Monday, April 29, 2013

26.2 for Boston

Like many other runners, in the immediate aftermath of Boston (2 weeks ago already... crazy...), I joined in on a few different "Run for Boston" movements happening on social media. One was Run for Boston 4/17 and the other is a month long "event" Run 26.2 for Boston.

On Saturday, I completed my first 26.2 for Boston. This consisted of 4 - 5 mile runs and one 6.2 mile run. Here's the montage:

April 17

April 19

April 22

April 25

April 27

I'm looking forward to trying to get another 26.2 in before the end of the event on May 15.

In a lot of ways, I feel over saturated and overwhelmed by the continued focus on Boston. But then I think of the people whose lives were shattered that day and who live (and will live) with that reality every day. That's why I've decided to not stop at 26.2 but will continue on, dedicated all my miles to Boston through the 15th.

*On a side note, as I finished my 10k on Saturday, I realized that it took me 10 days to fit in 26.2 miles... and that in just 6 short months, I will be running 26.2 miles all at once. Commence marathon anxiety.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Life is Beautiful

Over the past few days, my life has been filled with beauty in so many ways. 

When bad things like Boston happen, it sharpens the lens on your own life to make you realize how incredibly lucky you are. It makes you grateful for things like a morning breakfast date complete with a latte and fancy dill cream cheese for your bagel; new friends who are more like old friends; a gloriously sunny day; riots of tulips; sharing a fun run with one of your best friends; races that involve free beer (even if you don't particularly like beer); husbands who love you even when you have an irrational over-the-phone meltdown; cobblestone streets lined with trees; and watching your best friend realize her dream of motherhood.

Urban Farmhouse breakfast

Italian Garden at Maymont 

Marcey and I at last night's Hardywood Twilight 4 Miler

Shockoe Slip, Richmond

Krystal and her new daughter, Elizabeth
Born last Thursday, April 18

Elizabeth and I

Life - ain't it grand?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Difference

The professional photos taken of me during the Shamrock Half and the Monument Avenue 10k are so amusing because they clearly show the difference between a runner who is d*cking around and a runner who is on a serious mission.

La-de-daaaaa... oh hi photographer!
How bout a thumbs up?

Beast mode.

For the first time ever, I ordered the overpriced photos from Marathonfoto - three total from Shamrock. Here are the other two:

Pre-race, freezing to death in the corral as we waited for the delayed start.\
We fake happy well, don't we??

Post race medal-biting PR celebration.
And damn those Marathonfoto people, I'm strongly considering buying my 10k boss photo - mainly because for the first time ever I look like a real runner on film.

Our post-race official photo is also pretty amusing.

Do you guys buy race photos? 

To this point I have resisted, but lately it's been hard because mine have actually been turning out so well.

But I assure you, I also have bad race photos.

You can plainly see my love for the run in this photo, right?

Monday, April 22, 2013

There Is No Planet B

Happy Earth Day from your friendly resident hippie!

Today, remember to:

1) Hug a tree!

You won't be able to not smile. I swear.

2) Give litter the stink eye wherever you may find it. Then pick it up and throw it away.

During Snowpocalypse.
(Way to ruin the pristine snow, jerkfaces.)

In Versailles (SERIOUSLY?!?!?)

At Westover Plantation
(That's Chesapeake Bay watershed behind me. RUDE.)

3) And recycle!!

Then repeat the other 364 days this year.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Restaurant Week is Upon Us!

Things have been heavy lately... so let's take a break and talk about something everyone loves:

Food. Good food.

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." -  Luciano Pavarotti

I'm more than happy to take Pavarotti's advice and devote my attention to one of my favorite Richmond dining events: the biannual Richmond Restaurant Week, held once in the fall (usually in October) and once in spring (usually in April). This spring, it will be held from April 22 - April 28.

Admittedly, when I moved to Richmond I was not very adventurous when it came to eating out. Being the Planny McPlanerston that I am, the thought of going to a local restaurant with a menu that I had never seen before in my life gave me heart palpitations. Thankfully, my lovely work wife Allison began to coax me out of my terror and having the great taste that she does, introduced me to a few of my now-favorite Richmond haunts (Cafe Rustica, for instance). With the help of my current group of coworkers, my palette has expanded even further and these days I am a dedicated  localvore when it comes to restaurants. In fact, if someone suggests that we eat at a chain restaurant while in Richmond, I generally just gape at them for a minute because I can't imagine that anyone would prefer a chain when we are surrounded by what seems like hundreds of awesome locally owned options.

For me, Richmond Restaurant Week is the perfect excuse to eat out as many times as possible during one week and add to my list of go-to dining spots. The gist of the week is simple (from RRW website):

  • Area Chefs create a three-course prixe fixe menu and offer it all week for $25.13.
  • $2.13 of each meal goes to FeedMore, the umbrella organization for the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals of Wheels.
  • Celebrate Richmond as a great food town!
In other words: eat in some fabulous restaurants for a reasonable price and help people in need.

