Niantic Bay 10k & The High Cost of a PR

I went into the Niantic Bay 10k unsure of myself. My previous PR from last summer was a 43:53, but I felt that I probably had a 43:00 10k in me somewhere. But then again, I’ve been taking the last month super easy, just jogging along waiting for my next training cycle to start.  My best friend, who also entered the race, was in the same boat, and we took on the event as a pop quiz or place marker to test out our fitness levels and give ourselves an idea on where to start in the next couple of weeks. Due to lack of speed training and heat, I wanted to aim for 7:00 miles and basically went in with a come-what-may attitude. That is, until I got there.

The race parking, registration, and start line were at McCook Point Park, overlooking the Sound.  It was a nice little spot; very pretty, very sunny, a bit warm, but thankfully no wind.  The course was an out and back that ran through residential areas along the beach & was for the mostly flat.  I arrived with the kids to register about an hour or so before the start time & watched as runners milled about.  I couldn’t tell who was fast and who was running for fun.  I was trying to scope out the female competition, but I really couldn’t tell. Everyone looked fast to me.  My husband showed up a little while later and took the kids to play on the beach while my friend and I did some warm ups and found positions on the start line.  I felt rather conspicuous since I walked right up to the line while the rest of the field stood back several paces.  It seemed that everyone was too humble to start up front and I was coming off as cocky.  Finally a teenager and few others stepped up with us.  The gun went off and we all started to run.

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But I got excited and went out a bit fast.  Okay, I went out a lot fast.  I knew I was moving a bit too quickly, but there was a teenager on my left shoulder and I felt the need to shake her.  When I tried to settle into the pace, she would nudge my elbow.  It’s one thing to be drafted from, it’s another to be pushed.  I didn’t like that someone was trying to push the pace.  I was also annoyed at her close proximity.  It was a large open road and a relatively small field; there was no need for her to be jostling for position as if we were bottle-necking in a cross country race!  I blazed through the first mile in a cool six minutes and she backed off a bit.  Without the kid’s nudging and heavy breathing, I was able to settle into a fairly comfortable 6:35 pace.  It felt quick, but the effort wasn’t so overwhelming that I couldn’t hang on to it.  I could hear breathing and foot falls behind me, and guessed that it was another female, but didn’t dare look back.  That was rule number one my high school coach instilled in me: Never Look Back.  I trucked along happily in 4th place behind three other men.

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The half way point was a blessing.  I felt as if I’d been climbing up hill for three miles and was welcoming a return down hill to coast for a bit.  But of course, it only felt like an up hill.  In actuality it was all flat.  We turned and headed back to the park, but I was afraid of losing steam.  “Just a 5k more,” I kept telling myself.  I was afraid of slowing down, but every time I glanced at my watch  I was relieved to see that I was indeed holding the pace.  At four miles the breathing and footsteps revealed that it was indeed a second female.  She passed me and a part of me was thankful to no longer be responsible for holding the lead. I was holding this quicker pace a lot longer than I thought I could, so I might be able to stick with her a bit longer.  She trotted on ahead and I stayed comfortably a few strides behind.

I was tired, I was thirsty, I was very hungry, but I was doing well and despite a side cramp, felt very good with the race.  I was going to break my PR and then some!  I was too cocky though.  In the midst of congratulating myself on such a great run at mile five I felt my hamstring slide.  It was an odd sensation, like rolling an ankle but near my buttocks, followed by burning pain with each stride.  I could no longer safely maintain my pace like this.  I slowed to a 6:45, then 7:00.  At 7:20 pace I felt doomed.  Then I heard her coming.  The teenager with her gangly stride and pointy elbows ran past.  Damn.  I knew I wasn’t going to pass her back — she had this one — but I was determined to keep her in sight.  I hobbled up to the finish, keeping the best form I could.  I really had no choice but to accept 3rd place.

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I came through the finish chute to the glorious sounds of cheers and bag pipes.  I had never been so glad to reach a finish line.  I was the third female and seventh overall finisher.  I may have not won the race, but I did walk away with an awesome personal best; 42:16!!  I saw the physical therapist at the finish line who congratulated me on my accomplishment, then strongly urged for me to call a PT on Monday.  She poked around, found some tight, sore spots in my psoas muscle and gently stretched some of the tightness away.  I ran a stupid race and I paid dearly for it. I knew this right away.  I could have achieved a PR, possibly even the same finish time, but with less pain if I had run smarter.  This was supposed to be a test to assess my fitness level, not an all out sprint for six miles.  I don’t know what I was trying to prove or to whom, but here I am.  Now I’ve got some repairing to do before I can even think about my next training cycle.

At least I learned something, right?

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The Not-So-Bad-After-All Race: Toronto Marathon Part 2

To say that I was nervous about running the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon would be an understatement. The race was five days ago and my stomach still flip-flops when I think about it! I was a hot mess of nerves leading up to the event. Basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, which wasn’t helping my state of mind at all.

