Category Archives: Race Recap

Race Recap: Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

Tears came to my eyes as I crossed the finish line yesterday. It was cold and rainy, my legs were so tired, and it was my slowest marathon yet.

But they were not tears of sadness or frustration.

They were tears of happiness, of pure pride in what I’d just done.

* * * * *

I recently wrote that I do not love to run; that most of the time, I don’t even like it. But, whenever I decide to take a break, it keeps drawing me back. I started running my sophomore year of high school, which means that I’ve been running off and on for more than half of my life now. That’s a long time to do something you don’t even enjoy all that much.

* * * * *

We woke up at 4 a.m. on Sunday. We had to drive just over a half hour to get to the buses that would take us to the start. The night before, we laid out all of our clothes and planned what we were going to eat and drink and take with us. Sunday morning, I got out of bed, got dressed, went downstairs to eat a couple of waffles with peanut butter and drink a couple of glasses of water.

We got to the buses early and ended up on the second bus. We got to the start almost an hour and a half before the race was set to begin. It was still completely dark and in the mid-40s. About 45 minutes before the race, it started to drizzle a little.

At 7 a.m., we got on line to drop off our gear bags. I was deciding between my usual running jacket or the rain jacket I brought with me. The rain jacket doesn’t breathe as much, so I decided to just wear the running jacket. At that point, it had stopped raining.

We walked over to the starting area about 10 minutes before the start and I lined up in the 11:30/mile section. Although I’d done a lot of my training runs this time around (certainly more than before the half marathon this past March), my pace on all my really long runs had been in the 12-12:30 range. I usually went faster on race day.

At that point, my feet were completely numb and the numbness was starting to work its way up my legs. By the time the gun went off, I could barely feel anything below my knees. I was so nervous that I’d trip over my own feet or twist an ankle that I started off pretty slowly. I figured eventually I’d warm up and pick up the pace a bit.

* * * * *

When I first started running road races, my goal was always to set a PR. Eventually, I was running 5Ks so frequently that I knew some days would be better than others and I could tell when conditions would be ideal for trying to set a PR and when they weren’t. But for longer distances, I would have to specifically train for that race and expected to improve on my previous time if I’d run that distance before. Otherwise, all that training was just a waste of time, wasn’t it?

Last March, I didn’t have a great race. I had skipped quite a few of my midweek runs and just wasn’t prepared for the race mentally. I ended up walking a lot of it once I got to mile 7 or so and was pretty miserable. I felt like I’d failed, although I knew it was because I hadn’t focused on the training. I ran the GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler about a month later and did better, but still not great. After that, I took a couple of months off from running.

* * * * *

I didn’t see the first mile marker, but when we came upon the second mile marker I did something I’ve never done before. I didn’t look at my watch. I was just starting to be able to feel my feet again. I was running slowly, getting passed by several runners. I was passed by runners were were easily 30 years older than I was. I was passed by runners who probably weighed 100 pounds more than I do. I was passed by a runner who had a 7 month infant at home (I eavesdropped). I was passed by a runner who was skipping rope the entire race.

And I made the decision at that point that I might not set a PR, but damn it, I was going to run this whole thing without walking a single step.

* * * * *

My training for this half marathon started in mid-July. Other than a few laps around the block during boot camp, I didn’t run at all during May or June. This was the first time that most of my runs were done outside, rather than in a gym on the treadmill. Instead of distracting myself by watching episodes of West Wing and having a fan cooling me off during the run, I had to run in the heat and on hills, with nothing but Adam and my thoughts to distract me. And most of the time, my thought was, “how much longer?”

* * * * *

I first looked at my watch at mile 5, because there was a clock and it was just unavoidable. I was just over 12 minute pace. I would need to pick up the pace a bit if I didn’t want this to be my slowest half marathon ever. I knew the last few miles were hilly, so I didn’t want to push the pace too much, but figured I could drop off about 30 seconds per mile. I ran the next mile in about 11:30.

Just after mile 6, the rain started to pick up again. I was cold and wet, but I didn’t mind too much. My pace slowed back down, but I didn’t mind that either. My goal was to run the whole thing. I was almost halfway there.

