Today's Mighty Oak


So, one of my PRorER teammates tagged me in a fun running challenge:

It definitely took me a while to whittle it down to 10. I have a lot of good memories at a lot of good races (and a lot of bad ones as well), but I think this is a good list:

Pittsburgh Marathon 5K 2014

My very first race! I got a weird start to running, I was a Kickstarter backer for Zombies, Run!. That came out, and it still felt beyond me, so when they came out with their Couch to 5K app (Zombies 5K), I finally picked up the sport in a healthy and sustainable way.

I remember being in the start corral and my friend who went down to run with me being surprised when I raised me hand as the DJ asked if anyone was there for their very first race (a lot of us were). She was so proud of me at the end, and this began our tradition of meeting at ‘Lost Child’! This is also my favorite medal the Pittsburgh Marathon has done that I have.

EQT 10 Miler 2016

This was the first race that I trained for with a plan (thank you Hal Higdon, although I will say, his 10-miler plans are not great in terms of weekly to long run mileage ratio; stick to his half and full plans). I remember how proud I was after my last long training run of eight miles!

My friend Sean paced me for this race, and he was amazing for doing so! I also had it in the back of my mind that if I could run 10 miles, I could run a half that spring (spoiler: I did)!

Zombies, Run! Halloween Virtual Race 2017

ZR is the absolute gold standard for virtual races. While most are virtual time trials where you pay for a medal and some swag (I’ve signed up for many based on the medal or the cause, I won’t lie), ZR races have a story, interactive elements, training ‘missions’ and a vibrant community obsessing over the characters.

I ran this race with a friend at a local park. We timed it so the sun was going down and we would finish just as it was getting really dark, and the sound editing and story made it such a surreal experience, it was the perfect way to enjoy the Halloween themed race!

Veteran Half Marathon 2018

This race sticks out for three reasons. One, it was run on a motor speedway. And not just a big oval, but over three really winding courses.

Two, I got to run this with my aunt! My aunt lives outside of Harper’s Ferry, W. Va. and has been a runner for a long time, so I went down with a friend to run this race with her. The wind was brutal, I actually had windburn on my face and hands after this race, but still came away with a PR.

And thirdly, this was also my first experience with a ‘runcation,’ which I’m a big fan of! Getting away to see a new city on foot (or in this case, a city that has changed a lot since I had been there), or for a destination race, is such a great way to see the country and a nice change of pace, it’s highly recommended!

Eagle Up 2018

Crewing at EAgle UP 2017 was amazing. And when r/running decided to go back in 2018, I was even more prepared. This is what solidified us as a running family (and team), under the banner PRorER.

Helping to get my friends to their goals, as well as the absurdidty of what we put together, was amazing on every level imaginable. This was also the origin of my ultra/running name “Tent Daddy,” which honestly, is a point of pride for me.

Crewing takes a lot out of you, when you do it right; maybe even more so than running. I know that at the end of each event I’m crewing, I’m under a fog of both physical and mental exhaustion, but also gratitude for being allowed to serve. I hope that the runners I’m supporting see that: I may be more reserved and inwardly focused, but it’s all out of a quiet service and love, as well as utilizing the time to work on my own personal improvements, even when taking care of the needs of those running.

I love my running family, they’ve seen me through so much, and I’ve welcomed them into my home and my heart. I could not ask for a more wonderful family to run with.

GAP Relay 2018

I had a lot of issues with how this race was managed, but it helped me find a community of night runners that continues to this day. Shared toil can bring people together, and this race certainly did. We had a great time, despite a lot challenges, and I’m proud of us for that!

Eagle Up 2019

My first time running an ultra. After crewing a few times, I figured it was time for me to give it a shot. I had a blast, was supported by an amazing team, made new friends on the course, and even finished in the top third for my event, far exceeding my own expectations!

B6Q

A two-day, last person standing race put on by a friend and member of my ultra team. Friends from all over the country in a county park, their families, a big cookout feel, the most amazing raffle prizes, and lots of running loops, what more could I ever ask for?

This weekend is such an idyllic memory for me, not only the feel of the entire weekend, but also setting up and tearing down the course, building and installing a literal bridge and the camaraderie from this amazing group.

Philadelphia Half Marathon 2019

I went in hoping to PR and I worked my ass off to do so. The goal was to break 2:10, with a stretch goal of sub 2:05. I came in sub two hours! I remember not even believing it, even as I was staring at my results on my phone. The crowd support in downtown was phenomenal, and I got a chuckle that everyone from Philly died on the two hills as I just passed them all with ease. Getting cheered on by the Philly Frontrunners at the very end was just the icing on the cake.

This was also a runcation with amazing friends. I got to explore a new city, ride the train for the first time (and finish up my NaNoWriMo novel while on board at the end of the weekend) and enjoy a real vacation for the first time in a long while.

Pittsburgh 30K

My first trail race! This was a fatass race put on my the local outdoor store. I made some scones to share and got lots of compliments on them, but the aid station winner was the Pittsburgh cookie and pierogie table!

A group of four of us from PRANK ended up running together and we got to see parts of Pittsburgh I’ve never dreamed of seeing (and might not be able to again based on planned development, which was the impetus of the event).

While it may not be my favorite, I’m glad I dipped my toe in the trail running world, this was the perfect way to do it.

Except for ‘that’ hill.

You know the one.



My friend and teammate Lauren planned an eight hour puzzle run for her birthday. And while we couldn’t all go to Indianapolis to do it in the park like she originally planned, we were able to all compete virtually!

Each hour, she would release a new clue. You then than three options for getting the second clue to that hour:

  • Run 2-3 miles
  • Walk 1 mile
  • Do some sort of activity for 30 minutes (this could be wiring, cleaning, other exercising, whatever you wanted to do).

After you got the clues, you’d come up with either a three digit code or three letter word to send back. If you were right, you got one of the eight puzzle pieces. First one to assemble all eight puzzle pieces correctly wins!

You could participate as a team, but I was running solo. You could also front-load miles for those who wanted to do a long run; they would get the clues each hour at quarter after. I decided to run three miles each hour, which gave me a little taste of a last person standing race. I set up in my basement with my laptop, some snacks, water and at 9 a.m., I took off for my first run. Each hour I’d be running 9 loops of my neighborhood.

