Category: Running

Half Marathon Unplugged 2015 Recap

I’m sitting here with a generous glass of wine after a long day. Evan is traveling tonight, so you know what that means: it’s Race Recap time! Only two weeks late. Not so bad given my current track record, right?

To be honest, I feel just a teeny bit sheepish after my last post. I’m not one to make excuses for a race that hasn’t even happened yet…and in the end I suppose that might be how it came across. But really – I was trying to give an honest account of my training; to capture where I was in the moment. If you had asked me right before the Half Marathon Unplugged whether I felt as fit or fitter as I had been back in October for the CHaD Half, I would’ve said no way. I didn’t have the miles or the confidence.

But sometimes you can go into a race feeling underprepared, and yet somehow everything comes together for a great day. Maybe I was underestimating myself all along. But Unplugged Half was the kind of race that I didn’t feel like I deserved to dream about anymore. The type that left me fired up and hungering for more….that made me finally feel like me again. The Lauren that can work hard and dig deep and run fast (relatively speaking, I mean). The competitive, confident running Lauren. And I have to say, I really, really liked it.

half marathon unplugged

A few things worked in my favor that Saturday:

1. It was a pretty flat course. Much flatter than my half marathon in October, and flatter than any of my long runs. Thank goodness, since I did a lot of early morning runs on the treadmill this winter.

2. I’m over a year postpartum now (vs. 9.5 months), and breastfeeding significantly less than I was 5 months ago, which I think makes a huge difference in terms of recovery and my energy levels.

3. I just had a really good attitude about the whole thing. A “let’s just celebrate being out there and see what happens!” type of attitude…which is probably the most significant change from my last half.  The change I was most proud of.

All of those things combined led to a great day. I finally broke a 4 year old half marathon PR by nearly a minute. A PR that I knew did not represent my true ability…a PR I’ve been wanting to take down for a very long time.

Race Morning

The Half Marathon Unplugged field is divided into two waves to accommodate a larger number of entrants (fields are self-selecting). The first goes off at 9:00, the second at 11:00. The earlier wave is the more popular of the two, and usually sells out pretty quickly. But I actually prefer the later one. I got up a little after 6:00 on Saturday morning, ate a relatively leisurely breakfast, got all my stuff together and out the door around 8:00 to made the drive up to Burlington. We arrived with plenty of time to pick up my bib and drive down to the start (the course is point-to-point). The only thing I was worried about was fueling, so I made sure to eat a bit more than I wanted to: eggs and toast with almond butter + Nuun + coffee first thing in the morning and then half a bagel + more Nuun about 1.5 hours before. I had also brought a couple of GUs with me just in case. All winter long I trained without fuel or hydration on my long runs. The weather was cold and I just didn’t feel I needed it (keep in mind my longest training run was only 11 miles). But since I was going into this thing a bit undertrained, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have the extra boost.

It was a chilly morning with strong wind gusts resulting in a significant chill (40 degrees but “feels like” temps in the 30s). I agonized over what to wear, preferring to race in a tank and arm warmers but afraid I’d be too cold. In the end I changed my race outfit about 3 times, finally opting to go with the long sleeves.

About 5 minutes before the race was due to start, I whipped off my extra clothes, gave Amelia and Evan a quick hug and walked to the starting line…to the sounds of her wailing. Not exactly the exciting and positive start I was hoping for.

Lauren_Amelia_race morning

The Race

I stood on the line and waved to Evan and Amelia, who fortunately had stopped crying at this point. It was then that I realized I had forgotten to pack any GU with me and I briefly panicked. I caught Evan’s eyes and tried to tell him about my predicament, charades-style. I knew I was going to see him between miles 3 and 4 when the course headed back through the starting area…I just had to hope he understood my message.

Suddenly the race started and we headed straight into a strong headwind. Believe it or not, this was actually a good thing. The course starts with a short out-and-back section before weaving through neighborhoods to pick up the bike path to Burlington. Knowing that we were starting into a headwind was reassuring – it meant we would avoid a direct headwind for most of the race.

From the beginning, I made a resolution not to obsess over my pace. My shirt sleeves were pulled over my watch and I just ran. I knew that I wasn’t starting slow, but I felt strong. It was like as soon as the race started, I was transported back to earlier days of running. The days when I would size up the “competition” and see if I could stay with them. The days of Confident Lauren. That first mile clicked through at 7:01. Okay, probably a little fast, I thought. But let’s go with it. I covered my watch again and just ran.

