I also came in first masters female, but they gave me the Third Overall plaque rather than the First Place Masters—no prize monies either way, so I’m totally fine with not being called out on my old age.
Kudos to fellow White Rock Running Co-op member Brent Woodle who came first place overall.
The Trinity Levee course was great. A few rough patches, and it starts out on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, but it turned out to be net downhill because the finish line was under the levee. (I wish I had known this when I started; I held back a bit, thinking I would face an uphill on the last mile).
As it always is with races of two distances, the problems happen when 5k-ers merge with 10k-ers. As I turned the last corner, as I dropped my speed to a 6:15 pace, I found myself behind three side-by-side-by-side 5k runners with no way to pass.
I hollered as I approached their heels, “Please let me pass!” And I swear I said yelled “Please.” Not one of them heard or acknowledged me, I assume because they all were wearing headphones. So I wound up slowing down and eventually passing in the muddy area aside the trail.
Remember that ONE SECOND? Still, I have no one to blame but myself. I could and should have had more than that one second cushion. Hindsights: Maybe I should have started at the front. I lined up about 10-12 deep at the starting line, which also was a mistake that cost me seconds.
Dozens of slower runners toed the line right UP FRONT of this very crowded field. How people do not intuitively know that this is wrong, I will never figure out. At least no strollers or dogs were in my way.
Now that I seem to be somewhat back in fighting shape, I plan to hone in on the 10k training. I’m doing speedwork about two times a week. I’ll start posting the training schedule here on the blog again. I don’t know if anyone reads it, but it helps me to have everything posted here anyway.
I hope to improve on this time at the upcoming Celebration White Rock 10k, March 24. (Full disclosure: I have a free entry via my magazine, East Dallas Advocate.)
My 10k PR is 40:43. My goal is to beat that. My pie in the sky is to break 40, but the cool weather is waning and so are my chances of doing that this season.
Note: As with my Boston Marathon write-up and most everything I write for this blog, it took me about a month to get this done. See, when I go out of town for something like a race, I return to a shit-ton of work and do not have time to write recreationally. Also, it is long. I want to not only document my experience for personal use, but also to provide useful information to readers anticipating this race in the future. Anyway, enough bla bla bla. Here’s the Hood to Coast report:
It’s mid-morning on a Friday in August. I am at the top of Mount Hood in Oregon, 6,000 feet above sea level. With me at the starting line are some 40 or so other runners. Our teams cheer us from the sidelines. My adrenaline is pumping. I have never been more ready to run. Minutes later I am flying down the mountain, running the fastest miles I’ve ever run past a million evergreen trees and rivers and waterfalls — yeah, friggin waterfalls.
It all started many months ago …
… when my running buddy Danny Hardeman asked me to be on his Hood To Coast relay team. Friends from our White Rock Running Co-op ran the 2013 HTC. They made it sound insanely fun, but not at all like something I wanted to do. Twelve-man teams, some 25 hours in a crowded van, scrupulous planning and related meetings, a litany of expenses … not exactly ideal for a frugal, disorganized loner who despises hassle and deeply values personal space, not to mention sleep.
But Danny was so excited. He thought my husband could drive one of the vans, he said. Yeah, like that would happen.
My husband, Josh, is not a runner and he thinks we are weird. If my husband wants to drive, I say, I’m in. I figured that would be the end of it.
But something happened that night — local radio personality Craig Miller, a competitive runner and triathlete whom Josh and I both love, came for dinner at Josh’s restaurant.
“Hood to Coast?” Craig apparently said, “You have to do it!” So Hubs called me and said he was in.
Danny put together a team of 12 solid runners. Most were people I know and a few were people I did not know well yet. At our first meeting, we argued over team names. Suggestions that required the least bit of mental calisthenics were met with blank stares; most enthusiastically praised were suggestions alluding to sex, gross bodily functions or food (I later would learn that these things drive most HTC team names). Eventually every name proposed at said meeting was rejected and somehow we became Despicable We. It turned out to be a beloved team name and theme — later, throughout the event, we would hear, “It’s the minions!” “I love your shirts!” “Love your van!” Not to overstate it, but we were kind-a famous.
I did not really know before I partook in Hood to Coast, but I know now: name and theme — this also involves T-shirts and van decorations — is a big deal. A seriously big deal.
As race weekend neared I realized the complex planning and expenses that go into HTC — registration, travel, two vans with (preferably) two drivers each, starting-line accommodations, finish-line lodging, getting to and fro the airport, and so on. Fortunately a few of my teammates were real leaders when it came to planning and I did not need to do much other than pay my way and do my best to follow instructions.
Then there is the training — how does one train to race three times in less than 24 hours?
I pretty much just followed my training schedule for my upcoming November half marathon. Through the early summer months I maintained a base by running about 40-50 miles a week; in May I began adding speed work twice a week. I’d run, for example, 12 times 200 meters or 400 meters on Tuesday and six mile-repeats on Thursdays and a long run on Saturday and Sunday (usually 10-15 on Saturday and 10 on Sundays). In July I ramped up the mileage to about 70 miles per week, adding a second run about three days a week. I sought out hills and used the downhill treadmill at the gym for several runs. Normally I would schedule a 5k or 10k race this time of year; instead, HTC would be my end of summer fitness test.
