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Ted Corbitt 15k

True confidence is a rare thing. I’ve motored through most of my life gassed up with bravado, pep talks, and blind fear and (sometimes) liquid courage. I’m good at acting spunky, brash, and judgemental–these are all qualities, when combined with how I wear my heart on my sleeve, that combine to confuse the viewer into thinking I’m a confident woman.

Rarely my confidence is actually so, though more and more often I have a realistic grip on my strengths and weaknesses, so I can at least be patchily confident.

Rarer still is when I head into a race feeling confident about being able to meet time goals. It’s a tricky thing, connecting the dots between training (I should be faster in my intervals, I shouldn’t get side cramps, my legs should feel springy, etc) and racing (every step I’ve taken up until this moment will carry me through to the finish line). It’s been so long since I’ve trained with serious intent (January to April 2010), that I’ve forgotten the way all those workouts fit together to form a viable race performance. So, I was nervous. Also: this 15k was the fitness test for Houston. So if I failed to perform in Central Park, then I would have even less hope of breaking 1:45 in my half-marathon a month later. My PR would be a PR, but it would also be a fortune-teller.

Granted, I wasn’t so nervous that I skipped The National concert at the Beacon that Friday night. I went with my best friend, CB, and it was cathartic. Their music is like opera, except sung in mumbles by a self-aware hottie. Also, no one dies, gets married, or goes to war. And there are multiple electric guitars. Amen.

As a nonsequitor for my Twitter followers: Damn you, Hot Cabinetmaker!

Back to the race report.

It was cold, but not nearly as cold as the last time I ran the Ted Corbitt 15k. Rereading that race report now, I realize that I was a lot more reflective during that race than I was this time around. I would be lying if I told you I thought of anything beyond constant system checks (can I keep this pace up without bonking or puking?) and how many women in my age group might be in front of me (less than 50? is that good or bad?). I focused on running the tangents, because I didn’t want to run any further than I absolutely had to (I think I ran about .15 of a mile extra). I focused on my breathing, and my heartbeat–was I relaxed or was I deseprately pushing? And I obsessed over my splits. Mile 1 was quite slow at 8:17 due to the crowding (damn NYRR races) and on Mile 3 I took the hills easy (8:01), hoping to save myself for the final miles. Yet according to my Little G, apart from those two, I didn’t run another mile slower than 7:49.

Every now and then I’d snap out of my self-absorption and try to pass someone. Somewhere around Mile 7 a woman pulled up next to me, practically wheezing, and it was clear she was trying to pass me. Hey, I understand the need to pick people off as a way to maximize personal performance–I do it all the time, and went on to do it a few times in this very race–but there was absolutely NO WAY I was letting this lady pass me. Hell, I was breathing easy! I thought, Find someone else to pass, bitch, sped up and left her in the dust.

There were two women with whom I’d been taking turns leading or following for the bulk of the race. In Mile 7, I decided I’d had enough. I needed to know if I could pass them for good, or if they really did have it all over me. I picked the first one, a woman too skinny for her tights (they sagged around her ass. NO FAIR.). Passed her, and she stayed passed. I was surprised. Then, the second one, she was a little blonde sprite. Shit, I may have tried to catch her in other races, too–she had that archetypal look going on. I thought, I’d like to pass her for good, too. I nearly burned out my lungs doing it, but I passed her and never had the pleasure of seeing her tushy again.

For context, I was trying to beat a PR of 1:16:51. But also, I was hoping to be able to run at least 7:55’s, because if I couldn’t sustain that pace for a 15k now, there’s no way I’d be able to do it for a 13.1 mile race a month later (that’s the slowest I hope to run in Houston). So simply PRing wasn’t enough for me, which is why I wasn’t feeling very confident. My training had been going well, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough to get me to 7:55’s.

Somewhere around halfway through, I was suspiciously confident that I could carry on with the sub-8 minute pace through to the finish line. It came on gradually. It wasn’t cockiness, it wasn’t shock. Simply, I knew I was locked in, that my body was on the case. I knew had it. Did that knowledge make the race any easier? Fuck no–it made it harder. Because once I was sure I’d average 7:55’s, I wanted something more than that. I wanted faster! I wanted quicker! I wanted more speed, more fleetness, I wanted to feel powerful and postpone the gasping as long as possible. My confidence begat my ambitions…en route to them.

This was the proper response to the knowing; I need confidence and ambition to grab a sub 1:45 (and I mean: as SUB AS POSSIBLE) on January 15, 2012.

No doubt there will be a Superskinny and a Sprite there for me to chase in Miles 11, 12 and 13 in Houston. Do Texan women race in full make-up and with teased hair? I hope so.

Official race time: 1:13:07, 7:52 pace. I placed 30th out of 364 in my gender age group, and I PRed by 3:44 (a 24 second per mile improvement).

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Duck Trot 8k

When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving would be spent at my Nana’s house on Long Island. She’d line up two or three tables in the living room and feed nearly 20 guests. When we numbered more than 20 people, she’d set up the tables in the basement and the ladies would get a good quad workout marching serving dishes up and down the stairs all day. My Nana took such pride in her Thanksgiving hostessing skills that she would cook doubles of everything—turkey, stuffing, vegetables—so that every guest could take home a heaping plate of leftovers.

