A Surreal Run with Some Birds

After a long hiatus, it’s about time I get back on the blogging “horse.” In my defense, part of my job is to help other people and companies write their blogs, so mine often gets (seriously!) neglected. Apologies to the blogosphere and those who actually read my musings about running. I’ll try to do better. Promise.

This past weekend can be summed up in one word: surreal.

I’m going to use that word a lot in my next dozen or so paragraphs of rambling. So if you have a serious aversion to it (like I do for the word “panties”) then it’s probably best to stop reading now.

Cool? Ok.

I got to hang with some super awesome, amazing ladies at the at the Yuengling Shamrock Running Festival, which was the Oiselle Team’s East Coast spring meet-up. (Check out more details about the meet-up from our fab team manager, Kristin.)

I didn’t get to Virginia Beach until late afternoon on Saturday, so I missed the morning activities and cheering on my fellow birds in the 8k. (Thanks, traffic!) However, I did make it in time for the team dinner, which was crazy fun…and a little surreal.

Ever sat in restaurant with a bunch of people you feel like you know? Not because you’ve meet them before, but because you follow them on Twitter? That was the team dinner. I had to remember to introduce myself to people. Not walk up and say things like, “Hey, Courtney, I totally feel your pain on the wedding planning craziness. I’ve been there, girl!” Or “Hollie, I think it’s so badass that you just won that half marathon! And that you did it while rocking your Oiselle runderwear.” I know I’m not the only one who felt like this. (Kristin, I volunteer to make Twitter handle/name badges for everyone for team training camp.) Weird social (media) awkwardness aside, it was so much fun to talk and dine with my fellow birds, and a great way to get pumped for the next day’s race.

As psyched as I was for the race after dinner, that excitement had faded by morning. Spending eight or so hours tossing and turning puts a serious damper on enthusiasm and energy. My husband, Spence, and I were a grumpy mess as we trudged to the starting line. Well, he trudged. I jogged because, unlike the previous day, it was not 70 degrees. “I’m cold and tired and my stomach has been bugging me all week. This is just great,” I thought as I warmed up.

Jogging to the start turned out to be a wise move as I made it to my coral about a minute before the gun went off. I remember kissing Spence goodbye and hitting the start button on my Garmin.

The next thing I remember is the nine-mile marker. I couldn’t tell you what the course looked like or whether there were a lot of spectators. I saw one of my Oiselle teammates around mile six or seven, but that’s all I can recall…aside from the split times my Garmin was giving me. Those I remember distinctly.

It is a rarity that I can run consistent splits. I’ve been a runner since middle school (which was a loooooong time ago), and running at a consistent pace is something I’ve struggled with at all distances. I even had a coach try to help me with it last year with no luck. So you can imagine my surprise every time I heard my Garmin beep and looked down to see a time that was within a few seconds of the last one. What’s wilder is that I wasn’t constantly monitoring my pace with the Garmin. I was doing it by feeling. That was surreal moment no. 2 of the weekend…and there were more to come.

Maybe it was the flat course. Maybe my team mates inspired me. Maybe it was focus. (I look scary intense in some race pics.)

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Maybe I do better when I have something like a lack of sleep to distract me. (After all, my previous PR happened last year in Eugene, just 48 hours after I had an allergy-induced meltdown.) Or maybe it was the amazingly tasty bread I ate the night before at dinner. Whatever it was, at the 10-mile mark, I was within striking distance of a new half PR. But getting it was going to take a feat to get it. And by feat I mean running negative splits for the final three miles.

As much as I’ve struggled with consistency, I’ve struggled even more with not burning out before the end of the race. I go out too fast. I admit it. I’ve tried to change. But it’s hard to change. But with three miles left to go in what was shaping up to be an uncommonly well-run race, I figured what the hell. If I end up in the ER because I crash and burn, so be it.

So I gritted my teeth — quite literally according to the race pics — and went for it.

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7:48, 7:45, 7:42. Finish line. Surreal moment no. 3. New PR…by 30 seconds.

Even now, I still can’t believe it happened. It’s by far my best run race…so far.

Surreal moment no. 4: It’s only March.

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An Homage to a Decade of Marathoning & The Akron Marathon

The Akron Marathon was my very first marathon. I barely trained for it as I signed up just four weeks out. I’d been a runner since grade school, but I’d never covered anything close to 26.2 miles. In fact, here’s a little confession: prior to the race, my longest training run – heck, my longest run, period! – was only10 miles. And I only did it once, just three weeks before the race. I signed up after I met a marathoner who was nothing short of inspirational. There was something about the way he talked about it – like the experience was magic or something.

A rookie to the core, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I lined up at the start line. Right before the bell went off, I remember hearing someone say that the total elevation change for the course was something like seven — or maybe it was several — miles. I hadn’t even thought to look at the elevation chart. I was as green as it gets when it came to distance running. But looking back, that probably helped me. I had no clue what I was getting into, so there was no fear of failing or even pressure to finish.

I just went out and ran.

Five hours, 35 minutes and some seconds later, I crossed the finish line.

017_5AMy first (Akron) marathon.

The marathon was supposed to be a bucket list item. Something I’d do once, check off the list, and move on. Instead, I signed up for another one…two weeks later.

I was completely hooked.

This began my decade-long (and counting!) commitment to the marathon and Akron.

Fast forward 10 years, 13 marathons, two ultras, and countless shorter distance races later, and Akron is still my favorite. And not just for sentimental reasons.

Despite it’s increasing popularity and the addition of a half marathon and relay, it still feels like a small race. It’s still extremely well organized and the vibe is unlike other races I’ve run. The entire community of Akron gets involved in the event – whether they’re running, volunteering, or cheering.

