cross-training too. So maybe I’m not in as bad shape for this half as I think I am. We shall see in less than a week!

HMBTS Training, Week 10

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This week got a bit complicated, as it saw the first of some scheduled 5k races lurk its way into my training plan without any thought for mileage or sticking with plans or my sanity or anything. So, yeah this week was a mess. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Monday

Rest | Rest

Monday was Labor Day, and we celebrated by having my folks over for a wee cookout.

Tuesday

5 mile run | Rest

A friend invited the Bairn and I out for a play date at a farm, which honestly sounded way more fun than running 5 miles with the stroller. I also knew I had Wednesday morning off, so I mentally switched days and figured chasing toddlers around a farm would count as cross-training (weak, I know).

Adorable.

Wednesday

Cross-training | 4.65 mile run

When I was first awake and getting the Bairn ready for school, I checked my weather app and I swear it said 81% humidity. So I was kind of dreading this run.

It might not have been quite 81% at run time, but I distinctly remember thinking “Huh, I feel like I’m running through soup.” It wasn’t entirely pleasant. However, the first 3 miles were surprisingly good, considering. I managed to run 3 without having to stop, my body felt okay, and I returned to my cocky “eh, it’s just 5 miles, easy peasy” mindset from last week.

Though I was able to make it through those 3 miles, by roughly 2.5 I was wishing I had chosen a route with access to water. True to form, I had not hydrated before the run and I was parched. Luckily I remembered I was relatively close to a playground I’ve brought the Bairn to before, and I vaguely remembered a bubbler there, so I changed course to find it.

The playground did have a bubbler – huzzah! – but the water was nastily warm and not refreshing at all. I had a bunch anyway, but the stop killed my momentum. The remaining 1.65 miles were rough, and I couldn’t bring myself to push for an even 5. I waved the white flag and stumbled inside to chug some Gatorade before getting ready for work.

Thursday

Rest | Rest

Typical rest day; nothing to report.

Friday

5 mile run | Rest

Here’s where the week began to get complicated. I was supposed to run 5, do some cross-training Saturday, and then run 9 on Sunday. I even had a route planned out that I was moderately excited about. Then I remembered I had a 5k Saturday. “Eh, not a problem,” I thought. “It’s a trail run, so I’ll take it super easy, maybe even walk it, count it as cross-training, then still run 9 on Sunday.” It seemed like a brilliant plan, so I turned Friday into a rest day…..

Saturday

60 mins cross-training | PBR 5K

… then the race actually happened. The Prospect Bandit Run (PBR 5k) is a race up Prospect Hill through the woods, and is notorious for being tough. I was wary of doing it two weeks out from my half (and 5 weeks out from one of my bucket list races!) but it’s part of the RAW Series, so I knew I had to complete it whether I walked or ran or whatever. I was planning to do it alone, so I figured I’d walk most of it and maybe run bits and pieces.

Then a coworker signed up to run with me, and she roped a third to join us. We all said we’d take it easy, as none of us were in hill- or trail-running shape, but when the race started we were off running.

Well… “running” is a relative term. The race started uphill, on a paved access road. A steep access road. Like, straight up. We were running, but my Garmin clocked us as going at a 17:00 pace. My quads gave up the ghost after about a minute, and I don’t remember much about that hill other than just being in pain and wanting to lay down to whimper. But my friends were still trying to run, so I pushed on.

Then we ran through the woods for a while:

And it wasn’t too bad. Then we started climbing again and it just kept going up. We stopped running and just tried to climb. There were some lovely observation points with a gorgeous view of Boston, but I just wanted the climb to be over so I barely even looked (though I wish I had!). I didn’t stop until we reached the tower at the very top:

And then we ran back down the woods, down some crazy stone steps much like ones we had traveled up:

It’s hard to tell in the picture how much of a slope there is, but it was pretty steep

We then ran back down the super steep paved access road to the finish line. I knew it was going to be a hard race, but it was hard. I kept saying “yep, that was a one-and-done for sure!” and I still feel that way two days later as my ankles are still screaming at me for making them roll all over roots and rocks and acorns. Definitely not the smartest race to do before a half, even if it was slightly fun to do with friends.

