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Firecracker 4 Mile (Race Recap)

10 Aug

On July 4th I ran the local Firecracker 4 mile race. For years they have offered a 4k and I did it in 2010 and 2011, but hadn’t run it recently because it’s usually super warm outside, and frankly a 2.4 mile race is just not the most exciting distance for me. This year they added a 4 mile distance which is a new distance for me. Some ladies in my running group decided to do the 4 mile, and since I would typically run on Monday morning with them, I decided to do it with them, especially since we finished so strong at the Memorial Day race a month earlier.

The race started right at 9am and the weather was perfect – low 60s and cloudy.

The course is basically a big loop and there are some pretty significant hills, but we have run them before during our weekly runs, so we knew what to expect, which I think helped a ton. Any finishing time would be a PR for all of us, since we hadn’t run a 4 mile race before, but secretly I thought we could finish in under 44 minutes (and thus sub-11 minute miles) if we really pushed it, so I kind of hoped we could do that (or finish close to 44 minutes).

Mile 1 – 10:42 – We were flying thanks to a downhill right at the beginning. I tried not to get freaked out when I saw the time on my watch when we hit 1 mile, because I knew the real hills would be coming in miles 2 and 3, so our paces would drop a little.

Mile 2 – 10:52 – First major hill. There was a clock at the mile 2 mark and someone said “omg under 22 minutes?!” and I told them to just ignore it and keep pushing, haha.

Mile 3 – 11:26 – Second major hill and a water stop that we opted to walk through so we would actually drink the water, as opposed to just getting it on our shirts. I knew we had banked enough time that a slower mile wasn’t going to hurt us too much.

Mile 4 – 10:22 – The final push. It felt really hard, and I think we all gave it everything we had. When we crossed the finish I had that omg-I’m-going-to-puke feeling, which for a shorter race is a good thing.. right? 🙂

Finishing time: 43:49 (10:57 pace). Woo! We did it, sub-11 minute miles and a very strong race overall.

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Memorial Day Race (Race Recap)

5 Aug

On May 30th I ran the Memorial Day race. This race is a weird distance (3.8 miles) and the course is marked by 2 huge hills. It’s part of a memorial day festival that happens every year on memorial day weekend. I’ve done this race twice before, in 2011 and 2013 and both times finished around 48 minutes. I was convinced to do it this year by a few people in my running group, and we all agreed to run together. I hoped I could PR this and finish strong despite the hills and having done the Path of the Flood Half Marathon two days prior.

The race started right at 8:30. The first little bit goes through town before heading up the first hill around mile 0.75. Once you get to the top you turn around a head back down where you head up, before making a right and going up a second longer, steeper hill, turning around going down that hill, and running around a block to the finish.  The key to this race is not to loose a ton of time on the uphills. I knew having three other ladies with me pushing each other was going to help immensly heading up those hills.

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Mile 1 – 11:50

Mile 2 – 11:59

Mile 3 – 11:43

Last 0.83 – 8:36 (10:20 pace)

Finish: 44:09 (11:02 pace)

I am so happy with our finishing time for this race – especially since it was a PR for me! There were some tough moments on mile 2, but we paced ourselves pretty well given the course, and since I was running on tired legs I couldn’t be happier with how I felt and how it went.

Path of the Flood Half Marathon (Race Recap)

3 Aug

On May 28 I ran the Path of the Flood Half Marathon in Johnstown, PA.  The half marathon is one of three races offered as part of the Path of the Flood Historic Races. I ran the half marathon last year and looked forward to running it again, and even managed to convince a group of my running buddies to do it too! A huge group of us carpooled to Johnstown the morning of the race, and we had people running the 5k, the 12k and the half!

We arrived in Johnstown around 6:45am which gave us plenty of time to pick up our bibs and shirts, snap a few group photos and get the busses to the various start lines. The course is point to point, so it is recommended that you park at the finish area (in downtown Johnstown) and take the complimentary busses to the various start lines. It’s very well organized and there were no issues getting to the start on time.

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The course is mostly downhill and mostly along the dirt Path of the Flood trail. Last year I PRed at this race and hoped it may be possible again. I remembered feeling like I was flying down the trail for most of the 13 miles.

