Vancouver USA Marathon

State #17: Washington
The Vancouver USA Marathon
6/16/2013

I really wasn’t sure how this was going to go down. Kate and I had quite the ordeal in getting to Vancouver, and we were seriously delayed. I was fearful that my lack of sleep and dehydration from traveling would be detrimental to my performance on race day. We rolled up to Vancouver, Washington with a mere 20 hours before the start of the race. 20 hours to rehydrate, recover from long flights and sleeping on the floor of the San Francisco airport, rest, and eat some carbs before the 26.2 mile attempt. Was a PR even a possibility at this point?

Apparently, the odds were in my favor and I ran a great race, accomplishing a new PR. My official time was 3:31:52, almost two minutes faster than my PR at VIA and meeting the Boston qualifying standard by three minutes and eight seconds. It’s not the 3:30 that I’m still chasing, but it’s a step closer! I’m not even a little disappointed and couldn’t be happier. There were so many reasons that I should have just run an average (for me) time and not touch a PR. The fact that I took three weeks completely off during the peak of my training and thought I had a broken femur, for one. Our crazy traveling ordeal just 20 hours earlier, or the time difference. We flew from the east coast to the west coast with no time to adjust before the race. None of it mattered. I felt strong and followed my plan to run negative splits until mile 20, when fatigue hit. My lack of speed and hill training reared its ugly head and reminded me that if I wanted that PR, I was going to have to work for it. I needed to dig deep and run the last six miles with my heart and the confidence that I was strong enough. I held on to whatever I could at that point and kept the pace sub-8:30. I was on pace for a 3:28 until that point, and that’s where the additional speed and hill training would have pushed me harder. I’m still not upset about it.

The Expo
We went right from the Portland airport to the expo, located at Esther Short Park in beautiful Vancouver, Washington. The sun was shining, people were smiling and there was excitement in the air. A farmers market was set up on the street, a variety vendors set up shop in the park for the race, and the 5K was finishing at the park’s entrance. Bart Yasso was also in town from the Lehigh Valley and was announcing the 5K finishers, and the summer Brewfest was being set up for later that day and Sunday. I was tired, but the energetic atmosphere was contagious and I began to feel hopeful that I could still run a strong race.

It’s a relatively small event, so I was pleasantly surprised at the number of vendors and sponsors present at the race. Packet pickup was easy and the volunteers were kind and helpful. I didn’t have a chance to look up my bib number beforehand because of the travel debacle but it was a non issue: they were happy to help. The shirts are quality tech shirts by Asics, and the bib had your first name printed on it above your number. I love when races take the time to do that. There was a vendor set up with custom made Asics gear for the race, so I bought a jacket. I love when races offer additional commemorative items for purchase, especially at marathons that require extensive travel and are part of a vacation.

The Race
The marathon start was at 7am, and the half began at 9am. The start and finish were in the same place, located outside of the park, where the vendors were busy setting up their tables. There was a row of port-a-potties, and it seemed as though there would not be enough to appropriately accommodate all of the runners. However, I barely had to wait in line and they were the cleanest race bathrooms I’ve ever used. Jenny ran the half marathon, which had more entrants and she thought differently of the bathroom situation. Even at the end of the race, the bathrooms were completely clean and stocked with toilet paper. Kate volunteered at the finish area and noticed that the company came out and cleaned them after the half marathon began.

After a moment of silence for the Boston victims and the national anthem, we were off. The race began on a slight uphill grade but after heading out of town it was relatively flat. Relatively flat, but there were lots of slight up and downhill grades, so it was really more like a false flat. For the marathon, the course led the runners out of town to the more rural parts of the area. There were minimal spectators but it was such a peaceful atmosphere. It was basically an out and back with a few loops incorporated, but it was enjoyable. It got a little more populated by the half-marathon point, where we re-entered town and picked up the half-marathoners. They began quite a while before we got there, so we caught some of the people at the tail end of the field. Towards the end of the race, the pace I was running caught up with some of the first finishers of the half-marathon.

There were rural parts of the course, and parts that wove through town and residential neighborhoods. There were segments that ran along waterfront and through parks, and showed off the local landscape and beauty. At mile 20, there was a long, nasty climb followed by a steep descent, which is where my pace began to falter. The weather was perfect: cloudy and about 60 degrees. As you hit mile 26, the crowds gathered around the cattle chutes and spectators enthusiastically cheered on the runners. As you turned the corner and saw the finish line, Bart Yasso was announcing the runners and I got a special shout out since I’m from his hometown. Since Kate wasn’t running this one, she participated as a volunteer and was at the finish line handing out medals. As I crossed, she gave me my medal. It made the whole day even more special.

