The Obligatory 2013 Round Up!

Well friends, the last few weeks of 2013 have left me feeling a bit blue. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some hard-earned time off and had a lovely holiday with my zany southern family, but as I’ve reflected on 2013 it has just felt a little blah and insignificant. No big exciting career advancements, no discovering new hidden passions or talents, no riding off into the sunset with Justin Timberlake, no saving the world, and no winning the lottery. Just the same old stagnant, exhausting grind. Insert scowling Debbie Downer face and “womp, womp” sound effect here.

Next year...

Next year…

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to even write an end of the year wrap-up, for fear of coming off as a total whiny-ass bitch. But as I combed through the various pictures and posts of my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds in search of some small morsel of accomplishment from 2013 I realized two things… (1) If your biggest end of the year dilemma is whether or not you should write a cliché, obligatory year-in-review blog post, well, then you probably can’t really call that a bad year. And (2) I have posted A LOT of pictures in the last year, probably more than you ever hoped to see, and in practically every one  of them I am doing something fun with awesome people who I love. And y’all, that is nothing be a whiny bitch-ass about. So I have decided that instead of feeling bad about all things that did not happen in 2013, at least within the parameters of this blog post, I would like to reflect on the cool things that I DID experience… You know, like the stuff that was crazy-fun, and the stuff that was incredibly inspiring and moving. Hell, I even managed to dig up a few  accomplishments and self-realizations in my little social media stroll down 2013 memory lane! Let’s talk about those too! After all, there are few things in this world I like less than a whiny-ass bitch blog post.  So let’s round-up the good stuff, shall we?

1. The Boston Marathon Restored My Faith in the Good of Humanity. 

Given the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon, you may think this seems like an unlikely thing to land on one’s annual list of “good stuff”. And of course what happened at the finish line that day was absolutely inexcusable, and nothing could ever justify or validate it. I shed many tears as I processed the Boston bombings (ugly crying is kind of my thing), and it is certainly true that plenty of those were tears of sadness, anger, fear, and maybe even guilt for so, so narrowly avoiding the tragedy that so gravely impacted the lives of many others. But I cried just as many tears because I was incredibly moved by the courage, the selflessness, the compassion, and the tenacity of the volunteers, spectators, runners, and emergency personnel who were there to respond when the bombs went off. The outpouring of love and support for the marathon, bombing victims, and the city of Boston was nothing short of magical, and months later I am still deeply touched and overwhelmed by the kind concern so many of you expressed for my personal safety. I recall commenting upon being reunited with my smart phone at bag claim after the race that the Boston Marathon had officially surpassed my birthday as my biggest social media event of the year. Boy, did I have no idea how dramatically the implications of that statement would be changing within the next half hour. I have said it before, but again, my most heartfelt thanks to each everyone who reached out to me on that day. My thoughts of comfort and healing continue go out to all those physically and emotionally effected by the bombings, and I have nothing but the highest praise and respect for the organizers of the Boston Marathon and the City of Boston for handling an awful, chaotic situation with swift, effective action and class. For all that was terrible about the Boston bombings, it is very easy to see the good that rises from the ashes, and that is the most beautiful thing I have  witnessed all year. I couldn’t be more excited to return to Boston in 2014, and you’d better believe I’ll be packing a metric ton of Kleenex, but only for crying tears of happiness and awesomeness.

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A few powerful, iconic images from the Boston bombings.

...And some of my favorite moments from my 2013 Boston Marathon experience.

…And a few of my favorite moments from my 2013 Boston Marathon experience.

2. I’ve Got My Shit Together Much More So Than I Did in High School.

Ok, if I’m being perfectly honest, I actually question the validity that statement on an almost-daily basis. But this year I found out that I can run a mile  A LOT FASTER now than I could in high school. Excuse me while I interrupt this blog post for a brief fantasy where my current self taunts my (MUCH dorkier) 17-year-old self with the most obnoxiously legendary NFL end zone-style victory dance imaginable.