Pretty great, right?

Although last Saturday was the first time I ever employed a race-day strategy, I can't say the same for Restaurant Week. As soon as I learn what week it will fall in, I start to plot and plan. With so many participating restaurants, it's really hard to narrow down which to choose (my wallet and my pants will only stretch but so far), so I base my restaurant choices on the following factors:
  1. Is the cuisine something I like or have always wanted to try? Obviously going to a place that has a menu you are interested in is your top priority.
  2. Have I been there before? I try to use this opportunity to test out places that I have heard or read about but just haven't gotten to yet. Plus, at $25.13 a person, if you end up hating the place (which I feel is highly unlikely anyway), it won't be that big of deal, whereas if I went and spent $100 on dinner for two and wasn't wowed, I would feel pretty annoyed.
  3. What is the price range of the menu when it's not Restaurant Week? If you can go to the restaurant any old time and get a similar meal for a similar price, to me it's not worth it. I'm going for the multiple-dollar-sign rated restaurants so I can get the most bang for my buck - you know, the ones that I probably couldn't afford to patronize but once in a blue moon otherwise. I try to stick to restaurants where the entrees are in the $20-$30 range.
  4. Do they take reservations? Obviously, participating restaurants are absolutely swamped during this time. Being a highly impatient person, I do not like to wait around to eat. The fact of the matter is that I turn into a raving b*tch when I get hungry, and nobody needs to see that. Therefore, if the place doesn't take reservations, I'm probably not going to go there during Restaurant Week. 
Once I've narrowed down to about 5-7 restaurants, I poll Husband and my friends to see if their selections overlap with mine. Or I just try to convince them that I've got the perfect plan. Then I make my reservations as soon as possible and count down the days until the eating-fest starts.

This spring, the list of participating restaurants is really impressive. There are many that I have been to already (and love) and there are also many that I have been meaning to get to. After much debate, we settled on two choices for this round: 
  • The Water Grill with Greg (of running buddy fame) and his lady Gretchen
  • The Blue Goat with my beloved Viceroy of Anguish, Teka, and her husband Erik

Some of my other top choices include:
  • Acacia - I broke my own rule and have gone to Acacia twice during restaurant week because it is that good.
  • Avenue 805 - Great Italian spot. I've never gone during Restaurant Week because they have a really good $35 Date Night special every Monday and Tuesday. 
  • Julep's - Four words: Cheesy. Shrimp. And. Grits. (Oh. Em. Gee.) It's on the Restaurant Week menu. Trust me, you won't be sorry.
  • La Grotta - Another great Italian spot. One of Husband and I's favorites in Richmond, actually. And he's Italian, so he would know. (I'm Scotch-Irish, so really I don't have any right judging food at all.) We have never gone during Restaurant Week and are perfectly willing to shell out full-price to partake, which says something.
  • Secco - A wine bar whose lunch specials I love. They serve these amazing fried chick peas as a side that I could just eat piles and piles of. This was on my list for this year but didn't make the cut. If you go, tell me about dinner! 
  • Tarrant's Cafe - We have been here many many times for both lunch and dinner. Get the french fries. Just. Do. It.
  • Bistro 27 - The sight of Husband and I's most expensive dinner of our lives. We went with a $50 gift certificate and still ended up blowing $130 out of pocket on two people. In other words: it's delicious food and by going during restaurant week, you'll save yourselves a boatload.
  • Zeus Gallery Cafe - This place is so hole-in-the-wall that they don't even have a real website. And that's because it's so good that they don't need one - word of mouth does the trick. The menus are on chalk boards at your table because they change every day. I'd be in here all the time if it wasn't so darn expensive - so this is your perfect change to get it without the pain in the wallet.
So I encourage all of you who may be in the Richmond to employ your own strategy and head out there next week. Jump out of your comfort zone, find something new, support local businesses, and help raise some much needed funds to fight hunger among our fellow Virginians.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Do You Say?

I am not particularly gifted when it comes to eloquence. I'll leave that to the real writers.

There is nothing I can say that hasn't already been said. I'm just going to sort out my thoughts.

Yesterday, when the news came from Boston, my heart went to my throat and my mind went into overdrive.

Katherine, Theresa, Judith, Misti, Sarah.

Where were they? I knew they had all finished by the time the explosion happened. But were they back at the Finish among the spectators? Had they gone back to wait for someone? To meet their cheering squads? 

Please God, let them all be ok.

Why? Why would someone do this? Why would someone do this to runners? The runners I know are caring, loving people who give give give. Runners don't hurt anyone. Why would someone want to hurt them?

The spectators. Good God... the spectators. People who were there with nothing but goodness in their heart, showing their support to the people they loved or maybe even just to complete strangers. 

