Race Report: Vernonia Half Marathon

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After a year and a half hiatus from racing, it feels SO good to be back in the saddle!

When my plans to race 26.2 last fall got put on hold (because sleep > running), I set my sights on what felt like a more manageable challenge: the half marathon (my 15th!).

My PR was 1:47 and change from a few years ago, so when I signed on with a coach to help me with my postpartum comeback and restrain keep me from over-training, I told him I was eyeing not only a PR, but also an even bolder post-baby goal of 1:45.

We started working together in early January with a mission to get me safely to the start line of the Vernonia Half Marathon on April 9. Training went smoothly; after figuring out my paces, we exchanged emails each week as I eagerly tackled my nap-time workouts on the treadmill.

It felt good to be on a schedule. It felt great to be running regularly. And it felt awesome to finally start pushing myself again.

Although I was nailing workouts, my coach was frank about setting expectations when it came to race day: Based on my tempo runs, overall paces and our conservative build-up of mileage (I started at square one, so my long runs maxed out at 10 miles by the time we got to race day), he warned me that a PR may not be in the cards this training cycle.

By that point, however, I was just happy to be toeing the start line well-trained and healthy, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to set a baseline from which I could work for my next race. It also meant that I’d leave my watch at home and just run by feel.

Fast forward to race day, and I was battling a serious case of self-doubt. Would treadmill mileage translate to the roads? How would I handle the last few miles (which I’d likely be running on fumes)? Could I even get in the head-space to go hard? Hell, I wasn’t even sure if my race kit from 2016 would fit.

We arrived about an hour and a half before the 9 a.m. start because the course was point-to-point and there was a 20-minute bus ride to the start. Luckily, it’s a super low-key event (~150 marathoners & fewer than 400 half marathoners), so everything went smoothly and we soon found ourselves inside Stub Stewart State Park at Hilltop with a little more than an hour until the gun went off.

To say it was cold for Oregon in April would be putting it mildly; there were more than a few “penguin” jokes circulating as several hundred of us huddled in a shelter, hopping from foot to foot, in an attempt to share body warmth.

Several cups of water and trips to the HoneyBuckets later, Ben, Matt and I lined up at the start barely able to feel our feet. The race started without much pomp and circumstance; no National Anthem or so much as a countdown or warning before we were off.

The course took us uphill for the first mile or so before joining the Banks-Vernonia State Trail at mile two, so my plan was to A) warm up for the first mile, B) go out conservatively so I didn’t expend too much energy, and C) try to run separately from Ben and Matt because they were anticipating slightly slower and faster finish times, respectively.

When we hit the first mile marker and I was still next to Matt, I figured he was having an “off” day because I just assumed my first mile would be around a 9:00 pace due to the hill. But when he said we were at 8:20, I decided to double-down and go for it.

The next six miles or so took us along a paved trail, through scenic woods on an abandoned railroad bed. And since we had a gradual downhill until mile seven, everyone was taking full advantage of it.

Things were going well until somewhere after mile eight when we hit an open section of the course and the wind picked up; even though the final stretch was flat, the previous downhill had taken a toll on my quads. That, combined with a lack of mile markers at this point made for a total mental battle as I fought fatigue and wondered where I was on the course.

Not wanting to tempt the GI gods, I had also avoided any kind of fuel for the first hour or so. But after mile seven I paused at each water station to take a few sips of Gatorade. Somewhere around mile nine, I felt the first gut flutter and around what I think was mile 12, I pulled over to take a quick nip of Gu to help get me to the finish.

For those final few miles my brain was squarely at the intersection of “I-just-wanna-walk,” “the-faster-I-run-the-faster-I-am-done” and “uh-oh-my-gut.” But words of encouragement from my coach and fellow mama runner friends kept me pushing along.

When we turned off the trail and into town I knew we had to be close to the finish. In a matter of minutes, we turned in to the Banks High School parking lot and made our way to the track where we had one lap to complete the race.

Per usual, that last lap felt like the longest portion of the race. I didn’t allow myself to look at the finish line until we rounded the first curve, then silently cursed because it was, indeed, a full lap.

As I rounded the last curve, I saw the clock read 1:46:XX. With one final kick, I crossed the finish line, found Matt, then headed straight to the bathroom; thank goodness for ample facilities at this race!

Matt had finished in 1:42, an impressive PR. Ben ran a 1:49, which was fantastic for the amount of training he didn’t do did for this race. And my official time was 1:46:06, which was good enough for a new PR, a 4th place finish in my age group and a top 20 finish among women.