As if the fracas of relatives and tryptophan-induced stupor weren’t enough good times, each year my little brother and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with Nana and PopPop. We loved staying with them because they’d take us to the movies and to the beach, and keep us occupied with crafts. If we were lucky we’d get pastina and butter as a midnight snack, and for fun Nana would shoot Redi-Whip from the can straight into our mouths. The crafts were the best. Strict Aunt Tessie would come over and teach us how to make Santa faces using bleach bottles, felt and cotton balls. Or we’d twist pinecones onto wire frames to make wreaths, or stick plastic seagulls onto pieces of driftwood with florist’s moss and beach glass for our own interpretive dioramas of Jones Beach. These things would become the gifts we’d give to family members; we’d even wrap them up Thanksgiving weekend and tote them home in boxes, ready to be put under the tree for aunts and uncles.

But the best part of the whole weekend was when the Hicksville Fire Department would come roaring by in two trucks loaded up with firemen, sirens wailing and lights flashing. We’d rush outside to the sidewalk and jump up and down, waving our arms, waiting for the fireman dressed as Santa to throw us a popcorn ball. That was all they did, driving through the neighborhoods chucking balls of caramel corn, but we loved it—the noise, the fancy trucks, the treats, the flick attention we got from these cool guys. It officially marked the start of Christmas for us, even more than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center.

This year, my Thanksgiving involved none of that. Yes, I spent it with my family, but we were all in Colorado at my brother’s house, Nana’s days of hosting crowds at her dinner table long gone. New traditions (which basically means no traditions apart from turkey, stuffing, etc.) have risen to fill the place of those three-day weekends, and I am grateful to still have my family to gather with. For a few years I made my own tradition of running over the 59th Street Bridge on Thanksgiving morning, but this year let that go since I was in Colorado. I ran the Coal Creek Trail with my brother instead, which was pleasant but vaguely awkward; it sure as hell didn’t feel like a Thanksgiving run. So, today’s Duck Trot 8k was my irreverent nod to tradition (“Duck” instead of “Turkey” because the race is staged by the Long Island Road Runners Club, and Long Island is historically known for its duck farms).

Also, I really wanted to PR. Bad.

The Duck Trot is the race I won two years ago. Based on last year’s finishing times for the women, I didn’t think I could win it this year, but I was hoping for an age group award. In order to PR I needed to average an 8-minute pace or better. I have been feeling really strong in my training, and my running in Colorado confirmed I was fitter than the last time I’d run at altitude, but I still wasn’t sure how the 8k would turn out. The last race I ran, on Roosevelt Island, didn’t give me much confidence that I could sustain that pace or better for nearly 5 miles. I was nervous.

In what turned out to be a great cosmic assist, I could not locate the parking lot for the race and burned 10 minutes before the start driving up and down Park Drive in Eisenhower State Park trying to sight the starting line. Although this keyed me up and had me running a 7-minute-per-mile pace for the first quarter mile, the up side was getting lost(-ish) prevented me from standing around obsessing about the race I would soon be running.

Once I got to the start, I sized up the competition. There were two women who I thought might be faster than I was, one because she had on shorts that were very nearly bumhuggers, and the other because she was extraordinarily skinny. Clearly, my criteria for picking out these women are arbitrary but flawless: these two would turn out to be the only two women who finished ahead of me. I was frantically pinning my bib on and tying up my pigtails when SCL magically appeared on my left with a “Hi TK!” We shared a wish and a promise (Have a great race! See you at the finish!) before the gun sounded.

I hate how my pulse flails wildly out of control in the beginning. Excitement, nervousness, adrenaline, and the lack of a warm-up all conspire to make me think I’m a running heart attack. In the first half mile, I was passed by Bumhugger, Extraskinny, and an older chick with a blonde ponytail wearing tights. I let the first two go since I suspected if I tried to hang with them I would bonk, but I stayed right on the tail of Blonde Ponytail. She was running 7:55, and that was the pace I wanted for the first two miles. Soon after the first mile mark I felt her fading, heard her raspy breath. Poor thing. Passed! After that, a few guys ran by me, but by the time I crossed the finish line I’d passed most of them back. In fact, only 8 men finished ahead of me.

During Mile 1 and 2, despite better advice from JT, I looked constantly at my watch to make sure I was keeping the pace a few seconds under 8 minutes. Those splits clicked at 7:50 and 7:56. At the very beginning of Mile 3, there was a decline leading into an incline. I decided to rev it up on the downhill so I didn’t slow down pace on the uphill. Well, I didn’t actually ever slow down from the rev-up, so Mile 3 was a 7:44. I passed a few folks in that mile, including a man who groaned “Uuh!” with every exhale. Runners NB: if you make weird noises as you run, have an audible tread, or a beeping heart rate monitor, you’re just begging for me to pass you, if only to get away from the irritating sounds!

At the beginning of Mile 3, I caught a glimpse of Extraskinny. It was like I was a shark who whiffed a trace of blood in the water. I had thought she was so far ahead of me that I’d never catch her; I’d resigned to racing myself, and all those nice things us mid-pack runners tell ourselves so we still feel like a winner when we finish a race. But when I saw her I thought, Hhmm let me see just how close I can get. I could tell that she wasn’t working extraordinarily hard; her form was relaxed, she had her iPod in (translation: I probably wouldn’t pass her but I might get close enough to make her nervous). She certainly didn’t seem to expect me to catch her. I decided to very deliberately do another rev-up; nothing drastic that would leave me gasping and leaden in the final mile, but something steady and focused.

Well, thank God for Extraskinny. Bit by bit, I reeled her in, and her ever-decreasing lead kept me working at a consistently hard effort. My last two miles were 7:34 and 7:20. I’m pretty sure Extraskinny put on the jets the last mile (or, .96 of a mile, since this was an 8k), since I had to work harder to maintain the gap. Also, I saw her look over her shoulder a few times, to see where I was. That was kind of cool. If someone had been close enough to play the theme from Jaws for her, I’m sure I could have psyched her out completely. CHOMP! I’m not sure what her original lead on me was, but I couldn’t even see her for a while, so I’m stoked just to have closed the gap as much as I did (she finished 11 seconds ahead of me). 

