Race Recap – Fairfax CASA Run for the Children 10K

…or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hills.

About a month ago I ran the Scope it Out 5K , where the bag check was largely volunteer (wo)manned by a great group of ladies (and Hubz).  One of those ladies recruited the whole crew to run and/or volunteer for bag check at her organization’s upcoming race, the Run for the Children 10K in Fairfax.  The race is a fundraising event for Fairfax CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a non-profit that recruits and trains citizen volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children placed under the protection of the Fairfax County court. My friend Becca works for this group, and was one of the organizers of the race.  CASA does an important service, and I’m always game to race for a good cause, especially when I get a free ride via my volunteering Hubz.

Even though I knew I’d be freshly back from Zambia with rusty running muscles, I signed up to run because I figured it’d be a good way to kick start me back into the racing game (with the Columbia Tri continuing to loom over me…)  Although the Habitat GV builds luckily keep me very active so I don’t feel like a total lug (hellooooo mixing concrete by hand), my two weeks in Zambia were a total running hiatus. I ran off my jet lag on my first Friday back, and managed one run with a bit of speedwork this week, but that’s about it.  Needless to say, I was not exactly in racing shape yesterday morning.

Nonetheless, I was excited to get moving again.  Hubz and I arrived early so that he could exercise his expert bag check volunteering skills again.  I only had about an hour to hang out before the race start, but unfortunately it was FREEZING.  Cold, windy, cloudy, gross.  So I spent most of the hour jumping around, trying to keep my muscles lukewarm and prevent my fingers from losing all feeling.      Was not too successful on either front.

The lovely Joanna was also signed up to run, so we left the valiant bag check crew to their peppermint schnapps-infused hot cocoas and meandered to the start line.  The organizers had arranged for pace signs in the starting corral area. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like people were really paying attention to them.  There were a number of dogs and strollers around the 8 min/mile sign.  (There was also a 3K run/walk so there were a number of families there to participate in that.  The 3K started at the same time and start line as the 10K, but veered off to a separate course within the first mile).  Seeing as people weren’t adhering to the signs, I hung out between the 10 and 11 min/mile groups with Joanna, fully intending to weave around and pass the crowd once we took off.

Joanna and I, post-race. Hubz says I look evil in this photo. Pshaw.

And take off I did.  I pushed my way through some groups of walkers and slower runners and finally got to a spot in the crowd that I could cruise.  I think Joanna was like WHAT is wrong with that girl, throwing elbows.  But it worked.  And I cruised for a bit…until I realized exactly what was in store for the day.  See, I made a major rookie faux pas, in that I did not research the race course AT ALL before I got there.  Had I done so, I would have realized that not only does the course involve a number of turns back and forth while circling through various Fairfax neighborhoods, but that those turns take you through 6.2 miles of nonstop rolling hills.  Up and down, up and down.  I should have counted, but I would estimate 4-5 inclines/declines of varying degrees per mile, and some of them were seriously BIG!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some hills.  I love them for both the physical and mental challenges they bring.  So I wasn’t entirely discouraged…just had to change my game plan and get in a better head space really quick.  I held in pretty well through the first 4 or so miles, but then started to feel like my heart rate was getting very high as I continued to attack each hill.  I did not have the staying power to keep my intensity up where I wanted.  I was forced to slow it down bigtime on several of the inclines in the last couple miles of the race.  I tried to keep cruising constantly on the downhills and flats, but I could really feel myself fading.  It was hard coming into the last half mile, but by the time I got close to the finish line I could hear this fantastic bag check crew cheering loudly for me!  A little bit of support really goes a long way, and I gunned it into the finish!

Hubz and the rest of the bag check crew/fantastic personal cheerleading squad.

