Sunday, May 15, 2011

Frederick Running Festival

Spoiler alert: This race was awesome!

OK, now that I got that out of my system, my latest race was the Frederick Running Festival in Frederick, MD.  Big things happened for me personally and with the Challenge in this race, so you should definitely read on.
To be entirely honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from this race for a lot of reasons (I had run a hilly race the week before, it was my third half marathon in less than a month, I'd been injured, all that).  All in all though, I was feeling well rested and good going into the race, but still - it was a wildcard.

Frederick did something really great: they allowed us to pick up our numbers at multiple locations in the DC metro area in the week leading up to the race.  Saved almost two hours of driving - what a great idea!  The one near me was while I was still in Nashville (a sign you are running too many races), but Adam was the hero as usual and grabbed it for me during lunch.
 The race started at 7:30 AM, and we decided to just spend the night at our apartment and head over in the morning, even allowing time for construction traffic if we hit it (which we didn't).  We were at the Fairgrounds, and there wasn't a lot to see but it was a well set up start with easy bag drop off and convenient amenities.  Good start.
Sunrise on the drive over was very pretty.  Though if you know me, you know I'd always prefer to sleep through sunrise...

I got myself safely placed between the 1:45 and 1:50 pace groups, thinking I could start at that pace and gauge how I felt from there. I somehow crossed the first mile at 7:57, so I was a little ahead of target pace (I was hoping to be between 8 and 9 mins/mile).  I slowed it down a bit and the next mile was 8:06, and from there my splits continued to be consistently between 7:50 and 8:03 for the next few miles.  Faster than I expected, but I just felt great.
The rest of the race I just felt better and better, and quickly realized I was on track to get close to my PR.  Here are my theories on why I felt great:
- Adam is a super spectator.  I'm not even kidding.  He literally studies my course map for longer than I do before a race and plans out a way to maximize the times he can see me.  I'm not sure if you've ever watched a half marathon, but it's pretty boring.  As a spectator, you wake up absurdly early, deal with an anxious runner, and then spend 2 hours waiting for them to run by and see them 20-30 seconds if you're lucky.  But being the amazing guy that he is, he comes to every race he can and genuinely seems sad when I go to one without him.  One of the many reasons I love him.  And also why I now always run in pink shorts (in case you were wondering) - so he can pick me out more easily.  In this course, he figured out he could see me three times, which is more than any other race.  So at 1.5, 2.5, and 6.5 miles, I got to hear words of encouragement and see his smiling face.  Made me super happy.
 Loving it!
 - I once again tried drinking small amounts of Gatorade and even had part of a GU packet.  Wasn't really in love with the "espresso lovers" flavor, but it's what I happened to grab from the very friendly volunteer, so I went with it.  Really seems to help me during a race.
 - The course was wonderful.  Nice and flat (except for a pretty rough hill right in the last mile, but that's ok)
 Adam took this picture while going around to try to see me.  Downtown Frederick is very cute.
- The spectators and volunteers made everything so pleasant.  It wasn't as big as some other races, but people came out to cheer us on and there were some funny signs along the way.  And all the water stops were well run and the volunteers were just so nice.  Sometimes, you feel like they're practically throwing the medal at you.  But not here.  Some really polite boy handed it to me and made sure to congratulate me. 
- I knew that at the finish, The Challenge would be halfway done!  I have raced 6 half marathons in just under four months from my first race.  This will allow me a recovery time over the summer (and save me from having to fly to the west coast for a summer race, which is just a cost prohibitive issue at this point.  Races and travel aren't cheap).  I'm actually almost sad to say it's half over, but then I realize that I can keep running as much as I want so I stop being sad.  I love this!
 Almost there!
-Now the best part.  Linda, our contact at NPF, had come all the way from New York to cheer me on at the finish for this race!  Though we've emailed and called each other many times, I'd never actually met her.  And she took the time to come to Frederick MD to come cheer me on, despite the race being the day of her son's SATs.  The thrill of seeing her bright orange "Walk for Psoriasis" tshirt and hearing her cheer for me as I got to the finish line made it even more exciting.  
Doesn't that tell you something about NPF and how dedicated they are?  She took Adam and I out for a delicious IHOP breakfast afterward and we had plenty of time to get to know each other, talk about our plans for the Challenge, all of the many things she does for NPF, and how we can best help support them.  NPF does so much to make sure they understand the people who have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, instead of just looking at it as a disease.  They want to hear how it affects you, and they use that to make a difference.  It's really inspiring.
From a running perspective, this was also a huge milestone for me because I PR'ed.  If you remember, I got my PR at National even though the race overall was tough for me, but it was a good three minutes faster than any other race I've run.  As a result, I'm not going to say breaking 1:45 was ever a goal, but maybe a dream.  I just thought I was still so far away from ever hitting my PR again, no less beating it.  So when I realized I was close, and realized I still felt good, it was on.  I was a little slower in miles 11-12, but ran 12-13 in 7:42 and kicked it to the finish.  I made it!  My final chip time was 1:44:53 (8 min/mile pace exactly).  I did it, and there's no caveats to this PR - it was a great race!  And I even managed to go for a 4.75 mile walk (yes, we took the Garmin) the next day with Adam on a gorgeous DC day.
Thank you to Frederick for putting on such a great race, to everyone who has supported me to get here, and to my mom for inspiring me to do this.  Everyone asks how I do it, but this is really easy compared to the battle she is fighting, and I couldn't be more proud to support her and help others.  I'm also happy to report that we are just under $2,000 in donations now, which means almost $4,000 once matched.  This is SO great!  I'll post more about that later, but THANK YOU!  I actually might be losing sleep because of the Challenge lately - I get so excited thinking of all the things I want to do that I can't help but want to get out of bed and start doing something else.  And meeting Linda from NPF proved why I am so happy to work with them and how great their team is.
 The race shirt and medal are very distinctive from any others so far.  I know the shirts ran small, but mine fits great and I love it.  Good job Frederick Running Festival!