Yeah, I never did get to gnaw on her third-place leg. Instead, I finished third out of all women, 1:32 behind Bumhugger, with an official time/pace of 38:25/7:44. This is 3 seconds slower per mile than the pace I ran at the Roosevelt Island 5k this October. I was 11th overall, which makes me disproportionately happy. Oh, and that’s a PR by like MINUTES. I got a nifty age grouper medal, and chatted with SCL for half an hour after the race, which was a treat. I wasn’t expecting any other New Yorkers to make it out for this suburban gem, and it’s always great to get face time with my Twitter pals.

Afterwards, I headed over to my Nana’s house to spend some time with her and share about my Thanksgiving with her great-grandchildren. She was lively, alert, and grateful for the unseasonably warm weather since it meant a few more days she could comfortably sit out on her stoop. She had her Thanksgiving dinner with her live-in nurse. My Nana is on an oxygen tank and largely housebound; she shuffles from her bedroom to the kitchen table with her walker a few times a day.

I left her a little after 11 AM, and set out walking to the train station (it’s about a 20 minute walk). As I walked, I heard sirens screeching in the background. I walked several more blocks, and saw kids on every front lawn hopping up and down and glancing about in excitement. It dawned on me: the firemen were coming to chuck popcorn balls! I stopped walking. I got my camera ready. I watched the kids; I waved at the firemen; I remembered my childhood with a goofy grin on my face. Then, Santa laughed and hurled a popcorn ball at me. It hit me right in the chest and bounced onto someone’s lawn; I scrambled after it, laughing with a non-age-appropriate glee.

A few minutes later, contentedly chomping on my popcorn ball as if it were an apple, I realized how I must have seemed to the firemen. Two fluffy pigtails, sneakers, athletic jacket and track pants. I was walking to my destination (no shiny SUV for me), with a backpack strapped over both shoulders. Not to mention, I made no attempt to catch the popcorn ball, just watched it arc towards me, mesmerized, until it hit me, bonk! I must have looked like I was out on a day pass from a supervised home for special needs adults. He threw it right to me, and I stood there laughing like a big spaz.

If only those firemen had seen me race. Maybe next year.

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I didn’t think I’d PR, though it remained a wispy hope in the corner of my heart.

(Truth: all my race reports from this year could have started with the above sentence.)

I did think I could improve over my last 5k, which was the BAA 5k the Sunday before the Boston Marathon (24:47, a 7:58 pace). For reference, ran my 5k PR  a year ago at the Get to the ‘Point! 5k Run in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (23:15, a 7:30 pace).

All this talk of time reminds me: I didn’t have a lot to spare on Saturday. I was booked the entire day with this race, brunch for a friend’s birthday, various phone calls to support my friends, errands (the bank, dry cleaners, grocery store), tasks (making ice cream for a friend and coop board meeting, unpacking and shelving my books), and making dinner for yet another friend. My Blackberry chimed at me at least ten times through the day with prompts that it was time to move onto the next activity or chore. Every evening before I go to bed, I ask myself if I packed everything I could into the stream of life. Last Saturday, I was paddling Class IV rapids.

This is all to say: NYCRUNS started the Roosevelt Island 5k 20 minutes late due to problems getting everyone registered and bibbed. That delay truncated my morning. Remember that as it’s relevant later in the race report. (For a one-man operation, NYCRUNS adds much to the local racing scene, but it’s still a young organization that will get better at staging these events as it does more of them. What it lacks in promptness or slickness, it makes up for in heart and libertarian spirit.)

I promise you, I will return to race this course again. Why? 1. IT HAS THE BEST FUCKING STARTING LINE IN THE HISTORY OF ALL RACES: right under the footings of the Queensboro Bridge!! I was inspired by this start. We toed up beneath the belly of my bridge, so whichever way I looked the view was filled with my best training partner ever. Oh, joy! Why else? 2. THE UBIQUITOUS VA-VA-VIEWS. Most of the course provided up-close sights of the 59th Street Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. And let’s not forget, 3. F IS FOR FLAT. ‘Nuff said. Lastly… 4. EASY-PEASY ARRIVAL. Roosevelt Island is actually quick to get to from Queens, and for that I was grateful. Q32/Q60 bus to Queensboro Plaza, jog 1/3 of a mile to the Queensbridge F stop, go one station and exit at Roosevelt Island.

As far as the race itself goes, I thought the field might be small enough that I could place in my age group. Also, I wanted to set another standard for myself, and see how far my fitness had progressed since April. My time would be a little handicapped by the fact that I’d just taken 8 days off training to recover from a pernicious head and chest cold–so pernicious, in fact, that I was still congested on race day and could feel that my lungs couldn’t pull maximum oxygen (surely that slowed me down).

I ran as hard as I could. I know I did, because my legs felt weary and a little trashed for the rest of the week. I tried to pass as many people as I could. Usually I am able to reel most of the women (and some of the men) I can see ahead of me in the final mile, but this time most of the chicks who’d passed me earlier (maybe half a dozen?) stayed ahead. This is why I finished with the idea that I’d be lucky to be in the top ten of my age group. (Many of the women who passed me had these perky, little fit asses. My butt hasn’t looked that good since I ran the New York City Marathon in 2008. If asses were a predictor of finishing times, I’d have been lucky to be in the top 50.)

The runners were assisted by a thoughtful tailwind as we ran the entire, subtly downhill, west side of Roosevelt Island. This made up a little over half the race, so I pushed as hard as I could while I had those two advantages to maximize my speed.