I grabbed a water and went to hang in the hot spot bag check tent.  A bit later, we all cheered Joanna to a successful finish as well.  Then I desperately and unsuccessfully tried to keep myself warm until the volunteers could wrap up and head out to celebrate.  Hubz had to head home to work but I got to spend some more quality time with these jokers:

Post-race celebration with some coolio kiddos 🙂

Total time – 53:22, a 8:36 pace.  This is the same pace that I ran my last half marathon at.  Not impressive for a 10K time and not really close to my goal time, but I will take it as a win given my utter lack of race preparation in all possible ways.

This is only the second year that the Fairfax CASA folks have been putting on this race, and I have to say they do a fantastic job.  The details were all attended to.  Pace groups/signs in the front, great giveaways and amenities, and an easy-in easy-out location among many other perks.  Plus, I’ve never ran a race with such an impressive amount of course support.  There were folks directing traffic at every turn on the course, of which there were many.  There were three water stops that appeared to be plenty stopped when I ran by (though I didn’t stop for any).  The announcers, entertainment, and post-race celebration were great as well, including free chili for runners from local hot spot Hard Times Cafe!  I wasn’t in the mood for chili but it was a popular stop!

Free chili for runners - great idea on a crazy cold morning!

Find more info about the National CASA here and the Fairfax County CASA here.

Race Recap – Chris4Life Scope it Out 5K 2012

This morning: the Chris4Life Scope it Out 5K!  The race is a fundraising event for the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation, and is one of the largest annual fundraising events for colon cancer awareness in the country.

This 5K has quickly become an annual tradition for me!  I ran it in 2009 (with broken toes, no less), last year in 2011, and of course this year in 2012.  My friend Katie is connected to the charity cause behind this race, so she always convinces me to sign up.  And so far I have set a 5K PR every year that I have run it (until this year….maybe….see below).

My goal for this race was to finish under 24 minutes, and ideally to PR at under 23:52.  A bit of explanation – my 5K PR of 23:52 was set on a course that I am not entirely sure was actually a full 5K.  It was at the Cooper YMCA Turkey Trot last year in Lincoln, NE.  I love that Turkey Trot (and the fact that it has become an annual tradition for me to run with my Mom and little Sis), but after 2 years in a row of PR-ing by a landslide, I’m not convinced that it’s a proper 5K course.  So, my official PR goal was to beat the 24:47 from last year’s Scope it Out, but my real PR goal in my head was to sub-24:00.

Unbeknownst to me until AFTER the race, the celebrity guest for the charity cause was none other than Michelle from Brad Womack’s second season of The Bachelor!!!  Had I known this, I obviously would have arrived earlier and in time to see her speak!  Hubz sadly did not get a photo of her on stage for me.  😦  And despite my best efforts to locate her after the race, I could not track her down.  😦 😦

Despite missing my chance for a photo op with Michelle, I had a pretty good race.  I maintained a pretty steady state throughout, and just about met my goal.  This is a nice small race, usually about 2000 runners.  I jogged/walk from home to the start line at Freedom Plaza, and arrived with about 15 minutes before the starting gun.   Freedom Plaza also happens to be one of the two headquarters/locations for Occupy DC, which remained out in full force this morning.  Here’s a shot of the Occupy camp running right up next to the race set-up and sponsors’ tents:

Once I arrived, I checked in with Hubz and Katie who were working the bag check table.  After 5+ years in this volunteer position, they have pretty much become experts!

I took off in a pretty decent sub-8:00 clip, and tried to maintain it for the length of the course.  The course is really great for this race, actually.  It starts off at Freedom Plaza, runs right up in front of the capitol building, over through some federal office buildings, and then loops around to come back down Penn to end again at Freedom Plaza.  Those of you who know DC know that this means it’s totally flat and wide wide open for the entirety of the course.  Nice and fast.  In other words, a perfectly appropriate race for me to try to PR each year.   Which has apparently become my goal.