The best part about this start is that I could quickly assess where I was in relation to the other women. As I watched the runners come through the turnaround, I counted my position. 6th. Not bad. And it was here that small fire started raging. For the first time in a very long time, I was feeling competitive. I knew it didn’t mean anything — there were no medals, no prizes, not even a t-shirt for finishing this race. But I wanted to come in as one of the top women in my wave. For myself. To prove that I could do this.

We came back through the start sooner than I expected and suddenly there was Evan and Amelia. Amelia was holding my GU out to me, excited and proud. I waved hello and grabbed it from her hand as gently as I could without breaking my stride, thanking them for bringing it. I breathed a sign of relief. Now I could race.

The next few miles weaved through two different neighborhoods and I focused on running the tangents as much as possible. I told myself to stay relaxed – that the locking in to a comfortably uncomfortable part of the race wouldn’t happen until after mile 4 when we entered the bike path. I could see some of the lead women ahead…could see that the original leader had lost steam and now wasn’t too far from me. I focused on her back and steadily reeled her in.

Miles 1 – 5: 7:01, 7:01, 7:08, 7:00, 7:01

The miles were ticking off at a consistent low-7:00 pace. By mile 5, I knew —  this was either going to be a great day…or I was going to go down in flames. And if that were the case, so be it. I dialed it in and surged ahead, feeling elated that I felt SO good.

Approximately 2 minutes later, those first needles of doubt crept in. I might feel good now, but I still had SO far to go. This race wasn’t even half over – how was I going to keep this pace up for 8 more miles? Especially when the longest I had run since October was 11 miles. Panic seeped into my head and threatened to undo my race.

I let the thoughts come in and then, I pushed them aside just as quickly as they came. Run the mile you’re in, I kept telling myself. Focus on the halfway point. Don’t worry about the rest. Instead of falling apart, I gave a little surge, determined to find that happy floating feeling I had just a few moments ago.

Mile 6 – 7: 6:53, 6:57

I knew there would be a water stop sometime after mile 7, so when I got to the mile marker I broke out the GU and started slowly sipping on it. It was thick and gross in my mouth – it had been awhile since I had tried taking nutrition on the run, and here I was doing it without water. But I took my time, not letting it stress me out. I wasn’t at the point where I felt like I truly needed the boost, but I knew I still had a decent way to go and for once I was trying to get ahead of my nutrition – to fuel the future miles instead of reacting to the fatigue. The water finally came a long half mile later. I took a few sips, threw out the GU and focused on reaching mile 10. I was slowly picking off the women in front of me one at a time, working my way up through the ranks.

Miles 8 – 10: 7:02, 6:40, 6:58

Between miles 9 & 10 is the ugliest part of the course. It’s lonely, you’re running through a lot of construction, and the path is uneven. But I told myself not to pay attention to that. My legs still felt great, I felt dialed in. I was going to run hard until mile 10 and then see what happened from there.

I finally got through that no-mans land and ran past the future finish line of VCM. The wind was picking up here, and I could feel its strength whenever we went around corners that put us directly in its path. I said a quick thank you that it wasn’t directly in my face the entire way…and then I came around the corner and saw a familiar car, and a bit further in the distance, Evan and Amelia. They were waving wildly, Amelia was grinning from ear to ear and it was the best boost to my soul. “You’re killing it!” Evan exclaimed and I knew that he was right. If I could just hold on, I was going to PR today.

half marathon unplugged_after mile 10Feeling as good as I looked here

Mile 11 – 13: 7:13, 7:20, 6:57

The last 3 miles of the race are tough – mentally and physically. It’s not a hilly course by any means, but there are a couple of hills that feel worse than they are due to their position in the race. To make matters worse, you run away from the finish line before you run toward it.  After mile 11 you leave the bike path and are directed up (what feels like) a long hill into a park. The course runs through the park and into yet another neighborhood. Even though I was prepared for it this year, I still felt myself losing steam. The wheels were finally starting to come off, my lack of endurance apparent.  The steady 7:00ish minute pace I had been holding the whole race started slipping away. But I didn’t let myself think about it or stress. I focused on getting through that neighborhood loop and up that last hill. Because once I hit the park again, it was a quick shot to the finish.

