Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon 2019

Whenever I’m struggling midseason, I tell myself that it will all come together in the end. Friends and family echo the sentiment, because it has before: CIM 2014, Pittsburgh 2018, CIM 2018. Of course, there are also data suggesting the opposite: seasons that were resounding flops from start to finish, like this year’s Boston, Grandma’s 2015, and the 2016 Trials. As the Richmond half marathon, my peak race for this fall season, approached, some workouts supported the former, optimistic possibility. I wanted to believe it.

Instead, with less than two weeks to go, it fell apart.

At the end of an easy run, my Achilles started to tighten. Pretty immediately, it felt more serious than a random niggle that is forgotten by the next morning. As I watched the NYC Marathon with my Oiselle teammates, the tension in both my Achilles and my mind rose.

I took the next day off. Inspired by a comment from teammate Carrie Mack, I took the day after that off too, feeling hopeful it was one more day than I needed. My leg felt fine by then, and I wondered if I was being overly paranoid, perhaps a bit wussy. Am I just making excuses? The symptoms didn’t all match up with Achilles tendonitis, but horror stories from friends with Achilles injuries scared me.

I ran the next few days; it was tight the first day, then eased up, but by the third day, it was back to nagging. I took Saturday (what would have been my last long run) off as well.

The roller coaster of the week—will I run or not?—drove me crazy. I had the same feelings as before Grandma’s Marathon in 2015, when I got a stress reaction 3 weeks before the race. In the week between feeling a potential injury and the diagnosis, I was a wreck fluctuating between trying to cross train/hold on to my motivation and trying to come to terms with the season possibly being over. Both times I just wanted to know one way or the other—WILL I RUN OR NOT? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME!—and every day I woke up with a different gut feeling. More than anything, I didn’t want to compromise my training for the Trials (which was set to start after a quick post-Richmond break). If I raced, even if I raced well, and it set me back a few weeks, I didn’t think it’d be worth it.

I couldn’t get an official doctor’s appointment until after Richmond, but my coach hooked me up with a PT who could see me informally (and quickly) and she diagnosed it as a calf strain, not Achilles tendonitis. That was a huge relief (less recovery time) and she told me if I spent the week cross training, I could still race. I elliptical-ed the next few days but did one last easy workout the Wednesday before the race, to see how it felt and make a final determination if I could race. My leg felt fine, but it was harder to hold the pace than it should have been. (Likely because I hadn’t run for days.) I cross trained the next day, with a quick 10-minute jog to try to get my body back in running mode. The day before the race I did my usual easy shake out, the only normal run of the last week. When I got home my husband asked, “Feeling fast and ready?” I replied, “Let’s just go with able to run.”

That day, I realized my attitude needed to change. I was grateful to run, yes, but I was also making excuses, focusing too much on the training upheaval of the last two weeks. If I wanted to get the best out of myself, I needed to prepare myself like any other race, ready to give my all. I told myself the few days before the race had been pretty normal: a short tempo (though it felt hardshut up, pessimistic Teal!), a day mostly off, and a shakeout with strides. The calf, for all my obsession over every sensation I felt there, seemed fine.

I wanted to salvage the season right at the end, to prove all the work I’ve put in and changes I’ve made (working with a coach and sports psychologist) had an effect. I trained differently, so couldn’t compare to past seasons (possibly a good thing). Maybe I’m in better shape than I think! Maybe the unusual last few weeks will leave me super tapered and super hungry! Starting at 5:55 seemed reasonable and, in the place in my brain where hope and ambition run unfettered, I thought maybe I could pick it up later on.

Race morning was cold (yay!) but windy (not so yay). For the first two miles, it blew directly in our faces. I tried to tuck in to a group, but as always the case with early racing, groups were still fluid, splitting and reforming left and right. Near the first mile marker, a man pulled up alongside me and a few others and asked what we were hoping for. I was the only one to respond, “5:55” and as I did we hit the marker in 5:54. “Bang on.” The man said he was shooting for 5:50s, but this was good for now. My main theory for my poor performance in Twin Cities is that I ran alone and had no one to gauge off, so I was happy we formed an alliance. But after another half mile or so my watch read 6:05 pace. Our pack held steady, other runners weren’t passing us, so I tried to trust the collective pack more than my watch. But no one else had mentioned their goals. After another quarter mile or so, I started to doubt the group and forged ahead. Mr. 5:50 came with me. We hit mile 2 in 6:05.

For the most part, my sports psych efforts focused on not to berating myself when I hit a slow split. Relax, breathe, let it go. To my credit, I did that with that second split. Fine, we just need to get in a better rhythm. The wind somehow slammed us again as we made a right turn onto Arthur Ashe Boulevard and formed a new pack of maybe three guys and two other women. Mr. 5:50 beckoned us to share the work and I tried to do my part. I felt better when I was the one pushing and leading; I’ve honestly never felt like drafting helps me that much (Am I not doing it right?? Is the benefit so minuscule you don’t really notice it?) but I did appreciate the power of the pack and people to stick with. Mile 3 was 6:00. I wanted to scream, “We’re still going too slow!” But also: Relax, let it go. Don’t tense up too much. Mr. 5:50 is still here, he’s fine with this. It’s fine.

As we turned down an out and back, our pack started to reel in Kate, a Oiselle/Raleigh Distance Project athlete. I wanted to pull her into our group, but instead somehow I got dropped in the move. My pack pulled ahead, with Kate a little off the back, and me all alone behind everyone. What just happened?? Mile 4 was another 6 flat.

Mile 4: What just happened?
As we turned back onto Boulevard and headed toward the park, I caught Kate and told her we could work together. Mile 5: another 6 flat. (Did I notice or appreciate my consistency? I did not. Except to say running 6 flats consistently bummed me out.) As we entered the park Kate dropped back a bit. I felt good and like I could catch some of the people ahead, who had either been eaten up by my old pack or splintered off the back. The park is the hilliest part of the race, as soon as you enter it goes slightly up. But the main issue for me on that day was the potholes. (I actually had a temporary brain fart on the word “potholes” and distracted myself for a bit debating: Is it potmarks? That’s not right…Distractions always welcome midrace!) I felt my ankle wobbling: Oh no, this is what does my calf in! But then: My calf seems okay, fine actually. Paranoia brought more awareness of my ankle working than I’ve ever had, making me cautious and my stride feel awkward. (Like when you focus too much on one word and it starts to sound weird.) Still, I hit mile 6 in 5:56. See, I’m feeling better.

But after a disappointing next mile (6:03), as we headed up the last uphill and out of the park, things seemed to be going downhill fast. Kate caught me and I couldn’t stay with her. If I have any big regret after a race, it’s almost always that I didn’t fight harder to stick with someone. As always, as Kate ran away I told myself to not let the gap grow, that I could still catch up. Instead, she became another regret: the ones that got away.

