Saturday, March 28, 2015

Shamrock Half Marathon Race Recap Part 2 (subtitle: #bebrave)

Okay, my friends, settle in... this a long one, fair warning!  You might want to get something to drink before you start LOL!

I left off in my recap with Andrea and I turning in for the night.  We both had successful nights without any dogs waking us up... just our respective alarms going off at 4:00 AM sharp! Andrea likes to eat 3 hours before race start, and I figured I'd follow suite, as I was awake anyway.  I had a half of a bagel, a banana and a bowl of oatmeal.  We planned on doing our warm-up mile run to the race start at 6 AM, so we hadn't even set out our outfits the night before (knowing that we'd have plenty of time in the morning).  The next two hours were spent chatting, watching the latest weather reports and deciding on what to wear, and verifying that we were actually going to be going at the pace that we'd decided on (okay, that last part was just me... I was still kind of doubting things LOL!).

As for what to wear, we both decided on tanks, shorts and arm sleeves with our compression socks.  The temperature at race start was going to be in the upper 40's, with a decent 10 mph wind from the north.  Definitely not cold enough to wear long sleeves or even capris.  We donned a few layers of sweatshirts and sweatpants for our throw-away clothes, and took off at just before 6:00 for the race start.  On the menu was a nice easy mile to get warmed up a bit, and that was accomplished (about 10 minutes/mile pace).  We both felt quite silly in our baggy outfits, but got several well-wishes from the volunteers who were already on the course ready for the race to start.  When we arrived at the race start we checked our gear, made use of the wonderful rows of porta-potties (a few times LOL), and did dynamic stretches and chilled out till around 6:45.  Then we shed our throw-away clothes and did six strides of about 50 yards each.  My legs felt pretty good... not perfect, but not awful.  I wasn't cold, and for that I was happy.  We saw a dad running strides with his speedy looking kiddo.  We chatted with them for a minute--he was looking for someone to pace his son to the 12-year-old half-marathon world record of 1:19:26.  Blake ended up going a 1:22... not too shabby for a scrawny little kid LOL!  After talking to Blake's dad we turned around to head to our corral and noticed a super-fast looking woman in a bra-top and shorts that looked more like underwear than anything LOL.  "Polina" her bib said, and wow did she look impressive.  Of course, looks can be deceiving, but she ended up wining the women's half in a 1:14.  We realized after seeing these two fasties that this race attracted the speedy ones, that's for sure!

Pre-race selfie!  Sporting my new shamrock Hippie Chick headband in honor of the race.
Andrea and I tucked ourselves in the back of Corral 1 at around 6:55 AM.  Corral 1 had a cut-off time of 1:40, which is the time we'd both put down when we registered ourselves so that we'd be sure to make it into the top corral.  Not that I ever thought I'd run that time (Andrea may have thought it though--foreshadowing maybe?!!).  We just didn't want to have to worry about passing people, but we knew that we were going to run a progressive run (meaning faster each mile), so the back of the first corral was an ideal starting position.  The race was delayed just a couple of minutes due to an emergency on the course route ahead of us, but by 7:03 things got rolling and we were off!

The plan was to run the first mile at around an 8:08, mile 2 at 7:53, and continue our progression downward through the opening miles.  39:00 was our 5 miles split goal.  I felt very controlled during mile 1.  I loved just looking around, watching the other runners, and relaxing.  Our pace felt comfortable, and mile 1 clicked in at 8:06.  Pretty much perfect.  We seamlessly transitioned into a bit of a faster pace during mile 2.  Still feeling good here!  7:52 was the time for the second mile, and I was amazed at how Andrea was able to just dial into a pace and run it.  I felt like I was just along for the ride.  It was during mile 3 that I started to get a bit nervous.  The pace was continuing to pick up, and I have to admit, I was concerned about maintaining our current speed for 10 more miles, let alone getting even faster.  Mile 3 was a 7:45.   We had been running on Atlantic Avenue, which runs parallel to the beach.  You really can't see the ocean that well from this street, due to hotels and beach houses, but you can catch glimpses if you try.  

