My M-Dot

This is my M-dot. 

There are many like it, but this one is mine. 

I posted this on Instagram the night I got it, but felt remiss to not document it here (and take advantage of the fact that there is no limit to the number of words I can write about it here, unlike on IG).

Well before I ever did even a half Ironman, I was positive that one day, if I ever did a full Ironman, I would get the famous M-dot branded somewhere on my body. I thought about it all the time and couldn't wait for the day I might earn that symbol in ink. Maybe not the conventional solid red, back-of-the-calf version, but an M-dot nonetheless. I always loved seeing them on other people, especially at races - in fact, following a guy with one on the back of his calf in a race that I spent weighing the pros and cons of hitting the “Register” button that I’d been staring at for a week gave me the final push to finally sign up for my first full, and I registered the next day. This symbol has always been so much more than a race logo. 

But when I did finally finish an IM (one year, one month, and 11 days ago but who's counting), I was surprisingly uncertain about being permanently marked with this symbol I coveted for so long. I guess after such a long road getting to that finish line, the tattoo just wasn’t all that important anymore. I know I have touched on this in previous posts but am not sure I have ever really talked about it, mostly because I'm not sure I've ever really been able to fully understand it myself, but finishing Ironman Louisville felt way different and way more complicated than I ever expected it to. I have my suspicions that the disappointment that was IMNC played a huge role in this - although I suppose I can never know for certain - but getting to the finish line in Louisville felt like such a long, arduous task, and not totally in a good way. Of course it was more fulfilling than I will ever have words for, but at the same time it was somehow less gratifying than I will ever be able to understand or explain. It took me a long time to come to terms with the enormity of what I accomplished on that day, and even a year later I'm not sure I really have yet. A year later I still have mixed feelings - as much as I loved the experience and would relive that day in a heartbeat if given the chance, I also have some yucky feelings, I think simply because the road to get there was not at all what I imagined when I first signed up for IMNC. Whether I like it or not, my journey to the red carpet, to get through 140.6 was tainted. I know there's nothing I can ever do to change that, but I also can't change how I feel when I look back on it, not just on Louisville but on all of it. 

So once IM Louisville was over I couldn’t decide if this tattoo I've dreamed of for years would be a nice way to commemorate such a big event, or if it would just be silly and obnoxious to follow the trend. Maybe both? I have spent the last almost-year hemming and hawing over this, to the point where I had almost decided not to get it. But I also couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

Making the decision to go for it was even harder considering that I am not at all artistic or creative and even though I knew I wanted to make this symbol my own, I couldn’t visualize what exactly my M-dot would look like. I assumed I would incorporate Louisville or Kentucky - fleur de lis, maybe something horse related - but that never felt quite right. Ben always thought I should make it NC-related, maybe something with the battleship or something ocean-y, but that didn't feel right either given that I didn't really think of IMNC as my first true IM. I considered something with flowers, partly because I have always wanted a floral tattoo (for unrelated reasons), and partly because on race morning I asked my mom to Sharpie something on my arm for my long day ahead and she simply wrote, “Bloom” and drew me a flower. She was also the first person I saw once I came through the finisher's chute, waiting for me on the other side of the barricade with a bouquet of flowers. Given that my mom has zero interest in anything triathlon-related and given that she would have preferred to be at home in Virginia in bed and not states away in Kentucky at my 9:30pm finish time, just having her there was a big deal. So much so that, in fact, in the first few days after the race, when I was still riding that post-race high and feeling convinced that I was going to get my M-dot tattoo, I was almost sold on getting the word, "Bloom" in script with an M-dot in place of the M. But I couldn't fully commit to that design either, and over time my commitment to getting one at all diminished. There were several times over the last year when I thought about what design I might want, researched studios and artists, and a handful of times came thisclose to picking up the phone to move forward. But every time something stopped me and I let it go, told myself it wasn't worth the hassle or the money or the, you know, permanence of it being on my skin for.ev.errrr. 

As unsure as I was, I periodically perused various sources - Pinterest, IG, the IronTats Facebook group before I got off Facebook - for inspiration. I kept coming back to a very loose idea I had of filling an M-dot  outline with flowers, but I still needed to see how that could translate to a tattoo. I didn't know what flowers, couldn't picture what it would look like, etc. I wasn't looking for something to straight up copy, but given my extreme lack of visualization skills I needed to see, with my own two eyes, something somewhat similar to what I had in my head, something that I felt like I could base my own design on if I had any hope of ever making the idea of getting this tattoo a reality.

I came across a lot of really interesting ways people had incorporated their races into the M-dot shell (and even more totally awful ones if I'm being honest), but for a long time I couldn't find anything that even remotely resonated with me.  I came across some floral M-dots but nothing that really jumped out at me, until finally one day I found something that made me say, "Yes, that's it!" I must have looked at hundreds, maybe thousands of inspiration photos and it was the first time I had seen anything that felt right. There were enough aspects of the design that I liked and felt like I could make my own, and few enough things I disliked so that for the first time I was able to picture what my own tattoo might look and feel like.

I thought about it for a few months, but it didn't really come together until I decided what type of flowers I wanted to include in my design. Neither of favorite flowers (sunflowers and hydrangeas) would look good or make sense, and I couldn't think of any others. I liked the look of the flowers in the original design I had found but wasn't sure what they were, so I finally got the bright idea to find out. It turns out they're dogwoods, which just so happen to be the North Carolina state flower. Once I put that together, suddenly everything clicked. I had spent so long looking at this design and liking it but not knowing why, and convincing myself that it wasn't quite right because I couldn't link it to Louisville like I had been trying so hard to do. It finally hit me that of course it was not just okay, but right, for it to be based around North Carolina: without North Carolina - the 70.3 and especially that cursed 84.6 - there would have been no Louisville. 

Two days before the 1-year anniversary of IM Louisville, I went to a tattoo shop for a consultation. I had looked at tons of portfolios online before narrowing it down to an artist whose work I just adored. So on a Saturday afternoon I went to the shop to talk to her about what I wanted, knowing fully well that I was going to have to wait days or weeks after that to actually have it done. In a life-is-funny kind of way, and true to my IM experience, things didn't end up working out with the first artist. Instead, as I was getting ready to leave and wondering if I had just had a sign that I should maybe not go through with this after all, I overheard the shop manager telling someone on the phone that another artist (whose portfolio I had also looked at and thought could be a good fit for me) was currently taking walk-ins. And so I ended up with a different artist than the one I came in for, but one who worked with me to perfectly combine the inspiration I had brought and tailor it just for me. Two hours after I first stepped in to the shop, I walked out with my M-dot.

I have two other tattoos, one small script on my wrist and my childhood dog's paw print in black and gray on my hip, which were both very straightforward, so it was nerve-wracking not knowing exactly how this one was going to turn out until it was over. I kept looking over every few minutes and it was amazing watching it come to life, and I couldn't stop thinking about and wondering what it would look like when it was all done. Finally seeing it complete for the first time was surreal - it was strangely, admittedly not exactly what I had pictured in my head or what my inspiration looked like, but somehow was exactly perfect and perfectly mine. Just like Ironman, it happened the way I never expected or wanted it to, but the way it was always supposed to.

So this is my M-dot.

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

(And I'm a little obsessed with it)

Richmond Marathon 2018 Recap

I ran the Richmond Marathon two Saturdays ago, and sometime around mile 18 I thought about this blog and wondered if I would even bother writing a recap, which led to me thinking I might just delete it altogether (well, not delete, but make it private with no intention of looking at it again, like I have a couple of times in the last year). I'm still not sure that wouldn't have been the right decision, but I also realized I have a recap written for all 6 previous marathons I've run, so here I am if for no other reason than to keep the streak going!

But let's back up, because there is a lot that happened before I made it to that mile 18 marker.

