Virtual NYC Marathon Race Recap

Fall Recap

I was not planning on running a virtual marathon this Fall; quite frankly, the idea of running 26.2 miles on my own without an official chip time just didn’t sound appealing or exciting to me. Little did I know back in the spring, I would end up running two.

I waited by my computer in late July to try to be one of the first 1,000 people to get guaranteed entry to a future NYC Marathon by registering for the virtual race. I had qualified for the race twice in 2019 with both a half marathon and marathon time, but when I tried to register in early 2020, they had severely limited the number of time qualifiers allowed in this year and I was shut out. I was frustrated and sad that I had worked so hard to get the time qualification for the race just to be turned away, and just settled for trying again in 2021. When this guaranteed entry via virtual marathon was announced and with it becoming harder and harder to get into NYC year after year, I decided to bite the bullet and pay the price for entry if I was able to get through the queue. Sure enough, after a half hour or so of anxiety trying to register, I was in, and then the real work began.

I emailed my coach, Jessica, July 29th letting her know that I had gotten in and asking how we could make this work since I had already signed up for Virtual Boston. I was very clear that I was not expecting to run a personal best and would rather just be doing it to qualify, and with her help, had a plan to complete two marathons within 6 weeks of each other. This marathon training would be different from the last several races in that I wouldn’t be doing any pace work during my long runs and would stick to one speed workout a week to stay sharp, but not doing anything too crazy.

Training Log

Here is what my weekly mileage and long runs looked like from when I started the training after training for the mile all summer:

July 13-19: 44.8 miles, 10 mile long run

July 20-26: 48.8 miles, 12 mile long run

July 27-August 2: 49 miles, 14 mile long run

August 3-9: 52.1 miles, 16 mile long run

August 10-16: 45.9 miles, 14.5 mile long run (this should have been 18 but I had run a 5K race the day before in Montana and was having a rough time at higher altitude so I called it early)

August 17-23: 55.1 miles, 20 mile long run

August 24-30: 57.4 miles, 18 mile long run

August 31-September 6: 50.3 miles, 14 mile long run

September 7-13: 49.9 miles, Virtual Boston Marathon 26.2

September 14-20: 27.1 miles, 8 mile long run

September 21-27: 48.9 miles, 12 mile long run

September 28-October 4: 52.1 miles, 15 mile long run

October 5-October 11: 58.5 miles, 18 mile long run

October 12-18: 60.8 miles, 20.5 mile long run (12.5 miles outside in some nasty rain and wind, then came inside and did 8 more on the treadmill)

October 19-25: 47.4 miles, 13.2 mile long run

October 26-31: 47.5 miles, Virtual NYC Marathon 26.2

Virtual Boston

Virtual Boston was tough – it poured the entire time we were running, was very windy, and the elevation gain and loss at 1100 feet a piece was tougher than the actual Boston course itself. I set off to run about 9 min pace for it and that’s what I did but even though it was nearly an hour slower than my PR, it was a hard run. A big part of this was just not having enough miles on my legs up to this point and so it really hurt after 18 miles; that’s not a fault of the plan – it’s just the reality of having done a whole summer of speedwork hovering around 35 miles a week and then only giving myself about 8 weeks to really build up to the marathon distance. After this experience, I wasn’t really in the mood to run another marathon but knew that the guaranteed entry to NYC would be worth the grind. I had a recovery week after the virtual to recuperate and was pleasantly surprised with how quickly my body bounced back from the marathon – yes, I hadn’t raced it so my body wasn’t completely spent, but I think a big piece of this had to do with my strength training which I’ll touch on a little later.

Virtual Boston Marathon in the pouring rain

NYC Marathon Build

After the recovery week, my first speed workout back outside did not go well at all and I dealt with a big asthma flare-up in the middle of it and ended up calling it early and walking home. I felt a little defeated, but had a feeling it was asthma, and not overtraining, that was causing my breathing troubles. For those who don’t know, I have exercise-induced asthma which means my airway often starts to close when I run. I have a non-steroid inhaler that I take before every run and it usually does the trick, but some days are worse than others and it’s unfortunately just something I must deal with when those days do happen. Wanting to test my theory to make sure I wasn’t sending my body into a state of overtraining (shortness of breath can be a sign of this, too), I decided to repeat the intervals on the treadmill to see if it induced the same problems. Sure enough, running inside in a little less dry, cold air helped and I hit every split which meant it was safe to continue with my training. My weeks went well from here on out until I hit the 20-mile run. It started off with high winds, then transitioned to high winds and rain, and I called my husband from a sidewalk at 12.5 and asked him to come pick me up because I was having 0 fun and was starting to feel a little hypothermic. I ended up finishing 8 more miles inside on the treadmill where I felt much more comfortable.

Mentally these long runs were so hard preparing for a virtual race because I would often tell myself that it was ok to give into the pain because “it was just a virtual and I wasn’t going for time.” This part was tough because I’ve worked so hard on reframing and blocking out negative thoughts when pain creeps in but that’s usually because I have a goal at the end of it all that motivates me to keep working hard. However, I really got to see the fruits of my labor from mile and 5K training come out during my speedwork sessions the last couple of months and was so proud of a tempo run I did in my last big workout running 4 miles @ 6:30 pace with no breaks or pauses and feeling like I could’ve held that for longer. I like to visualize my training like little building blocks building up a strong foundation and walls of a house and workouts like these remind me that having the long game in mind this season is going to really pay off next year when we’re hopefully racing for real again.

Receiving my medal from Virtual Boston, closing out that chapter of training

Picking a Course, Self-Supporting a Marathon, and Race Strategy

With the bulk of training behind me, I turned to mapping out my race course. I would be running this effort completely solo and would also need to self-support with fuel and liquids. I had done a couple of my long runs out on the Fox River Trail and loved how flat it was with minimal street crossings so I thought this would be a good spot to pick for my virtual marathon. I mapped out my route as an out-and-back and picked a couple spots that I wanted to drop off a water bottle at since I could realistically only carry about 16 ounces at a time without weighing myself down. I went with plastic, disposable water bottles that I could throw out in trash cans along the way, and that I also wouldn’t be too sad about if they were taken (well it would’ve been awful for fueling but at least I could only be out a few cents).

I talked to Jessica about a plan for the race during race week and we both agreed that mixing up the pacing would be both fun for me as my last big run of the season and also a way to distract myself from running the marathon distance solo. She suggested 3 miles at a comfortable, aerobic effort (7:50ish) and 2 miles at my CIM marathon pace (7:00-7:10). This sounded fun to me and I was on board, programming it into my watch to make it feel more like a workout.

The night before my run, I made some vegetable pasta and marinara sauce with chicken and finished it off with a slice of cake! I eat dessert often in my dinners before long runs, not before a race, but I had baked a yellow cake with cheese cream frosting that week and there are no rules in 2020!

Flat runner outfit

Race Morning & Logistics

Race day was projected to be windy with strong winds out of the south and cold. It was about 34 degrees when I started and I think around 42 when I finished. It was in full sunshine so this made it tricky to pick an outfit; in 34 and cloudy I probably would’ve worn a long-sleeve top, but the sun threw a wrinkle into things and not wanting to overheat I went with a tank top, arm-sleeves, gloves, a headband, and shorts.

I had aimed to start my run around 8 a.m. so I woke up at 5:30 to get up, make some coffee and oatmeal, and to eat. This is my standard pre-race breakfast and sometimes I’ll add half a bagel with some peanut butter for protein but lately I’ve been using UCan before my long runs, so I skipped the bagel this time to not have too much on my stomach. I drank my UCan around 7:30 before leaving the house to go drop off the water bottles along the course.

I underestimated the time it would take to drop off the water bottles, planning to place them at mile 5 and mile 10 which would be about mile 16 and 21 once I turned around at the halfway mark, so I ended up starting my marathon around 8:30 instead of the 8:00 a.m. start time I had planned on. Not a big deal, though, since there was no official starting time! I took a gel on the drive to my starting point at about 8:15 to start with some extra fuel in my system.

The Race

I decided to track the race both on my Garmin and on the NYC Marathon app to make it feel more like a race effort with people following along with my progress. I don’t feel pressure to perform from others, so I made my tracking public and appreciated all the support I got from people following along! I also turned on my favorite playlist, “Running Radio” off Pandora and set off on my way! The NYC Marathon App was awesome to have in the background as it would call out my mile splits and have encouraging messages along the way from past participants talking about their experience in NYC. It was cold out – my toes got numb in the first few miles, but I hoped they would warm up as I kept going (they did). Within the first mile, I had to cross a bridge that was covered with a thin layer of ice and I had to really slow down to make sure I wouldn’t eat it. Fortunately, the pavement wasn’t slippery and this wooden bridge was the only real footing issue I had. I had printed out a race bib to wear on the course too to simulate a real experience and within my first mile, a group of women out for a run stopped and cheered me on and I smiled and gave them a big, “thank you!” Another reason I picked this route was because I knew there would be other people out running and cycling and that always gives me energy. I felt great heading into the first 2-mile pickup and ended up coming in faster than planned (6:56 and 6:49 splits). I knew that this was only the first 5 miles of the run, though and that I needed to stay smart. I had started off with a water bottle and did not need to pick the one up at 5 miles since I still had more than half of it left, so I continued and took in my first gel on the run.

The second 3-mile portion ended, and I was off again, settling into a nice rhythm. My splits were 6:42 and 6:48 here and I was happy with how good these paces were feeling. I found a trash can to throw my empty water bottle into before picking up the one I had hidden in the bushes just past mile 10. I took in another gel here, and then things got a little interesting. There was some construction on the path so I had to follow a detour that wasn’t super clearly marked and required crossing a 4-lane highway. I lost some time waiting for cars but left my watch running the whole time to get an accurate race result. When I crossed over, I saw that they hadn’t actually started the construction yet and there were just signs out, so I made note of this for my way back to hopefully avoid more waiting for cars. There were lots of trash cans along this portion of the river trail so I was able to throw out my gel packet and find a place to stash my water bottle around mile 11 to come back for it. It got a little heavy carrying around 16 ounces of water the whole time so I figured I could go 4 miles without it since it was pretty cold out.

When I was approaching 13 miles, I knew I’d be starting my faster miles again and have to turn around shortly into them since I was turning at about 13.15, but it felt good to hit that turnaround point and know that I just had to run back to my car now and that I’d finally get a tailwind since I’d been running into the headwind for the first half marathon. The tailwind felt great and I logged a 6:39 and 6:40 for miles 14 and 15. I ran back to get the water bottle around mile 16 and took in my third gel here. I couldn’t believe I only had 10 miles to go because I felt great! I lost some time chasing down my water bottle cap after it fell in mile 16 but fortunately it was in my easier miles so it wasn’t too big of a deal. Soon, the easier miles were up and I headed into my fourth set of faster miles, with mile 19 being 6:44 and mile 20 being 6:53. I was still running these faster than the planned 7:00-7:10 but the effort felt controlled with a slight push. After 20 miles of feeling great, I started feeling the wall creeping in, but told myself that I could run a 10K to finish at this point and that I was still feeling much better than I had when I hit 20 miles in the virtual Boston. At 21, I picked up the other water bottle I had left for myself and took another gel. 2 more miles to go till I would pick it up again. When the time came for that pickup, I started driving my knees and arms but they weren’t turning over as easily as they had been before. For the first time during these speed portions, my watch was beeping and flashing “slow” instead of “fast”. That darn screen, right?! Because my legs weren’t turning over, I tried to do shorter pickups instead like running hard for a minute, then easing up, etc. It helped a little and I ran mile 24 in 7:35 but I knew I couldn’t continue like this if I wanted to finish without having to stop so I backed off and settled into a more comfortable pace, hitting mile 25 in a 7:57. I was able to pick it back up again for the final mile in a 7:41 and then tried to push it for the last little bit, running that sub-7. I ran 26.26 miles to ensure that my distance would be counted since Strava has the tendency to cut off the last .01 of a run and I couldn’t imagine being shut out from the guaranteed entry because of a technicality! Finishing was very anticlimactic as I clicked off my watch and started walking back to my car. No fans, no finish line, just me, my watch, and I. Lucky for me, though, one of my former athletes, Paola, was so kind and surprised me back in the parking lot! I am so lucky to have coached people who are not only dedicated athletes but who are also amazing, kind-hearted human beings. This meant so much to me that she came out to cheer for me and was such a special way to end my training season.

