Thursday, April 11, 2013

Yuengling Shamrock Weekend in VA Beach: Part 1 of 3

I know I planned on taking this blog further and posting on more than just race reports, but that has yet to happen.  I'm terrible at commitment, I know.  But nonetheless, here's another race report.  I'll break it down into three parts to avoid one obnoxiously long post: the overall weekend report, 8K, and Half Marathon.

Shamrock was our first full marathon last year, and boy, did I crash and burn during that one.  Finished about 1/2 hour slower than I intended, in fact.  However, after Steamtown (my redemption) I came to the realization that I needed to keep it to one marathon a year.  So I'm signed up for Wineglass in October, but I didn't want to miss the fun of Shamrock weekend.  Also, I really love being part of Team LiveSTRONG, which is the premier charity of J&A Racing.  So Doug, his bro (Nick), and I decided to do the Dolphin Challenge--8K Saturday and Half Marathon Sunday.  Still felt a little crazy, but think of all the race swag: two shirts, two medals, two after-parties, and a Dolphin challenge pin to boot!

I'll post the race details in the next two posts, but I have to share a few things first:

  1. If you've never done a J&A Race in Virginia Beach (they also have the Wicked 10K, Surf-N-Santa 10 Miler, Virginia is for Lovers 14K, and Crawlin Crab race), you absolutely must.  These folks really know how to put on a race, and Virginia Beach is so welcoming to racers.  Both years that I've been there, Shamrock is incredibly well organized.  I don't have a bad thing to say about the organization, except maybe that they won't hire me and relocate me to VA. :)
  2. I, like many others, was incredibly disappointed when the news broke about Lance Armstrong.  I've seen him as a hero for a long time, and it broke my heart that he's been lying all these years.  However, I was still very, very proud to represent Team LiveSTRONG for the 2nd year.  Regardless of what Lance did on the bike, the organization he founded is still an amazing way to help those affected by cancer and their families. 
  3. I'm really glad we've made this a family event.  In addition to Doug, Nick and I doing the Dolphin Challenge, my mom ran the half (and got a new PR to boot!), and Doug's Cousin (Terri), his other brother (Shawn), and his parents did the 8K.  I have to say, Doug's parents used to--and sometimes, still do--laugh at us with all this running.  However, I'm so happy they're taking a proactive approach to their health by joining us.  They run/walk it, and considering that Doug's dad has had surgery on BOTH knees, I think that's a great accomplishment.  Of all my running milestones, getting so many friends and family members to join the fun is my favorite one.
Now, having said all that, a few details on the weekend.

The Expo
   Most race reports don't discuss the expo, but I love me a good expo--by good, I mean lots of fun/free stuff.  This one definitely improved over last year.  Packet pickup went fast and it was super efficient, and I really liked the shirts.  They seem like they're better quality than last year's, too.  It was a decent sized expo with lots to buy (somehow, I got out of there without spending any money), and had some samples from Nuun (yuck), an avocado company (pineapple guac--YUM!), and McDonald's.  As for the latter, the irony is not lost on me.  We made our rounds and left for the hotel.

Nick being Nick at the expo :)

   We stayed at the Hilton Oceanfront this year, which is right at the finish line.  While the Hilton is a bit more expensive (although it was way cheaper than their regular rates), it was totally worth it.  After the half, Doug and I were able to run up to our room and quickly shower and make it back downstairs to see my mom finish.  The hotel staff all wore Shamrock Marathon shirts and were extremely welcoming.  They gave us Red Bull at check in--it was nice that they gave you something, but I definitely think Gatorade might have been more appropriate for the race.  Nonetheless, I'm always grateful for little touches of hospitality, even if  I don't partake.

View of the finish line (and beach) from our balcony

LiveSTRONG Dinner
  The family attended the Team LiveSTRONG dinner Friday night in the VIP tent (right behind our hotel--also convenient).  It was a great dinner--kudos to the Bakers' Crust for excellent catering.  Two women who became young widows last year due to this horrible disease spoke, and I was in tears.  Their resolve to be strong for their young kids amazed me.  They were truly inspirational women. 

