Ironman Countdown

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kiss Me I'm Irish (and its not even St. Patrick's Day)

Deck the halls with boughs of holly!!!  It is Christmastime... the end of the year is upon us.  While 2014 has been a wonderful year for me in racing, I can't wait for 2015.

I finished out my running races this past Saturday at the 15th Annual Celtic Solstice Five Miler.  This little gem of a race takes place at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore... get it?  Druids, Celts, Solstice?

If you don't "get it," the Winter Solstice (technically on December 21st) was a major celestial event for the ancient Celts in Ireland.  Particularly, in County Meath, where my father's family is from, there is a gorgeous burial chamber in the hills in the Boyne River Valley called Newgrange... it was built 5,000 years ago, and those ancient people built a window box above the door of the tomb... and only on the winter solstice does the light enter that window box and illuminate the tomb, revealing all the ancient carvings that lie in total darkness a majority of the year.  The Druids are an ancient class of Celtic (Irish/British people) who were educated... So Druids, Celtic, Winter Solstice... its all a connective theme.  VERY IRISH... IN DECEMBER!!!  Of course I'm doing this race!

James and I, back in 2006, went to Ireland and visited Newgrange.  It was amazing and beautiful.  You can read more about it by clicking here: Newgrange. 

entrance, with the window box above

James & I at the entrance

Celtic carvings on the entrance stone

Anyway, back to running.  The whole theme of this race is very Celtic... Irish design on the race shirt, lots of runners in kilts as well as the expected Santa outfits or other holiday trimmings.  Every year I've run it (this was my 3rd), I always look enviously at the cute running kilts.  I'll have to get one someday.

sweet race jack/front


The race starts with a parade of bagpipers and Irish wolfhounds, as well as several runners who have run in each of the races over the last 15 years.  Very cool.  Five miles is a neat distance... a little more of a challenge than a 5K but still kind of a sprint when compared to a 10K or greater.  And wow is the route through the park and around the lake pretty!
the view across the lake

I felt pretty strong during the race, and was a few seconds faster than last year.  I got a bit overheated when I hit mile 3, and that mile between 3 and 4 is killer; there's some trick to it that makes it feel like 2 miles instead of 1.  I wanted to puke... running fast like that and too many layers of clothes does that to me.  But I was able to strip off my outer shirt, and pushed through to the end, enjoying a fantastic downhill to the finish line.   Wheeeeeee!

sister-wives, before the start

 I went to the race with my sister-wife Jen.  We met up with several of my work peeps (Jen, Amy, and Molly).  My "roommate" Kate ran it too (we haven't lived together in 12 years, but she's still my roommate).

Due to forces beyond our control (poor traffic control getting in and around the park), Kate and I never met up.  I got to see her on the run for a blink of a moment though!

my office neighbor Jen!

Such a fun race.  Mulled wine and homemade soup at the finish, as well as Christmas cookies and other treats.  Its total bedlam and crowded at the start, but I always have fun at this one.

Law & Order Running Team (Amy, Molly, & Jen)

And so my racing year for 2014 draws to a close.  My tally looks something like this:
2 x 5K's
2 x 10K
1 x 4 miler
1 x 5 miler
1 x 10 miler
1 x 11 miler (17.75K -- ooh rah!)
2 x half mary's
1 x marathon
3 x sprint triathlons
1 x oly triathon* (cancelled swim portion)
1 x 70.3 triathlon
260 miles of racing = 260 miles with a grateful heart beating in my chest

According to my Garmin stats, I am set to clear 1,000 miles in running alone this year.  That sounds so cool to me!

To end with some further gratitude, two of the great gifts I have received this month are:

1)  My favorite running buddy is back!  After selfishly having her second child, and leaving me high and dry, Tricia is on the run again.  Don't call it a comeback... she's been her for years.
2nd Annual Mr. Hanky Christmas Run

2)  My Swm Bike Mom Ambassador Team 2015.  Its not even officially "our year" yet, and I love these women so much!  We have our own group page on Facebook, and in just over two months, we have shared so many things:  races, blogs, training tips, movie quotes, support, lamentations over injuries, job changes, family life, comic relief.... I was so grateful when Swim Bike Mom called me and offered me this gig, but I never knew it would be this much fun.  From the super "hawt" gear, to the sweet hookups we have with our sponsors, it just keeps getting better and better.  But really, at the heart, it is these 29 women from Washington, California, Minnesota, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina... and on and on.... that really lift my soul.

awesome tech shirt

just a sample of the gear from SwimBikeSell!