My splits show that I am still mastering the 5k, as I went out about 15 seconds too fast. Mile 1 = 7:24, Mile 2 – 7:52, Mile 3 = 7:51. The last 0.1 was run at a 7:08 pace, because I instigated a nice little competition with some dude as we headed towards the chute (I beat him). My official time is 23:53, for a 7:41 pace. I wish I’d finished closer to my PR performance, which is a slight bummer. But at least I’ve shown improvement over the past six months. This year, I’ve learned that the single most important thing I can do in my training is remain consistent. It’s impossible to progress if I’m constantly hedging a workout schedule due to exhaustion, demoralization, or injury.

Here is where that 20-minute delay in the race start becomes a relevant part of the story. Because my schedule was pushed back, I had to jet immediately so I could get home, shower and change in order to spin back around and get to dell’anima in time for brunch. This means I missed Steve’s gracious preamble to my First Place in Age Group Award! Whaa?? At 38 years of age, I came in first in the 30-39 age group, by a whopping 1:24 margin?? To me, this begs the question: what on earth are all those younger thirty-somethings doing wrong in their training that I can beat them? But hey, I’ll take it! PS I was also the eighth woman overall. PPS I am aware that my finishing time wouldn’t place for shit in a NYRR race.

If you want to hear Steve and I chat about the race on the New York Running Show, download the podcast.

Oh and–the rest of my day was full, but highly productive. Here is a visual of just one of the fruits of my labors.

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It was overcast when I awoke, so it was only fitting I channeled Eeyore. Leave it to a runner to feel disappointment over poor results in a race she hadn’t yet run. Because of recent outings in the half-marathon and 10k that had been educational but nowhere near PRs, I was expecting the same kind of experience in the Continental Fifth Avenue Mile today: no PR, and more proof that my fitness wasn’t where I’d hoped it would be.

The Fifth Avenue Mile is one of a kind here in the city. It’s one of the few NYRR races I adore. Really, it’s the best of both worlds: a novelty course that I can’t run on any other day of the year, plus the chance to watch the elites tear up the exact same course behind me (usually, us serfs are racing well behind the lords and never get to see a thing). Also, I get to cheer for my friends and hang out with them between heats.

The pain of the mile cannot be overstated, especially if you are an endurance runner who is used to racing with ease or bearable discomfort until the final quarter or so, when yo begin to push it and are ready for the pain. No, for me, the mile hurts from the first quarter mile. It hurts so bad that I nearly immediately start to question why in fact I wanted to race the mile, and wishing I was anywhere else except on that particular stretch of Fifth Avenue, running as hard as I could as my lungs burned and legs rebelled against my slave-driver will.

Since I was not expecting to perform well in this race, I did not prepare beyond dressing appropriately, setting the splits on Little G to quarter-miles, and making an effort to keep myself hydrated. After the fact, I realized that was a mistake because if I’d taken two minutes to stop and read my report from last year, it probably would have helped me race a finer event. Even though I’m used to coming up with racing strategies for races thirteen times as long as yesterday’s, I could have come up with one for the mile, too.

I saw some friends before, during and after the races — MP, AC, MJ, LL, JG and JT and her man. The community of runners that has grown around me is truly a blessing, it’s been a positive constant in my life through the fast few years.

So, my race. Not much to say except that I somehow managed to PR by 5 seconds (huh? what?) yet I didn’t reach my goal which was to break 6:30. I ran 6:31 like this:

  • I spent the first several seconds of the first quarter darting around big-bottomed women and forgetting I was running downhill. Before Little G chimed the first-quarter mile, I was already starting to feel the pain. Split: 1:26.
  • The second quarter? All I remember is Owe owe Ugh ugh Why is this hill so fucking looooong? Split: 1:43
  • I tried to pick it up for the third quarter. I told my legs to move faster. I told my shoulders and arms to stop clenching. I told my mind to shut the fuck up that there was no way I was going to stop running hard. Split: 1:39.
  • Finally the finish line was in sight, but it was teeny weeny, like a finish line for mice. Never before had I heard my breath so ragged and desperate. My only thought was, This really sucks. Despite my muscles wanting to seize, I tried to put on a finishing kick. I felt like I was working harder, but yet I slowed down. Split: 1:43.

My finishing time of 6:31 was a 5-second improvement over my PR which I set in 2008, in the middle of training for the New York City Marathon. Over the past few months, my coach tried to give me speedwork to bridge the needs of both the half-marathon and the mile, but I definitely learned that strategy just isn’t possible. One day I might decide to focus on the mile race and tailor my training for that. But in the meantime, I’m happy to have a new PR, and am ready to turn my focus to the Houston Half-Marathon, and the intermediary goal of the LIRRC’s Turkey Trot 8k.

Here are some photos I took of the elite race, from where I was standing with my friends on the west side of Fifth Avenue at 71st Street.

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You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’ve been diligently training for a half-marathon. I didn’t expect much from myself in the way of performance at the Gulf Beach Half-Marathon this past Saturday, especially considering that when I reviewed the results from my last race (the $10 10k in Riverside Park on August 24), I wept with disappointment and frustration. My time of 51:08 was 8 seconds slower than what I ran on Governors Island two months earlier. What had I been doing for those two months? Was my consistent training completely for shit? I wondered. Needless to say, I was expecting an equally painful and shitty performance in Milford, CT for the half.