At the mile 3 marker, though, you turn left and head away from the beach on a street called Shore Drive. It's a fairly big street (2 lanes in each direction with a median) that is lined with trees on both sides.  We had driven this part of the course and figured that it would be pretty desolate as far as the cheering crowds went--and we were right.  This was the first point in the race that I really got "into my head".  I was second-guessing myself and my abilities to do what we'd planned, and Andrea knew it.  She was running just a foot or two ahead of me, and she turned to me and said, "Imagine this is all Shrek's land."  I said, "Umm, Shrek, like the giant??" She responded, "Yes, to keep your mind off of things."  I smiled and immediately thought of Donkey from Shrek, and felt my mind relax.  Damn, is she ever good!   The forest was pretty and I let my thoughts wander for the next mile.  Mile 4 clocked in at a 7:46. I knew that the only true "incline" on the course was from miles 4-6.5... all of 15 feet uphill over the 2.5 miles. Andrea later commented that this part of the course was the most windy, but honestly I didn't even feel it when we were running.  Side note: My favorite sign of the race was around this point--"Run like your ex is chasing you!"

I happily realized that my first of two scheduled GU's (fuel) was to be at mile 4.5--only a half-mile ahead!  I don't love the taste or consistency of GU, but I do love the surge that it gives me, and it allows me to break my run into shorter chunks as I anticipate it.  I was able to easily eat and take in some water at the 4.5-mile aid station.  The 5-mile marker came up quickly (7:42 mile split), with our 5 mile split a 39:12 (pretty darn close to the 39 that Andrea had hoped we'd be at!).  At mile 5.5 we turned right off of Shore Drive and into a military base, Fort Story.  We had been unable to drive this portion of the course the previous day due to military restrictions, so we were both wondering what we'd encounter.  There were military police lining both sides of the course as we passed through the gates--pretty cool to see!  I started to feel the affects of my GU and was getting excited... we were almost to the halfway point!  I'm a pretty mental runner (duh LOL!) and I love reaching the halfway point of any race, as I tell myself it's all downhill (figuratively) from here.  The anticipation of this, and probably the GU, led to a 7:36 split for mile 6.  Things were still feeling good... hard, but good.  I was anxious to see my 10K and quarter-marathon splits so I could truly gauge where I was at.  I was excited to see a 48:28 at the 10K mark; this was definitely faster than I thought I'd be, and while I knew I had a lot of the race to run still, I was feeling strong!  I knew my Columbus running peeps were at the start line for their own race (most were running the 10K or 15K at a local race), and I smiled inside thinking of them.  My quarter-marathon (6.55 mile) time was a 51:00 exactly.  My math mind took over here... 51 doubled is a 102... 102 minutes is 1 hour, 42 minutes... so I just needed to double what I had already done, and I'd be right there!  Mile 7 clicked off at 7:34, and I was awaiting that surge that I typically get at this point in a half marathon.

Well, I waited... and waited... and waited.  I finally realized at around mile 7.5 that it wasn't going to happen.  I think Andrea realized that I was definitely not doing well again mentally.  My feet hurt.  My calves felt "twingy", like a cramp was going to come.  I was tired.  This pace was not fun.  She pulled a few yards ahead of me, and every now and then would look back to check in.  She later told me that I looked so very serious at this point.  I told her that was because I was scared to death!  Andrea was very motivational, though--she would tell me to do a quick surge, or would remind me that I'd trained hard for this.  I can't recall all of her words, but they were exactly what I needed to hear.  The guys running around us felt the same--they loved how positive she was being as she tried to get me to pull my miles down even further.  I knew that wasn't going to happen, though.  I needed to have some legs at the end of the race, and if I dipped down to the 7:30/mile range as I think Andrea wanted us to, that wasn't going to happen.  Mile 8 was a 7:37.  At mile 8.5 I specifically remember Andrea calling back to me from about 10-15 feet ahead, "Only 1.5 miles till we get to race!"  There were a few men running together just behind her, and they turned to each other in disbelief.  One said, "I thought we were already racing!" I had to laugh (inside my head, of course... there was no laughing out loud at that point!).  Our plan was to race the final 5K with whatever we had left... however, I didn't know if I had anything left!  Around this time, the song "Brave" came on my iPod.  This is one of my favorite songs, and it came at just the right time.  I realized that I need to be brave if I was going to finish this thing.  I needed to trust my training and what my body could do.  

