Ragnar-y a Lick Of Common Sense

So the crazy train that I jumped on taking me to the Philadelphia Marathon on November 17th is making one stop on October 3rd.  For about 36 hours, I will run a total of 21 miles (really 20.6 but yes I’m rounding up), chopped into 3 different legs, with 12 strangers, in a van, with some running in the middle of the night.

This stop is called Ragnar Relay: Washington DC!

Yes, a relay! Like the kind where you “pass the baton” on a track. Only this race is made for distance runners and crazy people, who quite often are one and the same. And we “pass a slap bracelet” instead of baton. But does it really matter what you pass when you and your 11 teammates have to cover 200 miles in about 36 hours? Actually, it does matter, as the 12 runners share/live in 2 vans for the duration of the race. So I would say that passing out and passing gas are to be avoided. Passing GU, headlamps, and other runners are to be sought out. Got it?

How did I get roped into this? Well, I roped myself, truth be told. I’m a big fan of the Another Mother Runner gals, Sarah and Dimity, who have written books (Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother) specifically for us Mother Runners.

ragnar another mother runner run like a mother

Here we are (Sarah, left and Dimity, right) looking adorable and sweat-less at Another Mother Runner house par-tay back in April.

Upon hearing the news that they’d be forming 2 teams for Ragnar: Washington DC, and without pause to consider my actions, I applied immediately and was chosen for Team Sarah!

It turns out that Ragnar fits quite well into my marathon training plan. Each person on the team runs three “legs” of the relay. According to the Ragnar website, here are my distances and difficulty ratings:

ragnar training marathon legs

Wowza. Apparently it’s the 3rd longest total mileage of the course.

BUT WAIT…the crazy train serves up some Challenge Pie at this stop. Here’s the description of my first leg :

ragnar training hills DC

Yum, yum, I eat hills for breakfast. But that’s like a Denny’s Grand Slam. Pass the tums…

Let’s take a closer look at that elevation chart:

ragnar legs DC training marathon

Sweet mother of Philippides. I’m not worried about the 20.6 total. I’m not worried about running at 2:00 AM. I am however, doing a well-groomed eyebrow raise at that chart, and saying a little prayer that I don’t bonk on the first leg. Because that’s the thing…

I’m used to running for just me! me! me! But now I’m a part of a team…who’s counting on me and my stoopid feet…not to bonk…and to live up to my official  9:02 race pace (that I got at my favorite 10k back in June) that I reported at the onset of this adventure.

So while I’m a little worried, I’m buoyed by the fact my team’s name is…wait for it…

the BADASS MOTHER RUNNERS.

“Badass” is only my favorite word ON THE ENTIRE PLANET! It ’twas meant to be. Killer hills and all.

Oh friends, I have so much more to tell. But I am in The Hell That Is a Teacher’s September. To be continued, after I grade some assessments…

The Too Bad, So Sad, Your Granddad Marathon, Part II: The Race

Here’s my race report of my very first marathon, the Lehigh Delaware Heritage Marathon. In Part I, explained how I came to run this race instead of the ING NYC Marathon, and left off where I’m freezing my hiney off at the start line.

marathon

Freezing.

And then the gun goes off!

We did a little loop around the race start, which was nice because the runners got to see the people cheering for them.

Lehigh marathon

My daughter and my mother in dueling pink coats.

My mom and brother had to get on the road back to Ohio, so I didn’t get to seem them again for the rest of the race. Sad face. 😦

We ran a couple of loops through Northhampton roads,

marathon lehigh

This woman made a shrug from an old race shirt. Brilliant.

and I held back, not wanting to take off too fast. I stayed with the 4:30 finish pacer gal. After the first 3-4 miles, we headed north onto a rail trail next to the Lehigh River. It was hard-packed cinders, and it was a trail…a trail-run marathon!

lehigh marathon

The Lehigh River.

It was quite pretty. The sun was starting to peek out. The trail, while cinder-ed up, was wide, with a gradual elevation gain (aka a “false flat” – it looks flat, but it’s just fooling you).

Lehigh marathon

Endless.

Saw some nice signage…

lehigh marathon

Bart Simpson and his buddy. Cracking me up!

I felt good for the first 7-8 miles. Then the wind, which had been a polite breeze before, roared into a brisk headwind. At times I had to hold onto my hat to keep it from blowing away. The wind cut through my running pants and slapped my cheeks. The 4:30 pacer girl was starting to slip ahead a little further. Oh boy. I found a couple of ladies to pace with, and we chit-chatted for a while. Both just happen to be teachers. (Teachers make the best runners. We’re so goal-oriented.)