Boston. A city that had captured my heart last year and held it firmly since. My favorite American city. The one American city that I would move to in a heartbeat if I could. Back Bay - where I stay when I go because I can't get enough of its charming streets filled with an endlessly fascinating diversity of people, beauty, and good food.

I couldn't think of anything else for the rest of the day. One by one, I found out that Theresa, Judith, Misti, and Sarah were ok. But I hadn't heard from Katherine. I texted, I tweeted, I Facebooked. "The data networks are just overwhelmed. I'm sure she is fine." I kept repeating to myself. 

Finally, hours later, word that she was fine. 

By 4:30, my head was thumping with a headache that had begun that morning and had increased throughout the day. I still couldn't believe what had happened. My mind was still racing. I didn't know what to do.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. The only thing that would help me calm down. 

That thing, of course, was to go for a run.

I ran Monument Avenue. The place where just 2 days before I had been lucky enough to feel the power of running. Where nearly 40,000 runners and thousands more spectators and volunteers had come together to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit. To cheer each other on. To help each other. To love and care for each other. To accomplish something. 

To celebrate LIFE and DOING. 

I meditated on Boston during the run. My thoughts began with the runners, then the spectators. As I sorted out what I was feeling, I couldn't stop thinking about how each of them - how each of us - has a light and a story. I believe that each of us has a spark of the divine. That our role as human beings is to respect and nurture that light in one another. Why else are we such social creatures? We need each other. Think about how much a random compliment from a stranger brightens up your day. How happy hour with a friend can make even the worst day better. How your running buddy can grab your hand at the finish and give you that last boost that you need to get it done. How study after study shows that being social and engaging with people helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer's in the elderly. 

When terrible things like this happen, like most people, I wonder what the person who carried out the act was thinking. I wonder what kind of life they had... what happened to them to make them want to harm someone else in such a random, senseless way? Deep down, I feel that the people who do these things have forgotten that we all have a light. They have lost touch with humanity. 

What can we do as a society to help these people? To remind them that everyone is important. That they are important and can contribute to the world. 

I'm not sure what we can do. For my part, I'm going to try to keep in mind the golden rule of do unto others as you would have done unto you. 

I'm going to keep running. I'm going to keep living. 

As I ran through what was the finish area for Saturday's Monument Avenue 10k, I sent up a prayer for the people whose finish line dreams were destroyed today. I sent my thanks that I am running again and that I can do this. That I can commune with my fellow runners - the ones that I know and don't know - who give me so much joy and happiness. 

Ironically, I had never really been much interested in the Boston Marathon before this year. But this year, the bug got me.  Even though I have never run a marathon and am not anywhere fast enough to qualify, the pipe dream of someday, somehow, running Boston entered my head. 

Now, all I can think is that I have to go. I have to go to Boston. Even if I don't run, I will go spectate or volunteer. I love Boston. I want to be in that city, on a day that means so much to the sport I love. To prove that the power of good people is stronger than hate.

My Mom called me at 6 pm, as I was driving home after my run. "Are you ok?" she simply asked. I said I was, and that all of my friends were too. I was surprised at the tremor in my voice. Then she said, "I'm glad you are finished running races for a while."

I knew she would be worried. I know that she will worry from now on and that sucks. She's my mom - it's what she does. I'm her daughter - it's what I do too. But I said to her, "You know what Mom, nothing is safe anymore. It can happen anytime, anywhere. It could happen tomorrow. I can't let it stop me."

It won't stop us. We just have to keep loving. Keep being there for each other. Keep running, Keep living. 

Courtesy of Linda Beck and One More Mile Running Apparel

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Race Report: Monument Avenue 10k

It's truly a miracle that I survived high school. Not only was I the biggest band geek you ever saw and the Valedictorian, I was a massive Star Wars nerd to boot.

Now I'm all those, plus a run nerd. Good lord, it's a wonder I don't get beat up now!

I'm telling you this because I want to start this post with one of my favorite lessons from Star Wars:

Image Source
Forgive the pun, but today the force was definitely with Greg and I as we set out upon our mission to break 49:00 at the Monument Avenue 10k. Here's how it went down, strategy by strategy.

Strategy 1: Choose a very visible race day outfit to maximize ability to stick together in a crowd.

Hello neon pink.
Race Day Outfit: Head to Toe
Headband: BIC Bands Big Bling Sparkle Silver
Tank: An old Adidas Run Tank
Sports Bra: C9 by Champion Molded Cup Racer Bra in Neon Yellow
(Honestly I shelled out the $60 for the stripe)
Calf Sleeves: Pro Compression Marathon Calf Sleeve in Pink/Black
Shoes: Brooks PureCadence 1

Greg went with orange.

This strategy worked beautifully - we never really got separated, but if either of us was a few steps ahead of the other, it was easy to quickly glance over a shoulder and spot the other person without a hassle.

