Sep 25

Richmond Week 13: Working My Way Back

Number 13 in black against concrete surrounded by red brick

Are we there yet?

No. But we’re getting there. Week 13 out of 20, and this week was a pretty good one. My hip is still cranky, but it’s a little bit better than it was. I found a couple of stretches in yoga class that seem to get into the spot that is at the heart of the problem.

But the downside is that the ragweed is in full bloom. Does ragweed bloom? I don’t know, actually, but the ragweed is in high production mode, whatever the mechanism, and it’s got me popping pills–sinus Tylenol and prescription Imitrex like there’s no tomorrow. Sunday night’s headache was so bad that not only did it make me hurl (sorry if that’s TMI), but it also put me to bed at 9:30pm even though I was pretty sure that going to bed that early would bring on insomnia later on. I did wake up briefly at 11:30, and again around 3:00, but I had no problems falling back asleep. But the point of all of this is that it’s headache season, and I really hate headache season. Sunday’s headache was especially bad.

I’ve been able to make it to the Cottonwood trail a few times a week for the last couple weeks, which is helpful. The softer surface is welcome on my legs, which are feeling the effects of training, and the last few times that I’ve been there, I’ve gotten a glimpse of the Great Blue Heron who lives there. Great Blue Herons are my most favorite bird.

The speed and tempo workouts were pretty good. I managed to hit my paces in both and not overdo it too much. I did misread the assignment for the mile repeats though, and I only did 5 instead of 6. But in the grand scheme of things, one less mile isn’t going to matter. And the scary long run went pretty well. I was really nervous about this one since the last time I had a long run with tempo miles sandwiched in, it was a disaster (or I was a disaster), and then I learned, the night before, that instead of 16 total miles with 8 at tempo, I was to run 16 total miles with 10 at tempo. And my Garmin decided not to cooperate (as it turns out, I set the repeats to 1 meter instead of 1 mile, so that was my fault), so I had to find the pace myself. That’s probably a good thing though it was annoying at the time.

The run down:

M: Easy 8.

T: 6x 800 for 8 total


R: 5x 1 mile for 11 total (should have been 12)

F: easy 6

S: easy 6

Sun: 3 easy, 10 at marathon pace, 3 easy = 16

all in all: 55, so on we go.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Leo Reynolds]

Sep 17

Richmond Week 12: Two Steps Back, One Step Forward.

pygmy hedgehog from behind

Week 12. It was a bit of a rough week, but I think it ended up okay. I hope it did.

I took a few days off after my long run in Williamsport. I was worried about my hip, which has been getting cranky from time to time at the end of hard workouts, and it got cranky again last weekend.

So after talking to my coach, we decided that I wouldn’t run at all until Thursday, and then I would go easy for a few days and see how I felt. I felt okay, so today, I picked up the Progression Run that I was supposed to do on Thursday in place of my long run today. I was kind of nervous about it, but like the rest of the week, it was okay. My hip is a bit tight tonight, but just a bit. So I will proceed with caution. I will continue to be vigilant about warming up before my runs. I will continue to roll it out and do the core & hip work. And I will cross my fingers that this was a wake up call rather than yet another set-back.

The Details:

M: Off

T: Off

W: Off

Th: easy 5

F: Easy 6

Sat: Easy 6

Sun: Progression 12. (A progression run is one where after the warm up, each mile is run a little faster than the one before it. My first mile was too fast, but after that, I did a really good job staying in the windows: 9:12, 9:15, 9:06, 8:46, 8:32, 8:23, 8:13, 8:01).

Total: Just under 30 miles for the week.


[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Denis Defreyne]

Sep 09

Warming Up. And Melting Down. Or Richmond Week 11.

river sceneI usually try to post positive things about my running. But today sucked. And it sucked hard.

I’m in Pennsylvania this weekend for a wedding. I was supposed to run an easy 6 today and a hard 16 tomorrow, but since tomorrow is a travel day, I swapped. This isn’t the first time, and it should have been fine. I can’t tell you why it wasn’t.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I can tell you that I haven’t been sleeping all that well since school has started back. Part of this is the readjustment of routine. Part of this is stress from other things going on. Part of it this week was travel. In addition, my nutrition was off yesterday (see: travel). Part of it was that I’m in a place I don’t know, and I was a bit keyed up about where I would go to run 16 miles.

