Rock n Roll USA Half Marathon 2014

My goals for the Rock n Roll USA half marathon this Saturday were the following ~

  • Break 1:28. 
  • Run the hills SMART, not hard.
  • TRUST myself.
  • BE BOLD.

I was pretty nervous about the time goal for a few reasons.  A 6:40-6:45 average pace over 13.1 miles intimidated me – that’s not much slower than my tempo pace and the most consecutive tempo miles I’ve done in a training run this cycle has been 6.  Also, I was not planning to taper for this race at all (I ran 81 miles last week, including the race, and was in the high 70s the week before), so I knew I wouldn’t be heading into it with “fresh” legs.  I didn’t really want to set a “limit” on what I was capable of, yet I also wanted to have something to reach for.

With all that said though, I was still going to GO for it and give it the best I had in me, because the other goals I had for the race were ultimately a ton more important to me than the time on the clock.

Race morning came and my plan was to run the first mile or two easy, which I was thinking would be right around a 6:50ish pace.  By Mile 3 I wanted to be holding my goal race pace, locked in at 6:40-6:45 through Mile 10, with the understanding that Mile 7 would be slower because I was aware of the long monster hill in that mile and I wanted to maintain an even effort up it so I wasn’t winded at the top.  Then from Mile 11 on I would push myself and put it all out on the line, running as fast as I could to the finish.  I figured if I could execute the race like that I would be in pretty great shape to accomplish all of my goals.

Sometimes we surprise ourselves though.

As soon as the race started I knew things were going to go differently than I had planned.  I just had no idea how differently.  I was running with ease and strength and felt so present in the moment, so in my element, so in love with this sport and with the energy of race day.  I looked at my watch early on and saw that the pace was faster than I expected, but it didn’t shake me at all.  I was trusting myself, trusting my body.  This was where I was meant to be.

I took the hills in stride and maintained an even, constant effort up them as well as down them, including the huge one at the start of Mile 7 (last year that hill had me nearly throwing up when I reached the top, this year I dominated it – THAT was a good feeling!).

Around Mile 6 I felt my tummy cramp a little bit but this is not a feeling that is new to me.  I told myself it would pass and thankfully it did.  I was planning to eat the gel I brought with me right around Mile 6 or 7, but because of my tummy I decided it would be a bad idea and I really didn’t feel like I needed the extra energy anyway.  My tummy talked to me again at some point during miles 8 and 10, but both times the feeling went away and I was glad I didn’t stop for a false alarm.  I kept running strong.

Miles 1-10:
6:31, 6:30, 6:29, 6:14, 6:22, 6:25, 6:57 (hill), 6:23, 6:25, 6:20

When I came through Mile 10 it was time to be BOLD – time to pick up my pace and race the last 3.1 miles to the finish.  I knew I had it in me and I felt this amazing sense of energy – I was so ready to rock it.

Mile 11: 6:13

Mile 12 was more of the same.  There was one woman left in front of me that I could see.  I passed her with ease early on in Mile 12 and was running with a pack of guys at that point.  It was a really cool feeling.

I looked at my watch as I approached the 12 mile marker and saw that I was clocking a 6:08 pace and it felt amazing.  I was so excited and determined!  I only had a little more than a mile to go and I was going to race it all out.

I was being BOLD.

And then, all of a sudden, I felt my tummy talk to me again.  I told myself it would go away just like it had earlier on in the race…but I was wrong.  I was in trouble and came to a screeching halt on a neighborhood street of Capitol Hill and was all of a sudden walking, trying to calm my GI system down.  It wasn’t working.  I literally was looking around for places to pull over – checking out parked cars to see if maybe I could hide behind one (ridiculous thought), alleyway streets – looking for any place I could go to the bathroom.  There were no porta-potties and there wouldn’t be until the Finish which was still over a mile away.  I crossed the 12th mile in 6:30, so I really hadn’t lost much time at that point.

I quickly considered my options, nervously walking as fast as I could because any time I tried to run I was pretty sure I would go to the bathroom in my pants and THAT was most definitely NOT an option I would consider.  I hate writing this by the way.  It is hugely embarrassing but it’s really real so I am just telling it like it was — awful!  I decided my choices were as follows:

(1) Just walk, and hope my system would calm down.  Be happy with how I raced up until this point.  It was still a great race after all!

(2) Find a place to go to the bathroom – take care of it – and run hard!  Don’t let it stop me.

I really wasn’t okay with option 1, as long as I could find a place for option 2.  There were cops and spectators lining the streets because we were in a neighborhood and the turnoff split for half/full marathoners was coming up.  I saw an alleyway blocked by three cones.  I am sure what I did was completely horrible and illegal and disgusting … but I ran down the alley and ducked in by the side of a brick building and went to the bathroom.  And now I am telling the world about it!  Oh my gosh.  Go me.  Such a lady.  Ugh.

Anyway, I took care of it and ran back down the alley out onto the course and raced my heart out from there. I distinctly heard a man yell to me “YOU GO GIRL!” as I race passed people.  I laughed to myself as I thought “thanks, I just did, and I feel SO much better!”  I figured no sense in dwelling, let’s just move on and finish what I started.

