On Pacing: The Garden Spot Half Marathon

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20140416-134232.jpgThis past Saturday, I found myself lining up at the start of a race. A half-marathon. Everything was the same: Garmin watch on my wrist, Newtons on my feet, Lululemon shorts, and a race bib…but I had a second race bib on my back. The bib on my back read “Half Marathon Pacer, 1:45, Allison”. Instead of my iPod, I had a yard stick adorned with a 1:45 time goal. I was wearing a shirt provided to me by the race director that read “Half Marathon Pacer”. I’ve run races without racing before (like the Knoxville Marathon three weeks ago) and I’ve paced friends in a variety of distances (the Buffalo Marathon, for example). This was the first time I was tasked with the official job of being a pacer. It was an incredible experience to have the opportunity to help others achieve their goals this weekend. Helping others was undoubtedly the best way to wrap up my training for Boston next week.

20140416-134549.jpgThe race I paced was the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon in New Holland, Pennsylvania. If that race wasn’t timed so close to Boston, I would love to return to the course and race it. Don’t get me wrong – the course is pretty hilly. It’s mostly rolling hills, with several longer climbs. The climbs are mainly at miles 2, 4, and 8 – with mile eight being the toughest of them all. After mile eight, it feels like a net downhill to the finish. There are still some gradual inclines, but nothing significant. If I were racing that course, I’d want to run negative splits. I’d kick up the pace right after the climb at mile eight and hold it (or get faster) through the finish.

I didn’t know what to expect from course since I never ran that race, and never really paced before. If I have the opportunity to pace again next year, I’d do things a little differently now that I’ve experienced the course. My strategy was to keep even splits, but try to bank a little time to account for the monster mile eight hill that everyone was talking about. For the most part, that’s what I did and it seemed to work. Next year, I’d worry less about the big hill and banking time, since the course really does get easier after mile eight. I started with a group of runners, and most of them actually ended up finishing ahead of me, using me to pace them until they were ready to pick it up. The race also has a marathon option, and it runs along the same course until the half turns and heads back. For the first seven miles or so, I had a lot of the 3:30 marathoners running with me because there was no 3:30 pacer.

After the turn around, I didn’t have a large group of people anymore. I spent the second half of the race running with one or two people every so often. It was really fun to talk to people and hear why they were running the race, and I enjoyed running at a comfortable pace and experiencing Amish country. Speaking of Amish country: there were a number of Amish people who ran the race, and they were wearing the same clothes you’d see them in if you stopped by their houses. I really admired that. It was pretty warm, and the clothing they wear is not very breathable. Pretty impressive.

20140416-134220.jpgMy goal was to cross the finish line in 1:45. I started my Garmin as I crossed the start and stopped it as I crossed the finish, and it registered exactly 1:45:00! I was nervous because I was using the same Garmin I used in Knoxville, which was on the fritz that day. Luckily, it held out – but it did register the course as .11 miles long. My chip time was recorded as 1:44:57, so I felt like I did my job. I was so nervous that I’d be significantly under or over the goal time but it worked out better than I could have hoped.

For those looking to run this race, I highly recommend it. The race director does a superb job, from the expo right through to the award ceremony. The shirts are nice (short-sleeved tech tees), and the swag bag includes a matching hat. For a fee, runners and their families can participate in the pasta dinner buffet the night before. The post race food spread is top-notch, complete with oatmeal, an omelette station, sandwiches, shakes, smoothies, chocolate milk and more. You can really tell that runner is in charge of this event.

We All Run Boston

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20140410-134307.jpgUsually, I get excited about a week before a marathon and start babbling on and on and on and on and on about everything from what my pacing strategy is going to be to what I’m going to eat in the entire week before the race and what I’ll probably wear in the event that the weather does [insert every single weather possibility here] . My next race is Boston, but I’m not thinking about any of that. I’m thinking about how thankful I am to be able to participate in the race again this year. Sure, if every variable were in my favor and goes according to plan, I have goals that I hope to achieve. Who doesn’t? But this year’s Boston is so much bigger than all of that.