If it wasn't obvious by the content and quantity of my posts leading up to this race, this is probably the least invested I have ever been training for and going in to a full marathon. I think that's mostly because I knew I would be running this without a time goal and that took a lot of the pressure off (maybe too much, ha!). Although very early in training I'd had my fingers crossed that this might be a PR training cycle, it quickly became clear that, between the summer temps and just not being in the same place fitness-wise as I was the last time I ran a PR, it wasn't going to be. Truth be told, I signed up for this race with more of a why not than a strong why, and that was fine with me. Not every race can be or needs to be a PR, and I was excited for the experience and a new challenge. I was coming off a year of big races and hard training and the prospect of running a low-pressure marathon was strangely appealing. I have run the Richmond half a few times (including my first sub-1:50 in 2014) and have heard so many good things about the full for so many years. My only big plan/race this year was the 50k, which the marathon worked well with since it's 5 weeks before the 50k, and I felt like the timing just made sense. Also, my brother-in-law Paul got into running and tri a couple years ago and had been throwing Richmond around as an option for his first full, so we kind of convinced each other to run it!

The Day Before
Richmond is only about a 90-minute drive from me but the race was on Saturday and I wanted to be able to take my time getting up, getting ready, and getting there the day before, so I took that Friday off from work. Ben ended up having a meeting he needed to be in Richmond for that afternoon, so we got to town around 1:30pm. I dropped him off and realized I had a couple hours to kill before meeting my brother-in-law at the expo for packet pickup, so I decided to drive the course after I realized that I actually had driven or knew the course for all my previous marathons except for IM Louisville. (The other marathons I've run are Charleston, Shamrock, and IMNC, and I did make it a point to drive the course for Charleston because it was my first, but for the others I knew the courses from running previous races on them. So Louisville is the only one I've ever gone in to with absolutely no experience on the course prior to the race.)

I hadn't done a ton of recon on the Richmond course since I thought I knew it pretty well from running the half several times, but in reality they only have about 8 or 9 miles of overlap. They run together for the first 2 or 3 miles, then the full splits off to go the opposite direction and doesn't pick the half course back up until mile 19 or 20, so even though I've run the half a few times there was actually a lot of uncharted territory for me! The James River runs through Richmond, with the downtown and main parts of the city on the eastern side, so I had never even been over to the western side before. I was mainly curious about that side because I had heard that was where the majority of the rolling hills are along the course, and I wanted to see how bad (or not) they were. Driving it seemed about what I had been expecting, although I did feel like, aside from some downhills, the whole course was on a slight incline!

Race Day
Race morning was pretty uneventful: I got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and Ben dropped me off at the start with about 25 minutes to go until the start. The only hitch was that I was really unsure about what to wear. The temperature had been predicted to be in the high 30s/low 40s, but it was a little warmer than I was expecting in the mid-40s. And it was windy but also sunny, so I couldn't decide what would be warm without being too warm. I ended up going with pants, a short sleeve top, and arm warmers but kind of wished I had worn shorts. The only reason I didn't go with shorts was because I didn't want to chafe, but I ended up chafing anyway so so much for that!

I'm not sure how or why I glossed over this in my last post, but an important detail I left out is that I was sick for over a week leading up to the race. I started coming down with a chest cold about 10 days beforehand and luckily was at my worst the weekend before the race - although I did have to skip my last long run because of it, so my longest run in the 3 weeks before the race ended up being 8 miles. On the bright side, I felt like I was finally on the mend a couple days before the race, but I was still coughing and had a lot of chest congestion. Two days before the race I was feeling pretty good and confident and hopeful, but the day before I ran my last 2-mile shakeout that felt awful. I chalked it up to getting some last-minute crap out of my system (not uncommon for my shakeout runs even when I'm healthy) and tried not to let it get me down. 

Paul had also been sick for a few weeks leading up to the race and was on antibiotics for a sinus infection the week of, so neither one of us arrived at the start line as well-rested and healthy as we'd hoped. We both felt fine, though, so we didn't really adjust our time goals. Paul had been wanting to run close to or under 4 hours, and I was feeling more like 4:15, so off we went to chase those down! We ended up starting a little farther back near the 4:30 pace group because of some weirdness with the corrals, so after a half mile or so Paul left me to go catch the 4:00 pace group.

The first couple of miles run downtown down Broad Street, which is a nice flat section but really congested. I don't remember paying much attention to those miles this year, probably because they are pretty familiar to me at this point and because I knew we still had so long to go and I tried to zone out as much as possible. I do remember noticing that they were faster than I should have been running (9:13, 9:10), but it was nice to feel good for the first time in a while, and I thought maybe that's just what my body felt like running that day? Or at least in that moment?

We turned on to Monument Avenue just after mile 2, which I had run previously during the Monument Avenue 10k in April. I ran that race as a hard workout and it was a warm, tough day, so all I could think about during the marathon was how happy I was to not be as miserable as I was that day! I clocked more some fast miles (9:03, 9:01) but was feeling good, even if I knew that wasn't going to last forever. I could feel my chest starting to tighten already by mile 3, so I just wanted to run what felt good for as long as I could. Not a great, strategy, I know, but since I didn't have a time goal I was fine with inevitably slowing down later in the race (or so I thought...). 

We turned off of Monument Ave at mile 4 into a neighborhood, and I stopped at my first water stop there (I had skipped the first one at mile 2). I knew my sister-in-law and Paul's mom would be somewhere between there and mile 5 so I focused on finding them during that mile. There were lots of cross streets with lots of people out so I kept looking and looking and looking, and I finally saw them right at mile 4.5! I stopped for a quick hug and they told me Paul was only about a minute or so ahead of me. Shortly after I saw them we turned onto a more major street lined with gorgeous trees! So much of the course was filled with trees and fall foliage, which was one of the reasons I wanted to run this race. It was beautiful! It was still pretty crowded and there was just a sea of runners ahead for what looked like forever (9:14).

The next mile we went up a little bit of a hill before turning right before the mile 6 marker to cut over to the road that would eventually take us across the river (9:44). I was so relieved to see another water stop at the top of the hill at mile 6! After that we got on another road with massive, gorgeous homes. I had heard that this mile was downhill and hadn't really noticed it in the car, but I definitely noticed it running! It was a welcome break and I was still cruising (9:01 - fastest mile of the day). 

Next we got to the bridge that took us over the river. There was a beautiful view as we crossed and I kind of wish I had stopped to take a photo like I saw so many other people doing! It was really a lovely fall morning. After we came off the bridge we descended down a ramp to a road that ran along the river, and hit the mile 8 marker right at the bottom of the ramp (9:17). The next two miles were along a narrow, tree-lined road that honestly looked more like a paved trail than a legit road and paralleled the river. It could not have been more different than the downtown, urban streets we started on! It was really beautiful and peaceful and a part of the course people just rave about. It was really nice but daunting knowing how much we still had left to go! I tried to focus on running the mile I was in, but I could feel my legs getting heavier and I was already starting to slow down (9:29). 

Apparently I missed all race photographers except at mile 21 and 26, so photo via Richmond Marathon

We turned off the river road just before the mile 10 marker (9:06 - not sure what made this mile so speedy?). There was a short but kind of steep hill getting from the river road up to the neighborhood, but it continued with a gradual climb for maybe a quarter mile after that. If I had to pick one point where the race changed for me, that was it. That was where the rolling hills started and where I started to run out of steam (way too early, I know!). My chest was feeling really tight and thankfully there was an aid station just after mile 10, as I found that drinking water and taking walk breaks helped to relieve it.

At mile 11 we hit the main road we would be on for the next few miles until we crossed back over the river. I wasn't really a huge fan of this part and the miles kind of blurred together (9:57, 9:42, 10:01). This road wasn't particularly exciting except for a big party station we ran by with lots of people out cheering. The road was boring, and by that point the sun had come out and we were on a wide open road with no shade so it was really sunny and I was really warm, and I think the wheels kind of started to come off at that point (again, way too early, I know!). My chest was still tight and getting tighter so I gave in around mile 11 and started taking some non-aid station walk breaks. On one of them I downloaded the race app so I could see how Paul was doing, and I saw that he crossed the half checkpoint right at 2:00. I was happy that he was still on target and hoped he was feeling good! I crossed it a few minutes later at 2:03, surprising given that the two halfs I ran during training were 2:10 and 2:04. I shouldn't be particularly proud of this given how much slower my second half ended up being, of course, but I have to take the little victories where I can get them!

