Mad Marathon, Run It If You Can

Most notable for its hills, the Mad Marathon was definitely a seriously challenging race course. Given it’s held in ski country, I’ll assign it a “Black Diamond”, for most difficult due to hills and heat. Right from the start with the super steep hill (30% grade? I don’t know, but it felt that) from miles 2 to 3, the Mad organizer didn’t waste time in making sure runners knew straight away to beg for mercy as you run uphill.

Only the hills made me wonder why I didn’t think twice about signing up for the second year in a row. Out of 33 marathons to date, this is only the second one I have repeated. Soon as I got up that first monster of a hill that kicked my butt first thing, I looked around, and then remembered why I wanted to run it again and why I’ll probably run again next year: the scenery is stunning. It really might be the world’s most beautiful marathon (or it’s a close second to the Shires of Vermont from Bennington to Manchester, Mad has some neighborly competition). As a skier, I felt a little like I was running in a shrine. Hail to the Gods of Skiing! Reminiscing about ski season and thinking snowy thoughts actually helped me feel cool. Running along wide ridge lines on this hot day (low 80s maybe), I stared in awe at the rolling landscape green mountain farms, wide open valleys, and majestic views of Sugarbush Ski Resort.

How lucky I am to run here. How lucky I am to live here. The race was in Waitsfield, Vermont, only 2 ½ hours from home, a reasonable day trip ride that is gorgeous and scenic. This morning I watched the sunrise on the way up. It was certainly an advantage to sleep at home, even though it meant waking up at 3:00, and hitting the road within a half hour.

There was a crowd at the start of a thousand or so, I think, at least 4 times as many half-marathoners as there were full marathoners; the field shrank to a few hundred where the full parted from the half. I never lost sight of a runner in front or behind me, but I was somewhat alone while running until the half course rejoined the full in the last 3 miles. I passed many walking half-marathoners. It was quite the jolt to pass a lot of people in miles 23, 24, 25, each pass propelled me a little more to finish strong.

Mad has a great course design with a few out and backs, a loop, and eventually returning to finish near the start. It was easy to follow and roads were closed to traffic, plus it’s rural so basically I had the road to myself and I could run right down the middle. Last year it wasn’t completely closed to traffic, so this year it was much nicer.

Once again, I ran unplugged, no music, no phone, no GPS. I’m starting to like running races without headphones. I think this has something to do with ending my races strong and with remaining energy. Listening to music drains calories by keeping the brain active, I don’t enjoy the company of other runners as much when listening to music, I don’t pace myself evenly when listening to music, and my breathing is inconsistent. I feel I’m doing better in my last couple of races in part because I’m tuning into the sounds around me instead of music. Amazing how up until very recently I wouldn’t even consider running alone without music and now I’m doing full marathons without music and I prefer it. Weird.

Probably the most memorable part of this race was that my boyfriend Chris was there. We have run 4 marathons together, but this was the first time he came to support, in fact, it was the first time he watched a marathon at all. He drove me up there and back, which in itself, being chauffeured was a treat, especially on the way home. He took pictures and cheered me off at the start. I anticipated and looked for him at every spectator zone and even though I didn’t see him, it still gave me energy and motivation to run harder to the next. Later on I found out that he had trouble finding the course through all the road closures. Vermont is good for not having easy to find or navigate alternate routes. I didn’t finally see him until the 23rd mile. I saw him at the top of a very steep hill. I saw him just in time because I was about to walk for the first time in the second half of the race (which is sabotage to a great race time, walking once gives permission to walk twice and so on, PR out the window).

Seeing Chris when I was about to give in to walking gave me a second wind. I charged up the hill. “How’s it going, honey?” he asked while pointing his video camera right on me. “I want it to be over!” I huffed. “You’re doing great! Want some watermelon?” he passes me a baggie of the fruit he diced the night before. “There are so many hills!” was my reply. I couldn’t stomach much food.  It was quite the boost the entire race to anticipate seeing Chris somewhere along the course and again at the finish. There aren’t many races that I can say I ran the last 10K like it was the first 10K, and Mad Marathon is one of those for me! Considering the hills, finishing strong is a big deal and I owe a lot of that to Chris’s support. After seeing him at mile 23 when I was already done in my head, it made me run that much faster to the finish so that I can be finished and to hang with Chris.