But I knew that focusing on the negative (like getting lost in the middle of Toronto and running for two hours instead of twenty minutes the day before a big race) wasn’t going to help me achieve my goal, so I did what I could to turn what I could into positives, even if it meant lying to myself. The weather forecast continued to predict nasty weather: cold, wind, rain, a possibility of snow flurries. I carried on about how great this was. I loved foul weather! The worse the sky was, the better I’d run. I looked forward to getting wet. (NOT!) I was on day 28 of my cycle, but this was really a good thing. I always feel a huge tension release once my period starts, so this was perfect timing. (NOT!) The start line was a full 45 minute drive from where we were staying. That meant I had all that time to sit in a warm cozy van – maybe even more time if there was traffic on the freeway. That had to be better than standing in a starting corral freezing, right?

Deep breaths, Mazy.

On Saturday, my family walked from our rented condo on Hanna Avenue to the Enercare Centre where the Expo was taking place. We were running a full hour behind schedule since I had gotten a bit lost on my run, so we missed meeting up with our friends who had also come from CT and were running the marathon as well. Because we were late, we went through the Expo ourselves. Packet pick-up was a little awkward. Before entering the arena I was halted by a kid with a tablet & required to fill out information like my name, address, phone number. It turned out I was signing up for some sort of raffle for a free gym membership. I tried to explain that we were from the States and it was unnecessary – even if I won I wouldn’t be able to accept it, but the kid just kept taping on the tablet. Fine. I was entered. And now I have to figure out how to unsubscribe from these Emails.

There weren’t a whole lot of people at the Expo, so there wasn’t even a line to get my bib. And I was surprised I didn’t have to identify myself in any way. In previous marathons I’ve always had to present a picture ID when picking up my packet. But, the part I found most strange about the ordeal was that I then had to take my bib, walk to the far end of the expo center and have another set of people “activate” it. Now, perhaps this was to make participants walk through the Expo and see the vendors, or perhaps the coordinators were expecting more of a crowd. Either way, those handing out the bibs could very easily have had the device to activate bibs in the same location and done it all right there, causing less confusion (and fewer personnel).  Also, the table handing out T-shirts could have also been located in the same spot for convince sake.

Anyway…like I said, there was certainly an underwhelming crowd in the expo center and very few vendors. It was the same basic stuff seen at all running expos with the same persistent non-runners attempting to hawk their Made-In-China It’s-On-Sale-Only-For-Today crap.  There are a few running related things I’ve been on the lookout for (a visor, foamy slip on sandals, a tank with pockets) but either no such things existed or they were fresh out of my size. Ah well. We were about to walk out with nothing but a bunch of promotional postcards when I saw her; Kathrine Switzer!

She was standing behind a table with a blown up copy of her iconic photograph from the 1967 Boston Marathon. She was chatting to a lady as she signed books. Books! My other weakness!! My husband immediately started fishing around in his pocket for the Canadian bills and I excitedly waited my turn.  She signed my copy and shook my hand. She gave me advice for the following day. She was just so pleasant! Then she told me to come around the table so she could take a picture with me.  She then gave me a hug and told me she knew I’d do well. And suddenly, for the first time in weeks, I knew it too.

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So we spent the rest of the day attempting to relax and fighting off the excitement that was building. I continued to guzzle down Gatorade and water. I ate an early supper of pork chops and pasta (the same pre-race meal I’ve been eating for the past 20 years), and went to bed super early.  Well, I laid down super early. I didn’t sleep, like at all.  I was too excited, too nervous, too pumped.

I gave up trying to sleep at 4:30 am and got up, made the terrible hotel room coffee, mixed up instant oatmeal with a crunchy granola that tasted a bit like car exhaust. I swilled some more water. “A bottle in the belly!” I had to get down as much water before the race as I could since I had decided to forego the hydration pack after all. I was to meet my friends in the street at 6 am and we would drive up to the start together. I put together a pack of warm clothes and dry socks, face wipes, and granola bars for Hubs to bring to the finish line.  The skyline was just beginning to illuminate as I stepped outside. I was smacked in the face with a bitter, forceful gust of wind.

Shit. This was really going to suck.

Before long M and her husband had arrived in their rented van. J had already been waiting with me in the shelter of the main lobby.  There was next to no traffic this early on a Sunday morning, so we had zero issues getting to the other side of town.  Roads were blocked off and it was a little unclear where we needed to go. We got as close as we could to the start area and S pulled over at a Starbucks to let us out.  “Good luck!” he called as he merged back into traffic. The three of us stood a little stunned in the wind. We agreed that we would all have to pee several times in the next hour, so we headed into the coffee shop.

