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!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rocks and roots

I've been interested in trail running for a couple of years, and after an awesome 8 miler the other day, I just wanted to share some of the great experiences I've had on the trails lately. 

The photo to the right was taken when I was visiting Maine for the 4th of July. Despite the 80-90 degree heat (even up there!), I wanted to get a run in, so I flipped through a hiking book and found a nearby short hike loop that looked like it would have a nice view. Because of the bright sun and the baking heat of the blacktop, the idea of running on the road just wasn't doing it for me. 

The trail was steep and muddy in places, so it wasn't the best for running, but when I got to the top, the view was so rewarding! The pace was slow, I was dripping with sweat, and mosquitoes and flies were harassing me, but it still felt good to get out, see a new place, exert some energy, and relax at the top with that view. 

Not too long before that, I had run a local 5 mile trail race and won 2nd in my age division. I had been diligent about training for that race, and the intention was for me to continue with the training so that I'd be prepared for a 10-mile run in August. That seemed very reasonable after having finished a half in May.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I'm getting married! in September, so wedding planning and a last-minute and very time-consuming move in July prevented me from dedicating much time...ok, any training.

Last week I looked at the calendar and got a shock when I realized that if I didn't get out for some long runs soon, there would be no chance of being even slightly prepared for the 10 miler. So I've been getting out for a lot of 4 or 5 mile road runs, and last Friday I took the dog to a state park to run trails.

I have run a lot on trails in that park, but there were several that I hadn't tried yet, so we went on a little adventure, turning down trail off-shoots when ever we came across them and just finding out where we ended up. The park is small, and I had my phone with maps on it, so I wasn't afraid of getting lost. I was never too far from a park road, the rail trail, or a major road or landmark. I kept the pace very slow and kept the mindset that I was going to just run the trails and see where they went - not focusing on time or distance.

Running just for the experience of it made the miles go by faster and easier. By the time I was approaching 8 miles, I was pumped because I felt great. The pup was dragging, so we had to finish up and let her jump in the lake, but I felt strong and injury-free and am no longer dreading the 10 miler. I don't know exactly when I'll fit in another long trail run, but I know to take it slow and easy and that I can do it.

Maybe I'll post later about meeting with a trainer, which I did to evaluate my stride and correct injury-causing imbalances. In any case, one thing she said was that trail running may really be my friend. With the changes in elevation and and the constant shifts in stride, the same muscles are not being pounded over and over again, which is important if your natural stride lands you oddly and puts stress on weak areas. It's also great interval training. I have to agree on all points. I enjoy road running and actually intend to focus on road racing speed this fall, but trail running will always be a big part of my running experience.

This coming week, I'll be hiking Camel's Hump mountain in Vermont (weather permitting). Let's see how well the trail running has prepared me for it!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

So little time

16 days until Wildcat Ridge Romp 10-mile trail run

51 days until Pass-It-Along 56-mile bike tour

58 days wedding!

All of these things used to be so far in the future. Now it feels like crunch time! 

It's all very exciting, but I have to be careful about how I use my time. Balancing between getting workouts in and leaving time to call wedding vendors and getting enough sleep and eating healthfully has been a challenge, but I have to budget my time carefully now to get the most out of all of these upcoming events. 

The trail run will be the hardest, since I haven't prepared for it and will need to get in at least two quality long runs beforehand to be able to complete it without being a mushy pile of misery the whole time. 

I really enjoyed training for the Ride to Read last year, and I look forward to spending a lot more time on the road bike and increasing my skills there, but I don't want to sacrifice too much training time that could be devoted to running. This will be a tricky balance, but I'm seriously thinking of commuting at least one (and maybe two or three) days a week to work by bicycle. This would be healthy, would save on gas, and would be environmentally friendly. Sounds like a win, win, win situation. 

I can't believe how quickly the wedding has come up. There are still a million things that need to be done. So, I'll have to make a list and make an effort to get something done each day. Many days, I use all of my time before work to get a run in, but I really have to budget time better. Running is important, but I shouldn't let it overwhelm my free time. 

Here's to calling the dress shop and scheduling my wedding dress fitting!

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you." - Spoken by Gandalf in Lord of the Rings

Sunday, April 28, 2013

One week and counting

About this time next week, I should be enjoying the company of my running buddies as we celebrate finishing the Long Branch Half. It's been 3 years since I first ran that race and had a pretty painful experience. I think I've avoided injury this time around, and the weather report is looking promising, so here's looking at a much better experience this time around. I'll be going out for my last long run this morning. The plan for today is to get one more long run in so my legs remember what it feels like (since my last long run was a couple of weeks ago).  10 miles flat and easy on a lovely day in preparation for next week!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Foxtrot 5k Race Report

Records fell at the Foxtrot 5k yesterday!

I convinced my running buddy to join me at this small race to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and we rocked it! We both wore our sparkle skirts (because everyone feels faster in a sparkle skirt!) and had a great time. 
Before the race started, she talked to a lot of people at the front of the starting line to see if she could use anyone as a pacer. I had in mind that I wanted to PR (which would mean coming in before 24:26), and I was really hoping to coming under 24 minutes. I didn't have much of a plan though. I forgot my ifitness belt, so I held my phone while tracking the race with RunKeeper. I had set the app to tell my my time, distance, overall pace, and current pace every quarter mile, so it helped to keep me on track when I started to slow a little. 
I felt really good for the first half of the race. I was breathing easy and felt like I was hardly exerting myself. Once we hit the turnaround point, though, it hit me, and I really had to push to keep at my goal pace. I closed my eyes and breathed as deeply as I could, I took shorter, faster steps, and I tried to create more momentum with my arms. In the end, I stayed behind a group of 4 or 5 runners that had formed a bit of a pack. As we neared the finish, one of them made a move to pass, but overall it wasn't much of a race. I knew from  my phone that I was definitely going to set a new PR. As I got closer to the clock, though, I saw that the last seconds of the 23rd minute were winding down. Seeing that gave me an extra burst, and I crossed the finish in 23:55, a personal record by 31 seconds!

