Friday night race: Miles over the moon

Salem Witch Museum

“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
-Sarah Williams

My marathon training doesn’t leave too much room for races, but I managed to get a 4-miler in last Friday. This was the Miles over the Moon race in Salem, MA, an 8 PM race around a very historic city. When I first signed up, I was worried about how hot it might be since the race took place in mid-July. However, we have been having a bit of a cold spell this week, so it was comfortably in the 60’s during the race.

Salem Race Map

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to treat this race, since I knew I had a 10-mile training run the following morning. It was my first time doing a 4-mile race so any time I got would be a PR.  When they announced the start, I tried hard to hold back my speed. I kept telling myself this was just a warm up run and not a real race. But it was hard with so many people in my running club competing in the same race. Eventually about 2 miles in, I was able to keep calm and not think about it. I just let the run take me along and I stopped worrying about what anyone else was doing. I was able to push myself just enough to feel satisfied with my first race in many weeks. Crossing the finish line, I ended up with a time of 35:34, which is pretty close to my usual 5K pace. Running a 4 mile race was tough at first because once you reach 3 miles, you come to the realization that you have to keep it going for one more mile. I was able to keep a consistent speed after mile 3, which gave me hope that my endurance was getting better after my running break this spring.

Streets of Salem

The course was pretty flat, with just a few slight uphills and downhills. It went through a few neighborhoods and streets in downtown Salem. We also ran around a very scenic area by the water known as Collins Cove. We passed it on the way out and on the way back and both times I wished I could take a photo, but obviously that was out of the question. The race ended at Salem Common and when I saw the park, I knew the end was near. It felt longer than expected running through the common, but finally I saw the red numbers of the time clock. I sprinted over the finish line, gasping for air. It felt good to race again, even though I knew I would pay for it the next day on my long run. The thought “Lori is going to kill me tomorrow if I can’t move my legs properly” came into my head more than once.

Finish line

I saw quite a few of my running club teammates cross the finish line. I even got a nice comment from one saying she was very happy following my pace. That felt really good – almost as good as my runner’s high. After the race, there was a small party at the Knights of Columbus which was perfect for getting away from the mosquitoes. This was definitely a fun race and it was a nice change racing on a Friday night. It was also a nice precursor to a night out, since it took place so close to the bars in downtown Salem. I would definitely consider doing this one again, even in normal sticky July temps.

Salem Common
Historic Salem Common in Massachusetts, where the race began & ended. Such a beautiful night for a race!

 

Do you yasso?

“It is true that speed kills. In distance running, it kills anyone who does not have it.”
-Brooks Johnson

What I like about my current marathon training plan is that it switches things up with mid-week speed workouts. I’ve done some track workouts in the past with my running club, but I have never been too consistent with speed work. Every week there is an exercise that is outlined and it’s helped me learn a little more about this type of training. This week called for something called “yasso” which was a term I had never heard before. The Marathon Training Academy described this workout as a fast 800m run (or 2 laps around a traditional track) followed by a 400m recovery. This is done 6 times and was preceded by a warm up mile and followed by a 1/2 mile cool down. The plan said to keep the 800’s at 4:30, which I felt was very doable since I can usually run these around 4 minutes.

I convinced my friend Lori, who I have been doing my long runs with, to join me on Tuesday evening, when our running club usually does their track workout. I figured it would motivate me more if I went to the track while others were doing their routines. I didn’t realize that she had already done a vigorous rowing workout that morning and was feeling a little sore, but she decided to join me anyway. It was great because we got to do our own thing while the club did their normal workout – I definitely felt less stupid having someone run laps with me. She didn’t intend on doing the full workout, this being her second workout of the day, but she ended up sticking with me until the end and doing all the yasso drills.

The first one we went out a little fast. We ended up finishing around 4:13. The remaining 800’s averaged around 4:20 and I was pleased we were able to be on the faster side of the training plan. I felt pretty strong while I was running these, especially after the first one was completed. However, when I slowed for my recovery lap, it felt like I was receiving a blast of heat in the face. The weather has been off and on this July, but this evening it was incredibly hot & humid. My legs definitely started to feel it around the 5th 800 and I ended up backing off a little. To make up for it, I ran the last one the fastest I could, and really pushed my speed.

Track workouts have never been overly interesting or exciting to me. It may seem tedious to constantly be running around in a circle, but incorporating these exercises along with the mile repeats and hill training can really break up the monotony of training for a distance run. I think they are also supposed to make you faster – time will tell on this one. There are a few more yasso drills in my plan and I’m happy to report they definitely didn’t suck and I’m looking forward to see how well I do the next time.

