Posts Tagged by race recap

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.

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.

 

 

 

Cigna 5K Race Recap

Last year, when I was pregnant and relatively naïve about motherhood, I made lots of grand claims (both publicly and privately) about running and training post-pregnancy. It’s my first time doing this whole parenting thing after all, and so I had no frame of reference – no real idea of what life would be like on the other side. I only knew how old LBC felt about training. And Old LBC was pretty passionate about it.

I got a lot of “just you wait” comments in those days. And while I listened to them and knew they were coming from a place of good intentions, I didn’t fully understand. I figured life would be different and my priorities would shift, but I couldn’t imagine a life without wanting to train. Or one where I didn’t care if I wasn’t in great shape or my body was mushy.

Well, turns out a lot of those commenters were right – almost. Life is different, my priorities are different, and for what seemed like a long time, I wasn’t sure I would ever have the desire or energy to actually train again. Competitive LBC seemed to be gone. I felt content with just going out a few times a week for a few slow miles. Not necessarily because I was so incredibly busy (although there were times I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water). I just didn’t want to do it. And to be perfectly honest – getting back in shape kind of sucks. It’s humbling and at times demoralizing. Part of the fun (for me) is feeling like I’m fast and light and fit and strong. Slogging along for a couple of miles just to say that I completed a run doesn’t do it for me.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t stress about this change in perspective a little bit. But for the most part, I tried to take a step back and let things work themselves out. Tried to give myself patience and time to get back at it again. And you know what? It worked. Slowly, as the months have gone by, I’ve felt that fire burning again. Just a flicker at first. But over the past several months it has grown and grown until it has become a strong flame, pushing me to get up in the dark to pound out miles before work. The training is different, the intensity is less, but it’s coming back. Turns out Competitive LBC never really went away. She was just dormant for a little while.

Which is how I found myself, on a warm evening in the middle of August, after limited training and absolutely no speed work, with a shiny new 5K PR. Don’t ask me how it happened. Even after 2 weeks of reflection, I still couldn’t tell you.

IMG_7103-2.JPG

I signed up for the Cigna 5K with a team from work. Every year we enter a team in the corporate race. I missed out last year because of the pregnancy (running a hot August 5K after work hours away from home was just not appealing), so I felt a little extra pressure to run this year. I somehow roped Evan into the race with me by claiming that we could just run “easy” together. I’m pretty sure he knew I was lying right from the start, but to his credit he agreed – despite the fact that the 5K was only 2 days before 100on100.

I had butterflies in my stomach all day long. I felt like I was back in school, waiting for a cross country meet. I couldn’t focus, didn’t know what to eat, and had absolutely no idea how I was going to run a fast 5K after sitting at my desk all day.

Fortunately for us, it was cooler than normal that evening, with temperatures in the mid-70s. We got to Manchester in just enough time to use the porta-potties, drop Amelia off with my friend and her son who were there to support her husband, do a quick (5 minutes – not enough!!) warm up, and fight our way into the crowds on the line. With over 5,600 participants, this was (by far) the largest 5K I have ever run. We were in the first wave (sub-23:00) and I knew the lead pack would go out fast. So my only goal was to go out strong and hold on.

Before we started I made Evan promise that he wouldn’t hold back for me. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted more than anything to beat him. But I didn’t want him to make it easy. And I had no plans to wait for him if he fell behind (just being honest – he wouldn’t want me to either!).

The gun went off and everyone surged. I took off quickly, weaving in and out of the crowds. I told myself not to waste so much energy going around people but it was nearly impossible. After what felt like forever, Evan and I settled into a pace side by side. I looked down at my watch and felt a wave of disappointment when I saw the pace: 6:30/mile. Normally at the beginning of a 5K, I am hopped up on adrenaline and go out way too fast. But I was already struggling. 6:30 felt harder than I wanted it to be and I panicked. I needed to get out of my own head.

So I changed my strategy. All that mattered from that point on was perceived effort. I wasn’t allowed to look at my watch except for at the mile markers (there were timing clocks at every mile). I just focused on staying with Evan and keeping an even pace. “Lock it in!” I told myself, repeating it so many times that it became my motto for the race – the words I went back to over and over when I started to struggle.

