40 Thoughts about my 40th state- NYC Marathon

1. This is a tough race to get into! I was denied lottery entry 3 consecutive times prior to getting guaranteed entry. 

2. I'm sure there are other great races in the state of New York, but this had to be mine.

3. Despite the insane crowd, the expo was really well organized- it took less than 5 minutes to pick up my bib:

4. My handsome Husband accompanied me on this trip:
5. My Aunt Carol did, too:
6. This was her first experience at an event like this- go big or go home, huh?!

7. My friend Jen ran, too! We stayed at the same hotel, enjoyed a pre-race dinner together, and spent most of race morning with one another
8. I'm a very social runner and have made insta-friends in similar situations, but having a friend who was also running made the experience more enjoyable. 

9. We had an especially chilly day this year- 35 degrees with 25 mph winds at the start

10. It's important to pack lots of throwaway clothes for the race day wait- transit to the ferry, bus, and hanging in athletes village. 

11. As such, you will look homeless in all of your pre-race pictures:
12. RIP pink marshmallow jacket

13. From Staten Island, we started onto the Verazzano bridge:
14. There were wall to wall people, as seen above, the entire time! I was shocked that I actually saw my Aunt at mile 6:

15. Even cold gusts of wind couldn't damper the experience of running on the bridges 

16. Other runners warned me the bridges would be challenging. 

17. I didn't mind them. When you regularly push 40 pounds of stroller up Haymount hill during training, a bit of incline from a bridge isn't so bad. 

18. Speaking of training, my longest long run was 9 miles.

19. This is the second marathon in a row I've opted for stroller running, CrossFit, and no double digit runs and met my time goal (sub 4 hours).

20. Could I be more aggressive with my time goal if I were willing to do long runs? Sure...but it's not worth the quality of life trade as a recreational runner. 

21. I'd rather tack 10 or so minutes on my time and look back at the last 3 months of Saturdays and know I spent them with my family. Period.

22. See what I mean about wall to wall runners? 
23. The spectators were amazing 

24. They lined the streets, packed balconies, and even offered Kleenex (cold, wind = runny noses!)

25. Cheer squads, bands, FDNY lined up in front of stations

26. If you do this race, leave your headphones at home. There is so much to look at and listen to. It's worth soaking up each moment! 

27. Write your name on your shirt. You may not get as lucky as I did when I found someone else named "Suzy" who had. 

28. We ran together for the better part of the last 10K and both said "thank you!" when we heard our name

29. I had been to Manhattan before but not Staten Island, Brooklyn, Harlem, or the Bronx.

30. This race is the best way to see the city
31. The steady stream of wall to wall runners made for a lot of bottlenecks at turns and water stops...so, basically every few minutes. 

32. I ran a very steady race, despite this:
33. My time earned me my 29th state in my 50 sub 4 effort, which is my stretch goal.
34. It's a long walk through Central Park after you cross the finish line:
35. If you opt for no baggage, you get a sweet fleece lined rain poncho! 
36. Not a good argument for people who call runners "cult members":
37. Asking Trey to bring my Uggs to the finish line: best decision ever.

38. My FitBit was happy:
39. My name was in the New York Times on Monday Morning:
40. This won't be a race I revisit, as I prefer a more simple race experience but I really enjoyed it. Thank you, New York City!

Mesa Falls Marathon: Sub 4 for What?!

I ran my sub 4 in Idaho at Mesa Falls Marathon. I'm saying it from the top because you won't believe me when you hear what went into this race. It's actually sort of laughable...sort of.

Long runs were in my training plan, they just never happened; I'm on my own with Christian while Trey is in Afghanistan and my longest stroller run was 9 miles. Now, I subscribe to low volume training- but I always get at least a couple of double digit runs in. I was skeptical about 3 CrossFit workouts + 20ish miles a week turning into a sub 4 effort at 6000' elevation. The altitude alone, according to McMillan, would add an additional 10 minutes.

So there's that, too
The race was in Ashton, a town of about 1100 people an hour north of the Idaho Falls Airport. As frequent flyer awards usually play out, my flight landed at 10:30pm so it was almost midnight when I got to the hotel. "Sorry ma'am, we figured you weren't coming so we gave your room to someone else." What the WHAT?!?!

