Erie (Presque Isle) Marathon 2015 Race Report

Before my sub-3 bubble burst 3:06:27.  Third Female Overall

Well.  The Erie Marathon did not go as planned.  I was shooting for a 2:57:30, ended up with a 3:06:27.  I was third female, but this race was really about me against the clock.  It was sub-3 or bust - and unfortunately, as you can tell from the time I actually ran, it was BUST. I'm still not quite sure WHY this race didn't go as planned.  I had a fantastic (for me) training season - nailed my pace mile runs (even ran the last one averaging 6:40 pace for 12 miles), had a great buildup, stayed healthy and sickness free.   Stopped teaching BodyPump 10 days prior to the race to give my body time to rebound, and carb loaded really well the day before.  I lined up at the start ready to go and get that sub-3.   Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the race details, I'll start at the beginning of race weekend when things still looked incredibly optimistic.


The view from lunch! We stopped at a cute tavern.

After putting my daughter on the school bus in the morning, I picked up my teammate Kevin (who was also running the race) and we headed up the road.  A stop for lunch and many, many hours of driving later (why is Pennslyvania so big?!!?), we finally make it to Erie around 6pm.  It was raining and would continue to rain for the next 30 hours.  We had some pasta with friends at a nice Italian restaurant, and then got some sleep.  Pretty uneventful day besides the ridiculously long 9 hours of traveling.  (Note to self:  Maybe pick a closer marathon next time)


Saturday night Mass - very calming and a much needed mental break

After a pretty solid night of sleep, I met up with some teammates and we ran a rainy 2-mile shakeout on the marathon course.  I felt pretty good!  Legs felt good, hamstring and hip felt great and I was encouraged.  It was going to be a good day tomorrow!  Thankfully the weather predicted the rain would stop overnight so race morning wouldn't be as wet.    After our shakeout Kevin and I had some breakfast and then hit a local coffee shop for some (decaf) coffee.  Yum!  I headed back to the hotel and spent a few hours lounging around watching Modern Family episodes and putting my feet up.  I snacked on pretzels and my favorite pre-race carb snack, Kix cereal.   I stuck with my ritual of going to church on the Saturday before the race and found a local Catholic church so I could attend mass.  It was very calming and the service was a great reminder that no matter what tomorrow would bring, there are bigger things in life than marathons.  After church I headed to the Presque Isle park to meet my friends for the pasta dinner.  Two years ago when I attended Erie I'd been so impressed with the delicious pasta dinner.  Ten bucks got you pasta with homemade marinara, salad, bread and a huge piece of chocolate cake.  This year the pasta dinner was catered by a local restaurant and left a lot to be desired - mainly because it was held outside in a picnic shelter in the cold, pouring rain.  I took my plate of pasta, grabbed some bread and ate it in the car.  Not quite what I'd imagined for my pre-race meal.  But I felt sufficiently carb loaded and was back relaxing in my hotel room by 7pm.  So far, so good!  I laid out all of my gear, set multiple alarms and it was lights out by 9pm.

Gear all ready for the morning

Sleep was elusive.  The air conditioning (window) unit in my hotel had stopped working and therefore I didn't get to enjoy that nice white noise I'd had the night before to drown out the sounds from the rooms around me.  No one was really loud, but the talking, TV and bumps/thumps from various rooms kept me up.  I tried downloading a white noise app on my phone but it didn't help and I began to worry that it would interfere with the alarm on my phone.   I tossed and turned and finally fell asleep after 11pm.

Race day

Standing at the start - a bit warmer than I'd hoped

I woke up with my 4:15am alarm and was a bit shaky with nerves.  I managed to eat my bagel and get ready, pack the car (since the hotel refused to give us a late checkout), and grab Kevin from his room.  We were on our way to the park and the start of the race by 5:25.   After a bit of traffic to get into the parking spots, we parked and headed to the start of the race.  As we stepped out of the car the first thing I noticed was the wind.  It was whipping off the lake and was pretty rough. I just prayed that the trees around the course would give us some shelter from the wind.  Thankfully it had stopped raining, but it seemed a bit warmer than I'd wanted at 58 degrees.  Of course after the summer that Richmond has had that felt downright chilly, but it definitely wasn't optimal racing temps.  But honestly I wasn't concerned about the temperature, and really wasn't all that concerned about the wind.  I just wanted to line up and get this show on the road!    After a bathroom stop and few minutes of warm up, we lined up and got ready to run. Issues with parking and getting the remaining cars into the park delayed the start by about 20 minutes, which gave me a bit more time to get nervous.    A speedy friend had come to cheer me on I got to see her at the start. We chatted for a few and checked out the girl who had come to try and qualify for the Olympic Trials.  I know if I was nervous she must have been even more so with such a big goal on her mind.   At around 7:20 they played both the US and Canadian national anthems and we were finally underway!