When I had checked out the course map, I made a mental note of the water stops so that I would know when to use my GU.  GU requires water, and it was important that I fueled when there would be water available, since I wasn't carrying any with me.  I had thought that mile 9 would have a water stop, and I was in high need of a boost, so I fueled at mile 8.8.  I kept thinking there'd be a water stop up ahead... unfortunately, it didn't come until mile 9.5.  I had sticky yucky GU mouth for 0.7 miles (about 6 minutes), and it was NOT FUN. Mile 9 was another 7:34.  Thankfully I got my water at 9.5 and we exited Fort Story at that point as well. I was so happy to leave this part of the course behind.  We headed back out onto Atlantic Avenue for the final leg of the course.  The slower half-marathon runners were running towards us on one side, but we each had two lanes so it wasn't crowded at all.  The best part: the cross streets on Atlantic are numbered, and counted down as we ran.  90, 89, 88... every 0.08-0.1 miles, there was a sign.  I loved seeing those numbers get lower!  

The only decent mid-race pic that was taken of me... I kind of look weird when I run LOL!
I think this was around when a dog ran across the race course--yes, another dog!
I looked at my watch when we hit mile 10 (7:35 split) and realized that, as Andrea had said, it was actually time to race.  Race, haha... how much faster could I actually get?!!  I could tell Andrea was feeling good.  She was a good 15-20 feet ahead of me by now, still checking back constantly.  I knew she wanted me to pick up the pace, so I obliged, running mile 11 in a 7:27.  At this point, I could not wait for the race to end.  I couldn't even calculate what our finishing time was going to be (usually not difficult for me).  I was stuck in my head and started to wonder what Andrea would do if I walked for just a few seconds.  I got my answer when she turned around and started to jog backwards. "MARCIE!" she yelled back to me. "Get the **** up here, I'm waiting for you!"  My fellow runners stared at her wide-eyed as I tried to surge a bit.  This girl, she gets me.  She knew exactly what I needed at that point!  I just couldn't make my body respond.  I continued to remind myself to BE BRAVE.  Mile 12 was a 7:28. I was just happy to keep it under 7:30. I remember looking down at my watch at 12.13 miles, realizing that I was just one mile from finishing.  My watch said 1:33.  I was able to add 8 to this and came up with a 1:41.  Wow, I thought to myself... I am going to run a 1:41???   That's awesome!  My poor brain was so depleted from the effort of racing, though, I didn't even think about the fact that we hadn't ran an 8-minute mile since the start, and I was actually going to go faster than this.  

At mile 12 we turned off at Atlantic Avenue and headed towards the boardwalk (a nice paved stretch along the ocean).  I was overjoyed to finally make it to a spot where I could see the beach as I ran!  I somehow found it in me to pick up the pace a bit more on the 13th mile.  I kept looking at my watch as the screen showed me running an average pace in the 7-teens (7:15, 7:17, 7:14).  This was my 5K race pace.  What the what?!!  We turned onto the boardwalk and I could immediately see the finish arch.  It seemed so very close but I knew that this was deceiving.  At around mile 12.8, I checked my overall time on my watch.  1:38. It was then that it actually registered to my brain that I was going to run a 1:40-something.  O.M.G.  I couldn't believe it, and I started to feel the tears well up.  I needed to get across the finish line!   Mile 13 was a 7:13.  I did a quick math computation and realized that I wouldn't be able to go a 1:39-anything, but that I would for sure get a 1:40.  

This was about 0.2 miles before the finish...

Happily content, I finished the final tenth (really 0.16 by my Garmin) at a 7:17 pace, not accelerating any more than I was already doing.  I watched Andrea finish about 10 seconds ahead of me, and ran straight to her under the arch.  Oh the tears... the ugly tears!  

Sweet, utter relief at being DONE with this race.  Amazement at what I had just done.  A 9 minute PR?!!  I'm getting goosebumps right now just typing about it.  

Splits recap (official time was a 1:40:31)

A volunteer approached me as I fell into Andrea's arms, unable to even walk another step. She was concerned, but I wasn't... this is how I finish a race.  I give it my all, 100%, and it takes me a few minutes to recover enough to actually move on my own.  I was definitely done crying and in fact was smiling for the post-race pictures :)

Just a few yards from the finish. Kinda faking it still here, I was shaking!

