Sunday, May 12, 2024

My Pianopacalypse

This blog is called "Racing Stripes" and usually it's about running/racing. But once in a while, it's about "stripes". In this case, the stripes I am referring to are the black and white stripes of the piano keys. If I had to guess where my zebra love comes from, I think it's because they made me think of pianos when I first saw them at the zoo on a subconscious level. 

Ever since purchasing my new Schimmel grand piano in January, I have been obsessed and addicted to my instrument. On average, I have been spending over an hour a day playing, and sometimes more like two hours a day. Most weeks I spend more time playing my piano than I do running. Running is part of my daily routine and I enjoy it, but this piano has my soul now.

My biggest piano inspiration is Tori Amos. I've been a huge fan since I discovered her at the age of 15. Her music reaches into my soul. I have all of her song books (piano sheet music) but I've only ever attempted about 10 percent of it, with most of it seeming to be too daunting. 

With the new grand piano, I have been playing primarily by ear-- a talent that I naturally have and never learned from anywhere. I've discovered that when I play by ear, the music comes out much better than when I read from a book. Usually the books offer a different version of the song and it's not how I perceive the song. This opens up a new world to me because I can play the actual song, but also make it my own.

I occasionally write my own songs (like the Boston-themed "It's Raining Unicorns") but mostly I enjoy re-making my favorite songs to show how I interpret them. I enjoy putting my own unique spin on something that I already find artistically amazing. 

Running has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. When I want to achieve something, I will work tirelessly in pursuit of that goal. This is how I was able to take my marathon time down from 4:46 to 3:15 and my half marathon time down from 2:00 to 1:29. Keeping that in mind, I realized I could apply the same discipline to the piano. 

For most of my life, I have sat down at the piano and played for fun without actually "working" at it. I would occasionally devote an hour here or there to figuring out a song by ear, but I would never perfect it, and then I would move on. But I've come to the realization that I can play almost any song I want if I put enough time and effort into it. I am not a classically trained pianist (I've only had about two years of lessons) but I have enough skills to make almost any song sound like the actual song. (When I upload the video to YouTube and they tell me that I am uploaded Copyrighted material, I am super flattered!)

Of course, to really do justice to a song, singing is required. That's when I came to a similar realization about my voice. Aside from three years in high school choir, I've never had formal vocal training. But I can carry a tune and sometimes sound decent. And anything can be trained! So I have started working on my voice too with vocal exercises and experimenting with various ways to sing certain songs. 

Combine my new-found confidence of knowing I can do anything I put my mind to with a natural ability to play the piano by ear, and BAM - I can actually make some interesting cover songs. I can actually play the songs that I never thought were within my reach. I wish I had discovered this earlier and spent more time really honing my piano skills instead of just tinkering around here and there.

I'll share three of my favorite pieces here. 

Yesterday I recorded, I Can't See New York, by Tori Amos. This is one of my all-time favorite songs and the fact that I can play it is a dream come true. If you would have asked my last year at this time if I could ever really play that song, I would have said no way. I listened to the beginning of this song over and over until I was able to match all the notes. I probably spent about 25-30 hours total on this one, including practicing the vocals. This song carries special meaning to me and it came out at a point in my life when I really needed it.


The next song is Gold Dust, also by Tori Amos. I see these two songs as twins. They are on the same album and I like them equally, but in very different ways. I recorded this one last February, before I had the new microphones. (I had received feedback from the 70+ crowd that my voice was inaudible with the old microphone).

Other Tori songs on my YouTube include Jackie's Strength, Reindeer King, Purple People, and Famous Blue Raincoat.

Just two years ago, I discovered the depth of the band Placebo. I had only ever known one of their songs from the late 90s, but when they released the album Never Let Me Go, it opened up a whole new world of all their songs. I have three of their songs on my YouTube channel, with the latest being Sleeping With Ghosts. Their music is pretty easy/quick to figure out on the piano, the fun part is deciding how to play and sing it. I like to bring a new mood to their songs.

I also have the Placebo songs 20 Years and Song to Say Goodbye on my YouTube channel. I have a long list of songs to learn and put up on YouTube. I need to retire from my full time job so I can spend all my time on this!

Thanks for watching, reading and listening. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Run The Greenway: 2024 Edition

I ran the Run The Greenway 5K last Saturday, 19 days after the Boston Marathon. This race kicked off my "summer of speed" in a fun way.

Background
I ran this race in 2022 and was the first overall female finisher with a time of 20:43. I liked that the course was relatively flat and it was an out-and-back with just one turn. I also enjoyed running on the Dulles Greenway because it felt cool to be on a major highway.

A few days before the race, I realized that the course would be different from what I ran in 2022. The race would start further west on the Greenway and run in the opposite direction. I researched the elevation profile online and it looked hillier than the 2022 course. Mostly downhill for the first half and then uphill for the second half. 

On the plus side, the new start location was just steps away from my sister's house. I asked if she wanted to come watch and she said yes! I thought to myself: "How cool would it be for me to win the race again and have my sister watching!" But spoiler alert, that didn't happen!

My goal was to break 20:00. I had good reason to believe I could do this. First, I had just run a 5K in 20:14 four weeks prior on a more challenging course. Second, I ran a time of 20:43 back in 2022 and I believed myself to be in much better shape now. 

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race and I began my warm up. I warmed up to my sister's house, which was super close, and she and her husband came out. I pointed them in the direction of the race and then continued to run back to the race site while they walked there. 

I warmed up for just over two miles, making sure to include some faster strides. My biggest challenge at my last 5K was a lack of warm up and I didn't want to make the same mistake. I had a Maurten gel about 15 minutes before the start. 

I wore my ASICS Metaspeed Sky Paris shoes. The same model that I wore in Boston but the smaller pair. I ended up bruising my big toe, so it is officially confirmed that the smaller size is in fact, too small for me. 

I was thankful that it wasn't raining. It had rained overnight and for most of the morning but miraculously stopped just in time for my warm up. In 2022 I ended up with hypothermia because it was pouring rain. I wouldn't have minded rain again but I would have felt bad asking my sister and brother-in-law to stand in the rain to watch me cross a start and finish line.

Which of course brings me to my personal race weather scale.  It was 53 degrees, humid and overcast, with light winds. Not too bad for early May which could have been much warmer. I give this a 6 out of 10. Just slightly better than "ok". 

They called us to the start line relatively early. We lined up at 7:45 with a start time of 8:00. And Greg later told me that the race started at 8:05. It felt like I was standing there for eternity. We heard the announce list off all the birthdays. The Star Spangled Banner played. We heard about the sponsors. I made friends with some of the other runners. I already knew one of them and was happily chatting with some others. 

I saw Greg standing with my sister and brother-in-law on the other side of the start line. They were snapping photos and waving at me!

It was clear from this point that I would not be winning the race. I thought I could potentially come in 3rd at best. That was fine with me. I know that winning a race is all about who shows up! After what seemed like forever, the race finally started.