Right at 8am the race started and we were off. I felt good and really pushed the pace to see what I could do. The first 2.5 miles of the half are through a little town and then you are on the path for the next 8 miles.

I felt really good for the first 6 miles (1:09) but as the temperatures rose and the sun started beating down, I new I couldn’t sustain the paces I was running, and I was going to have to start incorporating more walk breaks (I had just been walking the water stops).  From that point on I knew a PR was out of the question and I just wanted to get the thing done.

In 2015 in was cooler and more cloudy, so the four water stops they offer during the half marathon course were sufficient. This time around though, it wasn’t enough. I wished many times that I had prepared better and brought my camelbak, but I just hadn’t thought it wouldn’t be enough water.

I walked sporatically when I felt I needed to for the next 8 miles, until we left the trail and entered downtown Johnstown. I knew by this point that all of my friends were waiting for me (the other person doing the half was faster than me and everyone else did a shorter distance) and honestly that kept me going even though I was feeling pretty bad. I am so glad I had that motivation in the last few miles.

The last 2.5 miles going through Johnstown are tough. There is little shade, and the sun feels like it’s reflecting off of the buildings and roads and blasting you.  I started incorporating 3:1 run walk intervals to occupy my mind. I caught up to another runner doing something similar and we talked and ran/walked together for about a mile, until I felt well enough to pick up the pace for the last mile or so.

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(Many thanks to my running buddies for these photos!!)

As I turned the last corner and could see the finish line I saw all my friends cheering and taking photos and I was so happy to see them in that moment. They gave me just the push I needed to finish strong despite the heat.

I finished in 2:44:46 – a time I am not super proud of but is over 10 minutes faster than my finishing time last year, so I can’t really complain.

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We hung around to drink beers (I opted for gatorade because I could tell I was depleted) before getting back int eh cars and heading home. I was so glad I brought clothes to change into because I was incredibly sweaty and soaked.

The race is a good one, and I’ll probably be back next year since it’s semi-local to me. I’ll just make sure to bring my camelbak if they don’t add more water stops.

If you’re keeping track, I didn’t PR in Pittsburgh, Harpers Ferry or Path of the Flood this spring, but I’m hoping the fall and cooler weather will give me an opportunity in the fall.

Harpers Ferry Half Marathon Race Recap

25 May

On Saturday May 14th I ran the Harpers Ferry Half Marathon in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

My dad and I drove to West Virginia on Friday afternoon and headed right to packet pickup in a hotel conference room. It was small, but everyone was super friendly. From there we grabbed dinner at a local Italian restaurant and went back to the hotel to relax. My dad had decided not to run this half marathon because his knee is still healing from a previous injury. I had read the course was very hilly, and there would be a mix of terrain. It was both of these things so he absolutely made the right decision. I would not recommend this race to anyone with an injury but if you are going in healthy and with the right expectations you can have a great time like I did!

The start and finish line was located at River Riders in Harpers Ferry (they offer ziplining, tubing, biking, and general adventuring). It was easy to find parking when we got there around 7:15 or so (we left the hotel around 7). There was day of race packet pickup and plenty of port-a-poties.  My dad and I just hung out as I tried to calm my nerves for what I expected to be a ruthless course.

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The finish line is behind me, luckily we started going down this hill and ended coming down it too. 🙂

Around 7:45 they asked all the runners to gather together we took a short walk down the hill to the “official” start line (there was no chip reader or anything). There were probably about 300 runners or so. It was large enough that I knew I’d never feel alone but small enough that I knew I wouldn’t feel crowded.

Since I wasn’t completely sure what to expect (and was a bit freaked out about the hills) I planned to turn off my run/walk intervals and just run when I wanted to and walk up any hills that I couldn’t see the top of. I knew that keeping my intervals on would just frustrate me when I inevitably hit a walk on a downhill or a run on an uphill. I was just going to go by my body felt.

Right at 8am they sounded a horn and we were off. The first mile was gradual downhill. I was super careful to take my time, there was no point in wasting energy. Once we got to the bottom of the hill we turned right and entered into Harpers Ferry National Park and made a loop through what I can only assume was a battle field.  We ran on some dirt paths that were mowed into the ground. It was really scenic though there was a portion that was uphill. I kept running but took my time. Everyone around me seemed to have the same strategy. There was very little passing or jockeying for position going on. The weather turned out to be perfect – mid 50s and a few clouds and some sun!

