Erie Marathon 2.0

Friends, it has been a long time since I have written a blog post! After Boston, I took a break from stepping on a starting line after running several races in a short amount of time. I knew in May, I would start another marathon training cycle, and finally worked on my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which is NOT easy. This July, a new 8 hour endurance run directed by 2 local fabulous females was created and as much as I wanted to enter, I knew jumping on the start line was a bad idea for several reasons based on my goals. I’ve enjoyed the races from the perspective of a volunteer this summer and I believe this has helped me stay focused on race day (and healthy!).

A year ago, I ran the Erie Marathon as an attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon. A few years ago, running a marathon alone was a dream, and not until I met my tribe did I even feel Boston was a possibility. 2017 Erie will always hold a special place in my heart for so many reasons – it’s the first marathon I asked someone to coach me, I was blessed to train with several running friends over a hot summer, Mario traveled to run with me and friends drove 5 hours one way just to surprise me on the course. And, in the end, I got my BQ: 3:25:24!

Here I am, 1 year later, headed north to run the Erie Marathon once again. This time, we have a small group (including my husband!) striving for PRs, trying to improve their Boston qualifying times or chasing the unicorn for the first time. Race day isn’t quite here yet, but the 2018 Erie Marathon experience has already proved to be just as memorable for me. Jeremy gave me the opportunity to help create the group training plan and a number of us have been able to meet before dawn at least twice a week to train together. Through social events as well as our runs, we have grown closer as friends. The positive attitudes are contagious and being part of a group training for a common goal is inspiring and motivating. We’ve shared both successes and struggles with one another since we began this journey in May. I am very excited to see how race day goes for each of us! Sad to tell you no runner tracking is available, so you’ll need to wait until we have reception to post results. Although it is sad to see our training cycle come to an end, I feel once we cross the finish line this bunch will not dissolve – I see many more early morning runs from Dunkin Donuts in the future!

Since I already acquired a BQ time earlier this year (Shamrock and Boston), I am chasing my marathon PR which was set at Erie last year. I feel I’ve learned something new each time I’ve run a marathon and I’m hoping I can pull it all together for #5 and execute better. Let’s see what happens! 🙂

What comes next is still mulling around in my mind. After doing a little bit of everything since I returned to the racing scene, I feel my heart is calling me in a certain direction. I have some big decisions to make in the near future and I can’t wait to share what’s next!

Let’s do this guys!

2018 Boston Marathon Recap: Part 2

The worries about race day weather started many days before we left for Boston. We could see the temps would be in the 40s-50s with rain and wind. I never let the forecast lessen my spirit because after all, it’s the Boston Marathon. I was going to run this race no matter what. As I posted the day before the race on social media, my mantra was “Magic in the misery” and I wrote this on my arm with a Sharpie before falling asleep Sunday night. 

After my head hit the pillow, I slept for a few hours then I kept waking up imagining I had missed my alarm: 12:06 am, 2:20 am, 3:15 am. My alarm was not set until 5:30 am, but around 5:15 am, I finally surrendered and started my day. I tried to be as quiet as I could as I made my first breakfast of the day (peanut butter bread and applesauce) and began to put on my layers. At the last minute, I added leggings over my shorts/compression socks and under my throw-away sweats to

The radar when I woke up Monday

try to keep myself as warm as possible before the race. Around 6 a.m., I headed out to make the trip to the T. As soon as I stepped outside, I received a taste of what was to come – cold, blustery winds nearly took off my hat and poncho. I quickly fixed my gear and continued on to the T station. Only 2 other runners got on the train with me and we all had a look of concern on our faces. As we traveled to the Arlington stop, more and more runners boarded the T all with waterproof outerwear to try to stay as dry as possible.

Once I arrived at the final stop, I headed to gear check to at least leave a dry sweatshirt and pants to put on after the race and then started towards the buses. Going through security wasn’t too bad but many runners were stopped due to trying to bring unapproved bags on the bus, including me. The email sent the night before mentioned we could bring dry shoes in a clear, plastic bag, but they did not specify a size. I had to discard the bag I brought along and shove my shoes into another gallon-sized bag. No big deal and an easy fix. I heard one woman arguing with the inspectors about not being able to bring more due to the awful weather.

Jeremy and Mario had informed me the bus ride was about 40-50 minutes long so I hit the port-a-pots before boarding the bus. The ride was long and I kept drifting off in little cat naps while I listened to the conversation between runners from Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota. We finally pulled up near Athlete’s Village and I watched runners trudging up a slight incline through rain and gusty winds. We tried our best to avoid puddles as long as we could and once we entered Athlete’s Village, yikes. Mud everywhere. Jeremy said to look for him and Mario near Tents 1 & 2 and I was determined to find them among the sea of runners. I passed Tent 3 and continued to the back side of the school in search of the other tents. Walking from the blacktop to the tent was so mucky and I was so glad I brought old shoes to wear

The mud in Athlete’s Village

before the race. I tiptoed through the mud towards Tent 2 and went inside. Wow, runners nearly covered every square inch of real estate under the tent, huddled on the ground on trash bags and blankets. I circled the tent looking for the guys with no luck and headed towards Tent 1. Tent 1 literally had a moat around the outside and I thought, “no way Jeremy and Mario are in there” and headed back towards Tent 2 for another loop. No luck. Still I was determined and headed back to Tent 1. I grimaced as I trudged through the mud and looked just inside the tent to see Jeremy sitting there. Bingo! So good to see a familiar face.

Trying to stay clean and dry!

