Sunday, May 18, 2014

Taper Time!

It's hard to believe as I sit here typing this after a leisurely, relaxed 10-miler with Jordan, Larissa and Sarah, but one week from now I'll have finished the Vermont City Marathon! The hay is in the barn and all those other metaphorical ways to say that the hard work has been done; now it's time to start focusing on all the little things--sleep, nutrition, not drinking a bottle of wine every night--that will help me make it from here to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Technically speaking, my taper officially began after my final substantial workout on Thursday morning. On paper, it looked to be incredibly, suspiciously easy--so much so that I wondered if Coach Jordan had made a mistake, but I wasn't going to say anything. As it turned out, I didn't have to, because as we were warming up he casually mentioned that the workout was to be adjusted "slightly" from what he'd originally written. By "slightly," he meant all the paces would be considerably faster and all the rest significantly shorter. Fortunately I handled this curveball with ease and finished up feeling strong and confident. The most painful part of the entire session was during the third mile repeat when I ran up a little too close behind Jordan and managed to perfectly connect my injured knee with his back kick. (Up to that point it had been healing quite nicely.) The constant throbbing for the remainder of the workout diverted all attention away from the rest of my body.

Original target: 3xmile @5:50 w/2 mins. rest; 8x400 @85 w/1 min. rest
New target: 3xmile @5:50 w/45 secs. rest; 8x400 @82 w/100m jog recovery (35-40 secs.)
Actual: 5:46, 5:46, 5:44; 82 (39 jog), 81 (38), 81 (38), 82 (39), 81 (36), 81 (36), 80 (35), 80

So that's that. I've put in the doubles, the long runs, the tempos, the short intervals--can't wait to see it all pay off next Sunday!

First order of taper business: sunbathing with Larissa at our own private waterfront spot in Marblehead. #nofilter, for realz

Larissa modeling in front of the Marblehead harbor (and our old house) near Fort Sewall

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fall From (Lack of) Grace

Rest assured, I appreciate the irony of the situation. The day before, whilst taking the scenic route home from Albany with my coworker Alex, I'd stumbled across the Appalachian Trail. Despite my well-established aversion to camping, or sweating, or generally being outdoors, I'd been harboring a curious interest--albeit in the most passive, voyeuristic sense possible--in the AT (as us seasoned hikers call it) ever since reading (and re-reading, and reading again) Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods a half decade ago. (Side note: if you haven't read this book, or any/all of Bryson's other work, what are you doing with your life?? Put down the new Grisham novel for goodness sake. Bryson is the best author in the history of authors in the history of Earth.) At any rate, now here I was, unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to be on the AT. A sign rakishly stapled to the parking lot bulletin board outlined various routes and landmarks from our starting point, including a ~4-mile round trip hike that would take us up a "very challenging" stone face hill and over wooded dale to a beautiful vista point overlooking the entire valley. Alex and I, previously having no intention of doing anything other than stopping in the parking lot to stretch our legs, looked at each other and said: why the hell not? A 4-mile hike, no matter how technical, shouldn't take more than a few hours at most. Never mind that we had minimal food, little water, no reliable means of carrying either of them, and spotty at best phone reception. What was the worst that could happen? I fired off a quick, relatively uninformative text to Sarah B. ("Stopped to hike on the App Trail. If I'm not back in two hours, I'm probably dead.)" and off we went. 

Upon returning fully alive afterward, I saw that the text had not even sent. But, fortunately, our hike was fun and "challenging" and beautiful and otherwise uneventful. I was painstakingly careful about picking up my feet, paying strict attention to the trail, singularly focused on not tripping and breaking my leg or plummeting to my death. "Wouldn't that have been the absolute worst," I chuckled ruefully (and, truth be told, somewhat smugly) to myself later that day, "if I'd done everything right for months, only to somehow manage to fall and hurt myself a mere two weeks before my goal marathon."

So, as I said, I appreciate the irony. The next day, the warmest, sunniest, most beautiful day that the commonwealth has born witness to in all of 2014, the day I took off from work with the express purpose of banging out a hard 18 miler because I'd been unable to run long on Sunday due to the aforementioned trip to Albany, a mere three minutes--yes, minutes--into my run, I somehow managed to very nearly eff it all up. Jordan and I were running out of Salem on Canal Street, a route we'd taken dozens of times before, on the sidewalk bordering the right side of the road. We needed to cross the street so we could run against traffic and eventually turn left on the bike path that would take us into Marblehead. Somehow the process of stepping off the curb, crossing the street and avoiding a stealthily pernicious tree branch proved too much for my brain/legs to handle, and before I knew it I was skidding across the blacktop and frantically gasping for breath. To his credit, Jordan--who, as anyone who knows him will attest, is not one who coddles--immediately swooped me up and shepherded me back onto the very sidewalk that had cruelly tossed me aside only moments earlier. Having witnessed firsthand the force with which my delicate flower of a body collided with the open road, he did not suggest that I walk it off and then get back to business. Instead, we made an about face and began to slowly walk (him)/limp (me) back in the direction from which we'd come. One thing was glaringly obvious: my long run was not happening today. Also: this was going to leave a mark.

