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Prairie Fire Marathon 2014 Race Recap

Thanks to the pals from whom I shamefully stole Facebook photos from this post. For that and for being part of my marathon day – y’all are the best. sb

Oof. Where to begin? How about with some spoilers (illustrated by the situation’s most perfect GIF):

leslie knope
Leslie Knope gets me.
  • I (mostly) RAN A MARATHON. What?
  • I did not quite make it under 5 hours, and I am 100% OK with that.
  • I am never doing this again, except for the part where I totally have a plan for what to do differently when I inevitably do this again. More on that later.
  • My Wichita tribe is the best people. THE BEST.
  • No knee pain! A little soreness/tightness right after the race, but circumstances in that area are about the best I could have possibly asked for.

Pre-Race: Friday and Saturday

My travel to Wichita was uneventful, except for when the plane landed through a turbulent storm and it made my ears hurt and I was convinced the pain would never stop and everything was ruined. Obviously I was fine by the time the wheels touched the ground.

On Saturday, I drank one million ounces of water at breakfast and then went to the expo. It was pretty small – this whole race is pretty small, really, at least compared to what I’m used to with the Flying Pig. There are pros and cons to this, and overall it was a great experience, but for any potential future racers reading this, just know going in that there isn’t the usual rigamarole of showing your ID at the expo and a million booths with fun swag and all of that. (And at the race itself, there are no corrals, no gear check and not much security.) Aaaaaanyway, I got my stuff (minus the shirt – that’s for finishers only!) and spent the rest of the day peeing. Also, my awesome friend/surrogate mom Gaye drove me around the course, which was confusing and time-consuming. FORESHADOWING!

Then I had to go to Target and get a new phone armband and earbuds, because I couldn’t find mine in my bags. They haven’t turned up at home, either; who knows what happened to them.  ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Saturday evening, my friend/host Amy and I had our mutual friend Chandra, who was running the half marathon, over for a pasta feast. Everything was delicious and perfect. Afterward, I tried to stretch and chill, but my legs were already feeling SUPER antsy – like they knew something I didn’t. I went to bed early and set my alarm for 5, but mostly tossed and turned from about 3:30 on.

Sunday: The Race

The weather was perfect at the start – no rain, no wind, just under 50 degrees. Amy dropped me off at the start and I got emotional when “Shake It Off” came on over the loudspeakers because I am a crazy person. Not, like, during the national anthem or anything, just crying to a T.Swift jam, IT’S FINE. I had choked down some toast and a banana back at the house, and I was trying to nibble on a Clif bar, but my nerves were not having it, so I just took my first Gu about 15 minutes before the start instead.

The best sign.
The best sign.

The first few miles were slower than I had intended (11:26, 11:06, 11:27 – first water stop), but I felt great at that pace and was keeping up with the 4:45 group, so I decided not to worry about it. The Church of Scientology had their own little (aka not race-sponsored) water stop around mile 3, but I declined the L. Ron Hubbard water and moved on, running around my old Wichita neighborhood.

I sped up a bit for the next few miles, averaging around 10:50. Here’s where the course started to get weird. We were going through some quasi-suburban, wealthy neighborhoods with a lot of cul-de-sacs and dead ends, and there were some strange hairpin turns, running off the road and onto park paths, etc. that I felt were confusing and unnecessary. Like, we actually cut through someone’s backyard and ran on grass at one point. Here’s where I started to get a little discouraged – not because of my pace or how I felt or anything, but because I knew it was going to be tough not to run the course long. My Garmin was already 0.2 miles ahead of the official mile markers by about mile 10.

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Mile 14 or so.

I kept trudging on, though, and crossed the halfway point around 2:25. In my mind, I’d been trying to treat the race as two 10-mile segments, followed by a 10K in which I would try to “turn up,” as the youth say, if I had it in me at that point. Miles 10-18 were all between about 10:55 and 11:30, accounting for water stops and one bathroom break.

