Friday, July 31, 2015

Bastille Day 4 Miler - Back in the Racing Saddle!

It's been a while since I've blogged - it's been even longer since I've raced. The last race I did was a 10k in October and that was relatively subpar. My pursuit for PRs and podium finishes was put on hold for an uptick in writing. And that was the right decision: I need to be focused on the task at hand (the Ph.D.) and just use running to maintain sanity.
And the running kept happening, with some semblance of a regular routine. The length and frequency was somewhat consistent, but not bound to a particular schedule. And that was helping - I submitted my first dissertation chapter in June and received positive and helpful feedback from my advisor. Happy with the success and momentum of the first, I am well in the middle of my second chapter - something I'm hoping to finish sometime in August.
But, racing is one of my favorite things to do. I find it to be so exhilarating, and also so fun. But, I've become competitive I don't like the idea of showing up not fully prepared. With that in mind, I avoided races. I still had the DC race calendar in my head, knowing full well which events passed me by. I remember in April thinking to myself, "I haven't done a race I've been proud of in a year." And that was hard to swallow, and I went back to my writing.
But I still was checking the race calendar - maybe I could find something low-key to test the wheels.
And then: ta-da!
Bastille Day 4 Miler
Cost: $5
I'm in! There wasn't much to lose - it was a short race on a Tuesday night along the C&O Trail at Fletcher's Cove. I didn't do any speed training to prepare, I just figured I'd hop in and see how things turned out. I hadn't been timing any of my runs, and I figured anything under 8:00 pace (maybe even 7:30 pace) would be a good benchmark.
It wasn't a sunny day, but at 7PM, it was still pretty hot (high 80s). I ran there from home (about 3.7 miles) and was drenched by the time I got there. But talk about a view!
Fletcher's Cove - just a few miles from downtown DC
Between the 8 and 8.5 mark on the Capital Crescent Trail

For DC, it was a pretty low-key, small (160 people) race, and it was just fun milling around chatting with people before the start. Originally, I thought we would be on the paved Capital Crescent Trail, but we were on the gravel Chesapeake and Ohio Trail. Stay tuned for why that matters.
I was a little nervous at the start - this wasn't sandbagging - I had no idea how it would go. How much speed was left in the legs? Sure, I could run a steady 10 mile run at an easy pace, but would I blow up trying to go fast in a shorter race? But we were off.
They call it muscle memory for a reason. While it was clearly evident that I couldn't go out and lead the race, I wasn't falling apart either. I didn't wear a watch, as I just wanted to go out by feel. The old instincts were coming back, and I was clicking along. I definitely wanted to run a negative split, and figured the turn-around point would be a good marking point to pick things up. As we headed into the turnaround, someone yelled out that I was third woman. Sounds good to me! At the turnaround, I could see that there was a pretty decent gap between me and second, and me and fourth, so the goal was to just try to pick up the pace and pass some guys. It was so hot out, and I was grateful for the large water cups distributed and the spray station (two kids gleefully spraying us). I kept duking it out with a few guys, which really, the back and forth was good for all of us - no one was slowing down. It was so peaceful and quiet out there - hard to believe we were in this little oasis in the middle of our nation's capital. But bliss aside, the competitive juices were ramping up in the home stretch, and I was taking no prisoners. Stoked to cross the finish line as the time flashed:
27:28 (6:52 pace)
3/67 women
30/166 overall
Talk about muscle memory. Yes, in my best fitness, I could run 10 miles 20 seconds per mile faster, but this was great! Not all was lost, and it was a reminder that I love racing and even if I can't devote as much time to training, this should still be a regular part of my life.
Also, this was a race on a gravel trail, and the Georgetown track coach calculated that gravelly trails tend to add 10-15 seconds to your time, so I'm thinking it was closer to 6:45 pace.
Overall, I had a blast - it was just so much fun racing again. I broke even - it was $5 to enter, and I won a $5 Starbucks card. And they gave out these shirts too. Too hot to wear it running for a while, but love a DC-centric shirt.
I'll be testing my racing flats out again tomorrow at the Friends of the W&OD Trail 10k in Vienna - my old stomping ground! It was great to race again, and run (around) this town with a bib on!

