Friday, April 17, 2015

Cherry Blossom 10-miler recap...

If you missed my earlier post about my history of running and the crazy idea I had about running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, start HERE.

90% of my downtime the week of the race was spent stalking weather apps and texting back-and-forth with my running buddy about our chances for beautiful weather and/or the possibility of the cherry blossoms actually being out for the race.  Ironically, the blossoms only open for a few days a year and the last time that the race coincided with peak bloom was back in 2007.  Last year it was apparently cold, miserable and flower-less.

Have I mentioned yet that I am a fair weather runner and only believe in running on sunny days???  Hence, the forecast below looked IDEAL to me!




Packet pick-up was scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the National Building Museum in downtown DC.  Deciding that Saturday cherry blossom traffic would be crazy, we opted for a Friday pack-up.  When we arrived,  the line was wrapped around the block.  Luckily, it was a warm evening so we didn't mind standing around chatting with people as the line quickly moved and we headed inside to check out the race expo.  We grabbed our bibs and t-shirts (and the free beer!!) and wandered around for a bit to check out the vendor offerings. 

We decided that dinner downtown was required in order to properly start the carb-loading process.  Jenn's new rule of running - always have a buddy who will drink margaritas and eat copious amounts of guacamole with you 36 hours pre-race!




Saturday's email report from the race organizers encouraged the runners to hydrate, eat a good pasta dinner and stay off our feet as much as possible.  I did well on the first two suggestions, but staying off my feet was a struggle, especially since it was a beautiful day.  We ended up buying all our summer plants, veggies and mulch to prepare the yard for spring.  I did my best to just "supervise," but failed miserably and ended up on my feet a lot more than I anticipated.




Nick taking a well earned break from his mulching duties


After a pasta dinner, I headed upstairs to outfit prep.  I'm always cold at the beginning of races, so I knew I would have to start with long-sleeves.  A lot of texting with friends and other running buddies led me to my final outfit choice...


My outfit of choice - running capri tights, a short sleeve and long sleeve shirt, as well as my spi-belt (I planned to carry my car key and a packet of GU to "eat" around mile 5-6, as needed).  I also wore my phone strapped to my upper arm.

I was a total bundle of nerves on Saturday night and knew that I would sleep horribly.  I took a warm bath to relax, triple-checked my bag, had Nick fill up the car with gas, made sure all my devices were charged, ensured that my parking in DC plan would work on a weekend and headed to bed around 10pm with my alarm set for 5:15am.

As expected, I slept poorly and was already wide awake by the time my alarm went off.  I got dressed, grabbed my breakfast (banana and Cheerios) and headed out the door to pick up my buddy.  I sipped on some coffee, but was nervous about drinking too much before the race.  We made great time and pulled into the city right around 6:15am. 

Parking tip - The Reagan building has weekend parking for $13 and was just a one block walk to the starting line. 

After the car was inspected by security (expected when parking next to the White House), we parked and sat in the garage for awhile prepping our spi-belts, eating our breakfasts, and delayed heading out into the frigid morning for as long as possible!

You can only delay the inevitable for so long, so we headed out to the Washington Monument grounds right around 6:45am.  You know it's early when the moon is still clearly visible in the morning sky.  It was fairly chilly and I was glad I was dressed in long-sleeves.






The Cherry Blossom trees were absolutely amazing as they were in peak bloom.  Everywhere you looked, people were taking pictures by the trees. 







We managed to hit the port-a-potties twice before the lines got crazy long and we headed over to our corral to await the start of the race.  I quickly logged onto timehop to see what I was doing the year previously and realized it was my race-versary from my dismal performance at the Clarksburg 5K the year previous.  I hoped that wasn't a sign!  I kept scrolling down and saw this:




It was the sign I needed.  Just like that, most of my pre-race jitters were gone.  I had survived bigger battles than a 10-miler!  For me, the race and everything else just fell to the side.  I wanted to run to make my kid proud of me.  One day when I'm old and can't walk a few miles without huffing and puffing, Georgia can remember that at one point, her Mom was young and strong.
 
The elite runners were about to take off, the National Anthem was sung and then a weird announcement was made... the course was going to be shorter than planned.  Apparently an accident involving a pedestrian occurred on one of the course roads and the race would have to be re-routed around the "crime scene" since Park Police were on the scene and investigating. Overall, the course would be about 1/2 mile short.  I can't say I was devastated to hear that the course was going to be shortened vs lengthened!!  But, I was also disappointed that there would always be an asterisk next to this race.

