Monday, April 25, 2016

Redemption Part Deux: 10k

I was really unhappy with my Monument Avenue 10k performance this year. It just left a bad taste in my mouth, even though I know I was sick and therefore had a "valid" excuse for it.

I think excuses are crap, valid or not.*

Over the next few weeks as I recovered from the marathon and Plague 3.0, run after run felt very slow and sluggish. I felt like my legs had forgotten how to go fast.

At the beginning of last week, I told myself that if I was able to run some 10k PR pace miles on Monday or Wednesday, then I'd sign up to run the Carytown 10k and try to redeem myself. To me, there was no point in running another 10k right now unless I was going to set the personal record that I had wanted to achieve at Monument Avenue. My standing PR was set last May at Stratford Hills, with a pace of 7:11/mile, so I was targeting 7:05/mile as the goal for Carytown.

Then, I didn't manage to run a single mile at PR pace during any of my workouts. But at the end of Wednesday morning's run, I decided to go ahead and do Carytown anyway. Even if it wasn't going to be a PR effort, I knew that it would be more enjoyable than Monument Avenue and I wanted that bad experience to be erased.

The morning of the race, my stomach was giving me some trouble so when I arrived early to pick up my bib and to meet Kit for a little shake out, I wasn't feeling very hopeful. GB was also running the race and we connected while milling around waiting for Kit to arrive, so he joined us on a little half mile warm up. BFF Steve has been having me do butt-kickers to try to get me further up into a mid foot strike, so I did some of that to loosen up as we slowly ran our warm up. It also makes me feel lighter on my feet, even though I look like a doofus.

 For those who don't know what butt kickers are...

Our warm up route took us to the starting area, where the three of us lined up together near the front of the pack. Carytown 10k is not a huge race - this year there were 785 finishers - but it does tend to attract a decently fast crowd, as most races organized by Richmond Road Runners Club do. Therefore, starting up front can be very dangerous. I did that at the Moonlight 4 Miler last August and ended up running a 6:30 first mile or something, trying to keep up with the lead pack (not a good idea, by the way). It's easy to get swept up, but it's also nice because you can just take off and run your pace immediately without tripping over the people in front of you and dodging/weaving until you find a comfortable spot and get into the groove.

Anyway, with the usual "Runners Set... and GO!" commands, we took off. Kit and I ran together for all of 2 blocks before he said, "Alright, see you at the end!" and then I found myself side by side with GB for pretty much the rest of the race. As Mile 1 ticked off, I noted that I felt about 1,000 times better than I had at the end of Mile 1 at Monument Ave.

Greg and I traded "leads" through 2, 3, and 4 with one or the other being just a few steps ahead at various points. I was pleasantly surprised at my performance thus far, which was on pace for a PR. We've never said it out loud, but GB and I definitely have a bit of a friendly rivalry going on at the 10k distance (admit it, GB). I know he was thinking, "I'm not letting her get ahead of me," while I was thinking, "I'm not letting Barch get this one." It actually serves us well and because of it, we push each other when we may have otherwise let up. This is exactly what happened during the second half of this race, where we were often running elbow to elbow, neither one of us giving in.

Then, in the last mile, we hit the tiny incline of Nansemond Street and per usual, GB got ahead of me going up the hill and I never caught him again. Not surprising; Barch is a hill beast and I don't think I have ever beaten him up one, big or small. He also has a great end-of-race kick that I can't match, so double whammy.

Excuses, excuses, Kathryn.

There is a happy ending though: I managed to pull out that personal record with a 43:30 race. Greg beat me by 15 seconds with his 43:15, also a PR. Kit rounded out the trifecta with his own super speedy PR of 41:59.


Making the morning even sweeter, Kit got 3rd in his age group and I got 2nd in my age group - a field of 72 women - and 7th woman overall. 

We even got ribbons!

