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!

 

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Worcester Running Festival Half Marathon, 19 June 2016

What: Half marathon

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts

Course Map:

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Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew

Time: 02:42:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eventual winner leading the pack on the left.

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

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As usual, being goofy after crossing the start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plenty of porta-potties by this point!

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

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

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

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Wormtown represent!

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

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 12 June 2016

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 38:14 Personal record!

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

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Pre-race

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

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

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

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Warmed up and ready to run!

The race

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

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

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

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

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Motorcycles leading the way

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Here I come, doing an awkward wave thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race

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

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Love. This. Thing.

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

The Worcester Running Festival was a Wash… Literally

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

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

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

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

What my evening looked like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 14 June 2015

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

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

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

Time: 43:44 Personal record!

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

Race swag:

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

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

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

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

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Before the race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arms aloft in victory

Arms aloft in victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huzzah!

Huzzah!

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

Post-race party in Institute Park

Post-race party in Institute Park

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

Ice packs and ice cream

Ice packs and ice cream

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

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

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

Friday Five of Randomness

Hello and happy Friday!

Since my brain has been overtaxed these past few weeks and is essentially on strike (I cringe reading the recap I wrote for the Cambridge CityRun… yeesh) – but given that I am quite behind in posting and want to be an active member of the blogosphere again – today’s post will be written as if my brain is on shuffle. At least I’m writing, right? 🙂

So with no further ado, here are five random things on my brain this week:

1) I’m back running again and feeling amazing and somehow faster!!

My ribs have [mostly] healed and my feet and legs seem to be behaving themselves for the moment, so I have been enjoying easing back into some sort of running routine. After performing way better than expected in my first race of the year, I enjoyed a giddy warm(ish) run around the pond, followed by a giddy Easter morning run with the Shammies.

easterThe last time I tried to join the Shammies on their Sunday morning run, it didn’t go so well. This time, however, I was feeling good, there was significantly less snow and ice on the ground to deal with, and I had an amazing run.

I intended to go for 3 miles – mostly so I could get back to my house in time to watch the Burnley v Spurs match before cooking some veg to bring to my grandma’s house for Easter dinner – but was so caught up enjoying running with people that I didn’t realize we were on the 5-mile course until it was too late. By that point it would have been slower to turn back than to keep going, so I completed the 5 miles… faster than the 5-mile race I ran the previous week! What the heck! Pushing myself so as not to slow down my running buddies is the perfect motivator for me, apparently.

2) Marathon week approaches…

…and with it, lots of quality Shammie time that I’m really looking forward to! The club hosts a big pasta dinner every year the Friday before the Marathon, and everyone is invited, even if you’re not running the Marathon. Hooray for free pasta and Shammie time! Then, on Saturday I’m signed up with the club to volunteer at the Marathon expo, and I’m totally giddy with anticipation. I’ve never been to a race expo before, and this is the big one! It’ll be a lot of work (I’m told) but I can’t wait. Sunday is another morning run with the club, and Monday is the Marathon and a much-needed day off from work. Huzzah!

3) Speaking of marathons…

…or at least phrases with “marathon” in them… I bit the bullet and signed up for my second half marathon! I’m not sure right now if I’m excited or just crazy, but I suppose time will tell. Two years back my dad told me about how my home city is trying to become the “Running Capital of New England” – despite sharing a state with Boston, home of the aforementioned Marathon… hmmm… – and as part of that was developing a half marathon. Last year was the inaugural, and I was too injured and too scared of 13.1 mile distances to sign up. Now that I’ve run one, and apparently forgetting how I swore off running additional ones immediately after finishing the first, I figured I might as well give it a go! It looks to be a bit hilly, and is a summer race, so I’m not expecting to PR, but I’m also hoping to *actually* train this time around, so we’ll see how it goes.

wrf4) And speaking of Worcester races…

…I have to DNS yet another race this year, and I’m totally bummed about it. 😦 I signed up for the Tour de Worcester as soon as registration opened, hoping to be able to run all three races this year (as opposed to running one, trying to run another, and straight-up walking the third). Well, this is what I get for registering for races months and months ahead of time… turns out I’m going to have to miss not one but two of the Tour races this year, due to very awesome but very unavoidable plans (more about these at another time). Mostly I’m upset that I wasted so much money on two races. I really need to learn to rein in my ridiculously early race registration habit!

Random scenes from last year's Tour de Worcester

Random scenes from last year’s Tour de Worcester

5) The one not related to running at ALL…

Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” has been stuck in my head all week. All. Week. I like the song, but to be honest, it’s driving me a bit batty. However, I’ve had a revelation about this song recently, specifically about the following lyric:

No you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

… when you hear “records” in that line, what do you imagine? Are his ex’s friends picking up LPs? I assume that’s what most people would think. For the first million times I heard the song, I imagined the friends picking up boxes full of papers. I guess you know you’re an archivist when… 😉

What do you think – LPs? Or paper records?

Who’s racing this weekend? Any fun plans?

What are your thoughts on race expos? Anything in particular I should keep my eyes peeled for?

Anyone else have a serious problem with signing up for races too early and then not running them??