The weather was pretty perfect.  It was cloudy and in the low 50s.  Could have been a little cooler, and maybe not been quite so misty, but overall pretty great.  And I felt pretty good for most of the race, until about the last half mile.  Maybe due to my eating a giant breakfast less than an hour before the race, in the form of whole wheat tortilla filled with banana, honey, and plenty of crunchy peanut butter.  Oops.  In any case, Kanye propelled me to the finish in ALMOST my goal time….I ended up coming in at 24:00 exactly.  1 second off from a sub-24:00 goal time, but who wants to be that picky?!  (*ahem* ME).

Happy me hiding back in the bag check area after my finish.

Final time – 24:00 exactly.  7:44/mile.  Pretty happy with that, as I think it’s a PR on a *proper* course.  Still feel like I could have pushed it a little harder to come in UNDER 24:00, but I won’t be too picky, since I didn’t take it too seriously until about 1 mile before the finish line.  Maybe one of these days I will properly train for a 5K???

Cheers to fighting colon cancer!!!

Race Recap – Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon

Yesterday morning I ran the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll USA race right here at home in our nation’s capitol.  I had big plans for this race.  I had never broken 2 hours in a half marathon.  Seriously.  Never.  So that was my first goal.  Also, I really hadn’t properly trained for a half marathon in years.   I’d dropped into a few here and there either on my way to or on my way back down from a marathon, but hadn’t really taken one too seriously for quite a while.  So, I initially set a sub-2:00 goal for myself.  Then, as my training progressed pretty well, I realized that sub-1:55 was even within my reach, so that became my new goal.  I was pretty nervous about this, but I knew I could do it if I kept my head in the game.

This is the first year that the Competitor Group/Rock N Roll folks have taken over this race, which is pretty exciting.  They’re known for putting on good events, and this was no exception.

The date of this race was pretty perfect for me.  I got pretty much the whole winter to train for it, yet it wrapped up in time for me to take off to Zambia for a couple weeks and then return in time to (hopefully) train up for an Olympic Tri in late May.  In addition to the fact that the timing was just right for me, a large motivation in signing up for this race was the fact that the start/finish was less than 2 miles down the road from my house, meaning I could sleep in to a luxurious 6 AM and walk to the race late enough to avoid the need to waiting an obnoxiously slow moving port-a-potty line.  It doesn’t really get any better than that.

My college bff Matthew was in town to run the race and visit his sis, bro-in-law, and adorable little nephew.  He arrived late Friday night so he crashed with us so we could be up bright and early and head to the race together.  Matthew also traveled to DC two years ago to run this race with me, which was his first ever half marathon!  This year he was back to again put me to shame with his speediness.

Matthew had a leisurely breakfast at home before walking the short distance to the start line/corrals.  He left me back at corral 8 and wandered up to corral 4 with the cool kids.  I had been nervous all week that it would be too warm on race morning, but I was a little chilled as I waited for the starting gun, which is perfect.

It took me about 8 minutes from the starting gun to actually cross the start line, and I was off.  I love this course.  It weaves around a bit but basically heads all the way from RFK stadium down East Capitol to the Capitol building, then cuts up north to run along Constitution all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial.  It then heads north up through Dupont Circle and into Adams Morgan, then east over through the bottom of Mt. Pleasant and all the way along to Howard.  It then cuts down by the reservoir and all the way back over until heading south a bit to run East along H St. NE before heading a bit more southeast to curve around back to RFK stadium.  The runners get to see much of the scenic memorial/mall parts of DC, as well as a few of the most charm-filled neighborhoods in inner NW and the Hill.

Shortly after taking off, I spotted my friend Gabe over on the left but running about at my pace.  Gabe is usually much quicker than me, but was running his first distance race in his Vibram 5 Finger shoes so was taking it a bit easy.  I ran over to say hi briefly before he took off.

The Hubz was hanging out at about mile 1.25, which was conveniently located only about 4 blocks north of our house.  It was fun to see him while I was still feeling happy and strong.  I knew I was the last he had watched run by and that he was going to be able to go back home and nap until Matthew and I reconvened at home a couple hours later.