By the halfway point I was feeling pretty bored of running on the same road, and all I could think about was how much longer until the bridge to go back over to downtown, which I knew was around mile 16. The teen miles were wearing on me even more than usual since I had been running for so long on the part of the course I had never run before, and I was anxious to start making my way back to the part I did know. I also wasn't feeling great - my chest was really hurting and I was taking walk breaks fairly often (I honestly don't know how many but it felt like a lot) to get my breathing back under control. Certainly not ideal, and I wasn't thrilled by how much I still had left to go, but I just focused on moving forward. I saw a sign early on that said, "Forward is a pace" and I really embraced that especially in the second half! (10:17, 9:48).

Finally we made it to the bridge, although there was a pretty good climb leading up to the bridge before we turned right at mile 15 to get on the bridge itself. And when we did, I almost wished we hadn't - it was so windy and so cold up there! It was crazy that a few miles prior I had been complaining about being so hot and wishing I had worn shorts, to fishing my arm warmers back out of my fuel belt. Everyone complains about this bridge and before I ran this race, I couldn't figure out why! It's long but it's not steep at all - in fact, a lot of my training was on a bridge much longer with a steep climb, so this was basically nothing! Plus there's a really beautiful view of the city skyline as you cross, and so when I drove it the day before I couldn't figure out what the issue was. I'm still not sure, and I think it could have been better if it hadn't been so windy, but I didn't end up being the fan of this bridge that I thought I would be. I had really wanted to run the whole thing just to prove to myself that I could, but the tightness in my chest had long ago forced me into regular walk intervals and I ended up walking some of the bridge. 

The mile 16 marker was at the end of the bridge (10:18), and it was at that point that I got swallowed and then completely left by the 4:15 pace group. I had been feeling good knowing that they were somewhere behind me, but by the time I saw them pass I already knew I was going to be well over 4:15 (it was looking like 4:20ish at this point). We were once again downtown and this was when the wheels came completely off, and I never recovered from then until the end. I had finished one pouch of my Honey Stinger chews and started on a second pouch of a different flavor, and for whatever reason that flavor just did not agree with me. I felt regular bouts of nausea for a couple miles, and when I tried to eat some more around mile 17 (11:12) I had to spit them out because they turned me off so much. I'm actually not sure I ate anything from there until the end... 

It was around this time that I developed a pretty bad cramp in my diaphragm, likely from coughing, that lasted for the remainder of the race. Between that and the nausea I really didn't feel great but like I said, I had embraced that forward was a pace and I never stopped moving, no matter how slowly I was going or how slowly I was going. It was rough but I remember getting to the mile 18 marker (12:05) and just feeling so incredulous but grateful that I had made it that far! It had been a long morning but still short enough that I somehow felt like I had blinked and there I was, like I couldn't believe my body had just run (or run-walked, as the case may be) 18 miles.

I was able to get it somewhat together for mile 19 (10:41), but that was the last time I felt somewhat decent until the last mile. At that point we finally linked back up with the half marathon course (although the half was well over by that point), so the last 7 miles were all miles I had run before. I was feeling pretty beat up by this point and was having to take more and more walk breaks as the miles progressed. There was a timing mat at mile 20 (11:30) and I checked the app again to see where Paul was. He had crossed it just about 6 minutes before I did, which I knew meant he must have been struggling just like I was. 

This course really is gorgeous, especially the neighborhood during mile 21 (13:30 - slowest of the day, ), but that mile and the next few were the worst for me so looking at the scenery was the last thing on my mind. At that point I was just hoping to get through the final 5 miles in an hour. My diaphragm cramp had somewhat subsided, but I got one in my side that was absolutely stabbing. It got to the point where I literally couldn't run for more than 10 seconds at a time without acute pain stopping me in my tracks. It was so annoying, and I audibly yelled, "This is ridiculous!" while coming to a sudden stop multiple times. I had my watch on my lap pace and I did my best to stay under 12-minute miles, but didn't quite make it (12:05, 12:11, 13:10).

At this point we were heading back into downtown and during mile 25 made one of the last turns to head toward the finish. This mile was mostly flat, maybe slight downhill, and I finally realized that I could keep a decent pace if I just slowed to walk for a second or two when the cramp hit to breathe it out. I made it to mile 25 (11:47), and to a sign saying that there was one mile to go. Miraculously I was able to get it together and (slowly) run the whole last mile (10:36). 

Despite not feeling very well for the majority of the race, I never got upset or emotional. It didn't go great (understatement of the year), but despite how not great it went, I really was fine. This was by far the least emotional I have ever been during a marathon, but still, something at mile 25.5 made suddenly made me think about how surreal this was, how I was about to finish a marathon, 26.2 miles! I did tear up for a second then. I have run good marathons and I have run bad marathons but regardless of how the previous 25 miles went, getting to that last mile or less always feels amazing.

Richmond is famous for its downhill finish, as the last half mile winds downtown with a descent that leads to the final quarter mile straight down a steep hill. It's so steep I always have to remind myself to be careful and not to fall (thankfully this year I was not running quite so fast that that was as much of a problem but given my last splits, the 8:50 last 0.2 that I ran is pretty indicative of the extreme descent!).

You can see the start of the downhill with about a quarter mile to go - it just gets steeper from there to the finish!

Official Time
(10:26 pace) 

So, ouch. I completely missed my A (4:10) and B (4:18) goals and only hit one of my C (4:28 or 4:30 or 4:36 - couldn't nail that one down) goals, pretty much by the skin of my teeth. That was not what I had hoped for but wasn't far off from what I was expecting given the circumstances. I have never been good at pacing marathons, but I ran the biggest positive split I have ever run (2:03/2:33). Yikes. My slowest few miles were slower than any miles I have ever run ("run"?) in a marathon. Ever. (I checked). And I've run two of them 15-20 minutes slower than this one. I still kind of can't believe the second half went as poorly as it did. Mentally it wasn't the worst I have ever felt in a marathon, and it was the best I have ever felt when things went really wrong, which I guess is some kind of weird victory, but objectively it was pretty awful.

I know that even without being sick I wouldn't have been in PR shape, but I think I could have solidly run a 4:15 if I had spent the week and a half before the race healthy and the race itself being able to breathe, not coughing, etc. This was actually smack in the middle of my marathon performances (3:58, 4:18, 4:28, 4:36, 4:49, 4:57) - that's median, not mean - so not my best and not my worst. It's closer to my worst than to my best, which doesn't feel great, but oh well. I probably should have started more conservatively and might have had a better second half if I had done that, but I really did my best mile to mile, all things considered, and that's all I can really ask for.

I least there's that

I wish training for this race had gone much better than it did, and I wish the race itself had gone better. I don't care that much, but I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me at all. I think the think that bothered me most was constantly having to make excuses, at first for my injury and then for my sickness. I actually did enjoy training overall, but I think that's the one thing that made it not as enjoyable as it could have been, or at least different from all my previous marathons. I've never gone into any of those feeling undertrained and definitely never sick, and I wish I had been able to run this race at my full potential. I didn't get to, and that's fine, but I wish I had. That's the truth.

For all the hype this marathon gets, I'm not sure if I would run it again. There were some beautiful parts of the full course that I had never gotten to see on the half course, but I'm not sure if there were enough of them to make the full a must-do. The 8 miles or so on the other side of the river felt a little long to me. I definitely think I'll run Richmond again, but I think in the future I will stick to the half since in my opinion that's a long enough distance to highlight some of Richmond's best areas. The full was nice overall but there were some parts I didn't really care for, and it just wasn't nice enough overall for the full to be a repeat for me. Not saying I'll never do it again but I'm definitely not in a hurry.

I wish I had done better but I am proud of myself for never giving up. I think this training cycle and this race did a lot for me mentally to prove to myself that I can adapt when things don't go as planned. I didn't give up when I got injured, I just adjusted my training to back off when and how I needed to. I didn't give up during the race just because I was sick, and I adjusted my expectations when my body started breaking down. In the past this turn of events would have made me really frustrated and upset and would have elicited lots of mid-race tears, so the fact that none of that happened is at least something I can be happy about. Silver linings, or something?