post race selfie

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hard Choices

Admittedly stealing my title from Hilary Clinton's book, which I've only read the new epilogue that she linked to in a recent editorial. And it may sound a bit facetious to write about hard choices, when I know all-too-well that daily people make much more difficult choices than what I do.
That being said, I'm taking life by the reins, and making some changes:

From 2006-2014, I worked for Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth Summer Program. It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and has brought me to some wonderful places, including Santa Cruz, CA, and given me some wonderful friendships as well. It has allowed me to work on my leadership skills and grow as someone interested in education and mentoring others. I've had the privilege of working with thousands of students, and hundreds of staff members. For seven weeks each summer, I get to go to camp, and day in and day out, and give students (and staff) a great summer experience. It is awesome.

I am making progress on my dissertation, and entering into what I hope is the final academic year of my graduate career. I moved to DC to get a Ph.D., and I'm not leaving until I get it! Also, I married a government employee - odds are I'll be in the district for quite some time. However, it is eyes on the prize now. Beyond wanting to settle down and keep up with my wonderful family and friends, there is nothing I want more than this. And barring anything that would put my health and sanity at risk, I'm stopping at nothing to walk across the stage in full regalia.

That summer job is really more than seven weeks, when you count prep, planning meetings, and wrapping everything up (and recovery!), it takes up the majority of my summer. By the time everything has come to an end, it is time for another school year to start, which for the last three fall semesters has included teaching. One job quickly slips into another, and the years keep slipping by. You can call me Mrs. now, but not yet Dr.

With a heavy, yet detached heart, I decided not to return to my summer program for this year. Writing that letter to my supervisors was not fun. Telling those who I've had the pleasure to work with that I won't be back was no picnic either. I'm not saying goodbye forever, but I know that as long as I have worked for that program, it has been something I've needed to focus on single-mindedly, and the dissertation goes on the back burner. And the dissertation is what needs to my single-minded attention.

I'm not teaching this fall either. I'm fortunate that I received funding to ensure that I do not need to do that. I love teaching - I've had wonderful students who make class so much fun to teach. But again, the prepping and grading, when done thoroughly, takes up a lot of time. I'm so grateful to have gained so much experience since I started teaching in 2012, and taking a new role in the classroom has given me so much joy. But again, the dissertation needs most of my attention.

I'm not racing either. I haven't done a race I've been proud of since April 2014. That being said, the past five weeks, I've averaged 40-45 miles per week. I've done long runs ranging from 15 to 17 miles and they've been awesome. I now live in Dupont Circle, and have access to some of the best trails in DC. So I'm running for fun, for health, for sanity, but I'm not competitive. I hope to be again some day, but I can't commit to a racing season, intense training week in, week out, when that dissertation needs my focus. There is only so much intensity I can put into life, and I can't burn the candle at both ends and expect great results.

So, I'm identifying my priorities. I have my health, a family, a dog, some wonderful friends, and a dissertation. There are things I've had to say no to, and those are the hard choices. But if I can finish sooner and then move onto the next stage in life, the hard choices will be worth it.
Me with my husband and my parents

Celebrating our first anniversary!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'

I've read Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman at least a dozen times since I first got it as a gift in 2009 from my parents. When I first met Kathrine, later that year at the Marine Corps Marathon expo, I asked her to sign the book and told her I had already read it a couple of times. She told me that the book takes on different meanings when read at different points in life, and it's true. I've read it for running inspiration, but am seeing now the inspiration she provides for my writing. 

A lot of the vignettes of her life are so richly described, with such vivid detail, that one can't help but remember the different training runs and races Kathrine completed (and then later organized) all over the country, as well as internationally. It's not just her signature story of the 1967 Boston Marathon that resonate, but of her victory in the 1971 NYC Marathon, and earning her amazing 2:51 PR in Boston in 1975. They instill excitement in their own unique ways, as well as both the snowy and sweaty training runs she did to achieve those goals.

