I drove out to Richmond the night before, and met some running ladies for a pasta dinner. I went out early, and spent some time kickin’ around the Short Pump mall, which was probably not the greatest idea, as I really didn’t need the time on my feet, and the tree lighting ceremony on November 13 put me in a bah humbug mood, and didn’t make me feel like buying anything.

Dinner was great, and it was so nice to catch up with the gang. We headed back to the hotel and agreed to meet in the lobby at 6. At 6 sharp, we were off! Long story short, we got a bit waylaid by street closures and by the time I finally found a lot, I wasn’t sure how close it was to anything. It was nearing 7am, and with a 7:45 start I was panicked. Turns out, I was just a few blocks from the start and then had plenty of time to wait in line for the porta johns. Of course when I made my way to the starting corrals, there were miles of porta johns with no lines.

And then we were off! It took about 10 minutes of shuffling to get to the start. I hit my watch, and worked hard on taking it slow. I am proud to say that mile 1 was, in fact, my slowest mile at 11:53. Go me! All my other miles were between 10:09 (mile 7 – very nice sustained downhill) and 11:45 (crossing Lee Bridge). My number one goal was to beat 5 hours. And I truly mean that – 4:59:59 would be acceptable and joyous; 5:00:00 would be crushing. I knew that if I had a good day that 4:50 was within reach, and I knew that running a conservative first mile would ultimately help me have that good day.

The weather was cool, but by the end of mile 1, I had shed my throwaway fleece and was feeling plenty warm. The wind wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, and the first few miles passed comfortably. I had created a pace chart specific to Richmond, that I had “laminated” with packing tape. I tucked it into the pocket of my hydration vest, and referred to it at the mile markers. Just a few miles in, I was a little bit ahead of pace for a 4:50 finish. I knew there were some tough miles in the last half, so I was happy to have the cushion.

I bypassed the early water stops, since I carried my own water with electrolytes, and stuck to my strategy of having 3-4 Honey Stingers chews every 30 minutes on the dot. I think I got water for the first time at mile six. Despite not feeling hot, I poured some on my head – dark brown hair in sunny weather really soaks up the heat.

Miles 7 and 8 are almost entirely downhill. The 8 mile marker is near where the course follows along the river, and it was a beautiful day for it. Mile 10 is a brutal uphill, and the uphill continued into mile 11. I cruised past the halfway mark at 2:23:14, and was ecstatic. I was pretty certain that my pace would suffer with the uphill and dreary surroundings of the miles in the high teens, so knowing that I had a big cushion for finishing in under 5 hours was good for my spirits.

Miles 15 and 16 were not nearly as terrible as I remembered, but mile 17 was every bit as awful as I feared. The wind was a gusty crosswind across the bridge. I tried to appreciate the view of the river and of downtown, but really what kept me going was knowing that if I stopped to walk, I’d be stuck on that bridge just that much longer. On the other side of the bridge is a perfectly positioned junk food stop, and I was so grateful for the dixie cup of coke, and for the goldfish crackers. Perfect.

I expected the wind to die down once the river crossing was done, but it actually felt stronger over the next few miles. Mile 18 was almost a direct headwind, and where I finally turned on some music. Somewhere in those high teens were some spectators in a residential neighborhood who were having a great time hanging out by their firepit. Oh, that smoke did a number on me. As if being rained on by tree pollen near the river wasn’t enough, now I had smoke following me for a quarter mile. My eyes and lungs stung.

The Diamond is around the 20 mile mark, and is a depressing area to run through, including having to travel an underpass under the interstate. I was super excited when the course converged with the half course, and we re-entered a part of town with good spectator support and trees.

My feet were killing me, as expected, and I walked through all the water stops – one per mile after mile 20. I didn’t want to take any other walk breaks because walking didn’t actually feel better than running at that point. Somewhere in the gusty winds of mile 19, my pace chart had blown right out of my hands, so I didn’t know what (if any) buffer I had to make five hours. As I got closer to the finish, I realized I had done well! I was going to break five hours!