Track buddies
Me & Lori after our track workout on a very hot day. Gotta love summer training!

Week four: Tired

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
-Ernest Hemingway

Song mood: “Move” – Saint Motel

early morning on the road

The alarm went off at 4 AM on the dot. I rolled over in bed and cursed. Having my alarm go off this early was not really new, but I usually snoozed it for a half hour in order to ease into my day. This morning was different because in order for me to get to work in time and squeeze my 5 mile run in, I had to actually get out of my bed AT THAT MOMENT.

Groggy and disoriented I went to grab my running clothes. I had one pair of running pants left to wear. The recent increase in my workouts have resulted in me never having clean clothes, even after doing laundry constantly. The shirt was questionable but it was fine, I was just going to sweat in it in a few minutes anyway.

I’m out the door sometime between 4:30 and 5 AM, confident I can do this since it’s only 5 miles. When I start, my feet are dragging. They actually do not want to move at all. Although my breathing felt easy and light, all my muscles stiffened and it took all my effort to move in slow motion. Running through molasses. I pushed through my body exhaustion and things started to improve. At around 2 miles I could feel my ankles loosening a bit and my hamstrings calm down. I felt myself speeding up in the last 2 miles and some quick pace checks confirmed that I was at a respectable 10-ish minute mile. I was satisfied that I was doing alright until I checked the average pace at the end of the run. 11-minute mile. Well shit. I guess I had been dragging more than I realized in the beginning. How is this possible when just this past Saturday I had no trouble doing 9 miles at a 10:41 pace?

Getting used to any new schedule can be tough. This one has made me just plain tired. It seems like any free moment I have, I am working out. I feel sore all the time. Sleeping in on Saturday is a thing of the past, since everything needs to be planned around the long run. I’m not saying I’m not enjoying the training, because I really am loving it, extra workouts and all. But this Monday morning, the weight of it came down on me hard. Exhaustion. Fatigue. I may be tired, but I continue to move forward. I’m coming for you Chicago – in less than 3 months!

Run in the morning

Independence day hill workout

Hills at Breakheart

“The road to freedom must be uphill, even if it is arduous and frustrating.”
-Andrew Goodman

What did you do for the the 4th of July?

As much as I wanted to sleep in on my day off from work, I decided to take advantage of the extra time and do my hill workout instead of trying to squeeze it in on Wednesday. The training plan called for 6 miles of hills. Yippee.

Hills of Breakheart

I asked my training buddy where we could do hills and she mentioned Breakheart Reservation, which is a public recreation area in the towns of Saugus & Wakefield MA. It has a few trails and of course quite a few hills. There are some wooded trails, but there are also some paved ones as well. The “outer loop” was about 2.9 miles, so it was easy to get the 6 miles in doing two loops (with some extra backtracking of course). That morning, me and a few training friends headed up nice and early to get after those hills. The first loop felt pretty good – the hills start off right away and there was a lot of uphill to make me work. We got a little confused at one of the intersections, unsure where the trail would take us back to the beginning. We were about to head in the wrong direction, when our other friend came up and pointed us to the right place. After the first loop, I felt confident I wouldn’t get lost, despite being directionallychallenged in general. The second loop, felt better since I knew what to expect but I also felt stronger going up the hills. When I reached the end, I was at 5.7 miles so I kept going a little ways up and back to make sure my watch hit 6.0.

Hills of Breakheart
Some water scenery at Breakheart Reservation. What a beautiful morning for a run!

The scenery in the reservation was quite nice – lots of trees and some water views as well.  It was fun trying out a new place to run, plus the tree cover was much appreciated on such a warm day. As much as I complain, I actually like running hills. They are a great way to challenge yourself and I know they make me a stronger runner. As I was powering through on that last loop I kept thinking “I am a warrior!” Of course it could have been because I had the song “The Warrior” by Scandal playing on my phone while I was running (I swear it was on shuffle).

Breakheart Reservation
Some people were actually enjoying the 4th of July holiday at Breakheart while we were training. Barbecues and coolers were everywhere, which felt a little cruel.

Even though Chicago is considered a fairly flat marathon, I think adding in these hill workouts will be beneficial to my marathon training. Plus I don’t think there is a greater high than after you finish a big hill workout.

“Victory is mine!”

Breakheart hills

Week two: Pain

“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.”
-They Might Be Giants

When you undergo a new training regimen, you are bound to feel a few extra aches and pains as your body adjusts. For week two, I started to feel muscles that I had forgotten about and my joints reminded me that I am not as young as I used to be. These are all good feelings, even though they are feelings of pain. Pain can be a good reminder that you are pushing yourself further. That your body is changing. Pain can make you feel alive again.