I spread out my trash bag and huddled down with my heat sheet while Jeremy told me he couldn’t find Mario at the bus area and still hadn’t seen him. Although we sat there for over an hour, we didn’t chat much. I think we were just focused on the challenge we were about to endure. We looked up at one point and saw Tom Thomas who Jeremy met at 2017 Shamrock. Tom had a great pre-race outfit – disposable galoshes and a full rainsuit – smart guy! We said a few words about how most time goals were probably out the window. Jeremy offered a fellow runner who came in looking a bit overwhelmed an extra trash bag to sit on. We both ate a little more food – I had more peanut butter bread and a banana. At times, the winds would gust through the tent and we’d have to hunker down. This weather was no joke – the rain falling off the tent had turned into slushy snow/ice on the ground. Soon, announcements were being made for Jeremy’s wave to start lining up. I looked outside the tent and saw Mario standing at a trash can and we yelled to him. He was so excited to see us! Jeremy joked he looked like a baked potato because he had a silver heat sheet tied around this waist. Jeremy wished me luck and went to join Mario for the walk to the starting line. Mario and I waved or maybe threw a thumb up; I can’t remember. I watched the two of them start their trek to the starting line while I tried to stay as warm and dry as possible. At one point, a huge gust of wind came through and the gentleman making announcements said, “You are all dedicated. There is no way I’d run in this.”

I made my 3rd trip of the morning to the port-a-pots and then came back to change into my racing shoes. Using the extra trash bags I brought, I tied one around each of my legs to ward off the mud and rain until I was closer to the starting line. Throughout the morning, I kept making gear adjustments – I put my ear warmer over my hat to help keep the hat on with the winds, I decided to run with Goodrs on to protect my eyes and I decided to just keep my leggings on to have less skin exposure to the elements. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow and make game-time decisions on what you feel will work best for you. As my bib color was called, I confidently walked through the mud moat and out to the next stop. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep my extra clothes on for and I definitely took them off too soon; now I have a better idea of distance and how much time I have until the starting line for a future Boston. We walked down the street towards the starting corral area and I entered into #6. I kept looking around for other runners who were slated to be in my corral, Jill and Anna, but did not see them. I took off the last bit of my gear just as we were released to begin our 26.2 mile trek. My heart pounded as I crossed the starting mat and clicked my watch. Here we go!

Knowing the dangers of the first miles being downhill, I tried to go out as easy as possible and just get into my rhythm. I looked ahead to see thousands of runners ahead of me filling the street – it is a sight to see. The first mile went by so quickly and felt so easy: 7:47. I reminded myself to not push and try to stay as even as I could. I remember Shane said he was going to be around mile 1 and I was bummed I forgot to look for him, but excited to know he would be running with Renee.
(Side note: I keep clicking back to my Garmin stats as I write this because I lost track of exactly when certain things happened.) Right away, I was so excited and appreciative to see spectators braving the conditions to cheer us on. A few miles in, I passed someone blasting Rocky music (how can that not pump you up?) and then Jump Around by House of Pain. This song reminded me of my college days with my teammates Keri and Andy and I started singing the lyrics out loud as we passed by.

Every now and then, I’d have a sense of panic. I’d get a cold chill and I did think to myself, “Am I going to finish today?” I promised myself to just keep moving forward and not worry about my time. Reminded myself of two things over and over – one was something my son had said to me over the weekend: “Mom, no matter what, you are going to have a course PR!” Keeping this in mind and also the fact I had already qualified for Boston 2019 kept me in check. As the freezing rain fell all around me and the winds gusted, I realized it was going to be a long race. Just keep moving forward.

Around mile 11, I realized I had to pee. I have never stopped in a race to pee, but I think the cold, wet conditions caused me to have to go. I actually contemplated not stopping and again thought, “Just go. Make yourself as comfortable as possible.” I veered off course to the next port-a-pot. I was not as speedy as Shalane’s pit stop; trying to pull two layers of wet clothing back up was very difficult. I tied my left shoe and jumped back in the race. I had been averaging pretty decent miles and this stop caused me to clock a 9:36. “Oh well” I thought. Next stop, Wellesley!

The Wellesley girls did not let the weather keep them inside. I ran right up the fence and high fived every girl I came across. The noise from their screams was deafening but so motivating. Soon, we were at the halfway mark and I think this is where I had to tie my other shoe. Trying to tie your shoe with wet, freezing cold fingers is not easy. Somewhere around here I was once again reminded how brutal this race was – I heard the announcer say there was a warming center set up for anyone who needed to stop. By this point, I had seen several runners being walked off course by medical personnel with heat sheets and the medical emergency carts going up and down the course picking up runners who could not continue. I can remember running past a gentleman who was on his cell phone calling a family member and I heard him say, “My race is over. I’m done.” It was heartbreaking.

Somewhere near this point, my feet hurt with each step. I felt like I was running with ice cold bricks for feet and it certainly was uncomfortable for most of the latter part of the race. Here are a few things I thought of or things that happened every time I would get start to feel very uncomfortable:

– I thought, “Becky, think of those people who missed getting accepted by a few seconds. Even with this weather, they’d wish they were running Boston. Just run for them.”
– Another time, I ran past a double blade runner and thought “you have no reason to whine – look at him go!”
– Up a fairly good incline, I ran by a wheelchair athlete who was inching their way up and again, realized I am blessed.

– One runner I passed was running with an AFO which made me think of my friend Kris and how she would love to run Boston one day. Run for Kris.

Running past the enthusiastic spectators and athletes of all kinds of abilities kept me going. At times, the rain absolutely dumped on us which for a second I’m sure we all thought “Really??? Could it be much worse??” However, when the deluge happened, the crowd went absolutely wild and made you feel like a beast. So I trudged on. At some point, we passed an area that was blasting the Cupid Shuffle and when they said “to the right, to the right” you better believe I shuffled right to the fence line, high fived a few people (who roared) and then shuffled back “to the left, to the left” then kicked now! I did what I had to stay sane. Also at points, I remembered listening to Deena Kastor speak at the RRCA convention the weekend prior about smiling when you were hurting which will help your body relax. I probably looked like a deranged goofball, but I smiled through the insanity several times. Even around so many runners, the race felt lonely at times and I was glad Jeremy and Mario were together. Some of my (crazy) family was around 17-18 and were able to capture a photo/video of me.