Mile 1
Based on the elevation profile, I knew this needed to be my fastest mile. My hope was to run it around 6:15. I got pulled out very quickly by the ladies ahead of me, backed off after about a quarter of a mile and then settled in. While this mile was mostly downhill, it also had an uphill. My watch beeped at 6:24. Nine seconds slower than planned, but the sub 20:00 was still within reach. I just had to run two more miles at this exact pace.

Mile 2
The belief that I could run sub 20:00 was soon shattered as I ran the second mile. I was already starting to get tired and my legs felt so heavy. I didn't have a lot of energy and I couldn't maintain my 6:24. I knew that there were at least 4 women ahead of me, so the hope of 3rd place also vanished.

The good thing about the turnaround (other than being halfway done) was that so many runners started cheering for me on the other side of the course, on their way out. Some of them called me by name, telling me that they followed my Instagram. All of this cheering helped me stay positive. This mile clocked in at 6:34. 

Mile 3:
I was crashing hard core at this point, particularly with the big hill. My legs were still not fully recovered from Boston and it took everything I had to hold it together. I got passed by a few men, but thankfully no women.

I kept thinking about my family waiting for me at the finish and wanting to look strong for them. It really motivated me to stay strong and not give in to my fatigue. This mile clocked in at 6:54.  Slower than half marathon pace!

The Finish
I tried to muster a final kick, but 6:22 was all I had in me. My official time was 20:40. Moments after I crossed, I found my sister waiting for me, excited to show me the video she captured of me finishing. It made me happy to see how happy she was to have gotten a video.

We didn't hang around long. I was eager to change clothes and get comfortable. I did a cooldown jog to my sister's house and then we all had breakfast together. To finish a race and be at my sister's house about 10 minutes later was really nice.

I told my family that the race didn't go as well as I had hoped and that my legs weren't fully recovered from Boston. I was the 6th female which was a far cry from 1st place like in 2022. But at least I won my age group (45-49). The five women ahead of me all ran under 20:00 so it was a competitive field for a local race. Especially with no prize money or gift cards!

It's hard for me to determine if I like the ASICS Metaspeed Sky for 5K racing. I'm inclined to say I prefer my adidas Adios Pro because my legs didn't have their usual "pep".  But I can't be sure how I would have felt with different shoes. The ASICS definitely feel more fun because they have a good bounce. So that alone is a good reason to wear them.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I keep comparing this race to 2022 because in both cases, the race was two weeks after Boston. But it's not really a fair comparison. The course was entirely different, and different people showed up.

Also, in 2022 Boston didn't beat me up as much because it was cooler and I didn't run it at full effort due to lingering Covid symptoms. At the most recent Boston, I raced it at full effort while dealing with the heat and ran a time of 3:24 as opposed to 3:33 in 2022. 

So it makes sense that even though my fitness is in a better spot now than it was two years ago, I wasn't as recovered from Boston and the new course was more challenging. Also, in 2022 I underestimated what I could do whereas last weekend I overestimated it. 

The biggest takeaway here, however, has nothing to do with running or paces or times or legs or hills. It's the joy of sharing the experience with my sister and brother-in-law. It was so awesome for them to see me racing and then to hang out with them for a few hours afterwards.  So even though I didn't win the race, I experienced a different kind of win. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Boston Marathon 2024: I Beat The Heat!

This is going to be long. I debated writing multiple blog posts to cover all the different aspects of this race, but ultimately decided to put it all in one place so that this post will be as epic as the race itself. 

To summarize the next 5,900 words into one sentence: 

TL/DR Version:
I ran well in the heat for the first time in my life and enjoyed meeting so many runners from Instagram, all while wearing a brand new pair of shoes (thus breaking out of my conservative approach to racing) thereby reigniting my previously fading love of the Boston Marathon.  

Thursday
For my last run before heading to Boston, I decided to test out some shoes, just for the fun of it. My training was complete so whatever I did now was just for fun. Why not have a run where I stop a bunch of times to test shoes?

I had already decided on my race day shoe (the adidas Adios Pro 2) but I had a few different super shoes in the closet that I thought would be fun to test on an easy run.

First came the Saucony Endorphin Pro. I didn’t make it very far in these shoes (maybe half a mile) before I decided they weren’t for me. Too firm for my liking and they didn’t feel as streamlined or as fast as my beloved Adios Pro.

Next came the ASICS Metaspeed Sky Paris. I had received these shoes from Road Runner Sports a few weeks ago, pre-release, for me to share on Instagram. At the time, I ran just a few minutes in them to share my first impressions of them. I had liked them, but with a 5mm drop, I couldn’t imagine running far in them. With my history of Achilles tendinopathy, I need a higher drop (at least 8mm) and even at that I often put heel inserts into my shoes to raise the drop even more.

Despite the 5mm drop, my feet “connected” with these shoes on Thursday's run. It was love at first run. They were fun, bouncy, and had plenty of cushion. I weighed them on a kitchen scale and they were an ounce and a half lighter than my adidas Adios Pro shoes! And then I had the crazy idea of running Boston in them, even though I had never run more than 1 mile in them.

From that point forward, the ASICS Metaspeed Sky shoes came to symbolize the fun, reckless, risk-taking part of me that has started to emerge with my mid-life crisis! “Nothing new on race day” is a motto that I truly believe in and I would advise anyone else to abide by. But for some reason, I have been feeling risky and adventurous lately, so I decided I would go for it. Some people buy new convertible sports cars during a mid-life crisis. I race marathons in shoes I've never run in before.

I was worried about the 5mm drop, but I had some very small inserts that made the shoe more like an 8mm drop and they felt secure as I ran. 

One small problem - the shoes were too small! I had requested my normal ASICS size from Road Runner Sports (size 6.5), but my toes were hitting the edge of the Metaspeed Sky. So I contacted my ASICS rep and asked if I could grab a size 7 at their pop-up store in Boston. He did me one better and had them shipped to my hotel! In exchange, I offered to talk about the shoes and the pop-up store on Instagram.

The smaller size will be great for 5K and 10K races. But for a downhill marathon, I definitely needed the larger size. I had done plenty of long runs in the ASICS Super Blast, so I knew ASICS generally worked with my foot strike. 

Friday 
I packed my trusty adidas Adios Pro 2 shoes in case I changed my mind about the ASICS, or if the larger size didn’t work for me. Greg and I flew out and everything went smoothly. We checked into the hotel, and my ASCIS package was waiting for me. We had lunch, and then made our way to the expo. I picked up my bib, got another Spike the Unicorn (by far the best expo purchase) and got a 2024 hat. I didn’t buy anything else because I had purchased the jacket ahead of time along with some other official gear on the adidas website.

It was then time for dinner with our friend Jonathan, and I got a Samuel Adams 26.2 Brew! One of the coolest things about the Boston Marathon is that all the local bars and restaurants offer 26.2 brew in a special marathon themed pint glass. I typically wouldn’t have a beer a few nights before a marathon, but my entire attitude for the weekend was to have fun! I was far less concerned about my performance than I was soaking up the whole experience. And 26.2 Brew is part of the experience.