Strategy 2: Proper pre-race precautions.

Step one: We were both very good and did not run on Thursday or Friday. I stretched whenever I thought about it and took the dog for a walk on Thursday night. 

Step two: On Friday, my pre-race dinner was pasta-based and I drank what seemed like tons of water. Greg tells me he ate an Italian sub... not what I would be able to handle but hey, whatever works.

Step three: Get the Big Man on our side. We each arrived at the race site with ample time to drop off bags, stop at the port-o-potties, etc. In fact, we are both so chronically early that we actually made it to Monroe Park in time to go to Sacred Heart Cathedral for the short "Blessing of the Runners" service held at 7:30 am. I figured we needed all the help we could get, so asked Greg if he wanted to go and he was on board.

I had never actually arrived with enough time to partake in this before and I have to say it was a nice yet surreal experience: here were all of us runners decked out in our race gear, sitting in one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in all of Richmond, singing hymns and listening to a homily about running. 

Even if you aren't particularly religious or Catholic, it is a nice experience and I'm glad we did it.

Strategy 3: Start as far to the front of our corral as possible.

We made our way to the corral area at 8:00 am; a full 30 minutes before the start of the race. As a result, we were the front of the corral, literally holding up the rope that divided Corral C from BB.

Greg demonstrates his holding-the-line skillz.
This really helped us. I have never been at the front of the corral before and it was a big rush to see nothing but pavement ahead of us as the race announcer counted down "3...2...1...GO!" Because they actually stop and give some time in between the start of each corral, we were not overcrowded at all and had nothing but empty Broad Street ahead of us, with the folks from corral BB already yards away. 

The traffic that we had both been pretty worried about simply didn't exist!

Strategy 4: Choose a designated pacer/leader. 

Greg was our official leader, but we really didn't end up having to run one behind the other very often. We spent most of our time side by side with each of us keeping an eye on the Garmin. Strangely, I ended up being more of the pace-keeper, probably because just into Mile 1 I realized that we were running way too fast and that if we kept it up, we wouldn't last. So, I kept an eye to the Garmin to make sure we were on target but not killing ourselves.

However, at the end, I have to give all credit to Greg who literally grabbed my hand and pulled me forward during the last bit. It was the boost I needed to finish strong.

I think we make a pretty awesome team.

Strategy 5: No Facebooking, picture taking, bathroom breaks, or water stops. 

Phones were securely zipped into our running belts after I took the holding the line photos in the corrals. 

There were no bathroom breaks, but it got warm pretty fast and we did end up taking water at 2 water stops (I believe at miles 2 and 4). Because we were not in heavy crowds, I don't believe that it slowed us down very much at all and when you need to drink, you need to drink. 

Strategy 6: Have fun, like we always do. 

I was so excited about meeting this challenge that I basically jumped out of bed when my alarm went off at 5:45 am. On the way to the race, I pumped up my Run playlist and had a dance party in my car as I made my way to Richmond. By the time I met Greg at Monroe Park, I was literally skipping and hopping with excitement. 

I was HYPED.

The service at Sacred Heart calmed me down a bit, but by the time we were at the head of our corral, I was all energy, literally bouncing in place. 

But as soon as we took off, this race felt different. Greg and I are usually very chatty during our runs, but our conversation was kept to a minimum as we both concentrated on the matter at hand. Actually racing the Monument Avenue 10k was such a strange and new experience for me... usually I can tell you about the funny spectators, the music the bands are playing along the way, the cheer stations, the costumes I saw. This time, none of that sunk in. 

I'm not saying I didn't have fun. I definitely had a great time. I hooted and hollered for the elites as they passed us on the other side of the street. I cheered back to my favorite bands and cheer squads and waved for the cameras. I smiled at signs, grabbed a free high-5 or two, yelled my thanks to volunteers, and urged on a young boy who stopped to walk just ahead of me during mile 4. 

But my main focus was my run. Continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Watching the Garmin to be sure that we were on pace. 

At the 5k turnaround, we were 24:05. I said to Greg, "I think we have this, man."

At Mile 5, it truly dawned on me that all we had to do was run for 8 more minutes and we were going to completely blow our goal out of the water. I think I was in shock. I said, "Greg... holy crap... we are going to do this."

As we crossed the Mile 6 marker, I felt like I was losing steam. I wanted to finish strong, but wasn't sure if it was in me. I knew we were going to make the 49:00 and that was enough. Then I saw the finish line and the realization of what we were about to accomplish really came to me. Greg pulled ahead and I said, "Don't leave me, don't leave me!" and pushed my tired legs to just keep going... just a little bit more.

About 100 yards in front of the finish, I was one or two lengths behind Greg. That's when he grabbed my hand and raised it above me. Back at mile 5, we had planned our finish line pose. He was employing it early - and it gave me that extra jolt I needed.