Not all pain is created equal. I happen to battle migraines, which can be pretty incapacitating. This week was a bad one for my head. They are predictable for me since they are hormonal, so I developed a system to help me combat this misery. I wake up an hour earlier for a “migraine check.” If I am in pain, I take my migraine pill and lay back down for an hour. If I feel fine, I go right back to sleep like nothing is wrong to wake up at my normal time. The medication leaves me sluggish and nauseated, but it’s better than the pain that surges through my eye. Adding a migraine check to my new marathon training schedule was difficult in that it had me waking up at an ungodly hour. As difficult as it was, I didn’t miss any of my morning training runs, despite waking up with a migraine twice.

But as difficult as migraine pain is, it’s nothing compared to the emotional pain I had to combat this week. I sometimes struggle with depression and although recently I have felt okay for the most part, there are times where I still get small bouts of it. I don’t know what triggers it. I had been feeling emotionally off for a few weeks, but suddenly this week my thoughts turned into full on despair. It is usually accompanied by a physical pain as well,  a dull ache just under my rib cage that sometimes extends to my limbs and joints as well. I was able to keep it together for most of the day, but when I got home I ended up sobbing on the couch. Most people in my life don’t know this is going on, because I tend to hide it from everyone. So many people throughout my life have told me how much my depression hurts them and causes them pain, so for the most part I keep it to myself. The week dragged on and I went to bed on Friday feeling like a part of me was missing. I’m not sure what was going on but I had to find a way to reverse this funk I was in.

Saturday morning came and my alarm was like a slap in the face. Migraine check was on and I could feel one side of my head screaming. I took my pill and lay in the dark room, cursing that I had to get up and run on such a hot day, that I had to do ten miles, that I already felt defeated in my life before I even started the day. Fear, paranoia and anxiety all wanted occupancy in my mind. I slowly opened my eyes, rolled out of bed and began to put my running clothes on. Dull ache was present in my stomach, but I knew that this pain was okay to push through. With each mile I ran, the ache was less and less and I felt the pain in my head melt away as well. I finished my ten miles feeling better than I started – if nothing else good happened that day I had at least accomplished something. I walked back to my car with a slight limp, feeling the soreness in my legs and hip and every blister on my toes. I never felt better.

Week one: You gotta start somewhere

quoted shirt

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
-Fred DeVito

Shortly after I started running, my sister made me a tank top with this quote as an inspirational message for me to keep challenging myself. I wear it every so often when times are tough or when I just need a motivation boost. I’m not sure she even knows how much it means to me. I wore it to my first ever running club track meet, since I am pretty challenged when it comes to track workouts. So of course, I made sure to wear it during my first week of marathon training.

Last week, I officially started my training program. I’m mostly working off a program from Marathon Training Academy that my friend Lori (who I am mostly training with) sent me. I won’t go into the boring details but for each week it has 3 days of running (1 regular run, 1 speed workout, 1 long run), 2-3 days of cross-training and at least 1 straight rest day. This is a 16-week training program, but assumes you have been running pretty regularly for about 6 months to a year. This is mostly true for me, with the exception of a month here and there taken off for injury recovery.

First…the challenge: I haven’t run 20-30 miles a week for a really long time, so I wasn’t sure how my body was going to respond this week. I have to say, it’s been adjusting pretty well. My first run on Monday was an easy 5 miles after work. I kept it at a slow pace as I didn’t want to over do it the first day. However, I did pick up the pace for the last 1.5 miles since storm clouds were rolling in. Luckily I made it inside before the lightning and torrential downpour hit, but I decided I should make more of an effort to get my run in before work. I did an additional track work out on Tuesday which gave me some extra mileage for the week, but then I got worried about doing too much too fast and re-injuring my tendon. My first speed workout was a mile repeat exercise for 7 miles, consisting of fast miles and short recoveries. The workouts felt good, but I was starting to feel like half my week was spent sweating. I actually ended up taking 3 showers one day, no joke.

My body seemed up to these new speed challenges and I’m looking forward to see how much I can push. My first long run was on a very humid Saturday with my friend Lori. We patiently completed the 8 miles, as if we were swimming through the damp, sticky air. For cross-training I added in two 45 minute cycling workouts – I was going to earn that rest day! All my hard work made it worthwhile to sleep in on Sunday and spend the day walking around Gloucester with some friends. Not bad for a first week, I’m really hoping I can keep this up. I want this experience to change me.

Bike path
On the Minuteman bike path, after completing some of my mile repeats. The red face means I’ve been working.