Post-race selfie!  No more tears... happy ladies!
Andrea and I got our post-race food, swag (our medals in addition to a running hat and a big beach towel!), and headed to the truck labeled Corral 1 to get our bags. The line was very long, of course, so we rehashed the race as we waited our turn.  She was so very happy with how things went, for me of course but for herself as well.  Andrea's PR is a 1:39, and she no doubt could have PR'ed on this course.  That wasn't the plan, though.  She was just happy to feel like her old running self again, and knew that this race was setting her up for an awesome Boston Marathon in 4 weeks.  

After we got our things, we stretched, pulled on warmer clothes, and took some pictures by the beach.

My favorite one :)

Ringing the PR bell... I was so so happy!
One last selfie... had to get that beach in the background!
We then went to the post-race tent to get delicious bowls of Irish Stew.  Yum yum yum!  We passed on the beer (I don't like it, and she was driving us home) and started to walk back to the hotel.  We did stop at Starbucks and I was still cold after sweating so much, so I was happy to warm up with a chai latte.  The walk back to the hotel took quite a while due to tired legs.  We got to watch the elite marathoners pass by, as well as nab some throw-away clothes for our future races.  Yep, we did!

The rest of the trip was a blur... we got our things, checked out, and were on the road just before noon.  The drive back to Ohio was filled with conversation about the race (of course) and more sharing about our lives.  One of my favorite parts of this trip was learning more about Andrea.  She's become one of my closest friends in a short period of time.  We just kind of click.  

Beautiful mountains of West Virginia

We arrived at my house just before 9 PM.  Just like that, the trip was over.  I could hardly believe it.  The weekend and the race that I'd looked forward to for so long was... done.  I was happy to see my family, but I knew that life would start back up again, complete with school work, laundry, etc.  Being away for the weekend was such a great mental break for me.  I need to do this every year, I've decided, just for myself.

So, in sum?  There's nothing else left to say (I did just blog several thousand words about it, after all LOL!).  In one word, this race was monumental for me. I feel like it's my breakthrough race.  I proved to myself that I could push beyond what I ever thought possible.  I have gained some much-needed confidence for what is coming up... my marathon on April 26.  My mind is now on board with what's to come!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shamrock Half Marathon Race Recap Part 1 (subtitle: #wewenttothebeach!)

I have learned from my friends that there are two very different schools of thought when it comes to racing. (Well, there are likely more, but these two are the ones that I have observed so far.)  One is to race the same races and courses every year, judging your progress based on how much faster you are running the race than the previous year.  The other is to race in many different locations and areas, hardly ever repeating the same race and seeing how many different states in which they can race.  I've typically been an in-betweener.  I like trying new races, but I also have my favorites (the Westerville 4th of July 5K, Emerald City, Granville Winter Run).  

This race, however, was to be my first time actually leaving the state of Ohio and traveling somewhere else to run.  I have been looking forward to race weekend for months.  The race was truly only a small part of it.  My life as a mother of five and a middle school teacher is very stressful.  I haven't ever spent more than a night away from my kiddos, and boy did I need a break from everything.  I would only be running for just under two hours... so maybe driving 9+ hours each way for such a short race sounds crazy, but wow was it worth it, as you'll see.  Before I could leave, though, I had to take care of a lot...

The itinerary wall, for my husband...
My to-do list (before leaving for the trip)

My day started fabulously on Friday morning with a very short and easy 2-mile shake-out run.  Tons of "firsts" this trip, and this was one: my first-ever shake-out run.  Most runners swear by them, so I figured I'd give it a shot.  Typically I completely rest for three full days before a race. I chose my partners wisely--my sage MIT friends, who promised to keep the pace pedestrian and fill my mind with good thoughts.  After our quick jaunt we headed to Starbucks for my "send-off party".  Always filled with smiles and laughter; these women made me feel like a superstar ready to take on the world... or at least get an awesome PR!