Saturday
On Saturday morning we went shopping on Newbury Street. Because the Boston Marathon expo doesn’t allow vendors that compete with the sponsors, many running brands set up “pop up" stores to sell their Boston gear. As promised, I visited the ASICS store and chatted with the rep there for awhile. 

Then we headed to the finish line for some photos. I absolutely love the vibe of the city on marathon weekend. All the runners are so excited to be there. The locals really embrace the race. The energy is unlike any other marathon, or really anything else I’ve ever experienced.

For dinner, we met up with two of my friends who I had met in Boston 2022, and who I regularly interact with on Instagram. Both of them talked some sense into me about my shoe choice. They reminded me that testing them out for a few miles is totally different than a marathon and what if something started to hurt and I’m stuck with the shoes? They encouraged me to play it safe and use the shoes that I know work for my feet and my stride. They told me that the ASICS would still be around for future races. They made compelling arguments and they definitely had me leaning towards tried-and-true adidas.

Sunday
On Sunday morning, I did a shakeout run with many of my Instagram friends. It was so fun meeting some of them in person for the first time. Having everyone all in one place was beyond cool. I spent the entire run chatting with someone who I had known on Instagram for awhile but had never met in person.

We ran around Boston Common and there were loads of runners out. Throughout the entire weekend, I was often recognized as “Elizabeth from Instagram”. I have amassed over 100,000 followers so quite a few runners approached me to get a photo or tell me they appreciated my content. One person said she had read my book and kept it on her nightstand!

When I am home creating content, I often don’t stop and think about how many people I am reaching. So it was surreal to be approached by so many runners. It was wonderful to chat with so many new people and hear a little bit about their journeys. If I ever questioned if it was really worth my while to share so much on Instagram, this weekend taught me that it was definitely worthwhile. I received loads of positive feedback and runners telling me that my posts have helped them in some way or another.

I wore the brand new ASICS Metaspeed Sky size 7 on the shakeout run and they felt great. Really comfortable, no problems, and they felt fast when I did some quicker strides. But I was still not 100% convinced that my “mid life crisis shoes” were the right decision. It would be a risk if my feet hurt or they made my calves hurt or my Achilles started screaming. I tried on my adidas Adios after the shakeout run and determined that I liked them too! Decisions, decisions!

The shoe decision became a representation of two sides of myself, both battling for dominance. On the one hand, there is the sensible, conservative person I have always been who always plays it safe and likes to control as much as possible. On the other hand there is the adventurous, carefree person that is starting to emerge in my mid 40s who wants to let go of control and live life by gut instinct and venture into the unknown. I went back and forth a hundred times between which shoe I would wear.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hotel room. We had walked around so much on Saturday (15,000+ steps, and none of them running!) and I wanted to stay off of my feet the day before the race. I used this time to develop my race plan and write the elevation profile on my arm. On my arm, I put up and down arrows to note which miles had a net gain, and which miles had a net loss. A double up arrow was a large gain (heartbreak hill), a single up arrow was a slight gain. A double arrow down was a large loss (miles 1-4), a single arrow down was a small loss. Keeping in mind that the whole course is rolling hills, it was just about the net elevation for each mile, so I knew what to expect pace-wise.

I decided my goal would be sub-3:20. Based on my half marathon, I was in shape for around 3:08-3:10, but with the more challenging course and the weather, I decided to add 10 minutes onto that. In order to hit it, I would need to average a pace of 7:32 on my Garmin for 26.4 miles. (My Garmin always measures 26.4 on the Boston course, so that is what I pace for). Had the weather been cooler, I would have gone for an overall distance PR of sub 3:15. How amazing would it have been to set a marathon PR on the Boston course! But the weather would not cooperate.

As for the shoes, I went to bed confident in my decision to stick with tried-and-true adidas Adios Pro. It was fun to think about a snazzy new pair, but it wasn’t worth the risk. I knew I liked the adidas, so why mess with a good thing?

Hydration + carb loading
All day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I made sure to prioritize hydration. It would be a warm race and I didn’t want to end up dehydrated like I did in Houston in 2023 or in Boston 2016

I drank about 80 ounces of fluid each day. I combined my water with Uppermost hydration, which is my favorite pre-race hydration. I love the taste and it has added vitamins! In the past, I would only have one packet of electrolytes per day, but this weekend, I had two packets per day. I also supplemented it with Gatorade from the goodie back I got from the expo.

As for carb loading, I loaded up on all different kinds of bread throughout the weekend. I devoured every bread basket that was offered at dinners. The night before the race I had my standard chicken parm without the cheese with pasta and bread.

I slept really well the night before the race. Better than I ever have before at a Boston Marathon. I wasn’t nervous or anxious or worried. I was chill and I was able to sleep soundly. 

Race Weather
When I woke up, my first order of business was to check the forecast. It had risen a few degrees. And I didn’t know it at the time, but it would actually be even warmer than the updated forecast during the race. Previously, the start temps had been forecast at 58 and finishing at 63. The updated forecast had a start temp of 61 and a finish temp of 67. In actuality it was 62 at the start in Hopkinton rising to 70 by the halfway point, and eventually cooling to 67 as we entered Boston for the last 3-4 miles.

There was very little cloud cover, but the humidity was thankfully low. On my personal weather scale, I give this a 4 out of 10. A “4” means that a PR is not possible, I need to adjust my time goal substantially and focus on finishing strong. If it had been humid then I would have rated it a 3 or even a 2. If the temps had been 70 at the start (like Boston 2016) , then the score would also be lowered to a 3 or a 2. But a low 60s start and very low humidity makes this race somewhat salvageable.

I determined that these conditions were just slightly more favorable than those in Houston 2023 due to lack of humidity in Boston.  I ran a 3:26 there, so I figured I could run a few minutes faster here, even with a more challenging course. I had given the Houston weather a 3 out of 10, so 4 out of 10 for this race feels right. My previous goal of sub-3:20 was likely no longer in reach, but I decided I would go out at a pace that would allow for it, and back of it needed. I figured I would realistically be in the 3:21-3:22 range.

As soon as I saw that the forecast had trended warmer (It went from a 5 to a 4) I immediately changed my mind on the shoes. With such crappy weather, the focus would 100% be on having fun, so it was time to throw caution to the wind and wear the fun shoes. In other words "Oh so it's going to be really warm?! Screw it! I'm wearing the fun shoes!"

Before the Race
After checking the weather, I started hydrating. I had a 24 ounce bottle that I would drink before the race and another 24 ounce bottle that I would carry during the race. I filled both with electrolytes. During a race, I like to use Skratch Labs hydration because it also has carbs. So my race bottle ended up having about 100 calories in it, in addition to electrolytes. 

I felt calm and not at all nervous. I had no idea how it would go, and I wasn't worried about it not going well. I knew I was well trained and well hydrated, I just had to go and enjoy myself.

I put four gels in my shorts pockets: 3 regular Maurten gels and 1 caffeinated Maurten gel. I also put 6 honey stinger chews in my pockets. Greg wrote my name on my back so that runners behind me would know it was me and say hi as they passed. It totally worked! I heard "Elizabeth I follow you on Instagram!" so many times during the race!