A few days ago, Mark H. and I met at Bart’s house to film a segment with WFMZ about running Boston this year (it’s going to be aired on the morning of the race!). We were interviewed by a reporter, and then they filmed us running and interacting. I wasn’t very prepared for the interview. I didn’t know what to expect, and I hadn’t really thought much about what I would say if asked my thoughts about the race this year. Everyone knows that the race is going to be a huge ordeal. But my thoughts about going back? The first word that came to my mind was pride. I am running Boston because I am proud to be an American citizen, and I am proud to be part of the running community. I’m proud of the 35,000 other runners that worked hard and will run the course with me. I’m proud of my family and friends for putting up with me as I beat myself up and often flake out on plans to qualify and train for the race. I’m proud of myself for overcoming a difficult year of injuries to get to this point again. I didn’t say it quite as eloquently in the interview, but it all boils down to that one word. Pride. Boston pride.

After the interview, I began thinking about why I run this race each year and what draws me back to Boston. I never really thought much about that before. I mean, it Boston. If you qualify, you go…right? Bo (the reporter) asked why the race is important to me, and I babbled on about how the city of Boston and it’s locals are amazing hosts, and how it’s a huge accomplishment for me. Blah, blah, blah. I wish I prepared a little better, because after having some time to reflect on my past three years in Boston, I know exactly what this race means to me and why I am running again this year.

In the past, I ran Boston because I worked hard and earned my qualifying spot. I wouldn’t pass up my chance to toe the line in Hopkinton. This year, instead of reflecting what I had to do to get there, I am running for those who won’t be there. I run for the victims affected by last years tragedy. For those who lost their lives, and for those who were injured. I run for the loved ones they left behind to grieve. It’s been almost one year since their loss and I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult April 15th will be for them. I will run with prayers for the victims and families to find peace.

I also used to run this race as a “status” thing. It’s Boston. Just as Bart said, it’s one of the most prestigious finish lines in the world. This year, instead of running the streets of Boston because it’s “cool”, I run for the city of Boston. The city that welcomes us with open arms year after year for this iconic road race. For the men and women who put their life on the line protecting the city each and every day, but also during last year’s horrific events. For the service men and women who lost their lives while trying to take the terrorists into custody. I run for them. I will run with great thanks to the city that supports the BAA, the marathon, the runners, and spectators. I will run with appreciation that the tradition of Marathon Monday will continue.

Running down Boylston Street and crossing the finish line in Boston one of the craziest, most exciting places. You hear runner’s talking about a “runner’s high”…well, if you really want to see what that’s all about, just go to the finish line at the Boston Marathon. There is really nothing like it. There are people who ran last year’s race but never had the opportunity to experience the finish line. This year, I am going to cross the finish line for those who never had their moment on Boylston Street last year. For those runners who had maybe just a few hundred feet, and for the ones who still had miles left to go.They will be on my mind as I run from Hopkinton to Boston in hopes that they all get their moment. I will run with drive and determination to finish the race for those who couldn’t.

Some will not have the chance to make it to the starting line because they are currently injured, were injured while training to qualify, or were turned away because they were a few seconds short of the cut off. This year, I run for those who can’t. For my friend, Cassie, who put in all of the hard work but ended up with an injury preventing her to run. For my friends who are just as passionate (if not more) as myself about running but just haven’t been able to run a qualifying time yet. For my friends who busted their ass, qualified but just not by enough time to get into the race. In the past, I was a squeaker myself and can’t imagine how heartbroken I would have been if my entry would have been denied. I will run with humility and with compassion for those who can’t.

In the past, I’ve had bumps and bruises along the way of qualifying and training. I’ve trained for this race with stress fractures and had to aqua jog for weeks on end, and I’ve run the race with injuries. I’ve whined about how I just want one year on this course where everything is 100%. I’ve come to realize that for a perfect race, all of the variables have to be perfect – and most of those variables are completely out of your control. So of course I’d like to go and throw down at Boston this year and run a good race. But it isn’t about that this year. It’s about rebuilding a tradition in our country that was tarnished by an act of terrorism. It’s about showing that our country is resilient, and our running community is stronger than ever. It’s about remembering the victims and showing love for this incredible city that so graciously hosts us, year after year. It’s about unity, hard work, and dedication. It’s about Boston pride.

