Race Report: Rattlesnake Run 5k

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When I knew I’d be home in Michigan this month for a childhood friend’s wedding, the first thing I did after booking plane tickets was look up local races. Because why not squeeze in a little of my favorite fall activity — running through the brilliant foliage of the Midwest — as the colors near their peak this season?

Ok, I’ll admit it; part of me was also hoping that my trip would coincide with the Detroit Marathon so I could sign up for the half and run for fun. But I’m nowhere near trained up for that, so it ended up being for the best that the only options were a few nearby 5k’s.

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I settled on the Rattlesnake Run 5k since it supports a cool cause, is located pretty close to home, and the start time was a very friendly 11 a.m. — aka I could sleep in after the wedding festivities and get a leisurely workout done before lunch. Once that was decided, I set about badgering recruiting my favorite running buddy (my sister), who begrudgingly agreed.

The race is put on by the Michigan Nature Association, and its purpose is to promote efforts to preserve habitat for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, a species of special concern in Michigan. It’s The Mitten’s only venomous snake, in fact, and is a rare sight for most state residents.

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Another upside of this event is that it’s relatively new (in its second year), so it’s not super crowded. And it’s a trail race, so it has a nice, laid-back atmosphere.

The course is a 1.5-mile out-and-back along the Paint Creek Trail, which is an 8.9-mile linear park, located in northeast Oakland County. Fun fact: It was also the first Rail-to-Trail in the state of Michigan, as it was converted to a trail from the former Penn Central Railroad.

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We arrived around 10:40 a.m. to pick up our race numbers and t-shirts, and there was no line so we breezed right through. After a quick pre-race bathroom pit stop (no movement yet, but Baby H loves to make his/her presence known by standing on my bladder), we lined up at the start to listen to final instructions from the race director.

Typically I hang back in the pack, but I was feeling good so I toed the line behind a few folks who looked like they’d be taking the lead pretty quickly. My sister was feeling under the weather, so we decided at the last moment to run separately; I was aiming to run and finish in fewer than 30 minutes, while she decided to deploy a walk-jog strategy.

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The race director counted us down, and we were off — I was the second female out of the gate and remember thinking I’d just try to maintain that position for the whole race, body-permitting. About a quarter of a mile in, the lead female dropped back while I simultaneously got passed by the third place woman, so I figured I’d pace off of her and try to hold on for as long as I could to the end.

The course was flat and gorgeous — there was plenty to look at with the leaves changing colors — but I was more focused on maintaining my breathing and staying hyper-aware of how my body was feeling because of Baby H. Although my legs felt great, it was just shortness of breath that was holding me back, so I tried to walk the fine line between keeping a steady pace and making sure I was getting enough oxygen.

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At the turnaround, I saw a few other ladies coming up behind me, so my goal was to run a steady second half and try to hold them off until the finish, which I managed to do. After grabbing water and a banana, I got back to the finish area just in time to catch a shot of my sister running across looking awesomely strong!

I’ve got to say — it’s been a while since I’ve run (or, well, raced) a 5k, but Lauren Fleshman hit the nail on the head when she called the distance “freaking awesome.” It’s enough of a challenge (especially in my current state), but “you can train and still have a life, race hard and walk normally the next day, and get really fit really fast.”

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Talk about the best of both worlds! It just might be my new distance for as long as running while pregnant still agrees with me (it’s seems to vary by day at the moment; some days I’m itching to run, and others I can’t bring myself to do it).

Final time — 26:15. Not a PR, but good enough for second place female overall and first place in my age group. And first place for the <1 age group, if you’re counting Baby H in tow 🙂

Big thanks to our parents for coming out to cheer us on. It reminded me of my cross country days having their smiling faces to look forward to at the finish line.

And I can’t forget the SNAKES! Yes, there was an aforementioned rattlesnake on hand (caged, of course), but there was also an Eastern Fox snake being passed around for photos ops (can you tell I’m not a snake fan!?).

For more information on the Rattlesnake Run 5k, visit RunSignup.com.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy fall?

Happy Birthday, Dad!

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Son, engineer, metallurgist, PhD, husband, father, pop-pop.