There was no arguing with these folks and they wouldn't let me stay in the cleaning closet (I asked), so I drove down the road to another hotel. No vacancy. And another. No vacancy. Consult the oracle- the closest hotel with availability was back at the airport and by this time it was 1am. Knowing I needed to pick up my race packet at 4:30am, I pulled into a church parking lot and slept in the back of my Ford Focus rental. There aren't many advantages to being 5'3, but it was reasonably comfortable.

Packet pickup was at the local elementary school, where the race organizers also provided a free breakfast for runners and chartered busses to the start of the point to point race. The swag bag was a potato sack (nice touch!) and the shirt was long sleeved/moisture wicking. Considering the free pre-race dinner the evening before, aid stations with every fueling option you could ask for (fresh fruit, honey, Gu, Powerbar, Clif Blocks, Hammer gel, etc) and awesome spread at the finish (delicious IS: pizza washed down with a huckleberry milkshake), this is by far the best $60 you can spend in the marathon world.

The first 9 miles were on a gravel road, gradual downhill with beautiful views, 60 degree temperatures with barely any humidity. Then it started to rain. I'm not talking little sprinkle- it was cold, hard, painful rain. I've raced in pouring rain in New Hampshire, but no friend to lift my spirits. I think (?) the rest of the course was really pretty but I was too busy getting a rain beat down to notice.
Thumbs up if you're soaking wet!
At the half, it was still pouring rain and we hit a trail. A muddy trail. Squishy, ankle sucking mud. Like, run on the side in the waist high weeds and briars or get stuck in the muck. The half marathoners had started from that point, so they were ponchoed up, in appropriate trail shoes, and flying past like gazelles. Nothing like being passed by 50 people in a single, terrifying mile to make you want to DNF. My pace slowed considerably at this point from 8:20 min/mile to 9:30+.

After 5 miles, the muddy trail finally ended and we started uphill. It was a twisty road, so you could never quite see the top...which was a good thing because the top didn't come for 2 miles! Per my usual on hills, I passed a lot of people but laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all- thin air, pouring rain, and a hill that wouldn't stop.

It stopped raining around mile 24 but the damage had long been done on my shoes, which were muddy and soaked. Like lifting 2 cement blocks off the ground with each step. Woof. I crossed the finish line exhausted, but in an effort good enough for 6th female overall, 2nd in my age group and- miracle of miracles- sub 4 hours (3:54:23). Good thing, cause I'm NOT tryin' to go back to Idaho to complete my 50 sub 4 circuit. Or ever for any reason, really.
Love the wooden finisher medal & AG plaque
Who should do this race? 50 staters- there were a lot of us there (29 states represented in only 130 runners) and it was fun to chat with folks on the same journey. The weather really made this a wash for me- it would have been a great race in dry conditions and I appreciated all of the extras the organizers put into the experience. My only suggestion? Stay in Idaho Falls in a normal chain hotel. There was a beautiful Residence Inn taunting me on the way back to the airport!

Thumbs up if you pulled off a time you shouldn't have.

Boston via Fayetteville- All American Marathon

Of all of the places I've lived since becoming a military spouse, Fayetteville has been my favorite. There are many reasons why; among them, this is a really active community. I am involved in the local running club (FRC) and Team RWB chapter, which has helped me meet like-minded individuals and really connect to the area. When the inaugural All American Marathon was announced, I had to do it...never mind I had a marathon 3 weeks earlier.

Here's what my training looked like after Raleigh:

8 miles progression
5 miles
12 x 800m
8 miles race pace
3 miles
2 miles
3 miles

You're correct, math major- that's 35 total miles between races. I certainly wasn't sandbagging, though- as exercise science has proven, anaerobic activity boots aerobic fitness and my Crossfit WODs helped me prepare for 26.2 miles. I had my sights set on qualifying for Boston (3:35), a race I'm madly in love with after experiences in 2009 and 2012.

Race Day:

3700 of my closet friends and I began at Festival Park, made a loop downtown Fayetteville, and made our way up Hay Street. 6:30 is an early start time for a marathon, but I was grateful for it because of the heat we would experience later in the day- that hour made a huge difference.