Right around Heartbreak, I wanted to fuel again and could not get my food out of my bag. I decided to stop, take my time getting my fuel out, eat and then get moving again. And I did. I’m unsure what sparked my reboot, but after Heartbreak Hill, I felt like I was on fire. I just felt like I was flying and I knew I had about an hour to go until I would cross that finish line. Heading into the these last miles, I have never seen so many people walking in a race ahead of me, standing on the side against the fences trying to stretch or limping along the route. I felt grateful to be still moving at what I thought was a decent pace (I had stopped looking at my watch after the potty stop). Mile 22, 23, 24…getting so close. I see the Citgo sign – keep pushing! Soon, I recognized the area where I had run the 5K with Dylan just 2 days prior. I looked ahead and saw the arrows pointing us right – Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. I was almost there. I glanced around hoping for a glimpse of my family; if I saw them I was going to go over and hug them but the noise was deafening so I wasn’t able to hear anyone calling my name. I looked ahead and saw the finish area ahead. I was about to be a Boston Marathon finisher. I raised my hands in a double thumbs up and crossed that line with a smile and continued through the chute.

As that medal was placed over my head, I choked up and tears came to my eyes. The final 26.2 miles to this medal was most likely one of the most brutal, difficult runs I have ever experienced. I won’t lie, I felt like a complete badass (or completely insane; deranged; call it what you will). I ran directly into that storm and I prevailed.

After I was given my medal, heat poncho, food, water and continued through the chute. I will never forget looking ahead and seeing hundreds of runners in their ponchos slowly moving forward away from the finish line. I started

A volunteer handed me this bar unwrapped at the finish line and I downed it!

shivering badly. When I arrived at the gear check area, it was a zoo. I almost considered leaving my gear because trying to find your bag was a nightmare but I really needed more layers. Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to find my bag and I headed towards the family meeting area. My heart dropped as I didn’t recognize any familiar faces and then realized my phone battery had died. At this point, I feel I went into survival mode and was a little panicked. All I could think about was, find a warm area. I boarded a warming bus they had for the runners and pleaded to use anyone’s cell phone. I dialed John’s phone; no answer – I left a message with somewhat garbled information of where I was. Several minutes later, I borrowed a 2nd phone. Called again, no luck. Called my mother-in-law and tried my best to relay my location. I heard someone at the front of the bus call, “Becky McGraw?” I quickly grabbed my bags and went outside to find no one. Maybe I had imagined my name? Shivering, I headed back onto the bus to wait. A few minutes later, I saw John outside the window. I yelled up front, “Someone please yell John!!” Several people realized I was freaking out a bit and thankfully yelled until John heard and headed onto our bus. I was so glad to see him.

Someone gave me a 2nd heat poncho and we quickly headed toward the nearest T stop which was jam packed with people. Thankfully, the return trip to our hotel was short since I desperately needed a hot shower and warm, dry clothes.

Next up: Part 3 for my final thoughts on the 2018 Boston Marathon!

2018 Boston Marathon Recap: Part 1

Wow. More than 48 hours after I finished Boston and I still feel like memories are popping up in my mind – unsure if I am finally thawing out or just being able to wrap my mind around what I just experienced. I know there is much to say, so I am going to break this one into two parts. Are you ready for a novel??


Around 8 am Friday morning, we (Mario, John, Dylan, my Mother-in-law Marcelle and I) departed in Mario’s vehicle headed north. We were excited and ready for our long weekend adventure. This was Mario’s second trip to Boston and if you remember, he ran with me during my Boston qualifier (read here). To try to make our ride easier, we decided to stay away from NYC and take a little longer route through Pennsylvania. After some thought, I realized we would be going through my hometown (Wilkes-Barre) around lunchtime. I texted my family to see if anyone would be around to meet us. Here we are with my Dad!

We were just about halfway and continued on our way. Traffic wasn’t too bad until we started to get closer to Hartford, CT. Luckily, we were able to reroute before we got snagged in an hour and a half backup. I messaged with my college teammate Monique as we passed by (she works in the tallest building!).

As we neared Boston, our GPS got a little squirrely and I received a message from Jeremy that he and his wife, Jen had landed in Boston. After a little rerouting, we finally arrived at our hotel. Check in was easy and we quickly freshened up and made plans to meet Jeremy, Jen and their friend Sharon for dinner. We were able to stretch our legs on a short walk to the T. I had been a little nervous about using a new transportation system, but it was fairly easy to figure out. We found our way to the right station and finally made our way to dinner at Kinsale Irish Pub. I had a delicious chicken pot pie with what else? A Sam Adams!! We also had the opportunity to meet Mario’s niece Andrea and her boyfriend, Manu, who both live in Boston. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to settle in and get ready for Saturday’s 5K.

Dylan and I were running the Boston 5K together and I was very excited to share this race with him. He wasn’t sure if he was going to try for a PR or just have fun. We woke up early, ate breakfast and once again used the T to arrive in Boston Commons. We picked up our T-shirts and tried to find our friends. Mario found us and the three of us warmed up to the starting corral. At first, few runners were in the corral but quickly, it began to fill. Dylan spotted Jeremy walking towards us and we chatted about the race. As the area became more crowded, we saw our friend Becky Polite on the sidelines (who took our picture) and I saw my college teammate DiGi!

Dylan began to be a little nervous and a bit overwhelmed since we were jam packed in the corral. We held hands as we shuffled forward to the starting line. We were able to see some of the elites warming up as we waited to begin. Knowing about the impending weather for Marathon Monday, the race announcer joked maybe we should start the marathon today (I’m pretty sure the majority of us would have said yes). Soon, we were off. Dylan mentioned he would like to run about 7 minute pace so I dialed us in. Even though the corral was crowded, we were able to spread out in the streets. We raced through the streets of Boston and I kept encouraging him to look around and see the sights. We clocked through the first mile at 7:09. As we continued down Commonwealth, we could see the lead runners heading back the other way. We saw the women’s lead pack and I told Dylan to start looking for Jeremy & Mario. I said, “We can’t miss Jeremy’s pink shorts!” and as soon as I said that, I saw Jeremy and Mario on the other side – I yelled out to them and we continued on to the turnaround.