  After dinner, we basically made our way up to the rooms and called it a night since we had a long two days ahead of us, with the 8K starting things out Saturday morning.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Weight Watching (sigh.)

I never thought I'd be saying this again, but I'm back on Weight Watchers.

Sure, I have a healthy BMI--around 21.8--but that doesn't mean I'm happy with it.  Around August-November, and even into December before the holiday eating really commenced, I was right where I wanted to be and only felt like I needed to do some toning to see exactly what I wanted.  Then the holidays started and I made it a point to gain some weight because I thought I needed to, as I hadn't had "my friend" in months.  Well, that situation resolved itself a few weeks ago, and according to my doctor, might not have been related to my weight or even activity level whatsoever.

So now here I am, still carrying the holiday weight, plus 3 pounds or so extra.  I hate it.  And it's not even about focusing on the number on the scale.  I'd be OK with this number if it were a muscular version of the same, but it's not and I know it isn't. 

I did WW successfully back in 2010-early 2011.  I lost about 18-20 lbs. and really liked how the plan fit my lifestyle.  Of course, I was running 5K's back then, not half marathons (I'd never be crazy enough to do WW while training for a full).  So I know that, at the very least, I'll have to break the plan the night before long runs, or make sure to preemptively use my activity points. 

I never thought I'd be saying I'm doing this again because I never thought I'd be there again--in a situation where I needed to lose weight but was having trouble working up the willpower to do it on my own.  I thought I was self-sufficient and could do it all by myself.  Truth betold, maybe I could do it all by myself.  But after two weeks of my old antics of "maybe tomorrow" or tracking a day or two with a free plan, I decided to just bite the bullet and do it.  And I'm disappointed in myself... not for signing up, but for having to sign up again.  I'm supposed to be a picture of health and it seems, this time, like I failed myself. It's stupid, I'm sure, because it's not like I'm taking pills or supplements or even eating all the processed WW-label food.  I'm just using the tracking system and maybe some of the recipes.  There's nothing wrong with it, but I feel like I've failed myself.

Hopefully in a few weeks time, I'll be glad I made this decision because I'll be on the better end of it.  Hopefully I stop feeling disappointed with myself for taking a proactive step toward getting back to where I want to be.  Hopefully.  For now, I track my points and keep my head up.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Change-Up

I started this blog a few months ago with the idea of posting race reports, which I love to read to get an idea of whether I'd like to run that race, too.  I hope it's been helpful to some people, as the reports of others have been helpful to me. 

However, I only run about a race every month or two, so that limits my writing.  I think I need to branch out.  I love putting my ideas out there and holding myself accountable.  For this reason, I've changed the blog name:

thoughts of a middle-of-the-pack runner
is now
just along for the run

I changed the name for a few reasons.  First, Doug likes to remind me from time to time that I almost always finish in the top 25% of my field at races, so I should give myself more credit.  But there's more to it than that.  Given my resolutions to eat (more) clean and get (more) fit, I wanted something that doesn't seem race-centric.  I chose just along for the run because it matches my attitude in a lot of aspects: I try to never take myself too seriously; I will never, ever push myself to such a limit when I race that I don't enjoy what I'm doing (same goes for my professional and personal lives, really); and I try to remind myself, in the middle of things being crazy, to stop and take in my surroundings every now and then.

So I'll still be sharing race reports, as well as other things running-related.  But I'll also share good recipe finds and other thoughts I deem appropriate to share here.  I'm looking forward to sharing this new content!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Running Resolutions, Part 2

Wow! So I really dropped the ball on this one!  Of course, I'm still not sure how I plan to incentivize all my resolutions, but I have thought of a few big ones.

First, with respect to my running and fitness goals, I've come up with this so far:
  • If I PR my half marathon in March (shooting for 1:42), I'm finally getting myself a pair of Lululemon running shorts.  I normally spend about $25 on running shorts, but I've heard SUCH good things about Lulu shorts that I really want to try them, and this would be a good reason.
  • If I BQ, my initial thought is that getting to go to Boston will be the payoff in and of itself.  I think that's sufficient.
  • As far as getting more overall "fit," I still haven't decided.  Part of the reason I can't figure out how to incentivize this is because it's pretty subjective.  Compared with my running goals which have distinct numbers, this is something I can't really quantify.  Maybe a nice bikini for the summer if I feel that I've earned it?  Maybe the payoff will be in how I feel, anyway.
As far as my non-running related goals:
  • If I succeed at organizing my house and KEEPING it organized, I'm buying myself a Roomba.  I figure that will likely do for cleaning what my KitchenAid has done for baking--save me tons of time--so it'll be a really nice payoff.
  • If we manage to kick processed food, we've agreed that we're going to buy a food dehydrator.  Doug could use it to make deer jerky and such, and I LOVE dried fruit, but the oven just doesn't do the same job. 

