Sunday, May 29, 2016

On the Run: River Bank Run 25K 2016

For the past three years I've wanted to run the Fifth Third River Bank Run in May but forgotten about it until the last minute.  It creeps up on me and all of a sudden I think, "Crap!  It's THIS weekend?!"  To ensure that didn't happen for a fourth year in a row, I signed up when registration opened in November.  Brian and I booked The Holiday Inn shortly after.  Grand Rapids has been on our list of weekend getaways for a while so this would be a perfect excuse to go there.  There are countless breweries (several of Brian's favorites) and many vegan dining options in the city.  Beer, good food, AND a race?  I could hardly wait until May!

The race fell on May 14, just 4 weeks after Boston, which I hoped was enough time for my legs to recover.  Unfortunately, after my marathon my hamstrings weren't in as good of shape as I had hoped.  My right was decent but my left was giving me trouble.  I spent the 4 weeks babying them by easing back into longer runs and quicker paces.  I wasn't able do get any speed workouts because I didn't think it was worth the risk.  My goal was to enjoy the race and run happy; not to run my fastest paces.


It took us an eternity to get to Grand Rapids on Friday night because of traffic.  Brian dropped me off at the expo while he went to check in at the hotel.  Maybe it was because I was at the tail end of it but the expo wasn't much to speak of.  I picked up my bib and shirt, grabbed a free water bottle, and headed out.  I met Brian back at the hotel (only a 10 minute walk) and we went straight to dinner.  

Dinner was at The Mitten Brewing Co.  It was small, crowded, loud, and had a 2-hour wait.  At that point we didn't know where else to go so we waited.  Drinks were good and people-watching was fun, plus the all-vegan menu was worth the wait!

BBQ Chicken Pizza (yep, all vegan!)


Saturday's weather was overcast and in the 40's - absolutely perfect for racing.  Also a far cry from Marathon Monday's sunny 70's one month prior!  I dressed in my usual shorts and RUNdetroit singlet but this time I added an ear warmer and arm warmers.  For my warm up I also had a long sleeve and pants.  It was windy, making it feel even colder that it actually was.  

While I ran my mile warm-up I started to get anxious.  My stomach was a wreck.  I'd been having some digestive issues again and eating that late-night pizza surely wasn't helping matters.  My legs weren't good either.  Glutes, hamstrings.  Oh I was a mess.  It was a long, slow, painful mile.  I had no idea what was going to happen on that course.

Brian went with me to the start line.  I love having him with me as long as possible.  We found a spot to meet after the race and he snapped a picture of me before I found my way into the corral.

I took Brian's advice and started conservatively with the 2:00 pace group.  I didn't want to end this race like my last two races - miserable, sore, and regretting starting too fast.  It was a good group of people, many of whom were from the area and knew the course well.  I got a few pointers but was mostly told to enjoy myself and it would be over before I knew it.  Sounded great to me!

The race starts downtown and has a pretty good crowd.  The course exits downtown Grand Rapids pretty quickly, however, and the crowds thin.  I stayed near the pace group and around the same group of runners for the first 3-4 miles.  My pace was holding around 7:35/mile, which felt nice and easy.  I was closely monitoring my hamstrings to be sure they were feeling okay.  

The first 6 miles of the course takes runners down Indian Mounds Drive, a beautiful tree-lined stretch of road.  I loved this section of the race and took in the scenery as I ran.  By then I'd dropped my pace a little bit and although I was feeling okay, I was still being cautious.  

At the end of Indian Mounds Drive was an aid station with cheerleaders.  I could hear them before I saw them!  After the cheerleaders the road was lined with spectators cheering as we curved around into Johnson Park.  As peaceful as Indian Mounds Drive was, it was about time for some noise!  I said something to a guy next to me about the crowd.  A moment later he asked my pace because he wasn't wearing a watch.  For the next 4 miles we stuck together, chatting about running and averaging a 7:10/mile pace.  There were a couple of hills in miles 8-10 but nothing significant.  