Mad Marathon is a few minutes from Mad River Glen, a ski resort with a >2,000 foot vertical drop, narrow trails, and average of 150 inches of snow fall annually and most of it is left ungroomed and natural. Mad River Glen is one of the most challenging ski resorts in the northeast. Compared to other resorts, the entirety of Mad River Glen could be considered a black diamond. Its slogan is “Ski it if you can.” Considering the hills at Mad Marathon, and the audacity of the race to be held in July’s sweltering heat, it is a black diamond compared to other marathon courses and I will say the same thing about Mad Marathon, run it if you can. I can and did, for the second time, and with the support of my amazing boyfriend, Chris, I shaved 24 minutes off of last year’s time (of 4:34:37) to finish this year with my 3rd best time ever of 4:10:33 and placing second in my age group. Now that was a great day!

Great Finish!

Great Finish!

Double Metals YES!Two medals!

FAQ: Are your joints okay?

How do your knees feel? Don’t your hips hurt? Are your ankles going to stop working? Do you worry about your joints? Will your toes break off if you run too much? Well, maybe I don’t hear the last one too often, but I do get questions about my joints frequently, and as recently as yesterday. When asked yesterday, “how are your knees, any pain?” by my friend, Jeff, a cross-fit guru, I answered “fine” and I went on about how everything is okay. There wasn’t time to fully explain, and I know people wonder, so here I go…

First a disclosure: I’m no super woman. Today I ran only 10.25 miles. So short compared to the 15 or 16 I’ve done in recent weekend long runs. I’m slowing down slightly, I have the Catamout Half next weekend and Mad Marathon the following, so 10 is just the right distance for today. Yesterday I did 7 and the day before I ran 9, so I had a few extra miles on me. Whereas Chris, my loving, patient, energetic, and 2+ days rested boyfriend was cranking on the run like it was nothing. I was slow to start, then sluggish, then I fell and scraped my hand and thigh, then I walked for so long, and had to pee and couldn’t find a bush, and then I was slow to get going again, and wanted to dip my feet in the West River at the halfway point and he just asked if we could turn around and run back immediately, then I walked a hill… you get the point… some days it’s real effort.

By saying my joints really do feel fine, I don’t mean to say that this is easy. It is hard work to run so much, but I’m not hurting because of it. I get fatigued sometimes, like today. At worst, I occasionally get injured, but that’s different from really stressing my joints, which I know I’m not doing -I would feel it, I’m sure. The secret? I think it’s because I eat well. I believe that you are what you eat and so I pick the best foods and particular strategic foods for what I need at certain times.

Protein and carbs immediately after a long run or race, hydrate with electrolytes during and after intense workouts, vitamins B6 and B12, iron, calcium, and more as often as possible, etc. I’ve been picking up on ‘what to eat and when’ info for a long time. It’s worth subscribing to health magazines and online blog subscriptions. An article or two here and there over the years led to an accumulation of valuable tidbits on some really easy things to tweak in my diet and it’s those simple little things I do (like adding ginger to scrambled eggs, turmeric to tuna fish, cinnamon and flax seed to oatmeal) that reduce inflammation, promote healing and recovery, and from day to day and hard workout after hard workout, if you take care of yourself you’d be surprised what you can do, how much you can do.

Not to mention, studies show, and I can personally attest to this being true for me too, that running is not bad for your joints. I can’t make this argument as well as some great bloggers, like DaneRunsAlot, so I won’t try, I’ll just say that runners aren’t getting the arthritis, cartilage and whatnot issues that you’d think. Maybe it’s counter intuitive, but the saying goes ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ -not the other way around.

32 marathons later and when asked are my joints okay I say “fine” and that really is the truth. Hard to believe, clearly because I’m asked often, but it really is true.

Praying to The God of Running

The Branford Road Race on the Connecticut shoreline has been a father’s day tradition for my family for several years. My mother really enjoyed the 2-mile fitness walk that coincides with the race and the festival that highlights the entire weekend. The family house is around the corner from the Branford Green, the center of all the festivities. I never lived there long, moving in around age 16, after my father retired from the Marine Corps, and out within a couple years. It never felt like my childhood home, but it does feel like a family home-base of sorts because my mother was there for all the years of my adulthood until she passed. Running that race and spending the afternoon at the house brings back a medley of memories that resurfaces how I got started in running and why I keep running. In a way, running the Branford Road Race felt like I was paying tribute to the God(dess?) of Running.

