Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Marathon Training Update: Week 18

There's lots going on this week and lots of it's new:

  • It's week 18 of marathon training. Week 18. 18! Only 68 days left until Dopey weekend. The first of three, 20+ mile runs is in just a few weekends- eek!

  • I'm tweeting! Follow me and enjoy the awkwardness of me trying to understand twitter: @sparklyrunner.

  • Matthew and I started a new virtual run series with 10 distances to complete- we've signed up for the first four so far. Each distance is representative of a different "station" from the show Lost. Matt is a big fan (read- slightly obsessed) of the show and I've never seen him more excited over the medals. You can see them here.

  • Speaking of medals, run Disney released the new medals for Princess and Tinkerbell Half Marathon weekends. Now I'm a little sad I won't be adding these to my collection :-(

Princess Half Marathon, 10k, and Glass Slipper Challenge Medals

  • I joined Half Fanatics! This is a group of runners who love the half marathon distance and love to race on back-to-back weekends, days, months, etc. I think the confirmation email sums it up:

  • As of last weekend, I have a new "unofficial" 10k PR- 1:13:56. I say unofficial because I earned this on a course that is not certified and did not use timing chips. I also came in as the last finisher, while wearing a batman shirt and a cape. So while I finished last, I was the fastest at this distance I've ever been; a first for me.

  • This blog's name may be changing! While we all know I'm a princess (ha!), there are some other blogs, shops, and organizations that have the same or similar names. Look for a new url very soon :-)
Happy running!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gettysburg Blue Gray Half Marathon Race Recap & Review

Half marathon #9 is in the books! This past Sunday, I completed the 3rd annual Gettysburg Blue Gray Half Marathon in Gettysburg, PA. My bff Kelly also ran this race and completed her third half marathon- and the second one in just 8 days! She's pretty amazing!

Located at the foot of South Mountain (part of the Blue Ridge Mountains), Gettysburg is the site of the largest land battle fought on US soil and the Battle of Gettysburg was considered to be the turning point of the Civil War. Though the actual course did not transverse any battlefields, it still promised to be a beautiful and unique run especially due to the timing; late October is peak leaf-changing season.

This race pits blue (north) against gray (south) in a civil war themed race. When registering, you could choose to run for the north or the south- each shirt and bib was customized with the color of the side you chose. The top female and male finisher times for each side were added together and whoever had the fastest time, "won" the challenge. All finishers that were on the "winning" side got a special commemorative item.

Everything about this race was low-key. Packet pick-up was a breeze, there was plenty of race day parking, and no lines to get food at the end of the race. Small, local half marathons really allow participants to enjoy the experience- for a low cost. I think I paid $60 for this race and it was absolutely worth it.

This year, packet pick-up was located in a movie theater in a shopping center. This would be the same parking lot for the race the next day. I picked up mine and Kelly's bibs. Mine was blue and her's was gray- we figured by running for opposing sides at least one of us would get the special commemorative item :-)

For shirts, we had a choice of unisex or women's cut long sleeved. On the race's facebook page, they had announced that because the field was more than half women, they would offer women's cut shirts. I picked up a blue and a gray shirt and was out the door in less than 10 minutes. There was merchandise available for purchase but since we'll be in Disney in just 16 days, I figured I'd better wait on buying even more running stuff.

Long sleeved "north" shirt
This race started at 9:00 am. Kelly and I got to the shopping center parking lot around 8:00 am. We ran over to the nearby hotel to use a "real" bathroom before walking the 10 minutes to the start.

After our potty break, we headed over to the starting line- just a few blocks from the parking lot. It was a simple walk but it was pretty chilly, around 40 degrees. Once near the start, we found a sunny spot and tried to keep warm.

Dressed in our gray and blue!
There was a simple bag check and plenty of port-o-potties. Around 8:45 we used the bathroom again, I ate a clif bar, and we lined up. Kelly started towards the front and I moved to the very back of the pack. This was a small race, only about 900 runners, and I didn't want to get trampled by doing my run/walk/run method.

The race started with a gun shot from a civil war-era dressed soldier and we were off! Starting downhill, I ran for the first 3 minutes and then settled into my 1:1 interval.