Probably because we've had some snow ourselves the past week in DC (here, only an annual event, compared to my hometown in upstate NY), but this story came to mind this week. It's on page 242, describing a training run in preparation for the 1974 Boston Marathon...

"One snowy Sunday in February I jogged up to Central Park to do my long run...I was the only person in the park...I looked up at the expensive apartments along Fifth Avenue, imagining the people having coffee or Bloody Marys, reading their thick Sunday editions of the New York Times,or looking out the window and watching this solitary figure running through the snow. I wondered if they admired me or if they thought I was a nutcase....I usually laughed it off and thought how envious they must be of my youth and vigor, and that all their money wouldn't buy the health and accomplishment I had....The fact was I wanted just for once to curl up on a Sunday with coffee and the Times. That's when I knew I was tired. So I stopped for a moment and shouted up to the buildings, 'There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'"

If there was ever a line that resonated with me in the book, it was that one. The dissertation, I'm learning more and more, is about proving myself: to my advisor, my committee, my department, my family and friends who have watched and supported me patiently as I've plodded through this process. It's the late nights and early mornings starting at the blinking cursor on my laptop, trying to knock out a few more pages that have been getting to me. Or just answering patiently, with a forced smile, some canned response to the always-frustrating, "So, when do you think you'll be done?" I too would love to just curl up with coffee and my iPad, reading a book without the guilt drifting in of "You could be writing now...tick tick tick."

 I know that when the dissertation is finally approved, signed off by all of the faculty, those feelings will disappear. I know it won't be permanent - the finish line just keeps moving back.

My time will come, and I know when I'm there, I'll be raising my arms in victory. But right now, I can only shout to the heavens, 'There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'

Monday, January 26, 2015

"A step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction."

"Don't try to rush progress. Remember - a step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction." Kara Goucher
This was the Runner's World quote of the day e-mail I received a few days ago, citing a time-Olympian and one of the fastest American distance runners. I've been thinking about it a lot, and keeping that mentality in mind as I soldier on in my dissertation.
The last time I posted, I had just arrived to Dayton to begin my two-week research stint there. It was freezing! All of my western NY upbringing has melted away in the six years I've been in DC. There were days when the high was 2 degrees - and I was just shivering. But in the end, there were a lot of positives:

  • It was my first extended research trip
  • I made a lot of extremely valuable professional connections, including some faculty who write in my larger field
  • With the new year freshly-ushered in, it gave me time to re-focus and hunker down to realistically plan out my goals and plan of attack
I had nothing else to do but dissertation work. No laundry, no chores, no cooking (can you now imagine why my husband missed me so much?!) Taking away all of those little responsibilities and expectations just enabled me to clear my head. Leading up to Christmas break, after a semester of teaching and writing, I was feeling pretty burnt out, and unproductive as well. Instead of running in circles, I was writing in circles, and hardly at all. The new year, and new location wiped away the slate and presented a new one, clean and full of possibilities.
I've had people say over the years, "Oh you're so motivated, you run marathons, surely this is a piece of cake." Or, "I know you are so regimented with your running." Or my all-time favorite (said for the upteenth time last week by one of my readers), "A marathon must be harder, right?" No! Looking back, I feel like I practically danced through my marathons. That's not true - I put a lot of hard work into training for them. But even the moments of agony in the marathon have not compared to the agony of the Ph.D. I'm not saying that to be overly-dramatic, but this has given me a lot more heartache, tears, and worry than the marathon ever did. But I digress. The point is, I've always been so regimented with my running and training, and while I had a clear-cut routine in coursework and during my exams, it's been more difficult to have a stable researching and writing routine in ABD-land (all but dissertation). I loved coursework: there was a clear-cut schedule (and a clear end in sight!), and I thrived in that environment (I'm sure that kind of scheduling is why training works well for me). But now it's time to bring in the big guns:
That's my mom, my two aunts (her younger sisters), and me on my wedding day. My aunts have been involved in my life since I was born, and my mom was my first teacher (and is still teaching me a lot...these days, it's how to cook!). They are all go-getters in their own way: my mom successfully raised two children and got us into our dream colleges, Aunt #1 is a successful corporate lawyer in NYC, and Aunt #2 was a powerful executive before she had her children. 
They are my "professional naggers" (I got the term from an actual company -- yes, you can actually pay  someone to call you up to make sure you're doing what you're supposed to do).And I say that knowing they will probably laugh at that title. But they are all so motivated and driven - and know how to keep each other accountable! But in all seriousness, I am keeping them informed on my daily goals, and ultimately, how close did I come to meeting them (and if not, why not). I need that accountability so I can finally cross this finish line!
That's where I am at tonight. Did I exercise today? No. But did I write 4 pages? Yes. So, maybe there weren't as many endorphins released (although I did play outside with my dog in the snow), but the satisfaction of a good writing day is pretty close to a runner's high.
Step by step, page by page, this thing is going to be written.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Sunday Night evening on the eve of hope and productivity