Last 0.2 (Garmin): 6:23 pace

You hit a wonderful downhill after the park and then a slight uphill to the finish line. I could see the clock in the distance…I knew I was going to come in close to 1:32. Just how close was up to me. I gritted my teeth and gave it the rest of my strength, oblivious to Evan and Amelia yelling from the sidelines.

half marathon unplugged_finish

Pain face:

half marathon unplugged_finish2

I crossed the line in 1:32:15, 3rd woman overall in the wave and 1st in my age group. Apparently all the super fasties were in Wave 1. (I am not exaggerating. I was 9th women overall and 3rd in my age group). Considering the circumstances, I couldn’t have asked for a better race. It felt like redemption. Like the start of a comeback.

cheering squadThe best cheer squad

I sucked down a quick beer, picked at the post-race food, and then we all headed over to Sugarbush for some quality recovery thanks to some awesome friends – a weekend filled with American Flatbread pizza, hot tubbing, snowshoeing and some spring skiing.

snowshoeing_sugarbushNot Amelia

Okay, so maybe the last two things weren’t exactly recovery-related. And I’ll admit that my legs were positively trashed come Monday morning. But when it’s a 60 degree bluebird day after a long and harsh winter, you’d be crazy not to spend every moment outside.

What’s next? It’s still being determined. But the fire is raging, my friends. And I’m ready to work.

It is What it is: Race Eve Edition

So I’m racing tomorrow. The first race of 2015….the one that seemed so far away during the middle of a frigid and nasty winter. When I signed up back in January, we hadn’t seen the ground since Thanksgiving. Temperatures were consistently below zero and I was questioning all life decisions that lead us to Vermont. At the time, it was almost impossible to imagine seeing grass, hearing the birds sing, and watching flowers start to bloom…let alone think about ever feeling warm again.

Thankfully I don’t have to.

endless winter_april 9

These photos were taken yesterday, April 9th, after an overnight snowstorm dumped several inches of fresh powder everywhere. Good thing, because our yard was almost clear of all the white stuff. And we’d really hate for that to happen…

endless winter_april 9_2Even Amelia is confused

Honestly it’s kind of fitting for the way training has gone for this race. Things started off well enough. I had been consistently going to the gym for early morning runs on the treadmill for about a month when I finally committed to the half. Had even been working in weekly speed sessions for the first time in years, and was finally starting to feel stronger after a lazy holiday season. I never meant for this to be a goal race, but I had hoped for it to be the start of a strong season of running and racing. A baseline to kick off the comeback of “speedy” Lauren.

But then we went on vacation in early March and that was sort of the beginning of the end. Amelia got sick on vacation (why I expected any differently when taking an active “must-touch-everything” toddler on a plane during winter is beyond me) and then passed some sort of nasty sinus/upper respiratory infection on to me. I stubbornly refused to see a doctor, thinking it would clear up on its own. But the effects lingered for weeks. My head weighed a million pounds and I couldn’t breathe well while walking, which meant running was out of the question. Even after I felt better, I could tell my lungs weren’t 100% for a long time.

Then last week Amelia got sent home from “school” with conjunctivitis. Fortunately the case was mild and viral but there wasn’t much relief for her. That turned into a nasty cold which led to a fever which brings us to today: Day 3 of temperatures of 101+ and a diagnosed ear infection (after mom finally decided that maybe it was time to actually see a doctor).

We’ve spent way too much time hanging out in pharmacies lately

Meanwhile I’ve been eating citrus and drinking Nuun like it’s some sort of magical potion to ward off all illness, terrified that I’ll wake up on race morning unable to move. Evan has been gone since early yesterday morning (sickness always happens when he’s gone overnight. Every single time, without fail). I haven’t run since Wednesday and my hopes of doing a short “shake out” run today seem pretty dim…well, unless I want to take my sick child out in the pouring rain. She won’t mind, right? 

But that’s kind of how training is now. Unpredictable and never as good as I would’ve liked. I could chalk it all up to motherhood — the missed runs, consistently lower mileage, a never-ending cycle of sickness (seriously – how are we not both immune to every single bug under the sun yet??) — and no one could argue. My days are ruled by a 20 pound hurricane that brings both joy and chaos to my daily life.

But the reality is, crap happens that’s out of your control even if you’re not a parent. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, it’s not like I was super-mega-dedicated to training pre-baby either. Sure I ran a lot more, but I skipped workouts from laziness, got more than my fair share of colds on a regular basis, and struggled with losing motivation during long winters when the snow piled high and temps dropped below freezing.