Around the first mile, there was a lot of separation between the front/middle pack runners and those of us in the back. It felt like I was alone very quickly. I took a picture of all the people behind me at mile two. There were four people behind me. I started to get worried that it was going to be a long, lonely race.

The front and middle of the pack.

All four people behind me.
At this point, I knew that I would stick to my goal pace- 12 minutes per mile- the entire race. If I stuck to this plan, I knew that I'd finish somewhere between 2:36 and 2:45. With this being my second half in eight days (and following weekends of 13, 15, and 17 mile long runs), I did not have any PR hopes. I just wanted to finish this race upright and smiling :-)

Miles 1- 4 seemed to go by very quickly. I chatted with a woman wearing a "half fanatic" shirt for a few minutes in mile 3. This was her 48th half marathon. 48th! Insane and inspirational.

I decided to kick it up a notch from miles 5-9. I knew that I could try to go faster for the middle miles and if I needed to slow down the last few miles, so be it. I was watching my mapmyrun app and my first few miles were a 12:30 pace. As I started running faster during miles 5-9, I watched my pace drop to 12:20, then 12:15, then 12:05, then 11:55. I was ecstatic. I wanted to keep this pace for as long as I could.

It was during these miles that I noticed that I was passing people. Me, the slowest of the slow, was passing people! I'd play a game: I'd find someone running ahead of me and I would give myself a time goal to pass them. For example, I saw this woman in the pink shirt and I gave myself five minutes to catch up and eventually pass her. I have never felt stronger or more confident in a race.

I passed these people!

There were water stations every two miles on this course staffed with local track and cross country teams. They were amazing! An added benefit to running in the back of the pack is that there is more time between runners so the volunteers sometimes are cheering just for you as you may be the only person at the station at that time. We also had our names on our bibs so the volunteers would yell things like "Go Sarah!," "You're doing awesome, Sarah!," "Keep going, Sarah! You're looking great!" It was so freaking cool. Definitely the best volunteers I've EVER seen at a race. At one point, as I was thanking the kids, one of the parents said to me, "Thank YOU for running." Cue the waterworks.

Amazing views :-)
I ran past the 10 mile marker and looked at my time- 1:59! Under 2 hours!! Again, cue the waterworks. At this point, I ate my pack of clif shot bloks and prepared for the last 5k. I knew I could run a 40 minute 5k so I calculated that I could finish in under 2:40 if I really pushed.

Miles 10- 13 were the most challenging of this course- not because of the course, but because I was struggling mentally. Though I had just finished my shot bloks, I was hungry. Like really hungry. I started to get really warm so I took my arm sleeves off and immediately felt better.

Around mile 12 there was a simple out and back- we ran about a tenth of a mile out to a cone and then came right back. This totally messed with me mentally. I hate having to run out and backs like this- it sucks to see everyone in front of you finishing the turn around and continuing the course while you are just entering the out and back. Not cool at mile 12.

After the out and back, it was just a long stretch of road with no mile markers. It felt like it would go on forever. Even though the temperature was nearing the mid-50's, I was getting really warm. There was just one person in front of me, and I was determined to finish in front of her.

Mile 12.5? UGH. But, I did pass the person in front of me :-)
I looked at my app and saw that I was at 2:34. I knew the finish was around here somewhere, I just had no idea where. Cue runner brain. Finally, I made a left hand turn and saw the finish- at the top of a hill that seemed incredibly steep. The last tenth of a mile was all uphill. I felt like I was sprinting but I knew I was barely moving. I had to stop and walk for a few steps, which I NEVER do that close to a finish. Nausea waved over me and I thought I may puke right there in front of all the spectators. I saw Kelly cheering me on and taking pictures and I motioned to her that I might be sick. I was confused, sick, and just ready to be done.

I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch and my app, and then propped myself up against an ambulance and dry heaved. I did not vomit though I absolutely thought I would. A volunteer actually came over to me to hand me my medal because I had gone right past him- I was making a bee line for the ambulance. A few minutes later, I caught my breath, met up with Kelly and went to the bathroom. I felt much better after I cooled down and walked a bit. We grabbed some food (chips, bagels, bananas) and some water and waited to hear the results. Blue won a handsome coffee mug :-)

Winning coffee mug!
Though my finish was awful, I did PR- 2:36:00. Three and a half minutes off my previous time (Frederick Half Marathon in May) and 16 (16!) minutes less than my time last week in Baltimore.  Kelly finished in 2:17- I am so proud of her!

