The Secret to Half Marathon PR Success: Stalking…Ummm, I Mean Teamwork…

Check it out y’all, I wrote another race report! Time to cozy up to the computer or mobile device of your choosing and read all about my latest running adventure, The Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon! It’s sure to be a real page-turner…

We’ll Start with Some Reflections and Some Strategy…

Leading up to Sunday’s race I had been doing a lot of reflecting on my run at Disney Princess and why it did not go so well. I know that a lot of reasons for my disappointing performance that day were entirely out my control… Heat and humidity, GI distress, tutu drag, etc. But still, it is disappointing to fall short of your target pace on race day, especially when you have been nailing said pace in all of your workouts. I was discussing this matter with my wise and speedy Oiselle teammates on our Saturday shake out/ race strategizing run when it dawned on me: I should approach this race as though it were workout! I like workouts and I am generally successful at them because they provide a structured plan of action… Run at this pace for this long, then take this much rest and repeat x number of times. All you have to do is follow a few simple steps and maybe endure a little discomfort, but before you know it you are done and you probably kicked that workout’s butt! This whole simple how-to thing usually works out really well for me.  And so somewhere in the mix of our profound and very important conversations about what’s trending on Twitter, our Oiselle spring line wish lists, the latest episode of Glee, and sweet vs. savory crepes for our post-run festival of carbo loading, my teammates/ running gurus Allison and Bigs and I put our heads together and my race day game plan was born.

We decided that the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon should be a progression run, and we mapped it out to look something like this:

  • Miles 1 through 4: Keep it comfortable, let’s say 7:20 to 7:15.
  • Miles 5 through 9: Try to pick it up at little, but don’t go crazy… 7:10 to 7:05 pace.
  • Miles 10 through 13.1: Get the hell out of the comfort zone. It’s all out balls-to-the-wall from here to the finish.

I took great comfort in mapping out a game plan, and also in spending a lovely Saturday morning running, eating, hydrating, and power-shopping (all critical components of my day-before-the-race preparation plan) with my awesome teammates. I had a good feeling as we packed up and head east for Wrightsville Beach.

Just in case you were wondering, I was unable to choose a winner in the great Sweet vs. Savory Crepe debate. This left me no choice but to have one of each.

Just in case you were wondering, I was unable to choose a winner in the great Sweet vs. Savory Crepe debate. This left me no choice but to have one of each.

Upon our arrival at the beautiful North Carolina coast, we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon and evening of packet pick-up, more shopping, 5K watching/ cheering, a very carbohydrate-intensive team dinner, and of course, a serious green nail polish mani-pedi party… I mean, is it even possible to run a race on St. Patrick’s Day without green finger and toe nails?

All for one, and St. Paddy's Day manicures for all!

All for one, and St. Paddy’s Day manicures for all!

I awoke on St. Patrick’s Day morning feeling reasonably well rested, well hydrated, and ready to kick some ass. My fabulously fun teammates and I donned our race kits and all the sparkly green accessories we could find and jogged/ booty danced our way to the start line. (Apparently dance parties are the new half marathon warm up of champions.)  Before we knew it, the gun went off and so did we.

Bigs and I take a quick moment between the dance party warm up and the starting gun to model our fly new Oiselle spike bags before depositing them at bag drop.

Bigs and I take a quick moment between the dance party warm up and the starting gun to model our fly new Oiselle spike bags before depositing them at bag drop.

The Mile By Mile Breakdown…

Right away my teammate Caren (Caren is the reigning Masters North Carolina State Champion of the mile distance.  She’s kind of a big deal.) pulled up to me, and I breathed a giant sigh of relief. I was admittedly lacking confidence in my ability to execute the race plan on my own, so I was extremely grateful to have some company. We easily rolled through mile 1 in 7:11 and I decided to rein it in a little, even it meant losing Caren. She humored me with a conservative  7:17 mile for #2, but pulled away by mile 3, which I ran in a somewhat embarrassing 7:28. Fortunately, the running gods were smiling on me and I missed the slowest split of the day as it popped up the watch. Had I been aware of it, I suspect it would have psychologically derailed me for the remainder of the race. By mile 4 I was back on track with a 7:15 and it was Hammer Time. Hammer Gel time, that is. I celebrated completing phase one of the game plan with a delicious raspberry Hammer Gel.

Raspberry Hammer Gel, the race day nectar of the gods...