After the turnaround, we had a slight hill and then we were about to share 2 famous turns together for the very first time – Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. We hit mile 2 at 6:49 before turning onto Boylston. Up ahead, we could see the Boston Marathon finish area. We soon crossed the Boston Marathon finish line and I said, “YOU just crossed the Boston Marathon finish line!!” I think he got a burst of energy because he started to really push. With about .5 miles to go, he turned it on and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up! We cruised through the spectator-lined streets, weaving in and around other runners and he was going full tilt. This mom was doing all she could to keep up with her speedy boy! Our last split ended up at a 6:28. We crossed the finish line, he looked over and said, “Thanks Mom.” Wow, right to the heart. I will never forget this moment.

We walked hand in hand through the chute, got our medals and into the finish area. Up ahead, I could see Jeremy and Mario found my college teammate DiGi. I was able to catch up with him for a few minutes. Then, we saw Michael Wardian and were able to grab a quick pic and chat with him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Maryland flag shorts and thought “cool shorts!”, then realized it was another college teammate, Jason. Chatted with Jason for a few minutes and then chatted with everyone while we waited for Jen and Sharon to finish. Mario came in 3rd in his age group! Here are all the 5K runners and some race day shots.

Me, Dylan, Jeremy, Jen, Sharon and Mario
From top left clockwise: The four of us in our corral; my college teammate DiGi and me; with Michael Wardian after the race; Dylan and me.

After the race, we headed to Finagle Bagel to refuel before we headed back to the hotel to clean up. After showers, we caught an Uber to Sam Adams Brewery for a tour. The weather wasn’t too bad so John and Dylan played some cornhole. Then, we had a great tour and of course, awesome beer! Of course, I purchased a bottle of 26.2 Brew and a T-shirt. We were hungry after Sam Adams and ended up going in search of lobster rolls. YUM! At this point, we were exhausted and decided to head back to the hotel and relax. When we walked into our room, there was a surprise waiting for me. My sole sister and her family (our running family, the Ilnickis) sent me balloons with an amazing note. I felt so loved!! Our mealtimes were so off Saturday, so we didn’t really end up eating dinner. We relaxed in the hotel and ended up playing cards. Around 9 p.m., we called it a night.

Sunday, I woke up and headed to Cheers to meet the crew for our shakeout run. The temperatures had started to dip and the winds had picked up, so I figured we wouldn’t see the crewers out on the Charles. I arrived a little early, so ran through Boston Public Garden taking photos and checking out the area. Soon, I ran into Mario, then Jeremy, Jen and Sharon. We waited at Cheers for a few minutes for Shane and Renee and we were off!

The one who paced me and the one who coached me

Running along the Charles, we saw so many other runners including what we assumed were some elites. Heading out the wind wasn’t so bad, but on our return trip, whew!! Once we were on a bridge to get these pics with the Citgo sign, I thought we were going to be blown off the sidewalk. After our shakeout run, we once again headed to Finagle Bagel. After, I headed back to the hotel to meet up with my family. Once I showered, there was a knock on our hotel door. Who is other side? My dad and his wife! They drove all the way up to Boston to see me run. Crazy!

Today was Expo day and we headed to the Seaport World Trade Center to pick up our packets. By now, the weather was brutal. Cold and windy. When they placed my bib in my hand, I got chills. Here was my ticket to the race I worked so hard for; I was so excited! We made our way downstairs to grab my Tshirt and check out the expo. Once we were in the main area, wow, was that overwhelming. Jam packed with runners and their support crew checking out all the booths. We first went to the Clif Bar booth so I could meet Scott Jurek and get a signed copy of his new book, North. For about an hour, we meandered through the booths picking up goodies.

We decided to then grab some lunch and head back to the hotel for some rest. We really wanted to do a duck tour, but the weather was just miserable. After getting back to the hotel, we decided to take a little siesta. A few minutes later, knock on the door again. This time it’s my sister! Knock, knock again – now who?? My mom and my aunt! I told them they were all crazy for coming to watch what may be my slowest marathon yet. They didn’t care – they just wanted to see me in my first Boston. Wow. I am blessed.

More family surprising me!

We all went downstairs to the hotel bar to chat and have a few beverages (Nuun for me) for an hour or two. After catching up, we all took an Uber to an Italian restaurant Jeremy goes to each year. Thankfully, Jen had made reservations for us in January! The place was small, but the food was great and us marathoners were very excited for the next day. We chatted a bit about the race and the crazy weather that was expected. After, we headed to Mike’s Pastry shop for cannolis! Wow, the shop was slammed with patrons and I could not fathom how many cannolis they had prepared for this marathon weekend. After we all ordered our goodies, we headed back to our hotel so I could prepare for the morning, which proved to be a difficult task.

I took my time and gathered all the items I would need – old and new Topos (I planned to keep a pair dry as long as possible), Injinjis, shorts, my Runner In Training tee, arm sleeves, my Legend Compression leg sleeves, my Racedots (2 new Boston Strong ones and 1 lucky Michael Wardian 777), my bib (of course!), throwaway clothes, a heat sheet (Thanks Katie!), my fuel belt, hat, gloves, earband, Goodrs and a poncho. Wow, just writing that made me realize how much I had to gather! I also stuffed my one gallon plastic bag I was allowed to bring with me with 2 trash bags, a banana, peanut butter sandwich, Nuun and unsweetened applesauce. Finally, I was ready to set my alarm and (attempt to) get some sleep.

Next, race day!

2018 Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Recap

Part II of RRCA Convention Weekend – the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler!

