Rut.

ChooseRut

I’m in a rut. A running rut. Or maybe just a racing rut. Or some other rut. I don’t know. Could be global.

Do I still like running? Yes. Unless it is 8000 degrees and 500% humidity.

Do I still like racing? I think so. But I’m not sure. Maybe yes, but not right now.

Do I still like training? I think the answer, at least for now, is no.

Do I still like blogging? Definitely yes, but given my recent rut-like existence, I just haven’t had much to say. Which is why I have been The Worst Co-Blogger Ever. Haven’t posted because I don’t want to harsh the blogosphere mellow. If Colby didn’t love me so much, she would have fired me months ago.

I do think a large part of my running rut has to do with my lack of a goal.

For the first time, I’m racing without a goal. None. Nil. Nada. And let me tell ya, it’s incredibly un-motivating.

For the Marine Corps Marathon, my goal was to finish, which I did.

I didn’t have a specific goal for the Philly marathon, but I wanted to do it as a “pre-training” of sorts for The Big One. Boston 2015. I didn’t want Boston to be my second marathon for some reason (?).  Despite my bizarre, allergy-ridden experience at Philly, I’m glad I did it because the snowy weather last winter was brutal, and if I was starting from scratch in my winter training for Boston I would have had a panic attack. Or ten.

Then came Boston. And, except for the weather, it was everything I hoped it would be. Everything. My goal for Boston was to experience running Boston. No Other Goal Needed.

Though I struggled with the weather during Boston, I BQ’d again. So I’ll be back in 2016. And for Boston, I think that just running Boston will always be enough of a goal for me. Now that I know what it is like to run that course, experience those crowds, and turn right on Hereford, left on Boylston, I’m pretty sure I’ll never need another motivator to run Boston.

But before Boston 2016 comes Baystate 2015. And I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing with it.

Fact: The only “goal” I can think of right now is a PR.

Fact: I have neither the time nor the energy to train for a marathon PR at this time. I’m split a lot of different ways and the piece of the pie available for racing right now is not big enough to train for a PR. I’m also dealing with some as-yet undiagnosed GI issues which will not help in that regard.

Fact: I find it hard to feel excited about training for a race when I have no goal. And that is what I have been dealing with this summer. I don’t mind the running  (except for the heat and humidity, which is always the case), but when I think about it in terms of “training,” and what I “should” do, the spark just isn’t there.

I can easily run a 5K with no goal. A half marathon is a little harder, but still doable, since I run enough that I don’t really have to train for a half anyway. Still, I ran the Fairfield Half in June: I was crabby going to it, meh during it, and didn’t even get an adrenaline rush after it. It was yet another race where I did fine but nothing new or exciting. I don’t even think I recapped it here, because I had nothing to say.

And now I’m training (and man oh man, I use that term loosely) for a race that is twice as long as the Fairfield Half. Oy. That’s an awfully long way to run without a spring in your step.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a cold & snowy winter this year, so working toward Baystate will give me a base for my Boston training. At least that is what I tell myself when I’m procrastinating before a 6 AM run.

And I still like running. I really do. But the time commitment and mental commitment for “training” is so different. Having to put in the time (and even there, I’ve been slacking)  without the mental investment is just not fun. Or inspiring. Or motivating.

Methinks I’m taking a racing break after this one, so I can just run without any sort of plan – even a half-assed one – and not worry about it. I can still do the running, but not have to think about the running, talk about the running, plan the running, track the running…

At least until January, when Boston training will start. Hopefully, I will have climbed out of the rut by then.

Have you ever been in a running rut? Or a racing rut? What the hell did you do to get out of it?

David Blaine Ain’t Got Nothing on the Magic of the PMC

Pan Mass Challenge. For Colby and me, it is The Best Weekend of the Year. And while I didn’t poll every person I met about where the weekend ranked for them, I definitely didn’t meet anyone who would choose to be anywhere else.

But when you write out what the PMC weekend entails, it’s pretty incredible that it is The Best Weekend of the Year for anyone. It involves little sleep, lots of exertion, soreness and discomfort. Sweat, dehydration, communal bathrooms and not much relief from the elements. And that’s where the PMC magic comes in. None of the discomforts can hold a candle to the greatness that is the PMC.

Here’s a glimpse of what The Best Weekend of the Year looks like:

Friday: Revisit 6th Grade math and solve the problem of how to get yourself and your bike (plus 3 friends and their bikes) to the starting line in Sturbridge, MA without leaving a car there. This is a pass/fail test and you have to pass. {Thankfully, Colby’s Other Half Saint Tim, drove us the 2+ hours from her house, dropped us off and turned around to get back to work. Thanks Tim!}

NOTE: If you are PMC Bestie Ivy, and live in NYC, this means you will get on a subway at 6 AM with your bike and weekend bag, take it to a jam-packed Grand Central Station, where you will navigate the crowds to get on a 7 AM commuter train (still with bike and bag) to my Connecticut town, where you will once again unload your bike and bag, load them again into my car, and take Leg 3 to Colby’s house, where you will once again unload your bike and bag and load them into another car, only to unload again in Sturbridge. Ivy, you are a champ. I’m exhausted just typing this out. It is probably a 7-hour trip just for Ms. Ivy to get to Sturbridge.

Once in Sturbridge, it is a breeze. You just hang out and soak up the good PMC juju. Rack your bikes, register, check into hotel, see PMC friends, cry a little, laugh a lot. They have opening ceremonies, plenty of food and a Harpoon tent. It’s all very upbeat and chill. Which is important, since the next day is Day 1 and you need to rest while you can.

