I love all the memes and stock images of runners and racing. They are so lovely and inspirational. Beautiful toned bodies, effortlessly floating through the air; arms outspread, breaking through a finishing tape; a solitary trail, scenic overlooks, rolling hills and a runner meditating on a long run. Who doesn’t want a piece of that?
And sometimes we do get a run where everything comes together nicely and we get that floating on air feeling. It’s effortless; we are strong, powerful, fast. It is beautiful.
But not all runs are picture perfect. In fact, some runs are down right ugly. We can’t hit our paces right or a nagging pain plagues us. Or for whatever reason we bit off more than we could chew & are forced to decide to spit or choke. It happens to everyone, but what you do about the ugly run can define you as a runner.
I decided to run, rather last minute, the 1st Andover Lake 5 Mile Race last weekend. Unlike my town’s 5k/10k which is practically all flat on the rail trail, this race was mostly pavement and quite hilly. I know the lake loop like the back of my hand. It is one of my favorite training courses – but I wasn’t sure how a 5 mile race would pan out for me two weeks before my marathon. After lots of nudging, I conceded. It was local, it was familiar, and it would benefit my town – why not!
I knew where the hills were, so I knew better than anyone how to pace myself for them. But I also knew what I could push on this particular course, so push I did. And let me tell you, it was not pretty.
There was grunting, a little barking, lots of huffing, and even a minor whimper near the end. I ran a lot of the race stride in stride with a young man, urging him along. He had the potential to do well – he just needed to run faster! I was dropping mile times nearly 30 seconds faster than intended. But I kept pushing it. The last half mile was going to be a serious up hill, with 95 feet of elevation gain. I had only ever run all the way up the hill a handful of times, and none of them at 5k race pace. This was going to be a brutal test.
We chugged on to the hill bravely, knowing our fate but trying to pretend it wasn’t real. At the base of the hill my new running buddy deflated a little. “Oh shit,” he murmured between gulps of air. “It’s okay. We got this,” I huffed back and we charged on. I took the hill slightly ahead and did what I could to keep my form steady, my breathing under control, and ignore my pace. That’s when things got real ugly.
I ran out of steam half way up. I didn’t want to run any further. And this was torture because I could hear the crowd gathered at the finish line just at the top. I knew how close we were. I just didn’t care anymore. The young man began to pass me and urged me to keep going with him. “No, I can’t.” But he insisted. “Don’t say that! You’ve got this!” As we shuffled over the crest of the hill I urged him to make the dash to the finish chute.
No. I can’t. No uglier words have been said in a race. I knew better than to say it out loud, but I honestly wasn’t even thinking them – at least not consciously. My pace was shot, I was now in third place, and my confidence busted. My form was all over the place and my chin was covered in drool & sweat. It was ugly. But what did I have to loose?
I couldn’t hold my pace in the last quarter mile of the race, but I could push through the nastiness that hard races put before us. I dug deep and found a sprint (not a fast one, but still) and pushed it out. I wasn’t going to take my place back, but I really was okay with it. That kid put in a lot of work and deserved that 2nd place finish. It was a hard race, harder than even I had anticipated, but it felt rewarding to look it in the eye and beat it down. When you put everything out on the course and run your heart out you feel beautiful, no matter how ugly it may have gotten out there. And you never dwell on those ugly parts. You just move on, happy to have finished, happy to be strong. Happy to be done.
When the course gets ugly, you get ugly right back. This sport isn’t about being pretty; it’s about being powerful.
Yesterday was 5th Annual Hop River 5k & 10k here in Andover, CT. I enjoy this race because it’s local, it’s flat, and it’s a lot of fun racing down the trail that I train on almost every day. And, it lines up perfectly in the beginning of the second quarter of marathon training. I’ve run it two other times before (2014 and 2016) and both times I ran the two miles to the event as a warm up and home again as the cool down. But Saturday was a different story this year. Torrential downpours flooded from the skies and severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings loomed. Unsure if the race would even take place, my husband and I decided it would be best to drive there and park to save my feet from getting too soaked and to make it home again safely if the weather turned even worse.
Just stepping from the car to the registration tent had me soaked to the bone. By the time I had finished my warm up my soggy socks were inducing blisters. Thankfully we missed out on thunderstorms (and tornados!) and the rain even took a break by the time the gun went off. I ran in my usual fashion: rabbit out the start and try to hang on as long as I can. I made it through the first half a lot faster than I had planned. I hit the three mile mark at 19:09, well over two minutes ahead of my plan. NOT SMART! I hit the turn-around and started back to the start/finish line, but was really feeling the humidity, the blisters, and the strain of moving too fast. I looked at my watch a little more often than I probably should have, but it assured me that I was keeping the pace under 7 minute miles. “Don’t get comfortable, Mazy” I kept telling myself. I was delighted to come across the five mile marker. Almost home! Despite some cramps and sore feet, I had it in me to surge through the last half mile and actually kicked it in to the finish. Seeing my family, neighbor, and best friend cheering in the final stretch was a glorious feeling!
I sailed through the finish line, being sure to take a long stride OVER the wet and slippery timing mat, and nearly fainted when I looked my watch. 41:32. This was nearly a 45 second PR in wet, slippery, muddy conditions. My Garmin also recorded a new 5k PR, 19:49. Not too shabby. I finished 6th overall and was again the top female finisher. It was totally worth the rain and blisters!
After I got home I uploaded my Garmin data so I could compare this year’s race to last year’s race. It was the same course, but a few variables changed. Last year was incredibly hot (90 degrees, with a heat index of 105) and bright sunshine. This year it was cool and incredibly wet. Both years I hit a PR though.
What was the same was my incredible gung-ho attitude about flying out for the first half and scrambling to hang on through the second half. That’s certainly something I need to work on. I’m not finishing as strong as I know I can, so I can work on pulling out a better kick as well. But I am getting stronger. I am getting faster. And, maybe, I’m getting smarter about it all. It was a fantastic run, and despite my slow down, I have no regrets. Can’t wait to see what I pull off next year!
***Oh, and I want to send a special shout out to one of my readers who’s beautiful third place finish won her her age group. FANTASTIC RUN, MARISSA!!***
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.