And as always, the thoughts of dropping out came. Why am I doing this if I’m just running slowly? Usually I tell myself to continue because at least it will be a hard workout to help me later on in the season, but this was my last race of the season. It wasn’t going to help anything. Am I risking hurting my calf just to have a mediocre race? But truthfully my calf felt fine. Am I just making excuses? The pretty stupid reason I kept going: my clothes were in a bag at the finish. If I stopped, I’d have to find a way to get there and that seemed like a (very cold) hassle. I could stop when I saw my family around mile 10, but that seemed like the wrong message to send my daughter. (Even though, at two, I’m sure she wouldn’t understand or care.)

The "Another Disappointing Race,
Guess I'll Just Try and Finish" Face.
It seems like all year, when a race got hard, a make-it-or-break-it moment (should I stick with that girl or let her go?) I lacked the drive to fight. I feel like I can dig deeper in workouts than races (to be fair, workouts weren’t continuous 13-mile intervals). Realizing I once again didn’t have that fighting spirit, with 4 or 5 miles to go, was not a great spot to be. I told myself to get back into it: The victory today will be not giving up! At mile 10: The victory will be making the last 5K my fastest! But my mind and body didn’t cooperate with each other.

Around mile 10.
The last few miles are a blur of not really caring at the slower splits coming in (for those who do care: 6:07, 6:12, 12:11 for miles 10 and 11, 6:09, and 5:52 for the last downhill 1.1) and being heartbroken over this race, this season, this year. People passed me left and right and I couldn’t muster a fight. Earlier in the season, finishing in the top 3 was my goal. Lately, top 5. Through about 8 or 10 miles I was in the top 10. In the end, I finished a devastating 14th in 1:19:12.

The last mile.
My time is an eternity from my preseason goals. Given my marathon time, I hoped to be knocking on the door of a 1:15 half and a 56-minute 10 mile. That seems laughably ambitious now. But I thought surely, with a season dedicated to those distances, I’d close the gap.

Certainly the season didn’t end on the best of notes. I can’t be sure how much the calf strain affected me (what would I have been able to do if the build-up had ended normally?). But I can’t dwell on it too long. I have to find a way to get that fight back (and maybe an entire year of disappointing races is the fuel I need). Training for the 2020 Trials started yesterday. Time to turn the page.

Dream big,

Friday, October 18, 2019

Race Report: 2019 US Ten Mile Championships

Analyzing Philly led me to two broad conclusions: the weather sucked (thanks, Captain Obvious) and I got too anxious about it, trying too early to fight, flail, and force my way to a pace that should have come easier. Twin Cities Ten Mile would be different. First, the weather was down-right perfect, relieving some of the latter issue since worries about weather went out the window (into the fresh, crisp fall air). Also, I’d spent some time talking to a sports psychologist and working on ways to not get so tense and anxious so early in the race. As a bonus, I focused on being grateful to be there. Twin Cities Ten Mile was also the 2019 US Ten Mile Championship and I was allowed in the field despite not making the listed qualifying time. Without the standard, I got an entry but no support, so I paid my own way and ended up with two days in a hotel room all to myself. As a mom of a two-year-old, there may be nothing better than a solo, silent, weekend getaway (my first as a mom). Race schmace, I was going to enjoy that part.

Busy focusing on myself and my own head, I didn’t really think about the rest of the championship field. But when I arrived in St. Paul and the hype started building and friends starting relaying pace goals, the reality of racing the field (not the clock) set in. At brunch, a Oiselle teammate who raced a few years ago said she found herself way off the back after going through 2 miles in 11:20. That was much faster than I planned to run (I hoped to start no faster than 5:55 for the first 2-4 miles—or 11:50 at mile 2—and then try to cut it down). How quickly am I going to get left behind?? Still, I remembered that last year some people had run over 60 and I planned to be about two minutes under that. When I ran in the elite women’s fields at Cherry Blossom Ten Mile and Boston I had women to run with. Everyone I talked to was going out faster than me, but surely I’d find some ladies to work with.

Man oh man, was I wrong. I got dropped in the first 200 meters and literally laughed out loud. Seriously?!? It didn’t surprise me that the leaders went out hard, but I couldn’t believe that everyone else did too. They all have way more confidence than I do. I forced myself to slow down, to let them go. Surely some of them will come back. When I saw the mile 1 clock come into view, I tried to slow even more. Wayyy too fast. Coach is not going to like this. (Coach has yet to reprimanded me for a fast start, but for some reason I was very concerned about it at that moment.) Even with my attempt to slow, I hit the mile in 5:42. (It is downhill.) I could just barely see two ponytails ahead of me, and only two. Everyone else was long gone.

In the dark, as I ran alone along the river, a fox darted across the empty road in front of me. Go right ahead, Mr. Fox. I’m the only other one out here.

Lonely and far from having the start I wanted, it was time to practice my relaxation techniques. My plan was to do a quick body scan after every mile marker, focusing on relaxing my shoulders and arms. If I was in my head too much, I’d pick something external to focus on (a tree, a sign, any landmark). I didn’t want to tense up too much from the splits I was getting (fast or slow). In the second mile, I knew I needed to relax the pace, but didn’t feel like I totally slowed. My watch pace was hovering around 6:05-6:10, a bit slow, but good enough to even out that fast first mile.

Man oh man, wrong again. I hit the second mile in 6:32. WTH?!? Was that mile long and the first short!? I told myself it must be and tried to reign in any thoughts of a disaster unfolding. But I also realized that even if the markers were wrong, I was still way over pace at two miles. (After the race I noticed my Garmin, which is often off by a hundredth or two, called that mile 1.08. Still, I trust the official markers far more than wrist-based GPS.) I tried not to let that get in my head--Just get back on pace for the next mile--but the reality of that mile would haunt me.

Despite some uphill in mile 3, the next two miles were right on my planned pace of 5:55. But as I told myself I was doing it—Relax, I’m back on pace—that stupid 6:30 would pop back up. Actually, you’re still way slow. Also, you’re in last place. I tried not to let these thoughts bother me and kept reminding myself to relax, to focus on the mile I was in, but I think the tenor of my thoughts drifted downhill. If you had asked me right after the race, I would have told you mile 4 was too slow, but it was actually perfect. I started worrying the men were coming. (The race had an equalizer: the men started about six minutes behind the women and the first person—male or female—to cross the line got a bonus.) Of course, they’re coming, they’re going to pass you eventually. I could hear cheers, which assumed was them coming over the mile 3 bridge, way before I expected to. Why did this bother me? I have no idea, but I was clearly starting to stress. Try to get to mile 5 before the men catch you. Otherwise, it’s just embarrassing.

I didn’t. The embarrassment was just beginning. Mile 5 was 6:08 and I think I started accepting it wasn’t my day. How defeatist was I? How much did I give up? I don’t remember, I think I tried to stay in the mile, to remember my relaxation techniques, but I couldn’t get my legs to go. My stomach wasn’t right, I wanted to stop and use the bathroom. Who cares, I’m running crappy anyway. I’m running slow and in Dead F’ing Last, it doesn’t matter. This is an embarrassment. Again, I wondered why I was doing this. I guess I didn’t deserve to be in this field. 

