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Immediately on the heels of a fantastic Parkway Classic 10-Miler I dove head-first into another fantastic race weekend, this time involving some of my favorite Internet weirdos! Saturday, April 29th, was the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K and 50 Miler (and a marathon, but we didn’t know anyone running it, so who cares?), which Zamgirl, RunningPlaces, ASchmid, and NCAthlete were all participating in, and which Vblevins, Bblevins, Running_Eng, SLCAthena, and I were all spectating/cheering for. And then Sunday, April 29th, was the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon, which Keep Running Girl, SLCAthena, and I were all running, and everyone else was spectating! So much moral support to fit into two days ❤️ To kick things off, I met up with Zamgirl for lunch on Friday afternoon when she came into town to pick up her and RP’s packets for the 50 Milers. The fact that we’d just seen in each other in Raleigh only three weeks earlier didn’t slow down the talking. It also gave us a chance to strategize for the next day, when I was planning on jumping in to pace her for the last of three loops that she’d be running on the section of the course that was accessible to spectators and pacers. Let’s be honest: I was more nervous about the 7 miles I’d be running than she was about all 50! I’m so inexperienced on trails, and obviously didn’t want to do anything horribly wrong as a pacer that could negatively impact her race. But this was kind of a perfect first pacing opportunity, because Zamgirl can run 50 miles in her sleep at this point, and was basically letting me tag along for my own fun and not because she actually needed the assistance. On Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early, picked up my rental car (car-free life is great most of the time, except for when you need to get out to the middle of nowhere for races!), and drove across town to pick up SLCAthena from the friend’s house where she’d been staying earlier that week. We then hit the road out to Great Falls, VA, about 45 minutes outside DC. We got to the aid station area and met up with Running_Eng, VBlevins, and BBlevins just in time to see Zamgirl come through for the first time (Mile 15ish). We’d just missed RunningPlaces, but we’d see him again after each of the three loops they ran around Great Falls park. It was great to see the Blevins duo and Running_Eng, since it had been a long time since I’d hung out with any of them! After Zamgirl went through, we moved closer to the aid station and set up our chairs and picnic blanket to mark our spot for the rest of the afternoon. This is the central hub of the race, and we’d see the 50K runners come through on their way in and again on their way out after a single loop, and we’d see the 50 Mile runners a bunch of times as they completed three loops: at miles 15, 22, 29, and 36 before they set back out on the 14-mile trek to the Start/Finish at a different park. It was a lot of fun to hang out in the park with my fellow spectators, chit-chatting about all manner of things and cheering for all of the runners coming through the aid station. At 11:45am, Zamgirl came in from her second loop and picked me up to run her third and final loop. By this point it was hot (75*) and sunny, but Zamgirl looked as strong and steady as ever. We set out onto the trail after she’d replenished some fluids, and met up with another runner that she’d been running with for most of the day. Rachel was doing her first 50 Miler that day, and had been wisely taking in all of the advice Zam was doling out! The three of us ran together for most of those 7 miles, and chatted on and off as we navigated the technical terrain of the park. I was having SO MUCH FUN running and power-hiking in the woods and soaking up the dramatic change of scenery from my usual road and bike path routes. It was a gorgeous day to be out in the woods, the technical course was an awesome challenge for me, and the volunteers were so helpful and perky at all of the check points and aid stations. Plus I was running with a totally badass ultra veteran who makes this stuff look easy. All too soon for me (though probably not for Zamgirl given how much farther she’d run by then!) we came back into the main aid station and heard the cheers of our friends. Zam took off for the last 14 miles, and we packed up our picnic stuff and headed back to our cars to drive over to the finish area and wait for our runners. Aschmid and NCAthlete had already finished by the time we got to the beer garden, and they met up with us shortly after we got ourselves settled at a table. There was more chatting, with beer this time, and watching the tired, muddy, happy runners come through the finish chute. SLCAthena were able to stay and see RunningPlaces finish, and then we had to drive back into the city to meet up with the final member of our weekend crew: Keep Running Girl! The three of us met up for dinner at a pizza place downtown (because carb loading is important!), and then called it an early night in preparation for our own race the next morning: the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon. We shared a ride home since KRG’s hotel