The NYC Marathon app had me finishing at 3:14:50 while Garmin had it at 3:16:00. I started both at the same time so it’s a question of which distance is more accurate. I made sure to run 26.26 (a little extra) miles on my Garmin just to be sure. I did have to run past my car where I had started which shouldn’t have been the case since I went out 13.15 miles and it should’ve been at 26.3 by the time I got back to my car since I did an out-and-back, but it wasn’t! It was a little annoying to have the phone app telling me splits a little faster than my Garmin was and since both are GPS enabled devices, I’m unsure which is the most correct, but either way, it would have been my second fastest marathon ever and it was in a workout which is pretty darn cool. I think that was telling of the fitness that was maintained over the course of the last 10 months coming off CIM and of new fitness built through speed and strength.

NYRR App GPS results

Strava splits because data is fun!

Finishing photo thanks to Paola!

After Thoughts

It’s been a wild year! At the beginning of the year, I had written a post about how 2020 would be a building year for me and would likely not be a big PR year like 2019 had. That has held true and I laugh looking back on that knowing what I know now. I was lucky that I didn’t have any big Fall plans that got canceled on me. I wasn’t signed up for anything beyond Boston (I had an entry to Chicago but was planning on deferring it to 2021) so I didn’t have any real plans for how I was going to spend this training season other than thinking I would be focusing on the half marathon distance and taking a little break from the marathon. That part makes me laugh the most since I ended up running not one but two marathons after saying I needed time off from them. The marathon is funny that way and always seems to draw us back.

Looking back on this race, I think the reason I started hitting the wall at mile 20 was likely because I needed another gel a little earlier to keep my glycogen stores from dipping too low which is hard to course-correct once it happens. I had planned to take 4 total over the course of the marathon at 5, 10, 16, and 21, but I think I should’ve taken them closer to 4.5, 9, 13.5, 18, and 22.5. Note that this is all based on time on your feet, not distance. It’s recommended to take a gel every 40 minutes in a marathon but from what I’ve learned, the more I can take in without upsetting my stomach the better off I’m going to be because our bodies need the calories when they’re working that hard. In CIM I held off the wall until about mile 23 but I would love to get the fueling down to a point where I never feel that (marathons are hard so it’s going to hurt either way in these final miles but being able to pick up the pace with turnover in those miles would be awesome).

Being able to run my second fastest marathon ever while not racing was pretty special. I think this tells me that my fitness was likely right around where I left off in December had I tried to race and while sure, that means I hadn’t gained marathon fitness, being able to maintain that for a year while remaining healthy and injury-free means there’s going to be a huge base to build off of in 2021. I was also able to maintain it off one speedwork session a week with all my long runs being at an aerobic effort, so add back in the speed to the long runs next year and I’m excited for the possibilities. A big part of why I’ve felt so strong lately is because of the strength training I’ve been doing. I worked with a strength coach (big shoutout to Natalie Sanger!) for 7 months to learn how to properly combine running and heavy lifting and then for the last 11 months have taken what I’ve learned and built off that. I’ve felt stronger, recovered faster than ever before, and I’ve grown to love lifting as not just a supplement to running but as an activity in itself.

Squats – I can squat my bodyweight now and am excited to keep working at it!

Future Plans

It’s tempting to want to keep training after coming off a race that goes well thinking you’ll build fitness off of it, or after a race that doesn’t go to plan wanting to get revenge. With the marathon, both are typically bad ideas if you’ve been training for months and months because your body needs time to recover. I took 6 full days off of running after the virtual NYC, then ran less than 5 miles total over the weekend split among both days. It’s not that I couldn’t have run more, it’s that it wasn’t going to really do anything for me besides delay the recovery process. I plan on taking the rest of 2020 easier after a long training season. I’ll still be running, but my mileage will stay lower and efforts will be easier. During this time I’m going to continue with my lifting and trying out new things like Pilates or yoga classes, maybe even a spin class! Overall, I love being active and while running will always be my first love (in sport), I’ve discovered that I love being new at something too and being able to build my way from the ground up. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s often where the most growth occurs.

My big, scary goal coming off of CIM last year running a 3:07 was to go after a sub-3 marathon. While this season was anything but traditional, playing the long game has set me up to go chase after that goal next year. I’m ready to put in the work to do that next year and see how far my body can take me. But I’m not jumping back into the marathon just yet. My initial plan for Fall 2020 was to focus on half marathon training, which obviously changed when I signed up for two full marathons. The half is a distance that I believe I have untapped potential in because it’s an endurance race that has you running just slightly slower than threshold pace which is typically where my sweet spot is – I love that zone. Now that I’ve brought my threshold pace down a bit in speed training, I’m excited to focus on the half distance specifically. Nearly all my half marathon PRs have come in the middle of marathon training when I’m running on very un-tapered, tired legs. I’m curious to see what I could do when this is the goal race that I taper for and focus on. My current PR is from the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last Fall where I ran 1:27:48 in the peak weeks of CIM training. I’d love to improve upon that and bring that time down as much as I can. I don’t have a goal race lined up for the spring, I think I’m really just going to have to wait and see what’s available next year, but right now the plan is to start training in 2021 for a spring race and to be flexible with whatever lines up and is available, or to just run it as a solo time trial. After having practiced that this season, I feel confident that I’d be ready to do it again and grateful that I spent the time conditioning my mind this season to be strong enough to take that on!

Enjoying time off of structured training and just loving the run!

2020 – Laying Bricks

Let’s start with the ugly. As I put the finishing touches on my endurance training cycle this week, it’s been tough to mentally want to line up for another 26.2 that I’m not racing. Truth be told, if I wasn’t running for guaranteed entry to NYC, I’m not sure I’d want to close things out with the distance this time. Running Boston put good closure to a cycle that seemingly never ended, but truthfully I don’t enjoy running that far of a distance if I’m not racing. Maybe one day I’ll feel differently, but it’s a long way to go “just for fun”.

That being said, I’ve learned a lot these last 7 months with regards to running and the role it has in my life. I think they can be summarized into a few themes: passion, patience and playing the long game, leaning into what your heart is calling you to do, finding a sense of purpose, and having a hunger for more.

Passion. For as long as I’ve been running, I’ve been chasing times in races. I love setting a goal and doing the work to get there, whether that be in a single training cycle or over a multiple-year span. This was the first time in 12 years of running competitively that I didn’t have something to truly chase after. It’s been hard at times, but I’ve realized that if I never raced again, I’d still be lacing up almost every day because I love it. I love to push myself and I’ve been able to do that in workouts and I can get that same excited feeling after nailing a hard workout as I can crossing the finish line in a new PR.

Patience and Playing the Long Game. After Boston postponed in March, I shifted to a speed focused cycle from May-August. The mile and 5K are uncomfortable for me as I definitely don’t have a lot of fast twitch muscle fiber, but I knew that this type of training could really pay off getting stronger physically and mentally and it would be a mix-up to what I had been doing in the past. I needed something exciting to keep me engaged those first few months of the stay-at-home order but something manageable as I didn’t know what the next few months would look like professionally and personally. I didn’t run as fast as I had hoped during this cycle, but the first lesson in patience was that it’s also hard to expect a huge jump in just a few months when I hadn’t been focusing on speed for many years and I had to remind myself of that (not to mention trying to peak in peak summer conditions isn’t the easiest, either). After speed, I was craving endurance again, and so I entered into an endurance cycle that ran through October. I knew going into this that it wouldn’t be a traditional marathon build as I wasn’t trying to go for time in virtual marathons, but I also knew that the cumulative logging of miles would pay off in a future training cycle since stacking healthy cycles one by one is the best way to make progress. Admittedly it has been tough to be at about 80-85% fitness throughout these last few months where you feel like you’re just starting to get “fit” but not cross over into PR territory, but it allowed me to continue training for months upon months and to stay healthy through it all. When I started my Boston training cycle in January after having run CIM in December, I knew I was already playing the long game with training as it would be really tough to come back in 5 months after a big marathon PR to run another one on the tough Boston course, but it turns out these last 10 months of 2020 have followed a similar theme.

Lean Into What Your Heart Is Calling You to Do. After Boston was postponed in March, I decided to forego the final 6 weeks of marathon training and shifted focus to the mile. My training cycle up to Boston was ok, but I knew nothing special was going to come out of it compared to what had just happened in CIM so I wasn’t excited about continuing it; I think I was a little burned out on the marathon at that point in hindsight. Mile and 5K training was hard but it was what I had wanted to do and so the drive was there. In June I ended up running a small 5-second 5K PR finishing in 19:48 in a solo time trial. I had hoped to improve upon this in August and felt fit and ready to do it, but leaned into what Ross and I were needing at that time, which was some time away from our work in the mountains and my lungs couldn’t hang at higher altitude when trying to race a small local 5K. I still managed 3rd overall female and was simply just excited to have run a real race, even if I was running solo for 99% of it. At this point in August I was also starting to ramp up my mileage for running virtual Boston in mid-September, something I decided I wanted to do to bring some closure to the 2020 Boston cycle. My training has looked a little non-traditional this year, but it was what I wanted and it brought me joy which is most important.

A Sense of Purpose. It’s been hard to get up in the morning feeling like every day is Groundhog Day. My training schedule provided structure and something to look forward to that would change throughout the week. It was also something that I could check off and feel like I was accomplishing something when many of my projects changed scope or priority at work. The training schedule was something that I was choosing to do and not something that was being forced on me, either. In a time when we are getting so much messaging on what to do and what not to do, it was nice to have something that I picked solely for me.

Hunger for More. I am ready to start training hard again once I’ve recovered mentally and physically from the virtual marathon. I am willing to do the work even if it means ultimately running a solo time trial at the end of a training cycle. My heart is pulling me towards a certain distance and I’m excited to lean into that this winter and see where it takes me. More on that in future weeks as I try to remained focused on the 26.2 I’m about to run this weekend, but after many months of no true “goal”, the fire is burning again to chase after one and I can’t wait.

I will be running my virtual NYC Marathon on Halloween in a solo effort. I am so grateful for my friends that I got to run virtual Boston with but for this race I’m feeling more like “suffering in solitude”, as Ryan Hall once said, and jamming out to some great tunes on my Pandora radio station. I’m still firming up my route and keeping an eye on the weather, but I know one thing is for certain – there better be some Reese’s pumpkins waiting for me at the finish line of a Halloween marathon!

Catching Up on Running & Life

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here – turns out, it’s a lot more fun to talk about a goal race or a training cycle that’s geared towards a specific race. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve had a lot to say, and then I go to put pen to paper and nothing flows; it’s as if the last few months have been like having writer’s block. When the stay at home order was announced in our state in late March, I was eager and ambitious to use my extra time at home to put together new content, but I think I was naively thinking the stay at home order would be a one month thing, we’d go back to work, and we’d be back to “normal” by the summer and I quickly burned out on trying to be creative with coming up from at-home workouts or chalking the neighborhood with positive messages, etc. I was expending a lot of energy trying to give my positive energy away to others but not reserving enough for myself and it caught up to me a couple months ago.

Chalk drawings I did around the neighborhood

It was around that time that I started running on Tuesdays with a new group of friends (thanks to my friend, Marie, for getting us together!) and Tuesdays quickly became my favorite day of the week where I got to see people in a safe setting on the roads at 5:45 a.m. when the rest of the world was asleep. Without races, it’s been fun to time trial with these friends, many of whom are much speedier than I am, and try to keep them within eyeshot. This is the same crew I’m going to run virtual Boston and NYC with for fun and seeing other people finding joy and solace in running has been just what I needed during this time.

The Tuesday crew running on our open road closed to traffic for maximum social-distancing

I ran a few mile time trials this summer, never really getting an ideal weather day for any of them, and was a little disappointed to have not made much progress from when I ran the first one without any speedwork under my legs. I ran the first in April in 5:48, another in May in 5:44, and then the final one in July in another 5:44. I really had to do a lot of self-reflecting after that final mile trial and think about why I was so bummed out about this. I wrote about it a little on Instagram, that I had always wondered “what-if” had I continued running in college on a team after high school if I’d improve my PR of 5:33 and after focusing on the mile this summer, had thought it would make me happy if I could surpass that 10 years later. I also think that my joy was being wrapped up in trying to obtain a PR in something, since real races were no longer an option in 2020. In all honesty, I would like to try to race this event again in the Fall when it’s cooler weather, however, I have also accepted that unless I want to spend a year or so focusing on the mile, it would be silly to think I could beat an old PR where 1-3 mile races were my only focus for the year. Maybe my best mile days are behind me, but I believe my best half and full marathon days are still ahead and that’s where I want to focus my energy.

