WTF50K Recap: The Final Exam

Have you ever reached a point where you realized all along you had been subconsciously preparing for that moment? Granted my “moment” was nearly 8 hours long, but this was exactly what happened at WTF50K.

Unbeknownst to me, my WTF50K training began in April 2018 at the Boston Marathon. I survived the 26.2 miles of wind, rain and cold to finish. In May, I ran a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Mother’s Day with Sara. At times, the trail was a river. In June, I ran (swam?) 18 miles with a group at the SU Cool Spring campus which was extremely flooded. As far as hill climbs go, in October I felt the need to tackle a mile long road climb I hadn’t run since high school. In December, I tackled a decent climb at my in-law’s house. Wind? In the past few months, I’ve run several mornings with gusty winds with both the Stephens City DD crew and the Wednesday morning group. Creek crossings? I think I got my fair share at Fire on the Mountain 50K in November. Snow? The Monday before the 50K, I hiked/ran 6 miles of trails in at least 5 inches of snow with Ryan.

At the time, all of these were just individual crazy experiences I shared with running friends. At the WTF50K, I realized all of them were lesson plans for my final exam.

Everything you are learning is preparing you for something else.” ― Marjorie Pay Hinckley.

Pack and maps ready to go!

If you read my last post, you know the expected weather forecast. Thankfully, no precipitation was going to fall. Just cold and WINDY. We arrived a little early, Emily, Laura and I gathered our gear and got ready to start. You will not believe what was announced next. The WTF50K finisher stickers had been left behind! A humorous groan traveled through the small crowd of about 4 dozen. After a few more announcements, we started trudging forward through the mud. Not too far in, we started our first climb of Waterfall. Whoa. Very steep at times and just kept going higher and higher. After a few switchbacks, we reached the top and headed towards Crisman Hollow. A couple miles later, we were rewarded with a beautiful view.

Photo credit: Emily

At this point, I shed my jacket, gloves and earband due to being extremely warm. We continued along the ridgeline for a few miles – rocky and snowy. We reached Jawbone Gap and headed up to the top. Along our ascent, we saw Matt S. and Kevin W. headed down. After a quick glance at the view, we turned around and headed down towards mile 9 (first aid station). After a couple pizza rolls, we were off again. A couple miles later, as we headed down switchbacks, I heard a few familiar voices at the bottom – Matt and Kevin (thanks for sharing the Moon Pie with us Kevin!). Emily and I joined up with them, as well as other runners Levi and Eric. Through this section we alternated a lot of hiking and running until we hit a good decline leading us to….Waterfall Climb: Round 2.

At mile 16, we tackled this tough climb once again. At this point, Matt and Emily pulled away as Kevin and I fell a little behind. I reached Crisman Hollow the 2nd time alone; however there was a runner at the top trying to make sense of his turn sheet. I informed him we were to head left on the road and we trotted off together. Since the last snowstorm, this road had not been touched by a plow. The only bare spots were created by the sun/radiation and at times, the road seemed more like an ice skating rink. We traveled about 2 miles until we crossed over Rt 211 and tried to locate the Aid Station before Mile 20. I grabbed some calories, a swig of Coke, refilled my water and was offered hand warmers. The wind was definitely picking up and I felt the coldest around this time. I pulled the hood up on my Cotopaxi jacket and took off with my new running partner Keith towards the trail. I reluctantly became navigator for our new group of two (which is one of the components of the race I was most worried about!). Soon, we hit the Bird Knob Climb. This climb had much more snow and ice than the previous climbs (which I’d take over the ones with rivers flowing down upon us). After the climb, we were rewarded with a somewhat more runnable path. We turned onto the white trail and then onto purple, following our turn sheet.

Part of the easier trail we traveled. Photo credit: Kevin

Finally, we hit the pink trail. Keith said, “And that’s about all that’s left right?” I responded yes, 4.2 miles until our final turn back onto orange for the final stretch. Around this point, I actually was a little sad the adventure was almost over. As we traversed pink, we approached a fast-flowing creek with no great way to cross. I tried one route – trying to cross on a log like we had on several earlier in the day. A few steps on the slick log and SPLASH! I was in the frigid water up mid-calf. Keith tried another route and SPLASH! Ugh, we trudged on. Soon, I felt something hard flapping on my shoes every step and realized my shoelaces had turned into icicles.