Mile 13 was a 6:56 including my stop.  I over-ran the course by more than a quarter mile, thanks in large part to my detour, and my last .38 was at an average pace of 5:51.  I crossed the Finish with a time of 1:26:25.  According to my watch, with the extra mileage, my average pace was a 6:28.  This was 7 minutes faster than I ran this same race last year, and a PR in the half marathon distance by a little more than 3 minutes.

I found out later that I was 1st in my age group and the 11th overall female out of more than 10,000 women running the half that day.  All of this really did, and still does, astound me.

I was really happy with how I raced this, and with how I handled and overcame my issues towards the end … even if I am horribly embarrassed by what I had to do to deal with it.  I accomplished every one of my goals for this race, and surprised myself a lot.  GI issues are no fun and I have dealt with them a ton – not just in my running but in my daily life – and I am still working to improve on this.  Figuring out my food allergies and making changes to when and what I eat before running and especially racing has helped me a lot, but I obviously have not gotten it all figured out yet and that’s okay.  I will keep trying and I won’t give up.  I am certain now that I should avoid dairy completely the week before my races, and probably just avoid it altogether even though I’m not allergic to it.  It messes with me!

Boston is exactly 5 weeks from today and I’m feeling strong and hopeful about the journey ahead.  I am finding myself dreaming bigger and feeling bolder lately.

In my heart, I know that anything is possible.

Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon

I think sometimes our best races are the ones we don’t get all psyched up for.  When all the pressure’s off and we give ourselves permission to truly, truly let go – and just trust in ourselves and in what the day will bring.

When I returned to running a little less than a week after the Richmond Marathon and my legs were feeling so good, I really didn’t want to think about tapering all over again or gearing myself up mentally or physically for another RACE.  I was signed up for the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon three weeks later though, and I had an opportunity to race again there.  I considered it, trust me – even thought about switching to the full marathon in Rehoboth because I felt I had trained for a faster 26.2 this cycle – and I wrote down (in my Believe I Am journal) all my reasons for wanting to race again and all my reasons for not wanting to …. it was a no-brainer when I looked at it that way.  I wanted to keep moving, to just run for the love of and joy of running.  I didn’t want to think at all about paces or pushing myself in a workout or consider strategies or have to run a ton less to properly taper.  Boston training starts up in early January and in my heart I knew if I spent the weeks between cycles thinking about racing, preparing for it, running it and recovering from it, I would burn out mentally and emotionally without a doubt.  And possibly – actually, most likely, if I really think about it – be disappointed with myself for one reason or another.

So in the weeks after Richmond I hopped in the pool and started swimming (something I have been wanting to do for a while).  I took spinning classes and fell in love with that all over again.  I ran with my friends, I ran on the trails, and didn’t even wear my watch much of the time.  The week before the Rehoboth half I ran 58 miles like that, and the week of the race (including the race) I came in at 52, including 7 miles the day before the race.  Needless to say, my legs were feeling strong but they were anything but “fresh” or “race ready.”  And you know what – I didn’t care at all!  Inside, I was happy.  I felt balanced.  I was SO excited to go to Rehoboth with my good friend Elizabeth who was traveling up here from Atlanta to visit me and have a girls running weekend together.  Elizabeth and I met at Hood to Coast when we ran with Nuun two summers ago.  We hadn’t seen one another since then, and I don’t even exactly know how to describe to you how awesome it was to have her here, to get to spend time together.  Some people just come into your life in an instant and they are meant to be there forever.  Elizabeth is one of those people for me.  She has this incredible goal of running a marathon or half marathon in every state, so this trip would check off Delaware for her and be her 20th state!  It was also her first race since having hip labrum surgery back in April.  We had a ton to celebrate.  Not being all pre-race-crazy was a good thing for both of us.  I wanted to be present to enjoy my time with my friend and let the race be a part of that — not the focus of that.

re-nuunited and it feels so good!

Elizabeth and I had so much fun walking around and exploring Rehoboth when we got there.  The town is adorable and was decorated festively for the holidays.  The shops (there are a ton, and many of them are just so cute and unique!) were open and our hotel could not have been more perfect, or more convenient – it was walking distance to anything and everything we wanted to see or do (including the packet pickup, the ocean, the start and the finish lines!)  We had a great dinner with Michele (who I was really excited to finally meet in person) before calling it a night, and the next morning the three of us walked together to the Start.

ready and all smiles!

As I stood at the Start with Michele I felt giddy.  Just excited to be there and so happy to feel so relaxed about the run.  I hadn’t thought through my pacing at all but I knew I wanted to feel comfortable and I also felt pretty confident that I could do that and still run a PR, which would be under a 1:33.

The race began and I found myself really relaxed, and was surprised when I looked at my watch and saw sub-7:00 pace.  At first I thought maybe I should slow down, that this pace might start to kick me in the butt later especially on the windy parts of the course which would come later.  Quickly though I decided I didn’t care so much about that, and reminded myself that I was going to trust my body and just run relaxed and enjoy myself.

I felt pretty steady at that pace for quite a while, and controlled my effort when the wind got bad or when I found myself in the park dodging mud puddles or sloshing right through them.  I stopped looking at my watch and just had fun with it.