Sunday

9 mile run | Rest

At some point during the PBR, I told one of my coworkers – one who happens to be running the HMBTS with me – that I still planned on doing 6-9 miles Sunday, depending on how my legs felt. She laughed at me. Even Drew, who has hiked Prospect Hill in the past, said something after the race along the lines of “Yeah, you won’t be running tomorrow after running up Prospect Hill today.”

They were right. My legs were in agony on Sunday. They hadn’t so much as peeked at a technical trail in a few years, let alone try to run one, and those stabilizing muscles are pissed at me. Plus, holy hill Batman. I’ve been actively avoiding hills, or walking up them, because they aggravate my dodgy hip/IT band and I haven’t wanted to anger them too much before the half.

Whose idea was the PBR anyway? Dang RAW series.

Instead of running, I went to the zoo with Drew, my dad, and the Bairn:

Now I’m trying to figure out how the rest of my training will look. I’m supposed to run 10 this Sunday, but have a 5k that day. I figured I’d run that and then do 7 later, but my HMBTS-running colleague said something about tapering this weekend and now I’m totally second-guessing my training plan. Did I pick a plan with no taper week, or did I miscalculate?? Do I run long this weekend, my last weekend before the half, or do I taper, even though I didn’t run long this past weekend? Do I try to run long during the week somehow?

Help!

Fort Hill Brewery Half… or Not

Way back in November, I had a goal. I heard about an April half marathon in western Mass, a place Drew and I had been talking about going for ages. April seemed like a decent time for a half – not too hot yet, but (hopefully) not too cold. And a half seemed doable, especially that far out with lots of time to train. And having this goal race would give me motivation to get out there and train… right?


Oh, reader. Alas. For the millionth time: if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’d know that reacting to any kind of motivation is not my strong suit. Especially in these post-Bairn days when all roads to anywhere are paved with the best intentions, and yet….

So. What happened this time? I believe I last left you with the vague “my half marathon training is all over the place,” which it was with illnesses, ghost injuries, and suboptimal weather and running conditions. All in all, I only ever got up to 5 miles at any one time during said training. 

If I had an ironclad will I probably could have done it. I have runner friends who run while sick, while injured, and during blizzards. When the sidewalks aren’t clear they run in the road, or chug out the miles on a treadmill. And that’s great! But I think I’ve learned that that’s not me, especially lately. I love coziness, and safety, and lack of injury. 

Running these days is what keeps me sane as the Bairn embraces the madness of toddlerhood, and my sanity can’t afford injury! So when the top of my foot started giving me grief, and when my right hip started protesting, I reeled it in. I iced, I rested. I avoided slippery slush as well as the treadmill that makes my knees unhappy. 

Through it all there was a little voice in the back of my head that said “you ran the Worcester Half, with its hills and heat, while pregnant, having only ran 5ish miles in training. You can do this!” But there was also a louder voice that said “Sure, but had you injured yourself then you would have had months to recover anyway. You need running now. Plus… do you really want to slog through a half if you’re not feeling it?”

I listened to the louder voice. I emailed the race director and asked if I could drop down to the 5k distance. I figured we could still have our Western Mass vacation, and I could still run, but the shorter distance would make for a happier time for all involved… especially when I saw the forecast of upper-20s and freezing rain for race day!


It ended up being the right decision. I ran a faster 5k than I expected, I felt strong, I didn’t get injured, and Drew and the Bairn didn’t need to kill time for 2.5+ hours in gross weather. And we still had a fun weekend!

Race recap and weekend fun post coming soon…

Learning to Lower My Expectations

Perfect gif for this post, right? (source)

Hi-diddly-ho, readers! When I last saw you, I was gushing with excitement at my Grand Return to Running. Since then, I’ve been for one more run. It didn’t go as well.

It was that kind of morning.

