Archive for ‘Race’

July 31, 2015

The Downeast Relay

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A couple of months ago I got an email from an old friend asking if I would be at all interested in doing an overnight, self-supported, 100+ mile  relay through the Maine wilderness.  To which I of course responded, Hell yeah! Accordingly, last week I packed up snacks, gels, gear for all possible weathers, my Garmin watch, a headlamp, and pretty much anything I owned with a reflector or flashing light.  Finally after many hours and several flight delays, I arrived in Bangor at 1:00 Friday morning, 21 hours before the start of the second annual Downeast Relay.

I had started this post by writing a pretty thorough race report, but I soon realized that what I really wanted to convey and remember about this race (aside from the sight of a bald eagle flying overhead or sunrise over a bog) were the things I learned out on the trail.  The Downeast Relay was a totally different beast than anything I have ever tackled before.  I didn’t fully appreciate just how different it would be until I got out there, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

The race is run on a rails-to-trails trail that meanders northeast along the coast, starting in Ellsworth, Maine and finishing 102.7 miles later in Eastport (the eastern-most city in the US).  Much of it is pretty remote, and the 16 relay legs were pretty much defined by where the trail intersects drivable road.  The race allows teams of 4-8 people, but it seemed that most (including us) had around 5.  We had divvied up the legs based on an algorithm built by a member of the support crew, and I had been assigned the Runner 4 position, which gave me legs 4, 8, 11, and 14, totaling 22.7 miles.  Having run a solid 20-miler last weekend, I felt confident that running a bit further in 4 pieces wouldn’t be any problem (though I was a bit nervous about the prospect of running off into the night without hope of cell phone reception or human contact until the next hand-off).  Although my stamina didn’t turn out to be an issue, I did fail to adequately factor in the additional muscle fatigue that trails take as compared to road miles, as well as the effects of not sleeping.  (I had actually also not appreciated how much there would be to do between running legs, which would render napping pretty much impossible.)

I am eternally grateful to my team and our indomitable Sherpa/shuttle bunny for all the organization they did before race day.  We had decided to use two vehicles to give everyone more space for gear, but that meant that in addition to our dedicated driver, one runner had to drive each leg and two others were needed for navigational duties.  The driving directions provided by the race organizers were great, but navigating the back roads of Maine in the dark still took considerable focus and attention.  Given the remoteness of the trail, the cars often had to traverse much greater distances than the runners in getting to the hand-offs, and on shorter legs there was little time to waste in getting to the next dropoff.  In some cases we actually leap-frogged cars to ensure that the next runners made it to their rendezvous points in time.  In addition to the driving, navigating, and cheering runners in and out, there was also the preparation of gear and nutrition for the next leg, so down time was minimal.

I’m no stranger to all-nighters—I was an architecture student at MIT, which rendered me nearly nocturnal for several years.  That said, none of my previous experience prepared me for running a race in the middle of the night.  I found that the mental fatigue took a greater toll than the physical tiredness.  By my third leg I was putting considerable effort into staying focused and on pace.   (It probably didn’t help that it was a boring, slightly uphill 7-mile stretch that went straight ahead with nothing to look at but seemingly identical pine trees.)  I have been an enthusiastic follower (read: uber-geek) of ultra-running for years, and even though my relay distance was nowhere near ultra levels, I feel like I got a tiny taste of the challenges of day-long events.

The other challenge of the relay that I had not really forseen was the physical effect of starting and stopping several times.  I’ve done lots of two-a-day workouts, but never with only an hour or two between.  I was running at or near my threshold pace, and the breaks between legs seemed to provide minimal recovery and maximal opportunity for stiffness to develop.  I was pretty liberal with the tiger tail before and after each leg and I’m convinced that’s the only thing that saved me in the end.  So, advice to newbie relayers (and myself for next year):

  1. Gear. I’m sure there is such a thing as overpacking, but if you don’t have major space constraints, bring everything you think you might need. There was rain in the forecast, not to mention 30-degree temperature swings from day to night, so I tried to assemble a variety of clothing that I could layer as needed.  In the end, I brought:

2 long-sleeve shirts

1 sleeveless shirt

1 short-sleeve shirt

1 bra

2 pairs shorts

4 pairs socks

2 pairs shoes

1 rain/wind jacket (convertible to vest)

I wore all of the shirts with the exception of the short-sleeved one and never changed shorts, but I was very happy to have fresh shoes and socks to change into as the race progressed.

  1. Organization. A few of the more experienced runners organized their gear in Ziploc bags clearly labelled for each leg.  I will definitely follow suit next year.  Anything that can eliminate thinking or stress or frantically digging around a dark car at 4 AM trying to find your gels is worth the effort.
  1. Nutrition. This was a tough one. Given that our race started at 10 PM, I wasn’t really sure how much, or even if I would feel like eating.  I brought Accelerade powder and a gallon of water, a bag of nuts, 4 gels (2 of them with 20 mg of caffeine), 2 bananas, a couple of protein bars, and a thermos of coffee.  I nibbled a few nuts at a time throughout the night, which I think was a good move since they packed a lot of fat and calories into minimal bulk.  I also kept up a steady stream of coffee, counterbalanced by a lot of water to stay hydrated.  The surprise was how much I was craving sugar by the end of the race, though—I’m fairly well fat-adapted and though I had brought some carb sources I hadn’t expected to dip into them too much.  It was probably the lack of sleep combined with a pace much closer to a 10K than a long run, but I found myself really wanting something sweet as the race wore on.  I ate a banana and a half and took a caffeinated gels on each of my last two legs.  There was also a bag of mini peppermint patties floating around the car, and I had one of those before each of the last two legs as well.  I felt like I was eating a lot—certainly much more than I would have in a marathon—but I also had a very light dinner before the race and totally missed breakfast on Saturday morning, so I still probably ran a caloric deficit.  I was one of the few on our team that did not have any gastro issues at any point, so either I got lucky or the fueling strategy worked out.
  1. Sleep. Before.  As much as possible.
  1. Training. Obviously run trails if you can to build up your stabilizers.  Perhaps more importantly, get used to the fatigue.  One member of our team said that he had done a few clustered workouts on a consecutive afternoon, evening, and morning, which I thought was a great idea.  It would also be useful for fine tuning a fueling strategy.

