In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina: Tarheel 10 Miler

“In my mind I’m going to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine, can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind? Yes, I’m going to Carolina in my mind.” – In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina, James Taylor

IMG_2828 The crew!

I was born and raised in Chapel Hill. I am truly Tarheel born and Tarheel bred and when I die, I’ll be Tarheel dead. My husband thinks it is a little bit crazy to pay race entry fees to run a race on streets I run on at least twice a week for free but there is nothing quite like having those streets closed and running down the middle of them with thousands of other runners. There is also no other race where I can run down the street and see my high school history teacher cheering the runners and shout out “Mr. Kiger” because old habits die hard or see so many of my classmates from the Chapel Hill High School Class of 1989 out on the course.

This race is one of my favorites because it is my hometown and the place I currently call home. The race is hilly. It is hard. It is crowded. There is a hill at mile 8.5 to mile 9.5 called Laurel Hill that has an elevation gain of 123 feet during that one mile. The name of my hometown has the word “hill” in it and it is true to its name. There is also free beer for all the runners at Top of the Hill Brewery after the race. I love beer. I really love free beer.

I was slightly concerned about my performance for this race having just come off of a PR performance at the equally hilly Rock N Roll Raleigh Half Marathon. I only did a short 3.5 mile shake out run with Fleet Feet on the Wednesday before the race mainly because there was free beer and empanadas after the run! I needed to rest my quads, which were still sore after Raleigh. My only goal for the 10 Miler is that I wanted to beat my time from last year even if was only by one second but I had no other aspirations.

Saturday morning was humid. Crazy humid. There was a lot of cloud cover before the race start. Let me diverge here for a moment, and talk about the start of this race. It is a clusterf*%k like no other race I have ever been to. There are no corrals. There are thousands of runners running a 4 mile race or the 10 mile race. They release the 4 milers first but there is no real order to this. Then, the 10  milers are supposed to go. There are thousands of people trying to cram into one area of the street. There is no way to get back to your pace group because of the massive wall of people all trying to get to their pace group and the narrow sidewalk. Someone had the not very bright idea of putting up a barricade between the sidewalk and the street meaning, the only way to get in your pace group, other than climbing under or over the barricade, was to push your way all the way back to the end of the barricade on the extremely crowded sidewalk packed full of people who can only shuffle in a forward motion and then, push your way all the way up to your pace group. It was like a mosh pit where no one was having any fun. People were getting grouchy. People were pushing. Being a slower runner, I sincerely wanted to make it to the back but there was no way to move back. Faster runners sincerely wanted to make it to the front of the pack but there was no way to move forward. What did this mean? I ended up getting in line with the 9 minute mile pace group. I got passed for the first two miles like I was standing still. Not a big deal for me but frustrating for those people trying to pass me, I am sure. It was so crowded we could not all stay together and we lost everyone in our group except for me, Sissy and Heather. Endurance Magazine, get your starting line better organized next year! You can’t add more runners to this race if you don’t figure this out!

IMG_2831 The mosh pit. Don’t these people look happy?

Once I made it out of the mosh pit, things evened out a bit but we were flying because we were being pushed along with the stream of faster runners. Heather and I slowed our roll a bit but Sissy kept right up so we lost her. Around mile 4, we got into our groove and headed up Franklin Street. The clouds parted and the Carolina blue sky was revealed as we hit West Franklin Street – totally fitting! There was a band up near the Top of the Hill distillery. Last year, they gave out shots of liquor but no shots this year. At about the 5 mile mark, we saw a man being picked up in an ambulance by EMS. Then, we saw two women throwing up on the side of the road. Did I mention it was really humid? I was sweating from every pore. My shirt, visor and running skirt were so wet, it looked like I had jumped in a pool.

The course took us back through campus and into Gimghoul, the first set of big hills. Heather and I powered up them all and were making great time. We caught up to Sissy and Laurie on the downhill on Raleigh Road and stuck with them until we all were separated again on Laurel Hill. We saw a couple of more people throwing up. I guess you’ve figured out by now that it was hot. At the bottom of Laurel Hill, Sissy, Heather, Laurie and I all agreed that each woman was for herself on this hill. Whatever we had to do to make it up the hill, we would do and we’d see each other at the finish. Heather pulled ahead. I powered up the first steep incline but, by the time I reached the man playing the giant horn in lederhosen, I had to walk. It was a fast walk and I was passing people but still, a walk. I ran the flats, only to walk, again on the steepest part. My first and only walking during this race. I ran the rest of it – no intervals. I hit the top of Laurel Hill and I could still see Heather but I could not catch her. Sissy and Laurie were just a little ways behind me.