Present day Ellen (left) well on her way to kicking Dorky High School Ellen (right)'s ass in the mile. IN YOUR FACE, High School Ellen!

Present day Ellen (left) well on her way to kicking High School Ellen’s  slow, dorky ass in the mile. IN YOUR FACE, High School Ellen!

I have had moments when I felt that I couldn’t rightly claim this giant (roughly 45 sec) new mile PR as a really big deal. For starters, I hadn’t even thought about racing the mile distance since high school. Furthermore, I currently run an average of 40 to 50 miles per week, vs my high school training regimen of I don’t even know what, but certainly something much less intense and much less consistent than what I’m doing now. I guess my odds of smashing the high school PR going into that mile race in September were actually pretty good, but still, the outcome was much better than I expected and that race result completely redefined my training for the remainder of the fall.

Coach Bigs, who is my running BFF and one of my many running mentors suggested that we plug my new mile PR into the McMillian Running Calculator to figure out some pacing guidelines for my training for Richmond. The numbers that this yield completely scared the shit out of me! When she sent me a workout that included 800s at prescribed pace that started WITH A TWO (!!!) I was all like “HELL TO THE NO! Homie don’t play that.” But when she sighed and rolled her eyes at me (actually, I think this entire interaction took place over text message, but I could feel her sighing and rolling her eyes,) I reluctantly agreed to give it the old college try. And then to my great surprise and amazement I DID IT! This little breakthrough was clutch in launching the intensity and volume of my training, as well as my fitness and confidence levels to great new heights this fall.

All the awesome teammates I got share The Great Mile PR of 2013 with. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE can run a mile in under 5:50. #badass

All the awesome teammates I got share The Great Mile PR of 2013 with. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE can run a mile in under 5:50. #badass

Additionally, The Great Mile PR of 2013 reminded me that the heading of this section of today’s post (the one about having my shit together more than I did in high school) really is true. As much as I have struggled this year with a severe case of “OMG, I’m 32 and What Do I Have to Show for It?!” Syndrome, I have still come a long way since high school and I can celebrate the many small victories that have gotten me here… Like being financially independent from my parents (you know, unless something really bad and expensive happens to my car), and paying off lots of debt from the poverty and bad decisions of my youth, and having lived on my own for an entire decade without starving to death, despite my lack of patience for or interest in cooking (I have mostly Trader Joe’s and The Bigelow Family to thank for this one,) and just being infinitely more confident in and aware of who I am. I know all of this is pretty basic, and none of it is earth-shattering, but it is a perfectly respectable foundation for being a responsible adult. Now it’s just a matter of leveraging it into something awesome in 2014 and beyond! So yes, I am a grown up who has my shit together! Major shout-out to The Magnificent Mile Race for reminding me of this!

3. The Best Part of Running is the People Part, and Everyone Should Do Relays.

Historically, my very favorite type of running event has been the overnight relay. I love relays because their primary emphasis is the only aspect of running that I am truly naturally good at: The people part. The part where you work as part of a team to accomplish something that you probably couldn’t do all by yourself. And better yet, the part where expectations, preconceived notions, and judgments are all checked the (van) door so you can REALLY get to know people for who they are… what motivates them, what makes them feel insecure, what makes them laugh, and of course, their deepest, darkest poop stories. There is just something magical about being in squished in a van for 26 (or even for 36) sleepless, showerless hours that breaks down boundaries and brings people together. This is true whether you are relaying with your nearest, dearest besties whom your are blessed to train and hangout with on the regular, or prefect strangers who were previously just people from your Twitter feed who sounded pretty cool. It’s an amazing phenomenon and I can’t get enough of it.