It was right about then that every ache and malady I’ve ever had running, even some that I’ve not had in years, popped up by mile 10. Achilles? Hadn’t felt it in 3 years, until then. IT band? Tightened up like a rope. Of course, the plantar fasciitis (heel pain) in both feet that I’ve been successfully able to corral into “maintenance mode” this entire training period was SCREAMING at me by mile 12. Eeew-boy. And I hadn’t even finished a half-marathon yet.

Coming up on Mile 13, though, I saw a lovely sight: my husband and two kids yelling and waving, and MARY!!

lehigh marathon

Spotting Mary and her daughter Miss B (in the red glasses).

After saying hello and a quick hug, I headed off on paved track away from the river, for a 3 mile loop that would take us back past where the family/friends were. I was dying for a bathroom. My lungs were tight, as it was the first really cold run I’ve had this season. I love running in the cold weather, but I don’t think my lungs were acclimated and I ended up taking a few puffs of my inhaler during the race (that’s a first). I felt immediate relief, BUT STILL.

I headed back toward mile 17 and Mary’s husband Michael caught these pics of spectators doing The Wave for the runners:

lehigh marathon

Pre-wave…

lehigh marathon

The Wave: Not just for stadiums.

I finished the loop and met up with the family and Mary again. I had to give Mary a great big hug…

lehigh marathon

I was hoping desperately that a hug would make the foot pain go away.

Obviously it was so great and uplifting to see Mary on the course. But maybe that was another thing that just threw me off. I’m used to having Mary next to me for races…even on the long runs she would run part of it with me. Seeing her on the sidelines felt weird, and lonely. I know that sounds silly, of course I know that it’s me, and only me that can get myself over the finish line, but after the hugs at mile 13 and mile 17, I felt a huge pang of missing her. She’s like a sister to me. After the race she told me it felt weird being on the sidelines and not out there too. Sigh.

lehigh marathon

Only Mary could make a port-a-potty background look good.

I had to take a bathroom break. Luckily no lines, but with all the crap I had to carry with me, it took a while to get re-situated. I lost about 5 minutes, I’d say. Not that it really mattered at this point, as the 4:30 pacer girl was long gone. I kissed the fam, and took off. Lordy, 9 more miles. It might as well have been 20 more. My son took this photo of me, and really, there’s not much exaggeration in my facial expression:

lehigh marathon

That about sums up how it felt.

Miles 17-19 I tried my best to get into Run-Forrest-Run mode. I couldn’t believe I was feeling that much pain when all of my long training runs had been good runs. I had to do a couple of walk breaks. My achilles was inexplicably painful again. Wait – there IS an explanation – I was back on cinders going gradually uphill. Great.

Around mile 19, I pass the finish line on the other side.

lehigh marathon

Just such a tease!

I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be motivating: “Hey, there’s the finish line, you’ll be here soon!” or demoralizing: “Hey, there’s the finish line, you’ve got 6 more miles, sucka!” In-Training Nancy would’ve picked the first. Marathon Nancy selected the latter.

We entered some sort of parkland, which in my mind resembled some sort of Death Valley.

lehigh marathon

Death Valley?

Runners heading in the opposite direction were passing by.

lehigh marathon

I might have looked like a green-eyed monster right about then.

Somehow, it got colder and windier. I was just starting to fall into a numb-footed rhythm, when suddenly around a bend at mile 20, seemingly out of nowhere, they send us on a hiking trail, 200 feet STRAIGHT UP.

lehigh marathon

NO JOKE.

The gal in black in the photo above and I blurted out “Holy Crap!” at the same time, and look around incredulously, like it couldn’t possibly be the way to go. But it was.

lehigh valley

Remind me to bring my hiking boots next time.

Not one person ran up the hill. I couldn’t have run up it even if I wanted to – I was afraid I’d REALLY pop my achilles. The expletives started entering my head.

At the top of the hill,

lehigh marathon

The view was the only nice thing about that hill.

it flattened out a tiny bit…and just kept climbing for the next 2 miles.

lehigh marathon

Good god, make it stop.

At this point the trail had large sections of giant, ankle-twisting gravel…

lehigh marathon

Pure torture. It might as well have been loose sand.

…and I just kept saying to myself, “Don’t face plant, pick up your feet,” over and over again. This was when I wanted to quit.

I’ve never, ever wanted to quit a race before. Wanted it to be over? Yes. Quit? No.

