Ask mostly anyone that knows me as a runner and they’ll reassure you that I hate speed workouts. Work out days are the days I’ve never looked forward to in all of my running life. I’d rather run 12+ miles than run six 1/2 mile repeats at a fast pace. Yesterday however has left me on a speed workout high. I felt strong yesterday, I felt in control of my pace, and my legs didn’t feel sore. After finishing the workout I felt confident for my race and happy that the workout went so well.
I told Josh on Tuesday that I needed to do a speed workout. I needed to either do a 6 mile tempo run or a 6 mile progression run, either with a mile warm-up and a mile cool down. I was leaning more towards the progression run and Josh seconded my choice. He even told me that he loved doing progression runs at his local park. So it was decided, I would be doing a 6 mile progression run.
Since Josh is recovering from his marathon in the Cat Skills, he would accompany me during the workout on his bike. It was a brisk fall evening and I was worried he wouldn’t be warm enough through the next 8 miles. Turns out, I should have also worried for myself not being warm enough. I ran .75 miles to the park and reached the mile mark in 8:49. That warm-up mile set my pace for the rest of the run – all my miles had to be faster than 8:49.
My first progression run mile was an 8:02. It didn’t seem like an 8:02 and I was still having a full conversation with Josh at this point. It didn’t even seem like I picked up the pace 47 seconds from my warm-up mile. I had no choice but to pick it up once again into the 2nd progression mile.
I clocked the 2nd one in 7:49. Once again, I never felt like I picked it up THAT much. I was honestly only expecting to pick it up about 5 seconds faster per mile. I was still talking to Josh every so often at this point as he told me a few stories from his work week.
3rd progression mile was in 7:40. Another 9 second drop. I still felt strong and I tried to limit myself to a 5 second drop for the next mile so that I could actually finish all 6 miles in some sort of progressive pace. Josh’s hands were numb from the cold air coming off the river. I wanted to run faster so we could get back into his warm house faster. But 3 miles was still a long way to go.
4th mile: 7:29. An 11 second drop. I told myself I only had 2 more loops to do in the park. Only 2 more times that I would have to push the pace. Only 2 more times until we could run home and get warm. I wanted Josh to be warm.
5th mile: 7:16. A 13 second drop. Well, shoot. This was the mile Josh told me to catch up the another girl that was running around the park. I knew I could catch her so I focused on doing so, and I did. That resulted in the 7:16. This is also the mile I thought about the huge Reese’s peanut butter cookie I had bought us from my visit to Smithville earlier in the day. That cookie would taste so good once I got done this workout.
One final mile. Josh told me to push the pace hard. It was only one more mile. I told myself I could try my hardest to get a sub-7. That would be INSANE. Josh knew a sub-7 mile was within my reach. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. Knowing my luck, I had this feeling I would run a 7:01. Close, but not close enough. This loop Josh told me to catch up to a guy that was running around the park. This made me mad because I was tired. He seemed so far away. But I caught him. I went by him with my strained breathing and he probably thought I was having an asthma attacked. I forced out a “hello” and a smile. Josh told me once we crossed the park’s driveway that I had to pick it up. Only .25 miles to go. He told me that I have a marathon to PR. He was right so I had no choice but to listen to him. My watch beeped to tell me the mile was complete.
6:55. My watch flashed a 6:55 up on the screen. I yelled out “DONE!”, threw my hands up in the air, and laughed. A 6:55. How did I manage a sub-7 mile, 7 miles in to my 8 mile run after clocking an 8:02, 7:49, 7:40, 7:29, AND a 7:16? I couldn’t stop laughing. A mix of happiness, relief, shock, love, exhaustion, and strength flooded down on me.
And then I realized that my arms were completely numb from my fingertips all the way up past my wrists. My fingers could barely push the buttons on my Garmin Forerunner. My hands and wrists hurt more than my legs. Josh and I were both excited but freezing. We needed to make our way a mile back home. He was shivering, I was shivering, we needed warmth.
I finished my mile cool down in absolute ecstasy. For most of my cool down I was still in absolute shock that I had finished with a 6:55. For some people, a 6:55 isn’t a big deal. That might be their norm. Speed is relative. I haven’t ran a sub-7 mile since 4th of July when I ran a 6:45 as the 1st mile of a 4 mile race. Some people run 6:55 miles during marathons. Some people run faster than 6:55 miles during marathons. But for me, I push myself to get to a 6:55 and I couldn’t be happier with achieving that.