Overall, this race was one of my favorites. Minus the hunger and over-heating, I really had a great time. Though I was by myself this race, it really was enjoyable! I'm actually still in disbelief that I ran all 13.1 miles alone AND ran a personal best! I got in the zone with my music and my pacing goals and the race just flew by.

Great views, amazing volunteers, and quality premiums/medals with a $60 price tag? I'll definitely be back for this one again.

Oh yeah, about passing people- I looked at the results and I finished in front of 60 people. 60 people! When I started there were only four people behind me! I somehow passed 56 people on the course. For most runners, finishing in the last 100 people of a 900 person race isn't much of an accomplishment. But for me, it's simply awesome. I'm proud of my progress and I'm motivated to reach my next goal sometime in 2014- a sub 2:30 half marathon.

What's your next goal? :-)

...Eggs... Are.... Sides....
Directional signs on the course.

Such a pretty course.

I passed her too :-)

First time I've been this close to cows on a course.
Finished and ready for a beer!
Handsome medal!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Recap & Review: Baltimore Running Festival

Being born and raised near Charm City, the Baltimore Running Festival holds a very special place in my heart. This event has something for everyone: kids races, 5k, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay. Last year, I completed leg #1 of the marathon relay (4 legs total) and this past Saturday I decided to tackle the half marathon.

By completing both the Frederick Half (May 2103) and the Baltimore Half in one calendar year, I would also earn the Maryland Double Medal. If you know me at all, then you know I'm motivated by bling. So, adding a second medal by completing the Baltimore half was a no-brainer.

Now, Matthew and I also had 17 miles on the calendar for our Dopey Challenge training for this weekend. Naturally, when presented with the option to complete the 5k (8 am start time) and the half marathon (9:45 am start time) on Saturday, we  jumped at the chance.

Spoiler alert- this race is the best non-Disney race I've ever participated in and I'll be back next year for sure, maybe even to run the full marathon :-)

***This post is long and could have been MUCH longer. If you have specific questions about the race(s), please comment and I'll answer as best I can! :-) ***

The Awesome & Amazing

Expo and Premiums- This expo was incredibly enjoyable. Free parking, well-organized, and lots of vendors including a few of my favorites- Hoka One One, yurbuds, and Charm City Run. We picked up our awesome premiums (see below), got some free under armour shoe laces, walked through the vendors and were on our way in less than 2 hours. Shirt exchange was convenient and well-stocked. The official merchandise was pretty amazing (there will be more available online later!) but I managed to get out of there with only a pair of feetures elite light cushion socks. More on them later.

Short sleeve for the 5k, long sleeve for the half. Also, some pretty cool medals.  
Just a sample of the official merchandise.
Course- I loved this half marathon course. It went through some of Baltimore's most beautiful neighborhoods, Lake Montebello, and culminated in an exciting finish through Camden Yards. Yes, this course in notoriously hilly, but to be honest I did not notice the hills. Maybe it's because I've been running a lot or maybe it's because I have been training on hills but I really liked this course and didn't think it was incredibly hilly. The 5k course was also enjoyable, hilly, and quick! It had the same finish line as the marathon and half-marathon so that was pretty cool to cross the same finish line twice in one day.

Also, there was food provided at the 7.5 mile marker of the half. Not just gels, but actual food- bananas, chips, etc. which was much needed. It's important to note that the half marathon course joins with the marathon course at mile 3 of the half, mile 16 of the full. We were running with the full marathoners for their last 10 miles- so inspiring. Since I'll be running a full in just a few months, it was really motivating to be among people who were so close to completing their goal.

The "M&T Merge Mile." Half marathoners on the left, marathoners on the right.

Running around Lake Montebello.

