Hilton Head Island Half Marathon – Race Recap

Race #141
Half Marathon #45
South Carolina Half Marathon #32
2018 Race #2
2018 Half Marathon #1
Hilton Head Island Half Marathon #7 (8th consecutive time running)

Today turned out to not be my day on the race course. In the end though, I am still proud of the effort i put out and learned a couple things or at least figured out what I need to figure out.

Although I wrote out a training plan with a PR goal in mind, life got in the way as it continues to do. (That’s one of the things I need to figure out.) I thought about changing that goal to a second fastest half marathon time but wondered whether I should go for a faster time or just settle in and run with Mom, try to pace her to a PR. Then…she got struck with a nasty respiratory bug that wiped her out for at least 6 days, letting up somewhat only a day before we headed down. She hated to not run but she couldn’t. I switched back to a 1:45 goal and decided to run with the pacer.

This morning dawned bright and … humid. When I walked over to the breakfast area of the hotel and didn’t need my jacket, I knew today would be difficult on the course. I do not run well in the heat and especially the humidity. Plus, I have not been training in this sort of weather.

Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Clearly I look skeptical about my prospects.

I chose to run with the pacer and hope for the best.

I lined up right next to the 1:45 pacer and planned to not look at my Garmin for the majority of the race. (I met this goal at least.)

I really enjoyed the pacer. She, and her husband, chatted engagingly and made the miles pass quickly. I thought for a couple miles that I would be able make this happen. The clouds started to burn off just as we got out into the open on the Cross Island Parkway. I could feel the heat and humidity starting to get to me and in mile 4 I started to feel fatigue, lactic acid build up in my legs. I knew that I would not be able to maintain this pace for the remainder of the race.

Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Still happy and strong at mile 2.

Without intending to, I started to drop back, slowly drifting behind the pacer.

Mile 1: 7:38
Mile 2: 7:53
Mile 3: 7:46
Mile 4: 8:03

The negative thoughts started to infiltrate my mind but not in distinct thoughts, only a overall mindset.

Somewhere in mile 5 my pace slowed and I wanted to walk. I tried to get myself to keep running but I couldn’t. Immediately after I slowed to a walk two women passed me. That was all it took. I adjusted my shorts and started running again. I told myself that I needed to run my race and focus on running the pace I needed to run to get through the race without feeling like death warmed over.

Mile 5: 8:25

My least favorite part is the 1.5-2 mile stretch between Jarvis Creek Park and the bridge. It’s long, flat and somehow feels so much harder. Just before we got to the bridge however, a spectator stood on the side of the road holding a sign that said “Run Your Race.” I smiled; that sign confirmed my decision to back off and run a smart race.

Shortly after I fell off the pace group I switched the screen on my Garmin to the (blank) heart rate screen. I hadn’t looked at it while running with the pace group and barely looked at it for the rest of the race.

Mile 6: 8:38

I felt fine on the long side of the bridge even though the uphill felt longer than before. I loved the fact that I felt strong less than 20 minutes after feeling like I needed to walk.

I settled in and focused on running my pace. Barely halfway through, I was completely soaked in sweat, in early February. I knew I might be able to hang on to a sub 1:50 but as soon as I thought of that, I pushed it aside and reminded myself to concentrate on simply running my race, running a strong, consistent effort that would get me to the finish line in a reasonable time.

I didn’t even mind the usually obnoxious weaving back and forth through a parking lot to add mileage and the short “trail” section of the race. (I have commented before on the lack of imagination with this “update” to the course back in 2015.)

I wasn’t a fan of the massive headwind on the “back section” of the course, the section that comes right after the “trail” portion and just before the turn around. I appreciated that it

Just before I reached the turn around, I decided that that high humidity necessitated walking through the water stops and double cupping hydration on top of what I carried with me.

Mile 7: 8:48
Mile 8: 8:46

My pace did not really increase but I started to feel mentally stronger, this increase in mental strength was a welcome relief and was partially aided by the fact that instead of getting passed by people as I slowed down, I started passing people. Granted, most of them were marathoners with a whole lot of miles left, but still I’ll take the psychological boost.

When I got within the last 2.5 miles there was a point where just after we crossed a street we had to head back to the right side of the road, the side marked off by the cones. At first I did not realize that I needed to get over to the right; the volunteers neglected to tell me that when I passed them, clearly running on the left side of the road. As I looked up and saw the cones I turned and started back over to the right. Just at that time, the volunteers must have looked back and seen where I was on the course. They yelled at me, not nicely, to get over to the right. It upset me because clearly if they had paid attention I would not have been running on the left to start with and because they would have seen that I was heading to the right. I yelled back, not nicely, “I am!” This gave me a brief energy boost which wore off quickly because now came the bridge again.

Although the back half of the bridge ascends much sharper than the front side, it still felt long. I powered up and enjoyed the long, gently sloping decline and settled in for the two miles after the bridge that feel like 12.

I did not have much left when I made the turn back into Jarvis Creek Park but I tried to pick it up as much as I could. I came around the far side of the pond and could hear Ellis yell my name and say something about picking up the pace. Always encouraging. 😉

When I came around the final turn and headed toward the finish line I could see Mom, Ellis and Emily. (Ryan ran the half too. His first!) After a great big smile (and lots of hip collapse as evidenced in these pictures) I finished the race fairly strong.

Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018

Mile 9: 8:38
Mile 10: 8:51
Mile 11: 8:43
Mile 12: 8:54
Mile 13: 8:29
.1: 7:58
Overall: 1:51:33

And just for fun…the look on this woman’s face when she realized that she stepped in front of the camera. Slow motion fun.
Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018
Hilton Head Half Marathon 2018

Immediately after I finished I headed straight for the Gatorade and refilled my water bottle.

For everything that went into the race today, the weather, the fact that I had a little bit of a cold for the past couple days (but didn’t feel anything today), I think I did alright. In a latter post, I will write about the things that I have learned and possible ideas at breaking through this plateau.

I did not plan to stay for the awards, figuring that my slower time had put me out of contention. Instead we walked back to the hotel where I cleaned up, packed up, and checked the results just in case. I placed 2nd in my age group!