 My view for the next few hours

The white part is Neosporin. The red part is layers of my knee I never knew existed.
The ensuing few hours were spent with Jordan springing into Florence Nightingale mode and me pouting/icing/elevating/Neosporin-ing and trying not to cry while thinking of all the worst case "what if" scenarios. Later that afternoon, infused with an indomitable (one could say stubborn) sense of determination and an elephant's dosage of Advil, I inched down the stairs intent on going for a run, any run, of any length, provided it was more or less pain free. I could tell that Jordan was against this course of action from a boyfriend/emergency contact perspective, but as my coach he knew that I knew that if I couldn't run without pain now, the remaining 12.5 (but who's counting) days between now and my marathon would be less about putting the finishing touches on a solid training block and more about pep rallies and damage control.

Fortunately, like all great sports biopics, this story has a happy ending (for now). After a few tentative, rusty steps, I coasted through eight miles with no ill effects. This morning, waking at dawn, I covered 15 miles at sub-6:40 pace--not quite the long run intended for yesterday, but not far from it. So whatever happens at Vermont City, I'm confident that this little mishap will have no bearing whatsoever on the result (unless I totally bomb, in which case it is 100% due to some invisible marathon sprite Tonya Harding-ing me yesterday). If I can get through the next 11.5 days without any other catastrophes, I just might be able to squeak out a Trials qualifier after all.

Salvaging the beautiful day with a picnic by the ocean
Post-picnic, unfiltered, sunset view from Salem of the Beverly harbor

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Big Weekend Workout(s)

Saturday, May 3rd
9am: Target: 8-10 mile progression from 7:00-6:20
Actual: 9.75 miles w/8 steady @6:26 avg. (7:12, 6:26, 6:29, 6:26, 6:29, 6:23, 6:28, 6:19, 6:27, .75 @7:15 pace)
4pm: Target: 10 miles @MP (6:05-6:10)
Actual: 2.25 mile w/u
10 miles @61:00/6:06 avg. (6:14, 6:06, 6:08, 6:06, 6:04, 6:07, 6:00, 6:06, 6:03, 6:03)
.5 mile c/d
Total: 12.75
Daily total: 22.5

Sunday, May 4th
2.25 mile w/u
Run for HAWC "5 Miler" in 29:40 (actually 4.82): 5:55, 6:06, 6:10, 6:20, 5:08 @6:15 pace 
1st place female; $150
3 mile c/d
Total: 10 miles

Weekly total: 95

Whew! Just writing down all the above details took a considerable amount of energy. The fact that all three of these workouts took place within a 24-hour period means I definitely earned the 2+ hour nap with my kitty this afternoon! I'm glad to have this monster block behind me and even more pleased with the outcome.

If you've been following my blog for a while (and if you haven't, what else could you possibly have been doing with your spare time??), you know that usually once a training block I embark on a "double workout day." In the past, this has typically consisted of something shorter and faster in the morning, like a 10k tempo, followed by a longer effort at marathon pace in the evening. The focus is always on the second session, with the objective being to simulate the fatigue of the marathon and practice running fast on already heavy legs. Before Philly, I crushed both sessions and achieved arguably the greatest distinction of my running career, dropping a half-injured, totally unfit Jordan twice in one day. Prior to CIM, I had to get creative due to weather and ended up pounding out a 10k tempo on the indoor track at Harvard (that's a cool 50 laps) and then struggling mightily during a solo point-to-point tempo in hurricane force winds later that afternoon.

This time around, Coach Jordan was either feeling unusually beneficent or seriously doubting my fitness, because he scheduled my morning workout as a fairly relaxed uptempo run rather than something faster than marathon race pace. We set out together on our familiar "double bridge loop," a loop in the true sense of the word that runs from Salem to Beverly and back again without ever doubling over itself. This route is not particularly fast, with plenty of zigs and zags and several rolling sections, but that was sort of the point. Jordan wanted this to feel as much like a "normal" run as possible, allowing my legs to settle into pace naturally. Fortunately I had no problem doing so, and save for a few tricky sections--a gusty incline up the Beverly Bridge in mile 7, and Jordan sprinting to (unsuccessfully) chase down a curmudgeonly driver who honked at us in mile 2--this felt like a jog. The pace fluctuated naturally with the terrain and wind direction, and I never felt like I was pressing or strained. With my legs only moderately fatigued, I was confident round two would be a breeze.