We left the hotel and met my friend Arynne at 7:00 near the bus loading area. Here's everything I had on me:

  • 4 Maurten gels
  • 1 UCAN gel
  • 2 24-ounce bottles of water + electrolytes
  • 6 Honey Stinger chews
  • A bag of almond butter pretzels
  • A banana
  • Sunscreen
  • Name written on my back, elevation notes written on my arm
  • Sunglasses, Garmin, Bib, shoes, socks, etc.
Greg had my trusty adidas Adios Pro shoes in his backpack. In case the new ASICS were killing me by mile 6.2 when I saw him, I would have the option to change shoes right then and there!

Greg and I chatted for a bit and then it was time for us to board the busses and for Greg to catch a train out to Framingham where he would see me at the 10K point. As soon as we left him, things started to feel real!

I enjoyed chatting with Ayrnne on the bus. We had met at the Harrisburg half marathon a few years back
and had stayed in touch ever since. Our bus stopped at a gas station because someone urgently had to use the bathroom but otherwise it was smooth sailing! I ate my almond butter pretzels on the bus and drank one of my water bottles. 

When we arrived at Athlete's village we headed straight for the porta potty line. It was pretty long. It moved fast and I would guess we waited in it for about 15-20 minutes. We then applied sunscreen. I'm glad we did because there was no shade on the course and very little cloud dover. 

Then they called our white wave (wave 2) and we headed to the start line! I hit up the final set of porta potties right before the start. I also used that time to ensure that my shoes were tied exactly how I wanted them to be tied and to pour some water on myself from the water station near the porta potties. And I took my UCAN gel. I was also approached by some Instagram runners for a few photos. Having done all of that, I made it to the corral with just 3 minutes to spare and the corral was completely full. I was able to tuck in at the very back. Usually I feel like I am waiting in the corral forever, but I think I spent more time waiting in that final porta potty line than expected.

Miles 1-5 (Hopkinton, Ashland)
The race started and everyone flew across the start line and down the first steep hill. My approach to Boston is to have an awareness of the elevation changes but ultimately keep the effort nice and easy in the beginning, which could mean big swings in pace. I had the elevation markings on my arm so I knew what I would be getting into.

My first area of focus was to find a sign at mile 4 that one of my followers made for me. It was a family of
six (three generations) and they made me a sign that said "Boston Bound" in the same font as the cover of my book surrounded by zebra stripes. 

They sent me this photo of the sign beforehand so I knew exactly what to look for. I saw them before they saw me! I was so excited to see the sign! I pointed at it, smiled and waved to them. It was really thrilling. 

These miles were crowded. A lot of people were passing me and I was passing a few people too. I mostly ran by effort/feel (which can be dangerous in a race that's expected to heat up) but I kept myself honest and ran at a pace that truly felt easy-medium for the first five miles. 4 of these 5 are insanely downhill, so that is part of the reason for them being faster than I would have started on a flat course.

Mile 1: 7:35 (-117 ft)
Mile 2: 7:26 (-54 ft)
Mile 3: 7:26 (-54 ft)
Mile 4: 7:30 (-69 ft)
Mile 5: 7:40 (+12 ft)

Miles 6-10 (Framingham)
When I ran the Houston Marathon in 2023 in warm, humid weather, I gradually drank from my handheld and was done with it by 2:00. I knew I needed to drink at a faster rate to avoid dehydration so I drank more frequently from my bottle than I did in Houston. As I ran through the water stations, I poured water all over my head and neck. It felt amazing for a few seconds and then I got hot again.

I saw Greg at mile 6.2. I spotted him before he saw me. I knew exactly where to look for him and it was awesome to see him! He took some amazing photos (better than the official race photographers take) and some great video for me to post on Instagram. I knew this would be my only chance to change shoes if needed, so I asked myself if my feet were okay. The answer: yes they were! I was still not completely sold on them being superior to the adidas, but I knew my feet were happy so far.

By this point I was still running at what felt like an easy pace, so I wasn't able to truly test their responsiveness when it came to surging and going super fast. Running a 5K would be an entirely different experience for the shoes. 

These miles went by pretty quickly. I focused on the crowd support, chatted with some people who recognized me from Instagram, and enjoyed it. 

Mile 6: 7:31 (-14)
Mile 7: 7:26 (-18)
Mile 8: 7:32 (+5)
Mile 9: 7:35 (-9)
Mile 10: 7:37 ( +18)

Miles 11-15 (Natick and Wellesley)
Now it was really hot. The first 10 miles were warm. These miles were downright hot. No cloud cover and I think it was in the 66-70 degree range for this portion of the course. I finished my 24 ounce bottle by 1:45, which meant I drank faster than I did at Houston. I knew I needed to drink water at every station and also pour water over my head wherever possible. 

My legs started to get tired during the 11th mile. This was not a good sign. It was far too early for that. It must be the shoes! Yes, I would blame the shoes! Okay,  no. .  . let's be real. It's not the shoes, it's the heat and the hills. 

I started to think that this race had the potential to go south very quickly. I remembered Boston 2016 when it was 70 at the start line and I was slugging my way over the last six miles. All the way to the medical tent! I tried not to think about that and to focus on the mile I was in. I would deal with any potential issues when they arose. For now, everything was manageable. Everything was fine. I was going to keep on keeping on!

There would be no negativity. I would continue to take everything in, enjoy the moment and be present. 

I crossed the halfway point at 1:39:29, which put me on pace for 3:18:58. So I could afford to run the second half of the race a minute slower and still break 3:20. At that point I was feeling decent enough that it seemed like a real possibility to shoot for my Sunday evening goal. Miles 14-15 were 7:26 and 7:31 so I continued to hold that belief, despite the heat! 

Mile 11: 7:40 (+21)
Mile 12: 7:30 (-47)
Mile 13: 7:36 (+12)
Mile 14: 7:26 (-12) 
Mile 15: 7:31 (+29)

Miles 16-20 (Newton)
At last I came to the Newton Hills. Where the course can break you! I took some deep breaths and prepared myself mentally for some hard times ahead. My legs were starting to feel really tired. Surprisingly, the rest of me felt great. I had plenty of energy. From a cardiovascular standpoint, I wasn't struggling at all. Looking back on my heart rate data I can see I was in the 163-167 range for the entire race! (I don't see my heart rate while I run). What a huge change from Boston 2022 when I was recovering from Covid and my heart rate spiked into the 180s. 

In 2022, my legs had plenty of pep, but my heart rate got too high. This year, my heart rate was nice and moderate, but my legs had no juice. Can I blame the new shoes!?  

My hydration and fueling were going according to plan. I was taking my gels on schedule. The caffeinated Maurten that I took at the 2:00 mark didn't sit well, but I felt fine after about 5 minutes. I was lucky to find a volunteer handing out bottles of water which allowed me to take a nice big gulp of water and poor the rest over my body. I am pretty sure it was around 69-70 degrees for this entire section. Many runners are reporting that the actual temperatures were higher than what was forecast.

