Pride and Tolerance

I ran 18 miles for my long run this morning, which seems really far. In our small town, that means covering a lot of ground. I decided to head down to Main Street to take a picture I’ve been wanting to get for a couple of weeks. A lot of Middletown’s Pride celebration is virtual this year, but Main Street is DECKED OUT! It looks amazing!

Eighteen miles gives you plenty of time to think. Kevin told me a few weeks ago that he felt proud of my running, even though I am the one doing it. That made a difference today when the miles started to get hard. Eighteen miles is a long way and if my family just “tolerated” my running, it would have felt a lot further. But Kevin and the kids are proud of me and my accomplishments and that helped me keep going this morning.

It made me think about Middletown Pride too. Tolerance beats intolerance, that’s for sure. But I am proud to live in a community that doesn’t just “tolerate” our LGBTQI friends and neighbors, but welcomes them joyfully, and yes, with pride.

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Make-A-Wish Bethany 5K 2021

Make-A-Wish Bethany was the last of the three races I ran in March. It happened way back on March 21st, but then a whole lot of life happened, so I haven’t posted a race report yet. Here it is!

I learned about the Make-A-Wish race from runners in the 169 Towns Society. Members of 169 Towns are trying to race in every town in Connecticut so they keep careful watch on all races, even the tiniest ones. I’ve heard that the Make-A-Wish folks actually contacted 169 Towns and asked where to hold the 5K so that the most people would show up. Of course in this process I ended up joining 169 Towns so we’ll see how long *that* project takes!

After running a bit too slowly at the 3 Miler in early March and then starting way too fast at the Colchester half, I was really looking for good execution at the Bethany race. Coach Mick noted that starting a little hot was becoming a bit of a habit for me and maybe it was time to nip that in the bud. I completely agreed. He suggested putting a pace alert on my watch for the first kilometer so it would beep at me if I went too quick. I tried that on my Saturday shake-out run the day before the race and it sort of worked. The watch definitely beeped at me, but it was because I was running too slowly! Whether it was because I then tried to speed up to hit the pace alert from the too fast side or because it’s suddenly 50 degrees and sunny in Connecticut, the shake-out run felt pretty terrible. I felt gross. Running at noon is awful. I hated the watch arrangement. My Aftershokz died on me. The only thing I was happy about was having my trusty Next%s back on my feet. Possibly the worst shake-out run ever.

I talked to Coach Mick (again….) and he wasn’t worried. The plan was to break the race into kilometers, a technique I’ve used before. For the first kilometer, I was aiming for about 7:30-7:40 minutes/mile, and then drop it to 7:20 and hold there. My primary goal was not to start too fast. I wanted to run hard, but controlled. My secondary goal was to meet some of the 169 Towns people in person.

Make-A-Wish Bethany started at noon, which is a weird time for a race. At least I got to sleep in! I had a normal breakfast. I futzed around with my watch some more. I did a little work-work. Suddenly it was time to leave! I made a half a hippie sandwich and ate a quarter of it on the way to the race. The weather is *finally* warming up so I wore my pink Kari Traa singlet, my ancient Moving Comfort compression shorts and the Next%’s. Pink Manchester Running Company socks for luck!

The drive to Bethany was uneventful except mentally I was stewing about the Covid situation. I was set to get my vaccine the day after the race, but this weird phase of some people vaccinated, some not, not being quite sure what is safe and what isn’t – This phase can be tough. I promised myself early on not to get angry about who gets vaccinated when and how, because I think there’s a lot of good faith efforts going on. But I haven’t always been able to keep that promise. On the way to the race, I thought of Deena Kastor again: Define yourself. How do I *want* to handle the social aspects around Covid vaccination? I want to grant everyone grace and compassion, including myself. That means grace and compassion for everyone, from the person who “jumps the line” to the person who is too nervous to get the vaccine at all. Most of all to anyone involved in vaccine distribution. So a couple of miles outside of Bethany, I just imagined letting all my anger go and defining myself as someone with a big heart and a lot of compassion on this topic. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stick with that position but I’m sure going to try.

I got to the race with about 45 minutes before start time. Picked up my bib and shirt. Bought some raffle tickets. The port-a-potty line was pretty long so I just bailed in order to have time to warm up. Running out along the course, I still didn’t feel all that great. My watch was again beeping at me for running too slowly. Then it started talking to me, telling me my pace! Screw that. I decided to just use the settings I am used to. Also, my headphones crapped out again. Not sure what is going on with them! I had just enough time for a few drills and strides and then it was time to line up. The first wave was everyone expecting to run under 25 minutes. I had told Coach Mick I was considering lining up at the start of the second wave and he assured me that was a bad idea. So, back of wave 1 it was. The 169 folks were *everywhere*. I chatted with the guy next to me for a minute or two and then we were off.

I’m the one in pink – pretty much all the way at the back!

I was determined not to start too fast, especially since I opted against the pace alert on the watch. I definitely did not want to tell Coach Mick that I had bailed on his suggestion and still screwed up by going out too hot. Not that he would mind, but I would sure mind! I let the entire wave pull away from me, even the nice 169 Towns guy I had been talking to. Some of them will be coming back to me, I thought. I hoped! I peeked down after a couple of minutes and my watch said 7:15. Cool your jets, girlfriend. You are looking for 7:35 at the fastest. I slowed down even more. My watch’s autolap was still going off at kilometers, but I saw the first mile marker at 7:44. A little slower than planned, but better that than too fast.

This is an out-and-back course with literally one turn. With one mile down, I was ready to take it up a notch. And I was feeling better! You never know what will happen in a race. I’ve been reading Alexi Pappas’s memoir and she starts with a poem:

Run like a bravey
Sleep like a baby
Dream like a crazy
Replace can’t with maybe

That last line is brilliant. I tried to latch onto it as a kind of chant. My music had died, again, so I’ll have to figure out what’s going on there, but in the meantime I just chanted “Replace can’t with maybe, replace can’t with maybe” in my head.

There is pretty much nothing interesting about this course. There’s one barn on it, pictured right here. One of the 169 Towns people snapped this. I love that these folks do not know me AT ALL yet they managed to take the exact same race picture that has been taken during so many other races. The Incredible Mervus calls this look “Zombie Fish.” Attractive, isn’t it? Note also, lack of knee drive and how my hips are collapsing. There’s work to be done!

I had thought up some mantras other than “replace can’t with maybe” but none of them came into my head now. Instead, I just chased a controlled 5K feeling. Yesterday in one of my running groups, we talked about whether you can feel joy when you’re racing hard, and therefore feeling miserable. I think you can. That’s what I was hoping for and I found it. At the 3 mile race two weeks earlier, I couldn’t figure out how to race hard. At Colchester, I was just miserable. At Bethany, I found that hard-joy feeling. It’s a little like what I imagine driving a sports car might be like except you pay for all your speed with oxygen.

With about a half mile to go, I spotted a woman ahead of me in green socks. I had no idea how many women were ahead of me, but perhaps not that many. What if she was in third and I was in fourth? Like, for overall female? How crazy would that be! And how pissed would I be if I missed third by a few seconds. I started to push harder. I was already counting in my head, but by now, I could hardly keep track of what number I was on. I tried to think about the form cues I’m working on. Mostly I just chased those green socks and counted down until this race would be over with.

I crossed the line and went and bent over a traffic cone to catch my breath. Oof. After a bit, the guy from the start also crossed and made a similar move with a fence. We both stood there, bent over breathing hard for awhile until we could finally stand up and congratulate each other. These 169 folks are really great and we had a fun talk. Then I went and said hello and thank you to Green Socks for pulling me through at the end!

I met the bear who the 169ers carry along at every race to honor a friend who passed away.

 

 

 

 

I watched an award ceremony for someone who has completed her 100th town. I stood in the sunshine and talked running with a bunch of new friends. I may or may not have consumed a jello shot. So much joy! And, because these things matter to me: 23:08 for my time, 6th overall female, 1st in age group. No award for running, but I did win a $25 gift certificate for ice cream in the raffle!

