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Race Review: 2014 St. George Marathon

It seems like we signed up for the St. George Marathon a year ago — like this race has been on the calendar for an abnormally long time. In reality, I think we put in for the lottery in April or May, maybe. It was shortly after Boston, and Michael and I both had that kind of euphoric marathon high that gets us in trouble because we sign up for another race before the pain of the last race has fully set in. I’d heard from friends and in running blogs that the course could be fast if you knew how to run it. But I’ve never had a crazy PR at a fall marathon, and I thought I wasn’t great at downhill running. My stretch goal for the race was to try to break three hours. We drove the course Friday. Even in the car, the hills felt intense. Honestly, I didn’t think my quads could handle that much pounding.Michael by the campfire

We woke up at 4 a.m. to be to the bus loading area in downtown St. George by 4:45. I remember thinking that people didn’t seem to be getting on the buses quick enough, but it didn’t matter to me too much because I wouldn’t have a problem getting to the start with plenty of time. We got on the bus around 5:20 and made it to the start line right around 6 a.m. The last buses were supposed to leave at 5:30, and I guess I should have realized they weren’t going to make their loading cutoff at that point.

As we got off the bus and turned toward the porta potties, a crazy headwind hit us. The campfires at the start line were blowing smoke downwind, and people were legitimately shivering. Just hours before, I was worried about overheating. I considered running in a sports bra. Instead, I grabbed a space blanket from a volunteer and headed to the fire. The wind would be at our backs for the race.

My secret race goal was still to try to break three hours, but the course was intimidating. The wind might help, but some serious uphills in the middle miles (I say 7 through 12, but Michael swears they stopped at 11) could slow me down. And I wasn’t used to running at more than 5,000 feet of elevation, so for the first half of the race I might be short of breath.

We were ready to start the run at 6:45, but around 6:40, an announcer told us the race would start late because the buses were not all at the start line. Michael and I shared my space blanket for another 15 minutes and shuffled around nervously while we waited for the buses.

A little after 7, another runner sang the national anthem, the wheelchair runners started, and we were ready to go. I fell in with the 3:15 pacer quickly. The pace felt slow, and my feet were numb from standing in the cold. My legs were a little stiff. My first mile at 7:18 ticked off a little slow, but I tried to not let it get to me.

The next stretch of miles until the Veyo hills were faster than they should have been. I could feel my quads starting to warm up around mile six — way too early for a marathon. Michael and I were running close to each other through somewhere in the middle of the Veyo hills. I guess living in Mt. Pleasant for this training season and forcing myself to finish hard up the hill on Harvard or Irving paid off because I was able to easily cruise past a lot of people on the biggest uphill. After the Veyo hills, I felt relieved that the hardest part of the course was behind me. Most of the middle miles are a little fuzzy, but I do remember the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen during a race somewhere around mile 16 or 17. I tried to take it in as I was shuffle-stepping my way through a cavernous downhill section.

Around mile 18, a few guys next to me said they were trying to qualify for Boston with a 3:05. At that point, I said I was just trying to not run the same damn 3:07 I’ve run for three marathons. One of the guys asked me what was stopping me from running faster than a 3:07, to which I replied that I didn’t really know, and I thought about that question for a few miles. I tried to turn to tell him that I thought it was probably because I’m terrible at tapering, but he was gone. Then the road started rising to meet my feet (not normal) instead of my feet hitting the road (normal). I kind of freaked out mentally because my hallucinations usually start around mile 23, and they don’t usually last that long. This seemed early. I turned off my music to try to concentrate on my breathing and to give myself a pep talk, which, you know, was probably just gibberish at that point. A motorcycle drove by, and I swear it revved its engine and instead of hearing a purr, I heard Michael’s voice saying, “Aaaaah-man-dahhh.” I saw a bird flying really near an overpass and then I tried to remember the name of the thing that flew too close to the sun. Then I worried the bird would eat me. I think the mental fog passed around mile 20.5 when I had an orange from a child. I think it was a child. I don’t even know. Some benevolent thing gave me an orange. I kept going. My pace was, remarkably, still fine, but the road looked a little squirmy.

Thank god I kind of knew where I was on the course and could focus on the approximate distance to the start line around mile 21. I started to calculate that I could break 3:05 if I ran even an eight-minute mile. An older man ran up beside me and said, “You know [pant pant] we can run a [pant] eight-minute pace …” and I said, “And still run a 3:05?” “Yeah! Let’s do it.” At some point I said we would need to slow down to hit 3:05, and we laughed. Then I sped up, and he told me to go get ‘em.

Marathon medal and watch
Marathon medal and watch

The last few miles take you through St. George where the crowd support increases. With the exception of a cheering section around mile 17 or so, most of the course has no spectators. That’s fine because the views are top-notch.

I kept a decent pace for the final miles, thanks in no small part to the gentle downhills. My overall pace was a 6:57. That number is the one that sticks with me. That’s faster than I ran 5Ks when I started running.

The field for this race was about 5,800 runners with 2,700 women. I came in 25th woman and 180th overall, which tells me this course lends itself to fast times.

Next up is Marine Corps in three weeks. My quads have three weeks to come to terms with what happened. I still want to run a sub-3:00 marathon, but that will have to wait until next year — maybe Boston?

Cons

Late start. After all the race reviews I’ve read promoted this marathon as being so well organized, I expected that the school bus situation would have been better handled. Nobody likes their race morning spoiled by bad planning, especially someone else’s bad planning.

