Sunday, May 22, 2016

On the Run: Boston Marathon 2016

Being back in Boston 5 weeks ago filled my heart with joy.  I wasn't sure what race day was going to bring but I was grateful to be there after my hamstring injury kept me away last year.  I hadn't set a goal for the race other than to run happy and finish injury-free.  

As for the rest of the weekend, Brian and I were ready to take a much-needed break from work and enjoy some time in one of our favorite cities!  We had Red Sox tickets for Saturday night, blocked off plenty of time for the race expo, and found a few good places to eat.


We spent a lot of time at the expo this year.  I had my shin and hamstring taped at the KT Tape booth, we watched the marathon course preview, and we stood in several lines to meet quite a few of our favorite runners.  I drank as much free NUUN as I could while we were waiting!  

Dean Karnazes

Meb Keflezighi

Scott Jurek

Amy Hastings and Shalane Flanagan

Ryan Hall and Desi Linden

There were a few other highlights as well:

TSA stole my race food.  Glad to get another in my race bag.

Everyone had their name on this wall.

And yes, I caved and bought the jacket.  Sucker.


We stayed in Cambridge and ended up eating dinner there all three nights.  Breakfast was the same each day - Pavement Coffee House.  There were several around and it was quick and easy.  Sadly I wasn't able to find good oatmeal but the Pavement sesame bagels with jam were really damn tasty.

Sesame bagel with raspberry jam.

Pre-race pizza at Pinocchio's (Cambridge) *WARNING - the eggplant is deep-fried!  blegh!

Veggie Wrap & sweet potato fries at The Friendly Toast (Cambridge)

Burger and fries at Veggie Galaxy (Cambridge) + carrot cake to go

Race Day

I was up about 4:45am on race morning.  Brian documented me getting ready.  My new accessories were a headband from the expo and a Motivate Wrap.  Everything else was the same things I always wear for races - RUNdetroit singlet, Lululemon shorts, neon yellow Swiftwick socks, Saucony Type A racing flats, and Saucony Runderwear to match my shoes.  Creature of habit.  

This year instead of taking the regular school buses from Boston Common to Hopkinton I took a charter bus booked through Bauman's Running Shop in Flint.  While the school buses are fine, runners have to get off in Hopkinton and wait outside in the Athlete's Village.  Porta-potty lines are long and the grass is damp.  It would be bad on a cold rainy day.  With the charter you can wait on the bus until your start time and there were porta-potties by all the buses that never had lines.  The bus had water bottles, sunscreen, snacks, and extra toilet paper.  All this for $35.  Totally worth it!

The Bauman bus picks up at Hilton Back Bay, which was about 1.5 miles from our hotel in Cambridge.  Bus loading was at 6am so I took a cab, not wanting to be up any earlier than necessary.  Brian took the ride with me before circling back to the hotel to get ready for his long day of spectating.  Because Bauman's is a Michigan bus, I knew several people on it, one being my friend Lindsay.  We sat together for the ride to Hopkinton and planned to start together.  This year I was assigned Wave 1, Corral 8 but wanted to start with her in Wave 2, Corral 2.  I didn't want to be a turtle among cheetahs up in that first wave!

It was great to hang out with Lindsay and the other people I knew before the race.  Having friends helped calm pre-race jitters and the 4 hours passed relatively quickly.  Our start time was 10:20 and we had to leave the Athlete's Village by 9:40.  It was a long, slow one-mile walk with all the crowds.  As we got closer to the start line, Lindsay and I both realized that because of all the water we'd had on the bus we had to make a last-minute bathroom stop.  It was 10:00.  We dashed to the portas and prayed the lines moved fast.  10:05.  10:10.  Thankfully we made it and were able to get to the corral by 10:15.

Talk about cutting it close.

In those few minutes while we were waiting, Lindsay and I thought, hmmm, it feels a little warmer than the predicted 65 degrees (it was actually 70).  There wasn't a cloud in the sky.  We were already sweating.  In hindsight, I should have taken this into consideration and adjusted my starting pace considerably.  Instead I headed out on what would ultimately result in my slowest marathon ever.  