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After leaving the battlefield we turned left to head up the way we came from. This meant we had to head uphill towards our eventual finish line. This would typically be a tough on me mentally but this time around it really wasn’t. Almost everyone around me slowed to a walk up the hill, grabbed water at the water station half way up, and we were cheered on by the runners waiting to start the 5k. It was not bad at all. We hit mile 3 at the top of the hill.

From there we headed onto a dirt trail with a few switchbacks. I took my time, watched my footing and was fine.

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After leaving the trail we crossed through a campground before heading on a small out and back stretch on what I think was another part of another battlefield. I didn’t mind the out and backs on this race at all because they were short and the scenery was so interesting it didn’t feel boring. I was averaging around a 12:15 pace at this point.

After the out and back we hit another little trail area before coming out at the top of a hill. I grabbed some water at the water station and saw my dad who had decided to drive around to try to find me.

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Now, I love downhills, a lot. I enjoy “letting gravity do the work” and getting down them quickly, but this one was a killer. Never in my life have my knees ached on a downhill. I did stop to walk at one point because the impact was getting to me. It felt like it was just straight down.

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You can see the hill there around an hour into the race.

I did catch up and pass a few people on the downhill, but that really wasn’t my goal. One runner told me “this is the one we have to go up at mile 11 and 12”. I realized how much that was going to suck but just pushed it out of my head and tried to enjoy myself. The leader passed on the other side of the road when I was around mile 5.5 and he was around 12. Crazy.

At the bottom of the hill we turned onto a rail trail next to the Shenandoah River. Looking at the map now I realize that we went under an Appalachian Trail crossing. Pretty cool.

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It was gorgeous. I had to stop and take a photo, especially since my dad wasn’t running the race.

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Around mile 6.5 we could see Harpers Ferry in the distance. So pretty. Then we left the rail trail and entered the “Historic Town of Harpers Ferry” and were greeted with an uphill that I can only call epic.

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It was long and STEEP. This portion of the race was also an out and back but again it didn’t bother me at all.  I was focused on power walking up the hill. We passed historic shops, bed and breakfasts and between the buildings I caught glimpses of the Potomac river. I power walked up that hill as quickly and as strongly as I could, but it was not easy being 8-9 miles in at this point. It eventually flattened out a bit so I could actually run. I saw my dad near the turn around point so I was able to see him once on the way there and once on the way back.

He said I looked strong and honestly I felt REALLY strong given the course. My strategy of walking the tough up hills was working out really well. We turned around at mile 9.5

We got to run some glorious downhill (with a few ups thrown in, of course).

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We turned by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center and made a loop where we passed the Park Headquarters.

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I had to get a photo – what a unique race opportunity! From there we got back on the main road in Historic Harpers Ferry and got to take a nice down hill. Then around mile 11 the uphill began and it was not easy. The hill (the steep one we had gone down around mile 5) was tough. I often put my hands on my back to give myself the feeling of pushing myself up. Everyone around me had slowed to a walk and was doing the same thing I was – trying to keep powering up. I tried to talk to people, take in the nature around me and not wish the time to go faster despite the fact that my legs were pretty tired at this point. This was easily my slowest mile of the race.

I was SO glad when I got to the water stop at the top of the hill (around mile 12). I told the volunteers that I was so happy to see them. From there we looped back through the trails, which felt much harder this time around. I took my time and watched my footing to avoid tripping since I was tired. There were a few tiny uphills (that felt huge at this point) and then we had a short, glorious downhill to the finish. I tried to give it a final kick since I felt I definitely had some energy left despite what I had been through.

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I finished in 2:49:45 and have absolutely no complaints.

My first PR of 2015 was almost a year ago and I finished that race in 2:50 on a downhill course, so despite my time not being super fast for me I know that I am so much stronger than I was at this time last year.

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The Harpers Ferry Half Marathon is a tough course, and I doubt many people PRed. This is a race where it is important to set your expectations and not be bummed out if you don’t hit a time goal. BUT it is completely 100% worth it because the course, scenery, organization and volunteers are amazing. You do not got bored at this race. I felt the miles ticked by very quickly (except maybe from 11 to 12, ha)!  I found a video a fellow runner took and you can view it here. There’s actually a few cameos by me in a few of the shots – she was right behind me and I had no idea! 🙂 I hope I am fortunate enough to get to run this one again and if you are looking for a race in West Virginia I 10000% recommend it.