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Race Review: Knoxville Marathon (Tennessee)

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After 28 marathons, it finally happened. My Garmin crapped out on me.

I’m not sure if it’s toast, but I jinxed myself. As we were driving down to Tennessee, I was talking about how I’ve had my Garmin 310XT since 2009 with absolutely no problems until now.  Recently, the distance on my watch is often significantly off compared to race courses and other runner’s watches. I placed it on the charger as soon as I got settled in my hotel room and headed out for dinner. Started messing with it the night before the race and to my horror, it wouldn’t turn on. I did a hard reset and it came back to life. At the starting line, turned it on…and it wouldn’t find satellites. I started the timer at the beginning of the race to at least be able to monitor elapsed time. When it found satellites several miles later, I hit lap at the nearest mile marker. You’d think it would be accurate from then on out, but it was beeping at all different crazy times. So Knoxville ended up being the race I had to run mostly by feel after relying on a watch for the past few years. It actually ended up working to my advantage.

Originally, I was shooting for an 8 minute mile for the first half, and then whatever felt good until mile 20-22. If I felt good, maybe I would pick up the pace in the last few miles. Without knowing what my pace was, I just focused on running comfortably during the entire race. If I started to feel like I was working too hard, I slowed down. I finished the race in 3:23:41 and was the 3rd female in my age group.

I realize that breaking under the 3:30 mark has been a recent accomplishment for me, so a 3:23 seems aggressive- but I don’t feel it was unreasonable. With the absence of my watch, I ran by listening to my body and by honoring how I felt. I felt good before, during and in the days following the race. The only real pace indication I had was that I was ahead of the 3:35 pacer. I ran with her for the first mile, but I wasn’t sure how far ahead of her I was as the race progressed. I knew I wasn’t running at a PR pace – I felt way too comfortable for that. 3:23 is certainly faster than I would have run with a fully functioning watch, but I was absolutely pleased with the result. My only disappointment with the whole race is that I have no real data from my watch to see if I was all over the place, or running even splits. It felt pretty even, but who knows.

Getting There

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It’s a 9 hour car ride from Allentown, but count on at least 10 if you are hydrating for a marathon. Once again, we left early in the morning on the day before the race. It’s a relatively easy drive and mainly stayed on 81 for the majority of the trip. Once you hit Knoxville, the city isn’t too difficult to navigate but parking is a little tricky. We stayed close to the expo, and the valet at our hotel clued us in to a free lot just one block away. Score.

The Expo

20140404-102524.jpgI was under the impression that this was a small race, but I discovered that it had 7,000 participants (mostly running the relay and the half) so the expo was much larger than expected. There were a good amount of vendors present, including a Newtons rep. Merchandise to commemorate the race was available for purchase, and items from previous years were available at reasonable prices. Most vendors offered your standard fuel options (GU, etc) and clothing for the race. The shirts were short-sleeved tech shirts and were given with your bib. Kind of a greenish color, really nice. The swag bags they gave out were packed with granola bars, product samples and coupons. Honestly, it was probably the biggest expo I’ve been to since Boston last year and enjoyed walking around.

The Race

I’d reviewed the elevation profile and was aware that we were in for a hilly run. Turns out, it was 1,100+ feet of climbing over the entire 26.2 miles. If you like hills, Knoxville is the marathon for you. This was my 28th marathon and 22nd state, and easily ranks among my favorite races I’ve run to date.

The race starts downtown on the Clinch Street Bridge, one of the many bridges along the course. Runners and spectators could hang out in the Holiday Inn and the Convention Center prior to the race. The weather was much colder than we’d anticipated, so being indoors before the start was an added bonus.The course is one of the prettiest I’ve experienced yet, and I can’t decide which half I liked better. The first half was more crowded because of the half marathoners and was significantly hillier. It also had some really interesting sections, like the Tennessee Greenway. The Knoxville Tennessee Greenway is part of a much larger paved trail system that runs through the entire state.

gaystbridgeThe second half of the run went through some really cool historic parts of the city. Some of the areas were residential, others took you over bridges and overpasses with spectacular views of the Tennessee River.  It wound through some industrial neighborhoods and through Old City Knoxville. As you hit mile 24, the course takes you over the Gay Street Bridge that crosses over the Tennessee River. It’s a huge, old green bridge with incredibly scenic views of the city and the river.

