Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon Race Recap

Well, folks, I did it: 26.2 miles on my 26th birthday. Now I can go ahead and cross that item off my bucket list.

The Fox Valley Marathon takes place in the far western suburbs along the Fox River, starting and finishing in St. Charles and taking runners through St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, and Aurora. In addition to the full marathon, the race also has a half marathon and a 20 miler, as the race happens to perfectly coincide when Chicago Marathon runners should be doing 20 miles. Unless, of course, you are this Chicago Marathon runner, who decided to throw caution to the wind and run the whole darn thing three weeks before race day, too.

The race had several packet pickup options which I, as a carless city dweller, really appreciated. You could pick up your packet at Fleet Feet in Old Town the week before the race (which I did), attend the expo in the ‘burbs on Friday or Saturday, or pay a $30 fee to pick up your packet on race day, which I would have done if the city option hadn’t been available. But since it was, I went with that choice.

foxvalleymarathonpacket

Outside of the Chicago Marathon, I think this is the first time anyone has actually checked my ID when I picked up a race packet, but that seemed to be pretty par for the course for this race. The attention to detail, from top to finish, was absolutely unparalleled. I don’t have any complaints about the organization of the Chicago Marathon–I think that event, at least in my experience, runs like a well-oiled machine–but I was blown away by Fox Valley. For example, each race was color coded–green for the half, orange for the 20, blue for the full–and that color coding ran through the entire event. Your packet pickup bag (which also served as your gear check bag), your bib, your medal’s ribbon color, the arrows on the course, the mileage signs on the course: everything’s color reflected the appropriate race distance (except at the places on the course where all three events shared the same course. Then everything was blue.). The race-provided guides were also so detailed and so helpful. I was seriously so, so impressed, and would recommend this race to anyone based on that alone.

I try not to worry too much about race day forecasts, because if anything is an exercise in futility, it’s worry about race day forecasts. Nevertheless, I almost always end up worrying about race day forecasts, especially when they’re poor, and this race was no exception. While it was a beautiful day by conventional standards–not a cloud in sight, warm temperatures–those conditions are far from ideal during a marathon. I ran through that kind of misery last year at Chicago, and didn’t particularly have any major desire to repeat the experience.

foxriver

It was fairly cool when I got the the race site around 6 a.m. on Sunday. It took me a little while to figure out where everything (i.e.: the portapotties) were, but eventually I found them behind the start line. I hung around for a bit and headed over to the start area around 6:45 or so. All three events started at the same time, and while the race only let 100-200 people start at once, there weren’t any specific, organized corrals. At a race that size, though, I don’t think you really need them. They had signs indicating where you should line up based on your anticipated pace, so I found a spot near the 11:00/mile sign and crossed the start about eight minutes after the race itself began.

foxvalleymarathonstartline

My strategy, per usual, was to hold back as much as I could in the first miles and gradually increase my pace to, ideally, negative split the race, or at the very least, not bonk. I hoped to go out at about an 11:30 or so pace and felt like I was barely moving at all for the first mile, so I was SHOCKED to see my watch tell me 10:41 when I hit the one mile mark. I genuinely thought I was running at least one minute per mile slower than that, and could not believe how easy that first mile felt.

We continued on south through Geneva, winding a bit through downtown. I haven’t spent much time (…any time…) in the western suburbs, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always turned up my nose at them, assuming all of them to be fake non-towns established in the 1950s with no center, no history, no originality, no anything that would make them in any way appealing to me or anyone else who prefers to keep cookie cutters in the kitchen and out of subdivisions. Well, folks, I owe an apology to the entire Fox River Valley. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to discover that St. Charles, Geneva, etc. are not terrible (that is to say: not Schaumburg. MAN do I hate Schaumburg, even if it does have an Ikea. Schaumburg is the embodiement of everything I loathe about suburbia.). After all, they are along a river, which would’ve made it a logical place to set up a town in the earlyish 1800s. Regardless, I was SO surprised to find that these towns actually had downtowns, and not only did they have downtowns, but they had lovely downtowns! I found Geneva in particular to be especially nice, and I really enjoyed running through it.

Perhaps the only thing I found more surprising than the loveliness of St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia (I wasn’t all that enamored with Aurora, but I also didn’t see any of it beyond the Fox River Trail, as we didn’t veer off the trail at all during that portion of the race) was my pacing during the marathon. Historically, I’ve been fairly inconsistent in my pace from mile to mile, both in marathons themselves and kind of general, though I think I’m starting to get better at pacing overall. Anyway, I was shocked every time I looked at my watch though the first portion of the race. I was so consistently running 10:5x miles (with two 11:0x miles) that, heading into mile 10 or so, I started think I may average a 10:57 pace across the entire race. I did, however, have the benefit of this not being my first rodeo, and knew that mile 10 was far too early to start having any sort of real expectations about how the following 16 miles would shake out.

