Sunday, November 15, 2015

Richmond Marathon Photologue

There WILL be an entry (oh yes, there will!). But for now, just a few images from my Richmond Marathon experience, which started Thursday morning.

Thursday morning shake out run with Kathrine Switzer & Robin Robinson

Hanging with the woman herself.

Friday morning - Bart Yasso's shake out

Hanging with Barbara and Tina during Bart's run.
Special meaning as Barbara and I met during Bart's shake out
2 years ago.

Another photo op with Kathrine and Roger at the Expo

Shadow selfies with Kit on the Lee Bridge during our pilgrimage run.

A tiny fraction of Team Lemon pre-race

Noodles the thug with her pants hanging low in ling for bag drop off.

With Coach Scott in the corral

On the course on Main Street
(somewhere between mile 17 and 18)

Post finish line hugs, captured by the incredible
Jesse Peters

Mom and me post race. <3
A huddle of happy marathoners.
T, me, Kit, Noodles, and Angela

Friday, November 13, 2015

Repost: Thoughts on Marathon Eve

It's marathon even in Richmond. The energy in the city is amazing. I've decided that race weekend is my most favorite weekend of the entire year. I love it more than Christmas. All of these runners together, in my city - the city that I love - who are about to embark on a fantastic journey.

I wrote this post last year when I was broken and preparing to spectate the marathon instead of run it. I think it might be the best thing I've ever written. I wanted to share it again today for all of the runners who are hitting the streets tomorrow. Though this is aimed at marathoners, it's really for anyone.

For everyone - whether a first timer or a veteran - remember that running is a gift. Enjoy it.


Tomorrow, you'll be like a kid on Christmas morning and wake up at 4 am. It will take forever for the start to happen. The first ten miles are so much fun. Riverside is glorious. You'll be stunned at how much of a hill Forest Hill Avenue really is. You'll make the Lee Bridge your bitch (cause it's the only way to do it). You'll curse at the overpass by the Diamond and through Bellevue. You won't even remember you name once you get to Grace Street and you'll probably do something silly like cry at the end.

Now, take all of that and file it away. Don't think about it again until you are in the moment tomorrow.

As I said, I'm not going to attempt a profound analysis for what you should do. In my day to day life, I over-analyze a lot. The strange thing is that when it comes to race day, I take on a whole different persona and do one thing:

Just run.

That is my advice for you. As I've already said in the lead up to Steamtown, the cake is in the oven. You've mixed that sucker to the max. Now you just sit back and wait. Or, more accurately, you just go out there and run.

To just run, you need to do a few things. Sounds oxymoronic, I know. But hear me out.

First and foremost, trust your training. I know you've heard this already about 500 times. I'll say it again though. Trust your training. This evening, go look at your training log. See all that you have accomplished already. Do you remember when it seemed like you'd never in a million years be able to run 15 miles? How about how nervous you were about that first 20? The second? The third? But you did it. Add up all the miles you ran. There are hundreds of them. YOU ran them. YOU did that. 

What's 26.2 more? NOTHING! For my half marathon friends, what's 13.1 more? You've got this, I promise. You know what to do. You've been doing it since June. One foot in front of the other.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile. This is the single best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. I have to give credit where credit is due - to Jeff Van Horn, the owner of Lucky Foot. This was his advice to me last year, imparted to me on Marathon Eve at the expo. I took it to heart and it has made a profound difference in the way I approach every run.

You know what lies ahead - Kit's got you prepared.

Now stop thinking about it.

Tomorrow, deal with the mile you are in and only the mile you are in. When you're at the start, don't fret about Scottview. On Forest Hill, don't think about Lee Bridge. Or the overpass. Or the last 10k.

Think about only what you are doing in that moment. The entire course is laid out for you - it will be there whether you worry over it or not. There's nothing you can do to change it. As you go through, think about what the mile you are in holds but nothing more. Deal with it as it comes. That way, it doesn't get overwhelming. You can run a mile in your sleep. So just run a mile.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

Don't think about THE WALL. I spent my entire first marathon holding back because I was afraid of the wall.

I hate it when people try to scare first time marathoners with the looming specter of THE WALL. "It happens to everyone. You are going to be miserable at some point. Be ready for it." Listen, I'm no coach and I'm no seasoned marathoner, but in my opinion this is nothing more than a scare tactic.

Does it happen? Yes.

Will it definitely happen to you? NO.

I know this because I can honestly say that I've never hit THE WALL. Not even during the no-good-very-bad Raleigh Marathon.

Here's what I think about THE WALL: you have to tell yourself that it doesn't exist. Period. Kind of like the monsters under your bed. If you don't believe in it, it can't scare you.