When we entered the Riverside part of town, the twists and turns started up again, and my distance kept getting farther ahead of the mile markers. I was tired, a bit bored, and about to be out of non-Gatorade fuel. I started taking Gu at mile 5 and at every other water stop after that point, so about every 4 miles. This was mostly fine, but it meant all my Gus were gone between miles 16 and 17, which I thought would be OK since I had read on the race website that Gu would be handed out at miles 17 and 21. PRO TIP: TRUST NO ONE, EVER.

So, yeah: somewhere between miles 18 and 20, I started to bonk. It didn’t really feel like hitting the wall at the time, but I was just over it. The Gu was nowhere to be seen at either of the places where it was supposed to be available. My stomach was full of water and Gatorade, which made me feel full, but it wasn’t really sufficient calorically to help me push through the last six miles. My lovely friend Gaye, who has run several marathons and knows what’s up, joined me for those last few torturous miles WEARING JEANS and helped me push through and did not judge me when I stopped for many, many walk breaks. God bless her and keep her.

Finishing. FINALLY.
Finishing. FINALLY.

The last portion of the race doesn’t look great on paper: with all the walking, I was averaging 12 minutes a mile from about mile 21 onward. That plus being 0.4 miles ahead of the official distance extinguished any desire of mine to try to finish under 5 hours; by that point, I simply did not care. I just wanted it to be done. And it was, in 5:02:44. A time of which I am oddly prouder than I think I might be of a 4:55 or 4:59. Shows I had to fight for it, you know?

If I Did It (Again), Here’s How

I mean, let’s be clear: I am currently chilling like the laziest villain, contemplating whether I will ever run again at all, let alone another marathon. Just kidding – yesterday I signed up for a local winter running group. WHO AM I, WHAT IS MY LIFE. But that doesn’t start until November, so for now: chilling.

Here are the things I would change, if I did another marathon:

  • Train more. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the wheels started to come off right around where my last long run ended. I needed more endurance practice, and next time, I would do a 22-miler (in addition to more 6-7 mile weekday runs). Lesson learned.
  • Fuel more, and never, ever rely on anyone else for my needs in that area.
  • Try to pick a course that doesn’t turn/loop much, so running the tangents is easier (an out-and-back would be ideal, I think – for me, maybe not for others). Running MORE than 26.2 miles is not really the goal for a marathon.
  • As much as I loved the pancake-flatness of the course, I think some small rolling hills might have done me some good. I missed getting that bit of downhill momentum here and there that I’m used to in Cincinnati.

TL;DR: I ran a lot of miles and then I ate a lot of donuts and Thai food. That pretty much sums it up.

Year of the Marathon: COMPLETE.

Hudy 14K 2014 Race Recap

This week, I tried to put off the marathon from my thoughts a bit (while still training, of course, and in some blessedly cooler weather at that). It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year in Cincinnati – Oktoberfest, the Comic Expo, and the last race in the local beer series: the Hudy 7K/14K.

I did the 7K last year and was definitely ready to step up to the 14K plate this year… although my body was pretty much ready to pack it in around mile 5. The course snuck in a few short, STEEP hills at miles 2 and 4 that drained any motivation I had to attempt a sub-10 pace for the whole 8.6 miles. I started out a little too fast and paid for it during that uphill middle stretch, but I toughed it out, walked through the water stops (which there weren’t enough of, if you ask me… only three, I think, and they weren’t indicated on the course map ahead of time, so I had no idea when they’d be coming), and tried to pick up some speed on the downhills. Fortunately, around the 6-mile mark, it was all downhill or flat to the finish.

I didn’t really care about my time today, but I had set a rough goal of 90 minutes or less, and I ended up finishing just under 1:28 (which included my first-ever pit stop during a race). Average pace was 10:06 by the race clock and 10:00 by my Garmin (both the course and I ran a bit long, I think – lots of hairpin turns).

Hudy 14K Brewery Run
Need a bottle opener? We have you covered several times over.

Anyway, the Beer Series is not really about times, even for self-competitive types like me. It’s about those beer tickets attached to your bib, the excellent people-watching, making new friends in the coney line, and becoming a Brew Hog (aka someone who’s completed the whole series) along with these awesome ladies. Can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Little Miami Half Marathon 2014 Race Recap

 

Feelin' great.
Feelin’ great.