Canal Diggers Road Race, 6 September 2014

What: 5K

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with Drew for moral support

Benefited: Worcester Hibernian Cultural Foundation

Time: 34:57

Photos: (click to open larger versions)

A little dose of history nerdery... some information about the Blackstone Canal

A little dose of history nerdery… some information about the Blackstone Canal that was on a sign near the race start

Drew took this candid of me before the race. Even with the weird thing my neck is doing, I like this picture!

Drew took this candid of me before the race. Even with the weird thing my neck is doing, I kind of like this picture!

This old abandoned school near the start/finish line was my odd oasis before and after the race... it was shady and breezy and gorgeously uncrowded.

This old abandoned school near the start/finish line was my odd oasis before and after the race… it was shady and breezy and gorgeously uncrowded.

Me (circled) hanging out near the back of the pack. Roughly the same number of runners ran last year, but last year I was lined up next to the building the arrow is pointing to, a block and a half behind where I was this year. Odd.

Me (circled) hanging out near the back of the pack. Roughly the same number of runners ran last year, but last year I was lined up next to the building the arrow is pointing to, a block and a half behind where I was this year. Odd.

Being silly for Drew as the crowd moved soooo slowly toward the start line

Being silly for Drew as the crowd moved soooo slowly toward the start line

I was so grateful that we ran through this tunnel twice during the race... the shade was glorious!

I was so grateful that we ran through this tunnel twice during the race… the shade was glorious!

With about a half-mile to go, I reach toward Drew with zombie arms.

With about a half-mile to go, I reach toward Drew with zombie arms.

Look at how red and miserable we all look!

Look at how red and miserable we all are!

Race swag. Because I completed the Tour de Worcester, I got a plastic bag with all those race applications inside, plus the coupon. I heard other runners complaining that they didn't get a bag, but honestly there was nothing exciting in them at all.

Race swag. Because I completed the Tour de Worcester, I got a plastic bag with all those race applications inside, plus the coupon. I heard other runners complaining that they didn’t get a bag, but honestly there was nothing exciting in them at all.

In addition to the bag o' applications, I also got this sweet hat. Looking forward to wearing it in the cooler weather!

In addition to the bag o’ applications, I also got this sweet hat. Looking forward to wearing it in the cooler weather!

Recap: The Canal Diggers Road Race was the third in this year’s Tour de Worcester series (the other races being the Jay Lyons Memorial Road Race and the Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K). This was the second time I ran the Canal Diggers; last year’s recap can be found here.

Speaking of last year… last year’s race was uncomfortably warm. I had spent a summer running races in nasty heat and humidity and naively assumed a September race would be nice and cool. I didn’t hydrate properly and struggled in the upper-70s/low-80s with humidity, taking many walk breaks. Despite the number of walk breaks I took, I came within 7 seconds of my at-the-time 5K PR and was disappointed I hadn’t just sucked it up and tried a little harder to shave those few seconds off.

If I thought last year’s race was hot, I was in for a nasty time. This year, race time (11 am) was forecast as being around 90 degrees and wicked humid, and forecast was pretty spot-on. It was disgusting. There was an ever-so-slight breeze which helped a tiny bit, and occasional cloud cover helped as well, but for the most part it was sunny and sticky and hot and miserable. Perfect conditions for an urban road race! (Now, where did I leave my sarcasm font?)

This year, however, I was prepared. I was nice and hydrated, and brought along a water bottle of Nuun to carry during the race. I had also picked out an outfit that was nice and light, and felt almost like it wasn’t even there (a white Columbia “Total Zero” tank top and Under Armour Escape running shorts). I had brought a small cooler with chocolate milk and Pop Tarts as a post-race snack as well. I was ready.

Parking was a breeze as we arrived early enough to snag one of the spots in a nearby parking garage. (The race website had promised a $1 all-day deal for parking there, but didn’t mention that there would be an attendant taking our dollars at the exit and that we shouldn’t pay at the machines after the race. There were no signs or announcements (that I could hear, anyway) so we shelled out $4 at the machine and assumed they had lied about the deal until the confused dollar-taking guy took our ticket and waved us through. Boo. Not the end of the world, but would have been nice to save $3!)

Bib pick-up was a little confusing. I got a TON of emails in the weeks leading up to the race saying that people should go to a local running store for bib pick-up, but since I can’t easily get to Worcester on weeknights I had to opt for race day pick-up. Last year all the pick-ups and registration were inside the Hibernian Center, which is right next to where the start/finish/post-race party all happen. I made a bee-line for the Center (neither the race site nor the emails mentioned where race day pick-up would occur, so I just assumed this was the right place) only to be grabbed by a volunteer and rather brusquely asked if I were pre-registered. She directed me across the street to the parish hall, where the volunteers were thankfully much nicer. The rest of the process was well-organized and pleasant.

Drew and I hung out in the shadow of an abandoned school, partly because it was shady, and partly because it was far enough away from everyone that I didn’t feel too awkward to do my dynamic stretching routine, which always makes me feel self-conscious.(Am I the only one who feels awkward doing this when other people are around?)