Cherry-bomber, banana-smusher, pea-smasher, we-gotta-get-outta-this-placer.

Oreo aficionado, pen collector, name-that-tune title holder, keeper of the peace and answer-er to all of our questions.

Devoted family man, caring boss, generous soul and common-sense adviser with a wicked sense of humor.

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From your pre-dawn childhood paper route to dodging melted metal on the foundry floor to logging long hours while leading the charge as an executive, your work ethic and commitment to our family has been something I both admire and appreciate.

And, as I always say, isn’t it a funny thing that the older I get, the smarter you get?!

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Well, we’ve been listening to your advice for years, and although it may not have seemed like much was sinking in (for example, that time I crashed my car into yours…in our driveway), we heard every word.

Thank you for always being there “time after time” — from middle-of-the-night calls to providing a shoulder to cry or lean on before gently guiding us back on track.

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Happy birthday, Dad! I love you! 

Happy Birthday, Stacey!

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Daughter, sister, doctor, best friend, mom — single-handedly raising one of the cutest kiddos ever (I’m a tad biased as a #ProudAuntie, but it’s still true).

Role model, natural-born leader, deal-seeker, stylish dresser.

Compassionate caregiver, avid baker, mindful lifestyler and all-around smartypants.

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Not only do you humor me and my harebrained ideas, but you fully commit to anything you put your mind to — not just doing it, but doing it well.

Case in point: A self-professed non-runner who completed not one but two half marathons in Chicago (above) and Detroit (below) in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

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Life may have given you some lemons these past few years, but you’ve certainly made some pretty damn fantastic lemonade.

You’re the strongest person I know, and I’m thrilled to see you flourishing, happy and healthy.

Stacey

Happy birthday, Stacey! I love you! 

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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Sister, nurse, wife, mom, grandma.

Chef, shrink, wound-healer, natural soother, story-teller, housekeeper, personal shopper.

Alternative medicine explorer, Jane Fonda devotee (circa 1980), healthy recipe experimenter.

Adult-onset runner to 2000 Somerset Classic 5k age group 2nd place winner.

Limit pusher, dream chaser, cheerleader, eternal optimist.

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You inspire me more than you know.

You may not always understand all my crazy endeavors — “Running 26.2 miles? Why would you want to do that to yourself?!”

But thanks for being there every step of the way.

Mom1

Happy birthday, Mom! I love you!

Race Report: LifeTime Fitness 2015 Indoor Triathlon

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Although I said I’d hold off on registering for another triathlon until I work on my swim, I couldn’t help myself when I found out that the Indoor Triathlon Hour powered by Life Time Tri and IRONMAN would be happening while I was in Michigan.

In an effort to inspire the community to consider and commit to racing triathlon in 2015, LifeTime Fitness created the event as a way to offer an inspirationally-charged, safe and indoor environment for athletes of all fitness levels to experience the nation’s fastest growing sport of triathlon.

I did a similar event last year at a different location, and while my distances were slightly shorter this time for the same time-frames (damn!) — 10-minute swim/30-minute bike/20-minute run — I can’t complain too much because my training has been consistent but not particularly focused lately.

My wave — the first of the day — started promptly at 8 a.m., so I arrived about 20 minutes early to check in, get my cap and number and get organized in the locker room transition area. And then it was go time!

Swim: 10 minutes = 17 lengths

Clean, clear water and only two people to a lane? Now, that’s how I start to get my swim mojo back.

And apparently my lane buddy, Eric, had the same idea. He’d done outdoor triathlons before but had a bad swim experience recently, as well, so both of us joked about just wanting to just get through that part of every race.

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Since the lap pool there has five lanes, they limited each heat to 10 people. By the time I had arrived, people were already starting to warm up, so I hopped in and swam one length to try to get the pre-race jitters out.

This is about when I also noticed that my wave-mates were a pretty athletic looking bunch. I was one of three ladies, and I could tell quickly that this wasn’t a group who was trying triathlon for the first time; these people were here to kick off their seasons, so I figured I’d just try to keep up.

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My adrenaline didn’t work in my favor because I went out way too quickly. And the combination of being against the wall (aka swallowing back-splash) and getting bumped a few times took me right back to my Olympic triathlon back in April, and I could feel myself start to panic.