I didn’t have many expectations going into this half marathon. As usual, I fretted all week over the playlist, the forecast, fueling and the whole bit, but overall – despite my previous rants about lackadaisical attitudes toward a race, my general feeling about it was ¯_(ツ)_/¯. (Oh, shrug guy, how did we ever express ourselves without you?)

But really, it was to practice racing on a flat course, which actually does have its disadvantages over a hilly one; for one thing, you have to propel yourself using your own momentum rather than working with/against gravity. Plus, it gives your a feet a pounding, which I am definitely feeling now. Time for new shoes.

All that to say that I wasn’t necessarily going for a PR, although it seemed reasonable that I could run this race a bit faster than the Flying Pig, due to the difference in terrain. Spoiler: I did, in fact, manage to eke out a 90-second PR, finishing in 2:18:12. I feel a little weird about it, though, because I’m pretty sure the course was just a little short; my Garmin clocked 13.05 miles, and most running watches/apps go over the official race distance. But, hey, it was USATF certified and I’m not in charge of measurement, so no questions asked here…

The race started and ended in the village of Morrow, OH, which seems like a perfectly nice little town. It connects to the Little Miami trail on which most of the race was held. It has a quaint, Wild West-influenced downtown area. My friend’s mom lives there and has a lovely home. But oh my God, getting there – at least on the ill-advised route I took after making the cardinal mistake of not listening to Google Maps – was TERRIFYING. I left my house about 5:30 a.m. and, after a long journey up I-71, had to make some crazy 180-degree turn at 5 (FIVE, per the road sign’s recommendation) MPH in pitch darkness to get to the start line area. (Here it is on Street View! Enjoy! Or don’t, if driving stresses you out in the least.) Listen, any place that isn’t directly off a major highway is basically dead to me, at least when the sun’s not up.

Basically what I’m saying is that I started the morning with a panic attack, and after I finally made it to the race, the actual running part didn’t seem so hard.

The race was pretty uneventful. My splits ranged from 9:59 (speedy mile 13) to 11:05 (not-so-speedy mile 12), mostly in the 10:30 to 10:45 range. The water stop tables weren’t very long, so those tended to back up and eat a little time, plus I took care to walk through those and ingest water and Gatorade at each one. (I also had on me some Gus – which I didn’t end up using, because Clif shots were handed out at mile 7 – and some orange PowerBar gummies, which seem to be the only solid food I can stomach while running.) My energy flagged a bit toward the end, hence the slow 12th mile, but I felt a little better during mile 13 and then sprinted to the finish.

Weather (70 and humid, though thankfully overcast) was definitely a contributing factor toward not getting a larger PR – that and some general stomach-related discomfort that held me back from really pushing it – but a PR’s a PR! And it was just a generally good long run, and I haven’t had too many of those lately, so I can’t complain. I think that making a point of going to yoga the day before helped, too.

Swag/fuel notes: as previously mentioned, the water/Gatorade/gel game was strong. Post-run fuel was a little skimpy; I had a mini muffin, a small cookie, a fruit leather and half a banana, and grabbed a weird protein bar that I didn’t eat, which was probably a good decision, because I ate a different protein bar later and it completely effed up my stomach for the rest of the day. I’m thinking maybe no more protein bars for Steph. Swag included a tech shirt in a nice shade of gray, the medal, and, for some reason, a bag full of lots of Advil samples. My pre-run breakfast was standard – peanut butter toast, banana, coffee. Seemed to do the job.

Flying Pig Half Marathon 2014 Race Recap

The day started like this, because the neuroses had plenty of time to creep in yesterday. Fortunately, I only needed the first alarm. Took my time forcing down a blueberry donut, some peanut butter-filled pretzels and coffee while watching Obama’s Correspondents’ Dinner remarks, which is as good a pre-race routine as any. Finally, I made my way downtown; on the trip, I could see the spotlights marking the spotlight the entire time. I live six miles from downtown. Was this a marathon or a drone attack? Cue the nerves.

I walked the mile to the start quietly, nodding at other runners making the same trek. Downtown is weird and oddly illuminated at 5:30 a.m. Some folks in Over-the-Rhine were still considering getting into a keg acquired earlier in the night. YOLO.