Mile 6 was slower still (6:13) and I started thinking I was once again running my VA Beach/Philly pace. (I wasn’t; I was still averaging faster, but that’s where my mind jumped to, which was decidedly defeatist.) I wanted to drop. If I’m in such dire straits I have to stop completely, then surely that would excuse away why I ran so terribly up to that point. But all I really wanted was a porta potty and even that wasn’t dire yet. Despite nearly always wanting to, I’d never dropped out of a race and didn’t want to start a trend. DFL is better than DNF. At least I’ll get a workout out of it. Once again, did just deciding not to quit mean I gave up a bit? Could I have pressed harder?

At mile 7, whether because the course starts going slightly downhill after three miles of slight uphill or because I realized I was only three miles from the finish or because I could once again see a ponytail ahead (amongst the guys continuing to stream past), I seemed to find a slightly new gear. This is the marathoner in me, it just takes this long to get me rolling. Somehow I missed mile markers 7 and 8, but I had the sense that, although I was still far from the pace I wanted, I wasn’t continuing to slow like I had at Philly. (I was actually right about this one: I averaged 6:06 for miles 7-9). Just get to the finish line… and then keep running for the restroom.

With a mile to go I dug a little more and tried to push. Even though I had nothing really left to fight for I tried to give it what I had and finished in 1:00:29. The only (albeit minuscule) victory of the day: unlike Philly, the last (downhill) mile (5:41) was my fastest, even faster than the blazing start. A reminder that there’s always more left than I think.

Classic stop-the-watch pose. Even when the watch shows
a disappointing time, God forbid it shows two extra seconds.

But to recap, I started at the back of the pack and passed no one. A steady stream of guys—and a fox—passed me. I finished minutes off my goal time. It was… demoralizing.

The stomach issues immediately eased off and after some all-too-familiar tears with a teammate in the tent, I spent the rest of the day trying to enjoy the last moments of my “vacation”: getting a free massage in the VIP tent, going to a bakery, reading on the plane. I thought at any moment the dissonance between how I wanted this race to go and how it actually went would come crashing down, but, back at home, it was back to the business of real life. It wasn’t until I sat down the write this, a few days later, that the reality of this race hit me. I have no idea why it went so poorly. The weather was absolutely perfect, the weekend stress-free. Maybe running alone for so much (i.e. the entire race) let the race mentality ease off a bit; I train alone and think I can race alone, but of course I run best when I have people to work with, even if only for a few miles. Maybe my training’s not where I thought it was and my PR hopes were a little delusional. Maybe my ferritin is still low. (Editor’s note: I did get the latter checked. In August, it was even lower than last May, but is now getting back to May levels. Which, to be fair, were still less than ideal.) Maybe it was just a bad day, which we all have, but that doesn’t make that explanation any more satisfying. It felt a lot different than Philly; it wasn’t so aggravatingly tough, I just couldn’t go. (Maybe I was too relaxed??)  That makes it even more frustrating.

Although I know no one cares as much about my running as me, and probably no one even realized I got last place until I wrote this treatise about it, I’m embarrassed by my performance (and this entire year). Maybe I didn’t deserve to be in that field. But I do not, in my heart, believe that to be true. Yea I got last, but someone had to. My ten-mile PR remains decidedly sub-par (I’ve run faster for the first ten miles of a half marathon), but I think I deserved to be there based on my marathon time. Why I can’t get my other PRs in line with that one is the crux of this chapter of my running story.

One more race to go. How will this chapter end?

Dream big,

Friday, September 27, 2019

Race Report: Rock-n-Roll Philly Half Marathon 2019

My goals for this fall are to improve my half marathon and ten mile PRs. I haven’t dedicated a season to shorter stuff (i.e. not marathons) since 2012 and I ran my half and ten mile PRs off marathon training, not training specific to those distances. (Unofficially, both PRs actually come from the same race.) On the way to my peak races (Twin Cities Ten Miler and Richmond Half), I planned to run Rock-n-Roll Virginia Beach as a hard workout and Rock-n-Roll Philly as my first real race effort. Though Philly was just a stepping stone to the later races, I’d go in tapered and mentally jacked, ready to give my best effort on the day.

The Virginia Beach half workout, two weeks before Philly, went close to expected. The plan was to start slower than marathon pace, gradually pick it up to marathon pace, and race the last few miles if I felt good and the weather cooperated. Though it was humid, I didn’t feel terrible and tried to pick it up at the end, but wasn’t successful. Still, I averaged 6:15 pace so it was a solid workout and the best/longest effort I’d had since Boston. I was excited to see what I could do in Philly, when tapered and given permission to really go for it.

My pace goal for Philly was to run 6:00, which seemed hard but not unreasonable. More than a specific pace, though, I wanted to focus on process goals. (Process goals are within your control, unlike an outcome goal—like a time or place—that depends on weather, other competitors, etc.) Lately I’ve been wondering if my two biggest weaknesses—heat/humidity and any distance shorter than a marathon—are in some part self-fulfilling prophesies. I tell myself I’m bad in that kind of weather and at that kind of distance and so… I run poorly. (Certainly there is truth to both issues: tough conditions will slow times down, the marathon is my strength. But I seem to be so much of an anomaly in both situations that I wonder if part of it is mental.) One of my power words this season is capable, to remind myself that I am capable of running well in poor conditions and I am capable of running faster in shorter stuff. With Philly, I wanted to run strong even if the weather sucked, to be tough when I needed to be, and to finish feeling proud that I gave what I had and didn’t let negativity get the best of me. I was also going up against a course that repeatedly plagued me in the past; I wanted to finally manage a win. All week long I talked myself up, reminding myself that I really wanted to fight when it got hard and not give up, no matter the time.

Race day was humid as always: 71° and 90% humidity. (On paper, it was similar to VA beach, but Philly felt much worse in my opinion.) This race gets a fast field (Desi, Jordan, Becky Wade, Lindsay Flanagan, and others, plus a ton of my speedy friends from DC and Richmond). At the gun, everyone flew by and I tried to reign in the excitement and not go out too fast. I looked at my watch approximately 8 million times to stay in check and remind myself to relax. The first four miles wind through the city, so my watch’s pace was wildly inaccurate, but I managed to twice follow a slightly too fast mile with a slightly too slow one and hit 4 miles right on pace. That seemed promising, although looking back now I may have been working a little too hard/in my head too much for so early in the race. (Though it’s easy to say this now given that I know how it ended up). I was also splashing water on my head as soon as possible. (Literally at the first water stop. Though I missed my head and hit the guy behind me in the face. Whoops, sorry!! Hope it was refreshing!)

Mile 1: Feeling fine. 
Mile 5 was slow (6:15), but I’ve had a slow mile in this section before and let it derail me, so this time I had prepared myself to not let it bug me. My old GRC teammate Catherine caught me and I was excited to run with her and work together. Mile 6 was better though still a little slow (6:04), but my head was spiraling a bit. I was trying to fight it off, to stay with Catherine, to work on digging deep. I knew having Catherine was such a blessing and was helping me keep it together; I didn’t want to let that opportunity go. But I was wondering why I was doing this at all. This sucks. Maybe I should stop racing, I’m not that good.