Right before the start of the race I did a very long warm-up jog that crossed the parking lot of St. Mary’s Church. I’m an atheist now, but was raised as a very confused Catholic (with an excellent public education in evolution, astronomy, and the sciences in general) and spending a lot of time sitting in pews wondering where’s the logic and all of this is way beyond reasonable doubt. My mother was Catholic, not devout, but rather Catholic-for-the-record. If she actually believed, I couldn’t tell that it came from a place of genuine faith and love. I think she went to church because she felt guilt that she had to and fear if she did not. St. Mary’s is the last church I ever went to and the last mass I went to was for my mother. When I left the church and swore off religion I felt that I was also letting go of whatever people called spiritually (traditionally defined as a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals). Religious spiritually is something I’ve never personally felt and didn’t quite get what people meant by it until running.

When I run it feels like praying, when I race it feels like church worship, and I go through a process of personal transformation in accordance with a healthy lifestyle and running ideals. The Branford Road Race felt like how being in church should have felt. By pushing myself to run faster, concentrate harder, breath calmly, keep consistent cadence, I learn more about my real self, I dip into memories, analyze my personality, contemplate who I am, what I want to be, how I feel, and what I think. I’m more self-aware and present in the moment when running than at any other time. The act of running gives me a sense of being and purpose that I never felt from religion. Running in a field of thousands of other runners gives me a sense of community, belonging, and acceptance unlike I’ve ever felt in a church. And all of this admiration and appreciation for running races began about 10 years ago, before I was a runner, when a seed was planted in my head as I curiously watched the finish line of The Branford Road Race for the first time and desired to feel the same yin-yang exhaustion-peace like what I saw on the faces of the finishers. I had only a glimpse that day of what later became my saving grace.

I walked to the start with my family, but we quickly lost each other in the chaos surrounding race day registration and packet pickup. The crowd was thick and I needed to breath so with almost a half hour to the start, I went for a warm-up jog that extended to a couple miles long. The race started a little bit late of its 10:15 scheduled time. The sun was blazing and I was already sweating from my warm up. I was energized, hydrated, and loose, though maybe slightly fatigued coming off a 15-mile slow training run the day before, but I didn’t feel it. The road race is a popular one with locals and has an excellent spectator turn out. Most of the course had cheers coming from both sides and bands scattered throughout. Several residents had their sprinklers watering the pavement relieving runners from the sweltering sun as they danced through the water drops. Little kids had their candy-sticky hands out for enthusiastic high-5s. Adults had alien blowup dolls hands out for close encounters of the third kind. The course entertainment and support is about as great as it ever could be in a 5-mile race! There were so many runners, a couple thousand I would guess, and our collective adrenaline could be felt powering us all practically in unison around corners and up hills. We are runners together in a race, yet individuals in a personal quest to conquer our own fears and doubts in running and in life.

I really wanted to finish under 40 minutes! In fact, I had my heart set on 37:30, about a minute better than my best in this race. It was wishful thinking, and a bit unrealistic with a long run the day before. But I gave it a try and held onto a 7:30 pace for the first 2 miles, but I slowed down in the third mile as the race ran past the shore and the wind picked up. Then came a mild hill climb (mild compared to Brattleboro hills), followed by another, and another, and by the third hill climb, I was far off pace and too tired to catch up. I didn’t care, I was enjoying the race anyhow. It’s nice to shoot for a grand time goal, but the real goal is to enjoy myself, which I did. I finished with 40:56 on the clock and with total exhaustion and peace!

Whether I finish first, last, or anywhere in between, I always end every race with an awakening of inner peace that sticks with me until the next. Racing reminds me that I’m a capable, confident, amazing person and I can rise above any circumstance and triumph by calling upon the collection of inner strengths I’ve built though running. It is because of this that I am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been, and I have more to give to others. Running’s transformative impact ignites spiritually in me better than religion ever could. This is why I ran right past a church to find my meaning of life in a road race. May the God of Running be with you all.

This week in running

Driving to work this morning I had my hand on the top of my steering wheel and my arm at a ninety degree angle and while I was making a left hand turn and my arm came over the wheel, I caught a glimpse of my nicely cut bicep and triceps. It made me smile with a sense of accomplishment in much the same way as I would when I would stand back from a 5,000 piece puzzle after putting the last piece in place and look gratifyingly at my masterpiece that I slaved over for so long. I put a lot of hard work, dedication, discipline, sacrifice, sweat, sometimes blood, and the occasional tear into working out and I feel that all pays off when I’m rewarded by moments of satisfaction and accomplishment when I look at myself. It makes all the hard runs worth it.

