Monday, November 14, 2016

On Negative Splitting My First Marathon

I never thought I’d run a marathon because I never wanted to. But I enjoyed training for the half marathon so much I thought, why not?

So now I’m a marathoner – Harrisburg Marathon 2016.

Still smiling 26+ miles later.

It was freezing before the race – literally only 30 degrees. Nearly wore gloves, but very glad I didn’t because it was in the 60s by the time I finished. Sunny, mild temperature, no gusts of river wind. Ideal.

My goal time was 4:15, about 9:44 per mile pace. This was a realistic goal based on my half-marathon pace—I was advised to add a minute to my half pace—and the paces I consistently ran while training. I assumed I would go a little faster than that, occasionally getting down to 9:30s or even a few at 9:20.

It always takes me about three miles to warm up, and my first three miles were within my goal range. When my fourth mile dropped to 8:47, I told myself to relax and don’t take it out too fast. So I eased up to a 9:08 pace for the next three miles until I went down to 8:49 again at the eighth mile.

This was also about when the four-hour pace group was within sight. Could I really pull off a sub-four hour marathon on my first try? Not likely, but it was encouraging to see how close it was.

I felt great, didn’t feel like I was pushing it too hard, but I knew I still had a long way to go. Each mile my watch vibrated and I checked my split, and each mile it was at or under nine-minute miles. Each mile I told myself to slow down and relax, and I did, and I still felt great. I thought even if I have to slow it down to 9:30s later, I’d still be way under my goal time.

There was a clock at the 13.1 mile marker, and I crossed it at exactly two hours. And it was after that that my splits started dropping: 8:38, 8:26...and then stayed there at a pace faster than my half marathon pace.

But I still felt great! Each mile I continued to tell myself to relax and wondered when I would start to crash.

About 15 miles of the course was an out-and-back from City Island to Fort Hunter, a long, flat stretch of road. It started to get hotter. Runners shed their clothes all over the course. Gloves, ear warmers, shirts, arm sleeves were every few feet. I worried this stretch would be dull, but it wasn’t because I got to see other runners, wave, shout encouragement, give and get high-fives.

Running that far without conversation provided plenty of time to be in my head, even though I concentrated on relaxing into my body. I developed a mantra: “I’m a competitor. I’m a competitor. I’m a competitor.” That was my positive self-talk for miles. And I am a competitor, not in the sense that I thought I was going to win or even get top ten in my gender age group (I didn’t), but that I know how to have the best race I can with my circumstances. I trained hard, ate well, and slept enough for months prior to the race. I fueled and hydrated appropriately before and during the run. When my hips and achilles started to hurt around mile 16, when I knew they would, I could tell myself, “I know this pain and I know I can run through it. There’s time to recover later.” I ran a smart, well-prepared race, and I knew it while I was racing. I could feel it, and it was amazing. Magical.

My 20th mile was my fastest at 8:21. Well, this is it, I thought. I’d never run more than 20 miles before, and I’d heard from more experienced runners that something happens to you after mile 20, especially if you’ve never run that far before. So I anticipated a sharp increase in time when my watch buzzed at mile 21. But nope, I had only gone up two seconds for an 8:23 split. I had also passed the 3:55 pace group during that mile. This is crazy! I thought. But I still had over five miles to go.

My legs were stiff from my hips to my toes, but otherwise I still felt great. My “competitor” mantra kept me mentally positive, I had plenty of energy, and I felt relaxed and at peace. I knew there’d be a bigger crowd as I neared the Walnut Street Bridge, and the crowd would keep me energized. I love when people shout my name and I love it when strangers tell me I have a great pace. They have no idea what my pace should be, but that positive encouragement and energy is the important part.

As I turned onto Locust Street, a block from the finish line, I nearly cried with relief. And then I heard my mom shouting for me on the corner of Locust and 2nd and I felt more like smiling when I knew my parents were there to share in this important experience. In this picture of me that my dad snapped within the last few feet of the race, I think I am smiling. “You did it! You did it!” my mom kept shouting. I gave her a high five as I rounded the corner and then gave everything I had left into the finish.

And I had done it, completed my first marathon. But not only had I completed my first marathon, I had shattered my goal time by 23 minutes to end in 3:52:39. I never, ever imagined going under four hours, and certainly not over seven minutes under! I crushed it. In fact, I negative split it, and my second 13.1 miles was three minutes faster than my fastest half marathon.