So hopefully these incentives will help me stick with my resolutions!  Additionally, hopefully having them out there for anyone to see will keep me accountable! :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Running Resolutions, Part 1

Wow! I sure have been terrible about keeping up with my blog, haven't I?  I suppose it's because I haven't been racing much since Steamtown except for a Turkey Trot which was unremarkable.  Doug & I mostly do those every year for the sake of tradition; there were 1700 other runners and it started out on a narrow one-way road, so we knew right off the bat there wouldn't be any PR that day.  And I was right--25:02!  That still shows what a long way I've come, but considering that Doug and I were chatting as we ran until the very last push, it didn't seem worth reporting.  Now, onto the real stuff.

I'll be the first to admit that I've failed with New Years' resolutions multiple times.  They always start out sounding great only to fall by the wayside.  Heck, I think I even set one resolution for 2012: to make it my best year yet.  Unfortunately, after 2011 involved graduating law school, taking and passing the bar, getting married, and taking a honeymoon trip to Antigua, it was going to be impossible to top.  Don't get me wrong, it's been a great year, but not nearly as huge as 2011.  So even that resolution didn't quite work.

Why don't resolutions work?  Is it too easy for them to become an afterthought?  Do we set our sights too high?  Maybe a mixture of both?  Your guess is as good as mine.  This year, I think I'm going to take the same approach to resolutions that I did to my weight loss goals two years ago: I'll incentivize them.

So, to start, here are my resolutions:
  Running Resolutions:
     Run a race every month
     PR in the 5K, half, and full (BQ, please!)
     (Kind of running) Get more overall "fit"--i.e., lift more

  For fun, here are my non-running resolutions:
     Organize, and stay on top of, all aspects of my life: professional, personal, and home
     Kick processed food all together

So there they are.  My next post will come once I figure out, in the next day or so, how to incentivize those resolutions.  Any ideas are, of course, very welcome!  And please feel free to share your resolutions, as well!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Race Report: Steamtown Marathon

Yesterday was Marathon #2 and my second in under six months (which makes me think I'm crazy).  They say you have to forget the pain of one marathon before you can move on to the next, so I thought it best to post a race report while everything is still fresh, before I move on to the next... which will be more than six months away this time.  I promise.

I chose Steamtown because I've lived in Central PA all my life (about 1-1 1/2 hours from Scranton) and I've heard nothing but good things about it, and a mostly downhill marathon sounded like a great idea to me.  Boy, did it live up to my expectations (except the downhill expectations--more on that later).

First, rewind to Thursday: Doug and I were down at the Conewago Rail-Trail for an easy 6 miles (with maybe 2 at MP) when, just over a mile and a half in, Doug went down hard.  He rolled his ankle on a walnut.  This might sound weird, but if you've never seen a walnut fresh out of a tree, here's what it looks like:


Doug's ankle was pretty swollen and it never went down.  By Saturday morning, we figured out that I'd be running this race by myself.  Doug was (rightfully) upset because of all the work he had put in, and I was upset because I didn't want to do this big race without my running partner.  This is OUR thing, not just mine.  Nonetheless, it would have been a waste for me to back out because he was hurt... that thought never really even crossed my mind.