This was my 2nd year running this race (2017 race recap here). Last year’s time awarded me seeded entry into this year’s race. Since I knew Boston would be only a week away from CUCB10, I did not set any goals. At the RRCA Convention, I think Jeremy and I both realized our bodies (and minds) were pretty worn down from the long days learning and agreed racing this 10 miler was not a smart decision.

Getting to the hotel room late Saturday night with Josh and Sara, I haphazardly gathered my race kit together and realized I didn’t have the shoes I wanted to run with (others were in my car wherever the valet had parked it). Set our alarms for 5:30 a.m. and climbed into bed around 10 p.m. while still chatting away about our days. Woke up with chipper Sara saying good morning – time to get ready to face the brisk morning air. We were ready to go fairly quickly and started off on our mile trek to the starting area. Upon arriving, we stationed Sara near the corral area while Josh and I headed out for a warm up. After circling the Washington Monument, we reunited with Sara and then ran into Michelle, Mark, Vern, Lisa and Mario. Soon after, I found Alex, Duane and Jeremy near the yellow corral. We chatted away and took a few pictures.

I stayed in my warm clothes until the last moment and then entered the corral area. The guys were already in there and it was packed. I weaved my way up near the front until I found them (which isn’t terribly too hard with neon pink and green). We saw Mike Wardian warming up and Meb standing at the side in his RRCA fleece jacket. Soon, the elites were off. And so were we.

I decided to just head out at a 7 minute pace. Starting a race without being focused on a race strategy was odd to me. All these runners were blowing past me and I had to restrain myself from falling in stride with them. The first mile felt quite long but I finally settled into pace. I had quite the heart-to-heart with myself early on in the race. Knowing I would need a sub 70 to qualify for seeded entry again; I definitely wanted to push harder. However, I was at peace if I didn’t hit the time standard. Maybe if I didn’t get a seeded entry for 2019, I’d skip this race and go all out in Boston. And so, this is when I decided to just keep plugging away at 7 minute pace. After mile 2, I stopped looking at my watch.

At the first turnaround, I caught a glimpse of some of the RRCA Road Scholars up front as well as Mike Wardian and Meb. Soon, I saw Mario come by and cheered for him. Next was Jeremy – last year, we completely whiffed on a high five, but this time, we perfectly executed a high five over the median. As I rounded the corner, I saw Laura not too far behind.

Josh and I heading to the start area before the race.

At the next turn around, I again was able to cheer for Mario (Alex, how come I kept missing you?) and had another high five with Jeremy (2 for 2!). On my way around, I saw Josh this time; not far behind. I thought, it would be way more fun to run with someone. Maybe I can pull back and wait for Josh. So, I did. Eventually around mile 6, Josh came up behind me and told me he had been chasing me for miles. My idea of running with him was short lived as he blew by me. I knew he was going faster than the pace I wanted to run, so I watched him pull ahead and was happy to see him fly by.

You have a lot of time to think and look around when you aren’t focused on running hard. I was paying much attention to my footing; watching out for the uneven ground and potholes. I took time to look over the water. I listened to the breathing of runners who surrounded me. I read all the signs spectators had and really enjoyed the drummers along the way.

Finish strong!

Then we hit mile 8 and the wind was in our face. Soon, I was able to see the Washington Monument and knew the finish was not far ahead. Ran by the 1200 meters to go sign, then the 800 meter sign. I focused on form and finishing the race strong. Sara snapped this great photo of me coming into the finish. I ended up hitting sub 70 – 69:25. Sounds good to me!

After crossing the line, I walked a few steps and then started jogging through the chute. Grabbed my space blanket and kept on jogging through. Ran into Mario as I made my way out of the fence. Since I couldn’t find anyone, I figured I would jog up sidewalk until I ran into Sara. I heard my name being called and found Jeremy; followed by Josh and Sara. Jeremy and I jogged over to the 5K start to find Jen before she ran the 5K. We watched her start and then found some food before circling back around. After the 5K finish, Josh, Sara and I headed to Fado’s to meet the others for brunch!

Sara, Jess, me, Josh, Laura, Vernon, Lisa and Mario enjoying post race beverages and grub!

Fun times with this crew!


Next up…..the 2018 Boston Marathon Chronicles!

60th Annual RRCA Convention & Level 1 Coaching Recap

Have you ever sat in a work-related convention and nearly shed tears of joy?

Sounds crazy right? Yet, this is exactly what happened to me late last week.

For nearly a year, our Runner In Training calendar had the 60th Annual RRCA Convention listed. Often, I’d load the site and check out the details, seeing if I could make it happen. In addition to the convention itself, I also noticed the RRCA Level 1 Coaching class would be held at the convention. Conveniently, this year’s host city was Arlington, VA.

Finally, I decided to make the jump and click register…just in time. I snagged the last spot!

Leading up to convention weekend, I found out Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor would be our luncheon speakers – so awesome. Our lead instructor sent out the course schedule which looked pretty intense for 3 days plus fitting in whatever convention events would be possible. Jeremy and I also found out we could maybe squeeze in the Crystal City 5K on Friday for a discounted rate, which of course we couldn’t turn down.

Day 1:

That’s me in green in class!

My Day 1 of RRCA started bright and early at 8 a.m. I hit the road from Winchester around 5:30 a.m. and headed towards the city. Thankfully, had little issue with traffic and directions and was one of the first to arrive at the Double Tree Crystal City. Upon check-in, I received an awesome Leslie Jordan windbreaker jacket, a pair of Feetures socks and a pretty sweet RRCA backpack. I gathered up all my gear and headed to our classroom. Approximately 40 students were in our Level 1 Class, and it was so neat to discover where everyone was from – New York, Florida, Texas, even Poland and Ireland! I was intrigued to learn about everyone’s running backgrounds and experiences. 


Usually, you may have 1 or 2 coaching instructors, but at convention, we actually had 4 (Randy, Brent, Bobby and Cari). After introductions, we started cruising through course material and soon it was lunch. We had a tasty lunch and went right back into coursework for a few more hours until it was time to meet our Regional Reps. By this time, Jeremy had arrived and we sat in to meet our Eastern Region rep and running leaders from our region. After, we headed up to the 14th floor for the Welcome Reception which provided a beautiful evening view of the city.