Around mile six, we ran through the Fabyan Forest Preserve, which was so pretty. Actually, most of this course was really pretty. Granted, it doesn’t take much to impress me with a course’s scenery these days–take me off the Lakefront Trail and I’m a happy camper–but I really enjoyed running through the woods along the river for (most of) the race. (The last few miles weren’t so wooded, but I’ll get to that later.) Somewhere in this forest preserve, a spectator had a sign that said something about losing toenails, and a runner just to my left commented that he had never lost a toenail in a race. I assumed this would be the beginning and end of our interaction, but oh, how wrong I was. Now, I don’t hate talking to people while I run–I do it all the time on my Saturday runs–and I certainly love to have company, but I really think I prefer to listen to people around me talking and not talk to anyone myself while running. This toenailed runner, however, was not of that same mind, and set about to chatting with me for the next two miles, even after I ditched him at an aid station soon after he started talking to me. So I learned about his girlfriend, and his triathlons, and his swimming, and his job, before getting to the eight mile mark, where he turned around and headed north with the rest of the half marathoners, while the 20 milers and my fellow full marathoners continued on south.

The half marathon course split off at mile eight(ish), and after that the full and 20 continued on together until mile 12(ish). Here, the 20 milers turned east to cross the river and then headed back north, while we marathoners kept going south for three miles before turning around and coming back up to that 20/26.2 split, where our course rejoined the 20 mile course. This meant that when I hit mile 12, there were lots of speedsters coming towards me, which I thought was really cool. The 3:25 pace group was the first group I saw, but there had been runners before that as well, so the first people I saw were all probably doing close to a 3:20 or so. Since the Chicago Marathon doesn’t have any out-and-back portions on the course, this was the first time I’ve ever seen those mythological runners for whom a BQ is not a laughable prospect, and it was really cool! I wish I could be one of those people.

Dehydration was my biggest downfall during last year’s Chicago Marathon, so in an effort to maintain some electrolyte balance, this year I brought pretzels along on the run. I had pretzels once during a long run months ago and they didn’t bother me, so even though I’ve barely practiced with them at all, I figured I’d give it a shot during the race and see what happened. I’m SO glad I did this. It was wonderful to eat real food instead of chews, and the saltiness tasted fantastic.

When I hit mile 16, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see an 11:21 split. That was nearly 30 seconds slower than I had been running, but I didn’t feel like I was putting in any less effort than I had been at any other point in the race. In retrospect, I imagine this was me hitting the wall, though it was really less of a “wall hit” than a “gradual encounter with the wall,” more along the lines of my bonk at Chicago in 2013 than my bonk in Chicago in 2014, which was immediate and obvious the second I turned onto Taylor Street that year.

Heading into this race, my #1 goal was to not feel sick when I finished. It was my birthday, after all, and I had food plans that I did not want thwarted by the marathon. When I got to mile 17.5 (by my watch – I didn’t run the tangents all that well and by that point in the race was about .2 miles ahead of the mile markers), I realized that I could continue running and be miserable, or start run/walking and probably be all right when I finished (this is actually the exact same thought process I had during my 20 miler two weeks ago). With that in mind, I decided to do four minutes running/one minute walking intervals for miles 17.5-18.5, and then would reevauluate. My “reevaluation” turned out to be more of a “complete deviation from the plan.” Honestly, there was very little rhyme or reason to my walk breaks after that. I tried to be somewhat consistent, but sometimes my heart wasn’t in it to start running again, or sometimes my heart wasn’t in it to start walking again, so I kind of just did whatever felt right–though that that point, very little felt right at all. I felt miserable and just wanted to cry (and did cry when I saw my family around mile 20ish).

I was in the midst of a walk break when my Fitbit alarm went off at 11:18 – the moment I turned 26. Determined to not walk through that occasion, I started shuffling again. This was just past an aid station at mile 21.5, and I felt one billion percent awful. My legs hurt, my ego hurt, and the sun was killing me. While the first 20 miles of the course had a good amount of shade, the last six miles had barely any at all (which benefitted my lack of willpower, because at some point I decided I would start running again when I got to shade, and there was barely any shade to be found!). I knew, when I looked at my watch at mile 22, that there was no way I’d break five hours, which was definitely another goal of mine, so at that point I basically gave up entirely. I knew some people running the half and 20 miler, and texted one of them when I got to mile 23 detailing my misery (“This is absolute hell,” is how I started it.). They had all been waiting for me at the finish, but ended up meeting me on the course around mile 24.5 and walked with me for a bit. No matter how hellish I’ve ever felt during a marathon, I have always, always, always run the last 1.2 miles, and I was not about to not do that on Sunday, so I ditched my support crew and shuffled on.

My family was at the finish line, marking the first time they’ve ever seen me actually finish a marathon (since you can’t get into the finish area of Chicago these days). When they saw me, they started singing Happy Birthday, and the people on the other side of the finish chute joined in as well, which was touching. I crossed the finish line in 5:14:01, making this my second slowest marathon to date.

All things considered, I actually didn’t feel too bad when I finished. The race director was in the finish chute when I finished, and chatted with me for a bit, which I thought was a really nice gesture, considering I don’t even know they guy, and I don’t think he knows me, either. He even got me a cup of Gatorade, which I thought was so nice of him. The volunteer who gave me my medal first tried to hand me a 20 miler medal, to which I said, “Oh no, buddy, I ran the whole dang thing,” and made sure I got the right one haha. They had a GREAT spread of food for runners after the race–pizza, bagels, bananas, donuts, bread pudding, and potato chips, which was definitely put Chicago’s bag of food to shame (not that I don’t like Chicago’s bag of food, but I liked this a LOT more than a bunch of pre-packaged stuff like you get at Chicago). I knew I had brunch coming up, so I didn’t get much, but I was super grateful for the variety and effort nevertheless.