After what seemed like only a few short hours of lounging around trolling the interwebs, Sarah arrived at our door ready for the marathon paced tempo. Have I mentioned how glad I am that she decided to stick things out after a disappointing Boston and run Vermont with me?? With our queenmaker at the helm, we set off on a course that would take us from Salem into Marblehead and back with a short addition at the end. There was only one problem: I was dying. From the outset. My legs felt heavy, my breathing was short and erratic, and I was by no means comfortable at the pace I was supposed to be able to maintain for almost three hours. In hindsight, I think this was because we were charging straight into a 15-mph headwind down an unusually busy street (damn you nice weather for bringing the Salem tourists out in droves). If nothing else, I can find solace in the fact that there's no possible way the marathon will be this much of a cluster--weaving in and out of cars and pedestrians, creatively crossing busy intersections, ignoring various and sundry catcalls (and the creepy guy who drove sloooowly alongside us for almost a quarter mile blasting terrible '90s music like some sort of unrequited soundtrack). This run was neither easy nor particularly fun for me, but all that matters is we got it done on the faster end of our desired pace range and still had enough energy to walk over to our favorite neighborhood pub for a celebratory drink afterward.

Needless to say, I woke up on Sunday morning without the desire to move, much less run, much less run quickly. However, it had been brought to my attention earlier in the week that a race was taking place in Salem that started and finished less than half a mile from our house and offered a tempting $150 prize purse. How could we not jog over and give it a shot?? But after shuffling through two creaky warmup miles at a blistering 8:15 pace, I was less than optimistic. If attaining the victory meant running a single step under six minute pace, I was screwed. Fortunately, all our hopes and dreams came true. No one showed up and the course was short! In fact, my new friend Mariah, whom I met through Larissa last weekend, decisively took second--and she was only running the race as part of her long run. As expected, my legs were utterly and completely trashed and I artfully executed a textbook positive split. (A stiff headwind for the entire second half didn't exactly help.) If yesterday's afternoon effort was meant to feel like the second half of a marathon, this morning definitely felt like the last five miles.

Not a bad way to start the morning: JoKin and I both bringing home the W (and the Benjamins)
But overall, I'm pleased. And tired. Very, very tired. The upcoming week will be a delicate balance of recovering from this weekend's shenanigans and still stringing together one more big chunk of high mileage and respectable workouts before starting the gradual taper process. It all hinges on a very unscientific combination of compression socks, pizza, Nuun, kale smoothies and wine.

T-minus three weeks! 

better than water

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Four Weeks to Go...

...until Vermont City Marathon! In the midst of chaos with work and travel (more on that in a minute), the race seems to have snuck up on me. But just in time, I finally had what I would deem my "breakthrough workout" yesterday afternoon. I typically have one or two of these sessions during each training cycle (so, one outstanding workout for every handful that really, really stink)--you know, the rare occasion where you hit or even exceed your prescribed splits and actually feel strong doing it as opposed to counting down every excruciating second until you can just hurry up and get it over with already. Even better, yesterday's surprisingly-not-terrible workout came on the heels of the aforementioned life craziness, making it even more gratifying.

But first, the deets:
Target: 2x5 miles w/4-5 mins. rest: first set @6:05-6:10 pace; second set @5:50-6:00 pace
Actual: 5.01 miles in 30:09/6:01 pace (5:59, 6:08, 5:59, 5:59, 5:58); 5.05 miles in 29:20/5:49 pace (5:35, 5:57, 5:53, 5:52, 5:49, :15 @5:29 pace)
Results for second interval @Ring Around the Neck Five Miler 

The past 10 days have been a blur: working 10+ hour stretches at the Boston Marathon expo, making an ass of myself in the BAA 5k, carrying on my Marathon Monday tradition of running/spectating with friends in Wellesley, boarding a plane later that night bound for the Craft international sales meeting in Sweden, then capping off said sales meeting with a 22+ hour day of Stockholm sightseeing and return travel on Friday. After all that, plus a 12/4 double on Saturday with Sarah (who dropped midway through Boston due to some wicked quad cramping, which I was objectively disappointed about but selfishly pleased with as it meant she would be attempting to rally with me at VCM instead), I simply hoped I'd be able to somewhat approximate the desired splits on Sunday.