Mile 7: With Catherine on my right.
I tried to focus on my mantra for the race, but became intimidated by how long I’d need to repeat it. Mile 7 was another 6:15, so was mile 8. I was falling apart and trying not to bargain with myself. Just don’t drop out. There’s nothing wrong with you and no need to drop out. At least finish. …. Uh, that’s bargaining with myself. How did I get from fighting with everything I had to convincing myself to just not quit entirely? I fell back from Catherine at this point and though I tried to tell myself to get back to her, the gap continued to grow.

I thought hitting the bridge at mile 9 and heading back towards the finish would be a mental boost. But mile 9 was my slowest yet (6:30!). Miles 10 and 11 were slightly better (~6:20) but I was desperately just trying to get to the finish. I really wanted to stop and walk. I wanted to cry. Why am I here AGAIN, running so poorly?? Women were passing me, some encouraging me to go with them, but I had no fight, no will do it. I figured I’d be slower than VA Beach and had nothing to fight for. Even as I got closer, I didn’t manage to kick it in. The last 2.1 miles were my slowest (more 6:30s).

Mile 10: Desperate to be done.
When I could finally see the clock, I realized it would be closer to my VA Beach time than I thought, but it was too late to do anything about it. I finished 9 seconds slower, for another 6:15 average. (Though, man oh man, did I come about it a different and more terribly, awful way. I do not recommend it.)

I had to fight back tears at the finish (FYI it’s really difficult to cry when out of breath: it comes out in ragged gasps which feel like choking, though happy tears don’t seem to have this problem), but when I made it to the elite tent and saw some friends I lost it. It wasn’t the time that bothered me as much as the lack of fight. I have a lot of issues with confidence and toughness and the race seemed to confirm my suspicions. Yes, it was humid, but people PRed left and right. Why couldn’t I fight better? Why didn’t I?

Since the race, I’ve started talking to a sports psychologist (which was already in the works before Philly, though the race confirmed the need). I’m realizing that I need to relax a lot more early on (easier said than done!) and respond to negative feedback (a bad split, being passed by a pack, etc.) with less judgement. Even as I try mentally to be positive, my body is probably physically too tensed up, too ready to fight too early (which ironically robs me of the fight when I need it later). There’s lots to explore here and I’m just getting started but I’ll update as I try some tactics (like relaxation techniques, regular body scans, counting slowly) and see what works.

Despite my efforts to win one on this course, the race was a rerun of the 2012 edition. And just like past years, I find myself in the September slump. But in the past that slump has been followed by fast times when the heat and humidity finally lift. This year I ran a totally awful, demoralizing, humid half two minutes faster than last September's totally awful, demoralizing, humid half. So I'm right on track for a two-minute PR in November, right?

Dream big,

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Blood Test Fails

Sometime this past March, frustrations about sub-par training led me to the idea that my iron levels might be low again. I’ve had low iron in the past (and excessively low ferritin, which stores iron), a condition that means muscles have a harder time getting the oxygen they need and performance suffers.

Last month I finally got my blood tested. The long story short is that my ferritin levels are on the upswing (but likely were low and contributed to my poor training this winter) and that I have other hormonal issues that may be contributing to poor recovery. Along the way to finally discovering this, I made seemingly every mistake in the book, which is a bit embarrassing to admit. But I’m sharing them below anyway in the hopes that others will learn from my stupidity honesty.

Mistake #1: No follow up test
I first realized my ferritin was a problem in 2012 and started taking the iron supplement Vitron-C. I started to feel better, so that was good enough for me. But I never actually tested if my iron levels improved or if it was a placebo effect/different training/some other explanation. When I thought my iron levels might be part of my problem this winter, I started taking Vitron-C again and wanted to believe it would help, but I realized I wasn’t even sure if it ever had. (Because of Mistake #3, see below, I didn’t see a doctor before I started supplementing again. This is NOT recommended, as it is dangerous to have too much iron. It turned out okay for me, but easily could have ended up in the HUGE mistake column.)

Solution: Get a follow up test to see if your supplements/changes to diet/habits are actually working. I’ve made a calendar reminder to get tested again at the beginning of August, three months after my recent test.

Mistake #2: Not starting again
The biggest mistake I made was that I didn’t start supplementing again after I stopped breastfeeding. When I found out I was pregnant, I switched to taking prenatal vitamins (which have some iron, although not as much as Vitron-C) and continued taking those while I breastfed. I figured I didn’t need such excessive amounts of iron since I wasn’t getting my period (the main reason iron levels are such a problem for female athletes) and I wasn’t really training all that hard. (Although that last part probably stopped being true by the spring of 2018 when I was training for Pittsburgh). Last summer I stopped nursing, switched to a daily multivitamin and, because I also eat more red meat now than I used to, I thought, “Good enough.” Except it wasn’t. Just like iron levels take a long time to come back to normal, they also take a long time to drop. I was able to run really well last fall before they dropped enough to make me notice this winter. And then it was too late.

Solution: Once again, get tested, especially if you change your supplements/diet/habits. Don’t wait until levels are so low you’ve dug a hole it will take months to get out of.

Mistake #3: Assuming I needed a doctor’s appointment
When I started thinking my ferritin might be a problem again, I tried to make an appointment with a doctor. I didn’t find a primary care doctor when I moved to Richmond three years ago (mistake #8594) and it would be months before I could see one. (I’ve fixed that problem and have my first appointment in… November.) I felt stuck. I had heard about companies like Inside Tracker but they seemed expensive and I didn’t fully understand how you’d get a blood draw without a doctor’s appointment.

Solution: Thanks to the advice of my Oiselle team, I used Athlete Blood Test (similar to Inside Tracker though less well known) and highly recommend it. It was immediate: I signed up online and took the form to a LapCorp near me. I didn’t need an appointment, saw someone within thirty minutes, and the results came back a few days later. It was expensive (I was right about that part at least…) but the athlete-specific information and 10-page analysis they gave me was worth it. When I went to see a doctor for suspected low iron back in 2012, my doctor wasn’t entirely convinced my iron levels were the problem. (I was just running too much!! Of course I feel tired!!) Back then it was my own research that led me to the importance of ferritin and how ridiculously low my levels were. Athlete Blood Test determines athletes’ requirements, which are different than what a PCP may be used to, so this time the research was done for me.

My current lineup of "meds."
Glad to have an analysis that covered all of these.
Mistake #4: Not resting enough
One of the other benefits of the Athlete Blood Test is it tests a whole slew of things that a PCP might not. It turns out that I may also have been feeling sluggish because my testosterone levels are low while another hormone (sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG) levels are high. SHBG binds testosterone making it inactive, so when SHBG levels are high, there is less free testosterone and muscles have a harder time recovering.

