Sunday, October 27, 2013

5 years later: Thank you, Charlie

An open letter to my friend, Charlie who may not have known it at the time, but changed my life on October 27, 2008

Dear Charlie,
We became running partners in September 2008. You, my boss's wife, befriended me and on Saturday mornings we would drive to the National Mall to run about 5 miles. You taught me how to wake up at the crack on dawn on Saturdays for our runs. I had just moved to DC and was in need of a friend. On our runs we talked about everything from grad school, to religion, to pop culture, DC, anything. We even talked about the preposterous idea of running the marathon, even when we were only running 4 or 5 miles. And on those runs we conquered the day and emerged as the sun rose victorious. I wasn't a regular runner then, but in that month I started to turn into one.
And on October 27, 2008, I returned to DC from a weekend away and to an e-mail from you in my in-box. While I still don't have that e-mail anymore, I know what it said. You said that we had been running long enough and that we should give the marathon a shot. The National Marathon was just under 5 months away, and that we should do it.
Running 13 miles the day before the first Obama Inauguration
And then we said yes to that preposterous idea of the marathon. The next weekend, we ran 6 miles through Rock Creek Park, the beginning our marathon journey. The winter became colder and the runs became longer, moving eventually in the double digits. And our friendship blossomed in the wintry weather of DC. We ran our first race together, the Jingle All the Way 10k, in 55:04, and the desire to race more continued.
You had some injuries, so you switched to the half marathon and I stayed with the marathon. We didn't run as much together, but we met on that fateful morning to run the National Marathon/Half Marathon. It was one of the best days of my life, and it changed my life forever.
All smiles at mile 17 at my first marathon
I became a marathoner and a regular runner, and it was because you took that impossible dream and made it possible. You convinced me that the marathon was doable and now I cannot imagine my life without running. It has introduced me to hundreds of people, brought me to the greatest marathon of the world - Boston, showed me that I was competitive and had the potential for more. It was one of the most meaningful things that someone has ever done me.
And then you moved away in 2010 and we fell out of touch, which happens. I miss you a lot and I just want you to know that you made a permanent, meaningful impact on my life - that is what your friendship has done.
Five years later, I'm still smiling and still very grateful. Thank you for that e-mail, for the suggestion to reach for the impossible dream and show that it was a reality.
Your friend,

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Army Strong Remix: Army Ten Miler 2013