Once we finished and saw our results, I can tell you that this race quickly earned the title of "most fun ever."

Strategy realized: End result

So how did it turn out? 

Friends, not only did we make our goal... we exceeded it.

A few minutes after we had made our way through the chute and parked ourselves in the grass for much-needed stretching and consumption of water, our text alert with times from our tags came in.

Somehow, both of us finished in exactly 47:49.

Here are the splits:

This gives us a 47:48, but official results gave us each the 47:49.

Do you see that average pace? A full minute less  that my average pace at this race last year. 

I still can't quite believe we did it. I have to admit that this morning when I got up, I was excited about the race but in the back of my mind, I was preparing myself not to break 49:00, but to just get a PR. Some part of me didn't really think that we'd be able to pull this off. 

Even now, hours and hours later, it still feels like some kind of surreal dream. 

I can't say that I've ever had a "perfect" race day before. I have a feeling it doesn't happen very often to very many people. For me, it's either raining, or too cold, or I get to the race a little later than I wanted to and feel rushed and nervous, or I lose my running buddy, or it is windy, or my [insert body part here] starts to hurt - you get the picture. 

But today was perfect. I basically waltzed into a parking spot exactly where I wanted to be and had an hour and half before go time. That hour and a half was spent in comfort, as the weather was (for once) absolutely perfect. There was plenty of time to drop off my bag and make a trip to the port-o-pottie just because, not really because I needed  to go. We were in our corral and happily hanging out up front with just the perfect amount of time to stretch and then get pumped up. During the race, nothing on me really hurt. I didn't have any wardrobe malfunctions (until I lost my bib in the chute afterwards which we somehow miraculously recovered almost 30 minutes and thousands of people later after I realized it was missing), I didn't get elbowed or stepped on.

It was just perfection.

Afterwards, we walked to Lift to obtain the iced coffee and bagel with cream cheese that I had been dangling in front of myself as a reward since the first step of Mile 1. 

It was heavenly.

My runner's high lasted well into the afternoon, until about 3 pm when I finally crashed on the couch.


As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of clichés. But darn it, running just keeps making them all come true. This time, it was "Dream it, do it." 

I think so many of us will never know what we can truly accomplish because we are too afraid of potential failure. Or because we have become jaded. I know that I often fall into the latter category. A lot of us just don't end up where we thought we would in life, even if we did all the things we thought would get us there. 

Today, as I had a second private dance party in my car on the way home, I realized that maybe the reason I love running so much is because I have been able to set ambitious goals for myself and then see them realized where other life dreams have yet to be fulfilled.

Have I been scared along the way? More times than I can count.

Have I failed? Abso-freakin'-lutely. 

Have I wanted to quit? Hell yes. After the Army 10 Miler, I swore I would never run that far again. Ever.

But this sport has taught me so much about what I really can do if I can just convince a little part of myself to believe that I can. That I can still make things happen if I really want to.

It's crazy, really. Something that I used to detest with every fiber of my being has now give me my ambition back and become part of who I am.

Mind. Blown.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Monument Avenue 10k Strategy

Back in January when I was seriously waffling about whether or not to even sign up for this race, I had a few caveats for participation, and I quote:

"If Lizzie comes early, I won't be running the race. And, if I am experiencing any pain or discomfort after the 10 miler, I won't be doing the race either."

Well, neither of these things have happened. Krystal and I chat every day and she has informed me that Lizzie is not going anywhere any time soon, though I really do wish she would hurry up and come out to play. And, 3 days out from the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, I feel 100% fine. 

So it looks like I am running the 10k this Saturday. 

When I signed up, Greg and I made the deal that we were only running this race if we raced it: all out, balls-to-the-wall, do or die, kick some serious assphalt - all those fun things. So we  agreed that if/when we run the Monuemnt Avenue 10k, we are aiming to break 49:00. 

For me, that is a very ambitious goal. My last 10k PR was last year's race during which I ran a 53:22, average pace of 8:36 minutes per mile. To make the 49:00, we're talking about shaving off 4 minutes and maintaining an average pace of 7:54 minute miles.

Um... I've never done that math before. Eep.

ANYWAY, because we have set this insane, sepcific goal for ourselves, we need to do something that I've never really done before when it comes to the actual racing part: strategize. 

Usually my race day strategy consists of things like "don't pee yourself, don't poop yourself, don't fall down, don't break anything, just keep running, and finish."

These basics aren't going to get me to a 49:00.