After the race, I cruised home to pick up Mervus to celebrate. We had pizza and beer at a local brewpub. Yum! No mimosa, but I’ll take one of these stouts any day!

 

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Colchester Half Marathon Race Report 2021

On March 13th I ran the Colchester half marathon, one of my favorite races. I didn’t run the time I was hoping for, but I am so grateful the race happened at all. I got to run that beautiful course on a sunny day with a good friend. And hey, if I’m going to race like a goofball, let’s get all the mistakes out of the way as fast as possible!

Colchester normally takes place the last weekend in February, rain or shine, or more often, snow and ice. It might be the hilliest half marathon in the state. Colchester is cheap, usually around $14-18 dollars. No t-shirt, no medal. But a great post-race lunch and a chance to connect to the local running community. I had assumed it wouldn’t happen at all this year since the Connecticut racing ban wasn’t lifted until March 1st. But when they announced registration opening in mid-February, I signed up almost immediately. This year, no lunch of course, and they knocked the price down to $10. Racing in the time of Covid means you sometimes have to submit an expected finish time so I said 1:48. Pokey was running also and she submitted the same time so we could line up together.

Loyal readers may remember I am not training for a half marathon. I am training for a bunch of 5Ks. When I found out about Colchester, I extended a planned long run from 10 miles to 15. Other than that, I haven’t run more than a couple of 12 milers since early January. Zero long runs at the orchard where I usually train for Colchester. A couple of mid-week rambles around town with some serious elevation. Mostly weekly mileage of around 50 miles per week. In short, completing a half marathon would certainly be no problem. Running a PR was definitely not happening. Colchester has over 900 feet of gain. My previous times at Colchester are 2:04 in 2014; 1:55 in 2016; 1:54 in 2019. Coach Mick noted that my average pace at Colchester 2019 was slower than my average pace at the Chicago full. It seemed to me like a course PR was in the bag and that seemed a reasonable goal. Then I got a little greedy and started eyeing 1:50. High Power Running Mentor #1 later noted that I had no data to support this. That’s true – I didn’t even look at any data. That’s just a nice round number. Coach Mick didn’t think it was crazy as a stretch goal so I decided to go for it. So, 1:50 as the A goal, a course PR as a solid B goal.

I didn’t feel terribly stressed in the lead up to the race. On Saturday morning I had my standard race day breakfast, oatmeal with protein powder, cocoa powder and a banana. I made my protein shake and hippie sandwich for afterwards. Had my coffee. Packed a change of clothes and a couple of alternative shirts in case I changed my mind once I got there. I ran the 3 Miler last week in Hoka Rocket X’s and I decided to try them for this longer race as well. Nothing noteworthy about the drive over. These are the sorts of race preparations I thought might be hard to remember, but actually, they were no big deal.

Setting up the finish line

I arrived at the parking lot right around 8:20 and quickly found Pokey. A quick stop at the port-a-potty and we commenced our warm up. The only thing different from a regular Colchester was that we couldn’t go inside and people were showing up very gradually. The race had wave starts, 50 runners to a wave, two minutes between waves. I didn’t feel wonderful on the warm up. Nothing really bad, just not peppy. It was colder than expected. We had plenty of time to jog for a mile or so, do a few drills and strides, one last stop at the port-a-potty. I decided to stick with my planned outfit: light weight tights, Tracksmith wool long-sleeved shirt, gloves, no hat, Darn Tough socks, of course, plus the Hokas. At least it was warmer than last weekend! I popped a couple of Jet Alerts and shoved two packets of Maurten into my fuel belt.

Pokey and I lined up at the back of our wave. We were in the 1:48 wave, even though our most aggressive goal was 1:50. Part of the new strategy of pandemic racing is that with a staggered start, there’s no worry about getting stuck in the crowd at the beginning, but it can be hard to figure out exactly where to place yourself. Last week, Allegro Fuerte and I were too far back. This time around, Pokey and I should almost certainly have been in a slower wave. Having done it both ways, I would try to line up appropriately, but err on the side of being too conservative. I didn’t take any pictures at the start because the race was really efficient at getting us going. We lined up in pairs, six feet apart in all directions. Once we were in our “corral” it was only a minute or two before we were ready to start and then we were off, almost exactly at 9:04, as planned. For these small races, the staggered starts are so easy to implement and actually improve the starting line experience in a lot of ways. I won’t be surprised if this model sticks around, post-Covid.

I had planned to start at 8:35-8:40 pace, or even 8:45. A 1:50 half is an 8:20 average pace, but it’s often better to start a bit slower and the first three miles of the course are uphill. As the entire wave pulled away from me and Pokey, I said something like “that’s fine, that’s the idea.” I didn’t feel great, but figured it was race nerves. An initial glance at my watch said something like 8:30. Then the first mile split clicked in: 8:06. Hmmmm.

At that point, I *should* have said to myself, I am 15 seconds faster than goal pace. I am 40 seconds faster than a reasonable first mile pace, particularly considering the hill. A smart racer, and I have sometimes been one, would have slowed down. Instead I thought to myself, wow, this feels bad, it’s going to be a long 12 miles. I did slow down some and the next split was 8:34. I said something to Pokey like “I’m not having a great day. If you want to run ahead, go for it.” She said no, we would stick together.

Pokey is the real heroine of this story. We’ve run bunches of miles together, but it’s been hard to get schedules to match up during the past year. We raced a New Year’s Day 5K together in 2019 and 2020 and it was heart breaking that we couldn’t do that in 2021. But Colchester was a kind of replacement, a chance to run with a good friend on a cold day and find some joy. The very best moments of the day were running next to each other, stride-for-stride. Working hard together, enjoying the shared effort. However, a whole lot more often, she was just in front of me, subtly checking on me, refusing to leave me as I struggled, cheering me on at the end. Without her, this race might have turned into a real horror show. So no, she wouldn’t leave me at mile 2, or mile 6, or mile 10 when I begged her not to let me walk, or the long march of miles 11 through 13. She’s seen me suffer before and I’m afraid she saw me suffer on this day also, but I love her for sticking with me.

Anyway, back to that hill. Around mile 3 it’s finally over and Pokey and I looked at each other and said “One down” because we knew there were more hills coming. Running down the hill felt pretty good. I stopped looking at my watch here and that might have been a mistake. Things were going less badly than I thought. The three downhill miles came in at 8:28, 8:17, and 8:06, which is really fine.

13.1 miles is a long time and a lot of time to think. I wish I could say I was filled with the great joy of being able to race again, but that’s not true. Instead, a lot of anger bubbled up. I’m angry at the Trump administration and its handling of the pandemic. I’m angry at people who were hyper cautious and then took off for Florida to get a break from this rough winter. I’m jealous of them too! I wish we had done that! I’m angry at people who judged me for running outside without a mask and I’m angry at myself for caring. I’m angry at people who claimed to “follow science” but really only did so when it served their own previously-formed desires. I’m angry at myself for sometimes being tempted to do the same. I am beyond angry at how school has been for my kids.

I want to rip this pandemic off of us and start the healing but I don’t think it will be that simple.

I’m angry at myself for lacking compassion for people with opinions different from my own. It turns out, I have a lot of anger to burn off and if running a half marathon too hard helps with that, maybe that’s just the way it goes. Maybe I run hard for awhile until there’s nothing left to burn. Honestly, if we could all do that, run and run and run until some of the anger is gone and the healing can start – that wouldn’t be a terrible way to spend the spring.

Even though I remember those thoughts and more, I am not quite sure when I had them. I do know that at the beginning of mile 6 on the Colchester course, you turn a corner and stare up an insane hill. Strava says the steepest part is a 12.6% gradient. People walk on this hill and there were people walking now. We didn’t walk.

