Miles and miles and a return to racing

First off, thank you for the responses on my marathon predicament – it was helpful! In the end, though, a lot of it came down to logistics. We don’t know where we’re going to be after September. Not to mention that I’m familiar with this race, and have lots of friends running the half, and one running the full. Haven’t figured it out yet? Well, here it is… Yep. NF and I registered for AIr Force once more on January 1st – he registered for the half, ready to dominate. I registered for the full, and freaked out. But my friend and running buddy Danielle has run the full a few times and will be doing so again this year, so at least I won’t be alone at the start line with my nervous jitters! I did the math, and if I do a 16-week training plan, I’ll have three weeks “off” between the Pittsburgh half in early May and the start of training. With a 14-week plan – which should be plenty doable, given I’ll be starting with a strong base but would also like some more “training free” down time – I’d get five weeks off. I plan on picking the brains of some more experienced marathoners when figuring out how to handle it. In the meantime, I’m still in the off-season, at least for about another month, and enjoying it a ton. NF and I successfully completed the run streak – 35 days of running at least a mile a day! – and have kept it going. I’m still making use of the one-mile-minimum days as “rest” days or days to get in more cross-training. The streak also helped us get out the door when we were visiting my Grandmom over New Year’s up in Michigan with temperatures in the single digits to negatives, and wind chill frequently below zero. I have to say, neckwarmers are clutch in that kind of weather. Also, trail shoes on the snowy roads.

Post-5 miler on Jan. 1 – the last official day of the RW Run Streak. So bundled!
You can’t see it, but there was ice in my hair.
The only way I was able to get my hands warm without a painful, frozen first 1-1.5 miles: thumbhole + thin glove over + fleece glove over that. Chilly finger tips for about a half mile, then warm.

Some of the snowy runs were better than others – painfully cold hands made me cranky for the first bit of the Jan. 1 5-miler, and a snow-packed 3-miler was exhausting. But other times the beauty of it all was energizing.

This snowmobile path was tiring to run on, but man was it pretty.

When we got home,  the cold weather followed us with the polar vortex, so I did a lot of treadmilling – I bundled like I was going outside to run just to get in my car to drive to the gym! Hello -5* with -28* wind chill!

By the end of the week, though, the worst of the cold broke and I was back to running with pals! Danielle and I ran 6 hilly miles that Friday. The next day, I went to a Steel City Road Runners group run for the first time! And it poured. But I got to run 10 miles with Kim (first 5 with NF, too), and we chatted up the storm, almost not noticing that we were drowned rats – almost.

Soaked everything

Sunday morning was the annual Frigid Five Miler! (oh hey, look how I snuck in a race report!) After a false start leaving the apartment, having left our bibs at home (luckily we were only like 4 minutes from home), we got to the start in just enough time to park at the top of the hill.

Walking into the Lodge and just starting to get scan the crowd, I was immediately pounce-hugged by Kelly (birthday girl!), and a little bit later, found my my work pal Lara. I had emailed her earlier in the week about the race, and as she’s training for her first half-marathon, she was excited to check out another local Pittsburgh race.

Pre-race group shot, taken by my guy. As usual, I overdressed.

We chatted and waiting around until about 8:50 before stepping out to the start line (dumping off extra layers in the car, which was parked conveniently on the way. We didn’t have time for a warm-up and my Garmin barely found satellites in time. And I selected the wrong playlist on my iPod before tucking it in an inner pocket and then making it inaccessible with my bib pinned over it – oh well!

Before I knew it, we were off! I had no idea what I would have in me for this race, especially knowing full well how tough the course is. The first mile is rolling but a little uphill. The second mile is definitely downhill. Mile 3 starts as a screaming downhill, then levels off and heads to some more, tough rollers. Mile 4 gets hard, then kinda levels off. Mile 5? Oh… mile 5.