Saturday: Depending on where you are staying (i.e., how close to the start line), you will get up somewhere between 3:15-4:15. We stayed across the street this year (Thank You Meghan, aka Miss PMC!) so got to sleep in until 4:15 AM. Since hotel rooms are at a premium, you will either have slept 2 to a bed or possibly on the floor. Maybe even in a tent outside. While getting ready, you will take a moment to appreciate using a semi-private bathroom and shower (only shared among 4 people!), because it will be the last time you do so until you get to your Cape Cod rental on Sunday. You floss carefully. You enjoy the mirror. You wash your hands twice with soap and dry them with a hand towel. ‘Cause you can.

4:45 AM: you drop your bag off at a massive truck with the PMC Angels who will drive it to the Mass Maritime Academy campus (finish line of Day 1 and your host for the evening – you will be sleeping in a 12-man cabin on the USS Kennedy). Find your bike and line it up for the start. Head inside for breakfast, coffee and entertainment provided by local cheerleaders. Fuel up and soak in the good vibes. Notice that everyone is acting like it is 10:45 AM, not 4:45 AM. Not a yawn or crabby morning face to be seen. It’s the magic of the PMC.

5:15 AM: Line up and prepare for the start. Take pics. Talk to the people around you and get their stories. It’s one of my favorite parts – everyone you meet on the ride has a story of why they are there. Some people wear their stories on their backs, like us. Others on their helmets or their bikes. Others just share verbally. But every last person has a story of why they are there. And I never tire of hearing them.

Not everyone wears their stories on their backs, like us. But everyone has them.

Not everyone wears their stories on their backs, like us. But everyone has them.

5:30: And we’re off. Only 110 somewhat-hilly miles to Bourne. Along the way, we will get hot, we will get tired, we will get sore, and we probably will suffer at least one bike malfunction (this time Colby snapped a spoke. Last year, I got a flat tire and lost a brake cable). But we also will meet countless people – fellow riders, volunteers, spectators – who will affect us in ways we never thought a stranger could. We will see the best- the absolute best – that humanity has to offer. And we will feel very, very hopeful. Not just about finding a cure for cancer, but also for the future of humanity as a whole.

Late Afternoon: You made it to Bourne. You’ve showered on the ship. Maybe “rinsed off” is a better description, but whatever. You no longer smell. You get to enjoy a party with 5000+ of your best PMC friends. Food, drink, bands and a grassy quad on the shore of Buzzards Bay. You enjoy every second – even the teary ones. You’ve earned it. This is also when the PMC takes its annual “Living proof” picture of survivor volunteers and riders. The reason we ride.

The Reason(s) We Ride.

The Reason(s) We Ride.

Sunday: After sleeping on a ship in a triple bunk (I’ll let everyone decide for themselves whether top, middle or bottom is best: Discuss.) in a 12-person cabin with one bathroom for very-few restless hours, you’re up. Somewhere between 3:30-4:30, but you know the later it is, the less likely you are to get one of the kick-ass egg sandwiches at breakfast, so it’s up and at ‘em as soon as your eyes open. You navigate a teeny space with 11 other people while you kit up, brush your teeth and pack up your bag, which seems much heavier than it did on Friday. And yet, everyone is smiling and happy. ‘Cause it’s the PMC.

Breakfast, Porta Potty and as soon as it is light enough (5:30?), you’re off. The sooner you make it over the Bourne Bridge, the better. It is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the PMC – up a bridge, single file, slooooowly, with plenty of traffic to your left. Yes, even at 5:30 AM. You have to manage going slowly and occasionally stopping, without tipping over and taking the whole peleton with you. And thanks to the PMC magic, you make it over the bridge without incident.

You’re inevitably sore when you hop on your bike. Your butt hurts so much that you can’t imagine that you will be able to ride 82 more miles. But you will. ‘Cause it’s the PMC.

Somewhere in the last 10 miles of the ride, a car comes up slowly on your left. You turn and see a woman with a bald head leaning out the passenger window as her driver drives slowly enough for her to thank each rider as she passes. And for the 1000th time this weekend, you burst into tears. Tears for the challenges that this woman faces, tears for the fact that she and so many others are still fighting, tears for those who are gone and tears of gratitude for your health and your ability to participate in this ride.

82 miles and 3 water stops after the start of Day 2, you arrive at the finish. Provincetown Inn and the Atlantic Ocean are there to greet you at the end of the line, along with other happy riders and so many amazing volunteers. And as you do every year, you burst into tears. For so many reasons. You’re tired, hot, depleted, sore and oh, so very grateful that you can do this. You hop off. Take a few pictures, rack your bike and start counting the days until PMC 2016.

It’s Magic.

The Art of Racing in the Rain…

A rainy mile at the 2015 Boston Marathon

A rainy mile at the 2015 Boston Marathon

…is a really good book, but that isn’t what this post is about.

Nope. Today I’m talking about what to do when you train for a race – maybe even a really big race, say, maybe even The Boston Marathon, and wake up on race day to find that Mother Nature has decided to rain on your parade.

Kurt Cobain said it best – Nature is a whore.

I have run in the rain plenty of times, but it is totally different when you are racing in the rain –especially a distance race, like a half or a marathon. Or a 110 mile bike ride like Day 1 of the Pan Mass Challenge (that would be PMC 2014).

You can’t just change plans. Wait for it to stop. Immediately schedule a rest day.