The race director was waiting at the top of the hill with a big stuffed hand at the end of a pole for socially-distanced high fives! The top of the hill was also where the race had its one and only water stop. I grabbed a bottle, chugged a bit, and tossed it in the trash. Grab-and-go aid stations are the new norm, but they work fine.

A couple of pieces of record keeping, things I will want to know later. For fueling I had taken along two Maurten gels. I prefer to race with Maurten rather than Gu because it’s easier on my stomach. I don’t usually have nausea at all, but my stomach was a bit off at Colchester. I did end up taking about half a packet of Maurten around five miles and then another half around ten miles when things started to get really ugly. The stomach stuff was nothing serious and I’m assuming it was just from not being used to running that pace for a sustained amount of time. But there’s no way I would have even tried Gu, so I was happy I had the Maurten. I would choose different shoes next time around, however. Partway through the race, the Rocket Xs started to feel really heavy. Maybe they are better for track work. In 2019 I ran Colchester in Vaporflys and that was terrible. Vaporflys have no traction when it’s slippery and sections of this course can be muddy. Next time around, I will try the Next%’s. Mid-race, I was happy to be experimenting with the Hokas now rather than at a goal race.

With all those dark thoughts out of the way (at least for now), miles 6-9 were the happiest ones of the race for me. We still had a long way to go, but at least we were halfway done. This stretch of the course is really lovely. It’s where my favorite barn is, what I consider the prettiest view from any race course in Connecticut. This is also a nice long descent so you finally get a break. I was still hurting, probably more than I should have been, but Pokey and I found that shared-stride feeling pretty often in here. Colchester should be a gloriously joyous race and I found a little bit of that feeling here at least.

I still wasn’t looking at my watch and I wasn’t racing very smart either. Coach Mick had said I should aim for sentences effort, especially early in the race. That would mean that I could get out 1-2 sentences in conversation, though I would prefer not to. I even kind of knew the effort was too great here, but it was like I had lost the ability or the will to make the more serious adjustment that was probably needed.

The last monster hill starts at about 8.5 miles. Pokey noted she had forgotten this one, but I certainly had not. With a starting grade of around 13%, this thing is insane. I just focused on not walking. Not even because walking is always a bad idea on a hill like that but because I was remembering the Westfield 10K of 2019 when I walked. Walking once in a race can open the gate to walking again. It’s like your brain decides walking is an acceptable solution and I definitely did not want my brain thinking that. I ran up the hill, pretty slowly, but running.

What goes up must come down and the descent off the mile 9 hill is truly impressive, dropping 189 feet in a mile. That’s steep enough that you have to be a little careful. Fatigue was also starting to set in in a big way. Around 10.5 miles into this race, it was like the air went out of my balloon. I gasped out to Pokey “Don’t let me walk.” She could tell I was pretty desperate and I didn’t care. I knew the end of the race was yet to come and that it was going to be pretty ugly.

Ugly it was. The last two miles of the Colchester course are uphill. Also, straight, so you can see the hill stretch out before you for the full two miles. As an added bonus, I knew we were going to turn into a stiff headwind, which we did. A race started too quickly. Somewhat undertrained for a half marathon. A steady uphill in windy conditions. How very lovely.

My main process goal for this race was to find the racing mindset again. I just couldn’t get into that gear at the First Chance to Race 3 Miler. It was like driving a car and not being able to press the gas pedal. Colchester was sort of the opposite. I slammed the car into high gear more or less from the start and refused to take my foot off the gas despite empirical evidence that I needed to slow down. Mile 10 or so of a half marathon shouldn’t feel good and uphill into the wind should definitely feel bad. Ok, mission accomplished, because I felt fairly wretched. Now what?

I wanted really really badly to walk. To be completely honest, I wanted to stop and cry and just walk it in. Two miles is still pretty far. But I didn’t walk. Instead, I started remembering how to fight. In Deena Kastor’s book, her coach tells her to go out and define herself. That’s what I had to do now: Define myself. Am I the kind of runner who stops and cries and walks with two miles to go? I am not.

I thought about Coach Mick and how he has often said that he knows I can be really tough at the end of a race. Am I his “toughest runner?” I don’t know – he has a lot of amazing people running for him. But on this long hill, I decided to do my best to earn the title of Sekelsky’s toughest runner. Award ceremonies are currently not legal in Connecticut, so who knows if I won or not!

Finally, I thought about Pokey. A couple of years ago I broke down in the middle of mile repeats, and she got me going again. We finished the workout. I owed it to her not to put her in that position again. She sure didn’t need to deal with a crying and defeated friend in the bright sunshine of a cold spring morning on a beautiful race course. By the last mile, she was actively cheering for me – I’m sure she could see how hard I was working. I counted and counted and counted and finally FINALLY those two miles were behind us. A quick right turn into the finish line and it was done. I was so unbelievably happy to be finished! No cozy lasagna and pizza feast this year. Just a bottle of water, some quick pictures, an actual real hug, and we were on our way.

I’ve thought about this race a lot in the past few days. I’m not going to pretend to have no regrets. If I could do it over, I would certainly do it differently. I wouldn’t start so fast. I would adjust when I realized my mistake. I would probably check my watch more often since I begin to suspect my sense of pace is off after such a long time of not racing. I should stop telling myself I raced stupid, since that serves no purpose but that voice is still there. Maybe some part of me just wanted to see if I still knew how to hurt. It turns out I do, which is good news. Coach Mick assures me that starting a race too hot is a very fixable problem. Thank goodness I have another race next weekend so I get to try again really soon. I would tell a friend that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s just a race, and those things are true. I might tell a friend that the ability to move quickly past a race gone wrong is a good skill to have, and that’s also true. I might even tell a friend, we’ll get ‘em next year and that’s for damn sure true. Colchester, I’m gunning for you. Sub-1:50 next year.

When I got home, I flopped on the couch and talked to my parents. Rose wanted to bake a pie for March 14th (Pi Day) so we did. We ordered pizza and toasted my race and Rose’s fabulous school conference. I believe in celebration!

Racing well can be like playing with fire and at this race, I got a little burned. But last week, I couldn’t even figure out how to get the fire started. Now I know it’s there so let’s see if I can remember how to control it.

 

 

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First Chance to Race in Connecticut 3 Miler

Staying flexible is the name of the game right now. That 4 Mile race in New Hampshire I was planning to do? Too much snow to drive all the way there and back. I did a race simulation at home instead, mostly because I wanted the super cute football-themed race shirt. I also got to try out my new Hoka Rocket X shoes, which I loved. But it wasn’t a real race.

Big news, though. Connecticut has lifted its ban on road races as of March 1st! Hooray!

It should go without saying [yet I feel weirdly obliged to say it….] that these races will have Covid-19 protocols in place. There will be social distancing and masks, etc. etc. Road races this spring will not look quite like they normally do. Yet we’ve known for a long time that transmission of the virus outside is enormously less likely than transmission inside. I was overjoyed to hear that we could race in Connecticut again!

I went with a register-early-and-often strategy and I’m currently signed up for four 5Ks and one half marathon between March 1st and May 2nd. The first race was March 6th, the very first weekend day that races were legal in Connecticut again. Woo hoo!

The “First Chance to Race in Connecticut 3 Miler” is normally the “Last Chance for Romance 3 Miler” but the race director decided March 6th was too long past Valentine’s Day so he re-named the event. He promised coffee mugs as swag “since you all have enough shirts already.” I love a race director with a sense of humor! Allegro Fuerte decided to register also so we could reunite the Dynamic Duo of 5Ks from last spring. YAY! YAY! YAY!

Training has been going……okay. Switching from marathon training over to 5K training was a little bumpy. We’ve been holding at about 50 miles per week, a place where I am currently very happy. I’ve had a couple of really solid track workouts and I bombed a couple as well. Connecticut has had a LOT of snow this year so I’ve done some speed work on a path near the track and some on the road. We had a long string of days where it didn’t get above 20 degrees. It’s often felt like my aerobic capacity dramatically outstripped my ability to get my legs to move quickly, which kind of makes sense, given that I’ve run a lot of easy miles in the past several months and not that many fast ones.