My main training worry is my schedule and fitting these extra workouts into my already busy life. I just have to make some adjustments and give things up. There are friends I probably won’t see for awhile and running will be like my second job, but I’m up for the challenge. If I can get through all this, I will change into something I can be really proud of – a marathon runner.

And thanks again sis, for top & the quote.

 


A picture perfect race: The Newport 10-miler

Newport, RI

“I keep on hoping we’ll eat cake by the ocean”
-DNCE

Race bib for 10-miler
Some of the schwiggity-schwag from the race. We also got some Kind bars and a can of seltzer.

I’m a little behind in my blogging as this race took place on June 4th, but here we go! Since the spring half-marathon plan blew up in my face, I decided to jump start my marathon training with this 10-miler I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now. The race promised a fairly flat course (not true) and some amazing scenery (true). It did not disappoint visually as the course took you from Fort Adams State Park, down by the ocean, through some gorgeous mansions and ended through the archway into Fort Adams itself. Definitely one of my favorite courses to date! Despite being tired from vacation and my lack of training due to my injury, I had a great time. Well by great time, I mean I had fun – my actual race time was just okay.

Starting Line
The starting line. With a 7:30 AM start it hadn’t gotten too hot at this point.

You really couldn’t ask a better day for a June race. There was sunshine and blue sky, but the air still felt cool with barely any humidity. I was thankful for this since I had been slightly dreading this race due to the fact that I had not trained for it at all. I couldn’t remember the last time I had run more than 6 miles (but I do remember snow was on the ground). Nervous energy aside, I made my way to the starting line. I decided to run in wave 2, recommended for people running between a 9 & 11-minute pace.

Mile 2 of Newport 10miler
Mile 2: There is something about that first ocean view when you are running a distance race.

Mile 1-3

I had to keep telling myself to slow down. I wasn’t listening. All my nerves bolted me ahead in the first half mile before I realized what I was doing. Slow it down! Distance! I had to keep telling myself. My feet finally got the message around mile 2, just in time for these wonderful ocean views.

running on ocean drive
Caught on camera! Pretty sure this was in the first 3 miles of the race.

Mile 4-6

The course stayed on Ocean Ave for a few more miles and running along the coast was incredibly scenic. Unfortunately I was starting to feel the effects of the sun beating down and I wished for some shade. As much as I love running next to the ocean, I was a little relived when we turned down Bellevue Ave, where many of the famous Newport mansions are located.

Mile 7-9

Finally some shade – and a change of scenery. Here you are running through what looks like a perfectly designed neighborhood with houses you would only be able to take a tour in. I can’t remember which mansions we actually ran by, but I believe I saw the driveway for Rosecliff, where I actually toured a few years back. Movies have been filmed there such as True Lies & The Great Gatsby (the 1974 film). After another turn took us running through an area with more average-sized homes and schools, which was very pleasant. There were open fields and trees that seemed perfectly placed. I was definitely feeling tired at this point and my lack of training began to get the better of me. When I finally saw the sign to turn into Fort Adams, some relief washed over me.

Pell bridge in background
I’m actually not sure which mile this picture was taken at, but it’s a great shot with the Newport Pell bridge in the background.

Mile 10

The relief was short lived with the quad-killer hill going into Fort Adams State Park. At this point, I was very happy I wasn’t running a half marathon. The last mile seemed to take it’s toll as I tried to ramp up my speed a little. The coolness factor of the race increased as I ran through the fort walls into Fort Adams for the final stretch to the finish line. I had a reach goal of finishing in 1.5 hours, but half way through the race I knew that was a pipe dream. I changed my goal to 1 hour 40 min, and then during the very hilly mile 8 changed it to…whatever just enjoy this race and stop thinking about your time.

finish line
The finish line in Fort Adams

In the end, I finished in 1 hour 39 min so I wasn’t too far off. Technically this is a PR, since this was my first actual 10-mile race. I have to say, I really like this distance and I think I might try to seek out more 10-mile races. It has the feel of a half marathon, but less chance of hitting “the wall” or just getting sick of the course in general. It’s enough of a challenge distance-wise, but easier to pace than a 10K.

after part in the fort
Finishing inside the fort was very cool, and they had a really great space for an after party.

As for this particular race, I loved it and would definitely run it again and also recommend it to others. The race and information was very well organized, the location for the course couldn’t have been better and the after party was well-run as well. Race photos were free as well as the first post-run beer. Of course the weather really helped in making this a great day. All in all, this was a moving postcard of a race, and a great way for me to kick off my distance training.

My finish line shot
The infamous race finish photo! Most of mine look the same, always gasping for air.

