Advice from 23 Half Marathons

As of Sunday, I have officially completed 23 half marathons.  Since I am now done, for the season, I decided to take a look at progress, lessons and next steps as I dream about fall.

I have been tracking my running data since 2015 – first on excel and now on google drive.  When I started that process, I went back and look for the finish times of EVERY RACE I’VE EVER RUN… And found all but two of them on bibs or somewhere in cyberspace.

As runners, I think tracking helps us see patterns in our behavior and performance.  In my real life, I am something of an accidental data nerd and have to admit I enjoy seeing what emerges when I mix up the info in different ways.

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Half Marathon Performance: August 2004 to May 2017

My first half, a NY Road Runners fun run around Central Park, came after my first full and it didn’t even have a medal or a shirt!  Once I returned to running seriously at the end of 2013, I started to look out for such things and my collection of both has grown significantly.

My lessons from the trenches…

1: Not every race will be a PR!!!
This one is hard for me.  I am constantly looking to improve and get better, but when you run multiple races in a season, you have to give yourself the leeway to sometimes just have fun.  Or help a friend over the finish line or realize today is not the day for you.  That used to make me CRAZY, but now I can take it in stride and allow joy in the journey. As you can see from my chart, typically I have one “stellar” race a season and the rest tend to be a little slower.

2: Training plans matter. 
I love writing training plans and will often source a bunch of place before I figure out which one works for me.  For a long time, I ignored the advice of track work and hills, favoring just enough miles.  I have learned the hard way that not doing that work will BITE YOU on race day.  Varying pace and the type of pounding on my legs REALLY changed the experience for me.  The caveat, listen to your body!!!  If you need a rest day – take it.  If you are sick – don’t run!!  Remember – there is a difference between excuses and self care.

3: Study the course map.
I am very guilty, particularly when choosing quantity over quality, of not looking at the map or elevation of a race course at all.  For a long time it was because I didn’t know what on earth I was looking at when reviewing that info.  (I am supremely directionally challenged – I will get out of a store in the mall and not know which way I need to turn.)  But I slowed down and taught myself.  Now, particularly for a goal race, I will study the map for my training plan and race day plan.

4: Do NOT try anything new on race day.
Know your fuel plan.  Test EVERY PIECE OF CLOTHING. Eat properly the day before. Do not let the expo get you — this is not the time for a new tank, hat or gu.  This is tried and true advice and even the most seasoned runner can get sucked into an amazing new find or the taper crazies.  Do not let 13.1 miles turn into a stomach cramping, fuel belt chaffing, new hat flying off experience.  You have worked WAY TOO HARD for that.

5. Mentally train too!
I have not regularly done this either, but after trying and failing for SO LONG to get a under 2 hours, I decided it was worth a shot.  I worked on mental toughness this spring by reading books, listening to podcasts and generally embracing the suck.  For so long I thought it would just get easier to go faster.  And it has, but to really push myself – I had to change my thinking and visualize that finishing time.  Whatever floats your boat, really – is it a mantra, a saying on your hand, the music you listen to or don’t?

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And for goodness sakes  — have fun!  You are amazing for getting out there and doing what such a small percentage of the population can do.  It doesn’t matter what your times are compared to others.  It matters what your times are compared to your goals.  We are not going to the olympics, but typically back home to be the best person/mom/dad/wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend we can be.

2017 Frederick Half Marathon Recap

Yesterday was my second running of the Frederick Half Marathon. In 2015, I ran it as part of the Nut Job Challenge (5k Saturday night, half marathon Sunday morning).  Originally, I had planned this race as my sub-2 attempt, but I ended up shooting for, and making it, at the St. Luke’s Half two weeks prior.

On Saturday morning, my son and I headed up to Frederick in the rain to pick up my packet and do some adventuring in Maryland.  We arrived at the fairgrounds, found parking fairly quickly and went to pick up my bib (one building) and my race premium (another building).  After wandering around the small expo, we headed over to see the farmers market.  Puddle jumping was too tempting for my little buddy to resist, so I ushered us back to the car to continue our adventure.

The rain was slated to stop by 11 and I had hoped we’d make it to the South Mountain Creamery to learn about ice cream making on our way home.  Sadly, there was no end in site to the rain, so we headed over to Brunswick, Maryland to check out a small train museum.  My father-in-law loves model trains and has a huge set up in his basement, so Michael is quite familiar with watching trains.  This particular exhibit wound all the way through the third floor of the museum and followed the train from Union Station up through Maryland.