About 1 mile before the turn onto orange, Keith pulled away. For the first time of the day, I was solo for a few miles. I quickly found the sharp turn onto orange and ran into a few downed trees. I couldn’t see a way around and did not see any footsteps in the snow. Crap, where did I go wrong? I retraced my steps and my eyes darted around the forest for the orange blaze. Aha! I missed the trail bearing left. Knowing I had less than 2 miles to go, I was on a mission. All of a sudden, I was flying forward; instinctively dropped a shoulder into a tuck and roll. Thank goodness I fell where I did and not where the trail was very rocky or muddy. I popped back up unscathed and continued on with a smile on my face. Soon, I could see the cars in the parking lot above. I climbed up the ledge and headed towards the fire and food. Complete!

7 hours and 42 minutes. Nearly 7,000 foot of elevation gain. Below freezing temps. Wind. Snow and ice. Mud. Did I mention sloppy? Following a turn sheet. So many obstacles to overcome. Prior to the run, I definitely had some fear. When I was out there, I was oddly calm. Mile by mile, climb by climb, I slowly chipped away at WTF50K. 

Prelim results just came in! 48 starters; 30 finishers and I made podium for females! Read more details about the weather, the run and the results here!

I’ll leave you with my final thoughts….

Remember that question I asked – “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

The reason I signed up for the Waterfall 50K is because I actually wanted to attempt something I knew I could fail doing. I didn’t want guaranteed success; I wanted to fear failure – buckle down and give it all I could give (and then some).

I’m encouraging you to find a goal, a little out of reach and maybe a lot of crazy and go after it. If you fail, try again. And if you succeed, you better start looking for the next crazy goal..

My First DNF: Seashore Nature Trail 50K Recap

One week ago when I wrote “Keepin’ It Real“, I had no idea what the upcoming weekend had in store for me. Before I dive into those details, let me back up a few weeks.

As I returned to the Runner In Training booth at the South Berkeley Christmas 5K expo on December 2, Dylan came running up to me. “Mom, you got picked off a waitlist for a race!”, he excitedly announced. Not remembering any race waitlist, I picked up my phone to see what he was talking about. Aha – the Seashore Nature Trail 50K Jeremy and Sara had run in 2016. From the email I saw I added myself to the waitlist in June and had completely forgot. The email informed me I had until Wednesday, December 5 to make a decision.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, talking to John and a couple friends, I decided I would go and run. I searched for a hotel close to First Landing State Park and got all my other ducks in a row to head to Virginia Beach on December 14. Since the local Shenandoah Valley Runners Winter Series race was on the same day, John decided to stay home with Dylan (unfortunately John’s paternal grandmother passed away on Wednesday as well).

Friday was soon here and I was excited to hit the road at lunchtime and arrive around 4 p.m. The drive should only take 3.5 hours, but my map app was already telling me 4 hours 22 minutes. Darn. Off I went. Packet pickup was at a local running store until 7 p.m. I found some tunes and started my trek south. My ETA kept getting later and later the further I went along. Somewhere around Newport News, it was suggested I take a detour to save 25 minutes. Sounds good.

Yeah, not so much… The detour guided me through a jam packed shopping area and through a residential area with bumper to bumper traffic. For 20 minutes, we crawled. Stop and go. Stop and go. Finally, I was on an overpass making the left hand turn back onto 64. The SUV in front of me began to move or so I thought. Boom. Dang it. Already running late, and now I’m in a fender bender. We pull over and do all the fun things you need to take care of in an accident. An hour later, I’m finally back on the road. 30 miles to go – GPS puts me at the running store at 7:02 p.m. Thankfully, I call and the race staff pulls my race bib as well as Jeremy’s (the Sanders were stuck behind me in all the traffic).