That 6:55 mile left me feeling strong, confident, and more ready than ever to take on this Philadelphia Marathon in 23 days. Although I don’t plan on running anywhere close to 6:55 pace, knowing I can progressively push my body even when it’s tired or cold is powerful in itself. I’m still on a high from yesterday’s workout. The workout showed me that hard work pays off, sometimes you just have to be patient.
You might not be able to run a 6:55 at first, but over time as more and more miles are ran, you might just progressively reach that 6:55 – even if it takes many miles into your workout.
This past Sunday I raced the Runner’s World Half Marathon in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This was the culminating race of the Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival after a weekend of various races.
Because I had to work a 12 hour shift on Saturday, this race weekend was slightly different than most race weekends for me. I wasn’t able to visit the 2-day expo hosted by Runner’s World as I was forced to pick-up my bib on race morning due to other “adult responsibilities”. I also wasn’t able to run the day before the race which was a huge mental barrier for me. Because I worked 6:45 AM until 7 PM, I had little to no choice than to skip a pre-race shake-out run. I didn’t want to wake up at 5 AM and go for a shake-out run because I feared running by myself so early in the morning and I didn’t want to run at 8 PM after work because that would cut in to my sleep the night before the race – after all, we had to leave for the race at 3:30 AM.
I consumed my carbo-loading pasta dinner after getting done my 12 hour shift, packed up some last minute things for race morning, and was in bed by 9:30 PM. My alarm was set for 3 AM which would leave me with 30 minutes to get my race outfit on and get out the door.
I was grateful to have my mom with me on race day as my dad and Josh were racing an adventure race at Brandywine the same day. We left the house around 3:35 AM and started out towards Bethlehem with the full moon shining high in the sky. We passed about 7 total cars within the 30 minute drive to the highway we needed to get on. The roads were dark and the rest of the world was still fast asleep.
Half way to Bethlehem, I realized I forgot my red Gatorade in the fridge so we stopped at a Wawa off the Turnpike since we knew we would have plenty of time to spare once we arrived to the race location. I opted for a blue Gatorade and continued on our way.
We arrived at the designated race parking lots around 5:25 AM and nobody was around. The parking lots were dark and empty, and I actually questioned whether I had the right date for the race. We asked a security guard where to park and he directed us to a different lot. Still the only ones parked in a huge parking lot, we gathered our belongings and I double and triple checked that I had everything I needed.
All of the pre-race emails designated these particular lots as the only lots available for parking, so my mom and I had no choice but to walk 1.5 miles to the Arts Quest building for bib pick-up. Here we were, at 5:30 AM walking down Daly Ave in the dark past the start, Sands Casino, and the outlets both layered with warm clothes.
We finally arrived to the Arts Quest building and I was able to pick up my race bib and race shirt. I am quite disappointed with the size of the long sleeve shirt I received. Usually I fit comfortably into a small, but the volunteers at the shirt pick-up warned me the sizes were running small. So, heeding to their warning, I opted for a medium. When I got home and actually put on the medium, the sleeves were about 2 inches too short, and the shirt just didn’t fit right. Believe me, I don’t do these races for the race shirts or the medals, but if Runner’s World expected me to wear this shirt around to advertise their race, they’re going to be quite disappointed in me.
Regardless, my mom and I hung out in the Arts Quest building until about 7 AM to stay warm before walking 3/4 of a mile back to the starting line. I used the bathroom two more times (my nerves were really getting to me!). We started our walk back to the starting line and by this time, Josh was awake so I was able to update him on safely making it to the race with ample time to spare! While we were walking my mom and I also got to talk to one of the pacers for the race who was pacing the 8:25 goal-pace runners. I told him I hoped to be ahead of his pace group the entire time and I hope I didn’t offend him. He didn’t seem offended and he wished me luck as he continued down a different road to a warmer place to wait out the remaining time until the start.
At 7:25 AM I decided to go on a 15 minute warm-up run to get the blood flowing. I ran back to the bathrooms at the Art Quest building since no bathrooms were available at the start line but was appalled by the line and couldn’t afford to wait in line. I located another bathroom which was just as bad of a wait so I decided to do some exploring on my own and located a much less popular bathroom in the outlets at Sands Casino. Turns out, there were about one hundred runners in this building waiting inside to stay warm until the race started – it wasn’t even that cold out!
After locating and using the bathroom for the third time that morning, I ran back to the start to meet my mom before the race started. At this time, I opted to run in my spandex shorts, my Sneakers and Spokes singlet, and arm sleeves. I had been debating all morning whether to run in my shorts or 3/4 length tights but running in shorts was definitely a good choice! I striped off my layers one by one as the starting time quickly approached. I told my mom to head down the street a ways as she would have a better chance of seeing me in the mass of people further down the street.