Market-square-north-tn1After running over bridge, you loop through the city until you hit Market Square. As the course turns the corner, it runs down the popular strip in the center of the city. There are spectators out cheering everywhere, since it’s a street full of shops and restaurants. People eating outside are cheering you on, and the end is almost in sight. After Market Square, it’s down a steep hill and into Neyland Stadium to cross the finish line.

20140404-102515.jpgThe finish line is right inside the stadium, and as you crossed you were handed your medal. There was a chute that the runners could walk to that led you underneath the stadium seats. As you left the field and entered the tunnels under the stadium seating, there was a room only for those that ran the full marathon as an individual (no relay teams). Inside, it was warm with tables and couches with a huge spread of post race food. Everything from pizza, bagels, chocolate milk, granola bars, fruit and more was available. If you checked a bag, it was located a little further down the tunnel and was easy to claim your belongings. There was a food spread for the rest of the runners upstairs, in the mezzanine outside of the stadium seating.

The race directors did an outstanding job with course support and aid stations. Live bands were located every few miles, and they were all extremely enthusiastic. There were plenty of water and GU stops, and Powerade was the sports drink offered along the course. Most of the aid stations were themed – for example, there was a “duck” zone with guys in full camo blowing duck calls. Along the entire course, there were lots of amusing signs with hilarious references – very unique ideas, too. I read almost all of them and laughed out loud as I ran by.

Knoxville is truly a unique city to experience on foot, and I’m so glad Mark talked me into adding this to my schedule. The timing of it was a little tough since it was so close to Boston, but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. If you’re looking for a race in Tennessee, add Knoxville to your list!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!

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I love chia seeds. I put them in smoothies, sprinkle them in hot cereal, toss them in coconut water, and put them in my yogurt. Chia seeds are another healthy way to get your omega-3s, and are also packed full of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. Unlike other seeds (like flax seeds, for example), they can be absorbed by the body for maximum health benefits. The coolest part? Their texture! They can absorb up to 12 times their own weight, so when added to a liquid they have gelling properties. Adding them to foods make meals more filling and satisfying without weighing you down.

I enjoy combining chia seeds with a liquid and letting it “set up” to make a “pudding”. It’s been especially helpful this winter/spring since I’ve had some early morning gym sessions as I prepare for Eagleman 70.3. By the time I get to work, I’m ready for breakfast but don’t have time to make anything – so I bring chia seed pudding. I made it last week and posted a picture and was asked for the recipe, but I didn’t really have one since I just kind of make it up!

20140325-042229.jpgChia Seed Pudding
Makes one large serving, or two small servings.

  • 1 cup of milk (I use So Delicious Vanilla Almond Plus 5x almond milk for extra protein, but any milk/dairy substitute would be fine)
  • 3 tablespoons of chia seeds (adjust for your own preferences)
  • 1 tablespoon of organic maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Toppings, such as berries, unsweetened coconut, raisins, walnuts…be creative!

Optional:

  • 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt for a creamier texture (Reduce the milk to 1/2 cup and add in 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt)

Directions:

For a tapioca-like consistency:

  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Mix well, and chill overnight.
  3. Add in your toppings, mix, and enjoy!

For a smoother consistency:

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Chill overnight.
  3. Add in your toppings, mix, and enjoy!

 

Marathon on Deck: Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

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logoThe second weekend in March kicked off the spring marathon season and opened with a successful run in South Carolina. It also began the cycle I wrote about in the fall: race, recover, build, taper, repeat. Over the next few months, I’m excited to participate in some interesting events:

  • March 30: Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon
  • April 12: Garden Spot Half Marathon (Official pacer, 1:45 group)
  • April 21: The Boston Marathon
  • May 3: Deca Dash 5K
  • May 18: Sugarloaf Marathon
  • June 8: Ironman 70.3 Eagleman

Yup, a marathon. This weekend. Already. Eeeeeek.