I found a route: a really nice paved trail that is actually really close to my hotel, but for some reason, Goggle decided I should go the long way, and by long way, I mean that instead of jumping on the trail a couple blocks from the hotel, it took me two miles away to the far end parking area. Even though I was on foot. Whatever, I had extra miles to burn, so I don’t really mind this part. But those two miles sucked. I felt terrible. My brain felt foggy. My skin felt clammy, and I was sweating a lot though it wasn’t warm out. I felt dizzy, and that sometimes happens early on, but it usually passes quickly. It didn’t pass quickly this time. By the time I got to the parking lot, I was a mess, both physically and emotionally. I couldn’t concentrate on my audiobook; I couldn’t stop sweating, and I started to panic. I found a place to sit down, and I turned off my watch. I thought about texting one of my running friends, but I couldn’t figure out what to even say. Something was clearly wrong with me, but I couldn’t begin to describe what it was. And did I mention that I was two miles away from my hotel at this point?

Running is usually the thing that makes me feel better. And this morning, when it was suddenly a thing that was making me feel worse, I freaked out. It was obviously that the hard 16 wasn’t going to happen this morning. So I had a decision to make: do I call it and walk back to the hotel? Or do I try to salvage something of the morning?

I decided to try to salvage the morning. I told myself that if I still felt terrible after a mile, I could stop. I took a gel, found a playlist, and collected myself with several deep breaths. I tried to be appreciative of the cool temperatures. I tried to appreciate the sunshine. I tried to feel gratitude for the fact that I could be out there on that trail on this day with nothing more to worry about than a dizzy spell. I thought about my friends who are dealing with more serious issues. I thought about what some of my running heroes might do. I remembered a recent post by Devon Yanko, who described a similar moment in a recent race, and though to myself, I guess this is my version of a plot twist. I found that if I kept going the trail opened up to a lovely view of the Susquehanna river, and that there was a loop of about 4 miles that I could do. I decided to try to run that loop three times. I stopped to take a few pictures along the way. But most of them had my finger in them (see below), and I had no idea until a few minutes ago.

greenery with finger

I did those three loops, and I made it back to my hotel where I crumpled into a mess on the floor of my hotel room. I took a really long hot shower and took full advantage of the shower beer. I still don’t feel great, but I feel somewhat better. My left IT band hates me, but I can deal with that.

I’m trying not to be to hard on myself for not getting the hard workout done. The workout that I did was its own kind of hard. I’m profoundly grateful for the three women who I saw this morning on the path and who smiled and waved at me. I doubt they could see how much I was struggling inside, but those small gestures were huge to me

I’m taking a few days off. Part of this is travel and the coming high wind advisory. But most of it is because there’s clearly something wrong. My hip is tight and sore. This discomfort isn’t terrible, but it’s also not nothing and has been progressing over the last couple of weeks. I’m trying to be smart and tell myself that a few days off now is better than more later. This would be much easier if I were giving advice to someone else. I give great advice to other people when they’re in these situations. But I’m going to rest for a couple of days, let things blow over both literally and figuratively, and I’ll see where I am on Thursday.



Sep 03

Richmond Week 10: Back to School

Young girl with hands covering her face and an expression of despairWeek Ten was hard. I didn’t really expect it to be hard. That was probably naive of me. Classes started this week, so there are suddenly many, many more demands on my time and attention than there were even a week ago. This shift isn’t a new thing. I’m entering my eleventh year at Converse, after all, and my professional responsibilities haven’t increased in any significant way.

But this is the first time that I’ve entered a new semester in the middle of a marathon training program. I had tried to do this last year but was derailed before I could even begin with a nagging injury. In 2015, training didn’t start until the term was well underway (the marathon, Los Angeles, was in February).

I’ve now completed ten weeks of this training cycle. The cycle is twenty weeks long. The next several weeks are going to be intense and probably pretty tiring. Cumulative fatigue is the hallmark of the Hanson’s Marathon Method, the training strategy I have been following for years now. The idea is to  get used to running on tired legs. So for example, as of Saturday, I’ve run 40 miles this week. Sunday has me running 16 more. But here’s the deal: I’m training to run 26.2 miles. Most of those miles are going to be on tired legs. Even with a taper factored in. So we practice. We get our legs accustomed to the feeling of running fatigued. More importantly, we get our brains accustomed to the feeling of running tired, and we learn how to distinguish between physical fatigue and mental fatigue. Barring serious injury, the mind, it is said, will give up and give in well before the body. I’m trying to internalize that truth. I’m training to be resilient psychologically as much as I am physically.