Working on speed for the mile time trials

After mile training, I continued training for our Team Sugar Runs Virtual 5K in August. Workouts were going very well and I felt ready to run a PR in the 5K. Ross and I ended up putting a 2-week road trip together very last minute at the end of July and it happened to overlap with when I was going to run the team 5K. I was fortunate to find a small, local race in Montana that was still happening that coincided with my virtual race date and signed up. Getting to be back in the racing environment again was amazing and I wouldn’t trade that for the world, but I knew after a week of hiking and the race being at higher altitude that it likely wouldn’t draw out my fastest time. I still finished in 20:02, which is only 14 seconds off of my PR at much lower elevation, and I’m really proud of that, but something inside me is wondering in ideal conditions on a course near home what could I run? I’d like to try it out and just see what happens later this Fall even though I won’t be specifically training for the 5K anymore.

Real live 5K in Lakeside, Montana

I’m spending the rest of this Fall training for the virtual Boston Marathon which I’ll be running on September 12th with my friends for fun, then continuing on my endurance build to the virtual NYC Marathon where I’m running for future guaranteed entry simply by completing the event. My big goal for the Fall is to work up to my highest mileage week ever and to see how my body responds to it as a risk-free experiment for future cycles. If my body isn’t happy, I can always drop down in mileage, but now is a good time to try something new while I don’t have a goal race on the books. My highest mileage week ever sits at 62 miles and I’m hoping to crack 70 or 75 this Fall if all goes to plan.

As a life update, Ross and I are really fortunate to still be employed and living comfortably at home. There have been small pay cuts but we are grateful for every day that we continue to be employed and have stability knowing that others are not as fortunate right now. It is a difficult time to be a running coach with all events canceled, but I’m lucky to have a team of athletes who continue to show up for themselves throughout this all to be ready for when races return. One of my goals coming into 2020 was to continue to grow my coaching business and through March that was going really well, but understandably some of my athletes have needed to take a break due to economic or personal reasons and while it’s tough as a coach, I support their decisions 100% because right now, we each need to do what’s best for ourselves and our families. Lola, our dog, is thriving in quarantine because she loves having us home. Her favorite activity is suntanning in the backyard throughout the day and she will sit at the sliding glass door waiting for us to let her out. We often have to call her in so she doesn’t overheat!

On our family road trip to Montana – even Lola came with and hiked!

It’s crazy to think we’re about to enter September. Last September Ross and I spent a spontaneous weekend in London extending his business trip and it seems like eons ago. I’ve started to think about my spring running plans, which would include running Boston 2021, but I do not think it’s going to be possible for Boston to happen in April of next year sadly just based off of where we’re at at both a country and worldwide level heading into September 2020. I’m optimistic we may see bigger events in the Fall next year after a vaccine has been released, but I think they will look a lot different than what we’ve seen in the past. I do think, however, that we’ll see smaller races occur in the spring since we’ve already started to see some successfully be put on this summer. I do know that I plan to do a full cycle gearing up towards either a half or full marathon in the spring because I want the excitement of doing that again, but only time will tell what I ultimately decide to do! I am chasing joy in everything that I do this year and following my heart, because now more than ever, if the things we’re doing aren’t bringing us happiness, then they’re just not worth doing.

I’ll try to be more regular on my blog documenting training and life updates. I honestly feel lucky that I haven’t had more to update on and grateful for the mundane because that means we’re healthy and stable. I hope all of you are staying healthy as well and finding joy in the little things. We’re all in this together.

-Katherine

Processing Boston 2020 and Moving Forward

May 28th came the news many of us were anticipating but were hoping would never come – the Boston Marathon had been canceled for the first time in its 124 year history. I was really disappointed when Boston was postponed in March being only 6 weeks out from race day at the time. It was because of this that I wanted to guard myself from these feelings again and so I approached the last couple of months thinking that I would train and if the race happened in September, it would just be an added bonus to gaining the fitness. My heart was also in a different place this time around as I had been itching to do a speed block after April’s Boston anyway, and so I decided in April that I would spend the rest of the year working on my speed in shorter distances like the 5K and potentially train for a half marathon in the Fall. When the news that the September Boston was canceled was announced, I was sad, but not devastated because I had prepared myself for this likely being the case.

My heart is broken for first-timers who will not get the opportunity to line up in Hopkinton in 2020. I ran my first Boston last spring and I know I would be reacting much differently today had this been my first one and because it was so recent for me, I feel that pain and emotion for these runners. I am sad for the charity runners who don’t know if they’ll get to run again next year but had likely worked hard to race the funds for this year’s race. I am sad for the Boston community that rallies around this event year after year and loves welcoming the world to their city for the weekend. The B.A.A. announced that the qualifying window for the 2021 Boston would extend the first qualifying date back to September 15, 2018 which was the first day a runner could qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon. However, they do not guarantee that there will be enough places for everyone to run in 2021. In my opinion, they should give priority to the runners who would have been first timers in 2020 and have these runners be automatically entered into 2021’s race and then fill the rest of the field size accordingly. In an ideal world, they’d roll over all of the 2020 entrants to 2021 (if they want to run) and add an additional wave to account for people who qualified for 2021; it would be the largest Boston ever and they’d likely have to start earlier in the day but it also wouldn’t be fair to 2021 qualifiers not to have an equal shot of running. It took me 6 years of hard work and determination to qualify for Boston so I understand the pain a first-timer might be going through right now. When I finally ran a BQ in Berlin in 2018, I was so, so happy and I’ll never forget that day crossing the line in Berlin knowing I had finally caught my unicorn. Many people work for years to have the opportunity to line up in Boston and these 2020 runners earned their place in the race; they shouldn’t be left out because of a virus that was out of their control and it disappoints me that so far the B.A.A.’s stance is to leave it up to chance next year for these runners.

However, I have to believe that the B.A.A. is making the best decisions with the limited information that they can right now and that maybe the decisions to be made are ongoing. The email and Q&A seemed to leave a lot of room for changes and in today’s world, nothing appears to be set in stone. No one wins in this situation; the B.A.A. doesn’t win, the city of Boston doesn’t win, and the athletes do not win. I truly am curious to know how many runners have qualified for 2021 so far (Berlin, Chicago, and New York were all run pre-COVID so it would be interesting to get the stats on how many qualifiers came out of the majors) and if that guided the B.A.A.’s decision at all. As someone who was supposed to run the 2020 race, I can say I appreciate all of the communication the B.A.A. has provided throughout this process and that they made this decision before marathon training was in full swing to allow people to make other plans before getting in too deep. I hope that in the months to come, they reevaluate their qualifying process for 2021.

A virtual option is being offered for the 2020 Boston with limited information so far on the price since it will include a shirt and a medal. As for me, I am unsure if I will participate since I don’t have much interest in training for the next 3.5 months to run a marathon by myself in the September heat but have not ruled out running it for fun with other friends who were supposed to run Boston 2020 if it is safe to run with others at that time. Prior to this, my plan had been to work up to about an 18 mile long run just to be able to run the marathon distance safely, but I wasn’t going for any PRs in September wanting to focus on short speedwork instead for my summer. I may end up still working up to those 18 miles, or I may not. I do know that this season of speed feels right to me though and I am following gut instinct this year to keep enjoying running and having fun trying something more outside of my comfort zone. I’ve had some people ask me how I continue to have motivation without races on the calendar and I feel lucky that my motivation in this sport has always come from just a pure love of running and pushing myself to reach my potential. It does make it tougher not having a date in mind at the end of this all to work towards, but it’s also been freeing in a sense to be able to give into how I’m feeling and let my heart dictate what the focus is this year. I can’t really explain it but if I never got to race again I think I’d still be waking up 6 or 7 days a week to get out the door just loving the sport.

Moving past Boston 2020, I do have thoughts for bigger races once they’re offered again. I haven’t shared this with many people but I do technically have an entry into this year’s Chicago Marathon. I entered with a time qualifier hoping that my siblings or my dad would get in through the lottery and that we’d get to run their first marathons together, but unfortunately, none of them got through. As a result, I had been planning on deferring that entry to 2021 but am waiting to see what happens on that; it doesn’t look promising living in the Chicago area, but there’s no harm in waiting to defer at this point since it may mean a refund or free deferral to next year. Looking beyond the Fall, I have a BQ from 2019’s CIM and will likely enter the 2021 Boston with that time. I am hopeful that it will be safe to gather in larger groups by April 2021 but I don’t think we’ll have a good idea until later this year what things will look like; I pray for much more than just racing’s sake that things are under control by the end of this year. I want to go back to Boston and to feel that magic again, but I want it to be in an environment where we can have fun and not have to worry about getting sick or getting others sick.

Please feel free to reach out if you want to talk through your disappointment on Boston being canceled; I understand what you’re going through and I’m so sorry that we didn’t get our chance to chase the unicorn this year. I hope that you know that you earned every right to wear that jacket if you were registered for 2020’s race and you should wear it proudly. Runners have the uncanny ability to rise up when disappointment strikes and I have no doubt this will light the fire for the next race we run.

2020 Goals

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from friends, family, co-workers, etc. on what I’m training for and what my goals are for Boston. It’s weird for me to be almost a month into 2020 and to not have clear-cut goals defined but my timeline has been a little different this year coming off of CIM in December. Prior to 2019, I had never raced seriously beyond October (Midwest is super dicey past that) and always had November and December as “down” months where I had decreased my mileage and just ran for fun while maintaining a base. That timeframe shifted a bit as a result of racing and I feel like I’m just now getting into more structured marathon training which has made it hard for me to be able to set new goals. This season is a little different trying to race 2 marathons in a 4-month time-span; it seems like a lot of time but it’s really not when you consider that a marathon training cycle itself is typically about 4 months long. Because of this, my goals also look a little different because I want to give my body grace trying to do a quicker turnaround and shorter training cycle. Goals give me something to chase, so here are the goals I have laid out for myself for the Spring:

Boston – The Goal Race

For anyone who has run the Boston Marathon before, you know it’s a grueling course between the hills and the unpredictable weather conditions in April. After talking with my coach and internalizing things a little over the last month, my biggest goal here is to replicate a similar effort from CIM on a tougher course (aka run a course PR). I would love to squeeze out even a small PR but if I can run a similar race on the Boston course as I did in CIM (similar time, negative-splitting), I will consider it a success for my future training goals. We’ll see how training goes over the next 13 weeks to be able to hone in on where my fitness is at and what seems realistic but right now I’m just really grateful for a body that has seemed to bounce back well from CIM and excited to get to run my favorite race in the world in April.

The Half Marathons Along the Way

I am currently signed up to run the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon on March 1st and the Cary March Madness Half Marathon on March 15th. Both courses are hilly and will be a good tune-up for Boston. However, they are two weeks apart so I will not be racing both. Between my coach and I, we will decide which race makes more sense to run race pace and which should be more of a workout effort (or simply a supported long run). I signed up knowing I wouldn’t be racing both but the thought of going to the Trials really excited me and the Cary course is only 25 minutes away from home and on a bunch of hills that were great training for Boston last year (I ran a 1:32 here last year in favorable weather conditions, which at the time was a PR). Right now I don’t have specific goals for the race, but I would love to run a sub-1:30 on one of these courses. My PR was set back in November at Indy Monumental (1:27:48) which was a very flat, fast course, so being able to run a 1:29 or better on a more challenging course would indicate that I’m in shape for a faster marathon. One of my goals for 2020 in general is to get more comfortable running sub-1:30 halves since I’ve only done it once before!

Beyond the Spring

I plan to take time off from structured training after Boston through May to just enjoy running and life! I qualified for the NYC Marathon through both the Indy Monumental Half and CIM so I will be signing up for guaranteed entry to the race (and hopefully getting in since they seem to limit the number of qualifiers from non-NYRR races!). Assuming I get into NYC, it will be my goal race for the Fall. I am really excited to put a big, scary goal out there for the future – I want to chase down a sub-3 hour marathon in the near future. Like Boston, NYC is a tough course with lots of hills so I don’t have specific goals just yet, but I want to chip away at that sub-3 goal and run another strong marathon on a tough course. I don’t have a set timeline on achieving this goal and respect the heck out of it, but I feel so privileged to have it be within the realm of possibility and excited to work towards it in the future! If for some reason my guaranteed entry to NYC doesn’t go through, I’ll be readjusting my plans, but I have a backup if need be – just not sharing that yet because the Fall is so far away and I’m not ready to make firm goals!