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I wish trail running in the middle of the night were a more readily available pursuit—I really had a much more direct experience of running and my own mind than I ever have before.  It was actually somewhat unsettling—I experienced time and space very differently out on the trails.  When I was running through the dark without discernible landmarks, I really lost all sense of time passing, from what time of night it was to how long I had been out there.  My perception of distance was incredibly accurate, though, and—maybe this was just the lack of sleep—but it seemed as though time were only evidenced out there as the byproduct of covering a distance at a given pace, and didn’t objectively exist outside of me.  It was both terrifying and freeing in the way that real encounters with ourselves usually are.

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April 21, 2015

Musings on More

As evidenced by my posts the last few weeks, I went into the More/SHAPE/Fitness/Idontknowwhatelse Half Marathon on Sunday with mixed feelings.  It’s only been a little over a month since my huge PR at the NYC Half, and I raced a solid 4-miler in Central Park last weekend.  I’ve been ramping up the tri training over the last several weeks, though, and I’ve been cycling (no pun intended) between feeling like I’m on the verge of overtraining, backing off, panicking because I’m not training enough, ramping up, and repeating.  My big toe stopped squeaking this week, but now it hurts in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the early stages of my stress fracture in the fall.  (I actually had an anxiety dream two nights before the half that all of my joints were squeaking like the Tin Man.)  Needless to say that when I toed the line on Sunday morning, it was with mixed emotions.

I scored a Wave 1 start for the race, and for the first time ever I actually lined up right at the tape.  That was mainly to get a view of Deena Kastor (squeeee!) RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.  When the gun went off I attempted to hang with her for about 25 feet, and all I can say is that seeing an elite runner up close was both incredibly humbling and slightly terrifying.  In the thrill of chasing Deena I laid down a sub-7 first mile, which was probably not wise.  I tried to back it off a bit on the next couple, but running with the front pack was throwing me off and I kept finding myself speeding up.  It wasn’t long before the initial excitement wore off though, and I started feeling a bit flat.  My left quad was worryingly tight, and even though my toe wasn’t hurting much I was also fretting about worsening that injury.  To add to the fun, I could feel the early twinges of a side stitch forming, probably thanks to the breakneck speed at the start.

The course was just over two loops of Central Park, and I knew the key would be to keep my effort consistent between the uphills and downhills. I kept the pace in check for the first trip up the Harlem Hills and made up some time on the back side, but knew that pacing on round two would be tougher.  I had my first gel when I passed the starting line again, six miles in.  Almost immediately I felt the side stitch twinges solidify into a Side Stitch From Hell, a la the Baltimore Marathon.  This time I at least had more core strength on my side, though, and I found that if I kept my upper abs totally engaged and breathed very low in my belly that the pain was manageable.  I continued this way for about a mile and a half, breathing in for three steps and out for two, and eventually the cramp seemed to ease a bit.  For most of that time I fantasized about dropping out, calling my mom and the Caveboy and telling them I DNF’d.  Usually that kind of thinking would motivate and refocus me, but this time I just didn’t seem care that much.  I kept running, pretty much on pace, so I guess I did care, but I just could not find my mojo.  At some point the 1:45 pace group leader caught up with me, and I hung with her group until the next aid station, which they walked through.  They caught me again just before the second trip up the Harlem Hills, and and I was happy to tuck in and let them take care of pacing for a while.  About a mile later I heard the leader say something about the pace being off, and they sped up a bit.  They pulled away over the next mile, and while I kept them in sight, I never made a serious effort to catch them.

By that point my main concern was my left quad, which was still cranky.  I was hoping it wouldn’t cramp up with the downhill stretch through the bottom of the park, and knew I should be drinking more and taking in another gel.  I was still wary about the side stitch returning, but I finally decided it was worth the risk and took a gel around the 11 mile mark.  We still had a couple of rolling sections left, and the course was becoming increasingly crowded with the walkers that we were lapping.  I’m all for athletes of all abilities taking part in these events, and I’m a firm believer that the last person across the finish line has every bit as much right to the course as the first.  Participating in a road race demands a certain level of awareness, however.  Whether you’re running fast, slow, or walking, you’re part of an athletic competition.  Walking four-abreast and blocking the entire lane and forcing other runners into the grass or the bike lane IS NOT GOOD RACING ETIQUETTE.  I definitely paid for the clear sailing at the start with a lot of bobbing and weaving on the second lap when I was physically and mentally drained.  By the time we turned off at the 72nd Street cutoff to the finish line, I was pretty fried.  I managed to ramp up the pace to the low 7’s for the last 800m or so, picked off two runners in the chute, and ended up finishing in 1:45:33.  It was certainly a solid time, and one I would have been thrilled with last season.  I should be thrilled with it now.  It was just over 2 minutes slower than my PR last month, but the course was much more difficult and the day was at least 15 degrees warmer.  Given how generally flat I felt, it was a really solid performance.  I finished 44th in my age group and 280th/7,500ish overall, which is certainly respectable.  Still, I’m disappointed. I can’t tell if it’s just that I gave up a little bit mentally and stopped fighting for this one, or if it’s part of a bigger issue.  Last year I actually scheduled quality time with myself after key races to reflect how things were going and make any adjustments to my training going forward.  I haven’t done that this year, and I think it might be time.

My biggest concern right now is my toe and whether I’m headed for another stress fracture.  If so, it most likely points to female athlete triad syndrome and the possible need to rethink both my training schedule and nutrition.  There’s so much there to unpack that I am going to leave it for a separate post, but suffice it to say that the threat is weighing heavily on me.  It’s way too early in the season to be worrying about major injuries and overtraining.  My big-picture goal is getting to Boston in the next year or two.  That means prioritizing my overall fitness  and staying healthy so that I’m able to train consistently.  To that end, I’ve decided that for at least the next week or two, my fitness goals are as follows:

 

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
  • Eat more calories than I think I’m burning each day.
  • Institute a biking boot camp and substitute biking for all run workouts until the toe shows signs of improvement.
  • Stretch every day.
April 14, 2015

Still Squeaky

On Sunday I had the Run For the Parks 4-miler, another NYRR race in my quest for the 9+1 and guaranteed entry for the 2016 NYC Marathon.  After a 20-mile bike ride on Saturday I was in no mood to get myself up and in Central Park by 7:45 AM for a race that—if all went well—was going to take me less an half an hour. Off I went, though, hoping that my tired legs and squeaky toe were up for it.  The subways can be kind of a crapshoot on Sunday mornings, so I allowed a lot of extra time for travel and ended up (for once) arriving a good bit early for the race.  It was still fairly cool out so I used the time to warm up and probably put in close to a mile before I started working my way to the start.  I hadn’t run since Tuesday due to the toe squeak, so I was anxious to get some strides in and feel out a good race pace before we started.  I was hoping for a pace in the low 7’s, but every time I thought I was probably approaching that and checked the Garmin, my pace was actually low 7’s/high 8’s.  It didn’t seem like the best sign, but I finally hit it and held it long enough for it to sink into my brain and then headed off to the start.