Finally, I arrive 3 hours later than expected, get race bibs, call and cancel dinner reservations. At this point, I just wanted to check in to hotel, find food and get some sleep. After a quick meal at the hotel, I prepared my race gear and was asleep rather quickly.

Jeremy and I at the start (Thanks Jen!)

Race morning: woke up and ate my usual pre-race meal. I opened the oceanfront balcony doors to see nothing but a wall of fog. Temperature was not bad at all – about 50. I headed over for the short drive to the park and check out the surroundings. After a little walk and a short warmup, it was almost time to start. I decided to aim for 8:30-8:45 pace and see how the trail conditions were. First few miles went by pretty easy. The course was pretty, albeit foggy, and the volunteers and others along the way were upbeat and encouraging. I knew I was the 2nd female and man, was the first female (Gina Slaby) moving!

After the 2nd aid station, we headed right into the woods. Along the way, the course crosses several wooden bridges. As I stepped onto the bridge, I lost my footing but caught myself. Took another step and woosh, my feet go out from underneath me, I slide and fall hard on my right side. Yeowch. Right arm is scratched and bloody but nothing seems absolutely serious. A guy running in a kilt in front of me asks if I’m okay and I respond yes. I get back on and trudge on through the back loop chatting with him, trying to keep my mind off the searing feeling in my right hip area. On the way back to the turn around point for the 2nd loop, I battled between the voice of reason and the competitive athlete in me. The pain was not lessening. Do I just keep on running? Should I simply run/walk just to be able to finish? Should I drop?

Spectators along the way were encouraging me – “Second overall female. Keep going, you look strong!” Ugh, I am not feeling strong. I saw Jeremy on his way onto the second loop and gave him an update. At the turn around point, I mentioned to the race support I was most likely finished. They encouraged me to continue, again reminding me I was second overall female. “You can do this! You can walk and still finish in the time limit.” I refilled my water bottle, added a Nuun tab and decided to try to continue. Starting back up from run to walk was tear-inducing. My kilt running friend said, “Keep it up! Only a half marathon left!” 13 miles?? The reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Running in true discomfort and possibly risking further injury was not worth continuing. What about Boston? Other 2019 races? I decided to surrender and wave the white flag.

Not too much further up the trail, I saw my friend Jamey headed towards the finish area. I turned around and gave him the details. We walked and ran back to the finish together and I grudgingly announced I was pulling out. I walked defeatedly to my car and headed back to the hotel. What a disaster.

Battle wounds!

Sunday morning, I woke up in my own bed and the stress of the weekend hit me all at once. I may seem like a strong, competitive beast, but guess what?

I’m human 🙂 I allowed myself to snuggle up under the blankets and have an ugly cry.After I let the sadness out, I could feel the spark returning. I started thinking about 2019 races.

Yes, the weekend was a complete disaster but, no one was seriously hurt and I live to run another day. You win some, you lose some and yes, you DNF some.

 

I do think I want to go back to Seashore and try again. This time, I think I’ll walk the bridges…

 

Race Recap: Fire on the Mountain Trail 50K

After JFK50 last year, I was intrigued by the ultra world and researched what would be my next ultra-marathon. I loved training on trails for JFK50 and was hoping to find something with challenging and beautiful terrain. Soon after, I started training for Boston and my 2018 ultra decision took a backseat. In mid to late summer, a post appeared on my Facebook news feed about Fire on the Mountain 50K – trail, only an hour away and $45? Sold.

Fun with friends on the training run

Before I dive into race day, I’ll first mention one of the official training runs I attended. My friends Jamey and Sara joined me for a course preview in October. The race director, Kevin, willingly gave up his time on a Sunday to follow us along for the first 16 miles of FOTM. As we waited at the Log Roll Overlook, a SUV came barreling through the unpaved road, stopped before us and the driver said, “Here to run? Jump in!” As Kevin traveled at a good rate of speed through the backwoods roads (very familiar to him), Sara and I bounced all over the place, laughing all the way. What did we get ourselves into?! The course preview was so beautiful and ended up being quite an adventure as one of the runners became lost along the way. (First piece of advice – if you can, research the course and if you are able to do a couple training runs there, do it!)