And, I guess most importantly, I ran the entire race and finished pain-free, something that truly seemed like an impossibility just a couple months ago. As crappy as my race was, at least it wasn't painful (at least not in the bad, injury way) and for that I am truly, truly grateful.

At the end of the day, I'm chalking this up to a 26.2-mile training run. Next stop: Seashore Nature Trail 50k!

Richmond Ready

I just want to preface this by saying that overall - objectively, not meant to be taken in any particular way - that I did not train for this as well as I have trained for my other marathons. Not that I trained poorly, but for the majority of training my focus was not on getting in miles and getting faster but on rehabbing an injury (which I've never had during marathon training before). I missed 3 long runs total, 2 of which were pretty key runs (an 18- and a 20-miler), and I don't think I've ever missed more than 1 during any previous marathon training cycles. I don't think I've missed 3 long runs, total, out of all my previous marathon training cycles. But regardless - and I know this sounds like a cover-your-ass kind of thing or a thing people say to make themselves feel better, but I really mean this: I am really happy and really proud that I made it this far and my big goal is to get to the start line and then over the finish line.

I came in to this training cycle feeling a little physically burnt out. I've only recently started putting the pieces together on this, but I think I was a little overtrained this spring. I had a lot of life stuff going on at the time that 100% factored in to my blowing up at Ocean City in April, but even without that stuff I felt the best physically during Shamrock in March, yet continued full steam ahead until Ocean City about a month and a half later. I was never mentally burnt out though, but I still took some time off from running and backed off on my mileage in the couple of months after O.C. By the time marathon training came round in July I was really excited about it. I was really looking forward to this race and felt really good about it, and about my training plan, and I was psyched to start. So mentally I was in a good place, one that I had struggled to get back to and I was really happy about that. But I think I made a mistake not recognizing that I had overtrained in the spring and then trying to keep that same level and then advance it for the marathon. I think I just did too much too fast, which all kind of makes sense when I look back at it now. It didn't at the time but it does now.

But as excited as I was for marathon training, it did not by any means go how I expected. This whole year for my running has been so different, and this training cycle in particular has been unlike any I've ever experienced before. Every training cycle is a little bit different, of course, but this one was full of curveballs and there were many times I thought the smart and right thing to do would be to drop to the half marathon. I never really considered dropping out entirely because I was confident I could get through the half, but I had times I thought about dropping down and might have if not for my brother-in-law also running it (his first marathon!), and also wanting to do my 50k in December. Obviously the 50k was not contingent on me running Richmond, but it did mean that I couldn't back down on distance overall so I decided to try to stick it out.

Starting marathon training in the middle of the summer was something I have never done before, and of course that was difficult. My pace suffered, as everyone's does and as I knew it would - I was prepared for that, but I still found myself struggling to hit paces that I should have been able to hit based on previous times. I'm not an expert or a coach and I don't really know anything about anything, but I think I was still feeling the repercussions of overtraining in the spring because by the time marathon training started in July it felt even harder than usual.

On the flip side, I think I did a good job of not getting frustrated by that. I definitely had runs where I was frustrated, and don't mean to pretend like I didn't, but I think overall I was more able to accept where I was and the paces I was running (or not running) better than I have been able to previously when I haven't been able to perform like I think I should. So even though I had some runs that left me frustrated or upset or wondering what was going on with me, I didn't let it get to me and just moved on. That's the main reason why in the beginning I didn't write or talk about training - there was really nothing to say about it. I was running slower paces than I have in a really long time and I really didn't have anything insightful to say about that - that's just the way it was.

So for the first third of training things were going okay but nothing special. Then the middle third was when I was going through my hip/glute injury, showing up to most of my runs not knowing for sure if or how far I was going to make it. I was able to make it through the majority of them, but I had to slow down even more than I already had been. Any semblance of speed work was completely off the table indefinitely. Thankfully it never got bad enough that I had to totally quit training and I did my best to deal with it to take it day by day. Around week 10 those days turned into an entire week where I knew that pushing myself to run would not be the correct decision, and so I missed a whole week of training. I think most runners can relate that sometimes that's the hardest thing to do, but actually it was pretty easy for me, and that tells me I made the right decision. I kept my eye on the prize the whole time and in the past that's been really hard for me, so I'm really proud of myself for recognizing that I might be able to get through 40 miles one week but it might cost me the marathon, and that those 26 miles were more important than the miles I had to do that day or that week.

The last 6 weeks, the last third of training, has been pulling the pieces together at the last minute the best I can. For a while it was touch-and-go but for the last 3 weeks, maybe 4, but I went to see a physical therapist and was able to get everything working again. I've been able to run pain-free for about 3 or 4 weeks now, which has been great but is certainly not enough time to get totally back on track. At this point the ship has pretty much sailed as far as getting in quality training, so the last few weeks my focus has been on getting in my long runs and making up as much lost time as I can without putting myself back where I started and getting injured. 

So it's been an interesting and unpredictable training cycle. certainly not what I wanted at the beginning. I went into this hoping a PR was somewhere out there but not feeling in any way, shape, or form confident that that was a real possibility. I realized pretty quickly that my fitness was not quite there and I'm honestly really fine with that. I know it's coming up on 2 years ago at this point, but I'm still beyond thrilled that I was able to run a 3:58 at Shamrock last spring. It feels like eons ago but it really wasn't that long ago, I've accomplished so much since then. A marathon PR this fall would have been nice if that's the way things had panned out and if that's where my training had led me, but it hasn't and I'm still very pleased with that PR. I have no idea when or if I'll be in a position to break that but I'm happy leaving it on the table as a future goal to strive for and knowing that now just isn't quite the right time.

So goals! I have some, but they come with the caveat that I don't know what to expect. I really don't. My pace has been kind of all over the place and I really don't know how to gauge what I'm capable of on race day. I just haven't done enough long long runs this training cycle or recently to feel like I really have a handle on them, so that's leaving me unsure of what's realistically possible and what's not. But with that said...

C Goal: 4:30 and/or faster than my Ironman marathons (NC - 4:28, Louisville - 4:36)
I would like to think I can run a standalone marathon faster than those but maybe not? But maybe. I hope so. I wouldn't be super thrilled with a 4:30ish but I guess I wouldn't be super disappointed either.

B Goal: Second fastest marathon (sub-4:17)
Like I said, I'm pretty sure a PR is well off the table and has been for some time, but there's almost a 20-minute gap between my fastest (3:58) and my second-fastest (4:18), so falling somewhere in there would be nice.

A Goal: Sub-4:10
Real talk: I would just really love to not be significantly slower than my PR.

I think my plan is to start in between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers and just see what happens! Starting with the 4:15 would be the wiser choice especially since I'm not even positive I can keep up with them, but man I would really like to at least keep that 4:00 group in sight. If I do start close to the 4:00 group I think it will be pretty obvious after a mile or two if I need to drop back, and if that happens then maybe I'll try to hang on to the 4:15 group. We'll see!

With all of that said, I am really excited to run this marathon. For a long time I wasn't, but now I finally am. It felt like it took forever to get here, especially because summer seemed never-ending, but now it's finally here and I am finally ready. It's so easy to focus on all the things this training cycle hasn't been, and all the things this race isn't going to be - not in a negative way, just in a realistic way - and not on all the things that it will be. But what is is is a big deal and a major accomplishment! It's been over a year since the last marathon I ran (IM Louisville) and over a year and a half since I last ran a standalone marathon. It's only my 7th marathon (including IM - I never know if or how to count those) which seems like a lot but also doesn't. Someone at work today found out I was running this and asked how far and when I told her 26.2 miles she was taken back a little and said, "You can run 26 miles?!" and I immediately responded, "Yeah, I can!" In that moment it struck me how cool it was a cool thing to be able to say that. 