We had just enough time to walk back to Jarvis Creek Park for the awards ceremony where I got to hear the race director mispronounce my name, again, and pick up an extra medal. I will always take extra bling.

Overall, a good effort to kick off my 2018 half marathon efforts.

Greenville News Run Downtown 2018 – Race Recap

Race #140
5k #49
2018 Race #1
2017 5k #1
Greenville News Run Downtown 5k #6

After the unsuccessful PR effort at Jingle Jingle back in December, I briefly entertained another PR attempt here since I was already registered, emphasis on briefly. Instead, I shifted my focus, as planned to half marathon training since the Hilton Head Half is less than 3 weeks away.

If as originally planned, I had run this with Mom, I likely would have dialed the pace back just a tad to run this with her. However, she and Ellis had a training at church this weekend so she accidentally double booked herself and could not run the race with me this morning. (This also means that I have zero photographs of the race because I forgot to take any pre or post race selfies.)

I shifted my plan to incorporate the 9 more miles I had to run today and planned on the 5k being a tempo portion in the late middle portion of the overall 12 miles on the docket. I planned to arrive downtown around 8am for the 9am race, run 5 miles as a “warm up” and then run 4 miles afterwards. The plan started to change when I checked my phone this morning, 10 minutes before I planned to leave, and saw that it had decided not to charge all night while plugged into my computer. I needed more than 30% battery.

Then I ended up texting Mom. She has been unable to run for several days due to the winter weather and the lack of treadmill. (I am very thankful for the treadmill at my house.) She really wanted to run so I changed my plans and shifted the 9 extra miles to the afternoon once she finished with the training. (Thanks to my warm up and cool down before and after the race, that’s now only 7 miles.)

Now I had to make a game plan. Instead of making the race a tempo effort mid run, I would be running the race first and then several hours later, running 7-9 more miles. What would I do?

After some quick calculations, I decided on a race pace effort, half marathon race pace. My goal pace is 7:30, for the half. With the hilly downtown terrain in mind, I thought that would be a reasonable yet challenging goal.

I parked at University Ridge and ran to the start line and a little more to get in a full mile warm up and to lesson the amount of time I would have to stand and shiver at the start line. I ended up getting in a mile warm up at 9:30.

I wedged myself in about 5 people back from the start line and 3 minutes later we were off.

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who seed themselves at the start of a race like this who have absolutely no business being up that far. Thankfully we have all of Main Street to spread ourselves out on so the congestion was not an issue.

We started a block or so back from the normal start line. (I assume that the adjustments to the course had to be made due to the copious amount of construction going on downtown.) Thus, we enjoyed a significant downhill for the first half mile or so. I quickly settled into a pace that felt good and surprised me at how “fast” it was.

We soon started to head uphill as we continued on Main Street past Fluor Field. That hill nearly killed me in the last mile of my first marathon. Today? Not so much. I avoided looking at my watch to check the pace and focused on maintaining a steady effort.

Just before the end of the first mile we crested the hill and turned onto Vardry Street.

Mile 1: 7:34

At the time I had no idea what my split for mile 1 was because I did not feel the vibration of my watch. The next time I looked down at my watch I saw that my pace was 7:50ish and that it was approximately 1.08. Time to pick the pace back up after the hill. I could feel myself setting into the slightly slower pace. Now was not the time to get complacent.

Around this time I noticed a girl who was running approximately the same pace as me. She had on a Hub Fitness shirt. It quickly became my goal to keep her in my sights and make sure to pass “Hub girl” before the end of the race.

I felt really good through this section. Honestly, I felt really good through the entire race which I loved.

Three fairly quick turns later and we headed back down that same hill only one block over. Hub girl passed me. I quickly intimated that hills were not her forte and determined to not let her get too far away from my on this downhill so that I could pass her on the hill of death in mile 3.

I spent the latter half of mile 2 looking down at the ground. We ran past construction with plenty of dirt on the road. Thanks to the ice thaw this dirt had transformed into mud which would spell disaster if I did not tread carefully.

Mile 2: 7:20

The first third of mile 3 contains what passes for flat in downtown Greenville and a little bit of downhill before you turn onto River Street and head up the “Hill of Death.”

As we finished the second to last downhill, I looked ahead and could see the “Hill of Death” ahead. I determined right there that I would kill that hill, not the other way around.

Each time I run this race, this hill gets easier. I will not go so far as to say that the hill felt easy today but it certainly did not feel hard at all. The only point at which I felt ready for the hill to be done was right before we turned onto East North Street, right before the end of the hill.

I definitively passed “Hub girl” on that hill. Each step put her farther behind me. We we turned onto East North Street and then back onto Main, I knew that not much of the race lay ahead of me. I also knew that in the past I have started my sprint way too early in this race. Main Street marks the end but not quite as soon as all the runners expect.

I also knew, though, that I had plenty left in the tank since I had not full out raced this race; I treated it like a workout. I could afford a little pain at this point.

Just before we passed back under the start line, just before the end of the third mile I briefly considered slowing down. I dug deep, refused to listen and kept pushing.

Mile 3: 7:17

Instead of finishing on Main Street like we always have, we took a left on Broad Street. As I mentioned earlier, I assume that the slight course changes were necessitated by downtown construction.

I sprinted as hard as I could through this section. A few guys passed me, sprinting in a whole other gear that I could not possibly match. No other ladies passed me though.

.10: 6:10
Overall: 23:05

I finished pleased with my efforts. I had no idea when I finished that I had run nearly perfect negative splits, a goal that I like to have with 5ks but can never seem to execute.

Everything ran smoothly today.

Of course, coming in a mere 6 seconds away from another 22:xx effort makes the competitive part of me wish that I had pushed just a little bit harder in that last mile.

Overall though, I am pleased with my effort today. I raced exactly according to plan for the first time in a while.