Hour 1 – Numbers. Run time: 30:15

At the top of the hour, Lauren gave us six Sudokus. The second clue showed us which three boxes we needed to turn into her. I copied one of them wrong, so I had to come back to this after my hour two run, but I enjoyed it, it’s been a while since I’ve done any Sudokus! This is where I also learned that doing these kinds of mental tasks after running is harder than I expected!

Hour 2 – Ballroom. Run time: 28:56

This freaking puzzle! This one gave me the most trouble the whole day. We got the image below as the first clue, and then the second was the crossword that showed what letters to send back to her.

I made a word bank, and eventually Lauren released a better word bank, so I was able to figure it out from there. But man, I was googling everything (names of famous hip hop dancers, George Fred Astaire, synonyms for tango, my search history is something else!) and I tried some wild things, even trying to figure out how to use the clock as a clue.

Eventually I finished up Numbers and resigned myself to keep working on Ballroom for the rest of the day.

Hour 3 – Sign. Run time: 28:31

This hour’s first clue was a sign from Bryan’s Family Fish Market. After my run, I got the blank puzzle with a few letters filled in (like Wheel of Fortune). Eventually, I started crossing off letters from the sign and filled in the puzzle, asking me for the number of MPs in the UK House of Commons. Sent that off, got my puzzle piece and stared some more at Ballroom.

Hour 4 – Bar. Run time: 28:04

Hour four gave us a picture of bottles lined up on a bar. After my run, I was asked to make a Moscow Mule, the three digits being the number of each bottle. Stared some more at Ballroom and got some more substantial food from upstairs and refilled my water bottles.

Hour 5 – People. Run time: 27:47

This hour brought us six people with their ages, pointing to each other. After my run, I got an order of mathematical operations. The first solution I came up with (using the order of operations), was a four digit number, and I knew that couldn’t be right, so I went back and did each step as a separate, individual equation. That yielded the correct three digit code!

Still working on Ballroom, but I also took the pieces that I had and started to put them together in Photoshop. I could see what is was going to be, but still had half of the pieces to collect. This was also where the running was really starting to wear me down. The breaks were good for my legs, but the brain keeps going, even when you’re running, so it was quite a workout the whole day!

Hour 6 – Words. Run time: 27:32

This one also took a while to figure out, and Lauren released a bunch of extra hints for it. At the top of the hour we got three columns of three letter words. Our clue was red, yellow and green boxes that corresponded with each of them.

At first, I thought it was finding similar letters in the green box words, and maybe some overlap from yellow. I also tried finding the most used letter from each column, and the most used letters from each color.

Eventually, figured it out that red words had no correct letters, yellow had a correct letter in the wrong spot and from there, I was able to brute force through it all to figure out the answer, but not until after all my runs were done.

Hour 7 – Clocks. Run time: 27:35

This one was ingenious. At the top of the hour we got eight clocks that were missing their hands. The second clue ave us the hands.

So at first, I tried finding a pattern in the times, and looking at the elapsed time between each clock. I tried adding up the total elapsed time, nothing was working.

Hour 8 – Excerpt. Run time: 27:26

I went out for my last run, hoping to get back quick enough to give myself a fighting chance to finish up Words, Clocks and Excerpt. I made it back, grabbed my computer and phone and ran upstairs to see what I could finish.

The first part of the clue was an excerpt from Sherlock Holmes on a very busy background. The second clue was a color wheel with an arrow pointing to cyan.

If you filtered to read the cyan part, you could make out an extra sentence near the end. I saw the word ‘address’ in it an immediately send in the clue of 221, the first part of Holmes’ address. Knowing it was a three digit code, there was nothing else it could be.

I still needed to get words Words and Clocks. Words I was able to work my way through, it just took me until after run eight, leaving only clocks left to be solved.

Staring at it, I suddenly realized that one of the clocks was from Ballroom! I actually made it harder on myself by going back to that clue and trying to read the time off of it. The more simple, and correct answer was to just send in the time that matched that clock from the second part of the clue. That series of texts, sending in the answer for Clocks as my mind worked through those revelations was amazing and I was cheering in my house! That gave me all eight pieces!

I put them together, sent it in, and won the individual race! A four person team finished up very shortly after hour 8, and a two person team didn’t finish until just before the end of the day cutoff, so I’m very happy with my performance!

As sad as it was to not be together to celebrate her birthday, being able to play this amazing game virtually was great! Following along with people working through puzzles and running all day was really awesome.

I can also say that this is the first time I’ve ever won a race! Guess it takes a combination of mental and physical tasks to give me a chance! But I will say, I’m really proud with my running. Getting consistently faster throughout the day was not something I expected to be able to do, and I really impressed myself!

Lauren did such an amazing job putting this together, changing it to a virtual event on the fly, and coordinating us all as we ran. I think there at least 40 people participating which is so awesome to have such a big group, from all over the country playing!

This inadvertently became my last race for the spring, and I’ve taken the next week off (going the same direction for all of my running around my neighborhood tiny loop has done a number on my left Achilles). I have the Zombies, Run! spring virtual coming up, and then I’m gong to do Laz’ The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000K to make sure I keep up my running over the summer and to get ready for the newly rescheduled O24.



As is our new reality, this was my first race cancelled, which was a tune up for Eagle Up. So, I geared up, crewed myself and did it virtually on the jail trail and Frontrunner loops on Sunday.

The jail trail loop is 5.5 miles, and the Frontrunner loop is 4, so I planned on doing five jail trail loops and one Frontrunner loop, giving myself the option to stop at my car between each one. The day started out chilly, in the 20’s, so I was in a few extra layers I knew I would stop to take off.

Lap 1: Parked and got my things situated, using my vest filled with two bottles of Tailwind and I took off towards the South Side. Not many people out, but given the time, temperature and the social distancing, I wasn’t surprised. Got back to my car and decided to not stop, instead grabbing half of the Bobo’s Bar in my vest and kept going.