Don't spend your whole first marathon worrying about it. My first marathon was a great experience, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering, "Where's the wall? When's it going to hit?" Everyone told me it would happen and I kept looking for it. I looked so smiley and happy in my marathon because I was holding back - out of fear of the wall. Since then, I have never wasted another minute worrying about it because it was a pointless exercise.

Don't spend your first marathon waiting and wondering when it will hit. Because it might not. And one way or the other, there's nothing you can do about it.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be thankful. Be grateful. For many reasons, lots of people can't do what you're going to do tomorrow. Putting all the time, effort, and money into marathon training and racing is a luxury that precious few in this world are able to afford. Your body is strong and healthy. It has gotten you this far without injury, it will get you to the start tomorrow and will carry you to the finish. So many of us were taken out of the game over the course of training. You're a lucky one. Don't forget it and don't take it for granted.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed. You are doing something that very very few people do in their lifetime. When you've been living in a bubble of runners for months, it is easy to forget that we are a rare breed. Running any distance is a big deal. Accomplishing a marathon is an exceptional feat. Remember that.

Look around you tomorrow, at every other athlete who is realizing a dream. What a powerful thing to be a part of.

Thank the spectators. A lot of them don't get it. They might tell you that you are almost there when you're really not almost there. They might tell you that you look great when you know you don't. A lot of them probably don't even know exactly how long a marathon is.

But it doesn't matter. Smile. Thank them. Take their support. They are there for you, even if they don't quite understand everything that has gone into this day for you. Be grateful for their enthusiasm - it comes from the goodness of their hearts. I will never forget the older gentlemen around mile 23 of Steamtown who told me I looked great. I laughed and told him, "I know you're lying, but I love you for telling me that."

Or the guy who I think Sensei and I both imagined at mile 22. "Smile, relax, welcome to Steamtown" he said in a perfectly zen voice while bowing. I swear we imagined him. Real or not, he gave us strength when we needed it.

High five the kids, smile at the old gentlemen, laugh at the drunken revelers and the ridiculous
signs. They are out there freezing because they want to help you in some small way.

What a loving gesture by thousands of strangers.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed.

And my last bit of advice: drink it all in. Tomorrow is a celebration. It is the cherry on the top. Think of it as the reward for the hard work you've done. All those sweaty miles and Saturdays. All those early Wednesday mornings, waking up before the sun. All those Friday nights you couldn't go out and drink and eat whatever you wanted because you had to prepare for the Saturday long run.

Will it be hard work? Yes. But that doesn't mean you can't love every minute. Be proud of what you've accomplished. It's allowed. There is no better feeling than seeing that finish line. Let yourself cry. Don't forget to put your victory arms. Smile for the camera.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed.


You guys are amazing. I am already bursting with pride for every person who has had the guts to tackle a big dream tomorrow - whether it's the 8k, Half Marathon, or Marathon.

Your cakes are in the oven. Now,


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Interview with Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson

I was recently given the extraordinary opportunity to interview two legendary runners - Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson. Switzer and Robinson will be in Richmond for a speaking engagement that benefits the Massey Cancer Center just as thousands of runners descend upon the city for the Richmond Marathon, half marathon, and 8k.

If you've arrived here via link from the article that appeared on - welcome! Here you will find more of my conversation with Kathrine and Roger, most of it very run-nerd in nature, which I thought would probably not be of much interest to anyone other than us runners. You know what happens when a bunch of runners start talking... they talk about running. A lot. And also food.

What follows is a transcript of the parts of our conversation that didn't make it into the article (with minor editing). Enjoy.


During her training and in the starting corral, Kathrine had found that most of the men she encountered were encouraging and supportive of her. It made me wonder why Jock Semple had been so angry when he saw her that he wanted to physically attack her - and if the fact that Roberta Gibb had jumped into the race and completed the marathon unofficially the year before perhaps had him on edge.

Kathrine Switzer: Yes - a woman had run the year before but he didn't make any big deal about it. He said to the media afterwards, "no girl ran the Boston marathon - she just happened to come into the event along the course at the same time."

He was furious with me because - it was a sweet reason and I forgave him right away - well, not right away. It took me 20 miles to get over it, but I forgive him  because first of all, he's an overworked race director. The weather was bad and miserable, he was tired, and he was a great protector of this race. He was the guy who saved the race during World War II and the Depression. He kept it going, kind of single handedly. So when people were jumping into the race - drunk college students who would try to run with the leaders as long as they could, it just infuriated him. He hated clowns. The Boston Marathon was a serious race and he thought I was making a mockery of his race and of him personally. He thought I had gotten a bib number through subterfuge because I had signed my name with my initials.