The corrals ahead of us were released and we inched forward.  At that point, I launched the RaceJoy app on my phone, which was going to alert Nick to my progress.  However, due to the re-route, it only worked for the first few miles of the race.  I was wearing my Garmin watch, so I started that as we crossed the start line.  Gold's Gym had pace runners in the race and the 11:30 pace runner was right in front of me.  Mentally, I did the math and knew if I could keep him in my line of sight then I would cross the finish line in about 1:55 and beat my 2 hour goal.

Here we go... 10-ish miles!





The first few miles were tough in terms of picking up any speed.  With 18,000+ runners, it was just a wall of people as we headed down Independence Avenue towards the mile 1 marker at the Lincoln Memorial.  We also knew that running around people was just going to add mileage, so we tried to settle in and just enjoy the pack.

The course was GORGEOUS and the trees were amazing.  I debated grabbing my camera to snap some pictures, but I really just wanted to get comfortable and into the running zone while watching my feet (lots of potholes!) and avoiding collisions.




Mile 1 time - 11:51 (we knew it was going to be slow-going for awhile)

We crossed the Memorial Bridge into Virginia for about 2 minutes before returning to DC on the other side of the bridge.  The weather was perfect and the Potomac was calm, flat and glistening in the early morning sun.

**Sweep bus sighting as we crossed back into DC - it was just starting on the other side of the bridge!!  RUN!!!!

Mile 2 time - 11:19 (inspired by the sweep bus)

We headed north on Rock Creek Parkway and ran right under the Kennedy Center before looping back again. 

Mile 3 time - 11:01 (fastest mile of the race for us)

My Garmin registered our first 5K time as 34:21 (11:03 mile/min).  Definitely not close to my fastest 5K time, but I was okay with that knowing I was in this for the long haul and I felt great. 

After mile 3, we started warming up.  The sun was up and we quickly regretted wearing the long sleeve shirts on top as we ran directly into the sun.  My buddy was the first one to transition to short sleeves, which required some yoga moves on her part.  We were running well at that point and didn't want to pull over and waste time on fashion!  Once her contorted moves were finished, I switched to my short sleeve.  The hardest part was getting that stupid bib re-pinned.  Luckily, with a buddy, it only took about 30 seconds.  Lesson learned - next time the bib goes on the leg.

Memo to self - Go with the throw away clothes for the start of this race - I was jealous of the people who did that and the clothes got donated to charity.  I'm sure Walmart had a clearance xmas sweatshirt that I could have rocked.

Mile 4 time - 11:04 (Not bad - would have been under 11min without the bib swaps/fashion emergencies)

As we approached the halfway point, we realized that we passed the point where the re-route occurred.  My Garmin no longer matched the road sign mileage.  I grabbed a water as we passed a very crowded water table and we were in awe at how many people were lined up to use the very few port-a-potties along the course.  If only those people waited another mile or two, there was no one lined up further down the course.

Mile 5 time - 11:13 (I was THRILLED with how this race was going!!)

BUT... I knew the race was just getting started and the longest stretches were coming up.  Everyone warned me that the run to Hains Point and back was going to be long and brutal.  Flat as can be, but boring.




Mile 6 time - 11:34

Again, my legs still felt pretty good.  I ate some gummy GU chewy things that didn't taste amazing, but for psychological purposes, I forced them down hoping that they would keep me chugging along.

The cherry blossoms heading down towards Hains Point were awesome.  It was like running through a canopy of flowers.  I can't imagine this race without the blossoms, which seems to be the norm.

We had a great view of the Potomac and Reagan National Airport and the comings/goings of lots of Sunday morning flights.

According to my Garmin, our 10K time was 1:10:03 (11:16 mile/min).

Mile 7 time - 11.31

Still chugging along!   

Mile 8 time - 11:55 (yup, definitely getting slower!)

And then mile 8 happened and my legs hit a wall.  They just didn't want to turn over as fast as I wanted them to go.  Around the 8.5 mile marker, I just felt sluggish. 

