Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Pumpkin Patch Edition (2014)

Monday, October 20, 2014

From Stalker to Blog Thief The Quick Chick – So Much More Than Just A 10K

Hello Everyone.  I'm letting my friend Kim take over the blog today.  This is HER version of the Quick Chick race where I paced her.  You can read my version here.  Enjoy!  

            It’s almost unbelievable to me that I went from running my first 5K in March to racing my first 10K in October.  I’m pretty sure that if someone had asked me at the beginning of this year when I started my C25K program if I would one day run races to race I would have looked at them like they were crazy.  Um, no thank you.  My standard go to answer is, “My goal is to just finish.”

            I started training for my first half marathon over the summer.  I struggled.  A lot.  For many, many weeks.  And just when I thought I was getting over the hump I would struggle some more.  Eventually with amazing support from my family and friends as well as this burning desire to accomplish my goals I was able to push through and hit some major milestones in this fairly new adventure of mine.

            My half marathon training plan had me running a 10K as my last long run the weekend before my half.  This isn’t just any 10K.  It’s the Quick Chick 10K set up by Jenn and her fabulous crew at Mojo.  In case the race name itself isn’t obvious enough, this race is for the chicks only.  And do we ever have some awesome chicks in our community!  It’s a challenging course (from my rookie running perspective).  But it’s manageable, and at the finish line you will find an awesome celebration with live music, dancing, awards, beautiful women celebrating each other and mimosas.  I mean who doesn’t want to run for a mimosa?!

            I had been texting with my friend, Susan, a couple of weeks before the race and mentioned that I couldn’t wait to see her at the finish line holding my mimosa for me.  A perk to having a friend with a much faster pace is that she can be at the finish line cheering you on.  That’s when she told me she wasn’t going to run the race.  She had too many family obligations that weekend.  I was bummed, but I completely understand.

            The week of the QC I decided to do my runs at Northpark (the location of the QC).  I do a large majority of my training runs at Northpark.  I pretty much know the loop like the back of my hand.  I set out on a beautiful Tuesday morning to practice the entire 10K.  I wanted to see what I was capable of in terms of timing, not just putting the miles in.  I had a goal in mind.  It was a rather aggressive goal for me as I’m not a fast runner.  And the longer the run the slower I get.  Around mile 4 I knew I wasn’t going to make my goal time for this practice run.  It got into my head and the remainder of the run became a mental game.  I let the mind game win when I shut down at mile 5.  I didn’t complete the entire 10K that day.  I was bummed.  Really bummed.  I kept thinking about how I have been running since January yet my pace doesn’t ever really get any faster.  Sure I have good runs sometimes, and the pace is a bit better.  But I don’t see a lot of consistency with that faster pace.  Looking back now, I’m thinking that I was holding myself back from that faster pace.  Every time I would run with a faster pace I would lose steam quicker, have trouble breathing (to the point that I had a couple of minor panic attacks) and I would eventually just settle for that comfortable pace that I know will get the miles in.  I mean that’s really what it’s all about, right?  Getting the miles in.

            After my practice run on Tuesday I texted Susan.  I had to vent.  I knew that I needed to get my feelings out there to someone who would understand.  I had no idea just how well she would understand.  Her response was perfect.  She knew exactly what I was going through that particular day.  Susan lifted my spirits that day.

            On Wednesday afternoon I received a text from Susan asking me if I am running the Quick Chick WITH someone.  I was not running WITH anyone.  So, she asked me if I wanted her to run with me.  I responded by telling her I knew she had family obligations and that comes first.  Over several more text messages she explained that she needed to get her last long run in before she races the half marathon the following week.  We talked about how nervous it makes me to run WITH someone.  I don’t want to be that runner who holds someone back.  She assured me she wanted to be there to support me.  Susan didn’t want to overdo it at the QC race, because she’s saving it for the PR she’s going to get at the half marathon.  Settled!  Susan is going to pace my first 10K race.  I wasn’t just going to finish it.  I had a pace goal of 10:30 per mile.  This scared the crap out of me.  I can hold that pace for about three miles and then I lose it.  She assured me that she is the queen of pacing, and she would make sure I held onto it for the entire 6.2 miles.  I told her she better be prepared to talk a lot.  And I mentioned that I tend to swear.  A lot.  She said she expected one eff bomb.  (Oh I knew she was going to be hearing those.)