Nope, you have to put on your big girl (waterproof) underwear and suck it up. For 2, 3, 4, 5, maybe more hours. Ugh. Fortunately, before the torrent that was the Boston Marathon 2015, I googled every tip I could on racing in the rain, tried most out during that wet and windy race, and now I’m gonna share them with you.

1. Don’t Panic. This should be Rule #1 for everything that doesn’t involve locusts or a mushroom cloud. Seriously, don’t panic. It’s rain. It probably will not improve your performance, but neither will freaking out. So take a deep breath, reassess and move forward.

2. Train in the rain. If you do a fair bit of racing, you will eventually have to run in the rain. And if you take your run indoors on a treadmill every time it rains, you will be even more freaked out if you have ugly conditions on raceday. Training in all kinds of weather will train you to race in all kinds of weather. It’s worth a little discomfort during the training cycle to be prepared. I can’t tell you how many of us in Boston’s Athlete’s Village consoled each other pre-race with “Don’t worry – you certainly trained in worse!” (for those outside of the northeast, it was a cold, snowy, icy, endless winter. And yes, we did indeed train in worse.)

3. Dress appropriately. Cannot be stressed enough. Cotton is not your friend. I repeat: Do Not Wear Cotton. Or anything that absorbs. Wear something with wicking properties. If it is cool and you need layers, make sure they are light and close-fitting – loose layers will only weigh you down once they get wet. Wear a hat or a visor with a brim to keep the rain off your face. If it is cold, wear tech gloves. If you have friends or family rooting you on somewhere on the course and it is cold, give them an extra hat, jacket and pair of gloves to switch into when you see them. If you have room in your pockets, at least put an extra pair of gloves in a ziploc and switch to the dry ones halfway through. Had I been able to swap out for dry gloves, jacket, etc. during Boston, I would have been a lot more comfortable and am pretty sure that I would have been able to finish with a faster time. Numb extremeties and a shivering body will not enhance your performance. Trust me.

4. Stay dry as long as you can. You really do not want to start the race wet. Wear something waterproof with a hood over your clothes to the start and ditch them at the last possible second. You can get a disposable rain poncho at most drug stores – pick one up at the first sign that race day could be rainy. Or pick up a garbage bag and shower cap – will work just as well. Bring an extra pair of shoes and socks to change into for the start, or if you can’t manage that, wear plastic bags over your sneakers until the start. You may also want to wear a garbage bag with armholes for the first part of the race. I did not do that for Boston because I thought I would feel claustrophobic. If I could do it over, I would start with a garbage bag over my clothes and just rip it off once I got hot. The longer you can stay dry, the better. Trust me.

5. Grease up like a pig at a county fair. You already know to use Glide for races to avoid chafing – goes double for rainy races. In addition to putting Glide on so-called “problem areas,” cover your feet with glide or aquaphor before putting on socks. I did this for Boston and despite running with soaking wet feet for almost the entire marathon, I emerged without one blister. Seriously – it was a Christmas miracle in April. If it is cold, cover all exposed skin (legs, arms) with aquaphor. It will repel the water and help keep you warm.

6. Adjust your expectations. Especially if it is windy. Rain won’t always slow you down, but a headwind will. You can try to draft with a group to help with the effects of the wind. Didn’t really work for me in Boston, because the wind was coming from multiple directions, but if it is just a headwind, drafting could help. Rain might slow you down and make things slippery. Be careful. A wipe out is never fun. You may be in PR shape but not have PR weather. It’s OK. Run the best you can run safely and keep a reasonable goal in mind.

7. But don’t give up. Many people had PR’s at Boston this year. Depending on the timing of their start, lots of people missed the worst of the wind, and the cool temps counteracted the slippery rain conditions, leading them to super fast PR times. I didn’t PR, but I also lost close to 10 minutes when my hands were so numb that I couldn’t get my gloves off to reach my Gu Chompers and a lovely volunteer had to help me deglove, rip open my Chompers, watch me eat them and then re-glove me. (God Bless Him – I’m not sure that was covered in the volunteer handbook.) Had I not lost the 10 minutes, I would have PR’d by around 5 minutes. No reason to give up on a PR just because it is raining. Go out and try your hardest despite what the meteorologists say. Just don’t beat yourself up if the conditions lead to a less than stellar race. You can’t control everything.

8. Hydrate. Just because you are wet on the outside doesn’t mean you are hydrated on the inside. Make sure to drink enough water regardless of how hard it is raining.

9. Pack dry clothes for the finish. Get out of your wet clothes and into dry ones as fast as you can. Including socks and sneakers. Even in relatively mild weather, you will feel very uncomfortable if you are still wet after cooling down after the race. And in cold weather, it can be downright dangerous. Once you stop, you need to get dry and warm as soon as possible. Once you are warm and dry, you can fully appreciate what a badass you are for running the distance in the rain.

10. Thank the volunteers. They likely were out there in the elements before you got there and stayed long after you passed them. Amazing. Make sure you let them know how much they are appreciated.

Any good racing in the rain stories? My toughest rainy day adventures were Pan Mass Challenge 2014 and Boston Marathon 2015. Here’s to hoping for better weather for PMC 2015 and Boston 2016…

Tempo Shmempo

Or…how NOT to do a tempo run.

I was inspired by a kick-ass speedwork session that Colby had yesterday morning. So inspired that I decided on the train home last night that I would try doing a “tempo” run this morning. My first. Plan was a 1 mile warm-up, 4 mile tempo, 1 mile cooldown (yes, Colby, I googled how to do a tempo run while on the train-are you impressed?).