Me with Meb & Jeremy

Jeremy, his wife Jen and I grabbed drinks and snagged a bite to eat. Met a few new people and then all of a sudden Jeremy said, “Meb is here!” Turned around and there he was. To say I was excited is an understatement. Meb was very kind; shaking hands with all of us, saying a few words and taking pics. Meb’s brother Hawi was also present and I enjoyed chatting with him for a few minutes as well. After about an hour or so, I headed out to drive to a friend’s house to spend the night (and have some girl time!).

Day 2:

Day 1 Group Run

Early to rise – 6:30 a.m. run. Arrived at the hotel in the lower lobby which was soon abuzz with excitement with dozens and dozens of runners ready for an early bird run. We headed towards the Mt. Vernon Trail where we got a glimpse of the Washington Monument and watched a few early flights take off. Out 2 miles and 2 miles back to the hotel; time to get ready for the day (check out the Leslie Jordan shirt and medal from Ashworth Awards). After showers, we headed to breakfast which I chowed down on a delicious yogurt parfait. We had a welcoming act by Ben Franklin (pretty funny and odd at the same time) then sat through a talk about insurance (heard about some interesting claims from races). After, Jeremy and I headed to our respective sessions – me back to Level 1 Coaching and Jeremy to a talk about running injuries with our local Dr. Mark from Two River Treads.

Soon, it was time for lunch with our speaker Meb Keflezighi. Wow. Meb was funny, inspiring, engaging and just overall amazing. Listening to him speak about his family’s departure from Eritrea and relive his Boston win with us nearly brought me to tears. If you ever have the chance to hear Meb speak, do it.

After lunch, I headed back to coaching and Jeremy to another discussion by Dr. Mark. After we finished learning for the day, it was time to run, again! We changed and grabbed our gear and headed to the Crystal City 5K start approximately 1 mile away. Thankfully, we arrived early and had little wait for our bib pickup. Unfortunately, the race was delayed 10 minutes which was a little stressful since we needed to pick up our Credit Union Cherry Blossom packets by 7:45! At 6:40, the 5K started with approximately 1300 runners – crazy. We snaked behind buildings and through the streets of Crystal City. The wind was pretty fierce in our face during mile 3 and I comfortably finished in a 20:07. Jeremy ended up 2nd in his age group (out of 139) and I was 3rd out of 282 in my age group.

Time to hoof it to the National Building Museum to pick up our packets. The 3 of us seriously dashed to the nearest metro only to have a 7 minute wait for the next train, then be momentarily stopped in a tunnel and finally arrived at our station, with 5 minutes to spare. Again, dashed through the streets of DC trying to arrive before the expo was shutting down. Literally felt like we were running another race! Once we arrived, packet pickup was smooth; and went downstairs to grab our tshirts. Along the way, I stopped by Racedots to see my favorite crew! Luckily, there were RRCA buses to get back to the hotel. By this time, I was sweaty and getting hangry. Grabbed a bite to eat at the hotel and started to head to my friend’s house for more girl chat (and to try to get my homework completed!).

Day 3:

Another early morning wake up call for a 6:30 a.m. group run. This time, we headed towards the Air Force Monument. What a beautiful sight early in the morning. Also had a great view of the Washington Monument again and the Arlington Cemetery. Leaving the monument area, who is running right by us? Bart Yasso! Jeremy asked if we could grab a selfie (Bartie) and he said sure. From this point, we were the only ones running with him. We headed to the 9/11 Memorial and chatted about races with him – Kauai, Maldives and when I told him I was from Northeast PA, we discussed Steamtown and the Run for Diamonds.

Back at the hotel, we received another great shirt from Leslie Jordan and another unique medal from Ashworth awards. Then, time to hit the showers, great breakfast and head back to class. I had my last full day of Level 1 and Jeremy would be in Level 2 all day. This time for lunch, we had Deena Kastor as our speaker. Another inspiring story, and I loved hearing about her experience as a runner as well as something we both love – baking!

After lunch, you guessed it – back to class. But first, I met Amby Burfoot! We finished up around 5 to get ready for the Silent Auction/Closing Reception and then dinner. I quickly got dressed in the downstairs lobby bathroom (thank goodness no one came in as I straightened my hair in my dress and Feetures socks – with gear all over the place!). Great time at the closing reception connecting with my Level 1 classmates on a personal level as well as chatting with Deena Kastor about baking.

Chatting with Deena Kastor about running and bakeries.

Once again at dinner, my previous life as a baker was resurrected as I had the opportunity to see (and taste) a cake from Charm City Cakes! Dinner was good and then the awards started – greatly enjoyed Bart’s speech as he was inducted into the RRCA Hall of Fame. At 9 p.m., I called it a night and headed to meet Sara and Josh at a hotel for the night (which was another adventure in itself!). I’ll pick back up here for the next post about the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler!

For now, I want to summarize my experience at RRCA Convention. The days were long, informative, fun and an experience I will never forget. Being surrounded by running leaders, legends and others with a passion for running was completely overwhelming (in a very positive way). Returning to the running world has been such a satisfying journey for me. For the past 4 days, I felt like I was “home” – extremely thankful I had the courage to try once again and had the opportunity to do so. Meeting Meb, Deena, Amby and running with Bart created so many amazing memories.  In addition, this couldn’t have been planned at a better time – attending the convention the week before my 1st Boston Marathon was extremely inspiring. I can’t wait to take my test and start plotting the course for others to keep taking the next step.

Thanks RRCA – now I need to start saving and figure out how I can possibly attend 2019 in New Orleans!