I received a grant to research at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. They have some incredible late medieval and early modern sources about the Virgin Mary, and are relevant to my dissertation. I am placing a lot of hope and expectation in this trip. After my colloquium (an intensive workshop) in November, and facing suggestions for serious revision and restructuring in my dissertation, it just was hard to summon the motivation, and courage (yes, there is often the feeling of needing to be brave to write) to write and tackle the dissertation. The feelings of defeat, and discouragement, resonated a lot louder than my goals for completion and motivation. I’m trying to quiet those enough and find the New Year and new semester as motivation to get past this hump and mental block.

I am trying so hard to envision the finish line, even though it is over a year away. When it comes down to it, I’ve always had big goals, ones that require long-term planning and execution, but this is the longest. I’m going to be counting on more people for help, support, and encouragement, than I’ve ever demanded. Otherwise, if I just let it all fester in my head, accountable only to myself, my head will explode and I’ll burn out way too soon.
I want to finish I want to finish I want to finish I want to finish. I have to keep saying that to remember that this is actually the goal – my goal.
For the next two weeks, I’ll either be in the library or in my hotel room, with my laptop as my only roommate. I need to write and be productive, to go balls to the wall and crank out some decent material.
I hope I can look back at this trip with fondness and nostalgia. I’ll be able to link this trip with memories of solid writing and innovative thinking. When future grad students ask for advice, I want to cite this trip as inspiration, recalling with a smile, “Those were the golden days – I was able to accomplish so much and it changed my mentality for the dissertation in the final stretch.”
I recall two different New Year’s and new semesters, coincidentally, both odd years, like this one, where I took on a gung-ho attitude, and ultimately, had a profound impact on my life:
January 2011. January 10, 2011 was my first day of classes of the semester, and also, the first day of going gluten-free after my December 2010 diagnosis of celiac disease. I looked at everything as shiny and new, filled with possibilities. On that Monday, I was at the swimming pool by 7AM for my double-days of workouts (this was also my first day of training for my best marathon ever – Boston). I then cleaned up, dressed in professional drab of grey and black (I still have the top and remember the memories of wearing it on that day) for a directed readings course with one of my beloved professors. It was a grueling one-on-one one-hour session, every Monday morning at 9AM – what a way to start the week. But as the weeks progressed, our conversations progressed and the dialogue became all the more compelling. I became stronger mentally, I gained physical strength in my training, and my insides began to heal as I adjusted to my new diet. I ran a personal best of 3:27 later that spring, and found I had experienced a large mental shift in my thinking and training as a budding historian.
January 2013. I sat down and made a list of goals, with my then-boyfriend, now husband, by my side, agreeing to support me and push me. The big professional goal was to get my dissertation proposal passed. Over MLK weekend (now fast approaching once again), I sat in the desk he made for me, occasionally gazed out the window, and wrote the first draft of the proposal that eventually passed later that spring.

