Friday, April 27, 2012

5.5 in Duck

Blustery, cloudy, and chilly today. Bad beach weather but good for running.

I thought I'd just share some of the sights that I came across as I ran through Duck, North Carolina. Duck is a totally adorable, pictureque little town here in the Outer Banks. If I had to live here, I would definitely live in Duck.


Corps of Engineers testing ground. "Keep Out" signs were everywhere and
warning signs that said that there were explosives in the ground!

Just a humble little abode - for sale for the low low price of $7.5 mil
I loved the name of this little market.

Grey skies over the sound

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Beach Running: An Inner Dialogue

First, let me set the stage:

On Tuesday morning, I decided to do my first ever beach run. Being an OCD neat-freak, I intelligently decided to do this run barefoot because the thought of getting sand in my shoes made me hyperventilate. I also wisely put sunscreen on.

Now for the monologue:

Hmmm. I can't decide whether I should run up here in the dry sand or go down there closer to the water. Too bad in between the dry sand and the surf there is a strip of broken seashells that I'll have to try to navigate. But it's really hard to run up here in the soft sand. The other stuff must be better. Oh look, there's a spot without too many shells - I'll cross over there.

Ok, excellent. I could get used to this. The sand feels a little hard with no give, but it is a lot easier to run down here.

Yes. Yes! This is great! This is so serene - just me and the beach. No cars to dodge, no red lights, no curbs to trip on.

It's getting a little warm out here, but that's ok - I can just go run in the surf and splash a little bit. That's it - a lot cooler. It's like my own built in fan. It's like I'm playing tag with the ocean! I love it! Man, if I lived on the beach I would run down here every. single. day.

Ok wait, my calves are really starting to cramp up. OUCH, darn it, I wasn't paying attention and stepped on a sharp seashell. Eh, it doesn't hurt that much so it must not have broken the skin. I'll just run through the water and numb it a little bit and it will be fine.

Ugh - up there is a really big field of broken shells. I'm going to have to go back into the difficult to run in sand. Blah.

Three miles in. Ok, my calves are screaming at me. I really need to stop and stretch.

Let's do some yoga stretching on the beach. Isn't this amazing? It's like I'm communing with NATURE. Here I am doing yoga in bare feet on the beach with nobody around.

Time to turn around and head back toward the house. There's that damn field of broken shells again. Stupid shells. My calves really hurt now and running in that soft sand is not helping at all.

Alright, here's my second wind. I feet great! I could run forever! Where's the house, I wonder? I should be able to pick it out by the little gazebo at the end of the stairs. And I should hit 6 miles right around there too.


Crap. That's six miles. Where in the heck is the house? Did I run past it??? How did I miss it? Oh my gosh. That next collection of houses does not look familiar. I think I'm lost. How in the heck am I going to find the house? And ouch my feet hurt!!! Why on Earth do my feet hurt so much?

I guess I'll just start walking back the other way. I must have just run past the house and not even noticed.

Man, my ankle hurts too. That's what I get for running barefoot. This just confirms that my stride is waaaaaaaaay too screwed up for me to go barefoot. I need all that crap in my shoes to prevent me from becoming a cripple.

Oh yay! There's my sister and mother-in-law! I'm not lost! Hallelujah! Oh, I should run up to them, then I'll 6.2 miles and I'll have run two 10ks in two days! I AM AWESOME.

 End monologue.

So friends, why did my feet hurt so much? I'll show you:

 Yup. Blisters.

EIGHT blisters, to be exact. In all of my grand intelligence, I had neglected to take into account the fact that I have never run in sand. Ever. And that this might result in blisters. I ended up with a blister on 4/5 toes on my left foot, 2/5 toes on the right foot, and one on the ball of each foot.

In all of my miles, I have been very lucky to get a blister only once before. I am definitely not prone to getting these things. As a blister rookie, I asked my mom and my sister-in-law (both nurses) what I should do about them. One said pop them, one said don't.

So to settle the tie, I consulted the almighty Google, where the majority of articles said that if the blisters were causing pain they could be drained with a sterile needle. I'll spare you the details, but I did end up popping all of the blisters and hobbled around the house for the rest of the day.

My plans of running every day were foiled. I did not run yesterday, partly because I wanted to let the blisters heal and partially because my calves were killing me.

Today I did not run because it was a perfect plant-you-butt-in-a-beach-chair day (and my calves were still killing me). Instead, I sat in the sand and made friends with a few sand crabs. I named the biggest one Chester and protected him from birds, other beach goers, and a jerk in a Jeep driving on the beach.

Chester! Isn't he cute?
Tomorrow I will be going to Duck in the morning and running again, even though my ankle and calves are still a little bit sore. This evening I ate my weight in crab cakes and scallops, so I need the work out.

And since I've treated you to nothing but photos of blisters and crabs, here's a Corolla sunset from last night.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Vacation Running

Husband and I are on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. We neded to come down and check up on the construction of our new beach house. It's coming along nicely:

Haha. Yeah right. I wish!

In reality, Husband and I had a little too much wine at a charity fundraising auction last year and ended up purchasing a week long stay at a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. 50 weeks later, we are finally here. And doesn't it just figure that after a March of 80 degree plus weather, it's cold and rainy the week we are at the beach.

Anyhow, I haven't really been on an extended vacation since I officially became an obsessive runner. So I've never actually committed to running while away from home outside of the few times I've visiting the Y in good old Hagerstown.