So here is the grand strategy Greg and I are employing in hopes of getting there.
  1. Choose a very visible race day outfit. This is a very crowded race and we are going to have to do bobbing and weaving. At Cherry Blossom, Greg wore a gray shirt and when we would be temporarily separated as we worked our way through dense traffic, it was very hard for me to spot him again. I was wearing white, so it was probably not much easier to spot me. So, I'm wearing a neon pink top along with neon pink compression knee socks and Greg is wearing orange or yellow.
  2. Proper pre-race precautions including refraining from running on Thursday and Friday so that our legs are as fresh as they can be on Saturday morning (stretching and walking are cool/encouraged); proper fueling strategy; don't eat any Mexican or drink wine on Friday night; go to bed early; etc.
  3. Start as far to the front of our corral as possible. Initially I was assigned to seeded corral G and Greg was in C but I sweet talked the "problem fixer" at the expo into moving me into corral C, so we'll be trying to be as far forward in the corral as we can get to cut out more traffic.
  4. Choose a designated pacer/leader. Again, because of the crowded nature of this race, we will likely not be able to run side by side. One of us will have to be the leader to find openings and cut through other runners, while the other simply follows. Greg is taller and faster, so he has been designated as our leader - I'll be doing my best to keep with him.
  5. No Facebooking, photo taking, bathroom breaks, or water stops. We won't be running tourists this time around. No time for any of this. Weather is looking like high 40s and low 50s during the race, so we can easily make it through without stopping at water stops. Obviously if one of us absolutely has to have water or make an emergency bathroom break, we will. If it's an emergency. 
  6. Have fun, like we always do. I love running races because I love to feed off the energy of the crowd and have fun. This is why I usually don't set ambitious time-based goals for myself. To me, every mile and every race is a big accomplishment no matter how long it takes to do it. I don't want to lose sight of that this year.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Summer In My Slog

Just nine days ago, I was so very happy when spring finally seemed to arrive in Richmond.

Apparently spring only lasted that one day. After that it turned cold and dreary again.

Then came this week. Yesterday it was 87. Yesterday, we topped out at:

Yesterday was also the day Greg and I had scheduled to run a Faux Monument Avenue 10k. Our aim was to create - to the best of our ability - race day and see how fast we could go.

Because of the ridiculous heat, it ended up being a Slow Monument Avenue 10k instead. Honestly, it was one of the most miserable runs I've had in a while. My feet felt like they weighed 10 tons each. I couldn't talk because I was too busy using every ounce of my concentration to put one foot in front of the other. When we hit red lights, I wasn't sure whether I was happy that I could stop for a minute or annoyed because it meant we were getting delayed and thus spending more time outside.

We tried to take it slow, but both Greg and I were big time FAILS when it came to pacing. This was likely because we just wanted to be finished and the faster you run, the faster you're done!

And finish we did - in 53:37. Not exactly what we had been hoping for, but it's ok. It isn't going to be 90 degrees this Saturday morning. In fact, having slogged through this run will probably make the 50s that we will be running in on race day feel quite fabulous and we can crush this race like we want to.

Now, can we please stop with this summer in April crap? I'd like to enjoy some temperate spring temperatures before we dive right into sweltering.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Race Report: Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

Participation in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler is a coveted opportunity. If you're from the DC Metro area (or maybe beyond), you know all about the famed cherry blossom trees around Washington, DC's Tidal Basin and their associated festival. Cherry blossom watch is a big deal in the area, with local meteorologists devoting part of each broadcast to predictions of when peak blossom time will be during the weeks leading up to the big event. Hoards and hoards of tourists equipped with giant, fancy-looking cameras that they probably don't even know how to operate descend upon DC, getting endlessly confused by the Metro system, standing to the left on the escalators, and then (the horror) having the audacity to pick the cherry blossoms from the trees.

But I digress...

The field for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler is capped at 18,000 (I think... I'm unable to find the actual number), and you get a spot in the race via a lottery system. Hopefuls sign up for the lottery in December and then wait and see whether they were lucky to nab a spot in what is supposed to be an entirely random selection process. If you are not chosen after 2 years, you are automatically entered in the third. 

This year I figured that I would enter the lottery and get the process started with the idea that I would never get chosen in my first year of entering. 

And then... I got chosen, along with Greg and Sheila.

To be honest, this was the least convenient year for me to run this race. First, it was only 3 weeks after my first half since my injury. Second, one of my very good friends was getting married on the same day. Third, April was already jam packed with other events and this was just one more on top of the pile. Fourth, my last Washington, DC race experience, the 2011 Army 10 Miler (which I still have nightmares about) was hands down THE worst running experience of my life. Yes, even worse than the run during which I broke my foot. 

So I was less than thrilled about the whole situation.

But despite my reluctance, this turned out to be a great race experience. 

Race Day Arrival - A

My least favorite part about racing in DC is relying on the Metro to get me to the race start. It's a nightmare in logistics, but is still a better option than trying to navigate street closures in DC and find parking that costs less than $20. For this race, we stayed in Chevy Chase, Maryland with Sheila's parents who very graciously hosted us all on Saturday night. Luckily, they live just 10 minutes from the Bethesda metro station and have a parking permit for a nearby parking deck, so parking wasn't a problem.