Post Race Party

There were so many amenities at the finish line. As you came through the finish and collected your medal, there was path the runners followed to get to the post race treats and recovery aids. Jamba Juice was whipping up complimentary smoothies, and there was coconut water, Gatorade, Muscle Milk, and tons of food options. The Muscle Milk vendor had fitness mats and foam rollers on the grass that runners could use to aid recovery. At the medical tent, runners could ice down their legs in baby pools full of ice. A local company was providing post race massages for a reasonable fee. I actually took advantage of that opportunity since we had along drive ahead of us and another marathon next weekend.

On your bib, there was a drink ticket. The Vancouver Summer Brewfest was going on around the same time as the marathon and they teamed up with the race to throw a sweet post-race party. Your bib got you a mug, entrance to the BrewFest, a full beer and four tasting tickets, each good for a healthy taste of beer from different local breweries. I can’t even tell you how many different breweries and types of beer were on tap at the event. I tried a few of the summery ales and sat in the grass with my friends. The sun came out, local restaurants were grilling up goodies, and there was a DJ on the outdoor stage.

Awards were given, and I missed placing in my age group by about 30 seconds. I ended up as fourth in my age group and the tenth overall female to finish. Of the 700-ish participants, I was the 83rd runner to cross the finish line. 23 marathons and 17 states later and each race still presents new challenges, struggles and lessons. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in running these races and challenging myself to complete multiple marathons, it’s to prepare and train for the unexpected and stay calm when things go awry. Flights are delayed, connections are missed and you may not get the best nights sleep. All you can do is prepare for the possibility that you may have to adapt to unexpected circumstances on race day. There are countless variables and things that can go wrong that you simply can’t control. If you focus on what you can control, accomplishing your goal is still a reasonable possibility. It’s great metaphor for life. There are situations and circumstances that you can control, but there’s always the unexpected challenges that change everything. All you can do is prepare, relax, and go with it.

In a few days, I’ll run Alaska. My legs feel great. Minimal soreness, but my left calf is significantly more sore than my right one. I’ll be icing, compressing, and stretching gently all week to prepare my body. I’m excited to run, and excited to end the marathon season in a seriously cool location. After the race I ran last week, I’ll be going easy. It’s just going to be another Saturday long run, only this time I get to do it in Anchorage.

We have arrived.

Well, so far the trip is off to an interesting start. Interesting, but wonderful because I’m with some of my dearest friends, I’m on the west coast, and I get to run a marathon in a few hours! We had quite the experience getting to Vancouver, Washington and it took us an extra nine hours to arrive. Our first flight was scheduled to depart Philadelphia at 6:53pm on Friday, but never actually took off until 9pm. A series of weather, mechanical issues, and just bad luck put Kate and I sleeping on the floor of the San Francisco airport in the middle of the night. Not even in one of those uncomfortable chairs at the gate- literally on the floor. What was supposed to be a quick one hour layover turned into a seven hour stint in San Francisco. But we actually got some sleep, the sun came up, we got some strong Peets Coffee (a decent substitute for Starbucks) and the first flight out to Portland on Saturday morning. Added bonus: we checked one bag, and it made it there!

When we landed in San Francisco, I felt tired, weak, frustrated and defeated. I wasn’t stressed out because I knew everything that landed us there was out of our control, so I slept. The sleep and coffee did me well, because I actually felt quite refreshed and rested when we woke up. I’m not certain what the race, but I feel positive and ready.

I’ve been trying to trick my body into not feeling the time difference, and I think it worked. I awoke with ease this morning and I began my pre-race rituals with no fatigue. I’ve been hydrating like crazy since I’m sure our travel situation wasn’t the easiest on my body, and I’ve been wearing my compression socks since Friday. I promise I’ll wash them when I get to Jenny’s house in Canada later today. More on the expo and the race later…for now, let’s DO THIS!!!!

And then there were two.

I began training for my spring races in January. Five months ago. Right before the new year and the new season, I ran the Rehoboth Marathon and took a three week break to rest and recover. Perfect timing. As the usual holiday craziness ensued, I felt no guilt or pressure to squeeze in rushed training runs on top of the holiday festivities. I happily tucked away my running shoes and spent extra time on my yoga mat to give my body some much needed rest.