In October I was lucky enough to have two equally awesome, but very different relay experiences. The first being Ragnar DC with a bunch of fabulous Durham friends/ Bull City Track Club teammates, plus my dear college BFF and some spontaneous tangential acquaintances who bailed us out of a bind at the last-minute. I seriously had been looking forward to this race from the moment we signed up for it, and it was all I dreamed it would be and more. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible have anymore inside jokes with a group of people, or eat anymore Costco Chicago Mix popcorn in one 26 hour period, or think  of more creative uses for Shittens and plush turkey hats, somehow we still managed to achieve a whole new level of doing all of these things. Our super-cohesive, dynamic, fun-loving team reigned total domination on the competition and walked away with the award for most team spirit, as well as the win in the women’s team division, and 11th place overall. Booyah!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Ragnar DC Team Spirit and Women's Division Champions, TEAM SHITTENS!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Ragnar DC Team Spirit and Women’s Division Champions, the legendary TEAM SHITTENS!!!

I was recruited for relay #2, Ragnar Tennessee, from Chattanooga to Nashville, by Oiselle teammate and Ragnar Relay icon, Holly Roberts! (Check out Holly’s fantastic Ragnar TN re-cap here!) I had never actually met anyone on Team Nuunapalooza prior to the race, and when I arrived in The Noog the night before I most definitely felt like I was crashing someone else’s family reunion, but in the best possible way. I made to feel incredibly welcome and right at home immediately. Some 36 hours, several dress-up dance parties, a lot of shouting the lyrics to “Blurred Lines”, some serious stand-up spooning, a late-night Shittens power arch, plenty of hashtagging, and thousands of laughs and temporary tattoos later my 11 new BFFs and I crossed the finish line in Nashville. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a more supportive, enthusiastic, kind, and just all-around delightful bunch of teammates. My experience with Team Nuunapalooza 100% confirms my theory that only really fun, nice, super-cool people do relays. Much like the amazing response to the Boston Marathon bombings, but in a different way, getting to know some really genuinely wonderful new friends was a beautiful reminder that there is a lot of good to be found in the world, and that seeking it out is always worthwhile.

 All the hugs, high-fives, and HVAC swagger to my Team Nuunapalooza Insta-BFFs!

All the hugs, high-fives, and HVAC swagger to my Team Nuunapalooza Insta-BFFs! I LOVED Ragnaring it up with y’all!

4. I am Stronger and Better than I Allow Myself to Believe I am. It’s Time to Trust the Training and Go Kick Some Ass!

This is a truth that needs to be applied in my running life and otherwise. It is also my biggest, most valuable take away from my goal race this fall, the Richmond Half Marathon. Although my aforementioned epic mile comeback was a tremendous confidence boost in terms of my training leading up to Richmond, I struggled to access my new and improved running self-esteem on race day. My lack of belief in myself and trust in my training resulted in an overly conservative race that cost me my goal time. In the moment I was still quite mostly pleased with my performance and how it reflected my training. However, I can’t help but think that it seems kind of lame as look back on it, because despite missing the mark, everything about my race that day screamed that I was fit enough, strong enough, and entirely physically prepared to knock 1:29:59 out of the park. The only reason that I didn’t was that I was scared I couldn’t do it. Ugh! I have GOT to cut that shit out! Seriously!  Here’s hoping that my experience at Richmond, and the healthy side of self-annoyance that came with it will be precisely the motivation I need to conjure up a some new courage and confidence and shatter a few glass ceilings in both my running life and my personal life in the year ahead. 2014 will be a year for leaving the comfort zone and kicking ass, friends! Hope y’all are ready for it!

I came up a little short on my goal time, but I still had a great time with lots of awesome people in Richmond!

It’s hard to feel bummed about missing your goal time when your weekend includes hanging out your college roomie, a cop who loves Shittens, and awesome signage courtesy of your 8-year-old BFF. 🙂

PS, just in case you were wondering, my name does now appears in the official results for this race. Thanks for sorting that out, Richmond Marathon!