Fortunately, I had company--and for the second interval, lots of it, as we'd planned the workout around the Ring Around the Neck Five Miler in Marblehead. It's a great little race that we sponsor which runs to and from the downtown area with a delightfully scenic (and painfully hilly) loop of the Neck in the middle. Prior to, Sarah and I planned to run a preview loop of the course at marathon pace. With Jordan gamely on board as our queenmaker and the timing meticulously allotted down to the minute, we set out from the starting line eager to tackle this big girl workout (read: get it over with). Fearing the consequences of running the first loop too fast, my last words to Jordan before we started were: "Absolutely no splits under 6:00." Naturally, our first mile was 5:59, setting the tone for the day. Only the second mile, inherently impeded by the steepest hill on the entire Neck, approached a pace as slow as our original target. We finished with just enough time for me to jog to the nearby bathrooms and then to our car to inhale a gel. I returned to the start line mere seconds before the race started, still out of breath from the first five miles and my less than relaxing break. Was I really going to be able to run faster for round two?!

Fortunately/unfortunately, I kicked the second interval off with some generous time in the bank thanks to my friend Larissa taking off at a veritable sprint. Despite splitting 5:35 through the first mile I was still several steps behind her, and that's the closest I would get for the duration. A self-proclaimed hill hater, I thought I might catch her on the rolling middle section, but she ran strong and confident throughout and only put more distance on me as the race progressed. Still, I was pleased to finish only four seconds slower than at the same race last year--and this time I ran a frisky warmup lap first! Sarah came across the line close behind me, decisively banishing any lingering disappointment from Monday and showing that her fitness is better than ever. Just a few more weeks of workouts and long runs--and that pesky 26.2--separate us from taking an honest crack at the Olympic Trials standard in Vermont. After today, I finally feel confident that I'm well on my way.   

A podium sweep! Me, Larissa and Sarah...with Jordan creepily photobombing

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Training Update

Okay, let's just get this out of the way first: I suck at updating my blog. I know it, I feel bad about it, and I do have aspirations to improve. But for the time being, you'll have to take what you can get: an amalgamation of the past month's training and a few photos of good-looking ladies.

Secondly, let's consider this my long overdue "official" announcement: I'm racing the Vermont City Marathon (yay!)! In five weeks (yikes!)! Similar to Hartford, this is a relatively fast, relatively flat regional race within reasonable driving distance of my home that has a great setup in place for local and regional elites. They've graciously invited me to participate this year and I couldn't be more excited about chasing my second Olympic Trials qualifying time there! As an added bonus, I'll have the queenmaking help of Charlotte friend Aaron Linz (I would link to his blog here, but it's either defunct or even more outdated than my own). Aaron's a great runner and solid pacer and was easily persuaded to become my buddy on race day. I love it when a plan comes together!

So, with 26.2 looming on the horizon, exactly what is the state of my current fitness? I can confidently say it's situated somewhere between "not terrible" and "reasonably sufficient." Am I in sub-2:43 shape right this minute? Probably not. Can I get there in five weeks? Totes. And unlike at Cal, I'm not going to hold myself to lofty--some might say unreasonable--ambitions of smashing my PR and attaining the "A" standard of sub-2:37. After a winter like ours, and with only six weeks of solid training under my belt, that's simply not realistic. I won't go into the day expecting anything miraculous or exceptional, and I'll be just thrilled if I can run 2:41-2:42 and punch my ticket to Los Angeles in 2016.

A few notables from the past 4-6 weeks:

1. Four runs in the 19-21 mile range, three of them taking place the day after pretty substantial workouts, all of them taking place with Sarah B. She's crushing Boston next week and then presumably taking some time off, which means I'll have to find some sort of intrinsic motivation to put on my big girl pants and do the rest of my long runs without her between now and VCM. Is this possible?! TBD.

2. Lots more runs and workouts and even a spontaneous game of Taboo with my new Marblehead neighbor, Larissa. She and her husband were on vacation last week in some tropical clime and I still managed to run a track workout, so perhaps I can do this by myself after all. (Except that Jordan did my track session with me. But you're focusing on all the wrong details.)

3. A fun, amazing, abs hurt from laughing so hard weekend in Charleston with my Charlotte running besties, which was only slightly marred by a mysterious stomach bug that derailed my hopes of notching a new 10k PR at the Cooper River Bridge Run. I woke up feeling distinctly nauseous, half-heartedly jogged 13 minutes of warmup in hopes that conditions would improve, started the race realizing they wouldn't, ran a 5:28 first mile, then promptly threw up in the bushes. Womp womp. On a positive note, Caitlin cruised to an impressive 34:45 finish and scored some serious cash for placing second American, which meant she was willing and able to buy shots for anyone who felt well enough to drink them later that night.