But there is nothing to prepare one who resides in Dallas for the infamous Leg 1 of Hood to Coast. It is six miles of extreme downhill running. Overall, it is one of the shortest and easiest legs of the race, but the mountain makes for some really intense racing. I decided that no matter how fast or controlled I ran, I would hurt afterward. I knew from research and personal experience that the worst muscle soreness would set in about 48 hours after a given run, so I would be able to finish all three of my legs before the really intense pain set in (which it did; in the days following the race I could barely walk). So I chose to let the momentum and adrenaline carry me through my downhill leg — no holding back.
I believe the faster teams usually start later, but somehow Danny had negotiated us a 9:45 start time. Teams start in waves — about 30-40 every 15 minutes all day Friday.
So I started with other Leg 1-ers who were planning to race a bit slower than we were. Therefore, from the starting horn to the end of my almost-six miles I was out front and all alone. The few times I looked back, I saw not a soul. About a mile in, my van passed me en route to the first exchange and they yelled that I was running on the wrong side of the road. I was kind of scared to cross the street but then another van pulled over; the driver said we’d be disqualified if I didn’t cross and she watched traffic so I could cross. Thanks, friend.
I clocked a 5:36 first mile. My second mile was closer to 5:40, and I maintained a sub six-minute mile right up until the final quarter mile (where things flattened out). To give you an idea of the speed-assistance this mountain offered: my fastest-ever 5k prior to this was run at a 6:12 per-mile pace.
My buddy Matt was waiting to take the relay wristband. The van and the rest of the team parked across the street and was cheering us on. Teammate and friend Susan was waiting for me at the exchange, too, thank goodness, because when I came to a halt, my rubbery legs gave out and she caught me.
No time to waste — getting the van from one exchange to the other in a timely manner is part of the competition. We hopped in and drove down a scenic thoroughfare thickly lined with fir trees. At 10:30, the air was crisp but the sun was emerging and it was warming up. As we waited for Matt, I walked around and rolled my hamstrings and calves with The Stick. I drank a bottle of Gatorade and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
By the time Matt finished and Jenny started, it was nearing 70 degrees. Susan was dreading Leg 4, a sunny 7-mile race, but she wound up being right on pace. Brent, our fastest, had the toughest overall assignment, but his first leg, though hot, was handily slaughtered. By the time Danny finished Leg 6, and we went to rest a few hours while members of the second team van did their thing, it was blazing hot. The sun was shining full force as Van 2 minion Julie embarked on Leg 7. This relay and van exchange took place at a high school. The parking lot was an ideal place to check out the competition and all the creative team themes, costumes and decorations.
While Van 2 minions ran legs 7-12, us Van 1-ers went to a pizza place. Pizza was delicious. As I tore into my second slice, I asked Brent — who had created a spreadsheet to estimate our start and finish times based on each team member’s predicted pace (and as we went along, actual pace) — how much time I had until my next run.
Four hours? I guessed. “No,” he says. “Two.” I returned that second slice to its plate and said, “Crap.”
Pizza before racing on a hot afternoon: not the best idea.
My second run, a.k.a. Leg 13 was just over four miles, but it was through the middle of Portland at 5:30 p.m. The sun was still baring-down and it was about 85 degrees.
In Portland, a half HTC relay race called Portland to Coast begins, so it is crowded. As I waited for Leg 12-er, Kevin, to hand off to me, the race officials started announcing that if we were not going to be finished with our leg by 6 p.m., we needed to be wearing our reflective vests. I asked some of my team members to get me the vest, but the van was too far; there was no time. When Kevin arrived, glistening with sweat and smiling broadly, the linesman said to me, “Where’s your vest?” And I confidently proclaimed, “I’ll be done before 6.”
Of course there was no way I was doing 4.5 miles in fewer than 30 minutes, but they let me go. In fact, I ran these miles at a little over 7 minutes each. I had hoped to keep my miles all under 7, but I was beginning to understand that running 13 or 14 miles in HTC was very different than running, say, a straight half-marathon. By the second round of running you are sore from your first race, cramped-up from being in a van all day, and there’s a good chance that your lunch has not fully digested.
I grew very nervous during this leg that I was on the wrong track. The course runs through a Portland park, where vagabond loafers smoking pot stare at you. You can’t really blame them for being baffled — while they are just blazing, this pink-faced, heaving chick is blazing through their park. WTF? But finally I saw two HTC fans sitting in lawn chairs — they cheered me as I approached, told me I looked hot (and I think they meant the sweat soaking my body and my fire-engine-red face, as opposed to the complimentary sort of hot) and they verified that I was heading the right way.
On the other side of the park is this industrial area that smells of burning rubber. It is hot and miserable and the few other Hood to Coast-ers I saw were walking. I miraculously managed to hand off to Matt without regurgitating the pizza, which was my constant unwelcome companion through the aforementioned miles.
I am so grateful to be done with that leg! Here on the edge of Portland we also encountered the Cereal Killer team. We were neck-in-neck with them and competing in a friendly way. Meredith, a CK member, wound up carrying a second reflective vest because she had heard I did not have mine. She was trying to get one to me. When I heard that, it warmed my heart. It was one of many sweet fuzzy feelings to come as the night wore on.
After my second race, I stretched, drank a protein shake, continued to hydrate, popped an allergy pill and some aspirin and attempted to relax as my husband and his co-pilot, Paris, navigated the runner exchanges.