Alas, I am the yang to Colby’s yin, and my tempo run did not go off quite as well as her speedwork. Here are some tips on how NOT to do a tempo run and general musings on my less-than-stellar experience…

Day before –

1. Make sure you have a busy day with lots of meetings and little time to hydrate. Well, plenty of time to hydrate, but feel self conscious about taking too many bathroom breaks for fear that colleagues think you have some weird condition, so drink water sparingly. Attend business lunch where you’re allergic to pretty much everything. Make do by eating only different kinds of salads, ancient grains and fruits. Studiously avoid anything that might be easy on the stomach.

2. Make sure you don’t get home until around 8:45. Make the mistake of mentioning “Dunkin Donuts” in front of your kids so that you are forced to watch, memorize and rap along with Big Papi and Gronk in the Dunkie’s commercial for 45 minutes (Cup Solo!) when all you want to do is floss, brush and collapse. BUT: Gronk! Big Papi!

Morning of-

1. Wake up around 4:20 thanks to a woodpecker. Give him the finger (he doesn’t care) and realize that you will never go back to sleep. Watch part of an episode of Real Housewives of Somewhere and then follow it with a bit of Burt Wolf’s “Travels and Traditions” on PBS so you feel better about yourself and your TV viewing habits.

2. Decide at 5 that you will get up and do your run early, before getting kids ready for school. Get out of bed and make the mistake of checking work e-mail. Spend next 40 minutes revising something for a client in London (those Brits have 5 hours on us!! Not fair!) that came in over night.

3. Drink a Vitamin Water Energy like it is your job. And it is, because you have to leave for your run by 6 and it’s the only fuel you are getting. The window for eating solid food passed around an hour earlier and you do not want to puke on your first tempo run. Or any run, for that matter.

4. See note on counter that today is Field Day at school and Stooge #1 has to bring a nut-free, fully disposable snack and lunch (preferably in recyclable packaging). Dammit! Now run has to be followed immediately by trip to deli to pick up food that meets the guidelines. All this house has to offer is PB&J. So much for post-run stretching. Realize you now have extra incentive to hit your tempo pace because you have not yet left the house and already are short on time.

Run-

1. Start off with an easy 1-mile warm up. Feel like you’re already working hard. Not good. Probably just hungry, dehydrated, sleep-deprived or stressed. Possibly all of the above.

2. Kick off the 4 mile tempo run. Mile 1: OK but working hard. Feels a little too hard for mile 1. Nervous.

3. Mile 2: not feeling strong and realize you have chosen a route with some hills. You’re a fool. A tired, dehydrated fool. Nervous and miserable. Wonder if you have undiagnosed asthma and that is why you are sucking wind. Know deep down that this is not the case.

4. Mile 3: – realize that you did the freaking math wrong and if you do 4 miles at tempo, the run will end at your house and you will not have any cool down before you jump in the car and head to local deli. Even you know that this is a Very Very Bad Idea. Decide on the fly that this will be a 3 mile tempo run so you can have a 1 mile cool down. Feel secretly happy that you only have to do 3 miles at this pace, because you are sucking wind and still 2 seconds above what Google told you should be your tempo pace (5K pace + 30 seconds). Miserable and bad at math. A winning combo.

5. Realize Google suggested you wear a heart monitor and you forgot. Figure it is for the best, because it probably would be sounding an alarm for a defibrillator right about now. This is not pleasant. Or as Google put it, “comfortably hard.”

6. Finish Mile 3 of tempo run. Actually end up making your goal pace, but know that it is because you raced the last half mile and that does not seem to be the right thing to do for a tempo run (Note: Check Google on this). Your first tempo run and you cheated. Who cares, you’re done and can run like a normal person now.

7. Enjoy cool down portion of the run – the grass seems greener, the sky seems bluer. Smile. Enjoy returning to regular breathing. Pass a house that smells like pancakes. Wonder who the hell is making pancakes at 6:45 AM on a Wednesday. Wonder if they wonder who the hell is running like a lunatic at 6:45 AM on a Wednesday. Wonder if your kids would rather have a mom who was home making pancakes instead of out running. Remember that you watched the damn Dunkie’s commercial 8000 times last night and even promised to buy them the big Gronk sunglasses and realize you don’t care if they wish you were home making pancakes. They can have pancakes on the weekend. After you run.

8. Get to the bottom of your street and realize that you actually could have done 4 miles at tempo and still gotten in a ½ mile cool down. You misjudged the route. Oh, well. {Thank God you are bad at both math and route planning. THANK GOD. Mile 4 may have killed you.}

9. Feel proud of yourself for trying something new and at the same time, wonder whether it would be best to go back to Tina Marathon Training 1.0, which generally involves the following: Run. Kinda a lot. Do some long runs. Make sure to rest sometimes. Repeat.

10. Start your day.

I think I will try a tempo run again. They are miserable enough that they must be good for you. Just not anytime soon. I need to forget this one first.

Who else does tempo runs? Any tips for how to do them? I think I have covered how not to do them pretty well, if I do say so.

Walking on Sunshine? Try Running on Clouds!

A few months ago, my amazing local running store – The Authentic Athlete in Fairfield, CT (seriously, stop by if you are ever in the neighborhood- these guys know their stuff) – introduced me to the On Cloudsurfer and told me I’d love it.

They were (as usual) right.