The weather was noticeably cooler this week, and that’s been a welcome change. It’s still incredibly humid, but it’s amazing how much difference even ten degrees can make. My mileage jumped up from 50 to 56, which feels significant. Also, my left hip, which has been tight over the last several weeks, became actually painful in the end of Thursday’s tempo run. The marathon pace miles felt pretty good, or at least they did when I was running marathon pace and not marathon pace -30 seconds. (I’m still figuring out how to read my Garmin apparently). But the last mile of my cool down was painful enough to have me consider stopping. I did and swung it out, which helped, and I’ve been rolling it like it’s my job. That has also seemed to help, and I’ve not had any further issues. Fingers crossed.

The breakdown:

M: Easy 6–took it back to the Cottonwood Trail.

T: Mile repeats. 8:12, 8:09, 8:02, 8:00, 7:52 (target was 8:13). In the rain, which I actually really enjoyed, in no small part because the rail trail was pretty much completely empty.

W: Off. I almost made it to the pool. In fact, I made it all the way to the parking lot before realizing that I forgot my ID and had to go back to get it. Once home again, I didn’t make it back out. But it’s okay to rest on rest days. In fact, it’s better than okay; important even.

R: Tempo 8:08, 8:34, 8:21, 8:11, 7:58, 8:02 (target was 8:23).

F: Easy 6. Had thought about going to the Cottonwood again, but it was pretty wet, so easy 6 around Duncan Park.

Sat: In previous weeks, this would have been fewer miles than Friday, but not today. Easy 8, which felt pretty good. Slow, but I have a good book to listen to and dragons to keep me company.

Sun: 16. This was okay. I wasn’t sure how I would feel on this run since my hips and legs have been noticeably more sore the last few days. But I was okay. It got hot by the end, and I was definitely ready to be finished as I got closer and closer to home, but today was fine. With more dragons.



[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Geoff Livingston]






Aug 27

Richmond Week 9: Total Eclipse

solar eclipse totality with cloud halo

Week 9 was a hard week. It opened with a solar eclipse, which I had traveled to Columbia to view in its totality. I wasn’t sure whether I should make the trip give the looming semester and the hectic week before, but YOLO.

I got up early Monday morning, and it was still really hot. I went back to the Columbia Canal Riverfront Park and there were already people there staking out their spots for the eclipse that afternoon, some 6 hours away.

The trip took a lot out of me. I guess that should have been expected given that I had been going nonstop since Amsterdam and was still dealing with the dregs of jet lag. Plus it was really hot. Really hot. But the totality was really cool. Completely worth seeing even if it kinda wrecked me.

This week saw me do 800s in 90 degree heat, a 6 mile tempo run, and an 8 mile tempo in the middle of my 15 mile long run today. I also finally got back out on the Cottonwood trail for a few miles to try out my shiny new trail shoes, which I’m super jazzed about. I know that running trails is an important element of a successful training cycle for me, but I often struggle to make myself drive there when to run on the road, all I have to do is go out my front door. But the soft surface, the irregular foot striking, the change of scenery–all of these things are important–so I’m glad I finally got myself back out there.

The break down:

M: Easy 6

T: 6x 800 w/ warm-up & cool down. So HOT. I ended up walking a lot of the recovery intervals because it was over 90* and heat stroke seemed like a bad idea. 8 Total. Interval target was &:7:20-7:39 (7:15, 7:17, 7:25, 7:15, 7:16, 7:14)


R: 2x 2 miles at MP-10 (8:13) w/ warm up & cool down. 9 Total (7:56-57; 8:01-7:50)

F: Easy 6 on the Cottonwood

S: Easy 5

Sun: 15 w/ 8 @ MP (8:23) 8:12, 8:06, 8:14, 8:05, 7:57, 8:01, 8:03, 8:13

All in all: 50 miles.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user nrg_crisis]

Aug 20

Richmond: Week 8, Welcome (back) to Swelterville

eight ball in foreground, cue ball behind with cue lining up on left

Week 8 required more flexibility with my training schedule. I flew back from Amsterdam on Tuesday, and the trip took 20+ hours from the time that I left my hotel room at the Amsterdam Renaissance until I unlocked my front door. Most of that time was spent sitting or waiting, or sitting and waiting. But the crucial detail is that it did NOT involve sleeping.