            I had another practice run before the race.  I went to a flat area and ran as hard as I could for 3 miles.  I managed to average a 10:12 pace.  I was pretty sure that I was going to die.  After my run, I texted Susan with my concern about keeping a 10:30 pace.
Her response was that there’s a huge difference between 10:12 & 10:30.  Oh and she “ain’t skerred.”  We were going to do it!

            By Friday afternoon my nerves were really getting to me.  I texted Susan with several questions about what time she planned to arrive before the race on Sunday, where she was going to park, etc.  She responded with a simple, how about I pick you up?  Perfect!  One less thing for me to think about!

            Susan and her amazing running buddy, Tracey, picked me up Sunday morning.  We weren’t more than a couple minutes down the road, and Susan asked me if I was nervous.  I said I was so nervous that I thought I might throw up.  That’s when Tracey said she was feeling like she might throw up as well.  I was shocked!  Really?!  Tracey is an amazing athlete and an even more amazing woman who along with Susan inspires me daily.  How could she be nervous?  She had this!  So I asked her, and she was racing the Quick Chick.  She had a goal to beat her time from last year’s QC.  She was going to have to run super fast as it was an aggressive goal.  Oddly enough it comforted me to know that someone who has run countless races over the years could also have the same nervous feelings.  Susan was as calm as a cucumber.  She was running to get her miles in, but also to make sure I met my pace goal.  That would be a comfortable run for her.

            Funny little story.  When we arrived at the parking lot I asked if we were supposed to pin the bib on the front or the back of our shirt.  Of course it was supposed to be on the front of my shirt, and I had pinned mine onto the back.  Nice!  I got that all squared away, and we set out to walk around for a bit before the race started.  We chatted with several women and just soaked up the beautiful day.  And I may have mentioned several times that I was nervous and just wanted to get this race started already.

            Soon enough it was time.  We settled into the crowd and off we went at 9:00.  I don’t particularly care for being in the starting crowd.  I feel a bit trapped by the swarm of runners.  We started off a bit faster than we needed to.  Susan kept telling me what our pace was and that I could slow down if I wanted to.  I told her I just wanted to get into a more open space and then I would slow down.  She completely understood.  Once we settled into a more spacious part of the crowd we slowed to a decent pace.  I felt really good throughout the first mile.  This was a nice change as usually when I start off running my calves kill me for about the first two miles.  I don’t know what it is, but they take a while to warm up.  The excitement that day must have taken over.

            As we started into mile two I was still feeling good.  I knew what I was up for in terms of the small rolling hills since I run at North Park all the time.  I believe we held our pace for most of mile two.  I should have mentioned that I decided not to use my phone or track my mileage or time.  I didn’t want to worry about it.  I relied on Susan to tell me whether or not we were making good time.  Susan did a lot of talking, which I really needed.  Normally I listen to music and run in my comfort zone pace.  Since I was running at a faster pace I was happy to have her chatting and just respond here and there in between my insanely loud breathing. 

            My friend, Beckey, ran near us for most of the race.  We had a few laughs along the two to three mile stretch.  Girl talk you could say.  Well, except for my dropping an eff bomb.  Not very lady like of me, but it just happens.  Susan had said she expected at least one from me.  Somehow I don’t think she was expecting it quite so early in the race.  It was in more of a joking around context rather than I think I might die now from running so fast.  I also don’t think she was expecting me to throw it out so frequently.  Beckey and I got a kick out of that as she has run with me enough to know it tends to slip here and there.  What can I say?  So sorry, Susan.  Thanks for looking past my potty mouth.  J

            As we were getting close to the three mile mark I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.  I knew we had been keeping a good pace, but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to keep this up for another 3.2 miles.  And the kicker coming up at the start of mile three is a hill.  This hill always kicks my butt.  It’s not a steep hill, but it feels like it will never end.  Ever!  I tend to let this hill get into my head.  I told Susan about my troubles with this hill, and she talked me through it.  She had banked some time for us to take it a bit slower and just get through it.  Eventually we made it to the top, and not a moment too soon.  It was a beautiful day, but this stretch has no shade and I was getting hot & thirsty.  I kept talking about how I just wanted some water.  Where did she think the next water station was?  Susan did a fantastic job of keeping me going.  She kept telling me to think about how good I was going to feel once I finished, and to think about my kids.  She told me a really good story about how someone once asked her how many goals she had set that she didn’t meet. It turns out her track record is pretty darn good and there is something to be said for that.  I appreciated her sharing this with me as it really does help mentally when you feel as if you are struggling.

            Finally!  We could see a water station.  Yay!  Water!!  I told her I wanted to stop this time and drink my water.  No problem, but it needed to be quick.  The water station wasn’t too far from the four mile mark.  We had a bit of a flat section to run right after the station before a couple more rolling hills.  I was losing steam.  Big time.  And I was struggling mentally.  I knew I finish.  I just didn’t think that I could finish with the overall 10:30 pace anymore.  I thought I might die.  Susan knew what was going on with me.  I don’t think I was talking all that much, but I’m sure my fear and struggling was written all over my face.  She told me to remember that pushing myself through these difficult races will help me reach new fitness levels.  It’s kind of hard to believe that when you are in the thick of a race, but I knew deep down she was right.  I’m thankful she shared this with me while I was racing.

            More pep talks from Susan and here come those darn rolling hills.  I know these hills very well.  Usually I take these hills on, because I know after the hill you can pretty much use your downhill momentum for complete the five mile loop.  There’s an exception to today’s run.  Actually a couple of exceptions.  We aren’t stopping at the five mile mark AND the very last mile has an enormous hill.  Oy!  I was moving so slow.  It felt like I was barley moving.  Susan was running in front of me a bit to keep the pace moving along.  I was so relieved when we got to the top. I definitely picked up the pace on the way down. 

            Then we started getting closer to the enormous hill.  I think at this point my mental game wanted to make me throw in the pace goal towel, but Susan wasn’t about to let that happen.  She was talking a lot and really keeping me going no matter how bad I felt.  And I was complaining a lot.  I must have sounded like a huge whiner!    I eventually told her that I had to walk for thirty seconds.  She told me ok and she started timing it.  I remember thinking I was actually just going to walk for what I thought might be thirty seconds.  I didn’t know she was actually going to watch the clock!  She’s so bossy!  I think it was near this part of the race that I told her I hated her.  She told me she wasn’t really sure what to do with that.  I’m thinking she knew I didn’t really mean it. 

            Before you know it thirty seconds are over (in what felt like ten seconds).  It was time to run again.  We look ahead and there’s Tracey!  She had finished the race and was at the base of the enormous hill to cheer us on.  She snapped a couple of photos and away we went.  It wasn’t too far up the hill, and I lost it.  My breathing was out of control.  I didn’t think I could run up the hill, and I started walking again.  I was walking as fast as I could, but I was also really mentally struggling.  Susan knew it.  She kept telling me I was going to take on this hill.  I had to do it.  It didn’t matter if I ran, walked, crawled or whatever but I was going to do it!  I didn’t want to give up, but also lost the mental capacity to concentrate on racing at this point.  I was walking, and she was coaching me.  She pointed out a sign that was to be my starting point for running again.  I remember saying, “That sign?”  I was thinking about a few more signs up the road.  Tee-hee.  No way!  It was time to get my butt in gear again.  So at the sign I had to start running again.

            I was never so happy when we reached the top and could pick up the pace on the downhill slope.  I did it!  I climbed that enormous hill.  It wasn’t pretty from a physical running perspective nor was it from a mental perspective.  But it was over.  The rest of the race was flat.  I was so tired.  Susan had asked me if my legs were tired, but it wasn’t that.  I was just tired from all of the insane breathing.  I definitely need to learn to get my breathing under control.  (She had been helping me with that as we went up the hill.)

            So there we were.  The very last part of the race!  I made it this far.  Susan told me that if I wanted to make my pace goal I had to give it all I had left.  I really needed to kick it in and run fast!  She told me not to give up.  I remember getting snippy and telling her that I wasn’t trying to give up.  How rude of me!  She was so patient and calm throughout this entire race.  How could I get snippy?  Sorry, Susan!  She knew I wasn’t giving up.  And she wasn’t giving up on me.  I just wanted the race to be over.  Done!  So I gave it all I had and ran as fast as I could.  I could hear the cow bells, the loud music and lots of cheering.  I could see the finish line.  It was time to cross that line!  I heard lots of cheering for everyone.  I couldn’t look at anyone though.  I just wanted to hear that beep as I finished the race.  Not a moment too soon we were there!  As soon as we crossed that line Susan showed me her Garmin.  It had a pace of exactly 10:30.  I couldn’t believe it!  We did it!  I met my pace goal for my first race.  I gave Susan a sweaty post race hug and told her I didn’t really hate her.  I think she knew that already. 

            After the race was over, I just walked around and soaked everything in.  As I came back from the bathroom I told the ladies that I was on a serious high for reaching my goal.  Tracey told me to ride that high all day long!  I took her advice.  I learned that for me experiencing a runner’s high might not just be the high one refers to while they are running, but also that feeling of accomplishment when it’s all over.  I also loved seeing so many beautiful and familiar faces.  So many women running that day have touched my life at different times over the years.  I loved seeing everyone being so happy and celebrating each other. 

            I enjoyed sipping on my mimosa while some very amazing women and girls were recognized with awards.  It was so much fun celebrating their accomplishments with them, and the atmosphere was so uplifting.

            Shortly after the celebrations, Susan, Tracey and I left to head home.  I will never forget racing my first 10K.  I am so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful women.  I am blessed to have a friend willing to pace me, to coach me and to believe in me.  I think Susan believed in me more than I believed in myself that day.  She taught me so much that day.  Susan, from the bottom of my heart I thank you!  You are such a wonderful friend.  You are teaching me to believe in myself, and I think that’s one of the best gifts a friend can give.

            Shortly after I was home Susan texted me with the official time from the race.  My overall pace was 10:29!  Woot-woot!  What an amazing accomplishment!

            The back of the Quick Chick shirts say, “She believed she could so she did.”  I love it!  I wore my shirt (after the race) proudly that day.
Here’s an exciting afterthought.  I ran a 6.1 relay in May at the Pittsburgh Marathon.  My pace was 10:53 and my leg of the race was fairly flat.  I was pretty pumped to see how much my pace has increased over the past five months!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Buffalo Creek Half Marathon Race Recap 2014

This will probably be a hard post for me to write and it may be long.  You've been warned.  Buffalo Creek Half Marathon is a great race.  It is known as being flat and fast and it is the course where I got my current PR, which is 2:06:20.

I've been wanting to run a sub 2:00 half marathon for a VERY LONG time.  I felt like this year at Buffalo Creek was my big chance to hit my sub 2 hour dream.  You might remember I did a lot of speed work at the track this summer.  It was all about making my big goal.  I did my training runs and heading into the beginning of the school year I felt really great about my chances of hitting my goal.  Tracey made me a really great training plan to use to hit my goal.  It included weekly speed work and long runs with miles at race pace.

The life happened and my focus shifted somewhat.  I still had the strong desire to run a sub 2:00 half marathon, but I also wanted to step it up at CrossFit.  I started stepping it up and going to CrossFit 4 days a week and I won't like, my weekday runs suffered.  I'd sacrifice runs to go to CrossFit, but doing CrossFit is what REALLY made me happy.  I was able to get in my long runs on the weekends, but for whatever reason we didn't seem to be ding a lot of race pace miles.  Some runs I struggled on and even a 10:30 pace seemed hard.

STILL I thought I could run a sub 2:00.  Naive?  I don't know, but that was my feeling.  Then about a month or so out, doubt started to creep in my mind.  It happened right about the time I ran the Steelers Gatorade 5K.  I started expressing my concerns to Tracey and I got he feeling she was having some doubt as well.  Her doubt (she never came out and directly said it) got in my head and I was all over the place with my feelings for awhile.  Then I talked to my friends Bianca and Kortni about it and they both had so many encouraging things to say to me.  Bottom line... I TRY!  I'll never know if I could do it if I didn't try.  I got focused.  I started trying to run some faster miles during our long runs and what weekday runs I did get in, I tried to run at a faster pace.  My confidence grew.

Ok so that's the back story.  Now for the day of the event.

I, of course, got a horrible night's sleep.  I didn't fall asleep until almost 1:00 am and was awake and tossing and turning starting at 4:45 am.  I finally got up at 6:30 and was out the door by 7:00 or so to get Tracey.  It was odd, however, because I woke up eerily calm.  I was able to eat breakfast and I was not consumed by nerves at all.  I was WAY more nervous for the 5K back in August.  I took this as a good sign.

We got to the shuttle area pretty early and it was cold and rainy.  We sat in the car for a long time until we finally bit the bullet and headed out into the cold to get on the bus to be shuttled to the start.

Once at the start we focused on two things.  Bathroom and keeping warm.   We had about a half hour or so before the race start and it seemed like it took forever.  Luckily I have these ladies for support.

Me, Charlene, Kim, Tracey, Kate and Tiffany 

So the racers and the goals:

Moi:  Sub 2 or die
Charlene:  Sub 2 but she's done it before
Kim:  Running her first half.  Finish and be happy
Tracey:  The PACER
Kate:  1:55, but anything sub 2:00
Tiffany:  Sub 2

So you see a theme here.  We all had sub 2 dreams.  Charlene was able to run sub 2:00 at Buffalo Creek last year.  Obviously Tracey wasn't racing, she was pacing us.  Tiffany had her doubts about going sub 2, but Kate was confident she could do it.  We all agreed to just give it our all and so it began.

The Buffalo Creek Half Marathon is run mostly on the Butler Freeport trail. In fact, the race itself is to support the trail.  The 2 miles leading to the trail is all down hill.  Pretty significantly so.  Generally you start off pretty fast due to the normal adrenaline and the generous downhill.

I felt so great when we started out.  I felt relaxed and happy and VERY confident that I could make this dream come true.  We were all right together and I was keeping up.  Imagine!  What I didn't tell anyone was that almost immediately after we started to run, I got a horrible side stitch.  I've had side stitches before, but not for a long time and never like this.  It was so painful and it really messed with me mentally.  Still I made it through the first two miles.

Mile 1: 8:49
Mile 2: 9:15

By the end of mile 2, I was falling behind by 10 yards or so.  Tracey held up and waited for me and I told her what I was going through.  She told me to focus on my breathing, which I had been doing, but nothing seemed to help.  I was so frustrated, but I decided I could NOT let this get into my head.  I had to keep pushing.  The pain was temporary.  I had a really slow third mile trying to deal with my stitch. 

Mile 3: 9:32 

Charlne, Tiffany and Kate were just up ahead.   I felt like if I could catch up with them I would make up my time I had lost on mile 3. Tracey kept trying to hold me back and told me not to try to make it all up in one mile.  I was focused on getting the job done and I did. 

Mile 4: 8:52

I figured I was pretty even at this point and decided to not worry about keeping up with anyone else.  I wanted to run MY race an no one else's.  Charlene, Tiffany and Kate were ahead of us, but we had them in our sites the whole time.  Clearly they were running sub 9:00 miles and I just couldn't keep up (and that was NOT my goal).  

Miles 5 to 7 are kind of a blur.  I swear up until mile 7 felt so fast.  Not as in I was going so fast, but the time went by so quickly.  I realized during this time too, that I set my new PR in the 10K distance during this half marathon.  That was exciting and was good at keeping me going.  

Mile 5: 9:08
Mile 6: 9:14
Mile 7: 8:57

The half way point!  We were right on track, but we did NOT have a lot of time to spare.  My side stitch finally started to feel better too.  I would say at this point, it was mostly gone.  

Right at the Halfway Point 

Miles 8 and 9 are also a blur, but I know one thing. After completing mile 9, I was really started to feel exhausted.  I had felt fairly well up until that point, but at mile 9 it started to feel hard.  

Mile 8: 9:15
Mile 9: 9:03

From here on out, I focused on one thing and that was the suck.  Tracey and I had caught back up to the other girls and around mile 7.5 or 8.  Kate and Tiffany both tried to talk to me, but I couldn't even talk.  I just had to focus my energy on getting the job done.  Just put in the work is all I kept telling myself.  I pushed where I could and backed off when I needed. 

Soon Kate took off and Tiffany was just ahead.  Charlene, Tracey and I were chugging along.  

Mile 10: 9:01
Mile 11: 9:07

Tracey kept trying to encourage me.  She told me I needed to push if I was going to make it because we were REALLY close.  I moaned and groaned and told her how bad I felt.  I told her to keep the pace and I'd try to stay just 2 steps behind her.  She kept pulling away from me and despite my best efforts, I just could NOT keep up.  I swear I gave these miles everything I had, but I was merely in survival mode and it wasn't pretty.  

Mile 12: 9:19

At the end of the race there comes a big hill as you leave the trail and head into town.  I knew it was coming and I didn't know how I would keep pace going up it.  I asked Tracey if she thought I should walk to save energy and then sprint to the end.  She told me no.  I wasn't to walk, I had to give the hill all I had and then still sprint at the end.  So I did, I gave the hill all I had, but it wasn't much.  I literally grunted and swore.  I was breathing so heavily I was wheezing.  It was horrible.  Dramatic I know, but I could NOT breathe.  By the time I got to the top I had to recover for 30 seconds with a jog before I could even think of sprinting to the end.  

13: 9:31

As I'm sprinting down the hill and can see the finish line I still didn't know if I was going to make it.  Tracey said it was "so close" but as we got really close to the finish, Tracey realized her garmin was over on the mileage.  We hit 13.1 miles (under 2 hours mind you) but we were NOT at the finish line.  Tracey was REALLY upset, but I told her not to worry about it.  I was nonchalant at that moment.  Focus, focus, focus on getting to the finish.  As I approached the finish line, I saw the time on the clock 2:01:46 and I knew (even with my personal start time, I had not made it).  I knew it didn't take me that long to cross the start mat.  

.25: 8:21

Garmin Result:  13.25 miles, 2:01:09, 9:09 pace
Official Reullts:  13.1 miles, 2:01:09, 9:15 pace 

I crossed the finish line and grabbed my medal.  I honestly didn't expect to have the reaction I did.  I didn't want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  I just had to walk away.  I walked and didn't know if anyone was following me.  I started to cry and I didn't want anyone to see me.  I just walked and cried and finally made it to the park and called George.  I just need to get it out and I felt like he would make me feel better.  He did.  I got the tears out and then felt really stupid. 

The Face of Disappointment 
I made my way back to the girls and grabbed Tracey's arm and looked at her Garmin.  2:01:09.  Seriously? 69 seconds?  I was really disappointed, but I also knew I had given it everything I had.  I fought for it, I prayed for it (literally), but I know I ran as fast as I could.  

I made my way back to the finish line to cheer Kim on to her finish.  It felt so amazing to see Kim's face as she was coming down.  There was no look of disappointment.  There was nothing but pure joy as she smiled all the way to the finish.

I am so proud of Kim and how far she has come in her short 10 month running career.  5k, 10k and now half-marathon.  Way to go Kim.  You're an inspiration to so many, including me.

I faked a smile 
Congrats to Kate who did manage to go sub 2:00.  She really poured it on in the end and kicked butt.  Tiffany, Charlene and I didn't quite make our sub 2:00 goal, but Tiffany was even closer than I.  She was just 51 seconds shy of her goal.  And even if Charlene didn't make it this year, she did it last year, so she's still a rock star.  Congrats ladies!  I didn't get a picture with all the girls at the finish because I was busy sulking when they took a pic.  Sorry girls.

I'm not going to lie about the way I feel.  I feel like a complete failure.  I don't know why I feel so badly about it because I did give it EVERYTHING I had.  I know I tried as hard as I could,  and left it all out there.  There isn't a point in the race where I can honestly say I wish I had done more or I could have done more.  I ran this race a fast as I could, but I just came up short.  I'm pissed, like really, really pissed, but that's life and I'll get over it.

A huge thank you to Tracey for pacing me on this race.  She told me a week before the race that she was 100% confident I could do it and she never gave up on me out on the course.  She encouraged me and told me how strong I was.  I know she wanted it for me as much as I wanted it for me.  I guess that's another reason it hurts so much.  I wanted to make Tracey proud.

I will hold on to this experience despite the result.  This was the first time I ever even had the courage to attempt a sub 2:00 half.  Just a month prior I almost gave up on myself and didn't even want to go for it, but I tried.  I would never have known if I could have done it if I hadn't tried.  I may have tried and failed, but that was better than not having tried at all.  

The end