This time is different. For one, my April mileage so far has been a little bit pathetic. I want to make up for it this week when I have nothing better to do. Two, running is now such a normal part of my life that if I don't do it, I end up feeling like complete crap. So it's a necessity.

I have not run since last Tuesday (after work appointments, packing for trips, Husband was in a wedding in Baltimore...) and this morning I was practically chomping at the bit to get on the road. I felt so behind that I thought I could run and run and run and run.

The weather was a bit on the chilly side, overcast and windyNot good beach weather, but pretty decent running weather. I ended up going 6.2 miles, taking a few stops along the way to take in scenery such as these giant, beautiful houses that I covet:

One of these could be yours for a mere $1.5 million.

And of course, the beach itself:

I finished in 53:45 - not too shabby for almost having 6 days off and being stuffed full of terrible food including 4 pieces of pizza.

Tomorrow I'm thinking I might attempt beach running for the first time ever. There is also a 7 mile long running trail in the town of Duck, which is a little further south of where we are staying that I would like to try.

For now, I'll leave you with an adorable picture of Mason seeing the ocean for the first time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Richmond Rave: Richmond Symphony

I've already alluded to my status as a BNFL (Band Nerd For Life) in a few previous entries. So much so that I was a music performance major in college. Once I figured out that I'd rather not  spend the rest of my life as a starving musician, I got a Master's in Arts Management and have worked for two different orchestras since then. One was the National Philharmonic, which makes its home at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland. I love this organization, but can't write a Richmond Rave about it since it is obviously not in Richmond.

But I can write a Richmond Rave about the Richmond Symphony. If I haven't said it yet on this blog, I'm saying it now: Richmonders are downright lucky to have access to some absolutely phenomenal arts right in their own backyards. Personally, I thank my lucky stars every day that I managed to accidentally end up in a city with such vibrant cultural resources.

Richmond Symphony is just one of these fabulous organizations.

RSO in action at the Carpenter Theatre.
Now, yes I am a bit biased for a number of reasons. One: BNFL. Two: I had the privilege of working for the Richmond Symphony for some very exciting years in the organization's history. But, setting aside these facts, I submit that the Richmond Symphony has earned its spot on my Richmond Rave list ten times over.

I could bore you forever with a long diatribe about why the Richmond Symphony is so cool. But I won't. Instead, I present my top reasons to go give classical music a try (specifically, the RSO).

1. They perform in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage. If you haven't seen the Carpenter Theatre (ever or since it was restored), it is worth going just to see this building. Once upon a time, the Carpenter was a Loew's Movie Palace and was designed to transport the audience to a Mediterranean Palace. From the crazy carpet to the stuffed parrots to the twinkling stars in the ceiling of the hall, it's something to behold.

Exterior of Carpenter Theatre at night

Two goofy pictures of me showcasing the crazy carpet and tiled entry floor.

2. There are lots of options to choose from when it comes to concerts. The upcoming 2012-13 season is particularly awesome (at least I think so because it contains both my favorite violin concerto of all time AND my favorite piano concerto of all time AND Beethoven's Pastorale AND the iconic Symphony No. 5 AND Scheherezade... ok I'll shut up now). If you're a first timer, you can't go wrong with Beethoven's 5th - everybody knows it. And if you're a Disney kid like me, you will immediately recognize Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony from Fantasia.

If full on classical repertoire is not something you want to dive in to, try a Pops concert. RSO also usually has a crazy good "special" each year. A few past specials have included Bugs Bunny on Broadway (Looney Toons cartoons broadcast on a big screen behind the orchestra, with live musical accompaniment), Video Games Live (Video game footage from Pong to World of Warcraft with live orchestra and light show), and Cirque de la Symphonie (acrobats, strongmen, and jugglers perform to live orchestral accompaniment). I drug my husband to each of these and he had a blast at all of them. This year, the special is probably the most awesome one yet - a tribute to Queen. Yes, this Queen:

It's on May 19. I can't go, but you should! I'll even make it easy for you - here's the link to purchase tickets!

3. The Richmond Symphony is a great ensemble with talented musicians. Richmond is lucky to have such a high-quality orchestra right here. I've heard lots of orchestras (including a lot of bad ones), so trust me on this one.

4. Since 2008, the Richmond Symphony has held an event they call the "Come & Play." Basically, if you have ever played an orchestral instrument, you are invited to come sit alongside Richmond Symphony musicians for a day of rehearsal and a concert. I was working for the Symphony during the first year and I will never forget how excited we all were when over 300 people showed up to the first event. It just gets bigger and bigger every year. In 2011, I played with the ensemble, which topped 600 musicians! The Richmond Symphony is for everyone, and this event is a great demonstration of that. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing hundreds of people from every walk of life and musical ability come together to create music.

5. Short attention span? Yeah, me too. I have a hard time sitting through a full symphony concert, and I'm a musician! But let me tell you a secret: The LolliPops series, which looks like it's for children, is a great option. Don't tell anyone, but I think it's my favorite series. The concerts are always entertaining, energetic, fun and on the short side. And a bonus? The tickets are cheap - only $17 for adults.

6. Let me guess: you don't think you're "fancy" enough to go the Symphony. Or you think you don't have the right clothes or just don't feel like dressing up. Well, I have news for you - most symphonies don't have a dress code. This includes the Richmond Symphony. Sure, people will show up dressed to the 9s. But people also show up wearing jeans, myself included. In fact, I make it a point to often wear jeans to cultural events that people believe have an elitist dress code. I have worn jeans to the Richmond Symphony and to the Virginia Opera. Yes, to the opera. And it was fine. So please, feel free to come as you are. Really, the Symphony will just be happy to welcome you!