Miles 1-5 (7:09, 6:56, 6:51, 6:46, 6:45) 

Another teammate of mine was planning on going sub-3 as well and he and I had decided to run together for as long as we could.  I was grateful to have him there beside me at the start and knew that together we'd help each other nail the paces in the first part of the race.  And indeed, the first few miles were perfectly on pace.  We'd wanted to ease in and start on the slower side and that's just what we did.  So far, so good.  I noticed the wind and could feel it pushing me from time to time but it didn't feel like enough to knock me off pace.

Miles 6-10 (6:45, 6:40, 6:45, 6:54, 6:48)

Still smiling...but barely

Craig and I were still running together until around mile 7, when he started to slowly pull ahead.  At this point the pace was starting to feel...rather difficult.  I had planned to run 6:45s for a long while so to have it feel challenging so early was NOT GOOD.  The legs felt better than they had at this point in the Tobacco Road Marathon in the spring (I can vividly remember getting to mile 10 and feeling fatigue already!), but I was having trouble keeping the pace.  I decided to back off slightly and see if I could run closer to 6:50 to give myself a chance to settle in.  I passed the OTQ trial qualifier girl (she'd dropped out at mile 9-10 - later we'd find out she dropped due to the wind) I could see the big pack of runners who were all chasing that 3-hr time goal but since I'd started slower, I was a little ways back.  I eyed the gap and gave it a bit more effort to try and catch up to them...but I couldn't seem to close the gap.  I tried again and still couldn't catch them.  At this point I started to get really hammered by the wind and kept looking longingly at the pack of runners.  I felt like if I could JUST GET THERE and tuck in, they'd carry me to the finish.  My legs just wouldn't turn over any faster.   By mile 10, I wasn't feeling so great about how this was going.

Miles 11-15 (6:58, 6:55, 6:56, 6:59, 7:01)

All alone at this point and starting to struggle.  My friend who had come to cheer me on ran along side me for a few steps and I told her I wasn't sure this was my day.  The pace felt too hard and I wasn't even halfway through.   She encouraged me to get to the half and reassess.  I was very discouraged but tried to think positively - urging myself on at each mile to try and get back on pace.  But there was no 'getting back on pace' - my body seemed to lock into somewhere around a 7:00-7:05 mile and just want to stay there - no matter how hard I was urging it on.   I hit the half around 1:30 and was just so bummed that I had to run that entire loop ANOTHER TIME before I'd be done.  I couldn't figure it out - why was this so hard?  I'd done my pace miles and I felt as prepared as I'd ever been. What was the deal?!!?

Miles 16-20 (7:07, 7:11, 7:14, 7:14, 7:14)

All alone and frustrated

By this point I knew I wasn't going to get it and I wanted to quit.  I thought about it multiple times but (just like last race) I knew it wasn't fair for me to ask my family to let me go run another marathon in a week or two with the time and expense needed to do so.   So I pressed on.  With the OTQ girl out, people started telling me that I was in 3rd place.  I was already upset at myself with not being able to keep my pace, but I thought if I could at least finish in 3rd that would be something.  My friend was an amazing spectator - riding her bike around and waving a Virginia flag for me as I came by.   I was so frustrated and upset though - how could this have gone so badly?  I was ready!  I started to question my fitness - why couldn't I hold the pace? Was it just the wind/conditions of the day?  Was it too much BodyPump this season?  Should I have used a different training schedule?  Had I been training for too many months in a row?  Unfortunately, I still had 6 miles to try and silence all of those negative thoughts that were going through my head.

Miles 21-26.2 (7:16, 7:25, 7:22, 7:43, 7:40, 7:28, 7:05 (0.31mi))  I was toast.  Done, done, done done done.  I was mortified that my friend was here to witness this gigantic crash and burn of a race.  I was passing tons of people who were also doing the marathoner's shuffle but I was also getting passed by a few. I started to worry that I'd get passed by another girl - taking me out of 3rd place.  That's one of the few thoughts that kept me going - just try not to get passed by another girl.   By this point I was seeing 7:30s and up on my watch and I just wanted this to END.  Just get me to the finish so I can sit down.  I was so tired of being pummeled by the wind.  I had been running on my own since mile 7.  All of the things I was looking forward to after getting my sub-3 (taking photos at the finish, celebrating with my teammates, buying a shirt or two at the expo, celebrating with my friend at a post-race lunch, having a much nicer 9-hr drive home) were now out the window.  I dragged my body across the line in 3:06:27, narrowly avoiding being passed by the 4th place female.   I had tears for a second or two, but once I saw the rest of my team I wanted to celebrate their accomplishments.  Three of them had gone sub-3, and my very favorite part of the day was watching my teammate Matt come barreling through the finish line to snag his first-ever Boston Qualifier.  He was elated and I could not have been happier for him!