* * * * *

Training this time around was a little bit different. I whined and complained less than usual about running. We had family coming to visit us one weekend and, knowing we didn’t want to disrupt our plans with a Saturday long run, we got up early and ran 8 miles before work on a Friday. Although I didn’t do any strength training or cross-training — which I’ve determined from past experience is key for me being in my best running shape, the mileage alone is not enough — I regularly got in at least two midweek runs, something I did not do for my race earlier in the year. But still, I fought some real mental battles. I dragged myself to the gym to slog out 4-5 mile runs on the crappy treadmills (we were so spoiled with the ones at our old apartment building). Our 12 mile training run last week was especially tough. My head just wasn’t in the game and we walked more of it than we ran.

* * * * *

The bridge that is the race’s namesake starts just before the 9 mile marker. The bridge is 1.1 miles long; just over a half mile of it is a steady uphill. I just kept chugging along. It actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.

Once we got to the other side, we had to run up a ramp that went over the roadway to the other side of the bridge. The hardest part of the race for me was the hill at mile 11. My legs were starting to get stiff. But I kept running. I shuffled up that hill, one foot in front of another, passing people as I went. There were spectators there and one of the runners said, “This is the worst part.” And a spectator responded, “This is the best part! This is what you trained so hard for.”

This IS the best part. My god, it hurt, but I had trained for this. This is why I signed up for half marathons and ten milers; this is why I head to bed early on Friday nights so I can get up early for a long run on Saturday morning; this is why I packed running clothes on vacation.

I can’t just go out and run 13 miles without preparation. It’s a physical and a mental challenge. One I had accepted and was tackling head-on.

This is why I run.

Those last two miles were unlike anything I’d ever experienced in a race. The rain was coming down harder. Most of the final mile was on dirt and gravel and rocks. Yet, I waved and smiled at every camera I saw. When I crossed the line, I didn’t look down at my wrist to stop my watch and check my time. I looked right at the camera and grinned, with tears in my eyes.

* * * * *

Not everything in life has to be fun to be worth doing. There’s something to be said for setting a goal, and working to achieve it. For pushing through when conditions are terrible and it would be so easy to give in and give up, but finding the mental toughness to fight through and come out the other side even stronger. For finding something that forces you to dig deep and learn things about yourself you never knew. For being proud of yourself.

This is the best part. This is why I run.

* * * * *

Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:43:22
Pace: 12:29/mile

2 Comments

Filed under Race Recap

RNR National Half Marathon Recap

Oh, I suppose I might as well recap the Rock ‘n’ Roll National Half Marathon, right? I mean, although I did totally forget to keep updating my training (LIES! I didn’t forget… there just wasn’t much to say), I don’t want to just leave the whole half marathon hanging out there, unresolved. So, here I go…

I set three levels of goals for the race:

Base Goal: finish strong

Realistic Goal: set a PR (currently 2:20:33)

Optimistic Goal: 2:15:00 (10:18/mile pace)

Well, let’s just say that I kinda, sorta met my base goal. I finished strong in the sense that I didn’t want to keel over and die when I finished the race. I wasn’t terribly sore the next day. I didn’t end up hobbling across the finish (like my first half marathon) or with a runner’s knee (like I did after my second half marathon). But the real reason that I felt fine (relatively speaking – I was sore and tired) was that it was my slowest half marathon ever. Even slower than the first one, where I could barely even walk during the last couple of miles.

I definitely slacked off in my training for the half marathon, which is actually one of the main reasons I stopped updating about my training on here. I got all my long runs in somehow, but I was probably running an average of one short run during the week. Some weeks, I didn’t run at all other than the long run. Plus, I did zero strength training and zero cross-training.

I did finish the first 7 miles without walking. I think I took my first walk break somewhere in the middle of mile 8, but it was pretty short – maybe 30 seconds, tops. Once I got to mile 9, I started alternating walking and running… with more walking and less running as the miles went on, although I did run the last 3/4 of a mile or so to get to the finish.

I’m actually glad that I didn’t finish with a fast time. If I’d been able to pull off a half marathon with so little training, there’d be no motivation for me to train harder next time. My legs are bit sore from all the hills and the distance so I’m taking things easy this week – I did a 2 mile run on Tuesday, might do another one tonight, and then will probably do 4-5 miles on the weekend. I’m signed up for the GW Parkway Classic 10M in April, so I really want to focus on doing well in that race. Now that I have the distance, I need to get up the endurance and the speed. Basically, I’m treating the half marathon as if it was just a long training fun for the GW.