Post-race, we went to Nosh, a breakfast/lunch place in downtown Geneva, where I DEVOURED a three-egg omelet with bacon, ham and cheese, potatoes, and an English muffin. They had an awesome menu, and I wish Geneva wasn’t like an hour away, because I’d love to go there again. I’d also love to go to the All Chocolate Kitchen next door to Nosh, which I tragically did not make the time to visit while in Geneva on Sunday. I did, however, have Portillo’s for dinner later that day, including a slice of chocolate cake, of course, so that sort of makes up for missing the All Chocolate Kitchen.

I’m not particularly happy with how my race went. Ideally, I had hoped to run almost 30 minutes faster than I did, and while I know the weather and lack of shade during the last 10K was out of my control, I’m pretty frusrated with my performance. I wanted a 5:00+ marathon to be a one-time thing for me, or a two-time thing max, as I don’t particularly expect to break 5:00 at Chicago this year, given the whole “I already ran a marathon three weeks before Chicago” thing. I feel confident in my abilities at any race distance except the marathon, and that bothers me more than I care to admit. I don’t need to be the best marathoner, but I don’t even feel like I’m a particularly good marathoner, which really bugs me, since the past four summers–the past four YEARS, really–of my life have revolved around marathoning, and I still can’t seem to get that stupid distance right. I’m probably not training nearly enough for these races, at least in terms of weekly mileage, and I’m sure that’s a huge factor in my inability to do as well as I want to do during a marathon (that, and my diet, which could always stand a bit of improvement). On the flip side, I know when I’m training more, I feel like I’m not doing enough “other stuff,” and that bothers me as well, so I’m in a bit of a catch-22 with this, I suppose. I want to have it all–low mileage, three days a week of non-running training, plus a rest day, and fast race times–and that’s probably not going to happen.

However, I LOVED the Fox Valley Marathon. I cannot say enough good things about this race. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again–Chicago is much more convenient for me, since I live in the city and don’t have a car, and the third weekend in September is even more of a crapshoot than the second weekend in October as far as weather goes–but I’d recommend it to anyone. I loved the course, I loved the organization, I loved the small field, I loved that it didn’t feel like THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF MY LIFE, unlike Chicago with all its hype. This was, top to bottom, a fantastic, fantastic race, and I’m really glad I had the chance to run it.

foxvalleymarathonmedal

Chicago Marathon Training Week 15

Sunday, September 11: Dance.
I had every intention of going to the gym and spending 30-45 minutes on the bike or elliptical on Sunday. Then on Saturday afternoon, my dance teacher texted me, asking me if I could sub for him in his class on Sunday. I spent two hours furiously re-teaching myself a combo we learned last April (like April 2015 last April, not this past April) on Saturday, and then went to his class on Sunday and taught…all two people who showed up. Haha. But I thought it went well, and I was proud of my debut as a substitute dance teacher🙂

Monday, September 12: 4 miles in 40:20 for a 10:04 pace.
Welcome to Bethany’s Week of Way Too Fast Runs Because She’s Stressed. I really, really intended to take it super easy on all of my runs this week, but my stress level over my impending marathon was THROUGH THE ROOF. As a result, all of my runs were way faster than I wanted them to be, including this one. The dance routine I taught on Sunday had irritated my shin, and it bugged me on this run as well, which sent me down the rabbit hole of injury-related panic and dread.

Tuesday, September 13: Dance.
I was at work on Tuesday, showing my boss a project I had just wrapped up, when my dance teacher texted me again, asking if I could sub that night as well (he had a show in Wisconsin on Tuesday, which is why he was unavailable Sunday [for rehearsing for his show] and Tuesday [for the show itself]). So I continued my journey to become a professional dance instructor, and told my boss if I ever just don’t show up one day, it’s because I finally made the leap and decided to dance full time (that will never happen, to be clear).

Wednesday, September 14: 3 miles in 28:05 for a 9:21 pace.
To be fair, I don’t think this was actually three miles. My watch beeped the first mile a bit earlier than usual, but I was on a major time crunch as I needed to make it to therapy on time, so I just rolled with it. The weather was SO NICE for running on Wednesday! Almost makes those miserable summer runs worth it (but not quite😉 ).

Thursday, September 15: 2 miles in 19:12 for a 9:34 pace.
Ah, the last-run-before-the-marathon two miler! So simple. This was about as straightforward as they come in the running department, though it was, once again, too fast, because of my never-ending stress.

Friday, September 16: Rest.

Saturday, September 17: Rest.

So there we have it! One marathon training cycle down, another maintenance…cycle? period? to go. I’m writing this on Thursday evening, so I have nothing to report yet in terms of my marathon (it was great! The weather, by some miracle, turned out to be 55 and cloudy the entire time with a gentle 5 mph cross breeze to keep it extra comfortable. And I BQed. <– these are all lies I’m making up on Thursday. Please ignore all of the things I just wrote.), but I’m sure I’ll have a recap up soon enough🙂

Thursday Things

1. Hi! I feel like it’s been SO long since I wrote a life post – probably because my last Thursday Things post went up three weeks ago today! So let’s catch up.