 I can't pick my favorite - the Disney, Frederick, and Country Music medals are all so fun!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

She's gone country - a weekend in Nashville

"And if all you ever really do is the best you can,
Well, you did it man"
Those are lines from Montgomery Gentry's "Something to be Proud of" which they played at the post race concert, and I couldn't help getting chills (not just because the arena was freezing).  I think everyone who was there celebrating a finish to the half or full marathon had given their best, and we all had something to proud of. 
I'm a big country music fan, so I decided to head to Nashville for the Rock n Roll Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon.  I had considered this race back in January and then decided against it, but while I was waiting in line at the Disney Princess expo for my number, someone told me this was one of her favorites so I decided to register.  I was planning to meet Mom and Dad there, but Mom hadn't been feeling great lately so she made the smart choice and stayed home for the weekend. 
Pretending to sing at the Ryman (the original Grand Ole Opry)
Nashville was an awesome race.  The course was pretty hilly and challenging (I heard quite a few unhappy people after the race), but I have never run in a race with so much crowd support!  I was reading signs that were literally making me laugh while running, high fiveing little kids, seeing whole neighborhoods gather to cheer us on, getting offered oranges and was awesome.  Apparently some people were even offering beer on the course but I missed that (and wouldn't have gone for it anyway), but still pretty hilarious.  The city and all its residents were just so welcoming, and they made the hills and miles fly by. 

The race got off to a shaky start.  We had some hotel drama the night before we were leaving, but got last minute reservations to the Gaylord Opryland hotel.  I'm not really sure you can call it a hotel.  It's over 2,000 rooms, with waterfalls, boats, fountains, fountain shows, restaurants, etc INSIDE the hotel.  It was just gorgeous! 
That is inside the hotel
Once we checked in, we headed to the Expo to get my packet.  It was really well run and pretty enjoyable (though my size small tshirt feels like a medium or large, but that's ok).  We went back to our hotel, had Olive Garden for dinner, got to bed early and got ready for Saturday.