5. If 2013 Had a World Championship of Race Photos, I Would Have Won it!

I hate to brag, but I’m pretty sure that 2013 has been my best year yet in terms of race pictures. I mean, those pictures totally saved me from writing the past year off as a miserable failure, so they must be pretty good, right? I fancy myself to be pretty damn fantastic at hamming it up for the camera and coming with fun and hilarious photo concepts (click here for my awesome guide to your most amazing race pics ever), but I can’t take all the credit for this one. Mad props to Monte, Bull City Tracking Club’s very own official race photographer for coming to ALL of our races, near and far to patiently photograph our every ridiculous shenanigan, and kudos to my running bestie Kara for being married to Monte, thus making him obligated to do this. And as always, to all of my dear running friends, thank you for being so awesomely fun, and silly, and brilliant, and hilarious.  Y’all are also incredibly patient and kind to me when I am super-late and/ or super-grumpy. I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a special place in heaven for each of you because of this, and although I don’t always do a great job of expressing it, I appreciate it more than you know. The experiences we’ve had together that make up my amazeballs 2013 running photo album have truly been the very best parts of my year, and I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation of another round of epic adventures with all of you! All the love, friends! Y’all are the greatest!

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So much photographic evidence that this year was undeniably fun…

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So many great times with wonderful people!

So I suppose in the end 2013 wasn’t a total bust after all. I would be lying if I told you I am sad to see it go, and I am grateful for the fresh start that the new year offers. But I did some cool stuff with even cooler people, learned some important things about myself, and was reminded that although haven’t won the Nobel Prize or cured cancer or established world peace (yet), I’m still doing ok. The challenge for 2014 (and boy, is it a big one) is to take all these lessons learned and find the guts to apply them to doing something amazing.  I’m not entirely sure what that amazing thing is going to be or what getting there will look like yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be really good!  So stay tuned, because I’m hopeful determined the 2014 will be a year when I really shake things up!

What were your most significant lessons learned in 2013, and how do you hope to apply them in the new year?

Confessions of a Sandbagging Half Marathoner: A Richmond Race Report

If you run an exciting new half marathon PR, but your name is nowhere to be found in the official race results did that exciting new half marathon PR really happen? Unfortunately, this is not a rhetorical question. It is what happened to me last weekend at the Richmond Half Marathon, my goal race for the fall season. The nice people at Sports Backers, the organization responsible for the timing of the Richmond race assure me that they are hard at work resolving this issue, so I’m optimistic that someday there may be official documentation that my new half marathon PR does actually exist. In the meantime, I will regale you with a little Richmond race report according to my personal recollections and the data on my Garmin.

Photographic evidence that I did in fact run the Richmond Half Marathon, and that I sometimes run with my eyes closed. I thought the word "proof" stamped across the pictures was a nice touch.

Photographic evidence that I did in fact run the Richmond Half Marathon, and that I sometimes run with my eyes closed. I thought the word “proof” stamped across the pictures was a nice touch.

But First, the Back-story…

I settled on a half marathon for my goal race this season for several reasons: Most importantly, I have a serious marathon bad luck streak that needs to be broken. Yes, in case you missed it, my 2012 fall goal race was the New York City Marathon (cancelled), and the A race for spring 2013 was Boston (bombed). I figured I would do major marathons everywhere a favor and take a season off in hopes of eradicating the Ellen-signs-up-for-a-major-marathon-and-bad-things-happen phenomenon once and for all. I sincerely hope it worked, because if all goes according to plan, I’ll be toeing the line in Hopkinton again this April. And speaking of Boston, since getting over the qualifying hump turned out to be a little tougher than I anticipated, I’ve spent the last 3 years training for marathon after marathon as I chased the BQ and finally checked the world’s oldest annual marathon off the bucket list. Needless to say, my body and brain were probably due for break from marathoning. So I set my sights for fall 2013 on blowing the doors off my old 13.1 PR of 1:32:58. I settled on a goal time of 1:29:59 because being able to say “My half marathon PR is 1:29: xx just sounds waaaayyy faster than saying “My half marathon PR is 1:30: xx.” Also, I felt that breaking 90 minutes seemed ambitious, but not unattainable. And thus “1:29:59 or bust!” has been my battle cry for this season’s training.

This is horrible. I mean… What a great challenge!

When we woke up on Saturday morning it was raining. A lot. This was weird because various weather apps on 4 different smart phones assured us that there was ABSOLUTELY ZERO % CHANCE of rain in the area at that moment in time, and yet it was undoubtedly falling from the sky. This threw a major wrench in the warm up plans for the Durham Oiselle Team/ Bull City Track Club contingency. As the intensity of the rain increased we eighty-sixed our warm up/ bag check strategies all together and huddled up in a little coffee shop near the start line with a new goal of staying as dry and warm as possible until time to go. “This is horrible!” exclaimed my (almost) always-optimistic teammate Jen as we watched what was now nothing short of a torrential downpour drench the hoards of garbage bag and plastic poncho clad runners that scurried by outside our coffee shop window. I got a few good LOLs as Jen quickly corrected her negative statement with “I mean… What a great challenge!” At about 15 minutes until gun time we decided that we could no longer postpone the inevitable, so we left the coffee shop and set out for bag check and the most frenzied warm-up jog ever. It was an action-packed little shake-out run that featured exciting guest appearances by @FoodosaurusRex, one of my favorite Oiselle Team tweeters, Kim Chapman Page, who is the coolest boss ever because she recently allowed me to launch (and also participated in!) a wear-your-prom-dress-to-work-revolution, and Nan Lujan who is essentially the esteemed president of the Bull City Running Co. women’s running community. I finally made my way to the corral towards the end of the National Anthem, and even had time to make friends with some people wearing Raleigh/ Durham race shirts before the gun went off.

The Part Where I Actually Tell You about the Race…

To run 13.1 miles in 1:29:59, one must maintain an average pace of 6:52 per mile. I’m not gonna lie, the thought of running that many miles at a sub-7 pace scared the shit out of me as I stood on the start line. I had a mostly great training cycle that yielded new PRs in all sorts of shorter distances from the mile to the 10K, and I’d been hitting paces in my Vo2max and Lactate Threshold workouts like a boss. However, I did little to no sustained mileage at half marathon goal pace and running 6:52 for the entire distance seemed pretty daunting. My plan instead was to go out at around 7:00 min pace, maintain it through the 10K, and then think about hauling ass. This way, barring any severe blow up or crisis, I would be set up for a new PR, even if I didn’t hit the stretch goal. This was the plan that I advertised to anyone who asked, anyway. But in my mind, going out 7:00 pace, and more importantly having to speed up after running 7:00 pace for 6.2 miles still seemed intimidating. So I secretly told myself that I could live with it if there were a couple of 7:05 or even 7:10 splits up in the mix, although I resolved that anything slower than 7:15 was absolutely unacceptable. I knew if I could make it to 9 miles feeling good I could bust out 4 miles at my LT pace (6:40 ish) like it was no big deal, so I started conservatively and hoped for the best.

I cruised through mile 1 in precisely 6:52 and congratulated myself for nailing the goal pace right off the bat. I also spotted Allie somewhere in that first mile and waved enthusiastically while I swore to her that this would be the only time today when I would wave. Prior to the race I received stern talking-tos from pretty much every running coach/ mentor/ guru-type-person I know who has ever observed me running race with explicit instructions to curb my spirited spectator interaction habits in lieu increasing my focus on running and executing my race strategy.

Looking fast and fab at mile 1. These are the only pics you'll see of me waving at this race, I swear.

Looking fast and fab at mile 1. These are the only pics you’ll see of me waving at this race, I swear. (Photo Credit: Allie Bigelow)

Somewhere in mile 2, one of my new Raleigh running friends from the start line pulled up to me and struck up a conversation. This caused me some minor feelings of anxiety and moral dilemma because there is absolutely nothing I love more than talking while running, and conversing with friendly random strangers has historically been among the things I enjoy most about racing. (Or perhaps I should say it has been one of the things I enjoy most about participating in races.) The problem was that I had promised all of those same people who got on my case about the waving thing that I would also refrain from chatting my face off during the race so I could just get shit done. My new friend asked what my goal for the day was and I sheepishly told him I was hoping to break 1:30 as a 7:10 mile split flashed up on my watch. I reminded myself that this pace was the absolutely slowest I was allowed to go today, and recited the Team Shittens motto a few times in my head as I dropped my mile 2 BFF with as much subtly as I could muster.

Channeling this little nugget of motivation from Kara at mile 2.

Channeling this little nugget of motivation from Kara at mile 2.

Shortly after clearing the third mile in 7:11 (Yikes!) yet another fellow runner pulled up and asked me if we had gone through mile 3 yet. I told her that we had, and when she asked what my goal was I mumbled something about 1:32 to 1:30 ish, already starting to let go of the dream and feeling strangely annoyed by my popularity on the course thus far. As it turns out, my 2nd new friend of the day, Maria, was also hoping to run something in that ballpark, and she announced that she would just tag along with me for a while since we had compatible goals and I was highly visible in my cheery yellow arm warmers and bright orange compression socks. Again, this made me feel a little anxious, since my primary objective was to stay mentally focused, but I liked Maria’s eye for style and I figured with the way things were going so far I might be needing some company to keep my mind off the suffering later. As it turned out, Maria was a perfectly delightful ball of energy from Richmond who knew the course like the back of her hand. I was very grateful for her mile by mile “what to expect when you are running the Richmond Half Marathon” commentary. And apparently she is kind of a big deal in the local running community because she got all the cheers and side fives as we ran by. I imagined that we were in Durham, and that her fans were my fabulous local running community cheering for me.

At mile 4 the course did this out and back thing where you could see the lead pack coming down the other side of the street. I yelled heartily for Heidi and then Jen as they sped by (Whoops. I temporarily forgot that no yelling was also a critical part of my race strategy), and Maria commented on how strong and speedy my friends looked. I ran 7:04 for mile 4 and 7:08 for mile 5. This was the part where I told myself that I needed to start working a little harder or 1:29:59 most definitely would not be happening. I let Maria go for a little bit, and I guess this helped me find a little more focus because miles 6 and 7 were 7:01 and 6:59 respectively. That’s more like it.

But then we hit the only significant hill on the course to speak of and I ran another 7:09, convincing myself once and for all that today was not my day to break 90 minutes. I figured my pace was crap, so I might as well shift the focus to having as much fun as possible, which meant…you guessed it…time to chat up more random strangers! Conveniently, I spotted the other half the Raleigh couple from way back at the start line. I pulled up to her and struck up the standard “What local races have you done recently?” convo, but she politely announced that she needed to drop back, which may or may not have been a nice way to say “Please leave me alone, I’m trying to run an effing race here.”

In any event, that Raleigh gal did me a tremendous favor by deflecting my chatting attempts, because that was when I had a major epiphany. I realized that I had made it to mile 9, the mile where I was supposed to drop the hammer. I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that 1:29:59 was officially off the table, but I figured I might as well not run the last 4 miles of the race like an utter lazy douche bag, so I reverted back to my original game plan to pick things up. I clocked a 6:57 for the 9th mile split. Sigh. Still above goal pace, but at least it was sub-7. I decided that owed it to myself and all the people who put time into sharing their training expertise with me this training cycle to at least take a shot at running the last 3 miles at goal pace. Furthermore, as I began mile 10 I realized that despite (or perhaps because of) many miles of piddling and lollygagging I was suddenly feeling pretty awesome. I nailed the 6:52 for mile 10 and continued to gain momentum in mile 11 with a 6:46.