This race revealed a few other things to me though as I looked back at my history with the race. As I looked back, I realized that I have run 5ks in the 22 minute range since 2013, five years ago. With the exceptions of my PR year, 2014, I have been in a significant plateau. Something needs to change if I want to break out of this plateau.
Also, I am not sure what explains the difference in ranking but this race, although I ran just my third fastest time, I earned my highest age group ranking out of any time I have raced this 5k, 5th in my age group. I’ll take that for sure.

Time to dig deep.

Hair of the Dog 10 Miler – “Race Recap”

Also known as the race that didn’t happen.

After my experience last year I was sure that I would run this race every year, make it a holiday habit like the TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k. After this year’s experience, I scour race listings to find another race with which to kick off the new year.

Like last year, runners could register on two different platforms, the YMCA’s internal platform and racemine. Since I am not a member of the YMCA of Greater Spartanburg, I registered us through racemine. Nothing seemed different from last year so I expected a repeat.

The weather threw us a curveball with a below freezing temperature but at least no rain accompanied us. We arrived around the same time, 8:10 and headed in to get our bibs and shirts.

This is where things got interesting. As we stood in line, I overheard another runner asking about bibs. I could not hear all of the volunteer’s answers but heard something about there not being any bibs this year. What?

Sure enough…we stepped up to the table and after they finally found us on the separate list and asked if we had paid yet – again, what? – they handed us our bags. I stepped off to the side, opened the bag and found a shirt and several slips of paper including one with “directions” printed on it. No bibs.

I stepped back over to the packet pick up table and asked about it. The volunteer told me that since it’s just a fun run, they did not have any bibs this year. They had a clock at the finish line but no official timing.

Seriously? A fun run? We had bibs last year. Nothing in any of their materials indicated that this was just a fun run. Even if it was a fun run, how could you possibly tell which people actually registered and paid for the materials if you did not also give them a bib to wear?

Okay fine. We would run the race and not get a bib. We had come all the way out to Spartanburg after all.

As we sat inside and waited, I thought about that paper with “directions” on it. Those “directions” consisted of one or two words – street names I assume – and directional arrows. I am not from Spartanburg or in any way familiar with any of those directions. Plus, who takes those sorts of directions with them out on a run? The paper would blow out of my hand in seconds.

I checked again with one of the volunteers manning the pick up table who assured me that the course had been marked. The race director placed those directions in there just in case because several people last year had issues. (If you read my recap from last year, those issues were caused by a volunteer telling people to run the wrong way, not an improperly marked course.)


While reassured that the course was in fact marked, I already had lost my desire to run this “race.” I asked Mom if she would rather run the 5 miler instead of the 10 miler. After all, we didn’t have bibs so would know the difference? They were the same price too. She was game.

Around 8:40 with 20 minutes still left before race start we saw a huge group head away from the building. Okay…why? Should we go? I had no desire to miss the start like we almost did last year. Then we wondered if that group of people headed out for the one miler or something. Unsure, we found another volunteer and asked where the start was.

Her answer erased any remaining confidence we had in the race. She mentioned two different locations that it could possibly be, that they kept changing their minds and advised use to wait until this group headed out.


We decided to cut our losses ($30) and head home. If we wanted to run a “fun run,” we would run it back home where we knew where we were going and wouldn’t get lost.

I will admit to extreme disappointment that the “race” devolved like this. Unfortunately, I have to put that $30 in the sunk cost column and keep moving forward.

I came home and ran 6.5 miles at home in the extremely chilly weather at an 8:33 average pace which felt easy! I’ll take that any day.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017 – Race Recap

Race #139
5k #48
2017 Race #21
2017 5k #5
Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k #3

Like I mentioned last year, I planned and executed a dedicated training plan for this race in the hopes that I would make my 5k PR not so much of an anomaly and try to PR. This course could not be better suited for a fast 5k.

A month ago, I “practiced” racing a short race with the TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k and quickly learned that I need to focus on mental stamina. That came into play in this race.

We arrived with just a little bit longer to wait before the race than I prefer but got settled in and walked over to the new starting location. I saw few people dressed like they intended to race; many people came decked out in all sorts of fantastic holiday costumes like an Elf movie onsie. (That might have been my favorite.)

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
No Elf onsie in view…just me, almost ready to start

Several times as we lined up, the race director specifically addressed the kids lined up at the front and told them to get back from the front. Some kids took a few steps back but not many. One happened to be standing near me. I smiled and asked her if she could run a mile in 6 minutes, what the race director had just stated. She smiled, shook her head and then tried to get her friend to move back with her.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
They moved back … but not that far.

With only a two minute delay, we were off.

Right away I knew that I my 5k racing skills are rusty at best. I knew I took off way too fast but it has been a long time since I have even attempted to hold a 6:50 mile when not on the treadmill. I glanced at my Garmin a few times but the numbers I saw still needed time to adjust. The pace felt fast and I wondered if I would be able to hold on to it.

After about a quarter mile my Garmin had settled down and I saw low 6 numbers as well as one 5:50. No way. I had to slow down or I would crash and burn at the end.

I slowed down a little but the damage had already been done.

Mile 1: 6:33 Way. Too. Fast.

I could feel the pace in the second mile. I could also hear those doubts creep into my mind, the same doubts that led me to walk at the 8k last month. Everything felt so hard but I managed to pass a girl that I had been trailing for a mile. I did not look behind me for the rest of the race but I knew she lurked just behind me.

At various points in the mile I could feel the pace slipping. I kept trying to pick it back up, keep pushing. I spent way too much energy in that first mile and now I paid the price. In the second half of the mile I started to remind myself that it was only 20 minutes of pain and then I would be done. I could do 20 minutes.

It started to turn into what felt like a slog fest with a mile and a quarter left to go. In the back of my mind I knew that my PR chances had flown away. I still tried to push though.

Mile 2: 7:09

After looking at the split, I knew in my head that a PR, thanks to the way too fast first mile, was not totally out of the picture. My body had other things to say about that.

Not only did I spent that last mile fighting the negative mental thoughts telling me to slow down and abandon the attempt, I also started to feel like I actually could not run any faster. I asked my legs for more but I spent too much fuel early in that first mile.