As it grew darker, we ran farther, through scenic, wooded, mountainous Oregon — through towns called Scappoose and Mist and Jewel — toward the finish line at Seaside.
With the night came cooler temps. Once Danny finished Leg 17, we pulled into the campgrounds at the start of my final leg and attempted to get some shuteye. This was practically pointless. Several of us stretched out on the seats of the van while a couple tried the tents provided by Dick’s Sporting Goods. For about an hour I was able to relax myself into a near-meditative state, but never slept. Then I had to pee. As I walked from the van through the dark to the potties, I realized my legs were toast. I mean, they felt like someone had beaten them, and ruthlessly, with a baseball bat.
For about 45 minutes I walked around the campgrounds trying to loosen up. Just a little over 4 miles left, I told myself, but I knew I had to move fast to keep our team on pace. We wanted to break 24 hours. It now was super-chilly. I grabbed some coffee from a vendor. Van 2 arrived at the exchange to pick up their last runner of part 2, Kevin, and members of Van 1 began to emerge from that pseudo-sleep and gather to cheer Kevin in and me out.
Despite my soreness, I was much more excited about this leg than I had been about the last. It was cool. It was dark. The stars were abundant. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was totally pumped.
Again, Kevin arrived with a smile and I screamed his name. “Keeeevvvviiiinnnn! Come on, buddy! Yes! Alllrriiigght! Wooo hooo!” And then I was off.
As the noisy, crowded exchange area faded into the background, I breathed in and concentrated deeply on the moment. Even with my flashlight, visibility was low. All I could see was the gravel-y road at my feet. The fog made even the few runners I passed invisible until I was just steps behind them. I turned off my light for a moment and looked up. The stars were thick and endless. The night was sparkling.
My legs refused to match my overall enthusiasm and didn’t move much faster than about 7:15 per mile. I worked as hard as I could, tried to mentally photograph that sky, and when I handed the relay bracelet to Matt for the last time, I felt a pang of sadness. My run was over.
When I reached the van, I offered my one bit of advice to my teammates: “Be sure, at least once, to turn off your light and look at the stars,” I said. “They are amazeballs.” (So shoot me — I get sentimental when I am sleepy.)
The night flew by. We grew more excited as morning approached. Brent tackled the toughest leg of HTC — 3.5 miles of extreme elevation followed by 2.5 miles of treacherous downhill running. By the time he reached the exchange, traffic was bad. We were fortunate enough to avoid any delays due to the backup at the exchanges, but Brent did have to walk an extra mile after his run to reach the only spot we were able to park the van. Luckily we also were able to drop Danny off at his proper starting point, and Susan got out with him and helped Brent find us. More evidence that this race is in large part about navigation, logistics and luck.
Danny embraced the final leg of Van 1, flying downhill at breakneck speed. He hopped into the ride and we all took a moment to be proud of this little team he had put together. We were done, and every member of Van 1 performed brilliantly in his/her first Hood to Coast experience.
Turns out, though I did not get to observe it so closely, our Van 2 members did the same.
A memorable finish
We drove to another Oregon high school that was welcoming Hood to Coast runners (for a small donation) to use its showers. At that point, I think we would have paid anything. (Um, thanks, Brent, for paying for both me and my cash-broke husband.)
After old-school group showers, we headed toward Seaside — famous for providing a backdrop to the classic “Goonies” movie and — more importantly if only on this day — the Hood To Coast finish line.
First we made a couple of pit stops for well-earned potables of an alcoholic variety. Now, I no longer drink alcohol, but I sure do love watching others get plowed. And mixing alcohol with exhaustion is always funny and unpredictable. So as to not incriminate myself or any of my teammates, I will not go into any more detail there. I will just say, when you are a runner, there ARE actually times when it is acceptable to purchase Crown Royal at 7 a.m., though it is not easy to find someone selling it.
After a couple of hours we know we need to get to the finish line. We estimated that Kevin would be finishing just about 9:45. (As it turned out, our finish time was 24:08:00 which placed us 8th in the open division — about a 7:12 overall pace for almost 200 miles. Not bad.)
The way the finish works: as the anchor runner rounds the last corner, about 400 meters from the finish, race organizers announce the team number, then the team gathers in a corral and joins its runner as he passes, so that your whole team finishes together.
Problem: Van 2 got caught-up in traffic. As Kevin embarked on his last mile, they were just finding a parking space. A good eight blocks from the finish. The members of Van 1, already gathered at the finish, were beginning to worry that the second half of our team would miss the big finish. Biting my nails, I watched the road for signs of Andre, Julie, Kelly, Ryan, Gigi and their drivers Tamra (Kevin’s wife) and Sohale.
Then, we heard it — the announcer called out “Here comes team 825. Despicable We!” Just as we filed into the corral, I spotted Andre. I started screaming at them, “He’s here! Kevin is here! Huuurrryyy!” This effort would mean the last of my voice, which was hoarse for the next two weeks. Andre and the gang surveyed the fence between them and us, and they assessed that there was no way over; they would need to go around — a bit of a hike. At that point, Kevin, who was hauling, came into sight.
Not to Kevin, but to his teammates we screamed, “RUUUUUN!”
