Before I can recap the race, I have to recap my week. Tuesday morning, I drove to Dulles, flew to Orlando, and spent Tuesday evening through Friday morning at a conference, sitting too much, walking too much, eating terrible food, and not drinking enough water. Friday afternoon, I ate some more terrible food, flew back to Dulles, and drove 3 hours through stop and go Friday evening traffic to get home. Feeling overstuffed, I made a pit stop at Whole Foods to pick up cold pressed juice, cut up fruit, and tabouleh for dinner. Lest you think I am a proponent of any of those nutrition fads these days, I am not. But I could not – literally or figuratively – stomach anything heavier.

Even though I had gotten on an earlier flight, I knew I would still miss packet pickup. Thankfully, running friend Melissa had picked up my packet for me, and was conveniently located on the way home, so I slowed down, she threw it through the window, and I sped off to get home before the kids’ bedtime.

I wrangled excited kids until about 10pm, frantically gathered up race day necessities, and dropped into an exhausted night’s sleep. The kind of night where you’re too tired and too buzzy to keep from waking every hour to check the clock and make sure you didn’t oversleep.

I was up at 5:45, and out the door before 6:15. I was glad I had carefully pre-packed everything the night before, so that I could be on autopilot as my brain struggled to catch up to me.

I was thankful that I was able to park in my usual area – I like to park in the JPJ lot, facing the road, for no good reason other than that’s where I park every year. I listened to music, switched my layers and repinned my number, hit the porta john, and did a little rolling out with The Stick. Truthfully, all that driving couldn’t possibly be overcome with ten minutes of rolling, and I knew that it would hurt my performance.

I saw lots of friends, but never did see my running buddies and, still on autopilot, I started the long run uphill, hit the start button on my watch and was off. My only plan was to run slow the first mile.

There were few surprises for me. I mean that in both a good and bad way. The weather was perfect, I know every turn of the course, I stuck to my nutrition and hydration strategy. I felt great until about mile 7, and then I died on the uphills, just like every year. The only mild surprise was a calf cramp in my driving leg that hit me in mile 10, and kept me from floating over that last mile, buoyed by the though of the finish. Here are my splits from this year and last year (sorry if the formatting is weird, I can’t be bothered to make a table):

Mile     2015       2016

1            11:18       11:24

2           9:55         10:14

3            9:57        10:09

4           9:23        9:36

5            9:57        9:40

6          10:23       9:55

7          10:31        10:09

8         10:23        10:07

9         11:00        10:46

10        9:53         10:13

Tot:   1:42:48    1:42:37

I remember last year knowing that I had gone too fast in the first three miles, and I know that my 11 second improvement this year came from managing those first miles better, and being able to hang on to feeling good into miles 6 and 7. I am honestly surprised at my mile 8 pace – I was feeling really fatigued at that point. Miles 9 and 10 I resorted to some walking, and had the dreaded calf cramp.

This was my second fastest 10 miler time ever – my fastest was the year with the downhill finish, and I knew even before I crossed that finish line that I would never beat that time. And that was before hip surgery and age 40. So this is a great time for me and yet I feel so lackluster and dissatisfied with it.

Yesterday’s weather was almost perfect – overcast, in the 40’s. We’ve had a warm snap, and for the first time in many years, there were pear, cherry, and redbud trees in bloom along the course. The spectators and volunteers were top shelf this year. And yet, I barely noticed them. I used to be an airline pilot, and when you get really busy and overwhelmed, you’re sometimes what’s called “heads down.” That means that you’re so focused on what your instruments are telling you, or what you’re reading on your map, that you’re not looking out the window. You’re missing a wealth of important information because your brain can’t make sense of what you’re already trying to shove into it.

That’s how I felt yesterday. I feel like I missed so much. I remember getting into my car at Dulles Friday evening, and noticing that the pear tree nearby had bloomed in the few days I was gone, and thinking how much I couldn’t wait to see the pear trees lining Copeley. But when the time came, I never saw them. If you’d asked me after the race if they were blooming, I would have said, “what pear trees?” Don’t get me wrong, I gave plenty of high fives to little kids, and cheered for other runners, and thanked volunteers. And I was pretty excited about beating last year’s time. But, to use another aviation metaphor, I was relying too much on autopilot. There was no disastrous outcome, but boy, was it ever just a job yesterday. I didn’t feel too great, and I didn’t feel too terrible. And I missed the view.

I hemmed and hawed about signing up for this one – it was the same day as the last 10 miler training program run, and I didn’t want to miss “graduation.” I finally decided to give it a try when I realized there were pancakes involved.

Sugar Hollow Road was the site of a few long runs this past year, including my 22 miler. As its name suggests, it’s snuggled down in the hills, and the road follows and criss-crosses the Moormans River, hence the Bridges. Weather was perfection – overcast and cool.