About .25 miles from the finish line!
Crowd/Volunteers- By far, this race has the best spectators and best volunteers I've ever experienced. The citizens of Baltimore were out in force! There were hundreds of kids giving out high-5's, awesome spectator signs, and some pretty cool costumes. My favorites were a kid dressed as a ninja turtle and a couple of volunteers dressed in 80's clothes- complete with mullets. Then there were the "eye of the tiger" people- dressed in full tiger costumes and playing the Rocky theme song at mile 10. I got a free beer from a grown man dressed as cupid at mile 12 and the salsa dancing couple somewhere near mile 11 cracked me up. Mile 9 featured a ton of gummi bears and a remix of "Good Morning Baltimore" from Hairspray. I've never felt more proud to be a Baltimorean :-)

"Boh knows you're thirsty."
"Stop whining. I'm tired too!"
"You're running better than our government"

"Eye of the Tiger"
Cupid and free beer.
"We're strangers but I'm so proud of you."
Company- My friend Kelly and my boyfriend Matthew both ran this race for time and finished about 35-40 minutes before I did (way to go, speed racers!!). Knowing that I was going to be alone for this race, I had my music and was ready to just cruise along and get my medal. But as luck would have it (and because I'm a ridiculously social runner), I met a new friend around mile 5. I saw a woman with a shirt on that said "Let nothing stop you" on the back. During one of my walk breaks, I walked up next to her to tell her how much I loved her shirt. We chatted for a few minutes and I learned that this was Nikole's first half. She asked me about my walk/run interval and the next thing you know, we were running this race together :-) I can't describe how cool it was to run with someone during their first half. I still like to think of myself as a new runner but I'm starting to realize I may be more of a veteran than I thought: at one point, she asked me "Are you even sweating?!?" Though she couldn't tell, I was struggling a little with this race. I had run about 14 miles this week leading up to the 5k/half so I was running on tired legs. Talking with my new friend Nikole helped distract me from the pain and encouraged me to slow down and enjoy this experience. So, thank you Nikole, and congratulations!

The Not-So-Awesome-&-Amazing

Post-race- After finishing both races, the lines for food were insanely long. I grabbed my medal (from a pile on a table- more volunteers needed to hand out medals!), got a bottle of water, and walked out of the Runners Village to go find my friends. Also, we had to wait in line over in Celebration Village (vendors, bands, food, etc.) to get our Maryland Double medals and again, this was a ridiculously long line. Everything else about this race was so well-organized. Take a page from the run Disney handbook- pre-package the food so it's easy for runners to grab and make bibs for different races/challenges so different medals can be given out at the finish.

New socks- I know better than to try new things out on race day. However, as it was going to be a rainy half and I wanted to wear a thinner pair of socks, I bought a new pair of feetures at the expo.  The result? Blisters. Ugh, at least they aren't TOO bad.

Half marathon start- After finishing the 5k, we had to walk about a quarter of a mile to the start line of the half, including crossing over the marathon course. Now, this is risky in any race to try and cross the course but with this many people, it was dangerous and (I think) rude. I hated having to run across the course to get to the half start. I don't know if it's always like this but I sure hope not.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for the amenities of a large race with the feel of a local race, then you should run Baltimore. There is something for everyone and all runners/walkers are celebrated. Lots of entertainment, colorful locals, great medals/shirts, and excellent organization make this an event you don't want to miss.

"27,000 runners. One heartbeat."

PS- do yourself a favor and check out their facebook page. They are responsive, hilarious, and connected to the running community in a way that makes the race so much more than just one day.

Happy running!

Before the 5k- just a light drizzle! The rain held off until we all finished the half- yay!

Team Sparkle skirts- much love for our Baltimore sports teams!

Done! With the bling to prove it!

Half, MD double, and 5k medal :-)

The perfect running photo: lots of port-a-potties in the background.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Training Tip Tuesday- Experiment!

Most anyone who runs will tell you, "don't try anything new on race day!" Solid advice. I am a firm believer in using your training runs to try out all different kinds of products, fuel, intervals, paces, etc.

These runs are your "practice races." How else will you learn what works for you if you don't try out all types of different things on your training runs? Knowing what works will help tremendously to put your mind at ease at the starting line- you'll know that everything you're wearing won't chafe, you know what you'll need to keep your energy up during the race, and you'll know what to do if something doesn't go according to plan (your phone dies, you have to alter your pace, it's raining, etc.). I've learned so much in the past 14 weeks while training and I hope I'll learn even more in the coming weeks so that my race day(s) will be smooth and worry-free.