We wandered into Mel Lastman Square where a large building with ridiculous toilet lines kept runners shielded from the wind.  It was cold, but it looked like there would be breaks in the clouds, and it definitely wasn’t going to rain.  My friends were both checking bags, but I hadn’t brought much with me. I’d finish my water then toss the bottle in recycling before we headed to the start. I had on pants that I’d be okay losing, though M insisted I put them in her bag before checking it.  I wore a full zip jacket that I planned on wearing until after the gun went off to keep as warm as possible and tossing once we got going.  At 7:10 am the gear bags were loaded up on a big truck. We found a bathroom with no lines down a hall and ran to it.  Others caught on and like lemmings, a whole crowd of runners flocked down an obscure hall to a single stalled bathroom. At 7:20 am we made our way out to the start where the crowd buzzed. M and I had lost J in the bathroom melee, but he wasn’t seeded in the same corral as us anyway.  This was M’s first marathon, so we sought out the pace leaders together. She wanted to keep her eyes on 3:40, 3:50, and 4:00. My strategy didn’t involve a pace leader, simply my watch and breathing.

As the time drew near my fingers were getting stiff with cold. I decided to try carrying my gel flask (filled with maple syrup) in my shorts’ pocket instead of my hand so I could tuck my fingers into my shorts to warm them. I was wearing a pair of cheap thigh high socks with the feet cut off and thumb holes as arm warmers, but had no gloves for fear of losing them once I warmed up. My two side pockets were filled with packets of mashed sweet potato. I wasn’t carrying fluids, but there would be Gatorade and water every two to three kilometers along the course, and I was confident in my pre-race hydration.  My nerves melded with excitement as the crowd pushed in. It was almost time to go.

My plan was simple: Run an 8 min/mile pace, be prepared to slow on the hills as much as 24 seconds (miles 4 & 7 with some consideration for miles 15 & 22), start off conservative, take the down hill (miles 11 through 15), but don’t get carried away. Expect a wall somewhere between miles 18 & 20 and just do whatever you have to to get to the finish from there.  I would take fluid at every aid station that wasn’t over crowded and only focus on the shoulders of the runner ahead of me. I could do this. I could do this. I could do this.

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The gun sounded at 7:30 am and the crowd shuffled to the large, blow up arch over the starting mat. I waited to start my watch until I got to the timing mat, but in hindsight I should have hit the button right away. I started easy, comfortable. I was just behind a 3:30 group, but had already vowed to not be a part of it. Their chatter was already driving me nuts. The crowd of runners was dense, so dense that there was no way to rabbit out and run too fast. This, I conceded, was a good thing. Within a half mile I was quite warm and ditched my jacket by a lamp post. Discarded clothing was being collected for donation, so I’m happy to think that someone somewhere in Toronto is dressed in a sporty bright pink warm up jacket right now. I hope you like it, whoever you are!!  I was coming up on the first mile marker when I realized I didn’t feel an annoying bounce in my shorts. I reached back to find that my waist band lacked a particular bulge. I had dropped my flask of maple syrup! I stopped and looked frantically over the street, but there were too many people. I couldn’t find it and I didn’t dare go back against the crowd. Panic washed over me. I had 25 miles ahead of me and no fuel. The sweet potatoes were to ward off hunger in the last 8 miles or so. I’d never used them as actual fuel before. I began calculating how I’d break them up to make them last the rest of the way. I passed through the first mile mark 13 second ahead of schedule.

I pushed the fear of not fueling away and focused on getting through the race in three mile chunks. As mile four approached, the first hill, the pace group I kept behind began talking about how they could distract themselves from it. Sure, you could see the hill coming from a long ways off, but after training in Andover, this was nothing more than a gentle incline. But this group was afraid of it. I had no time for that kind of negativity and pushed past them. I finished up four miles in 31:08. Definitely ahead of schedule.

I got through mile 8 in an hour and a minute and started talking myself down from the pace. I was going too fast! At this rate I’d burn up, especially since I didn’t have any sugar for later on. I did still have my Electrolytes capsules and two more bee pollen tablets, so I popped one of each. I’d take more electrolytes in five more miles, and the other bee pollen when I began to hit a wall. If/when my pace slowed below the target pace I’d eat a packet of sweet potato. This was going to happen!

The down hill section was indeed fast.  The miles flew by, even though I attempted to hold back a little to keep from destroying my quads.

Mile 8 —   7:19
Mile 9 —   7:09
Mile 10 — 7:30
Mile 11 — 7:16
Mile 12 — 7:22

Yikes!!

I managed to get control of myself again at the half way mark and ticked through miles 13 & 14 at just under 8 min/miles. But then we entered the city. I stopped bothering with my watch because the buildings were throwing off the GPS pacing. It was also a wind tunnel and I was being blown all over the place. On a narrow street a man, who looked like my dad until I actually got up close to him, looked me right in the eye. “The 3:20 pace group just went by. I think you can catch up to them!” I was startled. I had ten more miles to go. I shouldn’t be moving this fast. I couldn’t do this. And yet, I totally was.

I drafted through the city off a young man who also admitted that he was running faster than what he’d trained for. He was from Ontario. “The wind might change when we get to the water,” he warned. A left and a right and we strode together into the park. My family was up ahead and I was so incredibly happy to see them. Because I was 8 minutes ahead of pace, they weren’t quite ready for me. They scrambled to the edge of the sidewalk and screamed and clanged bells as we passed, but Hubs never got a chance to get the camera ready. Next up was Nick’s family, who was equally as elated to see him and just as unprepared for his early arrival. But the kid was right. As we got closer and closer to the harbor, the wind became more and more unpredictable. He pushed on, but I decided to hold back. I wanted to focus on maintaining effort, not pace. And so far I was feeling like I was flying. This marathon was, at least so far, practically effortless.