The beginning of the Boston Marathon is absolutely incredible.  Like last time, I wanted to shout out, "I'm running Boston!" as I ran past the crowd-lined Hopkinton streets.  I was so happy to be back.  My legs felt good but I knew I had to keep my pace in check in that first downhill mile.  Lindsay and I were chatting but nerves had set in a bit.  Somewhere around 1.5-2 miles, I grabbed for my iPod, clipped onto my shorts.  I hadn't turned it on yet and wanted to have it ready if Lindsay and I were separated.  I felt the right side - no iPod.  Left side - no iPod.  I looked at Lindsay in panic.  "Oh my God - I accidentally donated my iPod to Goodwill!"  I had left it in the pocket of my throwaway sweatshirt and was in such a hurry to get going that I completely forgot it!  My first marathon without music.  My first RACE without music.  Okay, I can do this.  But I was thrown off and my pace quickened.  Before I knew it I was ahead of Lindsay and on my own.

I remember passing over the 5k timing mat.  It made me happy knowing my friends and family would get their first update.  I turned to a man running next to me and said, "Now our family will know how we're doing."  "Not dead yet!" he replied.  I picked up the pace a bit.  Perhaps he wouldn't be my new running partner.

By mile 6 I was starting to question my decision to run this race.  Breathing was a struggle and my legs felt heavy.  I was running too fast (7:08-7:16) and should have slowed down by a good 30 seconds per mile.  My mouth was a desert and water wasn't helping.  The heat was affecting me more than I realized.  (Unbeknownst to me, the temperature had climbed to 79 degrees by this point.)  I ran past the train station in Framingham and wanted to hop on and catch a ride to anywhere.  20 miles to go.

Around mile 7 I opened one of my CLIF Shots.  Maybe that would give me some energy and help with the dead legs.  The sweetness of the gel was nauseating and my mouth was so dry I could barely swallow it.  Two miles and two water stations later, I tossed the wrapper aside, grateful to have gotten the nutrition down.  18 miles to go.

Usually in a marathon the first half is easy and goes by quickly.  Getting to the 10-mile mark was tough.  From 10-13 felt like an eternity.  My pace dropped 15-30 seconds per mile and I was struggling.  I was trying to enjoy the miles by waving to the crowd, high-fiving kids, but my joy was wavering.  Lindsay and I had written our names on our arms so occasionally a spectator would cheer my name and that would be a huge boost.  I was missing her and wishing I'd stayed with her.

As I neared Wellesely College, my pace quickened.  There is nothing on the course quite like the Wellesely Scream Tunnel.  Racers can hear it from a half mile away.  Girls screaming, holding signs, begging to be kissed.  It's deafening and a sight to behold.  I ran though it with a huge smile on my face, taking it all in.  My heart was full of joy seeing all these women come out to cheer for us!  This year the Scream Tunnel could also be called the Wellesely Wind and Shade Tunnel.  We had a pretty decent head wind for much of the race, which was not cool, but I appreciated the beautiful tree-lined shadiness as we ran past the college.  There wasn't much of that anywhere else on the course!

Just before Wellesely there was a CLIF station and I grabbed a mocha Shot for later.  The only flavor I had with me was vanilla and after that last one, there was no way I could have another.  Maybe mocha would go down better, plus I was hoping the caffeine might help.  When you are through Wellesely you are past the halfway point.  14 miles to go.

I'd kicked it up for the Scream Tunnel but things went downhill again, more than ever now.  My pace dropped to 7:50's for the next 6 miles.  I had progressed from jogging through water stations to walking through water stations to full on stopping. In fact, I no longer ran from mile to mile.  I ran water station to water station, grateful for the chance to stop again.   My mouth was beyond dry.  I felt like I was the only one struggling.    My legs hadn't been great to begin with and they were getting worse with each passing mile.  I broke my a$$ to qualify for this race but I wasn't going to break it again to finish.  So I pushed on the best I could, trying not to worry about pace.  I kept trying to find the happy within myself.  I used the energy of the crowd and other runners to help.  And it did.  This race is amazing for that.

