Friday, December 30, 2016

525,600 minutes

2016.  Seriously.  What was your deal?  The weather, the election, the ever growing death toll of beloved celebrities, Derek Jeter getting married to someone who is not me...come on now!  I sit here on December 30th, holding my breath and waiting for a shitstorm of epic proportions to rain down on us as the final nail in the coffin of this dumpster fire of a year.  The realist in me wants to say to the universe:


But the optimist in me is finding the silver lining.  My family is happy and healthy as we enter the new year, and I could probably end it right there.  There is little else we could ask for.  But since I haven't blogged in about nine months, I'll give you a little more.

2016 turned out to be an incredible year of running for me.  I didn't PR a single race, and I think that was the key to my running happiness this year.  Coming off consecutive summers where I dealt with nagging injuries, my goal for this year was to run healthy all year.  That meant slowing down and starting over, adding mileage slowly and thoughtfully while making strength training a priority.  Mind blowing approach, right?  And by golly if it didn't actually work!  The end result to this crazy plan has been an injury free 12+ months of running and a super strong foundation on which to build my training for the 2017 Shamrock Half Marathon and beyond.  And that's not even the best part!  The best part was how much fun I had saying yes to new adventures because I wasn't worried about a goal race all year.  For example...

In February, I joined a team of three other ladies for a 100k relay race at Bow Creek Golf Course.  62 miles divided by 4 girls, round and round the golf course we ran on a frigid winter day and celebrated a strong finish with champagne inside the toasty clubhouse.

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Team No Pain, No Champagne

In March, I got to run with Brynn for her first Shamrock 8k.  If I had been training to PR the half marathon, it's doubtful I would've agreed to run with her and would've missed this incredible experience.  My girl is fierce, I tell you!  

Loved every step with this kid

As for the half marathon, I let go of my pride and let a pace group pull me through 13.1 miles of cold, driving rain and pace-crushing winds across the finish line.  I had nothing to lose by letting the pacers take the wheel...they were running a 1:45 no matter what, all I had to do was keep them in sight. And with no PR on the line, I gladly accepted the beer handed to me somewhere along Atlantic Avenue. That race was a battle from start to finish, and I keep the memory of it fresh in my head when runs aren't going so well.  

Approaching the finish

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 Celebrating the first of many big finishes for this bunch
  In May, I ran my first trail race...a 10 miler in honor of women who lost their lives in combat for our country. It was a blast running up, down, and all around First Landing State Park, and not having a time goal allowed me to work on racing strategy. I played around with sticking with a pack, leading a pack, and finally breaking away from the pack and reeling in people ahead of me one at a time. A second place age group finish was icing on the cake. 

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Claiming my 2nd place medal  
June brought my family back to Ithaca for the second Gorges Ithaca half marathon. It was an epic trip that could've only been better had I not been battling a heinous wheezing cough for a solid three weeks leading up to the race (and another month after that, I would later learn). The course was different than last year, with a 700+ foot elevation climb late in the race. And again, with a time goal only of "better than last year," I focused on passing as many people as I could in those later miles. I also focused on enjoying a mimosa along the race course for the first time. 

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So great to finally be in a race with this speedy Bomber!

I ran two new races in August, and I will tell you that racing in coastal Virginia in August is a suck fest, plain and simple. The first race was a 5k that was part of J&A Racing's new summer series of races, held each Wednesday morning for 8 weeks during the summer and geared toward the oodles of tourists enjoying their vacation at the beach. I hadn't raced a 5k in forever...and it was obvious when you take a look at my splits. It was a classic tale of starting too fast and then crashing and burning. I was forced to fight to the finish thanks to Bad Ass Mother Runner Barbie, who had no body part left unchiseled and came complete with a baby in a jogging stroller.