Roger Robinson: In defense of Jock Semple, he came from a very tough background of extreme poverty. He was a small man who grew up in Glasgow [Scotland] schools. Glasgow was one of the toughest cities in the world. He would have had to defend himself and so his well known short fuse is something that goes back to his origins. The Boston Marathon was so important to him... he defended it and saved it when the Boston Athletic Association wanted to let the race go. So I often say in many ways, that Jock Semple deserves to go down in history as a hero of the Boston Marathon and it's unfortunate that his short fuse made him the villain.

In 1967, Kathrine's boyfriend broke up the attack by tackling Jock Semple. I couldn't resist asking Roger what he would have done if he had been running with Kathrine that day.

Robinson: (laughing) Oh this is a bad joke. Of course her boyfriend at the time was over six feet tall and a top football player and a hammer thrower. I am not of that physical stance. When Kathrine and I made our prenuptial agreement, one of the agreements was that if she ever gets physically attacked by a bad-tempered Scotsman, I'll try to talk him out of it instead. But I do like it when some journalists think that it was me who flattened Jock Semple.

When I took up running and 3 years ago decided to attempt my first marathon, it never occurred to me for a second that I wouldn't be prevented from doing so because of my gender - thanks, of course, to the efforts of Kathrine Switzer and many others who came before me.  I was aware that women were discouraged from intense sports like distance running, but I never thought about it much. I was curious as to whether or not Kathrine saw that as a good thing.

Switzer: Absolutely. I don't think that any mother wants to hammer into her daughter's brain that "you owe me a favor and you should remember all the difficulties we had, oh poor us, etc." We want them to go ahead and enjoy the freedom - the limitless and the empowerment. I love it when a mother comes by my booth at an expo and there's the poster of the photograph and the mother explains to her little daughter, "See, that man is trying to throw her out of the race because she's a girl." And the little girl will look at the picture and then look at her mother and say, "Why?"

That's what it's all about. she doesn't have to have any doubt.

One of the themes that popped up many times in our conversation was opportunity - and in particular, equality through opportunity.

Robinson: We feel very strongly that the way forward for the world is through equality of opportunity. If everybody has the opportunity, if there are no closed doors, then the world will keep getting better. Just don't close doors on people and talent will come through.

Switzer: I've often said that is one of my mantras: talent is everywhere, it only needs an opportunity.

Robinson: Look at the African runners. Here are people that come from total poverty, but because they are good at running, they become global figures. Within two or three years, they're holding press conversations in English and sometimes in French and Italian as well. They are incredibly smart people ... they're emerging because they're good at running, but then their other talents begin to show through.

During their visit to Richmond, Roger will address the runners at the Sports Backers' Marathon Training Team pasta party on Thursday night. Many first time marathoners will be there, so I asked both Roger and Kathrine what their number one piece of advice is for marathoners.

Robinson: It's always the same - especially to the men - go out slow. They always go out too fast and they say, "It felt so easy!" But then of course they get to 15 or 20 miles and they fall over. So always go out slow. Always aim to run negative splits. It's always my advice and people always ignore it and that's why I keep beating them.

Pullam: Well, we are boneheads - we're runners - that's what we do right? Ignore advice?

Switzer: My tip for the marathon and for any runner is that the night before the race, make sure you have a plan for exactly where you are going and how you are going to get to the race. Are you going to drive, take public transport? Make sure you get there an hour ahead of time because it will be chaotic and more difficult than you ever imagined. You don't want to get rattled. Get your number pinned to your shirt, get everything laid out. Get to the race early, use the bathroom, stretch. And remember that once the gun goes off, you won't be nervous anymore. It'll go away and you'll be fine.

On to the other truly important topic for runners - food. I wanted to know what Kathrine and Roger's favorite post-run indulgence is.

Switzer: For me it's a really good cold craft beer!

Pullam: We have a lot of that in Richmond! How about you Roger?

Robinson: Similar - a good meal and a good half bottle of wine. A large steak of something. You know you've hit on something - in a way, what you're saying is that being a runner enables you to live life fully and with relish.

Pullam: It really does, doesn't it?

Robinson: Yes! Runners really enjoy themselves in all aspects of life. I think it's a really significant thing!

Robinson and Switzer spend half of their year in New Zealand, so while we were on the topic of food, I couldn't resist a plug for one of my favorite restaurants in Richmond - Proper Pie - which of course is owned and operated by resident Kiwi Neil Smith. So Neil, be on the look out!

