Oh right, I have a blog

I wrote this awhile ago, and it’s just been sitting around waiting to be published. So here we go: The long delayed recap of a couple of April 10ks.

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Going into the Scottish 10k I had a list of goals. They were less about the numbers and more about running attitude and I’m pretty happy with how things turned out.

The primary goal I settled on was to try and keep a consistent pace, and I listed a couple of different paces I would be happy with. Apparently my legs misunderstood and/or ignored the part about consistency, and instead decided that they would hit every one of the potential paces. I’m not overly concerned since all paces were sub-8 (with a couple of 7:30s thrown in! At my ego’s request I’m not going to specifically address the elevation profile of those speedier miles…) and there was a lot to deal with on course: crowds, hills, and tired legs from a pretty legitimate week of workouts leading up to the race. Also, a couple of late nights catching up with one of my best friends and roommate for the weekend, 8.

Anyway. Goal 1: Not as “achieved” as it could have been, but I’m not going to call it a fail either.

My second goal was to tackle the hills without fear or crippling self doubt.  Swearing while running was ok, as long as I kept running. I definitely felt the hills more than I did at the Half, but I’m not sure if that was because we were running clockwise, or because my legs weren’t as fresh. But, while I didn’t love them, I didn’t completely hate them either. If nothing else, bagpipers were stationed at the top of most hills, so I could hear the tops getting closer and I was greeted by kilts at the summit. If only that was the case with all hills…

Goal 2: Success

The final goal was just to run happy. To get as close to that magical NYC Half runner’s high as I could. I definitely wasn’t as happy, but I was enjoying myself as I ran. I didn’t think I was over the top happy or anything, but in every picture of me, from both 8 and from the official photographers, I have the biggest smile.

Goal 3: Success!

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Courtesy of 8

Overall, I’m happy with how the race went. I was mostly excited for it because of the Scottish theme, and NYRR did not disappoint. 8 and I got to the start with enough time to take advantage of the Scotland photo booth before working our way to the corrals. 8 wasn’t running, but graciously woke up and came with me to cheer, photograph, and hold my sweatshirt, because she is awesome. The race was a little bit frustrating in that it never really opened up, and felt crowded pretty much throughout, but so many people were dressed up and there are worse things than being crowded into a sea of tartan and kilts. As I said, my legs were tired, but not necessarily in a bad way. They were the kind of tired that happens after a good workout. Yes, it was frustrating not being able to run as fast as I know I can, but it was nice to be able to run as fast as I did.

Despite my happy running, by the time I rounded the last turn, I was definitely ready to be done. I still managed to muster up a little bit of leftover energy to sprint to the finish, cheered along by 8. I grabbed a French Toast bagel, found a sunny spot to watch the raffle and dancing at the finish festival for a little bit, and then made my way back to 8’s apartment. After brunch and a nap, I was awake and ready to get out and enjoy New York in a non-running sense, so I think I can put a check next to run/life balance for the weekend as well. Good times.

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And I would walk 500 miles…

Obviously, this recap is delayed. When I first wrote it, I included more about my actual time, 48:46 and how all these ‘fast for me’ paces added up to a new PR. But then, I found out that this exists, and I couldn’t pass it up. A literary 10k? YES.

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I have a love/hate relationship with James Joyce.

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Dublin, 2007

As part of my Literature degree, I had to a take a ‘major figure’ class, a semester long in-depth look at a single author. I didn’t really know much about James Joyce, so I thought he’d be a good choice. I don’t know if it was the professor, who I didn’t love, or the fact that I spent college seemingly on a quest to be an English Major who didn’t actually read, but I came away liking James Joyce in theory, but not necessarily in practice.

Theory, as it turns out, can carry me for at least 6.2 miles. I crossed the finish line happy enough to want to pick up Finnegan’s Wake and dive right in. Powerful stuff, this running.

I can’t speak highly enough of this ‘ramble’. It started in 1984 when the race director likened running a race to slogging through Joyce. Today, actors line the course and read excerpts from Joyce’s works – a different book/story for each mile, finishing with The Dead. The course is pretty, if hilly in spots, but there were spectators all along the course, plenty of water, and supportive volunteers. The actors were great, popping up every time I needed a boost. The organizers had extra numbers printed due to a last minute surge in registrations and we reached course capacity, but I never felt crowded or like resources were spread thin.

The race started with a Boston tribute, and then the Masters runners were off. Three minutes later the rest of us made our way to the start. The weather was gorgeous – sunny, but not overly hot, and the course rolled through the town center and along pretty, very New England, tree lined streets. There were only two hills I’d consider big and they came close enough together, that they barely counted as separate.