I think I’ve earned the right to say that I am truly impressed, amazed, and proud of myself for training for and finishing this and for feeling so wonderful about it. I wonder what else I can accomplish that I never thought possible.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My 1st (Pseudo) Fastpacking Adventure on the Appalachian Trail

My 1st Solo Pseudo Fastpacking Adventure on the AT
I ran 23+ miles from Mechanicsburg to Pine Grove Furnace on the AT by myself with only my 5 L hydration pack. I stayed there overnight and ran back the next morning. I hiked where I couldn't run because of the terrain and when I got tired. 

Mom dropped me off at the AT trail head on Trindle Road in Mechancisburg and photojournaled the beginning of my journey. 

All Geared Up 
In my Viper 5 (liter) hydration pack are 2 L of water in a bladder, 6 single servings of almond butter, 6 packs of vanilla Gu, a blanket, toilet paper, a signal mirror, duct tape, a long sleeved shirt, an orange notebook, a pen, a compass, an AT map, a whistle, a headlamp, a multi-tool, a fire starter, Band-Aids, face wipes, an extra pair of socks, a blaze orange hat, and gloves.
 

White Blazes Where the AT Crosses Route 641, Trindle Road

Going...
It took me a good 5 miles to get used to the extra weight on my back and find some balance.

...going...

...gone.

I Ran 2 Miles Off Trail (By Accident) but Found a Great View
The only time I stopped on the trail was at about mile 6 when I sat down to pop a blister, which I did with the knife on my multi-tool, and put some Band-Aids over it. The distraction from the stinging wounds allowed me to accidentally go off path, but I wound up finding something beautiful. Note to self: light blue blazes are not the same as white blazes. 

Female Bunk Room in the Ironmaster's Mansion
When I got to the hostel, I was so shaky that I had to sit down for a few minutes before I could sign my name to rent a bed for the night. But I got dinner there and recovered quickly, chatting with two AT thru-hikers and the innkeeper. My hips were so sore that I couldn't sleep. But I had wanted to spend a night in the mansion for years, and I finally did :)

Fog on Fuller Lake
Within the last 8 miles of my first day of running, I didn't think I'd be able to get up again the next day and do it all over again. But I told myself I could just take it slow, hike the whole thing if I needed to, and I could do it. 

I Love Bridges
I was able to run about 2/3 of the entire journey, and I hiked the other 1/3.

Rocky Trails
Some areas of the trail required rock navigation, which broke up the monotony of the trail, but were hazardous on shaky legs on the return journey.

One Mile to Go
I called my mom when I got to Boiling Springs and asked her to pick me up on Trindle Road in an hour. Bring water. I had just run out with 4 miles to go. Within my last mile, I heard her voice. She hiked towards me with a bottle of water and joined me for the home stretch of my journey. 

Almost There!
My hips hurt and I had blisters on my toes the size and color of purple grapes, but I did run the last few yards.

Selfie with the Signpost
Safely back to where I started, but filled with more confidence, strength, and joy.

Dedication: I dedicate this adventure to someone I used to know who fueled my interest in trails, hiking, and camping. We had plans to take a long journey together, but it never happened. 
Thank you for being a small part of my journey, but I left you on the trail and will continue without you. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Conquering the Green Monster 25K Trail Challenge


During nearly every race, I hit a point in which I am in so much pain or discomfort that I ask myself, “Why the fuck did I sign up to do this?”

But this question has not come up in my most recent running races, including the 25K Green Monster trail challenge, which was the most difficult terrain I’ve ever run.

How many shoes do two women need to run
a trail race? Not pictured: another pair of sneakers
and two pairs of flip flops.
The Green Monster 25K in Wellsboro, PA has an elevation of 4,000 ft. I realize there are plenty of races with higher elevations (including the Green Monster 50K with an elevation of 8,000 ft.) but it’s nothing to sniff at, especially for a burgeoning trail runner like me.

This course had a series of climbs and descents, which kept the course fun and challenging. At times the climbs were so steep that I used my hands to help me scramble up the rocks and roots – like I was rock climbing, trying to find the right foot and hand holds to get to the top.
Leann invited me to spend the night in her
cabin. We ate an Oktoberfest buffet downtown then talked 

on the porch before a 9 p.m. bedtime.