Mile 1 – 6:45
Mile 2 – 6:49
Mile 3 – 6:56
Mile 4 – 6:42
Mile 5 – 6:41
Mile 6 – 6:47
Mile 7 – 6:59
Mile 8 – 6:51
Mile 9 – 6:48

gotta love the gel-eating race pictures!

At the end of Mile 9, the half marathoners turned back and the marathoners continued on.  It was at this point, as I was making the u-turn, that the girl in front of me called to me with a big smile – I remember her saying something like “Come on!  Let’s do this!” and telling me that she knew me from my blog and that she totally believed we could run a 1:31 or 1:32!  I told her I was sure she was right and admitted that I wasn’t really planning to race hard today, but her energy and excitement totally kicked me into a new gear and just made me want to run faster.  This is the way to race — with another awesome woman who loves running as much as you do!!  I think this is what they must have meant when they coined the term “perfect stranger” – we were instant friends and on a mission together for the next few miles.  It was SO much fun!  I felt our pace picking up and told her I couldn’t chat anymore until after the race (because I needed to breathe!) and she totally agreed.  We ran single file on the trail from there on out and it just felt awesome.  I am pretty sure I was smiling the whole way.

Mile 10- 6:35
Mile 11 – 6:42
Mile 12 – 6:37
Mile 13 – 6:31
Last .2 (watch was long) – 6:23 average

I crossed the line seconds before she did and as soon as she came across I greeted her with a huge hug!!  It was so cool!!  My time was 1:29:31, a 6:50 average and it was the first time I ran a half marathon under 1:30 (not to forget the fact that this was a PR for me by 4 minutes!).  We stood at the finish and chatted for a while – and as luck would have it Anabelle (that’s her name, I found once we could actually speak!) doesn’t live far from me at all!  This winter we will both be training for Boston (it will be her first – and she qualified with her first and only marathon ever – aaaamazing in my opinion).  We were the 6th and 7th overall female finishers and we took 1st and 2nd places in our age group!  She had to hit the road to get back to her family but we are going to make plans to run together this winter – I am beaming just thinking about how fun this aspect of the weekend was, making a new friend out on the course like that.  So cool.  So much of what I love about this awesome sport is summed up by my experience meeting and running with Anabelle.  I wish we had gotten a picture taken of us, but neither of us had our phones or cameras with us. 

me with my award! 

And the celebrations continued from there.  Elizabeth crushed her goal of 2 hours and finished strong in a 1:52!  I was so proud of her, and so excited that she felt as good as she did for her first race after surgery!  We had tons of fun at the Finish Line tent – I got my award, we had an awesome beer (Dogfish Head brewery!) and met more amazing runners!  That night Elizabeth and I had a great time watching football, drinking beer and just hanging out!

I’m really so thankful for the weekend that we had together.   It was the **perfect** end to a fantastic season of training and racing and I would not have wanted it to be any other way.  I learned a lot about myself and was reminded about what I love most about the sport and the community of running.  The HEART that is in it, the people it connects me to and the strength and joy it brings out from within me … that’s what matters the most!!

Richmond Marathon 2013

It’s been over a week since I ran the Richmond Marathon.  I have been thinking about it every day – remembering the details, trying to learn from the experience and embrace all that I loved about it and all that I struggled through.  In some ways, I have found myself wishing I could go back and do it all over again.  Not necessarily out of regret or wanting to change the result, because I am so happy with my time and how awesome the whole experience was and because I really did learn so much, but because I feel like it just flew by so quickly and some of it is a blur to me now.  Those few hours that I worked for months and months to arrive at, went by in a blink.  I want to savor all of it.  I don’t feel that way about every marathon that I’ve run.  Some of them I have literally begged and prayed to finish and then swore I was DONE with marathons altogether afterwards, and I never wanted to think about running 26.2 miles again.  Not this one.  This one was nothing like that.  This one left me feeling more excited, more grateful, more passionate about running and especially about running marathons.  This one left me understanding more about myself as a person and as a runner.

halfway through and happy – doing what i love!

We talk about this kind of thing a lot as runners – one of the reasons many of us love distance running so much is because it is so symbolic of life.  You get out what you put in.  When everything sucks and you feel like you’re falling apart, the best thing to do is to keep moving forward.  All you need is within you.  Trust in the process … trust that you are exactly where you’re meant to be and that the struggles and how you overcome them (and you WILL have struggles and you WILL overcome them) are there for a reason and will help you grow.  It’s about the journey, not the destination.  Be in the moment, that’s where it’s at and that’s all that matters!  Don’t worry about what lies ahead or how far you have to go.  Just BE.  Here.  Now.

It all might sound cliche, but I don’t even care.  It’s all true.  And that kind of stuff is the reason I know I will run for all of my life.  Not for times on the clock, but for what it does for my spirit.  How it fuels my fire and reminds me of who I am and that I am ALIVE.

Every marathon, in my opinion, is practice at trust.  Practice at not quitting, hanging on and hanging in.  Practice at moving on when you hit the lowest of lows.  At riding it all out – the good the bad, the amazing, the agonizing.  And every marathon is also an opportunity – a chance to learn things about yourself, a chance let yourself shine, a chance to dig deep inside and pull out some courage and fight when the going gets tough.  A chance to take some risks.