Mile 1 – 6:19

Turns out the first mile was all uphill (hence the struggle). We turned a corner in the 2nd mile and went down a very welcome hill. Spectators were out cheering and spraying us with hoses. I ran alongside a woman with a hose and got hammered with water right in my face. It was amazing! A temporary break from focusing on the pain — before Evan suddenly started to pull ahead just a little bit. I tried not to let him get far or become discouraged. I still had time. I still had energy. I could catch him eventually.

Normally mile 2 of a 5K seems to drag on forever – the adrenaline from the first mile has worn off and the final mile still feels so far away. I don’t know if it was the slight downhill or the fact that I was sort of chasing Evan, but the mile went by so quickly. I looked down at my watch at the mile marker: 6:18. Nearly identical split to my first mile. Keep it locked in, I thought.

The final mile brought us along the back of the warehouses in Manchester and I knew there would be a hill to the finish. The same one that destroyed me during MCM two years ago. Evan seemed to find a second wind and started pulling further away. My head yelled at my legs to go with him, but my heart wasn’t in it. If I had taken a moment to think about how fast I was running or how close I would be to my old PR, maybe I would have found the motivation. Or maybe I would’ve crumbled under the pressure…who knows. For the first time in maybe ever, I didn’t do any math during a race. I had absolutely no idea what my projected finish time would be until I saw the clock at the line. It was kind of freeing.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally turned a corner and there it was – the hill I had been dreading for the past mile. I put my head down, lifted my knees and tried to drive my way up. People seemed to be passing me left and right but I only had eyes for one competitor – my husband. Evan may have the leg speed, but I knew I was faster than him on hills. I made it my mission to catch him.

And I did. For a few brief seconds I even pulled ahead. I could see the finish line (still looking so far away) and I tried to sprint with every ounce of energy left in my legs. Unfortunately for me, Evan could see it too. And he was determined not to be out-kicked by his wife in the final sprint. He took off, and I helplessly watched as his back got further and further away.

At that moment I finally looked up at the clock. I was in shock – I saw the 19:xx, watched the seconds ticking closer and closer to my PR and thought maybe, just maybe I could squeak out a few seconds. It was the motivation I needed. I gave one final push, focused on the other backs in front of me (including one female who I had been chasing the entire race), and somehow found another gear. I crossed the finish line absolutely spent but victorious: 19:36, a 10 second PR.

Evan beat me by 3 whole seconds (a PR for him as well!). Which seems like nothing when I type it out. But at the end of a hard 5K, 3 seconds can be an eternity.

Am I happy with that PR? Absolutely! I had no idea what to expect going into the race and would’ve been happy if I had managed to pull off a 20:xx 5K. I pushed hard and ran an even effort. I still can’t believe my splits when I look at them – by far the most consistent 5K I’ve ever run. The PR was just icing on the cake.

I’m happy, excited, and feeling confident…but I’m not satisfied. And really – what kind of runner would I be if I was? I find myself thinking, if I could run that time under those circumstances, just imagine what I can do with X training?? The plight of the runner is to be endlessly unsatisfied, I think. Because the thing is, even if my run was a fluke, even if it was the result of everything magically coming together to give me a time faster than what I could really train to run, I still have that hope. That fire that burns. The will to see how much faster I can go, how much harder I can push. It’s the thing that keeps us running. The thing that makes our runner’s hearts beat.

Competitive LBC is back. She isn’t the same as before, but she’s in there. And that’s enough for now.

Garmin results: 6:19, 6:20, 6:19, last 0.1 – 6:14 pace (19:38)

Official results: 19:36 (6:19), 3rd in AG and 15th female

Seeing as the winning time was 14:38 and the first female ran a 16:36, I am super excited about those stats. And our female corporate team came in 10th overall. An awesome evening at the races!