At the expo on Friday evening with my lovely ladies

Headed out for a night on the town post-race. What a difference 24 hours and a curling iron can make!

Danielle M. Crockford + Dalena M. Custer = Run DMC. Fun shirts to celebrate their joint b-day on our Sunday morning wog! (P.S. Once you spot Nick's epic photobomb you won't be able to focus on anything else.)

4. A handful of solid, respectable, not-life-changing-but-somewhat-encouraging marathon-pace workouts such as 3x20 minutes and 2x6 miles, plus a few laps around the Beverly High School oval at slightly faster than 5k pace. I finally downloaded Garmin Connect, so if you're really that interested and need a distraction to pass a slow day at work, knock yourself out.   

5. An unexpected but totally, unquestionably deserved nomination for the 2013 Running Photo of the Year contest featuring some (family-friendly) hot tub action with Laurie, Caitlin, Sarah C. and OH YEAH MEB after last year's Grandma's Marathon. At press time we are currently in second place behind some other picture that is somehow managing to outrank ours despite its total and complete lack of quality and overall hotness. To be honest, the voting process wasn't 100% clear to begin with and I'm not 100% sure the polls are still open, but just in case you should probably click on this link and then like or tweet our photo for good measure.

So, there you have it. Spring is finally here, my pale legs have made their first tentative forays into the ever-warming sunlight, and the training and racing season has finally begun in earnest. As I type this, tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of last year's Boston Marathon and all the events surrounding it. This entire week will serve as an opportunity to reflect and remember, while looking forward to this year's Marathon Monday with pure joy and excitement. I can't wait to race the BAA 5k and then cheer on my marathoning friends as I've done the past two years, watching Boylston Street be reclaimed for good. After that, it's just four short weeks until my own 26.2 attempt in Burlington.

I'll be ready.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

If It Looks Like Marathon Training...

98 miles
4 doubles
3 workouts
20.5 mile-long run

82 miles
4 doubles
2 workouts
19-mile long run

If last week represented my first tentative steps onto the big-girl diving board, then this week was the headfirst plunge into the mileage abyss. Not only did I complete three workouts (well, one of those was a mini-workout--more on that in a minute) and a 20+ mile long run, but I actually felt strong and healthy and pretty darn good the entire week.

The week started out strong (and chilly) bright and early on Tuesday morning with another near-single digit road workout with Larissa. I was a bit apprehensive about this, both due to the temperature and the fact that I'd completed my longest run in months less than 48 hours prior, but we somehow managed to stay warm and positive enough to take care of business. (At least until my body temperature plummeted on the aptly named cooldown, rendering my extremities totally numb and my fingers incapable of even grasping and inserting my housekey into the door without Larissa's assistance.)

Workout #1: 2x1.5 mile progression w/2 min. jog, each 800m @3:10, 3:00, 2:50; 4x600m @5:20 pace (2:00) w/2 min. jog = 9 miles total

My next (mini-)workout took place during Thursday's lunch hour with my boss and two coworkers. They're all training for a late spring marathon and had 6x800m on tap at 5k pace. The problem is, they're fairly new runners and rarely race 5k's, so the pace was approximated to be 6:30 although I suspected they could go faster. Sure enough:

Workout #2: 6x800m w/3 mins. jog in 3:10, 3:10, 3:07, 3:07, 3:00, 2:59 = 7 miles total

From my perspective, it felt great to open up the legs a little bit without being too taxing, and I loved helping my comrades achieve the feeling of triumph that comes with exceeding your expectations and physical limitations. (Seriously, when's the last time you thought, "Well golly, I just couldn't seem to run slow enough during that workout!" Yeah, me neither. But I'm happy that such a euphoria apparently exists for others.)

But without a doubt, and like a true American weekend warrior, my two biggest days of the week took place on Saturday and Sunday. I'd planned well in advance for a long run on Sunday with Sarah Cummings, who was making a quick trip to Boston, and then I somehow found myself getting roped into (read: eagerly volunteering for) Sarah Bard's lengthy Saturday workout as well. On an unseasonably warm morning (or perhaps only unseasonable relative to the rest of the week/month/year), Sarah and I joined Kevin and another BAA male escort whose name escapes me for some 4-3-2-1 mile action on the Charles.

Workout #3: 4 mile (6:03, 6:02, 6:05, 6:08), 3:30 jog, 3 mile (6:00, 6:07, 5:57), 2:30 jog, 2 mile (5:50, 5:45), 1:30 jog, 1 mile (5:43) = 16 miles total

Takeaways from this workout were:

1. Sarah is really fit.
2. There may be hope for me yet.
3. I love seeing happy, active people enjoying the river on a Saturday morning--except when they're in my way.
4. 50 degrees is, indeed, warm enough to comfortably slam a post-run Frappuccino.