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I ticked through the next few miles calmly and carefully. Maintain breathing. Maintain form. It’s all about the effort, Mazy. Hold….hold……………HOLD STEADY WOMAN! But when I saw the sign for mile 20 I got excited. I had a 10k left. And I’m good at 10ks. This also meant I had gotten through the rocky part, the part of the race where I usually fell apart. I hadn’t walked. I hadn’t stopped. I was still going! With five miles to go I was back to well under 8 min pace. With a 5k left I was pushing 7:30 pace. I WILL QUALIFY became a mantra on an endless loop in my brain. I was actually going to pull this off.

I felt the pain of the distance and all those miles on pavement when my watched bleeped the 24th mile. My calves began to cramp up and burn. But, unlike every other race, I did not despair. I could handle it for two more miles. Real pain took over at mile 25, but I was now moving even faster. I was down to a 7:20 pace and gaining speed. I passed Nick going up the hill along the freeway. “Hey, there you are!” he cheered as I came up alongside him. “Wow, you’ve got a kick! HOLY SHIT!” I grunted for him to come with me.  “Come on!” I started urging all the runners around me. “We are almost done!”

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I couldn’t help but smile. In fact, I was almost laughing. I was in pain. Wind was blowing hair in my mouth. I wanted to eat NOW. But I was running. I was doing the thing I love to do most and I was doing it so well. The cheering at the finish chute was like a tunnel of noise. I saw my family out of the corner of my eye, and like a corny movie, everything slowed down. The world stood still a moment as I moved as fast I could. I used up everything I had left in me and kept my eyes glued to the large clock over the finish line.

 

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Overwhelmed and fighting back a lump in  my throat, I staggered through the chute. Someone shook my hand. Someone was giving me a hug. Someone put a giant medal around my neck. Someone took my picture. Nick came in shortly behind me and I gave him a high-five. I had done it. I came with a goal, I came with a desire, I came prepared, and I had done it. I had qualified, at last. I was going to Boston.

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Setting Myself Up for a Bad Race: Toronto Marathon Part 1

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I began training for the Toronto Marathon shortly after the holidays with the goal of stepping myself closer to a BQ. I wanted to pull five more minutes off my time with the idea I could then, possibly, pull another five minutes off in the fall, hitting the qualifier. I’ve wanted a 3:30 marathon since college, but there was always one excuse after another as to why I wasn’t there yet. But finally, I was running without a looming pregnancy, without nursing, without injury. The only one holding me back was me — and not having excuses turned out to be scary in and of it’s self.

So the goal was a 3:35, but I wanted a 3:30, and I fanaticized (secretly of course) about a 3:28. I envisioned myself doing well, running strong, crossing the finish line with a kick and seeing on the clock that I had indeed done it! I trained with the idea that I would do it. And then I wrestled with the fear of disappointment.

And then, just as my training was winding down, things began to fall apart. I began to fall apart. My new shoes, despite having a hundred break-in miles, were continuing to cause pain and blisters. I didn’t have the money to purchase another pair and my back up had close to 500 miles.  I had been convinced in the store to purchase a pair they had in stock rather than what I had gone in for. I was told that the shoes I wanted wouldn’t stand up to a marathon distance and I needed a sturdier shoe. But I’m used to running in light, flexible shoes so these just never ended up working for me. Without a receipt, definitely worn, and past the 15 day return period, my never-take-no-for-an-answer husband was able to get the shoes replaced AND a store credit! But now I had less than a month to get these broken in & race ready. Plus, if these shoes didn’t work out, there was no time to replace them. This started the trickle of anxiety.

Three weeks before the race I began to slack on my workouts. I was tired and sore after every run and it was all I could do to get up in the mornings. With only two weeks left I was completely exhausted, only getting out of bed to put the kids on the bus, feed the animals, and then crawl back in to sleep. I was quickly losing weight and I had almost no appetite. I feared that I was suffering from over-training. I began to panic.  If I was really this tired, HOW could I ever get through the race? Suddenly a marathon seemed like the most daunting task in the world and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it, let alone come anywhere close to my 3:35 time. I could rest, but not training didn’t seem like an option either. I altered the remainder of my training so that threshold runs and intervals were to be run at race pace (8:00 min/mile) and everything else was to be run at 9:00 min miles.  I cut nearly every workout in half and took it incredibly easy. If I nipped it in the bud, perhaps full on fatigue could be kept at bay and I could pull this thing off anyway.

I carbo-loaded. I hydrated. I worked on gaining weight and sleeping. I cleaned my house like a mad woman to keep my mind off running. My darling children brought home a stomach bug that kept me confined to the bathroom for far too long. I was now terrified of running. I so badly wanted to do well, but I just wasn’t catching a break. Finally, with just a few days to go, I began to feel like a normal person again. But my nerves were already frayed.