I considered pulling over and waiting for Lindsay to catch up.  Surely she couldn't be far behind.  But I kept on going.  And then, just before mile 20, I saw the familiar RUNdetroit wings ahead of me as I was finishing a cup of water.  I tried to catch up but was afraid I couldn't actually reach her so I desperately screamed, "Lindsay!"  She turned and we ran to each other, practically hugging mid-run.  We were both babbling about how awful it all was and how we had to just finish no matter what.  I was so relieved because I thought I was the only one struggling out there!  Her feet were bad and the heat was destroying her; my hamstrings were bad and the heat was killing me too.  We were quite the pair.  Alone we might not make it but together, we could finish this race.  6.2 miles to go.

Together we conquered Heartbreak Hill.  We ran through Brookline and were careful not to trip over the train tracks.  The Citgo sign welcomed us back into Boston.  We turned right on Hereford and left on Boylston together.  Brian was waiting for us on Bolyston and had people cheering for us loudly as we ran past.

And then we ran the last beautiful stretch of the marathon together.  Down Boylston Street, past the deafening crowds.  I pointed out the Starbucks ("You're Almost There").  And then we WERE there, crossing the finish line hand in hand, arms raised.  We did it! 

After hugging each other we were shooed away from the finish line.  I made sure to grab a cup of Gatorade along with my water (holy dehydration!).  When we were getting our medals I saw Dean Karnazes getting his medal and said, "Hey Dean!  How did it go?"  He shrugged nonchalantly and replied, "It was a marathon."  I laughed and said, "Yep.  Just a marathon."  Sure Dean.  Just a marathon.

We parted ways and I met up with Brian.  I had a lot to process.  It was a tough day on the course - the toughest I've experienced to date.  Two years ago I had the race of my life in Boston.  Everything went right and I walked away with a PR.  I am not the runner I was two years ago.  My hamstrings aren't 100% and I didn't want it badly enough this time around.  Not enough to sacrifice my health and risk further injury.  I knew going into this race it wouldn't be my fastest marathon, though I wasn't expecting it to be slowest my marathon.  In any case, I am still proud of the work I did on that course.



CLIF Banana Maple Oatmeal, banana (pre-race)
CLIF Shot, vanilla (miles 7-9)
CLIF Shot, chocolate (mile 18)

And as always, I couldn't have done any of this without Brian.  He's supportive of my early alarm clock, my OCD training schedule, the way I plan my week around running.  He knows I'm crazy but doesn't complain.  He had just as long a day as I did on Marathon Monday.   

Boston 2016 taught me many lessons.  One of them is that race times don't tell the whole story.  Thank you for reading mine.

Boston Marathon 2014

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On the Run: Martian Invasion of Races 10K 2016

On one of the colder, snowier days we've had in a long time (I swear, spring in southeast Michigan has been colder than winter!), Brian and I reluctantly shed our warm layers and stepped out of the car.  Normally we run from home to Ford Field Park for the Martian Invasion of Races but because of the cold, we decided to drive and park a bit closer.  It was going to be a long morning outside and we needed other clothes nearby.  We were running the 10K at 8:00, cheering for friends finishing the half around 10:30, and meeting my students at 11:15 to run the Kids' Marathon at 12:00.  

It was snowing when we got to the start corral and the winds were picking up.  I wasn't wearing my racing flats and had on my huge warm mittens.  Thank goodness I wasn't planning on racing this thing today, not with Boston a week away.  My plan was to start out at marathon pace (7:15/mile) and drop down if my legs were feeling okay, hoping to get in some good tempo miles.  I didn't start at the front because I didn't want to push the pace.  I also wasn't really paying attention, was talking to people, and all of a sudden the corral was filled up all the way to the start line!  