2. My trip to Seattle was half good, half nightmareish. But let’s focus on the good first. We got to Seattle on a Friday and spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at my grandparents’ retirement home. We didn’t do a whole lot while we were there, other than go to Tacoma on Saturday for my half marathon (and then hung around downtown Tacoma for a bit after the race), but on Monday, we drove out to the peninsula, where we had rented a house in Pacific Beach. Pacific Beach, as the name implies, is right on the Pacific Ocean, though we didn’t have beach access from our house. If you’ve ever been to the beaches in Washington, though, you know they’re more of the “fly a kite and dip your toes in the water” sort of beach rather than a “lay out and relax all day” kind of beach – unless you’re into laying out and relaxing on a beach when it’s cloudy, windy, and in the mid-60s. Personally, that’s not my cup of tea.

On Tuesday, we went up to the Hoh National Rainforest in Olympic National Park. I had been to the Olympic National Park 19 years earlier, but, unsurprisingly, I don’t remember much of it, so it was nice to go back. We did a little bit of hiking and saw a lot of pretty nature.

hohrainforest

On Wednesday, we drove back to the Seattle area and had a lazy day at my grandparents’, and then on Thursday went into downtown Seattle for our traditional trip to Ivar’s:

ivarsclamchowder

made friends with the seagulls:

ivarsseagull

and made our equally traditionally trip to the Pike Place Market:

pikeplace2016

That is basically all I’ve done in downtown Seattle the past four times I’ve been out there, but honestly, Ivar’s and the market make me so happy that I was perfectly content to do both of those things. However, since we always do those things, we were kind of in the mood to do something different, close by, and cheap. (I had wanted to go to the aquarium to see the puffins, but at $25/person, that was out of the question. My parents were not interested in spending $100 so I could see puffins – and I wasn’t interested in begging them to do that either, because that’s a WHOLE lotta money to see some seabirds.) After some Googling, we discovered that the Seattle Art Museum is free to everyone on the first Thursday of the month. And lo and behold, it was September 1 – the first Thursday of the month! So to the Seattle Art Museum we went.

seattleartmuseum

It was nice! A lot smaller than the Art Institute, unsurprisingly, which made it much easier to see a fair portion of the museum’s collections in the time we had to spare. I’ve never come close to covering the entire Art Institute in one trip.

And then on Friday we flew back to our respective homes. My parents and brother left two hours before I did, which meant that I was at SeaTac 3.5 hours before my flight left. I walked laps around the airport and hit 10,000 steps for the day before I even boarded my flight, and, of course, hit up the Made in Washington store, as I am apt to do, to load up on the local goods:

(I actually bought the tea at the market this time, which makes it feel much more authentic🙂 )

3. And now, for the nightmare. So, approximately one minute after we walked into my grandparents’ retirement home on Friday, my phone died. Its battery was at 17%, but sometimes the battery display is incorrect, so I was annoyed, but whatever – your phone dies, you plug it in to recharge it, and all is well. WELL. That only works if your battery actually died. When I plugged my phone in, it came back to life for a minute or two, and then died again, even though it was connected to a power source. I originally had it plugged into a battery pack, so I switched to the wall, and the same thing happened. I then switched to my brother’s charging cord instead of mine, and again: my phone continually died and came back to life while plugged in. At this point, I started panicking. Something was clearly very, very wrong with my phone.

So, off to the closest Apple store we went (we being my mom, my brother, and me). We got an appointment at the Genius Bar, where I learned that my phone was committing suicide–really. I mean, that’s not how the genius who helped us phrased it, but the phone was, literally, killing itself.

When you open up Diagnostics on your phone, you see all sorts of messages. Most of these messages are fairly innocuous – except, that is, for the messages that end in “panic.” This article explains it well, but I’m particularly fond of the opening line in the Panic section: “I’ve saved the worst for last.” Yes, friends, there is truly nothing worse that your phone can do to itself than have panic messages. These only happen due to faulty hardware, and there is only one possible outcome: eventually (and by “eventually” I mean “in about 12 hours”), your phone doesn’t turn back on again. Ever. It’s bricked itself. (As a point of clarification, my phone was not actually “dying” as in turning itself off like I thought it was. Instead, it was rebooting. Every time it does this, it gets closer and closer to death, until eventually, it doesn’t reboot at all.)

This, of course, happened one week to the day after my warranty expired, which seems awfully fishy to me, but I have insurance on my phone, which meant that Verizon would replace it for free. But MY OH MY what an ordeal that was. See, when your phone kills itself, you can’t just walk into Verizon and get a new one. No, no. They have special phones to replace suicidal ones–not brand new phones, but refurbished phones, and those phones don’t live at Verizon stores, they live in some warehouse somewhere not in Seattle. When we went in on Friday afternoon, the customer service rep who helped us told us that they would have a phone overnighted to me via FedEx, and it would arrive at my grandparents’ house between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. the following day (a Saturday). I could live without my phone for that amount of time, so we went on our way.

Well. When we got home from Tacoma Saturday afternoon, the phone still had not arrived. My mom checked the package tracking, and it turned out that the phone wouldn’t get there until Monday. This was a particular problem because we wouldn’t BE there on Monday – we would have already left for the peninsula by then. Fightin’ mad, my dad first called Verizon to demand a resolution, and when that went nowhere, we went back to the store we had been to the day before, where we had the “pleasure” of being helped by the rudest customer service rep this side of a call center hotline and basically were told, “There’s nothing we can do for you. Sorry.” Over, and over, and over again.