Lap 2: The sun started to peek out at times, and I thought about doing a clothing change for when I got back. Generally though, another pleasant loop, although my hips were tighter than I wanted, so I knew I’d be going slower than I wanted. Once I got back to my car, used the Porto, toiok off one torso layer, grabbed a handful of Pringles and ate the rest of my Bobo’s Bar.

Lap 3: Started to see a few more people, which was nice, and the sun was really coming out, so I spent most of this loop thinking about changing my clothes. Once I got back to my car I took off the pants (had shorts on underneath) and changed into thinner socks, which was a big help. Had a couple Pringles and a peanut butter packet.

Lap 4: Saw the president of the Frontrunners twice on this loop, which was a nice boost! Churning out the miles, still chugging along. At the end of the loop grabbed a ginger ale to stave off some stomach issues and fueled with half a Bobo’s bar. My headphones died on this loops, so I grabbed and paired my second pair when I was back at the car after a trip to the Porto.

Lap 5: saw a different member of the Frontrunners and stopped to do two quick good deeds: putting back a construction barrel from the middle of the road, and replacing a panel on one of the bike-share bikes. I started walking the bridges on this lap to give my legs a break. Grabbed some coke, Pringles and another peanut butter packet and headed out.

Lap 6: This was my short loop, which also meant leaving my car in the opposite direction. It was a nice change, even though it was only 1.5 miles shorter, but the change in direction and the new bridge was nice. Got back to my car, stopped my Strava and enjoyed being done, especially since there was a big increase in the number of people out on the trails.

Final time: 6:40:18. I had been hoping for sub 6, but having to crew myself, and the mental toll of *frantically waves at the world* I can say I’m not unhappy with my time.

Physical: Felt sore and tired, as expected. My hips were tighter from the start than I would have liked, and I think that made me slower. But maybe that’s a good thing, to take it slower than I could, this wasn’t my A race. Did develop one blister, which, all things considered, not bad to be my only injury after a race like this.

Crewing: I did better than I thought crewing for myself, I was generally really organized and did well thinking about what I’d need each time coming into my car. I spent a decent chunk of time looking for some band aids that I ultimately didn’t need, and hadn’t thought to pack ahead of time anyway. The back of my car is a little tight, but the totes helped a lot keeping things organized.

Next up: O24 is being rescheduled, but I don’t know the date yet. Eagle Up is looking less and less likely. Depending on how things play out in terms of scheduling, one of them will be my A race, but I’m sure they’ll both be later in the summer, meaning hotter and grosser and I’m going to hate it. I’m still following my training plan, and I made sure to take some good time off after this virtual.



I headed south to see my uncle and aunt and run the Sarasota Music Half Marathon. race report and pictures after the break!

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The Philly half was my A race for the fall. Read more after the break for a full race report and pictures!

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Race information

  • What? Eagle Up Ultra (24 hour)
  • When? June 8-9, 2019
  • Where? Canal Fulton, Ohio
  • Peak MPW: 60
  • Longest training run: 34 miles
  • Strava link

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
Mandatory AHave fun with the team!Yes
Mandatory BThank the volunteersYes
Mandatory CGet some sweet high fives and hugsYes
A50 milesYes
Stretch100K (62 miles)Yes!
Don’t leave without50K (31 miles)Yes

Background

The last two years, I’ve volunteered at Eagle Up with the Reddit meetup crew (as well as volunteering in Las Vegas for this year’s Meetup at the Jackpot Running Festival). I’ve really enjoyed crewing, but also wanted to try my hand at running an ultramarathon.

I’m generally a pretty private person, and tend not to talk about my goals too much (for fear of somehow letting people down, I’m working on that in therapy), and I had decided to run EU in the fall. Some of the meetup crew decided to go back to Eagle Up, so since I had already started my training, I was super excited to have a lot more friends there to pace and cheer me on!

Training

I slightly modified a training plan from Relentless Forward Progress: basically I just swapped two weeks to coincide with the Pittsburgh Marathon.

As is normal for me, there was a lot of day swapping inside of each week, but aside from my planned miss of a long run due to my regional Burning Man event (during taper, but subbed in with tons of time on feet), I attempted to run everything else, and was generally successful. I had some issues with four weeks in the middle of my plan (see knee issues, below), but that still left me with a good base.

Knee issues

I had to take two weeks off/down due to some IT Band issues, followed by one healthy week, and then took two more weeks off due to some other underlying knee problems. I ended up rallying back and having my biggest weekly mileage ever the week before the Pittsburgh marathon, so no taper for that.

When I was younger, my right knee had some chondromalacia patella (the kneecap goes sideways instead of up and down) and during this cycle, my left knee decided to get in on that action, right after I got past the IT Band issues.

Being diligent about my stretches got me back in working order, and as much time as they take (although sometimes it’s a good excuse to watch some Netflix), they really are necessary for me it seems. But an additional silver lining, is I was able to help a fellow Frontrunner with his knee pains from all my experiences!

Travel to Canal Fulton, Team time

The drive to Canal Fulton is fairly easy, and was even easier with a friend in the car, so that was pretty awesome. Eagle Up has grown in popularity, and even getting to the park as early as we did, we were pretty lucky to find a parking spot.

I loaded up my little red wagon with team supplies and as we made our way across the field, a smiling face surprised me, Matty had flown in from Florida to join the team and see me run! There were a lot of hugs (including a wonderful double-take hug) and I think I’m still grinning from being able to share the time with him.

The rest of the day was filled with hanging out with the team, packet pickup and lunch, milkshakes, passing out pizza and meeting the neighbors.

Pre-race

Woke up early at the AirBnB, had a Clif bar with peanut butter, generally was nervous, and headed to the park.

Having crewed enough of these events, I had practiced in my training at being pretty self-sufficient by keeping a small chart for me to check off after each lap so I wouldn’t forget things. It wasn’t a perfect system (as I did forget a few things, more below), but it worked fairly well. I will apologize to the most amazing crew though, between my chart and my demeanor (always smiling), I was told I was tough to crew for since they never thought I needed anything, but the crew and the rest of the team were lifesavers!