Coming around a curve and up a hill, I saw the 7:30 pace group ahead.  I was feeling good so I picked it up a bit and joined them.  My plan was to stay with them for the last 5 miles but that pace felt easy so I moved on.  I was comfortable to push a bit more as I neared the final third of the race.  

Unfortunately, my stomach was starting to act up.  It had been iffy the whole time but I was starting to worry with each passing mile.  4 miles to go.  I was eying every porta-potty I passed.  Should I stop?  I kept going.  Maybe that one.  No.  I was afraid of losing valuable time on the clock.  What if it was a false alarm?  What if I ended up being in there forever?  

As I approached the 20K, I started to think I had no other choice.  There was a porta up ahead.  I had to stop.  No way I could make it 3 more miles.  So I got to it . . . and kept going.  For a few feet and turned around.  Screw it.  Not worth it.  

After I stopped I caught up to and passed several people I'd been running with, including the whole 7:30 pace group.  My last 3 miles were the fastest of the race.  In fact, mile 14 was a full minute faster than mile 1!  It was definitely worth the stop.

Right after I stopped the course took a turn through John Ball Park.  It was a beautiful little park that I later found out has a zoo.  It reminded me of a mini central park.  From there we ran past some historical homes and before I knew it I was back into town, near our hotel, and turning toward the finish line.  I was smiling and waving to crowds, so grateful to be finishing strong and happy!  

Other than some slight hamstring pain on my right side in mile 15 when I pushed the pace, everything felt good.  It has been a long time since I've run smart and pulled off negative splits.  Right now, a smart race is more important a fast pace.  






CLIF Banana Maple Oatmeal, banana (pre-race)


Riptide / Vance Joy
The Valley / Mayer Hawthorne
The Joke Explained / Wilco
Black and White / Parquet Courts
Ex's & Oh's / Elle King
Something About You / Lucius
I'm Shakin' / Jack White
Born Again Teen / Lucius
Pedestrian at Best / Courtney Barnett
Swell Content / Speedy Ortiz
The Wolf / Mumford & Sons
S.O.B. / Nathanial Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Shut Up and Dance / Walk the Moon
St. Cecelia / Foo Fighters
Counting Stars / One Republic
You've Got Time / Regina Spector
Elevator Operator / Courtney Barnett
I'm a Wheel / Wilco
The Innocent / Mayer Hawthorne
Lately / Soul Asylum
Deceptacon / Jessica Hernandez
Spark / Fitz & the Tantrums
Just a Kid (with The Blisters) / Wilco
Mallie Chan / Otto Vector
Lust for Life / Iggy Pop
Rattlesnake / St. Vincent
Blood for Poppies / Garbage
The Walker / Fitz & the Tantrums
Turn it Around / Lucius
Ship to Wreck / Florence & the Machine
Race for the Prize / Flaming Lips
Brave / Sara Bareilles
Uprising / Muse

What's a race without a banana photo?

Brian and I met at Starbucks.  I was STARVING because I wasn't able to take any gels during the race.  Then we headed out to some breweries.  We went to Brewery Vivant, Founders Brewing Company, and The Hideout Brewing Company.  Vivant was Brian's favorite; I loved my Mango Magnifico at Founders.  Hideout was okay.  I had a good spiced pumpkin cider.  Here are a few pictures from our morning of brew-tasting:




After, er, lunch, we figured it was time to get something for dinner and ended up at Stella's Lounge.  I saw it had many vegan options - burgers, sandwiches, appetizers - so it sounded perfect.  We walked from our hotel, giving us a chance to check out a bit more of the city.  Stella's has a fun and funky vibe, from the arcade games to the murals on the wall. The food was really tasty.  We had beer-battered avocado bites to start (The Avocado Nugents).  Following that I had the sweet potato burrito and Brian had a burger.  Everything was delicious.  I will have to go back to try more of the menu.  


The city was quiet on Sunday.  We ate at a small, casual breakfast at The Kitchen Counter, just a short walk from our hotel.  After breakfast we walked around a little bit but it was a cold day so we didn't stay long.  We made plans for the next time we visit Grand Rapids - museums, parks, gardens, and more breweries.  It is a wonderful city!

Photos by Brian Wolski

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