The race had a strong turnout, which is great since 100% of the proceeds go to park programs, but 8,000+ people in Central Park does get a bit crowded.  I was in the third corral thanks to my Prospect 4-miler time, and I figured having fast people around me would help a lot with the pacing.  We got off to a quick start and I focused on breathing and finding a good rhythm.  I pushed pretty hard and I really don’t remember much of the race other than trying and succeeding in overtaking some chic in a Boston Athletic Association jacket, and dropping one of my gloves half a mile from the finish.  That was upsetting because 1) they’re my favorite lucky running gloves, and 2) I knew it was stupid to try to take them off when I was that close to the end.  I clocked in at 28:55, which was 7:14 splits—30 seconds/mile better than my Prospect 4-miler in February.  As soon as I cleared the chute I worked my way back to where I dropped the glove, waited for a break in the runners, and did something resembling one of those football player drills to dart out, grab the glove off the ground, and then run back to the curb without disrupting the flow of the race.  Thus reunited with my gloves, I headed back to the finish to wait for LRB, who was running with a newbie friend.  When the results were posted it turned out that I had finished 13th in my age group and 103rd overall woman, which, given the field size, is probably my best finish ever.  It was totally the gloves.

After the race and some brunch with LRB and his friend, I hit the pool to work on the two-beat kick we had learned in class last week.  (And by “learned” I mean attempted with much awkward flailing.)  Since I had already put in a hard cardio effort I decided just to really focus on technique on the swim.  I spent 30 minutes kicking down the pool one length on my back, then working on the two-beat kick swimming back.  Since I could catch my breath on the kicking lengths, it took some of the pressure off timing the breathing with the two-beat, and by the end I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it.  I suspect that my kick form could still use some work, though.  It feels more like flinging something icky off my foot than a singular flutter kick, but I think it’s progress nonetheless.

This weekend I also officially joined the Brooklyn Tri Club, and we had our first bike workout of the season bright and early this morning.  I was able to hang with the other newbies, but I am getting my first bout of seriously cold feet for the upcoming races.  When I started this whole tri endeavor, it was the swim that scared me.  Now it’s the bike that I find myself dreading.  Despite all the time I spent on the trainer this winter, being on the road is a whole different world.  I find riding in traffic really nerve-wracking, and I still find  the feeling of being clipped in terrifying challenging.  After my ride on Saturday I decided to wear running shoes when I’m riding on the streets for the time being, and only clip in when I’m in the park or otherwise out of traffic.  That has at least eased some of the anxiety I have when cabs are whizzing by me inches from my elbow.

I’m actually surprised at how vulnerable I feel when I’m just riding fast in the park, though.  I love going fast on skis or skates, but on the bike I just keep thinking about broken bones and road rash.  This morning we were working on keeping a fast cadence and spinning on the small chain ring, and I was having a really hard time convincing myself to pedal downhill.  I hope know that a lot of this will work itself out as I get more comfortable on the bike and log some more road time.  My first sprint tri is a month away, though, and I feel woefully underprepared at the moment.  I’ve been focused on running these past few months and I still haven’t done a real brick workout, let alone an open water swim.  I need to just sit down and layout my training calendar for the next four weeks, get the key workouts scheduled, and I know I’ll feel a lot better. But between work, training, and minimal sleep requirements I can’t seem to find the time.  Also, I’m getting worried about the squeaky toe.  Before the stress fracture, I would have just run on it and not worried unless I could hear it over my ipod, but now I’m afraid of another boot-bound month and lost training hours.  I keep reminding myself that part of the reason I wanted to do the tri was for the challenge—to learn to swim properly, to get better at biking, and to do something that a few years ago I thought I could never, ever do.  Then there’s the part of me that keeps screaming, “screw this!  I just want to run!”  One of these days, she’ll come around, right?

March 16, 2015

A Good Day for Mollies…

Okay, so all that yammering I did last week about my cold, time off for the stress fracture, and whether I’d be able to handle an 8-minute pace?  Poppycock.  Whether it was race day magic, the perfect conditions, or my new and improved core and leg strength, the NYC Half was a dream.

As is my habit, I spent about an hour on Saturday studying the course and elevation map and constructing the perfect playlist.  I have long been a believer in the motivational power of music (which is also backed up by science), but race day playlists are something special.  I just don’t believe in Pandora or even those podcasts that target specific cadences.  Race tunes need to be hand-selected, and the playlist carefully crafted.  When it’s done well it sets the tone and the pace for the race, gives you an extra boost when you need it, and even lets you know if you’re on target for time goals.  I suppose in some ways it’s kind of the last stand of the mix tape, and my grand theory of running playlists is something like Rob’s in High Fidelity.

For me, the first section is all about starting big and setting the tone.  It has to start strong with a song that really gets me excited.  From there, you have to maintain the momentum, but really lock in the pace with the next couple of songs.  This is where your race can run away with you, so those first three or four songs is where I really pay attention to cadence.  The next section is really course-specific.  This is where I choreograph uphill and downhill efforts, and any other course features that I really want the soundtrack to reflect.  In anything longer than a 5K, I always feel like there’s a no-man’s land somewhere around two-thirds of the way through the race, which I think of as the Loneliness-of-the-Long-Distance-Runner phase.  For this stretch I want good music that will hold my attention a little more, but is relaxed and just rolls along.  (Jesus, Etc by Wilco is always my go-to to kick that section off.)  After that, I start building to a hard finish, again dusting in anything course-specific that I might need.  I also make sure I have a good hard finish song for both my A-goal time and my B-goal, because there’s nothing more depressing than missing your time goal and having that point further driven home when your playlist starts over.  Since my very first half-marathon, the A-goal kick song has been and always will be Shipping Up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys.  A girl can dream.