The race got underway not too long after 11am, after both an Irish song and the national anthem were sung. As I am wont to do, I got a bit swept up in the excitement and started the race (according to Simon) at around a 9:15 pace until I made myself slow down to something more manageable. I noticed with delight at the spot where I had to first stop to walk last year (not even a half-mile in!) that I felt great and was fine to keep running. In fact, unlike last year, I was able to run for about 2.5 miles without stopping (minus brief pauses at the water stops), and considering how hot and nasty it was, I was pretty proud of that! This was definitely one of those races where I felt like a machine and embraced that feeling, just letting my legs keep doing their thing while I look around and try not to focus on the fact that my brain is melting in the heat.

The course was the same as last year, though it seemed much shorter this time around… maybe because I knew what was coming. Worcester is famous for its 7 hills, like Rome, but luckily only one baby hill (not even big enough to register as one of the 7) was included in the course. We ran through the Canal District (by lots of Irish pubs and restaurants) and at one point were running alongside the Worcester Pride parade. There was a lot of cheering back and forth between the marchers and runners and there were marching bands playing peppy music, and it was a fun distraction from the regular vehicular traffic that was on all the other streets.

One thing I was really happy about was that there were 2 water stops along the course, after the pre-race info said there would only be 1. (A single water stop a day as hot as Saturday would have been madness!) Since I was carrying Nuun, I dumped the water on me at each stop. By mile 2 though, my Nuun was pretty hot from the heat of my hand (and the heat of the day) so it wasn’t entirely pleasant or refreshing to drink… I just swigged it back and tried to focus on the electrolytes and not the sensation of drinking hot water.

I stopped to walk not long after peeling away from the parade, and only because the guy I had marked stopped to walk too. He was an older gentleman who was wearing the race shirt from the WFD6K and reminded me of one of my great-uncles, and he was running like a machine the whole time. Whenever I was struggling, I looked for him a few yards ahead of me and thought “If he’s still running, I can keep going.” He took a quick walk break right by City Hall, so I did as well… though it was SO hard to start running again once I stopped! I made it past Turtle Boy and dragged myself into some sort of running form once again, and managed to run the remaining half-mile to the end. By the time I got to the last stretch I had zero energy left to speed up, so I just jogged over the finish line.

The finish area is my biggest complaint about this race. Right after you cross the finish, several volunteers are standing off to the side, handing out medals. Cool, I like bling. However, the thing I want most immediately after finishing a race – especially on a day as hot and gross as Saturday – is water. There was no water to be found at the finish line. None. To get some, runners had to make a hairpin turn through the barriers and squish between the Hibernian Center and one of the tents that was set up in the parking lot. This was one of two ways to get into the post-race party, and everyone was either trying to get in to get water, or out to find their friends, so it was a giant bottleneck.

After struggling in vain to squish my way through – and after being pressed against from behind in such a way that I felt some parts of a dude that I really didn’t want to feel – some volunteers pushed their way through everyone with a large garbage barrel. Inside, at the very bottom, were those tiny little bottles of Poland Spring – water! I joined everyone else in reaching inside to grab one, but my arm was too short to reach the bottom and the men didn’t stop so I didn’t get one. Already disturbed and a little pissed off by my close encounters with a stranger’s anatomy (pissed off because it really didn’t seem like an accident), I threw my hands up in frustration after being denied water. Luckily, another guy behind me had grabbed two and gave me one, instantly restoring my faith in humanity a little. (Thank you, sir, whoever you are!)

I finally barged my way into the post-race party area to look for Drew as well as more water, since the tiny bottle wasn’t going to last very long. I couldn’t find either – though there was plenty of beer – so I retreated back to our abandoned school next door and sat on the steps and pouted for a while. I was hot and thirsty and annoyed at the disorganization of the finish area and wishing I had thrown an elbow into Pervy McPervster’s gut, and to top it all off, the text I got from RaceWire had my final time as more than a minute slower than what Simon said – Simon gave me a final of 33:33, but RaceWire said 34:57. What the heck!

Eventually Drew and I reunited and headed over to my stepdad’s where a nice shower and delicious lunch (and a cheeky glass of Riesling) were waiting for me. Forget the post-race party… the best post-race festivities were with Jack! We hung with him for a while, then stopped to visit my mum at work, and then met my dad for dinner. It ended up being a great day, and the race, despite its bad parts, was a win. I conquered the heat and humidity to beat my time from last year (35:15) and felt so much more confident in my running than a year ago. It’s awesome to be able to see so concretely how far I’ve come in just a year!

And as a bonus… for anyone who’s familiar with Worcester… before the race, Drew and I crossed Kelly Square on foot, twice and lived to tell about it. I feel like this is a major accomplishment in my life. (For those of you not familiar with Kelly Square… I think “clusterf***” is the most accurate term for it. It’s the intersection of multiple streets with no traffic lights, no rotary, no perceivable right-of-way, and you always breathe a small sigh of relief after navigating it without crashing into anything. Driving instructors delight in making 16-year-old kids drive through it as a right of passage.)

Kelly Square (source)

Kelly Square (source)

Quite the day indeed!