With both of these memories in mind, I am at the eve of another odd-year January semester full of hope and anticipation. I still need to write out some concrete goals, but the dream is out there. Now it’s time to make it count.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not always all about the race: October running

It's been nearly a month since my last blog post, so these are just the greatest hits of October - can't believe it's over!
In continuation of my random fall season of signing up for races on a whim, I signed up for the Rock and Stroll 10k in Alexandria over Columbus Weekend. It poured and was windy - not the most ideal conditions. I was hoping to be fairly competitive (new race and the winner got $100), but I faded after 1 6:30 mile and ran 43:29 (for 7:00 pace). Again, given that I'm not doing any formal training, it was a fine race. I also think we accumulate a certain number of bad weather races - and I was overdue for crappy weather. I will say, the hot shower and post-race nap were some of the biggest perks of the race!
I do love to race, but I am also grateful that racing is not the only reason I love to run. The weekend after that race, I decided to go for a really long run. I had finally gotten back to covering 13 miles, and I thought I may as well add a few more. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I traversed through Virginia on the Washington and Old Dominion trail, the miles just added up. I had a 2+ hour long running podcast (Marathon Talk) that served to keep me company, as funny British marathoners Martin Yelling and Tom Williams bantered on and on. As I went further down the path into Reston, the people who were just out for a light stroll dissipated, and it was so quiet and peaceful. Not isolated enough that there was no one in sight (don't worry, Mom!), but just peaceful and no need to hear cyclists cry out "on your left" or just glide by like they were on the Tour de France. My legs felt loose and free, and I felt like i could just go on forever. In the end, it ended up turning into a 16 mile run, and while I stumbled into the house tired, it was the good kind of tired. It had been over six months since I had gone that far, and it put me up to 51 miles for the highest mileage I had ran in again, about six months. Feeling strong and happy.
Heaven on earth
I had the honor of pacing one of my dearest friends, Jenny, in the Marine Corps Marathon. She had decided that this was going to be her last marathon. I ran with her for her first marathon four years ago (Marine Corps 2010), I paced her to a BQ at Marine Corps 2011, and she then went to Boston to participate in one of the great races of the world, only to be met with a terrorist attack shortly after she finished. That was not the end to her story, so she came back to DC for her last hurrah, her victory lap. She ran 4:16, and while there were moments of pain as she crossed the bridge from DC to Virginia at the 20 mile mark, we crossed the finish line together hand in hand. It was a run of friendship and a great way to celebrate four years of her hard work.
Me and my friend Jenny after she finished the Marine Corps Marathon
While 50,000 people were lining up on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge this morning for the NYC Marathon, trying to block the 40mph gusts of wind, I went out for my own jaunt around Virginia. I had in my head to run 16, and it was only going to take some heart to make that happen.  It was cold, my legs were tired, and it seemed like a pipe dream. Was I doing this for the right reasons? Was I just trying to show that I still have game? Or was this also a test of endurance? It wasn't until at least 8 miles in that I felt confident in my ability to get through the run, and it felt like the wind was blowing in my face no matter which direction I went. I kept thinking about New York, and those people were in it for the long run, literally, they were going to spend all morning, and into the afternoon, trying to capture this American dream. Surely I had it in me too. It wasn't glamorous, my victory strides back into my apartment complex, and I stumbled in, relieved for it to be over. It brought me up to another 51 mile week, and gave me more confidence that yes, I can enjoy running just for running's sake, and yes, I can still go far (although not as fast as I used to). It's just not always all about the race('bout the race, 'bout the race, no treble!)
I will find my racing mojo again, but in the meantime, I still have a running mojo. This fall is cold, but just too damn beautiful to let these short days just slip away, faster than the leaves can change and litter the ground.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Rolling hills