As a runner who qualified for Boston this year but did not make the cut off time, I wanted to ask these elite runners their thoughts on Boston's qualification system and whether or not the BAA should adjust the standards.

Switzer: Roger is more versed on this than I am and I agree with his totally, so I'll let him take this one.

Robinson: I'm not extremely well versed, but I'm involved to the extent that I'm coaching and advising a friend who started running at 64. He's now 68 and would like to qualify for Boston, so I'm close to the issue. He'll be 70 in 2017 and I believe his qualifying time is 4:20 or something close to that. I've told him we're going for a 4:05. He's got to get in on the first wave [of registration]. We aren't going into the situation that you just suffered. I don't want to criticize Boston, but I do think they should consider making the standards tougher. It would be better than letting people think they've qualified and then rejecting them.

Boston is in a difficult position and they're handling it as well as they can. The running scene is changing so much and so fast that it is hard to keep up. It's taking a lot of work from the people involved to keep ahead of the trends. It's exciting and wonderful that this is happening because it's great for the sport, but it does create some problems.

Speaking of things changing so quickly, I wanted to get Roger's take on some current running trends - the craze for minimalist shoes and then the response to that craze, the ultra cushioned shoe.

Robinson: There always have been these kinds of trends. One that has disappeared is the whole notion that you will go stale if you do too much training. And then there was the notion of "style." Back in the beginning of the 20th century, you'll see pictures of runners all prancing along with perfect arm position, which was very important. Then that passed out because of runners like Paula Radcliffe and Alberto Salazar. Now it's back again and Salazar, who was one of the ugliest runners in history - is now fussing about what they now call "form."

Another one is stretching. In the 70s and 80s, everybody believed in stretching before the race. You'd see everyone lined up along the fence, stretching their calves and quads. Now it's gone to skipping about and loosening up to make sure everything is warm. They call it "dynamic stretching" - a fancy name  for what we always did before static stretching became the rage.

I'm about to try a fad that I'm sure I'll reject. My friend has just given me two pairs of compression shorts. I hate the idea. I bet compression is out in 10 years time. (laughs)

I had one last question for Kathrine - I couldn't help myself, I had to ask her what she thinks of running apparel brands like Lululemon and Athleta, which make it seem like planning our race day outfit is as important as the race itself. I'm one who falls into this camp. I'm guilty of carefully planning my ensemble. In many of the interviews that I read in preparation for this one, Kathrine likes to point out that she was wearing a sweatsuit that day in Boston, but that she wore lipstick too, so I thought she might have a strong feeling one way or the other.

Switzer: That's actually very important! Under that sweatshirt, I had on really cute shorts and a top. I have always been proud of being a woman and looking great. I was very disappointed that I couldn't off that sweatshirt that day. When I run alone and train I just wear sloppy gear, but on race day I love dressing the part. I like looking good and I think clothing helps a lot of women feel strong and gives them sassiness. 261 Fearless (Kathrine's new non-profit) has a line of clothing with Skirt Sports and in fact, I run in skirts all the time.

Now I feel justified in my carefully choreographed race day outfits and my ridiculous collection of running clothes. Thanks for that, Kathrine!


Kathrine and Roger were wonderful to interview - kind, gracious, funny, and extremely patient with a novice "reporter" such as myself. I highly encourage anyone who is in Richmond to take advantage of the opportunity to meet them while they are here.

Thursday, November 12th - Roger Robinson will address the Sports Backers' MTT Training Team at the Team's traditional Pasta Dinner.

Friday, November 13th - Kathrine Switzer will be at the Massey Cancer Center booth at the Richmond Marathon Expo on from 11 am to 3pm. The Expo is held at the Arthur Ashe Center
 at 3001A North Boulevard, Richmond, VA

At 6 pm on Friday evening, Kathrine and Roger are giving a talk whose proceeds benefit the Massey Cancer Center. Details and tickets available here:

Saturday, November 14th - Roger Robinson is running the HCA VA 8k. Kathrin and Roger will both be in the VIP starting area. VIP Premium Packages are still available at

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On to Erie

Kathryn here for what has apparently become my typical quarterly check in. Honestly, I really miss blogging and hope I can kick start myself into it again. When you have a very demanding day job that is writing based, it is hard to come home and get excited about writing some more.

But I digress.

So, what am I up to? What a silly question! I'm training for a marathon, of course. To be more specific, the Erie Marathon on September 13th.