The first hill was hard. I slowed down significantly (8:12) but that was somewhat intentional. I could have
pushed it harder but I knew I had three more big ones ahead and I didn't want to use all my juice on the first hill. I definitely knew my sub-3:20 goal was out the window at this point, but the good news was that I could slow down A LOT and still get a course PR! My newly revised goal was a course PR of sub 3:26.

The next two hills were challenging but I stayed strong. I focused on having fun and taking in all the crowd support. There were many runners walking these hills. I was definitely not the fastest runner up the hills but I was also not the slowest. I would say I was somewhere in the middle. I was passing runners and runners were also passing me.

Mile 16: 7:30 (-103)
Mile 17: 8:12 (+70)
Mile 18: 7:55 (+45)
Mile 19: 7:39 (-35)
Mile 20: 8:03 (+16)

Miles 21-Finish (Brookline, Boston)
Heartbreak Hill felt extra long. I felt like I was slogging up it at a pace of 10:00 but according to the official tracking my pace was 8:26.

Now I just had to get to Boston. All my gels were gone. I had digested them all with no problems so I took three honey stinger chews to get me through the final miles. Based on how my legs had felt during mile 11, I was really happy with how well they were holding up. They were definitely tired and hurting, but it could have been much worse. And with the heat - I couldn't believe how good I felt. How much energy I had. Usually I bake in the heat and I feel like it "zaps" me.  Yes, I was running slower than my potential in cooler weather, but I didn't feel "zapped" by the heat. 

At mile 22 I was looking for another sign from an Instagram follower. This one would say "4 More Clor" (for 4 more miles). I found the sign before she spotted me and I was able to get her attention. It was so cool to see another personalized sign! 

I was now at the point in the race where my pace as no longer under my control. I no longer had the option to speed up or push harder. I was an autopilot. I was doing fine and I could keep doing it. I just couldn't do any more. I had my happy pace and no amount of will could make it any faster. In my mind I knew I had a pretty big buffer to get a course PR so I was content to plug away at the course step by step.

I was passing a lot of runners during miles 22-24. It seemed like most runners were having a really hard time in the heat. A lot of them were walking. Thankfully it was a little bit cooler in Boston-- about 67 degrees as opposed to 70+ in Newton. I think that helped me.

Next up: Greg again! I started looking for him at mile marker 25. I looked and looked and I didn't see him. I was afraid I missed him. Finally he was there, and he got a killer video of me with the Citgo sign in the background! I was elated to see him! 

During the last mile of a marathon I usually can muster up some amount of extra strength to go a bit faster. But I didn't have anything left. I felt okay. Not great, not horrible. But my legs were like useless appendages that were on autopilot, totally separate from my mind. They did what they knew how to do from training and I didn't control their speed. Even once I made the final turn onto Boylston, there was no final kick. I even saw that I could get under 3:24:00 with just a little extra effort, but I had nothing more.

I let my legs carry me down Boylston as I took in the sights and sounds of cheering spectators and the announcer, feeling like an absolute rockstar. My final goal was to get an unobstructed finish line photo and that mission was accomplished. 

Mile 21: 8:23 (Heartbreak Hill)
Mile 22: 7:37 (-74)
Mile 23: 7:58 (-47)
Mile 24: 8:00 (-51)
Mile 25: 8:00 (-47)
Mile 26: 8:34 (+5)
Last 0.42: 8:02 pace

After the Race
When I stopped running I felt pretty bad for the next few minutes. I wanted to vomit but I couldn't induce vomiting and I didn't even dry heave like usual. I guess that's a good thing! I felt a bit nauseous, as if vomiting would help, but that feeling passed after about 5-10 minutes. Someone collapsed immediately behind me after I finished, and thankfully a medical person was there to help her. 

I walked slowly through the finish line chute. I couldn't believe how well my body held up in that heat! Amazing! Usually when it gets above 55 I totally melt, even when everyone else seems fine with the weather. I wasn't even acclimated coming off of a winter training cycle.  I continued walking to get my medal and my heat blanket. Yeah, I felt pretty decent for having run 26.2+ miles in the heat!

Before I knew it I had reached the end of the chute and was re-united with Greg. I even beat him to our meeting spot! From there we took a slow stroll through Boston Common up to our hotel. The good thing about the warm weather was that I was really comfortable post race and not too cold!

Back at the hotel, the staff of the Ritz Carlton welcomed me with cheers, a glass of champagne and a huge selection of Gatorades. In my room they left balloons and a plaque with my name and time on it. Finally it was time for my Epsom salt bath and a good look at my Garmin data!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I have so much to say about this race. If you thought I've said it all by this point, you're wrong! I'll start at the bottom with my shoes. 

I broke the rules with new shoes!
As I said earlier, the new shoes came to symbolize following my gut, letting go of control, and doing the fun but potentially irresponsible thing. I enjoyed running in them. I think my adidas Adios Pro 2 shoes would have done an equally fine job, they just have a different feel. While the ASICS Metaspeed Sky shoes are lighter and bouncier, I can't say for sure if they are faster because I wasn't exactly going for speed in this race. I plan to wear the smaller pair at my next 5K and see how they do. But I'll probably run at least one workout in them first. 

My Achilles were a little tender after the race and they are still tender today, but they were much worse after Houston in 2023. I think they will be fine again when I take a week off of running. I did use the little heel inserts to raise the drop and they stayed in place throughout the whole run. if you go to the Amazon link you will see they are adjustable and I used the bottom two layers. The top one was too big for the shoe.

I fell in love with Boston all over again!
I wasn't feeling super excited about this year's race. Part of me was ready to move on from Boston, maybe run it once every four years instead of every two years. Well, now I am thinking of running it again next year and doubling down on it instead of moving away from it! I think a lot of it has to do with having such a large Instagram presence and getting to meet so many people in person. I honestly loved being "recognized" and having people take photos with me. 

It also has to do with the hype and the excitement of the city. That's always been there but I think I was more connected to it this year because of what I said above. I got to hear more stories, get a deeper sense from more people of how important this race was to them. 

As a content creator, I loved sharing the experience too. I created so many videos for my Instagram stories and was able to bring the Boston experience to people at home or at work! And I'm having a blast writing this novel-length blog post.

I also think I'm finally learning how to run this course properly. How to pace it. What to expect. I will probably continue to go into it with a carefree attitude given that the weather always throws curveballs, but that is the beauty of it.

Heat running didn't destroy me
I was able to apply what I learned in Houston to this race and it paid off. I ran a strong race in Houston with a negative split and it showed me that if I slow down enough, I can run well in the heat. I also ended up dehydrated at that race, so I learned that I need to focus on that even more. 

For years and years and years, I was always the one crashing in the heat-- FAR more than other runners. I constantly lamented about how the heat impacted me more than other people. I was more heat sensitive. I needed it to be 35. I would run races in 55 degree weather and complain that the heat did me in while other people set PRs. As I matured, I stopped complaining and lamenting, but I still believed it to be true that I was at more of a physical disadvantage in the heat than most runners. 

This race was the first time when I punched above my weight in the heat. Meaning- I finished 7,946 and my bib number was 12577. You can look at your bib number as your "ranking" when you enter the race. It's based on your qualifying time. So I might expect to finish in in 12,577th place. I passed approximately 4,600 runners. I literally "beat my heat" by placing in the 1st wave instead of the 2nd.