At the expo, I’d briefly talked to the 2:20 pace group leader, and saw him again in my corral. Since there was no 2:25 pace group and I knew I wanted to finish as far below 2:30 as I could, I figured why not hang with them until I couldn’t anymore? I knew I’d slow down on the uphill miles, so I didn’t mind creating some breathing room at the beginning. And so the choice was made: I was going to pretend like I’d planned all along to run a 2:20 half marathon, and then sneak out of the pace group when I needed to.

Well, I stayed right with the group for the first 1.5 miles, over the first bridge and into Newport, and then… I felt like I needed to pull ahead a little. Mainly because the crowds were massive at the first water stop, but also because I was feeling good and so why not. So I actually left the pacer behind for a bit.

When I saw the group pulling ahead of me again around mile 3, and felt myself completely unable to go any faster so as to catch up with them again, I immediately decided that was a stupid thing to do. I flew too close to the sun and now the whole thing was screwed. Bye-bye, secret dreams of 2:20.

Despite all that, the first few miles really did fly by; I couldn’t believe I’d already been running for 40, 45, 50 minutes. And then, somewhere during mile 5, I boarded the struggle bus and would remain on it for awhile. The straightaway from Seventh Street to Gilbert was hard. Gilbert itself was hard (that hill climb is worse than Eden Park, I think). The rolling hills of MLK were hard. Getting back to Gilbert and knowing it would still be awhile before the downhill was hard. At some point, I actually yelled “SHUT UP” at some runners who were screaming at spectators on an overpass above us. Cool life. (Fortunately, I don’t think they heard me.)

My slowest miles were 6 (the start of the uphills) and 10 (mostly the flat part of MLK and Gilbert); this was a mental game. I had crossed the halfway point at 1:15, which was not really going to cut it goal-wise, and I was worried.

And then I realized my knees were feeling all right and I could fly down that hill, finally. And my jams were strong, and I had a few sub-10 miles toward the end (the rest were 10:20 or above… greatly above, in the case of mile 6), and I started doing the math and wondered for a second where that pace group was, because shouldn’t I be almost caught up by now?

Mile 13 was hard again; my knees were starting to feel it a little, and I couldn’t pick up the pace as much as I wanted to. Even TSwift couldn’t give me any more pep in my step. But I was hanging in there. And then OH WAIT LOOK IT’S THE 2:20 PACERS RIGHT HERE AT THE END AND I AM HIGH-FIVING AND PASSING THEM AND OH GOD I AM ACTUALLY GOING TO DO THIS.

I didn’t even know what “this” was when I woke up this morning. But what it ended up being was a 2:19:44 finish. That’s a 13-minute PR from last year and – most importantly – some much-needed assurance that a five-hour (or less!) marathon is possible.

I got a little teary at the end, then sucked it up and ate some string cheese and had the nice men at the first aid tent wrap my knees in ice. Watched some super-fast marathoners book it in en route to the car, then went home for a shower, a brunch, a nap and a second brunch. The end.

Today was a good day.

Weather notes: Warmer than I thought it would be at the start. I could have gotten away with a tank top, but I didn’t overheat in my tech tee and capris.
Nutrition notes: This was a struggle today. I was carrying a full-size water bottle because I am a Strong Independent Woman Who Don’t Need No Water Stops, and it was basically like holding a 1.5-lb weight in my hands, which was stupid. I finally ditched it during mile 9. Took more Gatorade than I thought I’d need to, as well as some PowerBar fuel at mile 9, which was potentially a bad idea since I’d never used it before – but it was coffee-flavored and just what I needed right then (my Gus were too sweet today, I think). This was probably a result of being too nervous to eat a full breakfast. Oh well, it all worked out eventually.
Swag notes: Not a big fan of this year’s “Pigcasso” theme or of the super-strong PVC smell of the gym bag. Also, the ribbons on the full marathon medals are tie-dyed and look way prettier than the plain white half ribbons. But who cares – I earned the hell out of all of it.

Little Kings Mile 2014 Race Recap (plus the Flying Pig expo)

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“That’s Dave in there. You know Dave?”