Though I questioned my weary body's ability to move, I somehow managed to remain bipedal and reasonably functional for an "easy" 20-miler (2:30 and 20.66 miles to be exact, not that I am enslaved to my new Garmin or anything) with the Sarahs and a few different male BAA escorts on Sunday. During that time we saw over half the Boston course and a 60-year-old man running shirtless wearing khaki pants and oven mitts, so I can't help but consider it a win.

Will I be able to walk tomorrow? Debatable. Am I officially training for some sort of spring marathon? It sure looks that way... 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Being a Runner is Funner with Friends

This entry could've more boringly been titled "February in Review." (Yes, that's how far I've fallen with my blogging; I now find it totally acceptable to lump an entire month into one succinct entry.) But I do love me some alliteration AND assonance (God bless my freshman English teacher), and more importantly I really do feel like the opportunities I've had to run and workout with other people comprise the only legitimate training I can claim for the month. In addition to a weekend in the Southeast with Jeannette and some solid miles on the Boston course with Sarah, there's been another exciting development: a new training partner right here on the North Shore! (Oh, and for the record, my weekly mileage for February was: 70, 74, 80, 82. Booooring.)

As many of you know, other than Jordan (when he's in town) and Abbey D (when she's spending a few days at home in between winning national titles), I don't really have any training companions in the Salem-Beverly-Marblehead area who I can logistically run with every day. Driving into Boston and back before work simply isn't feasible, and going there in the evening is usually the last thing I want to do after a long day at the office. Last Sunday, at the 10-miler in Amherst, I ran into Larissa Park at the awards ceremony. I'm not sure if we'd ever been formally introduced, but we were familiar with each other from local races and from her trouncing me at the Beverly Homecoming 5k this past summer. When she told me that she and her husband had recently relocated to Marblehead from Somerville, I was more than pleasantly surprised. She was so close by that we could run to meet each other! She would actually ensure that I got up when my alarm went off in the morning! We immediately took advantage of this newfound proximity by meeting up three separate times last week: on Wednesday morning for a speed workout devised by her coach (in 15 degree-weather), on Friday morning with Jordan for a 10-mile progression run (which was inconceivably even colder than Wednesday), and on Sunday with Jordan and Sarah for some long leisurely miles through Marblehead and Salem. In the span of one week, I'd already done more quality mileage with Larissa than the treadmill slogging I would've suffered through in her absence. If this is a sign of things to come, I think my spring training could finally be looking up!

This happened on Friday morning...

...and, as a result, so did this. #sweatsicles

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Two Races, Two Ass Kickings

It's true what they say (and by "they" I mean I'm saying it now): there's nothing quite like a few solid wallopings to really motivate you to get in shape. As a bonus, I had the pleasure of getting thoroughly spanked two weekends in a row, and suffice it to say I'm experiencing a new resolve to work hard and ensure that the same thing doesn't happen (or at least, not quite so handily) the next time around.

To be fair, these dismal outcomes were hardly unexpected, considering pretty much my entire winter of "training" has unfolded like this:

Jordan: What day can you workout this week? Wednesday?
Meagan: (checks weather app) Looks like another storm is moving in Tuesday night. And I'm traveling Thursday. Better make it Tuesday.
J: Okay, Tuesday morning?
M: (expands hourly detail in weather app) The wind chill is going to be single digits. I doubt I can run fast then. Want to go at lunch?
J: Sure, but I have a meeting at 12. Can we go at 1?
M: No, I have a meeting at 2. How about we cut out a little early and go at 4?
J: Perfect.
M: (3pm, looks outside incredulously, then glares at blatantly deceptive weather app, then looks outside again) Son of a! It already started snowing!
J: (doubtfully, furrows brow) Maybe it will stop.
M: (3:45pm, looks outside again) Well, you're right, it stopped snowing...and now it's sleeting. The roads are going to be a mess already.
J: Want to go jog five miles on the treadmill?
M: Duh.