7. A symphony concert is a great date night - and a great excuse to try out an awesome downtown Richmond restaurant. Lemaire is close by. So is Bistro 27. And Comfort. And Tarrant's. And Hill Cafe. You get the point.

8. It won't break the bank. The great thing about a Richmond Symphony concert is that every seat in the house is a good seat. I have sat in the most expensive seats and in the cheapest seats and yes, while you can see better in the expensive seats, the sound quality is the same no matter where you sit. So buy the least expensive seats (for the current season, adult tickets start at $18), spend the leftover money on a nice dinner, and enjoy yourself.

9. Erin Freeman, the Symphony's Associate Conductor and James Erb Choral Chair, is an amazingly talented woman with infectious enthusiasm that you can't resist. I love watching her conduct and she has a naturally warm rapport with the audience that makes you feel at home.

10. If you don't go, I will send zombie musicians to hunt you down.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Race Report: Wolftrap Run for the Arts 5k

This past weekend, I headed north to the DC-metro area to participate in the Wolftrap Run for the Arts. This was the second year for the relatively small race, which had a turn out of about 500 people (according to my good buddy, Shannon, who happens to work for the Wolftrap Foundation).

For me, it was a nice trip down memory lane and a good excuse to get to see two of my favorite people in one weekend. So let's get to it!

Expo/Packet Pick Up - A+ (according to BFF)

Luckily for me, I didn't have to take part in my least favorite part of any race - packet pick up. BFF works in the area, so she was good enough to stop by Wolftrap after work on Friday and get our stuff. Here is what she had to say:

"Unlike Katie, traffic was not an issue for me on Friday afternoon. I left work at 4:45 and made it to Wolftrap by 5:15. My GPS lady guided me to the education center via scenic Vienna. Parking was a breeze; I scored a front row spot. When I walked into packet pick-up there were 3 people sitting behind tables, each playing on their phones... I suspect they were playing Draw Something with each other. I walked up to the table and told them I needed my bag and Katie's bag, and 2 of the 3 jumped to help me. Thirty seconds later, I was on my way. I really wanted to stop at the Barefoot wine sampling table, but since I was driving I figured it probably wasn't the best idea. The free stuff was pretty good too - white tech t-shirt with the race logo, a water bottle, a News 4 plastic cup, a Barefoot winery magnet, anti-bac keychain, and info for upcoming races."

Race Day Arrival/Parking/Start Area - A

As this race is in the DC metro area (Vienna, Virginia to be exact), there was a good chance that a surprise traffic situation could make race day arrival a nightmare. The night before, for instance, it took me an hour and 20 minutes to go 3 miles on the inner loop of the capital beltway... at 8 pm. So you never know what's going to happen.

Luckily for us, there was not much traffic on our drive from Maryland to Vienna (unless you count deer and countless bikers who don't have the good manners to get the heck on the side of the road). Wolftrap is located right off of the Dulles Toll Road, which makes it super easy to find. There are also lots of (free) back roads you can take to get there, but we were opting for fast and didn't mind paying the toll.

The race start and finished at the Filene Center, which is an outdoor concert venue and therefore has a ton of free parking. We quickly found a spot and were parked by 8:00 am. Race start was 8:45, so we elected to wait in the car for a few minutes because it was still on the chilly side and we had stupidly worn short sleeves/tank tops and shorts.

Once we decided to tough it out and get into the cold air, it was easy to find the start area thanks to plentiful signage. We also managed to find Shannon (though without the help of signage). Cue pre-race photo session:

Pretty decent self portrait. And yes, we did plan to match.

Race Day Outfit (toe to head):
Lululemon Groove Biker Shorts

Someone (I wasn't paying attention to who) led the group of runners in some pre-race warm ups and stretches. I didn't partake and opted to take pictures of BFF in compromising positions instead:

After group warm up we were directed to the start line (which was crowded but hey, it's ok). Then before you knew what was happening, the race started. I didn't even hear the start, but off we went.

Course - B+

For a 5k, this course was surprisingly challenging.

The good:
  • Downhill start - always fun.
  • We went through a wide range of scenery from the grounds of Wolftrap to a lovely neighborhood with flowering trees to a bit of woods to around the backstage side of the Filene Center.
Flowering trees along the course in a neighborhood with
street names like"Trombone Lane." I am not joking.

 BFF coming over a cute bridge in the wooded last leg of the race.

  • Course was well marked and well staffed with volunteers providing directional assistance.
  • Water available at each mile (though I didn't partake of any).
  • On-course entertainment from a mini-pep band and of course, the Green Machine.

Pep band stationed at mile .5 and then at about mile 2.5 (stationed at a looped part of the course).
When I passed them at mile 2.5 the tuba guy decided to run with us while playing
Journey's "Don't Stop Believin"

The bad:
  • Hills, and lots of 'em. Of course what goes up must go down, so there were also opportunities for downhill. Unfortunately the worst hill was right at the end in front of the Filene Center, but the reward was a fast downhill as you ran behind the center.

Hill at the beginning of the course

Downhill reward, headed back behind the Filene Center

  • Part of the course was through a parking lot, which isn't the most beautiful thing in the world. Unfortunately that was also part of the loop, so we ran through it twice. However, organizers were wise enough to place the small pep band in the parking lot, making it not quite so bad (see photo above). 
Finish - A

The finish was immediately after the small jaunt through the woods. Since it was a small race, it was not overcrowded at all.