When I talk to Coach Mick about race plans, he often starts by asking what I think I can run, putting the ball squarely in my court. This time around, though, he had a couple of clear recommendations. He thought I should run #nowatchme – in other words, don’t look at pace at all – and he thought my number one goal should be having fun. With the training ups and downs of the last couple of months, it’s hard to predict how fast I might be able to go. Sometimes I’ve run faster than expected by not looking at my watch. Spoiler alert: That wasn’t going to be how this race played out.

The night before the race I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. I made a list of everything I would want at the race and the order I intended to do things in. Rose and I created a special Girl Power Playlist. I got myself to bed on time and slept really well. On race day morning, everything went according to plan. Maybe I remembered how to do this stuff after all. Eat the oatmeal. Pack a protein shake and a change of clothes for after the race. New item for the list: Be sure to bring some kind of mask to wear. Of course, by this point in the pandemic, I’ve got extra masks in my purse, in my car, and in my race bag, so this wasn’t a big deal. I opted for my pink wool buff because it was really cold.

The drive down to Stratford was easy. I listened to a podcast with Molly Seidel and her sister Izzy. They talked a lot about having fun and I thought about Coach Mick’s number one goal suggestion. It’s been a long hard winter. For everyone. We don’t always see the trauma each of us is going through right now. The level of unkindness in the world seems to have escalated at an extreme pace. If I came away from this race feeling sad, what a missed opportunity that would be.

I sometimes pick words to focus on during a 5K and for this race, I chose Control – Joy – Gift. I didn’t want to go out too fast and I know that can easily happen, especially since I haven’t raced in so long. So, start with Control. I went seeking joy, JOY in all caps! The first chance to race! Lastly, I wanted to remember something I’ve told myself since getting past the plantar fasciitis a few years (years!) ago: Every step is a gift.

I arrived at the race nice and early, got parked, found Allegro Fuerte. It was dang cold and windy. Packet pick-up was easy-peasy. The main Covid protocols were that everyone wears a mask and the volunteers had to be outside the whole time. As promised, we could pick between a mug and a t-shirt. Plus, everyone got candy!

We were so early and it was so cold that Allegro Fuerte and I retreated to our respective cars for ten minutes before warming up. I listened to “Unstoppable” by Sia, a new-to-me song selected by Rose for my Girl Power Playlist. I wore light weight tights, my Tracksmith long-sleeved wool top, gloves and mittens, and the Hoka Rocket Xs. Darn Tough socks, as always.

 

Then AF and I went and warmed up. We ran the course backwards to get a look at the hill at the start of the third mile. It was indeed quite noteworthy, but then a nice downhill into the finish. We made a last minute potty stop and I ditched my jacket and hat in the car. I kept gloves and mittens and even added hand warmers because I hate having cold hands. There was time for a quick set of drills and then we lined up!

Instead of cones, they had just dumped spots of flour on the road at six foot intervals. Each flour spot could accommodate three runners. Every ten seconds, a row of runners advanced. I truly don’t mind this kind of staggered start. The very fastest runners – what looked like a crew of high school boys – were all the way up front and the rest of us spread out down the driveway of the park where the race started. It’s actually great to be able to start running immediately without being tangled up with a bunch of other people.

As we approached the start, I turned on my music and…..nothing. I have a Garmin Forerunner 245 *with music* that for some reason was now *without music*. Urg. No Girl Power playlist! Oh well. I prefer to race with music even though it is decidedly uncool, but it wasn’t the first time I’d go without it. I had set my watch to show only time of day so I wouldn’t be tempted to get any information from it while running and I didn’t look a single time.

Allegro Fuerte and I started together, but I fairly quickly pulled ahead. Good! I am coaching him now and trying to get him away from his start-like-a-bat-out-of-hell habit. The course starts with a decent downhill and I ended up passing quite a few people. From a Covid-perspective, this felt fine to me. I don’t know if I was always six feet away from people, but I was certainly always at least four feet away and everyone was moving. We were not required to wear our masks while running and I did not. It definitely “felt like” a real race because it was! Near the bottom of the hill first, I felt like I heard Allegro Fuerte behind me – he later confirmed this was correct. Hmmm, either he is running a tad fast or I am running a tad slow.

I tried to focus on how I felt. That’s the point of #nowatchme and since it turned out I was also running #nomusicme I had no distraction. But I found it hard to figure out exactly how I *should* feel. I ran a trail race on October 31st of last year, but I didn’t race it. Other than that, I haven’t toed a starting line since Jim Thorpe last September and a marathon does not feel much like a 5K. I know there’s what I call a 5K-awful kind of feeling, but I didn’t want to feel that until maybe a mile into the race. I had very little idea how fast I was running, though I was still passing quite a few people. The first mile was supposed to be “easy-peasy, a nice downhill,” which was true, for the first half mile. Then it went back UP hill. We turned right and hit the first mile marker.

The second mile did not turn out to be flat, as had been promised – maybe it would qualify for “New England flat”. But, this mile was for JOY! so I went looking for some. I passed a lot more people. Not hard-core racers – after all, they were up front. A couple of families with kids. Some girls running together and laughing. Lots of runners out working hard on a cold and windy spring morning. I thought about how incredibly grateful I was to be able to do this again, this shared striving, on the same course, at the same time, with bibs pinned to our chests to show that we are willing to put a number to our efforts. Some runners say they feel most alive when they are racing. Sharing this run, at whatever speed each of us happens to be traveling, deepens the experience for all of us, one reason the absence of races has been so hard. To be sure, nothing like as hard as losing your job, or getting sick, or losing a loved one. But losing access to a particular type of joy is a very real loss. For mile two, I focused on feeling that joy as deeply as I could.

The promised “monster hill” at the start of mile three matched the course description completely. Last minute instructions threatened the loss of one post-race granola bar for any cursing on this hill so I kept my mouth shut. I also remembered, every step is a gift, even the steps up this ridiculous hill. To be honest, I knew by now that all this positive thinking was likely a sign that I wasn’t working hard enough. By the start of mile three of a 5K, one should be fighting a tidal wave of despair and I just wasn’t. I crested the hill and one of the very few spectators yelled out “half a mile to go and all downhill!” I did manage to speed up, but I didn’t pass the woman in front of me, though I came damn close! Down the hill, around the corner, into the park, finally over the finish line. I ran directly behind a bush so I could catch my breath for a minute or two before putting my mask back on.

Oldest and youngest finishers!

As I was waiting for Allegro Fuerte to finish, a very small racer came cruising across the line. Turns out he is six years old. The oldest finisher was 95. The winner of the race was 16 and the last finisher was 77. It’s no secret that I think the Connecticut racing ban was ridiculous. Except for an elbow bump with Allegro Fuerte, I touched no one. I was never closer than four feet away from anyone and that was only for a few seconds. This race had 166 finishers, starting three at a time, ten seconds apart. That’s 166 stories getting played out on the course. It’s the high school speedsters coming in at just under 17 minutes. It’s the girlfriends cheering for each other. It’s the families running together. It’s me and a whole lot of other people looking for joy through the process of striving together on a hilly race course on a cold and windy spring morning. I’m so very grateful to get this back.

Oh, my time? 23:40. Good for first in my age group. 6/81 women, 26/166 finishers. Average pace of 7:53. That’s almost a minute a mile slower than where I want to be. And, dear reader, if you think I don’t care about that, you’re definitely not paying attention. Of course I care about that. What needs to happen so I can run faster? More time for 5K training to take hold, a flatter course, better weather, different mindset? Probably all of those things. Now that we are racing again in Connecticut, I’ve got three 5Ks and a half marathon coming up in the next two months so that’s plenty of opportunity to figure it out!