DISCLAIMER: Like every other running apparel company in the world, On has no idea who I am.

MORE DISCLAIMER: Authentic Athlete knows I’m the spaz who comes in and buys running shoes a lot and tripped up their stairs a few months ago, but that’s the extent of our relationship.

I just like to pass it on when I find something I love.

The unique thing about On shoes is their “CloudTec” technology. The sole of the shoe is covered in 13 firm rubber “clouds” that are intended to help you land softly (by absorbing both vertical and horizontal impact) yet take off powerfully (like a barefoot runner).

My funky kicks.

My funky kicks.

I don’t understand all of the science behind those magic clouds on the bottoms of the shoes, but I know two very important things that make me love my Cloudsurfers:

1. When I wear them on long runs, my feet don’t hurt.
2. When I wear them on long runs, my legs don’t hurt.

You know how sometimes you finish a super-long run and once you stop, you basically have to shuffle into your house? Not with these babies. I finished several 20+ milers in them and was able to walk into my house fully upright and moving like a semi-normal person. And this was at the end of my training for the Boston Marathon, when you would think my legs would be a mess. My earlier long runs were in different shoes and I basically hobbled my way into the house after each long run. Being able to walk in my front door like a fully functioning human being was a nice switch and spared me the usual weird looks from my tweens.

I’m not saying my legs weren’t tired- the shoes are not magic- but I was not sore. I’ll take it.

Some people claim that the On shoes make them run faster. I don’t know about that. I think I’ll run faster when I have the time to devote to speedwork and strength training, and I’m not planning on a shoe to help in that area, but the comfort alone is enough for me.

In case you are wondering about some of the same things I did when I considered buying them:

1. Yes, the clouds are very strong and won’t wear down quickly. I read one review by a guy who had run 250 miles in them and the cloud symbol hadn’t even worn off yet. I haven’t noticed any deterioration in the 2 months I have had them.

2. Yes, they feel weird to walk in. But they don’t feel weird to run in. If there was any adjustment period (I can’t really remember), it was probably only the first mile or two the first time I wore them. Seriously. And I think half of that was because I was expecting them to feel weird. By mile 3 of my first run in them, I was a convert.

3. No, stuff does not get stuck in between the clouds. I have run on post-winter roads full of gravel, sand and general gunk with no problems. Not sure if it is different for trail runners, but we road runners {beep! beep!} should be fine.

4. They probably are slightly more slippery than regular types of running shoes because of less points of contact with the road. When I ran through the torrent that was the Boston Marathon, I realized I was fine as long as I stayed off painted lines, trolley tracks and other slick surfaces. Running on the wet road was no problem – maybe I took turns a little more carefully, but that was probably the product of overthinking – but the addition of anything shiny and slick and I felt a little unstable. Despite that, I would wear them again in a rainy race without question.

5. They are almost completely mesh, which is a dream come true in warm weather and may require warmer socks in cold weather. I ran through snow and cold temps in them in regular wool running socks and felt fine. When I wore them in Boston with regular dri-fit type socks, I got a little chilly due to the fact that my feet were soaked by mile 3 and temps were in the low-40’s. That said, I emerged from that race with 10 intact toenails and not one blister. Hear that? Not one blister!! A Christmas miracle brought to me by my good friends at On.

They are not cheap and they are new enough that they aren’t in a lot of discount outlets yet (and I think the ones that are in discount outlets are the earlier versions of what I wear, so Buyer Beware – they may be different). Still, I would highly recommend giving them a whirl.

And if you do, let me know what you think!

The Hills are Alive…

With the sound of grown women crying.

Note to Self: when you sign up for a race that has “Hills” prominently displayed in the title, and markets itself as the 2nd toughest race in Connecticut, it’s not going to be a cakewalk.

Not that we thought that it was going to be easy. If you recall, we didn’t think anything at all because we forgot we were running the damn thing. But truth be told, had we given it thought, we wouldn’t have worried too much. We have suffered through the sufferfest that was the old Fairfield Half course, with hills you could ski down – but had to run up. (Even the new Fairfield course is hilly and it’s always 80 freaking degrees.) A little more than a month ago, I ran a hill named “Heartbreak Hill” and lived to tell. Colby runs trail races that end at the moon. So if we had prepared for the race, we would have thought, Hills. OK. So it won’t be a PR course, but we’ll be OK.

And those hills that knew we were ignoring them and not paying our proper respects? You know what they did? They kicked our disrespectful asses.

SAT AM: We start texting around 5:30 AM. Salt tablets? Address for race? Do we have the right date? Copious amounts of water? We’re ready. Kind of. I still don’t know where I am going, but fortunately, my GPS does. Call Colby from the car for pre-race giggles and nervous musings on the 66 degree, 97% humidity weather we are having (at 6 AM), and our call gets dropped twice. Even though we are less than 25 miles apart on the same damn road. Look for a post on cell phone rants coming soon.

We both arrive without incident. Colby is able to park within feet of the start line. God Bless the Small Race.

The joy before the misery.

The joy before the misery.

We are laughing because her number is 12. I’m 48. No, this is not because we are part of the elite team. It is because they assign numbers alphabetically. Still, it is cool to see her with “12” on her bib and I’m kinda wishing I married someone with an A last name so I could be in single digits.

We look around and can’t help but notice that some people look like they are heading to a Rocky Horror Picture Show or maybe the prom? We know this race was not marketed as a costume race and yet feel underdressed in our running shorts and singlets. For the Love of God. Please do not tell me that I am now expected to gussy up for a half. I can barely remember my Garmin and my Glide. Is there a memo I have missed? Stay tuned for a post on this topic.