For about the first 5 miles, I was trying to hold back my pace but not doing so well at that task.  Every mile my Garmin beeped at me and reminded me that I was not taking it at a measured pace as I should have.  I had high hopes for this race, but I was way ahead of even those high hopes.  When I turned to head up the hill to Dupont, I thought it would come back to kick my booty, but by some miracle I stayed pretty strong and fast.  The hills up into Dupont and Adams Morgan were tough, but not killer, and I kept feeling strong all the way along.

It did warm up a bit, so I made sure to take in gatorade at pretty much every water stop, and stick to my nutrition plan of taking a gel at miles 5 and 10.  I was energized when at mile 5 I grabbed a water to wash down my gel, and happened upon a water hander-outer in a Nebraska t-shirt.  I gave him a good “Go Huskers!” cheer as I ran by.  And at mile 9, I took gatorade from Andy, one of the trivia hosts from my (used to be regular) weekly trivia game at Nellie’s!  So fun to see friendly faces along the race course.

I didn’t really feel any fatigue until about mile 10, turning the corner to head back east.  About this time, the sun came out and it started to get properly warm.  It was in the high 60s by this point.   Nonetheless, I stuck in there, and even powered up the last hill heading up to H St. at the end of mile 11/beginning of mile 12.  My pace definitely slowed, but I kept running and felt strong the whole way.

The one thing that kind of sucks about this race is the finish line.  It’s so deceiving!  It is both up a hill and around a corner, so it’s really hard to tell how far you are from the line as you are coming in.  I swear I thought I was going to cross it 3 times before I finally did.  Seriously, it was like LOTR 3: Return of the King all over again (really, did that movie not end like 8 times before it finally ended?  I mean, REALLY.)  But I finally made it.  And not only did I smash my previous PR by more than 10 minutes, but I crushed my 1:55 goal to finish in 1:53:04!

unimpressive post-race photo of finisher's medal

I made my way through the finisher area (stopping just long enough to receive my finisher’s medal and grab my Chocolate Milk to refuel!) to find Matthew hanging with his sister, brother-in-law, and adorable little nephew.  We chatted for a bit and then had to scurry on back home as Hubz and I had to catch a train to Philly for our own adorable little nephew’s third birthday party.

The best part of the day was when on our way home, we walked by one of the police officers who was working traffic flow for the race course.  She stopped us and asked us about our medals.  “Do you have to finish in a certain time to get that medal?”  “No ma’am, as long as you finish, you get it.  You can even walk and as long as you cross the finish line, you will earn the medal.”  “Really??? I am going to do it next year.  I always work it, but I want to earn that medal!”  It was such a nice reminder that, no matter how caught up we get in our own heads with our own expectations, competitive spirits, PRs, etc. etc., every race we run is an accomplishment.  It’s really important to step back and give yourself credit every time you cross a finish line, be it in a race or even in a regular weekday training run.  Our bodies are capable of so much, and they don’t fail us when we treat them right, and we should be proud of every mile and every step we take!

Final time: 1:53:04 – 8:38/mile.  Woot!  Splits were not great.  Due to the increasing heat throughout the morning, my last 3-4 miles were a good deal slower than the first 10 or so.  But still, pretty proud of this effort.  Makes me pretty confident that if I choose to do another full marathon anytime in the near-ish future, I can shoot for a sub-4 hour finish time…*famous last words*

Race Recap – Four Courts Four Miler

Saturday morning, I ran the Four Courts Four Miler for the first time.  It’s the third year of this race, which is put on by Pacers Events.

The Four Courts Four Miler is one of those FUN races.  You know, the kind that start and end at a bar, and you get a free beer for crossing the finish line.  To add to it, it’s a St. Patricks’ day event, and happens to be sponsored by an Irish pub – Ireland’s Four Courts in Clarendon.  Because of the way the calendar worked this year, the race was a full week before the holiday.  But I can assure you this did not dissuade the folks from fully embracing the festive holiday spirit!