Cluster of a bag check. I finished the race and gleefully (OK, maybe I was still hallucinating) trotted over to the bag check area. The time was 10:07. My bag didn’t come off the baggage truck until 10:47.

Water and Gatorade order switched at some stations. All the aid stations were stocked, and the volunteers handed out fluids well. But! The race literature made it clear that Gatorade would always be first and water would always be second. At some stations, this was reversed. At the LATER stations, keeping the two straight is especially important. I really can’t think straight at that point, and if the order is reversed, I’ll think I’m crazy.

Pros

Beautiful views. This was certainly the prettiest course I’ve ever run. I can’t do it justice with descriptions or photos. You must run this race if you have the opportunity. I’m looking forward to Big Sur taking over as most beautiful next year. For now, though, I’ll put this race at the top.

Downhill course. The gradual downhills took several seconds off many of my miles, I have no doubt. The downhills also trashed my quads, but I’ll take that.

Finished
Finished

Well-organized expo. While the expo wasn’t huge, it was an easy-in/easy-out experience.

Decent SWAG. The goodie bag had a long-sleeved tech shirt that was a little over sized (oh well), a cute drawstring bag, trail mix, corn cakes and a random book about reaching your full potential. I threw that away.

Campfires and space blankets at start. Nobody wants to stand around in the cold darkness for an hour waiting for the race to start.

Misters at the finish line. Directly after the finish line and before the chute to get race medals, a genius set up a line of spray misters. The temperature at the finish was probably around 66 degrees, but the sun was blazing. A little bit of coolness helped.

Race Map

Elevation Map

Elevation: 5,243 feet to 2,691 feet
Elevation: 5,243 feet to 2,691 feet

Splits

Split Distance Average Pace
1 1 7:18
2 1 6:57
3 1 6:47
4 1 6:44
5 1 6:40
6 1 6:36
7 1 6:37
8 1 7:36
9 1 7:20
10 1 7:10
11 1 7:20
12 1 7:01
13 1 6:43
14 1 6:44
15 1 6:45
16 1 6:38
17 1 6:53
18 1 6:52
19 1 7:10
20 1 6:54
21 1 6:53
22 1 6:58
23 1 7:01
24 1 6:58
25 1 6:58
26 1 7:05
27 0.26 7:03

Details

  • Course: point to point
  • Terrain: well-kept roads with massive downhills and surprising uphills in the middle miles
  • Website: St. George Marathon

Boston 2 Big Sur Training Plan

I’ve never published a full training schedule here. I’ve written about the last few weeks before a marathon and how I need to stick to my taper plans, and I’ve talked about inching toward and exceeding 90 miles per week. But I haven’t written out a half year of workouts — possibly because I have some superstitious fear that if I get hurt, my training plan will be out there for everyone to see while I’m sidelined. Or maybe I don’t want to be judged by the number of miles I run or the fact that I don’t take rest days.

Now is a good time to put the nearly baked plan out there. It’s a roadmap I believe can get me to my big, scary goal of running two marathons in a week with a Boston PR (I’ll take anything under 3:11). And achieving that big, scary goal will help push my training to the high-mileage ultramarathon levels I need to be at for the Comrades Marathon in 2016. I’ve run a modified version of this training plan twice in the last year. This plan includes a few more miles in a few critical weeks, but it’s nothing more extreme than what my body has handled in the past. The Austin Marathon will be a long training run, and I am planning to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon to set a new PR. I’m aiming for 1:26.

Oh, and I know a lady never reveals her weight (or age?), but I know I feel best and run fastest when I weigh between 124 and 126 pounds. If I can keep my diet in check during the hardest training weeks and not pack on more than a few pounds of water weight during the taper, I’ll arrive in Boston to run it faster than ever. I also feel like 2013 was the first year I truly understood the Boston course. It is, after all, the marathon I’ve run more times than any other. If the conditions are right, I should be able to run and recover quickly. After that, with a smart recovery week, the Big Sur race, while slower, should feel like icing on the cake.

Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun TOTAL Race
Oct. 27-Nov. 2 1 6 10 12 8 6 18 8 68
Nov. 3-9 2 4&6 10 8 10 6 13 8 65 Battlefield Half Marathon
Nov. 10-16 3 4&4 12 9 8 6 20 6 69
Nov. 17-23 4 6 10 8 13 4&6 18 8 73
Nov. 24-30 5 4&4 10 6 6 8 14 6 58 Turkey Trot
Dec. 1-7 6 4&6 10 6 8 4&6 16 8 68
Dec. 8-14 7 4&8 14 8 13 4&6 22 10 89
Dec. 15-21 8 4&6 13 8 13 4&6 18 8 80
Dec. 22-28 9 4&8 13 8 13 4&6 24 10 90
Dec. 29-Jan. 4 10 4&6 14 AT1 (4) 8 hills1 (6) 24 8 74
Jan. 5-11 11 4&6 10 WO2 (4) 10 8 Race (10) 14 66 Al Lewis 10-Miler
Jan. 12-18 12 4&6 14 WO1 (4) 12 4&6 AT2 (22) 8 80
Jan. 19-25 13 4&6 13 9 hills2 (6) 4&6 24 8 79
Jan. 26-Feb. 1 14 4&8 13 WO3 (4) 8 4&6 AT3 (22) 8 77
Feb. 2-8 15 4&6 14 WO1 (4) 10 4&6 AT2 (22) 8 78
Feb. 9-15 16 6 10 8 4 6 3 Marathon 63 Austin Marathon
Feb. 16-22 17 8 12 WO4 (4) 8 6 14 at pace 10 62
Feb. 23-March 1 18 4&6 13 WO3 (4) 8 4&6 AT3 (22) 8 75
March 2-8 19 6 10 8 hills3 (6) 4&6 16 8 64
March 9-15 20 8 at pace 10 8 WO6 (4) 4 1/2 Mar 6 53 RnR DC 1/2 Marathon
March 16-22 21 4&6 13 9 hills2 (6) 4&6 24 8 80
March 23-29 22 6 13 WO5 (6) 8 4&6 AT4 (22) 8 73
March 30-April 5 23 8 at pace 13 8 AT5 (4) 6 20 6 65
April 6-12 24 4 10 WO7 (4) WO8 (4) 6 14 Race (10) 52 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler
April 13-19 25 6 10 WO9 (5) 6 5 6 4 42
April 20-26 26 Marathon 10 6 5 4 4 Marathon 81 Boston Marathon // Big Sur Marathon