Salt on my face and a cold Pumpkin beer

After lots of hugs for teammates, drinking some chocolate milk and chatting with my friend, it was time to head back for a quick shower and get on to the long drive home.  I did end up getting 3rd female overall so I picked up my beautiful framed print as my award.  I love it - it's so beautiful - but right now looking at it makes me a bit sad.   I did get to enjoy a yummy lunch with my friend (she even brought me doughnuts!!  How nice is that??!) and had my favorite Pumpkin Beer.   After that, it was time to get on the road for the long, long drive home.  My friend Kevin also had rough day and we half-jokingly nicknamed our car the "sad car".  We called some friends on the way home for some virtual hugs, but tried not to be too sad.  At the end of the day, we both realize that running a non-PR marathon is still an accomplishment - we still RAN A MARATHON - something that many people would love to be able to do.     But it still stings to work so hard for months and still fail to achieve your goal.  To cap off a rough day, we hit construction traffic on 95 on the way home and didn't get home until after midnight.  UGH.

Post-race lunch with speedy Jessica

So.  Onward and upward!   I'm still waddling around the house like I normally am after a marathon, so I'll be giving myself some time off to recover.   I'm not quite sure where to go from here.  Perhaps I need more endurance at that race pace, or perhaps the wind was too much.  Or perhaps I struggled since I was running on my own from mile 7 on.  But I am definitely a bit sad to not have been able to cash in on a great training season, on a flat course, with good temps.  I'm not sure what to do differently next time to try this again. I feel like my training indicated that I was ready.  I was confident and prepared.   Perhaps I'm just being a wimp and didn't push hard enough.  I'm very sore, but not as sore as I was post-race at Tobacco Road (3:03).  Did I just not push through hard enough?    Lots of thoughts running through my head right now.

The beautiful framed print for 3rd Female Overall

At the end of the day, I know I'll try again, because that's what we stubborn marathoners do.  I believe I have that sub-3 in me.  I will reassess, retool my training and get my goal.  It may be that I take a season away from the marathon and focus on getting faster at the shorter stuff in hopes that will translate to faster marathon times.  I'm not sure.  But I do know that for me the training is the fun part.  And thank goodness for that!  Race day is only one day - you get one shot.  If it's not your day, you don't get to cash in.  That doesn't mean that all that hard work didn't count.  It's still building your base and making your body better at running.   So that's what I'm focusing on.  The fact that I made it through a tough season, got stronger and ran paces that I'd never seen on my watch before.  That has to count for something.  But before I try again, I'm going to rest up, take two weeks off and try not to be too jealous of the runners out there enjoying the beautiful fall weather that has finally come to RVA.

I'm down, but not out.  As Rocky said, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.*”

Thanks for all of your support, guys.   I'll happily accept your thoughts/advice for how to adjust things/virtual hugs in the comments below.

*Thanks, Teal!

Memorial Day 5K - Finally breaking 20 minutes!!

IMG_6694It's been a quiet few weeks as I've been doing my best to be a smart runner and dial it back while I rehabbed this hamstring strain.  The good news is that my patience has paid off and I'm back to running pretty consistently now - 52 miles last week.   I'll feel the hamstring on occasion (usually after doing speedier stuff) and I'm still sloooowly easing back into doing any type of true speed work.  I've been going to get ART (Active Release Therapy) and ice + stim on it once a week and that seems to be helping as well. But after feeling pretty good last week and getting the thumbs up from coach to try and bump up the intensity, it was time to put my fitness to the test in a local 5K.   Due to the hot and humid weather (70s at the start with the course in full sun), this race was run based on a combo of pace and HR.   I'd be aiming for a 6:15 pace (faster than tempo, but not true 5K race pace due to the conditions and the hilly nature of this particular course) but also keeping an eye on my HR - trying to get it up as high as possible in the last mile or so of the course to ensure that the effort was there.    So with those parameters in place I headed over to WestCreek at 7am for the Virginia Memorial Day 5K & 12K Run.

Pre-race was pretty uneventful.  I'd woken up, had a banana with almond butter, a LaraBar and some water.   Why no bagel, you ask?  My friend Sage has challenged me to do a Whole30 - 30 days of eating whole foods.  More on that in a later post.   In any case, I ate my food on the way to the race site and got there with plenty of time to pick up my packet, use the restroom and do my 2 mile warm up with strides.