Overarching 2020 Goals

Apart from my own personal running goals this year, one of my biggest goals is to grow my coaching roster under Team Sugar Runs and pour a lot of my time and energy into my athletes. I have found my passion and this is something I want to eventually take full-time; it’s going to require a lot of work to get to that place! Chasing my own running goals gives me the energy and excitement to pour into chasing goals in other areas of my life, but I see 2020 as being more of a building-block year for myself to be able to run down big goals in the future. I would love to squeeze some PRs out of this year but I know I’ve chosen 2 races with challenging courses so I know things will look a little different! But I’m not writing that story just yet…there are still over 11 months left in the year and anything could happen!

Some Other Thoughts on My Mind

I fell in love with the marathon again in 2019 but my original goal was to spend spring 2020 working on half marathon speed again. That changed when the urge to run Boston again consumed me but I think the half marathon is a distance I have more untapped potential in as I’ve only ever focused on it for one cycle. It’s possible I may change things up in the Fall and decide to focus more on the half with the added component of running NYC and getting my 4th World Marathon Major Star, but thankfully I don’t have to decide that just yet. I love the half marathon distance because my body has less fast-twitch muscle and likes more longer distance, but it’s a race I can run faster in and take more risks because you can always run another one in a month or so, unlike a marathon where you really only get one quality shot in a 4-6 month time span (note: there are exceptions to this rule, but generally when you’ve run race pace for a marathon, your body isn’t going to be able to replicate that effort shortly after; typically you’ll see people jump into a second marathon after a race hasn’t gone to plan and they didn’t actually get to run their race pace so their body wasn’t trashed). I want to chase sub-3, but the half marathon is tugging at my heart strings and so it’s something I’m considering. I think the marathon gets a lot of attention and other races seem to not be as glamorized or held with the same amount of respect, but I think training for any other distance at a high level requires just as much dedication and commitment (maybe just a little less on the time end of not having to run those 20+ mile runs) and these are the race distances that often make a stronger marathoner in the end.

If nothing else from this post, I think you’re probably getting the message that my mind is conflicted! My body seems to be cooperating, but my mind isn’t quite sure what it wants with this 2020 season, and that’s ok. For now, I’m going to keep following the plan and doing my workouts to be able to set myself up for whatever I decide to go after but I’ll be staying in touch with what my heart wants and communicating with my coach who will help guide the training. Ultimately the decision is up to me, but I truly appreciate having someone who is able to separate my emotions from what is truly the best decision for me with my future goals in mind!

California International Marathon Race Recap

Notes on the Build-Up

After Boston, I felt very lost and confused for a while as to what goals I should set for my CIM cycle. I was trying to find joy in running again after having achieved a goal I had set for myself 7 years prior and had been working at constantly. Throughout the summer, I shifted gears and focused on 5Ks to really get some speed back into my legs because I realized that if I wanted to move to the next level in my running, I was going to need to do something different. 5Ks were very outside of my comfort zone – the 5K hurts only about a half mile in when truly racing it but feels like it goes on forever. I’ve always preferred threshold work where I’m right on the edge of pain but not too deep into a pain cave. However, growth often happens when we are uncomfortable so I spent 3 months working on heavy lifting and speedwork to build a stronger body going into my next marathon training cycle. I set my goal for CIM to run a 3:10 marathon which would be an hour off the first marathon I ever ran in 4:10. A secondary goal was to run a sub 1:30 half marathon during the cycle.

The build-up to CIM was anything but smooth. Early on in the cycle I had to take time off for a really bad cold, mid-way through I was dealing with some health issues that were yet to be diagnosed and less than 3 weeks out, I had an excruciating pain in my foot that would be linked to tendinitis. There were high highs during the cycle but there were also some really low lows. There were many times I considered deferring my entry for CIM, thinking that maybe my body just wasn’t able to complete 26.2 miles this time around, and I strangely became ok with that. I was bummed, disappointed, heck I even cried on the floor about it once or twice, but eventually I came to peace that sometimes things just don’t work out the way we planned and that that’s life.

Then a glimmer of hope came in the form of a 1:27 half marathon at the Indy Monumental Half Marathon. It was the first week in months that I wasn’t dealing with bad heartburn and acid reflux and the timing could not have been more perfect; I was really lucky that week and I realized that although I had not always been having smooth workouts or long runs up to that point, because my body was often working overtime to account for the health issues, when they were not present, I was able to cruise because that weight had been lifted off my shoulders both physically and mentally. I had an endoscopy the week following the half that revealed that no, this reflux/heartburn was not just something minor that could’ve resolved itself as I had a sliding hiatal hernia that was pushing my stomach up into my esophagus and causing the reflux. I went on a prescription medication shortly after and have not had my symptoms since.

Unfortunately, later that weekend on a 23-mile long run, I had some really bad arch pain that I had assumed was just from running the half marathon since I had a little lingering pain throughout that week. By the end of a recovery run Sunday, putting pressure on that foot was unbearable and as someone who has had a stress fracture in their foot before, I began to fear the worst. Fortunately, I was able to get in to see an orthopedic on Tuesday and a stress fracture was ruled out after some x-rays and I was diagnosed with a form of tendinitis. I took a couple days off that week from running, missing about 15 miles of training mileage, and went on an anti-inflammatory to see if that would help resolve the issue. Sure enough, I was running pain free again by Wednesday and had one of my strongest long runs of the cycle in a 16-miler that Saturday. I would gain confidence in my final two weeks and realized that I had a real shot of not just running CIM but racing it for what I had trained for.

Race Day

At the starting line. It was still pretty dark out as we started the race!

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. to get up, change, and eat breakfast before catching the 5 a.m. bus to the start line. I had coordinated to ride the bus up to Folsom with Corinne, one of my athletes, and it made the bus ride so much more enjoyable to just chat with one another. It was dark out when we got off the bus and into the lines for the porta-potties. After going to gear check, we parted ways to go to our corrals and I lined up with the 3:10 pace group. At this point, it was still dusk but it wasn’t raining like the forecast had called for earlier in the week which was a plus. There was a countdown to the start and soon we were off, charging downhill which gave me flashbacks to Boston. I had been told by my coach the day before that the pacers were planning to run the course off of effort with all of the hills but the pace seemed really fast and not exactly effortless that first mile. Sure enough, it was. My watch beeped at 6:58 as we passed the first mile marker; for reference, a 3:10 pace group is right around a 7:15 pace so this was quite fast. And then we began our first steep uphill climb. I had trained for hills but I had built it up in my mind that these would be more gentle rollers than steep climbs. I tried to push the thought out of my mind and just focused on working with the pace group. The roads were slick from the rain the night before and I quickly learned to avoid the painted lines on the road as they were extra slippery as well as the reflective plastic pieces on the road since they hurt to land on. Miles 2 and 3 were still fast at a 7:04 and 7:07 and I started to have a hard time to breathe in the humidity. It was going to be a long run ahead and shortly after, I noticed a slight discomfort in my arch, the same type of dull pain I had a few weeks prior. I told myself that I was ok and that it was possible it was just phantom pains popping up and pressed on.

Around mile 5 I noticed my Team Sugar Runs teammate, Natalie, was running right up by the pacers. I was afraid if I got too close I might trip her so I tried to wave but she didn’t notice me. At mile 6, I felt a gentle tap on the shoulder and we exchanged some greetings before getting back in the zone, not wanting to waste energy talking too much. I remember asking the pacer around this same time when the next water station would be as I had wanted to take my gel and wash it down. One mistake I made was not looking at the map ahead of time to know when/where there would be aid stations; in the larger marathons, it isn’t as much of an issue because the tables are long and not as spread out but when I missed a couple aid stations, it added up since I’d have to wait about 2.5 miles to the next one. However, at the time, my breathing didn’t seem too labored while I was talking to the pacer and I used that as positive affirmation that I could do what I set out to do. I zoned out for awhile, knowing that my plan was to stick with the pace group until halfway and then I could go run my own race, then came out of the zone when I saw a rogue chicken running in the middle of the street (not even kidding!) and tried really hard not to bust out laughing.

Seeing Elyse just before Mile 12

I saw Elyse (@milestomedals on Instagram) on the course just before mile 12 and it gave me a boost to see and hear her cheering. At this point, the sun was bright and shining and I was thankful I had brought my visor with me. Around mile 12.5, I was ready to take my second gel and grabbed what should’ve been a cup of water (the white cups were water, the blue Nuun cups were Nuun), squeezed some gel, then some of the liquid, and quickly realized the cups had been messed up and there was Nuun in the water cups. It was sugar overload trying to take the gel with Nuun and I began to worry that my stomach would have issues later on since sugar overload was my issue in 2018’s Chicago Marathon where I spent a half hour in porta-potties. I tried to push the thought out of my head, focusing on the fact that I’d get to see my family at the halfway point as planned, and kept moving. I crossed the halfway point in 1:34:40, just slightly ahead of the pace group at this point and pretty darn close to where I should’ve been with the 3:10 group. It was time to race now and up to me to determine how far under 3:10 I could go. I didn’t see my family until a little after halfway but after I saw them, my next mile was a 6:46. It was a little too soon to be dropping paces like that but I was just so excited to get to see them. I quickly refocused and ended up running with Natalie for a little bit in the next mile. Around mile 15, I had another tap on my shoulder and looked back to see Katie (@2fabfitchicks) waving at me. This gave me another boost to keep on moving and it was so great to see her on the course. Shortly after, I decided to take my arm sleeves off as I was getting quite warm with the sun and I put them in my pocket just in case I’d need them again. I don’t exactly remember when it started but I think it was around mile 18 that it started to rain. It had sprinkled a couple times up to this point but the rain later in the race was stronger and I was so thankful to have my visor on to keep the rain out of my eyes; I had debated not wearing it that morning since it looked like the rain was going to hold off but between the sunshine and random bouts of rain, I am really thankful that I did. I did some mental math and realized that I was on track for a big PR even if I ran 8-minute pace the rest of the race; I think every runner is guilty of doing mental math while on the course and for some reason 8-min pace is my default for calculating paces. I tried to convince myself that I was just going out for an 8-mile run, something I do all the time, and somehow it tricked me into keeping my pace consistently right around a 7-min mile.

Seeing my family past the halfway mark and being so excited to see them!

I knew that my family would be at mile 20 and I focused on getting to them. In the live photos, you can really see the rain coming down when I saw them at mile 20; spectators are troopers for standing out in that weather. I tossed my arm sleeves to my parents, then saw Ross further up the road and waved to him before continuing on.

Seeing my family at mile 20 in the rain

I think miles 14-21 were probably my strongest on the course – both strongest feeling and strongest splits (other than mile 1…lol) but we got hit with a bridge around 21.5 and although the hill was not much, it felt so much bigger this late in the marathon. I had remembered reading something about a final bridge at this point though and focused on the fact that it should be mostly downhill or flat for the rest of the miles which was pretty accurate. Around mile 22, Natalie came up on me and ran past looking strong. I tried to go with her, but my legs just didn’t want to move any faster, so I tried to keep her in my sights and just keep pushing. My body locked into a pretty good rhythm and miles 22-26 were all between 7:11-7:17. I had wanted to throw down in these final miles but my legs were toast after the hills. I knew, however, that I could hold a consistent effort over those final miles and just focused on getting to each mile marker. I hit the 400 meters to go sign and knew it was time to push. I started sprinting and when I got to 200 to go, I grabbed Natalie’s hand and told her it was time for us to go. We both turned the corner to run into the finish, and finished very nearly together. Coming across the line my legs completely locked up and I had a hard time standing up, but she was there to hold me up (after running her own marathon nonetheless) and I was so grateful that we had each other out there on the course as teammates. I looked at my watch and saw 3:07 and was so happy and at the same time just so tired and ready to be done running. We grabbed our medals and finisher ponchos, then I saw my family and Jessica’s family near the finish and she gave me the biggest hug. She had also run a big PR that day and we were just so excited. After lots of pictures, hugs, and some tears, we all ended up going our separate ways, and I got to celebrate with my family over a big brunch!