Doug, my parents, and I got to Scranton a little before 2 on Saturday, went to the expo and got our shirts/numbers (Doug was definitely still getting his shirt--what a nice $85 shirt it was!), and I sat in on the end of a panel of people discussing the course.  The expo was small, but for once, I didn't spend money on stuff I didn't need!  After the expo, we checked in at our hotel, the Sleep Inn in Dunmore.  What a great, race-friendly place.  When I booked, only smoking rooms were available, but I made a note requesting a non-smoking room, and they accommodated that.  They also had a sign up sheet for a free shuttle to the bus pickup on race morning and started the continental breakfast early (4:30 a.m.).  The room was pretty cheap (about $100 with taxes) but was clean and still available when I booked it about a month and a half ago, and about 30 minutes after checking in, the front desk called to make sure we were happy with the room.  Those little things make me so happy.  We went to a little Italian place called Sibio's (recommended by my friend Alex, who's from Scranton), which was delicious.  After getting back to the hotel, Doug and I sat in the hot tub for a little while to relax and I was laying in bed by 8:30.  I took St. John's Wort to help keep my mind from racing, and it worked pretty well.  I was up every few hours but slept better than I have for any big race in the last year.

Sunday - Before the Race
I woke up at 4:30 so I could take my time getting ready, ate my normal breakfast (plain ol' Quaker oats with honey and a banana), got ready and was down at the shuttle van by 6:00.  The shuttle took us close to the finish line where two blocks worth of school buses--seriously, no less than 30 buses--were waiting to transport us to Forest City.  I think I was still a deer in headlights at this point, not having Doug with me.   The drive took around 30-40 minutes, and when we got to Forest City High School, we were greeted by the cheerleading squad and dozens of other teenagers who led us to the gym and cafeteria, where we could wait in the warmth until it was time to start.  I give these kids SO much credit, being up so early on a Sunday morning to help us all out--I don't think you could have paid me to be up that early as a teenager!  There were loads of porta-potties, too, which is a blessing for anyone who has ever waited in a 10 minute line when they've really had to pee (raises hand).  They certainly make you feel like a rockstar in Forest City!  Around 7:50, we headed out to the starting line.  There were no official corrals, but people holding signs that said 8:00 min/mile, 9:00 min/mile, etc.  Since I was shooting for somewhere between 3:50 and 4:00, I headed to the front of the 9:00 min/mile pack.  They had a Civil War reenactment group take care of the start, so the race started not with a gun, but with a CANNON.  AWESOME... and we were off!

The Race!
Anyone who has run Steamtown knows that the biggest piece of advice someone will give you about this race is to start SLOW.  It's almost entirely downhill for the first 13-plus miles and going out too fast can kill your quads.  So I decided I was going to start off slow and pick it up later.  You'll see how well that went:

Mile 1: 8:47  This isn't bad, but slow down just a little, Ashley. 
Mile 2: 8:24  No, really, slow down!
Mile 3: 8:16  WTF
Mile 4: 8:23   Still going too fast...
Mile 5: 8:20   You're going to regret this, Ashley.
Miles 6-8: 25:45 Got all caught up in seeing some people I know over these miles, as well as the people of the awesome city of Carbondale, and forgot about my watch.  Oops.  But those people were so much fun! Lots of high fives and the entire main street was packed with people.
Mile 9: 8:34   OK, that's a little better.  Maybe plan on slowing down from Miles 10-20, then picking back up for the last 10K if you're up for it.
Mile 10: 8:39   Just a little slower.
Mile 11: 8:45  Good.  This isn't so bad considering the downhill. 
Mile 12-13: 17:51  Still doing pretty well.
Mile 14: 8:53  ...
Mile 15: 8:53  Here starts the time on the rail trail.  It was pretty good to start, and a welcome change for my legs and feet.  Beautiful scenery, too.
Mile 16: 9:06  The trail gets a little uneven and I slow down out of fear of running into a tree root (I'm constantly tripping over those) or, God forbid, a walnut. 
Mile 17: 8:52 Still on the trail (I think--at least for the most part).  At this point, I realize that I could push harder, but I'm definitely not getting a BQ and, unless I get hurt, I'm going to break 4 hours.  I decided to keep a comfortable pace from here on out for the sake of being able to walk after the race.  So from here on out, I played it pretty safe.
Mile 18: 9:06 We came out of the trail to see a crowd of people at the viewpoint... what an enthusiastic crowd!
Mile 19: 9:19  Through a park and then some more trail... this was the point where (1) my legs were starting to feel tired and chilly, and (2) I realized just how much that trail slowed me down, especially this part of the trail, because it was mulch.  While the mulch was packed, it was almost like running through mud.
Mile 20: 9:14  My parents and Doug were waiting in Olyphant for me... just the boost I needed! 
Mile 21: 9:11  Heading into Dickson City and things are starting to look familiar.  I realized how chilly I was feeling when I couldn't open my Gu since my hands were freezing, so I put my gloves back on... amazing how much better a pair of gloves can make your whole body feel!
Mile 22-23: 18:01 Forgot to hit the split button again.  Mile 23 was definitely faster than 22.  Running through Throop and things are looking familiar.  I know I'm in the home stretch, because 4 miles or so is nothing! Mile 22 was where I hit the wall HARD in my last marathon, so I felt much better after I passed the Mile 22 marker without cramping up.
Mile 24-25: 19:00 Early in Mile 24, we hit the dreaded Electric Street hill!  It's tough and longer than I remembered from our drive the day before.  However, all the residents are out cheering us along.  Going around a turn, the St. Joseph's Center folks are out supporting us.  I get emotional and I'm in tears.  Around that turn, we started heading down a hill for a bit.
Mile 26: 8:56  I thought they said there were two blocks of uphill?!?  These are a LONG two blocks!  Not to mention, most of that whole mile was uphill--it was gradual, but that late in the game, any uphill was tough.  We crested the hill by Coopers and, at that point, I just let my legs carry me as fast as they wanted.  The street is packed with people cheering us on.
.2: 1:33: Not sprinting (I'm hesitant to do that at the end of a marathon), but I'm cooking along.  I crossed the finish line and nearly cried, because....