BFF approaching the finish

The chute. Bananas, water, and packs of granola were plentiful.

The Filene Center made a nice backdrop.
The only bad part about the finish was that you had to then walk UP the hill yet again to get back to your car. But there was entertainment along the way:

Overall Grade - A

Small races don't have all of the bells and whistles of the big ones, but I think they can be just as enjoyable. Sometimes they suffer from lack of organization or support, but this one was great on both fronts. The course was nice, the weather was perfect, and the amenities were just right. I didn't have to compete with 30,000 other people for a parking spot or post-race refreshments. And best of all, I got to hang out with BFF, Shannon, and Doc Nix:

Personal Performance - A+

When we arrived at the race, I was thinking it wasn't going to be a good one. The day before I hadn't exactly eaten well (ok ok... I ate a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich and fries and a coke on my way to Maryland... and 3 cupcakes...) and those cupcakes were sitting in my stomach like rocks for the whole drive to the race and until we got up to the start area.

Luckily, as soon as I started running I felt great. I hung with Krystal until close to the mile mark and then decided to take off. And take off I did. At one point I looked down at my Garmin and saw that my at-the-moment pace was 7:15! This was while running down a hill, but still, whoa nelly!

Here's the actual breakdown:

Yeeeeah...speed demon. Where in the heck did those 7-somethings come from?? I am going to attribute this to the Run Like a Girl Group. Going out with them makes me run faster, obviously. My pace for both training runs and races has increased dramatically since I started with them, and I'll definitely be keeping it up.

This was a big PR - shaving 2 mins 18 seconds off of my last 5k record of 27:23 (Jingle Bell Run, December 2011)

After I finished I started walking back up the hill to get a photo with Doc Nix when I spied a girl in a short sleeved blue shirt and black hat starting up the last hill. When I realized it was BFF, I took off running to catch up with her. We met at the top of the hill and I jumped in with her to run the last bit of the race. Just before the wooded area I left her to cut across a field and get some good action shots as she came across the footbridge and through the finish. I felt like I could have run the whole thing again, easily.

BFF did great too, especially with all of those hills. We haven't gotten official times yet, but her running app on her iPhone said 31 minutes and a handful of seconds.

Next up is the Run Like a Girl 8k at Pocahontas Park on May 6. I think I'm lookin' for another PR!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Week in Running

I've been a bit M.I.A. this week from just about everything, including the blog.

Generally, if I'm not writing the blog it's because I have been having to use all of the power in my writing brain cells to write for my job. When that happens, there is just no writing juice left for the blog. This accounts for 50% of my lack of blogging this week. I'm up against a lot of deadlines that require a lot of intelligent writing and it's draining me.

We also unfortunately had some family stuff to deal with - so there's the other 50% of the reason for my lack of blogging.

When I left, I had just had completed the 2nd take of the Monument Avenue 10k with Marcey and ended my entry by telling you all how excited I was to get out and run this week in the beautiful weather. Luckily, even though everything else was blowing up in my face, I managed to get some running in:
  • A difficult, pollen-filled 4 miler on Tuesday.
  • A chilly but fast and awesome 5 miler with the RLaG group on Wednesday.
  • A superfast 4 miler last night with an awesome soundtrack that included what I'm going to go ahead and say is my personal anthem:

Who run the world? Girls. That's right, Bey.
Beyonce - Run the World (Girls)

With the help of Beyonce, Gaga, Mumford & Sons, and Lenny Kravitz, I ran 4 miles in 34:40 with my fastest mile being a blazing 8:15 (that's blazing for me, ok?).

Tonight I'm headed up to Maryland to stay with BFF. Tomorrow we are doing the Wolftrap Run for the Arts 5k. This one is close to my heart for a few reasons:

1. One of my best friends (who also happens to be a runner - she's done the Marine Corps Marathon twice!) works at Wolftrap, so I'm happy to support her.

Shannon and me

2. I love the arts and therefore am more than happy to run for the arts. I also adore Wolftrap, which is a fabulous place to go see a summer concert.

3. Doc Nix and the Green Machine are going to be playing along the route. Therefore, I'm going to have to stop and get my photo taken with Doc. Definitely.

Doc, lookin' fly.

George Mason's pep band "The Green Machine" performing a mash up of Rage Against the Machine
Reason # 43840318 why our pep band is cooler than yours.

4. It's a bit of a homecoming for me. I spent 2 awesome summers working at Wolftrap in the hospitality department. Essentially, this meant that I went grocery shopping for every band/artist/performer who came through the Filene Center during the summer of 2004 and 2005. These included Bill Cosby, Bonnie Raitt, Blues Traveler, Hootie & the Blowfish, the B-52s, Clay Aiken, the Boston Pops, Renee Fleming, Tony Bennett... etc etc. It was pretty freaking awesome. I wish that I could go back and work there every summer.

Me working backstage at Wolftrap,
Summer of 2005

We are also going to go re-live 8th grade by going to see Titanic in 3D. To say I'm excited about tomorrow is an understatement.

So be on the lookout for a race recap on Sunday and hopefully, once these deadlines are past, more reliable posting from me!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Monument Avenue 10k - Take 2

Today I had the enormous pleasure of meeting up with my friend and Hot Mother Runner Marcey for a redo of the Monument Avenue 10k.