Spring marathon training began and presented many exciting and challenging situations. I remember how difficult the first few runs after my hiatus following Rehoboth felt. My legs felt heavy and tired, and each run seemed increasingly difficult. And then, something magical happened. I slowly began to break in my Newtons, and I remember the five mile run where I fell in love with them.  I realized how Newtons drastically changed my form and how the act of running just felt more natural. If I didn’t already love running before, I did now.

This was the first season that I tried my hand at writing my own training plan. I wound up injured and learned a lot about my body and training for a marathon in general. If I would have stuck to the plan that I originally wrote, everything probably would have been fine. The problem is that when I started to feel good, I got excited. Excitement led to me tweaking my plan almost every single day. Some extra miles here,  an unplanned tempo run there, excessively long hill repeats on Honeysuckle Road instead of easy runs, and hitting the track for 800 repeats when I should have been resting led to inevitable trouble. Before I realized what I was doing to myself, I was running upwards of 60 miles per week, while breaking the golden rule of increasing miles and intensity at the same time. Clearly, I should leave the planning to the professionals, listen to my body, and rest when I’m supposed to rest.

I ran Boston, and I finally had a great day on the course. I re-qualified for 2014 and ran a strong race, but was devastated by the sudden turn of events. I finished, I was safe, but it really messed with me. I’m still trying to move past the whole ordeal. I just opened up my new issue of Runner’s World today, and it was dedicated to the tragedy that struck seven weeks ago. I only got about halfway through the issue and had to stop reading. The writers and editors did a beautiful job honoring Boston. I realize that as the premiere running magazine they needed to acknowledge what happened, but I’m ready to move on now.

I took a few weeks off because of that pesky injury that still remains a mystery to me. Maybe it was a stress fracture, maybe it wasn’t. What I do know is that I am following my instincts as I take on each new challenge. My instincts told me to go to the doctor and take some time off. I was never truly sold on the whole stress fracture thing, but I half listened to her advice. Being sidelined meant being a spectator for the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon, which was a humbling experience. Though I wished were among the field of runners, I know it was in my best interest to sit that one out and support my friends.

I ran two marathons without the blessing of my doctor. Running an easy pace at the Shires of Vermont Marathon gave me the opportunity to catch up with an old friend and gain confidence. By the time I ran the Buffalo Marathon, I felt as though I was almost back on track and paced a friend to finish and PR in her second marathon ever. It wasn’t exactly the way I imagined I would spend my spring, but I was still running and knocking states off of my list. I spent time with old friends, made some new running friends, and kept a positive attitude. In the grand scheme of things, what more could I ask for?

I thought I’d lost speed in my “time out” from running. Though I only took three-ish weeks off, my speed work was non-existent until last week, when I tried a few 800s. And then the Saucon to Boston 5K happened. I won, which was another confidence booster. My time was only a little slower than my personal best, which I haven’t touched since 2010 when I PR’d at the Pumpkin Pie 5K. Maybe I had a good day, or maybe it was because of the cause we were running for, but I still got close to my old PR, and that got me thinking (in my case, this isn’t always a good thing).

Which brings me to today. I have two marathons left to run. I have six days in between both races, which is the shortest amount of recovery time I’ve ever had in between races of that magnitude.  I’m pretty set on how I plan to run Alaska. That plan hasn’t changed since I registered for it in February. I’m running it. I’m walking it. I’m crawling it. Whatever it takes to get across the finish line and not miss one single second of the course. I don’t know that I will ever have the opportunity to run a marathon in Alaska again and I want to take it all in.

The wild card is Vancouver. I know I said “we’ll see how I feel.” I’m still half telling myself that. There are a lot of variables to consider, including the possibility of some jet lag, for example. But something is telling me to race it. I’m afraid to say that out loud, and even more afraid to blog about it. If you know me at all, you know that I like to challenge the things that scare me the most. So here it goes.

If I try to race it, my goal time is going to be a 3:30. Originally, I wanted to run a 3:25 but I honestly don’t feel I am prepared to do that. I realize that I am feeling good, and my little tune-up 5K went better than expected.  But I’m fairly certain that a 3:25 would mean I’m going to go out too fast and I’d end up burned out by mile 15 based on the time I had to take off for my injury. But a 3:30…If I can run it the way I ran Boston (perfect negative splits), it might be a possibility. Maybe.