Why was this race different? I think it was a combination of a few things:
  • Hydration, Hydration, Hydration. With electrolytes! I think I used to drink plenty of water but perhaps I wasn't getting enough electrolytes during my pre-hydration

  • Respect for the heat = conservative pacing. I was in shape to run a marathon pace of 7:10 but I backed that down to 7:30 for the first half. That's a huge adjustment and I think many runners aren't willing to back off their goals by that much. 
I ran my fastest Boston
This was my 5th Boston Marathon and my fastest. Previous times:
  • 2016: 3:48:16 - Hot! 70 degrees and sunny at the start
  • 2018: 3:26:54 - Heavy downpours with 20-40 mph headwind
  • 2020: 3:40:02 - Virtual 
  • 2022: 3:33:04 - Recovering from Covid 
  • 2024: 3:24:07 - Hot!
This was my 34th marathon and my 15th BQ.  I ran 25 minutes and 53 seconds under my BQ time. I placed in the top 6th percent of my age group (45-49). I'll say it was a very good day. 

Contrast this to 10 years ago when I was struggling to qualify, was completely demoralized by the heat, and took running way too seriously. This transformation is what Boston represents to me, and why I will continue to run it. 



Looking for more Boston Marathon content? Check out my original song, It's Raining Unicorns, on YouTube.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Easter Classic 5K

On Saturday morning I ran the PVTC Easter Classic 5K with my friends Allison and Cheryl. My main goal was to celebrate Allison's birthday at brunch and she just happened to be running this race, so Cheryl and I joined her. My original plan had been to run my last long run before Boston on Saturday, but it was easy enough to move that long run to Sunday, and just run it slower if my legs were tired from the race.

I got to the race in what I thought was plenty of time to get my bib and warm up. But I ended up not having enough time to warm up. This was mostly due to the fact that the timing chip (a new system for this race organizer) was attached to the bib in a plastic bag and that bag kept falling off while I was warming up. 

I had to keep re-pinning the plastic bag to the bib and the bib to my shirt to make it stay. Before I knew it, it was time to start the race and I had only warmed up for 1.3 miles, at a slow pace. No time for strides or faster running like I had planned at the end of the warm up. 

I really didn't care too much about this race so I wasn't bothered by it. The weather was absolutely perfect: 41 degrees, sunny, and no wind. The last time I ran this race in 2019 with Cheryl it was 70 degrees with nearly 100% humidity. Easter was April 20th that year, so that partially explains the warmer temps. 

The race course was the W&OD trail in Arlington, around mile marker 4. The first half is uphill and then you turn around to run downhill.

Mile 1:
The race started and because it was cool and I hadn't run faster than a 9:00 pace during my warm up I had a hard time getting going. This was made worse by the fact that the first mile was uphill and the trail had some bumps in it to weave around. I was struggling quite a bit, but my legs just would not go as fast as I wanted them to. 

It was a small race and there was one woman ahead of me. She looked to be about 10 seconds ahead-- and I thought I might be able to pass her in the second half, but I wasn't going to try yet. I ended up running a 6:40 mile.

Mile 2:
This mile had a somewhat steep hill, then a turnaround and then back down. But even with a downhill second half, I was still not moving at the pace I thought I could be moving at. Part of the problem was the sun glare. The way the sun was hitting my face and low in the sky, I could not see the trail in front of me. And because there were bumpy areas, I wanted to have a clear view. So I ran parts of this mile with my hand at my head, acting like a visor. Note to self: bring a visor next time! 

The best thing about this mile was that Cheryl stopped to take a video of me running and to cheer. I had not been expecting that! She was using this as a training run, so she didn't mind stopping. This mile clocked in at 6:38. 

Mile 3:
My tempo runs lately have been around 6:35, so I wasn't even hitting that during this 5K. Which meant I knew I had a lot left in me for this mile. So I pretty much started sprinting as soon as that mile started. I blew by the woman who was ahead of me at around 2.5 and also passed some of the men. I had so much energy due to my legs not cooperating in the first half of the race.

I ran a 6:08 mile according to Garmin and 6:03 according to Strava! A new record for the fastest mile in a 5K! And I continued to sprint the last 0.13 at a 5:50 pace and was the first female finisher, 3rd overall finisher. 

After the Race
I then waited for Cheryl and Allison to come in and I cheered for them. We all won chocolate bunnies! And then we celebrated Allison's birthday at brunch.

Their new timing system didn't seem to work as well as they hoped, and that's okay. This was a super low-key race and I love that PVTC does this series. My official time was 20:14, making this my 4th fastest ever 5K. I'm most proud of my final mile in 6:08 or 6:03 and the fact that I was able to really gun it after a sluggish start. 

The day after the race (Sunday) was Easter and I was able to run 17.4 miles with plenty of energy. My legs were tired from the race, so I kept the pace easy, but it was a beautiful morning with very few cars on the roads. 

We are now two weeks out from the Boston Marathon and I feel really well prepared. I've run two 20-milers, a 17.4-miler and a 16 miler. My weekly mileage has ranged from 50-64. 

Final Thoughts

  • Primary goal of spending time with friends achieved! 
  • Felt great to be the female winner
  • I was happy with my push during the final mile
  • 5Ks that start uphill when it's cold need more of a warm up
  • Greg stayed home because this was a girls' thing!
  • I want to eat that chocolate bunny, but he's so cute.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Boston Bound - Again!

I’m making my 4th trip to Boston for my 5th Boston Marathon in a few weeks. I know that sounds weird, but I ran the virtual in 2020 and I totally count it!

My first Boston Marathon was 2016. I ran it again in 2018, 2020, and 2022. I think every two years is a good way to run it regularly while still keeping it special. I’m considering of moving to every four years (the leap years) after this race. That is, of course, if I keep qualifying.

Training has looked different for me this cycle because the One City Half Marathon was my goal race. I tapered for it and recovered from it which meant to weeks of relatively low mileage (35 and 27). But considering I missed two weeks of training entirely before Richmond and still ran a strong race, I am not concerned at all.

The main point is that Boston has not been my focus and I don’t feel like I have invested that much training in it, relative to how much I typically train. But who knows, maybe less really is more. I have two 20-milers under my belt and one 16-miler. All other long runs have been under 16 miles. Yesterday I ran 20.12 miles at an average pace of 7:41 and I felt like I could have kept going. So I somehow am in the best shape of my life without having trained that hard.  I ran the 20 miles as 7 miles easy (8:23 average) 11 miles at marathon pace (7:11 average) and 2 easy (7:49 average). 

I do not have a time goal for Boston because the weather is so unpredictable. It’s a tough course and logistics are not ideal. That said, I think I could break 3:20 even in non-ideal circumstances. My half marathon predicts a time of 3:09-3:10 so I have some cushion! My fastest Boston was 3:26:54, and I am fairly certain I can beat that time if it stays below 65 degrees.