Anaerobic Threshold (AT) Workouts:

  • AT1 & 5 = 4 x mile @ 77 – 90%, this will vary with individuals. (Pace should be approximately 10 seconds per mile faster than your marathon pace.) 2-3 minute rest between miles. Warm-up and cool down 2-3 miles. You should feel exhilarated after these workouts, ready to do more.
  • AT2, 3, and 4 = 18-22 mile run with six to eight miles at approximately your marathon pace. These miles should bring you within a mile or two of finishing the run. The last mile or two should be easy. If conditions (either course or weather) are severe, adjust accordingly. A heart monitor can help considerably here by keeping the effort at the effort window that you can run a marathon.

Hill Workouts:

  • Hills 1, 2 & 3 = 8 x 2-3 minutes up at 77-90% effort, jog down for recovery. 2-3 mile warm-up and cool down.

Track Workouts (WO):

  • WO1 = 12 x 400 @ 90-95% with 200 jog recovery. Warm-up/cool down
  • WO2, 4 & 6 = 15 x 200 @ 85-95% with 200 jog recovery.
  • WO3 & 8 = 6 x 800 @ 90-95% with 400 jog recovery.
  • WO5 = 4 x 1200 @ 90-95% with 400 jog recovery.
  • WO7 = 15 x 300 @90-95% with 100 jog recovery.
  • WO9 = 3 x 200 @ 85-90% with 200 jog recovery / 400 jog / 3 x 800 @ 85% with 400 jog recovery.

Race Review: Erie Half Marathon at Presque Isle

I’d heard great things about the Erie Marathon — that it was flat and fast and that the people were friendly. All of this is true. Michael and I were both happy with today’s race outcomes: a 3:10 marathon and Boston qualifier for him and a five-minute half-marathon PR for me. I have few complaints about this race. The weather and course were glorious for mid-September.

Presque Isle do-rag
Presque Isle do-rag

The marathon started at 7 a.m., and the rest of the half marathon field had to wait until 7:30 to start. I don’t run many halves when a full option is offered, but the number of women running the half really struck me. Almost two thirds of the field was female. The half marathon is a loop around at Presque Isle, which you can see from across the bay in Erie. It has one turnaround that I didn’t find at all problematic and one small ramp that was kind of a nice change of pace after so many miles on completely flat roads.

My first mile was a little easy because I wasn’t sure how my left hamstring would hold up. I ran a slow 10-mile shakeout run yesterday, and my legs felt heavier than I would have liked. As usual, I didn’t taper the way I should have because I line up half marathons in the middle of my marathon training. So I’d planned the half marathon to be part of a 70-mile week. By mile two, I started to be able to feel my feet, which had gone numb at the start line. I kept a remarkably even pace for the entire race, probably because the course is absurdly flat.

The race scenery reminded me of running in a beach-y Rock Creek Park — tree lined paths away from the wind, but with a few glimpses of the water or sand every few miles. I loved the serenity in the early miles before the half marathon ran up against the full. The light was beautiful, all was quiet except the pounding of runners’ feet, and the air was crisp.

Happily, I was able to hold on to a 6:45 pace that seemed a little aggressive at first to break 90 minutes for the first time. I came in fourth female, only two minutes behind the female winner.

After the race, I changed in to warm clothes and headed across the course to try to catch Michael and Jamey who were running the full marathon. They both looked good at the 19-mile mark. I cheered the finishers for another hour, something I wish I was able to do more often.

Cons

Some fluid stop oddities. At a few of the water and GU Brew stops, I had trouble dodging the tunnel of volunteers who were overly eager to hand out cups. I took one cup of water shortly after the halfway point, and that handoff went just fine.

Slowest marathon runners on half marathon course. Michael mentioned the inverse being true for the full marathon. For me, because the race was run at times on a single lane of a two-lane road, I ended up behind lines of marathon runners and walkers who were grouped four across. At least four times I had to dart into the car lane to get around the groups. Certainly there is no way around this issue in a two-loop course with a staggered start.

No pace groups. I certainly could have used a pace group, if only so I could get an idea of how fast the runners I was tracking were running on the full marathon course.

Pros

Timing signs and corrals. Runners seemed to adhere to the per-minute pace signs. I had no trouble hitting my stride in the first quarter mile.

Fast awards posting. The results were posted within about 15 minutes on the side of the rotary pavilion, and awards were ready right then.