 

Half Marathon Unplugged Race Recap

Like most of the running world, my thoughts (and heart) are focused on Boston this weekend. I’ve read articles, watched news stories, followed along with many runners who are preparing to run. While I don’t regret my ultimate decision to not register for this year’s race (in fact, looking back at pregnantLC I now wonder what I was even thinking), there is still a small part of me that wishes more than anything that I could be one of the thousands running the streets of Boston on Monday. Or at least be on the sidelines cheering (which is looking less and less likely as race day approaches). Best of luck to everyone running! I will be virtually cheering for all of you!

Last Saturday I ran my first race postpartum…which also happened to be my longest run in over a year. The result? It went way better than expected. Official time: 1:48:28 (8:17/mile). Besides a few small aches in my knees and pelvis/groin by the end, I felt surprisingly good. Not really like my “old” self, but it’s amazing how quickly the muscle memory comes back. Almost like I never took any time off at all.

The downside to all this is that I seem to have irritated my SI joint without realizing it. Despite the fact that it did not hurt at all during the race, I woke up the next morning with what I initially thought was sciatica. Long story short, a week of pain and a little research later, I’m pretty sure I have SI Joint Dysfunction, a problem that is common during pregnancy and after childbirth. More about that later. For now, let’s focus on the fun part, shall we?

The end result was better than I could have asked for, but the entire event didn’t go quite as seamlessly as that. Here’s how it all went down.

Half Marathon Unplugged Recap

Night before, sometime around 9:00pm

I walk aimlessly around the house, trying to gather up everything I’ll need for race day but not quite remembering how this part of the routine goes. I get out a top and running shorts but beyond that I’m sort of lost. Suddenly remember that I have no fuel for the race. And although I never used to take anything besides water/Nuun during the half marathon distance, circumstances are a little different now. I briefly entertain the idea of running out to the store to find something (anything!) with calories…before remembering that this is Vermont and everything closes around 8:00pm. Decide not to worry and go to bed instead.

Sometime in the middle of the night

Darling child, who otherwise sleeps through the night (yes, I realize how lucky we are) has brought another cold home from daycare and wakes up in the middle of the night because she can’t breathe (poor baby). Stumble into the room and try to quickly suck her nose out, which succeeds only in making her mad. Abandon that idea and try to coax her back to sleep. After what seems like only a few minutes later, she wakes up again. This time I “accidentally” kick Evan awake and he goes in to wrap her back up and give her the pacifier.

6:00AM race morning

Alarm goes off. Baby, of course, is now sleeping soundly. Stumble around the house trying to gather up my things and prepare breakfast. Realize we have absolutely no food in the house besides one old, stale bagel (yum). Laugh at how completely unprepared for this whole thing I am. Make the last minute decision to stop at a local cafe on the way to the race for food and coffee.

Gently wake up baby. Feed her and then rush around the house trying to gather up everything she’ll need for the day. Kick myself for forgetting to get Amelia’s stuff ready last night while I was gathering up my own. On a whim, grab a couple handfuls of jelly beans and stuff them in a baggy for the race. Hey, sugar is sugar, right? Somehow make it out of the house relatively on time.

9:45 – 11:00 AM

Make it to packet pick up and then drive over to the start. Find a parking spot right behind the porta-potties and nurse the baby in the backseat of the car while other runners stretch outside. Pump out a few extra ounces to ensure I’m slightly more…comfortable. Nothing like a good nursing/pumping session to really “pump” you up for a race! Manage to make it to the start with a few minutes to spare.

team watermelon preraceTeam Watermelon – cutest cheerleader on the course!

Miles 1 – 4

With very little fanfare, the announcer yells go and the crowd surges. I surge with them, falling in step with the lead women. I look at the small lean runners around me and size them up, assessing the competition. I am light…I am floating…I am fast…for about 30 seconds, anyway. Then I look at my watch, remember I have no business keeping that pace for 1 mile, let alone 13, and crash right back to reality.

For the rest of that first mile, it’s hard to get in the zone. I can’t find my groove. I’m thinking about how out of shape I am, how running doesn’t feel as smooth and effortless as it used to. I find myself wishing I was fit and strong, annoyed that I can’t run the race like my old self. Hating the clunky, awkward feeling of my stride.