You might recall from my race report that poor Marcey ended up not being able to run the official Monument Avenue 10k last Saturday. The new, strange, and unexpected road closures that morning prevented her from getting to her usual planned parking spot. As a result, she had to fight with the 40,000 other people descending on downtown Richmond to find parking. By the time she found one, she was so flustered and angry that she accidentally locked her keys in her car... while the car was still running. She had to stay with the car and wait until her husband came to her rescue and missed out on the race.

Marcey was just crushed by the situation and I was also upset for her. All I could think to do to remedy things was to offer to run our own Monument Avenue 10k.

Which is exactly what we did today.

I must say that today's Monument Avenue 10k had many improvements over the previous iteration.

1. No trouble parking.
2. Insanely beautiful weather. Perfect, even: 63* with a slight cool breeze.
3. Awesome company for 6.2 miles.

The only problems were that they didn't close the road for us and there were no water stops.

This was Marcey's race the whole way. We took it at her pace and we had a wonderful time. In fact, I hate to say it but I'm glad we got to do this today because I got to spend an entire 6.2 miles hanging and chatting with Marcey, which wouldn't have happened last Saturday.

Marcey, after completing our exclusive
Monument Avenue 10k. Seriously, I love this woman.

Afterwards, we walked to Lift for some delicious celebratory frappuccinos and split a bagel. Cause what's a race without a bagel? (I should note that apparently the actual Monument Ave 10k didn't offer bagels. So this is another way today's race was better than the original.) 

Marcey also gave me a birthday present that could not have been more appropriate:

Everything down to the card was cake-themed.
Yes, that is a cake server with a pink zebra "high heel."
Hell. Yes.

It couldn't have been a more perfect way to spend the afternoon.

When I got home I put together this Portobello and Asparagus Egg Strata for tomorrow's Easter brunch. I've never made anything like it before, so I'm kind of anxious to see how it turns out. Hopefully it's good.

While I was chopping and cooking, I distracted Mason with a Busy Bone.

Allow me to demonstrate how much this dog hates
having his photo taken. First I took this picture...

and as soon as I snapped the first photo, he picked
up the bone and moved 10 feet away from me. Brat.

Next week's weather is looking absolutely fabulous. I can't wait to get out and run in it!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reasons to Run: Accomplishment

A lot of things have been happening in my personal life recently that have made me think about what I've accomplished so far in my life... and how far I am from what I had ever imagined.

These deep thoughts all occurred as I was driving home from yet another great group run with the Run Like a Girl group. Last night it was hot - 83 degrees - when we gathered in front of Styles Fitness in the near West End. Before I got there I had talked myself down to running only the 3 mile route because I just didn't feel like doing the 5 in the heat.  Basically, I was being a wussy whiner. But as soon as the rest of the group showed up and I was in the presence of women (and one brave guy) who are about to run the Boston Marathon, my tune changed.

I ended up running the 5 with them in the 83 degree heat - which I NEVER would have done on my own in a million years. And of course while I was hot and sweaty, it was no where near as bad as I had imagined it would be. In fact, our route ended up registering only 4.9 miles on my Garmin, so after we had stopped inside for a drink, I waved goodbye to the rest of the group and set out to get that last tenth of a mile.

When I got into my car, I felt so accomplished.  And I realized that is a big part of why I have really grown to loving running so much.

Since becoming an adult, I find that I don't feel any high level of personal accomplishment anymore. As a child, teenager, and college student, I was an over-achiever, which was driven by an insane level of perfectionism. It wasn't healthy for me, but pushing myself to win - to be the best - produced amazing highs: high-school valedictorian, drum major of my high school band, countless all-star bands and ensembles and music awards, triumphant solo recitals. Of course this also produced crushing lows when I didn't accomplish what I wanted or get what I thought  I deserved (National Wind Ensemble, a 4.0 in college, first chair in orchestra, a position in the President's Own Marine Band).

When I entered grad school and started working full time, my perfectionism started to mellow out. I had become jaded in a sense... I wasn't going to be what I had dreamed and no, I wasn't some brilliant, amazing genius (musically or otherwise). I'm just average, and I've grown to be fine with that. In fact, I embrace my mediocrity.

In my daily life, I don't really get much of a sense of personal achievement. In a work environment, most of the accomplishments related to my job happen because of team work, not just me. There is nothing I can point to and say "I did that." When I do the laundry, clean the house, or cook dinner, Husband thanks me, but to me it's just what I do. Part of my daily tasks... no need to say anything about it.

Then I found running.

To me, every step that I run always feels like a big accomplishment. It's something that I can keep improving at (whereas you can't really get better at grocery shopping...). There's always a new race to sign up for, a new distance to strive for, a new weather condition to conquer. At the end of every run, no matter how crappy, I am always glad that I did it.

Maybe what it comes down to is that it has given me a new sense of self-worth. It is easy to feel like you are making something of yourself when you are a student. You do assignments, you get grades, you earn awards. Eventually, you graduate. I thrived and loved that environment, especially the ease with which I could see my progress. Running has given that back to me. Every week I have a plan and as the week progresses I check off each scheduled run on my Google calendar, changing it from gray (scheduled) to purple (done!). At the end of the week, I can look back and see that I ran 20 miles. Montly totals and yearly totals add to that feeling of accomplishment.

Look, you have done something this year. Something real. Something quantitative. Doesn't it feel great?

Races are the icing on the cake. Tackling a new distance, giving myself a new challenge to strive for, makes me feel like I have real purpose and I relish plotting how I will achieve it. And when I'm done, being able to say "Wow, I just did that!" makes it all worth it.