was near my apartment (SLCAthena was staying with me that night to simplify race morning logistics), got our flat girls ready, and hit the sack. This half-marathon was just supposed to be a fun run for me, since I’d raced hard the previous weekend, and had two more long races in just a couple of weeks (to be continued in the next bloop…) So I decided that since it was a women’s race, and I wasn’t going for a time goal, it was the PERFECT opportunity to bust out the Wonder Woman running costume that I’d gotten last summer for the Vermont 100 on 100 relay! I’d decided on this race outfit several weeks ago, when I assumed that a race on April 29th in Washington, DC, would likely be pretty warm. The reality was that it was 35 degrees out with a windchill in the mid-20s (!!) that morning. But I was way too invested in my costume plan at this point, so I added some arm warmers and called it good. It would only be a couple hours of suffering, right? SLCAthena and I had coffee and breakfast, and then headed out to pick up KRG at her hotel, and then share a Lyft down to the start line near the Lincoln Memorial. It was dark and oh so cold out! Definitely not what anyone expected of a late-April race in this area. We got the start area soon enough, and joined the crowd of bundled-up women heading over to the port-a-potties and the bag check. The wind was pretty relentless, but I was somewhat comforted by the fact that what would likely be the windiest part of the course was in the early miles, so we’d get it out of the way quickly. My race plan was simple: run comfortably and have fun. Ideally I wanted to run strategically enough to negative split, because that type of pacing isn’t deeply ingrained yet, and it’s always good to practice racing that way (or so Coach says). I figured I’d start off at an easy 8:45-9ish minute pace, and see how that felt after a few miles, and pick up the pace from there, with an aim to finish a bit under 2:00:00. After all, I’d just raced a week ago and there wasn’t much point in pushing myself to run hard in a non-goal race. Well. My legs had other ideas. I FELT SO FREAKING GOOD!! I blame the costume. There was just no reasoning with it. The first mile felt super easy and fun, but the first mile often does when you’re burning off the adrenaline of the start corral. I figured around Mile 2 or 3 I’d start to feel a little tired and would rein things in, and deal with the bonk when it happened. But the bonk never came! And I felt so energized the entire race! It definitely helped that I was getting SO MANY wonderful cheers from both the spectators and from the other runners, especially on the out-and-back section. I’d expected a race like this to have a pretty strong costume game, but I was the only one that I saw, and I totally soaked up all the extra mojo. I figured the crash would come eventually, and I’d just enjoy the ride until then. But nope! I hit halfway still feeling great, and figured I might as well step it up a little bit and try to negative split. I finally started feeling a little bit tired at Mile 11, but shortly thereafter I saw the whole gang of Loopsters cheering! I got high-fives down the line, and that gave me a great boost. I made the final big turn back towards the finish line, and ran into (pretty much literally) the only negative part of this whole race: the back of the pack of the 8K. They’d apparently been instructed to stay on the left side of the road, but of course they didn’t and there were many people walking the last mile of the 8K (in large groups, naturally) all over both sides of the road and I, and the other half runners, had to dodge and weave around them. Not the end of the world by any means, but pretty darn annoying when you’re trying to finish strong in the last half-mile of a race! I crossed the finish line in 1:45:46! Only 19 seconds slower than my PR from New Orleans in March! (I 100% blame the 8K walkers for those 19 seconds, but oh well). I got my medal, hurried over to bag check so that I could get back into my warm coat, and then walked over to where the Loopsters were cheering to join them! We cheered for a while longer and saw SLCAthena come by (apparently I’d just missed KRG), and then we walked up to the closest coffee shop to thaw out before our brunch reservations. It was so cold out and the coffee tasted so good! KRG had waited for SLCAthena to finish, so they walked up together and met us at the coffee shop just in time for us to all walk over to our brunch spot. We enjoyed warm food and bottomless brunch beverages! All in all, an extremely successful Loopster race weekend! (Why yes I did wear my costume for all of brunch! Did you expect anything different?) I still can’t quite believe how fantastic I felt during that race. It makes me feel so good about my training and fitness, especially since I still have six months to go until Rehoboth. The barn isn’t close to full yet, but the hay is definitely starting to pile up.