The sponsor, Brooks, apparently had a sense of humor.  Love it.
Though our hotel was a little bit outside of downtown Nashville, they had a shuttle you could pay for that would take you straight to the race.  Except the day of, they said they were only selling tickets to runners (not spectators) and my dad couldn't join.  Luckily I was not the only one upset and they decided to allow ticket sales for everyone.  Crisis averted.

Dad and I got over to Centennial Park where the race was starting, and the porta-potty lines were insane.  It took over 30 minutes, which I think made people practically miss the race.  But we had a nice chat with the people around us and actually found out the woman behind was from Virginia Beach.  What a small world!  So the time flew by and we headed over to my corral.
 That may just look like a crowd, but that's a small portion of the porta-potty line.  It was crazy!
I seem to have a way of ending up in Corral 4 every time!  There were about 35 corrals, so I was happy to be decently close to the front and avoid terrible crowds.  The corrals were still packed, but I think the start of the course was wider than the corrals so I never felt like I couldn't run at my own pace.  But let me say, people around me were fast!  I went out pretty conservatively since I'd only done one brief 3 mile run since Dismal Swamp Stomp and the foot adventures.  Once I started running though, I was feeling good!  My foot wasn't perfect, and around mile 3 I started to get some painful twinges that had me nervous.  But they seemed to fade away and it really only hurt when I was pivoting around corners.  
 It's like a game of "Where's Waldo", except with me instead of Waldo.  Hint: I'm behind the guy in the striped shirt.
It was a gorgeous day but a little bit hot, and around mile 7 or so I started to get worried that I was going to hit my infamous "wall" that had appeared in the last two races.  On race day, you should never do anything you haven't done in training - never wear a new outfit, never use anything new, and never eat anything you haven't eaten in training.  Well, I had never tried a sports drink during a run.  I calculated the risks - having an upset stomach from the sports drink, or getting too exhausted from the heat, and decided to give the Cytomax (like Gatorade) a try at the water spot.  Guess what?  I did fine!  I had barely any since I still haven't mastered the running-while-drinking-out-of-a-small-paper-cup routine, but it must have been enough because I was rockin' now.  And I decided to try some GU gel and had no problems again.  It was a risk, but so worth it.  And though I felt like the race never stopped being hilly, they were rolling hills, and I seemed to handle them well.  The constant crowds and cheering got my spirits high and kept my feet going.
This race included about 30,000 of my closest friends
I cruised to the finish feeling great.  Certainly not my best time (1:49:41), but given the difficulty of the course and my foot problems going in, I couldn't be happier.  I saw my dad almost immediately at the finish, and he stayed parallel to me (outside of the runner gated area) as I got my medal, got ice on my foot, and got the plentiful amounts of food and water and Cytomax at the finish.  
Then we went over and they had ice baths for your feet.  Can I just say that this is the greatest idea ever?  Made my feet feel so good!  And we saw Matt, who I hadn't seen until that point in the race. 
The most wonderful ice bath ever, and my traditional call to Mom to tell her that we're one step closer to kicking psoriatic arthritis' butt.
Then we went over to the celebration area and enjoyed our complimentary finisher's beers and music for awhile.  Overall, just a really fun finish to a race.
And the medal?  Fantastic!
We spent the rest of Saturday to Monday enjoying Nashville.  Saw Montgomery Gentry (free concert for finishers), saw lots of great live musicians, walked around the Vanderbilt campus, saw the parks, enjoyed the view by the waterfront, relaxed, and talked.
I wish Mom had been feeling well enough to come to Nashville, but I enjoyed spending some time with Dad.  If you haven't picked up on it by now, both of my parents are just amazing people and I'm so lucky to have them in my life.  
 When you're in Nashville, you have to take stupid tourist pictures like this, right?!
As for the foot?  Well, it's not 100%, but I'd say 95%.  The night before the race, Doctor Dad checked it out and still got me to practically kick him from the pain.  Yet somehow after the race, it was much less painful.  I guess I'm just meant to run!

So far, the races I have expected to be the toughest have been the best and vice versa.  Go figure.  Yay for race #5!
 Don't you think Adam would have looked great if I'd bought this for him?