I realize that it’s Wednesday, and the race is on Sunday. Today is not the day to be determining pace goals that should have been set during the first week or so of my training. But this is the hand I was dealt. Injuries and setbacks are all part of the game, especially when choosing to run multiple marathons in a short amount of time. I am aware of what I signed up for. I had a plan, and then I thought everything was off the table. Then I started running. So yes, it’s Wednesday and I’m setting pace goals for a marathon on Sunday. I’m not sure what  would be worse: setting them and setting myself up for disappointment, or not setting them and going out to fast.

Sunday will come and the race will go on, regardless of how I run it. It’s been an interesting and successful spring season…stay tuned for some posts when I hit the west coast!

Saucon to Boston 5K

Yup, a 5K – not a marathon.  Those freaking things are really hard. I’m completely serious. Nothing about a 5K is easy for me – mainly because I feel like I have to sprint the whole thing. Three miles should be a walk in the park compared to my regular, voluntary encounters with the big 26.2. But those three miles seem to last for an eternity. The 3.5-4 hours spent running a marathon fly by in comparison to those 20ish long minutes in a 5K. My lungs want to explode, my legs feel like they are being beaten up by baseball bats, and I look like I’m being chased. They. Are. So. Hard.

A few weeks ago, I learned that a few local runners (a husband and wife) planned to organize a 5K and the proceeds would go to The One Fund. The One Fund is a charity for the victims affected by the bombings in Boston. I was just testing the waters with my injury but I signed up anyway – it was such a good cause. I had to participate. The icing on the cake? It was on the Saucon Rail Trail, my most favorite spot to run in the Lehigh Valley.

20130610-092445.jpgIt was truly a special day. The weather was ideal and it was absolutely gorgeous for a 5K. It was warm with a slight breeze, and the trail is shaded. There was plenty of parking, and the cotton t-shirts are adorable. They are a soft, heathery shade of blue and adorned with the yellow BAA unicorn logo. Most people wore some sort of Boston related item to the event, and many wore blue and yellow to support the Boston Athletic Association.

It’s no shocker that I loved the course – I run there a few times per week. I usually hate out-and-back trails but there is something about that particular trail that I just adore. I made my way to the front of the pack for the start, since the race wasn’t chip timed. When the gun went off, I tried to keep pace with one of my faster friends but was only successful for the first 1.5 miles. I passed a few girls, and only saw men in front of me but didn’t really know what was ahead of me. At the turnaround, I realized I was the first female. What??? I had my headphones on and people on their way to the turn around kept smiling and waving at me. I was so confused. I actually thought they were saying hi to me and then I realized that they were cheering me on because I was the first female.

20130610-092500.jpgI came through the finish line at 20:49, about a 6:42/mile pace. Missed a PR by about 25 seconds, and about a minute slower than time I was aiming for. Somehow, someday, I would love to break 20 minutes in a 5K. But yesterday, I didn’t care. I still won first overall female, something I’ve never done before. It was a small 5K with a relatively small field, but I was excited because the event was personal to me. Winning was pretty exciting, though. I got a really nice medal, and a $25 gift certificate to our local running store, Aardvark. Just in time, because I’m feeling like I want to buy another new pair of Newtons before I start my fall training.

After the race, I concocted a recovery smoothie to celebrate. It was filling and gave me lots of energy for the 20 mile ride I ended up going for with Emily.

20130610-092508.jpgChocolate Raspberry Recovery Smoothie

Blend all ingredients together in a high powered blender:

  • 1 cup of non-dairy milk  (unsweetened almond, hemp, rice, or soy milk)
  • 1 Frozen banana
  • 1 Cup of fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup or 1 medjool date
  • 1 Tablespoon of organic, dutch processed cocoa powder (sequoia cocoa)
  • 1 Tablespoon of raw cashew butter
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of chia seeds
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of hemp seeds
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of extra-virgin coconut oil
  • 1 Teaspoon of pure vanilla extract or half of a vanilla bean
  • A handful of ice, if necessary

It’s approximately 450 calories, so it’s really more like a meal. It’s packed with antioxidants and protein, making it the perfect recovery drink.  It gave me lots of energy and kept me full long after our bike ride. I used hemp seeds to make homemade hemp milk recently, which is absolutely divine and my favorite base for smoothies lately.  It’s easy to whip up and has a nutty, sweet flavor. Hemp seeds, water, a pinch of salt and some agave or pure maple syrup in a blender for 1-2 minutes. Yum!