This was a new and highly unpleasant place to be. I was losing the mind game. My mantras weren’t working. Thinking of my Gramma wasn’t working. My music was making me all pissy (No, I’m Not On Top Of the World, Imagine Dragons). All I could think was, “What am I doing to myself? This is torture!” I started tearing up.

By the time I got down the mountain at about mile 23, I was shuffling, barely lifting my feet off the ground. I was walking waaaay more than I cared to. I was fighting constant tears. It was friggin’ cold. THIS WAS NOT FUN ANYMORE. Then a glimmer of fun peeked around the corner with about 1/2 mile to go. The glimmer was tiny and cute and has my eyes:

lehigh marathon

Sometimes we call him Bub. He’s the best.

My 7 y.o. son  was waiting for me, and he started running on down the empty parking lot parallel to the trail – running with me! It certainly put a little spring into my step. I didn’t want him to see me cry/walk/fail. We smiled and giggled and we ran into the finish chute together holding hands – a first. We never would have been able to do that in NYC. Bub and I have been knocking heads a little lately, so it was a soul-boosting moment, despite the physical hurt.

lehigh marathon

Smiling.

I squeaked in under 5 hours. I honestly couldn’t believe it. After mile 20, I thought for sure 5+ hours was my destiny. Under ideal conditions, I wanted 4:30. Under these less-than-ideal conditions, I guess I’ll take what I can get.

So here’s my grand analogy: It’s like you’ve been planning for your big wedding for months upon months, and for logistical reasons, you have to cancel the wedding 2 days beforehand. So, you decide to go elope in the boonies with just a couple of friends/family. The end result is still the same (you’re married), but you didn’t get to wear the white dress or have that first dance and it’s just…not…quite…how you pictured it happening.

So if that holds true, then I need to be satisfied with the marriage, not the wedding. I need to be proud to be a marathoner, even if it wasn’t NYC. Because in the end, it’s the journey, not the destination, right?

lehigh marathon

Why I run.

I’m going to mull that over while I go soak my feet for a million years or so.

Danbury Half Marathon Recap: Part II


Sorry for the late update. My race recovery plan did not include a sinus infection and bronchitis – DARN YOU EARLY POLLEN SEASON.

If you’re just tuning in, this is a race recap of the Stratton Faxon Greater Danbury Road Race (aka the Danbury Half Marathon) that I ran with my friend Mary. The first 8 miles, covered in Part I consisted of some moderate hills to kill, loopy moments, and an awesome moment where Mary managed to shed her middle layer of clothing without stopping.

So just after hitting mile 8, we knew we’d be seeing our respective families. Being out there as a spectator of a running race is not for the impatient. Waiting, waiting, waiting, to catch a short glimpse of your runner seems like it might not be worth it. But trust me, it really, really matters. For a recreational runner, catching a wave, smile, hug, or kiss from a loved one, especially when the body is starting to protest, can make a huge difference in the race, and boost my mood for the remainder of it.

We came upon my husband and 2 kiddos first:

Hubby and the wee ones, cheering one and all.

Here I go coming in for the all-important fueling up of KID HUGS.

Momma needs a hug!

After the hugs, I hear my husband call to my son, “Here, take the camera!” My son grabbed it, and ran around this little cluster of bushes to catch us. I snapped this photo of him…

My little man - he's quick on the trigger.

…and he snapped this photo of us, MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE PHOTO OF THE DAY.

Our feet never touch the ground (in my dreams).

Meanwhile, Mary’s husband, using a long lens, captured us smiling during those same moments. I love these photos too, because it makes it look like we’re on Mile 1, not Mile 9.

All smiles here.

Clearly, the happy hormones have kicked in.

After a quick hello to Mary’s family, the smiles faded, as we put our game faces on. We knew The Hill was coming. Rather, the series of uphills that Mary and I trained on here and here. We gulped another GU and I feel the caffeine kick in and I’m all LET’S DO IT, let’s kill this mofo.

There it is, lurking. I see you. We're coming for YOU.

So up we go. We’re keeping a good pace. I’m feeling good. We’re passing people, just like in my dreams. Some are passing us, too, but I can honestly say that while we were not burning up the course, it really seemed like we were because we were passing people on the hills. WOOT, WOOT.

Been there, KILLED that.

I had my first ever experience of spotting someone I knew DURING the race. I knew my friend Susan was in the race somewhere, I found her!

Fancy running into you here! (Get it? "Running"? Har har.)