They had no choice but to revive their dead legs and start running toward us. Just as Kevin came down the final stretch, the members of Van 2 stumbled through the corral. All together, we ran to the finishing chute — under the banner, some of the guys lifted Kevin to their shoulders. I felt a little catch in my throat, and it wasn’t from my pained vocal chords. It was emotion.
I hugged my good sport of a husband and the rest of my teammates. A lady handed me an armful of medals and I put them, one by one, around the necks of my relay brothers and sisters. Danny. Kevin. Matt. Susan. Jenny. Gigi. Kelly. Ryan. Julie. Andre. Brent. Me.
Shortly after, the members of Cereal Killers arrived. We ate and drank and recapped the hilarity. I bonded with CK friends Meredith and Greg, who like me were veterans of “Leg 1” (this and last year, respectively).
We dreamed about “next year.”
Seaside beach was magnificent.
Josh and I, while too wimpy to fully submerge ourselves in the icy water like some of the others, dove into the balmy sand and slept for 45 minutes, and we woke as the sun burned off the last of the morning’s dense fog.
Thanks, Craig Miller. You were right. We absolutely had to do this.
Note: I wrote this on the plane home from Boston, fell asleep and neglected to edit and post it for one solid month. How’s that for grade-A procrastination.
A bad, short training season, low thyroid and vitamin deficiency
In the weeks leading up to the Boston Marathon, I was depressed, and not in an AJ Soprano, I’m-gonna-drown-myself-in-the-pool sort of way, but as in, my whole body was physically tired and I was seriously concerned I wasn’t going to be able to run a marathon. Especially one as hill-acious as Boston.
I was so tired just a month before the race, that I was falling asleep, literally, in the middle of the day at work. I was taking four-hour naps on a Sunday. I was struggling to keep up with my running contemporaries. I was failing to maintain my typical tempo pace, even during a 15k race.
I finally went to the doctor for lab work, which showed low thyroid.
Nothing new — my thyroid has been low for almost 10 years that I know of. Every six months, doc increases my dosage a bit. This time, after the labs, the doc’s assistant called to say I was very low in vitamin D as well. What does that mean, I asked the assistant, who replied, “It means you need to take a supplement.” Thanks for that flippin’ wealth of information, lady.
So she told me to start taking D supplement and to pick up a new more-potent RX for Synthroid. On my own — thanks, Google — I learned that D deficiency makes it tougher to absorb synthetic thyroid. That made me feel better — like I had a lead. I did as instructed and also began taking a multivitamin with iron every night. I never had done this for long because vitamins usually make me puke. But taking it at night on a half-full stomach (because I never eat dinner ‘til like 9, at least) and then going to bed made it work.
Ok, back to Boston training.
So, within about 10 days of this vitamin supplementation, I was no longer taking George Costanza-style naps at work. I felt markedly better. And my last long run of 16 miles, which was eight days before the marathon, felt OK. Not fabulous, but OK. And I started getting excited about Boston.
Fine-tuning my attitude
The week leading up to the race was production week at work, so I was too busy to get too panicked.
I made it a point to do a (relative) lot of running with friends who I enjoy being around. Talking to them helped me put things in perspective. If I am all worried about my personal time and performance this year, after what the city of Boston and the marathon participants experienced last year, I am a selfish asshole. Basically.
I was going to be in Boston on the day that the city, the runners and all the fans of the sport take back Patriot’s Day. That alone was a reason for insurmountable gratitude. Though I trained hard, the time on the clock this day would be secondary.
In the days leading up to race day, I hardly checked the weather. Usually I check compulsively starting 10 days out. I was not as worried this time.
I was a little concerned about finding my way around the city — and I had every right to be — but about the race itself, I was not freaking out.
I am not religious, but I do frequently chat with the god of my understanding (a.k.a. pray) and when I was praying about this race, I got the distinct message to let go.
Leaving on a Sunday was nice because I had all day Saturday to pack and rest up.
I left Dallas at 6:30 Easter morning and arrived at Boston at 11 a.m. I got confused about the location of my hotel in relation to the marathon expo. Note to future Boston travelers: there are two convention centers in Boston. The Boston Convention Center is not where the marathon expo is. It is adjacent to my hotel. All along I was thinking my hotel was outside the expo, but it actually was three miles away.
OK, so that meant I was lugging my suitcase 1.2 miles up Boylston Street to the Hynes Convention Center. The crowd thickened as I progressed up the street. Congregants were exiting en masse following Easter service at the church, and I rolled over a kid’s foot with my suitcase and he commenced screaming.
I finally realized why thousands of people, including TV reporters and cameramen every few yards, were crammed together here in the street. I was at the Finish Line. Before I knew it I, and my suitcase, was stepping over the iconic blue paint, and my head was buzzing with the voices of hundreds of runners and running fans, speaking in myriad languages. Tons of people were already donning the bright orange 2014 Boston Marathon jackets, and reporters were stopping them for interviews. It all was, as one of my friends later said, surreal.
I took a very deep breath as images from last year’s bomb aftermath bloodbath filled my head. I was a little distressed that the Finish Line was not as somber as one might expect — instead there was giddiness and photo snapping and selfies. I get it, but it was unsettling.
I found a back entrance to the race expo—thank God because security was examining bags and I had a freaking suitcase with me.
Got the shirt/number and hauled ass to the nearest exit, where I easily caught a cab to my hotel. I wanted nothing more than to rid myself of that horrid suitcase.