Fun at the Expo
Before the race
2012 was the first time I ran the Army Ten Miler. I absolutely loved it. I ran 1:06:10, then a PR in the 10 mile, and it felt like everything came together perfectly. In the spring, I went on to better that to 1:05:52 at Cherry Blossom, while that was more of a hunker down and scrap my way to the finish PR. But my mom, who became a runner in 2010 and completed her first half marathon last year, had heard me talk enough about the Army Ten Miler (ATM) that we both signed up for it this year. She trained at home in Rochester, and I trained here in DC (oh yeah, and that seven week stint in California). We have done a couple of races together, but never one of this scale. In 2011, we ran the NY Mini, which had about 5,000 people - this had over five times that!
My parents arrived late Friday night and we went to the expo together on Saturday at the DC Armory, which hosts many of the large scale DC race expos. Even though I had just went home the weekend before, it was great to hang out with my parents.
We didn't have dinner together though, as P and I were invited to a birthday boat party. No drinking for me (and the birthday boy was a runner too, so he understood), and Pat was willing to make sure I got home in time for my "curfew." 
I couldn't decide if I felt ready or not. I had a really solid training stint since July - workouts went really well, and I didn't go too crazy and overdo things. My races leading up to the ATM were also solid - coach Sarah said I was ready to hit another PR. But a week before the race, I got some sort of stomach bug that turned what was supposed to be a 13/12 weekend turned into 13/0, followed by another goose egg and an easy run instead of my final track workout. I just felt awful and tired. If I had come across this in another blog, I would've commented and said "don't worry, it is just a few off days, you'll be fine for your race." But in my own head, I was freaking out and watching my race plan go down the toilet (which to be honest where everything else was going). But it was just a few days, it couldn't derail it all, right?
We met up the next morning and metro-ed to the Pentagon. My mom was super excited - this was a super big race for her, and I was excited for her too. My dad came along too, as sherpa and holding all of our stuff. It was a cold (about 40 degrees) but clear morning, with some wind. After we each got settled, I kissed my parents goodbye (my mom and I were in different corrals), and headed to the security line. Now, I am absolutely grateful for the thoroughness of that, but it definitely took more time than expected. So, my usual 2.5 mile warm up ended up being reduced to about .25 mile. I did some lunges, squats, and leg swings in my corral and hoped that that would loosen me up enough. A lot of negative thoughts raced through my head in the moments leading up to the race.
And with the boom of the cannon, we were off. I was back further back than last year, and went through the first mile in 6:55. Okay, this was going to be a few miles of warming up, and then I thought maybe I could hone in on the goal pace. I still needed to get rid of that last big of negative chatter. By mile 3, I was starting to feel better and hit goal pace. We ran next to the Kennedy Center at mile 4, and I passed my nemesis/DC running rival (come on, we all have one, right) with confidence and was starting to come alive.
I came through mile 5, the halfway point at 32:39. It was at this point that I remembered how good I felt last year at mile 5, and to be honest, I was starting to wake up and feel good. I was locking into my goal pace, starting to hit my splits on time, and believe again that the goal was possible. It was a beautiful day, and wonderful to be running along the Potomac. When we came onto the National Mall (which was thankfully open - I was so happy that the course didn't change because of the shutdown!), there was a huge surge in how many people were out there. So many people were cheering and that gave me a big boost. I was thinking about my mom and wondering how her race was going. She had come to my DC races - the National Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon - before as a spectator, but now she was competing in a huge DC race herself. I hit the 10k mark in 40:43 and was feeling like I could nail this for the final 3.8 miles. We got on the highway just before mile 8, the final stretch of the race. When I hit 8.5, a workout from early this month trickled back into my head - the crazy continuous 1.5 mile workout, where you do 1.5 miles on the track, changing the pace every 800 meters, and do the 1.5 2 times (for me it was 6:10 and 6:20 per mile pace). The goal is to get used to changing paces during the later stages of the races, and it was coming into play here. I had 1.5 to go and I just needed to lock it in. There was a woman who I had "let go" around mile 3 - I finally had the energy and kick to reel her in and pass with confidence. There's no reason to worry about passing people until the second half of the race, when it becomes evident who has gone out too fast. The memories of that workout were pulling me through, and I got to mile 9. Knowing I would see P and my dad soon was pushing me through. I kept looking at my watch and I knew I was close but didn't have a lot of room for error. I saw P first, so close I could've reached out and touched him, and that was a boost.
Almost there!
It was a while before the finish line came in sight (I don't know what's worse - seeing it dangle in front of you like a mirage for a while or wondering when is it ever going to show up), but finally the balloon arch surfaced, as did my dad. It was my last bit of energy to push to the finish line. I don't think there was a Bangle Pump - but there was inside when I saw the time:
1:05:41 (6:34 pace)
36/11,994 (women)
562/26,025 (overall)
11/2001 (AG) 
I was able to hone in and make it count on the big day, even when it felt like my goal was out the window. It was an eleven second PR and this was the highest I've ever finished in a super competitive race. That being said, Kerri Gallagher, the winner (and 5th place in the 1500m USATF Championship this summer) ran it in 54:56, so that's still a big gap between 1st and 36th place. Also, Olympian Julie Culley (5k) recently moved back to the DC area, and she came in third (she's training for the New York City Marathon) - pretty high caliber competitors! And this is a race without any prize money!
And then I doubled back, caught up with P and my dad and waited for my watch to come in. Because my fiance is super tall, he was able to see my mom making her way to the finish. And she did awesome! 1:35:35...and she (without revealing too much) is in the AARP club! She did so much training this fall, and it all came together on race day.
The rest of the day was spent swapping race stories. After all, we ran the same course and saw some of the same sights, but experienced it so differently. And we all met up to have a celebratory dinner - yum! And there was a lot to celebrate. My mom and I each had victories in our own races, we each ran army strong and got to be cheered in by our loved ones. And that deserves a big HOOAH!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fun to Race: Navy Federal 5k 2013

It is fun to race. I like all of it: the music blasting beforehand to get people psyched, seeing the excitement of people getting ready to run their first race, the camaraderie of all of us warm up, seeing the decorated start line, all of it. And really, there are two kinds of road races. First, there are the big, mega races with thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of people, with numerous corrals, wave starts, an expo, big names with big times and fancy warm up clothes, where the big goal is to hit a particular time. And setting that PR on a big race day has become very meaningful and gives On the flip side, there are the local races: those run on neighborhood streets, with less than a thousand people, and in my case a chance to place.
Running has taught me that I am a competitive person. I like to do better and improve, but I also learned that there is something about lining up at the start and trying to get a top finish. I have won 2 races in my life, and placed well in a few others and it has provided a different kind of thrill too.
Last Sunday, while I was on my long run, I saw a banner for the Navy Federal 5k, practically in my backyard. It was literally 2.5 miles from my house, and I did want to sign up for one more race before the Army Ten Miler (in 2 weeks). Why not? I was about to start a new running cycle on Monday, so it fit well - a chance to work on my speed and double as a good race. So, I was pretty psyched about the race. And I'll also admit that I had looked up race results from previous years and it looked like my odds were good for doing well in it. Last week, I came in 8th in the Clarendon Day 5k in a new PR of 19:10, but an Olympian was first. Maybe this time I could move up a few places. My goal was sub 20 - it was after a PR race and a week of solid training.
I had a nightmare last night that I was late for the race - couldn't have been more relieved to wake up! I warmed up from my house and got to the start with plenty of time. I know I'm not the only one to do this, but I sized up some of the other women. One in particular stood out - about six feet tall and legs for days. She had that fast look and seemed like not one to mess around with. I got in the second row, right behind her, hoped for the best, and we were off. I would say at least 8 women rushed ahead of me, and that was fine. I was not going to blow up in the first mile pushing unnecessarily hard. It was already 72 degrees at 9AM and it felt hot. I passed all but tall girl and a pair of girls running together. I could see them from a distance, and it seemed reasonable to pass them. Right after we turned onto a side street at mile 1, I passed them and didn't look back. I felt pretty comfortable in my position, and I was just looking to pass some guys. We were running through neighborhoods, and families in their front lawns were cheering for us. I could not even see tall girl, so this was now a race against the clock and against the field. With half a mile to go, I really started to pick it up - and there were a lot of people out and I felt like I started to have momentum. We had to whip around a few corners and go through the Navy Federal campus park. I did a couple of my runs there this week, so this was familiar territory.
I was moving and moving and then the finish line came into sight - and the clock was ticking.
It was up for grabs as I crossed the line, but the results page confirmed it:
19:59 (6:26 per mile)
2nd woman out of 393
13th overall out of 695
I was very pleased with how it went. Afterwards, the two girls from mile 1 came up to me and we started chatting. Half an hour later (and they still hadn't started the award ceremony), we realized how much we had in common beyond running - hooray for new friends! Then it was time for the awards ceremony. I knew I had earned second place, but the presentation was pretty sweet:
Check out the giant check! I got $50 for second place, plus the trophy, and the big check. I was going to run home, but suddenly all of this swag seemed a bit cumbersome - could you imagine me running through the streets with the check and trophy? I was fortunate that my two new friends offered me a ride home, which I graciously accepted. I then did my cooldown (which did not feel cool - this was turning into a hot day) and called it a morning. And what a great one/run! It was just a lot of fun and a great way to settle into my new town of Vienna.
...Vienna waits for you (you knew that was coming)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hurtling 5k: Clarendon Day 5k