Raspberry Hammer Gel, the race day nectar of the gods…

Time to step it up a little… I was able to accomplish this pretty easily thanks to my first sighting of the officially Bull City Track Club cheering section (i.e. Jason Page toting the camera and the child-filled baby jogger,) plus an especially awesome NC State-themed aid station complete with a pack’s worth of cardboard cut-out wolves and guy with a sign that read “FREE HIGH FIVES”. (I don’t really have any special attachment to NC State University, but who doesn’t love a good cardboard wolf pack?) I cashed in my free high-five as my watch chirped a big  7:05 for mile 5, and to my great joy I caught a glimpse of Caren maybe a quarter of mile ahead of me!  I immediately adjusted my game plan to include reeling her in by mile 10 so we could work together for the balls-out portion of the race.

I kept my sights set on Caren for miles 6 and 7, which were 7:09 and 7:10 respectively. Although I did not seem to be gaining any ground on her, she didn’t seem to be putting any distance on me either, and this kept my optimism for catching her alive.

At mile 8 I came across some nice, chatty marathoners and clicked off a 7:04 thanks to their pleasant company. The power of a little friendly distraction never ceases to amaze me.

But wait, where is Caren?! We’re getting dangerously close the “Beast Mode On” phase of the race plan, and I haven’t caught her yet! Balls! Time to focus. I downed Hammer Gel #2, the espresso flavor this time for good measure. At this point I realized that all I really needed to do now was run 4 miles at 7:00 min pace. This was precisely the tempo workout I ran last week and it went particularly well for me.  Just the confidence boost I needed. That, and oh yeah, THERE’S CAREN and I am starting to close the gap!

I very nearly yelled as loud as I could “HEY CAREN, WAIT FOR ME!!!”, but then it occurred to me that this was a totally selfish/ ridiculous thing to do and that Caren probably wasn’t especially interested in throwing her own ballin’ half marathon time out the window in the name of getting me through the last 3 miles of the race. As I rolled through mile 9 in 7:01 and mile 10 at 6:58 I rejoiced at the realization that I was totally rocking the execution of the game plan and feeling strong. It also crossed my mind that I had cleared the mile marker that had been my digestive system’s demise in my last half marathon without one fleeting sign of GI distress.  Then I prayed that I had not jinxed myself by patting  myself on the back for making it this far without digestive issues. Thankfully, my prayers were answered.

By mile 11 I was definitely gaining ground on Caren. “Perfect!” I thought to myself. “Since Caren is the Master’s Mile Champion of North Carolina I am so gonna draft off of her for a super-speedy final mile.” Near the end of mile 11 I encountered the Official BCTC Cheering Section again. I had to chuckled to myself as Jason yelled at me “ELLEN, THERE’S CAREN! GO GET HER!!!” Yeah, no kidding dude.  I have been stalking her as “Every Breath You Take” by The Police plays in my head the entire race! And then with the help of a 2nd round of free high fives from the cardboard wolf pack aid station, something magical happened. Just like that, I CAUGHT CAREN! This time  I actually did yell her name to make my presence known, and as  Mile 11 popped at 6:51 we I kicked it into high gear for a big, glorious BCTC teamwork finish. Then somewhere in my shockingly speedy 6:29 (at least by my standards) mile 12 I lost Caren again. Except this time she was behind me.

As I charged into the final mile that bad feeling of impending vomit set in.  I channeled the wise and profound final-kick mantra of the amazing Bigs , “Don’t shoot your wad. Don’t lose your lunch.” (She really said this to me repeatedly last year in the last 800m or so of the Napa Valley Marathon as she paced me to a big ol’ Boston Qualifier.) It got me to the finish line barf-free that day in Napa, and it did the same  for me on Sunday in the home stretch at Wrightsville Beach.

Speaking of Bigs, where were all the BCTC fasties who had surely finished way ahead of me and why weren’t they out here cheering for me? I had reached the point where I could really use some encouraging words and familiar faces in my world. I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief as mile 13 flashed up at 6:35 and not any slower.  Then I graciously  turned the final corner for the remaining  .1 portion of the race to the tune of the very enthusiastic cheers of Bigs and our teammate Rachel.

I crossed the finish line with 1:32:59 on the watch and the lovely girl who very barely out-kicked me and I celebrated our matching sequined shamrock hair clips and our nearly matching new half marathon PRs (the first time breaking 1:35 for both of us) with some serious high-fiving. The celebrations continued as I learned that the aforementioned  BCTC fasties, Rachel, Jen, and Bigs had swept the podium for the women’s half marathon and that every single runner in our group had run a phatty new 13.1 PR.

BCTC fasties Rachel, Jen, and Bigs sweep the podium. (Podium not pictured.)

BCTC fasties Rachel, Jen, and Bigs sweep the podium! (Podium not pictured.)

The whole gang sporting our shiny new half marathon PRs!