Miles [0] to [20]

I did a halfway decent job at going out slow, which, has been something I’ve been working on! Spent the first part of the loop with Russ and we chatted before we got separated. In the second loop I met a new friend, Matt (who is currently cropped out of my facebook profile picture), and we had some great conversations about family and queer theory. We found each other Sunday morning to congratulate each other.

As I came into the team tent each lap, whoever was there was great at seeing what I needed and filling up my handheld for me. I would check off that I ate some food, drank some water, took a salt tab and then I had a few optional boxes to see if I needed to change/add sunscreen, lube, shoes or clothes. After the third lap I got to chat with Erica briefly, she and I crewed together the last two years so that was a nice boost.

For most of loop four I was inside my head doing some work, and I gave that loop the codename “Ghost Lotus.” While it wasn’t necessarily the conclusions I thought I wanted to come to, it’s probably what I needed, as is the nature of these things.

These first four loops my fueling was mostly denser and somewhat sweeter things, but as the temperature climbed, that was the end of that for me.

Miles [20] to [40]

The temperature rose and this is where things got tough. I took in some more salty foods (Pringles), and headed to the main aid station where I discovered my new favorite ultra fuels: PB&J sandwiches, and hummus inside a tortilla.

I did notice that for as much as I was drinking, I was not peeing nearly enough, so I started downing some iced tea each lap to try to get things moving. The temperature spiking also threw my stomach into knots which pretty much stayed with me the rest of the race, so I started adding some ginger ale as well as some sitting breaks between loops to try to settle it down.

During loop 6 (I think, or it might have been 5), I caught up with Colin and we chatted as he finished up his race, and Dan was kind enough to pace me for lap 8, which gave me a great second wind and I cannot thank him enough for that. I also ended lap 8 with the traditional Nuggies, a very perfect ultra food.

Miles [40] to [62]

More miles, just keep churning them out. I tend to approach a run as ‘my purpose’ for the day, so just knowing that this was what I was doing today, kept it from being too daunting.

Loop 10 I was paced by Nate, and we were silly out on the course, made some friends and were told we have great calves (I mean, we do). This was also the lap where I forgot my handheld at the tent. I filled it up, but forgot to take it with me. My chart might be great, but it’s not fool-proof! This was also the lap my Achielles started to give me some trouble. Not too painful, just ‘crunchy’ in a way that it reminded me it was there.

Loop 11 was another lap inside my head, this time codenamed “Gerry,” it was just starting to get dark, and so were my thoughts, but again, good things to ultimately contemplate. This is also the lap where I found my new, new favorite ultra fuel: peanut butter and honey in a tortilla (sorry hummus).

Finishing up loop 12, I had been leapfrogging with a woman the entire day. I finally introduced myself to her, and she told me she was on her last loop. At the last water stop, about a mile from the finish line, I just told her that I was running her in, and that gave both of us a new wind. We chit chatted, but only a bit as she was now determined to run it in. I peeled off at the team tent to let her sprint the final straightaway, and as I passed her on my way to my final out and back, I gave her a fist bump.

The out and back is of course, way longer than the two miles it actually is, compounded by the bugs dive bombing your face if you turn your headlamp on, but the congratulations and smiles you get on the way back are worth it.

Came around the last bend and saw the lights from the finish line and kicked it into what felt like high gear. Passed a couple teammates out on a loop or their last out and back, and the rest of the team had all gathered to cheer me on. Crossed the line and got some hugs and a buckle.

Post-race

More hugs, tried to stretch, ended up on the ground as we cheered for Russ to finish his 100K as well! We headed back to the team tent and I sat for a bit before heading back to the AirBnB to shower and nap. During this two hour nap, I woke up three times to pee, so I was hydrated well, but I still need to work on that management I suppose.

We headed back to the park to watch the end of the relay (our teams did amazing), and then break camp before we went for breakfast at the local diner that’s become the tradition.

Back to Pittsburgh, just in time for Pride

Brooke and I drove back to Pittsburgh to head to Pride (and the ever-popular Golden Girls Live) and the Three Rivers Arts Festival. I saw a bunch of friends, but as usual, after an Ultra, the sheer number of people gets to me and we headed home after a bit.

What’s next, mental health and lessons learned

In the grand scheme, I have things pretty easy. But I will admit, training for an ultra is hard. And training for an ultra as a single person household is hard, too. There’s a lot of minutiae that needs done (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, yard work), on top of work and family obligations. I tried my best to make sure I took time for myself, but I failed pretty hard at that.

I had two weeks off, followed by one week on, and then another two weeks off, due to injury. During those times, I really had a tough time mentally, not only because exercise helps me keep better control of my emotions and mental health, but also because I put far too much stock on the number my scale says. Yes, I still have a bit to go and need to continue working on being healthy (with a holistic approach, not just a number), but after losing a significant chunk of weight, I’m realizing I have a more complicated and messed up relationship with my body than I care to admit, and I need to work on those things.

I have a much easier time controlling my weight when I’m running at 40 mpw, any higher and the runger takes over and I gain weight. It’s good that I found that out this time around.

I spent a significant amount of time towards the end of my training cycle and during the race thinking about ultra running as self-harm. Combined with my complicated relationship with my body, I realized that if I’m not careful, this could easily turn into something very unhealthy. But I’m more cognizant of that now, and I recognized my tendency to go that route. So that’s progress, and something I’ll keep exploring and working on.

I can’t thank PRorER Ultra Team, PRANK and the Pittsburgh Frontrunners enough, having such amazing running families has taught me so much and brought me so much joy. They put up with my crazy shenanigans and I’m so happy to have them all in my life!

I ran a bit the week after EU, and that helped to stretch things out, although I’ve taken more rest days lately to let my Achilles fully get back to normal (as well as due to a weird schedule this week). My next goal race is the Philly Half Marathon in November, so for now, it’s just some easy running over the summer with a team event and the ARTC Moose League, as well as a few charity 5Ks, sprinkled in. I’ll be crewing again in October at Sleepy Hollow, and I’m torn between running EU again next year or running it, I think that will depend on who else is doing what, and if I can be useful to the team if they’re going for records, but for now, I’ll enjoy a bit of time off before jumping back in again!