Post-race food and drinks. Panera bagels, bananas, sandwiches and lots of cookies were all on hand. I didn’t eat much food, but I appreciated the bagel and banana I had.

Weather. Starting temperature was about 50 degrees. In September. This race attracts a lot of Boston Marathon qualifier hopefuls because it is so far north, it’s flat, and it’s on the last weekend you could possibly get in to Boston if the race isn’t full in the first week. This weekend’s weather was about as good as we could hope for.

Lots of island-themed SWAG. This race does not skimp on race-themed trinkets. The list included a do-rag/towel, long-sleeved cotton T-shirt, cotton bag, race medal, 26.2/13.1 Erie Marathon/Half sticker, picture of the lighthouse from Presque Isle.

Course Map

coursemap

Splits

Split Distance Average Pace
1 1 6:56
2 1 6:43
3 1 6:43
4 1 6:42
5 1 6:42
6 1 6:45
7 1 6:38
8 1 6:43
9 1 6:45
10 1 6:46
11 1 6:47
12 1 6:47
13 1 6:47
14 0.14 6:36

Details

  • Course: one loop for the half, two for the full
  • Terrain: flatter than flat on roads with some cement but mostly asphalt
  • Website: Erie Marathon
Teddy Roosevelt at the prize table

Race Review: Roosevelt Run 5K

Thursday night’s Roosevelt Run 5K was my second evening race in the past few months. I’ve picked up my evening training regimen (thanks, DCRunster!) so I’m a little more used to a second run around 6:30 or 7 p.m. I started the morning with a steady, somewhat easy run through Central Park. I never really properly taper for races shorter than a marathon, and I knew running that many miles wouldn’t help me later in the day. Still, I was in New York, and I wasn’t not going to run in one of America’s best places to run.

My buddy Jamey and I ran this race in 2012, so we knew what to expect. This is the most low-key race I’ve come across in the D.C. area. Only 64 runners came to the starting line. I mean given the odd time (Thursday night at 7 p.m.), lack of promotion, funky course and general feeling of the event, that turnout seemed about right.

The organizers — the amazing Jay Jacob Wind and Race Director James Scarborough — set up a small starting line area near Rosslyn where cyclists and other runners regularly sped through the start and finish line. Around 6:55, someone played the national anthem so low I could barely hear it. Everyone looked around to kind of acknowledge that it was over? We lined up according to our expected finish time. Then Scarborough blew a train whistle (!), and we were off.

Race Director James Scarborough explains the course.
Race Director James Scarborough explains the course.

After the first hundred yards, the course turns left to a steep downhill bridge where racers are thrown in with cyclists and other runners. This is the trickiest part of the course because you want to start strong, but you certainly don’t want to wipe out. Past the first tricky section, you’re running on the Mount Vernon Trail where you have enough room to navigate the field.

I was trading positions with a lanky young runner for the first half of the race, but I dropped him right after the turnaround point. I also passed the second place female runner to move in to a solid second place spot for the finish. The end of the race has you going back to that steep uphill to huff your way to the finish. I did a better job pacing the second half of this 5K, so I was happy with my 20:33 (or 20:16 according to Garmin) effort.

Cons

  • No road closures. Closing a commuter bike and running path on a random Thursday certainly would put a wrench in everyone’s plans, and I understand that the cost to close this stretch would be passed along to participants, but I navigating cyclists and other runners isn’t too fun.
  • Bridge at beginning and end. As I said, the steep bridge to start the race is the hardest part to manage. I wish the race started in the parking lot closer to Teddy Roosevelt Island.
Two winners: second female and first masters
Two winners: second female and first masters

Pros

  • Prizes. I raced and won second place female for a $10 gift certificate to a running store. Other participants who won age-group prizes picked up some cool Teddy Roosevelt memorabilia. A quarter of the runners were winners.
  • Race results posted fast online. The results were posted within hours of the race ending.
  • Teddy Roosevelt theme. I’m a sucker for Teddy Roosevelt, so I love that the race is related to his nearby island.
  • T-shirts. The race email said “a variety of T-shirts will be available” for this race. Someone showed up with a box of random T-shirts that had little to do with this race but still were awesome. In 2012, I think the T-shirts had some Teddy tie-in, but this year’s were still fine to put on if you need to change out of sweaty running clothes.
  • Price. This race was only $20 through early August. And if you win a prize, you can count that against race entry fees, right?
  • Bib scoring. I usually hate bib-timed scoring, but the scale of this race made old-fashioned bib tear-offs perfectly acceptable. I do wish someone had been watching the clock a little more closely when I finished because I definitely saw 20:02 on the clock as I crested the hill.

Course Map

2014 Roosevelt Run 5K Route

Splits

Split Distance Average Pace
1 1 6:22
2 1 6:31
3 1 6:38
4 0.11 6:39

Details

  • Course: out and back
  • Terrain: steep downhill to start, steep uphill to finish
  • Website: Roosevelt Run 5K
2014 Crystal City Twilighter 5K

Race Review: Crystal City Twilighter 5K

A few Saturdays ago, Michael and I ran the Crystal City Twilighter 5K. We don’t usually sign up for evening runs, but I wanted to check a nighttime run off my bucket list, and I know Pacers puts on solid events. I love racing shorter races with Michael because he’s better at pacing them than I am, and he really pushes me. At the start of the race, I went out too fast and was ahead of him for about a quarter mile. He pulled ahead and stayed ahead by about 10 seconds for the rest of the race. I finished the race in 20:05. While I went in really wanting to break 20 minutes, I will take a five-second difference on a warm night in a high-mileage week.

