Friday, September 12, 2014

Marathon Training

Back in July I entered and won the lottery! The lottery for a race, that is: the Stone Cat Trail Marathon.

A Stone Cat finisher's sweatshirt posted by
I signed up because I thought that after all of these years of running, I am finally ready to take on the challenge of a marathon.

For the past 11 months, I've been training with a corrective exercise trainer/kick-ass ultra runner to even out muscle imbalances and get past all of the obstacles that have been holding me back. I've noticed improvements in my gait, posture, heart rate, and race times. And all throughout this year, I've been inspired and motivated by my trainer, her trail running team members, and other clients. Check out Mountain Peak Fitness to see what I'm talking about. Race reports about utlra races like Wasatch, Badwater, and Western States have stuck with me on my own runs and give a totally different perspective to things.

Of course, there are always little setbacks that pop up. Mine came days after I found out that I was picked for the marathon. An area under the inner knee started hurting after I overextended the knee while jogging on a hiking trail while wearing heavy hiking boots (I couldn't help it - I love running!) and then ran a 5 k later that week. After that I scaled down mileage and intensity, iced it, and replaced a lot of running with cycling, and it got a little better. Not completely, though. Two months later I am still taking things one step at a time, cautiously seeing how the knee feels, and tailoring my workouts to it. I went to the doctor this week and will be getting an MRI for more info. Whatever it is, I don't think that it's very serious. With cycling, elliptical training, and hiking to prepare me, I'll be crossing the finish line on November 8th.

So this is it - I'm getting ready to go 26.2 for the first time!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turkey Trot 4-mile Trail Run

After warming up before this race in Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and I felt the weirdest clash between being pumped up and very peaceful and relaxed.  Sunlight was filtering through tall pines on a clear, chilly morning by the inter-coastal waterway. I leaned into the stretches and felt very good and very ready for a run through the woods.

I ran this race 5 years before, when it had 100 fewer participants and when I won my first age group award. I expected to be faster now, but I didn't know by how much, and part of me just wanted to run it again for the experience of a trail that is so different than those I run on in the northeast.

I was excited and pumped up for this race, and I felt great during the warm up. I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and when the race started, I felt well prepared.

After the gun went off, I started with a pack very close to the front and was swept up in the speed. I went a couple of steps and accidentally stepped on the heel of someone in front of me, which could have been a major fail, but it only caused one or two faltering steps before I got back into my rhythm and continued at a fast pace down the road before turning onto the trail.

I knew that I was going faster than I should have. I was too fast in my warm up, too. But at a quarter mile, my phone read out that my pace was over 12 minutes per mile. Was I already slowing and didn't even notice it? I kept pace with the people around me and felt the distance pass by with each step.

When we turned onto the trail, there was a little bit of a bottleneck. I noticed that the race directors tried to mark the roots on the ground with orange ribbon, which was unexpected, but nice. I noticed that I slowed down a lot, though. I haven't been trail running lately, and I didn't have the nimbleness that you need.

The surface of the trail was sand and pine needles. The roots thinned out, and some sections were completely sand, dry, lumpy, and uneven from the feet of every runner before me. I remembered the sand from when I ran this race before, but I had pushed a lot of it from my memory. My phone kept reporting a pace of over 10 minutes per mile. How could that be? The last time, I averaged 9:28 per mile. Surely I was in better shape now!

I kept thinking about what was making me so much slower this time. I was breathing heavily, and I felt bad because it must have been annoying to the people around me. As my phone ticked off the miles and read off my slow pace, I felt discouraged. What did I accomplish in the 5 years of running since I had run this race before? How could I be so much slower?

When my phone read off 3.5 miles, I heard cheering and music playing at the finish line. I remembered that from last time - I thought I was at the end because of the cheering, but the course snaked its way much longer than I thought. Except this time, it wasn't really that long. All of a sudden I saw the people ahead of me step onto a bridge - the bridge that drops you off at the finish line. Then I could see the finish. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 34:34 - 3 minutes and 15 seconds faster than my first time and good for second in my age group.

My phone, it seems, was off by quite a lot, and I am disappointed that I let that discourage me like it did. I should have enjoyed the race for what it was and not for how fast I could run it. The park was so pretty and unlike the scenery I am used to. I wish I had remembered to take some pictures!

I'll take this as a lesson to enjoy running for the experience and not to be so concerned with the clock. It's always good to set goals and to try and make improvements, but in a sport that has such a strong mental component, truly having a good time and enjoying the experience can be more important.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

River Ramble race report

The morning of the River Ramble Fall Classic race, I posted about my goal to just give everything I had. I made a conscious effort to push hard during the race, and doing my best made it really fulfilling.