And then there was the steepest descent, fondly known as Frankenstein’s Forehead, which was so steep that previous runners/hikers had turned the trail into a mini switchback. I am overly cautious on downhills anyway, and this particular mountainside made me want to grab a tarp and go down it like a slip ‘n’ slide.

So why didn’t these challenges leave me wondering why I paid money to do this to myself? I think it’s because I was better prepared physically and mentally than I have been for endurance races in the past. I have been running over 30 miles a week for the past few months, and I have never run that much before, so my body was better prepared to cover the distance, even if I wasn’t fully prepared for the extent of the climbs/descents. I hydrate regularly and for days before an event. I eat well for weeks beforehand and on race day, taking gels on the trail and stopping at each aid station for a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade, even though I ran with a hydration pack.

Ready to race!
45 degrees and sporting the shorts.
Mentally, I’ve had a different attitude going into the race. I go in with reasonable goals but without expectations. In trails runs especially, I go in knowing I’ll have to hike portions of the race, that I’m not the best at hills, but with the confidence that I will recover more quickly than most others after the hills so I can keep going at a strong pace once I hit the flats again.

I worked hard through the whole race but still had the energy to pick it up for the last two miles, which ended up being the last three miles – a 25K is 15.5 miles, but this course was 16.5 miles. Those last miles were my fastest of the whole race.

I finished in over 20 minutes under my goal time – which was hard to predict, being unfamiliar with the terrain, and I got 9th place female and 44th overall.

When I finished, I changed into a dry shirt and shoes, put on a vest, and made a new friend who was waiting for her friends. We ate pulled pork and mac ‘n’ cheese and drank beers and stood by the fire.

These are the best kinds of days.

Finished! Dirty, sore, and tired, but still on our feet.
Picture stolen from Leann's Facebook post.

16.5 miles of trails = bliss + pain

Friday, October 7, 2016

Half Marathon? Check.

I ran my first* half marathon: the Harrisburg Half on Sunday, September 11, 2016.

Mom and Dad camped out by the Walnut St
Bridge to watch and take pictures :)
*To clarify, I participated in a trail half marathon in February, but the trail was covered in snow and ice so I kinda ran slash hiked slash tiptoed slash sloshed through that one. I also participated in a 25K trail run, but I hadn’t trained for that except for five-mile increments on the treadmill a few times a week, so I hiked at least half of that and couldn’t walk for days after.

This was the first time I had ever run that far. And I ran the whole thing. No walking. No stopping. I slowed down at the aid stations for water, but even then I drank on the move, splashing half down my throat and the other half down my chest.

Within the first 5K of the race, as I ran down the middle of the Harvey Taylor Bridge – which was kind of a surreal, post-apocalyptic experience after having driven across it hundreds of times – I realized I had to restrain my typical racing instincts. There were plenty of people in front of me (and even more behind), but I knew I wouldn’t try to catch up to them because I had to stick with, or at least near, my goal pace, the one I had been practicing for the past two months.

And I did it! I kept with my goal pace – very consistently – and finished in an hour and 55 minutes, about five minutes under my goal time. I was something like 200th overall and 15th in my age group, but I was so proud of and impressed with myself for begin able to run that far, especially considering my litany of prior running-related injuries.

I still feel uncomfortable calling myself a runner. That term seems reserved for people who have made running a long-term part of their lifestyle. Maybe that will be me one day, but not yet; every time I run a race I think: “If I were swimming right now, I’d be winning.” So, I’m still a swimmer at heart.

My next step(s)? Running in the Harrisburg Marathon. Stay tuned.

Fleet Feet Half Marathon Training Group - Pre-Race Photo

Saturday, August 13, 2016

First Stop: Half Marathon. Final Destination: 50K Ultra.

Three years ago, my mom sent me a link to the Ironmaster’s Challenge 50K race at Pine Grove Furnace State Park and said I should sign up for it.
Post Ironmaster's Challenge 25K 2014.
Look, I wore regular road-running shoes!

She was joking.

At the time, I had never heard of a race that long, never heard the term ultramarathon, and neither us could fathom that people actually raced that distance. (Since then, I have learned that a 50K race is a baby race in terms of ultramarathons.)