And then Avicii comes on my playlist singing, “I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start.” It’s exactly what I need to hear to snap me out of my weird funk. This race wasn’t the result of weeks of hard training — it’s the beginning of a new journey. I don’t know how long it’ll take to get back to my pre-pregnancy racing self, or if I ever will be that runner again. But I’ve got to start somewhere.

I finally relax, focus on having fun and enjoying the day. The sun is shining and spring is in the air. And I’m running! Life is good.

Half unplugged miles 1_4

Miles 5 – 8

The first four miles of the race wind through neighborhoods before entering the bike path. It’s flat and beautiful. For the first 5 miles, I didn’t allow myself to look at my watch (besides that moment immediately after the start) for fear that a) I would realize I was going too fast and panic or b) I would see how slow I was running and become frustrated. Instead I’ve tried to run completely by feel. Gauging my effort and keeping things relaxed. So when I look down at 5 miles in and notice that I’m averaging an 8:0X pace, I’m pleasantly surprised. A little panicked, since my only real goal had been to keep it under 10:00–okay, fine, 9:00–minute miles. But I feel completely in control of the pace. I figure my body will slow down when it needs to.

After that, my focus is on making it to Evan and Amelia. I know they’re somewhere around Mile 6 with Nuun and jelly beans. I see so many moms and dads on the sidelines with their babies — waiting while their partner runs. I can’t even believe how happy that makes me…how excited I feel to be a part of that group now (cheesy, I know. But true!).

Suddenly I see them on the side of the bike path and I feel a surge of energy. I say hello, quickly take a couple sips of Nuun, grab the jelly beans and continue running. The moment goes by way too fast. As soon as I’ve left them behind I wonder why I didn’t linger longer…there was still a long way to go before I would see them again.

postpartum half 1

I start to get a little hungry so I suck on a few jelly beans. Not quite the race fuel of champions, but desperate times… Unfortunately all the candy does is make me thirstier. After this endless, frigid winter, 60 degrees feels so much warmer than I’m used to and all I can think about is getting to that next water station sometime after the 7 mile marker. I finally make it there, gulp down water and hope I have enough energy to get through the next 6 miles.

Splits: Miles 5 – 8

Half Unplugged miles 5_8Ignore the third column – that’s something Strava calculates.

Miles 8-11

Unfortunately, just one mile later things start catching up to me. I’m starting to feel a little achey…the miles taking their toll. I don’t feel out of energy, but I don’t feel super pumped about running 5 more miles either. And I’m thirsty. So incredibly thirsty. I curse myself for not carrying water with me…or at least taking the Nuun from Evan a couple miles ago. I should have known – I drink a lot of water normally. Add breastfeeding to the mix and my thirst is out of control. I start fantasizing about the next water stop – 3 miles away. I tell myself I just need to make it there. The miles keep ticking by. I try not to look at my watch too much but can tell I’m slowing down a little. At mile 10 I eat a few more jelly beans  to celebrate making it to double digits…and almost immediately regret it (so much sugar, so little water). Just 3 more miles to go, I tell myself. That’s nothing.

Finally make it to the water stop and grab two cups, sucking them down like I haven’t had a drink in days.

Splits: Miles 8 – 11

Half Unplugged Miles 8_11

 

Miles 12 – Finish

The last two miles are the worst. We turn off the bike path and into the park. I notice fast runners coming back toward me in the other direction, and I start to wonder just how far they had to run before turning around. We weave into a neighborhood and up hills that feel a lot steeper than they should. I see the 12 mile marker but we still aren’t turning around. I curse the course designers for putting this stupid little loop at the end. Just make it back to the park, I tell myself.

We finally get back to the park and I check my watch – 12.66 miles. The finish is closer than I thought! I cruise down the hill, round a corner and there it is. I see the clock, still under 1:50, give a final surge and “sprint” to the finish line, smiling at Evan and Amelia as I speed by. For a second I feel like my old self again – running fast and light and free.

I cross the finish line and immediately everything hurts. My quads, my groin…I feel like I’ve run a full marathon, not a half. But I made it!