Race weekend – I was so nervous! My first ultra was a 50 miler; some may feel your first step into the ultra world would be a 50K. FOTM would be my first 50K and my first full trail race. Longest I had been on the trails was 16 miles. As you know, I embrace crazy challenges, but I was thinking maybe I should have started off with a trail half?!

When I woke up race morning, my stomach was a ball of nerves. We hit the road a little early just in case we were lost trying to find the middle of nowhere and to ease some of my pre-race anxiety. Although we didn’t arrive until nearly 5:50 am, I was one of the first runners to show. I picked up my Tshirt and bib and was ready to go. The temperature was hovering around 30 and we were surrounded my fog (so much for the overlook!). However, the “fire” began to rise on the mountain.

My goals going into the race were (1) Do not get injured, (2) Do not get lost,
(3) Top 3 Female and (4) Sub 7:00

We headed down to the starting line and we were all ready to go. Knowing we had a mile on road before we entered the trails, I knew I wanted to start off at a good clip to fight for positioning. Little did I know, I’d run a 7:41 first mile and still be slowed down when we hit the trail. No worries, a couple guys let me pass and it was time to play. The first couple miles were a little faster than I wanted, so I tried to settle in to a comfortable pace. We hit our first few creek crossings in the first 3 miles and a lot of mud. The first big climb was near 3-3.5 and I power hiked most of the climb – then came the downhill. Unlike downhills on road, this steep descent (called the “Buttslide Descent”) is not “let gravity help you; free running”.

The “fire” rising on the mountain

More like, try not to fall off the mountain or face plant against a tree. Thankfully, I descended as best as I could, and managed to stay on my feet.

My crew enjoyed the beauty as I ran.

Mile 4-5, I took a weird step, twisted my right ankle and have no idea how I did not fall. Stayed upright, but yeoooch! Had to walk that one off for a little bit, but was excited I’d see my crew near mile 6. I ran through Aid Station 1, saying hi to John, Mario and Dylan. I started another mile of road with more elevation. All of a sudden, the girl who had been in first place comes running from behind along with a guy who had been running with her. They had taken a wrong turn and added on some bonus trail. We exchanged a few words and entered back into the red trail. This part featured it’s own challenges – billy goat single track trail, uprooted trees, and some rolling hills. Two guys were hot on my tail, so I let them pass.

Somewhere around this mark, I started to think, “Today, I am running for me.” I LOVE helping others – it’s my passion. It’s what I do. I was on my own today; and I could just focus on me and my goals.

So, I continued forward. I knew good race management would help me have a good race. My worst fear was running the first half too aggressively and then dying on the way back trying to ascend the mountain. When I felt my heart rate was too high, I hiked. When I felt amazing, I took advantage. Like any race distance, I had high and low points. After a couple tough miles, I felt like I was flying during mile 15. Knowing I had quite a hike up to the halfway point, I planned to eat a PBJ as I ascended The Oasis.

The view from the Oasis
Dylan packing Mom a PBJ

As I reached the top, I saw Jamey (thanks for volunteering), got some Nuun from John and Dylan and headed back down and on the 16 mile homestretch! I passed the 3rd female who was just heading up to the The Oasis. My favorite part came over the next few miles – getting to cheer on the runners coming my way! As I passed the unmanned Aid Station #5 and tried to descend the “stone staircase” back onto the trail, I felt the first twinges of fatigue in my hip flexors/quads. Then, from miles 17-24, I ran a good clip with barely any stops other than going through the creek crossings (almost 3 dozen in all!). After tripping a good bit early on and catching myself a ton, through these miles I ended up falling 3 times. Once on the right side (I did a good tuck and roll made popular by Coach Jeremy), then the left and then full frontal smashing my hand into a rock and leaving a small cut. Oh well, keep moving. This quote was often in my mind:

If you can‘t fly then run, if you can‘t run then walkif you can‘t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Dylan received the job of handing out logs to runners to throw into the fire at the finish!