I was livid. The receipt I got on Friday CLEARLY said “Next Day Delivery,” and FedEx does, indeed, deliver on Saturdays, despite what the lady at the Verizon store tried to tell me. Eventually, the store manager got involved, and while he was also less than helpful, to say the least, he did get the package redirected to our rental home in Pacific Beach, and credited my portion of the bill on our family plan for the month, since I clearly wouldn’t be using my phone for several days on this billing cycle. The phone finally arrived on Tuesday, so when we got back to the rental house after our time in the rainforest on Tuesday, I tried to set my phone up, but couldn’t get the backup of my old phone I had made to my brother’s computer to sync to my new phone, so I got to start over from scratch on my new phone, which was just a blast and a half. (I had never backed up my phone to iCloud, because the cloud freaks me out.)

I know it’s kind of silly to get all bent out of shape over not having a phone for five days, but it was so much more than just not having a phone, you know? Smartphones aren’t just phones – they’re dozens of different tools packed into one. Not having my phone meant that I didn’t have my camera, didn’t have my alarm clock, didn’t my calendar–smartphones have become such a part of daily life that not having one goes way beyond inconvenience, especially when you’re out of town.

What’s been going on with all of you? I’m so behind! I’m trying to catch up on blog reading, but it’s been a struggle.
Have you ever had phone woes? Tell me so I feel less alone. Haha.

Chicago Marathon Training Week 14

Sunday, September 4: Rest.
I woke up Sunday morning feeling a lot better than I normally feel after a 20 miler, but I still wasn’t going to push it with a workout. Between my 20 miler and the wedding I attended immediately after, I’m pretty sure I got enough activity on Saturday to cover me for Sunday.

Monday, September 5: Rest.
Another national holiday, another unintentional rest day. I planned to do yoga…then I did nothing. I walked around a bit, I guess – does that count?

Tuesday, September 6: Dance.
I missed the first week of this session, as it took place while I was on vacation, so I was a little worried about making up for lost time on Tuesday. As it turned out, my teacher wasn’t even there and we had a sub who taught us a routine different than the one everyone had learned the previous week. I’m still behind, of course, because I don’t know what they learned on week one, but at least now I don’t feel totally behind.

Wednesday, September 7: 2.03 miles in 20:04 for a 9:53 pace.
I don’t even want to talk about this run. I went into Wednesday planning to minimally run three miles, but ideally run 4.5 miles. It was terribly hot and humid Wednesday afternoon, so I resigned myself to the treadmill. While at the gym, however, I learned that I needed to go to the grocery store to pick up supplies for a picnic I’d be attending immediately after work the following day. I could have done this after therapy, which I planned to go to straight from my run, but the radar looked threatening, and I didn’t want to be caught in a thunderstorm on the way home from grocery shopping, which meant I had to go shopping before therapy. Obviously that cut way down on my time available to run, and consequently cut down on my mileage as well.

Thursday, September 8: 4.04 miles in 40:00 for a 9:54 pace.
I think I want to talk about this run even less than Wednesday’s run. I had do this run in the morning before work, which meant I had to get it done on the treadmill once again. Prior to Wednesday, it had been I think pretty close to a month since I last slogged through a run on a treadmill, and in that time I have lost ALL patience I ever had for that machine. I HATED this run on Thursday because I was stuck on the treadmill. Absolutely, totally, completely hated it. I also HATED getting up before 5 a.m. to make this happen. Lots of hatred going on on Thursday in regards to running.

Friday, September 9: Rest.

Saturday, September 10: 8 miles in 1:23:38 for a 10:28 pace.
I had been exhausted all of last week, and decided if it was raining when I woke up on Saturday morning and looked like it would still be raining when our group run began at 6:30, I’d bail. I can do eight miles on my own, and the rest of the group was doing 14 anyway, since they’re not insane and aren’t running a marathon on Sunday. To my utter dismay, it was not raining when I woke up Saturday morning, so I dragged myself out of bed and got to the group run. Fortunately, the most beautiful sunrise of the season thus far greeted me when I arrived.

8milersunrise

And then I turned around and saw a RAINBOW!

8milerrainbow

All good things🙂

It was a lot warmer and more humid than I expected (though I don’t know why I expected low humidity, since clearly rain was coming), and I felt super, super dehydrated on this run. I really need to get better about remembering to hydrate in the days leading up to long runs (or, this week, my marathon) so I stop suffering so much on Saturdays. Overall, this run was fairly uneventful, but it did feel weird to only be doing eight instead of 14.

Holy smokes you guys, I’m running a marathon on Sunday. I definitely haven’t fully wrapped my mind around that yet. (Or the fact that I’m going to have to do it all again in a month…trying to not think about that.) I guess since I’ve only ever done Chicago, it doesn’t feel real that I’m running a marathon at a time other than Chicago, and it’s really disorienting and confusing. I truly have no idea what to expect on Sunday. It’d be nice to run a 4:45, but to say that’s my goal would be an enormous overstatement. I really just want to finish and not feel like I’m doing to be sick and/or die at the end so I can still celebrate my birthday. Ambitious, I know😛 I hope I’ve respected the marathon enough throughout the past 16 weeks (I started “pre-training” for Chicago two weeks before the race, which, after I decided to run Fox Valley, I’ve decided to count as marathon training as well, despite no recaps of that training). I really don’t feel like I have, and I’m putting a lot (a LOT) of faith in my past five years of fairly consistent long distance running, and, even more so, my past three summers of marathon training, to carry me through this. I know fitness isn’t an academic degree, where once you earn it, you never lose it (wouldn’t that be nice!), but I’m still choosing to believe I’m more prepared to do something this stupid ambitious than I would have been earlier in my running career. I guess we’ll find out on Sunday!