On the long drive from Connecticut to Toronto I couldn’t help but think of the things I did wrong. I had greatly slacked on strength training. I’d lost a lot of weight and feared what that could mean for the distance. I ran a lot of workouts much too fast. I ran a lot of workouts much too slow. My longest training run was only 22 miles and I had only done it once in the whole training cycle. In fact, all of my weekly mileage was fairly low. Then I started second guessing myself. Maybe I should wear a different singlet. Maybe I should just wear long sleeves. Maybe I don’t really need my hydration pack. Maybe I’ll fall apart without it. Then something terrible happened.

The day before the marathon I went out for an easy 20-30 minute jog before meeting up with my friends and family at the Expo Center for packet pick up.  We had walked around the city a great deal the two days before, so I felt confident leaving my phone at the condo. I ran loops around the convention centers and up and down the streets until I ran into a gate. I needed to get through the gate to head back to where we were staying, but a highway and lack of sidewalks was on the other side. How exactly had I gotten here? I had crossed a narrow bridge, so all I had to do was get back to it, keeping the CN Tower on my left and a billboard advertising a beer on my right. Unfortunately, every time I looked up, I either couldn’t see the billboard or the CN Tower was on my right. It got truly terrifying once the Tower ended up directly behind me.

I kept getting stuck on the wrong streets. I stopped and asked directions several times and people either had no idea where Liberty Street was, or they sent me in the opposite direction.  Everyone was very nice to me, but also very wrong. As time clicked by and my watch continued to beep mile markers at me, I became more and more afraid. It was very cold, very damp, and very windy. I knew that being exposed to these elements for this long wasn’t going to me any good. Plus, running this far on pavement the day before a marathon was probably not ideal.

When I made it to the harbor I was nearly in tears. I knew this wasn’t where I should be, and I had no idea how far I had to go and whether I needed to head east or west. I found a streetcar map, but it only showed the train’s route, not all the streets and where I needed to go was not on any route. I was cold, wet, and very hungry. I was frustrated and scared. A woman approached and with a thick Scottish brogue asked if I was all right. I explained that I wasn’t from Toronto and that I needed to get back to Liberty Street. And no, I didn’t have a phone with me, and yes, my husband was probably freaking out by now (and I had his keys so he couldn’t even come looking for me).  She held an umbrella over me as she carefully and patiently explained where I needed to go. And man, once I saw familiar streets again I was beyond elated. I got back to the condo having run more than ten and a half miles!

Now my fear from being lost dissolved into anger at myself. I knew I had screwed up my race. I was stupid to have run in a new place without a phone or a predetermined route. With everything else I had messed up along the way, this was the final excuse to ensure I wouldn’t be able to do it. I still wanted that 3:35, but I was very disappointed that I was going to have to work that much harder for it in the morning.

I went to bed grumpy and hardly slept at all.

Chicken Run: A Hen Trophy For Kim

This past weekend my family headed over to the Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT for their 4th Annual Chicken Run. It was a small, local event with just under 200 finishers for the 5K. I’ve been attempting to get in all the nearby races, but this one has slipped by me for the past 3 years for one lousy reason or another. So, I made sure to register early–and by doing so, I got a discount! A quarter mile kids’ race was also available, so I signed up all 3 of my kiddos. I think they were more excited than I was.

 

We had lovely weather for race day; sunny, no wind, and a cool 40 degrees. The kids’ race went off at 8:30am. It wasn’t the promised quarter mile, though. Judging by my children’s times (all in under a minute), I’d say it wasn’t even an eighth of a mile. Ah well, at least the kids had fun!

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The 5K went off at 9:00am. This gave me a decent amount of time to warm up, change clothes, and walk over to the start line, which was oddly nowhere near the registration tables. The majority of the race course took place on sidewalks through residential areas, with about a mile on a bike path. I figured it would be over fields and well, the farm, but it didn’t even start on the farm property.  There were a few nearly 90 degree right turns that were less than ideal on the knees and a surprise hill on mile 3 that didn’t do well for my pacing. I hung back from the lead pack in fourth and gave up my placing to only one other runner half way up the final hill. I managed to pull off an even 20:00.3. While I didn’t do my best, I did run well and finished in 5th place overall and as the first female.

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I was awarded a cute hen trophy for winning the women’s division, which now happily sits on my shelf next to my train whistle from the Ghost Run. My husband didn’t make it to the finish line in time to snap a picture of me finishing, so I took to the Strong Family Farm’s Facebook page to see what they had posted. There weren’t any pictures of me coming across the finish line, but there was a shot of me receiving my award. That’s great and all, but it is captioned with “A hen trophy for Kim..19:50.” Umm…wait. Who’s Kim?! Now, I really don’t want to be a poor sport here, but I ran well. I ran really well. In fact, I now have the race record (yes, I checked the results for the past three years), which went unnoticed, by the way. So, I am sorry, but I’m a bit sore about this part. The image of the top male finisher is correctly captioned with his first name, last name, and time. Meanwhile, I am captioned as “Kim”, no last name, and an incorrect time. Not cool.