Immediately my mind went to what I did well (in order to replicate it) and what I can improve upon (i.e. remove a negative variable) next training cycle: Having a coach was beneficial in so many ways, as was the consistency of my training and speed-work. But I definitely need to focus on improving my nutrition going forward — not only fueling during the race, but also the days/weeks leading up to it.

And although I’m still in shock about the outcome, the wheels have started turning about what’s next. My coach assured me that 1:45 is doable with more mileage under my belt, which is tempting. But I’m also mulling over going shorter and faster; I’d love to finally beat my 5K PR from my high school track days.

But just as life evolves, so does a runner’s relationship with the sport. And as good as it feels to nail a new PR and chase after the next one, I’m also realizing that there’s much more to it now than just the numbers.

I run because it makes me feel alive. Running makes me feel like I’m unstoppable. It makes me feel as though I’m capable of anything.

But now I also run because I’ve got an example to set for Wyatt. I want him to see his mom setting goals and working hard to achieve them. I want him to learn that it takes dedication to reach our goals and that we can do hard things.

And my ultimate goal is that he’ll be inspired to chase after his own dreams, running or otherwise.

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Race Report: Corvallis Half Marathon

One of my favorite things about being an Oregonian now is getting to sample some new (to me) races this season! First up was the Corvallis Half Marathon, chosen because it takes place in Ben’s hometown and because the finish line is on his beloved Beaver’s home turf in Reser Stadium.

If you like the ease and friendly feel of a smaller race, along with some really pretty pastoral scenery, you may want check this one out. And there’s also the 9:30 a.m. start time; not having to wake hours before dawn is always a luxury on race morning!

After completing our usual pre-race prep at home, we moseyed over to the start on Oregon State University’s campus. Another perk? Ample parking at the stadium, which is always much appreciated when those nerves start to kick in.

We warmed up by jogging to the porta-potties and back for one final pit-stop before lining up in the 8:00-minute mile corral. Of course, this is Beaver country, so prepare to see a fair amount of orange and black in the crowd!

Ben was gunning for a PR (under 1:50, but I predicted sub-1:45) so we said our goodbyes and planned to regroup at the finish. Usually I can pinpoint a goal for myself, but since my off-season was so heavy with cross-training (i.e. light on running and speed work), I felt like I was flying blind this time.

My best guess was somewhere between 1:50-2:00, so I figured I’d take some of the pressure off and simply run by feel. That way, I’d be able to see where I was at without forcing things, especially because I knew a specific time goal might cause me to push too hard with my SI joint (lower back) still acting up.

We crossed the start line to the sounds of the OSU marching band, and I tried my best to settle into a good pace as I watched Ben weave his way to the front of the pack.

Mile 1: 7:50 / Mile 2: 7:59 / Mile 3: 8:18

It took me a full three miles to really get warmed up. I know went out a little faster than I should have, as my shins and ankles were pretty tight for this first stretch.

The next few miles felt great, though, so I settled in and enjoyed the scenery as I hit my stride. My fueling plan was to grab a sip of water at aid stations, and I was experimenting with chunks of Barnana every two miles starting at mile four.

Mile 4: 8:31 / Mile 5: 8:22 / Mile 6: 8:06 / Mile 7: 8:09

The course was gorgeous; we did a giant loop through some agricultural areas and around the county fairground, so even though it was a ‘road’ race, most of it was super mellow. And even though I was starting to feel the effects a lack of long training runs in these miles, I rode a wave of adrenaline after air-high-fiving Ben’s dad at mile nine.

Mile 8: 8:31 / Mile 9: 8:05 / Mile 10: 8:11

My fueling plan was working well up until this point; despite a few low-grade, longer climbs along the course, I was feeling pretty strong and stable, energy-wise. As we neared mile 11, however, some mild nausea set in and I started having trouble with my fuel; it took me a while to talk myself into a final piece of Barnana, but I knew I needed one final hit, so I choked it down by mile 12.

The course was well marked, but there were no timers at the mile markers (a good thing, in my case). I had no clue as to pace or time, but I was guessing I was around the 1:50ish range.

Fortunately they had mile 12.5 marked (so helpful!). I told myself that all I’d need to do was hold it together for just five more minutes to finish strong.

Mile 11: 8:25 / Mile 12: 8:27

I remember running alongside a woman in blue for the last mile or so; she passed me, so I set my sights on her as we rounded the final corner into the parking lot. We ran side-by-side by the 13-mile marker and sprinted together down the ramp, onto the football field and across the finish line.