I think the biggest lesson I have to face from Richmond is this – I am still a scaredy-cat when it comes to putting myself completely out on the line.  Don’t get me wrong – I have done a ton of work on this and I have grown by putting myself in tough places and pushing through them, but when it comes to racing the marathon I am bit of a chicken later in the race.  I keep myself as comfortable as possible for as long as I can and then when things start to get hard, I just make it my mission to stay comfortable, which oftentimes means pulling back and resisting the chances for disaster.  This might sound smart to you, and for the first 2/3 of the race I think it really is the way to go, but what I’m realizing from Richmond is that I am going to need to take a risk later in the race if I want to achieve my full potential.  I’m going to need to make myself really uncomfortable during those last 6 miles of the marathon, and let things happen and maybe even let my wheels fall off as a result…and be OK with that because I will KNOW I gave it my all.

I almost went there for Richmond, but I made a decision not to because I was pretty happy, really content is the right word, with how I was doing and the time I was running.  I knew I was going to run a personal best time and didn’t want to risk failing at that.  I weighed my options and decided to be careful.

For the first half of the race, I was steady and in control and everything felt light and easy – just as it should!  I was drenched from the rain, but I had a huge smile on my face as it poured down on me.  Everything felt good and I was happy and strong and in control.

Miles 1-13: 7:21, 7:14, 7:18, 7:12, 7:09, 7:15, 6:53, 7:13, 6:58, 7:15, 7:24, 7:09, 7:26

I came through the halfway point in almost exactly 1:35.  And I felt like I was ready to crank things up a bit.  I had a LOT of energy in my tank there.  This was awesome because I felt confident I could negative-split the course and come in under 3:10.  I hadn’t been checking my watch at each mile up to that point, I was listening to my body and trusted that I was running a smart race because everything felt so smooth.  I saw Maddie (most amazing friend ever!!!!) at that point and gave her my hand-held water bottle.  I would grab cups at water stops from here on out.

I ran the next couple of miles faster and felt strong, and then had some hills to tackle for a few miles which I was both mentally and physically prepared for.  I didn’t let them get to me, didn’t worry about my pace slowing because I was maintaining a steady effort.  It wasn’t time to feel like crap yet, I told myself.

I saw Maddie again just before around 18.5/19 and told her I was feeling good and that I was happy because I was pretty sure the hills were over.  She gently told me I was wrong (she ran this race last year), that there was a pretty big hill coming up.  She was right.  I told myself to stay comfortable for longer.

Miles 14-20: 7:01, 6:58, 7:19, 7:26, 7:28, 7:18, 7:43

mile 18.5-ish

When I came into Mile 21, I started to feel discomfort in my tummy.  This is when I wanted to RACE, when I intended to put it all out on the line.  But …. I also didn’t want to.  I had a reasonable excuse not to now – another reason to stay conservative.  I had noticed my tummy feeling crampy earlier in the race a few times but it subsided.  I told myself if I stayed at a comfortable pace that maybe it would subside again, but I had a pretty strong feeling I would need to make a porta-potty stop at some point.  My efforts to ignore it stopped working, and by the time I was in Mile 23 I realized I had no real choice but to stop and take care of it.  I was determined not to let it ruin my experience or derail me – I started telling myself it was still okay that I wasn’t racing yet.  I jumped right back in and tried to get my pace back down.  I found myself hanging in a pack of guys which turned out to be the 3:15 pace group.  I stayed with them for a mile and then tried to pull ahead a little bit.

For the last two miles, I made it my mission to ENJOY the finish of my fastest ever marathon.  I knew the race wasn’t over yet, that I still had two miles more to run, but I had no doubt I would do it and that I would keep running, even if I wasn’t “racing” in the way I wanted to at that point.

I saw Maddie again just before the finish and she said to me something like “How awesome is this!??!”  Seeing her really help me move beyond any lingering negative thoughts and feelings about those last several miles, because there was SO MUCH to be SO HAPPY about.  I was running my fastest ever marathon!

Miles 21-26.2: 7:29, 7:44, 8:20, 7:20, 8:06, 7:54, 6:57

almost done!

When I crossed the finish, the first person I saw was Bart Yasso.  I had met him at the expo the night before – which was a very cool experience!  He gave me a hug and then pointed at me and said “BE HAPPY!”  And I was.  So happy.

My official finish time was 3:14:10.  A 7:22 average pace.  This is a seven and a half minute PR for me, and over 11 minutes faster than I ran my fall marathon last year.  I’m pretty ecstatic about that.  There’s a lot to be happy about.

For the first hour after the race, all I wanted to do was be dry and not on my feet.  Maddie and I sat together and talked for a while – I can’t even tell you how much it meant to me that she was there.

so grateful for her

The rest of the weekend was really nice.  My sister Jodi and a bunch of our buddies and I all went out for yummy Mexican and beer that afternoon.  Jodi and I stayed in Richmond Saturday night together and had a mellow and fun evening hanging out with Bart Yasso which was, um, really really neat.

so fun!

I got on the foam roller that night and my legs felt great.  This past week I did not feel as though I was recovering from a marathon at all, though I am no dummy and knew that even though I wasn’t feeling that way, I needed to honor my usual post-marathon recovery routine.  I went swimming this week (!), worked on my core, and went for a run on Friday with Maddie and yesterday solo.  My legs feel great and I’m excited to spend the next 6-8 weeks not training for something, just enjoying running because I love it, sleeping in some (if my kids will let me!) and recharging so I will feel renewed and excited about training in the winter for Boston!