Race information

  • What? Pittsburgh Marathon (and 5K: Steel Challenge)
  • When? May 5, 2019 (and May 4)
  • How far? 26.2 miles
  • Where? Pittsburgh, Pa.

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
Mandatory ADon’t get injuredYes
Mandatory BThank the volunteersYes
Mandatory CGet some sweet high fivesYes
DPR the marathonYes
EStretch goal: PR the 5KYes

Marathon Pace Splits

MileTime
4.411:26
1011:06
1111:00
13.110:58
15.510:52
2010:41
26.210:26

Training

I’m training for my first ultra in June, but still wanted to run the Pittsburgh full, so I swapped two weeks in my plan without too much trouble. I had a few weeks off due to some IT Band and then other knee issues, but ended up rallying back and having my biggest weekly mileage ever the week before this race week, so no taper for the marathon.

Pre-race: 5K

This was my first race ever, and always a good time and benchmark. Headed down to the North Shore, met up with some friends and headed over to the start line. Like last year, the DJ was decent, so that was a plus.

5K

I didn’t have much of a goal for this, but a stretch was to PR, while still not pushing myself. Lots of jostling of crowds at the beginning, but it spread out after the first mile or so. Enjoyed the run through the North Shore, although it was super muggy. Tackled the hill on the bridge, through downtown and down to the finish line for the first time that weekend, shaving about a minute off my 5K!

Post-race: 5K

As is custom, met friends at ‘Lost Child’ and regrouped to head to the Toddler Trot where my friend’s 2-year old was running. I’ve never watched the Toddler Trot, but it was a great time. At least one child per heat would just sit down on the ground and refuse to move, but there were lots of cute moments and the crowd support was a lot of fun for this.

That evening, the Frontrunners did a pasta party, where we all gathered at one of our member’s home for a big potluck. Caught up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while and enjoyed the company.

Pre-race: Marathon

Woke up early, after a good night of sleep and went to the busway to catch a ride downtown. Local bus authority added “extra service” which meant a bus at 4 a.m. and a bus at 4:10 a.m., then regular service starting at 6 a.m. This is not what was publicized, but ended up making it downtown with plenty of time, despite the issues. Upon exiting the busway, everyone headed left. My friend and I turned right to go to an entire bank of unused portos!

Dropped off my bag at gear check (took a picture of which truck number for easy retrieval) and we headed towards the corrals. Ran into another friend, took a quick selfie, then she was off to the faster runners. Made friends in the start corral with a mother and daughter both running their first half to commemorate their recently dead mother/grandmother, which was sweet. We answered questions they had about the city and the race process, and wished them luck. We moved up as the corals were released, running through the drizzle.

Miles [0] to [11]

My race partner and I chatted for a while, entertaining ourselves and other random runners on the course. I got so excited that I missed the mile markers for 5 and 6, so I adjusted my nutrition a bit to get back on track. Was feeling good, although we stopped to use a porto around mile 4, but otherwise, just clicking off miles. The area around Allegheny Commons is always great, so enjoyed the crowd support through there.

After the first relay exchange, we picked up two more runners, one of which was his first race as part of a relay team, and he joined our conversation (we were talking about the importance of science) and stuck with us. As we came near the end of the West end Bridge, we could hear the polka band, and it did not disappoint. Turning onto Carson, we made our way towards Station Square where our relay friend left us.

Up on Carson Street proper in the South Side is always a big crowd, and I encouraged those walking to go grab a drink, most of he bars were open anyway. We approached the split, and I said goodbye to my friend who was running the half, leaving me alone to make new friends by myself as I ran the extra block then up and across the Birmingham Bridge.

Miles [11] to [26.2]

Running up the bridge, I fell quickly in with two other runners, both of which running their first fulls (despite one having finished a half Ironman already). I gave them some encouragement (which included cursing at the bridge beneath our feet), and we got across before making our way up The Monster into Oakland. I ran up with no problems, although the top of the hill is always a bit sad, as the schools of Oakland have already graduated and the neighborhood is a bit empty. However, as I was running near the museums, a spectator handed out icepops, and I ended up stopping with two guys who remembered me and my silly antics from the year before!

The part of the course down fifth (with a short diversion onto Walnut) can be brutal mentally, but I got some orange slices from spectators, so it was decent. On said detour, a friend of mine was out on his porch, so I looked out for him and got some cheers. Hit the next relay station at Mellon Park and we headed to the next mentally grueling part, Penn Avenue; this just seems to go forever. Grabbed a beer and more orange slices, made a few jokes; wasn’t too bad.

Around this time was when I found spotted some really good eye candy, so I just tucked in behind them and tried to keep up whenever I was falling behind. Left turn onto Braddock brings you to Homewood, which was rocking this year! The crowd support was amazing and a great boost.

At this point, I hadn’t seen a pacer in a while. I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to knock 20 minutes off my PR to break 5 hours. I looked up and saw the 4:45 pacer and couldn’t believe it. I caught up with her small group, and we chatted a bit. My mind told me to stay with them, to reign myself in a bit and and just finish strong, I remembered I had at least three decent rolling hills to get past still. My hearts said I had more in the tank, so I took off.

Ran through Larimer and Highland Park before hitting the last relay exchange. I passed the two guys and told them how much I appreciated running behind them and off I went. Clicking off miles, finally hitting my favorite crowd support section near Church Brew Works. The wall of crowd support is great, but as I grabbed a beer from the Hashers, noticed that an ex-coworker of mine was there on the sidewalk. The man is a giant, bigoted asshole and made my life a living hell for two years. Had I not been running I would have stopped to tell him off, but I let that anger power me as I ran down to the Strip and back to downtown.

The return trip down Liberty is also mentally grueling, but I was ready for it, I just keyed into my music, tried to find some zen and take a bit of time for some catharsis and reflecting on the fact that I don’t have to work with that waste of a human anymore.

Saw team members right as I was heading into downtown, and I got some quick updates on how everyone was doing/did, which was a great boost! Made the second to last turn and was trucking along, counting off the lights before I could turn onto the Boulevard of the Allies. Quick chat with someone else who was also in the Pain Cave, and I told her, once we hit that McDonalds, if you have it, that’s when you start to really kick. Sure enough, we get there, and we both kick it up another notch. I felt my chest burning, so held back just a bit for a quarter mile more, then rounded the corner and kicked for the finish line.