Splits Miles 12 – 13.1

Half Unplugged miles 11_finish

Post-race

Evan and Millie_postrace pizza

Hobble around for a few minutes to “loosen” up my legs. Hop in the car, nurse the baby (sorry about the sweat, Little One) and make our way to our new post-race tradition: American Flatbread. Eat my weight in pizza and for the first time ever (since I was pregnant the other two times we’ve been there) enjoy a nice refreshing beer.

postrace beerAmelia gave the pizza and beer two thumbs up!

And my cute little cheerleader? She was amazing. So good and happy the whole day. And the best race day motivation I could’ve asked for.

 

View From the Sidelines: RaceVermont Fall Half Marathon

aka Evan’s First Half Marathon!

When Evan originally decided to train for and run a half marathon this fall, it was because the two of us were going to do it together. I had grand plans to run one in September, and it seems there’s nothing like a pregnant wife wanting to run a long distance race to convince a guy to do something he otherwise wouldn’t. Plus, after years of Evan watching me run races, his first half marathon just seemed like such a cool experience to share together.

But somewhere around 22 weeks into this pregnancy, I came to terms with the fact that distance running (a definition that changes by the week) while pregnant just isn’t for me. A hard thing to admit for someone who prefers training for marathons to running 5Ks. But you know, there are worse things in the world than having to hang up your distance-running-shoes for a few months because your body is growing a baby.

Fortunately, Evan was still committed to the idea of running a half this fall…with or without me. And once I got over my selfish desires to want to run his first with him, I accepted the fact that it was probably better for me to be on the sidelines anyway. Not only would I have held him back if we were running together, but I also know how nice it is to run a race when you have someone waiting for you every couple of miles. In the 5 years that we’ve been together, Evan has patiently traveled to many races, standing outside in all sorts of weather to support me. I figured it was about time I returned the favor.

So on one of the biggest racing days of the year, I woke up just after 4:00 am not to run, but to support my husband through his first attempt at 13.1. We drove ~2 hours north for the RaceVermont Shelburne Half Marathon. The morning was freezing (just about 30 degrees at the start), but fortunately the snow that was originally in the forecast held off…instead it was a beautiful, sunny fall day.

The race was small, but very well organized. Packet pick-up was inside the (wonderfully warm) field house, and runners hung out inside until 2 minutes before the start. Just before 8:00 am, the race organizers lead everyone to the starting line and with very little delay, they were off!

racevermont fall half_ec start.jpg

Thoughts from the sidelines:

1. Running in 30-something degrees may be cold, but standing around cheering in it is colder.

My main reason for envying the runners on Sunday was because I knew how much warmer they must have been. Meanwhile, I looked like a lopsided snowman all bundled up in my husband’s fleece and my winter coat that doesn’t really zip anymore. So sorry I didn’t take any #spectatingselfies to share with you.

2.  From an outsider’s perspective, the course (although beautiful) didn’t look very interesting.

racevermont fall half_lake view.jpg

The first 10 miles were basically on the same road, with a couple little out-and-backs on side roads to add on mileage. The final miles were on a gravel path that wound down along the water, before runners met up with the main road and headed back to the Field House for the finish. But Evan loved it…and it actually made it pretty easy to spectate. We had a good friend who was running the half as well, and her husband and I got to see our runners just after mile 2, the halfway point, mile 10 and the finish. Not too bad for a 2 hour race!

3. It felt a little weird getting Evan ready for (and through) a race that I also wasn’t running.

This was the first time we’ve traveled together for a race just for him. I thought I might be sad about the fact that I wasn’t also running, but I actually loved it. It was fun to focus 100% on his race. Plus, the excitement/pride I felt every time I saw him on the course almost rivaled the pride that builds when I race myself (…almost).

racevermont fall half_ec halfway.JPG

4. I’m a little rusty on my race spectating-logistics-planning.

While my husband has become a pro at it over the years, I found myself struggling with estimated times and paces. First, I completely forgot to start my timer (or even look at a clock) when the race started, so I was just going off an 8:00 am-sharp estimated start. Second, every time I saw him I struggled with the mental math to calculate his pace. Maybe we can just blame the pregnancy for that one. I finally got into the groove, timing the distance between Evan and our friend and our arrivals at different spectating spots almost perfectly.