Standing at the start - already sweating

This was the inaugural race and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  There were 750 runners in the 5K and 12K and we all started at once.   I lined up at the start and looked around - I didn't see any of the usual Richmond speedsters, but wasn't shocked since the race was new and not well advertised.  I was already sweating thanks to the temps and my little warm up.   It felt weird to be standing at the very front, but there were a few fast-looking guys but also some very young children so I figured I was in the right place.

Mile 1: 6:24  The gun went off and we took off down a fairly good incline.  I made a mental note to prepare myself to run back UP that thing at the end.  (start and finish were in the same place)  Even within the first half mile I was having a hard time holding 6:15 on my watch - I knew I didn't want to go out too fast but I was bummed that the pace felt so challenging so early!  The hills and heat were quickly proving that this wouldn't come easy.    Towards the end of this mile I found myself in 3rd place behind two faster guys.

Mile 2: 6:27 Another guy pulled up alongside me at this point and we exchanged a few out-of-breath words about the twists and turns of the course (we were zig zagging all over the place - even went through a small roundabout!).   Somewhere around here I got so frustrated at seeing the slower pace on my watch that I just switched it to heart rate mode and kept an eye on that.  I was already in the 190s (my max seems to be 202 or so) so I knew I was giving it the appropriate effort despite not having the pace to show for it.   I had a few moments of "why did I sign up for this - 5Ks are so hard - oh my goodness this sucks" but then I heard some friends cheering and that boosted my spirits.  I managed to drop the guy that had pulled up next to me so that was encouraging as well.  I told myself to keep pushing.

Mile 3: 6:26, 6:20 (last .1) About a quarter of the way through this mile we went through a hillier section and then hit the 5K/12K split where the 5K folks turn around and the 12K folks went ahead.  I was looking forward to this for two reasons: 1) I could see how far ahead the guys in front of me were when they turned around and 2)  I'd get to turn around and therefore be heading for the finish!   I charged up the hill and prepared to take the turn - but to my surprise the two guys in front of me went straight.  They were doing the 12K!!   I didn't have too much time to think about it as I focused on getting around the turn, but when I looked up, I had a bike escort.  I was suddenly leading the 5K.    I definitely had one of those "oh, crap" moments where I thought to myself, "'s okay.  You'll be okay.  Just don't screw this up".  I was tiring badly and had no idea how close anyone was behind me.  I wanted this to be over.  The bike guy kept far enough ahead that he wasn't talking (which was fine by me since I couldn't manage a word at this point), but folks along the course were cheering even louder once they realized that a women was leading the whole thing.   I tried to listen to hear when the next set of cheers would come (was the person behind me close?!) but eventually just focused on getting my legs to move as fast my body would allow.   Heart rate was through the roof (hovering around 200) and I was willing the finish to appear.  I hadn't looked back at my pace but I was really, really hoping I'd at least manage to break 20 minutes.  (Did I mention I'm terrible at 5Ks?) I finally hit the last hill to the finish and snuck a peek at my watch - 19:xx and counting - Ugh!  You gotta move, Jen!!  Bike guy peeled off and it was me on my own up the hill to the end.  Lots of folks cheering - and shouting "You go, girl!!" - and I was all smiles as I crossed the line in 19:44.   I'd finished and managed a win - my first ever - and even sweeter was the fact that I'd won it outright.  Beat all the girls AND all the boys.

All smiles with a new PR!

Now before you think my head is swelling up a bit too much, let me tell you that I know that this was a local, brand-new race - and that I lucked out in that none of the usual Richmond area speedsters were there.  I would never have won if any of those folks had come out.  And if those two guys ahead of me had been doing the 5K I wouldn't have won either.  So I know this "win" comes with a bit of an asterisk.  But I'm still tickled pink to have won, and to have a shiny new 5K PR that is under 20 minutes!!

My favorite part was getting my medal placed around my neck by three US military veterans and getting to meet them.  The race benefited the Families of the Wounded Fund, which provides financial resources in support of family members/caregivers of military service men and women who have either been wounded in combat operations, or injured as a result of line-of-duty activities.   Standing on the starting line and listening to the national anthem I felt so grateful for the freedom I get to enjoy in this country, and I was happy that the money from the race was going to such a worthy cause.

If you are in the Richmond area, I'd happily recommend this race to you.  The race director did a great job.  There was plenty of parking, the course was clearly marked and there were plenty of course marshals to help guide runners along the way.  It was definitely a challenging course at times with some turns and hills, but all together this was a well-run, well-organized event.

Up next?  It's more base-building training with hopefully a bit more speed as the hamstring gets stronger.  15 weeks until Erie!!

Tobacco Road Marathon 2015 Race Report

**Warning - long post ahead.  Feel free to go grab some popcorn, coffee, or some other yummy snack to get you through this.  Apparently it takes me nearly as long to write about a marathon as it does for me to run one.** Final time:  3:03:25  3rd Female Overall

Coming in to the finish!