Rolling hills provide some of the best terrain for training. Runners gain strength as their legs work to climb up, only to trash their quads on the descent back down. One can really get into a nice groove with the undulating hills. While flat is always equated with fast, the hills prevent muscles from stiffening up, from repeating the same action time and time again. One of my favorite DC races, the Pike's Peek 10k has these rolling hills, and that's where my 10k PR came from. Even if you are running on the same road, the rolling hills change things up, and provides an interesting view along the way.
Running, writing, and the dissertation all overlap in so many ways. So often, many people have made running analogies when talking about the dissertation, including the over-used "It's a marathon, not a sprint." I know what they are getting at: the arduous work, the moments of doubt, the joy at the end. However, I have finished six marathons: all under four hours. I started regularly running September 2008 and completed my first marathon six months later. This Ph.D. is taking a whole lot longer. I even got an e-mail the other day with the following headline: The two do share a lot in common.
Both running and writing take a similar emotional toll: a veritable roller coaster ride of emotions.The excitement and anticipation in the beginning, the fear in the middle, the triumph in the end.
I'm rolling along in my dissertation, but with that comes the roller coaster of feelings. Last week, I was on a footnote scavenger hunt (a book referenced another book that I thought would be useful). As I read the author's analysis of one of the sources integral to my dissertation, some of the comments that author made started to sound too familiar - was part of my argument already made by someone? I kept reading, closely, waiting to see where her winding road of an argument went. Whoosh! It just just a slight turn, focusing on a different area, and I was saved! Phew! Plus, I could factor her points into my argument, and show how there was a clear distinction. Now that my stomach's knots could unravel, I went back and started reading the chapter from the beginning. I was hooked now, taking notes and the synapses and neurons were firing away. My muscles relaxed and I moved on.  
That up and down, all around emotion has now become a regular part of my dissertation life. The highs are great, the lows are what wake up my brain in the middle of the night. But the promise of the finish line is what keeps me moving. I have two friends who, all three of us could potentially finish and graduate at the same time. The thought of the three of us, in full academic regalia, standing in front of the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (that is where commencement is held for us), smiling and relieved from crossing this finish line, is often what gets me to return to the keyboard and the book again and again. 

Off to make another climb...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

When it really is a fun run: Our Lady of Good Counsel 5k 2014

This is just short and sweet, as all as my running late has been:
In continuing my fun fall, I've picked up where I last left off: about 5 days of running per week, 40 miles for the past 3 weeks. This week, I cut it down to 35 miles, figuring take 3 steps forward, 1 step back. That's what I've always done: 3 harder weeks, and then a cutdown week. 
I did cutdown this week, but I also signed up for my church's fun run. I figured I would treat it as a race, again, without doing any real speed work, but just building back consistent running and a base. My church is only 3 miles from where I live, so in keeping green, I ran over to the race on Saturday. It's funny: I've done so many road races of all shapes and sizes. Local races that gather a few hundred people, regional races of a couple thousand, and the international-size Boston Marathon. Each bring their own character, and that even changes year to year. This was as home-grown as you can get. No bibs, no chip-timers, no mile markers. There was also a fun 1 mile run/walk for the kids, and they were all so excited getting ready for it. As I was warming up, I could hear a few of them chattering. One of them said "My mom does marathons..." and then proceeded to explain to the others how far that was, and it was so cute hearing them so impressed. These were also kids who would later cheer for their teachers who ran in the race: looks like they had some good role models. Something to keep in mind for the future. I lined up next to some high school girls and their mom (who asked what cross-country team I was on...she was shocked to learn I was 28) in the front of the oh, say, 50-60 people who were there for the race. With this being a church-sponsored race, it began with a prayer - always a nice way to start the day. And with the ringing of the school bell, we were off.
I had a feeling going into this race that I would do very well, as this race wasn't really publicized beyond our church. And within about 100 meters of starting, I was the third person, not third woman, but third person. Guy #1 was way in the distance, but I spent the first mile or so chasing after guy #2, then passing him strongly with a 6:14 first mile. This turned into more of a solo run that happened to be accompanied by the occasional police officer blocking off traffic or signaling which way to turn. It was a beautiful fall morning: high 50s, sun was shining, and I was running on the streets and trails of my new home in Vienna. Again, I still feel like it's a lot of work, and the second mile (according to my watch) was 6:45, so clearly even pacing wasn't a factor. I finished as the second person in 19:05, but my watch said 2.9 not quite a full 5k. That's 6:34 pace, and the equivalent of a 20:23 5k. I got a $30 gift certificate to Chili's, and then ran home, stretching out the run to make the day's work add up to 9 miles for the day. 
It was what it was, a fun run. Good to remember to support all races: big and small.
And speaking of big: amazing to hear that there is a new world record in the marathon - 2:02:57! I was in Boston in 2011 when the world best was set (2:03:02) and I remember being so stunned by that. Similarly, I was shocked to wake up this morning and read about the first ever sub 2:03 marathon at Berlin - the human body can do amazing things!
I was sad to hear that Shalane Flanagan did not break the American Record at Berlin, despite setting a new PR and coming in 3rd. She put it all out there: telling the press that that was her primary goal, and running gutsy (like she always does) in her best effort. Her post-race remark provides good food for thought for all of us: “This will aid me in future marathons,” she said. “Progress is always good, and this year I’ve dropped four minutes off my marathon time. I’ll look at my training and maybe work on being a little bit tougher in those last few miles. I'll take another shot at some point. Sometimes, it takes a couple of swings.” 
Keep on swinging!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting back in the saddle: Navy Federal 5k 2014