2018 Yuengling Shamrock Race Weekend Recap

Last March was my first experience at the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon/Anthem Shamrock Half & 8K weekend which was definitely memorable. The weather was wicked and I surprised myself with one heck of a half PR. Knowing the course was flat and fast, my husband decided to make the 2018 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon his first marathon. The group I run with decided to sign up for several of the races as well to see if we could set some new PRs and perhaps get a few BQs.

What first began as maybe a half dozen of us quickly grew into approximately 30 runners from our local area. We created a social media page which was helpful for everyone to find someone to train with over the winter. Luckily, we had pretty mild weather in the Shenandoah Valley; a couple subzero training runs, but minimal ice and snow.

I linked back up with Sara (my ultra partner in crime) to hopefully pace her to a BQ. We were able to run most of our long runs together and starting in January, we were able to train together much more since she moved closer to where I live. The training cycle went well. A couple days out from race day, I made Shalane Flanagan’s bone broth and then Flu Fighter Chicken & Rice Stew to help us start our fueling. We planned to head to Virginia Beach on Friday and it couldn’t come soon enough!

We arrived at the Expo as soon as it opened to grab our race packets and browse the booths. The usual vendors were there and being an ambassador, I was excited to see Nuun set up. We walked through with my son and let him gather up some freebies before lunch. We popped over to Max & Erma’s next door since I was scheduled to work at the RaceDots booth (another great company I am an ambassador for) from 2-7. Working at the booth is a lot of fun – I really enjoy chatting with other runners about races they’ve run or about goals for the upcoming race. Seeing all of the kids for Operation Final Mile was great as well.

After the expo, we headed to Murphy’s Irish Pub and then headed back to our hotel (Sheraton Oceanfront) to get to bed since we’d have an early start Saturday. Sara and I headed out about 7 a.m. on Saturday to do our shakeout run before heading to the start of the 8K. Our teammates Alex and Mario were running the 8K as well as several other of our running friends (Barbara, Russ, Suzie, Karie, Jess, Nelson, Michelle, Andrew, Jerry and Dianne) – all but 1 were challengers! We watched a few waves go off and then headed to Atlantic Ave. to catch a glimpse of our runners before heading to the finish. Made it in time to see Alex carry Mario to a sub 30! Woohoo!

We headed to Pocahontas Pancake House for some nourishment before heading back to clean up at the hotel. I was again working for RaceDots at the expo from 12-2 so headed off soon. Again, a great time working with Jason and Amy at the booth and Bart Yasso walked on by and said hello. Walking out, I saw our coach Jeremy and his wife Jen coming into the expo. I headed back to the hotel and we decided to go mini golf with the kids black light/3D style! A little crazy; but definitely kept the race nerves at bay.

Dinnertime. Thanks to Russ, we had arranged a reservation for our local runners at Chick’s Oyster Bar where his son works. They prepared us a pasta dinner as we were able to relax overlooking the water. The room was a buzz from 8K talk and everyone chatting about the next day’s races. Some of us finished dinner off with Key Lime pie (YUM!) and then headed back to the hotel. We took a dip in the hot tub and then it was time to set out our race kits and get ready to ShamROCK. I set out my Injinji socks, Topo St-2s, Legend compression sleeves with my other gear (including my festive headband and gold tattoos!). I actually slept pretty well the night before the race. I think John was pretty nervous!

Woke up to a brisk morning with a little breeze. Sara, Mario, Laura and I started jogging up to the starting area. Andrew was also there and we soon ran into Alex (Alex was interviewed – check out the video) and Jeremy. We tried to keep loose and warm before heading into our corrals. Soon, we all headed into the ropes – said good luck to Alex and Jeremy since they were in fast corrals and Sara, Mario, Laura, Joe and I headed to Corral 3. We saw Josh & Estella (Sara’s husband and daughter) and my son Dylan before we were off.

This year, the half and full started at the same place at the same time. I was a little worried to see how this played out, but actually, wasn’t bad at all. Sara and I started to lock into our pace and chatted a little. About a mile or two in, I saw a familiar gait to my left. I said, “Sara, looks like Vern!” Sure enough, Vern and Barbara were running alongside us in the half. After a few words, we forged ahead. Early on, the race was exciting. We saw a lot of fun signs and we just kept the miles clicking along.

We fueled around mile 5 and started to head towards Fort Story. Last year, we had quite a cross wind which blew the sand right at us which gave us a little exfoliation treatment. Not today; weather was still calm with a slight breeze. Around the lighthouse, we passed our friend Mike. Soon, we were out of the base and back on the roads. Crowd support was great; several chances to have a beer, a shot of alcohol or oranges. One thoughtful spectator had a Vaseline stop set up.

Around this time, I warned Sara to be careful of our pace picking up because the half marathoners would start increasing their pace to the finish. Right after the half/full split, we saw Josh, Estella and Dylan. We turned left and ran on the boardwalk along the ocean. I made sure to get a glimpse of the water and just enjoy the scenery as we headed into mile 15. Before we headed over the bridge, we saw our friend Joe, and started one of the very few inclines on the course. Coming off the bridge and heading towards the 18-19 mile turnaround, I was trying to calculate where Jeremy would be around this point; wondering if we would run past him. Once I told Sara we might see him, she started speeding up again! Shortly thereafter, we saw him coming towards us and exchanged some high fives. After the turnaround, we saw Mario and Laura as well as Jason.

Right before we headed into Camp Pendleton, Sara started to fall back just a tad although we were still on target. We passed mile 20 and meandered our way through the base. At the aid station, Sara went to grab water and I grabbed a banana. I turned around and oh no! Sara was walking. I had a hunch these next few miles were going to be tough. We walked for a minute or so and started jogging again. Started heading back over the bridge towards the boardwalk. After the bridge, we saw John, Karie and Suzie which gave us some encouragement. On the boardwalk, things were rough. Sara was very thirsty – no aid stations were near and my bottles were empty. Off in the distance behind us, I could hear Mario yelling, “Let’s go Sara!” Soon, Mario and Laura were behind us and Laura shared some water with Sara as they passed.