 

 

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Change of Plans

What a month it’s been. Around January 1st, I took some time to look back at last year and try to write up some kind of year-end reflection on the great mess that was 2020. That task threw me into a serious funk and that was *prior* to the little insurrection of January 6th. When everyone said “Winter is coming!” I have to admit – I did not expect an invasion of our nation’s Capitol to be part of the story. I used to work on Capitol Hill and watching those people – I would say those punks, but I have too much respect for actual punks – smash the windows and defile those hallways hit me hard. I can tell writing this that I am still angry about it.

But, January 6th was followed by January 20th. A new President, finally, and the beautiful words of Amanda Gorman to help us climb the next hill. A huge sigh of relief and a breath of hope.

Also, some significant changes in spring running plans. Despite my best efforts, I could not muster any real excitement for training for the Newport marathon. I kept slugging it out on the roads, running through slush, running through some cold grey winter days in Michigan, attempting to run many tempo miles on the streets of West Hartford before finally realizing that my heart wasn’t in it. I had told High Power Running Mentor #1 that the main reason to train for a marathon during a pandemic was because I love marathon training. But I sure wasn’t loving it. So I changed plans.

I toyed with the idea of a half marathon, but even that felt pretty dang far. Instead Coach Mick and I settled on the idea of a 5K training block. I had a lot of fun training for the 10K last spring and I want some of that speed back. I also suspect short distance races are the ones most likely to happen in person and I have no interest in a virtual race. So, 5K training it is. I even have a race coming up – the Super Sunday 4 Miler in Bedford, New Hampshire. Sure, that’s a little longer than a 5K, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’m hunting for an actual 5K later this spring. Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

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New Training Cycle – New Hope – Newport – Berlin!

This week kicks off a new marathon training cycle and even though life is quite weird and sometimes scary and depressing, I am also finding the excitement that comes along with new beginnings.

I am training for the Newport Marathon, which will hopefully take place on April 17th, 2021. I chose Newport before we knew we’d have a vaccine for the coronavirus. I wanted to run a spring marathon between late March and early May and I didn’t want to have to fly anywhere. A small race like Newport is much more likely to happen than larger events. With just under 350 finishers in 2019, Newport is more than twice as big as Jim Thorpe so I’m hoping to have people to run with for more of the race. The racing company, Rhode Races, held several successful events this past fall and they know how to put on a race with Covid protocols. The course is hillier than I would like, but I’ll take what I can get. The race takes place during Newport’s Daffodil Days Festival. I keep imagining myself running past vast beds of daffodils, one of my favorite flowers. It feels like a joyful way to welcome spring.

Official training started Monday with my usual swimming and weights. Tuesday was a more challenging tempo run which I nailed (!), thank you very much. The rest of the week is about getting in some miles while dodging our first big snowstorm of the season. First long run with pacing this weekend.

The first Covid vaccinations were also delivered Monday. I don’t know what the spring will bring in terms of racing or the virus. But new beginnings bring new hope. I planted daffodils and tulips in our yard this fall. I can’t wait to see those little green shoots peek out next spring.

I got more good running news this week. I got into the Berlin Marathon through the lottery! I’ve wanted to run Berlin as long as I can remember. As a scholar of German politics, I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin and I love the city. It’s sort of the underdog of world capitals – a difficult but fascinating history, lingering signs of the division if you know where to look, glitzy consumer capitalism next to neighborhood hangouts. I still remember a long training run in 2013 for the Hartford Marathon when I ran with a much-loved colleague. A dear friend met me in East Berlin with a jacket I never ended up returning. That day, running 16 miles from West to East, the seed of marathoning in Berlin was planted in my mind.

The national elections and the marathon coincided in 2017. The Christian Democrats “won” the elections, but the radical right party, the Alternative for Germany, entered parliament for the first time. It’s also probably the first day I paid attention to Eliud Kipchoge, winner of the men’s marathon. He didn’t run a world record time that day, but he came back to Berlin in 2018 and smashed it, running 2:01:39. Kichoge wasn’t the first to break the record in Berlin. It’s probably the fastest course in the world and the record has been broken 11 times there. I don’t expect to break the world record but I sure would like to break my own. Bring on Berlin!

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Arctic Adventures and the Hygge Project

“Winter is coming.” “The worst is yet to come.” “The next few months will be cold and dark and full of death.” How many times have we read those headlines in the last few weeks?

The winter will almost certainly be cold and dark, and probably also full of death. I don’t deny that truly horrific events may be on the horizon. But last night, I heard some very different sentiments from Rose: “Mom, this is the best thing ever!” “When we sing together, the magic starts!” “The memory of this is already tingling in my brain!”

We were just starting our drive home from her first outdoor rehearsal of the United Girls Choir (UGC), the choral group she joined last year. UGC has been on hiatus since spring but the choir is coming back to life as part of the holiday season with rehearsals and classes online, and a few in-person meet-ups (socially distanced, of course, do I even need to say that?).

How do we want to face this season? Is it a winter of dread or a winter of wonder? A line from an advent prayer echoes in my mind: “Knowing the darkness bears unexpected gifts.” We can focus on the darkness or we can focus on the gifts.

I can’t help but think of the emotions runners feel when heading to the starting line. Racing hard hurts. But Deena Kastor, one of the best distance runners ever, compares race day to Christmas morning. With one key difference: On race day, you get to decide what’s in your present, based on the attitude you bring. Approach the race with gratitude, excitement and confidence, and maybe you’ll find that brand-new bicycle you’ve been longing for. Approach the race with fear and dread, and you may find the equivalent of a lump of coal. Deena doesn’t deny that it’s going to hurt. A lot. But focusing on the negative often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which is the better way to approach the start? With a heart full of dread, thinking over and over again, this experience is going to be unimaginably awful? Or with an openness to whatever good things the next several weeks might bring?

Hence, my (attempted) approach to the coming winter: Arctic Adventures and the Hygge Project. Note, I do not promise to succeed. I promise to try.

On the Arctic Adventures front, I’m taking to heart both the science that says transmission of the virus is dramatically decreased outdoors and the old saying that there’s no bad weather, only inadequate gear. Thank goodness that my main form of recreation, running, is much more enjoyable outdoors and I already have an embarrassing amount of gear. Not that more gear isn’t good. I’m always in favor of more gear.

Last month I went backpacking and slept in a tent with temperatures in the low 30s. With a couple of Hot Hands in my sleeping bag, I wasn’t even cold. We had an amazing bonfire, gorgeous hiking, and wonderful conversation. What else is possible outside this winter? It turns out choir rehearsal in a pavilion in a park is “the best thing ever.” We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner on the porch, watching the sun set over the pond. I am looking forward to more winter hiking, more bonfires, lots of running and the challenge of finding the beauty and excitement of colder weather.

At the same time, I also want to implement the Hygge Project. Hygge is a Danish word meaning “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” I plan to revel in the coziness of home. It’s true that we won’t have many visitors inside the house this season. But we have a fireplace, two cats, many blankets and a whole box of candles. We have a basement full of board games and an insane number of cookbooks. These are good ingredients for Hygge.

We also have two children who won’t live with us forever, but who are both home now. This might be Aidan’s last full winter under our roof. I don’t want to spend it being angry and afraid and full of dread. Yes, I expect some hard things this winter and I don’t know quite what they will be. But I am also looking forward to time outside in the winter wilderness and then snuggling down at home. I am looking for the unexpected gifts that darkness brings.

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Jim Thorpe 2020 Race Report – Part 2

I didn’t sleep that well the night before the race. I was definitely nervous. But everyone says the sleep the night before the night before the race is the one that counts so I didn’t let my restlessness get me worked up. I was ready. Up before the alarm went off. This is marathon #10 for me so some things have become pretty routine. I had mixed my Maurten the night before and had no problem drinking it first thing in the morning. I also had my usual Race Day Oatmeal, courtesy of Shalane Flanagan. I even bring my own bowl at this point. The hotel had a free breakfast so Mervus and the kids ate downstairs while I gathered my stuff. It was fun seeing other runners getting their breakfasts! That hotel camaraderie! We left the hotel around 6:45am and drove right to the start at White Haven.