Bib pickup starts at 7, race starts at 8. There are a few hundred people signed up for the race and there are 3 – count ’em – 3, porta potties. You do the math. The line takes up most of the 5K course. The race is delayed almost 20 minutes while we wait for the porta potty line to clear. We feel the temperature go up minute by minute and panic, quietly. The last visitor is cheered as he exits the stall.

And we’re off.

The first 2 miles are on a flat rail trail through the woods. Not too bad. To exit the rail trail to the rest of the course, though, we have to run up a wooden walkway that is narrow, steep and full of switchbacks and elderly people out for their morning constitutionals. The person in front of me almost took a gentleman out. This is weird.

Just after mile 2, our friend Patty and her daughter Grace were waiting to cheer us on. Grace even made a sign! Such a great surprise and made my morning.

I think it was around mile 3-ish where several miles of hills really started. Holy Crap. HOLY CRAP! For the next several miles, there was a total of 610 feet of vertical climb. That’s not hilly. That’s mountain-y. It’s also painful and at this point, I start thinking that I not only don’t like racing, I’m pretty sure I don’t even like running. I generally have at least one of these moments in any race where the mercury is above 70. Which it most certainly is at this point.

And it wasn’t just the big hills. The course is rolling almost the entire way after you get off the rail trail. Quads! Hammies! Calves! They all hate me at this point, as well as, I am assuming, Colby.

See, Colby was all ready to run a fun half in Branford that ended at a brewery on Sunday, but since I couldn’t make that one, she switched to this one. As all BRF’s do. 

But that doesn’t mean that she won’t beat me to a pulp at the end. And it would be well-deserved. This course is hard.

I spend miles 7-9 running a little faster, thinking of how Colby is going to kill me when she sees me at the finish. Should I just keep running after the finish line until I get to my car and high tail it home? I think she has a busy weekend – probably doesn’t have time to drive to my house and kill me. Will buy me at least another week.

The sun comes out and I think of the delayed start, and all that beautiful overcast sky that was wasted waiting for people to clear the porta-potties. I go from hot and uncomfortable to a hot mess. In seconds.

It’s an out and back course, so the rollers that were there from miles 3-7 on the way out are sadly still there on the way back. Fortunately, many of the bigger hills were uphills on the way out, so we get some – not enough – never enough – but some – nice downhills on the way back. Except at mile 10, where there is an endless uphill that makes me want to puke. Or cry. Or both.

When I see our personal booster club (Patty and Grace), I know that just that weird wooden walkway and the rail trail are all that separate me from a massive bottle of water and a lick of shade.

Once on the rail trail, I’m kind of alone. I can see two guys about ¼ mile ahead of me and there is someone around ¼ mile behind me, but no one right near me. I realize that I have never run a race this small before. Felt weird, but kind of cool. More weird than cool, though. City Girl likes crowds. I also like someone to chase for the last mile to keep me going. Here, it’s just me and a bunch of trees that all look alike.

The finish is nice – plenty of people hanging around to cheer, and the medal is cool. Lots of water.

My face and legs are covered in salt. So are Colby’s. We are officially disgusting, sweaty messes. We don’t love our times, but it turns out that it was more because of the tough course than us having tough races, because we both finish well in our divisions. I actually came in 2nd for our division and got a sweet pint glass with the name of the race and my place engraved on the back it. Hamden Glass We spent the next hour bitching about the race and agreeing that we are DEFINITELY doing it next year.

Did you ever doubt?

Sweaty, Miserable, Smiling Fools.

Sweaty, Miserable, Smiling Fools.

The Boston Marathon: A Recap in Pictures.

I have never thought of myself as particularly vain, and I’m going to prove it now by recapping the Boston Marathon through some pretty ugly race pictures. I don’t really “run pretty” to begin with, and the rainy, windy weather didn’t help. Who cares? Anyone reading this blog has seen ugly race pictures before. I assume I won’t scare anyone off.

For those who don’t know, the weather for the 2015 Boston Marathon was less than optimal. Temps in the 40’s (fine by me), BUT bands of steady rain and a 10-20 mph headwind, with gusts up to 30 mph. In the days leading up to the race, I kept hoping the depressing forecast would improve.

Instead it got worse.

When I asked Colby for an update as I was heading out the door, her reply was, “Oh, Poodle. You don’t want to know. Just run.”

So I did. And it was cold, and wet, and windy. But it was Boston, and I loved every step. Well, almost every step.

Here’s a pictorial tour:

Athlete’s Village. Look how happy I am! I am at Athlete’s Freaking Village in Hopkinton! Who cares if I’m functioning on 4 hours of sleep and it started raining while we were on the bus? The rain stopped when we got there! That has to be a good sign-right? RIGHT? RIGHT???

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My Corral has just been called to line up at the start. Holy Crap. Sh*t’s getting real.

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Early miles. Oh, I guess the very definite forecast was right after all and the rain won’t hold off. I don’t even think this picture shows how torrential it really was. Pouring. Soaked to the bone. And then the rain got worse. My race pictures from the Natick and Wellesley sections of the race barely came out because it was so dark and the lenses of the cameras were covered in raindrops.

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Heartbreak Hill. I did it! At a solid pace! Feeling strong! I’m thrilled! And cold and wet! But mostly thrilled!