Bib numbers were assigned this week and I find it fascinating that the field gets faster and faster each year. Your bib number corresponds to you qualifying time: the lower the number, the faster your time was. Here is my history:

2018: Qualifying time of 3:21:54 and bib 12394
2022: Qualifying time of 3:18:57 and bib 12827
2024: Qualifying time of 3:16:04 and bib 12577

When I ran the race in 2016 my bib was 19448, but my qualifying time was significantly slower: 3:35.

My fastest qualifying time was 3:15:34 and I am fairly certain that I would have gotten a bib below 12,000 back in 2020 if the bib numbers had been typical. But with the virtual race things were different because not all entrants ran the virtual race and received a bib number. In any event, this will be my third consecutive Boston in the exact same starting corral. Now we just need to hope for cool weather because these bibs tend to be gigantic and best suited for crop tops or singlets – not sports bras!

I’m excited to return to Boston but not quite as excited as I was in previous years. This is probably natural because the more you do something, the less “special” it feels. As I mentioned earlier, I might reduce my Boston trips to every four years, provided I can still qualify. Greg and I have so many vacations on our bucket list, and we think the money would be better spent on extending our next African safari.

Who knows, I may just fall in love with the race all over again and insist on going back in 2026. Thankfully I have no nagging injuries like I did going into Richmond and I’m in an excellent spot mentally. My top priority is to have a fun Boston weekend with Greg and my friends, and my race performance will be what it will!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

My First Sub 90 Minute Half Marathon

The title of this blog post gave away the ending! Now let’s start at the beginning.

This morning I ran the Newport News One City Half Marathon. This was my goal race for the spring, and I trained specifically for it. Even though I am running the Boston Marathon in April, I oriented all of my training towards a half marathon.

In my training I focused primarily on half marathon pace and 10K pace. My goal was to work on improving my lactate threshold. My longest run was 15.5 miles, which included 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace.

Coming off of a 40:31 PR in the 10K four weeks ago (on a hilly course), I knew I was ready to go for a sub 1:30:00 half marathon; I just had to solidify my endurance and continue to push on my lactate threshold pace. Lactate threshold is the point that your body can no longer clear lactic acid from your muscles, and you can run at that pace for approximately one hour. So it’s between 10K pace and half marathon pace.

I did my final workout 10 days out from the race: 3 x 1600m repeats on the track. They clocked in at 6:25, 6:24, 6:24. And I felt like I could have pushed harder. This workout was the final confidence booster I needed to go for that sub 1:30:00.

I had run this race once before, back in 2020. It was the last race I ran before the world shut down. I had attempted to go sub-90 there, but my fitness wasn’t where it needed to be. I had injured my foot during CIM in December of 2019, so I had to take the first three weeks of January off. My time from 2020 was 1:31:56. I should also mention, that since I ran this race 4 years ago, I have not run any faster in the half marathon. A combination of bad weather, not being fit enough, and simply not running a lot of half marathons contributed to this. So it was really time to run a strong one.

Also, my PR for the half was from November 2019 in Indianapolis. My time there was 1:30:58.

Race week
I woke up on Monday morning and checked the forecast. My heart sank. 50 degrees at the start with a dew point of 50. And of course getting warmer throughout the race. This is still technically winter (despite what the groundhog says) and I was really looking forward to racing in the 30s. All of a sudden it felt like my goal would no longer be possible at this race. My body just melts in the humidity. I decided that if the conditions were unfavorable I would adjust my goal accordingly, and then run another half marathon two weeks later and hope for better weather at that point.

Thankfully, the forecast started to improve slightly as the week went on with starting temps at 46 degrees, rising to 51. If the weather had been in the 30s, I would have been absolutely 100% confident in my ability to break 90. But this weather was a little iffy. I figured I might not get sub 90, but a PR (sub 1:30:58) would still be well within my reach.

Two nights before the race (Friday night) I slept for an incredible 9 hours. I NEVER sleep that much. I had tapered all week long and I could tell my body was really getting into recovery mode. And four nights before the race, I had slept for 8.5 hours! My usual is 7 - 7.5 hours during training. Greg and I drove down to Newport News, VA on Saturday morning. It took us just under three hours. We ate lunch at a really good sandwich shop. I had a turkey sandwich on multigrain bread with lettuce and tomatoes. I also made sure to drink plenty of water and electrolytes all day long.

We arrived at the race expo and I retrieved my bib from the Elite counter. I had qualified for their elite program through my previous times and I was excited to have a bib where my name was larger than the number! I’ve had elite bibs in the past, but never with my last name so prominent. I handed them my water bottle, which I wrapped in zebra duct tape. That bottle would be waiting for me at the elite aid station during mile 8. I filled it with water + Skratch Labs electrolyte mix.

Later that day we headed out to Target to get sunscreen for my face. I almost always put sunscreen on my face when I run, but I didn’t think to bring it because it was supposed to be totally overcast. But the forecast changed at the last minute to be about 75% sunny! We then had dinner with my friend Meredith and a few of her friends. I had my standard chicken parm with no cheese. Cheese can upset my stomach. Meredith would be running the full marathon and her friends in the half.

Before the Race
I woke up feeling pretty good after about 6 hours of sleep. I would have liked to have gotten more sleep, but I wasn’t at all worried, given my epic sleep in the week leading up to the race. I woke up at 4:00 and my alarm went off shortly before 5:00. I had a banana and some almond butter pretzels, which is my new favorite pre-race breakfast. I continued to hydrate with water and electrolytes.

I got dressed: shorts and a crop top. I tried not to think about the fact that all of my other PRs had been set in 30-degree weather wearing capri tights. I could defy the odds! I was confident! We left the hotel at 6:00 and it was a quick 10-minute drive to the start line. Greg stuck around for another 10 minutes and then he left to go to his first spectating point.

There was an elite tent at the start line which had bottled water and gatorade, but I had my own bottle with me. There was a porta potty there which I used, and it was nice not to have a long line. 25 minutes before race start, I had a UCAN gel. I typically drink the powder before races but lately I have found that the gel sits better. I still use the powder before long runs in training.

I warmed up for one mile, including some faster strides. It was 46 degrees, mostly sunny, and humid. I told myself I would be okay. Even if it got into the 50s at the end, I am usually fine if I can stay cool for the bulk of the race. On my personal race weather scale, I give these conditions a 7 out of 10. I might have rated them an 8 if it was spring, summer, or fall. But it’s winter and it should be in the 30s in the morning! A 7 out of 10 on my scale means that conditions are somewhat favorable, but not ideal. The weather will likely pose some challenges, but nothing too major. My plan was to go for the sub-90, but to still be happy with a PR of any kind.

I lined up close to the front, but not right at the front. I was friends with a few of the other elite runners so we chatted a bit. A few of the women asked me about my goal and I told them it was sub 1:30. Others were trying for that same goal.

I was happy to see that there was no 1:30 pace group. I do not like running with pace groups because they tend to start too fast for me. And then it gets in my head if they pass me or I can’t keep up.