This is where the giant countdown clock came in handy, though, because I’d raise my head at the end of the lane and think, You can do anything for five more minutes. Gradually, I got my rhythm back and, thankfully, the whistle blew for us to stop after I’d gotten 17 lengths under my belt.

Bike: 30 minutes = 7.7 miles

Although they gave us a generous 10 minutes to transition from the swim to the bike, the time flew by. I tugged off my suit in the locker room, threw on my Coeur kit and headed upstairs to the bike area that they had sectioned off by the cardio equipment.

For some added motivation, we could watch Ironman videos on the projection screen, so I snagged a front-row seat for the action. I didn’t have my bike shoes to be able to clip in, so I secured my running shoes in the pedals and prepped my nutrition: a bottle of water and a trusty Chocolate Peppermint Stick LUNA bar.

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And we were off again! The music pumping nice and loud, so I tried to ride to the beat and turned down my resistance as much as possible to gain some of the ground I lost in the pool.

I got the feeling that a few of my heat-mates train together because they rode in a group and were encouraging each other throughout the ride, which was inspiring to hear. We pedaled furiously as a small crowd gathered to watch us push onward, still dripping a bit from the pool, but smiling from ear to ear.

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I think the bikes may have been calibrated differently from last year’s race because my just-under-eight-miles seemed like a conservative estimate for how strongly I felt like I was riding (especially after getting a comment form one of my heat-mates to the same effect). But, regardless, I stayed pretty steady throughout, ate and drank consistently, and was proud of my overall effort.

The second wave came up to join us with about 10 minutes to spare in our ride, so we pedaled as a large group for the final portion. Their energy was a breath of fresh air after hammering away on the stationary bike, and just a few minutes after they got settled the whistle blew for our final transition.

Run: 20 minutes = 2.69 miles

We had five minutes to get from the bikes to the treadmills, but they were just a few yards away, so I grabbed a towel and got situated quickly because I already had my Hoka Conquests on.

My heat-mate next to me had a treadmill malfunction at the very last second, so he scooted over to another machine just as they started a countdown to the third and final portion of the event.

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Because I’ve been managing what I’ve self-diagnosed as some SI joint pain (note to self: must continue to work on my lack of ankle mobility, which is likely the culprit!) since my marathon, my plan was to run a conservative first 10 minutes and then gradually increase my speed over the next 10 minutes to warm up properly.

I started off at 6.8 mph and increased to around 7.5 when one of the volunteers came by, daring me, “I think can go faster than that.” Yep, she was right; I wasn’t really out of breath, so I pumped it up a few tenths of a mile every minute or two until I was up to 8.5 mph 15 minutes in.

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I was hoping to inch up the speed to 9.0 mph like last year, but I started feeling a little lightheaded with three minutes to go, so I gritted my teeth and ran on. Maybe increasing the speed wasn’t an option, but I sure as hell wasn’t backing down at that point!

When the final whistle blew, I ended at 2.69 miles. Not PR territory, but a solid performance with an average pace of 7:26/mile, so I’ll take it…especially considering I’ve eaten my weight in Christmas cookies over the past few weeks.

It was also a wake-up call: Fitness-wise, I’m close to what I was last March, so I’m happy to have been able to maintain. Training-wise, however, I’ve got to dial things in better if I want to progress. And, nutritionally, I think I did ok, but probably could have used some extra oomph for the run in the form of Osmo or Tailwind in addition to the LUNA bar.

All in all, it was an event I’d highly recommend, especially if you’re looking to kick off your training with a low-pressure race and get a baseline in place.

Congrats to everyone who participated, and cheers to a successful 2015 racing season!

Race Report: 2014 Detroit Marathon

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They say that you learn more from the races that don’t go according to plan than the ones that do, and I learned two big lessons yesterday:

  1. Even though a race can go very differently from how you originally imagined, it can still be awesome for other reasons.
  2. Sometimes it’s best not to be left to your own devices; the guidance of a third party (i.e. a coach) can help immensely.