There was only three short weeks between Columbia and Knoxville, so my primary concern after Columbia was recovery. I spent the week following the race running slow recovery miles, swimming, biking and resting. Nevermind triathlon training and double workouts at that point-  I needed to maintain endurance and recover quickly. When week two of recovery rolled around, my goal was to get in a short speed workout and a faster paced medium long run before my final taper week. I completed a short track workout with some speedy 800s to see how it felt to pick up the pace, and a speedy/hilly 15 miler on Saturday. I’m running mainly recovery miles all week to prepare for Sunday’s marathon, with the exception of my final key workout: a seven mile run with two miles at goal marathon pace.

I went to Columbia knowing I wanted to run aggressively to determine where my fitness was, particularly on a hilly course. Columbia had a total elevation gain of 1,002 feet, and Boston has a total gain of 783 feet. Columbia was a good test to see if I could throw down on some hills. I’d like to run Boston a little more aggressively, though Boston is a tricky race to target for a PR. I know the course well, but it’s easy to go out too fast and burn out your legs early in the race. There’s also the late start time. I won’t start running until 10:25 am that day, so if the weather is going to be hot I’ll be running during the peak of it (which ended up being 90+ degrees in 2012). I’m hoping to run harder in Boston and Sugarloaf and just see what happens. I have some goals in mind, but I also realize I’m running a bunch of races in a short time frame so my primary focus will be recovery.

As for the Knoxville Marathon looming in the very near future, I am certainly not racing it. I’ve run the past few races with time goals in mind. I spent much of the fall season injured so when I finally could race, I didn’t want to hold back. Once I recovered from my last fall marathon, I added several shorter distance races to my schedule with the intention of racing them as tune up races (the Fred Lebow Half Marathon, Super Bowl Sunday 10K, and Quakertown 10 miler). I really wanted to get some hilly miles under my belt running because I know the marathons I chose for the spring were much hillier than the races I completed in the fall.

So as for Knoxville, no racing. I realize I keep repeating myself, but it’s because I need to hear it! I’m going to be tempted to run aggressively since I’m going down with some speedy friends that will be running hard that day, so the challenge with this race is going to be holding back. If I feel good on Sunday, the plan is to negative split the course as preparation for Boston. In Knoxville, I’m hoping to run about an eight minute mile for the first half of the race – mainly to practice running that pace to prepare for my debut as a pacer at the Garden Spot Half Marathon. After the half-marathon point, I am planning to gradually pick up the pace and try to run a few miles at goal marathon pace after mile 20. Or maybe not. I’m honestly more concerned with going slower for this race as preparation for Boston and Sugarloaf. I have no goal time for Knoxville, and my only goal is to check Tennessee off of my list and complete a long run. As my friends say, a “catered training run”. I’m excited!

Race Review: Run Hard Columbia (South Carolina)

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20140312-050423.jpgAs I prepared for my first 26.2 of the season, I began drafting a post last Tuesday with the intention of gathering my thoughts on the upcoming race. Including Columbia, I am signed up for four spring marathons. For Columbia, my goal was to run the pace I’ve been running on my recent long runs and just see what happens to determine what kind of shape I’m in. I never published the post.

The afternoon after I began writing it, my left hamstring/popliteal tendon (still not sure which it is) started acting really strange on my final workout before the race. I did a seven mile general aerobic run with two miles at marathon pace. I felt great; the marathon pace miles were a breeze. When I slowed down, something tightened up in the back of my left leg. It was almost to the point where I couldn’t even walk, and it felt like a cramp. I stopped, stretched, and it subsided enough that I could resume running and make it to my car, but I was pretty concerned. I skipped a few of my recovery runs after that to let it “heal” and prayed it was just my body throwing a taper tantrum. I’m still not sure it was. I never published my original post and I stopped talking about the marathon altogether because I was a kind of terrified. Ready or not, race day arrived, and it was a success!