I reflected on the past week in running… I added up 34 miles, plus a long hike, and including a half marathon. I felt sluggish for Friday’s 7 and Saturday’s hike, so I was surprised when I finish the Crowley Half Marathon in Rutland, VT in 1:58 on a sunny, hot day with little shade, and over rolling hills, without music to keep me entertained or a GPS watch to keep me on pace. Anticipating my good friend, Chuck, and my boyfriend, Chris, at the finish supporting me in a race for the first time was my motivation to run as fast as I could. That and we were going to lunch after.

To some degree, I attribute the energy comeback on Sunday morning to a new pre-race smoothie concoction I’ve been tweaking over months to arrive at the perfect combination of ingredients for delivering ones best performance. Try this at home: blend at high speed 1 tablespoon each of hemp protein power, bee pollen, and chia seeds, plus 1/2 cup each of blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, a handful of fresh spinach, a teaspoon or two of honey, and cup or two coconut water. Natural foods so good it gives superhuman powers!

Seeing results makes me feel motivated to do more, so planned out this week’s workouts in my head for the rest of the ride into work: 6 tonight, bike tomorrow, 7 on Wednesday, hike Thursday, 16 on Friday, 6 on Saturday, 5 mile race on Sunday. It’s perfect! Hopefully I stick to it! Summer running season is kicking off for me quite nicely. I hope the same for everyone else!

National Running Day is This Wednesday!

Did you know? Since 2009, “runners everywhere declare their passion for running”* annually on the first Wednesday of June, known as National Running Day. It’s a “coast-to-coast celebration of running and a collaboration with top U.S. running organizations to promote running as a healthy and accessible form of exercise”. Running USA’s CEO Rich Harshbarger says it’s also, “a platform to invite and encourage new runners to take their first steps to fitness and kick off a life-changing commitment.”*

Incidentally, I began running in 2009, only it was sometime in the fall. I might have started thinking about running in June. I didn’t declare a “passion” for it until maybe late 2010. I made the “life-changing commitment” to running probably in early 2011. Not that that makes a difference, but rather the point is that transforming from non-runner to passionate, committed runner took time. One day I thought about running, another day I began running, and eventually it became a passion, then it became a commitment. It didn’t happen overnight for me, and it definitely didn’t happen on the first Wednesday in June, but it did happen.

It’s easy for runners to celebrate their love of running on National Running Day! They participate in group runs, register for a race, make new running goals, think about running, wish they were running, grateful that they run, or planning to run. Me? I’m going to go to Red Rover Clovers Running Club in Brattleboro (for locals, it’s on Upper Dummerston Rd meeting at 6:15pm). It’s what I would do this Wednesday evening anyway though. So, not really hard to find a way to celebrate when it pretty much means doing what I already do; I celebrate running 4-5 times a week.

Encouraging runners to run on National Running Day is a little like encouraging non-smokers to not smoke on National Smokeout Day. It’s a call to action for the smokers to stop smoking, and not really for non-smokers to keep not smoking (though I’m sure they want that too!) Let’s make National Running Day about the non-runners. I think that it could be thought of as a call to action for non-runners to give it a go, if only for the one day. And, hopefully, that one day of trying out running will plant a seed that will one day convert the non-runner into a runner, later into a passionate runner, and later after that into a committed lifetime runner.

How can non-runners celebrate National Running Day? Think about running, look up running, check into a local race, consider going for a run, watch a group run, watch runners at a high school track, or actually run, run again, or run for the first time. Discover for yourself how simple, easy, affordable, and fun running can be. Maybe if you start thinking about it now, you’ll run later. But, even if you just think about it on National Running Day, I think that’s still an achievement as you have opened your mind to something new, and opening your mind to running is the best celebration of National Running Day that I can think of, much better than an already-a-runner thinking about running.

Now, if you are already a running addict, and want to go over the top for National Running Day, check out the website http://www.runningday.org/. There are tons of suggestions for really showing your running spirit: track your mileage through charitymiles.org, get customizable digital badges for your Facebook page, find group runs, start group runs, find races, and more.

Happy National Running to All, runners and non-runners!

*From “Sixth Annual National Running Day Set for Wednesday, June 4″; Source: Running USA; 6/1/14; http://www.runningusa.org/natl-running-day-2014?returnTo=main

irunbecause

Music, necessary or not?