The mistake here is in not resting enough. While I take a day off every week and try to go to sleep on time, I also cram my day full of activity, often up until the moment my “go the fudge to bed” alarm goes off. I do try to rest for 20 to 30 minutes during my daughter’s nap time but I feel guilty every time I do and am embarrassed to admit it, as if everyone will judge me that my stay at home mom/freelance writer gig is so easy I can lay down midday. (No one has ever said anything like that to my face, but that matters not a whit to that stupid guilt.)

Solution: Obviously, rest more. Get over the guilt, appreciate the time I have to relax and do less (read: stop trying to do all the things!) so I can actually have some relaxing time in the evening before bed. And then go the fudge sleep when that alarm goes off! (I can also focus on eating more healthy fats (something I’ve been doing more of in the last year but still can work to improve) and addressing low vitamin D levels (which, along with my also low B12, can be fixed with supplementation). But the main thing is that elusive work/life/training balance.)

My other prescription: more rest.
I’d venture to guess this is probably the most common of these mistakes and certainly the hardest for me to correct. The solution isn’t as easy as popping a pill (or three, my current lineup). It means reorganizing and reprioritizing my day so that I can fit in rest more; like maybe finding a way to sit down to catch my breath and eat breakfast after a tough morning workout, instead of scarfing it while standing up, doing the dishes, and assuring my daughter “I’ll play with you in one minute, sweetie!” Truthfully, I’m not sure how I’m going to carve out this time but I know that I need to. Because I didn’t really need a blood test to tell me I’m exhausted.

But it did, which turns out to be the push I needed.

So get that dang blood test.

Dream big,

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Race Report: Boston 2019

Going into Boston, my main goal was to negative split. Starting too fast at Boston bites you harder than on other courses, because the hills in the second half will make any slowing exponentially worse. The last two times I’ve run Boston (2013 and 2014), I fell apart around mile 15 and I didn’t want to repeat those performances. Even though it’s mentally hard to wrap your mind around trying to run faster on the part that’s more uphill, I knew that was the way to do it and was reassured by countless others.

But I also figured I needed some time goals as well, to keep me pushing when things got rough. Common advice is to have three goals: an A goal if it’s a perfect day, a B goal that’s more safe and realistic, and a C goal for when things gone wrong and you need something to keep you from throwing in the towel.

My training this season was frustrating and disappointing; I never hit the paces I wanted and knew a PR was not in the cards. My marathon pace workouts predicted a 2:42 marathon (6:12 pace) but based on results from other workouts, a half, and that I often did those marathon pace runs in less than ideal conditions (one in hail/snow, another when I was battling a cold), I knew I was in far better shape than when I actually ran 2:42 in 2014. I set 2:42 as my B goal and figured starting in the 6:10-6:15 range would be smart. Some of the workouts in the final weeks were faster than when I set my current PR of 2:39:08 at CIM and I thought on a great day I could squeeze under 2:40. Finally, my C goal was a 2:45, for no reason other than I needed a C goal that was more than just finish. I didn’t even really think about it. Surely I would get the C goal, which would be a big course PR. (My previous best at Boston was 2:52.)

Running in the elite women’s start—an opportunity I’ve never had before—was one of the things that made me most eager to run Boston again, despite the poor buildup. (I was frustrated with the lack of information about the elite women’s start so I've written a little bit about the minutia for anyone interested in running it in the future.) To some, there is an obvious downside to a women’s-only start, which takes off about thirty minutes before the masses: with only about sixty women and obviously no men, you may find yourself alone pretty early. But interestingly, it seems (to me) that it’s overwhelmingly men that mention that downside of women-only starts. (I also raced the women’s-only start at Cherry Blossom last spring and first noticed this phenomenon then.) One of my friends debated doing the elite start for that reason, but every other woman I talked to was either psyched to do it themselves or psyched for me. Personally, I mostly ignore the men I’m running near. Sometimes they are a helpful distraction (like at CIM), but I’m focused on keying off the women. I’m not sure if it’s because I subconsciously (a) don’t trust their pacing (there have been studies on this), (b) I feel both more camaraderie and competition with the women, or (c) I make excuses for myself and think they aren’t working as hard as I am. (I'm not alone in this.) At Pittsburgh and Richmond I ran alone for most of the way; I wasn’t scared to run alone at Boston. If anything, I told myself if I was alone the whole crowd would be cheering for me.

The elite experience started with getting on a bus around 7 am for the drive from downtown to Hopkinton. It was POURING rain when we left. People were reassuring each other that the forecast said it was going to stop, but I personally was telling myself I’d rather have rain than the predicted warmer conditions. We were dropped off by a church near the starting line and all hung out in the church’s gymnasium. The pros were given mats and prime spaces along the walls; they put their feet up (Lindsay Flanagan), listened to music (Desi), stretched. There was also some space upstairs to hide away or do drills (Jordan). The rest of us sat in folding chairs in the middle (and were also offered yoga mats to stretch on).

Behind the church was an alley about a hundred meters long we could warm up on, out and back, over and over. My usual warmup (taken straight out of Advanced Marathoning) is five minutes of jogging, a couple minutes of drills and stretching, and then another five minutes ending with thirty seconds at goal pace. I’m not sure I did that as I felt ridiculous trying to fly by Jordan, Sara Hall (and her husband Ryan), and the other pros who were jogging (slower than me and for longer). The turning around also made it hard to get in a rhythm, but I felt whatever I did was fine.

About 15 minutes before the start they lined us up by number. We walked outside and it was… sunny?!? A couple women ahead of me asked the volunteers for their bags to get sunglasses, I just ducked back in the church and grabbed mine. Some people mentioned how warm it was (I was totally comfortable in what is roughly the size of a bikini) but I tried, pretty successfully, to ignore them. (This is strikingly similar to my thoughts at the start of my last Boston.)

We did a few strides off the line (don’t run into Des!) and then they did the introductions, told us we had maybe 30 seconds left, and then bang! No “ready, set, go.” Just the gun. Which surprised me into laughing, leading to a big smile right off the line.

All smiles at the start. Photo credit: @bostonmarathon
When I’ve watched the elite women’s start in the past, I’ve often been shocked at how slowly the leaders go out, shouting, “6:15 pace! I could do that!” at my TV. I’d hoped they’d start slowly again so I could enjoy an unbelievable moment in the lead pack, but they seemed to take off right away. (Post-race editor’s note: they ran a 5:47, not that fast for them, but too fast for me.) I let them go, along with seemingly everyone else. I wasn’t trying to start fast, I was trying to run smart. I hit the mile in 6:12: Perfect.