Mile 13: 8:27 / Final .1 Mile: 7:12

I spotted Ben in the crowd and could hear him cheering me on, yelling for me to to do an end zone dance. But, at that point, I was too pooped to do anything but smile as volunteers clipped off my time chip and handed me a finisher’s medal.

Final times:

  • Ben – 1:43:54
  • Me – 1:48:39

Ben PR’d by about seven minutes (so proud!), and while I was about a minute off mine, I was thrilled to have run a solid race. My back wasn’t feeling great (it had felt tweaky off and on), but it wasn’t horrible. And with a little recovery and some speed work, I’m not far off from my eventual 1:45 goal.

We soaked up some sun and took the opportunity to get a few photos on the field before heading over to the beer tent to celebrate. This one may just become an annual tradition for us!

Have you ever raced ‘by feel’ and been pleasantly surprised by the results?

The Last-Minute Half Marathon Training Plan

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What do you do when you’ve got a half marathon in less than six weeks and your running game has been lacking as of late?

A) Calculate the plausibility of using this month’s time change as an excuse for missing the race…next month.

B) Petition the race director to allow you to turn it into an impromptu duathlon.

C) Briefly consider hosting a blog giveaway for your bib.

D) Make a game plan, and get after it.

Answer: You guessed it, which is why I created this last-minute training strategy for getting Ben and I across the finish line of the Corvallis Half Marathon on April 12.

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s been helping us conservatively safely build up our mileage and will even allow for a tiny taper before race day.

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It’s still early in the season, and I’ve been doing way more cross training than running, so I’m not on the hunt for a PR (Ben may beg to differ; he’s eyeing a sub-1:50 finish). Rather, the idea is just to ease my legs — and my mind — back in to racing, so I can start to build toward that 50K in May.

As much as my off-season feels like it’s been extended into spring, I’ve loved taking the past few months to focus on strength, flexibility and adaptability with all different kinds of workouts. Plus, the mental break has been invaluable; I’m really looking forward to digging into training, as well as ramping up with Team LUNA Chix Portland Run come April 6 when our season officially kicks off.

What’s your approach to the upcoming race season? 

Race Report: Silver Falls Trail Half Marathon

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Is it too late to change one of my responses in last week’s Best & Worst of Racing post? Because this weekend’s Silver Falls Half Marathon just took the cake as the most beautiful course I’ve ever raced.

Of course, it’s November in Oregon, so the start was cold and wet. Here are Hubby and me waiting for the gun to go off with our friends Christian and Matt, who were in for the weekend from San Francisco.

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And the finish? Well, that was just colder, wetter and even more windy, as you can see from this shot taken as we bolted from the post-race party at the pavilion back to our warm car.

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But the best part was all the awesome stuff in between. Here’s a quick look at the elevation chart to see what we were up against for the day. Note to self: Study this more carefully next time before the race, so you’re not surprised when you start hitting the wall during mile nine’s hills. 

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The half marathon started in two waves — one at 9 a.m. for runners who estimate they’ll finish in less than two hours and another at 9:15 a.m. for the runners and walkers who will take more than two hours. Knowing how trail races go (and knowing that it’d be a mere two weeks after my full marathon), I had signed us up for the later wave.

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After standing around casually at the start (love that about trail races!), we took off down a paved road for about a mile before winding around on a few smaller trails. The first four miles or so were pretty flat and uneventful — we looped around by the parking lots and saw some gorgeous fall foliage, but no sign of the waterfalls for which this race is famous.

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Between the chill in the air, the race-day adrenaline, the elation of being with friends and the awe-inspiring scenery, we ambled along, giddily bantering, and (in hindsight) probably took off a bit too quickly, considering the length of the race, the coming elevation changes…and the fact that I’m still not recovered from my 26.2.

But restraining yourself can be tough when there are mid-run WATERFALLS to be seen!

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Up and down we went over rolling hills before we headed out on the large Rim Trail loop, which took us along a whole series of waterfalls. The footing was technical, at times, with sharp rocks jutting up from the mud, a thick layer of leaves on the trail and plenty of slick stairs…but we made our way through the lush landscape, just trying to take everything in.

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That’s about when “racing” evolved into “stopping and taking photos at every waterfall” because each was more gorgeous than the next. Case in point: when we got to run not only directly next to, but also behind three of ’em.

I don’t care how fast you’re going or what kind of time you’re aiming for — seeing this mid-race will stop you in your tracks.