My improvement was 1 minute, 14 seconds or around 10 seconds per mile. That doesn't sound like much, but for a 10k, it is actually not too shabby. Interestingly, that's nearly identical to the margin of improvement from my Erie Marathon pace (8:10/mile) to Wrightsville pace (8:01/mile).  


It's also 6 whole minutes ahead of my disaster Monument Avenue time from 2 weeks ago.

That's almost a minute a mile.

WHOA. I just now did that math.

I feel quite redeemed now.


*Only when it comes to running; not when it comes to procrastinating on house cleaning or other responsible grown up stuff.

Friday, April 15, 2016

3 Years Later - What Do You Say?

Three years ago today, the running world was rocked by the unthinkable tragedy at the Boston Marathon.

At the time, the Boston Marathon was not something that I ever saw myself doing. I was in complete awe of anyone who did do it and did not see myself on the same plane - ever. Boston may as well have been on another planet. In fact, I had never even run a marathon at that point. When Husband and I visited Boston the year before, I didn't even go to see the finish line (which seems insane to me now). It just wasn't even within my realm of existence.

Below is what I wrote on Tuesday, the day after the bombings. I talked about Boston being a pipe dream.

Today - at this moment in fact - I should be landing in Boston for marathon weekend; to participate not as a volunteer or spectator, but as a runner. Last night, Husband's phone alerted us to a 6:20 am flight. He had forgotten to delete the reminder. Until then, I hadn't really even been thinking about it. This morning I woke up feeling very sorry for myself and the "injustice" of it all.

Then I logged on to social media and saw all of the reminders that today is the anniversary of the bombing. Now I feel stupid and shallow for whining about my "loss" on this day, in the face of the true loss felt by hundreds of people whose lives were forever changed on Monday, April 15, 2013.

I'm re-sharing my post below to remind myself of what it felt like that day and to be grateful that everyone I knew was safe. To be grateful that I have a strong body that has allowed me to realize my pipe dream. That I have two legs, two feet - unmarred by shrapnel. That even though it stinks that I didn't make the cutoff this year, I will be there next year. There is much to be happy about, even if I'm not in Beantown this weekend.

For all you fast bastards who filled up the slots ahead of me and are heading up to run Boston on Monday - have a fantastic race. I tip my proverbial hat to your speediness, grit, and achievements and truly hope that you enjoy every moment of your hard-earned reward. I mean that with all of my heart.

Oh, and have a cannoli at Mike's for me, would you?


What Do You Say - posted Tuesday, April 16, 2013

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. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Monument Avenue 10k - Well That Sucked

I love the Monument Avenue 10k. Of all of the races I've done, it is my absolute favorite. Richmond Marathon is a really really close second place, but Monument Avenue wins because it is where this whole journey started for me and because it is where the journey starts for so many people in the metro-Richmond area. My friend and fellow fantastic runner/writer Chris once called the Monument Avenue 10k a "gateway race" and he is exactly right.

Monument Avenue 10k is also the only race that I have a streak going on too; I haven't missed one since my first in 2010, making this my 7th in a row. I am very determined to keep this streak going.

Not only that, but after running the hell out of the Marine Corps 17.75k last Saturday and then having another speedy negative split 4 miler with Kit on Monday, I was thinking that maybe I could PR my 10k. 

So imagine my irritation when, on Tuesday night, I started feeling ill. For the third time in the space of five months, I've got myself a pretty awful cold. That night at yoga, I arrived early and actually fell asleep on my mat waiting for class to start. In denial as usual, I laid out my running clothes and was looking forward to running through Bryan Park to see the spring azaleas the next morning but woke up feeling even worse.

I slept late and took the morning off, but went in to work that afternoon. I stubbornly went to work all day on Thursday too, and picked my bib for the 10k that afternoon. On Friday I went to my gait analysis appointment with BFF Steve, which required me to run on the dreadmill for 10 minutes. I felt like I was going to die.

That evening, Kit and I met for a "shake out" run. The problem with Kit and I going on a shake out run is that we are VERY BAD AT SHAKE OUT RUNS and we ended up doing 4 miles at a sub-8:00 pace.