In a strange land: Running on vacation

pier

“I can’t think of anything that excites a great sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”
-Bill Bryson

There are few things better than a long vacation. Especially when you haven’t taken one in a few years. My significant other & I had been planning on taking a semi-extended international vacation for a while and now it was finally time – 5 days in England and 6 days in Iceland. As I planned out what sights I wanted to see, what clothes to bring…the question came up – am I going to be running while I am there?

Since I technically already had a “vacation” from running when I had my inflammation injury and I knew I needed to start marathon training when I got back, I made the decision to take my running sneakers. My goal was to do at least one run in each country. This would hopefully help combat some of the vacation calories I was bound to encounter as well as keep me in decent shape for the 10-miler happening 4 days after I get back. My travel schedule was pretty tight, so I knew it would be a challenge to add one more thing to the agenda. I was determined to try.

Pier
There was a nice running & bike path along the beach. It was best to go early, around 6 AM, before the crowds made it difficult.

The first chance I was able to get a morning run in was about 4 days in, at Brighton beach on the south shore of England. As much as I wanted to sleep in that morning, I decided instead to tie up my running shoes and take an early morning run by the Brighton Pier. I was able to get in about 3 miles, just as the sun was starting to warm up the day. The weather ended up being really nice and almost summer-like while we were there.

pier
Brighton Pier, as seen on my way back.

My SO joined me on the run, which was nice. I was glad we went out early enough to enjoy the view of the pier before the crowds settled in.

crab
The roadkill looks a lot different when you are by the beach.

The path was pretty flat as you can imagine, but with some of the construction, I went back and forth between running on the path by the beach and the sidewalk. This gave me a chance to sprint up some very short hills, which felt pretty good.

pier run
Managed to get some hill work in as well!

As for running in Iceland, it didn’t end up happening. The roads seemed a bit dangerous for running, since there were no sidewalks and not much shoulder on the side to run. This was a disappointment since the scenery was so amazing, it would have made such a great backdrop. I also had some difficulties when I fell off a horse while the saddle was being adjusted and landed right on my hip. This caused some pain and stiffness, and when you factor in two straight days of rain, it just wasn’t meant to be. However we did have one very active day which started with an 8 km hike to some airplane wreckage.

The long windy trek to the airplane wreckage. It was like a death march through the desert, but gave us some much needed exercise.
Air plane wreckage
And here is the airplane (with me inside)…so glad when we finally found it.

Later the same day we did an even more difficult 6 km hike with steep hills and amazing views, ending at a natural hot spring.

Hiking
Hiking to a natural hot spring. The trail was actually very scenic.
hiking
Just soaking it all in…while actually soaking. I can’t believe how much it rained!

We were incredibly tired from the first hike, nonstop sight-seeing and just the general dreariness of the weather. But I forced myself and my SO to push on, as I really wanted to see this natural hot spring. I have to say despite being cold and wet on both journeys, it was definitely worth the trek. This was something I had never experienced before and not something you find too often.

Hot Spring
The natural hot spring that we were trekking to. Felt nice to take a dip in warm water after all the rain and wind we encountered.

After a hot soak in the river, we were both satisfied and loving life. The only thing missing was a few post hike beers. Maybe next time.

soaking in the hot river
Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

Soaking in the river also loosened up my hip a bit, which made the hike back a little easier on my body and also helped prepare me for my post-vacation run schedule. Now that I’m back, it’s back to the grind. Back to a real running schedule. I’m so grateful to have been able to take this vacation and have these amazing experiences. Now I feel I have the energy to face my marathon training refreshed and ready to work.

Two vans, one course: Cape Cod Ragnar

Start Line

“Why don’t you leave me alone, yeah yeah. Well I feel so broke up, I wanna go home.”
-The Beach Boys

So what did you all do last weekend?

Me? Well I ran a 190 mile relay race with 11 other teammates, didn’t shower for 36 hours and got pretty much two hours of sleep. In other words, I had the time of my life.

Side of Van

“Why would you ever want to do that? I have no desire.” This is what most people say when I talk about my Ragnar experiences. I guess if I were to think rationally about it, I might say the same thing. But there is something about these extreme team races that makes us keep coming back for more. For those that do not know what a Ragnar race is, it’s basically a giant relay race, usually around 200 miles, with 12 teammates in two vans. People jump in and out of the vans when it’s their section of the relay, or leg as we call it, and pass a slap bracelet to the next runner as we all move through the course. When all runners in one van have run a leg, the bracelet is passed to the second van and the process repeats.. Each person has three legs to run, which can range from 3 miles to almost 10 miles. It is an incredible exercise in logistics planning, time management and mental endurance. There is time to eat and sleep, but that takes a back seat to making sure you are at the right exchange and that you don’t let your teammates down.