Next Stop: Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska!

As the week comes to an end, I’m finding it to be increasingly difficult to sit still at work. Not only do I only have three more days of work left before summer break begins, but I’m heading out west exactly one week from today. Final exams for my kiddos are winding down, and it’s been a relatively low-key week. I’m a computer teacher, and most of my students were exempt from my final exams. The pace of the past few days allowed me to squeeze in some runs and yoga practices in over my lunch break. It’s a great way end the school year to ease into my summer schedule.

I’m wrapping up my “marathon training” over the next two weeks and looking forward to one full week of rest and relaxation. It’s been quite the interesting ride this spring. Running multiple marathons in an attempt to achieve my goal of running a marathon in each state is not uncommon for me. Usually, I’m good for three or four 26.2’s in a season, but this was my first time attempting five of them in such a short time span. Four of them were (are) back to back weekends, which I’ve actually only done once before. That was about four years ago. In the past, I used to try to race all or most of them, but I realized very quickly that I had to pick and choose my target races. So when I began training for this round of spring marathons, I had a “plan”:

  1. The Boston Marathon – Run at marathon pace + 10-20 seconds per mile, maintain negative splits.
  2. The Shires of Vermont Marathon – Run at marathon pace + 20-30 seconds per mile based on the course elevation.
  3. The Buffalo Marathon – Pace Brooke to finish under 4:22.
  4. The Vancouver Marathon – Aim for a PR: 3:30 or better
  5. Anchorage Marathon– Run comfortably and take it all in. It’s not like I’m able to go to Alaska and run a marathon every year.

But as a famous Scottish poet once said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I was successful in achieving my goal for Boston, but the unexpected aftermath wasn’t what I’d planned for. My injury forced me to take some time off after Boston and rethink my spring goals. Although I would still love nothing more than to run a PR, my first priority is to just run the races and complete the states. I’ve been taking things one day at a time, one week at a time, and one marathon at a time.

Ultimately, I feared I would lose the endurance that I worked so hard for over the past year. When my doctor told me to “cross train like hell”, I listened. And it worked. I don’t think  lost much in the way of endurance, because I still completed Buffalo and Vermont (against the doctor’s orders) pain free. I took it very easy in Vermont, but still achieved my original goal in Buffalo. I haven’t done much in the way of speed training since April 15th until an attempt at some 800s this week. Also, I’ve done minimal hill training as a result of running on trails for the past two months. Trails provide a softer surface and help to prevent injury or aggravating existing conditions. So while I might not have lost much endurance, I may be lacking a bit in the strength and speed department.

I ran 50 miles last week. 26.2 of them were at the Buffalo Marathon, and the rest were easy paced recovery miles. This week, I did a teensy bit of speed work just to see how my legs would feel if I picked up the pace. I did a few 800 repeats on Wednesday, and some strides on my easy five mile run yesterday. Everything felt decent. A touch of soreness in my right ankle, but zero soreness in my legs. For the 800s, I was targeting half marathon pace but ended up hitting 5-10K pace instead, which was a pleasant surprise.

I’m following the Pete Pfitzinger “multiple marathoning” plan to make sure I don’t run too much or too little. Based on my injury and what my doctor recommends I know that anything over a few five milers each week is likely too much. But I’m still pain free, and I’m feeling good. Since I had to forgo my original training plan, I thought it would be interesting to run a “sample” of his plan from Buffalo through Vancouver.  Do I think it’s worthwhile to pursue one of his full, 12-18 week training plans? So far, yes. I’ve read most of the book and like what I see so far. The training plans are versatile and offer different options to fit the needs of different runners. I’ll have a lot more to say as my fall training begins and a book review will likely be in order.

So what’s my plan for Vancouver and Alaska? I’m going to wait and see until that very morning. In Vancouver, if I feel like I can push the pace, I will. If not, I’ll just try to bring it in under four hours. Or I’ll walk.  Whatever. As for Alaska, I’m still in it for the sightseeing and simply can’t wait to just be in Anchorage and the surrounding areas. I’m excited to knock another state off my list, spend time on the west coast, and be among some of my dearest friends.