I think that maybe it has also filled a hole in my identity. Ten years ago, I was a musician. Five years ago, I became a defunct musician... and nothing ever filled that hole. A part of me is missing... even though I will always be a musician and music will always be a big part of my life, it's sadly just not the part of me that brings me the biggest feelings of self-worth anymore.

Now, I look to running to fill the hole that my failed dream of being a professional musician left. I am a runner.

And it feels good.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Biting the Bullet

Ever since my great experience at the Shamrock Half Marathon (a whole two weeks ago), I have been toying with the notion of forgetting about the Richmond Half Marathon in November and instead hopping onboard the crazytrain all the way to the Richmond Marathon.

Actually, I have been thinking about just going for the full in November for a month or so, but was delaying my decision first because I had never even run a half and wanted to see how it went and then afterward because I thought maybe it was just the left over runner's high that was screwing with my head and making me believe I can do a full marathon.

I figured that if I would ever actually achieve the marathon, I'd have to join a training group. So I started looking into the Sportsbackers Marathon Training Team that is run in association with the race. I spent the next week waffling on whether or not I really would be able to commit to the training team.

An internal debate began. My shoulder angel and devil were going on at it.

Devil: Ugh. You'd have to wake up at 5:30 am every saturday for five whole months!
Angel: Well yes, you may have to give up some sleep. You sleep too much anyway. It will be good for you to get up early and exercise for a change instead of lazing in bed on the weekend.
Devil: But look, it starts on June 2. You won't even be here on June 2. You can't miss the first session.
Angel: You might miss the first session, but there will be many many more. It will be fine.
Devil: I don't know. The meet up point is so far away. Gas is so expensive. This is an extra 50 mile round trip every week.
Angel: Marathon training requires sacrifice. It's not that much more.
Devil: Ugh but it is going to be all summer long. In the heat and humidity. You hate running in heat and humidity... well... you'll just die. Maybe you should wait and do this training for a spring marathon instead.
Angel: But hundreds of people have done this team, and if they  can run in summer heat and humidity, you can too. Stop being such a whiny wuss,

It went on and on.

Finally, I decided to ditch the idea of the formal training group. After all, I trained for the half marathon by myself and did just fine. Because I don't actually live in  the city and have a bit of a commute, it is hard for me to meet up with a group in Richmond when I'm not already at work in the city. And honestly, I am kind of lazy and just want to sleep in a little bit on my Saturday.

So instead I looked into a Hal Higdon training plan. I selected the Marathon Training Guide - Novice 1 and immediately thought, "I can do this." I plugged the training schedule into my Google Calendar to see how it would work with the weddings, trips, and family visits that are already taking up weekends in the next few months.

The more I thought about it and looked at the Higdon plan, the more I convinced myself that I could do it. The runs during the heat of the summer aren't terribly lengthy, especially the 3 weekday runs. Even though it will be boring, I can do them inside around the track at the Y or on the treadmill if the heat is unbearable. I can even start training myself to be a morning runner and do the 3 mile runs in the morning before work.

The next step was so talk to Husband about it. Obviously marathon training is a huge commitment of time and for me, that time would be a lot of weeknight evenings and weekends. My training would affect him, so I obviously needed to make sure that he would be ok with holding down the proverbial fort (aka cooking dinner). I brought it up on his birthday, just as we were sitting down to eat the delicious Beef Stroganoff that I had just prepared for him so lovingly.

Me: Soooooo, would you be ok with me signing up for the Richmond Marathon and training over the summer?
Husband: Sure baby.
Me: Even if that means that I will be training at least 4 days a week and you'll have to cook dinner more?
Husband: I already cook dinner more than you anyway.
Me: No you don't! I just cooked this dinner! And I cooked on Monday!
Husband: Yeah yeah.
Me: So... you'd be cool with it? Husband:
Husband: Yes baby. If that is what will make you happy and it is what you want to do, just do it!
Me: And you'll come to the marathon and be there to cheer me on at mile 20 when I feel like dying?
Husband: Yes dear.
Me: And then you'll get to the finish line in time to see me cross it?
Husband: There's no way I can do that - I'll never beat you there!
Me: You'll have an hour to get to the finish line - at least!
Husband: I thought it's only .2 miles after mile 20?
Me: Uh no, try SIX point 2 miles. Goober.

So now I had talked myself into it and run it past Husband with positive results. All that was left to do is actually sign up.

And I did!

Now that it has appeared on my blog, it is official and I am REALLY committed. Blog = accountability.

I am terrified. I hope to God I don't end up peeing myself (or something worse) or puking or crying when I run the Anthem Richmond Marathon on November 10, 2012!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Race Report: Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k

Each year that I run the Monument Avenue 10k, I am reminded of just how far I have come. Because it was my first race and it is the only race I've done every year, it is inevitably the one that I use to measure my progress.

The first year I completed in 1:07:30. I had to stop to walk at mile 5. By the time I got to the finish I my arches were killing me and I was so tired it was all I could do to jog across the line.

Last year, I did significantly better, finishing in 56:55 (my 10k PR). I remember still feeling pretty miserable near the end and I don't think I walked although I did slow significantly during mile 4 and 5.

This year, I surprised myself with a new PR - 53:22! Shaving 3:33 from my previous 10k PR. Looks like all of that speed work may be paying off after all.