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Yeah, I guess you could say we were pretty pumped with the experience from the looks on our faces. And please disregard my knuckles in the shot; I was too excited to notice them at the time!

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Up and down, we ran.

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Around and around, we wound.

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Then came more stairs to tackle, and the fatigue started to set in.

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We stopped to catch our breaths on the ascent, turned around and saw this.

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Matt and Christian charged ahead like champs — it was Christian’s second half marathon and Matt’s first, although they’re pros at tackling the Bay Area’s trails. Hubby hung back with me because I tweaked my right ankle around mile eight just before the wheels started coming off around mile nine.

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I distracted myself with more picture-taking and tried to use the scenery to help inspire me to get through miles 10 and 11, but fighting through fatigue and trying to navigate technical terrain was starting to take its toll. I think we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when we saw the marker for mile 12 — one more mile! — although it was short-lived because we turned the corner and saw a sign for “Nutcracker Hill.”

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Hm, I thought, that can’t be good. And true to its moniker, we began trekking up the steepest, muddiest, slipperiest portion of the whole course, stepping gingerly to avoid rocks, sliding despite our best efforts to remain stable, and not making much progress compared to our overall effort.

But we continued marching forward with a purpose and soon found ourselves navigating the steep descent on the back half of the hill toward the finish. Arms raised above our heads, Hubby and I crossed together in 2:24:03, with just six minutes to spare to make my loose goal of “under 2:30” for the day.

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Awaiting us at the pavilion was a roaring fire, hot beef stew, apples, pears, peanut butter and gummy bears. After spilling half of my bowl of soup down the front of me, we proceeded to huddle in a corner and devour our remaining food before making a beeline through the wind, rain and cold to the comfort of our car.

All in all, a great race experience — I’ll battle the elements and crawl my way out of the pain cave any day to be able to see these kinds of sights along the way. And I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Trail running rules.

Guest Race Recap: Hubby takes on the Portland Half Marathon

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Since I’m sidelined from racing while I prep for Detroit these next two weeks, I thought I’d hand the reins over to Hubby to let him share his race-day experience from this year’s Portland Marathon Half.

Although his pre-race plans are, ahem, “unconventional” (sorry, hanging out in a bar and drinking beers the day before the race does not count as carb-loading, hon), he did managed to fight for a strong finish and snag a shiny, new PR.

Here’s how it went down, in his own words:

Portland Half Marathon 2014

With Jen getting back into the swing of running, but not wanting to push it too much leading up to her Detroit Marathon, I ended up running the Portland Marathon Half myself yesterday. I thought, why not just run it for fun? But of course, once race morning came, I figured I’d push it a little. Having done the Portland Triathlon two weeks ago, I still had the competitive juices flowing.

The Start

Yesterday morning could not have been more beautiful. I am an Oregon native and always remember Indian summer in October, but it has been an exceptional last week. With a Saturday filled with watching Beaver football and Timbers soccer, however, you might say I didn’t really prime myself with an agreeable “diet,” although I did rest my legs.

I woke up early, put on my gear, decided to run in my new Hoka Conquests, and ran the mile or so to the starting line. I got in the corral and almost immediately the race director announced we would be singing the national anthem — only someone would start us off, and the crowd would finish the song ourselves.

I stood next to a older guy in orange and black, and assumed he was a fellow Beaver fan; he was hoping to get a 1:45, and I thought I’d try to do the same. The gun went off, and away we went.

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Miles 1-5

This was essentially the only uphill portion of this race. Compared to the last half I did in SF (Rock ‘n’ Roll), it was nice to only have a couple small hills and, really, the rest was pretty flat. I took off a little quicker than expected, around a 7:30 pace.

I will say that these are some fun miles with bands playing, high-fiving pirates, signs encouraging “cropdusting” and a picturesque loop up towards OHSU and above south waterfront. The climb was worth it, though, for the early morning views of Mt. Hood off to the right on the way back into town. My favorite parts were the bands playing music on overpasses and forklifts.

Then the route headed down towards the Willamette waterfront, and I could see our apartment building as we started a long straightaway up to mile nine in north Portland.

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Miles 5-9

These were miles where I could definitely feel the dehydration start to set in. It’s a long, pretty flat stretch that seems to never end. I downed Ultima at pretty much every fuel station and had a few gummy bears, which helped a little but seemed to upset my stomach a bit.

I decided at about mile eight to just do water from then on. I think this helped, although I could feel my pace slowing. My friend from the start passed me, and I stayed on his heels until about mile 11.