My goal was to cut 20 minutes off and break 5 hours. Chip time: 4:33:12.

Post-race: Marathon

It rained most of the second half of this race, and I just wanted to be dry; the temperature had been a bit lower than the 5K the day before, and the steady rain helped to at least make it feel like the humidity wasn’t as much an issue, but it was still less than ideal. Went through the chute, which is a feat unto itself (I have implored the marathon the last two years to give us the bag to collect water, chips, fruit, bananas, bagels and cookies after the medals and heat-sheets, not at the very end, but I have been ignored) and headed out towards the finish line festival. Ran into two team mates, congratulated them and then collected my Steel Challenge medal before doing a bit of stretching and meeting up with some of the Frontrunners.

I had to pee since about mile 19, but ignored it. Finally, about half an hour after finishing, remembered I needed to, but it was brown. Pretty sure it was just dehydration, but I stopped at the medical tent just to double check. Doubled up my water the rest of the day and was fine, but the combination of the humidity and Nuun Sport (instead of Gatorade) was just a weird mix for me, even though I had trained with the Nuun.

Grabbed the T (subway) back to my bus station, and was lucky enough to get on the bus just before it left, saving me about half an hour. I did some stretching on the bus, and wound up exiting the same stop as a volunteer. I thanked her for doing it, it was the first year she did, so I told her I oped she would do it again next year.

What’s next, mental health and lessons learned

My goal race is coming up in five weeks! Have a down week this week then one more big push before I head off to tackle my first ultra. I’m glad this race helped me to better remember to go in and accept the weather with everyone else, as well as teaching me a bit about how to stay better hydrated, although I’ll be happy to return to the world of real food for fueling instead of gels.

I had two weeks off, followed by one week on, and then another two weeks off, due to injury. During those times, I really had a tough time mentally, not only because exercise helps me keep better control of my emotions and mental health, but also because I put far too much stock on the number my scale says. Yes, I still have a bit to go and need to continue working on being healthy (with a holistic approach, not just a number), but after losing a significant chunk of weight, I’m realizing I have a more complicated and messed up relationship with my body than I care to admit, and I need to work on those things.

Recognizing these problems is a good first step, so hopefully, with some help, I can put together some sort of plan to explore these issues and find some resolution.



Race information

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
A20 milesYes
BThank the volunteersYes
CHave funYes
DHigh fives3 out of 4

Pictures

Splits

MileTime
552:06 (10:25 pace)
101:43:46 (10:23 pace)
152:35:02 (10:20 pace)
203:26:07 (10:18 pace)

Training

This race wasn’t on my radar at all, but it happened to fall perfectly into my training schedule, so I figured I’d use it as a supported long run. There is an asterisk next to the distance since when you sign up for the race, you indicate what you what to run, but you can change on the fly as you run. It’s a five mile loop around a lake, so you can drop or add loops to get 10, 15 or 20 miles.

Pre-race

The website predicted doom for parking, and I hadn’t been to North Park in a long time, so I ended up getting there about 45 minutes before registration opened. So I ended up helping them get set up. Setting up coolers of hot chocolate, roaster pans full of soups, that kind of thing. One of the guys was nice enough to give me one of last year’s hats as a thank you!

This race is also awesome in that you don’t get a shirt, instead you get a knit hat! If you complete 15 miles you get a pair of gloves (I opted for baby blue, the other option being black), and if you complete 20 you get a jacket! We were able to try on jackets, and they’ll be embroidered and ready to pick up in a few weeks, but they’re nice lightweight wind breakers.

Race

I didn’t intend to race this, just a long supported run, but hey, that changed! There was no 10:30 pacer, so a bunch of us put ourselves between 10 and 11 and made the best of it. Parts of the course were more windy than others, so overall, I was a bit cold, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. Running in shorts was wonderful though. There was also one weird spot where it was always drizzling. Apparently mother nature did not want the people playing tennis to enjoy their games.

I’ve been listening to audio books lately on long runs, and I got a good chunk of “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” completed. There were some really good and really hard-hitting moments (also filled with high school drama). I have a bit to go, but there’s a lot of great stuff in there. Also, pro tip: check with your local library to see what they offer. I use an app called Hoopla and with my library card, I can borrow audio books for free!

As I am wont to do, I was just chatting with everyone around me (one earbud out, popping into the book when it was quiet), and ended up chatting with an older (than me, maybe late 50s), gentlemen about ultra running. We ran together for about two miles as we chit chatted, but as soon as I mentioned that I run with the Frontrunners (the gay running club), he immediately stopped talking and took off. I won’t say I didn’t smile when I passed him later (and never saw him again).

At the beginning of the second lap, three of us ended up falling in together, and we kept each other going the rest of the race! Our little pack was awesome! Amber was on her last run before the Shamrock Full in Virginia Beach and Rita kept seeing coaches and friends from her running club so we got lots of cheers! We chit chatted, and all commented at various times about how the group was keeping us going. Also, big shout out to them for holding my water bottle as I retied my shorts, I figured the people behind us didn’t want to be mooned!

As we were finishing the second loop, two guys joined us for a bit, both of them struggling, but enjoying the temporary company. I told them some bad jokes, and cheered them on, and I like to think that I brought some joy to their 15 miler.

The third loop was of course, the most arduous mentally, but we powered through. At one turn, I had gotten high fives, but the woman there said she was waiting on her husband, so I knew I probably wouldn’t see her again. On loop three I commandeered a random guy out on his morning run to give me a high five.

As we started the last loop, Amber put on music and told us she’d probably speed up, but to stop her if she did. We did the first time, then she was just in her zone, so we let her go. We could still see her, but she was looking great! No high five on the last lap, but I powered through the emotional defeat. I stopped at a water stop and Rita went on, so our little group became a line of three of us. I got to cheer on Rita as she finished, and Amber was waiting for us both!

Post-race

Walked across the street to grab some hot soup and bananas. Super excited I ran as far and as fast as I did. This training cycle has really increased my speed and confidence a little bit too! It’s a fun race, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone. I had originally been looking at the race they put on the next month, but that gets about three times as many runners (but also gives out shorts instead of a shirt), so I have to decide if I want to do that.



