An unexpected PR on a perfect fall morning! {NCR Half Marathon Race Recap}

You know what’s cool about today for me? It’s the 2 year anniversary of when I ran 13.1 miles for the very first time. And now today I get to recap my new half marathon PR! 

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My very first half marathon in 2013!

Earlier this year I started setting some goals for myself for the fall. These goals did NOT include running a marathon, but rather focusing on shorter distances. Ultimately I wanted to do more halfs and possibly run myself a new PR. My best time of 1:45:27 happened last September at the NCR Half Marathon, a small race that is part of my run club’s Grand Prix Series. I also did not intend to compete in the Grand Prix Series this year, but now that I have 3 of the 4 necessary races under my belt…hey why not.

This year the NCR Half just so happened to fall on the day when my training schedule told me that my long run should be a very convenient 13.1 miles. And even better? The race is on the very same trail as the upcoming marathon so I would be able to practice on familiar terrain.

100 people showed up to run on Saturday morning and as usual I loved seeing some familiar faces, especially my friend Michelle who I’ve been doing my long runs with lately. The Baltimore Road Runners are a fun and welcoming group and the weather was absolute fall perfection. In my tank top and shorts I was more than a little bit chilly as we walked to the start, but after jogging around for a half mile I felt warmer and knew I’d be comfortable for the race. It was set to start at 8am and right around that time we all lined up on the trail facing north. The course is a double out and back, which I remember really disliking the idea of last year, but it ended up not being so bad.

PR thoughts had been in the back of my mind, but during the first several miles they all went out the window. I wasn’t feeling particularly well and even though I was coming off a couple days of rest my legs felt like lead. I even debated calling it quits when I got back to the start. In hindsight, I should have considered that it just takes me a lot longer to warm up now that my long runs are getting into the mid-teens. By the time I was three miles in and nearing the first turn around, my energy level had started to improve.

Then I realized as the leaders were passing me going in the opposite direction that I was the second female. I got way excited and as a result mile 4 was my fastest at 7:25. After that I had to remind myself to rein it in because I still had a long way to go.

From mile 4 until mile 11 I was feeling pretty great. When I race I like to pick out another runner up ahead, pace with them awhile, and then try to pass them because it gives me something to focus on when I’m getting tired. No one had passed me so I knew I was still the second place woman, but this was reinforced by several people who screamed it at me as they passed me going the other way. Even though I already knew, it still gave me a boost to hear it.

There were plenty of water stops with friendly volunteers, but I hadn’t stopped at any of them until mile 12 when I was suddenly very exhausted. I drank about 3/4 of the cup and dumped the rest of it over my head; it was freezing cold and helped a TON. The trail was crowded with people out enjoying their mornings, but there wasn’t anyone from the race that I could follow for the last couple miles; the guy who finished in front of me was like 2 minutes ahead. Because I run that part of the course all the time and know it like the back of my hand, I entertained myself by running from one landmark to the next. When a familiar bend in the trail appeared up ahead, I knew I was almost done and when the red, digital readout of the clock appeared I literally said “OH THANK GOD” and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish on tired legs.

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So I PRed by nearly 2 minutes, held on to second place and first in my AG which is great for the Grand Prix Series, but then this is also the first time I’ve run a half marathon with my average pace under 8 minutes. I don’t know which of these things is most exciting for me. All of them, I guess.

After sharing high fives and congrats with some of the guys who had finished at around the same time as I did, I visited the table that was set up with snacks and drinks. I helped myself to Gatorade and water and then there was also bagels, cookies and bananas which I appreciate for other people, but can’t eat without dire consequences. I had a lunch date and couldn’t hang out long, but it was nice to catch up with friends and cheer for other runners crossing the finish line.