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The rain stopped long enough to check out the old caboose in Brunswick.

We headed home, still in the rain, and I went about gathering items for my “Flat Erin” for the race. Since the goal was to have fun, I really went all out for this one – channelling the character Poppy from the movie Trolls.

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Skirt: Sparkle Athletic, Headband: BAMR Bands, Shirt: Run Happy by Erin on Etsy.

Saturday morning at 5am, I met my friend Kim at a local Starbucks to head to Frederick for the 7am start.  I knew that it was an absurdly early hour to leave, but if we didn’t we would sit in massive traffic upon arrival into the small town.  Packing 4,000+ runners is never an easy feat and I did not want to be stressing for no reason.

We arrived in plenty of time, got organized, and met up with our friends for some silliness before the gun went off.  It was COLD out, so we spent our time being goofy and staying warm.

When we lined up for the starting line it was STILL COLD, but we seeded ourselves around the 2:20 pacer and off we went.

 

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It remained fairly cold and the sprinkles that had begun right before the national anthem turned into full out rain by mile 2.  The course was much hillier than I remembered or was expecting and my legs were super tired, but we were all about fun — so fun we had.  We chatted about everything and everything as the miles flew by.  I was not carrying water and had a bit too much before the start out of nerves, so we had to stop for me – which took over 5 minutes because two of the potties were just not OK for female use.  Before we knew it, we were at the final 2 mile stretch a crazy up hill climb back to the fairgrounds.

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We finished at 2:14 and change.  MUCH slower than 2 weeks prior for either of us, but as speed was not the intention – we focused on what a lovely catch up we had for 13.2 miles.  Shortly after crossing the finish line, we met up with two of our MRTT buddies and proudly showed off our new bling.  The wind was picking up and it was getting COLD, so Kim and I headed back to the warm car to trek home.

This year they offered the option of posting FREE photos directly to Facebook for finishers.   VERY COOL, but two caveats. They come posted with not just the race logo, but a full advertisement for the race on the bottom.  AND they post all your photos – even the ones you would never post yourself.  We have had a lot of laughs looking at one another’s pics and quickly deleting them before too many of our friends get a good look.

It was a fun race and one I’d do again, but not on tired legs after two weeks of racing. Overall – Frederick does a GREAT job of putting together an A+ race with a wonderful vibe!

St. Luke’s Half Marathon Recap

Last weekend, I participated in the St. Luke’s Half Marathon in Allentown, PA.  I signed up as part of their “Half and Half” – this half in April, followed by the Runners World Half in October.  I had been eyeing the Runners World Half and when I ran the idea of doing BOTH by my sister-in-law, she was game to join me.  Plus they had a cool sweatshirt if you did both and I am not ashamed to admit that I am motivated by good swag.

Some time in late-March/ early-April, I shifted my goal race from the Frederick Half Marathon on May 7 to this one.  One of my training partners, Hadley, was training for the Loudoun County Half on the same day.  She is faster than me and SO STRONG, so it was fun to reach a little bit to up this training cycle.  We had already added speed work (thank you, Molly!!!) and hills to our regime and I figured – I’m working hard, I’m healthy and it’s finally time to retry for that sub-2 half.

Physically I felt good overall, but went to see my favorite sports chiro, Dr. Wong, the Wednesday before the race to work on my left foot which was feeling “off”.  There was NO WAY that was going to stop me from my goal. Dr. Wong worked his magic on my foot while simultaneously helping me think through my race day strategy.  We talked food, fuel, pre-race warm up mile, and water consumption.

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Selfie with Dr. Wong

On Saturday morning, I headed up to Allentown (about 3.5 hours from my home) and upon arrival, promptly wandered about the expo.  It was a VERY well organized event and with some nice items and vendors.  I picked up my race shirt (disliked, but I’m picky), bib (special color for the half and half), and sweatshirt (LOVED).  I also grabbed two tanks, a shirt, a headband, and some fuel from the various vendors around the ballroom.

After checking in the hotel, I wandered around Allentown a little to get my legs moving.  Luckily the rain that had haunted the forecast earlier in the week was no longer on the horizon and, though cool, felt good to get my legs moving.  I headed back, grabbed a salad for dinner, and set out my flat mama before my sister in law arrived from NJ.

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Skirt by Sparkle Athletic. Socks by Gone for a Run. Headband by BAMR Bands.