When I mentioned my goal of starting at 6:10-6:15 to one of my Oiselle teammates, she mentioned her friend (“a solid pacer”) was doing the same. I immediately forgot the woman’s name, but remembered she had red hair. After a couple miles, I was in a pack of four women knocking off 6:10 miles and realized I was right behind a redhead and she was pacing solidly. She also sort of reminded me of my friend Kate. Honestly, I have no idea why exactly (her strength and positivity, the encouragement she was sharing?) but as soon as I had the thought, I grabbed onto it: Just out for a long run with Kate! Then I decided the tall blonde on the other side reminded me of my friend Lindsay, for no reason other than that Lindsay is also tall and blonde and the three of us running together (Kate, Lindsay and me) would be perfectly logical in another time and place. It was a serious stretch by even a mid-race marathoner’s imagination, but it gave me something to think about. (Maybe that’s a creepy thing to do, to compare strangers to your running friends, but I say do whatever makes running marathons easier.)

With a small pack at the 10K.
After 10K our group split up a bit, but I tried to stick with Fake Kate. (Editor’s note: her real name is Cait.) By 15K (9.3 miles) I had fallen back and Fake Kate had caught another woman (who reminded me of Deena Kastor; again, please excuse my delusional mid-race impressions) and the two of them were working together. My mile 10 was a hair slower than we’d been running (6:15), so I knew they weren’t dropping the pace, I had just slowed. It wasn’t hard yet, I just lost contact at a water stop and needed to focus a bit more. But I also told myself to reel them in slowly. It was slow progress, but by the time we hit the Wellesley scream tunnel (mile 12.5) I was nearly back on them. The twelfth mile was too fast (6 flat), though it has some downhill and I don’t remember thinking much about it at the time. Either I didn’t notice the split or I just didn’t dwell on it. I thought I hit the half a hair ahead of 6:10 pace, which surprised me as I had been sure my slowing around miles 9 and 10 had been costlier. (Editor’s note: I was actually exactly on 6:10 pace, so not sure why I thought we were ahead. The clocks had switched to the men’s time at mile 8, so I was looking at my watch from then on and apparently got confused.)

Just after Wellesley (mile 12.5) (Thanks for the photo, Ashley Fizzarotti!) 
It’s okay, I’m still on it! It’s going exactly according to my plan. I always have patches of wanting to drop out and these thoughts came and went from about mile 9 on. Was I going to make it? But I told myself it was just unwarranted fear, it was going to get hard. But it wasn’t hard yet. I wasn’t even tired. If I drop out now, it will be a waste of all this energy I still have to give. Halfway done and still perfectly fine.

My plan had been to pick it up at the half and I expected that was Fake Deena and Fake Kate’s plan too, based on something I overheard just before I joined them back in the early miles. Sure enough, even though I picked it up, I dropped back further. I hoped to get back alongside them before the hills started, but it wasn’t happening.

Mile 15 was slow (6:20) for no reason I can remember, mile 16—with lots of downhill—was fast (5:59). I don’t remember seeing either of those times on my watch, I guess I just let those miles roll off my back. But I did stop looking at my watch entirely soon after mile 17. One of my pre-race plans was to ignore the watch in the later stages since a slow time would be discouraging and a fast one might scare me into slowing down (something that I think happened at Rock n Roll DC). The 17th mile (6:23) actually seems not so bad for going uphill (the first of the infamous four Newton hills), but I decided it was time to stop looking at my watch.

[Editor's note/post-race analysis: Whether ignoring my watch was smart or not, I’m not sure. I wanted to run more by feel, not berating myself, but I’ve never done this before for a reason. A slow mile can make you feel like it’s all unraveling and there’s no hope left… or it can keep you honest and be a kick in the briefs when you need it.

When I stopped looking at my watch it seemed like I was abandoning all my goals, but actually I feel like I had already given up on them. I’m not sure why, I was running pretty much according to plan. Even if I didn’t pick it up enough to achieve my A goal, I was still on pace for my B goal through at least 30K (18.6 miles). But maybe I didn’t really care much about my B goal; maybe when the A goal seemed out of reach I gave up. Maybe when the gap to Fake Deena and Fake Kate seemed unsurmountable (early in the hills) I gave up. Looking back now, it seems like what I've written before applied: it’s only after you tell yourself you can’t that it becomes true. I told myself I couldn't do it, and although I was still on pace at that point, suddenly I couldn't keep it up anymore. Nothing was actually wrong, I just didn’t have the fight. When is it accepting it’s not your day and when is it plain giving up?]

One thing that always keeps me going is my family. I felt bad that I was giving up: They came all this way to cheer just to watch me run poorly? I wanted to give them something more to celebrate. But the ready-to-give-up, apathetic part of me tried to take the pressure off with the popular reminder: No one cares as much about your running as you. As my family would reassure me later, they had a blast cheering me on as part of the elite field, a new experience for them as well. In the moment, I told myself that I would at least finish for them. (Editor’s note: That seemed good enough then, but of course it doesn’t now. Jasyoga has a race day meditation that says, “Don’t bargain with yourself.” I definitely bargained. Finishing was fine.)

Blowing kisses to mile family, around mile 17.
On my way to the finish, I’d enjoy the elite experience. The crowds were amazing. As predicted, being all alone—while not ideal—meant everyone was cheering for me, yelling Burrell when they saw my bib or “head up, wings out!” when they saw my Oiselle kit. Whenever someone yelled for Teal, it was extra special because I knew that person actually knew me, and I tried to give them a small wave. (As the race progressed, these waves got smaller and smaller until they were nonexistent on Beacon St. Sorry to everyone in the last 10K! You guys were truly amazing!)

Mile 19.5 (Thanks @perfectine!)

Through the hills, I tried to keep my eyes on whoever was in front of me. I told myself I’m good on hills and there’s lots of flats in this section. I was trying to count the hills, but I couldn’t tell if I had hit the third one yet (Did that little uphill count as hill #3 or was it just a blip?) which seems dumb now given the elevation chart. But I felt like the first three hills came bang bang bang and then I was just waiting for Heartbreak. Is there another one before it?? (Whether or not abandoning my watch was smart, I’m glad I didn’t look at my Heartbreak split because it was incredibly slow, 6:56!! Again, it makes me wonder now how much I was really trying at that point.) I think I caught a couple people here and was surprised no one caught me, until…

The lead men did. And… OMG SCOTT FAUBLE IS LEADING!! I freaked out. I’ve been a big fan of Fauble’s since reading Inside a Marathon. (If you are a running nerd who likes the nitty gritty of training for a marathon—and if you’re reading this tome of a race report I assume you are—definitely check it out.) I was so pumped he was leading, I nearly tripped myself. I screamed for him, though we were coming through Boston College at the time and OMG AN AMERICAN IS LEADING and it was SO LOUD that I was sure he couldn’t hear me. People later told me I made it on the TV broadcast (I assume the WBZ one; I watched the NBC one and they cut away) and I would love to see what my freak out looked like, because it was genuine excitement in the middle of pure exhaustion. Honestly, this was probably my favorite part of the race. I couldn’t believe it. (Fauble would finish in 7th in a huge PR.)

What seemed like a little while later (but probably wasn’t), Jared Ward and another male passed me. We were in a much quieter section (nicknamed Cemetery Mile) so when I screamed “Go Jared” he actually heard me and gave me a thumbs up. (He would finish 8th, 16 seconds behind Fauble.)