I think I wrote a few posts ago about how having a baby has made me realize I need to go with the flow, since the Bairn has a way of foiling any plan I make. Want to meet friends for lunch at a specified time? Oops, morning nap turned epic and now I’m late. Want to stop at Target to grab some things since the Bairn is sleeping peacefully in his car seat? Oh wait, he’s awake and no longer peaceful. Want to watch an episode of Kimmy Schmidt after the lad is down for the night? Just kidding, did I really think he was down for the night? And so on, ad nauseam.

Unsurprisingly, this includes any attempts I make to run, go to the gym, or otherwise not feel like a lump. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I quite like being a lump sometimes. But sometimes I need to move!) And that’s been hard.

I was by no means expecting to be running races again immediately after giving birth, but I was hoping to at least take the Bairn out for walks and work my way back smartly. I wanted my Grand Return to Racing to be the Worcester Firefighters 6K; being in June, I figured 5 months postpartum would be plenty of time to be ready for that. I didn’t need to PR, I just wanted to complete the course. Alas, poor DGobs.

I think I took the Bairn for 3 walks during my maternity leave. He was born in January and, this being New England, of course the weather didn’t cooperate fully. We did have a few warm days that were perfect for walks, but they tended to fall after snowstorms and – as I’m pretty sure I’ve complained in this space before – people in my city rarely clear their sidewalks. Not conducive to pushing a stroller. I had a wrap, but the Bairn was so tiny (he was just shy of 5 1/2 pounds when he was born) that I didn’t feel comfortable carrying him in a wrap built for babies 8 pounds and up. I couldn’t easily take him to the mall for walks either, as I’d had a C-section and my midwife advised against driving for 6-8 weeks.

All that to say, the Bairn and I got used to being lazy cozy in our warm, snug house, and exercise wasn’t so much happening for me. I was dying to get to the gym – Expresso Bikes kept emailing me about fun new challenges! – but logistics were complicated and honestly, whenever Drew offered to take Baby Duty so I could go, I’d usually opt to sleep instead. (I’ve opted for sleep the last several times he’s tried to shoo me out to run, as well. I’m tired, yo.)

Anyway. I managed a few stroller walks eventually, and after going back to work, where it’s a 10-minute walk to and from the T plus a continuous stair workout as my desk is on a mezzanine – I was feeling stronger and once again setting my sights on the 6k. The Shammies promote a race at the beginning of May, and I figured it would be a good test run.

By the end of April, there was no way I felt ready to run a 5k. I still wanted to support the race (which supports the local Boys & Girls Club) so decided to sign Drew and myself up as walkers, figuring we could push the stroller and still take part. I was a little wary of signing up ahead of time – remember what I said about the Bairn and my plans, and mice and men and all that – but knew it would be much harder to get us all down to the race if we weren’t signed up and committed. So I bit the bullet.

Race day arrives. The Bairn is recovering from bronchiolitis, and none of us have been getting much sleep for over a week. The 10:15 start time, which seemed so luxuriously late, came and went while Drew was still in bed and the Bairn was napping on me. Ah well, at least part of the race fees went to a good cause. And we did swing by the post-race festivities to show off the Bairn, where he was awarded his first race bling:

The president of the Shammies gave the Bairn his age group medal, just for being cute

After that race is when I finally got to run, and after 2 walk-run extravaganzas, I felt like I could at least finish the WFD6K. However, learning my lesson and lowering my expectations, I didn’t preregister. Even as race day crept ever closer and I wanted SO badly to sign up, I just had a feeling.

The WFD6K was last Sunday [edit: now two three Sundays ago; I’m lowering my blogging expectations too, you see], and I did not participate. The day ended up being a scorcher, in the 90s, and that race is midday and traditionally hot. My own lack of enthusiasm for hot races aside, I kept thinking of poor Drew having to keep the Bairn cool in his black stroller. Plus logistics about nursing, plus the fact that the Bairn was (is?) going through a phase of screaming bloody murder in the car, and I was relieved to not be running. I’m still bummed at missing out, but there’s always next year!