As Thanksgiving approaches I am feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude.  Gratitude for this sport I love so much, and for the people it has brought into my life.  Gratitude for my family and and for my friends and for all of their support and love and encouragement, always.

so much more than a race

I laced up my racing shoes on Sunday morning for the Potomac River Running Birthday Bash 5k.

When I got up that morning I had butterflies in my tummy.  I am always jittery and jumpy and extra energetic on race day morning.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a local 5k or the Boston Marathon – I am full of joy and excitement.  ELATION.  I find it hard to harness my emotions in.

Sunday morning was no different from that perspective.  But this race was special to me in so many ways right from the start.  It was being held in honor of the tenth birthday of my favorite running store, a store that is just SO MUCH MORE than a store to me.  Potomac River Running is a family and community of people who provide tons of support and inspiration to so many people in our area.  I am beyond thankful for the friendships I have made through it, and for how these people have not only helped me to become a better runner but have also inspired and encouraged me to follow my dreams and be the best ME that I can be.  I mean that with all of my heart.

This race was also really special to me because my husband Robert was running the race, too. And my mom took all three kids for a sleepover the night before, so it was just the two of us heading to the race.  I have been running since Robert and I started dating almost 14 years ago, but it is only in the last several months that he has begun to find his own love for the sport.  It is really, really cool to share this with him.  Something totally new and unexpected.  Something that has been really good for us, as individuals and as a couple.

When we arrived at the race I went for a warm-up run along the course.  I ran the whole thing from start to finish at an easy pace with a few strides in the last quarter mile to get my legs moving quicker.  The course was hilly all throughout – lots of ups and downs the entire way.  I knew it would be tough – it was HUMID outside and I was drenched in sweat from the warm up.  I also noticed that my watch said I ran 3.2 miles for the warm up and I thought that was weird – maybe the course was long or I ran a little extra?  I didn’t pay much mind to it though – I felt good and I was ready to race and see what I had in me.  I saw my sister and Maddie as I waited in the start line and this made me SO happy.  I am just so blessed with amazing people in my life.

me and maddie just before the start!

When the race started I really had zero idea how fast I could run it.  I wanted to beat my PR of 19:59, and believed in my heart that I could run something around a 19:30 if all went well.  That would be a 6:15 average pace.  Since I hadn’t done any speed work or tempo runs in several months, this was all kind of speculation though and I knew that.  So I started running and made sure it didn’t feel too hard for the first mile.  There was a pretty nice decline early in that mile and my watch clicked in with a 6:05 when I completed it.  There was a really strong woman in front of me – she passed me on the down hill during the first mile and as she approached me I was amazed by her strength and the ease with which she ran.  It was almost like she was gliding.  I had no urge to try to catch her though – I told myself you are competing against yourself here Jess, not anyone else.  Just give it your best.  I wanted to maintain my focus and be really in tune with how I was feeling.

I felt steady at the end of the first mile and decided to just maintain my effort.  Mile two had some up hills in it and I tried not to push too hard up them so that I could save my energy for a good kick at the finish.  Even effort on the ups, don’t worry about the pace, you’ll make it up on the downs.  I ran Mile 2 in 6:18.

And this is when I started to feel the PAIN of the 5k.

The third mile was really tough.  More hills.  Hot sun.  Humidity.  I felt like I could lose my breakfast on one of the up hills.

Hello, pain.  Hello, misery.
Hello negative thoughts of this sucking and I WANT TO QUIT. 
I was wondering when you would show up.

I wanted it to be over, but I also really wanted to hang on so badly.  At this point I remembered a quote I had recently read from Robert Frost.  I have not been able to stop thinking about this quote for a couple of weeks now.

The best way out is always through.

I repeated it over and over to myself during that third mile.  I cannot hide from the pain or the hurt.  Or from the work.  And in fact, if I am being real with myself, I don’t even want to!  Stepping up and getting THROUGH it makes you grow, makes you stronger, makes you feel more alive and capable than quitting or taking the “easy” way out.  It carves you deeper and makes more room for joy and authenticity.  I cannot deny that it is difficult to face hard things, whether it’s the pain of mile three of a 5k or the pain of changes in your life that you have no control over and just want to hide from, or the pain of tragedy or betrayal or disappointment.  Trying to go around it or just table having to deal with it isn’t going to really accomplish anything GOOD.  But I can push on through and know that I will get to the other side of it, TRUST that this is where the magic happens, and BELIEVE that I will be stronger for it – on every level.

I actually turned it into a little poem for myself (not sure what Mr. Frost would think of this, but oh well) —

The best way out is always through.
This is what I am made to do.

I told myself to just push through it. To keep going.  To hang on.  Don’t give up.  This is what I believe in.  Hanging on, pushing through.  I know that I am strong enough to go through it.

Mile 3 – 6:26.