Nevertheless, I was looking forward to it. The course was supposed to be flat, the weather beautiful, and the other runners few. I love me a small, local race. I awoke at 4:30 to give myself enough time to get ready, eat breakfast and drive up there in time for the 8 AM start. I got there at 7:15 AM, packet pick up took all of 2 minutes, and I spent the rest of the time waiting in line for the one port-a-potty. Hopefully the organizers will add more at the start next year (this was the debut running of the race). My winter running gear is still in storage at the Pennsylvania house so I wore stripey socks on my hands to keep them warm (I have Raynaud’s Syndrome). My paws looked like this: 

 

The race started, and I had no time goal other than breaking two hours, and no strategy other than to run a negative split, a.k.a. delaying the pain for as long as possible. Really, the main thing I hoped to get out of this race (apart from a test of my fitness) was a positive experience in the state of Connecticut. I have an irrational prejudice against the state which I need to get over, since I talk shit about poor CT all the time even though it’s never done anything to me!

The course was as-advertised–scenic and flat. The houses were all gorgeous, and the views of the water were so pretty. I even got a few briny whiffs of air, which made me all nostalgic for my childhoods spent by the ocean and the bay with my Nana. Every mile or so there would be a group of neighbors mucked up on a corner waiting for some local hero to come trotting by. Some folks also watched us come by as they sipped their coffee on their porch, and one boy was cheering us on from his bedroom window. (I hope his parents have subsequently unlocked him, but who knows. Maybe he was a very very bad boy. Do you think he was being punished for hating on New York State?)

My first mile went by in 8:22 and I thought that was too fast so I reined it in for Mile 2 which hit at 8:37. But clearly that was too slow since all my splits were about 10 seconds faster than that (at least) for the duration of the race. Turns out flat courses agree with me, and they help me to run evenly (normally I suck at this). Here are my splits for the first half of the race: 8:22-8:37-8:24-8:26-8:24-8:16. Mile 6 was faster because by that point the leaders had reached the turnaround and were headed back towards us, so this got me excited and I picked up speed with the crazy thought that I might see someone I knew running towards me. I was the lady in pigtails frantically scanning the face of everyone running towards me. At least by then I’d removed the stripey socks, so I didn’t also look like the slow girl who must be protected from stabbing herself in the eyes with her fingernails. Small blessings, right?

Normally for a half-marathon an out and back course would seem like a very bad idea, but this route was so beautiful I was actually looking forward to retracing it in reverse. I already mentioned the residential streets were beautiful (in fact, it reminded me a little bit of those miles of the Staten Island Half where we run along the water and can see the Statue of Liberty, but way prettier), but we also ran along a boardwalk that went through a nature preserve park. As I ran, I could hear sea grasses whispering as the wind brushed through them, and I could see the sun glint off the water. It was excellent. There was even a short jot we took through a wooded trail. As I ran back to the finish line (we started and finished at the beach for which the race is named), I thought Milford, CT was a great town to be a runner. I thought this even while being pushed around by a headwind that ceased only for the few times I had to truck up a slight hill. That’s right, the whole 6-plus miles back were into a headwind.

These are my splits for the last half of the race: 8:28-8:29-8:27-8:06-8:12-8:15-7:57-00:43 (9:15 pace). At Mile 10 I picked up the pace. You see, there was this chick, I already passed her once, then in Mile 9 she decided to pass me back. That made me cranky, so in Mile 10 I made sure that she would stay passed. I never saw her again, and I went on to pick off about 10 more runners over the course of the next three miles. That was nice. Only one guy passed me during that time. I also would like to mention the volunteers. They were helpful, cheerful and definitely made a big difference as the course was not very intensely marked (runners shared the road with cars for the whole race, except for the part on the boardwalk).

Mile 13 I was totally in the zone and was excited to run hard and strong across the finish line…until I realized that we had to cross the beach for the last tenth of a mile to get to the finish line. That’s right, I floundered in the sand, slowing down to a 9:15 minute per mile pace as I flailed about, worrying that the shifting surface would aggravate Betty (my sensitive right adductor brevis). Oh, I was pissed, especially when the spectators at the sidelines, meaning well, shouted to me, “Come on lady! Keep going! You got this!” I wanted to snarl at them, You try and run at top speed through the fucking sand! But I didn’t, because I thought it best not to bring anymore crazy to Connecticut than I already had. Besides, for all I knew, Milford runners are championship beach runners, having such easy access to the sand, so they would have just laughed at me, an obvious outsider.

But, there I was: done, in 1:49:12 (could I have broken 1:49 if I’d finished on pavement?), according to Little G. I was well under 2 hours, but still three minutes over my PR for the 2010 NYC Half-Marathon. I had delayed the pain until the last possible moment (Mile 12). And, I had appreciated this little corner of Connecticut for what it was: a friendly, beautiful, sane beach community, full of runners and supportive neighbors. We can’t PR every race we run blah blah blah.

Yeah, yeah. But now, I really want to KILL IT at the Houston Half-Marathon in January. I hear that’s a flat course, that actually is run in its ENTIRETY on pavement! Suh-weet! Let the training continue, in an amped-up fashion.

PS Another reason to not hate Connecticut: apparently, they  have firemen, too!

 

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Dear TK,

I think by now we know each other well enough that I can spare the formalities and cut right to the chase. You have grown as a runner, but I don’t mean that you’ve gotten faster. I won’t lie to you about such things (or anything, anymore). Despite your speed lagging behind last year’s, you can still legitimately claim improvement. No, I’m not referring to the PR you ran in a 4-mile race earlier this summer (low-hanging fruit). What I’m talking about when I’m talking about your running is your attitude towards your sport, and your ability to recognize the difference between forcing an issue and persistence and determination.

Remember in 2009 when you stubbornly trained through the winter despite never quite feeling 100%, and never really enjoying the training? Oh yeah, you got injured, had to defer your marathon a year, and then slipped into a depression that lasted four months. Sure, you exhibited persistence and determination in the face of inhospitable weather and what I’ll call a Qi Depletion (blame that hippy-dippy mumbo jumbo on the acupuncturists). But you also were pigheaded, proud, and living in denial about what your body was capable of accomplishing that year.