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J&A's Summer 5k, humid, hell of a fun time  
The second race in August was a total impulse buy. A brand new tunnel connecting the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth had just opened, and the tunnel authority was celebrating with a 5k through it. The number of participants was limited to just a couple hundred, the price couldn't be beat, and since I had a few friends jumping off that bridge (well, running through that tunnel),  I signed up as well. As race day drew nearer, I started questioning my sanity.  I hate tunnels.  I drive through them often and focus only on getting out as quickly as possible, so why on earth would I want to prolong the process of getting out by running instead of driving?  Because it was a fantastic mental challenge for me and I couldn't pass up the chance to learn and grow from it. What I learned was the incline in a tunnel is steeper than it appears, and the lack of air flow in the middle is suffocating.  It was 3.1 miles of misery, but a really cool experience that allowed me to add "bottom of the Elizabeth River" to the list of places I've run.  

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Running down the tunnel and back to Portsmouth

 Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing, shorts and outdoor Hot, sweaty ladies
October began with my third half marathon of the year, which was a record high for me.  I signed up for the Crawlin' Crab half in the spring with the hopes that we'd have more favorable weather conditions than we did for Shamrock and I could see what these legs were capable of.  However, my summer of running was more about maintaining miles than gaining speed, so I put my PR dreams back on the shelf and focused on running a strong race.  The weather was no friend to us, with temps in the 70s and summer-like humidity, and I had to gut the last half of that race out big time.  It was the first time all year I was actually disappointed in a race time, which could only mean I was ready to start working toward something again.  

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Caution: Weather conditions were way suckier than our smiling faces imply

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor Cartwheeling across the finish line of a half marathon was checked off my running bucket list in 2016

I spent the next few weeks of October focusing on leg strength and working slightly faster runs into my weekly mileage.  I stepped to the starting line of the Wicked 10k with more confidence than I had just a few weeks prior at Crawlin' Crab and ready to let 'er rip.  I ran most of those 6.2 miles right alongside my friend Sara, and each time I felt her push her pace, I dug in an answered with a push of my own.  I felt strong as I crossed the finish line, which is something that hadn't happened since the 10 miler on the trails in May.  I was within a minute of my 10k PR, and the fire to get to work for Shamrock 2017 was stoked.  

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Nasty Women Run

So here we are, 11 weeks away from my next Shamrock half.  My PR dream has been removed from its shelf, dusted off, and written where I can see it every single day.  My training plan is laid out for me on Fancy monthly calendars.  The 1400 miles I logged in 2016 were no accident...they were mindfully planned and executed to serve as the foundation for big goals in 2017 and beyond.  Each month of this past year serves as a reminder of lessons learned as I build upon that foundation:
  • Appreciate a healthy body.  Listen to it.  Treat it well, especially when it seems to be betraying you.
  • Teamwork makes the dream work.  Surround yourself with people who value your goals and encourage you to work for them.  Do the same for them.  And if they provide child care for training runs and races, never let them go.  
  • Say yes to new adventures!  As adults with bills to pay and homes to maintain and kids raise, it's so easy to get caught up in the grind of it all.  We spend so much time, money, and energy trying to give our children experiences to help them learn and grow that we forget that WE still need to learn and grow.  The best way to do that is to try new things, and the bonus is that our kids learn to be brave and open to new experiences by watching us.  When we succeed, we've shown them trying new things is so worth it, even when it's hard.  And if failure is the outcome, it's a chance to show our kids how to handle disappointment with humility and that we humans are resilient.  They're watching.  They're listening.  Maybe not to the parts about cleaning their room and getting ready for bed, but they're listening to the good stuff.  Be the adult you want them to become.  And if you don't have kids, heck, be the adult you want other adults to become, too.  We could use some more good guys around.   
See, 2016 wasn't all bad.  For this mother runner, it was pretty darn good.  The foundation has been laid for new experiences and with hard work (and a little race day magic), perhaps a PR will show up in 2017.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Isn't it ironic?