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But I’ll back up to the beginning… Even though I set two alarms — one at 4:45 and one at 4:50 — because I was worried I’d oversleep, I ended up waking up around 3:45 in a panic about my race-day attire. The weather, which had been hovering around the 50’s and 60’s all week, had dropped into the low 30’s and would only get up to the low 40’s toward the end of the race.

I only packed a tank, but once I decided to run 26.2 “ultra-style” with my gear, I bought a t-shirt as added insurance to keep my hydration pack from chafing. But when I tested my arm sleeves during my 10-miler last week, they rubbed the inside of my arms, so at 4:00 yesterday morning I made a game-time decision to run in a long-sleeve top with a t-shirt over it.

Like I said before, a lot can happen over 26.2 miles, and you don’t want chafing to be any part of that!

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Hubby dropped me off a few blocks from the start line at 6:35, so I had just enough time to dash into Cobo Center — Detroit’s big convention hall where they held the pre-race expo — for a quick bathroom pit stop before heading over to my corral. It was (literally) freezing outside, so a lot of runners were huddled inside until the last minute, but I got out of there ASAP because I’d have to fight the crowd to get to my corral.

Because my original anticipated finish time was 3:50, I was in corral D. I just happened to line up next to that pace group, bunching together with everyone to share body heat, and smiled to myself. Let it go; let them go, I thought, and made a mental note to check my ego because we’d be parting as soon as I started my 10-minute run/1-minute walk plan for the race.

As “Lose Yourself” blared on the loudspeakers, the horn blew for the start of each wave of corrals and, before I knew it, we were off! I hung with my group for the first 10 minutes, settling into a comfortable pace, and then watched the swell of people move off into the distance as I pulled over to the side for my minute-long walk segment.

“Save something for the end,” became my new mantra, as well as, “I might be seeing some of you later!”

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At this point, I still wasn’t sure if my leg would hold up, so I told Hubby and my parents that we’d plan for a few checkpoints along the way. The first of which was mile three, just before I’d cross the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. It’s one of my favorite parts of the race, but I knew that if my leg was giving me trouble early-on, I’d have to bail there because my cell wouldn’t work once we crossed International waters.

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Luckily, besides some minor twinges, I was feeling ok (definitely not 100 percent, but good enough to keep going), so we crossed over the bridge as the sun rose. My pictures don’t do it justice, but you get the idea; I was more focused my form while high-fiving the border patrol and then tackling the uphill portion.

I did, however, pull over and take a quick selfie during my next walk segment. Not only did these one-minute breaks become my lifelines later on, but they also allowed me to document some of the course, which I thought would be fun for posterity’s sake!

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Another one of my favorite sights on the course is the view of the Detroit skyline, as seen from Windsor. This is about five miles in and where I began fueling, which ended up helping immensely when it came to keeping both my energy and spirits up throughout the race.

During walk breaks I alternated a bite of Bonk Breaker and a few pulls of water with some sips of my Tailwind flavorless electrolyte drink (ok, and maybe a handful of M&M’s from someone along the course!). The goal was to take it easy to try to avoid gastrointestinal issues, and these all seemed to sit well on my stomach.

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Another one of my favorite parts of a marathon is the spectator signs. There were some along the Canada stretch that made me smile, including “You are NOT anywhere near the finish” and “USA runners, you only need to work 90% as hard here.”

I kept up my 10 run/1 walk ratio and felt like I had a steady pace, so I went into autopilot and switched back and forth between trying to keep my form in check and taking in all the scenery. Before I knew it, we were headed into the “Underwater Mile,” which is the tunnel that runs from Canada to the US.

Although it’s one of the race’s claims to fame, it’s actually one of my least favorite parts of the course. Not only is there not much to look at, but it also gets pretty stuffy in there. I had been heating up in the previous miles, and by the time we were three-quarters of the way through the tunnel, I could feel my shirt getting soaked with sweat.

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But it’s all worth it for what you see when you exit! There’s a huge crowd cheering loudly, plus a banner that we all slapped as we made our way around the bend toward mile nine.

This was the second checkpoint; as soon as I had reception, I texted Hubby and my parents that I was still going. We made plans to meet up around mile 15 as I headed toward my third checkpoint — more of a mental one — 13.1 miles.