Last weekend, I participated in the Mercedes-Benz Marathon Weekend in Birmingham, AL for the fourth consecutive year. This race holds a special place in my heart, as it's where I snuck under the radar and nabbed my Trials qualifier in 2011. (It's also the only race expo I've ever worked where the partner retailer calls me in advance to ask what kind of wine I'd like to drink while working their expo because they know I don't drink beer. Trak Shak, you complete me.) I then came back to win the half in 2012 and placed second in the half last year, so despite my lack of fitness I illogically had high hopes for another podium finish this time around. But alas, it was not to be. Local standout Erica Speegle ran a 2+ minute PR to finish in 1:15-mid, with my friend Jeannette Faber a close second in 1:15:53 (or 1:16:05 depending on which results you look at; obviously, runner code dictates we agree upon the faster time). I shuffled along in fourth place, also known as "first sucker who just misses out on a giant check," managing 6-minute pace on the rolling course. It was neither my fastest nor slowest run there but my first time out of the money, which never feels great.

Yet the weekend was not all for naught. I road tripped back to Nashville with Jeannette and got in a few quality double-digit runs in the delightfully sunny, snow-free environs of a more temperate climate. "This is it!" I told myself triumphantly as I boarded my on-time flight back to Boston (via Philadelphia) on Tuesday morning. "This is the turning point when I stop grabassing around and start getting serious about my spring training!" Fast forward to three hours, a canceled flight and a few delays later, and I found myself cursing Mother Nature yet again and drowning my sorrows in a surprisingly delightful combination of Chick-Fil-A waffle fries and $6 pinot grigio in Concourse C of PHL. Literally and figuratively, thanks to the hellacious winter I just cannot win right now.

And yet, inexplicably, this weekend I found myself begging for more. My sometimes training partner and oftentimes Gchat companion Sarah Bard tipped me off that she was planning to make the 2+ hour trek to Amherst on Sunday for the first race in the USATF-NE Grand Prix series, the Jones 10 Miler. Seeing this as an opportunity for a forced extended tempo with possible prize money (and an excuse for post-race brunch), I agreed to join. "After all," Sarah confidently and rhetorically assured me, "how many fast people are going to want to drive all the way to Amherst for a ridiculously hilly 10-miler in the middle of February?" Well, as it turned out, quite a few. In the time it took me to park, make my way to registration and fork over the $45 entry fee (which included nothing, least of all a t-shirt (not that I wanted one, but it's the principle), except my race number and a few questionably rusty safety pins), I'd already spotted at least a half dozen women who had beaten me or come pretty darn close to doing so at various races over the past year. My previously optimistic plan to "stick my nose in there and contend for the win" was summarily downgraded to "shoot for top 10," blowing straight past "place in the top three" and coming dangerously close to the graveyard of "win my age group." On the now-somber warmup, Sarah and I bumped into a trio of formidable Maine runners, Sheri Piers, Kristin Barry and Erica Jesseman, all of whom have faster PRs than me at approximately every distance. As we jogged, Sheri joked (but seriously) that last year's winner, Irish Olympian Steph Reilly, stated afterward that it was the "f#$&ing hardest race ever." Seeing as, in case you glossed over that part, she's an Olympian, this information didn't exactly do anything to alleviate my apprehension.

At the outset, however, things progressed swimmingly. The first two miles, and in particular the second mile, were largely downhill (feel free to see this as foreshadowing for the latter part of the course), and other than a few tiptoe-inducing icy turns it was smooth sailing. A brief glance at my watch indicated I'd comfortably split two miles in 11:37 and was among the top three or four females. Unfortunately, the fun and games all came to an abrupt halt during the third and fourth miles, which I had been warned in advance were drastic uphills. (Mercifully, I forgot to wear my new Garmin and also neglected to peek at the third mile split (possibly because I was 100% focused on trying not to walk), but I learned later that Erica--who, keep in mind, was already a good distance ahead of me at this point--split a whopping 7:00.) Just when the road leveled out and the torture was seemingly over (for the time being), we turned onto a dirt road. This would not be noteworthy except for the fact that the past few days' slightly milder, rainy weather had resulted in much of the snow melting (and our condo building's basement flooding, but that's neither here nor there) but also, paradoxically, icing over many sections of road. So what in better times might simply be an innocuous dusty detour was now a half icy, half muddy mess. Within seconds, everyone in sight was slipping around and splattered shoulder to ankle with mud. The next few miles were dangerous at worst, frustrating at best, and I passed the halfway point in 30:30--almost 90 seconds slower than I'd eclipsed the same marker at Mercedes a week prior. I'd managed to hemorrhage almost a full minute in the past few miles and was feeling worse with each passing second. Punishing hills, ice, mud, potholes; this wasn't a road race, it was a 10-mile cross-country course!