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Just past Heartbreak Hill. Still thrilled! But also confused: where is my freaking family? I’m wasting precious energy searching the crowd for my loved ones. (They were there – just a little farther up than I expected).

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Beacon Street. Probably Mile 24. But it could have been mile 23, 24 or 25, because the conditions were equally miserable for all. The wind is outrageous and I am looking for ruby slippers to take me home. I look like I am “digging deep” in the picture, and I probably am, but mostly I am trying to block the wind from my eyes. My fists are clenched because my hands have been numb since mile 10. Soaking wet tech gloves can only do so much. I am wondering whether I even like to run.

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I have already turned right on Hereford and have just turned left on Boylston! The home stretch! It is a very loooooong home stretch, but I’m here!  I can see the finish line! The crowds are amazing!!! Yahoo!! I suddenly remember that I love to run.

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The finish line. HELLO GORGEOUS!! So very happy to meet you!

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I have my medal! And, possibly, a slight case of hypothermia! But I don’t care. I just finished Boston! I JUST FINISHED BOSTON!

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Wrapped in Love

Only in Boston is the most revered running accessory one that you would never actually wear while running. Yup, thanks to the “Marathon Scarf Project,” a hand-knitted scarf is the most prized of all of the wonderful Boston Marathon items you can get during marathon weekend.

The Old South Church is only 100 feet away from the Boston Marathon finish line and was a place of aid, comfort and solace for many following the horrible events in 2013. The Old South Church Knitters Club decided in 2014 to knit scarves for the runners.

As the club says, “the thought was to wrap runners in marathon blue and yellow scarves knitted with love and courage.”

The idea went viral and over 7000 hand knitted scarves were sent from all over the world for the club to hand out to the runners over the 2014 marathon weekend. Volunteers stood outside the church and bestowed passing runners with a scarf and a blessing.

This year, the church did not run a formal project again, but many knitters still wanted to knit for the runners, and reached out in other ways to get scarves to runners. I was fortunate to see offers for scarves on the Boston Marathon Forum run by Runner’s World and was thrilled to get one. An angel from Los Angeles knitted the beautiful scarf I’m wearing in the picture below and mailed it to me so I would have it in time for Marathon Weekend.

Waiting for the 57 Bus to take me into the Expo...in my beautiful new scarf!

Waiting for the bus to take me in to the Expo…wearing my beautiful new scarf!

Don’t get me wrong – I love my medal. Oh, how I love my medal (and when I write about the race weather in my recap, you will see, Oh, how I earned my medal!), but it is not my favorite Boston Marathon neck accessory. Not by a longshot.

Here is the beautiful note that she sent along with the scarf.

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Katherine Switzer, the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon, once said, ‘If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” Thanks to the magic that is Boston, at this marathon your faith will be restored even before the first runner takes a single step.

Training for Boston…In Boston!

Headed “home” to Boston last weekend to spend Easter with the family and got to do some Boston marathon recon work and take a run on the actual course. My kids were not impressed with our tour of the course, but it was a lot of fun for me. (My kids were even less impressed that this is what passes for fun for me. Teens and tweens. You can’t win.)

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On Friday, I drove from the Hopkinton start to Heartbreak Hill to get a sense of what the early part of the course looks like, and on Saturday, I ran from Wellesley in to the finish line. I’ve run Heartbreak Hill many times, but never took the course the rest of the way in to Boylston. It was great, and I have a bunch of random bits to share:

  1. There is something about a point-to-point marathon that seems awfully long. 26.2 straight miles just seems longer than a loop. Yikes. When we were driving from Hopkinton to Newton, my 13 year old remarked, “I’m getting bored just driving this course. I can’t believe you have to run it.” Ummm…thanks.2015_bostonmarathon_coursemap
  2.  As I have heard, the starting stretch is indeed narrow, windy and steep. I am going to be lucky to get through it without taking a digger. Thank God my mother has never seen the start, or she would make me wear a mouthguard. All joking aside, it freaked me out a little bit. I’m the perfect size for getting knocked over. I’ve always wanted to be perfect at something, and apparently, this is what God chose for me.
  3. There is still snow in Boston, but fortunately not on the roads. Unfortunately, the roads are a MESS. Pothole city and lots of frost heaves with huge craters. I feel terrible for the city workers in the various towns who are working on getting the roads ready for the race – they have their work cut out for them. After a winter of hell. God Bless Them. And if they aren’t able to finish in time, then I feel terrible for me.
  4. The Boston Marathon is such a big freaking deal in Boston. For the first few miles of the course route, the fire hydrants are painted in BAA colors. The painted start and finish lines on the roads are permanent (although freshly painted every year) and there are already signs up about “Marathon Monday.” Got me very excited!
  5. Training for Boston in Boston must be EPIC! When I ran the Wellesley-Newton-Brookline section of the course on Saturday, there were at least another 100 or so people on the course, most of whom were with teams or wore BAA shirts. Several running clubs set up tables along the Newton stretch of Commonwealth Avenue with “Free Watah” for the “Runnahs.” Yes, that is exactly what their signs said. The energy on the course was incredible, and training teams had already put up “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston” signs.

    So we don't get lost.

    So we don’t get lost.