We left the house at 5:45 am and after a small delay (we had to go back because someone :cough: Sheila :cough: forgot to bring the key fob for the parking deck), made our way to the platform where of course we had to wait 17 minutes for the next train. This is what I mean by logistical nightmare - early in the morning, Metro trains in the 'burbs run 17 minutes apart, so you have to build in a lot of extra cushion just in case you just miss a train and have to wait nearly 20 minutes for the next one. 

Anyhow, the train was nice and empty when we got on but quickly filled up as we got further into DC.

Runners crammed into our Metro car
(GB photo)

At the Metro Center stop, we had to change trains. I'd say that the mob scene of runners was unbelievable, but since I've been through this before I wasn't phased.

Typical Metro stupidity: running one down escalator
to the inbound trains on a race day
(GB photo)

Trying to get topside at the race-suggested Metro stop

Despite the masses of people, we arrived at the Smithsonian Metro stop around 7:00 am with enough time to make our way to the start without needing to rush madly.

Once we finally emerged from the Metro, we started to walk toward the start, which was in the shadow of the Washington Monument - easy enough to find.

(GB photo)

(In case you were wondering, the Washington Monument is in scaffolding because damage done during the April 2011 earthquake is still being repaired.)

Starting Area - B-

We arrived in the starting area just as the National Anthem was being sung and the elite wave runners were beginning their race. Greg and I both had dry bags to check, so we needed to get to the bag check ASAP. I also had hopes of hitting the port-a-potties, as of course I had to pee even though I went twice before we left the house. 

Those hopes quickly evaporated as we wandered around the starting area trying to find the baggage check. There was no signage to direct us and it seemed like everyone else was walking around in search of the baggage check too. Eventually we located a volunteer who pointed us in the right direction. 

Once we found the baggage check, it was a quick and easy process to drop off. Everyone had to check in clear plastic bags provided at the race expo and labeled with race numbers. The huge drop off tent was lined with volunteers who manned stations associated with a range of bib numbers. There were only 3 people in front of me in my line, and not many more in front of Greg. 

By this time, volunteers were walking through the area yelling that we needed to be moving to our corrals and I still really wanted to go to the bathroom. There were hundreds or port-o-potties, but the lines were too long, so no bathroom break for me. Instead we took some quick photos before heading to the corrals.

This is where we ran into the only real problem of the race - the corrals. Based on our expected finish time, Greg and I had been place in the Blue corral, but Sheila was one corral behind us in Orange. We wanted to start together, so we tried to work our way into the orange corral. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be enough entry points into the corrals and we were stuck outside of all of the official corral areas along with hundreds and hundreds of other runners. It was so crowded that it was impossible to work our way through the mob of people and find an entry point and the temporary barriers were way too high to step or jump over, so we kind of just gathered with everyone else and hoped that we'd eventually find our way into our corral. 

Honestly, it was a pretty frustrating experience.

Eventually the first two waves went and the crowd stuck outside of the corrals started to move. We finally worked our way into the interior of the barriers and found that we were all in the very back of the Blue Corral. 

(GB photo)
We continued to move toward the start and I was expecting them to stop us and then do a countdown before starting our wave (that's what usually happens, in my experience)... but then before we knew it we were crossing over the chip readers and we were on our way with no official fanfare.

Course - A

This course was a good solid A and definitely the most delightful  DC course that I have run (previous races included the Marine Corps 10k and Army 10 Miler). It was designed to maximize time in the blossoms, starting at the Washington Monument and then looping past the Lincoln, out and back on the beautiful Memorial Bridge, north toward Georgetown along the Potomac and next to the Kennedy Center, looping back to the Lincoln, then around the Tidal Basin and behind the Jefferson before finishing up back at the Washington Monument. 

It was nice and flat with stunning views that would have been even more amazing had the cherry blossoms decided to actually join us for their honorary race. But thanks to the unseasonably cold weather we have been experiencing in the metro-DC area, for the most part the cherry blossoms had not yet bloomed.

It's a good thing that they cap participation because the course is obviously at capacity. It did not really thin out that much and during the first 4 miles it was especially difficult to make any progress when it comes to passing others. I stepped on someone (sorry!) and was stepped on and got elbowed pretty hard, luckily only in the upper arm. I hate to say it, but I think that they should maybe lower the number of participants even more to make it more enjoyable for everyone.

Sheila, during mile 1

Greg on course sometime during mile 1

Sheila and I coming across the Memorial Bridge and
approaching Lincoln Memorial during mile 2

During mile 8 or 9... imagine how beautiful
this would have been if those trees were
actually blooming!
The course was lined with spectators near the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Tidal Basin, and of course at the Finish. Course support was great - more than enough water/gatorade stops and periodic clusters of port-o-potties (Aside from one cup of water at mile 4, I didn't partake of either).