The 5K and 10K have different start lines, so I was glad I’d arrived and porta-johned early, because it took several minutes to get to the start and get everyone sorted out. It’s a small race, and there were many familiar faces, even though my regular crew was at the C10TP.

The race starts heading toward the dam. It’s a very gentle uphill. So gentle you hardly notice, except for wondering why your legs feel so heavy and psyching yourself out about the whole thing. I started slow, and just did not feel into the rhythm. Since the 10 miler is next week, I didn’t want to race too hard, and didn’t go out with any real goal in mind, except to finish safely.

I breezed past the water stop, as I was carrying my own, and kept trudging along, grateful that the sound of the river masked my thumping feet. I found myself alone for much of the first half of the race.

At the turnaround, I took some plain water, and hoped that the oh so gentle downhill would make the second half of the 10K bearable. I found myself passing people, and enjoying the gentle curves in the road.

The second half flew by, and before I knew it, I could see the finish clock. I knew going in I wouldn’t break an hour, but I was pleasantly surprised to be not very far over that.

After the race, we adjourned to the White Hall Community Center for a pancake breakfast, where the runners and friends sat together at long tables. There were wineberries and wild blackberries, no doubt gathered nearby and stored carefully all winter in someone’s freezer. And on my way out, I was handed a $10 Harris Teeter gift certificate.

An absolute gem of a race, and if I had to miss C10MTP graduation, this was a worthy substitute. If you’re not convinced, look at these negative splits:

Mile 1 10:54

Mile 2 10:46 (18 sec faster)

Mile 3 10:29 (17 sec faster)

Mile 4 9:48 (turnaround time – 41 sec faster)

Mile 5 9:27 (21 sec faster)

Mile 6 9:08 (19 sec faster)

Mile 6.2 1:55/8:45 pace

Total time: 1:02:30, 10:03/mile

A quick update to this post: This was a PR for me in the 10K, by about 1:45. I haven’t raced this distance in for freakin’ ever, and had only ever run two prior.



Today was the dreaded Two Mile Time Trial. That’s when you warm up with a couple of easy miles and some dynamic stretching, then run 8 laps on the track, aiming to be mostly dead by the last lap, preferably by way of negative splits. I’ve done it several times before and always love/hate it. I love having a mile time that I don’t often see doing AHR runs. I hate the pain involved. By the end, there is really nothing left in the tank.

Most years I have a rock solid plan of how I want to run, and what time to aim for. This year, I was too busy ice skating with the little one the night before to plan. So my legs were tired this morning. And it was colder than expected. The warmup jog was demoralizing. I couldn’t seem to get warm. I was working really hard. My legs were heavy, and I only finished with my group because they got stopped at the crosswalk.

Back at the track, I shed my outer layer, and was ready to run in a t-shirt and tights. We organized into pace groups, and before there was time to think, I was off. I was pretty sure I could do something in the neighborhood of 19:00, which is something under 2:30 per lap. Knowing that I could negative split, I set out to run the first lap in 2:30. I carefully glanced at my watch at 100 and 200, and saw that I was doing well. It felt easy. Somewhere on that straightaway in the last 100 of the first lap is the last time it felt easy.

I sped up a little, probably too much in lap two. And a little too much more in lap 3. Lap 4 was a struggle to maintain the pace I’d set in the previous lap, and indeed I slowed down by a second. Lap 5 I inched back down that second, but 6 was up by two seconds. 7 was down one, and in 8, I gave it all I had, grunted the whole way, and blasted through 7 seconds faster.

Total time: 18:27 (9:14 pace)



9:23 first mile, 9:01 second mile (slightly under the total of 18:27 due to the fact that I rounded down a few of the lap times)

I felt pretty good about this. I had really given it my all in that last lap, and even though I’d erred in how I’d sped up between 2 and 3, I was consistent enough in 3-7 to feel like I belonged at a 2:17-ish/400 pace. Not super distinguished, and I feel like I gave a way a lot of time in lap 1 (too slow) and lap 3 (too fast, slowing me down in lap 4 and beyond). Oh well, I got the job done.

I cooled down with my running ladies, stretched, and headed off to Starbucks. A busy morning of skating lessons for the little one and trips to Costco and Kroger kept me busy. Finally this evening, I took a moment to look up last year’s time trial. Total time on that was 18:59. Wait, what? That’s 32 seconds slower than this year! I dug back to 2011, which I recalled as my fastest two mile time trial. 18:53. SAY WHAT? This body, five years older and on the other side of forty, now post-hip scope, just obliterated my previous best time trial time.

Well, shoot. I wish I’d spent the day knowing that, so I could have walked around with my head all swelled up all day. Guess I’ll just have to do that tomorrow.

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.