Thankfully the crowd thinned out quickly.  As planned, I started out at marathon pace.  At the first mile marker I caught up to three ladies, held pace with them, then inched ahead on a slight incline.  (Hill work is paying off!)  One of them caught back up to me and got ahead until mile 2.  At that point the course hits a ramp that heads downhill to Hines Drive.  I had picked up the pace a bit and caught up to her again.  Once we hit Hines - my familiar training ground - I passed her.  I was motivated by volunteers cheering and a cameraman.  I smiled, waved, and thanked them all.  Before I knew it I had pulled away.  When I hit the turn-around and heard a volunteer say "first female" I was shocked.  I hadn't realized no other ladies were ahead of me!  

After the turn-around I saw a few other people I knew to wave at and cheer for, including Brian.  Then the course hits the paved trail section that winds through campus, where it gets a little hilly.  This year the race was small so it was a bit lonely in there.  I only saw two men ahead of me the whole time on the trail.  After chicking the first one I chased the second one the whole way to back to Michigan Avenue, where I was finally able to pass him.  Unlike Rock CF a few weeks ago, my legs felt good and strong finishing.  It was much slower than my best Martian time, but it was a solid tempo run at the end of a less-than-ideal marathon build-up.  

Brian did an amazing job with his race!  He has not been a fan of 10Ks but this one might have made him a convert - even in the wintry conditions!

After the race I ran a couple of cool down miles (in a white-out), then hit Starbucks to warm up with coffee and oatmeal.  Then it was back to the races to cheer on some fellow RUNdetroit Flight Club friends as they finished the half marathon.  I also picked up my award - a stein and medallion from Glass Academy as well as a free entry for next year's Martian 10K.  YAY!




E.T. / Katy Perry
S.O.B. / Nathanial Rateliff & The Nightsweats
Shut Up and Dance / WALK THE MOON
Caught Up / Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
St. Cecelia / Foo Fighters
Born Again Teen / Lucius
Random Name Generator / Wilco
Swell Content / Speedy Ortiz
Something About You / Lucius
Girl From Mars / Ash
The Walker / Fitz & the Tantrums
Deceptacon / Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
Cadillac, Cadillac / Train

Finally it was time to go meet the 50+ students (4-5th Grade Girls Running Club, plus other boys and girls in K-5) and my co-captain who were coming to run the Martian Kids' Marathon from my school.  Since February the kids have been running and logging miles, trying to run 25 miles total.  Saturday they were lining up to run their final 1.2 miles of the marathon.  At the end they would each receive a marathon medal for their hard work.  
I was so proud of all the mini martians!  While we waited in the cold, the kids warmed up with high knees and knee hugs to get their muscles ready.  Then they ran their hearts out, with smiles on their faces.  Crossing the finish line with these kids made my heart happier than crossing it during my own race.

And see that girl in the pink?  Watch out for that one.  She may be small but she's determined and she's got quite a kick.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

On the Run: Rock CF 1/2 Marathon 2016

I wasn't ready to race a half marathon.  I hadn't done a true speed workout or tempo run since before the NYC marathon in November.  None of my paces have improved over the course of my training cycle and if anything, they have only become more challenging to maintain.  To make matters worse, my quads had been sore for a week from a hilly long run.  Yet here I was, toeing the starting line on March 20th at the 6th annual Rock CF Rivers Half Marathon.  This is my favorite race and I wouldn't miss it for anything.  

Brian and I arrived at 5:45 to volunteer at the packet pickup table.  I love handing racers their shirts and bibs and wishing them luck on the race.  This year everything was staged at Grosse Ile Middle School for the first time - packet pickup, port-a-potties, start/finish, and post-race snacks.  There has been a gradual shift from the high school to the middle school over the years and it was nice to finally have everything at one location.  While I had to sneak away from my shift a little early to prepare to run, Brian could stay on as super volunteer even after the race started.

The atmosphere at Rock CF is always fun and relaxed, thanks in large part to Emily Schaller, race director extraordinaire.  She is why this race has been such a success since it's first year.  I waited in the corral with some of my Be Bold Crew friends, which helped me relax a bit.  I don't get nervous for races often but today I was worried.  How fast should I run?  How fast COULD I run?  Would my quads hold out?  This was not going to be pretty.