After Thoughts

My race strategy for CIM was to run the first half with the 3:10 pace group and then to go run ahead of them trying to pick up speed as I went. I don’t think I could have executed the plan any better, other than knowing some of the aid stations wouldn’t be on both sides of the course as it caused me to miss a couple opportunities to get water. Talking with Jessica before the race on a race strategy phone call, based on my cycle, it looked like I could run in the ballpark of 3:06:00-3:08:59, and I finished right in the middle at 3:07:40. I ran my first ever negative-split in a marathon, running the first half in 1:34:40 and the second half in 1:33:00. In August 2018, I set a half PR of 1:35 and was elated; just over a year later, I ran a marathon with each half faster than that PR which is really cool to see. My slowest split ended up being a 7:19 and fastest at 6:46; it still boggles my mind how my slowest mile split was once a pace I craved to run in a half marathon. Although the splits don’t reflect it (the HR readings per mile definitely do!), this race was hard and there were a few distinct rough patches throughout it. Because of experience, I was able to recognize each of these and I am so proud of the way I responded to them and worked through them knowing that it was likely temporary if I could just hang on and keep pushing. The weather was tough for me but I know it was tough for many people. I hadn’t run outside in shorts since October living in Chicago and for the last month and a half of training was running in 20-40 degree weather. The start temperature was 55 degrees and from what I saw on other people’s Instagram stories, 95% humidity. I’m glad I didn’t look at that part before my race or it may have psyched me out since my asthma can get the best of me in humid conditions. When I finished, it was 63 degrees out, which is pretty warm for running a marathon. I ended up taking more Nuun on the course than I had planned (my plan was water only) and I think it helped me get in the extra electrolytes to combat the humidity and water loss as a result. I also think that mentally I was ready to fight after having been through so much that training cycle and knowing that I came out stronger as a result. I drew many parallels between this course and Boston – the weather conditions were similar to when I ran it, the hills and elevation was similar, it’s point to point…I think the thing that makes CIM more “runner friendly” than Boston is that the hills are all in the first 18 miles or so of the marathon and in Boston, the biggest uphill climbs begin around mile 16 when your legs have already taken a beating on the downhill. I was thankful to have done so much strength training to prepare my legs for the hills and for being able to run on rolling hills for every long run and workout to really simulate race day.

Marathon Mile Splits

Moving Forward

I want to celebrate this PR for as long as possible. I think too often we accomplish something and want to jump to the next goal but if we never take time to celebrate the achievement, it means nothing. There’s a difference between being hungry for more and not ever being satisfied. I’m excited to set new goals, but I want to relish in this victory and am just so proud of what my body has been able to do this cycle. It was certainly a breakthrough cycle in terms of times run and because I know that likely not every cycle will end in a PR, we really need to celebrate the ones that do.

That being said, I will be running the Boston Marathon in 2020. I have an idea of a potential goal, but honestly I want to take these next couple of weeks to just be excited and happy before jumping into training and goals again. I’ve never tried to do back to back cycles like this so I’m taking it one day at a time, but we never know unless we try and now is as good a time as any to see what works for me!

The Weight Off My Back

I am one of the lucky ones. One of the ones who found running as an adolescent but still have a healthy relationship with it. One of the ones who had a healthy coach-athlete relationship where my coaches saw beyond the present and wanted us to have longevity in the sport.

Yet the adolescent mind could not help but wonder…if I hadn’t gotten my period at age 11, would I be faster? The fastest girls on my team were thin, pre-pubescent, and nearly all identical builds. I had hips, a butt, and had been menstruating for 4 years by the time I joined the track team. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was a different “build” than the traditional high school distance runner. But there was a time that I didn’t realize I was any different than anyone else.

I began running on the middle school track team, competing in the 400 meter dash most often. No one in my family was a runner and I had rarely run more than a mile at a time in soccer practice or in the high school mile. Our middle school coaches were not intense and let us pick our events; the 400 seemed like a good fit for me since I didn’t have overly quick startup speed and at the time didn’t possess much interest in running long distance. At this point in my life, running was a fun activity to enjoy with friends also on the team. I’ve always been competitive, but I knew nothing about fast times or runners’ bodies and I was primarily competitive with myself, or with others I knew from school but not much beyond that. For that reason, I was not a top runner in middle school, and at this point in my life, I was mostly focused on soccer anyway. This would continue through my freshman year of high school until I decided to make a change with my sports focus.

During my freshman year, I was playing travel soccer in the fall and it was expected that I would play high school soccer in the spring. In the time between travel soccer and high school soccer, I decided to join the track team and compete in indoor track. It was a good way to stay in shape between seasons and our girls’ track team was one of the best in the state. The culture I found in the team was unlike any other culture I had been a part of in a sports team. The coaches were serious, they were committed to bring out the best in the athletes and setting each of us up for success, but also a little goofy, forming strong relationships with many of the runners who had been on the team for multiple years. The girls were welcoming, kind, and dedicated. Because the track team was open to everyone, there was a wide range of individuals. I would argue it was one of the most diverse clubs let alone teams at the school and it felt like a safe place to be yourself, which in high school, could be hard to do. It’s a place where cliques vanished, stereotypes disappeared, and girls who would probably never talk to one another in the hall were suddenly old friends. Having been bullied online by a few of the girls on my travel soccer team (a story for another day), I finally felt like this was where I was supposed to be and felt like an integral part of the team from Day 1.

Unfortunately, once the winter season was up, I had a choice to make. Would I remain a part of the track team I had grown to love so much, or would I pick spring soccer, making good on the investment my parents had made into travel soccer to help me be able to make the high school team? I remember approaching the head girls’ track coach before practice one day, and letting her know that I had made my decision. I would be playing soccer that spring. I didn’t hold it together very well and distinctly remember crying as she gave me a hug and told me, “You’re always welcome back on the team. Many girls have gone the route you are choosing and have come back the year after.” I turned in my uniform and proceeded to have an awful spring, relying on only two peers on the team for support and knowing that chatter was always going on behind my back. I would come home from soccer practice and often go out for a run, logging a lap or two around the lake we lived on (just over a mile around) because I felt like I hadn’t gotten a good workout in; little did I know it was also a big stress-reliever at the time.

I quit travel soccer after that spring season and started running on my own, only a couple miles at a time without timing myself. I was committed to rejoining the track team that winter and when it rolled around, I decided I wanted to run with the distance crew. I had recognized that I didn’t have natural speed for sprints and had grown to enjoy running further distances. I started off running with some of the JV girls, but quickly realized that I had good endurance and was able to keep going when many of them would want to stop and catch their breath. I gathered my courage and one day asked the varsity girls if I could run with them. I had no business being there – I hadn’t proven myself yet and had only been racing in the shorter distance events at meets but I wanted to improve and I knew that running with people who were faster than me was probably the best way to do that. The girls were gracious and invited me to come with them. There was one varsity team but two groups that normally went out to run, one faster and one slightly slower. I started with the second group and was able to keep up, but was often a lot more gassed than they were, remaining quiet in the back as I was breathing heavily and letting the other girls carry the conversation. Gradually, though, I became more comfortable, joining in on the conversations when my breathing was no longer labored, and eventually being noticed by the head distance coach who encouraged me to go out for cross-country in the fall and to continue running with the girls over the summer to stay in shape.

It was a no-brainer. I was committed to the team and to the girls I was running with and felt like I had found the sport I truly belonged in. I was continuing to improve because I was doing something I hadn’t done before; there was a lot of room for growth and progression. I quickly became one of the top 5 runners on the cross-country team my junior year, happy that I was scoring points for the team (there are 7 runners who run in a Varsity race and only the top 5 actually score points for the overall team score). My body was changing as I was running more and more, becoming very lean and toned, and people were recognizing it. I remember my junior homecoming all of the moms commenting on how thin I was, as if it was a very positive thing, and liking the attention I was getting for the way I looked. I didn’t change my eating habits, and if anything I probably ate more carbs than I had before at carbo-loading parties we’d have before big invitational meets, but it was the first time I really started associating body type with running and recognizing that a certain look was considered “normal” for distance runners.

I went on to have a strong junior year in both cross-country and track, breaking 12 minutes in the 2-mile with 11:53 and running my fastest mile in 5:33. I claim no natural ability in running; truly this was the result of hard work and determination and it would has been the backbone of all of my training for years to come. I was also selected as one of captains for both the cross-country teams and track teams respectively for my senior year. I felt on top of the world, loving every minute of running and school, so I wasn’t ready for the changes that would happen on our team that next year, or in my mind.

During my senior year of high school, there were a few new faces on the Varsity team, girls who had either come out of middle school as strong runners or had made a lot of progress during the track season in the spring. I found myself just vying to stay in the top 7 that year and to be able to compete for Varsity. We had a very competitive, strong team; in nearly every other team in our area apart from a couple schools, a 19:23 3-mile athlete could run Varsity and be in the top 5 runners consistently. It was hard for me to take in mentally, but it definitely pushed everyone to be their best and continue to work hard. It also unintentionally bred a cutthroat environment. Instead of the supportive, caring group we once had, it seemed like it was everyone out for themselves. We were working together in practice, but we knew that every workout and every dual meet mattered for which of the “Top 12” (12 individuals can be listed on a Varsity roster but only 7 get to race in the Varsity race), would get to compete for the Varsity team on the weekend invitationals and which would run from the front of the pack in JV. I found myself often winning JV races that season as I was typically number 8 when it came to speed that year. It was heartbreaking to always be just one spot away from running the varsity race, but I tried to let it fuel me, crossing the line in the top 3 consistently in the JV race and trying to prove to my coach that I belonged on the varsity starting line. I had waged mental warfare on myself, and I saw other teammates crumble under the pressure to stay at the top as well. I remember protein powder infiltrating its way into our practices and having to take it immediately after we finished a hard workout or after a big meet. I also remember it being the first season we had a session with a sports psychologist and our coaches encouraging us to begin seeing him regularly. I felt weird asking my parents to pay for such a thing in high school so I refrained from going, but I started to question if part of the reason some of my teammates were improving was because they had someone to talk through the mental challenges of running with.

I think the darkest thing I saw, however, was a new obsession with weight. It wasn’t just by the girls on the team, it was by parents who subtly made comments when they thought no one else was listening, or other high schoolers who didn’t realize how far their words went. “Oh well she’s so tiny, of course she’s fast.” “She hasn’t hit puberty yet, as soon as she does, she’s going to slow way down.” I had already gone through puberty so I couldn’t change that fact, but I could control my weight from getting any higher. It was during this season that I became obsessed with weighing myself daily, thinking that if I could stay under 120 pounds that I would stay fast. At 5’5’’, the normal weight for a female is 113 pounds-138 pounds according to online research. I would hover around 118 pounds that season, within normal limits which is probably why no one had reason to question anything, but at this weight I sustained injury after injury that would plague the rest of my senior year. It obviously wasn’t a healthy weight for me to be at, but I didn’t realize this until very recently when reflecting on how I’m at my heaviest today have been running my fastest times because I am healthy and have let my body dictate where its weight should fall.

I’d like to make it clear, I’ve never had an eating disorder, I think back in high school I just wasn’t eating enough calories to fuel my body for long distance running. I remember in health class, we once went to the computer lab to do research on caloric intake. If we were to go back to the lab today, I could tell you exactly where I was sitting and at what computer I was sitting at, that’s how etched into my brain this is. We put in our height and weight into a website and it spit out an average number of how many calories someone with our body type should be consuming per day. It had an option to put whether or not you were active, but it didn’t quite specify how active. I selected the “active” option. 1800-2100 calories. So naturally, the 17 year old brain fixated on the lowest number only. In my mind, 1800 calories was the recommended consumption for a 5’5’’ female with an active lifestyle (to give you an idea, according to the registered dietician I recently worked with, I should be consuming 1800-2300 calories per day; 1800 is on the low end and is essentially for when my activity level is low, not when I am in peak training). Back in high school, I didn’t know any better, so I began following that guideline; if we learned it in health class, it had to be accurate, right?

The computer research should have been a harmless exercise, but looking back I think, shame on those teachers for having high school students researching this at a vulnerable time in their lives. I understand their intent was to help students make healthy choices later down the road when they were living on their own but high school girls, especially, are already so self-conscious about themselves during high school, and this was just one more reason for us to be. I began counting calories on wrappers, always opting for the non-fat or low-fat option when there was one, and at 17 years old I was choosing salads over cheeseburgers at fast food restaurants. While cheeseburgers are not necessarily the answer to a balanced diet, helping athletes understand that food is fuel is critical. I was trying to eat like the media was promoting in commercials (low fat or non-fat everything because all fat was bad for you – very, very false) or what others around me were eating, not like an endurance athlete should be. Without the right balance, bad things can happen.