And then I was back into the soup that is South Carolina August heat and humidity. I hadn’t missed it. But all things considered, it wasn’t TOO terrible. Thursday was tough, but it was going to be tough where ever I did that workout. Jet lag did me no favors, but generally when it hit, it hit later in the day.

The break down:

M: 5x 1000m


W: 10 (2 wu & cd + 6 at MP)

R: Easy 6

F: easy 5

S: 15*

S: “easy” 6

My long run this week wasn’t terrible. It was hot, but I got out the door early enough that it didn’t completely kick my ass. For this I am grateful. The previous two 15 milers were each a struggle, especially the one that I ran in Spartanburg 2 weeks ago. This one wasn’t easy, but I didn’t enter into that last mile thinking “there is no way that I can run 11 more miles in a couple of months.” It would have been really difficult to run 11 more miles on Saturday, but it didn’t seem like the mountain of impossibility that it did a couple of weeks earlier. I’ve still got 11 weeks to go, and things are going to get harder before they get easier. But I feel more confident today, and I know that the challenges ahead are at least as much mental and psychological as they are physical.

Earlier this afternoon, I read a blog post by Lauren Fleshman, one of the runners whom I admire most. There, she writes: “To pursue your individual potential as an athlete requires a willingness to face your shadow, to see things in yourself that are ugly or “other” before you are ready to, and respect them.” The specter of failure is one that lingers in the periphery of my vision when it comes to the marathon. Earlier this year, in Phoenix, in Columbia, and in Asheville, I did my best to dig deep and get ugly, to embrace the suck and not give in to the voice that says, “You can’t. This hurts. You should just stop.” And I surprised myself with my tenacity and my ability to endure discomfort.

Lauren Fleshman asked, “Are you afraid of the dark?” And if I’m honest, my answer is “Sometimes.” But what I’m learning this summer is that the darkness is itself neither dangerous nor unsafe. It is something to respect, something to explore, but there is a power in darkness that is valuable and important. When I ran Tread Nightly in week 4, the darkness was unnerving at first, but once I got used to it, adjusted to the different perspective provided by a headlamp and a flashlight, it was really interesting. I could really zero in on my breathing and the feeling of my feet on the trails. The sounds of the cicada and the rustle of leaves and trees were a welcome change from the usual soundtrack of traffic that usually accompanies me.

All of this to say that I’m trying to think of those experiences and the struggles ahead as deposits into the Ugly Account, reserves that I can draw upon in November when the specter moves from the periphery on to center stage. Because it will move to center stage. That’s not a question. The question is whether or not I will be ready for it. I hope that I will.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user SmSm]


Aug 14

Richmond Week 7: Amsterdam

Number 7 spray painted against a concrete wallA work trip forced me to take my training on the road this week. I went to Amsterdam for a conference, and that required me to make some adjustments and be a bit flexible. But it was also a wonderful opportunity to get out of the heat and swelter of the South Carolina summer and provided a much appreciated change of scenery.

Because I would be traveling from Monday afternoon until sometime Tuesday morning, I decided to make Tuesday my rest day (it’s usually Wednesday). That was a good plan.

Wednesday became an SOS day. That required me to find a place to run where I could go for a 1.5 miles at a specific pace and then jog for half a mile to recover (My target pace was 8:13/mile, which is my goal marathon pace minus 10 seconds per mile). And then repeat that three more times.

I posted a query on the Oiselle FB group asking if any of my teammates had suggestions for somewhere to run, and of course, a couple of people recommended Vondelpark, which as it turned out was perfect. It is two miles from my hotel–exactly the distance of my warm-up–and there was a two-mile loop that went around the perimeter of the park, which also had plenty of port-a-lets and water fountains. It also had plenty of cyclists, most of them pedaling along at a leisurely pace. As it turns out, I did three of my runs, all of my SOS workouts, at the park.