Back in the more populated areas, I was buoyed by spectators giving out jellybeans (yes, please), pretzels (oh hell yes), orange slices (the best thing ever) and beer (not for me, but I appreciated the effort and the raucous spirit of people who’d been imbibing the whole time I’d been running). There were official music and party zones, and plenty of unofficial ones as well. I couldn’t hear my own music for the last few miles, which was fine by me!

There’s more uphill than you’d expect in mile 24-ish, and I slogged through it. By mile 25 I was home free. Spectators shouted out the number of blocks left to the three turns at the end and I literally could not believe I was that close. Three turns, and then off a cliff.

When the race organizers advertise a downhill finish, they are not kidding. It’s so steep that I was too afraid of falling to really use it to gain speed. I spied Jack and the kids in the crowd, and stopped to give them quick hugs. And then I saw my mom! The finish was up ahead, and I knew I would be very close to 4:50. Once I was close enough to read the finish clock, I realized I was extremely close to having a sub-five hour clock time as well, and I booked it for all I was worth.

I finished in 4:49:43 chip time, with 4:59:40 on the clock. I was so happy and emotional. I got my (beautiful) medal, but what I really wanted was the hat, so I could pull the bill down and cry a little bit. How is it that there are people who don’t cry at the finish? I also got a lovely fleece blanket, that I was warm enough not to need right then. I picked up my bag from the bag drop, and headed to the finish party for food and to meet my family.

I could not have been happier with my day. I ended up with a big chafed spot on my arm from my sleeve that surprised me, and my shoulder is really sore. I have an old injury that mostly doesn’t bother me, but decided to talk to me during the marathon. Otherwise, no blisters, no pulled muscles, nothing really hurting.

And miracle of miracles, my car was actually quite close to the finish.

Splits are below – keep in mind that I didn’t run the tangents, and ended up at about 26.4 total, so that last .2 is really about .4.

Mile 1: 11:53

Mile 2: 11:21

Mile 3: 11:00

Mile 4: 10:44

Mile 5: 10:38

Mile 6: 10:50

Mile 7: 10:09

Mile 8: 10:42

Mile 9: 10:32

Mile 10: 10:34

Mile 11: 11:11

Mile 12: 10:49

Mile 13: 10:43

Mile 14: 10:52

Mile 15: 10:43

Mile 16: 11:10

Mile 17: 11:45

Mile 18: 11:07

Mile 19: 11:18

Mile 20: 11:24

Mile 21: 11:21

Mile 22: 11:18

Mile 23: 11:06

Mile 24: 11:17

Mile 25: 11:10

Mile 26: 10:35

Mile 26.2: 3:36

In the books!


A quick post before I go to sleep…

Richmond was great. I feel pretty good – I had some nasty chafing on my arm from my sleeve, and my lips are chapped, but I’m otherwise unscathed. Not even a blister! Just a little stiff and sore.

I cruised through the first half of the race, but the wind really got me from about mile 17 on. It took more out of me than expected. Still, my second half splits were pretty respectable, and were faster than my first 10K split. Overall, I’m really pleased with my steady pace.

I had 0 miles slower than 12min/mile, and averaged 10:59/mi for a total time of 4:49:42 – a whopping 45 minute PR! (Okay, it’s actually about 44:50, but I’m rounding up.)

I am so thankful to all the volunteers, and to the many people who supported me in this insane pursuit, most especially my parents, kids, and husband who schlepped all the way to Richmond to see me run by for about ten seconds.

More tomorrow when I’m not going cross-eyed from exhaustion.

Mix tape


Because I came of age in the age of mix tapes, I must mark the occasion of my second marathon with a mix tape. Or, as the kids these days call them, a “playlist.” Since I have to drive to Richmond and back, I needed something good for the road. Here are my selections:

1. Circuital, My Morning Jacket. My all time favorite energizing cool down song. Circuits, all in and out, connect my body, deep into the ground.