So those of you who have been following along know I had set a pretty aggressive for this race:  To run a sub-3 hr marathon.   I had practiced the pace this season and while it had felt more tempo-ish than marathon-ish, I still believed I could do it and decided to give it my best shot on race day.   I (obviously) didn't make it, but I'm still happy and thankful for my shiny new (6+ minute!) PR.   Let's recap it up and then I want you to weigh in!

Day Before the Race: I spent Saturday at my parents' house in town.  I'd said goodbye to my family on Friday night and headed over to my parents' so that I could get a good night's sleep (something that's not so easy to do with young kids in the house) and just chill out on Saturday morning before we left for Cary, NC. My Mom and Dad were also running the race (Mom ran the half marathon and Dad ran the full) so we were all driving down together.  I slept pretty well the night before, though it took me a long time to fall asleep.  I'd had stomach issues all day Friday - just didn't feel great and my stomach had a weird "gurgle-y" feeling whenever I ate something.  I kept everything down, but trips to the bathroom were, well, unpleasant.  I was worried I was getting dehydrated despite drinking plenty of water and gatorade.  I didn't have the same "puffy" feeling I usually do as a result of a sufficient carb load.  Saturday unfortunately brought more of the same.  Still not feeling great, I was eating all-carbs-all-the-time and keeping them down so I tried not to worry.  Went for a little 2-mile shakeout run with my Dad and tried not to think about the fact that my legs kinda felt a little tired after a measly TWO MILES.  Yikes.  I just tried to remember that I'd had the same feeling in past seasons (feeling sluggish/tired in the taper) and prayed the legs would feel plenty springy in the morning.   We relaxed for the rest of the morning at the house.   I put my feet up, listened to my mental visualization tape and tried to bat away any negative thought that crept into my head.   At around 11:30 we headed to get lunch at Panera Bread (more carbs!) and my stomach unknotted enough to let me eat it before going right back to its gurgling.  It was a rainy day and the 2 1/2 hour trip down to Cary, NC was filled with downpours all the way.  I knew it was supposed to stop raining later on that evening, but I was a bit worried about what all the rain over the past two days would do to the surface of the American Tobacco Trail (ATT) that 21 miles of the course was going to be run on.

Hotel expo - quick, easy and low key.  Perfect.

We arrived in Cary around 3pm and headed to our hotel.  We stayed at the host hotel (Embassy Suites) which was also conveniently the location of the race expo and packet pickup.  The convenience of that part was AWESOME.  We literally walked in, checked into our rooms, and then walked down into the lobby to the race expo.  We grabbed our packets and looked around for a few moments and then were free to head back to the rooms and relax!  So easy and non-stressful.  I munched on some pretzels despite not being very hungry and tried to get my stomach to accept some more Gatorade.   At around 4:30pm we headed to a local Catholic church to attend Mass.   It was super crowded in the church and I since I wasn't feeling very well in the first place, being squished next to strangers wasn't helping.  But the service was calming.  It was a great way to take my mind off what tomorrow would hold and a nice reminder that there are many things in life that are much more important than a marathon.

Getting the race outfit ready to go.  Relying on the trusty Mizuno Wave Riders (v 17) to get me through.

After church we headed back to the hotel to heat up our dinner.  We'd brought some pasta and sauce from home rather than trying to go out to a restaurant and just heated it up in the microwaves in the rooms.  It was nice to know it would be something familiar that we'd be eating.  I ate my spaghetti and sauce and had a piece of bread.  After dinner I ended up laying down on the couch in the room and trying to make my stomach feel better.  It did help to lay down and I spent the next hour and a half watching TV while trying to chill out and will my stomach to cooperate.  I was starting to get a bit freaked out.  If my stomach was rebelling now, what on earth would it do tomorrow while running at effort and being assaulted by gels?  Ugh.  Not a great way to end the night.  I got ready for bed around 9pm, double-checked my race outfit and breakfast and then tried to sleep.  There were noisy young kids next door and while it sounded like they were having a blast, I couldn't sleep through the noise.  I have young kids too and hated to be a killjoy, but I was stressed about not being able to sleep and having to get up at 3:45am!  I gave them until after 10pm and then finally had to phone the front desk to ask if they might request for them to be quiet.  Finally at close to 11pm, I fell asleep.

Race Morning:

Ready to go.  Looking a little voluptuous thanks to the 6 gels stuffed in my sports bra!