As we got closer, I could hear spectators saying things like “good job, ladies!” I knew that the woman I passed a mile and a half ago had not gone away. I could feel my pace slowing and knew that the PR had slipped away. Enough of my competitive spirit remained that I did not want to be passed by another woman in the last quarter mile of the race.

I kept fighting for that faster pace. I felt like I had nothing left. Several burps felt like they would also bring up things other than air. I knew that the end was in sight though. I could not let up now. Only minutes of pain remained.

As we turned the second to last corner I looked down at my watch and saw it tick over to 21. When I glanced up to find the finish line, I knew that too much distance remained between me and it. I kept pushing though, I knew that woman would love to pass me in the final stretch; I know I would.

With the finish line in sight, I poured on as much of a sprint as I could.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
I had no idea she was that close.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
I look a lot stronger than I felt. Although, I still see that weak hip and a little bit of collapse. (I need to get better at getting those exercises done.)

As we drew near the line, someone came speeding past me. I had a brief moment of panic when I thought it was that girl that I tried to hold off the whole time. Thankfully, it was just a guy coming out of nowhere.

I watched the clock tick from 21:59 to 22:00 as I had about 10 feet left to run. Unfortunately, I still have just the one race with a sub 22 time.

Mile 3: 7:38 (Yes, I win for the “best” positive splits.)
.1 nubbin: 6:47 Finally near my goal pace for a single tenth of a mile.
Overall time: 22:06

Just after I finished, the woman who had chased me for two miles came up and talked to me a little about chasing me but just not being able to catch me. I thanked her for pushing me. There is no way I would have been even close to that pace if I had not known that she ran just behind me.

We hung out for a little while for the awards. I knew that I had earned something. This time, my second fastest 5k time, is also my course PR. I won my age group last year and knew that I would at least win that this year.

Mom checked racemine.com for the results but perplexingly, nothing appeared for at least half an hour. Mom kept periodically reloading, in between taking photos of me as I tried to drink my water.
Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
https://flic.kr/p/D9fRDp (how I really felt, of course ;))

She reloaded one more time and results appeared. I looked over as soon as she said something and then we both let out a joyful yelp. I managed to snag a place on the podium!

I love that fact. I had no idea that I would since the winning times last year far surpassed my PR. 5 seconds separated me from the woman I passed, a woman in my age group no less.

Even though I did not come close to my original goal, I know that I made significant progress. I pushed past the negative thoughts and kept going even when I felt like giving up and in the end achieved something I did not even consider possible.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017

I like ending my 2017 racing season on this sort of note. Stay tuned for future goals.

TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k 2017 – Race Recap

Race #138
8k #12
2017 Race #20
2017 8k #1
TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k #8

So…before I get to the recap of today’s race, I have to admit that for the first time since I started running, I did not write a recap of a race that I ran. Last Saturday Mom and I ran the Tryon Half Marathon. Neither Mom or I felt particularly stellar on race day. For my own part, I was on the rough tail end of a cold that just wouldn’t let go along with a couple other minor temporary complaints. It had been a long, emotionally draining week. My only goal for that race was to go out and finish the race. Mission accomplished. Below are the stats for that race, just for reference.

Race #137
Half Marathon #44
North Carolina Half Marathon #8
2017 Race #19
2017 Half Marathon #9
Tryon Half Marathon #4
Final time – 2:02:27

Back to today’s race…

The week as a whole went much, much better. I felt better. I got in a couple speedwork sessions. The cold finally released its stranglehold. I felt confident that I could go ahead with my original plan for this race, use it as a test race for my goal 5k race which happens in a month.

I am glad that I did that. I learned a lot about myself as a racer.

When I put in my goal time into the race pace calculator, it spit out a goal pace of 7:15. I knew that would be tough but I wanted to see how well my body would hold up at that pace

Mom and I started together nearly at the front.

TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k 2017
(We started behind the line, obviously.)

When the announcer gobbled to indicate the start I took off, feeling almost like a newbie. It has been quite a while since I have raced a short race. For so long as I have rebuilt after the injury and then trained for longer races, I start off at a more reasonable pace. This felt strange as I started that first mile. The pace felt fast but doable. I started to doubt that I would be able to keep up that pace, especially with the “hill of death” coming. (The hill that nearly kills me in mile 3 of the Greenville News Run Downtown 5k.)

Mile 1:https://flic.kr/p/GSnrSZ 7:13 (spoiler alert…this was the only mile that I achieved my goal pace)

When looking at the course map beforehand, it looked like the “hill of death” cropped up in the first mile. No, we got to start mile 2 with that hill. Thankfully though, the course turned onto McBee, halfway through the hill, so we did not have to run the entire hill. My pace definitely slowed during that mile and only gradually picked up through the second half of that mile.

Mile 2: 7:41

I expected my pace to slow down a little bit because of that hill and determined that I would negative split this course like a champ. If only that mental stamina had persisted.

The third mile of this race was the easiest mile mainly because it lacked any significant uphills. We also had a wonderful little downhill leading into Cleveland Park where we started running on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I felt good but I think this was where I started to ease the mental push. I should have pushed myself harder here, just a little.

Mile 3: 7:29

I liked the fact that I had picked up the pace. I wanted to do that for the rest of the race. The course and my mental toughness did not cooperate.

Just before we exited Cleveland Park, I saw the uphill and remembered the uphill that challenges me every time. I had no desire to push even harder than I had been pushing up that hill. I knew how challenging that felt. The negativity started to creep in even before I started up that hill.

Then came the hill. I walked, twice, in that second to last mile. I couldn’t believe that I did that. The second time I tried to keep running but my body wouldn’t cooperate. As soon as my mind said that it was okay to walk, my legs eagerly complied with the order. I didn’t walk for long, maybe 15-20 seconds but I had lost the will to battle to the finish, to really shoot for that PR.

Mile 4: 8:06

When I reached that last mile I told myself that there was less than a mile left. I could negative split this last mile. I could push hard. I could get back to that goal pace.

I started off that last mile well. I pushed hard.

Then we turned onto East Broad. I have never run up that street. No one in their right mind would choose to sprint up that street, especially in the last mile of an 8k. That street held a nearly 50 foot elevation change in one block. I did not expect that last hill. Seriously? Yes, I gave in and walked again.