Despite the PR, I unfortunately must report that this year the Monument Avenue 10k disappointed me. It was a disaster from the beginning, as you will see. Remember how I have explained that I am a planner extraordinaire and that I don't react well when things don't work according to my plans? Well... nothing  about this race experience went according to plan.

Expo/Packet Pick Up - C

This is the expo/packet pick up experience that has made me hate the whole notion of packet pick up. Every single time I go, no matter what time of day, this expo is an absolute zoo. This year, two of co-workers and I went together on the first hour of the first day of pick up and it was still a frustrating and crowded experience. We heard one man remark that he felt like a salmon swimming against a current - which might just be the best way to describe this experience.

The expo is held in the Arthur Ashe Center, which I think is just too small for the 40,000+ people it has to serve for this event. But there really isn't a venue in Richmond that is bigger and has ample free parking too.

Bib pick up
I had to pick up 3 bibs today: Husband's, BFF's, and my own. Of course the tables for my waves seemed to have the longest lines. The volunteers were still only 15 minutes into this experience, so they weren't quite running like clockwork yet. I had to tell the girl at my wave table my bib number 4 times. She found it and sheepishly says, "I'm not very good at remembering numbers." "You will be by the end of today," I told her before going to stand in another line 6 people deep to pick up Husband's bib.

15 minutes later, we moved into the next section - race merch. This year I was contemplating spending money here because I do love the Running Man logo shirts...

....but I was so annoyed after the bib pick up that I didn't really feel like giving them any more of my money. Besides, I had a specific goal in mind for this expo: to get a 13.1 sticker for my car and find some black arm warmers for the race.

After race merch, we emerged into the expo, which was an absolute zoo. I thought that the Shamrock expo was crowded, but it doesn't hold a candle to this one.

After making our way through the crowds of people, I finally found the One More Mile apparel booth and got my 13.1 sticker and some great arm warmers (you'll see them later).

40 minutes into our pick up, we finally got our race tees, which are so horrifically ugly that I'm not even going to post a picture of them here. Of course each person I was picking up for had requested a different sized tee, so I had to wait in 3 separate lines. Again.

Expo. Fail.

Race Day Arrival/Parking/Start Area - D

For two years, I have had no trouble parking and getting to the start line in time. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Then, this year happened. I'll take part of the blame for this; I got onto the event website on Friday evening to try to see about road closures and what I should be aware of. The problem was, I was having trouble finding detailed information about parking and street closures. So I just gave up and decided to do what I have done before.

Big mistake, because this year they must have really changed around road closures because we could not get where I had planned to park in the way that I had planned on going. We got there eventually, but in a round-about fashion that ended up wasting a good 20 minutes.

It also screwed up my buddy Marcey big time. She called me, apologizing (and maybe cussing) profusely explaining that she couldn't get to her planned parking spot either and that she was worried that she wouldn't be able to meet me at our pre-arranged time and place before the race started.

In the meantime, our group (Husband, BFF, BFF's Husband) walked about 1/2 mile to Monroe Park, the start/finish festival area. It wasn't too terribly crowded when we got there around 8:00 am.

We found the port-o-johns, which were plentiful, clean, and had no lines.

And took some pre-race photos.

BFF and I. She's almost 6' tall, I'm 5'2". I stand on tip toes, she stoops.

Showing off my One More Mile Arm Warmers:
"I thought they said rum"

Race Day Outfit (toe to head)
Brooks Ravenna 2
Lululemon Turbo Run Shorts in Ghost Herringbone
Lululemon Energy Bra in Black 

After photos we started to walk toward the spot that I had planned on meeting up with Marcey, Prabir, and possible one of my co-workers. As we made our way through Monroe Park, it started to spit rain. Not cool.

As soon as we got to the meet up spot, Marcey called me with the good news and the terrible news. The good: she had finally found a parking spot (I had directed her to where we ended up). The bad: She had been so flustered from the whole getting-to-parking-experience that after she parked, she had gotten out of the car and then locked her keys into the car ... while it was still running. I felt so terrible for her, but she was her wonderful self as always and just said, "It's obviously not my day - you run without me and do good!"

After Marcey's call we stuck around the meet up spot, waiting for Prabir. We stretched while BFF's Husband (henceforth known as BH) thought he would be funny by taking pictures of us in mid-stretch.

This was my favorite since we are all in different positions.
My phone buzzed again and this time it was Prabir... who was running late. By now we needed to start moving to our starting corral, so the chances of us being able to meet up were pretty much nil, so we left the meet up spot and walking (in the rain) to the start line.

40,000 people ran the race this year, so there are what seems like 5845042 corrals that kind of pop up as the rolling start progresses. When we got to the start area, our corral hadn't popped up yet and I was confused - I don't remember that ever happening before.

Eventually our corral flag popped up and we went to join the other 2000 people (or so it seemed) assigned to corral MA. By now it was raining at what seemed like a pretty good clip and I was feeling pretty miserable about how the whole morning was going up to this point.

So, because of parking calamities (even for a 3rd time participant and Richmond-area resident), running buddy calamities, and corral confusion, I'm giving race day arrival/parking/start line a big fat D. It was just not the smooth, easy experience that I had had for the previous two years, and it made me very irritable. Not how you want to start a race.

Course - A+
 The course is my most favorite thing about this race. I love the whole course experience so much that it is why I try to encourage people to make this their first race or, if it's not their first, to at least come experience it.