The Westin Boston Waterfront is really nice and a little removed from the chaos, which is good for me. I rested for a couple hours and then walked over to a pub where I got a pre-race dinner, baked mac and cheese, at about 4:30 p.m.
Usually before a marathon I eat my last big meal at like 1-2 p.m., but since this thing was starting at 10:25 a.m., I figured I’d eat later.
I woke a few times in the night, but slept OK, considering it was race night.
Getting to Hopkinton was smooth. I had been to Boston Marathon back in 2011, but I stayed in Framingham, so didn’t get the full experience hopping on one in a massive fleet of county school busses. A convoy of yellow busses carried more than 35,000 runners to a town 26 and-a-half miles away. On the bus, I met runners from Jersey, Ontario, New York, other parts of Texas, San Diego … you name it.
Upon arrival in Hopkinton, a temporary “Athlete’s Village” houses the marathon entrants.
Again, there are runners from all over the world. Boston is one of those races where you have to wait around for a long time pre race. It can be chilly, so people wear warm clothes that they can discard prior to the race. Therefore, you see a lot of folks walking around Athlete’s Village in funny getups — men in thrift-store suits, people in funky old coats and sweaters, three guys were in Breaking Bad style lab suits and one couple was wearing what looked like their hotel bath robes.
I fortunately ran into two friends, Brent and Ally from the WRRC, right off the bus.
We hung for a while. Brent who’s planning a 2:50 marathon started in the wave before us. Ally and I got in the bathroom line. And waited, oh, 45 minutes. We were supposed to head to the start at 9:50 and were still in line at 10. Nightmare. All around us people were dropping drawers and letting it all out on the grass. We opted to wait for the box. It was ugly out there. There were not enough toilets for 36,000 participants. I cannot imagine being one of the volunteers who had to clean up that dump after we left. Bless them.
Once your wave is released from the Athlete’s Village, you walk almost a mile to the Starting Line. By now the elites and the top-of-the-field runners have started.
My wave’s corral had started by the time I got to the line, but I tried not to panic. One volunteer told me: Don’t worry. The time doesn’t start until you cross the mat. So I took a minute to stretch and breath, and then I jumped in with wave 2 corral 4.
The first mile of Boston is fast no matter what. It is very downhill, and people are lining the roads screaming. I mean just bellowing like soccer fans.
I thought I remembered the course as all-downhill the first half, but it is far from that. It is net down, but there are rolling hills through this entire race.
At the start, the temps are OK. It’s in the mid-50s, but it’s been worse. See 2012. I consider running at the pace of my last marathon, about a 7:20 minute mile, which seems doable for about 30 minutes. It becomes very clear that the temps are rising quickly and by mile six people are mumbling about the heat. Layers of jackets, long sleeved shirts, mittens and arm warmers are flying from the course (anyone who started with a jacket on was just in all-out denial anyway).
At that point I decide to run by heart rate for a while. The Coach and I had discussed an acceptable range and agreed that exceeding that range early on would spell certain bonk. It was tough though, with the rolling hills, to keep my heartbeat in range. I knew I could not afford to tax myself too much early on, because I remembered how tough the Newton Hills are.
Around mile 5 maybe, we pass a bar with a parking lot full of what appears to be a Hells Angels-type biker gang. They are going nuts. One girl near me says, “A gang of bikers at a bar at 10 a.m. cheering for a bunch of marathon runners.”
The crowds along the race route never thin. There are some deeper, more-intense crowds at certain points, but there never is a quiet moment. It always is a sea of runners ahead and a throng of screaming fans on both sides essentially for 27+ miles.
Going through Framingham (mile 8), the spectators roar with marked excitement and I see ahead that I’m passing the famous Team Hoyt. This is a father son team that has run the Boston Marathon for decades straight. Theirs is an amazing story.
I try to take Shot Blocks every 20 minutes; I took an S Cap electrolyte tab before and during the race; I sip water and pour the rest on me at most water stops. By noon it is in the mid 60s. Great for spectating; bad for marathoning. By mile 13, when we run through the Wall of Sound at Wellsley College my legs are sore. The downhill is rough on the quads. The raucousness of that crowd propels me for the next 5k, which is where the Newton Hills begin. At this point my pace had fluctuated between 7:20 and 7:5x minute miles. My slowest miles are through the hills, but I feel surprisingly not bad. First, my legs actually find some relief running up. It’s like an opportunity for my quads to rest. Second, I begin passing a lot of people. Entering Newton, I see several runners full-stop at water stops or walk or wander over to the med tent. You don’t see this on a good day in Boston.
Heartbreak Hill is not necessarily a bad hill. Loving Hill in East Dallas is decidedly more intense. It is just the placement that makes it so tough. It is the highest of several hills that follow some serious rollers that are net downhill. It is just a really tough terrain to train your body for if you do not live in Boston.
But I think with the right mindset, these hills are not so intimidating; they are all short. None last more than about a quarter mile, I think.
Now, the best part of my race comes after Heartbreak Hill. I know I am overheating, but I am stoked after making it through Newton and there is a long downhill and there is an awesome group of Boston College kids along said downhill and I give one of them a high five and the others start going nuts and slapping my hand and it is like, neverending. I high-five probably 50 people there. I am whoo-hooing and thanking them and then — good times end — the wave of nausea hits. Dizziness. OK. Calm down, I say. I retreat to the opposite side of the course where there are no geeky-cute 20-year olds tempting me with their high-fives.