The last time I raced was April 27th, and the last speed work session I did was Easter Vigil (April 19th). That was the last time I was on a regular schedule for training, and I've said enough times already that there were enough valid reasons this summer to fall off the wagon. But, in seeing people post on Facebook their progress, and seeing great success from friends, it has been pulling me back into the desire to consistently get runs in. I do have to acknowledge and recognize that it may be the first year that I don't nab any PRs (unless I sign up for some obscure distance that I've never done before) since I started running. I'm making as much peace with that, as much as my type A tendencies will allow. That being said, I decided to sign up for a 5k, certain of completing the distance, uncertain where I stood in terms of time. I figured that while I was absent of speed for 5 months, something still had to be preserved. After all, some of the great pregnant athletes back and were able to regain their speed after months of running slow. I don't know scientifically how much fitness you lose and at what rate, but I figured I couldn't have lost it all. And yes, it probably would make more sense to get some solid speed workouts in (at least some 90 second fartleks thrown in), but I just wanted to race, get a sense truly where my fitness was at, and then go from there.

So, on Saturday I ran the Navy Federal 5k. I ran it last year in 19:59 and came in second. I knew it was a slow course, because that time came after a 19:10 PR and I was in really good shape. I figured since I came under 20 by the skin of my teeth last year, sub 21 was a good A goal, with sub 22 as a reasonable B goal. I threw in a few sprints in my shake-out run yesterday, hoping the legs would remember what a sub 7:00/mile feels like. I was happy that we live close enough that I could run there for my warmup. I positioned myself near the front of the start, saw two women who looked comparable in terms of general appearance, stood near them, and hoped that I wouldn't embarrass myself too much.

Boom! And we were off - in the first minute, as people are swarming around, sprinting like it's a 200 meter dash, and I'm realizing that I am just hoping to hang on. The two women go way out in front of me, one about 200 meters ahead, another about 100. In the first mile, I ran alongside one woman and passed her, and then felt very comfortable in third place. It was a welcome change of temperature - low 60s and cloudy - summer is finally ending! I went through the first mile in 6:29 - whoa! Not setting records by any means, but haven't seen a 6 in months and months. I've run some races where I've been somewhat uncertain of my ability to hold a pace, but there was a big question mark floating above me as I ran - wondering if this was too ambitious and fearing an impending blow-up. Things were relatively spread out at this point, so it was my goal to just pick off guys one by and just maintain this pace. Mile 2: 12:59 - nearly dead on, and looking like I'm squarely in third and able to hit my A-goal. This part of the course has a lot of turns and some hills, so while my pace slowed down, I was making good progress and passing a few guys. The last part of the course (last half mile or so) is part of one of my regular running routes, so I jumped in full-speed, passing 2 more guys in the final stretch and was pretty pleased with my finish:
6:42 pace
3rd woman and 19th overall (out of 808)