Up until very recently I couldn’t fathom going for a run alone without music. It just didn’t cross my mind. In fact, the very thought of it made me nervous. I didn’t think I’d like a run without music. The two were so closely associated in my mind that I felt disoriented when thinking of running without music. I could probably count on one hand how many times I’ve been on a solo training run without music. I have run 55 races to date, 8 I ran from beginning to end with another person who kept me motivated and entertained. For the rest of the races I ran the course alone and only 4 of those have been without music, 3 of which were among my last 4 races. This extreme dependency on music for running makes me rather surprised that I had an enlightened moment while running a half marathon unplugged about six weeks ago. It was like a spiritual experience or an intellectual awakening. I think I’m ebbing on converting to a purist, unplugged runner. Are the sounds of nature the new soundtrack for my runs?

In the second mile of my second marathon (in October of 2010) my headphones stopped working. At first I was frustrated, and then I was scared. I didn’t think I could make it that far completely on my own, nothing to keep me motivated and moving. But, it was the Marine Corps Marathon and the streets were lined with crowds up to 5 or 6 people deep. They were screaming and yelling for the runners. The course was lined with entertainment from beginning to end as well. I did not miss the music at all. On the contrary, I was grateful the headphones broke so that I could really take in the Capital City marathon experience. That was the first and the last time running alone without music until 6 weeks ago.

The forecast for the Moose on the Loose Half Marathon on April 13th was for sunny skies and warm temps. I registered for it only 2 days in advance when the weather was predicted to be lovely. On my way to the race I shuttered when rain drops sprinkled on my windshield. A passing shower I thought. A few minutes before the start it was a steady, light rainfall and I’m sitting in my car debating whether to take the music and risk the player getting wet and breaking, or don’t run at all, or reluctantly run without music. A wet run without music sounded like an awful time on a race course, but it was a 2 loop course and I drove 90 minutes to be there, so I figured I should at least start the race and see what happens, I could drop after the first loop if I really wanted to. I finished and I set a personal record for a half marathon running a negative split (57:49 in first half and 53:21 in the second half for a total of 1:51:08, which is an 8:29 pace). Super fast for me, but the best part was it was also a rather comfortable run, somewhat meditative, and totally relaxing. I was taken aback by how nice the run was without music. I wondered if my stellar performance had anything to do with that.

A couple weeks later a similar situation occurred. I was at the start of the Race for the Reason 10k when my MP3 player wouldn’t start up. It was a soggy morning from down pours the night before and it looked like it wanted to rain some more. Again, I was faced with a choice: run unplugged or don’t run at all, either way it would be wet and presumably uncomfortable. This was a very hilly race and I ran it in 50:50, which is an 8:11 pace. I felt great the whole way through! I kept a nice tempo pace most of the race, even over the hills. I was alone on wet, muddy, dirt roads in the hills of my local town. I could hear every foot fall, puddle splash, bird chirps, and wind gust through the trees. It was somewhat spiritual. I was connected to my body and to the environment. It was wonderful! And I was fast!

Those two rainy race days I thought were isolated instances until one race day, this past Sunday, when I had a choice. I was sitting in my car before boarding the bus to the start of the Shires of Vermont Marathon. The power button on my MP3 player doesn’t work and it needs to be plugged into an outlet to turn on. I could do it then, there was an outlet in the building near the bus, but then the player would run out of power before the end of the race as the race wasn’t starting for another 2 hours. I was also annoyed with the tangled headphone wires. This music bit was more of a hassle than I cared to be bothered with so I ditched the music in my car and recalled my last two music-less races; I decided this would be a more enjoyable experience without it. I was right. Again, this was a more relaxing and comfortable race than usual, especially for a marathon. I enjoyed the scenery more, I was aware of sounds, I heard the spectators on the course, listened to other runners. My breathing was consistent throughout, and my footfalls perfectly matched my pace. Without music I was more engaged with my surroundings and more connected to my body and this is why running felt better.

The USATF strongly discourages headphones during races and disqualifies you for prizes if headphones are worn. From what I understand, this is mostly for safety reasons, so runners can hear directions from officials, traffic, thunder, or an attacking dog. Some serious runners wouldn’t dream of running with music, it ruins the pure experience of running. I agree, to some degree. With music I’m in a bubble blocking out all external stimuli. Whereas it does make running feel easier, it keeps me moving, and often gives me a super charge when I need it most for speed to pass or energy to climb a hill, it also disconnects me from everything else, including the run itself.