Starting the race with Coach Geo

What was pretty, however, was the sunshine.  And the blue skies.  And the water.  So I took it all in as I ran.  This course is beautiful as it winds around the island and the miles always pass quickly.  I was pushing hard but with each passing mile, my legs grew more and more tired.  Generally I'm able to pick up the pace as my legs warm up but I was fearing the worst - I had gone out too hard and was going to bonk.  I took my gel around mile 7 (earlier than usual) in hopes that it would help give me some added energy.  Before I knew it I was approaching the relay exchange, close to the 8-mile mark.  I saw several RUNdetroit friends .  They cheered and I waved, which gave me a confidence boost.  This was great but I also ran a little too fast after because I was excited.  My pacing was just all over the map!

Nothing beats a Rock CF sunrise

Between the exchange and mile 10 I started to struggle.  My quads, which started giving me trouble around mile 3, began to seize up.  I had real doubts about being able to finish the race in any respectable time.  I sidled up to another racer at the 9-mile mark and started chatting.  We talked for about a mile until we got to the hangar.  I knew there I would see Justin and ACE! from RUNdetroit - another boost.  Upon exiting the hangar there is just another 5K to go!  The next mile flew by for me.  YES!  I can do it!

Then I hit a wall.  Yes, a wall in a half marathon.  I'm still not sure I've ever hit one in a marathon but here I was at mile 11 of a half marathon and I was DONE.  My quads were screaming at me.  It was windy.  Every "hill" felt like a mountain.  I couldn't stop looking at my watch.  I contemplated jumping in the police car I passed.  On the outside I was smiling and waving but on the inside I was cursing and crying.  

I passed my friend Zach with about .6 mile to go.  "How ya feeling?" he asked?  "Like sh*t!" I yelled back with a laugh.  "Almost there!" he said.  And although I really was almost there, it felt like forever before I rounded the corner into the finish chute. 

Running through the finish chute felt as if my legs were in slow motion.  Did Emily fill it with pudding this year?  Surely she must have.  I did not give it my all because I had nothing left to give.  I ran it in smiling and waving at Brian.  I wasn't fast but I was happy.  

Photographic evidence - no pudding in the finish chute

Emily congratulated each racer as he or she finished

The best part about the day was being with my running families - RUNdetroit and Be Bold Crew.  RUNdetroit sponsored the 5K and representation was strong in the 5K, half marathon, and 2-person relay.  Everyone ran strong and many people set PRs.  We had a few pacers, as well!  I was proud of each and every one of them!

RUNdetroit Flight Club

Coach Terra was there with the Be Bold Bus and had the tent set up with snacks including bagels and Nakee Butter.  Everyone in the crew set PR's for the half marathon and Roger relayed in his fire fighter gear. 

Be Bold Crew

Coach Terra says I set a happy PR because I ran with a smile.  As for my time, I ran this race 6 minutes slower than two years ago.  Yes, a 6-minute negative PR.  I wasn't happy about that but it gave me a wake-up call about where I am in my training.  It reminded me where I want to be and forced me to take a good hard look at what I need to do to get there.  It's still early in the season.  I have plenty of time for happy, bold, and fast running ahead!


7:13 min/mile
CLIF Shot - Vanilla (during)

10th Floor Ghost Girl / Cibo Matto
The Joke Explained / Wilco
Ex's and Oh's / Elle King
St. Cecelia / Foo Fighters
Black and White / Parquet Courts
Born Again Teen / Lucius
Violent Shiver / Benjamin Booker
I'm Shakin' / Jack White
Gold on the Ceiling / The Black Keys
After the Disco / Broken Bells
You Were on My Mind / Lucius
Runaway Baby / Bruno Mars
Dead Brains / Jessica Hernandez
The Walker / Fitz & the Tantrums
Shake it Off / Taylor Swift
Pedestrian at Best / Courtney Barnett
S.O.B. / Nathanial Rateliffe & the Nightsweats
Anklebiters / Paramore
Ship to Wreck / Florence + the Machine
Blood for Poppies / Garbage
Rattlesnake / St. Vincent
The Innocent / Mayer Hawthorne
Deceptacon / Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
50 Ways to Say Goodbye / Train
Man / Neko Case
Race for the Prize / The Flaming Lips
Brave / Sara Bareilles

And of course, none of this would be possible without my rock - Brian.  What other husband would get you to the race at 5:45, volunteer before and during the race, take amazing photos, and be there waiting with a hug when you're done?  