Wahoo! While it is the slowest 5k I've run in 3 years, it was less than a minute slower than I ran it last year. I broke even financially, as I got $25 for third place in a big check, a trophy, and had a great morning. I did look ridiculous with all of this in a drawstring bag as I ran home, check in one hand, bag bouncing behind me, but it almost must've been pretty funny to see. It's Wednesday when I'm finishing this, and my legs are still a bit sore - proof it's been a while since they've pushed that hard.
I need to start doing regular workouts again, in addition to just easy runs, but this was overall a great way to ease back into racing. Looking forward to more races this fall!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A decade ago...

On August 28, 2004, I moved into Hanselman 340 at the College of the Holy Cross for my freshmen year of college. I was a bundle of nervous, excitement, every emotion possible. I was excited to meet my roommate and set up my room (we're sitting on my bed), I was nervous about going somewhere where I didn't know anyone or my way around, I had mixed feelings about leaving my family behind, the friends I had known and loved for years. But this was the college I had dreamed of going to and I finally arrived. I knew I wanted to study history, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and beyond that, I didn't know much.
First day of college a decade ago
Those first few days were a blur of orientation mixers, ice breakers, hall meetings, first classes, and a thousand feelings. And this place became my home for four years:
View of campus from my room
It was at Holy Cross where I became a better writer, it was where I turned into a medievalist, I became an RA and interested in student affairs, I sang in three choirs and made a lot of great friends. I took classes with professors whose books and assignments still resonate with me today. It's because of them that I dropped the idea of law school (what a relief) and decided to become a professor.
Our school gave us journals on the first day of school, with check-in prompts that we could answer a few times per semester. I always did those prompts, and wrote in-between those as well, reflecting on who I was becoming, my fears and concerns (grades and my future were the big winners - some things don't change), and it's all bound up in a purple journal at my parents house. I've looked at it from time to time, and all of the emotions come crashing right back. I wrote about wanting to find love, and meeting the great guy. That didn't happen in college, but nearly a decade later.
I had concerns and interests about staying in shape: trying to go to the gym a few times a week, but without any sense of purpose or real enjoyment. 
As I was reflecting back about the past ten years, and also reading about the class of 2018 preparing for their arrival to Holy Cross, it came to my attention that I wasn't the only one reflecting on the passing of a decade.
It was also the tenth anniversary of when Meb Keflezghi earned the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon and brought home a medal for the first time in nearly three decades. He blogged about his decade as well: and while the whole article was excellent, it was his conclusion that really stuck with me:
Some things take longer than we want to achieve or accomplish, but just because they don’t happen in your time, doesn’t mean they will never happen. Never give up on your dreams, but also never give up working to make your dream become a reality.
And if that's something I can remember for the next decade, and also advise the newly-arrived class of 2018, it's that accomplishments and progress take time: the dream doesn't become a reality overnight. Grad school has been a slow process: yes with peaks along the way, but it's been years in the making, and the end isn't quite in sight. I did not meet my husband in college, and there were years of wondering when that would happen too. I did not graduate college thinking that within a year, I would run a marathon, let alone qualify for Boston in eighteen months. 
There are bumps along the way, and there are days when the dream seems out of reach, and on those days, it's hard to see whatever medal of victory, be it a marathon medal, a degree, a family, dangles ahead of us. I know I've had those days of doubt and uncertainty. But on a weekend like this, when I've just come home from my honeymoon (Bahama cruise - it was wonderful!) and begun my third year of teaching, it's also important to remember the joy of hitting those milestones as well. And hopefully in a decade, I can dig this up and smile, laughing at what's happened from 2014-2024!
Bahama cruise!
A decade later, still can fit in this shirt, new roommate!