At this time, I also found Tiffany, our previous Altra tech rep for Sneakers and Spokes, and I was so excited to see her! She had won the 3.8 mile trail run on Friday, and also raced the 5k and 10k Saturday, and here she was ready to take on the 13.1 mile race as well (click here to read her race recap!). We were both very excited that we found each other in the mass of people. We wished each other good luck and by that time it was just about time to start.
I found myself towards the front of the crowd as nobody seemed too ambitious to start towards the front. After the national anthem, the gun was shot off and the mass of runners started their way down Daly Ave. The start was on a downhill so it seemed that everyone was moving pretty quickly. I knew it was going to be a fast mile but I felt comfortable and knew once it flattened out that I could settle in to a pace. We made a few turns and crossed a bridge, then the uphills started.
My goal for this race was to run a 1/2 marathon PR of sub-1:41 but I didn’t expect the course to be nearly as hilly as it was. It seemed that every half mile was either an uphill or a downhill. The uphills got my heart rate up, and the downhills destroyed by quads. After every downhill, it would take me nearly a quarter of a mile to regain a consistent pace and by that time we were going back uphill. It was a vicious cycle and I remember thinking numerous times that I just wanted the race to be over and done with already….we were only 3 miles into the race.
The course weaved us through some streets of Bethlehem – the main street in Bethlehem which was lined with about 100 or so spectators, and back neighborhood streets of Bethlehem that got me questioning where I was. I had no idea where I was the entire race and the neighborhoods we ran through were quaint and quiet. The course wasn’t lined with spectators like big city races and I was actually somewhat disappointed that not more spectators were out and about – I was under the assumption that this was a big event for Bethlehem. I guess I was wrong.
Mile 6 brought a huge uphill that seemed to go on forever. I knew at the 10k mark that a text would be sent to my family and friends tracking me so that motivated me to get to that point but I still felt tired and ready for the race to be done. I knew how much the uphills were slowing down my pace so I tried to make up as much time on the downhills as my legs would permit. Other racers kept passing me – I actually don’t think there was a single person that I personally passed from mile 2-11. Everyone seemed to be passing me. I kept thinking that I must really be slowing down and I had a feeling that 8:25 pacer we met earlier was going to also pass me (he never did).
At the 10 mile mark the clock read 1:18. After some quick calculations, I realized a PR was out of reach but I could try my best to run under 1:45. That became my new goal. We crossed the bridge again to get back to the finishing area and a fellow racer was alternating between running and walking. I figured he probably just was cramped up or maybe pulled a muscle. When I eventually did pass him I asked him if he was ok and he said he was fine. I kept running hoping he was indeed fine.
We passed the finishing area and looped back around for an additional 1/2 mile until the finish. At this time, I saw a fellow South Jersey runner that I know by association (check out her race recap here). She told me I was doing a great job but at this point I felt absolutely horrible and I was sure I was running very very slow. In the last 1/2 mile I got a painful stitch right below my rib cage that pulled with every step. It hurt but I had no choice but to keep moving forward.
The finishing stretch included a local high school band playing pep songs, and spectators lining the last 200m of the race. I tried my best to look strong and to finish strong but my legs weren’t moving very fast. People kept passing me. I just wanted to be done. I crossed the finish line next to a man carrying an American flag. My finishing time was 1:43.
I was handed a medal and a heat blanket. It didn’t feel nearly as warm as the one after the Philadelphia Marathon but I was grateful for it. I walked over to grab from an array of snacks. I picked up some veggie straws, granola bars, and a chocolate bar (mmm chocolate!). I met my mom at our designated meeting spot and she congratulated me. We walked over to a sculpture and she took a few pictures of me. I tried my best to look happy even though I felt physically drained.
My feet felt great in my Altra Torins. I didn’t get any blisters and I was happy to have raced in my Torins as the race was sponsored by Altra – this was actually one of the main reasons I signed up to run this race!
My mom informed me that there was a platform that ran along the steel stacks if I wanted to go up there and check it. This required me to climb 3 flights of stairs but I made it to the top. I got an awesome view of the finishing area and the rest of the runners finishing.
After that, we made our way back to the car which was yet another 1.5 miles away. This was a much slower walk than earlier in the morning. Luckily when we arrived back to the parking area there were actually cars parked in the lots from other races. That made us feel better about our choice to park so far away – after all, we were only following the instructions listed specifically in the race emails.