Running in the rain -  because it is what we do. Go for it! You will always thank yourself later.:  

It's like ra-eee-aaaaain on your half marathon day.  I think it's so ironic that a training cycle full of happy, joyful miles ended with a race that was miserable practically start to finish.  Never before yesterday had I gotten to a starting line and thought "What am I doing here?" while imagining my escape.  I felt puddles in my shoes before I even dropped off my dry gear bag.  I had already ditched my gloves because they had gotten completely soaked just from walking from the car to the start.  I underestimated how long I'd be waiting in the corral before starting and took off my poncho and extra layer too early.  All I could think about was how much the next 100+ minutes were going to suck.  I made my way to the back of corral 1 and wondered how this would all go down.

Then I saw a familiar face holding a sign that would turn out to be my beacon for the entire race.  Total bad ass and fellow mother runner Krista and her husband were standing at the front of corral 2 holding 1:45 signs, a huge pack of runners behind them.  All week long I thought my game plan would be to run near the 1:45 pace group and see what happens.  When I realized these two tough people were leading the charge through the wind and rain, it was a no brainer to let corral 1 go and stick with this group.  I could tuck in behind them and let them block the wind, and I knew Krista would be a tremendous source of encouragement for us all.  

The pacers' plan was to run a steady 8 min/mile pace for 13.1 miles. I knew in my head that starting at an 8 minute pace was a bit fast for me, especially going straight into the wind, but it felt so good to just be moving that I hung with the group.  After crossing mile 1 at exactly 8 minutes, I thought it would be best for me to ease up a little, even if it meant letting the pace group get away from me a bit.  My next few miles were just over an 8 minute mile, and I felt like I was starting to settle into the run as we made the glorious turn onto Shore Drive. Shore Drive's 3 mile stretch was a nice reprieve from the wind, and the trees even blocked a bit of the rain.  But with every passing mile, I knew I was coming up on the toughest part of the course, so I picked up my pace slightly in hopes of putting a little time in the bank.  

Once we turned into Fort Story, I took a deep breath and mentally prepared myself for the stiff headwind I knew was waiting for me ahead.  I ripped open my GU with my teeth because my hands were numb and completely useless, and slowly sipped on it for most of Fort Story's miles.  The 1:45 pace group was pretty far ahead of me by the time we left the Fort, but I could still see their little signs bobbing up and down.  I tried to keep a steady effort so they wouldn't get too much farther ahead, but the stiff winds coming off the bay had taken some time off my pace.  

The gates at the end of Fort Story may as well have been the pearly gates of heaven...that's how amazing it felt to finish those miles and get on my way to the home stretch.  Once I hit 80th Street, the roar of the spectators lining both sides of the street got me really amped up and actually excited about the miles ahead for the first time all morning.  I got a high five from Kristy's husband, Christian, and grabbed a dixie cup of beer from a friendly spectator.  Carbs are carbs, right?  

 Run for Beer - 8x10 - Retro Typography Running or Beer Quote Print. $15.00, via Etsy.:

The last three miles of Shamrock are always interesting.  I start counting down the blocks to the finish and get really excited, but often times runners who've been with you for the last 10 miles start dropping to the side of the road to stretch their cramping hamstrings and calves.  People who were looking strong through the brutal miles of Fort Story now had the look and posture of defeat as they slowed to a walk.  I think this is exactly where the hometown advantage kicked in for me...I train on those streets.  I train in that wind.  And I was able to withstand the battering we received from the winds on base and have enough left in me to finish strong because of it.  It's the same reason quite a few elite runners dropped out of the race while our local speedsters cruised to great finishes.  

The last mile was a bit of a blur.  The weather kept a lot of spectators at home, and their voices and cowbells were certainly missed as we turned onto Atlantic by the Cavalier.  The stretch from the Cavalier to the turn onto the boardwalk seemed to last an eternity, and we were greeted by a gust of wind off the ocean that had me holding onto my hat.  I took a quick glance at my watch and thought if I could kick hard enough, I might just end up with a 1:45:xx.  The 1:45 pacers were as close as they had been since that first mile, and I focused on catching them before the finish.  The pack behind them had completely thinned out, and I couldn't tell if they had all finished faster or fell behind.  Krista kept looking back for her little ducklings, and I could hear her cheering us on to the finish.  I had little left, as evidenced by this stunning race photo:

 That guy behind me feels my pain!