The Clarendon 5k/10k has been going since 2009, and I've run one of either events since its second year, 2010
2010: Ran the 10k in 45:51, a then PR
2011: Ran the 5k in 20:23, a then PR
2012: Ran the 5k in 19:21 - a PR that has stuck with me since then
Kind of fun to go back and look at my history with this race. It is a really fun event (they have an after party with drinks) and it is part of the Clarendon Day Festival, so lots of people were out and about. And my 5k PR has been getting rusty - the other ones have fallen in the past year, and it was about time (pun intended) that this one got an upgrade!
Last Tuesday, I did a workout of 20x400m, all between 6:10-6:40 pace, and I was hoping that surviving that and still standing would bode well for the race. After all, 6:10 seemed doable in the relentless workout (you run 100m recovery in between each and never stop), hopefully the PR was looking good.
I actually got a good night's sleep - about 7 hours and woke up feeling really good. It was about 55 and the sun was coming out. I did my warm up on part of the course, which is always a good way to refresh and remember the major points of the course. This course has a net downhill, which previously has meant I've thrown myself down the hill as fast as possible, only to blow up later on. Last year, the blow up felt like the biggest wall ever in a short race, and I didn't want to repeat that. So, even though the first mile is the fastest (steepest downhill), I wasn't going to take it all out this time. I even bumped into a friend of mine, Brian, who does a lot of the same DC races as me. We met in 2009 and have some affinity for finding each other in 1,000+ person races, like today. It was nice to say hi and catch up briefly. I then lined up, behind the local racing team and behind Claire Hallisey our resident Olympian (GB Marathoner) - no chance of winning today!
And we were off, and I let people swarm around me. I was determined not to set a mile PR in a 5k race - it was goal to go through the first mile in just over 6 minutes, figuring that that was fast, but not blow up and face the consequences fast. I had never felt so in control in a 5k - I knew I could pick it up, but opted to just hold steady, and went through the first mile in 6:05. I saw that there were a ton of girls in front of me, but it wasn't the time yet to get wrapped up in passing. Things started to level out by mile 2 and I felt like I was in control and able to start moving and work on passing girls - hit mile 2 in 12:10 (still 6:05). I was really happy to see my friend Brian at the turnaround, and the little wave was just a nice boost.
I'm always amazed how in racing, everything else shuts off. There is no other time when I can be so focused - no thoughts other than about this moment, this race, were able to get into my head. No thoughts of the dissertation or grading or anything else came up - just go! I simultaneously feel tired and had slowed down slightly, but was still moving forward and felt like I had good momentum. I passed a couple of girls. Almost passed a Georgetown Racing Club girl, but once I crept beside her, she bolted.  I vaguely remembered where the race finished - I knew it turned off into a side street, but didn't see the 3 mile mark, something I remember happening last year. And again, did not see the mile marker, but then the finish line appeared - so close and I was just trying to hurtle myself there.
8th woman
46/1241 overall

This was a big PR, and a long-awaited one. I know that it has a net downhill, and by many, that means it doesn't technically count as a PR. But I've seen my 10k and 10 mile PRs fall this year - it was about time that the 5k happened too. There were only 6 women who finished between me and an Olympian - pretty cool. I'll need to get out there and test the wheels out again in the future. Hopefully, this means that sub 19 (dare I say it) could happen in the next year or so. It took a long time for earn these 11 seconds - I am very aware of that. But another 11 seconds would mean...18:59. Why not dream big?