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By this time, the sun was up and the air was crisp — perfect running weather. We ran along the Lodge Freeway, which I thought was pretty cool — especially because it was along here that the song “8 Mile” came on my iPod.

No better way to run through the streets of Detroit than with a little music from Eminem!

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I took the opportunity here to take another selfie during my walk break. Then we rounded the corner and went up the offramp, which I think was around mile nine.

This is where my legs really started to protest; oddly enough, it was more my left hamstring and knee, which started acting up — most likely because I was concentrating so hard on keeping my right shin happy. I kept going, but started wondering if I’d have to stop at the half marathon point.

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Around mile 11, I really started doubting myself. But right as I started slipping into that dark place, I felt someone reach out and grab me — my friend, former-XC-teammate-turned-pro-triathlete, Terra Castro! Her timing couldn’t have been better.

We hugged, and I told her about my legs as she asked how I was doing. “You’re good, just keep it up — you’ve got it.” she said, and it was just what I needed to hear to suck it up, re-adjust my attitude and keep moving forward.

The pain was more of a tightness than a sharp feeling, so I knew I could continue safely with with my 10 run/1 walk plan — the battle from here on out would just be as much mental as physical. But I was still going steady when we hit the turnoff between the half marathoners and the full marathoners, so I took the turn toward the full and texted my family that I’d see them at the fourth checkpoint — mile 15!

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The next few miles until I saw my folks were a bit of a grind; there was a long straightaway down a long stretch of road, and I just remember thinking how I had to thank my running coach after the race. I hadn’t run this far since August, and after taking five weeks off during peak training mileage, I was really starting to feel it.

Taking the walk breaks, as he suggested, were extremely motivating. Not only did they give me a chance to catch my breath, but they also were an ideal reminder to refuel and re-hydrate regularly, which I remained diligent about.

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The segment between miles 16-18 was actually another one of my favorite parts of the race. My legs were getting progressively tighter, so it was a welcome distraction to check out the beautiful tree-lined side streets of historic Indian Village with its huge, old houses.

Having spectators line up on their front lawns to pass out beer, play polka music and wave funny signs was also an awesome part of this section. It reminded me of my first marathon in Chicago where people in different neighborhoods would hand out food, drinks and really get into the spirit of the race.

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I spotted my family as we turned to exit the neighborhood — awesome, I made it to checkpoint five and was almost down to single digit miles! I stopped for a quick photo with my parents, and heard my mom say, “Go, Jennifer! You’re really going to do this!” as I headed off.

As I trekked toward mile 20, I knew that the toughest part was yet to come. Everyone around me was starting to slow as we all began to feel the effects of the miles. People were pulling over to stretch, I saw one gentleman with a bloody back from the pack he was carrying, and I started recognizing a few familiar faces from earlier on as we continued along.

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No, I hadn’t hit the wall, per se, but I was flirting dangerously close to it at this point, as were all of those around me. But all I could do was keep up my 10 run/1 walk pattern, keep fueling regularly and just put one foot in front of the other.

Although I did literally run through this wall. Couldn’t resist!

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Miles 20-22 took us to Belle Isle, which is a 982-acre island park in the middle of the Detroit River. It’s absolutely beautiful, but I had trouble fully enjoying it because I spent most of this stretch talking myself into not walking the rest of the race.

Knowing you’re down to just six or so miles is an incredible morale boost, but at the same time you’re questioning how the hell you’re going to keep your body moving for another hour. And by this point, my quads were screaming — I was paying for my under-training with a searing build-up of lactic acid — so I gritted my teeth and decided to try to make a time goal to keep myself motivated.

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I spotted Hubby between miles 22 and 23, and he ran alongside me for a few minutes to cheer me on toward the final stretch. He saw that I was majorly struggling, so he tried talking to me to keep me distracted, but I was in no mood for chatting.

At this point I knew I would finish, the only question was how long it’d take me. So try as Hubby might to engage me, I just smiled and thanked him, saying, “I love you! I’m trying to finish in under 4:30!” before popping in my ear buds and buckling down for the final 5K.