As for the race itself, it was a gorgeous day – at least 50 degrees at the start and probably about 65 by the time I finished. I kind of expected there to be more bands on the course (or at least, speakers spaced out a bit around each band so you heard them for more than 20 seconds), but the race support was fantastic. The expo was easy to navigate (I did get there towards the very end so my size shirt was all gone, but I just got the next size up), course support was fantastic (they even re-filled my water bottle!), and the finishers area was well organized. My stomach was sort of bothering me at the finish (I think I’d lost too much salt, since I wasn’t used to running in that heat yet), so I didn’t take too much advantage of the finishers area, but I saw tons of food – bagels, yogurt, bananas, water, Gatorade, chocolate milk… probably lots of other things I’m forgetting (I just grabbed a banana and the chocolate milk). They also had family meet-up areas that made it easy to find Adam and my friends after the race. I definitely plan to run this race again, especially if it continues to be run by Rock ‘n’ Roll since they did such a better job organizing it than SunTrust did last year.

Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:36:01
Pace: 11:55/mile

* * * * *

Oh, and as for my new running shoes? I’m definitely a convert to the minimalist running shoe. Based on what I’ve researched on the subject, I understand that it’s not really the shoe that makes the difference in preventing injuries, but your form. However, because the minimalist shoes don’t have as much cushioning and support, it forces those of us who run with poor form (like me) to adjust to better form. Since I made the switch, I’ve had no running injuries – that’s saying quite a lot for me, since I’m very injury-prone. I would have thought that without getting in an adequate number of miles during the week, I’d surely get hurt on my long runs but I didn’t. The only noticeable difference is that my left Achilles gets pretty tight and my calf gets sore. I think once I strengthen my legs a bit more, that won’t be as much of a problem. So my verdict is that if you are prone to running injuries and think it may be because you have poor form (which I’m betting it is), it might be worth a shot to give the minimalist shoes a try. (But note that it takes a long time to get your calves used to running on your toes, so ease into it.) Of course, you could try to fix your form without buying the minimalist shoes, but just realize that the extra cushioning and support of standard running shoes can make it easier for you to slip back into bad running habits when you’re tired. But if you’re not injury prone? I’m not all that sure that the minimalist shoe has added benefits for you. That said, Adam never gets injured and after he made the switch last year, he definitely got faster. It may be just a coincidence, or maybe not – there’s no way to tell.

4 Comments

Filed under Pretending to be a Runner, Race Recap

RNR Half Marathon Training: Weeks 1 and 2

Unless otherwise noted, my runs are on the treadmill. I don’t usually run outside unless it is still daylight out, and even then I’ll sometimes just go downstairs to the treadmill if the run is under 6 miles.

I’m also making the switch to “minimalist” running shoes, in the hopes that it will reduce my risk of injury – especially considering how prone I am to running injuries.  This means that I’m adapting my running form so that I am running with more of a front-midfoot strike, rather than a heel strike, which means that I am engaging my calves a whole heck of a lot more than they are used to. Adam made the switch last year and said it took him a few weeks to adapt.  Because my calves get tired/sore/tight more easily, I’m running slower and taking more walking breaks as I’m getting used to this new running form. I’m hoping that in a few weeks I’ll see the benefits of the minimalist shoes and be as fast, if not faster, as I had been at this point in my half marathon training last year.

* * * * *

Week 1:

Monday 12/26, Tuesday 12/27

Last two days before we start training – in Connecticut and traveling home.

Wednesday: 3 miles (33:00)

This run went pretty well, but my calves were SO SORE after. I was hobbling around a bit. Rolling them out helped a little, but they were still pretty sore and tight.

Thursday: 3 miles (32:57)

Ouch!  Although my pace was pretty much the same for this run as the day before, it felt WAY more difficult.  Good news is that my knees and the spot where I had my stress fracture didn’t hurt or feel tender at all… hopefully that means the new shoes/running form are working!

Friday

We had a 3 mile run on the schedule, but my calves were SO sore after Wednesday and Thursday that I figured it’d do more good to take a rest day before Saturday’s race.  Seriously, there were a couple of times I almost fell over while walking in my heels at work.