I changed into warmer clothes and we started our drive back home. My legs ached and I was exhausted. Although I didn’t run a 1/2 marathon PR like I intended too, I was happy with the fact that I got in a solid training run for my marathon. The marathon is my bigger goal and this 1/2 was just conveniently at the mid-point of my training. My splits weren’t as consistent as I would have liked them to be, but due to the rolling hills throughout the course I have accepted them for what they are. Now I know that the next 2 weeks of marathon training before tapering need to be solid training weeks. My body needs to be ready for 26.2 miles.
Organization – I would give this race an “A” for organization. Offering race day bib pick-up was convenient and the race was very well organized. There are two things keeping me from giving this race an A+ – the inconvenience of parking and not having bathrooms available at the start line.
Swag – I would give this race a “B-” for swag. Knowing how big of a company Runner’s World is, I expected quality swag. I am very disappointed in the situation with the race shirts. However, I do like the medals that were handed out for the race – it also functions as a bottle opener!
Course – I would give this race a “B” for the course. I wasn’t overly impressed with where the course brought the runners, as there were very many desolate and quiet sections of the course (“how the heck did we get here?!”). If you’re looking for a more challenging half marathon this is the race for you! Do not expect a PR, but do expect a nice challenge for both your quads and your calf muscles!
Spectator-friendly – I would give this race a “B-” in regards to how spectator friendly it was. My mom was only able to see me at the start and the finish. There weren’t very many spectators throughout the course, however most of the spectators congregated around the start/finish area. If you’re looking for a race that will keep your adrenaline flowing for the entire course, you may want to look for a different race.
Would I do this race again?
Simply, the answer is no. This was a one and done race for me. I wasn’t impressed with the course and I’d rather find a 1/2 marathon closer than a 2-hour drive. It was fun while it lasted, and I’m happy with such a great training run leading up my marathon but I wouldn’t go back to this race time and time again.
I am 100% looking forward to my goal race – the Philadelphia Marathon! Time to put in some solid work this next 2 weeks before I start tapering!!
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to travel to Phoenicia, NY with Josh, my wonderful boyfriend, to support him during his Cats Tail Trail Marathon (actual length as advertised on the website is 26.5 miles) through the Catskills. We met some trail running friends who were also racing which made the weekend exceptionally entertaining. Not only did Josh do absolutely amazing during his race (finishing 13th of 89 finishers – don’t mind my bragging!), I was reminded of how truly enticing the trail running community is to me.
I spent this past summer craving trails. I got out to the trails as much as I could but I always craved more. I became increasingly intrigued by Appalachian thru-hikers following more and more Instagram accounts of SOBO and NOBO AT hikers. I craved the serenity of the trails. I craved dirt beneath my Altras. Oddly enough, maybe I even craved the hills that torture my muscles (…maybe). But mostly, I craved other trail runners.
I was reminded of this as I stood shivering at the base of a 5 mile ascent with my cowbell in hand at 6:55 AM. I patiently waited for Josh to start the race at 7:05 AM. The first wave of 15 runners went by me and I pleasantly greeted them with a “good morning” and wished them a sincere good luck knowing the next 26.5 miles would be tough ones. Most of them acknowledged my existence and exchanged warm thank yous for cheering them on so early in the morning. The second wave of 15 avid trail runners came by next and Josh was in the front of the pack. I wished him good luck as he began his ascent and traverse through the Catskills. I wouldn’t see him until mile 9.5 and I internally wished him safe travels.
With a few more waves of runners to be sent on their way, I made the short walk up to the starting line where I met a few of our other trail running friends as they waited for their wave to start. The lax atmosphere at the start of the race captivated me. For years now, I’ve stood on many starting lines surrounded by anxious runners hopping up and down, checking their pulses repetitively, and stretching out one more time before they’re sent on down the road to pound out speedy miles. But there, on that brisk October morning, the runners stood relaxed, talking and joking with each other, and re-tightening their Ultimate Direction, Gregory, or Orange Mud packs. Everyone knew the next 26.5 miles would separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. The trail would do what it does best – challenge every runner mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Again, this is what I crave. I yearn for the moments where I can step up to a starting line and know that the trail will control the result of my race. I want to be surrounded by people on a starting line who truly enjoy the swaying of the trees, the silence of the woods, the dampness of the rain sprinkles falling from the clouds, and the dirt caked on their shins. I don’t find that feeling on the start of a road race. Instead I find tense feelings and minimal human interaction. I find people ready to pound their feet on hard pavement instead of loose dirt. I find people who would rather stand in silence and not make eye contact than someone who is willing to extend a pat on the back and exchange a heartfelt good luck.