On Sunday, I arrived at Central Park with my earbuds in, already listening to some chill music to calm the pre-race nerves.  The Park Lane Hotel across from the Simon Bolivar entrance to the park was being incredibly nice about letting runners congregate and stay warm in their lobby, and I chatted with people about races and courses while we waited to use their lavish marble bathrooms.  Ah, the luxury of flush toilets before a race!  I enjoyed the warmth in the lobby as long as I could and then warm-up jogged to the start about 10 minutes before the corrals closed.  I had been kind of bummed because I missed getting a Wave 1 start by 5 seconds on my splits, but I ended up in the first corral of Wave 2, which was probably better positioning anyway.   The first few miles were the usual dodging and weaving, but at least the crowds were fast and I split an 8:05 first mile.  It seemed like we got to the lollipop turn-around in Harlem in no time, and then it was up and down the Harlem Hills.  I dialed the pace back a bit on the uphills, but pushed to low 7’s on the downs.  I was a little worried I was going to pay for the faster pace later, but I felt comfortable and in control and decided just to go with it.  My splits through the park were all hitting right around 8 minutes, and soon we were exiting at 59th St. for the run to Times Square.  I had structured the playlist for 8’s, and I knew I was right on target when we turned onto 7th Ave and Empire State of Mind started on cue.  Once again, my Garmin lost satellites for the full stretch through Midtown, so I tried just to lock in the pace and keep up with the runners I’d been seeing for the last few miles.  When I finally turned onto the West Side Highway I got telemetry back, and I was still on pace with high 7’s.  That was my Loneliness-of-the-Long-Distance-Runner section, and I managed to pretty completely turn my brain off and just run.  I actually wasn’t checking the watch much either, but when I did I was clocking in slightly ahead of pace.  The whole stretch seemed much more downhill than it usually does, and I just kept my eyes on the Freedom Tower up ahead and focused on getting there.

The strangest part of the NYC Half course is the tunnel into Battery Park City, and I was totally unprepared for it last year.  This time I made sure I had turned off the auto-stop on my watch so that at least the clock wouldn’t pause when I lost satellites.  The tunnel is probably three or four-tenths of a mile long and curves, so you really can’t see the light at the end until you’re almost out.  The good part is that once you come up a steep little hill out of it, you’re just over half a mile from the finish.  Again, I had no pace info from the time I got into the tunnel until just before the finish line, but I knew from the overall time that I was tracking to come in under 1:45.  (I highly recommend trying to run splits with even numbers–the low-blood-sugar math is much easier.)  NYRR is great about putting up markers at the 800m-, 400m-, and 200m-to-go points, and I hammered as hard as I could.  I came in at 1:43:29, which was sub-8 (!) splits and a PR of more than 6 minutes.  I honestly never in my life expected to run a half marathon with a 7 handle on the pace.  I texted Long Run Buddy as soon as I cleared the chutes and he told me that Molly Huddle had become the first American to win the women’s title.  (I get a little fan girl about her and Shalane…)

I’m still recalibrating my season goals and trying to decide if this was a freak of weather or not.  When I think that less than two years ago I was struggling to break two hours, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I can’t believe I’m saying this publicly, but I think if I squint hard I might be able to see Boston from here.

February 24, 2015

Freeze, Thaw, Cycle

 

Ice on the water cups at the Al Gordon 4-Miler

Ice on the water cups at the Al Gordon 4-Miler

The good news about this weekend is that it was super productive.  The bad news is that I was completely exhausted by Monday.  I ended up with the schedule stacked against me last week, when I realized that I needed to squeeze in a strength training session with Kali the Destroyer.  I ended up fitting that in on Thursday morning, which moved my tempo run to Friday.  The strength training was great (doing the Jillian Michael sessions twice a week really are making me stronger), and I happy to wake up on Friday without much soreness.  My scheduled tempo was 1 easy, 5 at 7:49, and 1 easy, which I got through without much drama. I had the Al Gordon 4-Miler in Prospect Park on Saturday, and I tried my best to channel the successful tempo to garner some enthusiasm for the race.

 Al Gordon 4-Miler

I had signed up for the 4-miler when I came back from my stress fracture, mainly as an attempt to save myself from jumping right into training for the NYC Half.  That (somewhat) worked, and I really had no goal in mind for the race other than to improve my corral for the half next month.  I should probably explain for those uninitiated in the efficient machine that is New York Road Runners, that all of their races have starting corrals which are seeded by pace.  The catch is that your pace group is based on the fastest average mile split logged in any race you’ve run with them, regardless of distance.  I rarely race anything shorter than a 10K, and when I do, they’re usually social runs with friends when I’m not focused on time.  I was currently in the 8:00 corral based on my last 10K, and was hoping to improve my start position a bit given the crowded field in the NYC Half.  With that in mind, I dragged myself out of bed at 6 AM on Saturday morning and bundled up.  It was 6 degrees out and, not wanting to spend too much time freezing in the corral, I got to the start only a few minutes before the gun.  We were off, and I went into Bill Belichik Do-Your-Job mode—no drama, no whining, just hit my pace and get the job done.  I still had a 14-mile long run to do on Sunday, so the idea was to run hard, but not plumb new depths of pain.  I held 7:30’s on the flats, 8:00’s on the uphills, and tried to take it sub-7 on the downs when I could.   I held off a side stitch with some very focused belly breathing for the last mile and finished in 30:23.  It would have been nice to break 30 minutes, but I was happy with the effort, and it should move me up at least one or two corrals.   After I finished, the Caveboy met me with a warm jacket and asked if the lake was completely frozen, at which point I realized that I had not taken in my surroundings in the least.  How’s that for focus?

From Prospect I jumped on the train to Union Square and grabbed a cup of coffee while I waited for Jack Rabbit Sports to open.  They were having their spring clearance sale and I was hoping to snag a tri race kit cheap.  Long Run Buddy was meeting me there, and we both scored major deals.  I was able to pick up two race kits, and I also found a pair of my favorite running shorts and a book on bike maintenance, all for $55.  Win.  While I was waiting for LRB to check out I checked my race results and discovered that I had finished 4th in my age group.  Double win.  We had a celebratory brunch and then Caveboy and I headed home to catch up on laundry and other life essentials.  I had a bike session on the calendar as well, so after throwing in a load of running clothes I set up the bike and queued up an episode of Gilmore Girls.  This was the first session of my base-building training plan on TrainerRoad, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be too brutal given the 14 mile long run the next day. “8-Minute Power Test” initially sounded pretty innocuous, but it turned out to be a pretty intense hour-long workout.