The most supportive friends ever!
I headed home to say goodbye to my littles and send them off to school/my mom's for the day.  Andrea picked me up at 10:00 AM sharp as planned, and we quickly loaded my things into her car and were off.  I had packed fairly light: a duffel with all of my clothes and running things, my "food bag" (breakfast foods and snacks for the trip), and a cooler with 12 bottles of water.  We programmed her GPS to lead us to Virginia Beach and spent the next 9.5 hours engaged in non-stop conversation.  Running, of course, was a key topic, but oh so much more... we've bonded on our training runs, of course, but after this trip, I know and love Andrea like she is my sister.

Headed into West Virginia!
The roughest part of our trip occurred a few hours in.  Out of the corners of our eyes we saw a small dog run out onto the highway we were traveling on.  The car in front of us hit the dog; thankfully we were able to swerve and the cars behind us were as well, so there were no other resulting causalities.  It happened so very quickly, and almost seemed surreal.  We thanked God that we were safe, and that there was not a crash, but of course were sad about the poor dog.  Thankfully we were both so excited about our weekend, it didn't put a huge damper on things. 

We hit some traffic as we neared the ocean, but finally reached our destination at around 7:30 PM, only 30 minutes later than expected.  Our first impressions of Virginia Beach were highly positive; the sun had set but we couldn't get over the fact that #wewenttothebeach!  (This became an utterance that permeated our trip!)  We hadn't had dinner yet so we quickly checked in at the hotel (the Wyndham Oceanfront) and went to a local bar and grill recommended by the concierge at the hotel.  I was starving but Andrea put me to shame, demolishing her burger in half the time it took me to eat mine.  Bellies happily full, we went back to our hotel and quickly fell asleep.  

The next morning we both were woken very early by the sound of a barking dog.  I couldn't decide if it was on the beach or actually in the hotel.  After almost 1.5 hours of listening to the noise, I finally got up and used the bathroom.  Andrea got up then too, and she figured out that the dog was actually in the room adjacent to ours!  We got ready and headed down to go to breakfast, letting the front desk know about the situation.  They were very kind and agreed to compensate us with a $40 discount for the night.  Yay for the dog LOL!

First view of the ocean on Saturday morning, from our hotel balcony
Hard to see, but this was below our balcony on Saturday... "Will you marry me?" So sweet...

Breakfast was at Pocahontas Pancakes, which had received great reviews.  We were excited to see that the restaurant was right on the route of the Shamrock 8K race, allowing us spectacular viewing as we ate our delicious meals.  I went with eggs, toast, 2 buttermilk pancakes and sausage.  

View from the window as we ate breakfast

Once again, Andrea out-ate me easily!  We headed over to pick up our bibs at the expo after breakfast.  The expo was actually pretty big--many vendors, lots to look at.  Bib pick-up was seamless, and we spent a good hour just perusing the "runner stuff" being peddeled.  I grabbed a few new "Hippie Chick" bands (I prefer them to Bondi Bands now, as they are a bit smaller and fit me better), and Andrea got her GUs for the next day.  We had "massages" using a TENS-type unit, spoke to a pacer about the race course, and left with a feeling of excitement about the next day.

I was throwing coins in the air LOL

Andrea getting a cool electro-massage
The next few hours were spent at the beach... because, of course, #wewenttothebeach!  It was a relatively cool, windy day, with temperatures in the mid to upper 50's, but you'd better believe we wanted to soak in all of the time that we could under that warm Virginia sun!  Of course, sunscreen was forgotten, and we both ended up with burns on our faces... well worth it, though, for the amazing afternoon of warmth that was experienced.  We took a ton of pictures...

Loving life...
What a view...

Andrea loved this setting...

Our hotel!  We were on the 17th floor (second from the top)...

The most amazing beach houses ever...

Our favorite...

Obligatory beach selfie

Dinner reservations were at 5 PM for a tiny Italian restaurant called Pasta E Pani that Andrea had selected.The food was delicious--cheese ravioli and tons of bread for me, pizza for her.  We mainly spoke of the race over our meal, and finally came to a decision as to how we were going to race the next morning.  We had waffled with whether or not we'd actually run the race together and if so, what our goal time would be.  After a bit of negotiation (I wanted a sub-1:45; Andrea felt we could do a 1:40), we settled on a 1:42.  This time actually was my secret goal, my pie-in-the-sky, OMG-I-want-this goal, my goal I would only whisper to my closest friends.  I was 10% excited, 90% scared to death of this goal!  But Andrea broke down the race, mile-by-mile, and made it sound do-able, at least on paper.  We continued to discuss how things would go through the remaining waking hours of the night, but time passed and it was soon lights out... we had business to take care of the next day!