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Kristyan Pawlowski was the THIRD place finisher and a MALE. 19:50 is his time. And, I don’t know who Kim is… I’m sure I’m going a little overboard in thinking there’s some type of sexism here, but come on!! Why is the girl getting snubbed here? And, honestly, I see no reason for the mistake since results from The Last Mile Racing were LIVE. Sure, I can agree that mistakes happen, pictures get mislabeled, etc. But man, everything about this is wrong. I am happy with my performance, but (and I do hate to admit it) I’d love the recognition.

I had a decent race, the kids had a great time, and all in all the day, and all the day was a success. Yet, I still have a slight bitter taste in my mouth.

Not Too Cold at Colchester

I had been hemming and hawing for a few weeks as to whether or not I’d run the Colchester Half Marathon. I knew it would fall in line with my training plan in terms of a long run and during a “down week”, but I was also hesitant to go for a race while I was weaning off of Paxil. I hadn’t been feeling great, so committing to something seemed like a bad idea. But, the withdrawal symptoms didn’t last nearly as long as I had feared they might and I was off of it completely with no repercussions just in time. And I needed the long run. And I needed the hill work. And I needed to do better than last year’s attempt.

So, in typical Mazy-fashion, I registered about 20 minutes before the gun and trotted up to the starting line. There were some familiar (read intimidating) faces as well as the general sea of runners bouncing, stretching, striding out before the event. Colchester may be a small Connecticut town, but this race draws a fairly sizable crowd. This year’s race boasted 691 registrants, with 614 finishers. That’s not too shabby! Now, part of the challenge of the Colchester Half Marathon is the fact that it takes place on the last Saturday of February. That typically means that there is ice, slush, yuck, and sub-freezing temperatures. But…it is New England, which means you can’t predict anything! We had a surprisingly warm day on Saturday with 60 degrees at the start of the race and nearly 70 degrees by noon. Thankfully the rain held off. I must say, the course was considerably easier to navigate without the ice and snow.

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The race starts at Bacon Academy High School with just a tease of an up hill, enough to give you a little bit of confidence. But, for every strenuous up hill there is an equally painful down hill. Most are excited for down hills or “free energy”, but I feel like I pay dearly for them. They mess with my pace, they mess with my head, and they destroy my quads. I would almost always rather go up than down in a race!

Most of Colchester’s race is paved, but there are about three miles worth of hill that are on dirt roads. These miles can be tricky, especially in the snow, since they aren’t plowed well, have a lot of divets, tire treads, and lose stones. There are quite a few intersections to get through, but the support staff is excellent so there is a minimal risk of dealing with traffic. My experience was pleasant with the few cars I did encounter giving the runners a wide berth while traveling at extremely reduced speeds. There is also ample signage alerting drivers of the race, mile markers, and upcoming turns. You really can’t get lost!

Colchester has a gorgeous, scenic course. Through woods, by farms — over hill and dale. This half marathon really does show off the beautiful side of rural Connecticut. Residents come out of their homes to cheer on the athletes and one family had a candy booth set up, handing out Starbursts and Twizzlers to those that needed a sugary pick-me-up. I also got the privileged to high-five a toddler sized Elsa as I dashed along.

I brought a packet of maple syrup with me in my shorts’ pocket, but didn’t feel the need to use it on the race course since there were three aid stations with water and Gatorade. There were also crates of sliced oranges and bananas at the finish line. The final two miles of the race are up hill and feels like one of the slowest, longest, most torturous climbs to any finish line. However, streams of people run along the side cheering everyone along. And, the race does eventually come to an end! The final right turn takes you back into the high school parking lot and through the finish line. No matter what your time is, you feel better for having run this race. You know that you are a bad-ass just because you did it.

Once through the shoot I met up with my family, gasping and recoiling at the effort I just put forth. “Why can’t I like knitting or board games or some other less stressful activity?” I asked my husband as he helped me get into my sweats. We made our way across the school parking lot and headed for the building to find the facilities. Some wonderful folks from Phoenix Therapeutic Massage were set up in the gymnasium offering massages and stretching out the finishers. The cafeteria was busting with a wonderful after party. A buffet line snaked around the perimeter offering corn chowder, chili, ziti, pizza, brownies, and salads.

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This was my second year running the Colchester Half Marathon and I did do what I set out to do, though, I’m not completely impressed with my run. I did beat my previous year’s time by six minutes, which was my number one goal. I did break an hour and forty, which was my second goal. While I had a third goal of placing in the top ten, I was far less concerned with placement than time. I wanted to maintain a 7:35-7:45 pace, and I sort of achieved that for most of the race. I did fall into the course’s trap and went out way too fast before settling in. I was much too cocky and took the first couple of hills much too hard. But, all in all it was a good effort and I am glad I did it.

I am aware that I need to spend more time on pacing — and getting less excited at the beginning — and probably focus on hill work a bit more. I also need to focus on pulling through when I’m fatigued. But, I can’t get too hard on myself since the stats for this race are pretty decent.