(*except for Rehoboth, which is really in its own category of everything) There are some sure signs of spring’s arrival that I look forward to each year. Birds singing in the mornings again. The sun coming up before I’m done with my pre-work run. Daffodils and tulips poking their colorful heads out, even through the snow sometimes. Cherry blossoms of course. And the George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler! This was my very first double-digit run back in 2012 (only a couple of weeks before I broke my ankle), and I’ve run it every year since. It’s become my favorite DC-area race due to its beautiful course, reliably crisp spring weather, and well-organized logistics. It is also typically held the Sunday after the Boston Marathon, so I’m usually still a little high on all the excitement of tracking superstar Loopsters on Marathon Monday as I head to my own race. The fact that I’ve PRed there all but one year doesn’t hurt either… This year, the Parkway Classic was designated as my big spring goal race by Coach, so most of my workouts over the last few months have been aimed at this, with a target 10M pace of 7:40-7:30. This would be a good 30+ seconds per mile faster than I ran this race last year, so this felt like an audacious goal. But I’ve learned to do as Coach says, and even if things went poorly, it was “only” a 10-miler, and life wouldn’t be terrible for too long before the finish line. April 22nd looked to be another perfect spring race day: sunny with an overnight low in the mid-40s and a high in the mid-50s, with a light breeze. I got Flat Caitlin ready and made it an early night given the ridiculous time that I needed to leave the next morning to get the shuttle to the start. I left my apartment at o’ dark thirty to board the shuttle bus that would take me from downtown DC to the start line out at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA. It was a long ride, but I chatted with a few of the runners sitting near me, mostly about how crazypants Boston was, and about upcoming race plans. We got to the start just as the sun was coming up and illuminating the little athletes’ village on the lawn of George Washington’s estate. I like to get to the start excessively early (one year of having to sprint off the bus, drop my bag, and race to the start corral just in time for the gun to go off was enough, so now I over-correct), so I found a nice place to camp out and killed some time on social media, since runner friends are reliably up early. This was my second time running, and first time racing, in my new Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes, which look pretty darn cool with neon socks. Eventually it came to be time to ditch my warm layers, check my bag, and go do my prescribed 2-mile warmup. I headed off down the bike path alongside the parkway we’d be running on, and immediately didn’t feel awesome. There was no reason not to feel awesome: the weather was perfect, all my workouts leading up to today had been stellar, it had been 7 full weeks since the New Orleans half-marathon, and I was wearing my magic shoes. But I just didn’t have any pep in my step, and it was a struggle to get those warmup miles under a 9:00 pace. I tried hard not to dwell on that, and told myself that race-day adrenaline would kick in once I was in the company of the other runners. I made my way back to the start line, and got into my corral. A few minutes later, the gun sounded and we were heading off down the parkway! There’s a big downhill right at the start, so I made sure to keep my pace in check and tried to just stay relaxed. My plan (i.e. Coach’s plan) was to try to hit the upper end of my pace target (7:40/mile) right away, and camp out there for the first 3-4 miles. Then I would try to drop the pace by 5 seconds or so for the next 5K, and then try to drop the hammer as much as I could for the final 5K and bring it in at whatever pace I could manage (preferably under 7:30). I clicked off the first mile right on target, but the downhill start provided a big assist. Once the road leveled out and we entered into several miles of small-but-noticeable rolling hills, it was a much harder effort to hold that 7:40 pace than I wanted it to be. I tried to focus on the mile I was in, rather than worrying about how I was possibly going to drop the pace come Mile 4 when Mile 2 felt so hard. I also had the added mental boost/torture of knowing that Coach had signed up for live tracking, so she would know if I’d been able to follow our plan before I’d even finished the race. I finished Mile 4 and knew that it was time to pick it up. I told myself that it was just one mile at a time. I could run this one mile at 7:35 pace and then see where I was. I focused on the upbeat tempo of my music and dug in. 7:34. Boom. Ok self, you’re halfway done now, and the back half of the course has more downhills. You got this. And COACH IS WATCHING. Hitting my Phase 2 target right when I was supposed to provide a major confidence boost (as did finally getting to the nice long downhill in Mile 6!). Miles 6 and 7 clicked off relatively quickly, and then it was just the final three miles to go. Phase 3. Drop the hammer and race. I pretended to be the kind of runner that actually “races” during a race and started picking out people ahead that I could try to catch up to and pass. I tried not to look at my watch as much as possible during this last phase and just ran as hard as I could manage. There was one final short-but-steep hill right at the