We kept plugging along; slowly at times; yet still forward. I knew Sara was hurting and I tried to say every positive and motivational phrase I could say to keep her moving. I may have been stern at times, but I was trying EVERYTHING! I remember telling her we had 40 minutes to go 4 miles. Those last few miles of a marathon are no joke; they seem to suck every mental and physical bit of you as possible. Yet, we kept moving.

Eventually, we turned off the boardwalk and started heading back through the last mile. We saw Josh, Estella and Dylan and then Jess with her awesome signs. We rounded the last turn to head towards the finish and saw Russ. I kept turning around and encouraging Sara to bring it home. The finish line was in sight; yet was still so far away. I’m unsure where she mustered this late race energy, but she dug in and hammered it home. 3:33:08. A BQ. Maybe not quite enough to be accepted, but a BQ AND A PR! 

We walked through the finishing chute grabbing our medals, hats, towels, a drawstring bag and a lot of snacks. We were greeted by several of our running friends as we walked down to the party tent. There was a lot of excitement and chatter about our respective races as we refueled with stew, bratwursts, cookies and of course, beer! We found out how our friends did in the half (Alex smoked it!) and kept tracking those who were still out on the course. We headed back out to the finish line to catch John, Karie and Suzie run down the homestretch. We hit the PR bell along the way, took some photos and ate and drank some more before needing to head back to check out at the hotel.

After some hot showers and checking out of our rooms, we were still hungry so headed to North End Pizza. After pizza, wings, beer and ice cream, Josh, Estella and Sara hit the road back to Winchester. John, Dylan and I headed to meet Jess and then link up with a few others at a hotel bar. Dylan and Jess’s boys had a great time playing football on the beach while the adults chatted. Our group ended up at Catch 31 before calling it a night. What a fun time! 

Sharing this weekend with so many others was a blast. There were approximately 30 runners from the Shenandoah Valley registered in at least one of the weekend races. Seven runners finished their first marathon and around 20 set a new personal record. Awesome! Several runners have already registered for the 2019 race weekend and there is talk about trying to all book at the same hotel to enhance the weekend even more. Congrats everyone!!

Check out this great video Josh created on his YouTube Channel: Left Foot, Right Foot, Repeat:

Up next, Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler (and the 60th RRCA National Convention)!

Crying Uncle

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou

We all are happy to paint that perfect picture on social media. Happy runners, just logging the miles; no aches or pains right?

Not always.

I have been struggling since the South Berkeley 5k. I know I’ve hinted in posts I have been off, but I haven’t elaborated. This post has been weeks in the making; just waiting for the right time to share. What I’ve learned since I started blogging is someone out there may be dealing with a similar situation; so here I am, being real.

I think I was so focused on finishing the JFK 50 Miler and hitting the goal of 2,017 miles for the year, I ignored early warning signs something may be off.  Or maybe I was just in denial. Or maybe I just wanted to keep trying to look like Superwoman. Who knows. It’s true I dislike showing vulnerability; weakness. I also didn’t want to feel I was making excuses for my performance, so I didn’t talk about how I felt.

On December 3rd, I raced a great 5k and since then, I’ve felt flat. Whether I was in a training run or a race, I felt like I was working 3x as hard for a less than ideal result. I felt dizzy, winded, exhausted. My body continued to just break down it seemed. Did I overtrain? Ugh. I built in extra rest; no change. Running became more and more frustrating. I was nearly in tears after 3 of the SVR Winter Series; just feeling defeated. In at least two races, I almost started walking or quitting altogether. It’s difficult when something you love to do becomes stressful.

Then, my body really started freaking out – the little symptoms I could almost ignore – until the muscle cramps started. I’d be cruising along; feeling fairly good and then start feeling those little twinges in one calf or another until the entire calf completely locked up. Imagine one of those awful charley horse cramps in the middle of a run. I’d stop and stretch; but nothing would help. Being stubborn, I’d try to finish my run – which by the way, trying to run with a peg leg isn’t effective or attractive – but I was determined to keep pushing. The last long run of this training cycle was miserable. Calf cramp in mile 1 and then I almost passed out at breakfast after the run. What was happening?

With the new development of debilitating muscle cramps, I finally realized I needed to take a step back and figure this out. The list of symptoms was long: headaches, fatigue, anxiety, sleeping issues, etc. I scheduled appointments with my PCP and Obgyn. I was ready for answers, but what I wasn’t prepared for was more frustration. Even though I informed the doctors a resting heart rate of 75 and blood pressure of 138/89 was not normal for me; they assured me this was still within the acceptable range. I felt like screaming, NO – this is not normal for me. Tests were run for Lyme’s, anemia and thyroid and when all came back “normal”, it seemed the PCP and OBGYN were happy to close my case since no major alarms were set off. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. It didn’t seem to matter that I still didn’t feel right, because the tests said I was clinically fine.

So, I kept researching on my own. Talking to my athletic friends, reading books and articles, asking questions, visiting a physical therapist, chatting with a registered dietitian and analyzing results from blood work. Once I am focused on a topic, I’m all in, determined to find answers.

Two weeks ago, I feel an answer was discovered – low magnesium. Do you realize magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body? Wow. Also interesting, nearly 50% of people are not taking in enough magnesium.

I started supplementing daily. Guess what!? I haven’t had a single cramp since and nearly all of the other symptoms have abated. The two races since I started focusing on an adequate potassium and magnesium intake have been so different! I feel once my upcoming marathons are over, I will able to get back on track for a faster 5K. Now I feel like crying happy tears.

Why am I sharing this with you? If you feel doctors are not listening to you and you know you do not feel right; keep pushing. Don’t give up. Talk to others, don’t be silent; you never know who might have an answer. Be your own advocate.

For now, I’m still nervously optimistic I am on the right path. Thanks to those who listened to me whine, offered suggestions and support. As I’ve said before, it takes a village. We may have figured this out just in time – my spring race schedule is packed and I feel I am ready to fly!