I was, shall we say, *strongly* encouraged to run this race by my friends Heather, Matt, Nina, and Sam.  Heather and Matt happen to live about 2 blocks from the bar/start/finish line, so they also invited everyone over for post-race brunch.  (They almost talked my Hubz into running as well, which is quite a feat considering his general anti-race-participation philosophy, but he ended out having to drop out on PT’s orders due to a recent back injury).

And as an extra bonus?  Heather acquired both materials and a design for she, Nina, and I to make ourselves matching kelly green tutu skirts so we could properly run in the Irish spirit! We girls had a tutu-making party a few weeks earlier and could not have been more excited to debut our exquisite handiwork. Here we are on race morning!

Exhibit A: We are sooo pretty.

View from the backside. You know you wanted it.

Exhibit B:  Bows on the back, yo. Legit.  This is before we headed out to the start line. (That’s Sam in the background, trying not to look too skeevy).

After warming up as much as possible, we ventured back out to the streets of Arlington, VA to line up.  We pretty much waited until the last possible minute, because it was remarkably frigid that morning and the wind was pretty dang intense.  We met up with a couple other friends and all lined up together, while Hubz went off to get his free beer (from the bib he didn’t end up running with) and wait for us with his camera towards the end.  It was a pretty small race – only about 1500 finishers (although I imagine there were a good deal more signed up that were discouraged by the cold) – so we weren’t too concerned about placement in the crowd at the start line.  Although, perhaps I should have been, because I probably shouldn’t have gone out nearly as fast as I did…

I had been warned about this race course.  It’s an out and back which is basically a 2 mile downhill, turn around, and 2 mile uphill.  Not the easiest race course.  I tried to keep this in mind for the start of the race, but the combo of the cold and the anxiety to get away from the crowded start line caused me to take off pretty dang fast.  I checked myself on my Garmin and realized I was running at a really fast pace for me – like, faster than I normally run my 800 repeats – but convinced my tired cold brain that it was OK, I was just making up for the slower pace I would inevitably take on the uphills in the 2 mile return.

Since I started out so unnecessarily fast, I basically split away from our whole group and didn’t see anyone for the first couple miles.  Matt and Sam caught up to me just before the turn around.  I chatted briefly with Matt and he scurried off beyond me.  I briefly toyed with the notion of trying to keep up with them, but I was already feeling the results of my trigger-happy start and regained enough sanity to remind myself that I needed to save it for the brutal uphill coming up in the last half mile.  So, I watched them go by on the other side and bid them good luck.

That’s Matt looking super happy to be running, and showing his Michigan pride.

I passed Heather and Nina a little ways after I took the turnaround and they looked so darling running together in their matching tutus!  Sadly, no photo of them running due to technical errors.  😦

The last 2 miles were not the most pleasant of my life.  As I came up to the first uphill, I decided to walk it out for a little bit to save energy for the even bigger hill that I knew was coming at the end.  I trudged on through, helped largely by some new Jay-Z additions to my Ipod, and seeing Hubz at the top near the finish meant I had to put on a smile and keep running strong all the way through the finish line.

Here I am, triumphant!  Love that guy’s sweatband/sunglasses combo, too, btw.

And the happy group of us at the finish line.  We lasted about 20 seconds after Hubz took this photo, and then the shivery thing set in that happens when you’re post-race sweaty in 30 degree windy weather…so we high-tailed it back to Heather and Matt’s for mimosas and delicious brunch.

Final time: 32:59 – 8:15/mile pace.  Notably, my first two miles were at a 7:24 pace, which is ridiculous.  No wonder I had to pace like crazy on the way back.  Not proud of that.

I was a little nervous to commit to this race since it was only a week before my upcoming Rock n Roll USA half marathon, but the 4 mile hard effort worked well enough in my taper week.  And overall, this was a great, super fun race event over all, and I will definitely be reprising the tutu next year!