Saturday: Fairfax Four Miler

This is the second time we’ve run the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year’s Eve. It was still so warm (probably mid-40s/low 50s) at race time, I wore my knee tights, a short sleeve tech tee, and a light running jacket. (By comparison, last year, I was so freezing cold, I had to buy running gloves at the store when we checked into the race.)  My calves were still pretty sore, but I made it to the 3 mile marker before taking a walk break. I was actually on a pretty good pace, maybe 10:20/mile or so, for the first two miles, but my third mile was about two minutes slower.  But even though I walked a little of the fourth mile, it was faster than my third, and overall I ended up at about 11:00/mile pace, which is what I’d been running the training runs earlier in the week.

I ran this race 1:30/mile slower than my four mile race PR.  It feels kind of pathetic for my runs to be going so slow and for me to need to take so many walking breaks, but I need to remember that I’m teaching my legs a new way to run and that this is using my muscles in ways they aren’t used to.

Distance: 4 miles
Time: 43:52
Pace: 10:58/mile

Sunday

Rest

Week 2:

Monday

Rest. This was supposed to be a strength training day, but we did do a lot of cleaning and reorganizing of our apartment, so it isn’t like our muscles weren’t put to any use.

Tuesday: 3 mile run (33:58)

We are following the Whole Living Action Plan for January, which means that we were a little light on the calories and the protein this week. The plan does not recommend strenuous exercise in the first week, so I took the runs a bit slower this week than I would have been able to had we been eating differently.

Wednesday: 3 mile run (34:52)

See above.  Also, this was the first run where my calves were not super sore afterwards. I could definitely feel them and they were tighter than they used to be after a run in my old sneakers, but I was able to walk around just fine.

Thursday: 3 mile run (34:40)

Even less calf soreness and tightness. I felt kind of sluggish though – this was day four of the Action Plan and my body was starting to really feel it.

I skipped the strength training I was supposed to do this day. I’m going to either need to get up early to run and lift or go to Body Pump after work, or just plan on eating pretty late on Thursdays if I’m going to get this in.

Friday

Rest.

Saturday: 4.7 mile run/walk (1:08:00)

The weather was gorgeous on Saturday, so I decided to take my run outside. (I generally do all runs under 6 miles on the treadmill.)  I mapped out a 5 mile route, threw on shorts and a t-shirt (in January!), laced up my sneakers and headed outside.

My planned route was to take me over the bridge into DC and then do a lap around the Lincoln Memorial.  Problem was that I completely forgot about the construction around the reflecting pool and I had no idea how to re-route myself to still hit 5 miles. So I decided once I got to the Lincoln to just have this be my cross-training, and jog/walk (with an emphasis on walking – didn’t want to wear myself out) home.  I measured out the distance of what I think was my actual path and it was closer to 5 miles than I thought. Oh well… it was nice to just get outside in shorts and a tee in January, although it is WINDY on the bridge and it got cloudy towards the end, so I started to get a bit chilly on my way home.

Sunday: 5 miles (59:49)

I’m glad I ended up re-doing this run. Although it wasn’t easy (I was pretty tired), I felt pretty good for most of it and my legs felt SO much better.  I think they are starting to finally adjust to the new running shoes/form… and hopefully next week, my runs will be even stronger.

1 Comment

Filed under Pretending to be a Runner, Race Recap

Crystal City Twilighter

For the second year in a row, it was more than 100 degrees the day of the Crystal City Twilighter. Like last year, it was in the mid-90s at race time. Unlike last year, the humidity was so bad, that the heat index was at 104. ONE HUNDRED FOUR. At 8:30pm.

The race was really well organized, with a few water sprayers, two water stops, and… the best part… halfway through the race they were handing out ice cold, soaking wet sponges (which I ended up shoving down my sports bra after squeezing the water over myself). I was prepared with a water bottle filled with ice and Gatorade, although the ice was completely melted before I even finished the first mile. I figured I’d end up walking at some point and didn’t even bring my watch with me. I just ran it as a fun run.

I have not been running very much lately, and I have not been running nearly fast as I had been while training for the half marathon this past March. After all my spring races, I was feeling a bit burned out and am still trying to get back into it. I went into the race with no expectations. Overall, I was quite pleased with my performance. I actually ended up running the whole thing, and finished two minutes faster than last year.

Distance: 3.1 miles
Time: 38:32
Pace: 12:24/mile

Comments Off on Crystal City Twilighter

Filed under Race Recap