And bad things did happen. Shortly before the cross-country state meet, I sustained a stress fracture in my foot and was in a boot for a month. I remember swimming to try to stay in cardio shape but falling into a deep sadness over muscle tone that disappeared and pounds that were added to the scale. It was around this same time that I had decided to become a pescatarian, a person who is a vegetarian but also consumes fish. The funny part is, I only like salmon and tilapia so really I just severely cut down my protein intake and increased carbs because I was hungry all of the time. I continued to eat like this for 4 years, eventually growing frustrated with feeling exhausted from not fueling properly and also gaining weight from eating carbs constantly, and added back in chicken and turkey to my diet. My energy levels returned and my weight started to normalize because I was eating a more balanced diet again. I think there is a right way to eliminate meat and still be an endurance athlete but as a 17-year old whose family did not eat this way, I had no idea what I was doing and how to eat properly to fuel myself (note this is not on them at all; I take full responsibility for irresponsibly cutting an entire food group out).

I struggled through my senior year of track after coming back from my stress fracture, but found myself in physical therapy later on for IT Band Syndrome which had gotten so bad that I once collapsed on the field while doing a stride during track practice because my knee just gave out. The signs were clear long before this incident that I should have taken a break, but I was stubborn and more than anything I wanted to get to the state meet and run around the infamous blue track. Instead, it was a season riddled by injury and frustration, and as a result I never had an opportunity to actually run in a state meet, which when I look back on my time in high school is the one thing I feel like I never accomplished (I would later feel the satisfaction I was searching for from this by qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon). I would continue running in college because I enjoyed it for both exercise and stress relief and later in my sophomore year, my weight started to increase, more towards where it probably should have been to be healthy for me. It took me a very long time to accept the changes my body went through, often looking back at old pictures from my high school running days and idolizing the way my body used to look.

I wish I could go back in time and throw out the scale in my bathroom at home. I wish someone could’ve told me that 1800 calories a day was not enough to fuel my body running and lifting 6 days a week. I wish it wasn’t assumed that anyone who had gone through puberty early would never make it at the top in high school. I wish that I loved my body then as much as I do now and could show my younger self all that it could accomplish when all of the pieces are aligned.

I shouldn’t have to be considered “lucky” that I made it out of the sport at a young age and still love running and competing today. I have quite a few teammates who were at the top and have either stopped running altogether or only do so on occasion and it makes me sad that something that used to bring them so much joy became a monster. I want the new normal of adolescent running to be all body types represented at the highest levels, letting girls’ bodies come into their own and not forcing them to fit a mold they weren’t meant to. I want to set that example for younger girls who might be following my running journey, and if I ever have the opportunity to coach high school athletes, to put a focus on helping them be comfortable with the body they’re in and celebrating what it can do for them. I would love for my own future children to be runners, and if they choose to be, I want them to be in environments that support them as people first and runners second. My life is better because running is in it, and that’s how it always should be.

Indy Monumental Half Marathon Race Recap

I ran the Indy Monumental Half Marathon as a tuneup race for CIM in 4 weeks. I did a small taper the week leading up to the race, but because this was during the marathon buildup, I was really running on tired, un-tapered marathon legs. I talked to my coach on Wednesday before the race to get a race strategy in place. I had come off of a really strong workout on Tuesday and was feeling a lot more confident going into Saturday’s race. We were shooting for a sub-1:30 half, around a 1:29, and the plan was to go out with the 1:30 pace group through 7 miles and then for me to pull away and race the last 6.1. I felt comfortable with the plan, but admitted that running all my mile splits beginning with “6” was still pretty intimidating. I had never done it before in a half marathon and this would be the first attempt. She reassured me that I was ready and capable of running these times and so I trusted in her, in my training, and in myself.

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Ross and I at the expo. I wanted him to get a photo with me because he’s always traveling to these races taking my photo but he’s never in any!

Ross and I took the day off of work on Friday and I ran my shakeout miles prior to hitting the road for Indianapolis. It was a 3.5 hour drive with an hour time change and my original goal had been to get to the expo in time to hear Deena Kastor’s talk. When we reached Indianapolis, it was shortly after 2 p.m. and I was really just in the mood to get my packet and get out of the expo. I don’t like to spend much time at expos the day before a race because it can be a lot of time on your feet plus with so many people around I get nervous that I’m going to catch a cold or some virus so we went in, got the race packet, snapped a photo, and went back to our hotel. Everything was within walking distance since we were staying downtown and it was very convenient. I tried to take a short nap back at the hotel, maybe got 10-15 minutes of intermittent sleep, and then we left for dinner with running friends at Buca di Beppo (thanks for organizing, Chris and Marie!). It was a big group but everyone knew at least one person in the group; I had been messaging with Marrisa Castner, another Team Sugar Runs athlete, and we finally got to meet in person for dinner after many Instagram DMs over the last year or so. Dinner was a great way to calm my nerves and to share some laughs and smiles with other runners. We said our goodbyes around 7 p.m., and then went back to the hotel where Ross and I would watch 2 hours of Animal Planet before going to sleep. I remember telling him that I was scared for the race because it was going to hurt and him reassuring me that I was ready for this and that I’d do great. I’m lucky to have a really supportive husband who while not a runner himself, understands how important this is to me and travels with me to nearly every big race I run.

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Meeting Marissa, a Team Sugar Runs teammate and fellow Illini, for the first time at dinner!

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and I got up and did a quick 10 minute shakeout in the hotel gym. I have done a shakeout mile at 10 min pace 2-3 hours before every half marathon I’ve run in the last 18 months and I really like that it gets the blood flowing early in the morning. After the mile, I got a cup of coffee and half a bagel with some peanut butter on it from the hotel breakfast and headed back up to the room to make my bowl of oatmeal. I made sure I was done eating by 6:45 (the race started at 8) to give myself time to digest, but also to not be hungry at the start. The temperature was cold outside, 28 degrees with a real feel of 21, so I stayed inside the hotel as long as possible to avoid standing in the cold outside. There were a few things I did on race day that looking back on really helped me with the race. The first was wearing compression arm sleeves under my long sleeve shirt, which Ross had recommended I do the night before to help stay warm. My arms have the tendency to really tighten up in the cold and I’ve lost time not from my legs being tired but from my arms being so tight and I didn’t want that to happen since it’s not fun to watch your goal slowly creep away because of something silly like tight arms. I made the decision to wear long tights as well knowing that I have suffered from hypothermia in a race before and that my body doesn’t react well to cold weather. I had an old sweatshirt of Ross’ that I wore over everything to warm up in and to stand in the corral with and though I was a bit sweaty by the end of the warm-up, I was toasty. The second thing I did right was putting hand warmers in each of my gloves to keep my hands warm. I suffer from raynaud’s syndrome where the cold makes my fingers go colorless and numb and I typically run in big puffy mittens in the winter, but for the race I wanted to be able to use my fingers to open gels so I was happy to be able to use the hand-warmers in gloves to make it happen.

I had brought a half-full water bottle with me for the warm-up to take my first gel with before starting the race. This was a suggestion by my coach since I would be trying to run a fast time and was going to be using a lot more energy per mile than I had before. It was my first time “pre-geling” and I think it really helped keep my energy levels even throughout the race. I ended up keeping the water bottle with me for the first 6.5 miles of the race, the third thing I did right that day as it allowed me to skip all of the early aid stations and be able to take my gel throughout mile 6 instead of shoving it down in one go with a little cup like I normally do. But more on that later. I was able to enter the corral just after 7:45 which was really nice since I’d never be able to do that at one of the majors like Chicago. I found the 3 hour marathon pacer and shortly after, the 1:30 pacer who was specific to the half marathon. We introduced ourselves to him and I ended up talking with a Notre Dame undergrad student for the first 10 minutes before the race started who was also planning on running with the pace group. The atmosphere was friendly and nerves really weren’t kicking in, and then all of a sudden some air horns went off and everyone started rushing forward to the start.

The 1:30 pacer went out hard and I just let them go initially, keeping his flag in my sights but not wasting energy weaving in and out of people just yet. Mile 1 felt pretty uncomfortable and not really in control but I would catch the group shortly before mile 1 clicked at a 6:39 and it made sense to me why it felt fast – it was 13 seconds faster than it should’ve been! I decided to give the group another mile to see if the pace would settle down hoping that I wouldn’t have to run the whole race solo as I was hoping to just tuck in for awhile and let the pacer do the pacing work so I could just run. Mile 2 was a 6:44. A little more in control but still about 8 seconds fast, but I felt really good so I decided to stick it out with the group. Miles 3 and 4 were quick again at a 6:38 and 6:31 but they didn’t feel that fast, I just hoped that I wasn’t messing up my whole race by hanging with this group. After mile 4 the pacer apologized for the fast pacing and things started clicking a little more consistently. Mile 5 actually felt a little more recovery-like at 6:48, or at least that’s what I told myself in my head. I turned my headphones off for a little bit and listened to the conversation going on around me. I decided not to join in on the talking though as I wanted to save my energy for the race since this was still really early on and I still had 8 miles to go. At mile 6 (6:51), I found myself running side by side with the pacer and began to take my gel. I was grateful to have my water bottle still with me to be able to take small sips of water and small sips of the gel. Just after about 6.5 miles, I tossed the water bottle off to the side of the course with it being empty and started mentally preparing to break away from the pack as my coach had instructed me to do at 7. Seeing the flag for mile 7 I started running in front of the group and reminded myself that this was just like a workout where I have the warm-up portion and then go straight into the speedwork without stopping. I wanted to look strong as I pulled away and knew that now was when the race really began for me.

I felt good pulling away but wanted to keep it under control. I started having fun passing people and got energy from being the one passing and not being the one being passed. When mile 8 clicked at 6:26, though, I realized it was too early to be kicking like this and tried to dial it back. I think it was around mile 8 that I took a cup of water and choked on it, coughing a bunch and thinking to myself, “this is not how this is going down”, and then finding my stride again. I thought I had dialed it back, until 6:23 came up on the watch for mile 9. “What the heck is happening,” I asked myself. At this point my watch was clicking a little before each mile marker so I knew it wasn’t exactly dead on, but something special was happening. It’s also when the race started to get hard, however, as miles 9-13 were all running south towards a direct headwind. I hoped that leaving the pace group behind was the right choice as at this point, there weren’t many people around to block the wind so I was on my own battling the elements. I reminded myself of the runs I had the past weekend and week where I was dealing with 15 mph winds and told myself that I could manage 8 mph winds for the next 4 miles. “The faster you run the faster you’re done!”

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I’m cold looking at this woman’s outfit but everyone has something that works best for them! For me that was layering up even though I really wanted to wear some shorts!

Mile 10 came through in 6:30 and I was starting to hurt. The wind was not letting up, but neither was I. It was at this mile that I came to a critical point in the race asking myself, “why not you?” What I was asking myself was why couldn’t I run a faster time than a 1:29. I was feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome running the way I was, as I had never come close to this before, and talked to myself throughout the next mile (in my head, of course!) about why I was questioning if I belonged in this group and why I was scared to make something magical happen. I still can’t find the right words for it, but I think I was scratching the surface of some suppressed thoughts from earlier running days where I had accepted my speed for what it was and that I’d always be a good, but not exceptional runner. So the question “why not me” was giving me some freedom to write my own story and break out of that old mold I had created for myself back in high school running. Mile 10 was full of raw emotion, and I quickly came back to reality when I could no longer control my bladder and yep, I peed myself. I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t include that bit but when I’ve gone to the well in a hard workout or race, this typically happens to me. Sorry not sorry.

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Mile 11 was slower at a 6:41 but I was still running well below the 6:52 average needed to break 1:30. My coach had told me to give everything I had in those last 2 miles and so I didn’t step off the gas, but it just got harder as the wind gusted in our direction and we were tired having run for so many miles already. When I hit mile 11, however, I saw that I had 16 minutes to run 2.1 miles and still get under 1:30, and I knew in that moment that it was up to me to determine just how far under 1:30 we were going to go. Mile 12 was consistent with mile 11 and came in at a 6:43 and I knew that I only had a little running left to go. I saw a couple women ahead and pushed myself to catch up to them and ultimately pass them in that final stretch. I knew 1:28 was likely, and then I saw my Ross at 12.9ish cheering for me and thought, “you know what? At this point you could keep running this pace and easily get 1:28, but if you push yourself this last bit, you could run a 1:27 half marathon. What’s it going to be?” I used his cheering energy to blast forward past a couple men, hitting mile 13 in 6:36. We turned the corner to run the last 0.10 into the finish and I could see the timing clock in front of me ticking down. It had already reached 1:28 but this was chip timed and I hadn’t started right at the beginning so I had some time left. I didn’t want to waste energy looking at my watch knowing it would be close so I continued to push forward, faster and faster, crossing the line, clicking off my watch, and stumbled to get a heat sheet before getting down on my knees trying to catch my breath.