I signed up for the 25K distance instead, though my training consisted of running only on treadmills. I did finish, but I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards. I almost canceled an appointment I had on the third floor of a building because I couldn’t climb the stairs (but then I realized the building had elevators).

The next year, mom wanted to run the 15K as a tribute to our family, which had spent many summers at my grandparents’ cabin in Pine Grove Furnace, and as a tribute to herself for turning 60 that year. I ran it with her.

But since learning about the 50K at Pine Grove Furnace, possibly my favorite place in the world, I’ve had this lingering what-if desire to complete it. Could I physically complete a race of that distance on that rugged terrain? Could I mentally do it?

My answer is yes, I can do it. With desire and the appropriate training, I know I can do it. So I’m going to.
Post Ironmaster's Challenge 15K, 2015

Last fall, I trained for a trail half-marathon but broke my foot a week before the race. After I finally got out of the cast, I couldn’t give myself the push to run anymore. (Also, it was winter and I was kind of a fair-weather runner). I didn’t have the training needed to do the 15K so I certainly wasn’t prepared for the 50K.

So I asked myself what I needed to do to prepare for that race. I needed some stepping-stone goals to get there.

First step: start running again. I loved the Fleet Feet half-marathon training program I did last summer/fall, so I signed up again to have the community support to get my butt (or my feet) back on the roads and trails.

Next: I signed up for the Harrisburg Half at the end of the summer, September 11, 2016.

After that: I plan to either sign up for a trail half or 25K...OR...the Harrisburg Marathon in November.

Then: I will need to keep up the training through the winter months, which I have never really done before, though I did get tricked into running/hiking an icy trail half-marathon in February.

Finally: the Ironmaster’s Challenge 50K in mid-to-late April 2017 with the goal of finishing, preferably in under nine hours.

I can cross that off my bucket list and never have to run again.... ;-)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Nook: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami


Amazing novelist writes about his marathon running and Olympic-distance triathlon training and compares it to the endurance needed to write a novel. Combines many of my loves into one, concise memoir.

I read some paragraphs that made me think, “Didn’t I already write this?” It’s so spot on.

On Bicycling:

“Running and swimming I like to do anyway, even if I’m not training for a race. They’re a natural part of my daily routine, but bicycling isn’t. One reason I’m reluctant when it comes to bicycling is that a bike’s a kind of tool. You need a helmet, bike shoes, and all sorts of other accoutrements, and you have to maintain all the parts and equipment. I’m just not very good at taking care of tools. Plus, you have to find a safe course where you can pedal as fast as you want. It always seems like too much of a hassle.”

On Swimming and Education:

“Lots of people know how to swim, but those who can efficiently teach how to swim are few and far between. That’s the feeling I get. It’s difficult to teach how to write novels (at least I know I couldn’t), but teaching swimming is just as hard. And this isn’t just confined to swimming and novels. Of course there are teachers who can teach a set subject, in a set order, using predetermined phrases, but there aren’t many who can adjust their teaching to the abilities and tendencies of their pupils and explain things in their own individual way. Maybe hardly any at all.”

Book Nook: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami


Amazing novelist writes about his marathon running and Olympic-distance triathlon training and compares it to the endurance needed to write a novel. Combines many of my loves into one, concise memoir.

I read some paragraphs that made me think, “Didn’t I already write this?” It’s so spot on.

On Bicycling:

“Running and swimming I like to do anyway, even if I’m not training for a race. They’re a natural part of my daily routine, but bicycling isn’t. One reason I’m reluctant when it comes to bicycling is that a bike’s a kind of tool. You need a helmet, bike shoes, and all sorts of other accoutrements, and you have to maintain all the parts and equipment. I’m just not very good at taking care of tools. Plus, you have to find a safe course where you can pedal as fast as you want. It always seems like too much of a hassle.”

On Swimming and Education:

“Lots of people know how to swim, but those who can efficiently teach how to swim are few and far between. That’s the feeling I get. It’s difficult to teach how to write novels (at least I know I couldn’t), but teaching swimming is just as hard. And this isn’t just confined to swimming and novels. Of course there are teachers who can teach a set subject, in a set order, using predetermined phrases, but there aren’t many who can adjust their teaching to the abilities and tendencies of their pupils and explain things in their own individual way. Maybe hardly any at all.”