  6. There were a lot of members of the Martin Richard team – Team MR8 – and it was both inspiring and heartbreaking to see them out there.
  7. The hills of Newton are, well, hilly? The one foot in front of the other method will be my strategy. And I’m glad I live in a hilly area. If the hills came earlier in the course, I don’t think they would be such a big deal. They were miles 6-9 of my run on Saturday and were no problem. The problem is that they start just before mile 18 on the full course. By mile 18, you’re kind of tuckered. And by the time you finish them at mile 21, you’re a shell of your former self.
  8. This was my last double digit run before the race and I couldn’t help but think that I should have used a formal training plan. Yes, I know it is a little late. And no, I’m not going to start one now. Just a realization to file away for my next race, whenever that may be. I don’t know if I would be in better shape physically if I followed a set plan, but I do think that I’d be in a better place mentally. More on this in another post.
  9. There is a definite technique to running downhills without killing your quads, and I don’t think I have figured it out yet. I have done many google searches in the past few weeks on downhill running, but probably not enough actual practice to grasp the technique. Note to self: a marathon is not a 9th grade history test. I’m pretty sure you can’t “cram” for it. I suspect I will confirm this on the 20th.
  10. For a bazillion years I have stood at the top of Heartbreak Hill and yelled to runners, “It’s all downhill from here!” This is just not true. I’m mortified. You have to run over the Mass Pike overpass at mile 25, and just before Hereford, there is a small incline that probably feels like Everest at that point. I am clearly a lying liar who lied. Apologies to all. I will never say it again.
  11. If the narrow, windy start doesn’t kill me, there is a good chance that the several stretches of the course where the roads are covered in trolley tracks will. God help me if it is a wet day. I am more than capable of falling on dry pavement – I can’t imagine running across wet iron tracks.

    These types of tracks greet you at a few places on the course.

    These types of tracks greet you at a few places on the course.

  12. The few blocks of Boylston between Hereford and the finish seem like a marathon in themselves. I thought city blocks were supposed to be short?
  13. You just don’t get more Masshole than running down Boylston Street, listening to Boston (Rock & Roll Band) on your headphones, training for Boston, while wearing a Red Sox hat. Aaaah…Home Sweet Home! You can take the girl out of Boston…
  14. There is no sweeter place to finish any run than here:

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She Believed She Could, So She Did

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Like many in the Northeast training for a spring marathon, I’m waving the white flag.

Snow. Ice. Freezing temps. Nonexistent pavement. School cancellations. More snow. More ice. Less pavement. More cancellations. They have all made training really, really difficult.

I have had the added benefit of running a mini-hospital for the past few weeks. (Poorly, I might add. I’m no nurse. But I have Lysol’ed everything in this GD house that doesn’t have a beating heart and gotten used to delivering meals on trays.) We went to Mt. Tremblant for our February vacation a few weeks ago. I highly recommend it to anyone who is healthy.

My youngest got a fever of 103 the first night we were there and then we all fell like dominos. I spent a week with fever and chills in a lovely condo with a stunning view. As did the rest of my family. We cut the trip short when my two boys started coughing like lifelong smokers (they’re not) and headed home for antibiotics.

In the 2 weeks since we returned, we have had TWO DAYS where no one in the house was sick. They were just finishing up their antibiotics when someone brought home the stomach bug going around school. The past week has involved a lot of laundry.

I can’t even put down in writing how lame my training for Boston has been because I will have a panic attack on the spot. ON THE SPOT. I almost feel like I need to write a letter of apology to the BAA for not taking their race seriously enough. But I have! I swear I have been doing my best, but this winter has been tough. Weather, kids’ sports schedules, illness and the short days have not been kind to my training. See, I’m already writing my letter.

Illness and snow this week made my midweek runs shorter than I had hoped. I had plans to run 20 on Sunday to gain a bit of confidence, if nothing else. And then I was grazed by the stomach bug on Friday-Saturday. And then I spent most of Saturday night awake with a vomiting child. Watching Nick at Nite during the wee hours holding a bucket is not how I usually prepare for a long run.

I woke up at 6:15 on Sunday (which I quickly realized was 7:15 thanks to the F&*%*&% time change) and decided just to go for it. It would be slow. It would not be my finest long run. But I believed I could make it through.

Got dressed, ate, put on my Garmin and it crapped out on me. Fully charged. I have long suspected that my Garmin hates me and now I’m convinced.

Now it became a quest. I thought I knew a route that should end up being around 20 miles, and rather than screw around trying to fix my Garmin, I decided just to go.

I’m so glad I did.

The first mile was a little shaky. I still didn’t feel 100%. But I kept “I can do this” at the front of my mind and tried to push all the other stuff to the way back.

Around 2 miles in, I relaxed. I literally felt the tension leave my body. What was I stressed about? I love running. When I’m sad or tense, it makes me feel better. When I’m happy, it makes me happier. Getting ready, I was thinking of it like a chore. It’s not. While every second might not be easy or comfortable, I LOVE running. It’s what I do.

The roads were still pretty snowy and icy but the air – the air is changing! Spring is coming – I can smell it and feel it. The temps were really comfortable and it was nice to run with less layers. I felt so light. So happy to be outside.

And I did my 20. Slow, but steady. Got home and mapped it, and it was 20.25. Right on the button of what I wanted to do. Was it my fastest run? No way. Was it my strongest run? No. But I did it. And I felt pretty freaking happy about it afterward.

I believed I could, so I did.

It’s the same mantra that carried me the last 6 miles of Philly, and hopefully will carry me through whatever Boston throws my way. I believe I can, so I will.

Do you ever dread a long run only to start it and wonder what the hell you were stressing about? Anyone else tackle anything they’re pretty proud of lately? C’mon, Brag to us. You know you want to.