All photos by Brian Wolski

How do you feel about racing when you are not race-ready?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

I'll go run hills next week.  I first said this a month ago but each week came and went without me running any hills.  The first time I didn't go because I was sick.  Valid excuse.  Then my friend was going to do a long run with me in Detroit.  I abandoned my plans in a heartbeat to stay and run with her.  Then Brian and I planned a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip.  Hey, I can't go if we're out of town. Last week I was really going to go . . . but the roads were icy/snowy/slushy and it's a 45-minute drive to PR Fitness in Ann Arbor where I was running.  Running close to home just sounded nicer.

That brings us to yesterday.  No more excuses.  The Boston Marathon is just over 5 weeks away and if I want to have a halfway decent race experience I need to get my butt on some hills.  Real hills.  Not the overpass that leaves me breathless on the Green RUNdetroit loop.  Not the rolling bumps of Hines Drive in Dearborn.  No.  HILLS.  

Training this week was my toughest yet.  I'm at peak mileage and my legs have been toast since Tuesday.  Forget a tempo run.  As yesterday's 20-miler drew closer, I started to worry.  I knew I could run the miles but with what my week has felt like on flat land, I was sure to be a snail on hills!  I texted Coach Terra, asking for her advice.  She told me that my legs are tired from the week's volume, not to worry about pace, and the hills would be fun.  It will be good for you, Terra said.

Okay, coach says do it.  And that's when I finally admitted the real reason I've been putting this off.  It wasn't the miles, the hills, the pace.  I was nervous.  Nervous to run with a new group.  All the what-ifs.  What if I don't have someone to run with?  What if I get lost?  What if people aren't friendly?  What if I have a bathroom issue in the middle of nowhere?

As it turned out, I met another girl who is training for Boston.  We ran together and talked the whole time.  The miles passed easily.  Because I was running with people there was no way I could get lost.  Everyone was friendly before, during, and after the run.  All my worries went unfounded.  Well . . . except for that last worry about the bathroom issue. Story of my life.  But even that could have been worse.

Now that I've gone out to PR Fitness once I'm looking forward to going back.  Friendly people, hills, new places to run, water stops.  If you never step out of your comfort zone you might never find out what you're missing.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Little Bold Victories

This marathon training cycle hasn't been about typical milestones.  I'm steadily building my mileage; increasing my weekly volume and long run distance.  The runs themselves haven't been overwhelming; however, I feel that each one has presented a new challenge to overcome that has left me feeling bolder and stronger.

Due to some crappy weather this week, I ran on the treadmill one day.  Treadmill runs are hard for me because my stride is different, putting strain on my hamstring.  The faster I go the worse it is.  The solution?  Run slower, which means more time on the treadmill.  Better safe than in pain.  About halfway in at a slower pace I felt good and was able to increase my speed to my aerobic pace.  Getting to that point was my bold victory.

Another day this week I had a 12-mile tempo run.  My plan was to warm up 2 miles, run 3x3 tempo intervals (2 minute jog between), then cool down for the rest.  As soon as I started I could feel my legs were not up for the task.  My first set was faster than aerobic but hardly tempo pace. There was no way I could run out my miles as planned.  When I hit my turn-around point at mile 6, however, I decided to give it another try.  I knew I had 3 miles of open road stretching out ahead of me so I ran as fast as I could - my own private 5K time trial.  It was the fastest I'd run in months!  Making that choice to run those 3 tempo miles when I was ready to give up was my bold victory.

Yesterday I ran 18 miles.  That was not my bold victory.  It was the little moments within the run - introducing myself to a girl I didn't know so we could run together and talk for 7 miles, running through my favorite parts of Detroit by myself, sloshing through the slushiest snow with a smile - those were the bold victories.  

Don't lose sight of the small moments, the little victories.