With five miles to go, there are people walking. Guys cramping up and hobbling. Mile 22-24 is the worst. I am in serious pain in my quads and I am red, sunburned and I just felt red-hot, like my face is going to explode. At each water stop, the water on my face feels heavenly. During the last third of the race it is between 65-70 degrees. It is not the worst conditions you can get, but it sure ain’t the best.
I am pretty happy to see Brent W, another member of the WRRC who was out with an injury but cheering, at mile 24.
After that I am praying hard. “Carry me home, please!”
Every other race or marathon I run, this is the point where it hurts so bad that I’ll come up with any reason to slow to a more comfortable pace (a walk seems preferable). My reason, usually is, “Oh there’s no reason to kill yourself; it isn’t Boston or anything.” But today, I did not have that one.
“It is Boston,” I tell myself. “Hold nothing back.”
The turn onto Boylston Street is bittersweet. I am trying to take in the scene. The crowds. The history of this race. The buildings and businesses that suffered in the wake of last year’s destruction. But, argh, it hurts bad. I can see the finish now but it is so far. I am just over 3:20 and I can see the Finish. I am pushing. I feel a pain equivalent to that of giving birth. It is that pain that you would never tolerate if you didn’t know that a) it would end soon and b) the reward would be worth it.
Then I step across the line. I think my time (by my watch) is 3:23, but later learn it’s officially 3:24:00.
I struggle to stay upright, but I have a huge smile on my face. The people are still lining the section after the finish line, cheering for us. At the end, runners walk “Mile 27” — stop at medical if you need, get water, food, your medal, check the leaderboard (American Meb Keflezighi won!) and finally exit at Boston Commons. As we limp outside the official corridors of the race, a massive mob of Bostonians stand, hooting and hollering “You did it!” You beat them!” “We beat them!” They are speaking, of course, about them — the young terrorists who wreaked havoc on this city last Patriots Day. “Thank you for running!” they shouted.
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” I answer. And some tears come out of my face.
Post race reflection, gratitude
That night, as I celebrated with friends at a Boston bar, I fully appreciated the sadness that must have engulfed this city following the last marathon. One friend mentioned how he felt guilty even going to eat at a restaurant that night and retreated to the suburbs for dinner, out of respect. Many runners packed up and went home that night; those who couldn’t hid out in their hotel rooms, feeling sickened.
It was a stark contrast to this year. The whole town filled with runners. Every business in Boston sported a motivational running sign in the window. Random citizens stopped runners to thank them for being here. Fun-loving, money-spending, crazy tourist marathoners fill the bars and restaurants.
At the celebration with my D-town team, one of our more-seasoned runners, “Coach Steve,” made a toast:
“A year ago,” he says, “they stole our opportunity to celebrate. A year later, we are back … and I am so proud of everyone … Boston Strong 2014.”
Moving on: the good fun speed work and short race period is coming to an end and it’s time to ramp up the miles.
So, here’s the deal: following the White Rock Dallas Marathon I took a couple weeks very easy. Then I got the flu. Kept running. Got the flu — the for real flu and was in bed for a week. Things got off to a rough start, but sometime in January, I began my training for the May 5 Vancouver Marathon (which also is my spring break and summer vacation rolled into one).
I started off, to put it simply, by training for a 5k and training for a 10k.
Until recently, I could not break 20 minutes in a 5k, early in the season I ran a 19:32 on a net downhill course. Two weeks ago I ran a 19:17 at the Form Follows Fitness 5k, which ended with a crazy uphill stretch. This, by the way, was a fun February race through downtown that ended at the aesthetically pleasing Woodall bridge park.
Last season’s 10k PR, under this same type of training was a satisfying 41:49. Last weekend at the Trinity Levee 10k, my official time was 40:45. Either the course was a bit long or I did a bad job of running tangents, because by my Garmin, my slowest mile was 6:30 and all except one was 6:24-6:26. Anyway, I plan to run another 10k in a couple of weeks to see if I can break 40, which is the goal.
Early on in this training, end of January, I ran a 1:29:04 at the 3M half marathon. Next month I hope to, and feel that with good weather I can, break 1:28 in the half.
Here’s what my training looked like leading up to the 5 and 10ks:
Monday: Track — 12x400s or 12×800 or 6×1600, something like that. These are always very tough. Sometimes I don’t sleep Sundays just thinking about how much they hurt. Like 5:50-minute miles or 82-second 400s. Often I could not hit the prescribed pace, but I tried my damnedest.
Tuesday-Wednesday: 1 hour at 156 heart rate (7:20-8:20 minute mile)
Thursday: speed play — 6 x 6 minutes at a 6:15 pace or something similar
Friday-Sat: 1 hour at 156 heart rate
Sunday: 1 hour at 138 heart rate, a very easy recovery run
No off days.