The field was deep with speedy high school athletes and club runners. According to RunWashington, 28 men broke 16 minutes. That’s a bunch of fast people. The evening was pretty warm, so my general race strategy was to get the thing over with as quickly as possible.

I’m not used to running in the evening, and I’m not used to running 5K speed at any time of day, so I didn’t really know what to do with myself early in the day. I’m a morning runner, so I went out for an easy nine-miler that morning. The race time (8:30 p.m. on a Saturday) really put a damper on my weekend plans. I’m used to not getting drunk on Friday nights, but my typical Saturday might include day drinking and a splurge meal. I ate a small salad and drank some beet juice around 4:30 to fuel for the race, but even that small amount of food just didn’t sit right with me.

This race was a twilighter, so it started around dusk, obviously. The course was not particularly well lit, so I had a little trouble with my footing for a few yards here and there. Next time I try one of these races, I’ll train a little more in the evening. My next evening run is the Roosevelt Run 5K in a few weeks. With a 7 p.m. start, that one won’t be dark at the start, but I’ll still have to figure out what and when to eat.

Cons

Self-seeding start. For the most part, people tended to line up according to their expected race completion time. This race did not have signs telling people which pace group they were in, and at the start, I had to dodge an overzealous 8-year-old boy and his mother who darted out of the chute and then slowed to a walk after a few hundred yards. Pacers usually has pace group markers, so I was surprised to not see them here.

Lack of crowd support. The majority of the course kind of wound through a corporate wasteland for spectators. Downtown Crystal City has plenty of shops and restaurants, so the crowd support picked up toward the end of the race.

Pros

Water table. I didn’t take any water from the single table, but it was located at the 1- and 2-mile mark, which seems like good placement.

Race results posted fast online. The race times were up in a matter of hours. At the end of the race, laptops were set up to check race times right there.

Swim Bike Run race photos. I love the awesome Swim Bike Run photos that are posted for Pacers events. The one at the top of this post is one of theirs.

T-shirt. If Pacers could have come up with a perfect shirt, this one is it. The cotton blend is soft and stretchy, the V-neck fits well, and the design is sweet. I’ve been wearing this one around the house almost nightly.

Course Map

Crystal City Twilighter 5K route

Splits

Split Distance Average Pace
1 1 6:10
2 1 6:35
3 1 6:43
4 0.11 5:37

Details

Over the 90 hump and celiac disease-free (ish?)

I’ve neglected the blog again for a few months, but I don’t have much running news to report. I did top off three 90+-mile weeks without any injuries and without suffering many of the symptoms of overtraining. My training plans have come to regularly slot 13-mile Tuesdays where 10-mile Tuesdays once were, and my body seems to have adapted to the higher mileage. When I’ve pushed past 90 in the past, I’ve experienced any of the following: a mild case of plantar fasciitis, tight hips resulting in a hip injury, mood swings, restless leg syndrome, inability to fall sleep when all I want to do is sleep, dehydration. Anyway, each of the last three times I pushed past 90 miles (92, 90, 93.5), I only was a little irritable. That’s great news because the ultramarathon plans I’m looking at are calling for similarly high mileage.

With the hardest part of training behind me, I can start to focus on building more speed. I have three 5Ks on the calendar and one half marathon between now and my goal marathon. If I string together quality miles and can improve my times for shorter races, I think I have a strong chance to break 3:05 in Utah.

I do have some good health news to share. About five weeks after my post about my probable celiac disease diagnosis, my doctor sent my printed results. No mention of celiac. Getting him on the phone took about another week. When we finally talked, he said he wasn’t sure what it was, but the next time we meet he wants to put me on antibiotics. That’s what my primary care doctor did the first time, and I was violently sick for several days. My follow-up appointment is later this week, and this time before I go in, I feel I should volunteer to be on one of those TLC mystery diagnosis shows. The overwhelming sense that I’ve had as this ordeal wears on is frustration, mostly because I think I’m throwing thousands of dollars at the problem and I’ll never find the right answer.

So for a good six weeks I ate a gluten-free diet. My GI issues seemed to be letting up, my skin looked better, I was sleeping better, everything seemed great. But I gained about four pounds, which slowed down my running (just slightly, but still). I was replacing wheat products with fatty fillers. Now, I’m sure there are many great ways to adhere to a gluten-free diet that are low in fatty calories and high in taste. I just wasn’t good at replacing my favorite foods. Since my un-diagnosis, I have eaten far less gluten than before, and I’ve managed to lose those four pounds. I feel slightly better most mornings, but my stomach issues are still pretty noticeable at night.

I know there are people with real, life-shattering problems out there, and that a persistent stomach ache is small potatoes. Everybody has something, though. I guess this is my thing.

Ups and Downs and a New, Big Goal

It’s been more than two months since I checked in here. In the time I’ve been neglecting the blog, I ran a 10-miler and two marathons and set a new PR. I also had five doctor appointments and got myself pretty sick before the 10-miler. Still, I came to the start line of the Boston Marathon healthy and tapered and managed a time (3:11:27) about 20 seconds slower than last year. My Cherry Blossom 10-Miler time was five seconds slower than last year (1:07:35), but I was throwing up the night before the race.