I chatted with Sue a few moments, and when I looked up, there goes Mary, doing what she does best: cranking it into high gear on last part of the big hill:

Seriously in awe of her.

I caught up with her, and our relief was short-lived as we realized that while we conquered the biggest hills, we still had about 3 miles to go. Then, in the distance, we spied this scene:

People who live on the race course that make their own aid stations give me faith that all isn't lost in this crazy, crazy world.

It’s our friend Kate, running an unofficial water station at her parents house! Totally unexpected, and completely welcomed.

Kate her father. That was the best tasting water on the course.

That refreshment stop launched us in the last phase of the race. This is where legs start to feel heavy, and Mary and I cease chatting and just focus on breathing and maintaining pace. You know it’s serious when we don’t gab.

Mile 12-ish. This is us not talking.

The longest we ran on this training cycle was 11 miles, so at this point my feet are getting achy and my legs are feeling more and more like cement blocks. We knew we were coming up on the big, long downhill. At first, it seems like sweet relief…

The big downhill - don't let it fool you. It's just as tough.

…but really, downhills, after already running 12 miles, suck big time. This downhill, being fairly steep and about 1.25 miles long, almost did me in. The tendency on downhills is to fly down them, but I knew that I would kill my feet with any sort of hard slap-, slap-, slapping. I read somewhere from a famous racer whose name I don’t remember, that races are won and lost on the downhills. Basically, if you can have good form and run with control on the downhill, you can actually save your energy and not hurt yourself. So trying to run with control on this long downhill made me want to scream. Engaging my quads for over 9 minutes at that point in the race was very difficult and left my legs quivering.

I think I started talking to my legs. Something like, "Don't fail me now, please."

After the downhill where we saw that rocking band again (still playing loud and fast), we had just about 1/2 mile left, and one short but steep hill to climb. On that hill, I my ears heard something that I hadn’t heard before – Mary dropping the f-bomb. Yep, even sweet Irish-Catholic lassies drop perfectly-timed curse words on these hills. After I teased her about cursing being my responsibility before you knew it, we were in the home stretch.

Time to crank out the last remaining bit of energy.

FULL STEAM AHEAD.

The last 1000 feet or so really was a blur, but I do remember getting ready to turn the corner to the finish line and just feeling a swell of happiness and pride rise within me. I knew before I saw the clock that this would be my Best Race Ever. I spotted my husband and kiddos again and one of them took this photo:

50 feet left.

I started to get a little emotional. A few days earlier, Mary had just celebrated a milestone birthday. As we turned the corner and saw the finish line clock, as said to her, “Happy birthday, Mary. You just got yourself a new PR!” We grabbed hands and finished strong.

Clock time: 2:10:53…but NET TIME was 2:10:18! A new personal record for myself, too.

(The finish line photo is on order and will be posted soon!)

Here I am, with Mary and Jeanine (who finished about 5 minutes before us), all red-faced and happy.

Race bling!

I can hardly believe the race is over. This one was particularly satisfying not necessarily due to the PR (though that helped), but this was the first training cycle where I was running and stretching consistently, and did purposeful training on the hills. That work yielded tangible results in a faster time, an easier time on the hills, and not feeling completely wiped at the finish line.
It gives me hope and reassures me that with careful training, I’ll be able to complete the ING NYC Marathon in November.

Third Time’s a Charm

Once, twice, three times…I’m ready!

Mary and I did our last long run before this weekend’s Danbury Half Marathon Stratton Faxon Greater Danbury Road Race recently, and we chose to torture ourselves for the third time on the KILL THE HILL course (that contains part of the race route) I wrote about in my last post.  To sum up the route: It was 11 miles of hills, hills, and more hills.

But this third time, even though we ran our longest milage of this training set, was actually the easiest, which surprised the heck out of me. Why? I have three ideas:

1. You know how when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place and it seems to take forever to get there? Then subsequent travels to that place don’t seem to take as long? Same idea here. The first time we ran this route, it seemed to take forever…the hills just dragged on and on. This time, though we weren’t really pacing any faster, they seemed to be over lickety-split.

Hey, Hill, didn't I conquer you last weekend?

2. Gabby McGabbertons, we are. Mary and I talk and gab and gab and talk (except for on the hills). Gabbing makes runs go faster.

Goofy Gabbers taking a stretch break before the big hill.

3. I guess it’s not all in the mind, because hill runs make for decent, dare I say “killer” calf muscles. I’m speaking for both of us here, but our legs were screaming at us after the first time. After the third time, not so much.