After Laurel Hill was behind me, I headed down Ridge Road and was really missing the big finish in Kenan Stadium since it was being renovated. When I was right in front of Bosahmer Stadium, I started to think that I wasn’t feeling too well. “Just finish the damn race” I told myself and kept running. I turned the corner onto Stadium Drive, knowing the finish was near, only to discover yet another hill. In the full-on sun with waves of steam coming off the street. Now, I really did not feel well. I felt dizzy and nauseated but I just kept running (I am sure that you have figured out that runners are like lemmings and we just keep moving forward, despite pain, puking, dizziness). I saw the finish and the clock and sped up to beat my time from last year. I hit the finish line and, immediately, the world started to spin and I feared I was going to faint. Orange County EMS was lined up at the finish intently watching runners. I must have had a look on my face that they knew because, almost immediately, an EMT had his hand on my arm and said “M’am, are you OK?”. “No” I said, “I might pass out or throw up or both”. He took me in the medical tent, made me sit down and put my head between my knees and he got me Gatorade. The world stopped spinning but I started shaking, uncontrollably. Then, I got chills even though sweat was rolling off my body into a puddle on the ground. Another runner came in and puked all over the tent. A third person was being transported to the hospital because her heart rate would not go down. It was, basically, carnage in the medical tent (and apparently, a HIPPA-free zone since people’s Private Health Information was being bandied about).  They weren’t really sure what was wrong with me. I was clearly overheated but did I have low blood sugar, was I dehydrated, did I have an electrolyte imbalance?

IMG_2835 See the Carolina blue sky?

After two Gatorades and a bag of pretzels, I felt well enough to leave the tent and go get my medal. I finally found Heather and Lesley and we wandered over to the results tent. I looked at the paper they handed me – I had beaten my time from last year but well over a minute! A new PR and a near death experience all in the same five minute time span! We walked over to Top of the Hill and got our free beers. Blueberry Wheat is my favorite! I never felt great for the rest of the day and night. I don’t know what was wrong with me. This is not the first time I have nearly passed out at a finish. It is also not the first time I have had electrolyte issues. I really need to figure this out before marathon training begins.

IMG_2839 Free beer is the best beer!

All in all, it was a good race. I am happy I shaved a respectable amount off my time from last year. I am still getting faster. I’ve had two training runs since the race and I am still getting faster. I am mentoring the Not So Normal race training groups at Fleet Feet and getting ready for half marathon #10 on May 17!

IMG_2827 All black, like Batman.

 

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It’s Only Rock N Roll (but I like it): Rock N Roll Raleigh Half Marathon