Spreading the sparkle love along the scenic Delaware River
It was also a blast because the Sparkle girls were out in full force for this run, and we all had a great time. And, among us, we had a 5k PR, a first-time 10k, and two age group awards. Go Team Sparkle!

I started out a couple of rows back from the front of the pack, but not too far from the front, since it wasn't chip timed, and I let the energy of the pack sweep me through the beginning. There is one small,  steep hill in the first quarter mile, and the rest of the terrain is rolling, so I kept the effort moderate up the hill and then pushed. I didn't listen to any music, but (no judging, please) I had Katy Perry's "Firework" stuck in my head and let that pump me up.

I felt myself tiring after a mile, and I made conscious efforts to push harder every time I started to slow. I find it a really hard balance to run fast enough but not so hard as to burn out too quickly.

This was an out-and-back course, which I like, because I know exactly how much further until the end. Somehow, turning around and going back the way you came feels easier on me mentally than a loop, where the finish is somewhere up ahead. I think I tend to reserve more energy in a loop rather than use it when I need it. In any case, this was an out-and-back, and although I slowed down a lot on a very slight incline, I knew that I had a downhill and then a straightaway before the finish. 

I let gravity take me down the hill. A guy passed me at the bottom, and I just kept the pace quick and even. It's a long straightaway, and it's easy to start sprinting too soon. I passed one of the race directors and gave her a thumbs up, and I pushed a little harder. I realized that I had enough of a kick to sprint all the way in to the finish, so I turned it on all the way, caught up to the guy who passed me, passed him, and crossed the finish line in 25:05, sparkle skirt flying.

Congrats to Jo for setting a 5k PR, Ashley for running her first 10k, and Erin for 2nd in a very competitive age group. I came away with first in my age group and a great feeling. I was so energized all day, and I just felt pleased with the effort and how good it felt to run.

Friday, November 29, 2013

200th post!

Happy 200th post!

I started this blog five years ago, in a flurry of anxiety over my  first trail run. I searched the web for information about the course and read blog post after blog post about 4-mile trail runs. I didn't know what to expect, and reading other people's accounts of their experiences made it a little less scary.

Well, here I am, 5 years and 200 posts later, getting ready to run the same trail race. I won't go overboard on the difference between then and now, because a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same - and it would be weird if it weren't like that. I do have to say that I like the roundness of those numbers, and the symmetry of it. I've begun a training plan to even out muscle imbalances and to prepare myself to tackle some of the larger running goals I've imagined for myself, so I think that I'm at the beginning of something new now.

There will be a lot more trail runs, miles, craziness, down days, goals achieved, and new ones made. As a pretty awesome author once wrote, "The Road goes ever on and on." I hope to see you on the way!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Good morning! I'm getting ready this morning for the River Ramble 5K and wanted to post a bit on what's been up lately and what I expect for today.

I've spent the past month slowly working on muscle imbalances and flexibility. I haven't run long or fast or even on hills at all. I'm being patient and working on this first so that in the future, when I train for a longer race, I don't get injured in the middle of training, take a month to recover, and then poop out in the middle of said race because I'm undertrained. So I'm not expecting to set any speed records today.

That said, I'm going to go out and push hard and run as hard as I can. The past couple of races, while I felt that I did well (Only two races ago I set my 5K PR), I finished feeling like I could have pushed harder. So, today's goal to to go out and give it everything that I have. Let's do this!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Call me Mrs.

On the last day of summer, I woke up at about 6 am. My alarm was set for 7:15, when I intended to get up and go for a run along the Delaware River. I lay in bed for 45 minutes, knowing that I needed to be well-rested, and finally got up and dressed in my running gear. The river valley was blanketed with thick fog. I jogged down to the water's edge and could not see across to the other side. Still, it was a good morning for a run. I thought I saw a kingfisher perched near the water, but it flew away before I could get a closer look.
I parked at a picnic area near the trailhead and began my run down the smooth gravel path. I kept the pace slow and easy and just enjoyed the movement. I passed through woods and along the edges of fields. There were river access points and campgrounds and bridges over streams that drained down into the river. The path was hilly, and I didn't want to tire my legs too much, so I turned around after a mile and a half. 

A run was the perfect way to start my wedding day.

When I got back to the room, I had to make the decision about where to hold the reception: outside in the tent I had wanted so much, or inside in a ballroom. My bridesmaids and I watched the weather report and decided that even though the weather would be beautiful for most of the day, I should move the reception inside because it would rain that night. After the decision was made, I spent the rest of the morning in the salon with my bridesmaids getting our hair and makeup done. One-by-one, the  photographer, wedding coordinator, florist, and band arrived. I was a little antsy waiting for my parents to arrive so I could get my dress on. I wanted to be ready and make sure that everything happened smoothly, which it did.