Overall time: 1:39.33 (average 7:37 pace)
Place: 86/614
Female Pace: 18/309
30-39F Div Place: 10/277

Official results can be found here, supplied by The Last Mile Racing, LLC.

A Half and Recovery

Last weekend I ran the Air Line Trail Ghost Half Marathon and it was fantastic! I came off my marathon training last month still feeling incredibly strong & wanted to run this race because it is local to me and is a ton of fun. Despite a nagging hip issue, I figured four weeks was enough time to recollect myself and get some quick training in for one more big race. After the Hartford marathon I took one week of light running and rest, lots of foam rolling, stretching, and re-hydrating. Then I set up Garmin’s half marathon Level II plan in my calendar & went at it. I began the plan in the last three weeks of it, so basically a few good hard workouts and a quick taper, which was exactly what I needed to take me to race day feeling strong, but not over-worked.

I did approach the race with a PR in mind. I knew this might be a lofty goal having just come off a grueling marathon block & dealing with whatever was going on with my hip, but I was fairly confidant that if I adhered to a solid race day strategy I could achieve what I was looking for. Besides, I knew this course was conducive to fast times if you approached it the right way. My plan was to take the first mile or so very conservatively & not worry about the crowds, the hills, or the pace. From mile 2 on to the half way mark, I would aim for a 7:12 or under pace while riding the down hills and maintaining composure. I knew the second half of the race would be all up hill, so I wanted to have something in the tank. I planned on a surge at mile 8, where the serious hill climbing begins, and pushing out a strong last 5k. This should all have lead me to a sub 1:35 PR.

A rush of a crowd flew by me at the start, and I grudgingly let them go. The competitive side of me wanted to chase them down & assume the lead. But the intuitive side knew that most of them wouldn’t be able to hold the pace, especially once they started going up! I sat back to bide my time.

My pace was a bit faster than I had anticipated, but the miles ticked by with ease. I decided to skip the water stops and even my gel since it was a cool day (36 degrees) and I was feeling super. By mile 7 I was starving & really looking forward to the chili and coffee at the post race party. By mile 9 my arm began to cramp and it was extremely distracting. By mile 10 my hip completely gave up on me. However, I kept my sights on runners ahead of me and methodically picked them off, one by one. Though I certainly slowed (mile 12 was the hardest for me with a 7:20 pace), I was able to keep moving forward without compromising my goal. And, I am quite proud to say, that I was not passed along the way except my one young man right at the end. I came pounding through the finish with a 1:31:15! My best time by almost 4 minutes! Strategy really paid off and I walked away from that course incredibly happy.

I finished 19th overall and  the 2nd female, 1st in 30-39 age group.

Now, I am taking a breather. This week has been light. I’ve even WALKED. That’s right, I’ve been walking. And by the end of the month I just may stop running altogether. Recovery is important for getting stronger, and when I tackle my Spring marathon I plan on unleashing the whole Mazy monster! I have some really big plans for next year, which means that the rest of this year calls for rest, recovery, and rehabilitation.

The Hartford Marathon Was A Success!

This past weekend I ran the Eversource Hartford Marathon and it was a blast! I went into the race with the plan to stick with a plan. Trust me, it was a lot harder than it sounds. A combination of nerves and cockiness usually takes over at races and I end up blowing the whole thing by starting out too fast, crashing at the mid-way point, and attempting to cling on to a pace that’s much slower than it should be. But this time around I admitted this about myself and prepared for it. I spent just as much time mentally getting ready as I did physically.

First, I determined a goal. I want a BQ. I’ve wanted a BQ long before I ever even trained for my first marathon. However, I knew that I wasn’t ready. Despite training for an 8 minute/mile pace, I knew that I didn’t have it, at least not yet. It just wasn’t a realistic goal for me and while I knew I could try for it, I had to admit to myself that I would more than likely fall short and be disappointed again. Baby steps were needed, so I adjusted my sights on  simply making a PR, so anything under 3:44, or as close to a 3:40 as I could get. If I still had enough juice left, I’d pour it out toward that 3:30, but I wasn’t going to expect it.

Second, I set out to determine a running strategy. I had been easily training at 9 minute pace for easy runs, and all of my repeats and threshold runs were sub-8. But still. I knew a crash was inevitable. Cushioning that crash was my main objective. I decided to start out slow and easy, around 8:20 pace no matter what. No following a group, no excited first miles, nothing crazy at the gun. Conversation pace. Warm up in the first 3 miles. Maintain effort, not pace, on the hills, use downhills. Every 5 miles throw in a surge for a few minutes. Use up anything that was left in the last 5k.