As I stood patiently anxiously at the 2nd aid station, waiting for Josh and our friends to come through, I was once again surrounded by down-to-earth trail runners. The moment a racer came through someone made sure to ask “what do you need? Water? Food? Do you have a drop bag?”. Not only do aid stations become a source of fuel and water but they also become a welcoming place of encouragement and motivation to continue moving closer to that finish line. I saw this time and time again as I witnessed all 89 racers come through the only car-accessible aid station of the race. I was truly grateful to be standing at that aid station for most of my morning because I realized how special the trail running community was.
After a 25 minute drive from the aid station back to Phoenicia, I found myself once again waiting. Waiting for the first finishers. Waiting for Josh. Just…waiting. The time keeper and finish line photographer didn’t hesitate to come over and talk to me. We briefly discussed the difference between the trail running community and the road running community. Of course we mutually agreed the trail running community is truly special. They asked me who I was so patiently waiting for with my cowbell in hand. I told them my boyfriend and our friends. They expressed concern that I might get tired of waiting, but I assured them that I could spend hours and hours of every weekend engulfed in the trail running scene if I could. I was in my happy place and I would wait all day for Josh to come towards that finish line.
The first two finishers appeared and at first glance I noticed from a far that they were running stride for stride. I thought to myself “wow, this is a close finish! I wonder which one is going to out sprint the other”. That sentence right there, that my friends, (and I’m ashamed to admit it) is a classic road racer mindset. I snapped out of it once I saw one of the men had dry blood caked on his face. My next thought? “What kind of trouble did this guy get himself into out on that trail?!” The men finished side by side, tying for 1st place.
As the nosy person that I am, I decided to eavesdrop on the conversation between the race director and the two men. As the story goes, the leader of the race had accidentally ran into a low hanging branch with a sharp knob on it which pierced his scalp. The 2nd place runner came down the trail and noticed a pool of blood had accumulated. He followed the trail of blood and came across his wounded competitor basically bleeding out due to this severe injury, but still moving forward. The 2nd place runner luckily had two extra winter hats to offer to his fellow trail runner to control the bleeding. With 11 miles still remaining in the race, the 2nd place runner wanted to keep the fearless leader of the race safe and in his care. They stuck out the last 11 miles together and crossed the finish line with an epic story to tell.
It was a small moment like that as I continued to patiently wait for Josh that showed me the strength of the trail running community. One man halted his competitive spirit to help a fellow racer. Out of true sportsmanship, despite probably training for months to compete strongly in this race, he slowed his pace towards the finish line for the health of another man. I crave the selflessness like that of the trial running community.
Shortly after, Josh rounded the corner and came towards the finish. I congratulated him and guided him towards the table of food waiting for him and the other racers to munch on. I asked him questions about the course which he happily answered. I offered him Gatorade, water, more food, and some arm warmers for added warmth. We headed back out to the finishing stretch of the race to wait for the rest of our trail running entourage. And again, we waited.
Josh and I finished that day reflecting on our own separate adventures. He had travelled 26.5 miles through rugged trails and slippery rocks. I had seen only bits and pieces of the race and what the racers were experiencing and it left me wanting more. More time spent in the mountains, more time spent on the trails, more time spent surrounded by other trail runners.
Two days ago I signed up for the Hyner 25k in April 2017 (returning next year as a racer rather than a spectator like back in April of this year) and I’ve been energetically researching trail races to fill up my 2017 race calendar. I want to step on a trail race starting line and feel excited about the challenge of the trails to come rather than anxious about my pace out on the course. I crave the ache in my muscles from tough ascents and technical footing. I crave the stories I’ll be able to share upon crossing the finish line. I crave the exhaustion. I crave the passion shared between trail runners.
Don’t get me wrong, I am excited for the two remaining races of 2016 – both of which are road races. I plan on running both my half marathon in a week and a half and my marathon in late November as hard as I can. I know that I will ache and I know that I will be mentally tested during these races; however, I can’t help but look forward to my unoffocial “official retirement” from road racing and transitioning fully into the trail scene. Hyner will be my official debut race as a rugged trail runner.
My wanderlust and craving for trails is at an all time high. I look forward to satisfying these cravings. I look forward to the dirt, the potential blood, the leaves crunching beneath my feet, the hydration pack comfortably resting on my back, the congenial smiles of my competitors, and the yearning for a challenge.
Yes, we may all show up at a starting line on a brisk fall morning with competition coursing through our blood. Competition is inevitable in the human spirit. But once out on the trail, the trail will speak for itself. The trail becomes your biggest competition rather than the runners ahead and behind you. I want to compete with myself. I want to compete with the trail. That is what I truly crave.