To be continued... :)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

It's just about race time...

In t-minus 8 days, I'll embark on a first-ever for me... I'm leaving the grand state of Ohio for a race!  I'm definitely not a traveler.  I didn't even see the ocean for the first time until I was 17 (the same year I flew on a plane for the first time). I haven't been to more than a dozen states (and most of those were ones that we drove through on our way to North Carolina in 2013).  We weren't big vacationers when I was growing up, and right now money is a big factor in keeping us at home as well.  But I'm fine with that; I love Ohio and have no problems continuing to race here.

However, when I decided that I just had to run a half before my next full marathon, I had very little luck finding a race here in Ohio that worked out with my training schedule.  I wanted to race 5-6 weeks before my marathon, and nothing was happening around here.  I mentioned to my friend Andrea that I was thinking of finding a spring half to race out-of-state, and she immediately jumped on board. Andrea, you see, LOVES to travel.  It's kind of her thing.  She loves racing in different locations, and I knew she would be excited to join me for a spring half.  We spent some time researching a few nearby races before settling on "the one"... the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach.  This race won out because of several reasons: the course (very flat, very fast), the proximity (about 9 hours by car), and the timing (5 weeks before my goal race; 4 weeks before Andrea's--she headed to Boston again).

Andrea and me after a particularly cold and icy/snowy long run in February.

Once we'd settled on a race, I needed to ask break it to my hubby that I'd be leaving for a weekend in March.  Fortunately, it was around that time that he mentioned he wanted a boat.  I figured the trade was pretty even--he got his boat, and I will soon be driving off to the ocean for 72 hours!  I registered for the race back in November, and it's slowly crept up on me over the past few months.  I can hardly believe that it's actually happening, to be honest!

I've been training pretty darn hard for my upcoming races, and (knocking on wood super hard right now) things are going as well as I could hope.  I'm hitting my paces with relative ease on speed work and tempo, my long runs are nice and easy, and the other miles are falling into place.  I've had to hit the treadmill a bit more than I would like due to the weather that we've had, but fortunately spring is finally coming here.  I've been going to BodyPump weekly as well as either core class at Fleet Feet or CXWORX class at DK Fitness.  I haven't actually figured out how to fit in swimming since the start of the year, unfortunately, but I do hop on the bike once a week at the gym as well.  This past week was a huge one for me: 20 mile long run on Sunday with the final 4 miles at marathon pace, 3 recovery miles on Monday, 6x800 (plus warm-up, recovery & cool-down) for my speed work on Tuesday, 8 easy miles on Wednesday and 7 on Friday.  All in all, I am super happy with how it is all going.

Which brings me to the race next weekend.  I'll admit it, I'm going into it with pretty high expectations.  I typically put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and to reach my goals.  This race is no different.  With a great course, fantastic training miles under my belt, and hopefully nice weather, there is no reason why I cannot smash this race.  So...the goals.  

Goal C: to finish strong and un-injured.  I need to keep in mind that this race is merely a stepping stone to the Glass City marathon.  So finishing healthy and strong is important to me.

Goal B: to PR.  My PR is from last August at Emerald City (1:49:23).  It was a humid, yucky race, and I do feel like I can beat my PR next weekend, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Goal A: to run sub-1:45.  A 1:45 half marathon is an 8:00/mile average.  To go sub-1:45, I basically have to average in the 7's.  Seven is a crazy number to me... my 5K pace is in the 7's... speed work is in the 7's... so to average 7-anything for a half is a bit daunting.  But I have a race plan and I'm going to give it my all.  

I've been weather-stalking already, and right now it looks like it will be low 40's at the race start with a possibility for some wind and showers.  I'm going to stay positive, though, and pray for partly cloudy skies and a calm breeze.  Regardless of what happens, I know this weekend will be truly one to remember.