I woke up at 3:45am with a pounding heart and a little bit shaky from nerves.  It was race day!  The stomach didn't feel awful, so I took that as a good sign and ate my normal pre-race breakfast of a bagel and banana.  Drank some water and Gatorade and got dressed and ready to go.  We headed over to the start of the race around 4:30am.  We knew we'd be way early but wanted to get in the lot before 5:30.  We had purchased a parking pass that allowed us to park right by the start (BEST $10 EVER SPENT) and we were so close that we didn't even need to use the bag check - we just left everything in the car.  It also meant that we could just chill out in the car and relax until closer to start time, which was awesome.  I drank my UCAN mix and sipped on water, trying not to let my nerves get the best of me.  At around 6:30am, I hit the restroom one more time and then did a little 5 minute warm up jog.  I was cautiously optimistic.  It was 52 degrees or so, the legs felt pretty good and I'd been able to successfully use the bathroom (something I'm always nervous about!) before the start.   Took a GU with 15 minutes to go and then it was time to race!  I wished my parents good luck on their respective races and headed over to the start line.  I did some striders at the starting line and then lined up behind the 4th row of folks.  The half marathon started at the same time so I did not want to start out too quickly with a bunch of the speedy half marathon folks.   I quickly asked around if anyone was shooting for a sub-3 today but had no takers.  I was surprised at how many folks had their headphones in!   I just crossed my fingers that perhaps I'd find someone along the way in the race that was running my pace.  I had a pace chart I was carrying with me, but the general plan was to run a bit slower for the first two miles then drop into goal pace (6:48 on my Garmin since my Garmin is always off the mile markers) and hold steady, potentially throwing in a slightly faster mile or two on the downhill portions of the course.

Starting in the dark.  The sun came up quickly but it was weird running those first few miles in such low light.

The Race: Miles 1-5 (6:54, 6:51, 6:46, 6:51, 6:42)

Enjoying the pavement before we turned onto the trail

From the gun we got off to an uphill start which had the advantage of forcing me to keep the pace easy.  It was quite a bit hillier than I'd expected through the two miles (some rollers) and it made me both excited (the last quarter mile was a big downhill to the finish!) and terrified (the hills would be UGLY at mile 25).   I ran a bit with a friend of mine from Richmond who was doing the half that day and he kept me company until we split at the 2.5 mile mark.  (The half marathoners went left down the trail, and we took a right.  The course makes a big "T" shape.)   Before we split, he pointed out two guys in bright shorts up ahead that he knew were also aiming for sub-3.  It was helpful to know that and I decided I'd try to keep them in sight as I went along.  Then it was onto the trail!  It took a few minutes for my feet to get used to the softer surface of the crushed cinder.  Unfortunately, due to all the rain they'd gotten the trail was pretty muddy/soft.  I could feel the tendons in my foot reacting to the give of the surface and I knew I wasn't getting quite the same push off that I would on pavement.  But nothing I could do about it - I had 21 miles on the trail so I might was well get used to it!   Breathing was ok so far and the pace felt doable.  I was happy and very relieved about that.  I took my first gel at mile 4 and managed to get most of it in my mouth (vs. all over my face).  The water stop at mile 4 was comical - I think 3/4ths of the cup ended up on my shirt.  Apparently I am really terrible at water stops while running my marathon pace!

Miles 6-10 (6:57, 6:46, 6:53, 6:49, 6:48)  Around mile six I found myself running side by side a younger guy.  He was happy and eager to chat and I was just pleased to have someone to run with!  After quick introductions (his name was Gabriel, he was in college), he asked what I was aiming for time-wise.  I told him that I was hoping for sub-3, but would see what the day brought.  He said he was trying to qualify for Boston and needed under a 3:05.  He wasn't wearing a Garmin and didn't seem to be too concerned with pace and he said he wanted to stick with me because he really didn't want to run this whole thing alone.  I felt the same way and told him I was totally fine to have him keep me company as long as he didn't care that I was going to run the pace I needed.  These miles passed fairly easily with some conversation and I tried to remind myself to look up at the scenery.  (which was basically just trees and more trees on either side but it was still pretty)  There were several areas of "false flats" on this stretch - long gradual inclines or declines that you couldn't really SEE but you could feel.  Thankfully half the trail was paved during a few miles on this stretch and I took the opportunity to run on the paved portion and felt that helped reduce the effort I was exerting.  Took another gel at mile 8 and tried (and failed miserably) to get more than a gulp of water/gatorade at the water stop at miles 8 and 10.    We hit the turnaround at mile 9 and as we neared that I got to see my first glimpse of the competition.  I calculated that I was 5th female at the moment.  I also got to high five my Dad as we passed him on the way back - that was very cool and gave me a boost.  At mile 10 I noticed the first signs of fatigue in my quads and had a minor freakout moment.  It was way too early to be feeling that - had I set a pace that was too aggressive?  Would I really pay for this later?  I tried not to panic and pressed on.