Good News

In March, the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon went unbelievably well. I practiced running on the course’s big hill throughout the winter, and I finally understood how to run the back half of the course. I placed sixth female (!) in the race. In hindsight, if I’d run the Austin Marathon as planned, my legs probably would have been too tired to manage a PR.

I didn’t have high hopes for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler because I’d been sick the week before the race, but I still did well there. This is one of my favorite races of the year, and my fitness and adrenaline kept me going.

Michael and I also ran the Boston Marathon this year. I knew this year could be emotional, but a session with Runner’s World and Running Times editors on Sunday reminded me to keep my emotions in check. I only got choked up once — at Wellesley on the downhill where I always let myself experience unbridled enthusiasm. Every year I tell myself, “This is the happiest you’ll be all year while you’re running. Let it soak in.” The crowds through the weekend in Boston and along the course were unreal. Next year’s Boston won’t be as big or as boisterous, and I’m fine with that. This year, Boylston felt like home, and the city felt like a hug. I already booked our hotel for next year when we’ll get back to running the marathon for other reasons, all of which are OK.

 

Bad News

For the past few years — maybe three years — my stomach has been upset more and more often. The audible grumbling happens at night almost every night, and I wake most mornings with a crazy urge to run to the bathroom. I kept thinking the feeling would go away or that maybe it was related to stress. When I’m on vacation or when my job is in low-stress mode, I still have the same issues. It’s probably not stress. It’s not like a running injury. I take care of those as soon as they happen or as soon as they might happen because an injury will sideline me. But an upset stomach is something I could put up with. I run marathons. I’m tough.

So when I was sick before the 10-Miler, I’d had blood drawn three times in the span of a week, and I was on antibiotics to try to reset the bacteria in my stomach. That didn’t work. I visited a gastroenterologist. He wanted to schedule a few tests. His first available appointment date was Wednesday, April 23. That would be the Wednesday after the Boston Marathon. Meaning I would be on a liquid diet the day after the Boston Marathon. Ha. I scheduled it for a week later.

My probable results from today, according to my doctor, are that I have celiac disease. That means I’ll need to adjust my diet. I love pasta, and I LOVE baked goods. I’m not sure how this is going to work, but I certainly will try to follow his advice to feel better. I just don’t want to be one of those people who’s a pain in the ass asking, “Is it gluten-free?” And I don’t want to make people in my book club accommodate another dietary need. And I don’t want to have people make a special dish just for me. I would hate all that. Basically, I’m in wait-and-see mode until I hear a true diagnosis. I’m not happy about the likely outcome, though.

New, Big Goal

Given that I just got some shitty health news and given that I’ve been running the same types of races for the past three years, I really need something big to aim for. So here’s my big goal.

In 2016, I will run the Comrades Marathon.

Why? We all need big, silly goals, and the Comrades Marathon, which is actually not 26 but 56 miles, is a huge goal that is probably attainable. It’s in South Africa, and I’ve never been there, nor have I run a marathon in a foreign country. See bucket list. The idea of this race is just to finish. Really. And with the amount of base training I have right now (peaking at 95 miles per week and averaging 70), I could probably already finish a 56-mile run. But I want to be smart about it, so I should probably train well, right? As an added bonus, I think Michael will run Comrades, too.

And here’s another big goal for 2015 that will help get me there:

In 2015, I will run Boston 2 Big Sur.

Why? The Big Sur Marathon is beautiful, and Boston is my favorite marathon. I want to run both of them, and I think I can build enough fitness to run a decent marathon (maybe 3:30) six days after Boston if conditions are not bad.

I’m putting the goals out there, and I’m keeping the fire burning for a 3:05 marathon. I’m only two minutes away, and I might have a speedy marathon coming up in October. We’ll see what happens.

Race Review: George Washington Birthday Classic 10K

I channeled a good deal of the taper energy I had left from not running the Austin Marathon toward a 10K this morning. The starting temperature was in the mid-20s, making this one of the coldest races I’ve ever run. The day was clear, but the roads were icy in a few spots. Still, I can tell the training I put in over the winter months is working because I took almost a minute off my last 10K PR from the Capitol Hill Classic to finish in 40:48. Part of me wishes I could have been running a full marathon in Austin instead. Part of me is happy I didn’t try to overdo it in Austin where the temperatures were much too warm for a fast race.

Five minutes before the start, most of the race participants were still anxiously shuffling around indoors. People filed outside in an orderly way, there was a lot of jumping up and down to try to stay warm, and in short order, we were off.

I got off to a little too fast of a start, but I was so happy to be running at full power that I just went with it. Even with a bridge in the middle of the first mile, I still managed a 6:20. A few women passed me in the second mile, but I kept most of them in sight for the majority of the race. The turnaround point was on a bit of an uphill. That didn’t bother me too much because I’d felt the slight uphill all the way out and was looking forward to a nice rolling downhill finish.

I pushed pretty hard through the end of the race to crest the hill and enjoy the final slog to the finish line. Right after I crossed it, another woman I hadn’t seen in the race told me I’d kept a really even pace. My splits weren’t bad at all.

Post-race food and T-shirt
Post-race food and T-shirt

Cons

Weather. With a February race, you can’t expect perfect conditions. I counted three times when I had to dodge ice on the road or significantly alter my stride. And I would assume any spilled water at the water stops would have turned to ice as well.

Lack of scenery. I was quite happy with the simplicity of the course, but there was pretty much nothing to look at. I think I saw some houses and trees. And we might have gone under a bridge once. It looked six miles of suburbs.