The whole gang sporting our shiny new half marathon PRs!

The rest of the day was pretty much a non-stop fun-fest complete with finish line beers,  the best post-race DJ dance party I have ever experienced, a beach trip, and Irish Car Bombs for lunch.

Free Beer: The real reason we paid money to run 13.1 miles.

Free Beer: The real reason we paid money to run 13.1 miles.

In addition to winning the race, Rachel (left) DOMINATED the after DJ Dance Party. Rachel is my running AND my dance party hero.

In addition to winning the race, Rachel (left) DOMINATED the  DJ Dance Party afterwards. Rachel is my running AND my dance party hero.

It just wouldn't be a trip to the beach with out the obligatory synchronized jumping pic. Also, no small children were harmed in the taking of this phot0.

It just wouldn’t be a trip to the beach with out the obligatory synchronized jumping pic. Also, no small children were harmed in the taking of this photo.

Irish Car Bombs, because it's St. Patrick's Day and we all just ran half marathon PRs. As if we really needed a reason...

Irish Car Bombs, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and we all just ran half marathon PRs. As if we really needed a reason…

A Few Words of Gratitude, Oscars Acceptance Speech Style…

First and foremost, I would like to thank Caren.  Caren, know that I mean this in the most sincere and non-creepy way possible when I say that I could not have been more grateful to get to watch your backside for the majority of the race if you had been Matthew McConaghey wearing chaps. Seriously though, having you there gave me focus I needed to stick to the game plan and saved me from being sidetracked by my race day nemesis; self-doubt and negative inner dialogue. Cheers to you, your tremendous new 1/2 Marathon PR, and the loss of your Irish Car Bomb virginity!

The Wrightsville Beach 13.1 experience was a huge testament to the power of teamwork in my opinion. I really believe that being a part of something bigger than myself and just knowing my friends/ teammates are out there running the same course and working towards the same goal improves my running, or at least my outlook on racing. I feel like I say this a lot, but can really never say it enough, so here I go again… Thank you to all of you wonderful people out there who race and train with me on a regular basis. Your energy, humor, and all around aweosomeness are the things that get my out of bed and running nearly every morning. All of that great stuff I just mentioned, plus the motivation, training expertise, and accountability y’all supply me with have made a better runner and a better person, and I am oh-so-grateful for that. Sometimes I wonder if I would run at all without you people. I also really appreciate how all of you are still friends with me even though I am nearly always late to our scheduled runs, even when I am the one who insists on an obscenely early start time. Y’all are the best. Thank you.

So very grateful for awesome teammates like Bigs, who is pretty much the most awesome running BFF a gal could hope for!

So very grateful for awesome teammates like Bigs, who is pretty much the most awesome running BFF a gal could hope for!

I would also like to give a big shout to the nice people who put on this lovely event. I found it to be among the most congenial courses I’ve run  recently, and after a trying training cycle of long runs in Umstead State Park,  its flatness felt particularly luxurious. To all of you out there who are on the lookout for a fast, fun, well-organized race, I highly recommend the Qunitiles Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. Furthermore,  Kudos to the Official Bull City Track Club Cheering Section, and to Bull City Running Co. for giving me the weekend off work so I could take this little get-away.  And extra-special thanks to you, NCSU Alumni Association of the Greater Wrightsville Beach area. I doubt this new half marathon PR would have been possible without your cardboard wolf pack and your free high fives.

Oh, and I almost forgot, thanks to Shwings, which are wings for your shoes. OMG Shwings, where have you been all my life? So glad I finally found you.

This half marathon PR was brought to you by Shwings, which are wings for your shoes.

This half marathon PR was brought to you by Shwings, which are wings for your shoes.

And last, but not least, thanks to all of you for reading, and may you all be lucky enough to have a spring racing experience as fast and fabulous as mine at Wrightsville Beach! Next stop, Boston!

Knuckle Lights: Not as Ridiculous as You Might Think

This December I was fortunate enough to attend The Running Event in Austin, TX. For those of you who don’t know, this is giant, fantastic trade show featuring running specialty retailers and all of their latest, greatest products from near and far. I was on a mission to find exciting new cutting edge products for the store where I work. I was given a list of several different things to scope out and at the top of it was Knuckle Lights… “Knuckle Lights, sounds like a product I might get made fun of for using,” I thought to myself. But I procured my trial set of Knuckle Lights nonetheless, and upon my return home I set out to try them.


Knuckle Lights: Check out the specs for yourself!