Allie was waiting for me at mile 12 holding the sweetest, most thoughtful sign made for me by her son, who is my 8 year old BFF. This little display of support boosted me to a 6:33 split for mile 12. I was feeling pretty unstoppable and not at all like shit at this point, and friends, that is the surest sign that you didn’t run the first 9 miles of your half marathon anywhere near fast enough.

The best sign, held by the best support crew/ best sign-maker's mom.

The best sign, held by the best support crew/ best sign-maker’s mom.

The best sign-maker, my fellow thumbs up photography enthusiasts, and  8 yr old BFF, Zachary Bigelow.

The best sign-maker, my fellow thumbs up photography enthusiast and 8 yr old BFF, Zachary Bigelow.

Now I was on a mission to make up as much time and stay as close to the original goal as possible. I had definitely missed the sub-1:30 boat, but maybe, just maybe I could at least keep it sub-1:31, and update my 13.1 PR to 1:30xx. The final mile was an all-out effort, and under any other circumstances I surely would have blown up in the first 800m. But by the grace of God, the last 1200m or so of the Richmond Half Marathon is a crazy-steep, raging downhill. I still don’t even understand how this happened, but somehow my shell-shocked quads managed to keep me upright and moving forward for an unheard of (at least for me) 5:57 for the final mile! (This may not sound like a big deal to you, but that is by far the fastest mile split my watch has ever seen in a race longer than 1 mile.)

I stopped my Garmin at 1:30:52 and 13.22 miles. Interestingly enough, my average pace for those 13.22 miles was, wait for it… 6:52. Aka, exactly the pace one must average for 13.1 miles in order run 1:29:59. I suppose we may never know for sure what my chip time was, and I am admittedly bummed at the thought of not being able to claim the new half marathon PR that I trained my arse off for on Athlinks, but I am also generally happy with my time, especially given my poor execution of the first 3/4’s of the race. I collected my swag, a lovely finisher’s medal and this totally bitchin’ Anthem Richmond Marathon fleece blanket, and headed out of the chute where my sweet Richmond-dwelling freshman-year-of-college roommate Cortney T. was waiting for me! (So, so fabulous to catch up with that girl!) We hung out and watched all my new half marathon besties, Maria and the cute, nice couple from Raleigh finish and then gave them some hugs and high fives. Somewhere in the midst of all of this we were reunited with Allie, Jen and Heidi. Fast, successful races were had by all at America’s friendliest half marathon!

Fleece blankets make for excellent race swag!

Fleece blankets make for excellent race swag!

My fab former roomie, Cortney T! She's the sweetest and the cutest!

My fab former roomie, Cortney T! She’s the sweetest and the cutest!

Lessons Learned…

My #1 take-away from Richmond is that I am fit enough and strong enough to break 1:30 in the half marathon. Everything about my training leading up to this race indicated that this was true. Sadly, when race day arrived I lacked the confidence to believe it. I ran an overly conservative race (at least for the first 9 miles), and (this part is tough to admit) purposefully distracted myself from the goal because I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I am 100% prepared to get yelled at by a lot of people now that I have confessed this on the internet. It worked out pretty well in the end, but I suspect I would have run a significantly different (and by different I mean slower) time if it hadn’t been for that ridiculous downhill final mile. But the time that I did run indicates that the time I want to run is well within my capabilities, and fortunately my winter/ spring race calendar includes two more half marathons (Charleston, SC in January, and Virginia Beach in March.) I am really excited to see what I can do next with my new found confidence in my ability to hold a sub-7 average pace for 13.1 miles, improved race strategy execution, and maybe a few workouts that include sustained mileage at half marathon goal pace. And yes, I’ll probably also need some duct tape so I can keep my trap shut for the next one.