Remember in 2010 when less than seven days after racing the London Marathon you embarked on a running streak of at least 1 mile a day for 30 days? Oh yeah, you called it quits after four weeks, the streak having thoroughly exhausted you and leeched all the fun out of running. Once again, persistence and determination were clearly on display, as was resourcefulness (how did you manage to fit in a run every single flipping day?). But oops, your blind insistence to push the agenda despite warning signs once again caused problems and a mandatory cessation of training for a while.

Remember in 2011 when you were so emotionally depleted from the great upheaval in your life, that you could barely make it out to run more than twice a week? Remember how you felt like you were simultaneously bouncing off the walls and pegged to the floor by gravity? Remember how one run along a snowy trail (you were trying to be accomodating to your friend) aggravated Betty so much that you nursed your adductor brevis for seven months?

Oh. Yeah.

Sometimes our memories turn around to face us and give us the double Fingers, don’t they? Not accepting the truth is no different than lying to yourself (the slang term for that is denial). Lying! How often do we lie to others not to hurt their feelings? (Your hair looks great! Love your dress! I heard every word you said!) Well, I have also done a lot of lying to myself, so as not to hurt my own feelings. There have been more moments than I care to remember (fear of the double Fingers) in which I have carried on in denial about my physical preparedness. It seemed less painful to avoid the disappointment that accompanies scaling back on mileage, deferring race goals, and acknowledging the way my body has let me down. Remember when you were benched, and you’d watch others run by and feel like they’d stolen your boyfriend? Well those days are over TK, because now you know something that makes no sense, but is true: EVEN WHEN YOU ARE NOT RUNNING, YOU ARE A RUNNER.

Essentially, TK, your improvement as a runner has to do with surrender. You know that your running is not in your hands. Running is a gift that is presented to you over and over until you accumulate training, the same way a race is a step you take over and over until you accumulate a PR. Running is something you do on God’s time. You mocked Ryan Hall and the way he brought God into his running, but now you understand–it is only through the grace of the universe that you are here to move forward at a clip. And not only that, but you don’t run for yourself. Your running is a way to be of service to others. Perhaps you inspire others to take on their athletic dreams, or to dare to attempt what was previously thought impossible. Perhaps you write about your running in a way that helps new runners find a workout schedule, or understand how to prepare for race day. Perhaps by inviting others to run with you, you give them a chance to talk through their troubles and find an easier way forward. Ryan–your running has been a service to me: by bearing witness to your graceful form and Amerian Records, I attempt to approach my finest effort as a runner the way you have. Our finest effort–that is what God asks of us, though She is happy with an honest effort, too.

Don’t buck at the God talk. It’s just another way of saying “inexplicable,” “luck” or “beauty” and you know it. You don’t need to wear that cynicsm, it is not the most flattering dress on you after all.

TK, you precious thing. Tell them, go on. You’re not racing a fall marathon, are you? More momentous: you’re STILL A RUNNER! And also: you grieved your marathon plans and aspirations for 24 hours before you realized they haven’t died, just stepped aside to let other others claim your attention. You just improved your recovery time from four months to 24 hours. And there you have it, the crux of your improvement as a runner is surrender. Ultimately, this will serve you better than additional speed, since speed is like physical beauty (fleeting, subjective, and an illusion).

You are a treasure! Run when you can. Write when you feel inspired. I’m here for you to remind you that you are still a runner whenever you need it (the reminder, or the running).

Run strong and beautiful,

Pigtails Flying

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It took me 28:05 to run the second Media Challenge Race of the season, but I was drenched before I’d been on the course for a minute. Not because, like in years past, the weather was just so oppressively humid, but because a powerful, exuberant thunderstorm broke out at the exact moment the race organizer started the clock.

photo credit: @runner510

Imagine a great takeover: everything was forced to submit to the deluge. This storm raised an amused eyebrow at your umbrella, then proved how useless it was by aiming the rain sideways. Although us racers didn’t completely submit–we still raced, after all–we accepted the race on the storm’s terms. We were going to be sopping wet, our shoes would squish, and even seeing what was in front of us would be a challenge. What does this mean as a runner? For me it meant this was the most fun I’ve ever had in a media challenge!

Running through a strong rain brings out my inner child. While she didn’t completely take over (this would have involved twirling in circles with my arms spread open and my head tilted back), she definitely helped me run faster than I thought. It was all so absurd, the weight of my water-laden tech tee (yes, I did wring it out while running while it was still storming. Me: super smart), trying to wipe the streams out of my eyes. I might have mumbled Squish squish! Squish squish! in cadence with my strides. I definitely laughed out loud with delight and glee. (Fuckin A, people, how often do adults get to feel delight and glee? We gotta revel in it when we can!) Having said all of this, I can imagine that running a marathon in these conditions would suck hard.

Don’t ask me my splits. I ran this race the first week my Garmin was broken so I was running naked, which gave me a chance to really tap into and pay attention to my effort levels. Not sure I could have run any faster without puking at the finish line, which is just not cool in front of industry peers. I think my team would have gotten docked a point or two if that had happened (or at least, I think that’s a fair rule that should be instituted, don’t you?). Finish-line puking: minus 2. Mid-race puking: minus 5.

photo credit: @runner510

One thing about racing drenched: there’s no hiding your body flaws. All the lumpy parts are accentuated by the clothes that are clinging damply to every curve and bump. Dear God, please release me from my vanity….. Still way-ting!