Hotel breakfast: Love our expressions here. This captures so much of the Wiliarty dynamic.

“Marathoners watch the weather” – It’s a line from Deena Kastor’s book and it’s true. You train for four months for an event that’s going to take around 4 hours (or three or five, or six…) and the weather during that four hours can have a big effect on the outcome. Race day conditions were not terrible, but not brilliant. The temperature at the start was predicted to be around 60, but humidity was forecast at 100%. Yikes. I actually stayed pretty calm about this. Coach Mick always says “There’s a 100% chance of weather” and that’s true. I also can’t do anything about the weather so there’s no point in fretting about it.

When Coach Mick and I had our pre-race discussion, he said I didn’t need to “worry” about the weather, but that I should respect it. I had originally hoped to run 3:38 (8:20 pace), maybe 3:36 on a great day and my training said that goal was reasonable. But now we were looking at an exceptionally humid day. He recommended adjusting about 10 seconds a mile and aiming for an 8:30 pace which is a 3:42 marathon. This was sad news because I really want to break 3:40. But I’m not in charge of the weather. I talked to High Power Running Mentor #1 about the race some too. He argued that Kipchoge ran his sub-2 hour marathon in very similar humidity (though lower temps). Joshua Cheptegei ran his recent 5K world record at 79 degrees. Though of course, that’s only 3.1 miles, not 26.2. So, would the humidity matter? I looked at my own past marathons. I’ve run two really hot awful ones, but they were much hotter, and I’ve run a couple in non-ideal conditions, but they were a bit cooler. Hmmm. For good measure, I consulted Spice Boy and he recommended slowing down even more than Coach Mick did – by 15 to 30 seconds a mile. I decided Coach Mick knew what he was talking about and I’d go with the 8:30 pace strategy.

Getting out of the car for the start was another somewhat weird moment. We found the parking lot and I went to the porta-potty to take care of business. At first it felt kind of surreal because there were so few people there. But as more folks arrived, that pre-race vibe started to emerge. People were taking pictures with their friends, doing warm-ups, feeling nervous and excited. Me too!

The last text I sent race morning before putting the phone away was to Coach Mick: “Weather a tinge better than expected. Same temp but humidity is fog and not too warm. My choice what happens today. Run with joy.” I had thought the predicted 100% humidity would feel like a wall of water. Instead, it was a mist that felt like zillions of little ice particles. It was definitely more comfortable than expected.

Starting line

I had wondered what the start would be like for such a tiny race during the Covid-era. Everyone was wearing masks, of course, but we could get rid of them as soon as we started running. The runners stood near the starting line while the race directors explained what would happen. There were no starting corrals – the race director just said, faster people to the front, please! I lined up in about the middle, having no idea what “faster” meant in this case. They took groups of 10-15 people and said, ok, you guys, start! The next group wait a sec, ok, now, start! With only 150 people in the race, this process went quickly and smoothly. I kind of miss having the national anthem and a starting pistol, but those will be back eventually. Just getting to race at all is fabulous.

The course starts with a mile out in the wrong direction and then back so that you’ve covered enough distance by the finish line. The initial mile out was more trail-like trail than the rest of the race would be. Instead of crushed gravel, it was grass with two muddy wheel ruts. It wasn’t terrible to run on, but a bit slippery and uneven. I know it can take GPS awhile to latch on so other than getting the notification that the live tracking was working, I didn’t look at my watch much. I might have seen 8:50 pace once, but I told myself not to worry about that. The first mile can be a throwaway mile and better too slow than too fast. Just before I got to the cheater mat at the turnaround, I started to see the faster people coming back. YES! A REAL RACE! So good! Then my watch beeped. 8:22. What? I was aiming for 8:30 and had assumed I would be quite a bit slower than that because of the surface.

Ok, I told myself, just slow down a bit. First mile doesn’t matter either way. It’s good that you’re kind of running on a mud track. It was a little reminiscent of the last two miles of the Hampton Court Half in London. I figured the surface would slow me down a bit and I wanted to just let that happen. I got back to the start and my watch beeped again: 8:22. Oops.

I saw my family with the banner Mervus had made several races ago. I waved and blew them a kiss as I ran by. I hoped so much they would have a good day. I know spectating is a hard and sometimes thankless job. It’s a ton of waiting around for a second or two of cheering, but WOW does that second or two matter to the runner. I wished my crew well and kept going, again telling myself to sloooow down. The next mile was partially through the town of White Haven, so I knew it might be quicker because we were on pavement. 8:23. Hmmm, consistent at least. Once on the trail, I told myself to settle in. It was pretty much going to be this for the next 23 miles with almost no variation. There’s an access point around mile 4 and I had hoped my family could get there, but I knew they might not make it. We cruised by the parking lot at mile 4 with only a few people, not my gang. That’s ok, I said. They’ll be at the next access point, mile 11.4. Cruise on through. Another mile down, 8:23. What else is new?

Early in the race. Hands are relaxed. Shorts still dry and smiling for the camera.

At that point, I pretty much said, fuck it. I’ve run four miles with a one second pace variation. I’ve been trying the entire time to slow down and my perception is that I am slowing down, but I am still in the low 8:20s. That was faster than I planned but I thought, maybe I am just having a day because I felt great. [Note: I am really too experienced to have fallen for this, but it is SO EASY to start too fast!] Mile 5 came in at 8:21. Some guys ran past me at that point, saying that with the humidity and the surface changes and the slight descent, they were having a hard time finding a groove. I didn’t say anything, but I just laughed inside. I didn’t seem to be having the same issue at all. I was locked into 8:22 pace.

Until, I wasn’t anymore. In a moment that seemed very sudden, those delicious icy pinpricks of mist vanished. I doubt the temperature went up 10 degrees, but it felt like it did. All at once running felt a lot harder. This time around my watch didn’t beep until I was a decent distance past the sign for mile 6. 8:37. At first I thought, yikes! That’s a *huge* slow down! What the hell? Then I realized how far past the mile marker I was. If the sign was in the right place, then that split was faster than 8:37. Was the mile marker wrong or was my watch wrong? The RUNegades, the group that puts on the race, had been so amazing about every detail. I don’t know how you figure out where to put mile markers on a trail that looks exactly the same for miles on end, but if anyone could do that, it was the RUNegades. I decided the signs were correct and my GPS was wrong. [This assumption turned out to be correct. The tall rocks along the trail mess up the GPS signal.] I was definitely slowing down, but I might not be at 8:37. The next mile marker came up a lot sooner than I expected so something was definitely off. I decided to start manually taking mile splits. GPS is not perfect. Trust the RUNegades to have the mile markers in the right places. Since there wasn’t any other variation in scenery for distraction, it was easy enough to take splits manually.

I don’t remember the miles from 7 to 11 very well. One of my main goals was to stay happy and run strong as long as possible. Marathons can take you to some pretty dark places. It’s not that I’m afraid of those places, but I don’t run my best there. This was likely to be a lonely race some of the time so I knew it might take some extra mental work and I wanted to manage that. In the book Inside A Marathon, Scott Fauble often tells himself while racing “That’s just thinking.” I did a fair bit of that. “Eight miles down, three until I get to my family” – that’s just thinking. “I might actually be bored, that barely ever happens to me while running” – that’s just thinking. “It’s getting hotter. This is not good” – that’s just thinking. All of that is just stuff that takes you out of your body and into your head. Instead, I tried to stay relaxed and just run. During my own meditation practice, I have often used the phrase “Make the space” and that came to me also. A reminder to relax and let things flow.