Cincinnati loves its marathon. The Flying Pig is a whole weekend of events – the marathon/half/relay on Sunday; 10K/5K/kids’ run/dog run on Saturday; and some kickoff events on Friday, including the Little Kings Mile, which is part of the yearly Beer Series. Last year I skipped this one and only ran the Bockfest and Hudy races, which was clearly a grave mistake. This year I am fully earning my Brew Hog status.

I work downtown, and noticed the anticipation (and road closures) growing all day Friday. I decided to take advantage of being located one block from the expo center and pick up my packet for the Pig after work, instead of going to the expo on Saturday. It was pretty busy, but probably not as busy as it was today. Race expos kind of annoy me, and this one was no exception, but I was able to get in and out fairly quickly (though, not going on Saturday, I did miss the boatload of P&G samples… oh well).

Then I headed down to The Banks to pick up my other race packet for the weekend and to meet up with the ladies pictured above, my fellow GOTR coaches/beer race partners-in-crime. This being a point-to-point course (aka just a mile straight down Main Street), there were shuttle buses taking runners to the starting line in Over-the-Rhine.

We ran around a bit to warm up and endured a weird corralling situation, and at 8:15 p.m. (also new for me – an evening race), we were off.

I had no idea how to pace myself for just one mile, so I created a short playlist of songs in the “end-of-race-kick-in-the-ass” BPM category and decided to wing it. I figured I’d finish between 9:00 and 9:30.

I guess the songs had me going a little faster than that. Thanks to the playlist, the downhill course, my speedy running buddy (with whom I couldn’t even quite keep up, due to the fact that my lungs were burning to a fine crisp in the allergen-riddled spring air) and pure adrenaline, I ended up crushing the mile in 8:13. Holy.

I haven’t run just one mile, for time, since middle-school gym class… and my 13-year-old self is a little confused by the events of last night. Not only that I was able to run a mile without stopping in less than nine minutes, but also that I drank beer afterward and enjoyed it thoroughly. Ahem.

My shins seem to have recovered from that pounding today. I’ve been hydrating, carb-loading, and obsessing about weather and transportation and morning fueling, like I do. And now it’s almost time for bed, because my alarm’s going off at 4 a.m. See you on the other side of the Finish Swine.

Bockfest 5K 2014 Race Recap

About to kick some Bockfest butt with my GOTR ladies.

Saturday morning was the second annual Bockfest 5K. This is now becoming an annual tradition, as I ran the inaugural race last year. And although that one was fun, Bockfest 2014 > Bockfest 2013 in multiple ways: more participants, better weather, more food/drink options… OH YEAH AND A HUGE PR!

It happened, y’all. I went sub-30. 29:42, to be exact. Thanks in major part to my friend and fellow Girls on the Run coach Chelsea, pictured to my right above, who runs slightly faster than I normally would if left to my own devices and served as a great pacer. She pulled ahead of me toward the end, finishing in 29:20, which is awesome. I’m so excited to see how she does in her first half marathon next month!

The course for this race is really optimal. It starts with a moderate uphill for about half a mile, then goes straight downhill for a bit and becomes flat for the middle third. Eventually, heading back up through Over-the-Rhine, you go back up the hill you went down, but it’s so gradual you hardly notice. I was feeling good after the hill climb and took the opportunity to kick some ass on the downhill, then kept it quick and steady for the rest of the race. Tried to speed up a bit for the last 0.2, but I could tell I had really given it my all – there wasn’t much effort left in me to sprint. But who cares. I am really proud of my time and glad to have last fall’s 10K performance validated with a matching 5K PR – maybe it wasn’t a fluke after all!

The only downside is that I did quite a bit of weaving around slower runners/walkers, due to the crowded field, so Runtastic says I actually ran almost 3.5 miles. There were also some hairpin turns on the course that didn’t really allow for the tangent method to make up any distance. But, again – who cares. I did really impress my Facebook friends, who were informed by the app that I ran 8:30 miles. HA. Try 9:40 (again – still really good for me!).

