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.

…but the running is kicking my ass.

The meteorologists have all been crowing about how it’s actually been slightly cooler than average this summer, but they doth protest too much, methinks. As we say here in VA, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.

I’ve been a little in denial that I’m marathon training. But at last I found myself on a list of names, handwritten by Coach Mark, with some instructions for this morning’s long run, and a promise that my program is soon to follow. Welp. I guess I’m doing this thing.

I’ve actually been running consistently for the last several weeks. I’ve gotten connected with a great group of runners out in my little ‘burb, included people who are willing to run as slow as me, walk up the big hills, and listen to my bellyaching about howwww hotttttttt it is. In my defense, it was 75+ degrees with humidity around 90% at 5:30am on Wednesday. WTF. My happy place is with hats and fleece and tights and one of my many pairs of gloves, and heated seats on the ride home.

Nevertheless, my weekday pace was getting me down. We got a little breather this week, and this morning’s long run was so much more tolerable. I won’t say pleasant, because I still ended up a hot mess, but I didn’t feel too awful at the end. I followed Mark’s instructions to a T, and actually had a great run, exactly on my pace targets. What a relief! Mark gave a particularly “tough love” speech this morning, so I was extra pleased to be a good student.

A few equipment notes:

-I’m still using my old Garmin Forerunner 305, and lusting after the new 225. Realistically, it doesn’t make sense to drop a wad on the shiny new one. Thankfully, it only comes in drab black because if it had a remotely cute or snazzy color scheme, I’d be unable to resist.

-I was briefly running in a pair of New Balance, but they felt heavy and noisy. I went back to Pearl Izumis, and they are making me happy. I’m in the EM Road M3, which is one step up in stability from my previous pair, but honestly doesn’t feel a ton different. My feet feel quiet again. I kinda sorta wish they had a little more cushioning in the forefoot, but then I’d miss the responsiveness, soooooo….

-My hydration vest and reservoir are life changing. Geez, I wish I’d had this when I was marathon training and nursing lo these many years ago. It’s like wearing nothing, except this nothing carries two liters of water and has pockets for all my crap. I drank 25 ounces in 7 miles this morning. I’m a thirsty lady!

I registered for the Richmond Marathon today. I can’t believe it. I have a lot of work ahead of me. I’m feeling strong, and ready for the challenge.

I ran Richmond in 2006, my only marathon so far. It was a great experience in that I finished, but kind of sucked in that it was my first marathon and was unseasonably warm that day. I’d done my last few long runs in tights and gloves, and mid-November rolled around and it was 80 and humid. I finished in 5:34. My goal had been 5 hours, and I know I can do it this time, even if it’s roasting hot, freezing cold, or pouring rain.

I will definitely be training with the CTC Marathon training program, as I did last time. But just for fun, I was googling “marathon training programs” to get an idea of what my Saturdays will look like July-November. Let’s just say I will encourage my kids not to sign up for fall sports, and will be a very “free range” parent while I nap post-run. This is going to be a very different experience than when I had one kid who slept all the time.

The programs follow pretty predictable patterns. Two or three weekday runs, and long weekend runs that ratchet up the distance. Some of them go into a little detail about what the weekday runs should look like. The one that made me giggle had “hills” on a midweek run about every fourth week. As if there will be *any* running days around here that don’t include runs. Oh, internet running plan, bless your heart.

Summary: I missed my goal by about 17 seconds. It was a real let down. I knew by mile 5 I wouldn’t make it, despite being ahead of my pace. But, it was still my second fastest 10 miler ever, and the fastest post-scope, so I’m pretty pleased with that. Here we go, mile by mile:

Before the start:
I ate the most incredible chicken and waffles for dinner the night before. Probably not the best pre-race meal, but when life offers you an unexpected dinner out with no kids, you have to say yes.

The weather was forecast to be 40 and cool, partly cloudy. Too cold to wear short sleeves and too warm to wear long sleeves. I usually put together my outfit the night before, but this time, I packed an assortment of layers and didn’t decide and pin on my number until I arrived at JPJ. Final verdict: Long-sleeved tech shirt, half-Buff as headband/ear warmer, gloves.

Met the ladies and we all made frantic trips to the bathroom, got separated just before the start, but found each other again thank goodness.

Mile 1, 11:19: Allison got sucked up in the crowd and I didn’t see her again for miles. It was mile 1, what can I say. My hands were sweaty almost immediately.

Mile 2, 9:55: Thinner crowds. Leveraged the downhills.

Mile 3, 9:57: This was way too fast for me. I was doing my best to keep up with Judy and Melissa. I should have bid them a fond farewell, and stuck to a conversational pace on these uphills.

Mile 4, 9:23: I was beyond fatigued at the crest of Grady. I leveraged the downhill, but was still working way too hard.

Mile 5, 9:57: By the time I hit the uphill going to the Mall, I still hadn’t recovered from being so winded at the top of Grady. I recall being extremely pissed off about having to dodge patio seating going down the mall. I knew that the second half was not going to be kind to me.

Mile 6, 10:24: This has never been my favorite part, but the North Downtown residents are so awesome. Copious amounts of water. Cute kids.

Mile 7, 10:32: The hill by the cemetery was awful. Did it get bigger this year?

Mile 8, 10:23: Despite some major uphill, I was getting my shit back together. So I thought.

Mile 9, 11:00: Side stitch and general malaise. The negative self talk set in. I felt lightheaded and nauseous. I walked up some of the corner. I walked through a water stop. Eventually I started to snap out of it.

Mile 10, 9:53: Thank you, giant mile marker signs! I saw Mile 9 coming and decided I could endure anything for ten more minutes. I hit the last downhill on Alderman, and just kept booking it. By the time I saw the clock, it was already past my goal time, and I knew that even with the delay between gun and chip, I probably had missed it. But the ladies were at the finish with their giant medals! They didn’t even look sweaty. I figured they had been done for about an hour and were just being nice waiting around for this slowpoke, which was not the case, of course.

Final chip time: 1:42:48, 18 seconds off my goal time. Sad trombone. The chicken and waffles were worth it.

I realized this is actually my second-fastest 10 miler ever, and almost three minutes faster than last year’s Cherry Blossom 10 miler. I wish I felt happier about that. I usually set my goals conservatively, so that I’ll beat them. This was one of the only times where I publicly set a goal that would be hard to reach. I fell short.

Next steps: Park to Park on April 25, which is going to have to be a 13.1 mile fun run, as I’m traveling for two weeks between now and then and will likely hardly run.

And then? I’m seriously thinking about Richmond, the full, in November. It’s been 9 years. I *know* I can beat the tortured 5:34 of that unseasonably scorching hot day. Other possibilities: Rivanna Greenbelt, Sept or Oct. Not sure I am up for that mental challenge, though. Shamrock next March. So far away. I want to ride this fitness level through the summer and coast into fall. And then maybe sit around all winter.