Runners in the Akron Marathon are guided by a blue line that runs the entire 26.2 miles of the course – through the city, the University of Akron, Sand Run Park, and several neighborhoods. The people in these neighborhoods treat the race like a block party – dolling out food (marshmallows, anyone?), drinks (including beer!), and tons of encouragement to any runner in need. These amazingly welcoming people are part of the reason I love this race. While I’m not their neighbor, I usually feel like one as I run by their homes. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen people let runners into their houses to (I assume) use the rest room. What kind of person does that? An Akronite that’s who.

During this year’s race, I actually found myself looking for houses for sale along the blue line. My husband and I are planning to move back to Ohio (my home state), and it would be all too appropriate if we ended up living on the line. I had a rough patch from miles 21 to 24, but the thought of being these people’s neighbor somehow made it more bearable.

IMG_0125Running the blue line through the neighborhoods of Akron.

Speaking of miles, you probably started reading this because you want to hear about this year’s actual race, right? I know my friend J.J. and Oiselle teammates are nodding their heads right now, so I’ll get to it.

Going into this year’s marathon, I was nervous about how the miles would unfold. Despite being a 10-year veteran, the pre-race nerves and taper – or as I like to call it, hell — still get to me. In the days leading up to the race, I think know I drove my husband crazy with my self-doubting, hypochondria, and short-temper. (Sorry, honey!) All this usually fades away after the start, but not so much this year. Something felt strange, and I just couldn’t shake it. I wanted this year/race to be special, but I wasn’t sure I had that in me…

I ran the first 13.1 in a time that used to be my half PR not too many years ago, but my lack of long runs (being an entrepreneur = less time to run) made me doubt my ability to keep that pace. I kept on going, though, consoling myself with the idea that I’d done this race before on far less training.

At mile 20, I told myself I only had a 10K left. Then the previously mentioned rough patch (or “wall,” if you prefer) hit me…hard. My legs felt like lead and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get them to go. Fortunately, as he so kindly often does, my husband was riding his bike along side of me during this part of the course, so I had some distraction from the self-doubting marathon monsters inside my head. With a few miles left, he pointed out that I had a chance to set my course record if I “go now.” I wasn’t sure I — specifically my legs — was capable of much more, and the “runner’s high” that comes with the realization that I’m going to finish a marathon hadn’t kicked in yet. But I’d have to wait an entire year to have another shot at a CR, so I asked myself, “Do you want this or not?”

I did. So I went for it.

At mile 25 the euphoria (finally!) kicked in.

I’m not sure how I did it, but according to Garmin, I ran the final 1.2 miles at 8:59 pace — smiling all the way. (Note: Ridiculously photogenic runner guy, you’ve got nothing on me!)

IMG_0157Mile 26

I crossed the line in 4:25:17 – three minutes and 54 seconds faster than my previous CR and my second fastest marathon time.

It was a time and effort befitting of my 10th anniversary with Akron and marathoning. And one I hope to beat next year.

photo 2A special thanks to the Witten (formerly Payne) pitcrew for all of your love, support, and encouragement (and getting up at the crack of dawn!) over the past 10 years. I wouldn’t have made it one mile without you.

A Bird in Bird-in-Hand

I didn’t do it on purpose — as I had no idea I’d (finally!) be selected for the team when I registered — but it was oh-so-very fitting that I made my Oiselle Volèe Team debut at the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon this past Saturday.

For those unfamiliar with Oiselle (translation: “bird” in French), it’s a completely awesome women’s running apparel company that’s all about girl/woman power, flying (a.k.a running), and being true to your amazing, bad@s* self. The company’s founder, Sally Bergesen, is one of my role models. She’s an entrepreneur (me, too!), runner (me, too!), and serious marketing/branding genius (I’m working on it!). Think She-Ra in running shoes! The Oiselle Volèe and Haute Volèe (pros) Teams are a group of extraordinary women that not only represent the brand, but also believe running is a life philosophy, not just a sport. Knowing all that, you can get an idea of why I was super psyched — as in I screamed when I got the announcement — to be selected for this team (after two years of trying!), and why BIH was the perfect place to make my debut as a bird.

This was my second appearance at the BIH half, which is a beautiful (and very hilly!) course in Amish Country, Pennsylvania. In 2012, I set a new PR (that lasted until Eugene), so I was excited to get back out there and give this course another go.

Once again, this race did not disappoint.

I kicked off the morning with a strawberry Pop-Tart (Reminder: Must order more Picky Bars!!!), and a starting line meet-up with fellow bird/Oiselle teammate/Lancaster native, Victoria and her friend Kyle. It was a lot of fun to hangout with such cool ladies and definitely got me pumped for the race.

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If that wasn’t enough, I got to do my warm-up with hot air balloons floating around above me. (How freakin’ cool is that?!)

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The weather was pretty much perfect for running – sunny and 50 degrees. So perfect that I had to throw my Oiselle arm warmers at my always-so-supportive husband/race photog extraordinaire at the three-mile mark.

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As the miles flew by, there were equal parts human and farm animal spectators cheering my fellow runners and I up and over the hills.

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Inspired by the animal cheerleaders, I did my own animal impression…of a bird, of course.

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I was feeling pretty good at mile 10, so I decided to kick things up a notch, or as my husband said, “drop the hammer.” This resulted in negative splits for the final 5k – a killer feat for someone with a bad habit of going out too fast and dying at the end of a race.

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I finished the race two minutes faster than the previous year, and clocked my second fastest half time ever! With my full marathon (hey, Akron!) in three weeks, I was definitely happy with this performance.

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And this was the reward for my 13.1-mile adventure. It gives new meaning to the term “hardware.” Seriously. I almost toppled over when they handed it to me.

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All in all, it was a great day to make my debut as a bird and fly through Bird-in-Hand! I definitely see you again next year, BIH Half!