The best parts, though, were a) hanging with the ladies pictured above (my fellow GOTR coaches from our very first season, fall 2012) and planning to do a relay race together this fall, and b) the two drink tickets attached to the race bib. Because Bockfest.

Weather notes: SO NICE. About 40-45 degrees and sunny. I had to throw my race shirt on underneath my pullover, and even though I had another shirt on underneath, I did not overheat.
Nutrition notes: Fueled up pre-race at Starbucks with coffee and a scone. Post-race, well, there was beer (OK, yes, and water). And a giant pretzel attached to a Mardi Gras bead string for hands-free noshing. Bockfest, I love you.
Swag notes: Just the shirt (which I love), plus the drink and coney tickets on the bib. (Sadly, as there is no such thing as a vegetarian Skyline coney, I did not partake.)

Lifetime Fitness Turkey Trot 5K (Chicago) 2013 Race Recap

Turkey Trot
So cold, y’all. And about to be so annoyed.

OK, so, spoiler alert: I PRed this race. Yay! 31:16, yo. Please note how that is slower than my recent 10K pace (about a 10:03 average per mile, as opposed to the sub-10s I pulled off for the 10K). However, I still beat my previous PR by over a minute and I really did not think this race would be a PR at all (more on that in a minute), so: victory.

Here’s the thing, though. I may be over 5Ks. One of the things I really enjoyed about Trick or Trot was the small field of runners, which you really don’t get with these big “fun run” 5Ks. I had the same complaint about Cincinnati’s Thanksgiving Day Race last year, though, and that one is a 10K, so maybe it’s just a Turkey Trot thing?

But in any case, this race was SO CROWDED. My mother-in-law and I started in the 10:00 mile pace group and had to wait over 10 minutes to cross the start line, because they were stopping between pace groups to let the start clear. Good idea in theory, but it was cold and I had to pee and we just wanted to get going.

And then when we started… ugh, just so many people on such a narrow course was a recipe for disaster. Think thousands of people running down one lane of Lakeshore Drive, with cars whizzing by right next to us. Some people actually left the road and just ran down the path, which I considered… I did spend some time on the grass just off the road, but it was hard on my ankles.

Things thinned out a bit after mile 1.5 or so, and I didn’t need to take advantage of the water stop, so I found a better cadence (and mental headspace) and was able to pick up the pace a little. I knew sub-30 (or even sub-31) wasn’t in the cards, but my C goal – a plain ol’ PR – was.

AND THEN. The finish line came into view, I was maybe 100 feet or so away, we all started gunning it – like you do… except for the guy right in front of me, who decided it was a good idea to STOP SHORT RIGHT BEFORE THE FINISH to talk to his family members cheering him on at the sidelines. WHAT. ARE YOU SERIOUS. WHAT?!

So I almost crashed into this dude, yelled something unintelligible (really, I wish it would have been some good swear words, but I was so very over it that I think it came out sounding something like “blearghh you why uuuuugh”), got out of his way and sprinted it in.

And then I met up with my MIL, who promptly humbled me by informing me she’d stopped to help an injured lady (see, I told you this race was trouble!), sacrificing her own good time. Lesson learned: Turkey Trots are for wearing funny hats (my favorite was the pumpkin pie) and Good Samaritanism and going with the flow, not for PRs. Duly noted.

Weather notes: Freezing and windy. It’s Chicago (and on the lakefront, no less) in November, so I knew that’s what I was getting into. The long-sleeved race shirt made for a nice extra layer. I warmed up during the race but never got overly warm, even with my puffy vest on.
Nutrition notes: Had a chocolate croissant and an Americano at the hotel Starbucks before the start. Not really enough protein, but whatevs (and big ups to the Starbucks staff for working on Thanksgiving – we appreciated it!). I didn’t take any water on the course. Post-race snacks were pretty good – Soyjoy bars and Food Should Taste Good sweet potato chips. Although I really could have used another hot cup of coffee at that point.
Swag notes: Just the shirt, which is a nice cotton-viscose blend. There were some virtual coupons I checked out but didn’t find very interesting. I could also get a discount on a New Year’s Day 5K, but since I’m not local to Chicago, that wasn’t useful either. Oh well.