Why Erie? Well, after the initial elation of qualifying for Boston in March, I've become more and more paranoid that my time just isn't quite fast enough to guarantee entry. It's really hard to explain to people that yes, I qualified for Boston but no, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to get to run. The more people I had to try to explain this to, the more worried I became that come registration day, here would be no slots left for people who beat their time by a mere 1 minute and 20 seconds.

What's more, Kit also has Boston on the brain and is determined to qualify for 2016. He helped me get there during the winter training cycle and now I'm determined to help him get his BQ. Erie is known for its high percentage of Boston qualifiers and is the last marathon within the window for 2016.

It took me a while to be convinced to go for it... mainly because a September marathon means running our highest mileage weeks during the oppressive heat and humidity of a central Virginia August. Doesn't sound like much fun to me... but then again, if we can successfully do that, Erie is going to feel like a relative run in the park.

Now here I am, sitting 4 weeks into what has so far been a brutal training cycle. June has been unusually hot and humid for us, leading to some miserable miles. I'm following the Run Less, Run Faster plan, which calls for some very demanding paces for speed work and tempo runs. On MTT Saturdays, Kit and I have to arrive early to add on mileage because we are two full months ahead of the training schedule for the Richmond Marathon... and we also run the majority of our miles at race pace.

Per usual, I've been fighting the ongoing and seemingly never ending battle with my SI and piriformis. In May, I tried active chiropractic therapy - a combination of PT, chiropractic adjustments, active release therapy, and graston technique. I'm honestly not sure if it helped or not. At the moment I'm suffering from a pretty severe flare up, so I'm probably in a more skeptical mood now than if I had been writing this a few days ago. At this point, I'm almost willing to try voodoo if I thought it would actually help.

Despite that and the less than desirable weather, I think I'm making some real progress in speed and acclimating to the humidity and heat. This past Sunday we ran 14 miles at a 7:54 average. Speed work intervals are hovering around 6:30 pace, tempos in the 7:15 range. Eights are now a conversational pace and 8:15s are "taking it easy." Every run has a purpose and is challenging - and it shows.

Unlike the winter/spring training season, I'm actually doing my cross training this time. Swimming is my go to at the moment and getting in a mile is comfortable again. I'm mixing things up by using a pool buoy and kick board, trying to break up the monotony of freestyle. Last week I tried aqua jogging for he first time and the two words that I can use to describe that experience are "frustrating" and "exhausting." It's very odd to "run" as fast as you can yet go pretty much nowhere. But it was a nice change from swimming laps, so I'm thinking of adding the class in once a week.

It hasn't been all serious though. There have been fun group runs, trail runs, a 10k PR, and plenty of stupidly smiley photos that are making people wonder if I am in fact putting forth effort.

Monthly Trail Run
Photo credit Jesse Peters

Monthly Trail Run
Photo credit Jesse Peters

Stratford Hills 10k PR
As Kit said on Monday, when I was so exhausted after Sunday's 14 miler and speed work on Monday morning that I went to bed at 8:00 pm, "Training hard is hard."

Yep. It's true. But it also feels good to push myself and see results.

So there you have it. Nothing much has changed in my corner of the world - still here, still running.

Erie Marathon Training Stats, Weeks 1 - 4
Miles so far: 122.5
STLY: 133.75 (hmm... interesting!)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Surprise! I Qualified for Boston at the Shamrock Marathon!

Just over a month ago, I came back from a long silence and told you all that I was focusing on quality over quantity... and that I wasn't going to run a spring marathon.

Well, here's the full confession: when I wrote that entry on February 16, I was already considering attempting to qualify for Boston at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach on March 22. 

It is completely true that at the start of the year, I decided that 2015 was going to be focused on one goal and that goal was to qualify for Boston in the fall. After Steamtown and the knee pain that kept me from running Richmond, I was convinced that 1) my body just wasn't made to run more than one marathon every twelve months, and 2) it was going to take me some time to build up the speed and stamina required to attempt a BQ - after all, my mileage plummeted in October and November and didn't recover much in December and I could barely run 10 miles without a knee flare up. Toss in the fact that after last year's debacle at the Rock n Roll Raleigh Marathon, I swore off spring marathons and the deal was sealed - I would spend the spring season focusing on speed, try to PR the crap out of a 10k and a half marathon, and then go into MTT season focused on building myself to qualify for Boston at the Richmond Marathon in November.

That was the plan, at least.

But then something crazy started to happen. First, my knee stopped hurting. Then, I found myself keeping up with the Boston training group during Saturday's long runs with the Spring Marathon Training Team (which I joined only with the intention of getting faster and dropping out once mileage got past 15 in mid-February). I started running crazy fast tempo runs with Kit - 4, 5, 6 miles at a 7:25-7:30 pace. And it started to feel comfortable. 