Some people think that running with music makes you faster, go farther, and in general, run better. This article, “Can Music Make You a Better Runner?“, by Matt Fitzgerald on Active.com, really puts the silver lining on it. But, there are so many pros and cons to running with music. Two experts have it out in this article, “Running With Music, Two sides of a very hot topic“, by Adam Bean, on Runners World. There are a lot of studies and expert advice out there on running and music and it’s my personal opinion that whether or not to run with music is not a question for the experts, but a question for the runner. Do you want it? Do you need it to run?

I used to “need” it to run or I would be bored, so I thought. In the beginning I “needed” it in order to run -because I wouldn’t run without it. But it turns out that I don’t “need” it, not anymore. Running is enjoyable on its own merit and without added entertainment. Maybe I needed it once for motivation, but I’m self-motivated to run now and there’s no running drudgery that I have to work past like there was in the beginning. It feels free and liberating to run without music. My thoughts are more fluid and my mind is clear. I think that it’s less stimulating to run without music and that’s why I had more energy to push longer and faster in the races I ran without it. I’m not going to completely convert to a purist runner without music, but I am going to be much more open to running without music than I have been before. I found some ideas on how to maximize my music-free runs from “How to Run Without Music, Tips for Beating Boredom“, by Christine Luff on About.com. Brainstorming, focus on the workout, solve problems, observe surroundings… lots to do, boredom not inevitable.

As I grow as a runner I find my preferences change too. If you are a runner tethered to your headphones I encourage you to try a run or two without and see what it’s like. You might be surprised like me to find that in some ways it’s better, and on race days it might even be the secret ingredient to a personal record. Good luck!

Shires of Vermont

Shires of Vermont is my new favorite marathon! I ran from Bennington, Vermont to Manchester, Vermont this morning in 4:25:57. The course was a tiny bit longer than the standard distance, at a total distance of 26.5 according to my watch and mapmyrun.com. But I’m just thinking that’s more for my money. And it’s time to run an ultra. It was a 100% scenic course fully loaded with hills and lined with delightful volunteers and entertainers at the summits of many challenging climbs, Scottish bag pipes, drummer, singing guitarist, a cheering squad, no shortage of motivation when it was needed most. Yet there was plenty of solitude as well with a small field of 370 runners.

I did this race without music or my camera. I had a feeling that I would enjoy it most if all I did was take it in. I was right, this was running in God’s Country (as my father would put it), in which case I should just be in awe of that, no need for a soundtrack to go with it, no interruptions of running to photograph the view, just enjoying it –and going fast. This was something of a spiritual experience, running through incredible beauty.

This is my fastest of 6 marathons this year and considering all the hills, I’m really feeling exceptionally good about my performance. I hardly walked, just through a few water stations and a little bit on some of the hills. For the most part, I was slow often in the last 10K, but strong and steady jogging. I ate honey at miles 5, 10, and 15. This was the second time I tried that and I’m feeling like it might be that little sweet difference that gets me through to the end. I like that the honey is natural sugar. However, it’s difficult to carry and to open while running, so I need to work on the strategy, but it’s a good one.

Awesome morning! I’m doing this race every year! Incredible!

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The medal is really nice too, very Vermonty.medal

 

 

 

 

 

On The Agenda

I’ve got great racing plans in the works and I’m right on target to run a total of 12 this year, which means my 38th marathon will be a few weeks before my 38th birthday. I’ve got Shires of Vermont coming up this Sunday in Bennington. Then the Mad Marathon in Waitsfield, Vermont on July 6. Followed by the most recent addition, and my 25th state, will be Nevada AND my boyfriend, Chris, will travel with me for that one. Our first destination race! I think he likes me <3. This is so exciting!

I first learned about this race a couple of years ago and last year I obsessively watched flights to Las Vegas hoping to get out there at a reasonable cost. But the price crept up and I never got to the race. This year Chris wants to do it and an adventure like this with him is worth every penny and every minute of lost sleep.

Full Moon E.T. Marathon on August 10 at midnight (between the 9th and 10th) in Rachel, Nevada (about 2.5 hours north of Las Vegas in the desert at 4,900 to 5,600 feet elevation). The race takes place on Highway 51, notorious for the most alien sightings! Glow lights will be provided. Cows may obstruct runners on the road. We’ll be flying out the morning of the race and flying back right after it. 2 days, 1 night, 1 marathon, 0 sleep, ? aliens!
It will be hard to top Nevada, but I will try.