2. Sophia, Laura Marling. Negative splits in pop song form.
3. The Distance, Cake. Because, The Distance, Cake.
4. Get up and Get Out, Sharon Jones. Because I want to be Sharon Jones when I grow up.
5. 32 Flavors, Ani Difranco. See “came of age in the age of mix tapes,” above.
6. Take A Chance On Me, ABBA. Don’t take yourself too seriously, kid.
7. Don’t, Ed Sheeran feat. Pharrell. Because it’s actually Pharrell feat. Ed Sheeran, and Pharrell is an adorable genius.
8. Bills, Lunchmoney Lewis. Fun song about grinding it out. Aw damn aw damn aw damn aw damn oh man oh man oh man oh man.
9. Handle with Care, Jenny Lewis and Friends. Great cover of this already great song.
10. Take On Me, A-Ha. Shut up. You love it too.
11. On Top Of The World, Imagine Dragons. Because it makes the kids happy, and I’m on top of the world, hey!
12. Sedona, Houndmouth. Because part of my heart lives in Sedona.
13. Getting Ready to Get Down, Josh Ritter. Because if you’re not getting ready to get down, you should be.
14. Could Have Been Me, The Struts. Wanna taste love and pain, wanna feel pride and shame…never look back and say could have been me.
15. I’m Writing a Novel, Father John Misty. Writing a novel, going on a drug binge. Potato, potahto. That monkey might be right.
16. Bright, Echosmith. Planetary alignment FTW. What lucky timing that my season of marathon training in the predawn darkness coincided with a spectacular planetary conjunction. I was sad to see it go.
17. Get Lucky, Daft Punk feat. Pharrell. See #6 above. Also, this song makes me think of Stephen Colbert and a pantheon of A-list celebs dancing and being silly. Also, the Daft Punk guys are my age almost exactly, and have young kids and I assure you they are not up all night “to get lucky” unless by that, they really mean “to change diapers.”
18. I Lost It, Lucinda Williams. A great singalong. And if I can’t be Sharon Jones when I grow up, I’d like to be Lucinda.
19. Tongue Tied, Grouplove. Slumber party, pillow fight.
20. Erase Me, Ben Folds Five. Power angry anthem, massive piano playing, most musical use of the word fuck. Erased me, what the fuck is this, you’re crazy.
21. Tessellate, alt-J. Triangles ARE my favorite shape! And tessellations are cool, so I’ll just conveniently ignore the bloodshed and double entendre.
22. Someone New, Hozier. Worst.Boyfriend.Ever. But a really boppy fun song. The “The One I Love” of the 2010’s.
23. Best Day Of My Life, American Authors. But all the possibilities, no limits just epiphanies.
24. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen. No road trip is complete without some Queen.
25. Let’s Be Still, The Head and the Heart. A reminder to just slow it down, and enjoy the moment.
By tomorrow afternoon, the months of preparation, and the years of anticipation will be over. I’ll certainly get beaten by, in no particular order, a joggler, someone in costume, and an octogenarian. But good for them! The exciting thing about running is that other people’s accomplishments don’t diminish my own, and I am proud of what I’ve done and what I’m about to do. I hope it is a great day for all the participants tomorrow!

Taper town


Taper town is a strange place. It looks all perfect and glittery from a distance, as if only happy and beautiful things can exist there. And when you finally arrive, it’s all uneven floors and sticky doorjambs, and ugh the glitter sticks to everything. Everything hurts. I’m emotional, and there’s an underlying panic I can’t shake.

Only five more days. The weather forecast looks promising, with sunshine and highs in the 50’s. Truthfully, I’d rather have a little overcast and about five degrees cooler, but I’m not complaining. 2006 was 78 and humid, so I’m going to suck it up and wear some sunscreen and get over myself.

Day before race and race day plans are in place, and all that’s left is to pack up and do this thing. Race day can’t come soon enough.

One of the mental games I play with myself on long runs, particularly on out and backs and true loops is that when I get to the  halfway point or beyond, I say, “I’m done. I just have to get back to the car.”

And so it is with taper. I’m done with the marathon, I just have to do the race, and get back to my car.

I had a brief moment of panic after meeting with Coach Mark this week, as he grimly surveyed my training logs. Doom and gloom, he predicted, especially since I missed one of the 20 milers due to a second bout of strep. I reminded him that I’d specifically asked for low mileage, and that my most important goal is just to break the 5 hour mark. In that case, no problem, just run 12:00 for the first two miles and stay conservative (ie slow) the first half and don’t push it on the hills. He did suggest I up my long run mileage this weekend, previously scheduled as a 9 mi progression run. Fifteen sounded like a great idea to me, but Friday night I felt lightheaded and exhausted. I felt no better Saturday morning, but figured that at Riverview I’d be surrounded by helpers, and would never be more than two miles from my car.

It was freezing, and I was underdressed, and in my unwell, predawn haze I’d forgotten my bag of goodies that I usually bring along in the car – food, gloves, hat, extra shirts (long and short sleeve). So I was stuck with no gloves and no sleeves in the frosty morning. My elbows never did warm up.

I did manage the progression run and did okay with it. I had two solid miles at the end below 10K pace. By the time my friends were finishing up the 10 or 12 they had had on their plans, I was out of steam. I hit the turnaround at 11 miles and figured it was enough.

A long day of Halloween with young children followed, including a bike ride, pumpkin carving, pie making, and lots of walking for trick or treating. I got those 15 miles in for sure, just not all at once at Riverview.

I woke up this morning with a blaring head cold. No wonder I felt so rotten yesterday morning. This is the time for it. I can sit on my duff for two weeks and run just enough to get the sinuses moving. All the hay that is going to be in the barn is already in the barn.

I’ve already had my first pre-race nightmare. I dreamed that I missed a turn and ended up on the half course. I neared the finish and realized I was miles short of the full. Now is the time to channel those nerves into mental preparation. I’ve already started working on my “driving to Richmond” playlist for the car. I’ve scienced the s*** out of my nutrition and hydration. I’m solidifying my day before and race morning plans. And I’m taking a lot of time to reflect on how far I’ve come, both in running and in life, since my only other marathon nine years ago.

This training experience was so different from last time, when I was a new mom for the first time, and a new runner as well. Most of the roads I run on for my morning runs now didn’t exist then. I’ve gained and lost training partners. I made it through a major injury and surgery and came out stronger and smarter. I survived the soul crushing sleep deprivation of my youngest child’s babyhood. We’ve moved from diapers and daycare to sports and homework. I’ve felt the change in the seasons as the days get shorter and longer and shorter again. I’ve watched planets align, and felt the comforting smallness of seeing the Milky Way overhead as I run in the infinite darkness of the early morning. And then I’ve seen the sky lighten and sun come up, over and over again.

Four weeks


Four weeks from right now, the marathon will be over. Training has gone remarkably well – I have stuck closely to my training program, and feel strong and prepared. I’m pain-free!

I hit a little hitch in training for a couple of weeks, though. I came down with strep (thank you, school-age children), and started antibiotics. I felt fan-freakin-tastic for about 48 hours, and then suddenly, my temp was 103 and I was calling in reinforcements to help with the kids. The strep was back with a vengeance. I switched antibiotics, and was feeling better soon, but I ended up spending the better part of four days on the sofa. That was the week I was supposed to do my 20 miler. By Saturday of that week, I was upright, but in no way prepared to run 20. I ran 8 and walked another mile, which I deeply regretted, as my back was in pain afterward. This past week, I hobbled through my weekday runs. I managed to get my prescribed mileage by running two short runs per day, and taking a lot of ibuprofen. This morning, my back was better, but I was really nervous about attempting 14.

I was actually out the door early, and arrived at Free Union before dawn. I had the bad fortune of setting my hydration vest down in what I discovered was a patch of poison ivy, and then I dropped my car key somewhere in the field. Well, shit. A very brief retracing of steps and I found the key, hooray. I strapped on my contaminated vest, listened to Mark’s speech, and hit the road at sunrise, grateful that my running buddy was there.