 And that, my friends, is my Christmas Wish for you all:  may you find your joy and experience the magic with your people these coming weeks.  It's hectic and crazy (I have cried on several occasions during freak-out moments), but it's worth it... it's life, and we only get one!

Merry Christmas! 
 (Happy Hanukkah and everything else too!)

my babies

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sweet November

Ah November.  The marathon is over; beautiful fall running is in full effect. Time to just be, to breathe, and to enjoy it all

Ironman training pressure has not kicked in, as its not yet 2015.  A nice laid back month to just cruise, get in some runs, adjust to the darkness (I have to run after work), do a race or two....

One of my favorite things about running and triathlon is "the fever" it spreads.  In my office alone, the running boom has been impressive.  And it totally humbles me when I have a person say that she has seen my Facebook posts about running, or noticed my physical change, and it inspired her to do the same.

Which brings me to my friend Jen.  I have been very blessed in my life with great girlfriends in all stages of my life, including since becoming a mommy.  In my neighborhood, with our local pool at the focal point, I have become close friends with three other crazy mammas like myself.  Jen is one of my mommy friends who brings me sanity.  And this November, in as far as running, was the MONTH OF JEN!

Jen started running at some point last year, and began to join me each Tuesday at the Y for spin class. On Thanksgiving 2013, I ran with Jen in a Turkey Trot 5K for the local YMCA.  That was her first race. Ever. Like, ever ever.  That was so fun for me, seeing her cross the finish line and know "that feeling."
Turkey Trot 5K, 2013.  It was FREEZING!

We did two other races together at the beginning of 2014:  the Penguin Pace 5K on February 2nd (my birthday) and the Victims Memorial Run 4 Miler for my office in April.  

Penguin Pace 5K

Victims Memorial 4 Miler, with my other beautiful runner Kate

Firecracker 10K
She then set the goal to do a 10K.  She smashed that goal on July 4th at our local Arbutus Firecracker 10K.  It was hot and humid, and a bit drizzly, as I ran the three miles across town to her house beforehand (I was in full marathon training already and needed to log extra).  The Firecracker, in our neighboring town, is notoriously hilly and challenging, and Jen killed it!  All the locals were on their lawns, cheering for the runners, squirting us with hoses to cool off, and ringing cow bells.  It was so much fun!

Which brings us back to November, one year from Jen's very first race.  Not only did we do a 10K race together, but she asked me join her in her very first HALF MARATHON.  It was a scary and exciting goal for her, and she decided to do it.  Knowing my own marathon would be over, I said I would happily run this with her, at her pace, provided that brunch was on the agenda for afterwards.  Again, I am ALLLLL about the food reward.

The Bay Bridge 10K on November 9th was beautiful.  Really, it was just a stunningly gorgeous morning, and, as a Marylander, getting to run over that 4 mile long bridge was just awesome. 
photo credit:  Rivalicious
We ran it for the scenery and the experience, not to "race" it.  We stopped to look over the side (a loooong way down) and take selfies.  And we had some celebratory beers at the end!  A wonderful day!

On Saturday, November 22nd, I picked up Jen around 5:45 a.m. to head back to Annapolis.  It was 25 degrees and, obviously pitch dark outside.  Why do we do this?  I ask myself this often in the early dark hours of the morning.  Yes it was very cold, but I am one of those freaks who actually finds that preferable for running... once I get moving. I dread the start and the first mile or so when I'm still cold.  But I like not sweating that much and not getting uber thirsty like I do in the warmer months.

Anyway, I was very excited for the Annapolis Running Classic Half Marathon.  It was going to be a beautiful race, and I was really excited to be with Jen as she conquered this goal.
 Annapolis is a pretty town, and the course went by the state house, down main street, the city dock, around the outskirts of the Naval Academy, and over the Severn River and back.  It was hilly, and it was a tough course, but gorgeous
course map

check out those hills!

