The Dream Star's Corner

Dare to Dream...and DO!
walk. run. fly.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Inaugural Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Half Marathon Race Review

This was the first running of the Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Half Marathon. For those of you not familiar with Maryland, Columbia is an area about 30 minutes south from downtown Baltimore, and about 40 minutes north of Washington, D.C. It's primarily a busy sprawling suburb with a mall, lots of communities, and businesses. It seems that in recent years, Columbia is becoming one of the top areas in Maryland for races and triathlons. I've heard great things about the Iron Girl Triathlon that's held here every year. It sells out pretty quickly and even though I didn't register for that, in fear of not being ready by August, I did want to get in on some of the action by registering for the half marathon.

Most people don't like to be the 'test subjects' or 'guinea pigs' for an inaugural race. I embrace the opportunity... for me, it's quite entertaining actually. I'm a pretty self sufficient runner. I bring my own gels, hydration, cell phone, keys... so I don't really rely on water stops or bag check. I'm also pretty comfortable with running near traffic since I live in a pretty busy area and I love running in the city. I say all of this to say that there were some popular 'complaints' that came along with this race that didn't really affect me at all. But let's start from the beginning.

I laid out my things the night before, like a good lil' runner and ate my pasta (yummy mostaccioloi napoletana) dinner and tucked myself in for the night all before 10 p.m.

The next morning, my alarm clock went off at 5 a.m....and I turned it off.  (-.-) Not to worry, my internal alarm clock eventually screamed at me to get up. I hate early mornings. I did the breakfast/twitter ritual and wished other followers well on their races that they were running in that same day. I threw on my digs and headed out of the door around 6:15 and arrived at the parking lot at about 6:30. The race was scheduled to start at 7 a.m. so I took my time in the car, putting the finishing touches on my ensemble - making sure my iPhone was in the case and secured to my arm, buckling my bib belt, etc. I sleepily dragged myself to the start line and watched in admiration as other people warmed up... I couldn't will my body to move in the damp cold morning and just wanted the crowd to pull in closer around me to keep me warm. I think it was in the lower 40s... so cold for this time of year. I sparked up a conversation with a member of BGR! Atlanta who was standing next to me. She asked if this was my first half marathon (probably because it looked like I had on too many clothes) but I mentioned that it was my fourth and I was not feelin the hype like I used to. I was wearing my BGR! track jacket but I had on a sleeveless shirt underneath. I chose to go with the CW-X full length tights because of the cooler morning temperatures and to avoid fumbling with my compression socks later.

We chatted for a bit until the singer of the National Anthem hushed the crowd. Funny moment: During the National Anthem, we reached the part where the singer says "O say does that star spangled banner..." and a small percentage of us women quietly attempted to carry on the tradition of letting out that big Orioles O but it kinda fizzled out awkwardly. The Atlantan standing next me asked "Oh no! What happened? Did the singer say something wrong?" I had to explain to her that it was a good ol' Baltimore tradition to loudly belt out a big "OOOOOOOOOOOOH!" during that part of the Star Spangled Banner in homage to the Orioles but I guess the women in the crowd felt a bit awkward about it so the sound was a little apprehensive. It was a funny moment. You had to be there.

So back to the race... even though there were pacers peppered throughout the crowd for self seeding purposes, it was still a mass start. We were off at 7a.m.! There was a lot of crowd support for the first few hundred feet and perhaps the first mile...then it sorta fizzled off which was expected for a race snaking through a suburban community at 7a.m. on a Saturday morning. I can't really explain the space I was in mentally. I guess I was on autopilot. I found the 11 min/mi pace group and didn't really care about finish time or any of that. I told myself that I guess I will run by how I felt. I felt okay with the 11 min/ mi pacers but not great. They were definitely running MUCH faster than an 11 min/mi. The performance athlete in me wasn't complaining but the lazy runner who was still halfway asleep was. I kept glancing at my watch and seeing 10:18 min/mi then 10:07 min/mi then 10:36 min/mi. I watched as others around me audibly gasped for air and fell back one by one as we churned up and down the hilly course.