Such a great day. 🙂

How do you pass the time on long runs? Did you run or race last weekend? How is your fall season going?

xo,

Salt

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Race Recap: The Baltimore Running Festival Half

I will never forget the paralyzing anxiety I was feeling when the calendar hit October last year. Every other big thing I had coming up…Halloween…Thanksgiving…Christmas…these were all eclipsed by MY FIRST HALF MARATHON. It had completely taken over my life. The Baltimore Running Festival Half in 2013 will always hold a very dear place in my heart. I had a great race and even though I flew solo that day I still loved every minute.

Fast forward to this year. Work has been so insane that I didn’t even make it to the expo. It was like the race was barely registering in my mind until I had my bib in hand at lunchtime on Friday (many thanks to my friend Katie of Cool Kids Campaign for picking it up for me!). That’s when I started to get those pre-race jitters that I love and hate all at the same time. Corrigan Sports knows how to put together one hell of an event and I knew I was going to have fun despite the mild pang of disappointment I was feeling over missing out on the full marathon this year.  I was excited to take on the half again and hopefully improve on my time from last year.

The half started later than all the other races: 8:45am. I took the 6am train from my house and arrived downtown just in time to hear the horn blaring for the start of the marathon! PERFECT TIMING!

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I became really emotional watching the start. You just don’t get to feel that kind of energy every day! And also…yeah I felt the mild sadness that I had expected, but there was no time for pity parties on this day of celebration! I jogged over to Dempsey’s in the Camden Yards Warehouse to meet up with the rest of the Cool Kids Campaign Race Team and let me just tell you that I’d be hard pressed to find a nicer group of people. Cool Kids is an amazing organization that does so much to improve the lives of pediatric oncology patients and their families and I am so proud to be raising funds for them.

Some of my friends were already there and this alone would be something that would make this Baltimore Running Festival so much more fun than last year. Last year I didn’t know anyone. I ran my race alone, finished alone, wandered around alone, and then hopped the train alone to go home. This year I knew so many people that were participating in various races and I felt like I was running into people I knew every place I went!

Most of us were running the half so we hung around outside at our stellar vantage point right across from Camden Yards and literally right on the final stretch where every runner for every race would pass by. Shortly after the start of the 5K there was a sudden WHOOP! from a police motorcycle siren…I had no idea what was happening until I realized that it was the leader of the 5K FLYING through Camden Yards with an escort completely unmatched by anyone else. Didn’t that race just start like 5 minutes ago!?

I think he finished in something like 14 minutes. I just can’t wrap my brain around that kind of speed.

Anyway I hung around there watching the 5K for awhile and shouting especially loudly for my friend Tiffany when she ran past. Then it was time to get ready for my own race. I double and triple checked that I had everything I needed with me. The weather was sunny, but on the cool side and no wind, although my friend Justin who is a meteorologist and rarely wrong told me that we could expect to get hit by some wind once we got up into the Clifton Park area.

All geared up, I headed down to the start with friends.

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Once we got there I split from the others to meet up with wave 1 and also to find CYNTHIA!!

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I’m so happy we were in the same wave!! It was great catching up with her for a few minutes at the start. Before too long our own starting horn was blaring, confetti was flying,  and I was dancing my way to the starting line…literally. Sorry for being embarrassing, Cynthia.

I was just so damn glad to be there.

Mile 1 – 3

Yeeeeeah I went out too fast. I had so much freaking energy and I felt pain-free and amazing. It was hard to hold it back. We wound our way through traffic into the Fells Point area…like actually THROUGH traffic. People in cars that were stopped. I would have thought they would have had those streets closed down but I guess not. The people in the cars ranged from happily filming us with their cell phone cameras to looking like they wanted to floor it and take us all out. I waved and smiled at the people that looked the least angry. Once that cluster was behind us the runners owned the streets for the rest of the way.

I just so happened to look at my watch right as my mile 3 time flashed…7:20. Oh crap I better reign this in. Mile 3 would be my fastest mile of the race and I blame it for everything else that came later. Stupid mile 3.

Mile 4 – 7

OH MY GOD THE HILLS. So I don’t know how familiar you all are with Baltimore, but this particular part of the course which travels just north of Patterson Park is almost exclusively uphill with very little downhill breaks. Maybe my mind was just blocking it all out last year, but  this year I REALLY noticed them (maybe because of YOU, mile 3??). I was able to hold my pace pretty well, but by the time I got to Lake Montebello, my legs felt a little like lead. Lake Montebello was much bigger than I remembered and very flat. And just like Justin had said, the wind hit. It was rough. I will say that some of the best spectator support is through there though so that was definitely the extra push I needed.

Mile 8 – 11

Basically I was just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Mile 8 and 9 are a bunch of gently rolling hills and the spot where I think I can always count on people handing out gummi bears. There is a nice little bit of a downhill during mile 10, but this time I didn’t enjoy it quite so much because I knew what was coming…the Howard Street Bridge at Mile 11. The thing about the Howard Street Bridge…on any other run it would be fine, but at mile 11 it seemed to go on forever. It was on Howard Street Bridge that I found myself very happy that I was not running the full marathon.

Mile 12 & 13.1

FAST FINISH!!!! Unfortunately the Howard Street Bridge left me reeling a little bit and rather than try to run and possibly choke and die while eating my GU, I took a quick walk break while I ate it. I felt like I was moving SO SLOWLY and it would be my slowest mile of the day, but I was surprised later to see that I was still under 9 minutes; I was expecting it to be more like 15. This was also where I made the poor decision to dump a cup of water that someone handed me over my head. Apparently the water had a little bit of salt added to it which became apparent as soon as it hit my eyeballs.

At least I was almost finished. I think salt in my eyes at mile 5 would have been way worse.

This might make me sound like a terrible baseball fan, but when the Orioles were eliminated last week I found a happy little silver lining in the fact that we would not be rerouted for the finish. The Baltimore finish is a truly epic experience. As I swept down Eutaw Street with the Bromo Seltzer Tower in my sight and beyond that the big screen in the outfield of Camden Yards, I felt revived. I pulled my headphones out which is something I did not do last year and I’m so glad I did because this year I realized that they announce your name as you exit the other side of the stadium. Very nice touch!

The crowds are the best right there at the end too. I was hamming it up for some cameras when I heard someone scream “Oh my god it’s Lauren!” off to my left but I couldn’t tell who it was. It ended up being my friend Colleen. She posted on my Facebook wall right after seeing me.

Just outside the stadium the clock came into view and why it was so much farther away than last time I have no idea, but I kicked it up as much as I could to the finish. I had set my phone up to track my own progress so as I walked toward the finisher area I pulled it out and my results were the very first thing I saw…

1:47:36

A little more than 2 minutes off my PR, but better than last year!

Obviously I’m happy, but also a little upset with myself at the same time. It was a good finish on a MUCH harder course than I ran two weeks ago, but I could pinpoint every moment where I made little mistakes along the way. I was on track for 1:44 when I was 6 miles in. Anyway I’m trying to not over-think it too much. It is what it is and it’s nice to know I can preform that well after struggling for so long with an injury. I got my awesome medal engraved with my shiny new Baltimore Half PR while catching up with Cynthia again. She was not feeling well that day and still killed it!

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Then it was back to Dempsey’s to watch some more of the race and obviously there was a celebratory glass of wine (or two) to be had. Some friends struggled a bit like I had and others had big triumphs like Sharon’s awesome PR! I also wanted to keep an eye out for Sara who was running her first half. She had shared a picture on Facebook earlier and I was so glad she did because I knew exactly which headband to search for…and then I saw her!! She looked so amazing and strong running through Camden Yards and I was so unbelievably proud of her!! YOU ROCK, HALF MARATHONER!!

(There should be a picture of Sara and I here, but I am dumb and did not take one.)

Even though I felt a little like a whiny baby over my time, it was still such an awesome day. Great premium, great medals, great volunteers, an awesome after party, and a fun, challenging course. There’s really nothing like being out for a run with more than 10,000 friends.

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See you next year, BRF! Maybe for the full this time? We’ll see!

xo,

Salt

Race Recap: NCR Half Marathon

AKA the half marathon that I almost didn’t run.

The NCR half was one of the final races in my run club’s Grand Prix Series and, well, I really didn’t NEED to run it. I have already logged the 4 required races for the series and topped my AG in all of them so anything beyond that was just a bonus. But I have the Baltimore Half next Saturday and I did want to get in one 13.1 trainer beforehand. This would be a great way to do it. Unfortunately my foot was not in agreement.

I was hurting. In the week before the race I was one click away from emailing the RD and signing up to volunteer instead. As part of the series we have to volunteer for one race this season and I figured if my toes wouldn’t cooperate I might as well help out.

After a couple days rest things started feeling a little better though, so I decided to go for it.

Race time was 8am on the NCR trail. The course would take us a little more than 3 miles north, turn around, run past the start and then south for a little more than 3 miles, turn around yet again and back to the start again. I’d be lying if I said I was wild about this idea, but the weather was downright chilly, and a bunch of friendly people were out to run. And $2 entry. I can’t say no to $2 entry.

As has become my always-routine, I ran a warm up and my foot felt like hell at first, but loosened up a bit as I went. This would only be the second organized half marathon I had ever run and my longest run since May so I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. My club has a bunch of very fast folks and at the start of the race I had to remind myself over and over again to not get too overzealous; let people pass me and conserve my energy even if it meant I fell all the way to the back of the pack. I would be running for a long time.

Honestly I think I took a nap for the first several miles and really did feel like I was dead last until the leaders started passing me, the turnaround was right there, and I realized I wasn’t doing nearly as badly as I thought. At that point I started concentrating more on who was in front of me and pacing them. There was this guy in purple shorts that I followed for awhile. His gait was very relaxed which kept me relaxed. And then an older man who I followed for several miles and I think he got really tired of me. Next I started gaining on a girl in pink compression socks. I was feeling great. My playlist was really fun and I was singing along and having a blast. I sailed past the starting line again knowing that I only had half a race to go, a fact that put a huge smile on my face.

Nearing the second turnaround, I noticed I had made up some time on the leaders…well the women anyway. (The guy who won finished in 1:17:57 and no one else was really even close.) I could feel that I was pacing everything just right. The last 3 miles were a blur and before I knew it I was passing the finish clock with a new half marathon race PR. Not bad considering that I almost didn’t show up.

Why do I always do well in races where I almost don’t show up? I should almost not show up more often.

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And my happy little splits:

1    8:32    1.00    
2    8:21    1.00    
3    8:11    1.00    
4    7:48    1.00
5    7:50    1.00    
6    7:59    1.00    
7    7:56    1.00    
8    7:52    1.00
9    8:03    1.00    
10   8:03    1.00    
11   7:51    1.00    
12   7:56    1.00
13   7:47    1.00    
14    1:18    .18  

SO HAPPY with the splits. One thing I have been working on during my blog break is running by feel and it has really shown in my times lately.

I ended up 6th female overall and 1st in my AG, which doesn’t make a difference in the final standings, but it sure is nice to see all the little 1’s after my name! The final race of the series is a cross-country 5 miler and after the cross country debacle in June that kicked off NotBeingAbletoWalkapalooza 2014 I think I’ll get my volunteer credit at that one instead.

Run club events are always fun so beyond the PR I’m so glad I went out that day. Great weather, happy people, plenty of refreshments, and although I thought the logistics of the course would be awful, it was actually quite pleasant. The icing on the cake came as I was walking up to my car and who should I see, but my sweet little B and Mr. Salt! He had gotten confused about where the finish line was so they didn’t see me run, but it was so awesome getting a big hug from my girl after a great race. Followed up by a giant Starbucks because some things never change.

Baltimore Half…I’m coming for you! I want that crab medal! I hear it doubles as a bottle opener. I wonder if I can use it to get a cork out.

xo,

Salt