“I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it
I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it
I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
Oh, well, I like it, I like it. I like it…” – It’s Only Rock N Roll – Rolling Stones 
IMG_2821 Corral selfies – Fellowship of the Ring
I ran the second annual Rock N Roll Raleigh Half Marathon with my Fleet Feet training group this past Sunday. I ran this race last year as my second half marathon, ever, and hated it. It was HOT and humid (82 balmy degrees). It was hilly (hello, miserable f-ing hill in Boylan Heights at mile 12). I was wearing the program shirt Fleet Feet gave us which was black and itchy. I hated that, too. I was stuffing ice down my sports bra at the aid station at mile 8 and seriously considering taking off the shirt, running in my sports bra and exposing myself to the good people of Raleigh. I mean, it is not like I knew any of those people and I was running by myself, at that point, so no one on the course knew me, either. Y’all know it must have been bad if I was going to expose my most hated body part (my stomach) to the world! I swore I would never run this race, again. Well, you know I went back on my word because I would not be writing this blog post if I had not! That Fleet Feet peer pressure is a powerful thing.
Sunday’s weather was perfect for what was my ninth half marathon. It was cool at the start and only warmed up to 64 by the time I crossed the finish line. I wore the neon green program shirt to the race. I hated it, too, but I was a mentor this time around so I felt like I should show some team spirit (there goes that peer pressure, again). Neon green is not flattering to pale, blonde Irish girls and the neckline on that shirt was like a turtleneck! Heather did not wear her shirt so, of course, Heather looks cute in all of our race pictures and I look like a big green blob. That is neither here nor there because this was an awesome race and none of that really matters. I had so much fun during this race.
I made Heather meet me in the parking deck at the Duke practice on Page Road at 5:00 AM (Heather likes to take a more leisurely approach to race start times than I do). We hit traffic as soon as we got off Capital Blvd and parked the car in the first private lot open and taking money. Heather ate her full breakfast buffet of Rice Krispies with milk and even sliced her banana in the car. I would much rather walk than sit in traffic before a race. Heather and I had both purchased new Brooks running shoes so we were given VIP passes to the Brooks Port-a-Potty. This portable trailer is a miracle of modern science. It was a portable bathroom with real flushing toilets, running water and soap. I am spoiled forever. One of the things I hate most about running so many races is having to use so many port-a-potties. I mean is there much else in this world that is as gross as a port-a-potty? They have a Brooks VIP Potty at the Marine Corps Marathon so Heather and I will be saving up our money to buy Brooks race gear to get that pass, too!
IMG_2819 Most awesome people in the world.
We met our training group in front of the performing arts center for a group picture, which turned out pretty well. I know I have said this before but I am going to say it, again – I LOVE MY FLEET FEET FAMILY! The people who run the programs, coach the programs, mentor the programs and participate in the programs are some of my favorite people in the world. If you have ever thought about joining a running group, PLEASE come down and join one at Fleet Feet. You will make the most wonderful friends and have the best time running with these groups. I can’t imagine a time when I am not going to be in one of the training groups. All my old friends keep coming back but, each season, I make new friends.
My pace group, Fellowship of the Ring, headed to Corral 17 to wait for our start time. I have to give the Rock N Roll race crew props. This is my third RNR event. They do a great job with the corrals and with making sure everything starts on time and is organized. The loud rock music pulsing through the speakers, the MC and the countdown for each corral makes for an exciting atmosphere. Before I knew it, we were crossing the starting line. We stuck together for most of the first 4 miles but Heather and I lost Sissy and Alison at one of the water stations. The race was pretty crowded so it was hard to keep track of everyone, even with the neon shirts!
IMG_2814 Sissy, me and Heather
Heather and I were fast. Just like in Quantico. Something about the two of us just makes us run fast! At one point, I looked down at my Garmin and we were running at an 8:40 pace. Too fast so we dialed it back. This run felt really good. Everything was syncing up and I had a feeling I was on my way to a PR. We started walking some of the hills towards the end but we brought it in strong. The course still sucks (I’m probably not going to run this race, again, next year). The terrain did not change but the cooler weather and Heather’s company made it better than last year. In RNR races, there are bands every couple of miles. For some reason, most of the bands were taking a break when Heather and I ran by so that part was not any fun. The Wear Blue Run to Remember veteran’s group was at mile 10, again, right after the nasty hills through Dorthea Dix. Heather and I teared up a bit, here. I just kept telling the folks who lost loved ones during the wars “thank you” as we ran by and they held American flags over our heads. I have heard that there is a lot more of this during the Marine Corps Marathon. Heather and I acknowledged that there might be some crying during that race.
With the last mile, I could tell Heather had a little more in the tank than me so I told her to run ahead. I kept her in my sights the entire time but ended up finishing about 30 seconds behind her. At first, I thought I had missed my Bull City Race Fest Half Marathon time, which was my prior PR, so I was bummed but still impressed with my time on a challenging course so soon after running Wrightsville and the 17.75K. It was only after I got home and looked at my official time that I realized I had set a new PR! My time was also 20 minutes faster than my very first half marathon! We stayed with Nora to cheer our full marathoners from our training group in to the finish. I love watching people finish a marathon. I could stay until the last person crosses.
IMG_2815 We skipped the lukewarm Michelob Ultra
My race results have been improving recently and I am trying to figure out what I am doing differently so I can keep doing it. Here are the three things I think are working for me right now:
1. Weight training – Heather and I started a pretty serious weight training program. We go to the Y on our lunch break three times per week (great people watching, btw) and lift for 45-60 minutes with some mat core work thrown in. After 8 weeks, I can say it is making a HUGE difference in my running form, which I think is letting me run faster. I am not hurting during races and my glutes hurt AFTER the race – I have finally learned to fire the right muscles to run. I am absolutely keeping this up through marathon training.
2. Eating – I called this “eating” instead of nutrition because I don’t want to imply that it is always healthy. When I first started training for a half marathon, I was doing Weight Watchers hard core. I lost 70 pounds, which is great, but I don’t think I was eating enough of the right stuff to fuel my running. I was living on spinach salads and shunning carbs and healthy fats. I also refused to take in nutrition on long runs, thinking I was torching calories so why add them back. Mistake. I have drastically changed my approach. I have not lost any more weight since I started marathon training (in fact, I’ve gained some but let’s pretend it is muscle) and decided to keep up high mileage after the marathon but I have fueled my running. I eat lots of eggs, avocados, nuts, protein, complex carbs and fruit. I also take in nutrition before and during a race. I have eaten a bagel before the last three races and have run my fastest times, yet! I have an 80/20 rule – I try to eat food I prepared myself with fresh, healthy ingredients 80% of the time and allow myself “cheats” 20% of the time. Most of you know one of my major cheats is nachos or tacos! I’ve never met Mexican food I did not like! Am I 100% happy with my weight? No. I am 100% happy with the progress I see in my running so I’ll take it! You can’t win them all with my crappy metabolism.
3. Weather – it is not hot yet. When it gets hot, it gets ugly. I suspect my times will slow down but I am going to try to remain positive and remind myself that running long distances during the hottest part of the year will make running a fall marathon that much easier when the temperature on race day at the MCM is in the high 50s to low 60s.
I am really happy with my running right now and I am so excited about my busy Spring race season. I run the Tarheel 10 Miler tomorrow, the Not So Normal Half on May 17 and the running leg of the Ironman 70.3 on May 31. MCM training starts on June 13. I’m not doing so many training runs during the week since I have so many races. The marathon training will be tough, at first, when I can’t just decide to bail on a run. I do best when I am diligent so the training plan will be good for me. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying running with the most awesome people I know!
IMG_2811 I found a crafter on Etsy who makes tote bags out of old race bibs for $20. Winning! I absolutely love this!