Here are a few things I've been trying out over the past few weeks as part of Dopey training:

1:1 Intervals
A few weeks ago, I deviated from my 2:1 interval (2 minutes of running, and 1 minute of walking) and tried the 1:1 interval. Not only did this earn me a PR in a local 5k (check it out here), but it has helped me mentally as I've been steadily increasing the long run distance. Telling yourself you just have to run for 1 minute is glorious and guarantees that I'll run that minute pretty fast because I can't wait to get to the walk break! I will continue to explore other intervals to find out what will work for me on race day.

At the Disneyland Half, I ran into some of my favorite bloggers, Pam and Christine of We Run Disney. They had a contest going on and because I stalk their blog and facebook feed, I knew enough answers to win this awesome prize bag filled with cool runner stuff (including Disney princess tattoos!).
Thanks, Pam and Christine!

In the bag was a water enhancer, watermelon-flavored nuun. I've seen a lot of runners use this but hadn't tried it out yet- they are little tablets that you put in water, similar to alka seltzer. Last week, I filled my new handheld water bottle with water, dropped in a nuun tablet, and took it out for a 5.5 mile walk. While I like the product- it was a little fizzy and kept me hydrated, I did not like the watermelon flavor. I'll definitely be trying out another kind of nuun.

A few weeks ago, I bought my first pair of Hoka One One's (pronounced ho-ka oh-nay oh-nay). What are hokas, you ask? Just the BEST, MOST AWESOME, AMAZING, WONDERFUL shoe I've ever worn, that's all.

These were designed by ultra-marathoners, people who run 50-100 miles at a time, for fun. They are the exact opposite of the "minimalist" trend of shoes. They have a great deal of cushioning and are designed to maximize comfort while you are on your feet for hours and hours.

Hoka One One Bondi B's.

As you can see from the above picture, they are larger than your average running shoe. But, they are not any heavier. In fact, these shoes are incredibly light and easy to run/walk in. They feel like pillows on your feet. I don't feel so much pressure on my feet/knees/ankles when I run and the best part- my recovery is amazing! I can run 15 miles in these shoes, and feel virtually NO PAIN the next day! Hoka One One will be at the Baltimore Running Festival expo this weekend- I'd highly suggest you check them out if you're there.

Pre-run fuel with my new shoes- they don't look too big when you're wearing them!
I also recently bought a pair of Under Armour Compression Shorts (so awesome!) and a ton of Team Sparkle Skirts. Yes, I run around the neighborhood in these skirts. And yes, it is pretty damn cool.

I've got LOTS of costume ideas :-)

I also have started carrying a handheld water bottle that holds 22 ounces of water for my long (10+ miles) runs. I have a hydration belt but the last time I took it out, I ended up taking it off and carrying it for the last few miles- not fun.

So far, the handheld has been working out really, really well. It's not too heavy and it has a space to store my phone, ID, etc. You can see what it looks like here. Also, it's purple :-)

I'll keep you updated on my future experiments during training- I hope you will keep trying and experimenting to find the best race-day plan for you!

Happy running!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Training Tip Tuesday: Honor the Rest Day!

In any training program, for any distance, there will be days scheduled for running, days scheduled for cross-training, and rest days. One of the most neglected areas of training is the easiest- always honor the rest day!

For some runners, the thought of taking a day off seems counterproductive. If you want to be better at something, you should practice every day, right? Well, sort of. When it comes to running, the rest day is extremely important for both your mental and physical health.

Many running injuries stem from overuse. By honoring the rest day, you can give your muscles a chance to repair and recover from the trauma caused by running. Mentally, a break from running can actually help with your motivation and make you more committed to the next run.

For most people, at least one rest day per week is recommended. I usually rest at least 2-3 days per week; especially on weeks with long back-to-back runs.

Here are five tips to honor the rest day(s) and still stay motivated:
  1. Research new running routes. Map My Run features user routes for many cities/towns across the US.
  2. Explore new gear. Running Warehouse has TONS of apparel and accessories. And with free 2-day shipping (and free return shipping!), it's stress-free shopping!
  3. Get inspired! Try following your favorite active companies on facebook/twitter/pinterest/instagram for inspiring running and fitness quotes. I like Runner's World, Sweaty Bands, and Sparkle Athletic.
  4. Investigate a destination race. Pick a place you've always wanted to visit and then look for a race!
  5. Eat ice cream and watch a Disney movie. I'm serious. This is a vital part of training :-)

Happy running- and resting!