Not long after, we turned onto Beacon St. My family was there cheering and, as predicted, the crowds were absolutely insane from the turn onto Beacon to the finish. I was still avoiding my watch, telling myself to run as fast as possible to the finish, but it was really more like: Just get to the finish. I caught a few more women and again was surprised no women passed me (I think?). By mile 24 I felt like I was going to throw up, which was karma because earlier in the race I had almost wished I was sick; If I have to pull over to puke at least it will be an excuse for why I’m running crappy. Now I was so close I just wanted to finish. I did throw up a bit in my mouth (TMI? This whole post is TMI…) but managed to avoid anything worse. (Editor’s note: My stomach was messed up for about 36 hours after this race and I couldn’t eat my typical post-race burger and beer, something that’s never happened to me before.) The last elite water stop was at 40K (1.25 miles to go) and I almost got my bottle just to wash the taste out of my mouth, then I thought, Screw it I am so close. Just finish this thing.

Turning onto Beacon St. (Mile 22.5)
At a mile to go, I finally looked at my watch and tried to calculate if a sub-2:45 (my C goal) was still possible. I had assumed it was, but had zero evidence. Turns out I was cutting it pretty close but it seemed doable, so I kept trying to push to the finish. Yuki (last year’s men’s winner) flying by took me by surprise and nearly knocked me over, I had no idea he was coming. Ritz followed, clearly struggling as he didn’t immediately leave me in the dust. (I mean he did, but it wasn’t as ridiculously fast as expected.) Finally, finally, finally, I made the right on Hereford and left on Boylston, checking my watch to be sure sub-2:45 would still happen. I wish I had thought to try to beat my Pittsburgh time, but finished about ten seconds slower in 2:44:45.

Finishing. (Photo credit: Michael Scott)
The final perk of the elite start: a finish line tent just for us. (Though the pros went straight to the host hotel for press conferences and pee checks.) I caught up with teammates and sat around trying to get my stomach to calm down, while watching the sweat continue to pour off. I wasn’t distraught, as I have been the last two times I’ve finished Boston way off my goal. In fact, the only other time I didn’t cry after a non-PR marathon (with the exception of my post-partum return) was the 2016 Trials. The Trials are a good comparison; they were miserably hot and I gave up on any hopes of a decent time early on, instead trying to enjoy the privilege of being there. In Boston, I experienced a similar apathy towards my poor showing, while the prestige of the elite start and constant cheers carried me through. It’s not my day, but I’m going to enjoy the fact I get to be here and how far I’ve come.

Another perk of Boston: getting to see, meet,
and run with so many Volée and Haute Volée teammates! 
Also, while the day was nowhere near 2016 Trials hot, it was warm and humid, not my favorite conditions to run in. (In fact, close to my least favorite. I would have preferred rain.) Many people struggled with the conditions and as I said a million times before the race to the annoyance of probably everyone around me, temperatures in the 60s feel a lot worse in April, after training in freezing temperatures, than in October when you’re acclimated. Add in the fact that the race starts later than most and conditions that don’t look that bad on paper become a lot worse. I didn’t initially blame the conditions, but I felt better when other people noted they were far from ideal. (Though I did benefit from starting earlier and getting my own water bottles, so I could, and did, drink to my heart and stomach’s content. Well, possibly more than my stomach's content...) I was sweatier and more salt-encrusted than I've been in a long time. Maybe I can just blame the warmth and humidity! But no, I think it was me mentally giving up more than anything else. I went out at a pace that seemed like negative splitting was possible. But I gave up on myself way too easily, on the race and on the whole frustrating season, just wanting to get through it and put it behind me.

Writing this a week later has brought up some of those emotions that the amazing Boston crowds managed to suppress. Every marathon is an opportunity to do something special and I feel like I wasted this one. I tell myself I’m tougher than what I showed on Monday, and this performance gives the doubts a little more ammo: “Yea, well maybe you’re not that tough.” On the other hand, I put a lot into my training and something just wasn’t there this time around. While I don’t think this race represented even the work I was able to put in, at least now I can take the time to assess why training didn’t go that well and learn from any mistakes I made. (Starting with getting my iron levels checked and taking a more significant break than after CIM.) Also, I know from past experience that the races that leave me the most disappointed and frustrated are also the ones that lead to the biggest breakthroughs. So watch out, Atlanta.

Like the 2016 Trials, I can’t say I enjoyed every moment. It was demoralizing and, yes, heartbreaking. But it was also truly special to be part of the elite start, to have the crowds screaming wildly, to be part of the Oiselle team, to finish what I still refer to (no matter how many times it breaks my heart; the count is now 3 out of 5) as my favorite marathon. So while I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, I did—and will—treasure it.

Dream big,

Elite Women's Start at Boston

In the past, the elite women’s start at Boston has been a little shrouded in mystery; it seemed like you needed to know someone who knew someone to get in. After the 2018 debacle where women in the mass start beat women in the elite start, Boston tried to make it a little more obvious about how to get in (so they could put their foot down on the rule that only those in the elite start can win prize money). I still found information a little lacking, so here’s a bit more about my experience for those interested in running it in the future, especially the Type A folks like myself who need all the info upfront. Though perhaps next year things will run more smoothly!

The 2019 Elite Start.
Photo credit: @bostonmarathon

First and foremost: if you qualify, DO IT. (Read my race report for more about what a special experience it is.)

I signed up in September and paid my registration. Later (in December) a friend of mine was given free entry for running under 2:42. I didn’t know about that possibility in September and was worried if I didn’t sign up with everyone else I would have no way in, so I went ahead and paid. (Sarah Sellers also famously paid her entry to the 2018 race, where she finished 2nd and won $75,000.) I would probably pay the $200 again just for the assurance of being able to run, no matter whether the rules changed down the line.

Within a few days of registering, I emailed the address listed on the site (which said to contact to express interest and get more info). I emailed again when I ran a new PR in December and again when a new email address appeared on the site over the winter. Friends assured me my time would be good enough, but I didn’t hear anything until I took to Twitter in March after Women’s Running posted an article saying Boston was letting all OTQs in. I found it frustrating they were advertising that but not telling the athletes if we were in or not. We were officially notified on April 2.

So don't freak out if you don't hear back for a long time, but--although I realize I seem crazy for emailing so much--I definitely suggest you tell them your interest early on. Another friend waited to email until March and wasn’t initially accepted (despite an OTQ) until some women dropped out.

This year, Boston offered elite fluids to the top 40 women and top 40 men. (There were about 60-70 in each field.) You won’t know if you are in that group until the email in early April, so if you think you are borderline, I’d suggest training with what’s on the course (Gatorade Endurance).

The elite field gets special busses that leave from downtown. In the past I’ve stayed farther out and driven to the busses at Hopkinton State Park, but wasn’t sure if I would be able to access the elite holding area if I didn’t come on the elite bus. It turns out you don’t need to take the elite busses, but as a friend learned, the other busses don’t have the same time constraints (after all, everyone else on those busses has an extra 30 minutes) and making the early start can be tight.