After mentally slapping myself, I took off again. I kept pushing even when we merged with the much slower 5k runners at the turn onto McBee when there was another small hill. As the 5k “runners” around me power-walked up the hill I pushed forward. This hill and that other short 10 second walk slowed my pace for this mile but I am much more pleased with the last mile than mile 4. Mile 4 was the worst mile of the race for me.

We finally made the turn onto Main Street and got to enjoy the downhill.

We didn’t finish on the downhill though. We had to go a little bit further past the downhill until the finish line just before the entrance to Falls Park.

As the finish line grew nearer I threw on a full out sprint and passed about 10 people, most of them 5k participants. I felt so strong through that final sprint and knew instantly that I could have pushed much harder through mile 4. I knew then that I had the fitness level for an 8k PR even on such a ridiculous course.

Mile 5: 7:35
Final time: 38:02 … Yes, I very much wish that I would have started my sprint just a little earlier.

Mom came in about 5 minutes later, looking strong and amazing.
TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k 2017
Mom finished in 43:17

Final thoughts:
One of the first things that I thought after I finished was that I definitely needed to push myself harder in those last few miles. I felt fine, not even close to nauseated or in pain. That’s how you’re supposed to feel if you lay it all out there on the line for a short race.

It has been so long since I have raced a short race, really raced. For so long I have given myself an out and let myself run whatever pace that I wanted to run. While on one hand, it’s good to give yourself a break and not race every single race. That’s a recipe for burnout. On the other hand, every race can’t be this way, not if you want to push yourself to a PR.

Even though I did not reach my goal, I am glad that I was able to treat this race like a test race for my goal 5k coming up in a month. I know what I need to do. I know that I need to work on my mental toughness.

On the plus side, this is the first time that I have broken 40 minutes in this race, one of the few races that I have run every year since I started running. This is also my third fastest 8k time. The other two are my PR and one other Sunrise 8k where I ran only 2 seconds slower than my PR. To finish not feeling drained at all or like I had given anything close to full out effort? I’ll take that.

I feel reenergized and ready to full-out tackle the second half of my 5k training. Hilton Head be ready. I’m coming for you!

For Love of the Run

A little over a week ago, I ran my 43rd half marathon. Sometime in the midst of the run a recurring thought popped into my head, the thought of wanting to be done already. This thought and others like it occur fairly often during runs of all types, not just races. Why do I do it then? Why do I devote so much time, energy and money to something I frequently just want to finish and be done with. In this post I will attempt to explain something I have thought about for years, a feeling nearly indescribable, something that has hooked me so well, I just can’t quit.

To explain, I have to look back. My number one strength is context, after all.

Growing up, I both loved and hated running. i loved the sprints like the 50 yard dash at field day in elementary school or the sprint to first base after hitting an infield ground ball in softball. I loved the idea of accomplishment, of beating everyone across the finish line or beating the throw to first when everyone assumed that it was an automatic out. I disliked the prolonged effort of running the mile in junior high and high school. Others beat me routinely. My junior high P. E. teacher sat on the bleachers while we ran. I distinctly remember how much we all disliked her for that. I felt out of shape and lacking in the athletic gift department. A homeroom full of jocks in eighth grade helped little. In the end, I internalized these negative thoughts and believed the lie that athletic endeavors aside from recreational softball weren’t for me.

Then steps in the achiever in me. I often obsess over goals, anything from reading a certain number of books in a year to completing 26 races before my 26th birthday. I started running because of the thought of adding the tantalizing title of “half-marathoner” to my list of accomplishments. Many times over my first few years running, doubts dogged me through every single run, especially those leading up to my first half and full marathons. I wrestled with doubt throughout the races until I crossed the finish line. Why did I keep going then? Pure stubbornness, pigheadedness. I made a goal and I determined to keep it. When did it switch? When did it become something I do for the love of it rather than an extrinsic and sometimes self0created reward?

This came on gradually, lacking a specific aha! moment. The longer I ran, the more specifically I trained, the fitter I became. My body leaned out, becoming thinner but not lighter. My speed increased which led to a climb up the rankings. I no longer felt out of shape when I ran. I often finished runs feeling exhilarated, thrilled with my effort and hungry for more. Often I felt highest when the run had challenged me the most. I felt the lowest when I gave in to the negative thoughts and cut the run short or walked in a race.

Why running then?

Running suits me. The long minutes and hours stretch out like a canvas primed for the paint of my imagination. Running suits my introvert nature. I can go for a run whenever. I have no need to scrounge up other people to form a team. I tasted success much more quickly with running than with sports that required much more upfront investment.

Where do these thoughts of being ready to finish come from then? I have thought them from the moment I started running; I love a good countdown. These thoughts stick around because running still challenges me. I push to the uncomfortable point, expecting the due reward at the finish. The thoughts come from the struggle. The payoff comes with the finish line.

That is why I continue to run marathons and chase my Boston dreams. I hurt like no other time than in the throws of the marathon, all of the miles that come after mile 19 yet I push forward because that marathon finish line bestows a high like no other. Even when my time expectations got the better of me, I cross that line and smile form ear to ear.

This past Sunday reminded me of both the struggle and the victory as I watched Shalane Flanagan pull away from three time NYC Marathon champion, Mary Keitany and end her professional career, likely, with her first world marathon championship, the one thing lacking form her stunning pedigree. I watched her run, her stride strong and steady and wanted to get out there. I thought about her dedication to her training and wanted to step up my own efforts. I watched my all time favorite athlete, Meb Keflezighi give absolutely everything he had in his final competitive marathon, his 26th at age 42, and collapse at the finish line, utterly spent. That feeling surpasses all others for me, that feeling that comes after leaving everything on the course. Then I watched a little of the footage of some of the 50,000 other runners there that day, all running the marathon and thought back to the amazing sensation of camaraderie I felt in Chicago last month.

All these words still do not come close to an accurate picture of the runner’s high, the thing that keeps me running even when I start a count down. I run for love of the run, for all the reasons I delineated and the intangible ones that elude my tenuous grasp on the English language.