5. I may be slightly biased, but Evan was such a fun runner to watch.

Granted, he says he was loving life for the first 10 miles (i.e. during all the times I saw him until the finish) and then hated it for the last 5K, but it was awesome to see him running so happy and so well. He admittedly didn’t fall in love with distance running during training, but that all seemed to change on Sunday. Despite the fact that there weren’t large crowds or tons of runners (the race was pretty small) just the experience of being in a race environment was enough to pump him up. His goal (besides finishing) was to maintain a sub-8 minute/mile pace the entire way. And for the first 10 miles, he blew that out of the water. Every time I saw him, I’d do some mental math in my head to figure out his projected finish time. I was so excited to see him flying through the course…hills and all!

racevermont fall half_ec mile 10.jpg

6. The last 5K of a half (just like the last 10K of a full) is make it or break it time.

Unfortunately the way the course worked out, I wasn’t able to see Evan at all during the last 3.1. And that’s when he needed support the most. I know that 3 miles can never seem so long as when they’re at the end of a distance race. And that’s especially true when the course has you running on a lonely path with no spectators and barely any other runners around to help you push. But to his credit, he didn’t give up. He may have sworn off running altogether during those last few miles (but who of us hasn’t??), but he kept plugging along.

7. Seeing Evan round the corner toward the finish line was one of the coolest moments.

Evan and I have done relays together, so it’s not the first time I’ve been able to cheer him into the finish of a run. But during those races there was always a sense that we were in it together. On Sunday, for the first time, he was in a race situation where he had done the work completely on his own. And it was so cool to be on the other side of the race for once — getting to support him while he gutted it out and finished something he once thought he’d never be able to do.

racevermont fall half_ec finish#painface

I know it must sound so cheesy, but running has been my passion since we’ve been together. Evan has been happy to support me and run shorter races with me, but until now he hasn’t really felt that drive to do a race on his own. Which is fine — I love that he has his own hobbies and passions that I’ve been able to support him in over the years. However, there’s just something so incredibly moving to see a person you love accomplishing something in a sport that you also love. I may not have been actually running that day, but the runner’s high I felt when Evan crossed the finish line was most certainly real.

racevermont fall half_ec finish sprint

Official Time: 1:42:52 (7:53 pace)

50th male/12th in his age group

8. Getting to dissect and discuss every minute of another runner’s race is the 2nd best thing to actually running it yourself.

Yes, I may miss running more than a few miles at a time. And I may be counting down the days until I can toe the line and push my body to the limits in the pursuit of a PR. But in the meantime, I love being around other people who have raced. When you know that your time on the sidelines is only temporary, it’s fun to be able to live vicariously through other people who are doing the one thing you would love to do but can’t. I’m not sure if Evan appreciated my 5,000 questions about every single detail of the race (what do you mean, you don’t remember exactly how you felt at mile 3??), but I sure loved talking strategy with him afterward.

9. Moe’s food is tasty, but it’s an interesting choice for a post-race meal.

racevermont fall half marathon moes

Tortilla chips and vegetarian chili. I guess beans are great for protein (and Evan appreciated the non-meat option!) but it was so spicy he couldn’t really get much down. Fortunately, we rectified that situation with post-race pizza and beer…i.e. the recovery fuel of champions.

10. I tried not to push TOO much, but Evan is already talking about “next time.” And I love it!

Despite swearing off running altogether at some point during the last 3 miles, a belly full of pizza and beer seemed to change his perspective. He already knows what he wants to do differently next time, and keeps saying that he could have done better “if…” You know, that classic running bug I’ve been hoping will bite him all along. We will see what happens. But I’m striking while the iron is hot! I’ve already made plans for us to enter the Vermont City half marathon relay lottery…AND have gotten him to confirm that he’d run this race again.

Now who wants to volunteer to watch Cheese Baby while we’re running??

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