As I get closer to marathon day, the training will look more like this:
Monday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate in the am/repeat at night
Tuesday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate/rest or repeat at night
Wednesday: 15 minute warm up, 60-90 minutes at goal marathon pace (7:00-7:15), 15-minute cool down or a longer speed workout such as 3×12 minutes at a 6:10 pace
Thursday-Friday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate/ repeat at night or rest
Saturday: 15 minute warm up, 60-90 minutes at goal marathon pace, 15 minute cool down
Sunday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate/ repeat at night or rest
The White Rock Dallas Marathon was pretty much a bust, but my training really paid off when, a week later, I finally met my longtime goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k (with a 19:32 at Jog’r Egg Nog’r). A couple weeks later I ran a 10k in 40:52 followed by a 1:29:04 at the 3M Half in Austin (a perfect race had it not been for the last two miles of brutal hills — what’s with the f-ing hills, Austin). And that was my last great running day.
After 3M, I got the flu. I spent a solid 20 hours in bed the first day. I missed an entire week of work. For four days, I didn’t run. Both of the aforementioned had been previously unfathomable.
When I resumed life, I was tired. For days, the sound of the alarm clock triggered a Tourette-syndrome-esque response from me — a series of F bombs and winey “I don’t want tos.” A couple weeks later I am still tired. I think it is part physical, part psychological. It doesn’t help that I have been slightly overwhelmed at the office, my husband has been out of his mind trying to open a restaurant, my kids may or may not be alright, and improvements to my running (which usually is the source of that elusive motivation) are temporarily nil, resulting in a sense of pointless wheel-spinning on my part.
I am still working with the coach and building up to train for the May 5 Vancouver Marathon. From shared and personal experiences, I know in my brain (keep telling yourself this, CHB) that this is a temporary phase undoubtedly preceding a period of hard-core ambition.
I am in a speed-training phase, so Mondays and Thursdays I do track intervals and speed play/fartlek-type workouts, respectively.
The past three Mondays I have failed to meet the prescribed times for the intervals, which impacts my psyche deeply. This morning, I felt ready to rock, only to be hit with stupid gale-force winds at the track.
And even my base runs, done by time and heart rate, have been suffering. Getting up each morning has become increasingly hard and I find myself skipping warm ups and stretches because I stay in bed too long—not good. I am in a slump. But I am ready to climb out now. First, I need to get mentally right.
When I first started working at the Advocate magazine, I was assigned charge of two magazines for which I was supposed to write some 20-25 stories every month. I was also required to post four blog posts on our daily news blogs each weekday, plus a bunch of other sh*t. I was set up for failure, I kept thinking. I panicked and cried in the bathroom almost on a daily basis. Finally, when I had a talk with the publisher, I realized they really didn’t expect me to do all the work by the deadline . It was a reach-for-the-stars sort of scenario. They piled on the work to see what I could handle. And, you know, because they didn’t witness the crying and car tantrums, the management generally was impressed with the workload I was able to handle. I eventually got promoted to managing editor and recently to publisher and now I oversee new reporters and editors. The high expectations made me better and stronger than I thought I could be.
Running imitates career. Recently, I was supposed to complete six mile repeats at 5:40 each. I didn’t even come close. I was mad.
In hindsight, however, I realize I ran, that day, six sub-6-minute mile repeats. For the first time ever. So, I don’t have to be breaking records every day, but — kind of like it advises in this Running Times piece on negative and positive self talk — I have to mine the positive. Even the very worst runs and races, I get or learn something.
Another trick I plan to use to boost the adrenaline: racing. Whether the results are good or bad, racing gets me hyped.
Advocate intern Ethan Healy spent a drizzly Saturday morning at the Hypnotic Donut Dash 5k and he returned with these fun images. Pay special attention to the (hopefully post-run) donut-eating contest and the couple dressed as specific donuts sold at Hypnotic.
Today, it’s in the 30s and there is snow on the ground. Unfortunately, marathon Sunday a couple weeks ago was not so nice. (I started writing this last week, ya’ll).
As I was driving to the convention center Marathon Sunday morning at 6 a.m., the thermometer on my dash rose from 68 to 72 degrees. The humidity was around 89 percent and the winds were a lovely 15-25 mph out of the south. All season long I had professed, If it’s hot and windy again, I am not running this marathon. But who was I kidding? I had hired a coach and worked for months. The show would go on, despite Mother Nature’s impending slaughter of my ambitions.
The cruelest component of the atmospheric prank was that ideal marathon temps were slated to roll in, oh, at about 1 p.m., not long after most of us had finished.
My friend Heather and I considered starting the race at 11 and running by chip time — a genius idea had organizers not closed the start at 8:45 a.m.
OK — so here we go. My goal time in my head (which I never really shared out loud), based on data collected during the season, my high mileage training, and my half-marathon time, a month earlier, of 1:29 was something under 3:10 in perfect conditions. Because I know all too well how heat impacts my running, I started with the 3:15 group.
The humidity was so dense that the ground was wet, as if it had rained, but it hadn’t.
A few miles in, the leader of that 3:15 group was drenched in sweat and I had little confidence he would run a 3:15 (I know some of the group did, but not many, and he decidedly did not).
Miles 5-10 ish were all mildly uphill. During this stretch, I figured my best bet was to let the 3:15-ers go and simply try to pace myself for a personal best, which meant anything under a 3:30. I stayed within close range of the 3:15 group through the uphill and through the subsequent 4-ish miles on downhill.
My friend Danny Hardeman, easily in 3:10 shape (he was supposed to run New “hurricane Sandy” York), was in front of me at the halfway, but I could tell by his body language that this weather was killing him already.