What I enjoyed most here was being able to run my first half along with full marathoners. It was inspiring to see these people make the turn around mile 10 toward the East side and still have another 16 miles that, thankfully, I didn’t have to run.

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Mile 10-13.1

I would call these the wish-I hadn’t-“dehydrated”-myself-yesterday miles. About mile 10 my legs started to feel really heavy, and I felt really thirsty. Just when I felt I needed a fuel station, there wasn’t one for about a mile and a half.

Around 11 miles in, I walked through the fuel station and drank two glasses of water, gave myself 30 seconds to walk and then started to plod along again. My pace had slowed considerably to about 8:45ish per mile as I got back into town and started the final stretch.

With the announcer congratulating me on a strong finish, I pushed across the finish line. My unofficial time was 1:50:27, which was about five minutes slower than I wanted, but still a PR and a fun morning run in my favorite city.

Final Thoughts

Today was one of those runs where I never felt like I got “in the zone.” I was also a bit frustrated with the last three miles, as this has always been my weak part of each half. A lesson learned today is that I need to prep my body the day before with something other than the fantastic Oregon IPAs and Moscow mules.

I was tasked to take a couple of pictures along the route, which I didn’t do a great job of. But I did get a picture of a girl’s tattoo that I though Jen would love. It’s a Dairy Queen ice cream cone — which, come one, we all love — and the word “Hustle.” Side note: My first job was at the Dairy Queen in Corvallis, Ore., where I unofficially invented the mint Oreo blizzard (Jen doesn’t believe this story, but it was corroborated recently by someone I worked with at DQ).

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All in all, it was a great day, and I wish I could have had Jenny there by my side, but I know she was there in spirit. And I was happy to have earned my Besaw’s Eggs Benedict and an afternoon of watching football and napping in the park.

Next up for me: the Silver Falls Trail Run half marathon on Halloween weekend with some great friends from the Bay Area. Uh oh, I have a feeling I may be “fueling” in the same manner as I did before this one, too. And can’t wait till next year’s PDX half…or maybe full???? I still don’t know how Jenny does it!!

Congratulations to all Portland Marathon participants, as well as anyone else who was racing this past weekend!

5 tips for a happier half marathon

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year for runners: Fall racing season is upon us!

And at 13.1 miles, the half marathon is an ideal distance – long enough to pose a challenge, yet not so grueling that training will consume your life. Here are a few quick tips to ensure that next half is a happy one:

  1. Stick to a plan. Pick a goal and set a schedule to keep yourself motivated. If you’re worried about finishing, consider joining a local running club for camaraderie. Or if you’ve got your sights set on a particular time goal, try a training program to sharpen those racing skills.
  2. Think feet first. While magazine reviews and recommendations from friends are helpful, there’s no substitute for getting fitted with a proper pair of running shoes. Look for a place that offers a full assessment so you can find a model that will set you up for success.
  3. Rally the troops. Running can be a solitary pursuit, but you’re never alone on the road to 13.1. Find running buddies to make training runs more social, and invite family members to come cheer you on and experience the festivities of race day.
  4. Find what works. The morning of the race is not the time to test out new clothing, shoes or food. Use training runs for trial and error, and save the tried-and true techniques for the main event.
  5. Take your time. Get to the race early enough to enjoy the atmosphere before the gun goes off, and don’t rush out too quickly at the start. Try to take in the sights and sounds along the way, and savor your time at the finish line with a picture that captures the moment.

And afterwards? Flash that medal, and relish in the fact that you’ve just completed a 13.1-mile victory lap!

What’s your favorite piece of half marathon advice?

Win an entry into the 2014 Nike Women’s Half Marathon

Hey, runner friends! How would you like to race to support lifesaving blood cancer research this fall at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco?

Team in Training (TNT) has partnered with our friends at Fit Approach to offer one FREE entry to the 2014 Nike Women’s Half Marathon. Opportunities as unique & powerful as this only come around once in a while!

Team in Training is a race training program that also serves as the main fundraising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer.

Over the past 25 years, TNT has raised more than $1.4 billion to support LLS’s mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the lives of patients and their families.

Each mile you run will impact the lives of loved ones across the country.

In exchange for raising funds, TNT provides four months of marathon training with world-class trainers as well as clinics on nutrition and injury prevention.

Not to mention, you’ll get to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon with 25,000 new friends through the iconic streets of San Francisco…

Enter today…and good luck!

Learn more about Team in Training

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