Cotton shirt. OK. It’s not like I necessarily need another technical long-sleeve shirt. But I really love Pacers race shirt designs. I wish they would include technical shirts in their swag.

Pros

Race wasn’t canceled. As I said, my Austin Marathon was a no-go because our flight couldn’t leave on Friday. My backup race was going to be (oddly enough) another George Washington race: the George Washington’s Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt, Md. That one was called off because the course wasn’t clear. So the fact that the race even happened is a good thing.

Indoor waiting area. The race started and finished at the Patent and Trademark Offices. The space was warm, dry and had plenty of room for all the race staging. Pacers knows the right way to organize these events.

Fast bathroom lines. Again, great job having enough bathrooms available. I waited maybe seven minutes.

Near the finish line
Near the finish line

Easy packet pickup and bag check. I had to pick up my bag at the race venue. Doing this can be a little dicey. When I walked up at 7:40, there was no line. I took my checked bag straight to the gear line and and was finished with that by 7:42.

Started at 8 a.m. sharp. The race organizers aren’t kidding when they say they’ll start on time on the website. There are few things worse on race day than having your race chi screwed with because of traffic problems or other logistical hassles.

Splits

Split Distance Average Pace
1 1 6:20
2 1 6:35
3 1 6:46
4 1 6:33
5 1 6:33
6 1 6:36
7 .24 6:08

Course Map

GWB Classic Map
GWB Classic Map

Details

Winter Storm Stupidity and a Canceled Marathon Too

My first planned race of the year was supposed to happen the first weekend of January. The Al Lewis 10-Miler is a race I’ve run twice before. Sure, it’s been cold both times. One time it snowed in the second half, but that just made for more awesome race photos. This year our first snow storm of the year left the trail covered in snow and bumpy ice. I decided to not even show up since an injury just isn’t worth it.

There was a trail half marathon the next weekend I might race. That one sold out before I could register.

Trying to see the bright side, I kept thinking how much stronger my legs would be since I hadn’t wasted my energy on racing early in my training cycle. The two injuries I had last year haven’t bothered me a bit since the Philadelphia Marathon, and my normal running pace continues to drop every week. I’ve put in 90-mile weeks and felt not-awful and not-beat-up. That’s why the Austin Marathon was so perfectly timed. I had similar training ahead of New Orleans last year, and I PR’ed there. I can feel I’m ready to do something great.

Austin wasn’t to be, though. Yesterday when we were both working from home, I think Michael got tired of me opening the door just to yell “Stupid!” at the snow and then slam it. The winter storm dumped a good foot of snow on D.C. And about 18 hours before takeoff, our flight to Austin was canceled. On the bright side, I got all our money back for the flights and hotel, and Michael and I are able to defer our entries to 2015. I thought the George Washington’s Birthday Marathon could be a great backup. Nope. Canceled.

Maybe this means my March marathon and Boston will be much stronger. Maybe the slippery potholes up and down this city’s sidewalks are just Mother Nature telling me to take it easy. Maybe I’ll kick ass in a 10K this weekend because I have more that enough energy to go around from this taper.

I will say I’m a lot less perturbed about this cancellation than I was when I’d made my way to New York in 2012 after Sandy, only to have the race called off Friday night. At least I’m not losing money.

Race Review: 2013 Philadelphia Marathon

after the race

Given all the factors stacked up against me going in to this race, I honestly could not have imagined I would finish with a 3:09:40, which is just about two minutes slower than my marathon PR. That kind of result makes me think I can definitely break 3:05 next year.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my spazzy ankle injury. Last Tuesday as a last ditch effort to get me to the start line in the best shape possible, my PT and I tried dry needling, which is basically acupuncture with more vibration and lots of weird feelings in the affected tissue. I took my two taper weeks easier than normal and only did an easy 14-miler at around 8-minute pace for my final long run. I’d only been able to run about a 7:30 pace for a few miles at a time before my ankle and shin would seize up. Then I would take the pace back down to a more manageable 8:30.

Then sometime around this time last week I came down with a crazy hacking cough, an accompanying stuffy nose and body aches the day before I was supposed to start my new job. My new coworkers probably think I’m a gimpy smoker. The cough didn’t help me with my running either.Marathon sign downtown

At my doctor’s advice, I wore KT tape on my bum ankle for most of the weekend and during the race. I also popped two Advils this morning. Let’s say even though I was cleared to run the whole race, I didn’t exactly feel prepared going in to this thing.

We stayed downtown, so I didn’t have any trouble getting to the start line in plenty of time. On a normal day when I wasn’t afraid my leg would fall off at the ankle, I would have used a 1.5-mile jog as a warmup. Today I opted for a cab. The cabbie got me darn close to the park. I got there at 6:25 for a 7 a.m. race, so I had tons of time to meander and be nervous. I didn’t have any trouble getting in to the park, and there wasn’t any crazy security that I noticed. Of course, my focus was probably elsewhere.

The start line festivities seemed minimal — just the singing of the anthem and a few shoutouts to people running the race overseas. Right at 7 a.m., we were off. I got on pace pretty quick and noticed the 3:05 pace balloon drifting away quickly. In the first 800 feet I decided I should at least try to stick with that group for a while.