My playlist was still good, just a different one than what I’d originally wanted. Honestly though, I hardly listened to it. I spent the whole time just trying to pick people off as a way to stay focused. It had been sleeting/misting and some spots were icing – I never slipped, but could feel my feet skate out behind me a few times. I found if I stayed near the middle of the road (but off the painted line), it was better.

Mile 1 clicked off in 7:16. Mile 2, with a serious downhill, was 6:56. I tried to ride hard down the screamer at the start of mile 3, and didn’t have TOO much wind taken out of my sails after it leveled off, finishing that mile in 7:01. The pace was hard, and a few times I almost freaked out – I wasn’t fit enough for this – but I focused on my breath, the fact that it was very much in control, and told my brain to SHUT UP. And I kept pushing.

Mile 4 though, man, mile 4… there’s a cruel hill, that’s not even that bad in the scheme of things, but you can feel how dead your quads are already getting from all the pounding downhills, and you know what’s coming for you at the finish, so it’s just demoralizing. I got dropped by a few people I’d passed on the downhills and flats, but kept a woman in a neon yellow/green jacket in my sights, pulling ahead and falling behind at points.  7:44. Mile 5 starts out… almost relaxing. I was trying to focus on my breathing and maintaining the fast clip while I could. All too soon – almost precisely a third of a mile into that last mile – the hill started. The ridiculous, insane, crazy hill. Two-thirds of a mile climbing about 250 feet (according to my haven’t-taken-a-math-class-since-freshman-year-of-college calculations, it’s a 7% average grade). So I tried to relax my arms, keep my torso straight and leaned into the hill, picked up my knees and just trudged up it.

Every single year I have walked on this hill. Every single year I have tried to get to various checkpoints, but have always walked at least once (maybe at least twice, to be honest). This was the year I was going to do it. I wasn’t going to walk, not even once. Maybe I’d be going so slowly it may as well be considered walking. But dammit, I’d be lifting my feet high enough to consider it running! I ignored my pace. I tried to breathe. I saw people pass me and drop behind me as some people kept grinding it out and others felt the weight of the hill in their already tired legs. The woman in neon came up behind me, but we kept fairly even going into the steepest section – when I really really really wanted to quit. But I didn’t. I didn’t pass the woman in the end, and could barely push across the finish line, but I did it! 8:52 (6:52 sprint to the finish – so I guess I did sprint a little?). 38:03 chip time.

Could never get ahead of her, but shook her hand at the finish and thanked her for the motivation to keep trying!

A few minutes later, I hobbled a little ways before the finish line and watched Kelly and another woman encourage each other across the finish line, and I got to give her another birthday/yay-awesome-race! hug after she was done. And just a few minutes after that, Lara finished! She did kickass, finishing in about her usual 5-mile time, but on a MUCH tougher course.

Kelly had to take off shortly after and Lara, NF, and I stuffed our faces with pancakes and listened to the awards. I had only half an ear on it for a while, chatting with Lara, when Shannon started grabbing my arm, telling me to go up. “They’re on 20 to 24,” I said. But sure enough, they were calling my name. Whoops! I walked up and explained that I’d been called, and that I was actually 26. They rechecked the numbers, reissued the 3rd place 20-24 award to the right girl, and handed me a medal for 2nd place in 25-29! Well, okay!

I’ve got a few more weeks to goof off, and I’m trying to get in as much cross-training as I can, and the occasional speedwork/tempo workout, usually on the treadmill. I’d been doing 7:30 tempos but Sunday’s race showed me I haven’t lost all my speed, so I should probably push myself a bit more, little by little.  Thanks to Danielle the mileage enabler, I’ve already run 18 this week between Monday and today (and we won’t discuss how many miles I ran without a 1-miler “off” day from Thursday through Tuesday). NF and I are planning to do about 10 on Saturday, and I’ve got a trail run with Kelly and Kim on Sunday.

Weekend mornings packed with running? Yes, please.

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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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