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Recap

18 May

On Sunday May 1st I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. This was my fifth time running this wonderful race (previous recaps: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012) and I go back every year because it never disappoints! This year felt tough mentally but my results show that I have gotten better at running this race every year.

My dad and I drove into Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, checked into our hotel (near Pirates stadium) and walked to the expo. The expo was really good this year – lots of freebies including FREE Chobani! so delicious. We easily grabbed our bibs and shirts and then went back to the hotel to relax. We eventually grabbed dinner in a restaurant in our hotel which worked out fine.  There was a Pirates game going on that evening so things were pretty busy and it had started to rain, so we decided not to tire ourselves out trying to find dinner elsewhere.

On Sunday morning I woke up around 5 to eat my breakfast and get ready. We left to walk to the corrals around 5:45.  I met up with a group of people from the gym at 6:15 right near a gear check and we hung out, grabbed some photos and wished everyone good luck.

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From there we had time to use the port-a-potties again before heading to corral D.

Now, I have no idea why I was placed in the last corral this year. I have been there every other year but my estimated time has been sufficiently slower. I fully expected to be in C this year because I was hoping for under 2:30 and didn’t want to get held back due to course crowding. I guess I should have asked about it at the expo but I didn’t think about it. Forshadowing….

When we got into the corral I happened to run into one of my friends from the gym again. How we managed to be in the same place amongst 30,000 runners just blows my mind. It was her first half marathon so we hung out in the corral together waiting to start. It also started to rain a little at this time so we danced around to stay warm.  I was kicking myself for gear checking my sweatshirt but when I had dropped stuff off it hadn’t been raining. What can ya do.

It takes a long time (about 30 minutes) for us folks in corral D to cross the start line so we hung out, talked and danced to the music. Eventually my dad ducked out to run to the restroom again so we didn’t see each other again until after the race.

I noticed the 2:30/5:00 pacers were close by so I thought maybe I could stick with them during the race and see how it felt. However by the time the time it was our turn to run I had somehow lost track of the pace groups and they were WAY ahead of me. I said bye to my friend as we crossed the start and just told her to take it all in during her first half marathon experience!

The first mile is a slight downhill and eveyone is amped up and jockeying for position. It is hard to hold back your pace but every year I try to not go nuts on the first mile. I ran it in 10:52 which was faster than I wanted but I backed off the pace a bit from there.  My plan was to run the first 4 or 5 miles straight and then settle into my run/walk intervals when the crowds spread out a bit. I did see the pace groups a little bit ahead of me so I thought that maaaybe I could catch up to them in a few miles. So I tried a little bit over those first 4 miles to catch up but they seemed to be only getting further and further away from me. I also had a few instances where I had to run around large groups of walkers and would get stuck behind them, or we’d be going around corners and everyone would slow down to a walk. Super frustrating. I have never had an issue with this in Pittsburgh so I can only assume it’s because I was placed in the wrong corral this time around.

I ran my first 6 miles at 10:52, 11:01, 10:41, 11:22, 12:04 and 11:38. I settled into my run walk intervals around mile 5 as planned. Right around mile 7 I started to feel sick though. My gus were making me feel sick to my stomach, I was super thirsty and my energy was shot. My body temperature was all over the place since it had stopped raining so I was cold but warm and sweaty and damp. I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain anything close to where I was for the duration of the race.

So, I shifted my mind set to enjoying myself and the beautiful views of Pittsburgh. I took twizzlers from a spectator (though it took my forever to chew it because my mouth felt so dry) and started getting two cups of water at every water stop.

I felt pretty crappy for the second half of the race but if I have to feel crappy I was glad it was in Pittsburgh. Despite the rainy, humid, cloudy, weather the spectators and the scenery can’t be beat for a city race.

I finished in 2:39:01 – far from a PR. I would love to PR this race some day, but this year was just not the year. However, given that my previous times on this course are 2:58, 3:11, 3:15 & 3:17 I really can’t complain. I am becoming stronger every year!

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