I did the rest of the runs, three of them, on the hotel treadmill. I’ve never really run of a treadmill before. I’ve walked on them a lot, but if I can run, I always run outside. I opted for the mill the first time because I had an early morning meeting, and I didn’t want to get lost (I had only been in Amsterdam for a couple of days, so I didn’t have a sense of where anything was, and I didn’t want to be late to the meeting). The second two times on the mill were for similar reasons. I did this week’s long run at the park–six and a half loops–which felt like a lot, but I liked the access to water and bathrooms, even if I didn’t use the bathrooms, I liked knowing that they were there.

I don’t know that I would want to run in Amsterdam all the time. It was great if I was up early, but once the tourists woke up and started wandering about, it took a bit of dodging and weaving, and the cyclists don’t mess around. Finally, there’s a lot of smoking–both tobacco and other substances. I don’t know if I will ever understand the impulse to smoke while riding a bicycle. That just seems like a bad idea. Cyclists were generally okay once I got to the park, though there could be a lot of them. But on the regular roads, it’s a bit trickier due to intersections and other traffic. Plus, the later it got, the more pedestrians there were to deal with. By mid-day the streets were pretty crowded, unless it was raining. It only really rained my first day, but there were a couple drizzly spells, and it rained really hard on Sunday morning, hence the treadmill.

The Breakdown:

M: 6x 800m (target was 3:40-3:45; 3:40, 3:37, 3:30, 3:36, 3:32, 3:36) with 2 mile warm up and cool down.


W: 4x 1.5 miles (target was 12:20; 12:02, 11:53, 12:02, 12:06) with 2 mile warm-up and cool down. Vondelpark

T: Treadmill 4ish. Was probably more like 4.25.

F: 15 miles. Vondelpark loops and loops and loops. Well, 6 loops, more or less.

Sat: Treadmill 6ish. Was probably 6.5.

Sun: Treadmill 5ish. Was probably 5.4.

Maybe worth mentioning that I have foam-rolled a bit while abroad, but I’ve mostly been walking. A lot.

Total miles: 50.


[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Leo Reynolds]


Aug 10

Richmond: Week 6

number six

Week Six got slightly lost in the shuffle because I’ve been traveling, so I’m going to try to be brief here. But I don’t want to lose all momentum in this process of blogging my training.

This week was not quite as hot as week 5, but the humidity was still a factor. It ws also the final week of two SOS* workouts per week. Week Seven steps it up to three. I rearranged the week a little bit to allow me to do my long run on Saturday, which was important because I needed to do speed intervals on Monday instead of Tuesday the following week due to travel. Week seven is a bit funky too, but that’s largely because, as it turns out, marathon training in a foreign country that is 6 hours ahead of my usual time zone is challenging. More on that next week.

The big story this week was Saturday’s long run. It was more challenging than I thought it would be. The challenge came from a couple of factors: 1) I started later than I should have because I got to bed late on Saturday night and slept a bit too long on Sunday. 2) Related, I didn’t eat enough before I left, and I should have had another gel. I was in a hurry to get out the door Saturday AM once I finally got up, so I didn’t eat much at all. I carried a water bottle with Roctane, and I also had a Gu, but I should have had another. I got a little light-headed during the first two miles, and I seriously considered stopping back at the house to refill my water between mile 2-3, but I decided not to stop and instead just relied on the water fountains along the Mary Black Rail Trail to refill my handheld. But I should have had more calories. I ended up hitting the proverbial wall around mile 12 of 15, which made the final 3 miles a slog. You wouldn’t know it to look at my splits, but I was struggling. And I felt basically wiped out for the rest of the day with a low-grade headache that was remarkably persistent.

M: easy 6

T: 10 (2 warm up, 5x 1 mile at MP-10 (8:13), 2 cool down

W: off.

R: 8 easy

F: 5 easy

Sat: 15

Sun: 6 easy

Total for the week: 50


*SOS stands for Something of Substance. Typically this means Tuesdays are interval repeats meant to help runners increase their speed. Thursdays are tempo runs, or workouts run at the goal pace for the marathon so that you can figure out how it feels and get more comfortable running at that pace. Sundays are long runs that start out on the shorter side of things (for a long run) at 10 miles and will gradually increase in length to 18 miles. Some marathon training plans take their runners to 20 miles, but mine peaks at 18, some of these with a few goal paced miles thrown in for good measure. I work with a Hanson’s Marathon Method coach


[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Jeff DeMaria]

Jul 30

Richmond Week 5: Walk In Fire

red five against brick wall with ivy

This week saw me back in Spartanburg running over familiar roads. It was hot and humid and sweaty. Also, I started out *really* sore from last weekend’s trail racing extravaganza. My hips, my core, my shoulders, my ankles… pretty much everything hurt everywhere possible. But in a good way. The soreness that comes from hard work and accomplishment. I can deal with that kind.