Here’s a blog post about the only other race I’ve run in a lot of rain. Have you ever raced in the rain? Did you love it or hate it?

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When I first heard about the second running of this race, I thought, Ooh, I can try and get my 10k PR under 50 minutes. You see, I ran my 10k PR on this course last October, in 50:34. Then, when I signed up for the GOGI 10k, I thought, Ooh, I’ll just run this as an indicator of appropriate fitness for my marathon goals. And when I picked up my bib and t-shirt for this race, I thought, Ooh-kay, just go out there to have fun and not embarrass yourself, TK. I sure hope that downgrading doesn’t become a trend between now and October. Well, actually, if it does become a trend, sure as shit I ain’t running a fall marathon.

This is what I loved about the race: meeting new Twitter friends and connecting with old ones. Bumping into old running buddies, including one Green Mountain Relay teammate and a former student of mine. I even recognized the lovely lady who kept me up to speed back in October. @BklynRunner, @linnaf, @runninglam, @EvaTEsq, @bunk1mike, AL, NI—this is how it works: I race for me, but before and afterwards I get so much enjoyment out of your company. There are few people I prefer more than runners, it’s just a fact.

This is another thing I loved about the race: taking the ferry. Ferry rides put me at peace, and remind me of happy moments past.

This is the third thing I love about this race: the course. It’s flat, it’s three loops but each loop is slightly different than the one before so we’re not dreading what’s coming next, the scenery is lovely (rivers, skylines, world-famous statues, trees, wide lawns, historic buildings with graceful arches), and the finish line is charmingly low-key.

So, I didn’t PR. I didn’t even run with a watch, because Little G’s bezel has been nonresponsive when I press it to retrieve a satellite. Instead, I used the clocks at each mile marker and my goal pace (8-minute miles) and perceived effort to pace myself. I’d say it worked out pretty well. Mile 1 was about 8:30, Mile 2 was about 8:15, but Miles 3 and 4 were definitely 8 minutes or less. Mile 5 and 6 I’m not sure, but given my average pace of 8:12, I must have been running sub-8’s. (I missed the 5-mile marker, causing me to despair for a bit, believing I had bonked since I was going full bore but thought I wasn’t getting anywhere. However, I finished in 51:01 (196th out of 758 racers overall, and 18th out of 156 in my division), which is only 25 seconds off my PR. If I had run my goal pace, I would have finished in 49:16. (Watch smatch. Now at least I know where I’m going.)

Along with the Forest Park Classic 4-Miler and the Green Mountain Relay, I think this GOGI 10k will become part of my must-run races each year.  As a runner, it’s a great opportunity to be able to measure yourself against the same course year in and year out. Time tells a tale that can be triumphant or tricky, but it’s always tool for improvement.

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I was disappointed, but the NYRR Mini 10k did not disappoint me. Even though I felt crushed over my performance, how delighted was I with every other aspect of this race? VERY.

The NYRR Mini 10k is a historic race. Spearheaded 40 years ago by one of my personal heroes, Kathy Switzer, the first running of this race had only 75 participants. This year, it had more than 7,000. Today, no one questions a woman’s right and ability to run for pleasure, exercise, and competition, but 40 years ago it was still considered a radical, unfeminine, outlandish activity. I can blog (and pout, crow, muse, and navel-gaze) about my running with such abandon today because of to work done by female runners such as Switzer, Benoit, and Waitz decades ago. Speaking of Waitz–this year’s Mini was run in her honor, and I was proud to be participating in the memorial, and in the larger tradition of the race. Apart from everything that Grete did for women’s running worldwide, and her importance to the New York City Marathon, she raced in pigtails–what’s not to love about that?

After spectating last year, I decided I would not let another year go by without racing this one. As I’ve said before, I generally pass on most New York Road Runner races because I am not interested in paying to run around Central Park. But the Mini, with its start at Columbus Circle and course that takes us up Central Park West and clockwise around the big loop in the park, is an exception. BUT if they’re closing a major thoroughfare, giving me the chance to run down Harlem and Cat Hills, and setting up the finish in front of Tavern on the Green?–then hell yeah, I’m in!

As I walked to bag watch, I imagined that I knew all of the women headed that way, too. I strolled and reflected (since I was in no hurry for the race to start) that at one point or another, I was or will be one of these women. I have or will race: skinny, fat, hungover, well-rested, slow, fast, for fun, a PB, to test my fitness, to be among friends, injured, peaking, PMSing, to heal a broken heart, to burn off lust, to actualize myself, to get guaranteed NYCM entry, to prove something, to set an example, to support another woman, to burn 700 calories, to believe in myself, to remember who I am.

When I got to bag watch, I realized that I actually did know dozens of the women on the course that day. I had met then through my blogging, tweeting, racing; through my family, work, racing, Team in Training and Team Fox. Women runners pervade every segment of my life–and there are few comments on who I am and who I hope to be that are more beautiful than that. How lucky am I? VERY.

Among the runners I know, I was able to see these women before or after the race: @raceslikeagirl, @mdwstrnNYer, @sugarpop, @ericasara, @nycbklyngirl, @BklynRunner, @susanruns, @Running_Fox, @EvaTEsq, @kbruning and others I am sure I’m forgetting. When I pushed into my corral (the second corral! A red bib!), I ended up right behind a woman I know from work. I saw my old TNT Coach Nancy by the raffle table. I know there were many other women racing who I knew were there but didn’t catch up with–plus the other women I know but didn’t realize were racing. How cool is that? VERY.

I was agog with the calibre of professional competition in the race, as well. As we raced, I would follow behind athletes such as Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, last year’s victor Linet Masai, Kim Smith, and many others. How many amateur runners in this country get to tread directly behind such talent? A small percentage, yet there I was! How rare is that opportunity? VERY.