When I passed the third mile marker I was SO ready to gun it with everything I had left in me.  I was fighting so hard.  Crossing the Finish line was awesome – my sister and so many of my friends were all there cheering me in and I was so ready to be done!  I really laid it all out on the line there.

pain face at the finish line

I thought for sure I had a PR in the bag, even with the slower last mile.  But in fact the course was a little long – my watch clocked it in at 3.2 miles again!  The last .2 I held onto a 5:41 pace though, and was definitely feeling strong.  I averaged a 6:14 pace for the entire run – I thought this was extra cool because my bib number was 614!!!  I was so happy about it – I ran one second faster than my goal pace!  It wasn’t an official PR (missed it by ONE SECOND!) because the course was long, but I honestly don’t care.  I was really happy with how I did.  And what was even sweeter – I was the 2nd overall female!  This just literally amazed me!  My sister was waiting for me as soon as I crossed and gave me a water bottle and a huge sister hug.  There really isn’t a better way to finish a race if you ask me!

#sistersonamission

After I was done I joined Jodi and Maddie in cheering in all the runners, including Robert who looked INCREDIBLY strong as he crossed the finish line!  He ran a 3 MINUTE PR!!!!!!  It was so much fun to celebrate together.  I am so proud of him for all the hard work and dedication he has put into his running over these last several months.  Really, into his HEALTH.  Seeing someone you love make their own health and happiness a priority is a really good feeling.  It makes my heart swell up with gratitude.

happy and proud and grateful!

We hung out at the race for a while afterwards – it was a huge party!  Cupcakes, a super fun photo booth with silly props to use, an ice cream truck and Saucony even had a dunk tank!  There were even more fun things happening that I don’t think I even got around to participating in.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been to a more fun race than this one!  Here’s hoping that =PR= will make it an annual event!

For me this race was about so much more than running.  I guess in general that’s because RUNNING is about so much more than running for me.  It is a huge part of my life.  A huge part of who I am, and who I want to be.  Life and running are so connected to one another for me, so intertwined.

I am beyond thankful to have discovered my love for this sport.  The lessons that running has taught me, and the people it has brought into my life, and the way it has shown me how much my loved ones really truly love me by supporting me and encouraging me so much, and how it has taught me how amazing it feels to give that same love and support and encouragement right back to them …  it has all truly helped to shape me from the inside out.  Words don’t work here…

My. Heart. Is. Full.

Happy Birthday, Potomac River Running!!!

50 miles

It’s been 12 days since I ran 50 miles.  I’ve been reflecting on the experience for all this time, with a huge smile on my face and just a big giant heart full of happy, as I think back through the day and the journey and the whole entire beautiful, amazing experience.

To put it simply, it was INCREDIBLE.

All that I imagined and hoped it would be … and honestly SO much more.

I’ve wanted to sit down and write all about it, to tell the whole story with loads of details – all about the strategy and the logistics and what went on inside my mind and heart over those 12+ hours, but wow has it been tough to find – or really let’s face it make – the time for that.  We’ve had a lot going on around here over the last 12 days – the biggest events being that my son graduated kindergarten and my daughter turned 8 years old.  Lately I’ve been struggling with writing about everything.  It’s not for lack of things I want to chronicle or reflect on or share, but rather more about getting into a new routine with my kids getting out of school and having so many priorities to balance.  I’m figuring it out though.  We all are, and a rhythm is starting to form and feel good around here.  Hooray for that!

So, about those 50 miles.

Running my first ultra trail race (and I say first because I hope and believe that there are many more to come in my future) was about soaking up the experience and taking it all in.  Celebrating this incredible sport that I love SO VERY MUCH.  Feeling gratitude for how blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life – many of whom would not be in my life it weren’t for our shared love of running.  Trusting in and feeling thankful for my able body, my strong mind and my faithful heart and believing they could carry me across rocks and tree roots, up and down steep hills and over streams, through tall grasses and forests, across blazingly hot sunny fields … for hours and hours and hours … without failing me.

I did not care how fast I moved or how long it took me to get to the finish line.  I truly did not care about that one tiny ounce.  It was going to be an adventure and a journey and just such an awesome, beautiful day.

I had a few goals for this race, and they were the following:

  • Stick to the strategy.  At all costs.  No excuses.
  • HAVE FUN!!!
  • Expect low points and negative thoughts to come at me full force during certain parts of the race, and especially during the second half of it.  Acknowledge them and accept them but MOVE ON from them.
  • Check in with my body regularly and make sure any pain I am feeling is not an injury.  I would be fine with a DNF if it meant protecting my body from injury – big picture big picture BIG PICTURE.

We started running at 5:00AM, which meant that I set my alarm for 3:00 in the morning because Chris and Jodi were picking me up at 3:45.  This was insanely early, but totally necessary because the race was about a half hour away.  I had everything laid out the night before – my race bib was pinned to my shirt, my pack was loaded with water, snacks and necessities.  We dropped off our extra bags at packet pickup the day before.  I was all set and as ready as I could be.

ready to go!

There were a few key strategies that we were committed to sticking to, just as we had practiced on our training runs:

  • Eat every 30 minutes, whether we are hungry for it or not, starting right from the beginning of the race (I wasn’t counting calories, but typically I would eat 2-3 shot blocks, a gel, a half a bar or maybe a handful of pretzels or potato chips when it was chow time.  My buddy Chris who is a lot bigger than me would eat double what I ate most times.)
  • Take one salt tablet (we used Lava Salts) every hour, right from the first hour of the race.
  • Drink to thirst (I had water in my pack) the whole duration of the journey, and make sure to drink every time we eat even if we weren’t feeling thirsty.
  • Walk up ALL the hills, no matter how much we might feel like running up them.
  • If we think we are running slow – especially in the first half of the race – then we need to slow down even more.