This week, I listened to Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It. I’m not usually one for non-fiction, and I’m especially not one for psychology or self-help, but I really liked this one. In fact, I liked it enough to listen to it twice. It talked a lot about mental toughness and the various different strategies an athlete might pursue to strengthen their mental fitness. It did this with anecdotes about various different endurance athletes, some of whom I knew about (Greg Le Monde and Steve Prefontaine) but most of whom I had never heard of. I learned several useful things and will take much away from the book, such as “The scientific term for choking, is “choking.” Kidding–I love that line, but more seriously, Fitzgerald uses the recurring metaphor of the fire walker to illustrate key ideas, and that’s something that resonates with me, not in the least because I’ve felt like I’m walking through fire all summer long. And then there’s that great song by the Doves.

Otherwise, this week was mostly a version of “chop wood; carry water.”

M: 6

T: 6


T: 8: First miles at MP, or I should say, first attempt at MP. My goal marathon pace is 8:23 per mile. I hit 8:18, 8:18, 8:06, 7:59. I don’t worry too much about the last one, but I need to get a better sense of where my happy pace is going to be. Even with my Garmin chirping at me, I struggled to find it, but I did succeed in pushing myself, but not too much.

F: 6

S: 6

S: 13

Total miles (including decimals) 46.

The week to comes holds mile repeats and my first 15er of this segment. I’m a little apprehensive about this, but I have time to prepare myself mentally. Another nugget from HBDYWI: “If you know how long it’s going to hurt, you can ride it out.” Will bear that in mind.

coffee mug that reads: "There's no secret. Keep going."

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Andy Maguire]


Jul 23

Richmond: Week 4, Or, On the Road Again

white number 4 on blue background.

Week Four started out in Pittsburgh, PA. It took me back through Ocean City, MD by way of Morgantown, WV to Spartanburg for less than 24 hours before I left again for Charlotte, NC. I spent a lot of time in the car but very little of that in traffic jams and much of it occupied by a really good audiobook or great company. The time I wasn’t in the car, I was at the beach or on a trail or enjoying time with some of my favorite people, so all in all, this week gets an A.

Running this week was really challenging. This came as no surprise; in fact on Sunday night, when I was thinking ahead to the week and what it would hold for me running-wise, I only had one thought: “Shit gets real.”

Interval workouts are my least favorite kind of workout. For a long time, I thought that it was just because I was bad at them. Recently, thanks to the wonders of technology (where technology in this case = Garmin running watch), I learned that I don’t suck at them. Or at least, I don’t suck at them when I’m not running them too fast. Garmin allows me to set a target pace for the interval, and when I tried it for the first time this spring, I learned that I was routinely overdoing it. By a lot. Every single time. When I ran the paces my coach prescribed, even 800s, my LEAST favorite distance, were okay. They were a challenge, yes, but they didn’t feel so utterly punishing.

This week, Garmin decided misbehave. I got a new watch this summer. Most of the time, it is awesome. It was not awesome on Tuesday. I woke up early, which was good since it was going to be hot. The watch started giving me trouble before I even got out the door. In fact, it just refused to track anything, interval or not for the first three miles of the run. When I got to the parking lot where I had planned to run the 400s, it was sunny, and the watch still wasn’t working. This would have been less of an issue at home where I’ve done 400s before so I have a general sense of how far it is on the road where I run. I had no sense of that distance in a random parking lot at the Ocean City boardwalk. I finally decided to do a hard reset and cross my fingers. It took a few minutes, but it solved the problem, so I quickly used the interval function to program 12 x 400m with 250m rest intervals in between (no target paces) and got to work. By interval 5, I was thinking that there was no way I would be able to do all 12. By 7, the world beyond the parking lot seemed very far away. I had entered some kind of Parking Lot Purgatory. By interval 10, I was talking to myself. Out loud. But all there was to say was, “3 more,” and I was alone in my parking lot save for the occasion cyclist. What were they doing in the parking lot? I couldn’t really care enough to wonder. I finally hit the 12th, gathered my things (my water bottle and tank top), and I began my cool down on a much more crowded boardwalk. As soon as I hit mile 2, I stopped running and walked the rest of the way back. First, I stopped at a 7-11 for what may have been the most glorious Slurpee ever. And a banana. There was nothing particularly special about the banana, but that Slurpee was the things dreams are made of. . .