Mile 9 time - 12:11

I purposefully slowed down a bit for mile 9 knowing that the final push was going to be up a hill.  The crowds were amazing as we approached downtown again.  Both sides of the road were packed with people, funny posters ("Ryan Gosling is waiting for you at the finish line... with a puppy!"), and cowbells.  There was a great drum band around the mile 9 marker and music was blasting from a nearby van.  Unfortunately, more tourists downtown also meant a few moments of FROGGER as I dodged people pushing strollers seemingly oblivious to the race going on in the middle of the street behind them!

Mile 9.54 time - 6:10

And then the hill came into view.  At this point, I knew I only had to run for 5-8 more minutes since the race was short by 1/2 mile.  I put my head down, pumped my arms and charged up the hill as fast as my body would let me.

I looked down at my Garmin and saw 1:49 on my watch.  I was determined to finish the run before the seconds ticked away and I had to look at a 1:50.  Head down.  BOOM.  Done. 

According to my Garmin, my official time was 1:49:48.  To say that I was ecstatic was an understatement!  I knew that even if I had another 1/2 mile to go, I would have finished in under 2 hours. 

According to the official time released later that night, I finished in 1:49:46 and they estimated that my final time would have been 1:58:13 if the course would have been the full 10 miles.  I don't think it would have taken me another 9min to complete a 1/2 mile, but it didn't matter because I reached  my goal.  I finished!  And I finished in less than 2 hours.  WOOT WOOT.

I have never been happier to come in 15,000 place in a race!!




My Garmin also broke down the race for me:




I immediately text Nick to let him know I was alive!  Within seconds, I received this reply, which made my day.  I love that I "won" the race in her eyes. 




We immediately went on the hunt for water and snacks.  The water was an easy find, but we walked forever trying to find something to eat.  Apparently food was a hot commodity because we couldn't find anything except a banana, which wasn't on the top of my list, but I scarfed it down anyhow. 

Next stop... medals!!






Overall, I loved the race. For the most part, it was extremely well-organized.  If I had the chance to enter the lottery again and win an entrance, I would definitely run it again.  I hate the unknown, so I think I could do even better now that I've seen the course and know what to expect from the run.  Besides, now I have to run it again so I can ACTUALLY run a 10-miler!!






Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Adventures in Running...

Running... I have a love/hate relationship with the sport.  I am by no means a "natural runner."  It just doesn't come easy to me.  I'm not one of those people who wake up on a beautiful Sunday morning and immediately think that I need to go for a nice long run.  Nope, not me.  Never going to happen.  But, every now and again, I get this weird impulse to push myself beyond my comfort zone and give running another shot. 


Even my headband is bipolar!

My latest endeavor... conquering a 10-miler.  What was I thinking?!?





 
But, before we get to that 10 mile adventure, let's backtrack and talk a little about my love/hate history with running...

I ran a decent amount when I was prepping for my wedding/honeymoon back in 2008-2009 as part of my gotta-fit-into-a-wedding-dress-diet.  The next couple of years were rough on my running regiment.  Due to all my pregnancy drama, I didn't run at all while pregnant in the fall/winter/spring of 2010-2011.  With Georgia in the NICU in the spring/summer of 2011 and then coming home with a preemie, my running days were fairly limited for the remainder of 2011.  Throw in 15 months of exclusively pumping non-stop and it was already the summer of 2012 before I felt like my body even belonged to me anymore!  January 2013 arrived and I decided to give running another try to help lose weight and get back into shape.  I spent the cold months running on our treadmill in the basement and I credit the Couch-to-5K program for slowly easing me back into a sport that I forgotten about for several years, as well as taking off the baby weight plus some.

My first official "race" back was our neighborhood 5K in April of 2013.  Just days after the Boston marathon bombing, I was determined to put in a decent run to honor my home state and to the city that I loved and called home for 2 years.  I  blogged about the impact that event had on me that week.  Little did I know that those hours on the treadmill would pay off because I had my best run ever and it still stands as my 5K PR.  I couldn't walk without limping for a week, but my pride and love for running was at its peak.




I continued to run 5K races during the spring of 2013 and became more involved with the Girls on the Run organization at the same time.  I've run lots of GoTR races over the years as a buddy runner and coach and am a huge supporter of their message and organization.  To me, it stands for everything good about running and what it can do for you, your health (both physically and mentally), and how you feel about yourself.  At the school that I am currently at, it's even more vital since most of these girls don't have a lot of opportunities to participate in group sports or see female role models that are active and living a healthy lifestyle. 