It took me a while to get back into the swing of things with long distance, and in the beginning 10 and 12 mile runs were a hardcore struggle. I really doubted if I would ever get back to this point. Running was just hard and then I dealt with injury and I just haven't had the opportunity to train like I really wanted to. But when I have done my really long runs I've felt freaking incredible. It truly feels superhuman being able to do this at any pace. I think because I know so many runners and triathletes and most of my friends have done half or full marathons that I forget that we're really a small subset of the world at large and that it is not normal for most people to move their bodies 26 miles. I'm excited to prove to myself that I can.

I hope that when I get to the start line I'm just happy that a) I'm there and b) I'm not sweating to death because those are the only two things I wanted this summer. I know it's so stupid and such a runner cliche to complain about the weather but the reason I run is to enjoy my surroundings and the world around me, and I am not able to do that when it's one billion degrees outside. So I hope I can stand there in the 40 degree weather, without KT tape up and down my leg, without worries or doubts about making it through the distance (aside from the normal, reasonable ones of course because marathons are inherently kind of scary), and just be glad that I made it there and that I have a body that can do this.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned this year is that just because I've done something before doesn't mean I can do it again now, or ever again. It's almost been...not like starting over, not a continuation, not a new chapter, but another book entirely. I loved that last book - it had happy chapters, it had sad chapters, and it had a great ending and I loved it - but this is a new book, completely unrelated to my last book. So this marathon is the first one of this book and that's a story I'm looking forward to writing on Saturday!

My First Ultra: A Registration Story

I always said I'd never run an ultra.

I would happily run up to 26.2 miles, but a step beyond that was a step too far. I was elated to add, "marathoner" to my running resume in 2014 but never had any desire, at all, whatsoever, to add the "ultra-" prefix.

Except...I'm nothing if not steadfast in my appreciation for numerical symbolism, so I have always had the caveat that maybe, maybe, IF, I ever ran an ultra (and it would only be a 50k because, again, NOT that interested in running much farther than 26.2, if any at all), I might consider running a 50k (31.1 miles) for my 31st birthday. 

I was born on October 2, 1987 and turned 31 earlier this month.

So here we are.

Truthfully, aside from the (arguably unncessary) extra distance - the ultra in ultramarathon - the biggest reason I've never had a desire to run an one is because I truly don't enjoy trail running, and that's where 99% of ultramarathons take place. A large majority of them are on difficult, technical trails, and that's neither my running forte nor my happy place. The only trails I've ever really run on are in First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach - a magical place that's in the woods but still only about a half mile in either direction from either the ocean or an inlet, which is my kind of trail. There's one main trail about 5 miles long that's nice and wide and open, with some narrower side trails. There are some gentle undulations, especially on the side trails, but extremely mild as far as trail running is concerned (from what I understand, anyway, considering I've never done it).

Earlier this year I was really struggling with where I wanted to go next in my running, and I tossed around everything from gunning for a half marathon PR to doing a few half Ironmans to maybe running my first ultramarathon. Every December the local run club in Virginia Beach hosts a 50k on the trails in First Landing, so I've known about it for several years now but have never considered it a legitimate possibility. But this past January, as I was really wrestling over whether or not to move back to Virginia Beach from DC - I loved my job but it made more sense for Ben's job for us to be in VB, and I missed the beach with every fiber of my being - I told myself that if if we ended up back in VB sometime this year that would be a sign, and I'd run the 50k. Even though of all the races I was considering the ultra was the one the most out of left field, I kind of loved the idea of doing something totally different and - even though I'd checked off basically everything on my running to-do and wish lists - of still having something new and exciting to work toward. Ultimately Ben and I decided it made the most sense - for his job, for us, for our family - to move, and so we moved back in April. 

Although I had a million other things to focus on with moving and starting a new job, the thought of that 50k, the promise I'd made to myself, and the idea that that Universe had put these plans in motion for me never left my mind. I even recruited my friend Robert to sign up with me! Somehow this big, crazy thing I said I'd never do became more and more of a reality, and the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea of it. I think it was around May that we agreed we both wanted to run it, but registration didn't open until June. I checked the race website every week or even every few days, and even more frequently the closer we got to June. Finally, a few days into June, there it was! Registration was open...but I wasn't quite yet ready to register. My head was still spinning from my second Mountains of Misery the week before, I was still trying to decide if I wanted to do a half Ironman in September, a road marathon in November, or an ultra in December (actually I was trying to convince my coach how I could do all 3...), and I just didn't have my head on straight enough to make a decision about the 50k. Plus, it's not like it was going to sell out!

But that's exactly what happened. Even though I had no intention of signing up right away, I still checked the website daily. It has looked like this since the beginning of June (and still does as of this screenshot on October 14):

So imagine my shock and horror when on June 14, less than a week after registration opened, I had the following text exchange with my dad:

I deleted Twitter a while ago and am rarely on Facebook, so I missed all updates that the run club put out in the first (and only) week that registration was open. That whole week when I had been going straight to the race website (which is hosted on the run club's website but is a separate page:, the run club website showed a feed of their Twitter page clearly showing that there were 200 spots left...then 100...then 50...then none...

I was truly in disbelief, mainly because this sellout happened within one week of registration being open. I knew this was a somewhat popular race, and I was pretty sure it wasn't very big, and I had never run it or followed its participation closely so I couldn't immediately quantify either of those things, but I never thought it would sell out that quickly. It turns out my gut instinct was right: after going back in time via Twitter, I discovered that last year the race sold out in September and that the year before it had sold out in October. So, yes, somewhat of a trend in an earlier sell-out date, BUT it was previously capped at 200 participants and this year the cap increased to 300. So, to recap, that's 100 more people than usual who signed up 3 months sooner than usual? I still can't get the math to make sense. 

At any rate, it filled ip within a week, and I didn't realize how invested I was in this race until it was swept out from under me. I was gutted. Gutted! The only 50k I've ever wanted to do, and the only year I've ever wanted to do it, and it was gone before it even started. There was an option to be added to a waitlist, which I did, but considering that I was #48 on the list, my hopes for ever getting in were pretty low.

I wasn't willing to let it go that easily though, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was no reason my friend and I couldn’t go out and run our own, unsupported 50k the day after the official race. There would be nothing stopping me - I could go out to that trail and run 50k tomorrow if I wanted to. As for the missed benefits of doing an actual race, there are actually only two aid stations provided on the course (which you hit multiple times because of the multiple loops, but only two physical locations), and they’re both permanent fixtures at trailheads, with water fountains and bathrooms, not anything specifically set up by or for the race. Sure, the race would provide extra water and food at each one, but I could just as easily stash my own food (which is what I’d likely eat anyway rather than on-course food since that’s what I’m used to). Of course, the biggest thing I’d miss out on would be the full race experience and the camaraderie of running with a few hundred other people, which would be a huge downside, but I was really only interested in doing this 50k this one, so that was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Everyone I told thought it was crazy, but luckily my friend is even crazier than I am (like, just-ran-a-trail-marathon-on-a-whim-2-weeks-after-an-Ironman kind of crazy) and he was all in. So that was new the plan! We were doing it no matter what!

My Richmond training and Robert’s IM Maryland/OBX Marathon training feed right into the 50k, which is 5 weeks after our marathons, so even though we continued to build our distance, the 50k was more of an afterthought. I still checked the waiting list periodically just in case, but after a couple months I had only moved up a few spots. It wasn’t looking good.

Then one day in August, the tide unexpectedly turned. Robert texted me to tell me that he had just met with potential renter at one of his properties and the race came up in conversation when the guy saw his IM license plate frame. It turns out that the renter is a well-known and well-connected local runner and knows the director of the 50k really well. Robert ended up renting the house out to this guy, and (unrelated to their property deal, ha) told me that his renter said he’d have no problem getting us both into the race.

Say what! 

It was such a weird, small-world turn of events. 

And that’s where I thought the story would end, but it’s actually not. I’m not sure of the details, but to make a long story short (too late!) (name that movie reference), nothing really ended up coming out of that connection as far as I can tell. Every week or so we would hear that we were definitely in and would receive confirmation soon, but by mid-September hadn’t received anything. I wasn’t too worried about it, as the race isn’t until December, and I assumed we would get confirmation eventually. Given that I have the Richmond Marathon 5 weeks before the 50k, and that I’ve been dealing with injuries that have made me wonder if I can even make it through these races (for the record, I’m fairly confident at this point that I’m good to go), the fact that I wasn’t officially signed up for the ultra just wasn’t something I was focused on. It definitely wasn’t something I was thinking about the morning the Hokie Half Marathon - my 31st half marathon and a week before my 31st birthday. 

A quick aside: the Hokie Half is one of my favorite races and always ends up being a magical experience for me. My first time running it in 2014 was my first sub-2, in 2015 it was a training run just before my first half Ironman, and in 2016 it was my last long run before what was supposed to be my first full Ironman. Blacksburg is such a special place to me and the times I’ve Hokie Half have all been different but pure gold all the same. I’ve never had anything short of an amazing race there.

This year was no exception: I ran pain-free for the first time in weeks (months?) and I improved my time from a half two weeks prior by 6 minutes (on a hilly course), but that wasn't all. As I was running the race, just before mile 1, my watch alerted me that I had a notification on my phone. I saw that it was an email and would usually just give a quick glance, but I saw the name of the 50k somewhere in the short blurb (all my watch can handle displaying), so I pulled my phone out of my Flip Belt to read it. It was a notification that I was off the waiting list, with an invitation to register good for the next 3 days. I couldn't believe it! Even though I had spent the last month or so being fairly confident I was going to get into the race, I never expected to actually get off the waitlist and for it to happen like that. At that point I didn't care how I got in, it was just a relief to know that I was definitely, 100%, officially in the race. I signed up later that day on the drive home - what a great early 31st birthday present and boost to my 31st half marathon! 

So that’s the long version of how didn’t sign up in time, was going to run my own 50k, then thought I might have someone to pull some strings to get me in, but ultimately just ended up just signing up like a normal person. I don’t think Robert’s connection ended up making a difference, but I guess it doesn’t matter in the end. I don’t think I’ll ever take the chance on an important race selling out before I register ever again!

Richmond Marathon Training: Getting My Feet Under Me

Hello, training blogging, my old friend.

I don't even know where to start with this one, primarily because I don't think I want to share my Richmond training the way I have historically shared my training: with daily workout recaps, weekly stats, etc. While the data nerd in me really wants to scratch that itch, it can rest assured knowing that I have all of that information stored in Garmin, Smashrun, my training spreadsheet, etc. There is truly no need to rehash it here, as I'm not sure how interesting it would be, and I'm not sure it's good for me anyway. I've gone through a lot of growth in my training this year - a lot of progress, some setbacks, some mental clarity, sometimes of more confusion than ever - and as much as I want to try to write it all down, to qualify it and to quantify it, I'm not sure that I can. And even if I could, I'm not sure that I should. 

But because I haven't really recorded or documented anything beyond the basics, I have arrived here, at week 14 of marathon training - nearly to the end of yet another training cycle - wondering where the weeks have gone. Isn't that the way it always goes though? That's a real question, not a rhetorical one, because I really don't remember the answer. I have some form of training amnesia where every training cycle I forget everything about the last one, which is part of the reason I have kept detailed training logs for so long. It helps me to be able to look back and remember the high points and the low points, to remind myself what feelings are normal and happen every single time. I just didn’t feel like doing that this time, and I have no regrets about that choice, but it does make it more difficult to look back and form a nice narrative of exactly how things have gone.

So let’s start from the beginning, or at least what I can remember of it.

I stopped working with my coach on literally the first day of this training cycle, which wasn't altogether unexpected but was still an...interesting way to start a new training cycle. It was a mutual decision and, honestly, a bit of a relief, as it gave me the freedom and the flexibility to map out a training plan that I could truly care and be excited about (not that I wasn't excited about my coach's training plan, but there's something about having a personal stake in my training that really motivates me). 

The first six weeks of training went just fine - not great, not bad, just fine. I focused on running more intuitively, running how I wanted when I wanted, rather than 100% according to plan. As a former strict canned plan follower this was a departure from my past marathon training, but I liked it. I felt like I had lots of freedom to enjoy life without the marathon taking over (maybe even too much freedom) and my runs, while not spectacular, we’re decent enough to keep me going day after day. There was truly nothing noteworthy to report. 

Things changed somewhere around week 7. That was the week Mollie Tibbetts’s body was found. Mollie was a complete stranger, years and states apart from me, but her disappearance while on a run in rural Iowa in mid-July shook me. I followed her case for a month, and I knew it wasn’t a question of how it would end, it was a question of when. I thought I’d feel some type of strange morbid relief when her body was finally found, hoping to confirm my wishful thinking that it had been an accident, a hit-and-run - tragic, absolutely, but not sinister. When her body was found the news quickly emerged that a suspect was in custody, a suspect who had followed, harassed, and attacked her. The fact that Mollie spent her last moments on this earth living out my biggest fear and worst nightmare was devastating. 

I have never grieved for a complete stranger like I grieved for Mollie. I sobbed at random intervals, I was nauseous, I was on edge. Paranoid is my default state when I run, but not enough to make me do 100% of the things I can do to stay safe 100% of the time. I run alone, I run in the dark, I run with headphones, I let my mind wander and stop paying attention to my surroundings. After Mollie died my paranoia hit an all time high, and my running suffered. Around that same time the morning light during my before-work running window had all but vanished, so I stopped running in the morning. I stopped caring about tempo paces or intervals. I had a run they day after her body was found that I couldn’t even bring myself to finish. 

I wish I could say that I was at least in a good physical place despite not being in a good mental place, but that’s not true either. Around that same time I started feeling some pain in my right thigh. Note that I have had nearly every injury you can think of on my left side, but until now, my right side had stayed perfectly intact. I cautiously hobbled through runs at an easy pace, but a week later the pain had returned bad enough that I took one searing step of a planned 5-miler before calling it off. I had a half marathon scheduled 3 days later and although I drove to packet pickup the day before with almost no intention of being able to run 13 miles the next day, I made it though with copious massage, ibuprofen, and KT tape (and my slowest half marathon time in 4.5 years). 

And that’s more or less how the last 8 weeks have gone. I’ve thrown out any semblance of speedwork, approach every run cautiously, and have been solidly in rehab mode since late August. My pain has been slowly decreasing overall, but it ebbs and flows and moves all around, from my hamstring to my knee to my piriformis to my hip flexors back and forth a bunch of times. At times it’s made running an impossibility, but mostly it’s just irritating. I’ve skipped my two longest long runs (an 18-miler and a 20-miler) and missed an entire week of running (although that was for a random foot thing on my left side that luckily went away with rest). I’ve missed over 65 miles of training, pretty important miles when training should have been really ramping up. 

On the bright side, since this crap started I have made it through two half marathons (the second one much hillier than the first flat one, yet 6 minutes faster!) and a few 16-17 milers. I know that all is not lost, but my training certainly hasn’t been ideal and has been far less than I’ve ever trained for a marathon before. I never had a clear picture of how I wanted this training cycle to go or what I wanted from Richmond, but if I had, this would not be it.

Now, a more reasonable person might have seen the writing on the wall, but not me. Maybe it would make more sense to drop to the half or not do this race at all - and believe me, I have shuffled through both options several times - but as long as I think I can get through the race without significant pain or damage, I’m going to do it. I’ve been seeing a sports massage therapist I really like and trust, I’m seeing a PT I also really like and trust next week, and I feel like I’m in good hands. The pain is like a 2 on a scale from 1 to 10, so I don’t feel like I’m doing further damage, it’s just annoying that it’s there at all. 

But I feel like I can manage it, and that’s all I’m really interested in doing at this point. I ran a big PR last year that I’m still happy with, and don’t think I was in any position to even come close to that this year (injury or not), so nothing lost there. I plan on taking some time off from marathoning after IM Lake Placid next year, so if I scrapped Richmond I don’t even know what my next opportunity would be. At this point I’m just looking forward to getting through another 26.2 miles, running through a pretty city and enjoying some hopefully nice weather (something I think will be easy to appreciate considering it has been summer for what has felt like 14 years straight). I know those sound like things injured people say to make themselves feel better, but they’re true! And I don’t totally consider myself injured as much as just not capable of running to my full potential right now. But that was true well before this injury started, so no big change in the grand scheme of things. 

Plus! I do have one original intention for this race that still holds: I’m using it as a training run for my first ultra! I guess that gives me another thing to post about...

Racing Wisely: How I Chose My Fall Race

I had a lot of trouble deciding what races to run this year - not because I was having a hard time finding one, but because I found too many and couldn't decide what to do. This is the first fall since 2014 that I haven't had a half or full Ironman, so it's the first fall in several years that my race calendar has been wide open and I've been able to consider lots of races I've had to put on the backburner. I really had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to do a half Ironman or a full marathon (or both?!) this fall, but eventually I decided on focusing strictly on running. It still feels a little weird that this is my first summer since 2013 with absolutely zero triathlon training, but as much as I've missed it, I've enjoyed the break even more.

With my decision to focus on running set, I had to figure out what exactly that meant. There are approximately 427 fall races that I love or would love to run, but just because I took tri off the table didn't mean I could run all the running races that struck my fancy. There are so many great fall races, and for good reason - it's the best running time of the year - but I had to narrow them down and focus. Most of all, I had to pick one to be my big/goal race. I had one in mind - the Richmond Marathon - but I was having trouble fully committing and articulating why exactly I wanted to run it. 

As I was working through that, I remembered a book I discovered a few years ago - Racing Wisely by Sage Rountree - that deals with exactly this topic. I purchased the book after taking a class with Sage at Wanderlust in 2015, mere days before I began training for my first 70.3. Sage is an OG in yoga for athletes, and I actually bought her Yoga for Runners book (in print!) shortly after I started running in 2011, but I never realized she was such an accomplished endurance athlete and Ironman several times over until taking a class with her. Racing Wisely is a short but comprensive guide to - you guessed it! - racing wisely, from choosing a race and a training plan all the way to race logistics and even post-race recovery.

When I bought it originally I was well into the throes of training for my chosen race, so I admittedly skipped over the first half of the book to get to the race day guidance. Considering that I've found the latter half of the book to be so useful for race prep (I've used it to write race plans for several big races), I wasn't at all surprised to discover that the guidance for choosing a race was super helpful too. I was really hesitant and doubtful of my ability to choose a race since my spring goal half went so poorly, largely because I put basically no thought into the race I chose other than its practicality. This book led me through the thought process I needed to go to in order to figure out why I felt pulled to race Richmond, and whether or not I should listen to that feeling. 

One of the first points Sage makes is to point out the difference between intention and goals. These concepts come up in the race plans I have made previously, so I was familiar with them, but I enjoyed taking a deeper dive into them. Essentially, both are important parts of racing, but they're opposite sides of a coin: intention is private, internal, and helps us to remember to bring the right attitude, especially to the things we can't control. Goals, on the other hand, are public and measurable outcomes, and help us have the ability to control the things we can control. Intention is our philosphical approach to the race, while goals are our practical approach. The combination of these two allows us to meet our goals while maintaining a positive outlook according to our intention. This means that not every race may be a PR, but every race can be a personal best. 

I felt a little lost in my racing and my goals at the time, so I found this section extremely enlightening. It reminded me of what racing, at its core, really means to me. Racing is the perfect opportunity to use the things we can't control as an opportunity for resilience and endurance, which we can then apply to our everyday lives. And, most of all, racing gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we already know about ourselves. Running and racing have been the best way for me to get to know myself, and I felt like I needed to open myself up to that again in order to find my new normal.

Racing puts something on the line. It raises the stakes in a way that demands we bring our personal best effort to the table. 

The next section dealt with the what of racing - the reasons why we do it, what it does for us, why it's important, why it's necessary.

Racing commits you to paying attention, which is hard to do in our daily life, which is full of distractions. In a race you don't stop at a convenience store for a sports drink, or pause by the side of the road to check your text messages. In a race, you are totally in the moment.

This passage hit me like a ton of bricks! As I read it all of my spring races came flooding to memory, particularly the Ocean City Half Marathon. Suddenly all I could see was myself walking along the course, pulling my phone out of my FlipBelt to text my coach about how badly everything sucked. I had always known I was never really present in that race, but as I read those words it really hit me. I felt embarrassed and sad that I had wasted a race by not being in the moment, and it made me yearn to feel that way again.

There was a lot of discussion in this section of the book about the risk of failure that comes along with racing, which I found interesting considering the point of the book is to help navigate what should be a positive and exciting endeavor. The point was that failure is a necessary risk we all take when choosing to run a race, and that in order to be successful, we have to commit to the race despite that risk.

When we mitigated capacity for risk, we also mitigate capacity for joy.

That sentence, perhaps more than any other, made me realize what I had been doing in my attempts to self-sabotage. I had been mitigating my capacity for risk, which had mitigated my capacity for joy. I had thrown in the towel when I knew or even thought I couldn't achieve what I set out to achieve. I had made excuses when things got too hard, saying that I didn't want to do it anyway. And you know, those things might have been somewhat true for some races I didn't this spring that my heart wasn't in, and I give myself grace for that. The trick is to, as Sage says in the book, 

Choose a race that inspires you to throw your whole self into the challenge, a race where the reward is worth the risk.

That was another little kernel that reminded me of all the things I loved about racing but had somehow lost along the way. It was a reminder of the vulnerability that comes with racing, the thrill of opening ourselves up to failure but also of opening ourselves up to success, the infinite possibility of surpassing the limits we think we have. This was the reason I started running and racing in the first place. And as I have struggled to accept that running and racing will never, can never be the same as it was in the beginning, I have come to understand that that doesn't mean there are not still goals to be achieved or lessons to be learned. It just means that progress is not linear, and that that isn't a reason to stop doing something that has historically brought so much joy and meaning to my life and can continue to do so if I just look at it through the right lens.

Even though I already had my eye on a race before I took this deep dive, it still opened my eyes. I have run a lot of races in the past year or however far back you want to look, but other than Shamrock this spring (where I didn't PR - and wasn't planning to - but ran one of my best races ever and came within a minute of my PR), I don't remember the last race I ran just for me. I realized I needed to find myself - my current, 2018, post-Ironman self - through running and racing.

So that left me with the desire to race and a philosophical approach to finding one, but what about the practical side? The flipside of choosing a race that is a worthwhile risk is choosing a race that suits your personal strengths. I thought back to previous races I had considered to be successful and found some commonalities including, but not limited to:
  • cold weather, even adverse weather
  • a familar course/location
  • medium size field
  • some crowd support without being overwhelming or distracting
I tried not to let the fact that I already had Richmond in mind influence my list, but either way it seemed to fit the bill. I have run the half marathon 3 times (2013, 2014, and 2016) and have always enjoyed the course and the overall race experience. I have heard nothing but good things about the full marathon and have had it on my radar for several years (in fact, I intended to run it in 2014 but had already run 2 marathons that year, including my first, and got burnt out on training halfway through). I have only ever run flat marathons, so the hillier course will be challenging, but it intrigues me. I am confident that preapring for and conquering the hills will only help me feel like my strongest and best self.  I set my half marathon PR on one of the hilliest courses I've ever run, so I know I'm capable of running a full that isn't pancake flat! Ultimately, Richmond has elements of other races - weather, location, terrain - that I have been loved and been successfult. And, if nothing else, fall is my absolute favorite time to run - it makes me feel so alive and makes my heart so full! I really have no interest in running any other fall marathon out there, and may never run another one again after this since summer training is certainly not my favorite thing in the world.

But for now, I am all in on Richmond (just as soon as I trust myself enough to pull the trigger on registering).

For A Minute There I Lost Myself

It’s me...

In the three months since I last updated (is that really all?!), I have:

  • crashed and burned in what was supposed to be a goal race
  • lost a pet
  • moved from my temporary digs at my MIL’s to my house, which I’ve owned for 7 years but have only lived in less than half that time
  • started a new job
  • spent almost every Saturday at the beach, as I have dreamed of doing for the last 4 years
  • ridden my bike 100+ miles up a mountain (for the second year in a row)

A little more detail on the big stuff and what I've been up to:

I bombed my A race. 

I trained for and ran 4 half marathons between February and April, with the goal of running a PR at the last one. As you’ll recall, this was the first revision of my spring running plans, as until late January I was training to the full NJ Marathon but had a change of heart and decided to drop to the half. That plan was revised again when, in the middle of training for these spring races, I half-unexpectedly ended up getting moving for a new job - one that began at 8am the day after I was scheduled to run a race an 8-hour drive away. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to the race and back with enough time to feel comfortable starting work the next day, but my coach convinced me to not waste all of my training, so I found a similar but closer race in Ocean City, MD to run that weekend instead. 

Truth be told, my heart was never really in Ocean City, and I’m not even sure it would have been in New Jersey if that had worked out as planned. After Shamrock in March (the same week I found out about the new job/move) I was completely distracted with all things moving, and that continued until well into May. My training continued and went well, but felt unfocused. We lived with my mother-in-law for almost a month waiting for our house to be ready, and living out of suitcases for that long took its toll. To top it all off, our ferret was very sick the whole time and passed away the night before we headed out of town for the race. I say these things not as excuses, but as evidence of my mind stare at the time. I tried to get myself excited but I just couldn’t, and a few miles into the race - which started out on a beautiful Assateague Island morning but quickly turned into a long, monotonous march down a tree-lined road - I was simply done. I had stomach issues I hadn’t had in quite some time (moving wreaked havoc on my eating schedule and digestion for over a month), it was warmer than the weather I had been training in, and I just was. not. feeling. it. 

After throwing down 4 miles at my goal pace (8:15) I just couldn’t take it anymore and, as the Queen of Self-Sabotage, threw in the towel. It wasn’t the total meltdown I had at Kiawah last December, and I never thought about quitting, but those 9 miles to the finish were some of the longest I have ever run. I was beyond checked out. My goal went from 1:48 early in the race to 1:50 by the halfway point to 1:55 by mile 10 to omg for the first time since I first ran a sub-2 in 2014, I am going to be lucky to finish under 2 hours. I finally crossed in 1:58:45. I have no regrets about blowing up nor did I at any point beat myself up over it - I think I knew what I was getting into and the outcome, while not what I would have liked, was not at all a surprise. This one definitely taught me a big lesson about being selective with races and running them for a good reason.

I ran some races I wish I hadn’t. 

Every finish line is worthwhile, and regret would be a strong word to use, but I ran some races that I probably would have been better off without. Ocean City definitely qualifies - I worked SO hard getting my speed back down to pre-IM paces this spring and understand my coach’s direction to not let that go to waste just because I couldn’t run the race I had planned to run, but I wish I hadn’t taken that advice. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to do that race (or even any race at that point) but I didn’t listen to myself. Again, I don’t regret running it, but in hindsight I wish I had let Shamrock (when I felt like I mentally and physically peaked) be the shining star of my spring training and then let moving stuff happen without having to worry about training and racing.

I also added a last-minute 10k to my schedule in April, the Monument Avenue 10k. I have had it on my radar for years so when my friend suggested that he wanted to run it, I was quick to join in. However, as it was 2 weeks before Ocean City, my coach had me use it as a long workout. In hindsight, I wish I had either waited for another year or not run Ocean City, that way I could either race Monument Ave or run it for fun without the consideration of another race. I didn’t really end up doing either one of those things and feel like I kind of missed the point of signing up in the first place.

And on the cycling front, I did Mountains of Misery again even though I’m not sure that was the right call. I signed up under the pretense that, “I’ve done this before so I can do it again!”, a very bad habit I’ve gotten into and one that I am working very hard to get out of. The main problem is that I didn’t have time to train (did I mention April and May were crazy because of moving?!) like I did last year, but I showed up anyway and hoped for the best. This was always planned to be a slow, as-leisurely-as-a-100-mile-mountain-ride-can-be ride with some friends, so peak performance was not a priority, but I still could have and should have been more prepared. Overall it was still a fun day, although more difficult and painful than I was expecting. Again I don’t regret it but I wouldn’t have regretted sitting this one out either.

I enjoyed my downtime! 

This is the first summer since 2014 that I haven’t been training for a long distance tri (or any tri for that matter). It’s also my first summer back at the beach since 2015 and I have thoroughly been enjoying both aspects of this summer. I’ve spent most Saturdays on the beach and most Sundays either at yoga, getting stuff done around the house, on my dad’s boat, or just spontaneously doing whatever I want. I haven't had this kind of free time in years and it's the best.

I stopped working with my coach.

Nothing happened and it wasn't a dramatic split, but I think we both realized that being coached just wasn't working out for me. There were pros and cons and for a while the pros outweighed the cons, but once I felt like I got over the hump of...whatever was going on with me this winter/spring, I felt pulled to coach myself again. The style of training I was doing was a departure from how I've always trained, and it was hard to get used to and to trust that it would work. And the biggest issue I had is that at some point it became more stressful than not having someone else keeping tabs on my runs and my progress - I wanted the freedom to run more intuitively.

I learned a lot, and have incorporated some aspects of my coach's training into my own training, but I know myself and my body better than anyone. Plus, I genuinely like coming up with a training plan - I often enjoy that part way more than the training itself. I'm 3 weeks into coaching myself again, and while I do spend some of the time wishing I had someone else to guide me, I'm balancing having fun and challenging myself for the first time in while, and I'm feeling really good about that.

I stopped obsessing over numbers.

I've always been big into analyzing my runs and looking at whatever stats I can pull from Garmin, but somewhere along the way I went too far down the rabbit hole. My coach was really into heart rate training so for a while I was obsessed with my HR, especially on easy runs, to the point of frustration because I think my heart just works harder than most people's and it was basically impossible for me to slow down enough to get it under 150 while still making some forward motion that looked like running. And as far as my paces go, I've been sort of good about giving myself a pass due to how badly summer running sucks, but I was obsessively culling through past runs to compare weather and pace and HR and how they were all tied together and it was just TOO. MUCH. I finally took my HR screen off my watch completely so I have no idea what it is until I'm done running. I've been better about not checking the weather and just rolling with it - it's always going to be hot and humid AF, that's just a given, so there is no point in trying to quantify how bad it sucks just to make myself feel better.

I made a bunch of races plans for the summer/fall...and then nixed almost all of them. 

I don’t know if it was that I felt like I needed redemption from the O.C. half, or if I still hadn’t recovered from Ironman brain, but earlier this summer my plan for the fall was to do ALL THE THINGS. I wanted to do everything from a half Ironman in San Diego where half the run is on the beach to my first ultra marathon. I couldn’t decide whether my heart was in triathlon or running, but after several talks with my coach I knew I had to decide. I ended up deciding to focus on running for the remainder of the year, and to not do any triathlons for the first time since I started doing them in 2012. It’s been a little weird not having that presence in my life this summer, and I do miss it a little, bit that feeling is seriously outweighed by how much I’m enjoying not having that pressure. I thought it might be fun to do a sprint or two but haven’t been able to fit it into my schedule and I am perfectly okay with that! Triathlon will always be there.

I stopped sharing my runs on the internet.

I stopped blogging about running and I even stopped sharing runs on IG for the most part - or the details anyway - because I just wasn't in the mood to talk about it. I don't think that sharing so much was helpful or healthy for me and, to be honest, I've really kind of liked running without having to rehash the details (either online or to my coach).

With that said, I've had times throughout the last few months when I've missed blogging and writing about running and training and racing, and...that's why I'm here now, I guess. I gained a lot of clarity during my break and I'm glad that I took it. I'm not sure where to go from here or what my sharing will look like, but I do know that I am making some race plans that I think are going to be fun and exciting, and I do want to document them somehow - in a fun, exciting, and healthy way.