Before this weekend, I had run several half marathons, 2 of them on trails. But I had never run one at night. And I had never run one on a trail at night. Tread Nightly was my first. One of my Oiselle teammates had suggested the event as possible meet-up, and it sounded like a great idea. Friday night and Saturday morning with the option to run a half-marathon or a 4-miler on either or both days. I knew I wanted to run a half, and I knew that running both halves would be a bad idea. I was uncertain about a night-time trail race, but I eventually decided to register for the night half and the morning 4 because I would rather run the longer distance when it was cooler out, and I thought it would be better to run the shorter distance on less recovery.

VoleeSC teammates before Tread Nightly 13.1The night-time half was really, really hard. It would have been hard under ideal conditions, and mid-July is far, far from ideal conditions. We got to the race site at 6:30 and had just the right amount of time to check-in and set-up camp before heading to the start, which was a good thing because I would have gotten really nervous if I had had more time to think. I was nervous enough already. It was still very warm and humid even ay 8:00 PM. We took a VoleeSC team shot at start (left), and we joked that we were already glistening, and the race hadn’t even started yet.

We were all in wave 3, so we started together a little after 8:00, and sunset came 20 minutes later. I went out a little too fast, in part jockeying for a better spot once we got on to the single-track, in part wanting to take advantage of the daylight while we had it. I had debated whether or not I should carry a flashlight in addition to my headlamp, and decided to throw it in my pack, just in case. It fell out of the pack within the first mile, but the woman behind me picked it up for me and handed it to me as she passed me. :/ I turned my head light on early and kept chugging along.

Stephanie, Jenny, and I stayed together for the first mile or so before Jenny got smart and decided to slow down. I stayed with Steph for another mile before she eventually pulled ahead. And then there was one: me.

Technically, I was still around other people, but I didn’t know them, and nobody was talking save for the occasional “passing on your left.” There were several aid stations throughout the course, which was awesome. Usually trail races are not so well-supported. I was wearing my hydration pack, but I still made sure to drink at least a full cup of water and Powerade at every stop. I also was pouring water on my arms and chest to cool myself. I remember leaving the second aid station and seeing a mile marker for mile 4, which was disheartening. I thought I had run farther than 4 miles. It was going to be a long night. And it was. There was a stretch in the middle where I was completely alone. And when I set aside the nerves (What if I get lost?), it was really cool. I was hot and completely saturated with sweat, but I was running well, if slowly, and I just focused on moving forward. Everything else fell away. I wasn’t thinking about my job or my deadlines or anything else. I felt lucky to be out there, to have a chance to not worry about anything but my feet.

I caught back up with people somewhere around mile 8, and I caught back up with Stephanie around mile 9. We ran together for most of the rest of the course until the last mile where I went ahead because I could feel a GI situation starting to get urgent. I had hoped to make it to the finish before having to deal. I didn’t. Had the course been 13.1 miles, I would have made it, but as it was, I had to stop about a half mile from the finish, much to the chagrin of a guy who was running with me at the end since his lamp had died. I offered him my flash light when I pulled off the trail, but he was able to catch up to another runner who was just ahead of us.

Runner with headlamp crossing finish lineI could hear the music from the finish area, and it finally started to get louder. Cruelly, or so it felt at the time, the song that played was something about taking a walk. WALK?! WTF? Who’s idea was it to play a song about walking at the finish line of a race?? Obviously, this kinda pissed me off and fired me up, or fired up whatever was left of me at that point. I finally made it out of the woods and on to the last few tenths of a mile which were on gravel. Then the final tenth, which was still on gravel , but UPHILL. Because of course it was.

My friends were at the finish, and they got me water, which I desperately needed. I found a place to lay down and collect myself. I kept sweating. I couldn’t really process what had just happened. I was pissed about having to stop so close to the finish. I was pissed that the finish was so far from where I thought it would be. I was disappointed that my time was so slow (My trail half PR is a whole HOUR faster). I was soaking wet. I felt kinda nauseous.