Over The Hills and Far Away: Marine Corps 17.75K Trail Run

“Many dreams come true and some have silver linings
I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold.

Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing
Many many men can’t see the open road.” – Over the Hills and Far Away, Led Zeppelin

Heather and I ran the Marine Corps 17.75K Trail Run on March 28. I’m a little late with this post but better late than never! In case you are bad at math, like me, 17.75K translates to 11.03 miles. The race was through the Prince William County forrest in a lovely park. The purpose of the race was to earn entry into the Marine Corps Marathon in October. If you cross the finish line, you get an access granted card with a special code to gain entry into the marathon. The 17.75K sold out in 7 minutes but Heather and I were lucky to get entry. Running the Marine Corps Marathon is on my bucket list. This is truly a dream come true!

We headed up to suburban DC on Friday morning and were fortunate enough to be staying at the host hotel for the event, meaning the shuttle buses to the race picked up and dropped off right in front of the hotel. It does not get much better than that! Packet pick up was at a local running store and the race director was there warning all the runners about the potential for bears on the course. Apparently, this race really is in the woods! Have I mentioned yet that I don’t trail run?

We had a great dinner of beer and nachos which has become our standard pre-race meal. I am sure that Meb and Shalane eat nachos and drink beer before every race. This meal is the secret to running squarely in the middle of the pack! We also did some serious shopping at Potomac Mills outlet mall.

10397990_10153275071072147_2211215911678607123_nDinner of Middle-Of-The-Pack runners. It is the secret to our success.

In the days leading up to the race, my allergies were horrible. By the time we got to Woodbridge and checked into the hotel, I sounded like a two pack a day smoker. My voice was raspy, my nose was completely stopped up and I was coughing up a lung. Heather told me if I coughed all night, she would smother me with a pillow. We are good friends but I know she would do it! I took the recommended daily dosage of allergy medication and we went to bed. The NCAA tournament was on but we fell asleep during the Duke game.

As usual, the 5 AM wake up call came too early. We checked the weather, again, and saw that it had not changed. Thirty degrees with 30 mile per hour winds. We obsessed over how many layers to wear. We did not want to get too hot. Ha! We jinxed ourselves with that sentiment. “Hot” was not a word I would utter again until I used it in conjunction with the word “shower” on the bus on the way back to the hotel!

The wind hit us as soon as we exited the hotel and headed over to the bus line. Some people were wearing shorts. They were unhappy. The F word and cold were used in the same sentence a lot. The bus was nice and warm and the ride to the start was quick. The bus let us off in the middle of a field filled with other extremely cold people. The wind whipped through us. Have you figured out yet that I was really, really, really cold? We noticed a little church on the other side of the field where runners were filing in. We flocked to it like lemurs! I was fortunate enough to fall in line behind an extremely tall man who blocked the wind! I told him that I was sorry that we did not know each other but that I was going to stand really close to him – like closer than is socially acceptable. He laughed and was a good sport. We crammed into the vestibule of the church and stood huddled with other runners for about 20 minutes, which was great, until Heather announced that she needed to use the port-a-potty.

The port-a-potty line was in the middle of the field with no shelter. Heather and I stood facing each other with our heads on each other’s shoulders to stay warm. The announcer was counting down the time to the race start and the potty line was not moving. Finally, we made it to the front of the line and ran to the back of the race line! We always line up in the back when there are no corrals, anyway. Better to pass other people than to be passed by hundreds of people in serious runner shorts! The start was crowded and the path in the beginning was pretty narrow. You could only go as fast as the person in front of you and the people in front of us were not moving very fast. It reminded me of the start of the Disney Princess Half Marathon.