For fueling, I took a Maurten gel every 30 minutes, alternating between caffeinated and non-caffeinated. I drank water and dumped it on my shoulders at every water stop. The race provided water in small bottles and most of the aid stations were unmanned. There was also Gatorade at every other stop (more on that in a later post) and Gu and bananas at some – at long as no other forest dwellers had eaten them first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally I got to the mile 11.4 access point. No family. Shoot. That’s ok – I can do this alone. I hope they are fine, but I bet they are. It’s no problem. Then – voila! – a second parking lot? That was NOT on the map. But this was a bigger lot with more people including MY PEOPLE! I was SO happy to see them. They had the banner and water and ICE. I chucked a bag of ice into my sports bra and carried a second in my hand. I had a big glug of water. I probably said something, but who knows what. Then I was off again.

I had thought that miles 12 to 18 would be “easier”. I called this part of the course “The Squiggles” because the course serpentines to follow the river so it bends back and forth every couple of miles. A marathon is too long to run all at once so you need to chunk it up. I expected that during the Squiggles, I could count down the miles in mini-sections because every couple of miles, we turned a corner. Except instead, during this portion of the race, I was very much alone. I wasn’t at all afraid – I didn’t know about the bears yet! – but it’s harder to stay focused and keep pace when you’re by yourself. It was also warmer and I could tell as the ice melted that I was starting to slow down.

 

 

I feel better about this phase of the race now that a little time has passed. It would have been easy to start walking, but I didn’t. Running, particularly racing, is one way I find I can be closer to God. I suddenly thought of the sermon from church the week before on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When they refused to worship an idol, King Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into the furnace. But instead of them burning up, a fourth person appears in the flames and they emerge unscathed. If Jesus could rescue some dudes from a furnace, then he could certainly keep me company on this trail. I thought about God, tried to run my best, and kept going until the next bend in the Squiggles. Repeat for miles 12-18 with splits coming in at: 8:44, 8:34, 8:45, 8:30, 8:41, 8:40, 8:41. They are mostly not even close to 8:30. But I felt like I was moving so much more slowly that when each one appeared, I figured, hey, could be worse, stay on it.

Hands clenched here and shorts are drenched. Still smiling, but definitely feeling the strain of the race.

Rose and I had crafted the middle section of the playlist, chock-a-block full of upbeat inspiring pop songs, most notably “Up for Anything” and “Try Everything” – both songs she picked up from Curious George soundtracks. I can heartily recommend that curious monkey’s movies as a great source of running tunes! But for the end of the race, I had inserted a playlist that High Power Running Mentor #1 made for me, in January 2019. At the time, I was struggling with running and with life and the customized collection of music he put together for me has been in rotation ever since, whenever I needed a little extra reminder of my own abilities. God and the musical presence of my daughter and a good friend kept me going through The Squiggles, if no longer on race pace, then at least also not collapsing.

The Squiggles end near mile 18 and I had calculated that Aidan would probably appear on his bike around mile 20 or 21. I tried to remain open to the idea that he might or might not appear at any time, but of course I was scanning each cyclist I saw. Then, there he was, right around mile 21. Of course, there’s no doubt when you see your own son. Even from a distance, I recognized his way of riding, the tilt of his head, the little wave of his hand. I confess, I have no idea what he said to me. I know I barked out something like “Ice!! Ice!” and he quickly biked ahead and handed me a couple more bags for the sports bra.

Even before Aidan arrived, I had been trying to “go fishing,” as Chris McClung of Rogue Running calls it. To “go fishing” means to set your sights on a runner in front of you and try to reel them in. As soon as I was out of The Squiggles and I could see a couple of people ahead of me, I felt a near-desperate urge to re-connect to other runners. Before Aidan arrived, “going fishing” was a real struggle, but with him biking by my side, it was game on. I spent the last five miles of the race working to catch whoever was in front of me. I’m guessing I passed 5-7 people which, in a 149 person race, is a significant percentage of the field! In any case, chasing people down and passing them was certainly better than the loneliness of The Squiggles. Passing people at the end of a race is fun!

Aidan took this from his bike. One of my favorite race pictures ever! Serious fishing going on here.

Running the last five miles with Aidan by my side on his bike was a beautiful experience. I was trying to pass people, but I didn’t think about much. I was working really hard. My Aftershokz ran out of battery at some point so I was without music, but it didn’t matter. I thought about being with Aidan in the hospital in early August after his bike accident. I felt the intense pride of a mother whose son loves her enough to support her in what is possibly a completely insane endeavor. I learned later that at that 11.5 mile mark, Aidan had found a cool tunnel, but rather than opt for further exploration he told Mervus, “I think we should go – I want to get to mom. Minutes might count.” I don’t know if Aidan understands yet how the presence of someone you love by your side can completely transform an experience. Those five miles are worth everything to me, the long training runs, the craziness of travel during a pandemic, the early bedtimes and early morning training runs. My son rode next to me while I worked as hard as I possibly could to achieve the goal I am chasing. That is so much more than enough.

I had not been looking at my overall time, but even my fried brain knew by now that I had missed my big goal and was not even likely to PR. One of Rose’s favorite Star Trek quotes is from Data: “The Effort Is Its Own Reward.” I kept my mind on that idea. Just like I told Coach Mick last thing before the race started: My choice what happens today. I would have liked to run faster, but I chose to run strong through the end and I feel proud of that, regardless of the time on the clock. At the very end of the race, some people who had been running easily behind me picked it up. I followed, doing everything I could to stay with them! A big push at the end and a final time of 3:48:05. No PR, but my second fastest marathon ever.

 

I had imagined giving a huge WOOP! when I finished the race, but I am pretty sure that’s not what happened. Instead, I crossed the line, stopped and put my head down and my hands on my knees. So incredibly happy to be done. Then, the usual. Volunteers asking if I am ok. Getting some water. Getting my medal. Looking for Mervus and the kids. The EMT guys kindly created a seat for me on the side of their ambulance. After an effort like that, my body just wants to hold still and gather itself for several minutes so that’s what I did.

So happy to be done!

Mervus and the kids brought me some chips and Gatorade and eventually I was able to get up and walk about a bit. We found Team Sizzle and it was amazing to see them, though SO HARD not to hug them!! I also found the race directors and said thank you. The post-race festivities is the one place where I really blew it with masking. I had a mask with me and initially just forgot to put it on. We were outside, of course, but at the next race, I’ll be more cognizant of getting the mask on as soon as possible.

Team Sizzle at the finish!

The RUNegades put on an awesome race!

After the race, we scooted back to the hotel so I could get showered quickly and we could grab our stuff. The restaurant I had made reservations for turned out not to have outdoor seating. No worries. Aidan to the rescue again as he hopped on Google Maps and found a brunch place, just outside of town and away from the zoo of Jim Thorpe. We had a delicious brunch in a great tent. I was even able to get my traditional post-race mimosa! It was *hard* to say good-bye to Team Sizzle, but we hope very much to see them soon at another race. The drive back was easy peasy and recovery is going well.

Takeaways? I do wish I could have run faster, but I will probably say that after every race. It feels spectacularly audacious to get away with racing a marathon mid-pandemic. My family is my very best support crew and it was a weekend when I felt wrapped up in their love and support. The marathon remains glorious.

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Jim Thorpe Marathon 2020 Race Report – Part 1

Life has been crazy since March. Not just my life. Literally, everyone’s lives. My original plans to run the Wineglass Marathon in October were dashed when the race was cancelled in mid-June because of the Covid-19 pandemic. By that time, it wasn’t a surprise since most races had been cancelled. By that time, we’d already been dealing with the pandemic for a few months and I had figured out that I was just going to keep training. I didn’t adjust anything when the race cancelled. The discipline of running imparts meaning to my life and that’s something we all need right now. I definitely wanted to keep training. What would I do about a race? Unclear.

The day after Wineglass cancelled, the Badass Lady Gang sent me a link to the google spreadsheet they’d been compiling. The Badass Lady Gang is a group of women that found each other right as the pandemic started. We run together several times a week, grabbing coffee on Friday and brunch some Saturdays. They’d been collecting data on races that might take place, hence the spreadsheet. I registered for the Narragansett Marathon on October 25th and the Northern Ohio Marathon on November 1st.