Last year, when the Bairn (who was about the size of a blueberry) was much easier to run with

So… where was I going with this post again? Oh right, lowering my expectations (as well as yours, for any sort of pithy posts). Back in January, I was determined to run the WFD6K. I knew I’d be disappointed in myself if I weren’t back to a running routine(ish) by that point.

Now that the race has come and gone? Meh. Sure, I’m a little bummed that I missed the race, but only a little bit. At this point, if I actually make it out the door for a 20-minute run around the neighborhood, I’m happy. Someday I’ll get my running groove back, but for now, not lowering my expectations will only lead to feeling bad about myself and ain’t no one got time for that.

Now if only I could get better at lowering my expectations for pace when I run… I know it’ll take a while to get back down to mid-9-minute miles again, and yet I’m disappointed in my 12-and-change pace these days. Unfortunately I think there’ll always be a part of my brain that thinks I’m FloJo.

Til next time!

Beach to Beacon 10K, 6 August 2016

What: 10K

Where: Cape Elizabeth, Maine (course map)

Who: Me and a bunch of Shammies, with moral support from Drew

Time: 1:22:40

Splits: (according to Simon)
-Mile 1: 11:13
-Mile 2: 15:49*
-Mile 3: 15:24*
-Mile 4: 12:06
-Mile 5: 11:36
-Mile 6: 13:13
-Mile 6.2: 3:22

*These two mile splits include porta-potty stops:

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Two giant canyons in the first half represent long, long porta-potty stops. The other dips are walks up hills.

Check out my race review on BibRave!

Running in the footsteps of giants:

Two quick points about this race, to set the stage:

  1. It’s Joan Benoit Samuelson‘s race, and the course apparently follows her training route. That’s pretty stinkin’ cool.
  2. History was made this year, as native Mainer Ben True became the first American to win the race in its 19-year history. (Note: his winning time, 28:17, is faster than my best 5K time. Mind = blown.)

The background:

Beach to Beacon has been on my radar ever since I joined the Shammies. A contingent of the club heads north every year to run, and I’ve heard so many stories about what a great race it is, how fun it is, how you get to run with elites and sometimes even see Joanie, etc.

The more I heard, the more I wanted to run. The only problem is that it’s a notorious race in terms of getting in; this year, general registration sold out in less than 4 minutes! Most Shammies end up getting in by entering the team lottery, but it’s not always a given that they’ll get to run.

Well, luckily for me, general registration opens at 7am, exactly when I’m usually standing at my bus stop killing time on my phone. On that fateful day in March, I was stood on the sidewalk with my phone poised, and I somehow squeaked in within that 3:43 window. It was the second time the magical race gods were smiling upon me, and I was pretty smiley myself!

The expo:

Drew and I left work early on Friday to attempt to beat weekend traffic, but still wound up sitting on the highway for 4+ hours (it usually takes about 2). We still managed to arrive in Cape Elizabeth in time to hit the expo, which I was pumped about. With the exception of the Boston Marathon expo I sneaked into during a volunteer stint, I’d never experienced a race expo before.

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Inside the expo at Cape Elizabeth High School

Granted, it wasn’t very big, but I was still nerdily excited to be at my first expo! Bib pickup was well organized and quick (other Shammies said it took forever earlier in the day), and my bib came with a nice Nike Dri-Fit t-shirt and a car magnet. More goodies came in the expo, too: gift cards to LL Bean, Olympia Sports, and Dunkin Donuts, as well as free reusable grocery bags and snacks provided by Clif Bar and a local pasta place. Not too shabby! There were vendors and run clubs there too, but by that point Drew and I were hungry and wanted to eat an actual meal.

After a tasty, tasty dish of homemade gnocchi at Enio’s (go there if you’re ever in South Portland!), we returned to our Airbnb and settled in for an early night’s sleep.