It’s easy to look back now and think — what did I used to do with all my time?? How did I not have perfect training cycles? How was I not more focused or faster or fitter or any of those other things that seem so unobtainable now? Easy to think about how fast I should have or could have been.

But at the end of the day, at least for me…running is just running. No more, no less. It adds structure to my week, is my favorite form of stress relief and meditation, brings me joy and release and keeps me fit. I can’t imagine a life without running and hope I never have to. But I’m not paid to do it and it’s not my only focus.

I do still wonder how after all this time, I find myself constantly struggling to find a balance. And I question if the day will ever come when I no longer feel like I’m cobbling together some sort of training cycle, and everything fits together perfectly (…and we all ride off into the sunset on unicorns).

But I think maybe this is my balance (I am beginning to sound a bit like a broken record, after all). I’m running enough to keep me happy and in shape…most of the time. And I’m still able to put in some training for races. Might not be the ideal training I’d want, but I’m still doing it. And at this point, that’s enough.

So tomorrow, I have no idea what will happen when I stand on that starting line. It’s a small, no-frills race with a flat course. Can’t really ask for much more than that. Although I hope to feel good, my only real goal is to beat my time from last year, when I was just 4 months postpartum. And to not get sick. That one’s key.

If I can avoid that and make it to the finish line feeling good enough for a Switchback, then we’ll call tomorrow a success.

Making it Work

(Tim Gunn Style)

First – thank you for making me feel so loved on my last post. Unfortunately my blog has apparently decided to stop emailing me when people comment, so between that and just not being in the habit of checking this space on a regular basis, I actually had no idea people said anything for a long time. I’m sorry…I don’t know how to fix the issue, but I’m working on it.

—-

When I think about all the things I love most about running – that long list that makes me excited to get out the door – waking up before 5:00 AM to run in place on a moving belt while staring out a dark window is not one of them.

treadmillPicture from a rare morning when I actually got to run later than 5:00AM

Who would’ve thought, right?

And yet, 3ish times per week, I find myself doing that very thing. Cursing my 4:4X alarm after a night of restless sleep and crazy dreams about how I’ve already done my workout, stumbling through the motions of getting ready and getting myself out the door as quickly as possible. Trying not to slip on the ice in the dark and praying my car will actually start despite the negative temperature (the one time it did not start because it was -15? The absolute worst.). And then making the 8 minute drive to the gym so that I can check in, strip down and start running by 5:15, so that I can be back home by 6:15 and showered/ready to nurse Amelia around 6:30 (yes, we’re still nursing. More on that another time if anyone is actually interested).

It’s a bit disorienting to leave in the dark and come home in the dark to a (usually) sleeping house. And it feels like a mad rush from the second I wake up until the second Amelia and I sprint out the door for work at 7:20. There’s no time to ease into the run. No time for cooling down or stretching or any of that other good stuff you’re supposed to do after a good run. I have just enough time to run 5-6 miles, walk for a minute or two afterward, and go.

But in a weird way, I kind of love it. There’s something so nice about being done with my run by 6:00 AM. And despite how hard it is to get up, and the fact that I crash at 8:00 every night, my day just feels better after a morning run. I’m more energized, more alert…happier. It’s not enough to make me want to do it every single day of the week. But it’s enough to make it a regular part of the routine.

Plus the reality is if I don’t wake up, I have weeks like the beginning of this one (or let’s be honest, like the months between Nov and Jan). Where it’s suddenly Thursday and I haven’t run once. Because on Monday I wanted a rest day (despite knowing there was a blizzard coming), and Tuesday we were snowed in and then Wednesday I turned off my alarm at 3:00 in the morning because I was nervous about the state of the roads after said storm, vowed to run at work instead but then right around 2:00 when I was getting ready to go, got a visit from Amelia and her teacher because of a bad rash/temperature. And so instead of a run, my afternoon consisted of sitting in the pediatrician’s office only to be told that she’s just fighting off a virus (like usual), the rash is fine, she doesn’t need to be out of daycare.

In short, like so many others, if I don’t run at the crack of dawn I don’t get to run at all. I know this is not unique. That many grown adults with responsibilities have been doing it for years. I also know that I’m lucky enough to be able to squeeze in a lunch run from work once a week or so. And despite the hassle of lugging all my running stuff in along with everything else and then showering again in the middle of the day, and despite the fact that a good portion of my coworkers think I’m crazy, I love those runs out in the fresh air…after food and caffeine and sitting all morning. But I can’t always count on them. So instead I wake up, drag myself to the treadmill, and pound out a workout while many are still asleep.