It was a great plan and an excellent strategy.  But as we all know, things don’t always go just how you hope they will … sometimes unexpected obstacles barrel at you or sneak up on you and cause you to take stock and change your tune, and sometimes things go even better than you imagined they would or could and you are soaring higher than you ever thought possible.

In the case of our 50 mile race, I would say we experienced both.

Before the race even started, Chris wasn’t feeling right.  He had an air bubble in his chest or something and was burping.  A LOT.  Under practically any other circumstance I probably would have been really grossed out or annoyed by this, but in this case I wasn’t at all.  I imagined what it would feel like to be in his position, with air trapped in my chest while trying to run farther and for longer than I ever had before in all my life.  We were both hoping it would work its way out quickly so he could move on from it, focus on the task at hand and enjoy the race.  Neither one of us was really sure what to do about it, so we just stuck to our plan and hoped for the best.

smiling early on

Things started off really well.  I felt mentally really happy and excited.  I had to reign in my emotions a bunch during those first 10-15 miles because I would speed up with all the bursting joy that was overtaking my spirit.  I was just all smiles and so chatty with the other runners.  This may have been the reason that I fell (not once, but twice) during the 7th mile (thankfully nothing major, just good ‘ole klutzy Jess falls for no apparent reason).   By Mile 10 I noticed that it was getting really humid and hot and when I flexed my hands my knuckles turned white – I could tell my fingers were getting a little puffy and that the heat was on the rise.  It was going to be a high of 90 degrees and sunny.  Chris was feeling this too.

chris in the early miles as the sun was rising

The first 15 miles took us from Algonkian Park in Sterling to Great Falls Park – mostly through the woods and across some sunny fields.  I didn’t love running through the tall grasses – they made my skin super itchy.  I adored the forest, though – crossing over streams along rickety wooden bridges, climbing hills and soaking in the beauty of these amazing trails was lots of fun.  When we got to Great Falls Park the loops began.  We would run the same loop three times and then head back to Algonkian Park for the last 15 miles of the race.  The loop was a little more than 6 miles long and going into the first one I was really worried that it would get OLD.  I thought I would detest having to do the same loop three times and that it would make me cranky and antsy.  I could not have been more wrong about this!!

loop love

I found that I really LOVED the loops in Great Falls for the following reasons:

(1) The route was insanely beautiful – thanks to breathtaking views of the Potomac River, and serene, magical wooded areas.

(2) I came to savor the predictability, especially the aid station (oasis!) about halfway through.

(3) We got to see our buddies – my sister Jodi and our dear friends Terri and Michel – as well as the newly familiar faces of other runners we met that day – along the course lots of times because of the way it was designed.

(4) Our AMAZING INCREDIBLE BEAUTIFUL AWESOME OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD friends were waiting for us with ice and cold wet sponges (!!!!) and refreshing drinks and hugs and high fives and love and support every single time we came through there.  I really cannot express how much this meant to us.  Knowing they were there just lifted my heart a gazillion times over and made me feel so blessed and lucky.  I was sad when it was time to head back to Algonkian for the last 15 miles of the race because it meant we wouldn’t see them again for a while!

As the miles and the hours ticked by, it became more and more apparent that my buddy Chris was not feeling very well at all.  He never stopped burping the whole way.  His stomach was somersaulting and he had a hard time eating for a good while.  His hands were so swollen and puffy (as were mine).  A few times, he was so convinced that he had rocks in his shoes that we would stop and take off his socks and his shoes and dump them upside down and shake them around only to discover there were no rocks to be found at all (we later realized that what he was feeling was the process of the formation of MASSIVE blisters).  His shoes were literally falling apart and – I am not kidding – he put on a second, practically brand new pair about halfway through after one of the Great Falls loops and then again before the final 15 miles he had to actually put duct tape around one of his new shoes because it was so busted!

I knew all along that my friend was having a TOUGH time and that he was being faced with a totally different kind of day than I was.  Several times, he told me it was okay for me to just go on and leave him behind, but I wasn’t going to consider that.  Though I believed in my heart that he would be fine, I also knew that if our situations were reversed he would stay with me without hesitation.  That’s just what friends do for one another on a day like this.  Plus, part of the experience was sharing it with him and I wanted to see it through together.  I was holding up with lots of physical, mental and emotional strength and energy, and I knew that we would make it all 50 miles and have smiles on our faces and in our hearts when we completed our adventure.  Neither of us planned to have pacers for the last stretch the way our friends did, so I kind of saw it as we had one another’s backs come hell or high water.  We were going to stick together.

seeing it through

Not once did I hit a low spot emotionally, mentally or physically – not for a minute across all 50 miles – which literally amazed me.  My muscles and joints felt great, I’m sure because of the softer surfaces and all the walking we did.  And my feet were fine, too – I didn’t feel the need to change my socks or my shoes at all.  I had no chafing anywhere which in that heat was kind of astonishing to me.  I lubed up with BodyGlide really well before the race but never reapplied it, though at the second stop at the aid station within the Great Falls loop I had a volunteer put Vaseline on my back where my pack straps rubbed just in case.  That did the trick in preventing any hot spots.