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By then I’d eaten my entire Bonk Breaker bar and drank up my 20 ounces of Tailwind, so I took half a Carb Boom energy gel (which I picked up at mile 16) along with a few gulps of water. I had a little more than two miles to go to the finish, and I wasn’t taking any chances by letting my blood sugar drop before the final mile or so.

Seeing the Detroit skyline come back into view helped — so close! — as did a change in scenery along the RiverWalk leading up to mile 25. Just. One. More. Mile. My legs weren’t locking up as badly as they did in my last marathon, but I was SO ready to be done already.

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My parents were lined up at mile 26, which was the perfect final distraction before the home stretch. The finish line wasn’t yet in sight, although I knew we were close, so seeing them right before we turned the corner gave me one last boost of adrenaline.

With the finish line in sight, I kicked it into whatever gear I had left and went as fast as I could for the final .2 miles. Regardless of how many marathons you’ve run, that burst of joy and relief you feel when crossing the finish line never gets old.

Official time: 4:17:17.

My legs were the angriest they’ve ever been after a race; I duck-walked down the chute to collect some food, get my photo taken and meet up with Hubby and my parents. But I was so thankful just to be able to complete this race — not to mention grateful to my PT for getting me to the start line and my coach for giving me a game plan to get to the finish in once piece.

The final to-do item on my race-day list? Kick-starting the recovery process with a deep-dish Pizza Papalis Chicago-style pizza and a warm Epsom Salt bath.

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Thank you all so much for following along and cheering me on for what’s truly been a roller-coaster of a training cycle. Looking through your tweets, posts and comments on race-day morning gave me just the extra “oomph” I needed to keep pushing forward, running happy and appreciating the small victories along the way.

And in case you’re wondering…yes, I still have that sub-four marathon goal on my list. But I’m going to give my body a bit of a break so I can heal fully, focus on becoming a better runner and try tackle some different distances in the meantime.

After all, they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So, I look forward to that next new adventure together!

Detroit Marathon: Week 18 training recap

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Well, here we are — 18 weeks down, and just a few days to go! The bad news is that my calf has been acting up this week (aching after Monday’s treadmill run), but the good news is that I’m at peace with my game plan for race day, which is “slow and steady.”

After training took a turn for the worse in the past two months, my first objective was to heal up enough to get to the start (check!). Now it’s time to focus on getting across that finish line on Sunday.

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Here’s what the past week looked like, according to the original training plan:

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And here’s what I’ve actually been doing, as per my run coach’s recommendation:

  • Monday: Run on treadmill (30 run/1 walk x 2), PT exercises
  • Tuesday: Elliptical (45 mins), strength training, PT exercises
  • Wednesday: Run (45-60 mins), OFF, PT exercises
  • Thursday: Recumbent bike (30 min), strength training, PT exercises
  • Friday: Run (30-45 mins), Elliptical/bike (30 min), strength training, PT exercises
  • Saturday: OFF, PT exercises
  • Sunday: RACE DAY!

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As far as race prep goes, I’m treating it more like an ultra and aiming for stamina over speed. This means I’ll be carrying a hydration pack with some essentials instead of going for the usual less-is-more approach to race day.

Since I also lost some endurance during my time-out from training, I’ll need to fuel early and often to avoid the inevitable “wall” as long as possible. So I’m packing salt tabs, TUMS and both water and Tailwind flavorless electrolyte beverage in order to be self-sufficient on the course (this is helpful both physically and mentally, at this point).

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Also in my Ultimate Direction Jenny Ultra Vesta? A few Bonk Breakers, Picky Bars and Hammer Gels, along with my cell phone for emergencies (i.e. worst-case scenario = DNF), which I’m hoping I can avoid by skipping this week’s runs so I can rest up my legs and get my calf calmed down.

I’m hitting the expo on Saturday to get my race packet, but will be taking it easy other than that. It’s an odd feeling worrying less about time/pace and more about my ability to finish, but I’ll be following Coach’s orders and doing a 10-min run/1-min walk ratio to try to get ‘er done as swiftly — and safely — as possible.

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Stay tuned for race updates via social media, and I’ll be posting my race recap Monday. Any positive vibes & healing thoughts much appreciated in the meantime so I can finish healthy and strong; thanks very much!