My buddy, her husband, and some other spectators were cheering me on, and after I came through the chute she came over to tell me that she was the 1st female and came in under 21 minutes! Her final time was 20:51, and she was the 1st female and 3rd finisher overall. Congrats!!! 

She got a gold medal that said 1st and even won a free massage door prize. And I came home with a 1st place age group medal! Yay!
Yep, those are gold!

As the awards were handed out, I snuck away to my car to get some soft-baked chocolate chunk cookies to celebrate her birthday this weekend. We toasted our cookies, and there was much feasting.

In retrospect, it was a fun race for a good cause, and I am so excited to have set a new personal record. I don't think that I gave it everything, though. I had an extra burst when I saw the clock, and I think that if I had been motivated enough, I could have kicked more at the end and maybe even passed some of the people right ahead of me. In the long run, it doesn't really matter that much, but it really is interesting how much your mental state of mind can affect your physical performance. That will be something to keep in mind for the half marathon coming up on May 5th.  Only 3 weeks to go!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Trying to make it count

So all winter I've been training for a half marathon. It's the same race I did in 2010, and I'm counting on not being injured this time around for a sweet redemption race. Right now I'm less than 5 weeks out and have been having a lot of joint twinges and muscle soreness and am afraid of doing long runs. That means that every short workout and rest day I do really has to count. That means fueling properly and being ready to put a lot of effort into the workout while fully resting afterwards and stretching and rolling, and getting enough sleep.

There is no doubt that I'll be able to finish the race, but I've set my heart on finishing sub-2 hours. There are so many factors that can influence whether that is possible, but the key thing now is to keep myself healthy so I have a shot at it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Volunteering at an Ultra Run

Impressed. I am so impressed by the runners I saw today running the "Mt. Tammany 10!", a 10-loop, 40-mile race up and down a rocky, icy, muddy mountain, that was put on by Athletic Equation. I've been interested in ultras, and helping out at the aid station today has really made me want to try one out myself. I realize that the longest runs I've attempted have always been road runs, and they've always been according to distance: "I'm going to run ___ number of miles today"; instead of time: "I'm going to go out and run for 3 hours." Part of this is because I don't want to end up injured or too tired to run back to my car, which is probably smart, but I can start thinking about it differently. The runners I saw today were not being easy on themselves. They didn't take it slow and gradually. They jumped in and pushed, and every one of them put up impressive performances. I have some odd twinges and pains that keep popping up, especially after jumping into hard runs, but my base fitness is close to the best it has ever been, and I think that I can be smart about listening to my body and still reach some new boundaries. I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to help out today, and I look forward to some long runs this summer that will prepare me for some very different running experiences. Congrats to all of the awesome runners of the Mt. Tammany 10!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seeing Progress

I may be limping around with a compression sleeve on my knee, but I feel amazing. I ran 11.33 miles on Sunday with 1,150 feet of climbing at 9:49 pace. I felt it in my knee somewhere around mile 8 or 9 in the middle of the endless hill, but I pushed on and didn't walk and got it done. Less than half a year ago I was stopping to walk on a hill in the middle of a 4 or 5 mile run. I feel so confident in myself now. And thankfully, I don't think that the knee pain will be lasting. It's already much better than it had been. A couple more days of rest should have me ready to run again. I am very excited about trying some flat fast runs now to see how I can do at keeping a sustained speed. The half marathon I'm training for is very flat, so I'd like to replicate that for some runs. I can't wait to get back out on the road and trail!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Base

Two years ago I made a discovery: total body circuit workouts did more for my running than running did. I ran a 5k PR without training or really preparing for the race in any way except for having done circuit workouts for a couple of months beforehand. I am now finally getting to put that knowledge to use as part of training for a half marathon this spring.

In the past, when I tried to build a base for long distances, all I focused on was increasing mileage. I wasn't strong enough for the longer miles, though, and I got injured. But now, I finally have a base. I started building it as I trained for the Ride to Read cycling fundraiser last summer. I trained for a fall 10k and was prepared for that distance before bringing on longer distances and more circuit workouts. I did a month of Jillian Michaels' Ripped in 30 workouts this winter and incorporate yoga into my weekly training. I feel stronger and more flexible than ever. I ran a 10-miler this morning at a faster pace than I ever had before even though it had hundreds of feet more elevation than any 10-miler I've run. I still have a long way to go before I'll be really ready to run the half at my goal pace, but I have the preparation behind me that is needed to get there, and I'm really excited about that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Savor the Rest

Operation Pudge Removal is in full swing here! It wasn't necessarily a New Year's resolution that instigated it - more the realization that my jeans didn't fit anymore and that there was pudge present where it hadn't been before - but I began this diet and exercise quest on January 2nd and am now on the 7th day. I rested during the week, but I also brought on the challenge and really pushed myself, doing double workouts on several days, so today I am truly resting. No cycling, no running, no Jillian Michaels workouts. If anything, just walking and light yoga or stretching.

And it feels so good. I have lost a bit of water weight (which may just be a cycle thing and not really related to the exercise, although that can't hurt), and I feel so much lighter and better, and it feels so good to savor the resting.  I'd say that I had a successful first week of Operation Pudge Removal (Operation PR), so let's see what the next few weeks bring. My goal is to drop the excess pudge, gain foundational strength, improve my endurance, and increase flexibility. Who knows, there may be a new race PR for me come spring!