Although FOTM50K is an out and back course, the return trip seemed very different than the first 16. However, I did have landmarks I remembered from earlier in the day – the large uprooted tree we had to climb around, the waterfall, and the log Sara and I stopped at on our training run. As I passed the log, I knew it was time to climb back up the “Buttslider Hill”. Don’t look up; just keep moving – grab a root, a tree, anything to help climb. This .2 mile featured ~426 foot of elevation and took me nearly 8.5 minutes to ascend. My legs were screaming; I was breathing hard but I knew eventually I would be rewarded with a downhill.

Eventually, I crested the mountain and began going down the other side. Which you feel would sound lovely, but honestly, it almost hurt just as much. Add in a leaf-covered path full of roots and rocks, and the downhill adds quite a challenge. Finally, I could run a little until I hit the mud bog again. After all the runners passed through (some twice), the mud was full of shoe holes and some steps threatened to remove my shoe. I crossed over a deep stream of water and just kept moving. Just a few more creek crossings, up a switchback and I’d be on the road to the finish. After my last creek crossing, I ran into a hiker who gave me an update – 2nd female; top 10 overall. “She’s not too far ahead.” I could hear cheers in the distance. Keep going. Finally, I see the road and volunteers cheered me on. About 1 mile to go and of course it’s uphill. Time to power hike. As soon as I crested the hill, I started running which felt great! I cruised in; passed Dylan (who I didn’t realize had the job of giving out the fire logs); ran back for mine and threw my log into the bonfire – then finished with a cartwheel. I did it – 6:16 – time to cartwheel!

Kevin announced I was the 2nd female and gave me the award for 1st in the 30-39 age group. I did it!! Can we eat and have a beer now??

Throughout the day, I tried to rank this challenge among others I have accomplished. 2018 Boston was probably the most mentally challenging day. JFK50 was tough; but was manageable and fun with Sara. FOTM50K was definitely the most physically demanding. One of the reasons I feel I succeeded was because I ran my race and didn’t get caught up with others. I feel early on, seeing the lead female and a male runner right in front of me was pressuring me to run faster than I planned. As they were swallowed into the forest, I felt I was able to focus more on me. I also didn’t waste much time at the aid stations; I’d grab a few things and go. Fueling happened when I knew I would be hiking – much more efficient use of time. All 32 miles, I was mentally positive and in all honesty, felt physically stronger than I anticipated. My gear performed extremely well – all the mud and all the creek wading – not one blister thanks to my Injinjis and Altras. My Legend Compression Wear leg sleeves kept my calves happy, my RaceDots kept my bib secure (yes, even after falling 3 times) and my new pack carrying Nuun was lightweight and I was well hydrated.

No blisters!

Check out the women’s race recap!

Would I do Fire on the Mountain 50K again? Definitely. Sometime soon, I want to share this trail with friends on a group run. A beautiful forest not too far from home.

 

 

So….what is next? Two days post race and of course I am already researching 2019 ultras. More trail? Hit a new distance – 100K? Try for a coveted 100 mile belt buckle? Time will tell.

 

 

For now, I have a short-term goal to help out my running family.
As you may know, Jeremy Sanders recently completed his 10×10 #For Lucas Challenge.

Now, it’s my turn. And, I need your help.

First, read all about the For Lucas Fund. Then, visit my personal giving page to help Jeremy and Jen Sanders achieve a new goal: $30,000 in 3 years to the UVA Neonatal Intensive Care Unit’s Bereavement Program. This program will use the funds to help emotionally console families with hand and foot molds, memory boxes, photography and to offset funeral costs.

In addition to your generous gift, I am going to “sweeten” the deal. Anyone who donates any amount to the For Lucas Fund on my page will be entered into a raffle to win 2 dozen holiday cake pops.

You don’t live local? You are in luck. I will even ship the cake pops to you f you are the winner.

Win-win right? Your pocketbook may experience a temporary strain, but I am going to take on the majority of the physical discomfort. You get to help NICU families and you may win dessert. You have until 11/30/2018 to make your donation. On December 1, I will pick 1 winner! Let’s blast my fundraising goal out of the water together.

After a little rest, I will begin! Follow my #ForLucas10x10 journey on Facebook!

 

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 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!