Mile 9 marker, a left-hand turn onto Union Street, and then about 0.75 miles straight to the finish line. I caught up to one of the women I’d chatted with on the bus who had been just ahead of me for the last few miles, and as I passed her she picked up her pace and we raced each other down the last quarter-mile or so (I won by a few meters). Finished!! I waited a minute for my new friend to finish (we follow each other on Strava now). We high-fived and congratulated each other as we made our way over to where they were handing out breakfast tacos (totally a step up from the usual boring snack boxes from past years!). I was eager to get my checked bag so that I could upload my Garmin data and look at all my splits together. I knew that I’d hit my target paces and had negative split as we’d planned, but I wanted to see the pretty pretty graph that proved it. So pretty! Official results: PR by 7 minutes! I went over to the beer garden and found some run club friends who had finished earlier, and enjoyed some liquid recovery. More people joined the party as they finished, and it was fun as always to rehash the race, talk about upcoming race plans, etc. with runner friends. I love this race so much. I headed out with one of the run club friends to go meet some other run club friends (who didn’t race this morning) for brunch. Obviously, such a great race called for an appropriately celebratory brunch drink. Another year, another fantastic Parkway Classic. (They didn’t start giving out medals until my third year, which was the race’s 30th anniversary, so I don’t have a medal for all my times doing it. But it is pretty cool that I have all the medals that this race has ever given out!) Next up (thanks to the time machine that enables me to post bloops about races that happened a month ago): the National Women's Half-Marathon with some Loopsters!
I checked my watch. Seven minutes to the gun. Perfect. I took off down the Mall toward the Washington Monument for one last strider. Turn, turn, turn, I repeated, reaching top speed, holding it for a moment, then easing off the accelerator and slowing to a walk. A stiff, cold breeze rippled my singlet. This could be a factor, I thought, then pushed it from my head and wove my way through the crowd to my corral. Nervous fingers. Jittery legs. The announcements were static in my head as I ran through my race plan one last time. My coach and I never put a time goal for this tune-up half marathon. Rather, we set a pace range for various sections of the course, which allowed me to just lace up my racing flats and go execute without the pressure of hitting a specific time. We bolted from the starting arch with Constitution Avenue abandoned and stretched out before us. Get out. Get settled, I thought. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. That wind met me head-on and I did my best to relax into it without forcing the pace and burning through energy early. The course scraped the Lincoln Memorial then turned us down and alongside a choppy Potomac River and under the Kennedy Center. I nailed my first three splits, wanting to be between 5:45 and 5:50, and hitting 5:49, 5:48, 5:47. Mile four’s combination of uphill and headwind backed me off that pace but I recovered for mile five as we headed up Rock Creek Parkway. The pace was on point but the effort felt just south of comfortable. I willed myself to relax, understanding the irony. The course began to bend to the left and rise. “What exactly is going on there?” my coach asked me while we looked at the elevation profile earlier in the week. Having run previous incarnations of this race in the past, I thought I knew the hill to which he referred, but, faced with what lay before me, I knew this was not the same hill. “Your goal is to just get up it, don’t lose ground to anyone, and then take 60-90 seconds of easy running at the top to settle back into your pace from miles 1-5,” he said. Then ominously, “You might run 7:30 up that hill.” Volunteers lined the hill holding American flags. They called encouragement, but my mind blotted out their voices. Up on my toes, I picked my way up the incline and pulled even with another runner. My breath came in rasps now and I could feel the strain in my quads. We rounded the corner together, and I remembered my coach’s words. The other runner tried to take off, where I concentrated on letting the fatigue drain from my legs. My watch beeped 6:30 at the top, prompting one of my friends on Strava to ask later if I had paused for a bathroom break there. Take your minute, I thought. The course shifted downhill and I ironed out my stride. Relative normalcy returned. “Be ready to race at seven,” my coach said. Let’s go. I thought. I caught the runner who had taken off at the top of the hill and went by them easily now. They wouldn’t be the last. I aimed for 5:40-5:35 pace over the last 10K of the race. While I had recovered from the hill, the damage had been done. Fatigue had seeped into my quads and the wind over the first five miles had leeched strength from me. Be calm. Be present, I intoned. The Howard University drums boomed and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, rounding mile eight. I rode the downhills and survived the up, dropping