I read, watched girl movies and worked on my computer.  When she arrived, the family had been at a water park for 2 days, we chatted for a while and got settled in for Sunday.  I was so enjoying our visit and hated that we had to go to sleep without grabbing a glass of wine together.  Between her 4 boys (!) and my 1, we rarely get to chat without tons of interruptions.

Race day arrived with a starting temp in the 40s and a clear sky.  We drove over to the fairgrounds, parked easily and got to wait in a comfy gym with REAL BATHROOMS!!!  We, of course, grabbed a picture before the start.

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We had agreed from the beginning to run our own races.  At around 7:50, I headed out for my warm-up mile while she stayed inside to stay warm before the race.  The 5k got underway at 8am, with our race to follow.  After my mile-ish, slow run – I found some friends to take my picture and this cute clown to snap a selfie with before seeding myself somewhere between the 1:55 and 2:00 pacers.  I had originally intended to stick with the pacers, but decided I was a good enough self policer to watch my own pace.

At 8:10, the gun went off and we were headed on the road in a down hill start.  I let the momentum carry me, careful to remind myself to run my own race.  I knew the hills were rolling and I also knew, from studying the course map, that miles 7 to 11 had crushed gravel – the VERY THING that had killed my first sub-2 attempt back in 2014.

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I know better than to “bank” miles, but I was also aware of the hazard of the gravel.  So I ran at a good clip for the first 6+ miles, reminding myself to keep a little in my tank.  I also tried really hard not to waste time passing people or weaving in and out.  I did walk through the water stops to make sure I stayed hydrated.  When I got to the 10k mark, I was pleased to see 54:44 – only 40 seconds behind my 10k PR.  And I was still feeling good.

My pack of runners headed into the park with the gravel JUST as the leaders were headed back out – and onto mile 12.  That still BLOWS MY MIND.  The park was beautiful and picturesque.  BUT THE HILLS AND GRAVEL WERE UNFUN.  I knew I had to keep around a 9 min per mile pace, even with my first half being so strong, to make my goal.  Just before we went through a covered bridge (very pretty, but this was not a race for stop and photo moments), I chatted briefly with a girl who was after the same time goal.  We commiserated on the gravel and possibly going out too fast.  Don’t you just love the running community?

We came out of the park and I felt how shot my legs were.  I also knew that the last 1.5 miles was going to be ALL HEART.  SO I kept repeating, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me…” (YES – I am a boy mom!) all the way to the stadium where we needed to finish.

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I had read that there was an uphill climb and a 3/4 trip around the track oval before the finish line.  And I decided it was time to leave it all behind.  That this is what nothing in the tank was about.  I pushed around that oval and SAW 1:57 on the clock.  After sprinting over that finish line, I pressed done on my Garmin, looked down and realized – I DID IT.

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Pic from the St. Luke’s Photographer

TWO+ years after mentally eyeing the goal and 4 months of hard work lead me to my first sub-2 half marathon.  My watch said 1:57:27, but the official time was 1:57:25.  FOUR WHOLE MINUTES faster than my previous PR of 2:01:28.

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Official Finishers Certificate

I hobbled my way around to some benches, after grabbing a medal and heat sheet, to find my sister in law.  She had finished out at just over 2:04 after an insane week of spring break.

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We walked back to the car to head back to the hotel and I had to grab one last pic of Allentown before my long drive home to VA.

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When I arrived in my driveway, my amazing neighbors greeted me with champagne and flowers.  Hadley had also had an amazing race, coming in at 1:53 and change.

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Flowers from Molly. Champagne from Lisa. Photo by Lisa’s son, Benji, and hugs from all!

I’ve spent the past week taking it easy, resting my legs, and determining what the next big goal might be… Because this runner is no where NEAR done!

St. Luke’s Half Marathon – The ANTICIPATION

I’m here!  In Allentown!  BY MYSELF IN A HOTEL ROOM.

15 hours until go time for my attempt at a sub-2 hour half marathon.  I’m well rested.  I’m well trained.  My flat mama is ready.  The forecast has changed to my favorite running weather.  AND I AM SO EXCITED.

And nervous.  This is the first time in 2+ years I’ve seriously trained for a time goal and put it out into the universe.  One that was a little hard.  A little bit of a stretch.  All week long, I’ve been working on mental training.  I am ready to embrace the suck.

That’s all for now… If you have a moment between 8:10 and 10:10, send me good thoughts.  I will need them.

HERE GOES!!

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