My energy level was up up UP, and this may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I realized I seriously LOVE cold Mountain Dew when I’m running in the heat all day.  It was incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating.  For someone who never ever drinks soda, this was a huge surprise!

doin’ the Dew!

Chris and I basically walked the last 15 miles of the race from Great Falls to the finish line in Algonkian.  My sister Jodi passed us along this last stretch and we could not have been more overjoyed to see how strong she was powering through.  She had ACL surgery a year earlier and now she was completing a 50 mile race!!  Who does that?  My sister, that’s who.  Our amazing friend Terri also forged ahead, looking so strong and so so happy.  Chris and I were both lifted up by seeing them and by knowing that they were both in good places that day.  The Honey Badger love is fierce, you guys!!!  So freaking fierce.  We are all so lucky to have each other.

The last 15 miles were some of my favorite miles ever in all my life.  The conditions were NOT so ideal, but that didn’t matter at all for some reason – at this point we knew we were completing this journey in one piece and we were going to make the best of whatever came our way.  It was disgustingly hot out.  The water in my pack was not just warm, it was HOT and stale and gross.  My hands were so swollen that they truly looked like they belonged to someone who weighs 100 pounds more than I do!  It was freaky.  The aid stations were muddy and picked over, no longer the oases they had been hours earlier.  There were people all along the course who looked like the living dead – doing all they could to just survive – getting taken back by medical personnel, limping and covered in mud and cuts, throwing up and hunched over.  There were a million reasons to be miserable but we weren’t.  WE WERE RUNNING 50 MILES!  We were doing it!  And we were almost done!!  There was so much to be happy and grateful and totally psyched about.

So we soaked that up and carried on.

Over those last several miles, Chris and I met some really cool people who walked along with us and told us awesome and inspiring stories about their adventures in ultra trail racing and in life. We laughed as we shared our own stories too.  We talked about how amazing it would feel when we were done – and were dreaming about jumping right into a cold pool.  We actually texted our spouses at this point and asked them to bring our bathing suits so we could go with our families straight to the pool from the race.  For the first time in my life I was yearning for an ice bath!

About a mile before the finish we thought we would try to run again, but pretty much as soon as we did that Chris felt what he described as an explosion in his foot – a massive blister had popped!  So we walked a little more and then ran once we actually saw the finish line.  Our families were there cheering for us and it was so so so COOL to see them.  Crossing that finish line was amazing.

approaching the finish!

My sister Jodi was the first person I saw as I crossed the finish line and she was so excited to see us – I will never forget her sheer joy upon hugging me!!  It was so much more than awesome.

SISTER I LOVE YOU

It is really hard for me to describe the truly overwhelming feeling I had upon reuniting with family and friends after an experience like that.  It completed the day in the most perfect and wonderful and essential way.  The fact is – there is no way that I would have even made it to the start line without their love and support.  And all along the way, with every step that I took, I know that my heart was fueled by the love that I have for them and that they have for me.  I am just so thankful.  Beyond words.  So very thankful.

We hung out at the finish line for a while – everyone surveying their bodies (there were some pretty nasty blisters on both Jodi’s and Chris’s feet!) and telling stories about our adventures and how amazing the day was.  I drank an ice cold beer and it was easily the best beer I have ever had in all my life!

the honey badgers ran 50 freaking miles!!!!

After we left, we went straight to the pool.  I was grimy and gross but I totally didn’t care.  The water felt good, but surprisingly not as awesome as I thought it would — I think the tiredness and fatigue were setting in and I was just so ready to crash.  I didn’t sleep well that night, tossing and turning a whole bunch.  It took a few days for me to feel like the swelling in my hands and feet totally dissipated, but overall I was really amazed by the recovery process from 50 miles of trails.  My muscles were hardly sore, my joints not sore at all.  I had one blister on my foot but it never popped and just absorbed back into my skin within a day or two.  Even all of my toenails were intact and not bruised at all.  I have felt worse than this after a hard training run – it really was incredible!

Even still, I spent the following week taking it pretty easy.  I went for walks and did light weight training, mostly my upper body and abs.  By Sunday, just over a week after the race, I went for a nice 12 mile run at a pace that felt really easy to me – right around an 8 minute mile.

first run after 50

This week has been all about running for the pure and simple joy of running.  I haven’t been pushing my pace and will tally about 50 miles when the week is over, but I’ve been getting back into a routine of running in the early mornings with my friends.  I’m not planning to begin training for another race (Richmond Marathon!!) for another month or so, but I will be running and smiling a whole lot between now and then.

One of the biggest things that I came out of the 50 miler with is knowing that running is so truly and completely a part of WHO I AM.  I love it so much.  As cheesy or as strange as that may sound to anybody, it is just the simplest and truest kind of truth.  Running is a blessing and a gift and I am my happiest, most whole self when moving my body outdoors is a regular part of my life.  It doesn’t matter to me how fast I run or how far I go.

I am a runner and I am a runner for LIFE.  It is who I am.

And this fact, and the fact that I know this about myself, makes me extremely happy.

me and my beautiful trail