MilestonePod Review

*I received a complimentary MilestonePod to test and review, but was not compensated for this post in any other way. All opinions, thoughts, and general nonsensical ramblings are my own, as always.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had received an updated MilestonePod to try out, and that I’d have a full review after using it for a couple of weeks. Well, friends, that time has come!

The MilestonePod is a small device that takes up about one square inch of real estate on your shoe. Don’t let its size fool you, however: this little guy tracks more running data than you can shake a stick at, including:

  • Workout time
  • Distance
  • Calories burned
  • Step count
  • Pace
  • Location of foot strike
  • Cadence
  • Ground contact time
  • Rate of impact
  • Stride length
  • Leg swing

Honestly, if you can think of anything else you’d want to know about your workout, I encourage you to share it with me, because aside from heart rate–which obviously I wouldn’t expect a shoe-based device to track, particularly given the rise in wrist-based heart rate monitoring–I can’t think of a single statistic related to my run that the MilestonePod doesn’t track.

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Using the MilestonePod is a pretty straightforward process. The device comes in two pieces: a bottom piece that slips under your laces, and a top piece that you snap into the bottom piece. And that’s it. The pod has a built-in battery that doesn’t require recharging, and it automatically tracks your runs without you needing to press any buttons (once you have a cadence of 100+ steps/minute for six straight minutes, it recognizes that you’re running. It goes back and captures those first six minutes, and will continue tracking until your cadence falls below 100 steps/minute for six straight minutes).

To track your MilestonePod data, you need to download the free MilestonePod app to your phone. Tapping your MilestonePod twice (or until the little green light turns on) wakes it up, at which point you can sync it via Bluetooth to your phone (this was something I didn’t know when I started testing the pod, and couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t sync!). The app displays all the data from your run with an explanation of the significance of less common tracking points (such as rate of impact, leg swing, etc.).

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You don’t have to calibrate the pod before taking it out for its first run, and while its tracking is quite accurate, it may be slightly off. If it is, you can calibrate it after syncing (assuming you know how far you ran, that is) to help increase its accuracy.

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Beyond that, the MilestonePod tracks your shoe’s mileage, which is probably its most useful function for me. I love all the data, but I am terrible about tracking mileage on my shoes (my usual method is to realize one day that I’ve had my shoes for a long time, then go onto Polar Flow [or Garmin Connect, before my current watch] and run a report from the day I thought I started wearing my current pair of shoes to the present and, usually, realize that I was about 15 miles away from needing a new pair of shoes). Having this available on my phone without me needing to do even the tiniest bit of math has been enormously helpful for me.

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As I’m sure I’ve said on here multiple times in the past, I’m a huge stats nerd when it comes to sports, including my own sports, so something like this is right up my alley. Obviously, my Polar M400 (GPS watch) and FitBit Charge HR (activity tracker) to a fair amount of tracking for me on my runs, so the basic data I get from the MilestonePod isn’t exactly breaking news to me. However, while both of those devices can count my steps, and one (the M400) can count my cadence, nothing even comes close to the deep dive analysis MilestonePod gives me. Nothing tells me what kind of strike I use. Nothing tells me how hard I hit the ground, or how long I stay on the ground. Nothing tells me the status of my leg swing. That’s information I previously would’ve needed a video gait analysis to learn. Now, I get it on my phone. While the MilestonePod certainly doesn’t replace a VGA done by a trained professional, it gives you an idea of how you’re doing in between VGAs and helps you see where you can stand to improve your form. I think this is wildly useful information, and considering that the pod only costs $24.95, is an insanely good deal.

I also think the MilestonePod would be a very useful tool to someone who wants to meticulously track his or her running data, but has trouble with feeling obligated to hit certain paces all the time and is a slave to his or her watch as a result. Honestly, I see my watch as more of a reporting tool than a coach I need to please – it tells me how fast I ran the last mile, and that’s about where my relationship and emotions to the number I see begin and end. I so rarely derive a sense of worth from what those numbers show me that running without a watch has never appealed to me: tracking my data is more important to me than the infinitesimal chance that I might be upset by what I see. However, I know that that is definitely not that case for some people. If you happen to fall into my data-obsessed camp, but also live in the live-and-die-by-my-pace camp (unlike me), I think MilestonePod could be a great tool for you. You still get all your information, but not until after the run, at which point you can’t do anything about it, anyway.

If you’re interested, you can purchase a MilestonePod online at www.milestonepod.com. I find it to be a really cool tool and would certainly recommend it to any runner interested in gaining more insights into their workouts.

Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon Race Recap

This just might be the latest I’ve ever recapped a race! Vacation will do that to you, I suppose.

Anyway, on August 27, I ran my first race in Washington (state), the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon. This point-to-point race (another first for me: I had never run a point-to-point race before) starts at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, runs over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and then follows a paved bike trail that more or less parallels the highway (that highway being State Route 16) into downtown Tacoma. It is, one might say, perhaps a bit hillier than your standard Chicago Lakefront Trail race:

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Yeah.

I won’t lie: I was super nervous about the hills on this course. My “hill training” consists of one jaunt up Cricket Hill per week at best, and I anticipated walking most, if not all, of the uphill portions of this race.