It sets the tone for my day. At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself. It’s a good habit, provides structure and routine, and honestly makes me feel like I’m sort of training again…even though my mileage is still very low. Those early morning treadmill runs have even brought the return of speedwork into my life. It’s relatively short and doubly painful so early, but man does it feel good. Yesterday, for the first time since I can remember, I ran a workout that made me want to puke – 3 mile repeats in the middle of a 6 mile run. No stopping in between, just a quick 0.25 mile recovery jog. Maybe not a workout to really write home about, but it was the hardest I’ve pushed in a long time. It made me feel strong while reminding me how far I still have to go. And it sure made the time on the treadmill pass by a lot faster.

Someday I’ll take those early morning runs outside again. And I’ll actually have time for more than 5-6 rushed miles. But for now, when it’s pitch black and the temperature is below zero, I will make it work by stumbling my way onto the treadmill…thankful, at least, to not be battling humidity.

Except for today. It’s Friday, it’s (lightly) snowing, and the temperature is supposed to rise to freezing (32 degrees). Which at this point is a basically a heatwave. So today, I’m running outside at lunch.

On Monday, when the single digits return, I will retreat back to the safety of my treadmill…just me and the handful of other people crazy enough to be at the gym as soon as it opens. (Though not quite as crazy as those who actually manage to run outside in the dark and single digit temps.)

At least winter is bound to end at some point, right?

Oh and in case you want to know what, exactly, I’m training for? The answer is TBD. I’ve got my eye on a few spring/summer half marathons plus a summer relay, so for the past month I’ve been trying to reestablish a base after all those weeks of barely running. But it’s almost February and it’s time to actually commit to a 2015 race schedule. So more to come.

CHaD Hero Half Marathon Race Recap

I have been terrible about race recaps. Unfortunate, since those are the most fun to write (and read!). And since this is supposed to be a running blog, you’d think I’d be jumping at the opportunity for “content.” Although my erratic blogging is a topic for another day, I suppose it’s not really a coincidence that of the last 4 races I’ve run, the only one that made it to the blog was the 5K where I ran a PR. Maybe I’m vainer than I’d like to admit.

So here we are, over 2 weeks later, in the midst of other awesome marathon recaps and post-NYCM excitement, and I am about to babble on about a race where I well enough — not bad but certainly not a groundbreaking performance. Aren’t you excited?

CHaD Hero

The CHaD Hero race weekend is a fundraiser for Dartmouth Children’s Hospital. The Half Marathon was only one of three events that day and the entire atmosphere was of one big party. The course is well organized, there is good support (from bands, performers and crowds), the post-race feast is delicious and plentiful, and it’s truly an inspiring event to be a part of. Trust me, that’s not a word I use lightly. There were huge teams running in honor/memory of someone. Looking around at all the shirts with faces on the back at the starting line was incredibly moving.

And if all that was not enough to make we want to make this race a yearly tradition, the start is only about 3 miles from my house. You can’t ask for a more super relaxing and easy race morning than that!

So while I loved being a part of the weekend, I won’t say it’s because of the course itself. This is a certified half marathon course and I know…the course is the course is the course. But it felt long. And it was harder than expected (no excuse for this really. See “race was basically in my town.”) All the turns and the weaving around people in the beginning made it hard to run the tangents, and the very hilly last 3 miles seemed to drag on forever. From the beginning, my watch was 0.1 miles ahead of the official mile marker and that gap only grew throughout the race (finished at 13.3), despite my constant wish for things to even out.

I am ashamed to admit this now, but I was a slave to that stupid watch, completely unable to trust my body to tell me how fast to run. So the fact that it was beeping for the mile well before I could see the official marker really got into my head. Which is why, even though I ran a smart, strong race — never bonked or hit the wall, never felt like I hadn’t trained enough or had that moment when I swore off running for good – why I was left feeling a little disappointed. Not so much about my time as about my attitude.

How’s that for an uplifting introduction? As ashamed as I am that I let something as trivial as my Garmin splits throw me off for a race, it’s all a part of this comeback journey, right? Part of learning how to race again, learning to trust my body, and remember what it’s like to truly run by effort and know when to push.

So let’s get on to the actual race, shall we?