2013 was working out to be a great year of running for me.  I had lost a ton of weight, felt great, and everything was clicking.  Even surgery in the summer of 2013 didn't slow me down and I was running again just 3 weeks post-op.


Lacing up my kicks for a short run while home in MA on summer vacation

But, as always, life tends to get in the way.  By the winter/spring of 2014, I had been slacking big time with running.  Every time I tried to get back into an exercise program, some life event seemed to get in the way.  A miscarriage and extended recovery in early 2014 took me off my feet for quite some time.  Things didn't get better as I battled injury after injury to my right leg all spring.  What started off as some mild pain in my heel/calf turned into an aching knee and then a horrible hamstring pull.  The combination of co-ed softball and spring running landed me in pain for months.  I barely survived our yearly neighborhood 5K and finished a solid 6 minutes behind my time from the previous year limping across the finish line in pain.  My runner's high was long gone and I wanted nothing to do with running by the summer of 2014. 


Barely making it up the large hill at the end of the race


My favorite little cheerleader


In the fall of 2014, I coached Girls on the Run once again and ran in their November 5K.  That little spark ignited again and the timing was perfect for an email I received about the upcoming Cherry Blossom 10-miler lottery process.  On a whim, I entered (convinced that I'd never be selected). 

On December 15th, the email arrived - I was in!  I hadn't told a soul that I had registered for entry and wasn't planning to tell anyone.  I always figured that I could back out if I didn't have time to train.  But, then a friend/co-worker who I coached with and whom I've run with in the past mentioned that she was going to run the race too.  I came out of the closet and admitted that I was planning to run it.  The good news - I had a running buddy for the race.  The bad news - I couldn't let her down and not train or back out of the race.






Cue the panic!  First stop.... Fleet Feet for a new pair of running sneakers.  Next stop... the gym.  My biggest fear was re-injuring my leg, so my motto during the entire training process was slow and steady.  SLOW being the key word.  I started off running/walking and slowly built up mileage.  I didn't just stick to running - I incorporated cardio, as well as weights.  More than anything, I wanted to feel strong going into the race.  I also aimed to get at least 10lbs off my body so that my knees would survive the race.




Starting in February, the Cherry Blossom organizers started to send out weekly and daily training plans.  For Type-A people like myself, this was perfect.  That "long run" email every weekend was certainly intimidating, but I just checked the miles off the calendar and completed my runs as planned.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady. 



The glamorous side of running!

I survived February with no problem.  Even the "long runs" were still in my comfort zone of 5-6 miles.  Per usual, my right knee pain flared up as the miles increased, but with good icing after every run, it was manageable.  Sunday nap-time for Georgia equaled Mommy on the treadmill time catching up on the latest Tonight Show episodes from the week.  Tuesday became an easy recovery run, Wednesdays were for interval training, Thursday was another easy run, Fridays were weights at the gym, etc.  I had my plan and was sticking to it.  My pace on the treadmill slowly increased, especially during shorter runs, but I kept those long runs slow and steady.  For the most part, I stuck to the plan exactly as it was prescribed with a random skip day when absolutely needed.

March was the month that I was planning to move the majority of my runs outside.  Unfortunately, March's weather did not agree with my plans as snow and cold stuck around the DC region.  So, more time was spent on the treadmill and I banked up episodes of shows to catch up on during my weekend long run.  It made me really nervous knowing that 99% of my training was going to be on a treadmill, but I kept reviewing the course map knowing that the race was very flat with very few elevation changes. 

It was in early March when I realized that our treadmill comes to an abrupt stop at exactly 80 minutes.  Apparently it must think you've gotten bored and left the building?!?!  My first  8 miler and I was lucky I didn't land in a heap behind the treadmill when it came to a halt suddenly.  Once I was onto that trick, I would keep my finger right on the restart button for a quick go-go-go every time I hit the 80 minute mark of a run.



Love that it claims that I ONLY ran for 4 minutes, 49 seconds!!
 