Pre-race:

We were up with the sun, literally, on race morning:

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Sunrise over SoPo

I’ve never run a race big enough to need shuttle buses and such, so I’m not used to crazy-early wake-ups. 5:20 felt way too early! I stumbled around, donned my kit, shoved some mini stroopwafel (thank you, Kennebunk Service Plaza for surprising me with those treats!) and water down my throat, and then Drew was driving me to a shuttle point.

Another first for me – a point-to-point course. I’ve always run loops or out-and-backs, or point-to-points where the start and finish are so close that they’re not even considered point-to-points. So this made logistics interesting in terms of getting to the start, finding Drew at the finish, and the like.

Anyway, I squeezed onto the 6:20 shuttle (a good, old-fashioned yellow school bus) and we trundled down lovely wooded back roads for 5-10 minutes before arriving at the start area. And what a start area it was! I’ve never seen so many porta-potties – with every 4 alternating which way they were facing so all the lines weren’t on one side – plus there were so many volunteers! Some were staffing water and snack tables, which also had Gatorade and coffee, and some were loading up gear bag buses. I felt like I was in the big-time!

I was supposed to meet up with the rest of the Shammies at 6:45, so I had some time to kill. I ate the Clif Bar I’d gotten at the expo, wandered back to the tables to get some Gatorade, and pretty much just people-watched until I saw a bunch of green singlets coming my way.

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I love these ladies!

I also shoved a Honey Stinger waffle in my face (which is why I look so goofy in the above photo – I was chewing), not because I wanted to eat it, but because I didn’t want to carry it and no one else seemed to want it. Oh well, one can never have too many pre-race waffles… right?

We chatted and killed time until we heard the national anthem, then we walked over to take our various places at the starting line. Shammies E and K hung out with me near the back of the pack; it was going to be a hot day (“sneaky heat,” as one article called it later, due to high humidity and dew point) and we wanted to enjoy the day and each other’s company without needing a trip to the medical tent.

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View from the back(ish) of the pack… you can just make out the balloon arch where the starting line was

The race:

The wheelchair athletes had started around 7:30 (I think), and the elite women took off at 8 on the dot. Elite men and the rest of us (who were a respectable distance behind the elite corral) got our start at 8:12. It took us about 8 minutes to cross the start from when the race actually started.

The first mile was nice and chill. E, K, and I were going fast enough that my conversation was broken up with lots of breathing pauses, but not so fast that it was uncomfortable. All of a sudden, we saw balloons up ahead signalling the first mile – huh? E and I were both having some race nerves and decided to pull over at the porta-potty, and K ran off with a fellow runner who she had started chatting with about his t-shirt. We stood in line for about 5 minutes, realized we didn’t really have to go after all, and carried on.

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Looking relatively fresh and happy when the first photographer appeared

Mile 2 flew by as quickly as the first and, again, I made the decision to pull over at the aid stop’s porta-potty. E was being a trooper and running my race with me, so she grabbed us some waters and waited. It was another long wait, and my nerves were still playing tricks on me, so we set off once again.

Honestly, the rest of the race is a blur. Thanks to those epic porta-potty stops, I ran my personal worst time-wise… though it’s heartening to know that if I shaved those ~10 minutes off, I would have ran about my usual time in spite of the heat. So that’s cool! But despite the slow time, it was seriously the fastest race ever. The mile markers were flying at us, and E and I kept saying how quickly the race was going. It must have been the great company! We chatted up a storm the entire way.

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There were at least 4 photographers at Mile 5, where there’s a gorgeous ocean view behind the runners, but unfortunately we’re in focus, not the view!

The awesome crowds and scenery helped, too! I’ve never run a race with so many spectators, and they went all out to cheer for us. Though my name has been on bibs before, this was the first race where people actually cheered for me by name (such a cool feeling!), and people were ringing cowbells, holding witty signs, blasting motivational music (I remember E and I singing along to the Rolling Stones as we crested a hill), and even passing out bacon (Beach to Bacon, get it?). I truly felt like a rock star… a very red, tired one with a sheen of sweat, but a rock star nonetheless.