Race Day

The half marathon didn’t actually start until noon on Sunday, which made fueling a bit tricky. Evan and I woke up early (babies don’t sleep in on the weekends), had a couple eggs and a piece of toast, and just sort of milled around with my parents for a few hours. All those things that I would have done the night before – finalizing my race outfit, making sure the Garmin and iPod (my other annoyance during the race – more about that later) were charged – I had put off until that morning since I had plenty of time.

Around 10:30 I figured I better eat something else, so I rushed down a piece of toast with almond butter, banana and honey. Standard race breakfast. I chugged more Nuun, nursed Amelia and finally around 11:15 or so, headed to the start. In hindsight, we probably could have waited until 11:55 to drive over, but the nerves got the best of me. My dad dropped Evan and I off right in front of the town green and we burned off some nervous energy by jogging around and using the portapotties a few times. Finally it was time to line up. The announcer had us recite the CHaD Hero oath (which included not complaining about the course…oops) and we were off!

The 5K and Half Marathon started together, making it hard not to get caught up in the surge of people at the start. Combine that with the slight downhill for the first two miles and my conservative plan to go out around 7:20-7:25, settle in and then drop the pace down from there (goal: 7:15s) was completely out the window. But I felt good and strong, so we went with it.

ChaD Half Marathon_beginning.jpgSomewhere around mile 2.5 or so…awesome form, LBC. Note the guy in sunglasses and bright orange shirt. He was an official pacer. This is important.

The first 3 miles weaved through Downtown Hanover before we heading over the Connecticut River and into Vermont. Those first two miles ticked off fast (7:07, 7:02). I knew my official splits were a little slower, but I still felt like I was moving at a decent clip — at least until the 7:30/mile pacer whizzed by us just before mile 3. Evan and I looked at each other in disbelief, and immediately I started to panic. Was I going that much slower than I even realized?

No sooner did Mr. 7:30 pacer pass us, but we saw my parents waiting with Amelia at the top of our first (only) really long descent. I wanted to yell — don’t be nervous! I swear we aren’t running 7:30s! But they didn’t care. They were so excited to see us, so excited to show Amelia her parents, that I’m not even sure they noticed we were even behind him.  My mom bounced Amelia up and down, and she waved at us with the biggest grin on her face. It was all I could do to not stop and scoop her up.

Seeing them helped me forget about pacing for a little while. We were entering my favorite part of the course – the Vermont section. Back on familiar roads where I did many long runs over the summer. The temperature was perfect, my legs were feeling warmed up and I just felt settled into a pace, trying to hold myself back because the numbers on the watch were making me nervous. I didn’t really notice the gradual uphill during these miles. It just felt good to be running.

We gradually started gaining on the 7:30 pacer and the girl that was running with him (who seemed to be his biology study buddy?? Totally what I talk about when I’m racing too…). We had just pulled up alongside them when a man who was watching from the sidelines pointed to her and then to me, saying “6th woman, 7th woman!”

From that moment, it was on. Because, you know, getting 6th place in a race was exactly what I had been shooting for all along! My first reaction was to turn to Evan and say, “I wish he didn’t say that.” The competitive juices had started flowing and I couldn’t stop them. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be competitive. Wasn’t sure this girl even considered me her competition. But it didn’t matter. Whoever she was or whatever her goal for the day might have been, there was no way I was going to let her beat me. So without even really thinking about it, I picked up the pace just a notch and inched ahead of her and that annoying pacer.

CHaD Half_river.jpgDon’t be jealous of my awesome race day outfit matching skills. Orange and pink are the new “it” colors for the season. Trust me on this one.

For the next couple of miles, Evan and I ran side by side without saying much – except to remark on how annoying it was that the mile markers seemed to be getting further and further apart (I know, I know). When we turned to head back into the center of Norwich, he told me he felt like we were going too fast and was afraid he was going to blow up. I told him I just wanted to make it to the hill after mile 9. I knew that would slow us down, so the entire race I had just been focused on making it to that spot. If I could keep a consistent and steady pace until then, it didn’t matter what happened in those final miles.

ChaD Half_Norwich1New favorite race picture of all time! Feeling as strong and steady as I looked at mile 8.

We ran down along the Connecticut river, rounded the corner back across the bridge, and suddenly my family was there again. Waving and cheering and smiling! It was awesome and the perfect boost before the climbing began. I turned the corner to go up the hill and felt a little pep in my step. Trying to focus on one step at a time, I envisioned myself powering up the hill like a locomotive.