Getting There

It’s a 10 hour car ride from Allentown, but count on at least 11 if you are hydrating for a marathon. We left the day before the race, which is risky to spend the day before a marathon cooped up in a car. In hopes of minimizing the damage, we took lots of breaks and made sure to hydrate well. It’s a relatively easy drive, with no big cities along the route to cause major traffic issues. Once you hit Columbia, the city isn’t too difficult to navigate and we found our way to the expo with ease.

The Expo and Course Preview

The expo was open the day before the race with convenient hours (12-9pm), especially for those coming in from out of town. They also had race day packet pick-up available, which is a relief in the event that a complete traveling disaster were to strike. We didn’t spend much time at the expo, just long enough to grab our bibs and packet but there were a decent number of vendors present. We decided to drive the course before checking into our hotel and finding some pasta.

The course is two loops, which I seem to prefer in a marathon. I’ve done three marathons with double loops (Long Branch, Marshall, and now Columbia) and I like knowing what to expect during the miles later in the race, whether it be good or bad.The map on the Run Hard Columbia site is easy to navigate, so we hopped in the car for a preview. I knew before getting to Columbia that the course would have some hills, but I was not prepared for what I saw on our drive. Lots of long climbs, both steep and gradual made frequent appearances throughout the entire course. As we were driving, I can’t remember the amount of times we would make a turn and would either go silent or say something like, “oh shit” when we saw yet another climb. Between the hamstring ordeal and the hills, I was feeling intimidated, defeated, and unprepared at this point.

The Race

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The race began and ended at the State House on Main Street. It was about 35 degrees and sunny as we lined up at the start, so I wore shorts and a tank top. Within an hour, temps would start rising. The high for day was predicted to be 70 degrees so I knew the chill in the air would be temporary. As the race began, I ran the first few miles with my two friends, Mark and Bill. We only really stayed together for the first mile or so, and we went out a little faster than I’d planned. I was tempted to really crank out some fast miles because I thought I would suffer on the hills either way, but I slowed down after the first mile to conserve my energy.

Within the first two miles, my hamstring let me know it was there and not feeling 100%. That scared me a little, and it made me a little cranky for the better part of the first loop. It never increased in pain, it just let me know it was still there so I kept my pace controlled and even. Other than my first mile, my Garmin registered a 7:27 pace for the first half marathon. However, my Garmin was off from the first mile by about a tenth of a mile for some reason or another, so I knew I was running closer to a 7:30-7:36 based on elapsed time.

When I began writing my unpublished post from last week, I stated my goal time of 3:18-3:20 for this race. I’ve been doing my long runs between a 7:30-7:40 pace and wanted to run somewhere in that neighborhood for this marathon. At the start, I told Bill and Mark that I was going to run a 3:18 if I felt good once I started. As I hit the half marathon mark, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was beginning to feel less cranky and kind of forgot about my hamstring by then, but I knew I had to run the exact same loop one more time. As I was thinking about my pace and how I felt, I realized how much I enjoyed the course during the first loop, nasty hills and all.

As we departed the half marathon point and went head to head with the hills for round two, I finally felt awake and warmed up. I zoned out and when my Garmin beeped to indicate I’d hit mile 14, I realized I was going a little too fast (7:01 for that mile) and slowed down. The hills waiting for me between miles 23-25 were no joke and I needed to save some energy if I wanted to meet my goal. Once I hit mile 17, I was cruising around a 7:30 pace and still felt strong. I kept waiting to crash and for the hills to eat me alive. Around mile 20, I was starting to just feel ready to be done running.

I began negotiating with myself, trying to keep the pace below 7:45 for as long as I possibly could. I was successful until the final incline. A little before mile 23, (which was mile 10 for the first loop) the course dumps you out onto Gervais Street, one of the main roads in Columbia. The entire stretch is a climb, and the descent is after the finish line so you don’t actually get to reap the benefit of the downhill when you run the second loop. It’s long and decently steep and you’re tired, with less than a 5K to go. Honestly, to have to run a hill like that at that point in a marathon is just downright mean. It looks so deceiving. As you approach it and begin ascending, you can see what you think is the entire hill.  Just before mile 24, you hit the top and realize that your legs get a break for a few quick steps before the climb continues for another significant stretch. When you finally reach the top, the course changes direction and loops to the right. The race finishes with a slight uphill grade followed by a false flat. Mile 24 was my slowest mile.  I was negotiating with myself the entire way up that I’d already run really well through that point and to just hold on to an 8 minute mile until the top. It ended up being close enough, registering as an 8:02.