By the end of January, I felt like something was happening with my running. Like I suddenly was an altogether different runner - a faster, somehow stronger runner. Not only was I running faster, I was also logging more training miles than I ever had before yet my knee, hip, and piriformis weren't protesting. I started thinking about Boston, and about the fact that if I waited until November and managed to BQ, I wouldn't be able to actually run Boston until 2017. That is a long time to wait.  

Then I started asking myself - why wait? For me to qualify, I'd need to run a 3:35:00 - more ideally, I needed to run a minute or two under 3:35:00 to ensure selection. That meant an 8:12 average pace for the full marathon. I had been doing that - and faster - during SMTT long runs. What was the point in waiting 9 more months to attempt to do this when there was a flat, fast race (that just so happened to fall on my birthday) coming up in March?  So, I decided to test myself on the first Saturday run of February by trying to run the 15 miles at a sub 8:00 pace. And then I did it... and felt great doing it. That was February 7. On the 14th, I ran 18 with an average pace of 7:59. At that point, I told myself that if I could run a 20 at my BQ pace, I would take dive and sign up to run the Shamrock Marathon on March 22. 

Not only did I do it, but I ran that 20 with an average pace of 7:54. I went home and signed up for Shamrock.

...and then spring arrived in Richmond to knock me down a few pegs and bust up my confidence. After training in temperatures that ranged from 10 degrees to a downright balmy 30, the 50s and 60s that hit Richmond during my taper absolutely killed my speed. I was hot, I was crampy, I was slow. "Here we go again!" I thought. "Don't you remember that this is precisely why we said we'd never do a spring marathon, you dummy!?"

While the rest of Richmond (and the country, no doubt) rejoiced in the warm weather, I was miserable and praying for a return to cold. Not even 30s would do - I wanted those 20s back. Heck, even the teens! I watched with dismay as the race day forecast went from 50s to 100% chance of rain to 40s. "Not cold enough!" I wailed. "I'm doomed!"

Husband and I arrived in Virginia beach on Saturday the 21st, and I was filled with trepidation. It was going to be too warm. Every run I'd had since March 6th had sucked. My legs had felt heavy. My stupid knee had been a  little bit creaky and my right calf tightened up. After running all those fast training miles in a group, I was going to have to now face the 26.2 miles of flat, boring Shamrock all by myself with no conversation or company to distract me. 

What was I thinking??

On race morning, I woke up at 7:00 and went through the motions of getting ready. It still felt surreal to me that I was going to run a marathon that day - and not just run it, but try to take 13-15 minutes off of my Steamtown time. I realized that I had ended up choosing the same running top that I wore at Raleigh and told myself that clothing can't possibly be cursed. I ate my usual half a peanut butter sandwich, peed about 500 times (I pee every 5 minutes when I'm nervous), and got Husband to take pre race pictures. 

Thankfully, I had discovered that BFAM (my Brother From Another Mother, That Guy With a Beard) was also running the full and I had talked him into meeting me at my hotel and walking with me to the start. As soon as I saw him in the lobby, somehow I felt 100% better. I gave him a gigantic hug that I don't think he was expecting ("Wow, you're nervous, aren't you?" was his response) and we set out to the start. Just spending those 10-15 minutes talking with him did so much for me - having a runner to talk to about my anxiety but to also take my mind off of what I was about to do was key. So a huge thanks to you, BFAM, for getting me calmed down.

At the corrals, I made a bee line to the 3:35:00 pacer and introduced myself and talked with him and the gathered group about the strategy for the race. I made a few fast friends - lots of other women were planning on trying to BQ and were going to try to pull ahead of the group in the second half of the race to ensure they'd finish a little bit under our required time. (Unfortunately there was no 3:30 group, which is what I had really wanted to try for.) I got a lot of birthday wishes and even found some birthday twins - all of which served to distract me so well that before I knew it, the national anthem was being sung and then all of a sudden we were running a marathon.

The first few miles flew by - and I mean flew. The pace group quickly split into two - the "fast" 3:35 and the "real" 3:35. We ran the first few miles at a sub-8:00 tempo. We chatted about where we were from, our marathon histories, our goals for the day. And then somewhere around mile 5, I realized that myself and another girl named Chelsey had gotten ahead of the group at one of the water stops. We were still averaging a pace in the 7:50s but we both felt good, so we stuck together; sometimes we talked, sometimes we just ran along with each other in companionable silence. Even when we weren't talking, it was nice to have someone beside me. I have grown very used to that. 