a 5:38 and 5:33, collecting racers as I went. With under 5K to go, I picked up Brian Glanville’s quote from coach Sam Dee in The Olympian, “Be strong in mind as fit in body.” Except in my head it went more like, stronginminstronginmindstronginmind. After a 5:44 at 11, I resigned to just race and forgo looking at my watch, just taking what came over the last two miles. I kept two other runners in sight, though was not able to gain on them, nor were they able to pull away. We ground up one final hill to get to mile 12 and that’s where I really came apart. A stitch gripped my side and somehow manifested itself in my shoulder as well. My right hip flexor tightened. My quads grew heavy. One. More. Mile. I let gravity do the work for me, just trying to turn my legs over in that final mile. RFK stadium rounded into view and I threw whatever I had left in that final .2 miles, furiously pumping my arms and closing with a 5:39. I clicked my watch and saw 1:17:05. Hmm, I thought, unsure how to feel about it. Though we had never put words on a time, I had expected to be faster, and yet, with the exception of a couple of miles, I had been in range. So, what to make of it? There would be time to ponder, but not for long. I took my medal and my water bottle, reset my watch, and began a deliciously slow two-mile cool down. Another race finished. Another checkpoint reached. But nowhere close to done.
Let's give the new Loop a go, shall we? Dear fellow Loopsters - at least those of you who know or remember me. You may have noticed from my Facebook feed that last week I was in NYC with my wife, Countess FiFi the Fearless. Well, that only lasted five days. Not even the time to recover from the timezone-induced discombobulation and I already had to fly back to old Italia and get an even worse jet lag. What to do in notoriously extremely boring NYC? Watch the bagels rise? Or concrete dry? What kind of (safe but exciting) activities can a hapless tourist from Europe hope to be part of? Lucky me, I have an agent or two in New York City. My good friend and Manhattan resident MsRitz suggested I sign up for a 10-mile race in the Bronx, unexpectedly called Bronx 10 mile (they must have really thought this through). A hush-hush, low-key, 15,000 runners affair in the worst-mouthed Big Apple borough. Those of you who know me will already know that I tend to avoid road races like I avoid the Ebola virus. However, I am not the person to say no to a good friend; plus, I don't always get to run races in new places. So I decided to cough up the race fee and signed up, knowing I wouldn't regret it. So all I had to do, last Sunday, was to take the D train to the 161st St. stop (or was it the 4 train?). Now you must know that when I was little, the only information I had about the NYC metro system was from movies such as 1979's "The Warriors" (hopefully you'll know what I'm talking about), in which the metro trains were the favorite means of transportation for the city's riffraff and the preferred setting for stabbings, gang fights and all sorts of seedy and dodgy dealings. But I digress; today's NYC metro system is a model of efficiency and safety: the wagons even have beautiful poems framed inside, for the spiritual elevation of the few passengers that are not engrossed in their social media feeds on their phones. I actually managed to meet MsRitz on the train itself, and we made our way to the finish area for me to drop my change bag. And then... ...A MIRACLE MsRitz surprised me by letting me meet another great Loop friend of mine: the one and only Cheeky Ninja Runner, whom I'd had the privilege to be a tour guide of in Milan, a couple of years ago. And I have proof of this meetup! A European Loopster visit will always make the local news. Moreover, I instantly become a chick magnet. Please note: this picture was taken BEFORE the race. It was soooo hot that I sweated half of my body weight during the race; you can only imagine that I smelled like a donkey afterwards. My chick magnetism vanished. I'm still a barely presentable human in this pic. Anyways: we made our way to the start corral - MsRitz even used her superpowers to sneak me in the "B" corral, in the midst of runners much fitter than I. Of course there were the emotional moments before the start; a thought and a prayer for those involved in the hurricanes and those hit by the earthquake in Mexico. After the Star-Spangled Banner we were off! I was actually wearing trail shoes for this race - I think I can be forgiven, I don't really do road running. Man, I'd forgotten how HARD it is to run on pavement! The only half-decent picture I have from the race is this one: "So, is this black surface called pavement then?" To make a long story short and stop boring you guys off your skins, I started briskly; however, I soon bonked/flopped, so I decided to just shuffle my way to the end of the race. I won't bother telling you about my final time - nothing to be proud of anyway. What I'm proud of, instead, is that through the now-defunct Loop I have been able to meet so many amazing people - it ain't all "weird internet people", you know. Thanks for enduring this excruciating read of a bloop and type ya soon. Funny faces! Until next bloop, Mooooooooooose.