Spinx Run Fest Half Marathon 2017 – Race Recap

Race #136
Half Marathon #43
South Carolina Half Marathon #31
2017 Race #18
2017 Half Marathon #8
Spinx Run Fest Half Marathon #4

I almost forgot about this race. After Chicago, my mindset shifted first to recovery and then to building up for a 5k PR training cycle. (I’m finally devoting an entire training cycle to a 5k!) It’s a good thing I already registered for this and that Mom texted me earlier in the week asking me to remind her which races I had registered her for.

I was on my own for this one. Mom had a marriage conference at church so she couldn’t run with me. I made no distinct plans. My half marathons coming on the heels of marathons usually do not include anything close to speed. Although, usually I am the glutton for punishment who decides to run one two weeks after a marathon. This time around I waited an extra week.

Dad was going to come watch me at the finish but forgot to write it on his calendar. I totally get that. I have to write things on sticky notes or to do lists and still forget half the time.

Instead of writing a detailed recap I will simply leave a summary. I knew while I was running that I would likely not have enough to write a detailed post. I simply settled into an easy pace, at least it actually felt pretty easy and zoned out, in a good way.

My paces were as follows

I continue to love this race distance; yes, I am half crazy.

After the Chicago Marathon – Review, Tips and Lessons Learned

An introspective person by nature, I spend copious amounts of time after a race (or pretty much anything for that matter) reviewing and reflecting upon my performance.

After my tenth marathon, with a time that met my C goal but nothing more, I have plenty to reflect upon and learn from regardless of how pleased I am with my time and my performance given the conditions.

First off, the review.

For this race, I am adding a tips section. The night before the marathon I searched fruitlessly for concrete, applicable tips on arrival, even reaching out to a marathon Facebook group I participate in and came up with nothing, even concerning anything related to the race.

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
Registration – Chicago has two different methods for entry: time qualifier and lottery entrant. Unlike Boston, times for qualifying marathons last for three years. Thus, this year constituted the last year I could use my Rome Marathon time. Registration for time qualifiers and lottery entries ends much sooner than expected. About the time I was about to start training for Chicago, Mom mentioned that she might like to run this with me. Unfortunately, lottery entry had long since closed. If you want to run Chicago, you must decide way in advance.

Packet Pick-Up – Some people really love expos. I like looking around, being with all these other running focused people. Seriously, 40k people running a marathon all getting together? Best. Ever. As far as buying stuff? That’s not my focus, as the many posts on frugality and minimalism would best explain. I did not mind attending the expo only a couple hours before closing. We did not have to deal with long lines plus, Paula Radcliffe just so happened to be on the Runner’s World stage when we walked by. *Cue major running nerd geek out moment*
Chicago really does have the packet pick up down to a fine-tuned, efficient science which is a must for the second largest marathon in the world.

Race Shirt
I really like the clean and simple design. When I first picked up the shirt I wondered if I had made a mistake in choosing the small. Most times that is the perfect size. Occasionally the smalls run too short. Thankfully, this one fits just right. I will likely use it as a cross-training shirt since I am not a fan of high-neck shirts on runs.

Pre-race amenities
I will cover a lot of this in the tips section below.

Course and course support
As I mentioned in my recap, at times I wondered if I should just turn my music off since I couldn’t hear it over the crowd support. I love having this problem. According to an article I read afterwards, somewhere around a million people lined the course to cheer on the runners. (See the tips section for more.) This course has quite a few turns but lacks hills of any significance. Even the rollers a few people around me noticed, I hardly noticed since they pale in comparison to the hills we have in South Carolina. The Marathon’s over 12k volunteers handily manned water stops and served as course monitors having been well trained. I never once had an aid station issue. Plus, the course has 20 aid stations, nearly one every mile.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
I tend to head straight home after a race or at least straight to the nearest milkshake and coffee purveyors. Nothing about that changed. I wandered through the post-race area, the one accessible to only runners and volunteers and picked up necessary accoutrements along the way from my medal to a bag of food. I also witnessed many caring and efficient medical volunteers checking on any person who sat down in that area. You had to keep moving.
Unlike in DC for the Marine Corps Marathon – which, granted, ran mere months after Boston 2013 – Mom had no trouble finding the Runner Reunite area and me. The tall polls with the letters were positioned just after the entrance and security check making them highly visible.

Marathonfoto provides official photography for the race. They have a strong enough reputation that I do not need to review their services.

Results can be found immediately online or via the app. Unlike past experiences with race apps, this one worked like a charm for Mom. She could easily track my location and has plenty of screenshots to prove it.

Tips Section

1. The official recommendation is to arrive two hours prior to your particular wave start. You do not need to arrive that early. I understand why they give that recommendation. Despite those instructions, too many people wait until the last possible second to access their gate and corral causing enormous congestion. In race this size, they will not delay the start for you. However, even an hour and a half before the start, I breezed through security and the portopotty lines which meant that I ended up spending half an hour sitting on a bench shivering until close enough to the start I actually headed into the corral.

2. If you possibly can, avoid having to use gear check and arrive one hour before, not two.

3. Use the portopotty section in the area before entering the corrals. I was able to cycle through this line, with plenty of time in between, twice. I attempted one last time in the corral but that line moved so slowly I ended up abandoning the attempt.

4. Bring throwaway gear for the time that you wait before the sun comes up. You will have to wait a little. Bring a trash bag or a heat sheet form a previous race or something like that to stay warm and save the energy that you would otherwise waste on shivering.

5. If you absolutely must have music, use at least one headphone. I have stopped using headphones and instead run with the music playing from my phone. Those little speakers have nothing on Chicago crowd support. Only a few sections lack complete crowd cover so a little silence might be welcome.

6. Wear your name somewhere. I did this for the first time during this race and loved it! It never ceased to bring a smile to my face.

7. Start taking water or Gatorade at the first aid station. Despite the October date, Chicago has a reputation for some really draining heat. Take hydration at every station. Your body will thank you.

As I think of other tips, I will add to this section.