In reality it wasn’t quite that powerful or smooth. But at least the effort felt steady. And that is where I lost Evan. I briefly debated slowing down and waiting for him. Despite my warnings before the race that I wouldn’t, I hated not having him by my side. I thought if only I could get him to catch up with me again, he would be able to pace off of me the rest of the way.

In the end I just kept running. I was too afraid to break my own momentum…and half-convinced he was right behind me.

At mile 10, we reached the cruelest part of the course. After a mile of climbing, you run back through Hanover, across the main green and right past the finish line. There were people finishing and I still had 3 more miles to go. Awesome.

CHaD Half_HanoverDebating if anyone would notice me making a u-turn to the finish

 The fun just kept on coming. We climbed another steep hill that I didn’t know existed before the race. I had told myself the hill a mile before was all that I had to make it through – this one felt even worse! We turned a corner into a residential neighborhood and it seemed to keep climbing. I willed my legs to move forward, but they just didn’t have any speed in them. I kept wondering if I should take the gel I stashed in my shorts just in case, but since I hadn’t trained with them and haven’t taken a gel since, I don’t know? 2012? I ultimately decided not to. Just kept powering along, telling myself that with all this climbing it HAD to be downhill to the finish.

I was wrong. The elevation profile will tell you that there were, in fact, some downhill stretches in the last 3 miles. I didn’t notice them. Somehow it seemed like an endless climb. And my legs just had no speed. No power. I wasn’t spent or ready to puke, but I still couldn’t push any faster. Or maybe I had given up. By this point I had stopped looking at my watch, discouraged when I realized at mile 10 that I was going to finish more than a minute slower than what I had calculated. Any rational person probably would have turned off autolap and manually lapped their watch at the mile markers, or at least turned the screen to simply show the time of day or something, anything to get over the inaccuracies. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was just pissed – pissed that my watch wasn’t lining up with the course, pissed that I was pacing according to my watch and not the course in the first place, and pissed that I had let something so silly get into my head so much…especially for a race that I wasn’t going to PR anyway.

CHaD Half_Finish1Demonstrating more awesome running form

Finally we headed back through campus and I knew the finish line had to be close. I tried to pick up the pace and someone remarked that I was “making it look too easy” but it didn’t feel easy. My brain was not communicating with my legs the way that I wanted to. I felt weird and disconnected. Like that pain place I used to know how to get to (and through) no longer existed for me. So I continued my steady run right across the finish line.

CHaD Half_finishIf you look really closely, you can see a man in a tan jacket and tan hat on the lefthand side of the photo, standing out into the course a little. That would be my Dad — my Mom is the little speck of blonde hair behind him. They both were amazing cheerleaders AND babysitters. We couldn’t have done the race without them!  

Also, today is my Dad’s birthday, in case you want to send him a note.

And immediately felt guilty. I didn’t see Evan. I was annoyed at myself for being so annoyed during the race, and upset with myself for leaving Evan — and all for what? For a moment, my attitude went from bad to worse, and suddenly the strong, relatively even paced race I had just run became this complete failure in every way. Talk about dramatic. (I am not proud, I will admit. And yes, I can now see how ridiculous I was about the whole thing.) I stood there, scanning the crowd, hoping that each person I saw would be Evan nearing the finish line. Finally, 4 minutes later he came in, happy and proud of his effort, while I blubbered like a baby and apologized for something he never asked me to do.

So my race day mental game and focus? Needs some work. The endurance is there, the strength is there, even the building blocks for that mental focus are there. I had my iPod on me the entire time in case I needed it, but I never even wanted it. For the first time in any distance race, I preferred the silence of my footsteps and thoughts over music. Instead it just became another annoyance as I tried to keep the stupid cords from bouncing around by wrapping them into my sports bra.

In spite of everything, I still managed to place 2nd in my age group, and was somehow able to hold onto that overall female finish spot (and the first place girl in my AG actually finished 3rd overall, but they awarded her both prizes, so…).

IMG 7836

Finish: 1:36:04 (7:20 pace); 46th overall, 7th woman (my friend at mile 5 must’ve counted wrong because no female passed me after I thought I was in 6th), and 2/141 AG

Just because I found it interesting: 5 of the 6 women ahead of me were under 25 – talk about a group of fast, young women (thinking the Dartmouth track and cross country teams must have been well represented here)! Only 3 of the ladies in the top 10 were in their 30s…it’s not every day I feel like the old lady of the group.