Most of the course is run through residential neighborhoods. Very pretty, but a small field meant not a lot of company on the course. I felt a little like I went to South Carolina and ran a marathon all by myself, because once you hit the halfway point, everyone really spread out and I didn’t see many other runners. There were lots of volunteers at almost every turn to make ensure you knew where you were going, and there were frequent aid stations so when the heat hit, you could stay hydrated. There were cones marking the entire course, and the ground was marked with chalk in areas that could potentially be confusing so there was no question as to where you should be going.

As I started approaching the finish line, the course loops onto Main Street. For a smaller marathon, I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd as I came down the street. At this point, I didn’t care how tired I was: I knew I was going to break 3:20, but since my Garmin was off by .3 of a mile at this point (so much for running the tangents of the course!), I wasn’t sure how close to 3:18 I actually was. I didn’t even try to do the math since things get a little weird in your head around this point in a marathon (you can easily convince yourself that 2+2=5 without thinking twice) so I just ran.

There was also a marathon relay and a half marathon going on simultaneously, but we all wore different colored bibs. When people saw me coming and saw my bib, they got pretty excited and started cheering for me. At first, I thought it was just because they realized based on my bib color that I was a marathon finisher. As the crowd got a little crazier the closer I got, I started to wonder how many females finished ahead of me. I only remembered passing one other female at that point, and I never saw her again. I knew I was going to run a PR, so I was super excited – but there was no way it could be fast enough to win the race. The crowd’s reaction had me questioning how many females finished ahead of me at this point.

When the finish line was close enough that I could see the clock, I saw that it could be close to the 3:19 mark so I picked up the pace and happily crossed the finish line at 3:18:46. I’m still on cloud nine, and still can’t believe it all actually happened. I didn’t really feel great during the first loop, but by the half marathon point through the finish line I felt strong. Both Marshall and Rocket City were extremely flat courses, so I was nervous that I might completely blow up on a hilly marathon course. I train on hills often, but I don’t always opt for the hardest courses when I race. Columbia is where the Women’s Olympic Trials were held in 2000, so I always knew this course would be challenging. I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was.

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Post Race/Awards

It wasn’t just me running a PR that day. My friends also ran incredible races and both PR’d. Bill ran a 3:17:02 and placed 2nd overall in the master’s division, and Mark ran a 3:25:29 and placed 3rd in his age group. It was PR’s and awards all around, and it was 70 degrees and sunny. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in front of the State House in Columbia, basking in the sun. I’m proudly sporting a sunburn on my shoulders. After the intense winter we’ve had and the crazy weather we’ve endured up north, it was amazing to run in a tank top and shorts. I forgot what that felt like.

The funniest part about the race was the finish line. I crossed, and one of the officials approached me and said, “I am in no way trying to be offensive but I have to ask for the purpose of awards. You ran the full, correct?” Half delirious, I looked at him and said, “I really want to say some clever comment about having to run all of those hills twice, but I don’t have the energy to come up with anything. So yes. I did.” That’s when I knew I likely placed somewhere, whether it be overall or in my age group.

The post race celebration had the typical food spread: bananas, bagels, apples, oranges, chips, etc. The awards ceremony began at noon, and they started by presenting the half marathoners with their awards. At this point, I thought I was the 3rd overall female. When they started calling names for the top three females and my name wasn’t called for 3rd, I figured I’d miscounted and likely placed in my age group…until they called my name for second place! It was really exciting. The first place female won by a LOT (3:04!) but I was still excited. I was 2/72 females, and 12/208 marathon finishers. It was a small race, but a huge accomplishment for all of us.