Lastly, the reflection bit…

As I mentioned in my retrospective, my training has not approached the rigor I would have hoped. Several things seemed to get in the way. Instead of waxing eloquent, I will stick with simple bullet points, boil it down, so to speak.

  • I do not run well in the heat, no matter how “acclimated” I am.
  • My best performances have come under one of the following circumstances: cooler weather, spring date, with a coach’s help or all of the above. (See Rome for proof.)
  • My best two times have come while working with Matt as my coach. I think I have reached the limit of how fast I can push myself when I am the one designing my training plan.
  • My base mileage for this training cycle hovered too low. I think I would have been able to make it a little farther in those later miles even with the heat but only one other time this training cycle has my mileage reached 40 mpw.
  • Tiered goals and letting go of goals makes the overall race experience far more enjoyable.
  • I need to rebuild my mental toughness. It’s been a while since I really pushed myself out of my running comfort zone. That’s what it’s going to take to get that BQ.

Chicago Marathon 2017 Race Recap

Race #135
Marathon #10
State #7
Illinois Marathon #7
2017 Race #18
2017 Marathon #2
Chicago Marathon #1
Marathon Major #1

I enjoyed this race so much.

Going into this race I had three goals
A (extreme reach) – BQ – sub 3:35
B (reasonable reach) – Chicago Qualify – sub 3:45
C (reasonable goal) – sub 4 hour, technically sub 3:56 aka 3rd fastest marathon

After my test half a month ago, I decided that the A goal was pretty much off the table unless all the stars aligned. With the alert level at moderate, I took that goal off the table completely.

Then at Charlotte when I earned that 1:50 with relatively easy effort, I decided that a 3:40 would be completely reasonable. With better weather, I’m sure that would have been a slight stretch but doable.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

We arrived super early. I ended up waiting a while without my jacket since Mom couldn’t come closer to the corrals with me. I didn’t mind that much and had enough time to cycle through the relatively short portopotty line twice. (The longer lines occur at the portopotties inside the corrals. I stood in that one for a little while, just in case, but then ended up heading back out to the corral. I stood relatively near the 3:40 pacer thinking that I would try to run with that group and just drop off if the pace ended up being too fast.

I lost the pace group early on but didn’t stress. Instead, I switched my screen over to the heart rate screen aka the blank screen and left it there the entire race.

I decided to run by pace and not worry about anything else.

I struggle with remembering minute details about many of these miles, especially the early, really good feeling miles. The one thought I do remember had something to do with thoughts of turning my music off since a lot of the time I could barely hear it.

I also decided to take Gatorade at every water stop, starting at the first one. I even managed to drink it while running, a major feat for me. I barely spilled anything on myself. When I did, I just wiped my face to get some sweat and then rubbed my hand so it wouldn’t stay sticky. A tad bit gross, I know.

I also really enjoyed having my name on my shirt. Laura came up with that idea and provided the duct tape, sharpie and handwriting. Every so often I would hear a cheer for “Jeni!” At one of the hydration stations, I even got a “Jen-nay” as in Forest Gump.

Mile 1: 8:33
Mile 2: 8:07
Mile 3: 8:17
Mile 4: 8:10
Mile 5: 8:18
Mile 6: 8:32

For some reason somewhere in mile 7, doubts started to creep into my head about my ability to finish the race. I still felt great. The temps had yet to heat up. These doubts come in to just about every one of my long distance races. Thankfully these lasted just a few miles and I continued on the race, on pace, for the next several miles.

Mile 7: 8:45
Mile 8: 8:41
Mil 9: 8:45
Mile 10: 8:47
Mile 11: 8:42
Mile 12: 8:45

In the 12th mile they handed out Gatorade Chews. I have used these before so I grabbed a pack but waited until I crossed the halfway point before I managed to get the pack open and pry out two chews, barely getting the second one out. If I had any criticisms of these chews (which are actually my favorite out of the various brands I have chosen) it would be that the packages are notoriously difficult to open, especially while in the middle of running a marathon.

By this time, the temps had started to warm up. I started to notice this when I no longer had to wipe the sweat off my face. That’s never a good sign. I still felt relatively good and strong. Plus, I looked forward to just before mile 16 where Laura and Aaron would be spectating in front of one of their friend’s houses.

After crossing the half marathon mark, I started trying to remember which side of the road I needed to be on. Even though I asked specifically, my running-drained brain could not remember. Thankfully, I picked the right side and got a nice boost of energy when I passed by. Laura noted that my speed increased after I passed them. Ah, that wonderful placebo effect.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

Mile 13: 7:57 (I should have not been going anywhere near that fast.)
Mile 14: 8:13
Mile 15: 8:39
Mile 16: 8:53
Mile 17: 8:47

During the 18th mile, my legs started to feel fatigued, not fatigued due to lack of fitness but heat-induced fatigue. I wondered how I would be able to make it to the finish at this pace. A temporary boost of energy came from a rude runner who side swiped me somewhere within the mile. Arm bumps happen, especially in a race this size. Every time that happens, I say “excuse me” or “sorry!” If it happens to me, the other runner usually says something similar. Not this time. I muttered “excuse you.” She shot back. “It’s a race, honey.” The “honey” is what did it for me. That’s what galled me the most. Afterwards I wish I had been able to think of something like “It’s been 17 miles and I haven’t run into anyone yet.” Instead, I just shot back , “when you run into someone, you say something.” She simply glared at me and kept running.

This indignation fueled me for the next couple miles, almost to mile 19. That’s when the heat started to get to me. I knew it would likely be a bit of a slog to get to the finish. I thought about walking at mile 20. I walked a little but my stride felt weird so I started running again. I thought that I might walk at each mile marker but by the time I got to mile 21 I thought that I would definitely make it to mile 22. That was a mistake.

Sometimes during this these few miles my left big toe started to hurt which perplexed me a bit. Recently, I had twice developed a blister on the big toe side of my second toe. It only recently healed so I decided to put a bandaid over the sensitive area, just in case. This turned out to be a terrible idea. When I finally took my shoes off, I discovered the the bandaid had rubbed a nice dime-sized section of skin off of my big toe. Yeah. No wonder it hurt. (I’ll spare you a picture.)