Team on beach

This was the third time I have run a Ragnar race, but the first time I had done one in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The race actually starts in Hull, on the south shore, continues to the Cape and ends at Provincetown, right at the tip of the arm. We passed numerous beaches and vacations spots and traveled through state parks and neighborhoods. Sometimes we could smell the ocean and sometimes we were smelling something else that was not so great. I was the second runner in the relay, which means I was in the first van to start. The first runner took off at Nantasket beach in Hull and my nerves immediately kicked in. There is so much to this race, it’s hard to stay focused. The anticipation while waiting for your runner to come in can cause a bit of anxiety . You see that person coming for a split second and realize you have to get your watch ready, get your music queued up and shed any extra clothes you may have before you start your run. It’s nerve-wracking knowing you have to do this quickly, while mentally preparing for a distance run in a place you are unfamiliar with.

The Team
The team, before we ran 190 miles.

The first leg: Hingham I hardly knew ye

I grab the bracelet and I take off like a shot – this was mainly because of the nerves. I immediately slow down because I realize, I have no idea where I am going. I see a cop and he tells me I have to wait to cross the road. I haven’t even run 0.1 miles yet! He’s giving me some options on how to cross the road and it makes no sense to me at that moment. “Do I just go over there?” I asked as I pointed to what looked like a path parallel to the road. He said yes. Okay, traffic is stopped and I take off again, but then quickly remember this leg is just about 5 miles and I need to pace myself a little. I see no other runners around me which makes me nervous. I pass through a strange intersection with no signage and I full on panic. Unsure what to do I slowed down a bit, but then saw a runner down the path, far in the distance. I hope and pray he is part of this race and I try to catch up to him. I’m following well behind him for a while but then another cop stops me at an intersection and the runner is long gone. I need to wait for the light. &@#%!! When I get to cross, I start cursing that there are no signs and no runners to follow. I’m on my own and I keep going for the next few miles.

Finally a sign! And other vans! Okay I am going the right way. At some point I turn onto some trail where I actually pass one person. Now I’m feeling stronger and can push a little more. I see the one mile to go sign – success! Then all of a sudden, one giant hill – so cruel to have this towards the end of the leg. At this point, it’s all good and I make my way up, still feeling strong. There is a van parked at the top and one guy cheering. He yells to me that when I turn that corner it’ll be all downhill. Oh thank God! I turn the corner. More uphill. Great! This guy lied to me – I’m not sure if he thought that was funny or if he really had no idea. Small downhill and then more uphill.  I’m almost there and I see one of my teammates cheering me on. This gives me motivation to push hard and sprint the final distance and hand off to runner 3. Leg one is done, 4.9 miles at 9:40 average pace. And I did not get lost. Not bad for having to stop twice for traffic.

A toast to running
With leg one done, we finally are able to get some food and drink at a pub in Buzzards Bay.

Leg 2: Late night Sandwich

It was around 10 PM that I started my next leg in Sandwich, MA. We were definitely on Cape Cod at this point, so moving in the right direction. The nerves are gone. I had a blood sugar crash earlier that evening since the first time I had real food all day was 4 PM. By the time our van started up again, I was feeling refreshed and properly fueled.

I picked this leg because my aunt and uncle lives in Sandwich and I would be running right near their house. Of course I did not pay attention to the elevation gain and that I would be running uphill for over 2 miles straight. Sandwich also forbids the use of headphones, so no music. I was okay with this, thinking it might be good to be alone with my thoughts.  Unfortunately, the thoughts that ended up running through my head were: Wow, this is a big hill. I am still climbing this hill. I wonder if I have ever ran uphill this much at once. Why am I still going uphill? When is this hill going to end? This hill just keeps going. What kind of town has a hill this big?

second leg
My second leg – notice the elevation gain

I made a promise to myself that I was not going to stop and walk any part of it and I was successful with this goal. However, I did notice my pace dropping significantly. I looked down and saw 9:40 and said, “okay I’m close to pace.” But then I started seeing 10, then 10:30, then in the 11’s…I just stopped looking.  A few runners passed me and I couldn’t catch up. I just needed to get to the top.

When things started to level off, I saw a group of people off to the side. I could not make them out in the darkness, but I head a cowbell and I knew. It was my parents and my aunt and uncle who had come to cheer me on! I started waving my arms and I saw them all wave back as I made my way to them. I spent a few minutes speaking with them and cursing that hill I just climbed. My dad gave me a little water and then I was on my way. The course flattened out (not much downhill unfortunately) and suddenly there were street lights and businesses so I could see better. I was able to start picking up some speed at this point and pushed on to the exchange, which ended up being a giant mud puddle that I almost didn’t see. I went around it, almost tripping over a rock as I made my way to the next runner. 5.4 miles running around a 10:18 pace – a bit slower that I wanted, but I can forgive myself because of the 2 mile hill. My night run out of the way, I focused on dancing for my teammates with lights hooked to my fingers and trying to find some food to purchase at one of the community fundraisers.