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As for my hamstring, I guess we’ll see how that is when I try running this afternoon. It was present during the race but never increased in pain (although it’s more of just a little nagging sensation), and I completely forgot about it around mile 10. After the race, I stretched out for a long time and took an ice bath back at the hotel to speed up overall recovery. It just feels sore right now, like general muscle soreness. I’m hoping to chalk it up to phantom, pre-race pains but I have quite the track record with injuries so I’m proceeding with caution. I’m also using it as a good excuse to get a massage this afternoon.

Yes, there are hills and the weather could be hot since it’s down south. There’s also that 10 hour car ride. Yet despite all of that, I absolutely recommend this race. This race almost didn’t happen because the old race director canceled the original race back in October. So major shout out to the new race director, Jesse Harmon, for putting together a first-class event in just a few short months. What a great experience!

Race Review: Quakertown 10 Mile (Rotary Run for Youth)

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I signed up for this race a few weeks ago on an impulse. A group of my friends had already registered, and it was easy to convince others to sign up. It was inexpensive (around $20 to register) and local. It happened to fall a week before my first marathon of the spring season, and I usually run 10-12 miles at marathon pace (or faster) the week before anyway. The stars all seemed to be aligned for this one so I barely thought twice about signing up.

Except that the week before the race I was chaperoning a school event in Hershey, PA. 1,800 total high school kids, and 170 of them came from our school. We stayed at the Hershey Lodge. I spent the three days before the race getting almost no sleep and eating horribly (it’s very likely that I ate my weight in chocolate). When I got home on Friday around 5:30pm, I went to bed in hopes that I could sleep it all off. The race offers a 4 mile and a 10 mile option, and I was seriously considering dropping down to the 4 miler if it were a possibility. Then I told myself to stop being a little girl and suck it up. At worst, it would be a good final long run before the spring marathon craziness begins.

It was seven degrees at the start of the race. Although it was colder than the day we ran the Fred Lebow Half Marathon, it felt warmer. Even with the cold weather and poor build up to the race, it ended up being a successful day! I ran a teeny PR for the 10 mile distance with a 1:10:52, about a 7:04 pace…my previous PR was 1:10:54. However, this race was extremely hilly – much hillier than the Oley Valley 10 miler, where I ran my previous 10 mile PR – so I’ll take it. I got first in my age group, and most of my friends placed in their respective age groups. Regardless of whether you ran a PR or not, running that course is quite an accomplishment. It was so freaking hilly, but an awesome training run for Boston. My Garmin registered 680 feet of climbing over the entire run. The marathon I’m running next weekend doesn’t have that kind of elevation gain over the entire 26.2 miles!

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Elevation Chart, 2014 Quakertown 10 Mile

 Around mile four I hit one of the many long, arduous climbs and just thought to myself, “Seriously? You have got to be f**cking kidding me. This is bullshit.” My internal dialogue was pretty much consistent with that for the rest of the race. However, I really did love the race and enjoyed the course, hills and all. Besides, I like hills so of course I can’t wait to do it again next year. It was very scenic and felt like you were running in the middle of nowhere. The roads weren’t closed to traffic, but there were minimal cars so traffic wasn’t an issue. Volunteers were at every turn to direct the runners, which was a necessity because the course went all over the place. If there wasn’t a volunteer directing you, there were clearly marked signs.

There were three water stops on the course (I think), but I only took water at two of them. I can’t believe the water wasn’t frozen. The start and finish of the race was at an elementary school, and the runners were permitted to use the bathrooms and the cafeteria. Speaking of the cafeteria, that’s where you got your bib and your shirt. We all know that I love the race swag, but these shirts are less than desirable and are way too big, which is the only negative I could come up with about this race. I brought my change of clothes into the building and left them in the cafeteria during the race. At the finish, it was easy to walk inside, change and warm up.

There were soft pretzels, chips, and fruit in the cafeteria for the runners after they finished. It felt like a luxury to have indoor bathrooms and a warm place to hang out. Any of the winter races I’ve run recently didn’t offer amenities like that. I don’t always love signing up for winter races (I show up at the start thinking, “WHY did I think this was a good idea?”), but I would sign up for this event again. I wouldn’t call it a PR course, but it is an excellent addition to a spring race schedule.