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
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
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.
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!
(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:
– 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
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!).
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.
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!
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)!
“You must go on adventures to find where you truly belong.”
Like any other distance, 50 miles begins with a single step. You put one foot in front of the other, mile after mile. Just as I imagined, the JFK 50 was an amazing adventure full of many steps.
Where to begin? Even on Friday night, I was in disbelief I’d be attempting to run 50 miles the next day. Mario planned on sleeping at our house and riding with us to the race, so I made a pasta dinner for all of us. I set out my race outfit, a couple pairs of shoes, change of clothes and fuel yet still felt I wasn’t prepared. Falling asleep took awhile as I was anticipating the 3:30 a.m. wake up call.
We left our house at 4:15 a.m. for the trek to Boonsboro, MD. Packet pickup was quick and easy and a small group of runners were already scattered across the gym. Soon after, we found Jeremy then Josh and Sara. After a couple last minute trips to the port-a-potties, it was time for pre-race instructions. The director asked runners who had run multiple JFKs at certain finishing times to stand up. Seeing the JFK 50 veterans was inspiring – especially those with bib numbers less than 100 (meaning elite athletes or multiple JFK50 finishes). As soon as instructions were complete, everyone headed outside for the 5-10 minute walk to the starting line.
Walking to the start, everyone enjoyed light conversation and seemed very calm. I had just a few minutes to take off my warm ups, then the 4 of us headed to join the runners – Mario and Jeremy went up near the front and Sara and I hung back. I began retying one of my trail shoes and then BANG! It was time to go. We started running through downtown Boonsboro for the 2.5 mile uphill journey to the Appalachian Trail.
Sara and I ran for about 1.5 miles before we hit the long, winding uphill where we decided to power walk. We climbed and climbed until we saw familiar territory, the parking lot where we began several training runs. We were happy to hit the first timing checkpoint and start on the trail. Right away, we were laughing. If you read our training post, you’ll remember the numerous times we thought we were off course. The 2nd training run we thought we went the wrong way to “tent city”. As soon as we were directed on the trail, guess where we were headed? Right towards the tents! We were right all along and had no idea. Quickly, we accessed the actual trails and started the AT section.
All of our training runs, we were pretty much the only humans on the trails. Race day was a little different – was a little tougher to plan foot placement when someone was running right in front of you. We chatted about our week as we fell into line with the others. Soon, another laughing moment. I believe I mentioned in our training blog post about our first time trying to run the course and running up the long road; trying to access directions via Facebook and finding the trail by the communication tower. On our next attempt, we thought we found the actual trail/course. Well, Saturday we found out we were supposed to go up the road! The road seems very long and is quite an incline so we ended up speed walking for most of the climb. Much more boring than the trail close by, but definitely easier to traverse than the steep, rocky path.
Once we reached the fenced area, we were back on the Appalachian Trail and on a familiar route. The path becomes rockier and some runners were having a little trouble with this more technical part of the course. We enjoyed running the trail until…BOOM! One rock reached up, grabbed Sara and down she went with a spectacular roll! Thankfully no injuries, right back up, walked it off and we continued along the way.
Soon we were at the 1st aid station at Gathland State Park. A girl commented on my pink hair as we ran through the tunnel of volunteers. We took a quick walk up the pavement before getting back on the trail. About ¾ of the way through the 2nd part of the trail, a light rain began to fall. We navigated the trail chitchatting with other runners and began the descent to Weverton Cliffs. 15 miles down! As we came off the trail, we quickly spotted John and Josh, changed out of our trail shoes, refilled our water bottles and hopped back on course. John and Josh told us we were only 20 minutes behind Jeremy and Mario. Wow! About .5 mile away, we were able to see Vern and Lisa as well as visit the 2nd aid station. I grabbed PB&J and a banana before we began the 2nd section of the day – 26 miles on the C&O.
Going from climbing on trails to running on a flat surface was a big change. Immediately, Sara and I started to keep each other in check when we saw our splits in the 8s. On this part of the course, we created a comfortable pattern. Thank goodness for aid stations every 2-5 miles; otherwise the towpath would have seemed a lot longer! As we reached each aid station, we would grab whatever fuel we needed and then walk a bit to eat and drink. Then, we’d start up the engine again which at times was difficult. I joked I needed an oil can to get the joints moving again. After a few minutes of running, it always felt much easier and we would be plugging away at 9-9:30 pace. Usually when we were in need of a break, another aid station would appear and we would start the cycle all over again.
We leapfrogged the same runners over and over again on the towpath. We met Justin from NC who is being deployed to Iraq in December, Andrew from NOVA and Geoffrey from Albuquerque. We would chat about where we were all from, our families, our jobs and offer words of encouragement. Everyone was so friendly cheering us on. Andrew told us we were doing great for our first 50 and mentioned if we kept up the pace, we’d be around 8:45. WHAT! I hadn’t even tried to calculate what our finishing time would be – we were just focusing on finishing and not being out on the course in the dark. A 9 hour finish? Wow.