Trainer Road

TrainerRoad basically syncs your phone, iPad, or computer with your (Bluetooth-enabled) bike computer to give you a customized spin workout.  It estimates virtual power based on your trainer model and gives you real time stats on your power output, showing you a green, yellow, or red zone depending on how well you’re keeping up with the designed workout.  They also provide real-time on-screen instructions for each session, as well as additional background info on the website and even free webinars on training topics.  I’ve heard really good things about it and given that I have zero experience with bike training, I am basically putting all my faith in their approach.  The workout started with an easy spin warm-up, and then progressed to two very short, hard intervals.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t keep my power up in the green zone where it was supposed to be, and I was starting to get very worried about my biking abilities and questioning why I had taken on this whole triathlon endeavor.  Thankfully there was another easy spin period at that point and the on-screen instructions started describing the two 8-minute power trials that were coming up.  It was then that I realized that point of this ride was to calibrate my functional threshold power, and that the green zone for power that the app was currently showing me was completely arbitrary (i.e. probably calibrated for a large dude who is a much better cyclist than me.)  This is why I probably should not consider reading the instructions to be a sign of weakness…  Anyway, I was at least somewhat relieved, and I got through the power tests within tolerable pain levels.  TrainerRoad spit out a new FTP at the end, and my next workout should be calibrated for my current fitness level.

Slushy Central Park

Slushy Central Park

Long Run

Sunday the temperature shot up 30 degrees into the mid-40’s, and it seemed all of New York was covered in 2 inches of accumulated slush, dirt, and formerly-frozen dog pee.  I had originally planned to run as much as I could of the NYC Half course for my long run, but it was clear that traversing the sidewalks was not a desirable option.  I figured Central Park was probably my best shot at clear roads, so I met up with LRB after his morning spin session and set off.  He had a 1:45 run in HR Zone 1-2 on the menu, so it was much the same drill as last week.  We ran a bit slower than my target 8:30’s, but my legs were feeling pretty dead after the strength/tempo/race/bike whammy anyway.  We were both not wearing headphones for once, so we chatted on and off and the miles ticked by quickly.  The encouraging part about this run was really how undramatic it was given how tired I felt.  Undoubtedly it would have hurt a lot more had I been running 8:30’s instead of 8:45’s, but I did pick it up for the last few miles after LRB clocked out and my endurance felt solid.

Monday morning I had an hour of strength training scheduled, but on Sunday night I decided that I would benefit more from an additional hour of sleep.  I had vague notions of still getting it in after work, but by mid-afternoon it was clear that what I really needed was rest and a massage.  After some aggressive tiger tailing and an hour on the couch after dinner I was off to bed, and felt much more alive this morning.  The intervals du jour were 2×1200  at 6:53 pace followed by 4×800 at 6:49 pace with 2 minute recovery intervals.  After my poor showing last week, I was determined to bang these out without walking a recovery or stopping for a rest, and I. DID. IT.  I downed half a power bar while waiting for the train after, which is part of my initiative to be nicer to myself about post-workout nutrition.  (More on that in a later post.)  Tonight is swim class, and the rest of the week is the usual combo of swimming, Trainer Road bike workouts, hard runs, and beet juice.

January 19, 2015

Making Progress

Stress Fracture Update

The big news this week is that I ran… twice!  The first one was supposed to be just a mile, but turned into two, and the second was supposed to be 3.5 and ended up being 2.5 due to freezing rain, but still, I ran!  My foot felt a bit sore for about the first mile or so of each, and again towards the end of both runs, but overall there seemed to be no increased soreness or swelling afterward.  I did notice that my arch felt a bit tight a few hours after, and I think I will probably need to be a bit more diligent about stretching and using the foam roller as I ease back into running.  I’ve been keeping up with the strength, biking, and swimming this week as well, and weirdly, I think I can actually feel my body starting to adapt to the new training.  Everything stays the same for days or weeks, and then suddenly the hand weights that felt heavy last week seem to be lighter, or something will just click mid-swim.  Last week I looked in the mirror and thought that it seemed odd that my arms didn’t really look any different after a month of swimming and weight training, and then two days later I looked like I had taken up a blacksmithing hobby.  (I actually did a little in college and have some lovely candlesticks to show for it…)

Anyway, I’m trying hard to come up with a training plan for the next several weeks that will challenge me without risking reinjury.  My successful runs this weekend gave me enough confidence to sign up for a 4-mile race a month from now, and I’ve decided to try using a slightly modified FIRST plan to train.  I’ll actually be doing the cross-training this time, which should fold nicely into my tri plans, and if all goes well, a fast 4-miler will set me up for faster distance work this spring.  I still need to lay out my full race calendar for the year, but I want to hold off a few more weeks to see what kind of running volume I’m able to handle before I start committing to the spring races that I really want to do.  In related news, I got the email on Thursday for my guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon, and $227 later I am officially in!  Long Run Buddy is as well, and I’m very excited to have a training partner for the full distance of my long runs this fall.

When do I get to call myself a Triathlete?

Even though I’m holding off on committing to any major (running) races for a few more weeks, I did sign up for two sprint-tri’s in May and June, and suddenly that whole endeavor is getting much more real.  My swim classes started last Tuesday, and I’m so, SO glad I enrolled.  The class is geared to novice (but not absolute beginner) swimmers and is focused on the basics of technique and efficiency.  I’ve always seen myself as a weak swimmer and was nervous that I should have signed up for the beginner class, but I seem to be at least at the average skill level in the group.  A few of my classmates have done the NYC Tri before, so I feel a bit more confident that I’ll be able to get through the swim in the allotted time, not to mention survive a dip in the Hudson.  There are also several veteran runners/first-time triathletes in the class who are signed up for the NYC race, and it will be great to get to know a few other newbies as well.  Last week’s session focused mainly on breathing technique, and in addition to working side lying kicking and one arm drills, our coach referred us to this video, created by sea mammal Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman.  His explanation is very clear and after a very focused half hour in the pool this weekend I actually did start to feel the bow wave on my head.

This week I hope to start structured training for the 4-miler and settle into a workable training schedule that incorporates multiple swim, bike, run, and strength workouts each week.  I will be doing two-a-days several times a week, but I’m hoping that scheduling more short and varied sessions will keep me healthy while still building fitness and strength.  I’m trying to alternate days so that I minimize doing the same activity back-to-back, but I still have to work out the kinks.  I’m incorporating a lot more strength training that I did last season, and I hope that will help me prepare for a heavier training load and avoid injury.