Knuckle Lights are precisely what you think they are. They are essentially headlamps, but worn, you guessed it, on the knuckles. The set of two lights offers 45 lumens across 4 LED’s per hand, providing what the Knuckles Lights guy at The Running Event described as “an even, bounce-free light.” Knuckle Lights also claim on their packaging that they illuminate a larger area than their single light source headlamp competitors. So, I dragged myself out of bed at o’dark-thirty to see if the Knuckle Lights could, in fact, oust my trusty, albeit sometimes bouncy, tunnel-vision-inducing headlamp as my preferred means of illumination for running in the dark.


Taking the Knuckle Lights out on their inaugural run… They’re looking pretty baller so far!

Knuckle Lights Skepticism and Benefits:

Knuckle Lights proclaim themselves to be “fully adjustable”, but I was skeptical that their rudimentary silicon strap adjustment system  would adjust to a size small enough to stay put on my debatably smaller than average hands. I’ve yet to try the Knuckle Lights without gloves, as I have only used them in cold weather thus far, but as it turns out, I’ve had zero problems with the lights moving or slipping on my gloved hands. I was also a little worried that I might decide that I hate holding the lights and want to ditch them early in the run, but even after a hardy 8 miles I found them to be pretty light-weight and non-invasive. Furthermore, I did really appreciate how the Knuckle Lights illuminated objects in my periphery as well as what was directly in front of me, and I think it is safe to say that a light on each hand does offer a more functional and less frightening range of light distribution than a single-beam headlamp. Another nice thing about Knuckle Lights is the fact that there are 2 of them, which makes them perfect for sharing with friends who run at different paces. My Knuckle Lights  maiden voyage was a speed workout with a faster friend. When it was time for her to speed up and leave me behind, it was pretty cool to split up the light set so both of our runs were a little brighter.

Thanks to Knuckle Lights my speedy friend Bigs and I can both enjoy a well-lit workout, even as I eat her dust!

Thanks to Knuckle Lights my speedy friend Bigs and I can both enjoy a well-lit workout, even as I eat her dust!

The Darker Side of Knuckle Lights:

Some of the downsides of Knuckle Lights include possible temporary blindness should you accidentally shine them directly in your eyes when you lift your arm to look at your watch. Also, those AAA batteries won’t last forever, and they may need replacing sooner rather than later if your Knuckle Lights (unbeknownst to you) stay turned on all day inside your gym bag.  And then there is always this risk of ridicule from your running friends and running store co-workers because you are using a product called Knuckle Lights… But all in all, I would say that the positives out-weigh the negatives, and that Knuckle Lights are pretty handy little invention as well as a nice headlamp alternative.

The gym bag accidental leave-on, a serious Knuckle Lights no-no.

The gym bag accidental leave-on, a serious Knuckle Lights no-no.

Knuckle Lights Go Head-to-Head with Headlamps:

I’ve put together this handy headlamp vs. Knuckle Lights comparison for your convenience…


It’s a Knuckle Lights vs Headlamps Showdown!

Price: $39.99 for Knuckle Lights vs. $39.95 for the Petzel Tikka Plus 2 headlamp

Light Output: 4 white LEDs per light for a total of 90 lumens for Knuckle Lights vs. 1 white LED with max output of 70 lumens, plus red LED source for the Tikka Plus 2.

Modes: 3 Modes for Knuckle Lights: Economic, Maximum, and Strobe vs. 5 Modes for Tikka Plus 2: Economic, Maximum, and Strobe, plus Max and Strobe for red light source.

Power Source: 4 AAA batteries (2 per light) for Knuckle Lights vs. 3 AAA batteries for Tikka Plus 2.

All things considered, I think we’re splitting hairs when it comes to picking a winner specs and price wise. It’s true that the headlamps offers a few more options in terms of modes, and I have found the red LED mode to be particularly useful for not blinding friends when sitting around the campfire or chilling out in the van while waiting for my late-night leg of  some overnight relay race. However, I can’t think of a time that I have actually utilized the red mode for running purposes. You also save 1 AAA battery if you go the headlamp route, but you get 20 extra lumens of light with Knuckle Lights. That’s a wash if you ask me.

Ultimately, I think the great headlamp vs. knuckle lights debate comes down to personal preference. If you find your headlamp to be nauseatingly bouncy and limiting in the way of peripheral  vision, then by all means, give Knuckle Lights a go. I think you’ll really like them! On the other hand, if handheld water bottles and other hand-centric running accessories kind of creep you out, then stick with the classic headlamp.

In any event, I think that Knuckle Lights are an entirely legitimate and practical headlamp alternative for low-light running, and that makes them fast and fabulous! Do YOU have any strong feelings regarding the Knuckle Lights vs headlamps debate???

Learn more about Knuckle Lights and purchase them here: