Kiawah Island Marathon

Short version:
I earned my 33rd state in South Carolina with a time of 3:47:12. Quality time with family and friends more than made up for IT band hell during miles 21-26. 

Long version:
My training runs for the Kiawah Island Marathon were also recovery runs from the JFK 50 Mile, which I completed 2 weeks earlier. With the intent to achieve a sub 4 hour overall time, my mindset changed from "just keep moving" to a very specific pacing goal of 8:30-8:40 per minute miles.

Adding resourceful as a way to describe her (also on the list: beautiful, athletic, charming, frugal), my Aunt Theresa found a condo on the Island that was within walking distance to the start/finish line. Eliminating the usual pre-race stress (directions in an unfamiliar city, driving, parking, standing in line for a smelly porta potty, general waiting around in the cold) allowed me to enjoy the company.
Pre-race. Definitely wearing full make up for my next race photo op.
In addition to my Aunt, her husband Tre (who accompanied me for 16 miles at Mad Marathon) and their friend Andrew (a talented runner I first met in West Virginia) came down from Charlottesville. My girlfriend Jen, who I've shared a number of finish lines including Marine Corps Marathon with, also joined the fun.
Just me & 3000 of my closest friends!

After a few pre-race burpees, I followed Andrew to the 8 minute/mile area of the corral. Although I knew this was faster than I would be running that day, I didn't want to waste energy dodging folks in the first few miles. Second to my wardrobe decision of a tank + arm warmers, this was the best move of the day. The first 5K was a bottleneck mess, with 3000 runners transitioning from a relatively narrow road to an even more narrow bike path.

My efforts to find a talkative running partner came up empty, so I surrendered to my headphones around mile 6. Since Napster has gone under (and with it my free service since 2005 from a professional connection), I was rockin' audiobook. Not the best thing for a quick running pace, as evidenced by my 10 mile split of 1:23:46, which is pretty consistent with my training pace. Bad news.
3-3. My 33rd state, Get it, get it?! 

For marathoners, this race is a double loop around the island with a lot of turns, which means we got to see other runners during the race. In the lead pack, I saw Dane Rauschenberg, who ran a 202 mile relay as a solo participant last year, and was tickled when he gave me a big smile and a “Heeeyyyy Suuuzy!” It was also motivating to see everyone from my condo at different points. Who needs spectators when you have fellow participants?

Crossing the half marathon point at 1:50:15, I felt great and was in a position to speed up and really secure that sub 4 hour marathon. My Garmin kept losing satellite reception, so it was nice to have clocks at each mile marker to ensure I was on target. I passed my favorite sign of the day, "Make This Race Your Beach", for the second time at mile 15 and enjoyed the solitude of the course now that it was filled with full marathoners only.
Looking stronger than I feel at 26.2

 At mile 20, I clocked in at 2:43:58. Unfortunately, about a mile later I felt a sharp shooting pain that started in my hip and shot down. I was an A student in kinesiology so recognized my IT band as the source immediately (See kids? You really do use what you learn in college!). I tried to walk it out...but that just made things worse. My window for stretching it had long been over. No spare foam roller lying around (imagine that!). My only choice for the next 5 miles was to battle the pain...and curse the course for being so flat, which did make me feel better. This isn't the first time my body has screamed at me for subjecting it to unchanging terrain for hours, using the same muscles over and over again. Flat doesn't always equal fast, especially over long distances.

Totally overdoing the 33 thing, huh?!
My 3:47:12 finish was within goal range, but illustrates the difficulty experienced in the final miles. I can usually count on a strong finish, so it was frustrating. I beat myself up about it.  Then I saw this quote by World Champion marathoner, Rob de Castella:

"If you feel bad at 10 miles, you're in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you're normal. If you don't feel bad at 26 miles, you're abnormal." 

I guess I'm just fine.
Happy with our performances & relieved the walk home is so short!

JFK 50 Mile (alternate title: Survivor AT)

"Pink Ladies" before the 7 am start 
As part of President Kennedy’s push to increase the physical fitness of the country, the inspiration behind the JFK 50 came from Kennedy challenging military officers to be able to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to maintain their commissions. As the oldest 50 mile race in the country, this event has been referred to as the “Boston Marathon” of ultras.

After proving my qualifying time and receiving an acceptance earlier this summer, goals for fall running changed. I no longer thought about setting personal records in HamptonNewport or Thunder Road. Those marathons were now training for the JFK 50.

I made plans to run with 2 fantastic women: Katie, who I met during the early miles of my first 50 miler, and Monica, a coworker turned race partner who completed 2 Ironman races alongside training for this event.  We are all self-admitted "girly girls", so it wasn't surprising to find ourselves wearing the same shade of pink shirts on race morning- totally unplanned, very fun!

No headphones allowed due to terrain
Walking a half mile or so to the start from the briefing area reminded me very much of the walk to the start of the Boston Marathon- nervous tension in the air, excited chatter among participants. The first 5K was a steep road incline that gained 1100 feet in elevation. By the start of the Appalachian Trail (AT) section, we were all gasping for air. I had a reality check when someone mentioned the Alpine Rescue Team's availability for injured runners on "the mountain" my mind, we were just going to be on a big hill, not an actual mountain.

I'm no expert at technical trail, but it was immediately apparent that the best preparation I had for this portion was all of the hiking Trey and I did in New Hampshire last month. The terrain was similar to the rocky single track at Mount Monadnock, only this had a layer of freshly fallen leaves that made the path difficult to navigate. I felt like I slipped or turned my ankle every third step and was forced to go frustratingly slow. Seeing folks ahead stumble and hearing several hard falls behind did not help confidence. We learned later that medic had to provide a number of stitches for wounds and splints for broken bones. I just wanted to get off the trail in one piece, at whatever pace. Flashbacks of friends saying, "you're running the Appalachian Trail?" months prior now made sense.   
Towpath extends a full 26 miles

After about 4 hours, we got off the trail at mile 17 (yeah- you read that right, math major) we finally began the canal towpath portion. Why do people complain about this section? Scenery along the Potomac River was beautiful, the surface was forgiving...and after flirting with death on the switchbacks coming down the mountain, it provided a nice opportunity to relax.

Having been conservative in the early miles, we settled into a more aggressive pace. Usually uItras are quite lonley, but this was different with 1100 participants. Most of us were constantly leap-frogging each other due to stops at aid stations and run/walk strategies so it was easy to recognize others and make friends. Others called us the "Pink Ladies" and we soaked up advice from experienced JFK veterans.

Wearing the "vest of shame"
 I was able to keep the calories and hydration up- something I didn’t do at Dances with Dirt 50K or North Face Endurance Challenge, when my body rejected food after about mile 25. With aid stations situated every 4 miles or so, I focused on keeping whole foods going in as long as possible. No stomach issues this time at all- in hindsight, it's because we took a little longer than usual at the aid stations during the first 35 miles and I actually had time to chew my food thoroughly and went with items that were easy to digest: boiled potatoes, tomato soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, M&Ms, cookies. Having said that, I'm probably the only person who ran 50 miles out there and didn't end in a calorie deficit!

If you get to the aid station that completes the towpath after 3pm, the policy is that you have to wear a reflective vest the rest of the way. The one handed to me was bright orange and horrible. Didn't these people know I was trying to look cute during all 50 miles?

How do I feel? Like I've been hit by a truck.
The course description in the JFK entry mentions "gently rolling" roads during the final segment. After 42 miles, these roads were not gentle to my already beat up legs in the slightest. My body didn't begin hurting until this point- the combintion of the hills with the hard surface was brutal. Even though it was painful, I still felt better than a lot of folks we saw (or maybe we looked that bad too and just didn't know it?!). A testament to incorporating crossfit into race training, we passed at least 20 people in the final miles. Since I've already completed B&A Trail Marathon, this didn't count as my Maryland...but that didn't damper my excitement when I finished mid pack in 11:07:39.

Pavel looks exactly how I felt receiving this medal

When asked about his greatest strength, David Riddle- winner of this year's race who broke an insanely fast 17 year old course record (still not convinced he isn't a mountain goat)- said: "Years of consistency. I have never quit running. I’ve never stopped training consistently."  I'm no Olympic caliber athlete, but can certainly relate to that. My journey to the JFK 50 finish line began a long time ago. 

Better with Age

Pavel made an alarm clock unnecessary
When invited to the 50 sub 4 Marathon Club, I joined without really thinking I’d ever complete the task of running all 50 states in under 4 hours. Then I met Shannon Hays. And then I started getting consistently faster. Before I knew it, I had secured my 17th sub 4 hour race in Rhode Island. And that is how a stretch goal is born…

I ran what is now Thunder Road as my second marathon in 2004 and finished in 4:39. It doesn’t get any more game-time-decision than registering 36 hours before the race, but there’d be no better time to secure my NC “re-do”: convenient location plus I’m in shape for the JFK 50 mile next week. Added bonus? This would be the first time I’d repeat the same course- an opportunity to measure success.
No potty lines for us!
Our neighbors, Kevin and Anna, were both doing their debut half marathon and offered a ride to the race. Imagine my surprise when I learned that we’d be warming up in the gym at Kevin’s workplace, only 2 blocks from the starting line. VIP style! Not only did we enjoy a heated warm up area, it was the first time I’ve ever NOT had to wait 20 minutes in a porta potty line prior to the start.

At 30 degrees during the first few miles, I was grateful to have opted for a warm jacket instead of a t-shirt. Second to an injury, the worst thing for next week would be getting a cold. Just as I hit the 10K mark in 49:55, the best sign of the day appeared: “Worst Parade EVER- Where’s My Candy?!” 

While the gradual hills I remembered from this course were present, the many turns were more so what threatened one’s time- we never went longer than a half mile without turning. Despite this, I was able to maintain 8:20ish miles and felt fantastic at the half, clocking 1:48:37.

The race organizers held this event one month earlier than in previous years- good move. The Fall weather brought spectators out in full force, tailgating the race in parking lots and front yards of residential areas. As I ran by, one of the groups started screaming, “Alaska girl! Alaska girl!” As it turns out, we ran a 10K together a couple weeks prior. Even among 5000 participants, there is a unique small world camaraderie among runners.

The best moment of the day happened around mile 18, a point where I usually struggle. My best friend, Allison, goes to a crossfit gym that is situated on the marathon course. Between heavy ropes and tire flips, she caught sight of me and ran out to give me a big hug. She also confirmed how fabulous the bright pink flower in my hair looked! I was high off of that encounter for at least 2 miles afterward and hit mile 20 in 2:46:32.

Mom would NEVER say "Almost there!"
My best attempts in striking up conversations were unsuccessful- there simply weren’t a lot of talkers at this race. Something I would have loved to discuss with a running partner: Kanye West blaring from the speakers at a Boyscout hosted aid station around mile 23. It tickled me to grab water from an 8 year old alongside some pretty obscene lyrics!

Just to get it on record, here’s what you don't want to say to as a spectator: “You’re almost there!” Until I’m about a quarter mile from the finish line, I want no part of that and am positive others would agree. A final 5K might seem like ‘almost there’ within the scope of 26.2 miles, but a runner would rather hear something like: “Nice legs!”, “You’re a machine!”, or “Will you marry me?”

137th/900 runners, 21st female OA
Despite being well within my 4 hour goal, I'm competitive and put the hammer down during the last mile to pass a few ponytails in front of me. I was able to see Mom on the final stretch with her cowbell and sign that read “The Suz”- perfect! Finishing in 3:39:42 not only fulfilled my sub 4 hour for NC, it was a full hour faster than my younger self on the same course.

At age 23, I remember getting up the morning of this race and thinking, "26.2 miles will be the longest I will ever run." My goal was to beat P Diddy’s NYC time of just under 4:30. Post race, I was worthless for a good 48 hours.
This is not a post 26.2 face plant, it's mid-burpee.

Seven years later, I own over 30 marathons, three 50Ks, and a 50 miler. I have completed the Boston Marathon, which took a qualifying time 45 minutes faster than P Diddy’s. In attempting to run a marathon or ultra in each state, I’ve crossed 32 off the list. Post race, I’ve done another marathon (in running circles, that's a “double”) on 2 occasions. Today I did burpees.
Better hardware than '04, too! 
Regarding my stretch goal, will it be realistic to run sub 4 hour marathon “re-do” states in my 40s? Sure. Ginette Bedard, 3:45 marathoner at age 77, has a more simplistic approach to the long term, though: “I just want to get out there and EARN my day”.

With a Little Help From My Friends

All week I've had trouble answering the, "how did your marathon go?" question. The Amica Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island was routed along a gorgeous course. Add to that perfect weather, great volunteers at well stocked aid stations, and enthusiastic spectators. Total recipe for a PR. My performance sucked. 

Why is this recap is tardy? I've been wallowing in my own pity party. Silly. When I actually began writing, a positive takeaway was blatantly obvious: this race was about friendship and shared camaraderie between runners. Here's what I mean...
Expo day- the wind had already started!

I chose this marathon because a friend from college, Jack, was running his first half there. Jack’s wife Heather and I were in the same sorority and lived together post college/pre-husband(s). I was even a bridesmaid in their wedding back in 2008! Nothing against the good folks of Rhode Island, but this was one where I really didn’t care. Enjoying the company of friends made it a great reason to knock out a needed state. As an added bonus, my friend “Super Suz” (of superhero fame in West Virginia) was running the half as her second in a double weekend and volunteered to be my roommate!

Whether they’ve been at it for many years or only a few months, runners always have a lot of shared thoughts and experiences. Jack, Suz, and I were no different and enjoyed fantastic conversation during our pre-race dinner. A 50 stater herself, Suz has some of the best running stories and her animated delivery had me laughing all night. You should have seen the look on her face when Jack called our room before bed and asked (in frantic ohmigosh-I-can’t-believe-I’m-running-13.1-miles mode), “When do you grease your nipples?!” 

After my favorite race morning breakfast of peanut butter and banana sandwiches (the only time it's advatageous to eat quick buring white bread and I love every bite of it!), Heather saved us a good 45 minutes by dropping us off, allowing us to bypass the shuttle to the starting line. This was one of many helpful things she did over the weekend that made the experience much better. Any runner can attest to the importance of having a good support person; it goes far beyond standing at a specific mile marker and throwing a fist pump or two.

Post freak out on Jack when he called my favorite Lululemon spray dye shorts "dirty looking" (come ON!), we ran into Dane Rauschenberg. With a running resume that includes 52 marathons in 52 weeks and competing in a 200 mile relay as an individual, Dane has every reason to go all elitist on us, yet remains extremely humble and approachable. Even though Dane had an achilles injury and was debating whether he'd even run himself, he shared confidence boosters and words of motivation when Jack admit to being "nervous as shit". That's a runner for ya- totally unselfish, helpful, and positive. 

Since the half and full runners began together, I was able to line up and start with Jack. The course ran along the rocky coast and by the famous Newport mansions; it was a beautiful setting. Cue "Take My Breath Away" (but not the Jessica Simpson version).
...watching in slow motion as you turn around and say...
Somewhere during mile 4, I (literally!) ran into Shannon Hays, who was running marathon #2 in a double weekend. Shannon and I ran New Hampshire together a couple of weeks prior and she quickly became my new girl crush. We fell back into 8:20 minute miles alongside catch up and constant conversation. Some people think talking during a race wastes too much energy but I disagree. I'm the type who will use a ton of mental reserves worring about my target pace and what-iffing each split to death; conversation is a pleasant dissociation and keeps my active mind occupied. Our 10K time was just under 47 minutes.

Just before the half marathon point, our duo became a trio. I liked Laura when I saw she had a glittery pink bow in her hair. I loved Laura when she shared that she was running her very first marathon. While most people would just want to cross the finish line, she was aiming for a sub 4 hour because a coworker had achieved that time and she "just had to beat it". Feminine and competitive? A girl after my own heart.

This was a figure 8 sort of course, setting us up to run alongside the finishing half marathoners. Mentally, it can be tough to hear "you're almost done!" from spectators and then watch others run through the finish, receive their medals, hug friends and family, etc...all with the understanding you still have 13.1 miles to go. I experienced this during my first marathon; Laura "took" it much better than I did. Her focus was contagious even when we made a turn into a nasty headwind just after the half marathon mark at 1:49. If you're open to it, you can always learn from other runners, no matter the experience level.
Calling us "chatty" is an understatement.

It's okay to have more than one girl crush, right?!

Here's where it got tough. The wind WOULD NOT STOP and we slowed to 8:30-8:40 minute miles. Gatorade hadn't appeared until mile 8 and gels weren't distributed until 15. Not that either of those was my main fueling concern; the 2 weeks leading up to this race were over Trey's leave from Afghanistan and our eating habits left a lot to be desired. There was that one night with the bottle of merlot + cupcakes and brownies for dinner...yeah. As my trainer Phil in DC used to say, "you can't out-train a crap diet".

Shannon was incredibly encouraging, reminding me that the second 10 miles were the "focus miles" and even identified visual cues during hills- "See that mailbox? That's your target. Don't worry about anything else except getting to the mailbox. Great, you made the mailbox. Now see that road sign? Don't worry about anything else.." type talk. It was really helpful and, 30+ sub 4 hour marathons aside, I can tell why she made a fantastic cross country coach a few years ago.
Looking happier than I felt in the late miles.
Unfortunately, I was reduced to a walk at mile 19 as my teammates soldiered on. It's odd because I've been in a position where I feel like there's nothing in the tank a bajillion times and am usually able to break through with a combination of positive self talk and mental games...not the case on this day. Even seeing the most enthusiastic Marathon Maniac, Dave Mari, on the course didn't help my legs snap out of it. If you peek at my Garmin splits, it looks like a completely different person was wearing the watch during the last 7 miles. I went from a consistent 8:10-8:40 range to 10+ minute miles. I had to reset it at miles 20, 22, and 24 because my mind simply couldn't take having more than 2 miles to go at a time. Nothing like seeing your 5K time on a 2 mile segment.

I finished in 3:49:53- still a sub 4 hour and far from a PW (personal worst), but nowhere near the performance I was hoping for. Frustrated as I was, those feelings quickly quickly vanished when reconnected with fellow runners: Jack was still smiling after his successful first ever half, Suz collected more funny race day stories to tell, Dane had finished all 26.2 miles despite injury, Shannon secured a time faster than her previous day's marathon, and Laura had a full 11 minutes to hold over her 4 hour finisher/coworker's head. These are the things I'm going to remember when you ask me about this race in a few years, not my time.
The shorts are patterned, not dirty!
Running is my partner in good health. Running is my coping technique for Trey's deployment. Running provides an outlet to test my limits and improve my self confidence. Running is my platform for daily prayer and time with God. Running introduces me to new cities and towns as I have traveled for work or moved to new Army posts. Running allows me to connect with nature.  Running has introduced me to and kept me involved with some of the best people I have ever met. Thanks for the reminder, state #32!

Hampton Rockfest 26.2 (Mother Nature: 1, Suz: 0)

This race was dedicated to Erin- even if you can't SEE it through wind and rain, your finish line is there.

You can control a number of things going into a race: your training inputs, willingness to manage time and work hard, as well as your attitude. Out of your control? The weather. Now, I have experience running in less than ideal conditions: snow in Delawarewind in Nevada and heat in Pennsylvania; however, in 30+ marathons and ultras, I've never encountered pouring rain on race day. There's a first time for everything...

Trey is on mid-tour leave and agreed to accompany me to earn my New Hampshire at the Hampton Rockfest Marathon. During the drive east, the rain was nonstop. Rose colored glasses gal at heart, I was convinced it would stop before 9 am and didn't really stress. This was, after all, a training run for JFK50; however, nobody in their right mind wants to run for a few hours in a downpour. 

Prior to the race, I had asked the folks at Loco Racing if they could recognize Trey for his military service at some point during the starting festivities. They exceeded my expectations by insisting that he serve as the "Official Race Marshall", giving runners the cue to begin at the starting line.  With experience in a number of ceremonies with the Air Force Honor Guard, including introducing the President, Trey brought his narrator voice A-game and gave us a deep, hearty "Runners on your mark, GO!"  No "get set"- always keeping us on our toes, that's Trey.

The rain let up a little during the first couple of miles and turned into more of a mist, which felt nice. A Garmin error turned right just before mile 2 assisted in finding fellow Marathon Maniac Shannon, who has positioned herself to become the youngest female to finish all 50 states in sub 4 hours. Both of us uber chatty, we talked about the given- training, races, running goals, career, family, friends, and boys. We also dove into more serious topics, shared life's highs and lows, and discussed living in the moment since things can change so quickly. Alongside great conversation, we shared a steady 8:30/mile pace for the next 14 miles.

I have always enjoyed the camaraderie shared among other female runners in the marathon community, but something that struck me additionally about my new found running partner was her positivity. There we were in slippery conditions, miserable cold wind, and occasional bouts of heavy rain- Shannon was a ray of sunshine who had me smiling and laughing. Oprah Winfrey was right on when she said, "Surround yourself with only with people who are going to lift you higher"!

The thing about a marathon is, you'll always question your ability to finish at some point. It will never be smooth sailing. I guess that's what I enjoy about the distance- you can count on it for a challenge. Mile 18 was my gut check.

Shannon, who would finish a couple of minutes before me for her 15th sub 4 of the year, and I had separated after the only major hill of the race just before mile 17. "Hill" is giving it a lot of credit, too...more like "incline". This race was relatively flat, which you'd think would be fantastic; however, using the same muscles over and over again is much more painful in the late miles as compared to a course with more variety. My hips and lower back were throbbing. Adding insult to injury, it started pouring rain. The painful, b-word slap you in the face sort of rain. Shoes and socks were soaked and felt like they were 5 pounds each. No music because my Mp3 player had shorted out. I had to hold my arm over my eyes to block the wind and rain to see where I was going. This went on for about 6 miles so I mentally tapped sources of inspiration (looking at you, Erin) to continue.

Splish splashing into the final 2 miles, I was still maintaining an 8:30/mile pace and was comforted by the fact that I would achieve sub 4 hours for my 31st marathon state.  Crossing the line in 3:41:47, I earned 9th out of 93 women in my age group, top 5% female, and top 10% overall finishers. Mentally, I have now been down the "it's raining during the race" road and will be more confident when (not if- I have a lot of marathons left to go!) this happens again. The best part? Trey was waiting for me at the finish line!

Leading Ladies 26.2- No Boys Allowed!

The second race of my birthday double was Leading Ladies Marathon in Spearfish, SD. After 26.2 in Wyoming, I made the 7 hour drive, making it a point to eat, drink, and stretch as much as possible along the way. I didn't end up getting to my hotel until 8:30pm, which really isn't ideal marathon preparation…but then again neither is running a marathon the day before. 

The race director, Elaine, had arranged for my race packet and bib to be waiting for me at the hotel since I couldn't make the expo. I was able to thank her face to face; she had all of the enthusiasm and charm I pictured in our months of email correspondence. It takes special people to put on events like this.  

Break out the arm warmers (in August!)
I have always enjoyed the running camaraderie shared with other women, making this race- an all female marathon- especially unique. If that didn’t have “Suzy” written all over it, the fact that everything race related was either pink or floral did. If you know me, you understand that I’m as girly as they come. Case in point: the glittery tiara I wore on my head for this race to commemorate my 30th birthday and marathon state.

We caught a 4 am bus to the 6 am start of the point to point course, an expereince very reminiscent of Boston Marathon.  During the half hour ride, there was a ton of chatter, positive energy, and excitement. I really enjoyed meeting the women around me, including my seatmate who is aiming for her 10th Marathon Maniac star by running 52 marathons in 2011. Without a doubt, you always find someone at these events who has more aggressive goals than you do.

The race began at 6000' elevation with one small climb (seemed small to me anyway, given the ascents in my last 2 marathons) up "Cyclone Hill" and then begins a gentle downhill that continued for the next 25 miles. Bad news for my blistered feet and fried quads from the day prior. Good news for the possibility of adding a state to my stretch goal efforts within 50 sub 4 Marathon Club.

Dances with Wolves was filmed in this area; it's pretty safe to assume there were no fancy computer effects- this course offered a tranquil setting and absolutely breathtaking view for the entire run: massive cliffs, rugged rock formations, moss draped spruce trees, wild flowers in full bloom, and grassy marsh areas. Canyon walls we passed through are said to be older than the Grand Canyon itself. Gorgeous!

Having trained in 90 degrees and high humidity, mid 40s temperatures felt like running heaven. I wore arm warmers, a headwrap, and fashioned an extra pair of socks into gloves. Thorlo hands kept me from giving a lot of my signature thumbs up, but they were necessary to stay warm. Lost in cool temps and gorgeous scenery, 13.1 miles arrived at 2:05 before I knew it. Provided I ran a negative split (second half faster than first half. You're welcome, non-running friends!), sub 4 hours would happen.

Want to capture an overwhelming amount of spectator support? Wear a tiara on your head. I have done everything from 'SUZY' in big bold letters on my shirt to running in costume, but nothing compares with the buzz that silly crown created.  "Birthday girl!", "30! 30! 30!", and even a full chorus of Happy Birthday (using "runner" where the name would normally go) made me feel very special.

The tiara stayed on the entire time
Around mile 20, my bad self started offering excuses as to why I couldn't maintain the pace, with an overwhelming focus on "I ran 26.2 miles yesterday". The good thing about making a living as a health coach is that you are constantly teaching positive self talk as a coping technique. Practicing what I preach, out loud and in affirmation format (!), I went through the list of things in my favor.  Ridiculous? Yes...but it eventually led to the understanding that nobody who was giving 100% felt good at this point, no matter when their last marathon was. For some reason, that was a boost.

I finished this race in 3:55:48, earning that negative split, 2nd in my new age group, and solidifying an overall time for both races that was 5 minutes faster than in 2008, when my double marathons were on pancake flat courses at sea level. THAT is how you celebrate a birthday...!
AG award was a spruce candle holder that Pavel tried to eat

Run (UP to & then) With The Horses Marathon

For the last two years, I’ve been getting smoked by 22 and 23 year olds fresh off the college track team in the “Under 29” age group, so to say I have been excited about hitting 30 would be an understatement. The only way to run state number 30 over my 30th birthday weekend (because that is just too cool!) was to do a double- 26.2 miles on Saturday, then another full marathon on Sunday.

...and that's elevation at the START!

The distance itself was not a concern- my only distinct advantage in this sport isn’t speed, but the ability to recover quickly and be consistent. I’ve done back to back marathons once before for state #13 and state #14 in 2008. The challenge? Both races are high elevation, beginning above 6000', making altitude sickness a valid concern for someone who lives at sea level and has barely ever stepped foot above 7000’- much less try to run a marathon up there.

This was bound to happen sooner or later in my quest for all 50 states; unfortunately, I chose these races based on the calendar and didn’t even look at elevation charts until 2 weeks prior. My confidence was in the toilet going into Saturday’s event, Run With The Horses Marathon in Green River, WY.

After a briefing on snake safety by the RD, a very small field of less than 100 began the race at 6100'. As a preventative measure, I used my inhaler just before and wore a fuel belt for access to extra hydration. The design of the course was an “up and back”. Flatlanders are more familiar with “out and back”, meaning you run 13.1 out before turning around and coming home for the full 26.2. However, this is Wyoming and we were definitely climbing UP before heading back down to finish.

There were a handful of Marathon Maniacs at this race, including a friend from Running Club North in Fairbanks. I had a race strategy session/dinner with Erika, who I described as "late 30s, 40 at the most" prior to this trip, and her husband Peter the night before. Turns out she's 50. And fast. We were able to share the first 2 miles, my fastest of the day at 8:20 pace, before she blew past me and hustled her way to 2nd overall- just behind a very talented 20-something. It goes without saying, but I want to be Erika in 20 years- a gorgeous, talented athlete with a willingness to share earned knowledge with others.

At the 5K mark, we had already gained 1000’ and spent much of the next few miles on rolling hills at 5-6 % grades between 7300 and 7500’.  Going into this race, I was all sorts of concerned about my breathing...but that didn't turn out to be the challenge at all. The most painful part of dealing with the elevation? Ears popping, followed by a dull headache, and minor nosebleed around mile 10. The most interesting part? When my brand new, very full tube of lip gloss expanded and EXPLODED. Inside my sports bra.

A slower pace gave me the ability to enjoy the beauty of the course. We were running across the White Mountains, high enough to overlook some of the most breathtaking canyons I've ever seen (sorry, Arizona). There is never really any guarantee the area's wild horses, namesake of the race, will be out- this year they were everywhere. I saw the first herd around mile 5 and almost every mile or so thereafter until mile 18. It was awesome to see them grazing and even running across the plains and past the rock formations along the canyon. I'm still kicking myself for not taking a camera.

The RD suggested adding 45-60 minutes to typical marathon times and I could see why. If the high desert elevation didn't get you, going uphill for 13 miles in a fierce headwind would. The Suzy Sunshine in me thought, "at least we'll have a tailwind coming back down!", but you guessed it: the wind changed direction by that time. There was little shade, as this area is considered high plains desert, so I was grateful for the low humidity when the sun came out during the later miles.

I had this grand plan to save my quads on the final downhill miles for the following day’s marathon, but in the moment that sounded dumb so I used gravity to my advantage. I was screwed for the next day, anyway- my road shoes were filled with small pieces of gravel the entire race; I could already feel the blisters that had formed. This is a sore spot for me: 40+ reviews on marathonguide for this race with plenty of detail about shirts and medals, but nobody suggested trail shoes and/or gaiters. 

Horseshoe was a bit heavy for my model's neck
Crossing the line in 4:26:38 (just outside an hour from my PR; they were dead on re: estimating time), I earned 4th female overall and a 1st place finish in my new age group! As promised, the medal was super and the AG award was an actual bronzed horseshoe.

The calendar certainly worked in my favor- this was the perfect Wyoming. There was a time when I looked for flat, fast race options only. While there is something to be said for testing speed, with that strategy you miss total jewels like this.

State #29 was, hands down, the most beautiful setting I have ever run in and seeing the wild horses was definitely worth the challenging climb.

(you've gotta be sort of) Mad Marathon

1. July marathon on the east coast 2. in a state I haven’t done 3. during the family reunion. For me, the Mad Marathon in Waitsfield, VT was a running trifecta.

The one thing I love more than the challenge of the distance itself is sharing marathon miles with others. My Uncle, an experienced three time Ironman, joined me for his first standalone 26.2. We agreed to run as much as possible together but allowed the other person a pass if/when they needed to speed up.

At 7:30 am, we began under clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s. 1200 lined up, with just under 500 doing the full. I have a bad habit of getting swept up in the half marathon stampede and going out too fast, so it was great to have my Uncle there to keep my pace in check.

As "The World's Most Beautiful Marathon", this race earned it's tagline as we began on Route 100 and headed north, passing through a neat covered bridge that crossed over the Mad River. Almost immediately after the mile 1 mark, we began winding up a hill. A really steep one. It just kept on going...and going. This was not going to be easy.

After a very sharp drop from that hill, the course leveled off onto a gravel road for the next few miles and through another covered bridge. We ran a surprisingly even 9 min/mile during the first 10K, resisting the temptation to burn out our quads on the downhill descents. I would never have been able to do that on my own; Uncle Tre must have realized we’d be going back up those same descents in a few more miles!

The next stretch of the course broke off into a wishbone pattern, turning around at an orange cone twice before reversing back again, allowing me to absorb and share the positive energy from many Marathon Maniacs. With almost 4000 total, I am sort of an OG (“Original Gangsta”- you’re welcome) at #891 and it was funny to see reactions as I introduced myself to others.

Uncle Tre and I talked the entire first half about everything under the sun. It was really enjoyable and served as dissociation from the early hills. At one point, he mentioned a nagging injury and I quickly implemented a rule system requiring 2 positive statements per negative remark. I use this with myself during training runs and it works- if anything, to get out of the habit of letting negative thoughts surface. Either that or you look like an idiot talking to yourself.

Shortly after halfway at 2:12 and still chatting up a storm, we approached what is affectionately called “The Dip”. It looked like a roller coaster drop. There was no puke at the bottom, but I caught myself thinking, "Has the chute from Equinox 50K in Fairbanks followed me all the way to Vermont?!"

Now, I don't mind hills. Some runners loathe them, but I honestly appreciate the grind up and the feeling of accomplishment once I've made it to the top. Sure, I’m not gonna run 7:30 splits or PR; but I always do better within my gender and age group on a really hilly course. However, a few "Holy shit!"s and an "Are you kidding me?" later, I questioned the likelihood of a sub 4 hour marathon.

Around mile 15, I took Uncle Tre up on that pass. Having been conservative in the early miles, I was able to pick up the pace to 8:30/mile, taking advantage of gradual descent. I was focused only on my “second 10 miler”, having split the race mentally into 10, 10, and 6 miles. Breaking down into manageable parts is how I handle difficult situations, be it running or otherwise.

A sign that read "your feet hurt because you are kicking so much ass!" lifted my spirits , as did the many spectators along the course with treats, sprinkler systems, and words of encouragement. Just after mile 22, I saw my own support crew: my Mom, Mima, Aunt Theresa, Cousin Caroline, Mother-in-Law BJ, and Father-in-Law Scott. They were so enthusiastic the runners around me joked that they wanted to “share my family” and asked which races that specific crew would be at in the Fall!

Once I hit mile 23 at just under 3:40, I was averaging low 8 minute miles and knew that I was hovering the line for my overall time of either 4:01+ or 3:59:ish, which is (as the name implies) required for the 50<4 marathon club. I pushed to a 7:20, 7:16, and 7:13 in the final miles to secure a 3:59:26 finishing time, making me 17th female overall and 3rd in my age group.

The final 10K of this race is a testament to what Crossfit can do specifically for marathon running. This is something that a lot of runners like to debate (read: trash). When I PRed in Eugene, several folks assured me that I would be undertrained on more challenging terrain. Nyet. I’ll continue to use an adaptation of Crossfit Endurance (add long runs every other week) for fall races, including JFK50. It's a fantastic advantage. Selfishly (!), I sort of hope no women in my age group adopt it and continue to mileage themselves to death.

Sharing state #28 with my Uncle, who crushed his previous marathon PR from a dead flat IM marathon course, was the highlight of this event. Proud of the sub 4 on a challenging course, too. George Costanza style, I’m leaving the “Under 29” age group on a high note!

27 lessons from my 27th state

1. Leave your ego at home. I chose the 50K option of the Run for Kids 12 Hour, 50K, & 5K- although I usually go for the longest option available (i.e. full over half, ultra instead of marathon), I was still banking off of training from Eugene and not physically or mentally prepared for the 12 hour.

2. If you must drive 7 hours each way, do it through the Smoky Mountains.
3. Averaging 5 hours of sleep/night the entire week before a race is a bad idea.

4. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” sounds better in Alabama.

5. Running skirts are super cute.

6. Small inaugural events are not to be avoided. I constantly hear horror stories about first time events; in my experience, organization for a smaller group is fine. In fact, at both Rehoboth Beach Marathon and in this event, the RDs have gone out of their way to make sure I had an extra special experience.

7. It is possible to get a size small shirt at race day packet pick up.

8. Shared miles are the best miles. One of my co-workers, Monica decided on a whim to join me in the 50K and we spent the first third of the race catching up. Nonstop chatter- who needs an iPod?!
9. The same 3 mile loop 10 times is no guarantee for the directionally challenged.

10. The same 3 mile loop 10 times guarantees 9 visits to the aid station.

11. Best fuel: PB&J

12. Running in extreme heat with little shade is awful for everyone, no matter what conditions you are accustomed to.

13. However, you don’t want your first taste of 90 degree weather and accompanying Southern humidity in almost 2 years to be during a 31 mile race.

14. Use salt tabs.

15. Wear Marathon Maniac gear. There were 3 other Maniacs at this event; as usual, I enjoyed the camaraderie.

16. Speaking of Maniacs, I finally got to meet Larry Macon, who made my day by exclaiming, “You’re unstoppable!” during my final loop.

17. Establish ground rules. Monica and I agreed early on that we would separate if needed. Around mile 25, I was extremely dehydrated and experiencing painful muscle spasms that reduced me to a run-walk. Monica maintained a steady pace and ended up the 2nd female overall in her first 50K!

18. Drop bag: security blanket

19. Run with someone better than you. Monica is an experienced Ironwoman and straight up beast of an athlete- if she lived closer, I’d stalk her gym sessions and training runs because it’d only make me better.

20. I first learned that concept at Crossfit Fairbanks and now use it at Crossfit Vitality- purposely going to classes with folks who straight up smoke me. The way I see it? If I’m finishing first, something is wrong.

21. The sun does not care if you call it an asshole.

22. Crossing the finish line: good. Getting a call from Trey a few minutes later: better.

23. A garden hose can double as “shower facilities”.

24. You cannot achieve a PR in every race. I finished in 5:49:07- 50 minutes slower than my last 50K, which featured 2400’ collective ascent and much more challenging terrain.

25. Put things in perspective. My time was 9 minutes faster than the 3rd male overall.

26.No excuse is a good excuse.

27. Do what needs to be done: state #27, Alabama, is in the books!

Eugene Marathon

When I stepped up to the starting line in Eugene, I was about as far from focused as could be. Having bid Trey goodbye a week prior for a year long deployment, emotions were still very raw. Only two days ago, Mom helped me pack up the entire house in a single day so I could spend the year in NC. On little sleep and lots of allergy and cold medication, I was about to make a run (pun intended) at breaking 3:30, which has long been a goal of mine after coming painfully close in Arizona , Akron and Hartford.
A 9 year old with a Christina Aguleria style voice belted out the National Anthem before the gun signaled the beginning of the race. Her singing was beautiful and, in a very un-Suz way, I got emotional. Loud, sloppy sobbing (give me a break people, I miss my husband!). Many others reacted as well and there were very few dry eyes in our corral.
The first few miles were conservative. I'm typically a very social runner, but it was hard to breathe (due to that existing cold and stuffy nose), much less talk. I listened to music in an effort to dissociate, which is something I haven't done in a long time. It is fun to run with music- what a nice reminder! By 49:19 at the 10K mark, I felt much better than any medicine had made me feel in the last week and was maintaining a pace of slightly over 8 minute miles.
By mile 10, I was really enjoying the race. There were several 50 Staters and Marathon Maniacs to swap stories with. Many were curious what I had done for training runs during the months of February and March, when temperatures in Fairbanks averaged -40.  I shared that most of my running was done indoors on a treadmill until it got warm enough to snowshoe. This was also the first time I adopted a training schedule with much lower mileage combined with heavy strength training and WODs at Crossfit Fairbanks 4 times a week. When asked how it worked for me, I smiled and said, "We're about to find out today, huh?!"

Despite sharing the first 12 miles with the half marathoners, it never got crowded enough to bottleneck. Temperatures had risen from 40 degrees to low 60s with a cool breeze- perfect running weather. After an out and back in the University area, we followed a bicycle path alongside the water through the city; it was gorgeous! I would have actually loved some hills for variety, but happily took the 7:58 pace instead. At half marathon, the clock read 1:43:50 and I could see the 3:30 pace group in the distance. 

Spectators were out in full force and very spirited. Among the many signs alongside the course, my favorites read: "I'm proud of you, complete stranger", "There is tequila at the Finish", and "Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon".  However, the best support came at mile 18 when I saw Mom and my dog, Pavel! 
Experienced runners will tell you (rightfully so!) that a marathon begins at mile 20. At 2:39:03, I ended my long run and began my 10K race.  At this point, the difference between my training for this race versus previous traditional high volume plans was clear- I felt physically stronger than I ever have so late in a marathon.  Any skepticism I had about trading miles for cross training was gone. As I passed the 3:30 pacer around mile 24, I was all smiles as I thought about chalking my hands up for heavy deadlifts and the hundred day burpee challenge, among other things Crossfit.

Having just finished reading Kenny Moore's Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, it was a special honor to finish the race on the track at historic Hayward Field. As an added bonus, I saw Mom cheering at the final 100 meter stretch and finished well under my goal time in 3:28:36. Personal record! I was 437 of 2239 total runners, 94 of 1079 women, and 26 of 198 in my division. I wish the story happily ended here, really I do...

You'd think someone with twenty plus marathon events would have a post race plan, right? A specific place to meet family afterward? Maybe $20 in cash for emergencies? Not your girl. After a half hour wandering through crowds, I began walking in the direction I thought our hotel was...which was, of course, the wrong way.  After about 3 additional miles, I finally went in a random store to use the phone, through some red tape, and connected with Mom. I wasn't mad, least I had crossed the finish line prior to doing those additional miles, unlike Kenai!