Now for the race itself. It wasn’t until the Chacha man shot off the Go gun that the competitor within me woke up and said a quick prayer, Please let me have a good race. I enjoyed the course immensely, even though I had my eyes cast down nearly the entire time. My mood was subdued, to say the least. I erroneously thought the conditions hospitable–skies were overcast and there was a light breeze, but I learned afterwards that humidity was 96%. My legs, my legs, people! They haven’t felt kicky in nearly a month. During the race, I kept expecting some sort of grit to push its way to the surface through the pudding. Usually that race mentality picks up on the cues: What are these hoardes of people, timing chips, bibs, racing flats doing here? Oh, okay! Nope, pudding all the way. I felt like a pile of damp leaves and kindling. No spark was going to set me on fire. This was my thought pattern the entire race: Q: Can I sustain this speed? [look at Little G] A: It reads slow but it feels dangerous.

At Mile 3, I broke out in a huge grin despite myself. The Front Runners were cheering as if their lives depended on it. NYRR had set up cheering stations, assigned to various clubs (whose male members were wearing shirts emblazoned with “This one’s for Grete.”). Their shouts were amazing, and gave me a boost like I’ve never experienced in any race previously. They made me feel special, like I was doing something remarkable, and for that I was grateful (because I didn’t believe I was remarkable at the time).

Ultimately, I finished more than a minute thirty off my PR, which left me feeling pretty crushed and wondering if I am a fool to think I can run a sub-3:45 in my marathon this October. Friends reminded me I raced on only five weeks of consistent training, the humidity was killer, and I have been exhausting myself through BEA, moving house, and unpacking. All of that is physical, and can leave a body in need of recovery the same way a long run or speed workout does (so they told me). I am grudgingly meeting them half way. I am also considering this: I ran a 35-second negative split, my fastest mile was my last, and I lost one pound this week (I am attempting to get back to race weight by August). While those facts aren’t VERY encouraging, for right now, they are encouraging enough.

6.2 miles raced in 52:07. Fastest mile 8:09 (Mile 6); slowest mile 8:33 (Mile 1); average pace 8:24.

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Usually, the first Media Challenge race of the season is my fastest because the conditions are the most hospitable. The least hot, the least humid. I was confident I’d be speedy in race #1, not only because of the weather, but also because of the two superb workouts I’d had this weekend, plus Tuesday off as a rest day. I was hoping for proof, or for a reminder, of what I have to look forward to in October in the marathon. Yes well. Humility is a helpful on race day, too, right?

Or rather: Doesn’t it just suck when the rest of life rises up to fuck with our running?

I work in book publishing, which affords me the specific pleasures of a constant supply of free books, of working with lettered and intelligent humans, and of racing in the Media Challenge Series every summer. I work in book publishing, which means I submit myself to lower salary norms, long hours spent working for little return, an insecure environment due to a changing consumer landscape (ebooks), and, once a year, the grueling schmooze-a-thon of Book Expo America.

I used to loooove BEA. Parties! Cute men in nerdy glasses! Free books! Celebrity authors! Parties! Cute men in… okay okay. Nowadays, I strategically maneuver my way through BEA to avoid as many phonies, succubus, aspiring authors, and exes (oops) as possible. This means my appointment book is pretty fucking lean (yo). (Who has time for meaningless or pointless? Certainly not me.) However, Wednesday (yesterday, a.k.a. race day) I could not avoid making an appearance, since I had numerous authors there I needed to dote upon. (If anyone requires references as to my doting abilities, just ask. I know it seems far-fetched but actually I am quite skilled at making others feel like they are the only person On.The.Planet.) What did all this doting mean, though, for my race? It meant there was no race, not for me. It meant that my legs were completely thrashed by the cement slab I had to walk upon all day long, and when it came time to race, my legs had morphed into that upon which they had been standing for six hours.

The Jacob Javitz Center is hell for racers. New York City Marathoners, take note! Do not belabor your spin around the Marathon Expo; it will needlessly exhaust your body.

As I walked to The-Building-Formerly-Known-As-Tavern on the Green, I couldn’t deny the complete malaise that had overcome my body. We’re talking zero zip. I thought perhaps I would catch a second wind once the Go was given–that usually happens–but then thought again perhaps not, since I couldn’t even walk quickly to the race (forget jogging, or even wogging).

The race definitely happened–without me. Oh, I was on the course, but my legs did not show up. They were on strike, having filled themselves with some sort of leaden substance that made it impossible to move quicker than a 10-minute-per-mile pace. Frankly, I don’t blame them–I would be pissed too if the rest of my body made me take the brunt of the abuse from a concrete floor for the entire day. At the start, I reined myself in down the hill because every step was so jarring I thought my teeth would fall out. After that I proceeded gingerly. And that’s about it. I never felt that tightness in my chest from pushing so hard I could hardly breathe. I never pumped my arms. A few times during the two laps of Central Park’s lower loop, I thought about walking (tra la). At one point I spent an inordinate amount of time politely chatting to a shirtless runner who had pulled up beside me, that was odd yet at least distracting (the conversation; I did not glance at his torso). Shirtless running: I remain conflicted. Rarely is it a good thing for anyone other than the shirtless one.

So, I finished the race in what might be a personal worst. 3.5 miles run in 34:13, average pace 9:41. Fastest mile 9:04; slowest mile 9:58.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been upset over race results, but this is one of them. Fucking A I run my training runs faster than this! I ran 8 miles at a faster clip just this Sunday! Do over, do over! Oh wait–there IS a do-over, in 2 weeks, it’s called Media Challenge #2. See you there, folks.

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