Besides being slightly crazy, all runners are also more than slightly boneheaded. This morning I woke up thinking that I still might PR this race. That feeling lasted until about three blocks into the race, when it became all too obvious to me that I was not going to be able to run a 7:00 pace for 6.2 miles. I stayed in step with Kit for Mile 1 and then told him that it wasn't my day and that he should just go ahead and go for it.

The next 5.2 miles sucked. The Monument Avenue 10k is such a spirited race with so many bands, cheering squads, spectators, and runners that it should have been easy to just slow down and enjoy myself. But I couldn't enjoy myself at all. I felt horrific. The thoughts going through my mind were:
  • "Oh my God, am I finished yet?"
  • "You ran a BQ marathon 3 weeks ago... what is wrong you, pansy?"
  • "This is the longest 10k of my life."
  • "I kind of just want to stop at the med tent and quit. I've heard you get to ride a golf cart back to the start. I love golf carts." 
  • "There are a lot of people passing me and I don't even care."
  • "Am I finished yet???"

GB snapped this photo of me looking grim on the course, around mile 4ish.

 My lap times tell the tale of a steady crash.

Mile 1 - 7:00
Mile 2 - 7:25
Mile 3 - 7:44
Mile 4 - 7:48
Mile 5 - 8:12
Mile 6 - 8:05

3 and 6 aren't accurate; during 3 I saw my buddy Lauren and Coach Scott in the median cheering and, knowing that I wasn't PRing, I stopped to say hi and chat for at least 30 seconds. Same during mile 6, when I was looking for any excuse to stop for spell, I saw my friend Mark taking photos and stopped to chat with him. Out of habit, I cut off my watch each of those times but of course the race clock kept ticking on. My Garmin time was 48:04, but clock time was 49:07.

After I crossed the line, I found Kit and then went directly to the med tent. (Kit killed it after ditching me, running a 42:25 and missing a PR by seconds.) Thanks to my cold and the fierce wind, I had been not quite able to catch my breath along the course and had felt some tightness in my chest. I figured I was ok, but I always try to ere on the side of caution and wanted a medical professional to take a quick listen to the old ticker to make sure I was ok.


I'm super bummed about today; not because I didn't PR, but because I really didn't enjoy any of the time that I spent running. I've run this race to PR it and I've run it "casually." Either way, I always have an overall good time. Until today, I thought it was impossible to not enjoy the Monument Avenue 10k. So that sucks.

Thankfully, it's a rare day indeed when I completely hate every second of a run. And even though it sucked, I'm thankful I was able to continue my streak and for the lessons that this experience taught me: that it's pretty foolish to expect to PR three weeks after a BQ marathon and while in the midst of an illness. I've asked a hell of a lot of my body over the past month and it decided today that it would remind me that despite my desperate attempts to convince myself otherwise, I am not super human. I am the "Delicate Beast," as Kit calls me, and the Delicate Beast needs some rest.

(... at least for the next two weeks because maybe I'll try to redeem myself and PR at the Carytown 10k on the 24th...)

Despite my crappy race, I have smiled much and been able to revel in the happiness of so many others who had a fantastic race this morning. I got to shepherd my coworker Laura through her first Monument Avenue 10k experience (you guys know my soft spot for first timers). I saw local visually impaired runner Antoine Craig on the course with his guide and got to tell him he was doing great. He was so sweet and thanked me, then told me I was doing great too - before promptly taking off and beating me to the finish of course. He is so inspiring to me and it really lifted my spirits to see him. So many first timers have been proudly posting on our RVA Runners Facebook page, saying they're already signed up for their next race. My newsfeed has been filled with smiling faces of friends who ran and friends who cheered others on. Marcey crushed her goal time - on her birthday!

That's the thing about the Monument Avenue 10k - it is an event that has become so much more than a road race for this community. It is a joyful day that brings together people of all kinds, all ages, and all abilities. I'm so grateful that we have it.