The Good
  • Pretty much flat (there is a barely noticeable incline in miles 3 and 4 but really it is just so shallow that I don't even think it counts).
  • Beautiful scenery. Even though I run Monument Avenue week after week, it never gets old. The beautiful homes, manicured lawns, flowering trees, Monuments, churches - I just love everything about it.
  • On course entertainment, number of "fans" and cheering groups simply blows every other race I've ever done out of the water. The grassy median (a danger zone, if you'll remember) is a great place for spectators, bands, and organized cheer groups. Some of my favorites were the Lululemon cheer group (mile 3) and the Richmond Tai Chi folks. They look so beautiful and relaxed that I wanted to jump off of the course and join them. I have a really good time getting high fives and interacting with the spirit groups during this race. This is definitely a race where you want to leave the iPod at home because you will have a better time if you take part in all the hoopla around you. I promise.
  • Water and port-o-johns are plentiful. I think there are 3 or 4 water stops and just as many port-o-johns. To be honest I really wasn't paying attention.
  • People watching for this course is another great distraction. There are such a wide variety of participants, plus the costume contest runners, plus the course doubles back on itself so there is basically a never-ending source of distraction all around you. I love to check out outfits, read shirts, and just take it all in.
  • Yes, these people RAN in this "costume" - The Magic School Bus
    They got 2nd place in the costume contest.

    This was my favorite - a beer keg surrounded by beer fraus. Loved it.
    Taken during mile 3.
  • The entire course is paved and on a 4 lane street. Although it can be crowded, I kind of have fun ducking and dodging in between people (imagine you're a NASCAR driver or something).
During Mile 5 - love this lady's shirt: "Run Like a Mother"
Also gives you a sense of crowding and cobbled street surface.

The Bad

I honestly can't say there is anything BAD about this course. All I would say is:
  • It gets a little crowded.
  • Miles 3 and 4 aren't the most scenic (but still 100 times better than the Virginia is for Lovers 14k or the Shamrock Half).
  • A good portion is on cobbled streets, which some people hate. It doesn't bother me at all... I really don't even notice when the changeover happens.
Finish - C

This year I was a little irritated at the finish line. The chute here is very short and they spit you out immediately into the grassy Monroe Park area, which was just a complete zoo by the time I finished. Not to mention all of the "grass" was really slippery mud thanks to 40,000 people stomping all over it in the rain.

I got a bottle of water but did not feel like fighting the crowds of finishing runners and spectators to try to find any food. I feel like this has been better managed in past years, but maybe I'm imagining that. Basically it was such a crowded mess that I wanted to get out of the area of congestion as soon as possible.

I called BH, we found each other and then walked back up the course a little bit to stand and wait for BFF to cross the line. Then we waited for Husband, who walked most of the course and did not cross until almost 40 minutes after I did.

Here's a photo from our spot as spectators, about 50 yards from the finish line:

I'm giving the finish area a C because of the crowds and the not-readily-available post-race food. I'm sure if I had wanted to keep walking around with wet, sweaty mobs I could have found the food, but I was not feeling it.

And I know it would add to the cost of the race, but come on  Monument Avenue 10k - you guys should really spring for medals. There could be some really beautiful Monument-Avenue-inspired designs.

Overall Grade - C

It pains me to give this race a C because usually it is such a wonderful experience. I talked to some other people who didn't think that it was any different this year than in the past... but not for me. From the weird road closures to the lack of a start corral to the messy chute, I just did not think this race was as well organized as usual. Of course I'm sure the rain had something to do with it. And the overall bad morning that I personally had.

At first I thought maybe all of the problems I personally experienced were the result of them allowing too many participants... but then I read yesterday that the final tally this year had actually been about 1,000 fewer people. Still not really sure what the deal was in the morning. I just know it was a mess.

Personal Performance - A

For myself, I am impressed with how well I performed given that pretty much nothing went as planned. Generally when that happens, my mental state is a mess and we all know that running is 90% mental. Add in the rain, the fact that my planned pacer (Prabir) was not with me, and my general feelings of irritation and you get a recipe for disaster.

Yet somehow I managed to pull out a major PR - a 53:22! My pipe dream goal had been to clock in under 55:00 and somehow I managed to better that by almost 2 full minutes with nothing to help me but my own two legs and determination. Better yet, this time is a a whole 3 minutes 33 seconds better than my former 10k PR.

Mile 1 was a warm up spent with BFF, then I took off...

It's obvious that all of the miles I logged while training for the half helped me out big time. I felt pretty great for the duration of the run - I was hooting and hollering and cheering and smiling for the whole thing. When I compare that to how miserable I felt last year and my first year, it makes me feel like I have really accomplished a lot.

I'm also really proud of BFF, who had her own PR of 1:05:54. When she crossed the finish line I thought she looked strong and happy (not like she was going to die or throw up - a look I saw on the faces of many others).

As for Prabir, he eventually made it to the race, starting one wave behind us in MB. He claims he was looking for me frantically for the first two miles of the race. He must not have been looking hard because the speed demon ended up finsihing with a 50:57 (meaning he most definitely passed me somewhere along the way).

After we collected Husband, the three of us met Prabir at my favorite local coffee shop, Lift, which was just a few blocks from the finish. After downing delicious coffee and sandwiches, we chatted and played an invigorating game of Trouble - because who doesn't  love Trouble??

And the winner was....
Husband! He may have been the last of our group to finish the 10k,
but he kicked our butts in Trouble.
After Trouble we collected ourselves and headed home for much needed showers.

Anybody else run the 10k this weekend?
How did you do?
Did you think event organization was a little lacking?