Alright, let’s talk about the GAP Relay!  Our team had a blast.  The organization of the race was a total shit show.  So let’s get to it!  More after the break (it’s a long one):

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Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
M1 Mandatory: Thank volunteers Oh yeah
M2 Mandatory: High five some people Epic high fives!
M3 Mandatory: Have a happy run Of course
A Finish uninjured Yes

Training

This was my first marathon, and with the success I’ve had with his plans before, I did Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 marathon plan. It increased my mileage in a smart way, and for the first time ever, I’ve run over 100 miles a month (actually, for four months in a row!).

Generally I’ve felt pretty good, my legs have been sore, but in a good way, and I’ve been diligent with stretching and rolling, which has really helped, as I feel like I’m prone to ITBS. While I didn’t have any real ITBS problems this time around, my knees took a bit of a beating, but never more than normal wear and tear I think. After all, this was a big increase in mileage for me. I added in some body weight work each day, and that helped a ton too. January I did planks, February and March I did squats and April I did push-ups. I need to keep that up!

Due to the strange winter/not-spring we’ve had, I did a lot of winter running. I did a long run on a treadmill due to icy roads, and a long run doing ⅓ mile loops in my neighborhood with a windchill of negative eight, but all things considered, those were good mental exercises as well. For the vast majority of my runs, I could enjoy being basically alone (or dodging college students or cyclists. I ran a super windy half marathon halfway through as a tune-up race, and set a PR there. I only missed one run due to waiting on a plumber (but at least I had hot water after that!), although there is always some shuffling of days due to work travel.

I ran a 20-miler, and had hoped to turn my second 20 into 22, but the weather spiked and so did the pollen and I bonked hard after 18 miles. It was good training to know that that felt like (I was either going to throw up or pass out if I hadn’t stopped running and the chills I couldn’t seem to shake freaked me out), but I was still disappointed in myself. But, just passing the 20-mile mark the first time was a huge mental boost, and really increased my confidence since I felt pretty good afterwards.

Pre-race

Like always, a couple of us headed downtown to volunteer with expo set-up, getting the registration area ready with over 40,000 shirts A friend came in from out of town (sadly he couldn’t run, he injured his ankle), but we headed down the expo to grab bibs, shirts and all the commemorative stuff they were giving out since this is the 10th anniversary of the race being back. I enjoyed this motivational shirt and picked one up for myself.

I love how the city comes out for the marathon and love how I will just randomly run into people I know at the expo and all throughout the weekend, it’s such an amazing time!.

Race – Saturday: 5K

Saturday morning I headed downtown for the 5K, and met up with a couple Frontrunners at the start line. I do have to say, they got a much better DJ for this race than year’s past, and we were all dancing beforehand, so kudos to P3R for that! I lost them after the gun went off, and even though I tried to hold back, I just kind of enjoyed the race, not really pushing. There were a ton of high fives given out and I had a great time interacting with the crowd.

Two very sad things through. One, the woman I look for every year on a specific corner with a pot and a wooden spoon cheering was not there. I’m hoping she’ll be there on Sunday, but if not, wooden spoon lady will always be in my thoughts when I run past that corner. And two, I think I landed weird trying to dodge potholes and my shin was sore the rest of the day. Hopefully it’s nothing major and won’t affect my Sunday race.

I was less than 25 seconds off my PR, and with a new course (which, after having the same course for so many years, having to change for road construction made it weird to figure out my pace/relative distance), and without really pushing myself, I’m really happy with that.

These two are my biggest cheerleaders. Sean paced me in the first race I did a training plan (10-miler) and paced me to my first sub-30 5K. Both he and Cat never once stopped believing in me and both encouraged me to do this crazy thing, so it was awesome that the three of us were there together at the finish line of the 5K.

Spent most of the day catching up on some TV and then headed to dinner with some wonderful Redditors! I was super excited to host Craig for the night while he was in town for the Half and we met up with Jill and Mike for a delicious meal!

Race – Sunday: Marathon

Sunday morning woke up with no calf/shin pain thankfully and we took the bus in, which was pretty easy and we got dropped off across the street from the hotel we had access to through the Running Club Rally or as members of Steel City Road Runners. They put out a spread of breakfast foods, coffee, water, juice and give you access to indoor bathrooms as well as a private gear check, so it’s a good deal. At the end, you have catered food as well as private port-a-potties and massages.

We checked out gear and headed down to our corral, saying hi and bye to a number of friends and other Frontrunners. When we made our way into the corral, we stopped right next to a former co-worker of mine from camp who had decided somewhat last minute to come into Pittsburgh to run, so myself, Alandra and Justin took off together.

Start-Mile 5

It was super humid. The cloud cover and temperature were great, but it was kind of like running through soup, and I was drenched within a mile. Knew that wasn’t going to change so I just tucked in and went with it. Lots of crowds, but normal for the first part.

My friend Alandra and I have identical paces and we’re consistent, so we race together a lot. We also both give tours to whoever is around us and each other by researching historical facts about the course. As we went over the 16th Street Bridge at mile 3, we were discussing it, and two people behind us asked for some more details and we obliged. They were from Chicago and had never been to Pittsburgh before, so we happily chatted until Alandra and I stopped to pee at mile 5. Also of note, the woman with the pot and wooden spoon was not on the course on Sunday either, making me sad. We said goodbye to Justin (coworker) and Elaine and Jeff (Chicago) and said we’d try to catch up.

Miles 5-10

Chugging along, ticking off miles. A random woman who was in line to pee with us was really upset she was losing time and we’re pretty sure she wanted to guilt us into letting her cut. No one did, and she left in a huff. Crossing the West End Bridge, we heard polka music (and then saw runners polkaing in the street), and we arrived in one of the best neighborhoods on the course: The West End.

From there, things were pretty standard until we reached the South Side, which is always a party, and it didn’t disappoint. While some of the other neighborhoods seemed damped due to the intermittent rain (looking at you, Homewood), the South Side was rocking and at one point I was dancing down the street to one of the DJ’s. I made a woman’s life when I read her sign for a friend that read “run, whore, run (and then her friend’s name)” when I told her that “I’m not a whore, I’m just friendly with my mouth!”