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Running past Ross to go kick into the finish. I would end up passing this pack in front of me in that final surge.

I finally looked at the watch, 1:27:50. I had not only broken 1:30, I had broken two more minutes and became a 1:27 half marathoner. My official time would come in at 1:27:48 and truthfully, looking at it today still doesn’t feel real (though my sore body would tell you otherwise!). Ross found me at the finish and gave me a big hug and told me that I was going to NYC (the qualifying time to run the NYC Marathon with a half marathon time is 1:32 for my age group and gender) before we started walking back to our hotel. I had forgotten all about it and quite frankly was too tired after the race to really think or feel much emotion; all I wanted was to get out of the cold and wind and to take a hot shower. But don’t worry, on the walk back I started getting pretty excited about what I had just done and started acting less stunned, which probably had something to do with the ups and down I’ve experienced this cycle.

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Splits from the half

This training cycle for CIM has not been perfect and many runs, especially long runs, have felt much harder than in previous cycles. I have been struggling with some health issues and it’s weighed on me physically as much as it has mentally. I felt really, really lucky that I wasn’t dealing with any of those issues on race week for the first time in weeks; the timing really couldn’t have been any better. I think the biggest lesson I’m walking away with from this race is that you don’t have to have a perfect cycle or perfect build-up to have an A+ day. I was able to 100% execute my race plan from start to finish yesterday, negative splitting, running a 4:31 PR, and I can tell you while I’ve run nearly all the miles I’ve needed to this cycle, the workouts and long runs have been pretty challenging and I can count more long runs that I’ve felt discouraged from than gained confidence from. It was a reminder in continuing to show up even when things get tough because when we show up, we win at least half the battle and sometimes that’s more than enough.

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Guide to the Chicago Marathon

With the 2019 Chicago Marathon just around the corner and quite a few of my athletes racing in the city this year, I wanted to put together a helpful guide based on my experience running the event. I have run Chicago the last 4 years (2015-2018) and this will be the first year that I’m on the sidelines cheering instead of on the streets of the city. It is one of the most amazing races I’ve ever been a part of and so special; if you are running Chicago this year for the first time, you are in for a treat!

Expo

Transportation to Expo

If you are able to, I suggest going to the expo on Friday to avoid the big crowds and to be able to take your time walking around since it won’t be the day before the race. If you are planning to go Saturday, however, don’t worry, this is one of the most organized race expos I have been to before. The expo is held at McCormick place which is a convention center 2 miles south of Grant Park where you’ll be lining up on Sunday morning for the start of the race. There are a few different ways to get to McCormick place if you are coming from downtown. My favorite way to get to the expo is the Metra Electric line as the train lets out underneath the convention center. If you’re staying near Millenium Park or Grant Park, there is a stop at Millennium Station or Van Buren Station that you can get on and take about a 10 minute ride to Grant Park. The marathon also provides shuttle service from 4 hotels to and from the expo (scroll down to the section in the link labeled “free bus shuttle service”). The lines can be long for the rides back so know that you’ll have to bring your patience. The ‘L’ is Chicago’s subway system and you can get close to McCormick Place but still have to walk a little bit. A more active option is to take the Lakefront Trail down either on a Divvy bike rental (bikes you can rent all over the city and return to any Divvy location), do a shakeout run there, or walk. Finally, Uber is an option, but I have a feeling there will be surge pricing due to the high volume of people trying to get in and out of the convention center so that’s something to be aware of.

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Expo in 2016.

Spending Time at Expo

The Chicago Marathon expo is extremely well organized. You should have received either a booklet in the mail with a QR code or an online email you can scan when you get there to pick up your packet. Last year, security was increased due to recent events in the country at large public gatherings so I spent a lot more time in line for security than I had in previous years; this is just something to be aware of when making your plans. Once I got through security, the process was seamless. Your pass will be scanned and you’ll be directed to a certain counter where you will get checked in and pick up your race bib. Then you will be directed to head over to pick up your race t-shirt and goodie-bag which is organized by shirt size (can be found on your race packet). There should be free posters around the expo and I recommend picking one up to commemorate your race! After you’ve picked up your goodie-bag, you’re free to walk around the rest of the expo. Since Chicago is a world marathon major, pretty much every major running company is going to have a booth and they’re often very intricate and give out fun free things. If you aren’t concerned about alcohol before your race, check out the Goose Island booth which gives out free samples of the beer you’ll get after crossing the finish line in Chicago! If you want a pace band with mile splits, check out the Nike Pacer stand at the expo to get a free temporary tattoo pace band for your goal time. If you’re looking for your next race, many of the booths will be other races there to promote their events and offering special discount codes for expo attendees. There will also be speaker series at the expo where you can hear from professional runners and beyond. Check your guide for all of the details. I would recommend picking one or two of those since it’ll force you to sit and not be walking around too much before the race. Truth be told, my approach to big expos is to get in and get out so that I don’t risk picking up any germs or taxing my body too much walking around. You won’t feel like you’re spending too much energy walking but you’ll be surprised just how many steps you’ll pick up while in the expo. If you’re looking for more information on the expo, click here.

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At the 2017 Expo

Where to Do a Shakeout Run

If you are staying downtown near the start/finish line of the marathon, your best bet for a running route is along the Lakefront. The views are spectacular, it’s flat, and it’s where you’ll see tons of other runners in town for the weekend (including the pros!) getting their runs in before the race. The trail is a safe place to run and a great place to take some great action shots running! If you’re part of Team Sugar Runs, you should have received an invite to our team shakeout run if you’re running Chicago. If you’re on the team and are not running the race (like me!), you are still welcome to attend.

Where to Eat While in Town

Before the Race

Although I live outside of the city, I have stayed downtown for 3 out of the 4 times that I ran the Chicago Marathon to be able to sleep in more before the race. I’ve done takeout from Noodles & Company to eat in my room and avoid the hustle and bustle and I’ve also eaten at Italian Village which houses three Italian restaurants under one roof. I recommend making reservations ASAP for somewhere to eat if you haven’t already because you’ll notice that all of the Italian restaurants fill up pretty quickly on marathon weekend. If you can’t find a table at Italian Village, you can always order carryout and bring it back to your room while watching some TV to calm those nerves! Last year the marathon did a big pasta feed but I haven’t seen any information on that for this year (note: I have never participated in the pasta feed).

After the Race

Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. This city is all about its deep dish pizza and Chicagoans are pretty divided between Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s. I personally love the texture of Lou’s and the chunky tomato sauce but I have to admit that when I think of Chicago deep dish, Giordano’s is what comes to mind. You can’t go wrong with either option but I really don’t recommend eating this before the marathon because it’s heavy and greasy, both which can make for unwanted porta-potty stops along the way. You can find multiple locations of these restaurants across Chicagoland and if you aren’t feeling like going out to eat, order a pizza for delivery or takeout (and send your significant other to go pick it up for you if they didn’t run). If you’re eating in, you can make a reservation and call ahead for your pizza since they take about 45 minutes to bake.

Still looking for more tasty treats? Check out Garrett’s Popcorn which is known for its famous Chicago Mix popcorn (cheese corn and the most delicious caramel crisp popcorn you’ve ever tasted). They also have seasonal varieties, or for the plain Janes like myself, you can buy a bag of a single style of popcorn (I go for the caramel corn because I have a sweet tooth!). Another Chicago staple is Stan’s Donuts, a specialty donut store in the city. I don’t love their coffee so I’d recommend stopping somewhere else for that but their donuts are to die for.

One thing I like to do when in a new city is to try the beer brewed in that city. Chicago’s most known beers are probably Goose Island and Lagunitas Brewing Company. They will be served on tap at restaurants throughout the city. Lagunitas allows employees to bring their dogs to work so if you’re a dog lover like me, it’s easy to get behind the brand! Both offer tours (I have never been on either) so if you’re looking for something to do in the city afterwards, this may be a good option.

Race Day

How to Dress

I recommend bringing tossaway clothes as you will likely be standing outside for awhile prior to starting the race. Last year it was rainy for the race so I kept my clear poncho on (good for being able to still see a bib through) until I got to the starting line. It kept me dry for the start of the race and even if it’s not raining I recommend a poncho if it’s a cooler morning to keep your heat in and not waste your energy warming your body up before you’re running. I’ve also brought sweatshirts and sweatpants to tossaway before and all discarded clothing will be donated to local charities.

I have run the Chicago Marathon in all kinds of weather. In 2015, it was hot and all I needed was a tank top and shorts to run in and line up in. In 2016, the weather was perfect and I wore a tank and shorts to race in and wore a trash bag over my body to the starting line to stay warm before the race. In 2017, it was hot again and I just needed the tank and shorts. In 2018, it was cool and rainy so I wore a tank top and shorts for racing and wore a poncho over me to keep me warm and dry for the start. The common theme here is shorts and a tank top but I would recommend you bring extra layers in your suitcase just in case. I have packed gloves and a headband before along with tights just to have everything I could possibly need as the weather can change quickly along the lakefront. One piece of clothing I would plan to run with is a visor or hat to keep either sun or rain off your face. My visor was my life-saver in 2018 and without it I wouldn’t have been able to see with the rain getting in my contacts. I will try to give an outfit update closer to race day when I see what the forecast is.

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2015 – the first year I broke 4 hours running 3:57.

Corrals

Security will be tight getting into the corrals and I nearly missed getting into my corral last year after waiting in line for nearly 45 minutes due to stricter security. I recommend getting there early so you don’t have to deal with the stress of nearly missing your corral (but rest assured, if you do, you’ll be able to start in a farther back corral and won’t miss the race. Not ideal but you’re not completely out of luck). If you are planning to gear check, you’ll want to get there even earlier to have time to do that and make it into your corral. Once you get through security, you will have to find the letter that corresponds to your corral. You must have your bib on and will be checked prior to gaining entry into your corral.

Course & GPS

The course is flat. I gained a total of 149 feet of elevation according to GPS last year and lost 143 feet; over 26.2 miles that is nothing. There are occasional bridges but they are short and they are not steep. The only real incline is up Roosevelt about 400 meters out from the finish; it’s affectionately known as Mount Roosevelt in this race because when you’re 26 miles into a marathon, an uphill climb is going to hurt and feel like it goes on forever. You’ll “climb” up the elevation for about 200 meters, turn, and then it’s a flat sprint into the finish. My most asked question about the race was on GPS. Expect that your GPS will most likely go haywire for the first 3 miles of the marathon. Don’t panic, there are mile markers at every single mile of the course so you’ll still know how you’re doing based on your overall time. Pretty soon after starting the race you go through a tunnel (around mile 0.5) and GPS will not be working properly. No, you’re not suddenly running a 4 or 5 minute mile, it’s most likely just GPS not being able to pick up signal. You’ll notice this for the first 3 miles or so if you’re looking at the pace on your watch while you’re running through downtown and the skyscrapers so my suggestion is to either turn off GPS and manually click your mile splits when you hit the mile markers to know exactly how long it was between each mile, or to just be aware that things can be a little wonky. Once you get out into other neighborhoods and out of the skyscrapers, however, I haven’t had an issue with the GPS. One last thing on GPS: I recommend getting your watch synched up shortly after entering the corral. With all the people lined up and also trying to sync, I have noticed it can take awhile to get signal (last year it took me around 15 mins for it to finally sync!).

There is a single blue line painted on the entire course if you are running in the middle of the course; this marks the tangents where you could run an exact 26.2. Unless you’re in the elite corral, however, you most likely aren’t going to be able to follow this very easily with lots of people being in your corrals so don’t stress too much about it; yes, you’ll probably end up running over 26.2 but in a world marathon major, that’s bound to happen with all the people running. You may be able to follow the line in later miles when less people are around but I would suggest just running your race and not focusing on this so much; spend your energy wisely, you have a long way to run! The one thing you can do for certain, however, is make sure that you don’t run down the middle of the bridges and choose the carpeted sides. There are grates all on the bridges and it’s uncomfortable to run directly on them so making sure you position yourself for the carpeted portions is important. Fortunately, however, if you get stuck off the carpet, the bridges in Chicago are pretty short so you won’t be on the grates for too long. You will notice that the first 10K can be a little crowded, however, I’ve never had an issue running my goal pace in these early miles. The streets in Chicago are wide so there is plenty of space to run your race, whether that’s by following a pace group or if you decide to go it alone (the pacers are great in my experience if you’re looking to stay with a group but that’s not always possible depending on which corral you’re in and what time you’ve trained for).