As we were running on the island south of the Jefferson, we hit really strong headwinds coming in from the over the river and it became very cold and challenging. It reminded Greg, Sheila, and I of the freezing, windy miles on the Army Base at the Shamrock Half. I was so glad when we finally got back across the bridge and off of that island. 

But the island was the one spot where we did take a moment to stop and take some photos of the few trees that actually had blossomed.

Japanese percussion ensemble and one of the few blooming trees

Mid race photo session with some blossoms
Around mile 6

The other DC courses that I've run have included long boring stretches on highway overpasses and bridges. This one had none of those, and was by far the most enjoyable even if the blossoms didn't really come out to play.

The Finish - A

There was a small hill during the last mile that felt a lot harder than it should have, but the energy of the thousands of spectators helped me power through. The organizers had also placed signs along the last mile which counted down the meters to the end, which I kind of hated. To me, marking off every segment just seems to make it last even longer!

After crossing the finish line, we were moved quickly through the chute and eventually received bottles of water from volunteers who seemed to be randomly stationed throughout the chute.

Branded water bottles - so THAT'S what my entry  fee went toward
Once out of the chute (which had actually served as the corrals at the start), we headed toward the porties which now had no lines and also no toilet paper. 

Next stop was post-run food. As is typical, there were mounds and mounds of bananas (YUCK) but also four different muffin options (orange, apple, cherry, and blueberry). Since I hate bananas, I helped myself to two muffins: orange and blueberry. Both were delicious, with my favorite part being the oversized sugar crystals that layered their tops.

After obtaining our food, we began to wander back toward the bag check tent when we randomly ran into a person distributing medals. For this race, you had to PAY EXTRA for a medal, which I thought was utterly ridiculous, but I paid the $12 anyway, as did Sheila and Greg. You could also pay even more to have your medal personalized (crazy). If we hadn't run into the medal distributors, who were hanging out in a no-man's zone between the food and bag check tent, I think we probably would've gotten annoyed trying to track them down.

At least it's pretty.

The line to pick up our bags was decidedly longer than the line was to drop off the bags, but the volunteers were very efficient and we waited only about 5 minutes. Once bags were successfully retrieved, we headed up higher (less crowded) ground to sort ourselves out and take a breather.

Post race area
(GB photo)

Face-timing with Sheila's guy afterwards 

Group Photo - Sheila's roomie, Sheila, myself, and Greg
Once we had recovered, we set about making complete fools of ourselves by taking silly pictures.

Too lazy to take off the extra layer of throwaway pants.

If there's a tree, I'm hugging it.

... because we are VERY serious runners.

Overall Grade - A

Although I had many misgivings about the race, it was a really fabulous time. The only tiny complaint that I would have is the corral situation and the overcrowding along the course. Otherwise, I thought that the race was very well managed, organized, and had a lovely course.

Oh, and just give me a damn medal please.

Personal Performance - A+

Going into this race, Greg and I had decided that we were not really going to "race" this one and instead be "running tourists." We wanted to save ourselves for the Monument Avenue 10k the following weekend, at which we plan to attempt to PR.

That being said, per usual, I displayed my total lack of a pacing chip and ended up running this at quite the clip for a person who was supposed to be playing the part of a tourist.

My old 10 miler PR was only my PR because it's the only official 10 mile race I ever ran. It was such a horrible experience that at the end, I vowed that I would never attempt to run that far again (obviously I broke that vow). That PR was 1:49:31.

Needless to say, it was pretty easy to blow that out of the water. Even with some stops along the way to take photos (and I mean STOPS), a slight reverse to grab an Oreo cookie from a make shift spectator-supported fuel station (it was totally worth it), a lot of weaving and traffic to cut through, and not trying very hard, I ran a 1:26:16, blowing the Army 10 Miler out of the water by 23:15.

Almighty Garmin says:

Greg ran a 1:26:12, barely missing his own PR, and Sheila ran a very respectable 1:29:26 for her debut 10 miler.

I felt awesome during the whole race. I didn't experience my usual mile 3-4 slump. There was no soreness at any time and I was never ever out of breath. When we were finished, I didn't even feel like I had just run 10 miles. I was ready to go again! I'm pretty confident that if I had actually "tried" and not stopped for photos along the way, it may have been possible for me to run this in 1:24:00.

That being said, I still wouldn't have changed a thing. It was a great, relaxing, fun  race. Isn't that what this is all supposed to be about?

So, in the spirit of fun, I'll close this race review with some completely ridiculous jumping pictures. Note that these were post-race, and we somehow had the energy to launch ourselves into the air over and over again to capture the perfect moment. I think it was the adrenaline rush of finishing an awesome race with great friends.

Oh, and by the way... the next day it hit the mid 70s in Washington and all of the darn cherry blossoms burst into bloom.

Hey guys, just a little bit late.