We elected not to run the loop – neither of us were really keen on running Catterton, and if ever there was a day I needed a bulletproof exit strategy, this was it. We ran four out and back, then took a picturesque detour down Chapel Springs road. It was so beautiful it was unreal. There were horses, and a red barn, and giant oak trees in rolling pastures, and hot air balloons, and mountains turning autumn gold, and mist in the valleys.

Another, shorter out and back, and we ended up at parking with just 13.7 on the GPS, so we blazed past until the watches jingled, then walked happily back to the cars. I felt like I could have run all day, and I am actually looking forward to 22 next weekend. Fingers crossed I stay healthy this week.

I spent the rest of the day drunk on endorphins. I took the kids to a local orchard to watch cider being pressed, and then we bought a gallon of cider that had been whole apples just minutes before. If I could have bottled the scenery this morning and put it in a glass, that’s what it would have tasted like. Cheers to autumn!

16 miles!


Marathon training has been going well, despite the crushing humidity. There’s a lot of negative self talk that goes on at 5:30am in the dark, with humidity pressing down, as unidentifiable animals make spooky noises. Thankfully I have connected with some great running buddies who actually go run at 0530 of their own volition. I’ve looked back at my old running logs, and my running is so much more consistent than it was 9 years ago, training for my first marathon. Even though I had only one child and a much more running-friendly schedule back then, I didn’t have weekday running people, and many of the roads I run on now didn’t exist, or weren’t runnable back then.

This morning I had 15-16 at AHR on the schedule, and got unexpectedly nervous about it last night. I knew the group would be very small, with the holiday weekend, the Four Miler yesterday, and the switch to Sunday. I wasn’t sure I’d have company for the run, and ultimately decided to show up early and do 2-3 miles before the group met up. This would both mentally break up the run, and would have me finish 30 minutes earlier – not an insignificant difference as the heat and humidity build in the late morning.

As luck would have it, I pulled in at the same time as another runner friend, and we ran to The Park and back, for just over two miles. A jog to the porta potties and back meant I had almost 2.5 done as the group coalesced. The plan was to run to The Park again, then to Bellair for a loop or two, then back to the track and to The Park. Several little chunks, repeated as necessary to get the mileage.

My running buddy dropped me about mile 5 as she started pace work at the first Bellair loop, and I actually enjoyed that first loop. It was shady and peaceful. I stopped at the end of the loop to add Skratch to my water, intending to do one more loop. The second loop was less fun, but I discovered that I could turn a podcast on my phone speaker, put the phone in my vest pocket, and have something to listen to without earbuds. I was pretty consistent about taking 3-4 Honey Stingers gummies every 30 minutes, and my body approved of the Skratch. I finished my second 2.5 mile loop with just 10 miles on my watch, and realized that it was either another loop, or I’d be running laps in the baking sun on the track.

That third loop was tough, and I clocked my slowest mile of the morning on the uphills on the second half. There was more walking than running. But I got it done.

I cruised past the water stop, froggered back across 250 and headed up Old Ivy back toward the track, and took a left down to The Park. I did a big loop around the perimeter – now there were softball practices and trainings going on, and a friendly dog ran with me for a few steps. A welcome distraction. I was pretty well out of steam, with only 14.5 on my watch.

By the time I got back to the track, I was over 15 miles, and decided that I might as well do the full 16. One lap on the track, and just over a lap on the magic carpet. Beeeeeep! I’d officially completed my longest run in almost nine years. Bad hip? What bad hip?

Some stretching, a roll with The Stick, and I was off to Bodo’s.

This being a work-heavy weekend for The Supportive Husband, there was plenty of child wrangling for me at home. I managed a catnap face down on the sofa. After that, it was off to the pool, for pizza supper and enjoying the dregs of summer. I’ve discovered that I can effortlessly float on a pool noodle while the kids wear themselves out. It was delightful, and just what my tired legs needed. My legs probably needed the post-swim bike ride less, but now that the big one is permanently connected to his bike, and the little one has finally made peace with hers, I can’t say no when they ask me to cruise around the neighborhood.

We ended the night with crafts on the porch, admiring the sunset. This is the good life.


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