The elite host hotel is the Fairmont Copley Plaza. If you can find/can afford a room there, take it. Bib pickup, water bottle drop off, the mandatory technical meeting (on Sunday afternoon), and the busses to the start are all at that hotel so it will help immensely. (I stayed super close by but was still concerned about all the walking back and forth I was doing.)

If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Race Report: Rock-n-Roll DC 2019

The main problem with the Road to Gold race being a confidence buster was that the very next weekend I had the Rock-n-Roll DC half marathon on tap, which I originally hoped would be a PR attempt. It came a little earlier in the season than last fall’s half PR but in January, in my optimistic, goal-writing state, that didn’t matter. Road to Gold would be a stepping stone to tell me I could handle that pace at the half.

But when that race went south, I wasn’t left with much to go on. The first part of Road to Gold was the only time I held sub-6 minute pace for longer than a mile all season, and after that I completely fell apart. So going out faster than 6-minute pace for the half seemed dumb. I figured a decent plan was to start around 6:00 until the big hill just after mile 6, then try to cut it down or do whatever I could at that point. With that kind of start I’d need to run sub-5:50 from halfway to the finish to PR, and I couldn’t convince myself that was possible. (My PR is 1:17:26, 5:54 pace.) So “whatever I can do”  became the vague goal that let me off the hook a little. It was a telling sign my confidence was shot.

The trouble is, when I’m not going for a PR, my mental game suffers. I’m in this nebulous zone where I don’t know what would be a good effort on the day or whether I’m giving myself excuses from the start and cutting myself too much slack. And in the final miles of a race, it’s really hard not to have a tangible goal to grasp on to/to pull you forward. But without any real idea of where I was, I had no better plan.

The weather was basically perfect. Once again, a bunch of ladies passed me in the first mile. I tried to not care and let them go—do NOT start too fast—but still hit the mile in 5:52. I had thought top three was possible, but I was in maybe seventh or eighth place at that point. Let them go, maybe they’ll come back to me on or after the hill. A guy nearby asked his friend if a pack of ladies just ahead of me was going for the Trials standard. No way, I thought. But then my stupid doubts came up: could they be? (The standard is sub-1:13 and if they were I would definitely eat my Twitter words.) I definitely can’t stay with them then. Am I in over my head at this pace? (But no, they definitely were not. Rock-n-Roll DC has never had those kind of times.)

But I found a pack of two women I knew and we started hitting 6 flats, so I was running according to plan. I was still mentally questioning myself way too much for so early in a race, but I told myself to stay with the women and work with them. It’s early still. I’m not hurting, I’m just letting doubts and fear in for no reason.

I tried to relax until we got to the hill, which I felt like we crawled up: are my legs even moving?? But the two women I was with dropped back a bit so maybe I survived it slightly better. I passed another woman before the next mile marker and was starting to feel more positive. My split for the hill mile was 6:23, but I knew from the past that although I often lose 20-30 seconds in that mile, I make it up on the downhills later on.

The next section rolls a bit and I tried to embrace the hills. (I’m a strength runner! Hills are my jam!) I felt strong and saw my sister who told me in was in fifth. I saw a ponytail ahead and thought I could surely reel her in.

Around mile 10. Photo by Caitlyn Tateishi.
Just after mile 8, Shauneen, one of the women I had been running with earlier, caught me. We had run together on GRC so I knew how tough she is. I tried to stay with her and was shocked when I actually could. I was telling myself the hills were helping me more (not sure why I thought this, maybe because I originally dropped her on the biggest hill) and that bold assertion helped me stay with her. We dropped a 5:50 on a rolling ninth mile and were back on 6-flat pace. But just before the tenth mile marker and the biggest downhill, I let her go. I think I got scared of the pace or gave myself the excuse that the downhill would help her more. This is my biggest regret of the race, because I had been surprised when I didn’t immediately let her go at mile 8, that I was capable of staying with her and it wasn’t killing me. But eventually I let fear get the better of me. Mile 10 was a 5:42. (That mile has the most downhill, but that’s probably the fastest split I’ve run in any race ever.) I watched Shauneen reel in the woman in front of her and was confident I could get her too.

The countdown began: just get to the spot where Husband and Daughter are cheering (mile 10.5). Ok, big cheer, lots of love, check. Now get to Cowbell Corner (mile 11.5). Lots more love, lots more cheering (the Oiselle team is LOUD y’all), check. There’s a slight uphill there, as my Oiselle teammate Courtney had reminded me, and while I definitely felt it, I still felt strong. Until all of a sudden, I didn’t. I was tying up left and right and struggling to keep it together. My split for mile 12 (after four solid miles) was a 6:09, the second slowest of the day.

Mile 11.5. Photo by Caitlin Kovalkoski

I could hear cheers for Jenny, the other woman I had supposedly vanquished back on that big hill and knew she was close. She caught me but once again I surprised myself by not immediately letting her go. The tying up from the last mile eased a little bit and, while I can’t remember what exactly I was thinking during this section, it was basically just: don’t let Jenny go. Stay with her. We ran basically side by side for the last mile, until the final curve up a hill when I started sprinting and was surprised I could actually manage it. I held off Jenny, but didn’t catch the woman ahead. She seemed too far gone, but she was actually just 2 seconds ahead, the same distance I put on Jenny. My other regret: I should have started sprinting earlier. (My last 1.1 was 5:46 pace.)

I finished in 1:18:13 and sixth place. It’s my second fastest half and a course PR, but it felt… just okay. It was certainly better than the previous week’s race (I ran a faster pace for 5 miles longer) but it was far from where I wanted to be at this point. I had hoped to run the full marathon at close to that pace in just five weeks. That doesn’t seem possible now. Is a PR even possible? I’m not sure. Like I said above, I really struggle in the no-man’s-land of not going for a PR. I just have no desire to go into a marathon, having done all this work, without the intention of going for it. So the realization starting to dawn on me really began to bum me out.

But the weekend’s activities were far from over: there was brunch with the Oiselle team, dinner and drinks with GRC friends and babies, and on Sunday morning I got to go to an event at Summit to Soul, a woman-owned specialty store in DC. They recently launched a partnership with Oiselle which means you can now buy more #flystyle there than anywhere in the country, besides Oiselle’s flagship store in Seattle. (So if you’re in DC, I highly recommend you check it out. And if you live in DC, join them for their weekly Wednesday night runs!) I gave a talk about my running journey and how big I dared to dream, how much I had to believe in myself and how far I’ve come because of that dreamy ambition. I tried to stress that God has given all of us so more much potential than we know, because I truly believe that.

Talking at Summit to Soul. Photo by Samantha Giordano Kim.
… Maybe it was a talk I needed to hear myself. Maybe my early season goals were a little far-fetched (shocker, I know), maybe the odds are long, but all I can do is my best in the remaining workouts and then spend the taper as I always do: trying to shore up belief in myself, my training, and that it will all come together on April 15.

Dream big,