Also, I would highly recommend the Richmond Half Marathon to anyone who is looking for a fast, fun, congenial road race. The course allows you to run fast (if you can convince yourself to stop talking and just let your legs do the running), but the terrain is varied enough to avoid over-use of any particular group of muscles until you get to the last 800 to 1200m, which are a bit of a quad shredder. But don’t sweat it, that crazy downhill finish all but guarantees the fastest finishing mile splits of your life. Additionally, the race is large enough and competitive enough that I was surrounded by people at all times in the 1:35 to 1:30 pace group, but not so large that it ever for one moment felt crowded, stressful, or overwhelming. The course was also well-supported and well-spectated despite rainy weather. So if you live in the upper southeast or the lower mid-Atlantic and/or you are looking for a more low-key alternative to those wild and crazy major marathons next fall, sign up for Richmond! You won’t be disappointed.

Other Exciting Weekend Highlights…

Fantastically fun, highly efficient marathon spectating: After our merry band of half marathoners finished the race, snagged some free pizza, and orchestrated a large-scale clothes changing operation that involved and intricate network of “changing forts” fashioned out of fleece finishers’ blankets, we high-tailed it out to the marathon course in hopes of catching a glimpse of a few of friends who took on the 26.2. And boy, did we time that shit to the tee! In the brief 20 minute existence of our Shittens-themed cheer station at approximately mile 22 we spotted the following marathon super-stars…

  •  Morgan: My pre-school/ high school buddy who crushed his marathon debut, as well as his stretch goal of beating my current marathon PR.
  •  Sarah K.: My darling little Bull City Running Co. co-worker, who ran a sweet new sub-3:30 PR which doubled as a Boston Qualifier! Booyah!
  •  Rich: Bull City Running Co. Marathon Training Program alumni, and creator/ wearer of what was bar-none the most hilarious custom race bib I’ve ever seen. #nosharting

And as if all of this wasn’t enough to constitute the greatest marathon spectating experience ever, we also met a cop who loves Shittens, and this happened… Winning!

EVERYONE loves Shittens! Even cops!

EVERYONE loves Shittens! Even cops!

Watching Bigs race with the big dogs: On Sunday I had the pleasure of cheering Allie to a 2nd place Master’s Women finish at the .US Road Racing National Championships in Alexandria! We celebrated her national championship level success with a trip to IKEA on the way home to NC.

Bigs races her way to age group national championship victory and earns herself a trip to IKEA!

Bigs races her way to age group national championship victory and earns herself a trip to IKEA!

Cheering the Pros to some new world records: While Allie was hard at work out on the race course, I was busy cheering the elite super-fasties to new world record victory. So thrilling and inspiring to watch Molly and Shalene (both of whom we got to meet the day before) KILLING IT down the home stretch! Holy crap, those gals can FLY!

Molly is chasing the world record (spoiler alert: she caught it!), and Shalene is chasing Molly.

Molly is chasing the world record (spoiler alert: she caught it!), and Shalene is chasing Molly.

That time when Shalene Flanagan was sitting in the booth behind us at Bertucci's and we took a stalker-riffic photo. That's me, but my face has bee obscured to protect my identity and to spare you the very unflattering chewing face I'm making underneath that black blob.

That time when Shalene Flanagan was sitting in the booth behind us at dinner and we took a stalker-riffic photo. That’s me, but my face has been obscured to protect my identity and to spare you the very unflattering chewing face I’m making underneath that black blob. (Photo Credit: Allie Bigelow)

Shout out to Jeff Caron, legendary Saucony tech rep to the stars for the casual-cool hotel lobby Molly Huddle introduction, and sorry we interrupted your dinner at Bertucci’s, Shalene.

All things considered, last weekend was pretty much the perfect little Virginia running road trip get-away! It was so much fun to run with, cheer for, and catch up with so many great people! Many thanks and much love to all of you who were a part of it!

Did YOU run a big, exciting goal race this fall? Tell me all about it! I bet you kicked ass and it was awesome!