Here’s the plan this week:

Monday

Weight training – JM No More Trouble Zones

 

Tuesday 

AM

Running – Intervals

6×800 @ 3:38*

RI 90 sec

PM

Swim class

 

Wednesday

AM

Swim – 30 min

PM

Strength – JM Ripped in 30 Week 2

 

Thursday

AM

Running – Tempo

2 mi @ 8:04*

1 mi easy

2 mi @ 8:04*

PM

Optional 30 min bike

 

Friday

AM

Strength – 1 hr with Trainer

 

Saturday

AM

3 mi easy

PM

30 min swim

 

Sunday

AM

Brick:

Cycle

10 min easy

10 min tempo

10 min easy

5 min hard

5 min easy

Long Run – 7 mi @ 8:34* (If all goes well this week)

 

*I should note that these paces are pegged to my last marathon and I have no idea if I’ll be able to handle the speed after 6 weeks off.

December 8, 2014

EDL Tendinitis Update

escalated

It’s now been a week since I first started feeling some mild discomfort from the (self-diagnosed) EDL tendinitis.  As I wrote in this previous post, it escalated quickly.  Walking is hit or miss; sometimes I feel almost no pain, and other times it’s quite sharp.  Running, jumping, or any sort of impact is still out of the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, this weekend I was signed up for the NYRR Jingle Bell Jog, a 4-miler in Prospect Park.  I haven’t run any races that short since the Israel 4-miler this spring, and I hadn’t raced it, so I was really looking forward to letting loose on this one.  It’s rare NYRR races are on my home turf in Prospect and I was hoping to run 7:30ish splits and move up a corral or two.

By Friday it was clear that there would not be any running happening this weekend, but I still needed to finish the race for my 9+1 entry for next year’s NYC marathon.  The Caveboy graciously offered to keep me company while I walked, which was sweet and rather brave given how grumpy I was about the whole thing.  I really was trying to stay positive and upbeat outwardly, but I was in a fair bit of pain by the end and probably not very good company.

My biggest concern was whether all of the walking was going to set me back even further, but on Sunday my foot actually felt a little better.  I was starting to get some taper madness and did an upper body kettle bell workout just so I didn’t feel like such a slug, but I knew it wouldn’t get me the much-needed hit of endorphins.  For the rest of the day I took the opportunity to rest and ice it while watching football and catching up on my holiday knitting, and by evening it seemed like the visible swelling was gone.  I was cautiously optimistic that it was on the mend, but then this morning the puffy spot was back and it seemed to hurt as much as ever.  Exit Optimism.  In an effort to find some kind of cardio outlet, though, I did scope out a pool to join yesterday, and a swim cap and goggles are on my errand list today.

I keep telling myself that I can turn this into a positive.  I can focus on getting stronger and start swimming in preparation for the summer tri.  For the first time in years, though I’m having a hard time finding the motivation to work out when I can’t do any of the activities I enjoy.  I have no idea if this will take days or weeks or months to heal.  (Though if it’s not showing signs of improvement by the end of the week, I’m going to get some x-rays.)  Running is my prozac, and the combination of the frustration of the injury and losing my stress outlet really has me down.  I think what makes this one particularly difficult is that it came on so suddenly.  When I’ve had runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, or IT band problems I could make (sometimes badly) calculated decisions about whether to run through the pain or not.  I knew that it might ultimately result in having to take some time off, but I at least had a chance to mentally prepare for that eventuality.  There’s nothing to do right now but to keep moving forward in whatever way I can and not let the frustration get in the way.

November 18, 2014

Brooklyn Marathon Race Report

Brooklyn Marathon

Brooklyn Marathon

Months ago, when I signed up for the Baltimore Marathon, I also searched for a backup option.  This was my I-wake-up-on-race-day-with-a-stomach-flu plan B, and knowing it was there took away some of the added stress of preparing for a big race.  The Brooklyn Marathon was perfect for this, as it was less than a month after my A race, and was practically in my backyard.  The entire distance is run in Prospect Park, and while it sounded monotonous, it also meant that I knew every inch of the course.  I also know that I could easily recruit pacers for moral support.  It wouldn’t be glamorous, but it wasn’t bad for a fall back plan.

I had never envisioned running both races, but after the less than stellar day I had in Baltimore, I found myself thinking about Brooklyn again.  I really wanted another shot at the distance, partly to see if I could improve my time, but mostly to conquer my fear.  I spent so much of the race in Baltimore in such a dark place that I didn’t really want to let the memory fester until a spring race.  Brooklyn seemed like the perfect opportunity to take another shot at 26.2, but I was worried about the possibility of overtraining or injury.  After gauging my recovery for two weeks, I decided to grab a spot knowing that I could defer the registration until next year if I didn’t feel up to it in any way.

I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the build-up taper with only three weekends between races, so I winged it.  I essentially reversed my taper for two weeks, which gave one week of actual workouts, and ran a 15-miler in Prospect last Saturday at half marathon pace.  Monday I started my taper again.  On Saturday the Caveboy and I volunteered at NYRR’s 60k, so I was up at 4 AM and on my feet for about 10 hours, though I did remember to wear my compression socks at least.  I really had no idea what to expect on Sunday.  I had only run 85 miles in the almost-month since Baltimore, and 40 of that had come during my one workout week.  My 15-miler had felt great, but I wasn’t sure if I’d lost any endurance.  I was much more nervous than I would have liked.

Sunday morning I awoke to perfect conditions–overcast skies and 40 degrees with no wind.  I got dressed, then second-guessed all of the gear I had laid out the night before.  I got dressed again.  We headed over to Prospect a little before 8 and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of a race with only 400 people.  At 8:30 we lined up at the start and were off.  The route started with 3 laps of the lower (flatter) half of the course, followed by 6 full laps.  Caveboy had agreed to run the first two lower loops with me and promised to keep me from going out too fast.  Given my uncertainty about the whole endeavor, I had decided that the A goal was to go sub 4-hours, and B was just to beat my time at Baltimore.  More than that, though, I just wanted to have a decent experience.