At the half marathon mark, I was already starting to feel my legs. The sun was peeking through the clouds and I was also feeling hot and thirsty. I took water or Gatorade at every opportunity and willed myself on. Chelsey and I were still hovering just under the 8:00 average as we started the long lonely stretch of road that led to the toughest part of the course- Fort Story. 

Though I'd never run the Shamrock marathon before, I had done the half twice. In fact, it was my first half back in 2012. And as it happens, the second half of the marathon course is the half marathon course, so I knew exactly what to expect: wind on Fort Story - and lots of it.

My strategy for dealing with Ft Story had been tuck in behind someone taller (and for me it's not hard to find someone taller) and draft. During SMTT, I had heard the group talk about how great, flat, and easy the Shamrock course was - except for Ft Story - and that the key to getting through it was to draft. Not only is it windy and exposed, it is also during every marathoner's most favorite stretch - miles 19-22 - right when marathons often stop being fun and start being painful. 

The only problem with that strategy, as it turns out, is that you have to be close enough to someone to draft. By the time we made it up there, Chelsey had gone ahead of me. Just before we entered the fort, I had opted to use a gel (something I never do at marathoners, but figured I might need during this hard effort) and therefore also decided to walk through the mile 18 water stop to make sure I got a full cup of water with that gel. I no longer had Chelsey to share the drafting duties with and the rest of the field was very strung out at this point.

And then there was the matter of my legs. Sh*t started getting real once I entered Fort Story. I crossed the 19.3 mile timing pad at 2:35:16, still on pace for my target and with a little bit of time in the bank - thank goodness, because after that things went down hill. 

This is when I discovered that running a marathon at full effort really is not a fun experience. I thought that I had run Steamtown at full effort, but now I wasn't so sure. The last 10k of Steamtown was hard - but it was nothing compared to the last 10k of the Shamrock. I spent that last 6.2 miles either a) cussing at my cramping left calf - ironic, since my left calf has never in my life caused me trouble - and quite literally talking out loud to said muscle, b) chanting to myself that I only had "x" number of miles to go (for instance, "3 miles, 3 miles, 3 miles... 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles..." etc), and c) frantically trying to make my oxygen-deprived brain do the math to figure out if I was going to be able to achieve the BQ at my current pace. 

Trying to keep with it on Fort Story
Somewhere around mile 24 I was really and truly struggling. I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to make it. Stabby shots of cramping were coursing through my left calf, then turning it into a stone. And then my worst fear: behind me, I heard the distinctive voice of the pacer who had been leading our 3:35 group. 

They were going to pass me. 

I tried my best to pick it up, but I was truly spent at this point. They caught me. And then, they passed me.

But all was not lost - my frantic math told me that if I just maintained my pace for 12 more minutes, I would still finish just under 3:35 and have that BQ. I had come to far to give up and even though there was nothing left in my legs as I rounded the last turn onto the boardwalk, I willed myself forward to the finish line, now in sight.

The problem with the Shamrock finish line is that even it seems so close when you turn that last time onto the boardwalk, it really isn't. At all. It's still probably a half mile to 3/4 mile away - so close that you can taste it, but still incredibly far on spent legs. I felt like I would never get there. I kept looking at my watch and feeling like the line never got closer but time was passing faster and faster - and that the BQ was slipping out of my fingers in the last half mile. I felt like I looked like death. I didn't even have the energy to pop up the victory arms, peace sign, or even acknowledge the photographers. Ever fiber of my being was focused on one thing - and that one thing was getting to that finish line before the clock said 3:34:00 because dammit - this had NOT been fun and I was NOT going to walk away - or more accurately, shuffle - away from the finish line with out that BQ.

Pure determination.
(Also, LOOK at that quad! DAMN!)

Husband was there, cheering me on. When I saw this video, I was downright shocked with how almost ... normal/easy my stride looks. I felt like everything was falling apart. (I come into the frame around 00:15 - you'll hear Husband yell.)


When I finally crossed the finish line, I immediately stopped my Garmin and looked down, almost afraid to see what it said.


I had done it.

I shuffled to Jason, who hugged me across the barrier Then I demanded my phone, and still heaving for breath, called Kit. Kit had known what I had been attempting that day; the past three months of pushing hard during training runs with Kit by my side, along with his (crazy) belief that I was ready to do this were why I even signed up for Shamrock.  I can't remember exactly what I said but it was something along the lines of "Holy f*ck Kit... I did it... I did it... I'm so tired... Oh my God..."