Fortunately, miles 6-8 led us back onto pavement and were gradually downhill, and I somehow clawed my way back to a slightly sub-6 average with two to go. But lest there be any danger of me finishing in a respectable time, we then merged back onto the original road from whence we came and faced a punishing uphill for the next mile and a half. By the time I crossed the line fourth (and winning my age group, holla!) in 60:30 I was equal parts convinced that I was going to really start training now or never run another step for the rest of my life. (It is worth noting at this point that I am subsequently leaning toward the latter option given that winner Megan Hogan ran 55:30 and obliterated the almost 30-year-old course record previously set by Nancy Conz, who for the record was no slouch herself. I can confidently say that there will be no point in my running career at which I am capable of such flagrant badassery.)

But seriously, you guys. It's time for me to get in shape.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Meanwhile, In 2014

Jan 13-19
80 miles
14-mile long run
9-mile hilly uptempo at 6:28 pace
3 runs in Pittsburgh
1 treadmill run

Jan 6-12
65 miles
15-mile long run with the BAA
6 treadmill runs
3 canceled flights

Dec 29-Jan5
70 miles
13-mile long run with Hilary
4-mile race in 23:18
3xmile, 2x800 cutdown at Harvard indoor with Melissa and Sarah B
4 treadmill runs

So, you may have noticed I did not pen an effusive "2013 Year in Review." Or, maybe you didn't. Either way, I haven't written one, largely because there's not much to review in terms of running accomplishments. Honestly, in thinking back to my mindset a year ago, I may have been a bit...overzealous with my aspirations. After all, I was coming off a year of PR's in every distance from 10 miles up to the marathon, and I naively assumed that this trajectory of success would continue to skyrocket on a perfectly linear path right on through the next 12 months.

But, to sum up 2013 in a nutshell: it didn't happen. And that's okay.

Looking ahead, I'm no less motivated or determined to improve than I was last January, but this time around my optimism is also tinged with a healthy dose of reality. In running as in eating airport sushi, there are no guarantees, and I know I need to appreciate exactly where I'm at right now while at the same time striving to get back to--and eventually surpass--where I've been. I can only take it one week at a time.

Despite that heartwarming sentiment, it would be disingenuous of me to claim that the first 19 days of this new year have been all midgets and peanut butter. (Although there was a midget working the water stop at my New Year's Day race. But I digress.) It started out on a promising note, with the aforementioned four-miler on January 1st that took place on our familiar training roads here in Salem. Despite frigid, windy weather (first time I've ever raced in thermal tights, and I was never in any danger of overheating) I managed a halfway respectable 5:50 pace. So you're saying there's a chance! But the first snowstorm of the year roared in less than 24 hours later, ushering in the now-legendary polar vortex, which meant I spent much of the following week trying to convince myself that five and five on the YMCA treadmill was a perfectly acceptable double. Suffice it to say my momentum came to a sputtering halt.

But this week has been better. The air is thawed, the snow banks melted, the black ice practically a distant memory. I got in a few solid runs on a business trip to Pittsburgh, including a 12x1 minute workout that I was way more proud of than could ever possibly be warranted. (One of the ancillary benefits of easing into training again: excessive boosts of pride and self-esteem instantly gained by clearing the lowest of hurdles. Courageously soldiered on for six entire treadmill miles instead of stopping at a lowly five? Brilliant! Only hit the snooze button once this morning? YOU ARE AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE.) On Saturday I took to one of my favorite training grounds (the Marblehead Neck) in some of my least favorite conditions (36 degrees, windy, raining), and surprised myself with a very comfortable uptempo effort on the unrelenting hilly terrain. In another exciting development, I was greeted upon returning from my trip this week by a care package from Nuun, welcoming me as an official member of their 2014 racing team. Rarely is a Nuun bottle far from my grasp whether I'm running, working, traveling or just lounging around pantsless drinking wine and updating my blog (gotta stay hydrated!), so needless to say I'm thrilled to make our relationship official.

Just a small sampling of my goodies from @nuunhydration

Will this trend of positivity continue? All signs point to yes...but, realistically, not next week. I'll be spending Monday night through Sunday in Salt Lake City at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, our biggest trade show of the entire year, and it's a doozy. The week entails a punishing schedule that includes four long days on the expo floor (not including an additional day of setup and a half day of breakdown) consisting of one presentation after another after another. I'll be eating like crap, drinking too much, sleeping too little and thoroughly exhausting myself by having to be unfailingly nice to people the whole damn time. I will also, ineluctably, end up with a cold. This will be my third year in attendance and the first time I'm aspiring to maintain some semblance of training throughout the whole endeavor. (Two years ago it was the week after the Trials, and last year I was darn proud of myself for getting up every morning to slog through six miles on the hotel treadmill.) Best case scenario, I'll get in a few miles of altitude training and not return home sick or morbidly obese. Stay tuned!