As nervous as I was at the starting line, the minute I started running, it all just fell away.  Maybe it’s just that running in Prospect Park is my happy place.  I started counting my breaths and steps and locked in a nice relaxed 9-minute pace.  The three flat laps flew by and soon we were climbing The Hill that would start each of the remaining full loops.  The hill–Mount Prospect–is about .4 miles at about 3% grade.  It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely long enough to make you hurt after a few laps.  The loops, while potentially monotonous, actually broke the race into nice digestible chunks, though.  I figured that the first two would be no sweat.  The third would mean I was half done with them, and by the end of the fourth there would only be two left, which seemed manageable.  Long Run Buddy had mercifully agreed to pace me for the final laps, and also promised to make sure I was drinking and taking in nutrition, which had been a problem at Baltimore.

I was resolved to learn from my previous mistakes and keep my speed in check early and on the hills. For the first few laps I aimed for easy 9’s, and deliberately slowed to 9:20-9:30 up the big hill. My legs felt good and I wasn’t really feeling the climbs at all, but I wanted to make sure that my quads weren’t shot by the time I got to laps 5 and 6. I found LRB at the start of the fourth loop and we had a quick discussion of how I was feeling and the strategy going forward. I was walking through the water station before the hill on each lap and had been taking a gu every 4 miles since mile 8. By the start of the fifth lap my legs still felt good, but I was reaching the point of not wanting to eat or drink. In Baltimore I was worried I was one of the unfortunate people who just can’t take in nutrition past mile 20 and I pretty much stopped trying. This time, I kept sipping on my water bottle and was able to put down a gu at 21. It seemed to sit okay and I felt some of the loopiness ebb as the sugar hit my system. I got up the hill on lap 5 with no drama and knew there was only one more climb to go. I still felt strong over the rest of the lap, but was beginning to feel the fatigue creeping up.

At the aid station I had a minor crisis involving my last gel, cold fingers, and a stuck zipper, which luckily pulled free before I totally lost my composure.  Once I was refueled, LRB yelled “Make this hill your bitch!” and we started the climb.  I had been expecting the last assault on the hill to be excruciating, but my legs felt miraculously good.  At the top I did some quick low-blood-sugar math and told LRB that I thought I needed 9 flats for the last three miles to get it in under 4 hours.  He picked up the pace a bit as we started a downhill stretch and I turned on my ipod for the first time and did my best to shut off my brain.  Over the next mile I started to dissociate a bit.  I could tell I had a good turnover going, but I couldn’t really feel my legs, due to either cold or fatigue.  There was a little uphill at the marker for 25 and suddenly–Whoosh–I had the biggest runner’s high of my life.  We rounded the bottom of the park and in no time we were at the turn off to the finish line on the lower loop.  I hadn’t looked at my watch since the 24th mile marker and had no idea how close I was to 4 hours.  There was another slight climb up to the 26 mile mark, but I wasn’t feeling anything at that point.  One last curve and I saw the finish line up ahead.  LRB dropped off and I kicked as hard as I could.  The gun time read 3:57:44 as I crossed.  My official time clocked in a 3:57:18; I actually managed to negative split it by almost two minutes.

I couldn’t be happier with the experience.  I actually enjoyed running this race, not just finishing it.  I know I could have run it faster, and as I crossed the finish line I realized that I probably still had a few miles left in me.  Even so, I wouldn’t change a thing.  There’s always next time.

~ModC

October 22, 2014

Baltimore Marathon Race Report

Baltimore Marathon Medal    Baltimore Marathon Medal

Going into this race, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  I did my homework.  I ran four 20-milers and a 22.  I ran hills.  I studied the course as much as I could and visualized the race.  The week before, I figured out all of my splits based on the elevation profile.  I was sure I knew was I was in for.  I was completely wrong.

Race morning we arrived at the stadium about an hour and half before gun time.  We parked, located the baggage drop-off, found the bathrooms—real ones!—in Camden Yards, and then I did a few warm-up strides to try to shake off my nerves.  I had slept badly the night before and had gotten maybe 3 hours or so, but still felt alert and ready to go.  With only 2,700 marathoners, there were no formal corral assignments—just signs denoting min/mile paces.  The Caveboy and I positioned ourselves at the back of the 8’s/front of the 9’s, and after the usual prerace fanfare we were off.  I knew that the first three miles were uphill, so I tried to focus on calming my nerves and settling into a nice 9:15-9:20 pace, figuring I’d make it up on the long downhill to come.  From the start, pacing turned out to be a lot more difficult than I’d imagined.  What had looked like a long, slow grade on the elevation profile was in fact continuously rolling terrain.  We’d run up a 30’ rise, hit a very short downhill and lose 15’ of gain, then run up and down again.  We were definitely climing overall, but the short hills were much harder to pace properly than a gradual slope would have been.  The downhills weren’t long enough to really open up, and by the time I’d get a good turnover going I’d realize we were already heading uphill again and I was running a suicidal 8:10.

Elevation as per my Garmin. And yes, Garmins are admittedly wonky.

Elevation as per my Garmin. And yes, Garmins are admittedly wonky, but you get the idea.

We continued in this fashion until we got to the zoo—a recent course addition—which was probably my favorite stretch of the whole thing.  There were more hills there, including some steep and twisty downs, but the course itself was quite pretty.  The sun had come up fully by then, and zookeepers were posted along the route holding a raven, an oriel, and—by the time the Caveboy got there—a baby penguin.  The real challenge through those miles, in addition to the continual hills, was the number of turns.  The pack was still reasonably crowded and the pace would lag on every uphill and turn.  I was having a hard time holding anything close to my 8:50 pace even on the downhills, and starting to get worried.

Finally, the long downhill stretch began, or so I thought.  Again, it turned out to be much more of a rolling net downhill, and I was already starting to struggle with my mind going negative.  As much as I tried to relax, to just let the nervousness be there and not worry about it, I just could not tune out and run.  In retrospect, I think that had a lot more to do with the course than I realized at the time.  Until this race, I really never realized how much I count on being able to lock in a pace and tune out.  At the time, though, I hadn’t quite realized how the terrain was affecting me and instead I further beat myself up for not being able to relax.  By the time we got to the first semi-flat section at the Inner Harbor, I knew I was in trouble.  I was running 9’s and working hard to hold them.  At the water station around 11 I was passed by the 4-hour pace group, and decided to hang with them for a few miles while I figured out the plan.  I was going to a very dark place and I knew I needed to pull it together if I was going to get through the rest of the race.  I stayed with the pace group for five or six miles and just tried to focus on breathing out the side stitch that had been nagging since the start.  The four-hour group was running inexplicably fast—8:30’s it seemed—and I ended up falling behind them at an aid station past the halfway point.  We were back into the hills and the longest climb of the race by that point, and I really didn’t have it in me to surge to catch them again.  To add to the difficulty, it was getting warmer and there was no protection from the sun on the second half of the course.