This was about mile 10.5. My chicken legs were holding up well. And I use "chicken legs" as a term of endearment.

Also, third time around you tend to notice things that you didn’t notice before. Here are some photo highlights of this run:

Spring is here - one month early. Wacky Connecticut weather.

I never did understand the Easter Egg Tree.

We didn't notice this small cemetery until the 6th time we passed it.

Aaaahhhhh, downhill!

Still tons of tree carcasses leftover from "Snowtober", 6 months ago. (Again, wacky CT weather!)

Pit stop - PSYCH.

Eleven miles - FIN.

It was such a good run, I actually felt the runner’s high all day long. I even had trouble falling asleep that night, even though my body was exhausted. I feel more ready for this race than any of my other two prior half-marathons, because I know the route and I know what to expect. The intimidation factor has gone way down. I will definitely make scouting the course part of my training from now on. I’m also more excited for this one because I I’m running with a great training partner and friend. Holla, Mary!

Do you try to scout a race before you run it? Do you find that it helps you prepare? Or do you wing it?

P.S. After this race I’ll be starting to focus more on the NYC Marathon and raising money for LitWorld…stay tuned!

Kill the Hill

My training plans for big races tend to have themes.

For my first half-marathon just about a year ago, it was “closure” (to be explained in a future post). For my second half-marathon, is it was “survival” due to under-training and high-stress job timing. For this upcoming half (The Danbury Half-Marathon), I’m fitting in some consistent training, and I’m able to actually formulate a training strategy. This time, it’s KILL THE HILL.

I didn’t come up with KILL THE HILL until a couple of weeks ago, when my running BF Mary, her sis-in-law J and I decided to see what we had gotten ourselves into by doing a long training run on part of the The Danbury Half Marathon course. I’d heard it’s notoriously hilly. Not Rocky Mountains Hilly, mind you, but in the last 4 miles of the race, there are some serious butt-busters. It turns out this course is NO JOKE.

It was cold. Exhibit A: Neck Gaitor.

Since part of the race is on a very busy state route, we planned our route to avoid that and to do an out-an-back of the last 4 miles of the race, for a total of about 8 miles. It starts in urban-ish Danbury.

We are about to run up that mountain. It looks harmless, right?

Shortly thereafter, this street sign loomed like an omen.

Dear Lord, what have we gotten ourselves into?

What a tease that was. Within 1.5 miles we went from flat to our first monster:

Oh. My. Goodness.

At that point, you might have heard a collective “Holy crap!” from the three of us, and then we all just instinctively shut up and dug in. (The shutting up part doesn’t come naturally, but we all knew we needed the breath.) I have to admit, I’m starting to like the ‘digging in’ part of running. When things start to get tough, you have to clear out your mind and focus on the task at hand. I tend to say a mantra in my head that matches my cadence. I think this day was simply, “Don’t. Stop. Don’t. Stop. Don’t. Stop.”

Mary, kicking it into high gear (and probably also thinking, "When does this thing end?").

I took a brief walk break for about 30 seconds. Mary and J powered ahead. I had to remind myself that in the actual race, I’d be going back DOWN that part, and but that this was “good for training”. I was also trying to suppress the thought that it was also “good for pulling a butt muscle and/or puking.” After a few more minutes of huffing, puffing, and burning calves, we finally made it to the top, or at least the top of that particular hill. YAY US.

After that, there were a few rolling hills, and rural scenery was quite beautiful. It almost distracted me from my lungs being on fire. We passed scenic woods and hidden lakes…

Some farm animals (who would have waved if they could’ve, I’m sure)…

And a mocking road sign:

At mile 4.5, after a long downhill, we reached the halfway mark, and our refreshments, planted earlier by moi.

Come to Mama.

Time to turn it around. Yep, time to head back UP that long downhill. This time, the mantra was, “Kill the hill. Kill the hill. Kill the hill.” It worked.

Being that I was the dork with the camera, I had to get one last photo:

Hill Killers.

We got back to Danbury without walking or limping, but wow, that run was hard. I love my runkeeper app on my phone, because I go home and become a stat geek. My eyeballs just about popped out of my head when it said that the course we took that day was a 974 FOOT ELEVATION CHANGE.

What does a 974 ft elevation change look like in graph form? Here you go:

That blue blip in the middle was our water stop - I forgot to pause the app.

After that day, my theme for this training cycle became KILL THE HILL. Danbury Half-Marathon miles 9, 10, 11, and 12: You’ve been warned.