The course ends with a few steep hills, one of which is in Fort Williams Park. That part of the race was a little disheartening… you run into the park and up the “final hill,” and I sort of expected the race to end there. But no. We wound through a section of the park, curve after curve, with the end nowhere in sight. It was such a relief to finally see the balloon arch in the distance, and I zeroed in on it. Little did I know Drew was practically right next to me, shouting my name! E spotted him and posed for a silly picture as I stared off at the finish:

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At last we victoriously crossed the finish line. The Shammies had warned me that it would be a while before I could get my hands on some water (seriously, one of my biggest race pet peeves), so as soon as I crossed the line I had my eyes peeled for the far-off land of water tables. I was so focused that I jumped a little when E said “Thanks, Joanie!” and when I looked in front of me, there she was! Less than an arm’s length away – Joan Benoit Samuelson! I managed to say “Thanks, Joanie!” and she looked at me and smiled as I lurched past, wondering if it would be improper to take a picture with her. (I decided not to, even though I kind of regret it now!)

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Here we come -the finish at last!

Post-race:

E and I kept walking down the finishing chute, up a steep grassy knoll, and at last reached the far-off water tables. Drew found us, and together we all walked through the park to find the chocolate milk – our designated Shammies meeting point. We found the chocolate milk stand (unlimited free, ice cold, local chocolate milk!) and the rest of the Shammies, and I collapsed into a heap on the grass. There was a massive food tent with crackers, cheese, yogurt, blueberries, granola bars, trail mix, etc. etc. etc. as well as vendor tables, but I was so tired I couldn’t bring myself to traipse around anymore. And anyway, Drew was carrying a paper sack full of goodies from Scratch bakery, so we tucked into a raspberry coffeecake.

Despite my lethargy, Fort Williams Park was a really cool place to end a race, with a huge expanse of grass to splay out on, bits of old forts to climb on, a little beach with some Atlantic Ocean to cool off in, and Portland Head Light, the beacon we ran to:

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Photo credit: Drew

We sat around, chatting and eating snacks and comparing our race experiences (which ranged from our fastest getting 7th in his age group – in a race with 6,600 runners – to E and I hitting personal worsts) for just under and hour, and then set off for some much-needed showers. The Shammies did what Shammies do and hit downtown Portland for some well earned beers, while I attacked one of Scratch’s famous Super Duper Cinnamon Rolls:

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Freshly showered with a cinnamon bun the size of my head

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Now that’s what I call recovery!

Overall thoughts:

I absolutely adored this race. Despite my personal worst, despite my pet peeve water situation, despite lack of bling, this is a race I want to run every year for the foreseeable future! The course, the scenery, the crowds, Joanie!, and all the little details made it a fantastic race to run. It’s clear that it was a race created by a runner, and it’s also run by the same race director who runs the Boston Marathon. These people know what they’re doing, and know how to put on a good race! The registration fee is a little steep at $50, but for what you get, I think it’s worth it. I mean, the gift cards from the expo make up half that cost, plus there are plenty of 5Ks around Boston that cost $35-$40 and all you get is a pint glass. B2B is the race for me!

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My dodgy gait and I love this race!

One final thought:

Drew and I opted to walk the 2 miles back to our Airbnb from the finish line, since traffic was ridonk. However, after all my failed pit stops during the race – and no thanks at all to the most disgusting porta-potties I’ve ever seen after the race – it was an uncomfortable walk back, to say the least. Enter The Cookie Jar, a lovely little bakery on our route. They let me use their gloriously clean real bathroom, and we returned the next morning for breakfast as a thank you. People rave about Holy Donut in Portland, but seriously – if you’re ever in South Portland and like donuts, you must stop at Cookie Jar! Maple glazed donut + Maine blueberry coffee = excellent way to cap off an excellent race weekend.

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 12 June 2016

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 38:14 Personal record!

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

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Pre-race

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

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

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

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Warmed up and ready to run!

The race

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

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

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

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

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Motorcycles leading the way

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Here I come, doing an awkward wave thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race

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

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Love. This. Thing.

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