We had nearly perfect weather for racing, with overcast skies and temperatures in the 50s Saturday morning. It was also quite windy out by the airport where the race began. The race provides shuttles from the finish line to the start line, due to the point-to-point course, so I arrived at the starting area about an hour beforehand and spent most of that time swaddled in the sweatshirt I begged off my mom, huddling with a dozen or so other runners behind portapotties as we tried to stay out of the wind.

The race had day-of packet pickup on the race site (a huge perk for me, as I was coming from way, way out of town) and used a school bus that would travel to the finish line after the race began as gear check, so 15 minutes or so before the race began, I reluctantly shed my mom’s sweatshirt and headed over to the start line.

This was one of the smallest races I’ve ever run, with 711 finishers, so there weren’t any start corrals and we all took off at the same time. The race had pacers, but I didn’t see anyone pacing slower than a 2:10. I expected to do around a 2:30 for this race, so I lined up a bit behind the 2:10 pacer and decided I would just see what happened. I got passed by a TON of people in the first mile. This always does kind of make me feel like a lousy runner, but I hoped that by starting conservatively, I’d have enough gas left in the tank later on to pick off a fair number of the people who passed me in the first mile.

My iPhone committed suicide as soon as I got to Seattle the day before the race (more on that some other time), so unfortunately, I can’t show you photos of the stunning scenery along the course. Granted, I’m not used to running in the Pacific Northwest, so maybe if I were a native and/or local, I wouldn’t be quite as breathless over the towering evergreens and mountains on the horizon. Regardless, this was, without any competition whatsoever, the most beautiful race I’ve run to date. Parts of the course ran through residential and more industrial neighborhoods, so it wasn’t all forests and nature, but I was still constantly ogling over the gorgeous sights along the course.

The biggest highlight for me came from about mile 2.5 to mile 3.5, where we ran across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I was totally ignorant about this bridge prior to the race, but let me tell you, it was a sight to behold, and running over it was one of the coolest moments I’ve had in a race so far, despite winds so strong they blew my shirt up (that was a first!).

To my immense surprise, the hills, though rather frequent and occasionally steep, did not faze me one bit. In fact, I think I passed more people on the steepest hill of the course than at any other point during the entire run. I was flabbergasted. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I felt so strong on the hills. Was it the weather? Was it my (laughable, totally minimal) strength training? I have no idea. But for whatever reason, I felt great on the uphill portions of the course, and used that to my advantage.

The worst hill came right after we got off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and I knew from looking at the elevation map that once I passed mile five, the worst of the climbing would be over. I kept waiting to hit a wall, figuring I had burned way too much energy powering up the hill after the bridge, but it never came. I felt really, really good, and could not believe it.

Right before mile nine, we did a lap around the running track of Cheney Stadium, the home of the Tacoma Rainiers: a farm team for the Seattle Mariners. This, like the bridge, was also one of the coolest moments I’ve had in a race so far. They showed everyone running through the stadium on the Jumbotron, and, unlike Soldier Field, where there are so many people you can barely identify yourself, this race was small enough to make it super easy to pick yourself out on the screen. I loved it.

Right before we got to Cheney Stadium, I caught up with a girl who I hadn’t seen up to that point in the race. She and I ended up leap frogging each other several times for the remainder of the run, with me usually catching her and getting some ground on her on the uphills, and her catching me and putting a good amount of distance between us on the downhills. I’ve never had that happen in a race before, and it made things a lot of fun for me.

I was still feeling awesome as we got closer to downtown Tacoma. Basically all of the last two miles were downhill (on occasion, steeply downhill), which probably helped my speed out a bit. I was also feeling great, though, and I’d like to think that at least contributed a little bit to my acceleration. I had a 9:32 and 8:45 last two miles, after running mostly 10:20s-10:40s earlier on, and man, nothing feels as good as knocking out an 8:45last mile in a half marathon when you’ve been running 10:xxs leading up to that point…except maybe passing that girl I had been leap frogging in mile 12 once and for all😉

I finished in 2:15:11, which blew my mind. I really, truly expected to do a 2:30, so to blow my expectations out of the water by 15 minutes was thrilling. As a cherry on top of that finish, the announcer at the finish line also gave me a special shoutout for traveling “all the way from Chicago to run our race.”🙂 First time that’s ever happened! No one in Chicago seems to care about me traveling all the way downtown to race😛

The post-race party had pizza, race t-shirts, and a few vendors, but it was cold and my family was waiting, so I didn’t stick around too long (I did get my pizza, though, don’t you worry. Haha.). Overall, I had an absolutely fantastic experience at this race, and would do it again in a heartbeat if I happened to be out in Washington and in need of a long run the same weekend of the event. It was well organized and such a nice change from the usual out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail.

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Chicago Marathon Training Week 13

Sunday, August 28: Yoga + walking.
But just barely. I was a bit more sore than I expected to be after my half marathon the day before, so I did a short, 15 minute recovery practice I found on YouTube. Later that afternoon, I went on a walk with my mom and brother on the nature trail around my grandparents’ retirement home for about an hour.
Monday, August 29: 5 miles in 55:01 for a 10:59 pace.
THE HILLS. Oh, my gosh, the hills. My grandparents have lived in their retirement home since I was two, so I’m perfectly well aware of the fact that they live on the top of a hill. What I did not realize, however, was just how high that hill is until I tried to run up and down it on this five miler. The hill is 300 feet tall from top to bottom, which, for this flatlander in particular, is really freaking tall. Add to the fact that those 300 feet of elevation gain primarily happen over the course of a whopping half mile, and you have a horrendously steep hill bent on destroying your quads. I ran most of these five miles, but definitely walked up the hill. Despite the hills, however, this was a lovely run. Temperatures in the 50s when I set out? Yes. Please. Fall cannot get to Chicago fast enough.
Tuesday, August 30: Hike.
To say what I did on Tuesday was a “hike” is probably a little generous, but I’m going to call it that anyway. We spent Tuesday in the Hoh Rain Forest at the Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and while there walked both the Hall of Mosses Trail, which is .8 miles, and the Spruce Nature Trail, which is 1.2 miles. Admittedly not a whole lot of activity, but it was really pretty!