It was soooo cold at the start.  My fingers were stinging despite wearing gloves.  My eyes were watering.  There were so many people just as nutty as us:  choosing to wake up crazy early and run 13.1 miles in the freezing temperatures.
huddling for warmth at the start

start line selfie

Jen did a great job.  I yammered away, and we covered multiple subjects, the way only long distance runners can talk.  We negative split it, but averaged about 10 min/miles which Jen seemed to maintain pretty naturally.  It was a joyful finish!  Jen's family was at the finish line.  I was so very proud.  It was a great reminder for me about why I do this, why any of us do this:  to make goals, to push our limits, and for the glory of a finish line.

gorgeous finishers medal

sister wives, finishing together
I couldn't stop shaking from cold, once we finished.  So this time we did not stay for the party afterwards.   But Jen's husband (and her cute boys) took us to a diner, and we feasted on omlettes and coffee.

November has been a perfect month:  great running weather, easy going training, and having fun at races with a fantastic friend.  I am always thankful for the gifts running and triathlon have given me, but it is the time I get to spend at races and on training runs with my sister and friends, that fills my heart with pure joy.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  Find your joy.  Be grateful.  Be happy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MCM Race Report: Finish What You Start

I had all these plans to write this update, to tell you about how I PR'd (personal record) my second marathon; how it was a glorious day full of victory and happy running....  but that didn't quite happen.   I finished my second marathon ever, taking each and every step along the way, and that ended up being enough.  I'm actually really happy about that.

The thing about doing any race for a second time, is there is the hope and expectation to do better than the last time.  I am definitely faster than I was a year ago, and my training runs over the summer all seemed to point to a PR for MCM.  But sometimes, it's just not your day... despite the best laid plans.
my race bib

On Friday, I took the day off from work, and went to the race expo.  I got to pick up my race number, and my free race gear.  As all runners and triathletes will tell you, a good race shirt sometimes makes the whole thing worth it.  This year's MCM shirt is, um, well its TERRIBLE.  I mean look at it!

Its a tech mock turtle neck!  It's shit-brown in color (sorry for the swearing Mom & Dad, but that's the only way to describe it).  It has some horrible logo on it!  Just awful.

much better!  (and prettier!)
However, at the race expo, there were lots of other goodies to behold.  Brooks, the running company, had a whole store full of beautiful MCM logo'd shirts and hats and jackets.  I had my hands on so many things, all fun and pretty.  But I settled for a hat, a t-shirt, and a very cool running jacket that will see lots of use.

Marine Corps Mascot!
The expo was lots of fun.  The Marine Corps pep band was there, putting on a mini-concert out front (and I developed an immediate crush on the trombone player, even though I am probably old enough to be his mamma).  There were lots of vendors with fun race gear and samples and running outfits.  It was so hard to exercise financial restraint.  I do love pretty running skirts!!!!


perfect weather!

I woke up before 5 a.m.  I started my rituals of making coffee, putting on my race gear, filling my water bottle etc.  I had decided days ago to dedicate my race to my friend Stef, who is battling ovarian cancer.   She is an amazing runner, and I know what she is doing is tougher than any marathon.  So, I wrote her name where I could see it, to remind me to be tough and stay strong.

I ended up leaving 15 minutes later than I had planned... I seemed to be having a "nervous stomach" just as I was getting ready to leave!   I had to drive a half hour away to College Park to pick up the Metro, and take the train to DC and the start line near the Pentagon.

Top of Green Line, to the bottom where Yellow/Blue meet at the Pentagon

getting nervous on the Metro!
I had to switch trains once, from the Green Line to the Yellow Line, at the Fort Totten stop.  Everything was still going o.k., despite my late start.  Until I got to Fort Totten.  The Yellow train.... the dreaded blasted Yellow train... I (and about a dozen other runners) waited 25 minutes for that train to appear.  So now I was 40 minutes behind schedule.

A side note:  for those who don't know, I am TYPE A about being on time.  I get nervous and upset if I am running late.  I hate being late.  Well, now I was late.  My stomach, which was already in knots for some reason, was a mess.  I am also a bit neurotic as an athlete, but that's "normal" among most marathon runner and triathletes I know.

I got off the train at the Pentagon, and still had about a mile walk (with all the other runners on the train) to the start line.  I had to check my bag (full of warm dry clothes for afterwards) and pee one last time.  The race started officially at 7:55.  By the time I was in the runners village from the train, it was 7:52.  Not good.  I heard the cannon for the start... I used the port a pot, tried to ignore my rumbling angry stomach, checked my bag, and rushed towards the start line.
here's the cannon at the start that I never saw!