I definitely had slowed down by this point.

Mile 18: 8:52
Mile 19: 9:09
Mile 20: 9:06
Mile 21: 9:40 (reflecting the walking at mile 20)
Mile 22: 9:05

I barely made it to mile 22. I cannot believe that my pace was that “fast.”

I ended up walking at the water station just beyond mile 22 and ended up walking through the entire hydration station. I took two cups of Gatorade and then two cups of water. I wondered then if my sub 4 hour goal was fast flying out the window. I wanted to check my Garmin but refrained.

From there, I tried to pick the pace back up by my jog was barely a jog. I ended up walking through each water stop save the last one which also happened to be the only one I did not take hydration at.

I wonder if miles 23 – 24 had some sort of incline. I thought I might have to seriously slog to the end. After mile 24 and a half or so, my legs started to feel decent again, not great mind you, but enough so that the idea of jogging through the final hydration station became a possibility.

I did wish that my duct tape name had stayed on through the whole marathon. I really did try but somewhere between miles 17 and 23 it blew right off. Yeah, that’s marathon brain for you.

I managed to jog through the end not looking at my Garmin until after I crossed the finish line and stopped the time.

Mile 23: 10:13
Mile 24: 10:17
Mile 25: 10:10
Mile 26: 9:38
Last “.2” 8:40
Final time: 3:55:49

Chicago Marathon 2017

Even with the heat, I am more than pleased with how well I ran this race. I think my training lacked what it would take to get to a BQ. If the weather had cooperated, I think that this race would have been my second fastest race rather than my third.

I had so much fun running this race! I can’t wait to run it again, whenever that may be.

Marathon Retrospective

This coming Sunday, I will run my tenth marathon, a milestone deserving some reflection.

When I tell people about my upcoming milestone marathon, they speculate that I must have been running for a while. In some respects, I have dedicated quite a bit of time to running. In other respects, I have called myself a marathoner for only the past six of my thirty-two years.

This journey began back in 2009 when I set foot in a gym for the first time. A casual comment introduced me to Spinx Run Fest, the site of my first half marathon and full marathon. I decided to run the half marathon in 2010, doubting that I could actually complete the distance. this doubt persisted even after I finally registered three weeks before race day. In the middle of that race as my mind wandered through the miles, I realized that the following October, I would be 26.2 years old. That thought planted a seed that took root in fertile ground. The roots dug deep.

I registered for that first marathon the first hour of registration. I stumbled through the training, making my fair share of rookie mistakes. However, I crossed that finish line and became a marathoner, finishing less than a tenth of a second under five hours. I knew when I finished that one was not enough.

I thought that marathon #2 would come the next November after I took advantage of an 11/11/11 sale and registered for the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon. Instead, after reading someone else’s musings about being thought crazy for running two marathons in a year, I decided to up the ante at one of my May half marathons and go the full distance. Marathon #2 in New River taught me that this marathon thing might just be right up my alley. Even with a last minute training plan chance to bump up the mileage, I shaved twenty-four minutes off my first marathon time.

Marathon #3 taught me the power of mantras and the importance of hydration. Even in approaching winter, Savannah maintains humidity. My mantra for that race was “I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.” (Bonus points if you can name that move.) That marathon still bears the distinction of being the only marathon I have ever run completely without music. At the time, I planned to run a trail 50k a couple months later.

Then came marathon #4, San Francisco. After running first the first half marathon and then the second half marathon, I had to run the full. Not only that but I also made the audacious goal of making San Francisco my first sub 4 hour marathon. I met that goal even though the odds seemed to stretch out of my favor in the last 10k. I also lost my first toenail. (It’s also the only toenail I have ever lost.)

I ran my first really big marathon for #5 that fall when I ran the Marine Corp Marathon. I had big, in retrospect too big, goals of qualifying for Boston. Instead, the beginnings of what, so far, has been my only injury a mere week before the marathon cropped up and grabbed my attention. I learned how to deal with unexpected curveballs with humility as I crossed the finish line with a nearly identical time as San Francisco three months before.

I took time to regroup and put off my next marathon, #6, until the fall of 2014. I got a coach, a new type of training plan and headed to the Twin Cities to a marathon that is still one of my favorites. I learned that I had improved as much as I could on my own; it was now time to reach for more experienced help. That extra help paid off. I shaved off another ten minutes.

Marathon #7 took me across the Atlantic to the Eternal City. I started under the shadow of the Colosseum, ran across cobblestones slick with a light drizzle, smelled the “stinky man from Bologna,” marveled at the splendid opulence as I ran through St. Peter’s Square and finished back where I started with a time that still today is my PR. That marathon taught me that I could do this. I came so close to that ever elusive BQ with marathon #7. I giddily registered for Chicago and continued to push forward. I ended up with a distal hamstring strain. Although I trained smart, I had underlying structural issues that finally came to a head. Chicago 2015 was not to be.

Once I, with a lot of help, started figuring things out and rebuilding, I wanted redemption. Marathon #8 taught me that I could still do this. I enjoyed Tobacco Road even though for the first time on my marathon journey, I went “backwards,” time-wise.

Marathon #9 took a lot longer coming due to major life changes that started the week before Tobacco Road. I wanted to run another marathon in 2016 but I knew that I wanted to make my return to the classroom my priority so instead I trained for and ran the Hilton Head Island Marathon with Mom. Marathon #9 taught me that tackling this sort of training with someone else often exceeds expectations of marathon running enjoyment. I learned that putting my goals aside for the sake of someone else brings much greater rewards.

Even though I have yet to run marathon #10, I have already learned a lot. I have become a smarter runner. I have learned to adjust to ridiculous weather and a lack of AC at work after 3:15 – the district turns off A/C at that time in all the school buildings to save money – and the subsequent exhaustion. I have learned that rebuilding takes time, especially rebuilding the right way. I have learned to hold loosely to my goals so that a slower than expected time doesn’t completely crush me.

Here’s to marathon #10 and to the ten that follow!