Bob Ross paints our picture
Some of the other vans are quite creative, like the Bob Ross All-Stars team. So nice of Bob to paint a lovely picture of me and my teammate.

Our van finished up around 1:30 AM, which was to be expected. All of us felt like we could sleep for a week, but unfortunately time is at a premium. By the time we pulled into the exchange to settle in for the night, we had about 2 hours until we had to start getting ready for the next leg. Crunched up in the van and without a blanket, I think I maybe got around 1.5 hours. Sleep is overrated anyway.

Leg 3: Nickerson State Park is the 9th circle of hell

My alarm beeps at 4:30 AM for the teammates sleeping in the van and we are back at it. From the text messages from van 2, we predict our first runner will go out around 6:20. Breakfast is a granola bar and no coffee since I will be running around 7 AM. I don’t need any digestive issues on my last run of the weekend. Since I had gotten that large hill out of the way, I was looking forward to a final easy 5.3 mile run through a state park.

This is the time during Ragnar when everything starts to break down. Everyone is obviously over tired. While there are periods of loopiness, people are more agitated in general. Small things can easily get on one’s nerves. You start to only think of yourself and your own needs. At one point I was told to wait outside the van while someone in the van was getting ready and it had started to mist out. All I could think about was how cold I was – why should I be uncomfortable? But everyone is thinking of their own comfort at that moment, they can’t help it. It’s important to find humor wherever it can be found so you don’t fly off the handle over some mundane problem. This is where your mental strength is tested and you spend a lot of energy keeping it all together.

The air was cool and dewy when I started out early that morning on a very pleasant rail trail. I remember wondering if people would be out on their morning jog or ride, not knowing about this race. Suddenly there was a sign to turn, but I also saw some runners coming back. This threw my exhausted mind off a bit and I paused for a second as the runner behind me let me know to turn right and the rest of the route was for runners coming back. Now I was on a wooded trail and the hills picked up a bit. I saw runners coming back so I figured this might be an out-and-back path. But it kept going. Eventually it turned onto a paved path inside Nickerson State Park and a volunteer shouted to me that I was almost finished. How could that be when I had over 2 miles left? This angered me. On this path, things really took a turn. Steep uphills, then another steep uphill, eventually some downhill, but then more uphill. Another runner that was coming from the other direction shouted “You’re almost there.” “Stop saying that!” I shouted back. More steep hills, they never seemed to end. My body started to feel the exhaustion and I could feel my tendon injury throbbing. I turned a corner and saw another hill. Defeated, I began to walk up some of the hills. The pain in my back and legs were not as bad as the disappointment I felt for slowing down so much. I was not going to be close to pace.

“Keep it up! You’re almost there!”  Grrrrr.

No….pant pant.…More…huff huff….HILLLLLS!!!

After some short walks, I began to push again, knowing I had less than a mile to complete. Then I saw it – the “one mile to go sign.” My face crumbled. 5.3 was going to turn into 5.5 on this hellish course. I pushed some more, uphill and down again, needing to be done this race. Bad thoughts began to enter my head of how I was letting my team down because I was not as strong as I wanted to be. I am my own worst enemy at this point. I start walking again, even though I am almost 0.1 from the finish. But then I don’t see a finish line. Now I am in a full on panic thinking somehow I messed up the course. I start to think this road will never end and I will have to run forever. But then in the distance I hear some cheering. Then I see a volunteer ahead of me telling me to turn left. There is a parking lot and my team is there and I hand off that cursed bracelet. All my emotions bubble up like a volcano and spill out. “That f#&*!^@ sucked!” I yelled and then burst into tears. All my leftover anxiety, fear and disappointment released at once as my teammates came over to comfort me. My outburst was short lived as I realized that I was now done with my legs! Nothing left but supporting my teammates, resting my legs and eating whatever I could find. I finished up 5.56 miles (not 5.28) at just under an hour at 59:56 with a 10:46 average pace. Ouch.

Checking off the last leg
Last leg done! That moment of relief that it’s almost over.