But the finish line is always a welcome sight and I smiled for that one last photographer. 


I crossed the finish in 1:45:02, soaked, shivering, exhausted, and elated.  A week ago, I believed I was capable of a 1:45 if all the stars aligned.  With the weather being what it was at the start, I all but gave up on that time and went into survival mode, with the plan being to just gut this one out.  Some of the best runners in the country were too chicken to even show up for this race.  And the ones that did brave the elements had finish times that were 4 and 5 minutes off their best as well.  The purpose of this race for me this year was never to PR, but instead to see what my baseline is.  It was always meant to be a starting point, not and end goal.  Knowing I can run a 1:45 in those conditions with no speed work in my weekly miles has me so excited about what's to come with some hard work this spring.  After a little rest, of course.

Pacer (and cheerleader) Krista


The post race party is always the best part of these races.  Whether your race was good, bad, or ugly, you know there's good food, cold beer, live music, and good (albeit smelly) friends waiting for you in the tent.  

Me and my Breath of Sunshine

 Post race photo with a giant pink monkey in a Mark Messier jersey, as is tradition.

Look up bad ass in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of this girl.  So thankful for her advice and guidance on this running journey of mine.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

So Damn Lucky

Sometimes the blog post inspires the title, sometimes the title comes first and a post is born.  This weekend, the first song that popped up on Pandora as I headed out for an easy run was Dave Matthews' "So Damn Lucky," and this post started writing itself in my head as I put one foot in front of the other.  

It's race week, which means I am out of my mind.  Every emotion sits bubbling at the surface, ready to boil over with the slightest provocation.  The familiar nervous pit is in my stomach, but my heart pounds with excitement that in less than a week, I'll be standing in a big tent on the beach, beer in one hand, Irish stew in the other, shiny new medal around my neck, hugging my favorite stinky people in celebration of surviving another winter training cycle.

The fact you're running outdoors in this weather tells me you have deeper psychological issues.:

I'm feeling so damn lucky that I'm healthy and get to step up to not one, but TWO starting lines this weekend.  I get to cross TWO finish lines.  I get to run beside my daughter for her first 8k.  I get to hear the crowd go nuts when she comes down the homestretch to the finish.  Then I get to watch my other fierce little lady tackle her 1 mile race with her dad.  On Saturday, I get to be coach and cheerleader.  Saturday is for my girls.


Sunday though.  Sunday is mine.  Unlike every Shamrock I've done until this point, Sunday is the beginning instead of the end.  This training cycle has been about building up strong, healthy mileage, not about gaining speed.  I'm not looking to PR at Shamrock...I'm looking to run a smart race and cross that finish line feeling strong and hungry for more.  I feel my running foundation is solid and my mind is in a great place right now, and it's incredibly exciting to think that Shamrock is a starting point for me instead of a goal race this time around.  

 Do what you can with what you have where you are 8 x 10 print:

I will do what I can with what I have, and while I have a time range I feel is reasonable, whatever the time on the clock reads when I cross the finish line is where I am right now.  The two weeks it took to recover from the 100k relay last month is still fresh in my mind, so I'll be kind to my body through the month of March, but once April hits, it's game on!  My plan is to carefully add in some speed work and hills to prepare me for the Gorges Ithaca Half in June, and maybe just maybe work my way to a sub-1:40 in the fall. I have learned a tremendous lesson in patience over the past few months, and as long as I don't let myself get caught up in the excitement of trying to kill every single run, I think I'll have a very satisfying running future ahead of me.  

Best of luck to everyone running this weekend!!!

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You. May the Wind Be Always At Your Back. Irish Blessing. Chalkboard St. Patrick's Day Free Printable: