Monday, October 21, 2013

Runner's World Half and Festival

Steel Stacks in Bethlehem

It was a no brainer for Emir and I to decide to run at the Runner's World Half and Festival again this year.  We went last year which was the first year ever for this event.  We had hotel points and Bethlehem is only about an hour from us so it was a perfect chance to have a weekend away alone and do LOTs of running.  We had such a blast, even more than we even thought we would so when registration opened for this year, we said "hell yeah!"  Last year we had decided to go all out and run the Hat Trick which is 5K and 10 K on Saturday and the Half Marathon on Sunday.  Obviously we were doing that again this year! ;-)  The nice thing about the Festival is that you can choose whatever combination of things you want to run whether it's just one distance, two or three.  Each race comes with it's own swag and finisher medal.  This year if you ran the 5K and 10K (five and dime) you got a tech shirt and gloves.  If you ran the hat trick, you got a hat and two tech shirts.  The hat this year is very nice and what I thought a big improvement from last year's.  My only complaint is I wanted the gloves too!!! ;-)  hehe

Bar at the expo
I'm pretty sure despite how close it is to where we live, that I had never gone to Bethlehem prior to last year's Runner's World Festival.  It could not be a better location for this event.  The artsquest center, steel stacks, casino and historical sites all just create an awesome backdrop and space for the festival.  My personal favorite is the steel stacks lit up at night and the firey arch, awesome! This year they opted to move the expo inside the artsquest center rather than in the giant tent as they did last year.  Not only did this make for a much nicer environment but we could tell it was a bigger expo as well.  There were more vendors, free food, swag and a BAR to buy BEER!  Unlike last year Emir and I both made purchases at the expo due to the great discounts that were being offered on some items.  I also found out from one of the Altra guys (Altra is the main sponsor of the festival) that my Torins come with two insoles unfortunately since mine were a sample given to me, I only have the completely flat insoles.  I knew that the completely flat insole was what was causing me pain in my instep which disappointed me because I am a big Altra fan so even though he didn't have any extra insoles to give me, I am glad to know that most likely I would be able to successfully run in Altras.  Of course Emir has been dying to buy a pair of The One so when they said they were 20% off at the expo, SOLD! 

Aside from the location of the expo, there were some other changes this year.  I have to say that I felt that the majority of the changes were for the better.  On Friday when we went to the expo to pick up our bibs and gear, there was a kids band playing on stage outside by the finish line.  There were tons of kids in racing bibs jumping up and down, singing along.  Being a mom, I just thought it was fantastic.  We also watched part of the kids race.  The kids had a blast and they all received finishers medals.  Niko will be 5 next year so we are seriously considering bringing the kids up on Friday afternoon for the kids race and expo since it's only about an hour away.  There were also a couple running movies playing Friday night in the movie theatre that's inside the Artsquest building.  I just think it's so awesome that they have a real movie theatre right there to show the movies with popcorn and everything!  We didn't stay for any movies Friday night since we were crashing for the weekend at my co-worker's parents' house.  Got that?  Her parents are away for the month in California and she was running the hat trick with us as well so she invited us to stay there since the house is in Bethlehem barely 10 minutes from the steel stacks. 

Saturday morning was a bit chilly but a perfect temperature for running a couple of races.  We hit up dunkin donuts on the way and parked very easily in the free lot within walking distance of the start line.  Another benefit to the festival centering in the steel stacks area is that there is a large visitor's center with nice, big bathrooms with many stalls.  Did I mention it's heated?!  We were easily able to use these bathrooms several times before the start of the 5K and in between the two races.  We also hung out in there to keep warm between the 5K and 10K.  Oh and these amazing bathrooms is also where I found our friend Rebecca Shaefer!  We have become friends with Rebecca over #ultrachat which takes place on Sundays at 9pm on Twitter only to find out we ran a fatass style run with her last year on the trail near us.  As we are getting more and more into running we are definitely feeling like part of a community.  It's just great to now go to races and see people you know or to go on twitter and other runners you follow are at the same event and you can discuss it with them.  I just can't say enough about how much I love the running family!

warming up

This year was no different that last year in that Emir and I swore we wouldn't race the 5K and 10K to save ourselves for the Half.  HA!  Apparently that is really hard for us to do.  While we didn't PR in the 5K, we definitely would have if we had placed ourselves better in the starting corral.  We just weren't even thinking about it or that it really would matter where we stood.  It was definitely more crowded than last year which probably also played a factor.  We were in the middle back somewhere and for the first mile, we were almost trapped.  We just couldn't really go anywhere.  We weaved in and out a bit, took sidewalks but it was really hard to get to our pace.  Our second two miles we ran pretty fast.  We ended up with 26 minutes which is fine but it was a bit frustrating about the first mile however we really only had ourselves to blame.  Luckily sometimes we use our brains so for the 10K we moved up way towards the front.  I don't like to be in the way of people faster than me however the front is so thin with people that it's much easier for people to pass.  Both Emir and I were glad to see that the 5K and 10K courses were different this year.  Last year they were essentially the same course just with 3 more miles added to the 10K.  It was nice to have two completely different courses.  Also I should note that if you are not familiar with Bethlehem it's a hilly area so if you want flat races, these are not the ones for you.  The 10K went really well for Emir and I.  We felt strong and steady the whole time even up the hills.  At one point during mile 3 or 4 a fellow runner approached us.  We had chosen to wear our "you run hills, I run mountain" shirts from the Blue Ridge Marathon.  Pretty appropriate for a hilly course plus we like to advertise for the race since we love it so much.  Anyway this fellow runner started asking us questions about the Blue Ridge marathon and training during the winter.  Turns out this gentleman's name is Gary Richter and he works for Icebug. Icebug is a company that makes shoes for running in slippery conditions such as ice and snow.  We had such a great conversation with Gary and agreed to meet up after the race.  Due to conversing and just not really feeling overly strained, I really did not think we were running anywhere near the pace we were.  The 5th and 6th miles I did start to feel a bit like I was losing it and the last .75-.5 miles into the finish I slowed.  Emir stayed strong to the finish.  When I crossed, I checked my watch and couldn't believe that it said 51 minutes!  That was a good 6 minutes faster than last year's time and definitely a big PR for me.  Later when I checked my splits I couldn't believe 3 of my miles were 7:45, 7:53 and 7:55!  The only reason a couple miles were in the 8:30s were because of hills.  I was definitely VERY HAPPY!  I was just hoping I hadn't killed my legs too much for Sunday's Half.  The other reason I wasn't the happiest I could be was because Emir had hurt his foot.  He had some minor aching on the top of his foot earlier in the week however after running the 5K and 10K, it was throbbing.  We both had serious concerns about it and what he would do for the half. 

After we gathered our two medals we met up with Gary and he introduced us to his son Kai.  Kai is only 13 and is FAST!  He was talking about his splits very maturely with his dad, discussing future strategies and not going out too fast.  We were definitely impressed by both of them.  Gary gave us a few Icebug goodies, we took a picture but then we had to part ways since Emir and I had a few seminars we wanted to attend.  I'm hoping to connect with Gary and learn more about their shoes and maybe try some out, Gary??? ;-)  I did find out later as I was walking to my one seminar that Kai had taken first place in his division for the 5K which comes with $100 prize.  When I was walking by, he was up on stage donating his prize money so that he can keep running for his middle school.  Wow!

Gary and Kai

 Emir and I spent Saturday afternoon attending a few of the different seminars offered for free.  I attended a nutrition talk, speed and distance and one about women.  There was also a fun dog race going on Saturday afternoon. Even ahead of time, I knew that I had a solid 45 minutes alone between my first two seminars since Emir was going to different ones.  After my first one I just so happened to be strolling through the downstairs of the Artsquest center and who do I run into but Rebecca and her friend.  They were in line for something.  I asked them what they were doing and they said they were in line to meet Summer Sanders.  "WHAT?!  Oh I'm definitely joining you guys!!"  My sister had texted me the instant she heard that Summer Sanders was going to be at the Runner's World Festival.  Despite what you may think due to my intense love for running, I actually used to be a swimmer and a very dedicated, intense swimmer.  Summer was one of our swimming idols, we love her!  Unfortunately my sister couldn't make it to the festival.  One of the main reasons I signed up for the seminar about women and running was to see Summer.  But then here she was ready to meet people, take pictures and sign autographs!  I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty sure talking to Summer, wearing her gold medal and getting a picture together was more exciting than my PR :-D  Emir and I finished up Saturday watching the movie "In the High Country."  It was definitely an interesting film.  I really enjoyed the Q & A with the director afterwards.  It really intrigued me how someone would discover they are a really good technical runner and good at filmmaking.  It's an interesting combination.  Even more interesting/impressive is how steady the shots of Anton flying down incredibly technical descents in the mountains considering the director was also flying down the same terrain at the same time!

Summer Sanders!!!

Sunday rolled around and it was time to head to the race.  Emir kept saying he didn't know what he was going to do.  We ended up in the same parking lot as the day before since it's close to the finish.  We were expecting there to be shuttles around that would take us to the start but this year, none to be found.  We ended up walking about a mile to the start area which actually is a really good warm up however Emir's foot was hurting.  I know it was an incredibly hard decision for him not to run.  I'm pretty sure it's way harder to make that decision than to try and run injured.  I know he was devastated and actually so was I.  In all honesty, I'd rather have that happen to me than him.  I just hate to see him so disappointed and upset.  But I didn't have time to sit around and dwell on it, I had a half marathon to run.  In my head the last week or more, I have been planning on trying to really run well in this race.  I haven't run a half marathon since last year's Runner's world half and my time was just ok to me, 2:01.  I was not even 6 months out from baby and C-section #2 so it wasn't expected I would be able to do amazing but still I wanted to prove that my rock and roll half marathon time 1:53 from 2011 wasn't a fluke.  Now I didn't have my running/pacing buddy not to mention my depressed feelings in general for him about his pain.  Emir encouraged me to start near the 1:50 pacer which is 8:25/mile.  He said why not just run with him and if you can't keep up, just drop back.  I thought about it and decided he was right.  I've never run with a pace group before and in the past I kind of felt like maybe it's not right.  By that I mean that pacing is a huge part of running.  I feel like it's a skill that needs to be developed just as much as speedwork, hill work, etc.  No one else can do your hills or sprints for you, so why should someone else be able to do your pacing?  Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot and use this as my opportunity to really form an informed opinion on the use of pacers.  Since I had kind of just snuck into the group, I hadn't talk to Doug our pacer or anyone else in the group to find out what the strategy for the race was.  For the first few miles I just kept right up with Doug.  It didn't feel too bad and actually a couple times I felt like I could go faster than what he was doing.  Despite my urges to push forward I remembered in the one seminar from Saturday a quote. I think it was something like "money in the bank is gas in the tank"  I think, I'm really bad at remembering stuff like that.  They were talking about going out too fast and then having no control over how you finish.  Whereas if you control your start and keep it in check, you can control how you finish.  So that's what I did and boy was I glad for that later!  All of the emails and info on twitter and facebook kept claiming this year was a flatter, easier course.  I suppose to a certain extent that may have been true due to one hill being taken out at mile 10.  However all the other hills WERE THERE including a descent one that occurs just before that other one at mile 10, sneaky Runner's World ;-)  Anyway I'm not as great at climbing hills as I am at descents.  When Emir and I run I usually let him go a bit on ups and then I catch up on downs.  Turns out that same strategy worked out for me and pacer Doug.  He was pretty quick up the hills but would slow it down on descents.  After one or two times of freaking out that I was losing him on the uphills, I realized just to let him go a bit and then catch up.  I was going to tire myself out way too much trying to keep up on the uphills.  Mile 8 and 9 were my slowest.  I remember a couple of times during those miles feeling a bit sluggish and felt that I was losing Doug a bit.  All of the sudden around mile 10, energy kicked in again plus there was a couple downhills and I caught up.  At the mile 12 marker, I was right with Doug and another runner.  We chatted for a minute about me doing the hat trick and how I was feeling after doing two races yesterday.  Next thing I knew I was flying ahead of Doug.  My legs felt almost detached from my body.  It literally felt like seconds later I was crossing the finish line, checking my watch and realizing I had just PR'd big time with a 1:49.14!!!!!!  Later when I checked my splits, mile 13 was my fastest at 7:53!  It's one thing to PR but to PR on a course as hilly as this knowing it's a much harder course than my previous PR, well that's icing on the cake!  My co-worker who we were staying with called out to me and we hugged and congratulated each other.  She told me she couldn't wait to do the hat trick again next year and that she was so happy we had asked her to do this with us.  Then I found Emir.  I know he was so happy for me but at the same time disappointed because he knew if his foot was better, he would have run that PR as well.  It's so hard to feel happy with an accomplishment when your partner is so down and wasn't able to compete with you.  Also I know Emir was disappointed that he didn't get a picture of me finishing.  Honestly, I was kind of proud of that because the reason he didn't get a pic was because I came in faster than my predicted time at the halfway point.  I was projected to come in at 1:51.  So don't worry!

Me and my co-worker Becky

Despite Emir's disappointment and our first experience for either of us with a DNS, it was an outstanding weekend once again.  Everyone was super nice, friendly and helpful.  We got to hang out with friends and meet new friends.  The expo was good, the seminars and movies were great.  The races awesome!  The aide stations in all three races were well staffed with people, water and sports drink.  My one regret of the weekend is not grabbing a running skirt at an aide station in the middle of the half marathon!  There were ladies helping people put them on quick as they ran through.  I was so paranoid about losing pacer Doug or messing up my rhythm by having to completely stop to put a skirt on.  It's one thing to grab a water or GU on the way by but another to completely stop.  UGH, oh well.  Do I REALLY need a running skirt???  While I'm mentioning it, I did not use Tailwind this weekend.  Sorry Jenny!  However I did use my awesome Tailwind bottle as a handheld for all 3 races.  I don't know really what I was thinking.  For some reason I didn't think I needed Tailwind for just a half which apparently is incorrect since I ended up doing 4 gels during the half.  Emir said that's ridiculous and also that I should have stopped for the skirt. I however said in the words of Lenny Dykstra "Whatever it takes Dude!"  If that means not stopping for a skirt, eating 4 gels and chasing a pacer, so be it! ;-)

Next up for us is New York City Marathon!  Only 2 weeks away!!  After seeing how fast I could run this weekend, I'm definitely getting excited.  I want to beat my 3:59 so bad.  I wasn't sure where my speed was at due to just running a 50K two weeks ago and never really going faster than 8:50s in training.  This weekend really showed me how much I've improved over the last year or so.  Now I just need to stay healthy for the next couple weeks and work some healing magic to Emir's foot!!!!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blues Cruise 50K

Happy before the race
tech hat in swag bag
Finisher Sweatshirt

 This past Sunday Emir and I ran the Blues Cruise 50K which took place around the Blue Marsh Lake in Reading, PA.  Emir found this race online.  We decided to sign up since we had been longing for another 50k ever since we ran our first at Bear Mountain.  Also this race was only an hour drive from our house, inexpensive and according to the description on the website, much more runnable than Bear Mountain.  After our experience at Bear Mountain I really just wanted to try a 50k where I got to run the majority of it.  There's nothing wrong with the super technical, super elevated course but I feel like that's not my cup of tea.  I like trails but I like the kind that I can run not have to hike most of it.  I know that there are people that can run the majority of a tough, technical course, but I'm not one of them!  Anyway the description of the Blues Cruise course was some rolling hills with one longer, steep hill with the terrain being very runnable.  It was true about the terrain.  It was a little technical here and there but overall could be run by most.  Elevations however well I think they were describing what the course is like if you are a good ultra runner not for us average mortals.  While there was no 8000 feet of elevation as in Bear Mountain there was over 3000 feet which in my mind is worth mentioning on the course description ;-) so while I'm sure the runners in the front of the field had no trouble running the whole course, Emir and I struggled with certain sections that seemed extra hilly to us.  Could this have been due to the fact that a few of these sections were after we were out there for 3, 4, 5 hours and our legs were tired?  maybe.  Could it have been that our last few weekend long runs leading up to this race were 18, 20, 20 &10 (yes last weekend we ran 30 miles)? umm most likely.  And could it have been that it was a high of 80 something and it was "we-were-soaking-wet-after-1-mile-humid"? definitely!  It's not that Emir and I don't enjoy lots of tough hills and a challenging course, obviously see Blue Ridge Marathon, Bear Mountain and Plitvice.  But maybe we would have trained on more hills in preparation and maybe mentally we would have been more ready for a physical beat down. 

So Sunday morning rolled around and we got up around 5:30-5:45.  My parents had taken the kids the day before after we finished watching my dad bat at Citizen's Bank Park which by the way, was AWESOME!!! 
With the Phillies World Series Trophies at Citizen's Bank Park

Anyway we had made the decision to not make breakfast and coffee at home but grab it on the road.  So we suited up (Emir sort of literally),

 donned our tats courtesy of Tailwind and Trail Runner Nation and were out the door by 6:15. 

We arrived at the start area just before 7:30.  Everything was well organized and we were able to get our bibs and goodie bags very quickly despite everyone (350 runners) having to pick up their stuff morning of race.  Our swag included a t-shirt, water bottle and tech hat all bearing the cool new Blues Cruise logo, not bad for a $60 race!  We glided up, saddled up our hydration packs (full of Tailwind, what else?!?!), toileted and before we knew it, it was 8:30 and race time. 

The beginning had lots of tiny ups and downs and some people were already walking those ups.  A lot of the race takes part on single track so at times especially in the beginning when people are clumped together passing could be a bit tricky.  It also can be more tricky when it's two of you that you want to get past someone or what you can tell is a group running together.  Emir was in front of me and he was taking it easy and not really passing.  I kept thinking in my head "go! go!"  It was driving me nuts walking so many tiny inclines.  But I knew he didn't want to go out too fast and based on how we felt by the end, maybe he was right (I said MAYBE ;-) ).  After the first aide station I ended up in front of Emir.  Immediately as soon as I got stuck behind someone I gunned it past them.  After a while I realized Emir wasn't right behind me any more and actually I couldn't see him.  I kept going at what I felt was a good clip despite thinking "I ditched him already, he's going to be upset!" And "This is going to be a long, lonely race"  The second aide station was on the side of the road so we came out of the trail and had to run a minute or two down the road to it and as I was approaching I saw Emir emerge from the woods.  Phew!  He wasn't that far behind. 

We regrouped at the station, got what we needed and set off.  The next section felt almost easy.  I felt like we were flying and according to my watch apparently we were compared to the rest of our splits.  I felt good though so I kept with it. 

I think it was in this section at some point that Emir tripped and fell.  I made sure he was ok and did NOT laugh as I figured karma would bite me in the ass later.  Of course Emir had to say, "Well I guess this race was my turn to fall."  Referencing my fall in the Bear Mountain 50K and I knew as soon as he said it I would not finish without a fall.  And yes I was right.  I don't remember exactly when it happened but I must have caught my foot on a tree root and totally wiped out!  Luckily I landed in a huge, soft pile of dirt.  I was filthy but nothing hurt not even pride.  I wore that trail dirt like a champ the rest of the way, receiving many compliments and "way to go's!"  I wouldn't fall on purpose but getting down and dirty can be pretty fun. 

We hit the 3rd aide station together.  The next section included the long, steep climb that was referenced on the website around mile 10-11.  This was the first time we were really reduced to walking.  I felt like this was definitely a turning point in our race especially for Emir.  It took us at least several minutes to surmount this steep hill and it felt like an abrupt stop to our cruising along.  He kept saying he felt fine after this point until later on when he finally started admitting he was not good. But I could just tell the way he reacted to that hill and the way he would lag behind me, it was not characteristic of "good feeling Emir."  I however still felt pretty good after this hill and actually until about mile 20 or so I remember thinking "ok legs still feel good, this is good"  I also know that I felt way better than I did at Bear Mountain. 

The sections leading up to and after the last two aide stations, I could tell Emir really started struggling.  He would walk every incline.  For a while I would do this with him too until I realized that my legs actually felt worse every time I stopped running.  I came in several minutes before him at each of the last two aide stations.  I could have grabbed what I needed and taken off without him but we are in this together and obviously it's not like I was going to win!  After the final aide station I started pulling away again but I was lagging a bit because I really wanted to finish together.  Emir told me to just go ahead as he knows sometimes it's more work to lag behind than to just go.  So that's what I did.  The last two miles were what I call Bastards!!  There were plenty of other parts that were hilly but these last two miles really had several steep, tough hills especially when your legs are jelly. In the end I only finished about 4 minutes before Emir. 

Even though my legs were completely dead, I have to say that once again Tailwind did an excellent job keeping me fueled the whole race.  I definitely felt I had all the nutrients and nutrition needed the whole time to keep my energy going.  Now if they could just enhance it so there was no pain or fatigue in my legs that would be awesome! ;-)

If I were to analyze how we did reasonably, then I would say we did really well.  We finished over an hour and a half faster than our first 50K, we ran way more of this course and we WERE finishers.

I even was able to place 36 out of the 100 women that ran so still better than more than half.  There were no injuries aside from my normal chafage on various parts of my body and a rockin' toe blister on my right foot (I forgot that my mizuno waveriders did the same thing at Philly but not painful either time)

All this in the midst of the hardest section of our marathon training program and on an unseasonably hot, humid day.  However as we know I am not always reasonable in my analysis and felt a bit disappointed.  It also doesn't help that Emir and I went into this race thinking like we are some kind of elite runners that can just breeze through a 50K no problem.  When we read the description of the race, we got it in our heads that it was a more flat course and thought that even though we were not tapering at all we would be able to run this somewhat easily especially compared to Bear Mountain. For some reason we expected to be able to finish in 5:30 instead of the 6:28 I ended up with.  But alas we are mere mortals whose legs were probably exhausted from the last 4 weeks of 40-50 miles each and we did not train as much on hills as would have been needed to be more successful.  But then again I purposely have not been doing too much intense hill work this training cycle as my main goal is to PR in one of my two upcoming marathons.  I don't want to kill my legs especially when these races are mainly flat.  So even though I have some mixed feelings, like maybe I should have done better, overall at the end of the day I am happy.  I have to realize what my main goal is for this training cycle.  It wasn't setting some kind of amazing record in this race.  The objective was to finish respectfully and now turn focus towards the upcoming marathons. Most importantly it's another ultra completed with more experience and knowledge gained.  And I had a great time doing it!

I really enjoyed the Blues Cruise 50K.  Everything was well organized with super friendly organizers and volunteers.  I thought it was a great course.  It winded all around the Blue Marsh Lake, a nice giant loop.  It was an interesting mix of forest, open fields, corns fields and of course lake scenery. The aide stations were beyond PHENOMENAL!

 Not only did they have anything you could want/need during an ultra but they were in costume and super energetic.  There also was a perfect number of them and perfect spacing.  My personal favorite was the Oktoberfest station ;-)  For the most part, I only required regular water at the aide stations due to my Tailwind in my hydration pack.  I did need to refill my pack at one point.  The volunteers were so great, they tore that pack off my back, opened it up, filled it with water, helped me pour my extra baggie of Tailwind in that I brought and slapped my pack back on.  It was so awesome.  I did partake in a piece of PB&J and a piece of grilled cheese at two of the stations.  All the stations were offering towels soaked with cold water.  I even saw one station had sliders!  At the end of the race not only was there amazing food such as bratwurst, potato pancakes and grilled cheese but every finisher got an awesome Blues Cruise sweatshirt, way better than another medal to hang on the candle holder in our bedroom for no one to see.  Another thing that I thought was super cool was that all the pictures taken of the runners on the course were posted online for us all to download and share for free, how great is that?!  Now I really can't wait until next year so I can train specifically for this race including TAPER! and see what I can do!

Next on our agenda is Runner's World Half and Festival Oct 19th-20th.  We ran the hat trick last year (the first year ever for this event) and had a great time.  Once again we are running the hat trick so stay tuned for that in a couple weeks!