I hadn’t planned to run this race. I found out about it three days before, and I didn’t do anything resembling taper or planning for it. I registered the day before the race. I decided not to race race, but to use it as a quick, fun run. But then I started running and despite having run hard throughout the week, I felt good, I felt fast, and I felt like I wanted to see what I could do, so I resurrected the goals from the Scotland Race and set off on round 2. My first mile came in a little too fast at around a 7:15, but it was also on a slight downhill. My pace evened out with the terrain, and I ended up settling into 7:30s. In the end, my average pace was 7:32.

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I slowed down a little bit on the bigger hills, but not a lot. I had the advantage of going into the course blind. I had no idea how many hills there were or when they occurred, so I just pretended that each hill was the last one and I did a good job of taking them one at a time without psyching myself out. The gorgeous weather/scenery and literary excerpts definitely helped!

As for running happy, I definitely had that covered. It’s odd. I don’t have any strong feelings towards 10k as a distance, and I always (ya know, all three times) feel like I’m slogging along, and yet I look the happiest in pictures from my 10ks. This race was no exception. I look ridiculously happy in every picture and I crossed the finish line with a giant smile on my face.

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I also crossed the finish line with a brand new PR: 46:47. That may have had something to do with the smile.

At the finish, they were handing out pasta, snacks, and Harpoon beer. I grabbed some food and found a nice sunny spot to sit in, basking in the sun and the good PR vibes.

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It’s been a good year for PRs. I know at some point I’ll stop PR-ing in every race I run, but I’m ok with that. Right now I’m loving the fact that every PR I have is from an Irish/Irish themed race: St. Pat’s 5k, James Joyce 10k, NYC Half on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Dublin Marathon.

I’ve decided this means that I should just move to Ireland if I want to keep getting faster. Oh the sacrifices I’m willing to make…

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The Magic of NYC

I was in a weird place going into Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon. I was thrilled with my Hyannis time, but still annoyed with my shoes, and those stupid four seconds. I was annoyed with myself for letting a few seconds, in horrible conditions, prevent me from enjoying what was actually a huge accomplishment. I was concerned about my hamstring, and unsure how to balance easing off and resting, with feeling ready and well prepared for NYC. I was too hungry or too full. I was tired, both physically and mentally. I didn’t feel like finishing my swim workout on Friday, so I didn’t. And I didn’t even care.

I was very aware of all the things that felt “off”, and that was stressing me out. I didn’t want to be tired, or stressed. I had heard from a friend that the NYC half course was The Best Course Ever, and I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to go fast, but I didn’t want to hurt, and I was terrified that I would go into some weird zone, miss everything going on around me, and just not enjoy the race. Wah wah wah, panic, panic panic, rinse, repeat. Super fun, y’all. Sorry for that glimpse into the scary place that is my head. I swear it’s not usually that bad.

My parents were wonderful enough to drive me to NYC so they could watch me run, and by Saturday night, I think we were all tired of dealing with my mental spin cycle. We ate some carbs and they went to bed while I laid out my clothes for Sunday, gave my legs one more once over with my stick, painted my nails neon green and passed out.

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Up before the sun

Sunday morning came quick and COLD. 29 degrees cold. With a balmy 40 predicted as the high for the day. I BUNDLED up, and I was lucky enough to have my parents wake up for the super early start, so I could wear my warm clothes to my corral and not have to worry about checking them ahead of time. In the park, the energy was starting to build. Runners, volunteers, and spectators were everywhere. I made it to my corral and was the first person in the porta-potty. Call that overshare if you like, but I called it a sign that good things were happening.

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Normal amount of patterns

The sun came up, the corral filled, and music started playing. I was jumping around/dancing to stay warm and just felt good being at the start. I triple knotted my shoes – NO chances this time. We started moving towards the start, corral by corral, and I was ready – and excited! We crossed the line, Garmins beeped, and we were off!

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Happy Steph, running

Sort of. Of course there was the giant crush of people at the start. Finding paces, warming up, running four across… I didn’t want to weave and waste energy. Instead, I decided to be zen about this: take opportunities when they arise, and stay calm when they don’t. The hills were in the first half, so I could probably expect a slower pace to start anyway. I’d negative split. Make things up later. Stay positive.

And somehow, with that decision, my whole outlook shifted. It took me until well into mile 1, but I finally felt good. I felt calm, relaxed but excited, and ready to take on the course. My first mile beeped in at an 8:06 pace. I knew I needed to maintain an 8:00 or lower to break 1:45. I decided to let that be my last “slow” mile, saw a gap up ahead, and took it. I saw the first hill and I swear I actually thought “My shoes are triple knotted and I can do anything. Bring it, motherfucker.” which was SO ridiculous that I laughed out loud, but I ran up the hill, no problem.

The race kept getting better. I survived the hills, took the little opportunities to move up when I could, but kept my weaving to a minimum; my watch distance stayed right on track with the mile markers. I still felt like I was staying out of my head, and was able to enjoy everything happening in the park. There were dogs! Cowbells! Ponds? Pretty! SO SOON, we rounded a corner and I realized that I was seeing signs for corrals again. We were almost finished with the park and with that the first 6 miles. When did that happen? No time to wonder. We turned right onto 7th Ave and out into the streets of New York.

And that’s when my love of life, and all things running, turned into a full blown couldn’t bring me back to earth if you tried Runner’s High. I could see the lights of Times Square up ahead. The lights of Times Square! The road felt like it was moving in a decidedly downward direction, and my legs still felt fresh. There was something so magical about seeing no cars, buses, taxis – just runners filling up the streets. Bands played and the lights just kept getting closer and closer. I couldn’t stop smiling.

We turned down 42nd and made it to the West Side Highway. There was a little bit of wind, but what was wind after all those hills? I triple knotted my shoes; I’m ready to take on the world. As a side note, I love running along rivers. Give me a city with a river, and a pair of Brooks and I am one happy girl. I spent the summer of 2012 falling completely in love with New York and part of that was because every time I came into the city, I made time to run along the West Side bike path. So when we turned, I felt like I was on my home turf, and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.

I passed mile 9, with my pace still holding strong. I was feeling good, but was a little worried; I was approaching the dreaded 10 mile mark. Those last 3 miles got me in Hyannis, and before that in Dublin. I didn’t want that to happen here. As I was telling myself that ALL I needed to do was maintain the pace I’d been keeping pretty consistently – easy right? – I looked up and saw one of my best friends, 8, and her parents up ahead. I knew they were going to try and be out on the course, but I also knew it was very cold and very early in the morning, so I would have understood if they had opted for a warmer, later start to their morning. But there they were! I waved and they whipped out their cameras while cheering super loudly (impressive multi-tasking). The people around them joined in. And just like that, I wasn’t worried about mile 10.

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Courtesy of 8

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Another one courtesy of Super Photographer 8

At mile 12, my mind thought perhaps I should have some sort of moment of doubt so that I wouldn’t start thinking this was easy, but at that moment I happened to be running past the 9/11 memorial, and there is no room for negativity in the shadow of the 9/11 memorial. Sorry brain, none of your crazy here. Not this race.

A good portion of the last mile (1/3? Maybe?) was in a tunnel. The energy was literally echoing and I knew we were almost there. I could pull a 10 minute mile and still PR (LIKE. HELL. was I going to let that happen, but it was nice to know, just the same). We passed a sign saying 800m to the finish. I was close enough to measure in meters! There was a little hill to get out of the tunnel, but no big deal, laces tied, whatever. 400m to go. I could see the 13 mile marker up ahead, and I picked up my pace a little bit. There was a turn right past the marker, so I took the right, and I kicked.

I made a point of not checking my watch right at the finish. Who really cares? I didn’t want to waste a minute focusing on anything but what was going on around me. When I finally did check, I couldn’t quite believe it. My time was a full three minutes off my Hyannis PR. I didn’t think that was possible, and I knew my Garmin got a bit confused in the tunnel but I wanted SO BADLY to believe it.

8 had been tracking me using the app, and by the time I got my phone back – after hurling myself at my mom and dad in the reunion area – she had already texted me my official time: 1:41.57. A brand new, unbelievable, PR.

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This is what happy looks like

This race was incredible. I had such a shaky start after weeks of weird issues, both physical and mental, but the NYC half captured all the best parts of running and reminded me why this is something I truly love. Yes, the PR was great (really great), but the fact that I managed to pull it off, after having decided that I didn’t care as much about the time as the run itself, was even better. I kept a consistent pace, faster than I thought I could (7.47). I felt fresh and ran mostly by feel; I didn’t let the numbers psych me out, and I just soaked in the awesome experience. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was having my family – and the people who are basically my second family – there. I’ve run a lot of races on my own, and that’s fine, but having people along the course and waiting at the end makes crossing the finish line that much sweeter.

As for the race itself, it was well run and organized. I am SO grateful for the volunteers and spectators who came out in the freezing cold (seriously, the water at the early stations froze) to cheer for and support the runners. The NYC Half is definitely a race you have to do at least once, and I know I’m going to do it as many times as I can. I swear the high from this year might just carry me to March 2014.