After Nevada, I’m planning on (though not yet registered for) the Clarence deMar in Keene, NH on September 28, New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol on October 4, the Hambletonian in Goshen, NY on October 19, and the last and 12th of the year will likely be the Miles Standish in Plymouth, MA on November 16.

 

 

Pure Exhaustion

I think the reason I love running marathons so much is it makes me feel alive to feel totally exhausted, sore and achy. There’s a masochist in me, I suppose. I used to be somewhat self-destructive to meet this need to feel alive by feeling anything. There’s something amazing that happens within when I push myself to the edge, when I feel close to dead, but know I’m not. That’s the edge. That moment when you know you are as deep in act as possible, and that makes anything possible. Running through aches, pains, sore muscles, tired muscles, lactic acid build up, strains, fatigue, exhaustion, eventually numbness, dizziness, confusion, this is the edge, but I’m alive. I knowing I gave it my all because I feel I have nothing left. The Holyoke Marathon yesterday was exactly this. I was about as tired and fatigued as I have ever been! And it felt great!

The Holyoke Marathon started out easy for me. The first ten miles included 2.5 loops around Whiting Reservoir where I hosted my first race as a race director. It was a bit nostalgic and very familiar. I ran this exact race last year and this is the first time I’ve repeated a race. It was really nice to know what was ahead the whole time. I kept a perfect 9:15 pace for almost 16 miles before I slowed down right before a hill. After the reservoir, it was scenic residential neighborhoods until the last 4 or so miles, which were gradual uphill climb on Route 5 leading into an extremely steep half mile crawl to the finish. I stared at the ground mostly in those last few miles so I’m glad there was nothing to look at or I’d feel like I missed out.

I watched my time carefully. Usually I shoot for a sub-4, but considering how my first 4 marathons this year were all over 5 hours (1 over 7 hours!) I just wanted to be sub-5. And if I could do that, I’d be even happier to beat last year’s time on this course of 4:33:49. When I fell off my 9:15 pace it became something of a mission to just be fast enough to finish under 4:30. From miles 16 to 21 it was quite the effort to make myself move, forget run. I wanted to pass out and take a nap so badly. I didn’t hurt, I was just beat! And since I knew what was ahead, I knew I was in for a torture session with the hill climb finale.

As I turned the corner onto Route 5 and began the rough hill climb, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of support on the course and if not for that I doubt I’d have finished at my goal time. Last year there were only about 75 participants and I was alone almost the entire course as there were very few spectators and other runners. This year a local non-profit, Griffin’s Friends (supports kids with cancer), choose this race as its host for a fundraiser drive. Griffin has a lot of friends! There were all out there and they were cheering for all the runners, not just their own. Around mile 22, I got a shout out from one of their supporters on the sidelines. She recognized me from Run for Malawi last fall. For a moment, I felt like a celebrity. And the interaction revived me and I maintained a moderate pace for about a mile and a half after that before slowing down again. I was half way up the steep hill to the finish when I reduced to a walk and just as I did this dude in his truck yelled, “run, you got this!”. I broke into a final sprint up the hill, through the finish line in 4:28:07, and past the finish line. A volunteer had to tell me I could stop running. Then I did and the dizziness caught up to me. I practically fell down.

Within minutes of finishing and after a few swigs of Gatorade, I was back to life and commemorating another finish with a few quick pictures. But, I couldn’t wait to get to bed! I have never been so tired in my life, or at least I can’t remember the last time I wanted to sleep that badly. Pure exhaustion is the nicest part of running a marathon. It makes me feel alive to feel almost dead.

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The Science of Marathon Running

It’s the eve before my 31st marathon and it’s so nice to be at home for a change. Tomorrow I’m running the Holyoke Marathon, a.k.a. The Race of Champions, and a.k.a. The Walter Childs Memorial Marathon – I guess they couldn’t decide on a name. I’m sitting here with my carb-loading veggie-lovers pizza and surfing for inspiration on YouTube when I came across this golden nugget of the biology of running a marathon. So much science… it will take 26 miles to digest the mitochondria, ATP, myosin, Krebs cycle, glycogen, and whatnot – this video scrambled my brain. To all the nay-sayers, I probably couldn’t regurgitate these brilliant details, but I did get the point that indeed we are made to run far. Just gotta beat the worst enemy out there, your own mind. This video brings truth to how running a marathon is more of a mental sport than a physical one.