The ceremony was held outside on the banks of the Delaware River. The late summer day was exactly what I had envisioned: calm and green with bright sun beaming through the trees and just the slightest hint of autumn colors creeping into the mountain ridge behind the river. As my dad escorted me across the lawn toward the ceremony site, the sweet and achingly beautiful notes of "First Time Outside", a song from a movie I loved as a child, carried in the air.

The ceremony was over so soon. We said our vows, exchanged our rings, and before I knew it, we were walking down the aisle, married! 

The outdoor setting felt very special to me, because I feel that the outdoors draws me out of my little librarian shell and into all kinds of adventures. This is just one more adventure on my journey, and I am so lucky to have such a special traveling companion. Ever on!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wildcat Ridge Romp Race Report

The Wildcat Ridge Romp is a trail run put on by the NJ Trail Series. This year's race was held on August 10th. 

I signed up for the 10 mile distance, and as I posted in the weeks coming up to the race, was not quite able to put in the training due to moving and wedding planning. I figured that I could take it easy and finish, so that was the game plan going in. 

The weather gods smiled down on us that morning and provided us with a not-too-sunny, not humid, perfect-for-running day. I arrived around 8:30 and saw several of the ultra runners coming through the aid station on one of their laps. They had already been running for a couple of hours!  
When the 10M started, I took my place at the back and tried not to go out too fast following the faster runners. After a half or three-quarters of a mile, the course turned uphill. Some people were powering up it, others were slowing down, and some were walking. I was hopping lightly up with a quick cadence that didn't feel like I was expending too much energy. As I passed some people, I saw that I could make some moves and pass more.  I put a little more effort into it and finally settled into a comfortable position. I still ended up leap-frogging some people, but for the most part, everyone here was running with similar paces. When I got around mile two, my support staff (human and canine) was there to greet me. The pup wasn't on a leash, and when she saw me, she bolted after me and right onto the trail, where she ran with me until the next road crossing. 
Anna is admiring the view after unexpectedly joining the race.
I was afraid that the other runners would be annoyed that she was in the way, since she has a tendency to come barreling up behind you on the single track, but most people enjoyed seeing her bounding through the woods and trotting down the dirt roads. 

Anna hangs out with a 50K runner.

After running with me for about 2 miles, Anna was leashed and held captive while I got to continue frolicking in the woods.
I may have passed an ultra runner during one of my peppier sections, but for the most part, when I heard someone coming up behind me, I stepped aside for them to pass. I was extremely impressed by their speed and nimbleness after all of those miles. It seemed like everyone on the course was courteous and supportive. Thanks, everyone, you were awesome! 

The trail was a great mix of terrains. Lots of single track up and down hills in the woods, some wide dirt roads, rock gardens, large stream crossings, and there were a couple of blown-down trees to climb over. I was running along a wide path next to a really pretty stream when I took the picture to the right. I didn't have a lot of speed, and the soles of my feet were hurting from the rocks, since I was advised that my particular trail shoes are bad for my feet and that I should stick with my road shoes until I get new trail kicks. Anyway, I was just hanging out, running through the woods. I had to walk through a lot of sections, especially the  rocks and slick mud, since I didn't have much traction, but I felt pretty good. 

Here's the dam for the reservoir that supplies Newark's drinking water.
Talking about varied terrain, there was a bit of a rock scramble to get up from the base of this reservoir to the top. I walked it, was disappointed that there was no water left at the aid station at the top, and then was rewarded with a view across the reservoir.

As I ran up to the end of the reservoir, my support staff was waiting for me.  Anna jogged along with me for a little while before returning to captivity.
In the final three miles, I started to feel a little more uncomfortable. I had almost finished my water/Gatorade solution and was very thirsty. I got a side stitch and downed the rest in my bottle, hoping that the aid station at 8.5 miles would have water. It did, and after the volunteer there pointed me in the right direction, I was in the home stretch. The section right after the aid station was flat and downhill, but the surface was sooo rocky on my sore feet.  My side stitch improved after drinking, but for a while I couldn't focus on anything but how much the balls of my feet hurt. I didn't see anyone else around me for about a mile and a half or two miles.

The trail came out into a housing development, on the road for a little. My knees hurt at this point, and I felt my under-training. I was soon back on trail, though, and when I came back out onto a road again, it was the last half mile before the finish line. I didn't have any speed in me, but I finished feeling really good about the experience.  
The finish!

I enjoyed being out there with all of the other runners. I loved the adventurous feeling of not knowing where I was going and what I was going to see or do next. I was proud of myself for being able to complete the distance without feeling as if it had caused some major injury, and even though I had felt those twinges in my knees and the pain in my feet, when I was finished, I felt great. I wasn't totally wiped out or limping for a week. I was sore, but a good sore. (I guess I can credit foam rolling for that.) Now I can't wait for my next trail run!