Miles 11-15 (6:53, 6:54, 6:58, 7:07, 7:02)   Another guy joined our little group around this point.   His name was Abraham and he was a 2:42 marathoner - which freaked me out for a minute until he admitted that he was not in 2:42 shape at the moment.  Still, he could easily talk and joke at this pace and I was starting to have to concentrate and work a bit harder.  It helped having him there to keep the conversation going and to take my mind off the fact that my quads were becoming heavier by the minute.   I took a gel at mile 12 and tried to grab two cups at the aid station in an attempt to successfully get some liquid into my mouth.  Managed to almost wash out my contact lens (seriously - how can I be so bad at water stops!?), but got a few gulps down.   Thankfully the stomach was cooperating thus far.  Hit the half in 1:30:24 - behind the sub-3 pace, but incidentally, it was a 4+ minute PR for me over my best half marathon time.   The course had no spectators besides the tiny pockets of people when we'd cross over a road.  During this stretch a few spectators (incorrectly) told me I was 3rd female.  I knew I wasn't, but the thought kept me going - I knew the third place finisher won some significant prize money ($750!) and if sub-3 wasn't in the cards for me today then I'd focus on trying to place.  I didn't want to start thinking negatively, but the legs were feeling so heavy and the gradual uphill we were facing in these miles resulted in seeing 7 minute miles on my watch.  UGH.  I moved up to the front of the two guys and resolved to try and push the pace a bit to get back on track.  I could not give up yet.

Miles 16-20 (6:54, 7:02, 7:06, 6:48, 7:12) Had another GU at 16 and managed to get in a gulp of water.  Moving in the right direction on this mile, but the legs felt very fatigued.  So fatigued that (full disclosure here) I even contemplated turning off early and heading back towards the start - reasoning that maybe I'd pick another marathon to do in a few weeks.   I was very worried about how these next 10 miles would play out.  At this point I realized that sub-3 may not be in the cards today.  But I told myself to not be a moron - it took lots of planning and sacrifices for both me and my family to allow me to travel to run THIS race - it's not realistic to expect them to allow me to go run another one in a few weeks.  I knew I'd be so mad at myself if I gave up - AND I knew I'd have to live with this results for months until my next race - so I tried to banish all negative thoughts as we crossed over to the next section of the trail.  We were now on the portion of the trail that the half marathoners had run and it was both simultaneously encouraging and horrifying to see their mile markers.  (ugh so far to go!!!)  There were plenty of walkers in the half marathon so we were continually dodging them as we made our way out to the turnaround.  The trail was wet in portions and muddy and the footing around the water stops (thanks to dropped cups and water) was a bit dicey and I hoped I wouldn't slip.  At around mile 18 I started to fall back a bit from Abraham and Gabriel.  I picked it up again on mile 19 (thanks to a gradual downhill mile) and caught back up to them, but then we flipped it at the turnaround and had to run UP that same stretch.   I counted the marathon women again and found that I was 4th - perhaps one of the girls had dropped?  I was getting frustrated that I was so tired already but told myself that this next portion would be where I would pass lots of people and finish strong.  Advanced Marathoning says that that last 10K is the part of the marathon that well prepared marathoners relish.  I felt I had done all I could have done to prepare myself for this - so it was time to relish.   Took another GU at mile 20 and prepared to get it done.

Miles 21-26.2 (6:55, 7:04, 7:30, 7:17, 6:58, 6:59, 6:30 (last 0.2))

Somewhere around mile 25 - I was overheating at this point

No longer with Gabriel and Abraham (though I could see them), these next miles were lonely.  The only bright spot came when two things happened:  I passed a female marathoner who was clearly struggling (I encouraged her to come with me but she sadly told me it was not her day) and I got to see my Dad again as we headed back from the turnaround.  This position change moved me to third, but I had no idea how much of a gap I had on the girl behind me and I was struggling.  A gradual uphill on miles 23-24 took its toll.  Abraham had prepared us for the incline, but I think knowing it was there took more wind out of my sails - I wasn't paying as much attention to pace at this point and think for these two miles I had more mentally checked out than anything else.  I thought the Garmin was off due to the trees (it had been erratic with pace) so I didn't panic at the 7:30 pace displayed until we actually hit the mile marker and I realized with a jolt that YES - that mile WAS a 7:30 - almost a minute off my pace.  UGH - GET IT TOGETHER, JEN!  I tried to stay positive and pulled out some of my mantras and positive self-talk - I would NOT quit, I would push as much as my quads would allow.  I was wishing for another gel at this point but I wasn't due to take my last one until mile 24.  I was also getting too hot - I had pulled up my tank to try and cool myself off but it was almost 60 degrees.  We finally got off the trail with about 2.5 miles to go - it was such a welcome relief to be back on the pavement and get that solid rebound from the road.  I took my last gel and hunkered down and pushed as much as I could.  My stomach was sloshy at this point which was surprising to me since I felt like I was barely getting any water or Gatorade at the stops.  I could see the hills and failed miserably at running the tangents as I had to dodge the half marathoners making their way back.  Perhaps it was the change of scenery and finally being off the trail, but even with the rollers I was keeping a better pace - I wasn't dying and I kept pushing even though my quads were screaming.  I was trying to focus on not getting passed - I wanted that third place finish, and I wanted to get as close to that 3hr mark as I could.  The last mile was so hard - up a hill and it felt as if the finish would never materialize.  I hit the very last stretch and was so very happy for the downhill finish.  Suddenly I could hear my fellow RVA teammates (they had come to run the half marathon) cheering for me and I knew I was almost home.  I exhausted what was left in the tank and even remembered to put my hands up as the announcer called "And here's our 3rd place female, Jennifer Fox!".   (which, gotta say - I'd never been announced before and that was COOL!)  Took two steps across the finish line and promptly plopped down on the ground!  I was done!   No need for medics though - the ground just looked very comfortable after 26.2 miles.  I hauled myself back up, hugged my teammates and rang the PR bell!  6+ minutes off my previous PR (3:09).  No sub-3 for me today, but a step in the right direction.