That was a 37 minute PR! While I was thrilled with that, as I sit here and write, I wonder if I should have pushed harder.  I know I definitely could have broken 3:50--should I have gone for that?  Regardless, I'm happy with my time.  I went through the chute, got wrapped in a space blanket, got a water, received my medal, and went into the food tent (volunteers were handing out bags to stash your food and such, which was a great idea, so our hands weren't too full).  I went into the courthouse where U of Scranton PT students were doing massages on our sore legs, which was wonderful.  I was still standing and not in too much pain.  Even today, my knees are a little sore/tired, but nothing more.  

Doug and I after the race
I'm so grateful to the residents of the NEPA towns we ran through.  There were so many people out handing out bottles of water, bananas, orange slices, etc., in front of their houses and cheering us on.  I don't know if they realize just how much that means to us runners, but it was amazing.  They were absolutely wonderful. 

So marathon #2 is in the books and I really have the itch again already!  I honestly want to switch to the full marathon for Shamrock in March, but I think I'll still stick with the Dolphin Challenge and plan for a fall marathon.  All in all, I'm really happy with this marathon experience and I felt like I came out of this one much better than the first!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Taper Madness: Week 2

The week I've been anticipating for six months is finally here!  Yes, it's Steamtown week--four days until the big race.  I've still not decided on a pace strategy entirely.  They say you should set three goals: a "reach" goal, a slightly more attainable goal, and an even more attainable one.  I've set my three at 3:50, 3:55, and under 4 hours.  Given how easily I've done a 9-minute mile for my long runs and my comfortable 1:48 at RNR Philly, I wonder whether I should set higher goals.

I'll be honest, the taper hasn't been so bad this time around.  Like I said in my last post, before my first marathon, I was sick, achy, and diagnosed myself with a plethora of injuries to my left leg.  This time, I've had a few random aches, but I attribute it to my body repairing itself a little while it has a chance.  I'm not sick, either {knocks on wood}.  I'm actually pretty excited to have the opportunity to run through several towns in beautiful NEPA on a nice fall day.  At least I hope it will be a nice fall day.  Further south (here in Harrisburg), trees are already changing, so I'm sure it will be beautiful further north.

Long story short, the taper madness isn't as crazy this time around.  I'm actually pretty excited for this race and my biggest concern is not being able to sleep the night before the race... I never can.  I'm attributing it to being better-trained this time around and having already done it once.  Or am I just crazy?  I've got this little nervous tic that has me thinking it might set in tomorrow or Friday, too.

So..... what crazy taper experiences have you had?