Letting the pace group go actually helped a bit mentally—I made my peace with not breaking four hours and actually was able to relax a little bit.  The half marathoners joined us at mile 16, and the influx of energy was nice as well.  Though the course was now more crowded, most of the halfers were still running the uphills at a decent pace, so I tried to hang with them and ignore the increasing numbers of marathoners who were now walking.  With about 7 miles left, the side stitch I’d been fighting for most of the race was really starting to hurt, and I worried that if it cramped completely I wouldn’t be able to breathe or finish faster than a walk.  I finally gave in a walked a bit of the next uphill and felt a bit better after that.  The downhills actually hurt it worse than the ups, I think just due to the impact, so I kept trying to keep up a 9:30ish pace for as much of the uphills as I could and then walk fast as briefly as necessary.

Over the next several miles of climb I had never wanted to stop running so badly in my life, but the weird thing was that my legs still felt pretty good and I really wasn’t running all that slowly.  The mental fatigue of the impossible uphill-downhill pacing, not to mention the race nerves had me completely worn out, though.  Miles 20-21 were a mercifully flat loop around Lake Montebello.  A lot of the runners around me groaned when they saw it, mostly because it’s one of the few spots in the race flat enough to actually see a large expanse of the course in front of you.  The two-mile string of runners threading around the lake looked impossibly long, and we all knew that it was only a small portion of the distance still left to run.  I, however, felt nothing but a flat, grim resolve.  Strangely, at no point during the race did I ever think about how many miles were left, or whether I’d be able to run them.  I also never once worried about getting through the ‘unknown’ miles 22-26, which I can’t really explain.  While the nervous part of my brain was running wild during the race, the emotional part seemed completely gone by that point.  I counted every breath the whole way around that lake, and thankfully, had at least two flat miles to lock in a pace and zone out a bit.

After a lot more hills, finally, FINALLY, we hit the last downhill at mile 24.  I tried to pick up the pace as much as I could and managed to hit mid to high 8’s.  By this point, though, so many people were walking that I had to dodge and weave just to maintain steady progress.  The crowds got denser as we neared the stadiums, and finally we were headed for the finish line.  The mile 26 marker must have fallen over; I never saw it.  I just kept grimly running, trying to keep my form and knowing that if I kept it up long enough it would eventually end.  Before the race, I had worried that I’d get so emotional heading to the finish line and that it might be hard to breathe or run hard.  In the end, I felt nothing at all.  For the last half mile, I just kept running, putting one foot in front of the other until it was over.  There was no emotion, no sense of accomplishment, just a muted relief at being able to stop.

My final time was 4:08:43.  I wasn’t as disappointed initially as I might have been since I knew I absolutely could not have prepared better or run harder.  When I checked the results—the bibs had a QR tag that allowed you to get your results within 10 minutes of finishing—I was a little shocked, though.  I had finished in the top quarter of women, the top third overall, and the top 50 in my age group.  When I saw the numbers, I recalibrated a bit and considered that I might possibly have done pretty well.

All in all, I’m still not really sure what to make of it.  The course was not at all what I expected.  Still, the hills really got me mentally more than physically.  I learned a lot, including just how mental this sport really is.  I also learned to scout the course in person well ahead of time.  When I consider the full experience of training and racing, it was totally worth it.  Still, I’m surprised at how flat I felt at the finish.  I will do another marathon, but I’m not sure if it will be in a few months, or a year.  I know I need to let my body recover from what’s been nearly a solid year of racing and training, but I HATE that I can’t run for a few more days.  Part of me can’t imagine doing it all over again, but I’m already reading Running on Air to learn how to breathe more efficiently (and hopefully eliminate those nagging side stitches), and thinking how to train better next time.  Mostly, though, I’m sad that it’s over.  I should probably mention that I’ve gone off coffee for a week while I recover from the race, so this may all be the lack of caffeine talking.

 

October 16, 2014

Taper Thoughts

This week I’ve been trying to fight off the taper madness by focusing on why I’m doing the marathon, and why now.  I entered my first half over six years ago, and honestly never felt temped to enter a full until a few years ago.  I know plenty of people who ran their first marathon in their first year of running.  I’m always impressed with the courage and dedication that it takes, and I’m not in any way knocking it.  It’s just that the marathon has always had mythic proportions in my mind.  The 1984 Olympic women’s race is one of the first sporting events I ever remember watching, and the image of Joanie charging into the stadium (and later, Gabriela Andersen staggering around the track) stuck with me.  My mom explained to me how far they’d run in terms of a frequent car trip we’d take, and to this day, when I picture myself running a marathon, it’s along that stretch of road in Central Pennsylvania.  I’ve always had a huge respect for the event and the distance, and I never wanted to do one ‘just to finish.’  It may seem silly, particularly for a middle-of-the-pack runner, but it was important to me to be able to truly race the marathon and honor the tradition in some small way.

Three years ago I entered the lottery for New York, got in, trained, got hurt, and had to withdraw.  I entered the lottery every year after that and have not gotten in, but there are hundreds of other marathons I could have done instead.  I just never felt like I was quite ready or that it was the right time.  Some of it, I’m sure, was the fear of injury and what happened last time.  Partly I just wasn’t enjoying racing all that much.  I hadn’t broken two hours in a half marathon in two years.  I was kind of making peace with it and was reluctantly accepting that 9+ minute miles were my limit.  This year, though, something shifted.  Before I had even signed up for any races, I decided to go back to training with the FIRST plan.  It’s rigorous, regimented, and not something one really does for fun.  For the first time in ages, though, I was getting faster.  I signed up for and ran the Chanukah Chalf last November, broke two hours, and nearly PR’ed it in 40 mph wind gusts.  That spurred me to enter another one shortly thereafter to see if I could get the PR in better conditions.  I did, and started slowly chipping seconds and minutes off my times all winter and spring.  When the snow started melting, I knew it was time.  I lotteried for New York and the day I got the rejection, I signed up for Baltimore.  I’ve been officially training for the marathon since June, but I feel like the whole year has led up to this race.  I’m nervous.  I’m excited.  I’m already a little sad that it’s going to be over soon.