I had wanted to be with the 4 Hour and 4:15 Hour pace groups.  In the sea of humanity, I missed all of them, and was at the very back of 30,000 RUNNERS!  Oh dear god!  I started jogging down the opposite road, passing the slower paced corrals, trying desperately to find my pace group.  I ended up passing the starting line, but on the wrong side of the road, and eventually had to hop a concrete barrier to rejoin the runners (scraped up the whole back of my leg).  Instead of calmly focusing, I was feeling frantic.  And it was so crowded.  I couldn't find my stride.  I was just kirking out.

The first three miles are basically uphill, and all I kept doing was trying to "catch up."  I was behind my pace already... and my brain would not shut up!  I was only 4 miles in, and I was not feeling my normal calm happy feeling. I managed to "catch up" to the 4:15 pacers, but really worked to do so.  Not smart.
The Course Map

I saw my big(gest) brother John at mile 5 near Georgetown.  Perfect timing... I needed this.  I was so excited to see him, and that did wonders for me.  He even made a sign for me so I could find him.  And I got to hear his voice and his yell, which just filled my heart.
My oldest brother, Johnny!

I finally started to settle down a little, and realize I could still PR but just not have my super-good-day time. At mile 7, I ceremoniously ripped off the pace bands I was wearing, and decided to just let it go.  I needed to calm down, and just be in the moment.  Despite this decision, my brain still kept at me, periodically yelling about pacing and goal times, about being late and not finding my stride.  I kept yelling back, "Let it go!  Just calm down!"  I probably was muttering out loud!

My sister appeared on the course around Mile 11, and that was a total surprise! She's so good like that, and I got a hug from her.  It took those four miles to really quiet my brain, and I was starting to feel content with slowing down a bit and just being happy with this slower pace than I had planned.

And then it happened:  my stomach really started hurting.  Cramping up.  To the point that I was having trouble ignoring it.  I kept telling myself, "just get to the halfway point at Mile 13, and we'll see where we are."   Mile 12 to 13 goes down to Haines Point and is known as the Solemn Mile or "Run to Honor" mile.  It is dedicated to fallen service members, and they ask runners to honor that while they run.  The wind was whipping around, and there were families of the fallen holding American flags.  There were placards depicting the photos of the fallen.  It was so moving and beautiful.  That helped me re-focus on something other than my stomach.

I made it to 13, and I knew I was in big trouble.  I needed a bathroom.  Found it.  But the problem with stopping in a race like this is the legs cramp up and its hard to get moving again.  I lost my pace, but tried to just keep going.  I came out of Haines Point at around Mile 15, and saw my brother and sister again... and found another bathroom.  And then I had to walk.  HAD TO.  It just sucked.

I texted James and Tricia, and then my sister and brother.  I told them what was going on, because I had slipped so far off pace that I knew they might be worried.  I also just needed to tell someone before I could admit it to myself.  My body was betraying me.  I was so angry at this point.  So disappointed.

And I had a DECISION to make.  I could just quit and walk away, knowing it wasn't my day, or find the strength to simply finish.  Just finish.  I was hurting, and angry, but I knew how furious I would be if I walked away completely, even though that was the easier choice.  So, I decided to just keep going.  One step at a time: walk, run or crawl. 

It's hard to stay in a race and finish, when you are feeling so negative.  I kept looking at the other runners who were wearing shirts in honor of fallen military family members; I kept seeing active military runners.  I was thinking of Stef, of my friend Vickie, of others who would love to be outside enjoy this gorgeous day in Washington, D.C.  It was was beautiful... the Marines presence, the crowds of supporters, the triumph of the marthoner.... that all helped.  I walked a lot.  I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

And finally, finally... there was the turn to "charge the hill" to the finish line.  The Iwo Jima monument.  I made it.  I got my medal put around my neck from a Marine (and I got all choked up) and got my finisher photo.
what a gorgeous finish line!

My brother went all the way back to Northern VA for me, so he could drive me back to my car in College Park, and I wouldn't have to take the Metro home.  It was so kind, and so sweet.  Big brothers are pretty awesome.

I had so many messages of congratulations via text and Facebook.   I let that sink in, and I realized that even though mentally (and physically) this was not my best day, I still did a marathon, all 26.2 miles.  And I can still wear my new MCM gear with pride (even the ugly brown shirt), as a finisher!

finisher's medal:  always earned, never given

The race photos were just posted.  I was happy to see they caught me smiling in several, and one that made me laugh outloud.  Enjoy!

I'm looking for a port-a-potty?

best finish line I can imagine