After a few minutes (where “a few” might be as little as 5 and as much as 15–I have no idea), I scraped myself off the ground, got more water, collected my beer, and found my friends. We eventually got food. I hadn’t thought that I would want real food that late at night, but I had put some cash in my pack, just in case. Not only did the race take WAY more out of me than I had thought, I had another race in the morning, so I decided that I would at least order something and try to eat. I figured better to have it and not be able to eat it than to miss the window and regret it later.

We hung out for a little longer, and suddenly it was midnight. We all wanted to shower before going to bed, and the showers were a good hike from the campsite, so at various points and at various paces, we made our way back to the campsite and then over to the locker room. I had forgotten that I had taped my collar bones earlier in the day in an attempt to prevent chafing from my pack (which worked!!), and I was really grimy, but so was everyone else. By the time I got back to the campsite, it was after 1AM. I was trying to sleep by 1:30 but it was really warm in the tent. I must have eventually fallen asleep, because I woke up at 4 or 4:30 and had to pee, so I had to get up. It was eerily quiet. I fell back asleep easily and was woken up again a little after 6.

We had to strike the site before the races began, so I made a trip to the car with a bunch of stuff before getting a bagel and some coffee. Another trip to the car afterwards, and I was pretty much ready to go. Also, I hit my steps goal before I had even lined up for the second race. There were a few more Oiselle women running in the morning, only 2 of us had chosen the 4 mile. Everyone else was running the half. We took another group shot, and the half runners were sent on their way!

6 Oiselle Volee runners before Treead Brightly The 4 miler got started at 8:30. I was in the 3rd wave, so I started about 8:35. The start was the same, but we entered the woods a bit sooner, and from there, it was very different. The trails were much more technical than the half course, and I found myself thinking about how glad I was that I only had 4 miles to run and that I wasn’t trying to navigate all these rocks and roots in the dark!

It seemed like there were a lot of inexperienced trail runners out that morning. I had to repeatedly ask people more than once to let me pass, and there were a lot of people who had headphones in, so they didn’t hear me. I had to tap them on the shoulder, which made one woman in particular mad. But here’s the deal, during a trail run, especially if it’s a race, slow yields the trail to fast. I was running well, and I found my feet on the trail much more easily. It was really hot during the exposed portions of the course, and mile 3 was almost all uphill, but I was able to push the pace in the fourth mile, and I finished strong up that damn hill. I was spent at the end, again, and I again found a place to lay down and collect myself while I cooled off. I got my beer, which tasted just as good at 9:30 AM as it had at 11:30 the night before (I also ate a banana; I’m not a complete heathen). Me on left, 2nd place finisher, next to 1st and 3rd places.

The other Volée member who had run the 4, finished and found me a few minutes later, and we hung out together for a while. It turned out that I ran well enough to place 2nd in my age group, so Meaghan was kind enough to take my picture on the podium (left). I won a stainless steel camping cup.

These races were much more challenging than I had anticipated when I registered back in the Spring. I knew that they wouldn’t be easy, because trails, but the half was really, really hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. In theory, it should have been less challenging than Grayson Highlands since there wasn’t nearly the climbing or the super technical terrain, but it was much more difficult for me. Some of that was psychological (trails, nighttime), but the conditions (heat, humidity, darkness) were also a significant factor. Plus the course was almost a mile extra-long, and then there were my guts, which started to get unhappy around mile 9. BUT, I am proud of myself for recognizing that the challenge on Friday night was a mental challenge, not a physical one (mostly), and I’m proud of myself for regrouping and running strong on Saturday morning.

The Breakdown:

M: 6.5 easy, North Park

T: Death By 400 (3 mile warm up; 12 x 400m w/ 250m recovery; 2 mile cool down)

W: Easy 8

Th: OFF.

F: Tread Nightly Half (13.8 trails)

S: Tread Brightly 4 miles (trails)

Sun: Easy 6

I’m really, really sore today after the two trail races. My shoulders are still angry about the hydration pack. The rest of me says I probably need to do more trail running. Especially before the semester begins.

111 Days until Richmond.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Chris; the rest of the images shared with permission from @twentysixpointj and Nick Gates].