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Wednesday, August 31: Walk.
After sitting in the car for a long drive back to the Seattle area from the peninsula, I was dying for some activity, so my mom and I went on a half hour walk to help appease my Fitbit and my antsiness over my pathetic amount of activity last week.
Thursday, September 1: 9 miles in 1:42:05 for an 11:20 pace.
THE HILLS. Nine miles on the hilly terrain surrounding my grandparents’ place was, unsurprisingly, not any easier than five miles on that same terrain. I had a sore shin on Tuesday, which I figured came from my run on Monday, and though the soreness had gone away by Wednesday, it came back and hung with me from miles 3-6 on this run. Probably not coincidentally, mile three-ish, when the soreness came back, was also when I was descending the largest and steepest hill on the run. I imagine the pounding associated with that descent, both on Monday and Thursday, is responsible for setting my shin off. Though I was exhausted afterwards, I was really proud of myself for getting a lot of miles in despite the hills.

Friday, September 2: Rest.
Though I did walk 10,000 steps almost entirely in SeaTac while I waited for my flight (my parents and brother flew out two hours before I did, as they flew to Detroit while I, obviously, flew to Chicago, so I was at the airport three and a half hours early and spent nearly all of that time walking around the airport), so it wasn’t quite as restful as some Fridays.
Saturday, September 3: 20 miles in 3:40:42 for an 11:02 pace.
In my past marathon training cycles, I’ve always run my 20 miler with CARA during its organized Ready to Run 20 Miler three weeks before the Chicago Marathon. However, as I am 1) running my first marathon of the season that day this year and 2) did not want to run 20 miles on vacation in Seattle, I ended up doing my 20 miler on Saturday, two weeks before Fox Valley, while the rest of my group did 18 miles.

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It took me a LONG time to get into this run. Six and a half miles in, I was already declaring myself super over it and wanted to throw in the towel not because I was tired or injured or feeling sick or anything like that, but because I simply did not want to run 20 miles on Saturday. I didn’t get home until after 5 p.m. on Friday evening and had to leave for a wedding at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, and, after a week of poor sleep and far less relaxing than I had hoped for/expected on vacation, I just wanted to be at home, in bed, being lazy, i.e.: the opposite of running 20 miles. When my group got to the Soldier Field/McCormick Place area, I was already at 10.25 miles (I had run 1.3 before our group run began), and turned around while they continued on to the south end of McCormick Place. As soon as I ditched my group, I felt a LOT better. I don’t consider myself to be strongly introverted, but in my normal, day-to-day life, I usually get at least an hour or so every day where I may not be alone, but I don’t have to socialize with other people, whether that’s during a workout, when I’m home in the evening, or even at work, when I’m sitting at my desk and no one is talking to me. I had brief moments of alone time on vacation, but for the most part, I was constantly surrounded by my family. That’s not a bad thing at all, of course, but I was DYING to just be left alone, which I didn’t realize until I ditched my running group and had 9.75 glorious, glorious miles all to myself. I felt a lot better once I was on my own, at least mentally. It wasn’t too hot on Saturday, but it was incredibly sunny, and that definitely drained my energy during the stretch of concrete between Navy Pier and Castaways, which was somewhere in the 13 mile area for me. Instead of killing myself getting through there, I decided to drop down to run/walking, running for four minutes and walking for one, and kept that up until about mile 18 or so, when I resumed exclusively running. This was my slowest 20 miler to date, but also included more walking than any previous 20 milers, and was under wildly different circumstances than my other three 20 milers, so I’m not too concerned with my time. Besides, all three of my past 20 milers have been 3:37s, but my marathon times have been different each race, so I don’t see the 20 miler as an infallible way of predicting my marathon performance anyway.
TAPER TIME. Thank the Lord. I think I’m sufficiently worn out from training at this point and am absolutely thrilled to enjoy lower mileage and more free time over the next two weeks (and likely for the three weeks after that as well, as I recover from Fox Valley/maintain my fitness for Chicago). I won’t lie: I was pretty stressed out on vacation over how little activity I got in, particularly for it being peak week. I’m glad I logged 34 miles, which is a number that I feel comfortable with for peak week, but wish I had been able to get in more intense activity throughout the week, rather than just barely cracking 10,000 steps most days and having to make a concentrated effort just to get in that amount of movement. But there’s no use beating myself up over it at this point. I cannot believe I’m running a marathon in less than two weeks, but I’m trying to not think about it too much and just take things day by day, as difficult as that may be. I feel rather undertrained and underprepared, but I’d rather feel that way than overtrained and injured, so things could be worse. And regardless of how undertrained I feel, I am so, so excited to welcome low mileage back into my life between now and my marathons.