Truly, I have never been more exhausted in all my life. Or hungry, or thirsty. I was downright parched and ravenous. So hungry that I actually ate half a banana (I won't touch a banana with a 10-foot pole in normal circumstances). I shuffled to the medal station, mumbling to myself about how much I hate bananas. I continued down the chute, stopping for food, swag, and beverages and making trips to the guard fences to drop stuff off to Jason. It probably took me 15 minutes to get down the chute. I made Husband take a quick finisher photo for me and then we  hobbled back to the hotel room, where I immediately flopped onto the bed and then begged for Husband to go obtain a cheeseburger for me. 

I really, REALLY wanted a cheeseburger.

So here I sit, 4 days later and still feeling like this was all a dream. But it wasn't... I did it. I am a Boston Qualifier. I've got the sore legs and giant blisters to prove it. And this:

Of course earning a BQ doesn't necessarily mean that I'm guaranteed entry into the 2016 race. My time is still very close to my cut off - just an 80 second cushion. In some years, that is enough; for instance, in 2015 everyone who ran 62 seconds faster or better than their qualifying time was accepted. But that gap was 98 seconds in 2014 - and according to those standards, I would be left out.

Part of me wants to try another, just as an insurance policy. But most of me doesn't. "Fun" is not a word I would use to describe my marathon this past weekend. It was tough. There was suffering. At the end, I was too desperate to be finished to enjoy what I was about to accomplish. 

I guess all I can do now is hope... and figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of 2015.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Scenes from a Snow Run

We got around 6" of snow overnight in Richmond. This is not a usual occurrence for us; I'm sure you can imagine the mad rush to obtain toilet paper, milk, and bread that happened yesterday before the flakes started to fly.

My work was closed, but I have looming grant deadlines that don't care about snow days, so I spent the majority of the day at my desk. A group of friends went out very early and made first tracks along the trails of the James and I was so envious of the photos that they were posting that I couldn't stand it. I worked even harder and promised myself that as a reward for significant progress on the grant I was writing, I could go on my own snow run at Pony Pasture, just steps from my house.

There's no better incentive than that, let me tell you. Needles to say, I got my work finished and then thoroughly enjoyed my reward.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quality Over Quantity

There have been many times over the past three months that I have composed thoughtful entries, but for whatever reason I haven't been able to take the leap from mind to [digital] paper. The combination of the holiday season followed by the doldrums of January and a lot of work-related stress have sapped me of expressive energy. I've withdrawn into myself, relying on a tiny group of core people to lean on.

After the Richmond Marathon, there was a lot of searching of my running soul. I had been beating myself up with feelings of inadequacy and failure for a month. It took me time to realize that what I needed to do was stop comparing myself to others. I am the runner that I am; there is nothing that I can do to change the fact that I can't run 50 miles a week or back to back marathons. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I don't need to run a lot of miles to prove that I am a "real" runner - whatever that means. That's why, in 2015, I have decided to focus on quality instead of quantity.

I'm not running races just to run them, or because someone else is.

I am training to become faster and stronger. I signed up to run with the Spring Marathon Training Team again - not because I plan on running a spring marathon, but because it is a fast group of runners, many of them Boston bound.

Someone once asked me how you get faster. It's simple - you run with faster people. I'm applying that theory to my next goal: a BQ. You want to run Boston? Well then, you'd better run with Boston qualifiers and marathoners.

I will use each run to better myself. To push myself in some way.

I don't see the point in running just to run this year. I want to make every mile count. I want to WANT to run every mile. I don't ever want to stand in a corral at a race and say, "Can we just go home?" Or at the start of a training run either, before we've even taken a step.

If you don't love it, why do you do it? I don't run to prove anything to others. I do it for me.

The run is my sanity and my sanctuary. I don't want it to ever be stale.

Thankfully, my cranky knee has finally started to calm down and go along with my plan. Lately, if I think about my knee it is something along the lines of, "Hey, my knee hasn't hurt for a while!" instead of, "Ugh, why does my stupid knee hurt again??" Whatever was going on seems to have resolved itself, thank God.

In the past few weeks, I've been clocking 30-40 miles per week, which is a lot for me; BUT each of those miles has been a quality mile. Cut the junk, focus on the good stuff. Two fast mid-length tempo runs during the week, and then chasing the Boston group at SMTT every Saturday. The result? My long runs average around 8:00/mile, including a sub-8:00 15 miler and 18 miler. I shaved a full 15 minutes off my last 18-miler, completed in September, a period of time that I considered the height of my fitness.

These are tough work outs, but I look forward to them and the feeling that I know will come when I achieve the mission for the day. The best thing is that when I'm finished, I feel accomplished but not zapped; I'm tired, but know that I've gotten better.