This is one of those half/full combo races where everyone starts together, and the half peels off around the (duh) halfway point. In the race guide’s fine print, you see that as a marathon runner, you can opt out of the full at the halfway point and be scored with the half finishers. This fact was dangling above my head in one of those cartoon thought bubbles from about mile six right up until the split. If I’d felt any discomfort in my ankle, I would have given myself an out. Funny thing was I never felt pain. Even now on the train ride home, I feel only a little normal soreness.

Marathon start. A little confusing.
Marathon starting area. A little confusing.

I hung on with the 3:05 pacer until mile 8 or so when we came to the big hill by the university. I started to doubt my pacing at that point, so I didn’t bother catching up. But I kept the group in sight through the second half of the course. After the full marathon runners split off, a woman who I’d been near for the past four or so miles caught up to me. I asked here what her goal time was. “3:10. You?” I told her I didn’t really have a goal right now. And that was true. But with that, I thought, hell, I can still break 3:10, too, probably. I don’t feel any crazy ankle pain right now, and this pace feels comfortable. The temperature is a little warm, but what the hell? So at mile 14, I started to get in the zone.

Getting in a nice, steady groove is easy in the second half of this race. The road is even. The scenery is darn pretty. You can concentrate on your running. Basically, I ran nearly even miles in the second half of the race with a few minor deviations for hills. I didn’t slow at the end because I still felt good. At one point a man yelled to me, “Go AMANDA! Looking really strong!” and his wife said, “Wait. You’re right. She actually did look strong.”

At mile 23, I thought back to that 3:10 goal and did a quick calculation that if I kept a pretty aggressive pace, I could still make it. To my right, Michael, who I’d seen at mile 22, was just behind me on the trail. He yelled something encouraging to me and then ran along the trail at my pace for a few miles until he came to the security zone. I kept thinking he certainly was going fast, or maybe I needed to speed up. He’d done an 11-mile training run this morning. Later I found out that yes, I was running pretty fast at that point. I pushed pretty hard for the last mile to make my self-imposed time goal. My Garmin was off by about a tenth of a mile, and the last few feet just seemed to go by in slow motion.

Brooks Pure Connect v. 1: most awesome.
Brooks Pure Connect v. 1: most awesome.

As a bonus, I happened to find a pair of my very favorite racing shoes on sale for $50 at City Sports on Saturday. I threw caution to the wind and raced in them. These things are incredibly hard to find in D.C. and especially hard to find online. If they’d had more than one pair in my size, I would’ve stocked up.

Cons

Bad roads for a few miles. In the Penn’s Landing section during the early miles, the roads were oddly gooved and uneven. During miles 4 through 6, people are trying to fall into position, but the bad roads clearly were distracting a bunch of us. Thank goodness this was in the early miles because if it was later, I probably would have fallen.

Confusing race start area. My cabbie dropped me off near one of the park’s entrances, and I headed toward where I thought the bag check would be. I ended up wandering around for about 10 minutes before I found the UPS trucks. Some clear signage would have gone a long way. I will take responsibility for not looking at the start area map the race organizers provided with the race packet, though.

Weird jaunt across Falls Bridge. Around mile 17, the course is happily chugging down Kelly Drive when you see up ahead a random left turn. This is Falls Bridge, and it is stupid. Why not keep going down Kelly Drive a little longer? The jaunt slowed me down and got me out of the zone. If you look at my splits, mile 18 is my worst mile because of this lame bridge.

Pros

Corrals. The corral system seemed to work well for me. I started with people who were going about my speed, and I noticed people with bibs from my corral around me most of the time.

Race results posted fast online. My results were online when I checked about two hours after I finished. That’s faster than most 5Ks. Great job here.

Start time. I love starting races early. Today’s 7 a.m. start time was especially nice because the weather was set to warm up past 60 by the time I crossed the finish line.
swag
SWAG. With added security, the race required that we check our gear in clear bags. Not to worry, though, since the fancy drawstring SWAG bag was clear and did double duty. The race also had a nice long-sleeve tech shirt that doesn’t have much branding (yay) and a 26.2 sticker. And my name was on my bib, so I got a ton of shout-outs from fans on the course. I love it when a race does that.

Fan support, at times. The greatest concentration of fans is downtown along Chestnut Street. For about 10 or 12 blocks, people form a wall of sound on either side of the street. The fans at this section and in a few other areas (turnarounds were good) made the race exciting. As I said, I enjoyed getting into the groove along Kelly Drive, so I didn’t miss the barren fan areas too much there.

Hotel discounts. We found a pretty good discounted marathon deal on a Kimpton hotel in a touristy area. If you book early enough, you can probably find some cheaper deals through the marathon website.

Clear course markers, mostly. Most mile markers had a visible flag. I didn’t notice all of them at the beginning, though, since I was trying to not trip over people around me and the uneven streets.

Course Map

Phialdelphia race map 2013

Splits

Split Distance Average Pace
1 1 7:14
2 1 6:51
3 1 6:39
4 1 6:59
5 1 6:58
6 1 6:52
7 1 6:55
8 1 7:17
9 1 7:12
10 1 7:39
11 1 7:13
12 1 7:09
13 1 7:24
14 1 7:04
15 1 7:04
16 1 7:13
17 1 7:26
18 1 7:47
19 1 7:24
20 1 7:23
21 1 7:19
22 1 7:12
23 1 7:15
24 1 7:23
25 1 7:22
26 1 7:17
27 0.32 7:17

Details

  • Course: loop with an out and back in the second half
  • Terrain: roads and minimal turns, a few hills in the beginning
  • Website: Philadelphia Marathon

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