 

Eastbound & down: reaching P-town

The Beach

As the runners in our van each finished their legs, you could feel the overall mood lifting. The scenery was getting more beach-like and the sun was peaking through the clouds. We began having fun at the exchanges with jump photos and playing “red rover” when switching runners. Soon our van was done and waiting in P-town for the other team. Food tasted better, the air smelled fresher and I almost didn’t feel the exhaustion that had grabbed hold of me earlier. Then the moment we all anticipated finally arrived, and we heard our team name called and we all crossed that finish line together. There were tears of joy, hugs of relief and almost a slight depression that it was all over. The biggest realization of all was that we had all accomplished this as a team – we all pulled through during our most difficult moments and darkest thoughts to complete this goal. We never let each other down.

Metals

So why do we keep coming back? Whenever I look back at these races, the memories are like no other running experience. There is no way to describe the joy of 6 people laughing at the same time until their stomachs’ ache. Or seeing your teammates cheer you on with wild enthusiasm after pushing yourself to a breaking point. Or making new friends by spending time with people you may have run with but never really spoke that much with. This is what I’ll remember when I look back at this race and I will want to do it all again.

 

I’m not sure if a race like this helps in preparing for a marathon. However, I do have an idea of what I am capable of and what some of my limits might be, both mentally and physically. It also made me really appreciative that I will have so many people from my running club supporting me in Chicago. There is no better cure for the race blues than being a part of a supportive team.

Team at the end
A little worse for wear – the team after finishing 190 or so miles!

 

Marathon Monday: Christmas morning for runners

Mystics Crush Boston

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
-Kathrine Switzer

I woke up just as it was getting light outside. The air was warmer than to be expected on a typical April morning. It was only 7:30 AM and it felt like summer vacation outside. I got out of bed, feeling heavy with anticipation. “It’s today!” I thought, “Boston Marathon day!”

The Boston Marathon didn’t always excite me. Even though it technically takes place on a holiday, I always had to work and I never had the desire to stand in a crowd and watch runners. Even when I first became a runner, I only had mild interest in it. In 2013, I was unemployed and living in Hopkinton, so I decided to walk down to the start of the race. I was taken in by all the positive energy and I started to see why this race was so special. We all know that race ended in a tragedy that I’m not going to get into here, but it did give me a new appreciation for the event. A year and a half ago, when I first joined my running club I found out that the club gets bibs for the Boston Marathon that it gives away via lottery to hopeful members. You don’t need to have a qualifying marathon time and you don’t have to raise thousands of dollars for charity. It was the first time I realized that I could actually have a shot at running the marathon.

The first time I witnessed our club marathon drawing, I had no desire to ever run a marathon. That was until I got caught up in the inspirational stories, dedicated training and send-off parties. For the most recent marathon drawing last November, I did not feel ready to run a marathon. Again I declined to put my name in, but felt so inspired by the club members that were picked and by the other members that got their opportunities other ways that I decided to volunteer to be on the Hospitality Suite committee. On Marathon Day, our club reserves a hotel room, stocks it with food and drinks and provides a place for runners and their families to relax after the marathon. I figured it was a great way to support my teammates and still be a part of this historic race.

City of Boston
Not a great picture, but this is the view from the suite

I work downtown Boston, so I travel into the city every day. But this day was different – it felt like Christmas morning. I got to meet a few friends that were on the committee, rush around last minute to get some party food and set up a pretty sweet hotel room with the marathon on TV in the background. The room was hopping all afternoon, so I didn’t get a chance to go outside to the race. But every so often, we would see a Mystic Runner on TV and everyone would erupt in loud cheers. Runners came in to the room, one by one. We fed them and made sure they could have a shower if they wanted one. We truly wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable after putting their body through such torture.

Watching the marathon on TV, you get to see all the inspirational stories. The man who ran the whole way holding the American flag after he lost his leg. All the people battling injuries, who just wanted that one shot of finishing this prestigious marathon. I saw a lot of victories as people crossed the finish line and thought to myself “This will be me in six months in Chicago!”

Maybe 2018?

But then I also saw the difficulties – people being carried across the finish line, people collapsing mid-race, disappointment across some runners’ faces. I started to think, “Oh no, what if that’s me in six months in Chicago!” There is no way to know how you will do when you run such a distance. All you can do is listen to your body, run smart for how you feel and hope for the best. I am really hoping for the best in October.

Running the hospitality suite was actually hard work. I was on my feet all day which made my tendonitis flare up a bit. However, it was an honor to help out my friends who were running that day. I was able to feel the energy and be in the city for one of the biggest runner holidays around. I feel proud that I work and live near such an amazing city and that I could actually get the opportunity to run Boston one day. Many people said to me, “This will be you next year.” Well, maybe, who knows. But first, I have Chicago to look ahead to.

Mystics Crush Boston