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The bridges are about as “uphill” as you’re going to get. Note the “blue” line paved here. I must have been following the tangent in this race in 2015!

The Chicago course takes you through many different neighborhoods in the city, each with their own unique flair. One of my favorite neighborhoods to run through is Boystown around mile 8 because it’s a big party and everyone is so energetic. The toughest part of the course for me has always been miles 20-24. Yes, it’s partially to do with the fact that those are the later miles in the race, but it’s also where the crowds are a lot thinner since it’s in an industrial area so there isn’t as much energy. Chinatown is at mile 21 and this helps a little but prepare to need to use your mental tips and tricks here. Pick a mantra and repeat it through these miles. Some favorites of mine have been “one foot in front of the other”, “pump your arms and lift your knees”, “I’m doing this today”, or “throw it all down”. Maybe it’s one you’ve been using through training, or maybe if you’re running with music this is the time to play your favorite pump-up jams to power you through. Once you come out at mile 24, however, there will be tents lining the course from different charity organizations that have runners in the race and they’re really awesome spectators and will propel you to the finish. When you hit mile 25, you’ll be back downtown again on South Michigan avenue and the crowds will be growing as you approach the finish. Use this and let everything you have left out here. The noise will become deafening as you get close to the intersection of Michigan and Roosevelt where you’ll turn and head up “Mount Roosevelt”. I get goosebumps thinking about this because finishing Chicago is so special; crossing the giant finish line, cameras will be waiting to take your photo so throw those arms up in the air because you’ve made it!

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Finishing the race in 2018.

Note, there will be a video of the course at the expo on a big blow-up screen that I recommend checking out to get yourself pumped up for the big day but in the meantime, click here to watch the course.

Tips & Trips

Being a world marathon major, there are over 40,000 people who will run the race. After having run the race the last 4 years, here are some of the tips I’ve picked up on:

  1. Run past the first few water/Gatorade tables and use the second set. There will be far less people using these tables so you’ll be able to continue to run and have less of a chance of bumping into someone. If the cup is full, dump some of the liquid out, then crease the top of the paper cup to make a small spout so you get all of the liquid into your mouth and not just all over your face. Don’t stop after getting a cup before you’ve gotten out of the way or you might get run over by the crowd behind you!

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    Demonstrating cup technique here in 2016 – crease the top so you can drink more easily out of it while running. I was taking a gel here and using the water to wash it down.

  2. If you’re trying to see family/friends along the course, have them tell you exactly where to stand to find you so you know where to be looking for them. I often miss my family at large races but the more narrowed down we get down to the mile they’ll be at, the more likely I am to see them. Chicago is an awesome course for spectators because they can see you at multiple points along the course by riding the “L” to different stops.
  3. If you’re going to run with music, that’s ok, I run with music too, but for the first mile or two I normally have it on pause so I can hear the roar of the crowds through downtown. It’s electrifying and it makes me so happy to see and hear how many people came out to support the runners.
  4. Be aware of the GPS issues in the first few miles and don’t freak out too much about it. You can always look at your overall time as you’re at mile markers to see where you’re at in relation to your goal. There will be a Nike Pacer stand at the expo giving out free pace temporary tattoos with every mile split on it for goal times. These are awesome to have on race day!
  5. If it’s a warm day, the Chicago fire department will be shooting off water from trucks to cool runners down. Run through it and let yourself get wet; it’ll cool you down for a little bit and is worth getting wet for.
  6. Let a pacing team do some of the “work” for you in the early miles. More information on pacing teams can be found here including which corral pacers will be in. You can’t move up in corrals (you can move back) so if a pacer isn’t in your corral, you can still run your own race just like you have been doing in your training. You can find out more information about pace groups at the expo; you don’t need to be registered for a pace group to run with them but if you feel it will help, you can always get the pace team bib to wear on the back of your shirt for race day. I typically skip that piece because I don’t like that added pressure but everyone is motivated differently.

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    Running with the 3:35 pacer in 2016. They did an excellent job and I faded in the final 5 miles but still finished in 3:38 thanks to their help for the first 21!

Family Meet-Up

After crossing the finish line, you will shuffle your way through to get your medal and a heat sheet prior to getting some water/Gatorade and food. This is also where you can get your souvenir Goose Island beer can which you can save and write your finishing time on after you’ve finished your drink! You are not allowed to leave the finisher area with your full beer so you either need to drink it or dump it if you want to keep your can. There will be photo stations along the way where you can take a finisher photo with your race medal with one of the course photographers.

Once you’re ready to reunite with family and friends, you can exit the finisher area into the family-meet zone which is coded with letters. Pick a letter to meet at (choose the first letter of your first name or the first letter of your last name to make it easy – you get to choose this with your family!) and plan to meet up there. Cell phone service can sometimes be spotty with everyone trying to text/call relatives and pinging the same cell towers so having a plan ahead of time for how you’re going to meet up is advised. Go celebrate your hard-earned finish with your loved ones!

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Meeting up with my husband in 2017. You can see the letter “W” behind us in the family meeting area.

Being a Tourist

If you are sticking around after the race for a few days, there are lots of fun things to do in the city. Here are some recommendations based on the type of experience you’re looking for (make sure to check out prices online as well for tickets).

Museums

Chicago has some of the best museums in the country with easy access through public transportation (the Museum Campus). The Field Museum is one of the largest Natural History museums in the world and is home to “Sue”, the giant T-Rex fossil. They have rotating exhibits that come through as well so check out the museum’s website here to learn more.

If you’re more into aquatics, then check out the Shedd Aquarium which is also located on the Museum Campus. This is my favorite museum in the city because I love seeing all of the different fish and it is definitely an entertaining one for people of all ages.

If you’re into science, you’ll be in for a treat at the Museum of Science and Industry. This museum is great for kids and adults alike as the exhibits are fascinating and able to be understood at a variety of levels. You may also be interested in the Adler Planetarium where you can learn more about the solar system.

Finally, Chicago also has an amazing Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago. I will fully admit that art is not of big interest to me so I haven’t been in a very long time to this museum but it’s one of the largest art museums in the U.S. so if this is your interest, I would definitely take a trip while you’re in town.

City Tours

After running a marathon, the last thing you probably want to do is walk around a lot, but you most likely still want to see the city. Doing a river cruise is a great way to see the city by water and from a different angle. I recommend the Wendella Tour; I have taken Wendella boats to get from the train station to other parts of the city before but they also offer guided architecture tours where you can see some of Chicago’s iconic buildings along the river. There are also tour buses that go around Chicago but knowing the Chicago traffic, I personally wouldn’t pick something like this and would prefer to walk and see the sights (but that’s not to say these tours aren’t great, too).

Theatres

Chicago attracts major Broadway shows and musicals and there are many theatres in the city to check out. Here is more information on what will be showing and where when you are in town: click here.

If you’re looking for some comedic relief after your race, I highly recommend seeing a Second City comedy show. Comedians of the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler started at Second City and the group is extremely talented. Note that these shows are generally not appropriate for children and can sometimes be a bit raunchy so know your own personal preferences. You can check out which shows will be playing when you are in town and learn more about what each of them are about: click here.

Shopping

Michigan Avenue and State Street are the two major shopping areas in Chicago. On State Street, you will find the iconic Marshall Field’s clocks (now Macy’s) as well as a variety of department stores. Michigan Avenue has more department stores, Nike Chicago’s main store, as well as Water Tower place mall. If you’re over by Water Tower, check out the Ghiradelli store where you can get a delicious hot fudge sundae or other chocolatey treats. The Hersey store is also on the same block for the chocolate lover.

Places to See

The Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) has one of the best views in the city if you’re ok with heights. You can pay to stand on the glass floor that juts out past the building and if you’re brave, to look down below.

Millennium Park is home to the iconic “Bean” where you’ll see lots of tourists taking photos. It also neighbors Maggie Daley Park which is a free outdoor big playground for kids; if you have young ones in tow, here’s a spot to let them get their energy out! You will finish and start the Chicago Marathon in Grant Park where you can check out the Buckingham Fountain, another icon of the city. If you don’t get a chance to on race day, this isn’t a far walk from Millennium Park.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the few free-admission zoos in the country. This is a fun place for both kids and adults to visit exotic animals!

If you’re into sports, check out the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Socks (boo!), Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, or Chicago Bears websites to see when they’re playing in town. I am a Cubs fan so I am biased but nothing says Chicago more than sitting in a seat at Wrigley Field with a hot dog in hand cheering on the Cubbies. We are lucky to have so many sports teams in the city so someone is always at home playing a game.

Finally, Navy Pier is a fun attraction for families. They recently put in a new ferris wheel that gives great views of the city from the lakefront and you can shop and eat out near the lake.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that you found this guide to be helpful and all-encompassing for the full Chicago Marathon weekend experience. If you are running the Chicago Marathon this year, I wish you the very best of luck! Trust in your training and in the process and know that you belong on that starting line on October 13th. I will be out cheering with Oiselle’s Cowbell Corner near mile 17.5 of the course so let me know if I should be cheering for you and look for me! I am so excited to be a spectator in my hometown race for the first time ever and cannot wait to welcome you all to this wonderful city of ours. Go make those dreams a reality!

Fall 2019 Goals

If you read my 2019 goals at the beginning of the year, you would have seen that I am the type of person who likes to put my goals out into the universe and make them public. I wrote that I was chasing a 3:20 or better marathon at Boston and a 1:32 or better half marathon. In April, I ran a 3:20:09 marathon at Boston and in March during the lead-up to Boston, a 1:32:19 (there is power in writing your goals down!). I had also written that my Fall plans were a 3:15 or faster marathon IF I ran a Fall marathon and if not I’d be chasing a sub-1:30 half.

It’s funny how a few months can change everything.

In March, I ran a half-marathon on an extremely challenging course (dubbed the most challenging half marathon course in northern Illinois) that gained 700 feet of elevation and dropped about the same over the course of 13.1 miles. It’s the kind of course that breaks the body down – steep hills up and down are tough on those quads! I was extremely nervous going into this race and ran “blind”, not paying attention to the pace on my watch and just running off of effort. I ended up coming away with nearly a 3-minute PR, running 1:32:19 and I realized just how strong I had gotten during the marathon cycle.

In my Boston build-up, I had my strongest marathon training cycle to date and came away actually in better shape than a 3:20 (closer to a 3:17-3:18 marathon according to my coach). However, in order to capitalize on your top level of fitness the stars need to align the day of the race. As you all have read by now, the weather at Boston in 2019 while much more ideal than it was forecasted to be was pretty humid and temperatures got very warm for marathon running in the afternoon. I was so proud of how my body battled that day and still came away with an 8 minute PR, notching a 3:20 marathon.

My Fall plans have changed.

I AM running a Fall Marathon and I AM chasing a sub 90-minute half. They are no longer separate goals but one in the same in pursuit of my marathon goal. I ran my first marathon in a 4:10. When my coach and I talked about my next goal time for CIM after Boston, I wasn’t scared, I was excited. And I held onto that excitement for myself for many months because I wanted to make it my own and have time to process it individually. I now feel ready to put my goal out there. After having a strong Boston cycle and coming away with more fitness than I thought going into it, I am now chasing a 3:10. This number is special to me because it represents a full hour between my first marathon and hopefully my eighth. I’ll admit I was curious what I could do on a flatter, faster course in both the half and the full marathon after my most recent PRs have come on hilly courses. Maybe one day I’ll run a flatter marathon course but CIM has been on the bucket list for awhile now and after training for all the Boston hills this winter, I kind of fell in love with rolling hills. My half marathon this Fall on the other hand will be on a flat course; I will be running the Indy Monumental Half Marathon as a tune-up race during my CIM cycle where hopefully if training has gone well and I am healthy, I’ll be chasing that sub-90 minute half too.

It’s crazy to me to think about how I have evolved as a distance runner over the last several years. It is a testament to hard work, dedication, and commitment that has gotten me to where I am today and it is that same work ethic that will get me to my goals in the future. I am excited to embark on this next season of marathon training in August. I know it won’t be easy; going for something you’ve never done before never is, but I have no doubt that it will be worth it. Bring on all the miles, the sweat, the tears, the pain; I’m ready to go chase down bigger goals this Fall!