Miles 10-17

As we came up to the half/full split at the end of Carson, Alandra and I wished each other a happy run, and off we went. The full goes around a block before heading onto the toughest mile of the course, the Birmingham Bridge and the Monster hill up into Oakland. I had run The Monster two years ago in the relay, in preparation for this race, and I’m really proud to say I ran the whole thing again.

When I got to the top, I caught back up to Elaine and Jeff! We tucked in together and ran together the rest of the way. I facetimed with other members of their running club who came to Pittsburgh and we talked about Marvel, Harry Potter, Star Wars, social justice, cute butts, Pittsburgh history and craft beer for 14 miles. Remember how I said Alandra and I are consistent? Even though we ran the last three miles of it separately, my half split and her finish were only five seconds apart, even with the varied elevation. We really should be pacers!

Jeff was a little faster than us, but wanted to run with Elaine, so he would run ahead, see if he could find beer (for a bet they had with their club) and would wait for us, where the two of them would split it and I’d take a sip. All in all, we had six beers like that on the course. At one point in Homewood, Jeff went into a front yard of a family who was outside grilling and cheering and asked for a beer. Yinzers are awesome and they gave him one for us to split!

Miles 17-26

Miles 17-23 were the only parts of the course I hadn’t run before. So that was neat to see parts of the city on foot I’d only seen in a car before. Jeff sat down and petted some of the greyhounds who were at a cheering station, and in the most adorable fashion, when he tried to stand up, he found himself held down by paws and sad puppy eyes. Around mile 21, Jeff took off (giving me a pat on the butt, which I appreciated), he was starting to cramp a bit, and wanted to finish to see if he could stave that off, and by mile 22, the humidity was getting to me as well, my left thigh and calf alternating between which one was trying to cramp up. I adjusted my gait on the fly and dared it to cramp; I was not going to stop at this point!

Saw a friend I volunteered with earlier in the week who had randomly come out to listen to the bands on the course, and ran past another acquaintance’s house as he was outside talking to a neighbor. I had a conversation with a Boy Scout Troop to tell them to go to camp, and one of the Scouts volunteering will be working at the camp I used to run! As we hit the last couple rolling hills, I have to say, the crowd support, which had been amazing, was taken up to a whole new level by Bloomfield at mile 23. There was a huge crowd, some holding out drinks or oranges, others beer, and a huge line of high fives were waiting for me, and it was the boost we needed! We also finally passed Church Brew Works, which Elaine was going to go eat at that night.

I was in for one more surprise, as Mike and Jill, after having finished the Half, circled back to cheer me on at mile 25! With signs that Steve designed that…are me! That was a huge boost and pretty soon we had less than a mile to go, running through downtown.

Elaine was amazing, this was her 10th marathon (in 10 states) and she said she was super proud not only of my steady pace, but also my enjoyment of the run and overall demeanor. If I’m not having a happy run, something is really wrong! With about .7 to go, she told me to start my kick. I wasn’t sure I had it in me, but she knew exactly when to send me on my way.

Finish

I actually did have a kick left in me, and even though we had sped up to my 5K pace for the last mile, I pulled away a bit (and waved to an old college friend in the crowd at the finish line I wasn’t expecting to see) and I crossed the timing mats of my first ever full marathon! I slowed down, waited for Elaine to finish and she proudly put the medal around my neck and we grabbed a photo. We found Jeff and got a photo of the three of us.

Mental

Honestly, bonking on the second 20-miler was rough for me. Looking at it rationally, it was a 40-degree swing and I just wasn’t acclimated to that temperature yet and the pollen made it impossible for me to take a full breath. I still had one 20-miler under my belt, and people run marathons on plans that only go up to 18, and I did two of those, but I’m just prone to not believing in myself.

Otherwise, this plan fell during just a shit-show mentally for me. Some of it was work, some of it was family and some of it was relationships. And most of it was just my brain just not being cooperative. I’m better at accepting that and moving on, but it’s still a struggle in each moment.

If I’m being honest, I’m been trying to decide if I want to explore some medication options again, and for how long it’s been on my mind, I’m pretty sure that should be pushing me to yes. But it’s such a process and I’m scared to go through the trial and error again, and honestly, I have no idea if there would be any side effects that would affect my running. I mention that because running augments my therapy and I need both to stay healthy, so adding medication is something I need to approach with a plan.

Post-race

I grabbed my Steel Challenge medal for doing a Sunday race and the Saturday 5K, and then headed to the Running Club Rally hospitality tent to celebrate with friends!

My nutrition plan seemed to be pretty spot on, my stomach was a little queasy at time, and I’m still trying to get my appetite back, but that all matches up with my long training runs as well. I took gels at miles 7, 12 (with extra caffeine), 17 and 22, and salt tabs every 5 miles. I used my handheld bottle, keeping it topped off with gatorade, and I grabbed water at most of the stops. I also grabbed orange slices I think four or five times from random people in the crowd. Still ended up a little crusty at the end of the race, but all things considered, including the high humidity, I was super thankful for having locked in that nutrition plan ahead of time.

I’m a little sore, but honestly, nothing more than I really expected. I’m probably still a bit dehydrated, so I’m trying to force myself to drink more water. I was really diligent for two weeks leading up to the race, and I need to keep that going to make sure my recovery is effective.

What’s next?

I’ll be crewing again for the runnit meetup at an ultra marathon in June and I’ll be running the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage) Relay in the fall. My Burn is coming up and would be the first week of my next training plan (Memorial Day Weekend), so I’m going to start a week early and just repeat what I can that week. I’m not really looking forward to summer running, but maybe actually being on a plan and forcing myself to get out there will be good for me!

Since this was my first full, I just wanted to run without getting injured. I had two super-secret time goals in my head, and I finished between the two of them, so now I have a new time goal to work on, maybe I’ll be able to find a fall marathon to see if I can break that time barrier!

Here’s the full album of pictures from race weekend which I have to get a picture of all the medals and shirts, so I’ll be adding that later!

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