The rain continued which made the path muddy and slick, especially with the leaf cover. I knew we both began to feel a little tired but mentally, we never wavered. Often, we’d run a few steps apart, always within talking distance. Although the majority of the time we were not talking, knowing a friend was near you was always comforting. We were able to see our crew again before 30 miles. Just refills on water, a few words and an update on our teammates – again, just about 30 minutes ahead. Glad to hear they were doing well. I think around this time, Sara mentioned one of the runners ahead was one of the JFK 50 veterans who usually finishes in 9:30. Soon after, we caught up and passed him.
We’d chat and joke with the volunteers at the aid stations, thanking them for their help. Usually, I am a sweet tooth kind of a girl, but this time I craved the salty items. Chips and pretzels were my go-to although I did grab a pretty cookie and M&Ms. Having warm soup or broth at several stops was wonderful since the rain did make us a little chilly.
Just before mile 40, we were able to see our crew one last time. We were still smiling and in good spirits although the miles were starting to take their toll. I commented to Sara how amazing it was to still be dropping low 9 minute miles. Only 10 more to go! We were so ready to get to the road portion, and just had a couple more miles on the towpath. One of the last stations was Christmas-themed, complete with Santa Claus and Christmas cookies, yum! Not much longer and we were onto the 3rd part, road for about 8.5 miles.
At this point, we realized our watches were off the official race miles which was frustrating since my watch said we were 1 mile further. I had stopped awhile back looking at the total miles and just focusing on our per mile pace. We ate our fuel and started on the pavement. As soon as we came off the C&O, a hill awaited. One resident was kind enough to be offering beer to help dull the pain of the incline. A few runners veered over to join him; we did not. As we reached the crest, we decided to try to run again. A little rusty, but soon we were moving. Although it was nice to be out of the muddy path, running on hard asphalt was a bit jarring.
We continued along the country road, stopping a few times when we’d reach inclines for a short walk. Then, we’d start it up again. Seeing the mile markers alongside the road was very exciting – 8, 7, 6…. We were so close! I looked at my watch to see what our overall time was and was surprised to see we had been out for 8 hours and 11 minutes. Really? It didn’t seem like that long. Is it crazy to say I started to feel a little sad the end was near?
Honestly, my muscles didn’t feel that awful until mile 45. My calves were feeling a little tight and my upper back was aching a bit but I kept trying to drop my shoulders to stay loose. I certainly felt like I had been running for hours, but not as bad as I expected.
Just before the mile 4-to-go marker, we ran into a woman we had met in the beginning of the race. My eyes went wide as I saw trails of blood running down both legs. Beast! She must have taken a spill back along the trails.
A couple more twists and turns and we approached the last aid station. 1.5 MILES TO GO! Wow! It was hard to believe our adventure was nearly over. We kept moving forward, knowing with each step we’d be seeing our family, friends and teammates soon. As we ran up one last hill, I heard a crowd ahead. I lifted up my eyes and saw the finish line! Since we didn’t see a 1 mile to go marker, this was an exciting and unexpected sight. I turned around and said, “Sara!?” She said, “Is that the finish?!” YES!!
We were so excited – we both threw our water bottles to Mario (thank you!) and with BIG smiles, we crossed that finish line (with a cartwheel and raised arms) in 9:09:57! Our primary goal was to finish and the expected finish time we had registered with: 10 hours. We were in disbelief we finished just over 9 hours for our first 50 miler. We were reunited with our group with hugs and all immediately headed inside to warm up. A smorgasbord of food awaited us and we noshed while chatting with the guys about their race.
I am an ultramarathoner!
A couple days have passed and we are still on cloud 9. My body had a couple aches and pains, but nothing near what I imagined. I think the year of training, both running and strength workouts completely prepared my body for the challenge. It will take awhile to fully sink in what we accomplished.
Thank you to John, Josh, Vern, Lisa, Laura and Andrew for being at the aid stations to give us whatever was needed – water, fuel and most importantly, words of encouragement. Seeing friendly faces at those points really kept us moving. Thanks to Mario and Jeremy for the votes of confidence and for believing in us. Thanks to all of you for following us and cheering us on! Last, but certainly not least, thank you to Sara. Thank you for agreeing to tackle this challenge, being beside me during training runs and my partner for 50 miles of fun. I’ll never forget my first ultra. Love ya girl!
Finishing the JFK 50 means I have now checked all the boxes for my 2017 goals. What’s next? Stay tuned…
“Believe in yourself, push your limits, experience life, conquer your goals and be happy.”
The end of the year is creeping up on us and wow, what a year. Back around June, I did a goal inventory and haven’t looked back since…until today.
2017 Race-Related Goals:
- Mile – I wanted to break 6 minutes and clock a 5:45. In May 2017, I ran 5:21. CHECK!
- 5K – Breaking 20 was my goal for this year. Added in speed work as I had planned and ran sub 19 in May. CHECK!
- Half Marathon – 2017 goal was to break 1:40. Shamrock Half was very kind to me in March – 1:29. CHECK!
- Marathon – I mentioned I wanted to simply beat my 2016 time of 3:46 and possibly BQ. CHECK! 3:25 AND a BQ!
- Ultra – The thought was a maybe. Now it’s just a few days away…
Other 2017 Goals:
- Train my husband for his first half: CHECK! He also did a 2nd which I helped pace him for a sub 2 hour finish.
- Find more opportunities in the fitness/running industry – started working full-time in fitness once again. CHECK!
- Personal Trainer Certification. CHECK!
- Coaching Certification. CHECK!
Which leads me to….
Fellow runners and readers, you may understand or you really may think I am crazy.
Do you ever feel a little lost once you complete a task? You’ve worked so hard for an extended period of time, focused on doing whatever it takes to be a success, and finally crossed the finish line. You are ecstatic. Yet, soon after, you are looking for a new challenge.
That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Just a couple days out before the 50 miles and I’m already thinking, what’s next? Where do I go from here? Do I want to run longer? Go faster? Try something new? I have been so focused on checking off the boxes and not looking ahead for the next carrot.
Chasing goals is exciting; keeps me dreaming and raising the bar. The line we cross when we tackle a goal is not the finish, but a new starting line.
What do I want to try to do? Honestly, I am unsure right now.
I’m not too worried; after all, I have 50 miles to think about the possibilities. 🙂
I do have a goal formulating in my mind, but I’m not quite ready to share yet. Stay tuned….
Tell me: Have you reached your 2017 goals? Set any new goals for 2018?
Even after witnessing the wild weather which occurred during JFK 50 last year, the seed was planted about possibly running an ultra. Last December, I was out at a winery celebrating a friend’s birthday when the topic arose (obviously alcohol-induced). At this point, it still sounded crazy and I still wasn’t quite sure I’d really consider entering.
Fast forward to the spring. Through several group runs and races, Sara and I became great friends (as did our families). Ads for JFK kept popping up on social media. Mario signed up for his 2nd, then Jeremy for his 3rd. Would I really try to run 50 miles? So far, I had only completed 1 marathon. Was I really considering doing almost double? Unsure how the conversation came about, all I remember is a message between Sara and me: “I’ll do it if you do it” (and no, this time the conversation was not fueled with any wine). That night, we filled out the form and hit submit. We were in.
Over the next few months, I think we both bobbled between excitement and “what the hell did we sign up for?”. Knowing we would have each other to run with I think made the task seem a little less overwhelming. Over the summer, I racked up miles training for my marathon and Sara worked on building a base as well. Now, if you read my post on crewing Yeti, you’ll know Sara joined Josh for 43 miles! Unsure how many she ran vs walked, but she still did 43 miles. Amazing. After Yeti, I knew she would have no problem with JFK.
Once Yeti was over, we started to look towards our race. We planned to head up to the course and tackle the trail portion one Saturday morning. I emailed the race director with a few questions and looked up the maps since we had never been to the area before. From the moment we pulled into the parking lot, we were already a bit discombobulated, haha! Out of the car and we weren’t sure where the trail started – sheesh, what are we in for? We asked another runner in the lot and felt better after he said he had no idea since it was his first time there as well. Blind leading the blind is not a great way to start. Another duo of runners were gearing up and thankfully they pointed us in the right direction. And, off we went!
The two of us were having so much fun, running through the trails, chattering away. We came to a road, crossed and kept going up the asphalt. We continued up this looooong incline forever, switching off between walking and running until we reached the top. And came to a dead end. Crud, what now? I remembered reading a post about a runner who asked where to go at the top, thankfully had cell service and was able to pull up the information on my phone. We circumvented the tower and started back on the trail….until we came to an intersection. Now, the two of us are no girl scouts, so we had to make a decision of which way to go. I again tried to use my phone and we headed to the left. Chattering away again as we ran through the woods – we kept saying, this is so much fun! And then, we ran into the other runners….coming toward us from the opposite direction. Navigators, we are not. So, we turned around and followed them back the way we just came and settled back into our pace. Happy to say, the rest of the run was great! We ended up with 15 great miles and headed to refuel at Panera.
We decided to head back out again, this time adding on more miles on the C&O. One of our goals was to run the trail correctly this time. Once again, we parked in the lot and we started off to the trail…or so we thought. Somehow we ended up in tent city! Laughing at our awful orienteering skills (Sara – unsure if we are cut out for Barkley!), we quickly found the trail and were underway. When we crossed the road this time, we found the trail we missed on the last run (woohoo!). The trail became fairly rocky and we ended up speedwalking much of the first couple miles. About halfway through, Sara tripped and came up with minor scrapes but that girl kept on trucking! So glad Sara is an easy person to be around; always positive, never panics and is just as determined as I am.
Once we finished the trail and came to the Weverton lot, we met John who was going to run on the C&O with us. We changed out of our trail shoes, fueled, and set off again with John this time. The sun was out and it was a little unseasonably warm for late October. We kept hydrated and ran onto the C&O through Harper’s Ferry. What should be a beautiful running route, especially during the fall, ends up being a tad boring after the miles of trail. We realized on this part of our run when coming to a complete stop; you shouldn’t try to go back to running right away. Definitely need to ease in; walk a bit before taking off. We ended up doing a marathon and John did 12. Another great training run.
We hit the trail one more time this past weekend and we are glad we did. Since our last run, many more leaves had fallen off the trees which make the trail a little more challenging. We are happy to share with you this time, we did not get lost at all. About halfway through, I was running along chatting and then WHAM! I was flat on my face. Brushed myself off and we continued on; no injuries. A few more miles and our last training run was finished. Almost 3 hours and 13.5 miles later, we came out of the trail and began walking towards the car as if we had just jogged a mile.
As we headed back to pick up my car at the start, we decided to check out where the race begins and the course leading up to the trail. As we drove down the street, we once again were reminded of the intensity of this race. The road leading to the Appalachian Trail is one long giant hill! Unsure if was a good or bad idea to go see what the start has in store for us. Oh, what an adventure this will be.
Now it is race week. Did we get in enough long runs; enough miles? Not as many as I would have liked to, but there are only so many hours in the day. I know we will finish – even if we are crawling or Sara carries me on her back. We are still excited and still wondering, “what the heck did I sign up for?”. 50 miles is FAR!
Tune in next week for my race recap – hopefully I’ll be able to type after 50 miles!
Update: did you read yesterday’s post about fear? After publishing, I worked with 2 clients who both decided to move forward, not be frozen by fear and go after their goals! Exciting!
Each week, someone will chat with me about goals they’d like to achieve whether related to weight loss, running/fitness, career or personal goals. Many times, I can sense a hesitancy; something holding them back from proceeding with 100% effort. The end result they are looking to achieve would definitely make them happier, more fulfilled; yet fully committing to the journey creates an uncomfortable feeling….fear.
Fear of change. Fear of feeling like a disappointment. Fear of failing. Fear of the unknown.
Fear can be found creeping in every area of our lives – careers, families, relationships, extracurricular activities, our health, attitudes towards ourselves and others, etc. Sometimes due to our fears, we become slaves to habits, patterns and actions which do not serve us and may actually hurt us.
The fuzzy gray zone of the unknown stops many people in their tracks – should I stay in the less than ideal, somewhat comfortable area I know so well? Or should I push my boundaries, struggle a bit, be uncomfortable to hopefully reap big rewards?
There are no guarantees. We can plan our hearts out, work hard every day, do everything we can to succeed and still, we can end up with a different result than we anticipated.
Is your fear stopping you from living your life to its full potential? One day will you look back and think, “What might have I achieved if I didn’t let fear get in the way?”
What can you do? Feel the fear and do it any way. Yes, you will have to decide whether the struggle will be worth the possible prize waiting for you on the other side of fear.
Whether or not we believe we are in control of our destiny, we are certainly in control of our choices. Don’t let fear paralyze your actions. After all, YOLO!
How does this relate to me right now? I definitely have fear approaching this 50 miler. Yes, racing is not life-altering, but it’s the current fear I am experiencing. I have trained and trained for months. Run hundreds of miles, made a plan, studied the course and yet, I may fail. Running 50 miles is going to hurt. My brain is going to fight me; want me to give up. I fear giving in. I fear feeling extreme discomfort.
Outside of the upcoming race, I also have fear of returning to the old me. I feel I need to keep moving forward; always looking for the next goal to stay focused. I fear injury and needing recovery time. I fear letting others down. Like you, I have many fears. Some I am attacking full speed and others I am still tip toeing around; dipping my little toe in the dark, unchartered waters. If I don’t try, how will I know what is possible?
Once again, I encourage you to do what makes you happy – whatever that is. If needed, take a step back to see the big picture. Maybe write down goals you’d like to accomplish – where do you want to see yourself a year from now? 5 years from now? How can you get there? Who can help you?
Whatever the goal is, I want you to buckle up, brace yourself and take the first step. Don’t let fear decide your future or kill your dreams. Remember, fear is only temporary – regret is forever. Be brave heading towards the unknown. You may reach the other side and be surprised by what awaits you.
And if you fail, at least you tried – you probably learned something about yourself along the way. Go try again.