I was holding strong. I didn't let it get to me mentally. Instead I made sure to position myself directly behind the pacers in order to keep up with them. I was careful not to get stuck behind someone who was slowing to a walk right in the middle of a hill. Little did I know how important this strategy was until much later in the race. By mile 4 there was a 'core' group of about 3 of us who stayed with the pacers stride by stride...even at the forced 10:20 min/mi pace. I thought of a few things while running with them:

1) I know that some pacers are so pressed to meet their overall finish time that they sometimes push it hard for most of the race just to make sure they meet or beat that time - but at what cost? This isn't fair to those who truly run an 11 min/mi and nothing more.

2) Maybe these pace leaders know something about this course that I don't know. I mean, I didn't really look at the course map all that well and I am unfamiliar with some of the side streets and back roads. Perhaps we'll hit a rough patch that will level this out in the end.

3) I really don't think they know how fast they are going. They are so oblivious! I'll keep up as long as possible and if I have to, I will fall back into a comfortable and TRUE 11 min/mi pace.

I'm pretty sure I was right about #2 and #3. There were a few moments when a faster runner would drop back a bit and speak to the pace leaders who then glanced at their watches and slowed down. NOTE: I was so out of it that I needed something to wake me up to get me going so I tuned into my mixtape and turned up the volume to the point where I couldn't hear that little voice that wanted me to get back in bed and be lazy haha. So I can only assume what was actually said during these little Garmin-check exchanges. As for knowing something about the course, yeah. So at mile 6, I was cruising along and heard my Garmin beep that lovely mile split beep. I looked at my watch and said "OH! Mile 6 already?! Hmm" I was feeling great! I took in my first Gu gel and kept churning along with my group of four (including the pace leaders). Then it happened.

The hill that separated the lay woman from the Iron Girls. This hill boasted of a 300 ft climb. The pace leader started barking out orders..."LEAN INTO IT! STAY ON YOUR TOES! LIFT YOUR HEAD TO CONTROL YOUR BREATHING!!" Here's the thing with me... I can not focus if people are talking around me. I turned down the music before 'the hill incident' but desperately clambered to turn up the music to drown out her orders and to simultaneously keep moving. It was effing hard. I tried my best not to stop running. I got about halfway up and took 3 walking steps...then I saw a sign that read "MAKE THIS HILL YOUR B!$#&!" and I got my butt in gear and stutter stepped, tippy-toed, and whatever else I needed to do to get up that monster of a hill. I reached the top, and my hamstrings and glutes cried UNCLE! I had to recover...and I wasn't in hill running shape to recover while trotting along so I walked. I walked for a little over a minute staying honest with myself about starting back up to run - not making excuses and not letting any pain set in. My group of four was starting to move farther and farther away from me, but I dug in deep and caught up to them at the 6.5 mile mark. Thankfully there was a water stop ahead and the pace leaders slowed a bit. I was refreshed and back on their heels (literally).

By now, Columbia was waking up, and we could see the traffic backing up as we crossed major intersections and pathways leading out of the sleepy suburban communities. At one point, police were letting cars try their luck at speeding through openings between groups of runners. Pretty stupid if you ask me. I'm assuming they were getting chewed out by the neighbors for the hold up. Given our pace, I just knew that there were plenty of other runners behind us and I could only imagine how much worse traffic would get before the end of the race. I kept trotting along...still rolling up the hills and down the hills, and finally to a flatter elevation. I was feeling pretty good by mile 11 and stretched out my legs a little, leaving the pace group. I figured if I lost some steam later on in the race and couldn't carry myself through the finish line, I would naturally drop back to the pace group and will push myself to finish with them...but that never happened.

More mental strategy...

I told myself that if I hit mile 12 and still felt good, I would kick it until the finish line and that's exactly what happened. Mile 12 and ZOOM! I was off... I kicked it into high gear and REALLY felt comfortable in my stride when I realized that we were done with the hills. I excused myself as I squeezed between weary runners, saying "EXCUSE ME! I'm goin after a PR!" I couldn't believe what I was seeing! I thought I had a chance of PR'ing by 4 minutes around mile 11 but no! I was looking at 2:08:XX on my Garmin towards the end of mile I just knew I could pull through with a PR! I relied on some of that cadence rhythm from spin class and kept it up with quick efficient steps - eliminating long strides. I stayed steady... and eventually saw the finish line! I couldn't believe it! I looked down at my watch as it ticked pass 2:15:XX and into 2:16:XX!! It was happening!!! I WAS GOING TO PR!

I sprinted through the finish, clenching my fists, and mimicking the image of victory in my very grasp. I YELLED "PR BABY!" as I crossed the finish line. An amazing moment that I will NEVER forget. This was my fourth half marathon. My fastest time to date before this race was 2:24:22. On this day, I PR'd and ran this race in 2:17:00 exactly.

Who would've thought? Almost three months ago, I cried in my doctor's office, thinking I would NEVER run anything faster than a 2:30:00 half marathon ever again because I was "broken". There's something to be said about positive thinking, listening to your body, and training hard but more importantly TRAINING SMART to get what you want.

It was a gift to myself...something I so desperately needed.

I am an Iron Girl. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Intermediate? We'll see about that

Today was my first day in the Teen/Adult II (intermediate) swim class at the YMCA. I wasn't sure if I was ready for it, so got into the water and chatted with my Teen/Adult I swim class instructor first...I felt so comfortable chatting with him that I almost missed out on finding out who my NEW instructor was. When I separated from my comfort zone and went over to the far end of the pool with my new instructor, I felt a little apprehension but still relaxed.

She is amazing!!! There is only one other person in my class which is always a good thing. It just means that the instructor can give us more feedback because there are less people to watch. I honestly think a lot of people sign up for the Teen/Adult II class with a fear that they will be in the class with a bunch of kids. But when they see that the classes are FULL of adults, they lose the pride and stay with the beginner class. There were a dozen people in my old instructor's class and my instructor looked confused because there were only two of us. Oh well...

It was awesome. I still have a lot to learn but I'm definitely no longer a beginner. My instructor mentioned that she trains triathletes as well *LOVE*!

Now I need to relax my body and get ready for tomorrow's half marathon! I'm running in the Iron Girl Half Marathon. See?!

Yes... they are making us wear this wrist band. I think everyone in the packet pick up line had the same reaction as the volunteer grabbed your wrist and began explaining that you had to wear this wrist band until Sunday. The reaction went like this " Wait... 0_0... huh? But... So....I have to wear this until SUNDAY!? But... *insert nervous laugh*... okay." 

I have to attend a birthday party thing tonight. Good thing my friend's party calls for girls to wear "bright and beautiful" colors. I guess I will fit right in - very half marathon chic if you ask me. 

No NYC for Me

I didn't get into the NYC Marathon but that's okay.

Aside from the huge price tag for the registration fees and the travel arrangements, (my hotel reservation would cost me an estimated $1,850. YIKES!) I started to feel very overwhelmed with all that I have on my race plate already. I have so many other things going on that I didn't want to figure out how I was going to travel to NYC to complete this marathon and raise money just in case I didn't get in. Now I can sit back and relax...well not really... I can happily train for all of the races on my calendar.

There was also some concern that my best friend, who I encouraged to run this marathon again, would look to me to really go through the training and race with her...even though it was my idea in the first place (messed up, right? I know.). But I'm happy that I just waited to see what would happen over time...and eventually everything fell into place.

I decided that if she still wanted to do the marathon (because of course she wouldn't get in - what are the chances?) then I would train with her, traveling to New York for some long runs and whatnot and give her a huge donation towards her fundraising goal. So I spoke with her yesterday after reading this message...

Crazy, right?! YES LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - MY BEST FRIEND WAS SELECTED IN THE LOTTERY! You would've thought she won the actual mega millions lottery. She is so excited! And out of the goodness of her heart, she will STILL raise money to BEAT CANCER and I will be doing the same. While she's training for the NYC Marathon, I will be training for the Marine Corps Marathon and I will be raising money to donate to the American Cancer Society to BEAT CANCER!!!!

Honestly, I would much rather go to New York to do my duty as an awesome spectator. There is NOTHING like spectating at the NYC Marathon. I will proudly cheer on my best friend as she battles through 26.2 miles through her city's streets and make sure that she trains smart before getting to the start line. So that's the story folks.

Time to get to work! WOOHOO!!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I can swim & I'm no longer bike-ignorant!

I guess swim lessons DO work. I am a swimmer. The last swim class took place on April 14th and I swam 900 meters. I actually completed consecutive laps. I worked on my arm form and practiced my was awesome!

Last week, I also went bike shopping. I immersed myself in bike knowledge..learned about components, gears, chains, tires, frame materials, etc. Walked away feeling excited and overwhelmed. I narrowed it down to these two babies:

Jamis Ventura Comp
and the

Trek Lexa SL
But as time went on, I began to consider the option of simply renting one or the other until I know I'm sure that I'm buying the right one. There's really no rush! So there you have it... making progress with the swimming aaaand learning a thing or two about bikes. Running is still my #1 love. I have a couple of races coming up in the next two weeks. If I pull this off, I will be eligible for Half Fanatic membership. Keeping my *fingers crossed* that I make it to the start line and cross the finish line in one piece!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Back on the Road

I'm back on the long run journey after injury. Yesterday, I went out for an 11 mile run around the airport and let me tell ya' it was NOT easy. I still have the miles on my legs from marathon training and I definitely proved it to myself by completing the Rock 'n' Roll DC Half and the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. But the mental focus was gone! I had my new phone with me and I found myself stopping to fidget with it a little more than I needed to.

I also had a moment at mile 4 where I looked down at my Garmin and thought "Really!? I only covered 4 miles?!" Who have I become? What happened to the fearless and slightly certifiable young lady who ran EIGHTEEN MILES on the treadmill? ON THE TREADMILL!!

I went into this run thinking, "It's only 11 miles... I ran 10 just last week." I was physically prepared, for sure... but the mental preparation was lacking. My body is back in the game...I guess I have to get my head back in the game too.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Swimming classes are coming to an end...

My seven weeks of swimming classes are coming to an end. We have about 2 or 3 weeks left and that's it! I can't swim in freestyle for more than one and a half strokes without coming up for air and spitting out water...BUT, on the plus side, I can float like a champ and complete TWO uninterrupted laps while doing the backstroke. That is progress, folks.

I can also dive (roll/dive) into the deep end and make my way to the 12.5 yd mark without freaking out and without the assistance of the lifeguard. Registration will be opening for the second session of aquatics classes soon and I have mixed feelings about registering for part 2 of my swim course.

I don't know if I'm ready to move to part 2, but I feel like I'm more advanced than the introductory level of part 1. So now I'm thinking about getting private lessons. Part of my anxiety and frustration comes with me feeling like the weakling in the class. I'm not as advanced as my classmates who can hold conversations while treading water and swim multiple laps in freestyle. However, I know I can do better if I had concentrated attention to help me tweak my form and correct minor mistakes that have kept me from building a completely solid base.

I only get four lessons with the private swim instructor option but it's four concentrated lessons. That might be more effective. We shall see...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Giddy with thoughts of grandeur

Is it just me or do you feel like this when you register for a race or when you consider taking on a new challenge, a new sport, a new distance?

It's like a rush of giddiness and excitement! Then once you hit that "submit" button or finish mapping out that training plan, you are overcome with "WHAT DID I JUST DO?!?"

It's not really remorse or anything. It's more like knowing you just reached the top of a hill...the hill being a previous challenge. And out of boredom, or fear of being complacent, you seek a NEW goal, a NEW challenge... then after you zone in on it, you sign up and then look at the NEW hill that lies ahead.

Are we overachievers? Gluttons for punishment? What is it?

I arrived at this post because in a previous post, I mentioned my desire to compete in a triathlon. For some reason, we don't have a lot of sprint triathlons here in Maryland. Most of them are in the spring and there are none in the fall. I did a little bit of searching around and chose an olympic distance triathlon to tentatively work towards. I'm not a strong swimmer and figured if I could arrive at the point where there is some potential for me to master at least one swimming technique, then I would go forward with registering for it.

I shared this with my Dailymile friends and one of my more experienced buddies mentioned that a sprint triathlon would serve me much better. This stuck with me and for once, I turned off my taurian stubbornness and heeded to her advice. I knew that if I chose to compete in a sprint triathlon, I would have to look elsewhere. I started my search and happened upon the Atlantic City International Triathlon.

I read some great reviews about the race and did some research on the course. It's a fun course with a quick and calm 1/4 mile swim, a flat and fast 10 mile bike ride, and a nice flat 3.1 mile run along the boardwalk. The race is on September 15, 2012...the day before the Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon.

Where most people see a conflict, I see an opportunity for an epic solution. Not to mention I'm a planner who sometimes uses her skills for evil. So once I saw this, my brain started working, and I did a little research...

...and found a way to do both. Now, I just need a bike...a minor technicality.

The rush I get from all of this planning and prepping for the next big challenge is indescribable.

I've been this way my entire life though... from getting in the engineering program at my undergraduate university, to grad school, to getting into prestigious organizations, to getting that promotion, ...I'm a freak when it comes to challenges and a fein for that rush.

Do you get super excited when it comes to new challenges or just nervous? Do you seek new challenges or stick with your comfort zone?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cherry Blossom Ten Miler Race Recap

Today I ran in the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in Washington, DC. I didn't know much about the race when I decided to enter the lottery. I simply saw an announcement on line that the lottery was open and it was free to enter, so I did. I didn't think anything of it until the day I received a confirmation email telling me that I was selected to run! Crazy...

So today was the day! The night before, I casually skimmed some of the information I picked up at the expo and saw something about bag check closing at 7:05 a.m. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30. So, the morning of the race, I left home at 6 a.m. with no real plan of action other than to get to the metro station as fast as possible. It took about 45 minutes to get to the metro station and I kind of knew that between the ride and the walk to bag check that I simply wouldn't have enough time to make the cut off (which I later learned was not strictly enforced), so I adjusted my plan and packed as many must-have items on me as possible.

I hopped on the metro and arrived to the race site at around 7:20 a.m. and proceeded to do whatever was necessary, outside of body surfing, to get through the MASSIVE crowd to the 11:00 min/mi pace group. I only got as far as the 10:30 min/mi pace group. Since things went so well for me at the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, I figured I would try running with a pace group again. So we started and I stayed calm the entire time. I felt good...never really developed a strategy. I just ran by feel and tried to keep it consistent. I didn't expect anything better than 11:30 min/mi pace given the fact that I haven't been running and "training" the way I used to with tempo runs, speed work, long runs, etc. But I surprisingly warmed up at a 10:45 min/mi pace and eased into a 10:30 min/mi pace while only taking a couple of walk breaks.

The weather was perfect! Overcast, consistently cool and in the mid 40s with little to no wind. The course was flat with the exception of some minor inclines and some bumpy roads where I had to watch my step so I didn't roll my ankle. I started to slow around mile 6 and took a couple of walk breaks to give myself some time to recover. I promised myself that I would listen to my body first and foremost and that's what I did. It was for the best because then I was able to pick up the pace and maintain it until the end. I finished strong and felt fine I could keep running. I didn't feel any pain and I wasn't overly hungry or thirsty.

The race was organized well. Volunteers were AWESOME and so were the crowds. I didn't take pictures on this one but a couple of my favorite signs read "Even though there are no cherry blossoms, you runners are still awesome!" "Keep going, don't stop!" "<--That's What She Said" lol I even had the opportunity to meet up with some great Dailymilers and we all went out to breakfast afterwards. It was a great day! In the end, I walked away with an awesome medal to add to the collection.

I think it's time to look into ordering a medal display. My little makeshift area is running out of space!