One of the neatest things about All American is that our house is directly on the course at mile 4. This meant FRC was able to set up as an unofficial water/Gatorade stop in our front yard and offer our bathroom to runners in need- I was really tickled by this, because I have done the same when port-a-potties weren't in sight.

Best of all? Mom brought Christian and Pavel out. I stopped and gave Christian a big smooch before continuing on- THAT was the best moment of the day!

"Getting up early to make this sign wasn't easy either!"

The Realtor should include "mile 4 of the All American Marathon" when this house is listed

That's my 6 month old in the carrier- youngest volunteer on the course!
Within the next couple of miles, I saw more clusters of friends from the gym, FRC, and church. Those morale boosts helped me maintain a pace between 7:30-8 minute miles for the first 10K, turning in a 47:03 and "banking" time while the sun was still down and temperatures were low.

"Take my picture while I still feel good!"
Who needs Marathonfoto when your friends are on the course?!
Miles 6-10 took us on the All American Expressway- flat, fast, and shaded. Like they had in Raleigh, the folks at Wear Blue: Run to Remember set up another "blue mile", honoring Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. At that time, I was running with a fellow Team RWB member and active duty Soldier, Quincy. As we came up to the photos, Quincy stuck his hand out (as if he were slapping hands with a spectator) alongside all of the pictures and gave an air "five" as an act of solidarity. I got right behind him and followed suit. When I glanced behind my shoulder, all of the other runners were doing the same. It was a beautiful give-you-chills type moment. Second to the smooch with Christian, that touching tribute was my favorite part of this race.


As we entered Fort Bragg, the full separated from the half marathoners and the crowd thinned a bit. The sun was up by that time, but the aid stations were frequent and included on course nutrtion, Generation UCAN. I'll save you the hard sell here (and have no affiliation with the product), but this is the stuff for someone following paleo/primal, trying to become fat adapted, or logging a bajillion miles yet still struggling with weight. Taking in 300g of carbohydrate during a race is whack, y'all. So is running with a ziplock full of cold sweet potatoes.

I was still ahead of pace at the half (1:44:17) but around mile 20 (2:42:18), my pace slowed to 8-8:30 minute miles. I once got advice from an experienced marathoner that went something like this:

"If you happen to catch up to other runners, you better pass them; don't start running at their pace with them. The fact that you caught up with them means that you're faster than them, so keep on going forward..."

That helped me focus on something during the final (painful!) miles. I caught a lot of runners, including two ponytails and moved from 8th overall female to 6th. It was neat to run on Post and I appreciated the Soldiers out (everywhere!) supporting us- the course never got desolate or lonely because of them.

Not so smiley at mile 25, eh?!
I crossed the finish line in a Boston qualifying time of 3:33:17, 1st in my age group, 6th female overall. Thrilled with the results and enjoyed the experience of running in a town I love and on an Army Post with so much rich history. At the finish line festival, Meb Keflezighi signed autographs, live music played, and the US Army Golden Knights parachuted onto the parade field.

Medal is in the shape of a parachutist badge ("jump wings")
Who should do this race? Anyone with a military family history. It's very Marine Corps Marathon-esque in terms of spirit, but without the crowds and lottery. Also, runners within driving distance of Fayetteville- they offer packet pick up in other cities (Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham) prior to the race. Since it's point to point, the race offers a shuttle service from Post back to downtown or the host hotel for easy logistics.

50 Staters can fly into Raleigh or Fayetteville and, although it's got some hills, it's a great NC candidate for 50 sub 4 members. Locally, there is a great Marathon Maniac presence, too!

Convinced? Join me in 2015...this is definitely one I'll revisit!
Let's go to Beantown, Baby!

Don't Call it a Comeback: Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh

Before sharing my personal recap of my first post baby marathon, I want to acknowledge the deaths of two runners in yesterday's race- prayers for comfort and peace go out to their families. If you are a runner, please join me in doing two things before your next race: 1. visit your primary care physician and get clearance for endurance activities 2. learn CPR.

Sir Walter Raleigh got in the spirit! 
Race Preparation:
I signed up for the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh as soon as they announced it. I was still in the first trimester of my pregnancy, but wanted a race on the horizon to motivate me after having the baby. Luckily, I was able to run comfortably during all 39 weeks of my pregnancy (more on that at a different time and place!) so it's accurate to say my training for this event began a long time ago. Like my first marathon, I didn't have a time goal- I simply wanted to cross the finish line.

37 weeks pregnant
I've trained for over 40 marathons, but having Christian really made me approach things differently. Having had success with CrossFit Endurance style programming in the past, I opted to follow it again- this time more out of time necessity rather than performance. With a new baby, I simply don't have time to log 3 hour long runs every weekend or do 2-a-day workouts. I understand high volume works for some, but there is more than one way to scale a mountain.

I did 4 runs per week- 1. short interval session 2. long interval session 3. social run with Christian in the stroller and Fayetteville Running Club  4. alternated between either a time trial or long(ish) run. My longest single run was 16 miles (half of that was pushing a jogging stroller!) and I never exceeded 30 miles in weekly volume. I partnered this with 3 traditional WODs per week at CrossFit Ferus, where they offer smart programming and childcare.

"Sorry Mom, you can't have me AND long runs!"
Race day:
Woke up at 3 am to drive up to Raleigh and get Christian situated in the hotel room with his babysitters for the day, Papa Tom and Grandpa Randy. The early alarm didn't phase me- having a 5 month old will do that for you! We even got situated in time to meet up with Fayetteville Running Club (FRC). I could write an entire blog about the support, motivation, and friendship this group has provided- instead, I'll just encourage you to get involved with your own local running club and experience it yourself. You can search for one here.

We have runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experience levels in FRC

My Mom was doing the half, so we got to walk to the start together- hands down, one of my favorite moments of the day. She has been there for most of my marathons in the last decade as a spectator so it's such a gift to share the race as participants. This was her second 13.1 and she got a PR- even more impressive when you consider the hills in Raleigh versus her first course in pancake flat Savannah. Way to go, Mom!
13.1- check! 26.2- check!

Post-race treat food- peeps & cadbury eggs. Thanks, Kevin!
It was great to spend the moments before the race with Ann and Anna, who was running her first marathon. Talking with them made me less nervous and I was focused when the gun went off. I've always maintained I don't need a cheer squad to do these things, but the spectators were great. My favorite signs of the day:
THIS is how you support a friend (& make strangers smile!)
Seen at mile 20- ain't that the truth?!

This was not a flat course. I stayed in control with my pace and felt confident on the hills- they were where I passed other runners. Chalk it up to a combination of CrossFit and the joging stroller. It didn't matter what type of incline I was served- running without pushing 35 pounds of BOB, infant  seat, and Christian in front of me or carrying a 1 pood kettlebell in each hand made it seem easy. Don't hate me, fellow RnR participants- I just never really felt broken. The heat got to me and robbed me of a negative split, but for a gal who thought the best case scenario would be just under 4 hours, I was thrilled with this:

3:39:55 overall time, 104 OA, 29th female, 7 AG

I enjoyed seeing fellow Marathon Maniacs out there- wearing my MM gear always makes me feel like part of a team and invites great conversation with amazing athletes. The course was gorgeous, beginning and ending downtown and taking us through neighborhoods with interesting, older architecture. Not a lot of shade in the second half of the race, which was a bummer as it started to get hot but mile 24 totally made up for it. The wonderful folks at Wear Blue: Run to Remember were out in full force with a memorial for fallen soldiers that was so significant, I think I'll remember every step through it more vividly than the finish line. You don't have to be a military wife to appreciate the beauty and sadness of this:

Among these heroes: SSG Michael A Dickinson, KIA at 26 years old in Iraq.
 His wife is a FRC member & dominated 26.2 to honor him!

Overall, this was a great event. I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for easy logistics, lots of crowd support, challenging hills (rumor has it the net gain was 4 digits), and doesn't mind big box races.

What's next for me? Reverse taper, then All American Marathon in 3 weeks. I'm thrilled to be racing again and so glad I'm finding a balance between being "Suzy the Mommy" and "Suzy the runner"!
Family, friends, and food (chocolate milk & pizza!) at the finish

Best training partner ever!

Still the best "model" for my hardware