Heather and I had no goal in this race other than to finish in the allotted time and earn our entry. Given how crappy I felt and how cold it was, I had no preconceived ideas about our time. There is something about racing, though, that gets the adrenaline going and we started passing people the first chance we had. Heather and I just pace really well together.

This course is notorious for being hilly. After the first two hills, I took my ear buds out and said to Heather “This really is not so bad”. Ha! Jinxed myself, again. At mile 4, there was a hill, the likes of which we don’t even see in Chapel Hill. Hills in Chapel Hill tend to be long with gradual inclines – think Laurel Hill or Columbia up to Franklin. The hill at mile 4 was an incredibly steep incline. It was painful. I run up half of it but had to walk in the middle (yes, I moved to the side of the course). Heather took her ear buds out and said “Jesus, I can hear your breathing over my music. Are you OK?” No, I was not. By now, my stopped up nose was no longer allowing air to move through it and I was breathing cold air into my asthmatic lungs. I was having a hard time catching my breath and I had no inhaler with me. I told her we just needed to keep moving. Runners, ignoring pain and dangerous medical conditions on a regular basis!

I needed to switch to intervals to catch my breath in between running. As is often the case when I run intervals, my running time was much faster and my overall pace was better. It just works for me. All along the course, Marines were out manning the water stations, the medical tents and monitoring the course. They were cheering and encouraging, saying things like “Good job, m’am” or “You’re almost to the next mile marker, m’am”. It was hilarious! I’ve never been called “m’am” by a race volunteer before. There were also signs out on the course with sayings like “Marine Up”, “Is that all you’ve got?” and “OOORah”. It was cool. It was also a beautiful course through the woods and we did not see any bears.

There were two more really awful hills at miles 9 and 10 but we made it up them. I don’t know why but the miles just flew by. This race passed so much faster than any other race I have done. At some point during long races, I often think to myself “Geez, when is this going to be over?” but the miles in this race seemed to fly by. It felt like a 5K despite my labored breathing. Maybe, it was because I could not feel my hands or feet because I was still freezing. Maybe, I was distracted by the Marines (sorry, but some of them were cute). Maybe, I was too busy watching the trail in front of me, making sure I was not going to break my ankle, to notice the miles. At any rate, the flats at mile 10.5 were a welcome sight. We did a little dog leg out and back and, the next thing I knew, we were rounding the corner and sprinting to the finish. People were holding funny signs like “Get your Golden Ticket” and “We don’t need no stinking lottery” referring to the guaranteed entry to the MCM. We crossed the finish and a Marine who was probably young enough to be my son handed me a medal and my access granted card. I looked at the clock and my Garmin and was SHOCKED by my time on a hilly, trail run. I beat my 10K PR and my Tarheel 10 Miler time through the course of the race. I had no intention of running so fast, I just did. I think I can definitively make the statement – I AM GETTING FASTER! I am still slow by other people’s standards but I see some serious improvement in my overall times. This makes me so happy. Not only can I go the distance, I can get faster. Even when I am sick. Of course, the weather is about to warm up, a lot, and I am sure I will be humbled, again, when I can’t run so fast because I am dying from the heat. Runners are rarely happy with the weather!

17418_10206277364072610_851988395945339856_n My golden ticket!

Heather and I were instantly cold, again. All we wanted was to get on the bus and get back to the warm hotel. They handed out these Hazmat looking suits for us to wear instead of mylar blankets. I prefer the mylar because you can fashion a shawl or a cape out of them but we put those Hazmat suits on, including the hoods, because we were so freaking cold. No one cared what they looked like. We just wanted to be warm. We got back to the hotel and I registered for the MCM while Heather was in the shower. I don’t even think I had the access card in my hand for an hour when I was all signed up. I am so excited! The Marines put on a great a race and I can only imagine how much fun the marathon will be. I am so happy that I get to run it with Heather and the women from my regular running crew, who also got into the marathon.

IMG_2936Heather in her Hazmat suit. We also got free bananas.

All in all, this was a great race. If you want to run the MCM, this is a fun way to earn your entry. There is a sense of pride in having earned my way into the marathon with a tough 11 mile trail run, taking me outside my comfort zone. The Marine Corps 17.75K, the only race where your prize is, you get to run 26.2 miles!

11090323_10153276215027147_2697530665303575540_n

On Sunday, I run the Rock N Roll Raleigh Half Marathon and the next Saturday, the Tarheel 10 Miler. I’ve got a busy race season between now and June 1. MCM training starts June 25. Just the way I like it.