Unfortunately, March also brought with it bronchitis and sinusitis.  Lack of sleep and Nick's business trip to Vegas (aka - single parenthood) finally drove me to the doctor's at the end of the month, but even a round of antibiotics and cough syrup with codeine didn't totally clear things up and a lingering cough stuck with me for the remainder of training and into race day.  For weeks, I felt like a deep breath eluded me as I prepped to do my longest training runs of the season.  Surprisingly, the long runs were going okay for me and I was gaining confidence, even while hacking away and popping cough drops like candy. 



The movie "Pitch Perfect" got me through my 9 mile training run



Boom - my only practice attempt at 10 miles.



My fitbit loved the long runs...


Note the atrocious lack of sleep the previous night thanks to my never-ending cough!



The beginning of April brought taper and a whole new set of anxieties.  Had I trained enough?  Would all the time on the treadmill and lack of road work hurt me?  Even as I picked up speed on my last short runs before the race, I was filled with self-doubt.





I managed to sneak in one short 4 mile outside run the week before the race.  In our hilly neighborhood, it was tough to gauge where I was at physically and how it would compare to race day. 

My overall goal for the 10-miler was simple... finish.  My secret goal was to finish under 2 hours and to NOT have to resort to any walking breaks (not that there is anything WRONG with walking breaks - I'm a huge fan.  The problem is that I like them too much and once I start, I can't seem to get running again).

Not fast, but not last became the mantra I repeated to myself over and over again.  The constant emails from the race organizers reminding us that we could still switch to the 5K were tempting.  Going back to my comfort zone of 5Ks would have been too easy.  The reminder in the daily emails about the sweep bus and needing to finish before the organizers were forced to re-open the DC roads at 2hrs, 20 min was always in the back of my head too.  Frankly, I'd rather get hit by the sweep bus rather than forced to ride it back to the starting line!

Up next... I recap the race and my final thoughts on the Cherry Blossom 10-miler! 
(Spoiler alert - I didn't have to take a bus ride to the finish line!!).






Monday, April 13, 2015

Easter 2015...

Unfortunately, Mimi couldn't stick around for Easter Sunday since flights back to New England that night cost a kidney or at least part of a liver.  So, I delivered her back to BWI late on Saturday evening before coming home to play the role of the Easter bunny.





At exactly 7:31, Georgia woke us up thanks to an early Easter present - her very own "alarm clock."  For months, we've been telling Georgia to come wake us up when she gets up in the morning.  But, for some crazy reason, she thinks her bedroom floor is made of hot lava and refuses to get out of bed.  Not the world's worst problem for two parents who are night owls and love to sleep in.  BUT, Mommy guilt has gotten the best of me and I feel horrible when I roll over and wonder how long my kid has been awake just lying in her bed waiting for me to get up!  So, I bought her a special clock that alerts her to let her know that it is officially okay to get up and come into our bedroom.  So far, it's worked amazingly well!


The dancing cow tells her that it's time to get up (aka - it's 7:30am)

 
We all went downstairs and Georgia was psyched to see what the Easter bunny had delivered overnight...


Checking out some of her loot, including a new "Paw Patrol" gardening set












After a quiet morning at home, we headed out for a brunch reservation at a local restaurant.  I had debated a few different places, but I ended up booking a place that offered a free buffet for under 5 (knowing that Georgia would probably barely eat anything!).  They also mentioned having the Easter bunny on hand, which was a plus too.  When I made the reservation, I noted Georgia's food allergies and the restaurant kindly called me the day before to verify and let me know that there would be peanuts on the dessert table, but she should be able to find some safe foods on the buffet. 





Off to brunch we go!

As we pulled up to the restaurant, I spotted Mr. Bunny.  You never quite know with Georgia if she is going to love the character (aka - Disney) or freak out (aka - Santa).  We asked if she wanted a picture with him and she shook her head no.  So, we suggested that maybe she could just give him a quick high-five.




Nick caught the event on video...





We had a great brunch and my silly little bunny was quite the character and ate her body weight in cantaloupe...





Knowing that the dessert table wouldn't be safe, we let her bring one of her Easter basket chocolates to eat at the restaurant.  I thought maybe she'd eat a few bites.  I had no idea she'd polish off the entire bunny!!







Maybe it was all the sugar in the chocolate, but Georgia warmed up to the Easter bunny by the time we walked out of the restaurant.  I may have shoved her in his direction and shouted "SMILE!" as I told Nick to grab his phone...  SUCCESS!!!!