For my prize, I won this super cool, exclusive cup that Amelia immediately claimed. I figured she earned it more than I did for being such a trooper the entire day. She missed her afternoon nap to sit outside and wait in the damp cold. And didn’t complain once. That’s worthy of a gold star in my book.

CHaD Half_Amelia

Here’s how the splits broke down. Keep in mind that these don’t add up to my overall official pace

Pace

Net Elevation

Mile 1 – 7:07 Down
Mile 2 – 7:02 Down
Mile 3 – 7:10 Up
Mile 4 – 7:02 Down
Mile 5 – 7:16 Up
Mile 6 – 7:10 Up
Mile 7 – 7:03 Down
Mile 8 – 7:04 Down
Mile 9 – 7:31 Up
Mile 10 – 7:36 Up
Mile 11 – 7:38 Up
Mile 12 – 7:09

Down

Mile 13 – 7:17 Up
Last 0.3 – 6:43 pace The only flat section!
Garmin: 13.3 miles in 1:36:06 (7:14 pace)
Official: 13.1 miles in 1:36:04 (7:20 pace)

And the elevation profile. The entire course was rolling – not sure there was any section besides that final stretch that you could consider “flat.”

CHaD Half Elevation

So there you have it. A tale of how a crummy attitude can ruin an otherwise good race. Overall I really loved being able to run most of the half with Evan, and it has lit the fire for speed. I know I can run faster. I know I have another gear. I just need to remember how to access it.

Not sure what’s next for me. But I know it’s going to include speedwork.

 

 

 

Race Week! Let’s Talk “Goals”

It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these.

Sunday is technically my “goal” race. The one I have been training for all season.

chadhero

Please note that I use the word training lightly here, since I wouldn’t say it’s been particularly strict or intense. But I have been running. There was a “cycle.” I built up my mileage and I tried to stay consistent. There wasn’t exactly any speed work, but I occasionally ran fast and did a few short races to work on speed. And I’ve even seen a little improvement. My endurance has gotten better, my paces have dropped. I think I am a stronger runner now than I was in June.

But I am not where I want to be – where I hoped I’d be way back when I was plotting my comeback. I’ve come to peace with this and I honestly have no regrets about the way my training went down. Just stating a fact.

So when it comes to setting goals for Sunday, I am sort of at a loss. I can look at projected time calculators and obsess over pacing all I want, but when it comes down to it, I still don’t really trust what my body can do. Racing still feels like unfamiliar territory – that confidence I used to feel on a starting line has not quite returned.

But I also would be lying if I said I had no goals whatsoever. That I would be happy just to finish this half marathon. I did that back in April. This time, I want more.

This is what I do know:

A. I want to race this thing. Whatever that means for Sunday, I want to go into the half marathon ready to run “competitively” (with myself) and know that I ran as fast as I could on that day.

B. I would like to run faster than I did during my first postpartum half back in April (<1:48:28). I think (hope) I’ve got this one in the bag, but you know…anything can happen.

C. Ideally I want to see a 1:3X on that clock when I cross the line. I realize this is a very big range (anywhere from 7:33 to 6:51 pace), but I will not be quite as happy with anything over 1:40. There, I said it.

D. While I would love to PR (<1:33:07), I know I am not in that kind of shape. The unrealistic side of me focuses on the fact that my PR half was run on a snowy day in the middle of marathon training when I was battling a really awful chest cold. I would like to think I could (theoretically–someday) run faster. But my sane, practical side knows that even sick Lauren from 2011 was faster than I am now.

So where does that leave me? Doing a whole lot of babbling over a whole lot of nothing, you could say.

Given how my runs have gone over the past few months, I think a 1:35 is probably a realistically challenging goal. If I can hold a 7:15 pace for 13.1 miles, I will be more than happy. I guess we will see how it goes!

Evan will be running with me, so the other part of my goal of course is to not let him beat me. At our last race (which I promise to recap soon only because it was awesome), I chased Evan the entire way. Finally caught him in the last 0.5 mile, passed him and thought I really opened up the lead in the final stretch. So imagine my surprise when I crossed the finish line and suddenly saw a flash of his bouncy dark hair right next to me. The jerk leaned across the line for the tie. And since E comes before L in the alphabet, he is now listed first in the results for all of eternity.

At least we have documentation of our “photo finish.” So I will leave you with that, and let you be the judge…

Harpoon finish

Back soon with race recaps! Best of luck to everyone racing this weekend!

 

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