Then we hit White Rock Lake, where the winds were gusting and the runners, by the dozens, were stopping to walk. Looking around at all these people (thinking of myself too) who I knew had worked for months for this day, and seeing how the weather was sapping us of the enthusiasm you should feel halfway through a goal race, made me melancholy.
This is where I slowed significantly. I felt horrible here. Atop the downward mental spiral, heat does bad things to me. As you may recall from my El Scorcho attempt, it makes me puke.
Thus, around mile 14 I stopped taking any gels or Gatorade. I sipped, very lightly, water occasionally. That was the most I could stomach.
Without any carbs or electrolytes, I soon met the wall. Mile 20, which is where we encounter the biggest hill of the race, took more than 9 minutes. I was DEAD. I was demoralized. I was depressed. I considered stopping. I saw several people stop. It was generally a bad day for running a marathon.
At this point I saw a bunch of my friends out cheering. At the front of my mind, I wanted to tell them to shut the ^&* up. I was jealous that for some reason or another they had run a different marathon this season. One in better weather. Of course, a couple of them were injured and couldn’t run at all. Was I mad at them? No. Was I glad somewhere in my misery to not be them? Yes. And deep down, I knew I’d have to face all of them after the race. They made me want to keep trying. You jerks!
After 20, I let myself look at my watch. I figured out that if I could run the last 10k at an 8-minute mile I could still run a personal best. If I can beat my personal best in this shit weather, I thought, I can still call this a success, even if it is a far cry from the goal. Now, in most cases an 8-minute mile for a girl who’s trained six months or so at a 7:00-7:15 marathon pace would be extremely doable, but after 20 miles in heat and wind and no ability to fuel due to nausea, it was iffy. Extreme iff.
A few things saved me.
One: downhill. Most of the last six miles were slightly downhill or at least flat. This made me feel much better. Not great, but I felt like I could run again.
Two: creepy guy. A fellow marathoner in the early miles ran alongside me, struck up a conversation and casually mentioned that he thought I had a nice rack. “Not just your boobs,” he says. “You are all-around attractive, but especially your boobs,” he rambled. It was sort of amusing and I asked him was it just running a marathon that caused this or did he never have a filter. I was glad when he ran ahead, but at mile 22 or so, here he was again. This time I was in no mood. So when he started talking, I started sprinting (OK, sprinting is probably overstating, but I maintained until I was comfortably solo again). So, thanks, guy.
Three: another great friend. At about mile 23 I saw my dear friend and her beautiful toddler sitting on a curb outside Deep Ellum holding a sign that read, “Christina you are our hero!” OK. That was god*mn awesome. I can do this.
The final stretch through Downtown Dallas was a m-f-ing wind tunnel. But the wind at least was a bit cooler than it had been at the lake. I couldn’t see the clock until the last turn just feet from the finish line. As I turned I knew I would have a personal best, which was nice. Nicer still was that I was done with one more miserable marathon. (My first two marathons, White Rock/Dallas in 2008 and Oklahoma City in 2009 were both run in hot, humid windy conditions.)
The race director, Marcus Grunewald, approached me at the finish and it was everything I could do not to barf on him. He and his lovely wife who also was working the finish line wanted to know what I thought of the course. The course was a fantastic showcasing of our fair burg. But the weather took a dump on it.
I will always, despite this city’s sociopathic weather, participate in the Dallas Marathon because I so believe that the organizers genuinely care about the runners, the community of non-runners affected by the event, and the beneficiary of the race, The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. The years I didn’t run it because I ran out-of-town fall marathons, I always felt so empty on Dallas’ Marathon Sunday.
One of the most important things I learned this season was to NOT make the “goal race” or end-of-season race the end-all and be-all of your season, because so many things can go wrong when you put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. I stayed enthusiastic and had fun all training season because I trained for a 5k and for a 10k and for a half, and I learned a lot about the science-y stuff of running, thanks to Eric, my coach.
Prior to the marathon I ran a 10k best of 41:49. Then I ran a five-minute-plus personal best of 1:29 in the half marathon. My marathon time was 3:26 which was still a personal best. Looking at stats made me feel a little better about that. I was the 23 overall female out of close to 2,000 of us. I was also the fastest of 14 Christinas! I passed 56 people in the last 10k (5 passed me). These graphic results are very cool. I was even ahead of 94 percent of male runners! OK – my arm is starting to ache from patting myself on the back so much.
Oh, before I stop, I almost forgot: There was another failure this season to break 20 minutes in a 5k. That was a big thing I’ve always wanted to do, but things just have never clicked for me in a 5k. I tried two between summer and the marathon and always fell short by 15-20 seconds.
Less than a week after the marathon, a bunch of my running club buds were doing the Jog’r Egg Nogg’r at — where else — White Rock Lake. At the last minute I registered, guessing I’d just stretch my legs a bit, wear my retro jogging outfit, and take it easy. I placed third overall female (chip time) with a 19:32:20. It was a fast course — lots of downhill. I don’t think my legs could have handled an ounce of hill that close to the marathon.
But it felt great to finally break through that barrier.
One last thing. Anyone who ran the marathon in the heat and humidity and wind of Dallas or anywhere else, keep in mind that the weather plays a tremendous role in distance running. These tough races only make us stronger (and fuel our rage for a later day).