Third, I actually made a plan for fueling. I am one to shirk water stations. My stomach can’t handle any of the commercial gels, chews, or blocks and I hate the taste of Gatorade. I also find aid stations frantic, loud, and daunting so I try to get through them as quickly as possible. But, I also hate carrying stuff with me. Hydration vests make me feel silly, fuel belts never stay put. I’m never comfortable. I tried pinning fuel to my waistband once, but lost most of it along the way. I’ve tried using my sports bra to stash stuff, only to be left with chaffing and mastitis! So, I tend to just run without, which of course doesn’t work out too well two and a half hours into a race. This time I committed to carrying my DolfinPack in the race and sipping water from it at every mile marker. I also carried electrolyte capsules to be taken every 30 minutes and packets of honey to be taken every 30 minutes after the first hour.wp-1476210239220.jpg

I went to bed early every night the week before and drank water like it was going out of style. On race day, my pee was crystal clear! I was nervous when I got up race day morning. Would my kids actually get up & dressed in time? Would there be enough parking? Am I going to be cold? Too warm? What if I need to poop? My stomach was too knotted to eat much breakfast. I sipped coffee on the way into Hartford.

There was plenty of parking, even though we got there thirty minutes before the gun. I managed to find the gear check near the start and get all my things stowed away and to the start corral in plenty of time though. I was surprisingly calm at the start, however, I was starting to feel a little hungry. The gun went off at exactly 8am. There was a chorus of chirrping GPS watches starting and everyone shuffled forward a few paces before we got to running. I was locked into a crowd and I was actually okay with it.

I did not plan on following a pace leader. My last two attempts with pace leaders did not work out well, mostly in part because of my own competitiveness. Instead I intended to only go off my watch, though I did keep eyes on the 3:30 pace group for most of the race. I ran comfortable and easy. I maintained a slightly faster than planned pace, which was okay, however I did have to reign myself in a few times when I started dropping under 8. It felt good in the moment, but I knew that Mile 18 loomed ahead.

The course was not crowded. There were less than 2000 entrants in the marathon and most people did start with their correct pacing corrals so there was minimal bobbing and weaving through the crowds. Turns were well marked, aid stations were well manned, and volunteers pointed the way at every intersection. There were also plenty of police officers along the route directing traffic and keeping the runners safe. The spectators, of course, were wonderful. Rows and rows of children lined the streets with their hands out for high-fives, ringing bells, and yelling their little hearts out. Residents sat on their porches, in lawn chairs in their driveways, playing music and waving signs. It was enthusiastic without being too overwhelming.

Mile Marker 18 greeted me with the daunting aggressiveness that I was expecting. My toes had already been slamming through the front of my shoes and were silly painful. My calves and hamstrings were crying. And, oddly, I had a cramp in my forearm. I was slowing down, but still maintaining an adequate pace. Whatever you do, stay under 9 I kept telling myself. I was tired and at this point I was STARVING. I could smell food from all the homes and restaurants we ran past, which of course didn’t help. I gritted my teeth and gulped some Gatorade at an aid station to try and trick my stomach.
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I ticked through mile 20 and was excited that I was at the 3 hour mark. This was good. I was doing well. I was sore, very sore, but I could probably pull off 6 more miles close to pace! And then I stepped in a hole. I felt the shock go all the way up my left leg as I tried to stabilize myself. Three more steps and I felt it pinch. A nerve, somewhere deep in my hip joint/back hollered at me. It was excruciating. It was the exact same sciatic pain that disrupted all four of my labors. I knew this pain all too well, and feared that it would make my legs go numb and cripple me like it did during childbirth. I hobbled, trying to walk and stretch it out. I tried digging my thumb into the pressure point. I twisted to pop myself back into place. I alternated walking and running. I felt okay, except that my left leg wasn’t working with me any more! I was getting angry at myself, but I was coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do much about it except push to the finish. It wasn’t an injury. I wasn’t doing damage, it just hurt.

I was getting discouraged at my slow progress, so I switched my watch from pace to distance mode.  Seeing the numbers getting closer and closer to 26.2 was more encouraging than watching the time slip by. I was so lost and consumed in my pain that I had forgotten to take my fuel. I couldn’t remember if I had just taken one or if I needed to take one soon. I stopped fueling altogether.
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Mile Marker 25 was indeed a beautiful sight. While I didn’t plow through the final mile with the superhero speed and gazelle-like grace I had imagined, I did get myself running again. I wasn’t moving fast, but I was moving! I got up and over the bridge, back into the city, past my cheering family, and around the corner to the finish line. I made it all the way to the end without crying or collapsing. I didn’t fall apart. I didn’t die.

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Mile 26

An old friend was there to greet me at the finish line. I gave him a big hug; excited to see him, excited to be done, excited for the burger I was about to hunt down. I had just finished my second marathon in less than 5 months. My second marathon in the 9 months since birthing a fourth child. My second Hartford Marathon. I had just run the smartest race of my life and had a wonderful 3:41:41 time to show for it. A Personal Record, just like I wanted, just like what I worked for, planned for. My plan worked! I got my finisher’s medal–a big heavy beauty–stopped by the medical tent for some stretching and a serious dose of Motrin, collected my family, and headed for the food.

I could be critical of myself and my race. I could list off a dozen things that I did wrong. I could write paragraphs on how the next race will be better. But for once I’m going to be happy with my accomplishment and acknowledge that I did a job well done. I am happy with my time. I am happy with my race. For once, I am happy with me. This was much more than good enough, this was great.