Ringing the PR bell!  (Ignore the fact that my eyes are closed and I look goofy)


The RVA MegaRunners team!  Thankful for these awesome (and speedy) training partners.

Happily collecting my first-ever race winnings!  (PS - that race director is the nicest man)











After grabbing some water and chocolate milk, I watched my fellow teammates clean up in the age group awards in the half - they all did really well!  Then saw my Dad finish his marathon and caught up with my Mom to celebrate her new half marathon PR.  We were waiting for the marathon awards when I thought to go to the results table to check my official time.  Except...they couldn't find it.  They had no record to pull up!  Friends who were tracking me online say that my results came up as a 2:02 for a while (which, umm... I think Paula Radcliffe would have had something to say about that), but then my name just disappeared.  Sure enough, another girl who had run a 3:05 was listed as 3rd.  I quickly headed over to the officials table and explained.  They'd already given the other girl the 3rd place female check!  After a few tense minutes while the officials ran down to the timing folks, it was finally sorted and my time was reinstated.  (whew!)  The other girl was really sweet about it and knew I had beaten her (she'd seen me in front at the turnarounds) and so I was given the check.   It was the first time I'd ever won money in a race and it was so amazing to be announced for the awards!

Overall the race was really well run and I'd definitely recommend it.  The race director was very on top of everything and really nice.   Logistically it could not have been easier - the host hotel was good, packet pickup was a breeze and the course would have been great if it hadn't had been so soggy.   If you are looking for a great North Carolina marathon, this is a good one to check out.

Best post-race meal ever!

Enjoying a well-deserved beer






My awesome parents - Dad ran the full and Mom ran the half!  I feel very blessed to have such an active family.





Okay guys - so how do I nail that sub-3? 

While I'm a tiny bit upset that I didn't get the sub-3, I'm very happy that I pushed through and finished (relatively) strong despite having some bad miles.   I'm so thankful that the stomach hung in there.  The fueling worked well and crazily I even thought I might have used one more gel (even though I'd taken 6 throughout the race!!).   I know I could have used more focus in the middle miles.  I think that once I realized that sub-3 was out and I lost the two guys I was running with I let my guard down mentally for a bit.  I'll work on that for next time.

But speaking of that next time...I'm a bit at a loss for what to do to improve from here and snag the time.  This season was a big investment in mileage and in time for all the peripheral stuff - core work, PT to come back (and stay healthy) after my stress fracture, strength training, etc.  And I was (and am) prepared to do all that to chase that sub-3 goal. It didn't materialize this time, and that's okay.  But I'd love thoughts on what I need to do to make sure that next time I toe the line, I'll snag it.  I'm not quite sure how much more mileage I'll be able to add without risking my sanity - this season was a mileage high for me at a 96 mile peak week.  To be fair, most of those were easy miles - with my easy mile pace being somewhere around 7:55-8 min when I ran by myself, and 8:15-8:30 when running with friends.

Medal and tech shirt - the medal is huge!!

First time I've ever seen an average marathon pace in the 6's on my Garmin - too bad the official average was 7 min!

Ended the night with cake to celebrate my birthday - it's not every day you get to race a marathon on your birthday!  I made the most of it.

What thoughts do you have?  Would another (hopefully healthy) season of the same be enough to bump me to the next level?  Same mileage but concentrate on faster paces for both easy runs and speed?  Add longer marathon-paced runs?  Incorporate more PT/strength exercises or add yoga?  I'd welcome any and all thoughts!