Pacing & Fueling Strategy
My plan was to run a pace of 6:50-6:55 for the first three miles, and then run the rest of the race between 6:45-6:50. The course was mostly flat, so even pacing was the way to go. In order to run 1:29:59 for 13.1 miles, you need to run an average pace of 6:52. But since I would be using my Garmin to pace this race (and it measured 13.21 back in 2020) I knew I needed to pace for 6:48 or better. For fueling, the plan was to carry my own fluids for the first 15 minutes and then grab my bottle at mile 8. I would take a Maurten caffeinated gel at 15:00 and a Mauten regular gel at 55:00. There was also the UCAN gel 25 minutes pre-race.

Miles 1-4
The first 2 miles were all about finding my stride and my rhythm. I monitored my Garmin pace closely. It’s easy to go out way too fast in a half marathon if you just run by feel. Thankfully there wasn’t much crowding and after the first 10 minutes I was able to settle in without leap frogging people.

Mile 3
I saw Greg during the third mile. I was very happy to see him and hear him cheering for me.

My mindset during these miles was to stay relaxed and keep the effort controlled. It wasn’t time to push super hard yet. I reminded myself that this could be my PR half marathon, so I should savor the experience.

Mile 1: 6:54
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:47
Mile 4: 6:43

Miles 5-8
I had read my 2020 race report the day before and I knew to expect a lot of twists and turns during the 5th mile. Nothing too horrible, but just annoying and mentally exhausting. This race doesn’t have that many turns, but 50% of them are all squeezed into mile 5. Then we ran through a park which was nicely shaded. I was very thankful for the shade because I had begun to feel the sun beating down on me. It was also during this point in the race when I starting pouring water over my head. Yes, I over heat when it’s in the upper 40s!

I once again remembered the Richmond Marathon from last fall and how there was a similar section. I handled that section by focusing on the serenity of my surroundings and being super zen-like. It was during this time (around mile 7) where I was able to pass a guy. I hadn’t passed anyone since mile 4 and nobody had passed me.

I had no idea what place I was in the field among women. There was one woman about 20 seconds ahead of me for the entire race. I think we ran about the same pace throughout, although she must have run the first two miles a little quicker to be that much ahead of me.

I noted that I hit the 45 minute mark at around 6.6 miles That was a good sign, I was right on pace! But I didn’t have much wiggle room. All I had to do was to repeat what I had just done.

When we came out of the park during the 8th mile I knew the race would start getting hard. This is where I fell apart in 2020. At 55 minutes, I took my second Maurten gel (non caffeinated) which thankfully corresponded to when I picked up my zebra water bottle. I inhaled the gel in one gulp and chased it with my water + Skratch Labs mix. I continued to take water from the water stations and pour it over my head to keep cool. The sun was out in full force now.

Mile 5: 6:47
Mile 6: 6:50
Mile 7: 6:47
Mile 8: 6:50

Miles 9-12
I knew I would have to dig really deep here, and I was mentally prepared. But oh wow, did this hurt. I knew that my sub 1:30 was just 30 minutes away and all I had to do was work SUPER HARD for 30 minutes and my goal would be attained!

I knew that there would be a hill during the 10th mile. It was the only real hill during the race and once I climbed it, there would be no more hills. I knew it would be one of my slowest miles, so when my watch beeped at 6:55, i didn’t let it impact my confidence.

Even though there were no more hills, the race still felt impossibly hard. I tried every mental trick in the book. I oozed positivity. I looked at any sign I could find, read it and then kept repeating the words as a distraction. I told myself “keep giving, keep giving”. I did not want to go soft at this point. I had to fight for it.

The song I had going through my head was "Song To Say Goodbye" by Placebo, which has a driving beat. I imagined it was about saying goodbye to negative thoughts. Saying goodbye to not making my goal. Saying goodbye to the 1:30s. It really helped.

I don’t think it would have been this hard if it were 5-10 degrees cooler, but my energy was getting zapped, my legs were super tired and it was an all-out mental battle. I told myself to embrace the hurt, not to give in, and to fight super hard. I knew that if my pace started to slip above 6:50 then I would miss my goal. I didn’t look at my watch, for fear that it would demoralize me. I just pushed.

I did, however, quickly glance down to see that my elapsed time was 1:17:xx. Only 13 minutes to go. An important 13 minutes. I can do anything for 13 minutes!

Mile 9: 6:46
Mile 10: 6:55
Mile 11: 6:48
Mile 12: 6:52

Mile 13 and the Finish
By this point, I knew I had to hold it together for just one more mile. But I didn’t want to just “hold it together” I wanted to really push with everything I had. No more watch check-ins. Just grit and guts and grunts. There was a huge American flag at the end of a very long straight stretch and I just kept my eyes on that flag.

My last mile clocked in at 6:44 (second fastest mile of the race) and I ran a pace of 6:19 for the final 0.22.

As I approached the finish line I saw 1:29:xx on the clock and I vowed not to let it reach 1:30. I crossed, knowing that my clock time was under 1:30. I had finally broken 90 minutes! I did it!

I crossed the finish line and I felt like I was on death’s doorstep. I walked a little bit through the finish line chute, got my medal, and then pulled over to the side to vomit. I almost always vomit after half marathons, and today was no exception. But I felt worlds better after I did.

Greg found me and showed me that my official time was 1:29:51. Just barely made it! It took me a few minutes to recover before I could get moving again. Once I did, we made our way to the Elite finish area, where we had our own food and amenities. Once there, I changed clothing and created my Instagram video while waiting for the marathoners to start pouring in. Once the video was posted, we went back out to the course to cheer for Meredith. It was such an amazing morning!

I placed 12th out of 405 women and 2nd out of 45 women in my age group. We didn't stay for the awards because we were anxious to get lunch and get going. When the final official results came out, my time was listed as 1:29:50.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
What a race! This was basically a case of me knowing what I was capable of and just having the sheer will to get it done. Weather be dammed! I definitely think the weather made those last four miles extra challenging and the ideal conditions would have yielded an even faster time but I am in no way complaining.

This was a PR by 1:07, finally bettering my 1:30:58 from Indianapolis back in 2019.

Per the McMilan calculator, my finish time correlates to a 10K of 40:18 and a marathon of 3:09:06. So at the age of 45, there could be even more PRs ahead of me.

To get to this point, I ran low-for-me mileage. I only had three weeks that were above 50 miles, and those weeks were 52, 56, and 51.5. My longest run was 15.5 miles. I relied on my natural endurance and focused on my lactate threshold.

I attribute my recent fitness gains to self-coaching and resolving my once-chronic Achilles tendinitis. Having been racing/training for nearly 20 years, I am super in tune with my body. I believe that following how my body feels on a daily basis is the best guide for my training schedule. I am constantly modifying my plan based on how my body is feeling and responding to workouts. And with my Achilles pain having disappeared, I have more ankle mobility, which allows for a longer stride, which contributes to a faster pace at the same effort. 

Probably the biggest takeaway is how mentally strong I was during the final miles. Things got really hard and it would have been so easy to back off of my sub-90 goal and still walk away with a small PR of 1:30:xx. I really had to fight for it and I am glad I did.

\\his feels amazing. PR cake and champagne tonight. Boston training starts tomorrow!