Then I found the Facebook group “Finding Marathons and Other Races That Have Not Been Cancelled.” It turns out there was almost an underground world of very small races that were actually happening in person. Most of them were far away from New England, but the occurrence of races in other places gave me a lot of hope.

Ultimately it was a Sub-30 friend who tipped me off about the marathon at the Jim Thorpe Running Festival and I signed up for that as well. I ended up registering for three separate marathons in three different states over a five-week period, hedging my bets to find one that would actually happen and that quarantine rules would allow me to attend. Coach Mick and I took the advice of the Running Rogue podcast to heart and thought about training for a plateau rather than a peak.

Training went quite well with only a couple of hiccups. I reduced mileage a little bit for a trip to Michigan in late July to visit my family, but I got in some great runs while there. Then, less than 48 hours after we returned to Connecticut, Aidan had a bike accident and ended up in the hospital for four days. I never want to repeat that. Ever. Needless to say, training took a back seat. He’s fine now, thank God. In August I ran a hot 22 mile training run and it went fine. In September I ran 20 miles with the last 8 or so at marathon pace and it went really well. I ran over 70 miles a week, two weeks in a row – something I’ve never done before! In the 15 weeks preceding Jim Thorpe I ran about 100 miles more than the 15 weeks preceding Chicago. I certainly felt ready for a good race, but which race?

As the time approached to commit to a marathon, I was conflicted. Northern Ohio felt like too far of a drive and I wasn’t keen on being away from home for Halloween. Narragansett was close to home, but a more difficult course and the race directors didn’t have final approval for the race. The course at Jim Thorpe was better, but the earlier date meant a risk of warmer weather and the location, Jim Thorpe, PA, would require an overnight stay. Finally I realized that I was simply too nervous to head to Jim Thorpe alone, under the current circumstances. I felt like I should have been brave enough to do this, but I simply wasn’t. Instead, I asked the Incredible Mervus what he thought about the family coming along. Despite the Covid-craziness, he said yes, and that was a total game changer. With my crew by my side, I feel like I can do anything. Game on for Jim Thorpe!

We got into town shortly before 1pm on Saturday and went straight to the parking lot for the train station, which was to serve as the parking lot for the race also. It was a zoo! So many people there – it was hard to find a spot to park. The race is really small, so who were all these people? The trail that runs from Jim Thorpe to White Haven is billed as one of the most beautiful in Pennsylvania, maybe the entire Northeast. It runs between the Lehigh River and the train tracks and between cyclists, train passengers, and hikers, the place was jammed. Yikes.

Getting ready for the shake-out run was a moment of significant doubt. It was drizzling a little. My family wanted to stay in the car, whereas I had thought they might poke around. I couldn’t tell where the trail started. It was so packed with people, uncomfortably crowded. I remembered the race I did in London – it felt like that, like I was very far out on a limb. Am I really doing this? Is this too much to go through just for the chance to race? I felt like a complete idiot. But I got out my Next%’s and put them on. I knew the trail was crushed gravel and I wanted to see how the shoes felt on that surface. I walked back to the little hut where they collect parking money and discovered the trail was in the opposite direction, so I turned around and walked back. I was wearing tiny shorts, a singlet, and my fancy shoes. My traditional track outfit, chosen to make me feel fast and powerful. Instead, right at this moment, I feel a bit like a space alien, dropped into the midst of hordes of cyclists, hikers and train passengers, all dressed for the cool fall rain.

But when I got to the trail head, there were a couple of runnerly-looking people, and the woman was wearing a Boston 2019 jacket. I called out that I had a matching jacket in my car and were they here for the race? I had worn my Boston jacket to remind myself that I’m not an imposter because sometimes I still feel like one and this whole trip felt outlandish. She introduced herself and her husband, and yes, of course they were here for the race. I found their presence reassuring. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only crazy one. I warmed up and headed out on the trail. The surface was totally fine so that was good news. Running on the trail was a little muddy, but not terrible. Not at all bouncy, but forgiving and good to run on. As I was running north, I heard the train whistle and saw the train! I was delighted, taking that as a good sign!

After my shake-out run, we had planned to spend a couple of hours strolling around Jim Thorpe. The pictures I had seen online showed an adorable town with lots of cute stores and beautiful streets. This is perfect for my crew – Rose and I especially like walking about and doing a little shopping. The town was totally gorgeous and decked out for Halloween, but it was also really crowded and it was raining. We put up a brave front, but it was too chilly for ice cream. Too Covid-y for relaxed shopping. Too crowded and rainy for strolling. We finally threw in the towel to head back to the hotel. Before we did, we made one last stop. I had had the idea that Aidan could bike backwards on the course from the finish line to meet me. 26.2 miles is a long way to go alone and the way the trail is structured, there’s only a couple of access points. I also knew it might get warm and there weren’t going to be spectators or friends to pass out ice. Maybe some company and some ice would come in handy at the end. We rented a bike for Aidan for race morning.

After checking in and getting settled at the hotel, we turned around and headed to Macaluso’s for dinner. We were meeting Team Sizzle! An actual Sub-30 meet-up! I have long admired Team Sizzle for their huge spirits, generous hearts, and incredible endurance and I was super psyched when it turned out they were also planning on Jim Thorpe. The whole team ran the half on Saturday and the grown-up Sizzles were in for the 8 miler on Sunday as well. Dinner was great. The food was really good. Rose hit it off right away with Mr. Sizzle, as I had predicted. We shared tales of races past and plans for races future. We compared notes on Star Wars and Star Trek. We sat outside in a tent and if there was a little traffic at first, that’s a small price to pay for dinner with some fabulous friends. The kids didn’t have to work too hard to convince us to stay for dessert. Back at the hotel, it was time for last minute race prep and bed as soon as possible.

 

 

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Imaginary Running Friends

His laugh, so clear and sudden in my ears, I was sure he must be next to me!

Do you ever run with someone who isn’t there? Not a ghost, just a friend or maybe a running idol or your coach. Most runners find that having someone with you makes the effort easier. During the past months, many of us have run alone, but even during normal times, it can be hard to find someone who shares your schedule and pace. That’s when I resort to imaginary running friends.

It started with Snarky Girl on easy runs. It can be hard to find conversational pace if you have no one to converse with. Since she’s one of my best easy run buddies, I started talking to her even when she wasn’t there to be sure I didn’t go too fast. We’ve had some great talks this way, even if they do tend to be one-sided.

Most commonly, however, my imaginary running friends show up at the track, probably because that’s when I need them most. Coach Mick doesn’t say much. Occasionally he yells “Elbows! Elbows!” or sometimes “You’re a metronome today!” Mostly he runs quietly by my side or just ahead of me when things get tough. Unsurprisingly, High Power Running Mentor #1 talks a lot more when he shows up. He’s full of the advice he’s given me in person: “Eyes up!” “Steady! Hold that pace!” “Relax your shoulders!” and most often “Don’t be afraid of it!” I’ve had some local friends show up in my imagination too. Speedy Girl has given me form cues much more often in my head than in real life. During the last rep, I find myself racing Allegro Fuerte. Even when I might appear to be alone, I rarely lack for company.

Last week, I had a striking visit from Rose’s new friend, Jackson, age 8. Those two share a passion for playing make-belief with stuffed animals, making movies, and coming home with each other’s toys. She’s convinced him of the awesomeness of the TV show MASH and of the character Frank Burns in particular. Jackson visited me last week when I started to struggle during a set of 5 x 800m. The very best thing you can bring to the track is a positive attitude so I reminded myself to run with joy, no matter what. That’s when Jackson showed up. He’s is in third grade and about half my height, but there he was next to me, running, and laughing! Jackson laughs so much and so easily – he’s like a pure spark of elven joy. I finished the 800s with a smile on my face. I wish similar visits for you, dear reader.

 

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