Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Running Year in Review: 2011

As 2011 comes to a close and I begin to reflect, I can't stop smiling ear to ear. 2011 was a year of PRs and without a doubt, my most successful since I started running.

Certainly, the highlight of 2011 was running in my first ultra in May, the Mind the Ducks 12 Hour. I did some of the most intense training I had ever done in months leading up to the ultra. I was averaging about 20 to 25 miles during the weekdays and 20+ mile long runs on the weekends.

Since most of my long runs were near the marathon distance, I decided to use marathons as part of my training. I figured I might as well have the on course aid/support instead of running solo. To my surprise, I found 5 marathons within the span of 6 weeks that were all very close to me.

So, in late February, I kicked off my "training run" marathons running in my club's annual marathon. Then, in March, I ran in a marathon every weekend. I had a blast running in each event! Some were big cities races, like the National Marathon in DC. Others were small town races (my personal favorite) like the Lower Potomac River Marathon in Piney Point, Maryland.

I'm always amazed with how quickly our bodies adapt to the stresses we introduce to it. Each time I toed the start line, my body felt fresh and ready to take on the distance. That gave me a lot of much needed confidence going into my first ultra. Below were my times from the marathons.

2/20/11 - GW Birthday Marathon - 3:57:41 (PR)
3/06/11 - B&A Trail* Marathon - 4:05:06
3/13/11 - Lower Potomac River Marathon - 4:01:58
3/20/11 - Shamrock Marathon - 3:54:20 (reset PR)
3/26/11 - National Marathon - 3:55:59
*The trail was a paved bike trail.

April was a taper month. No races...just easy training runs in the beautiful spring weather. As the day of my ultra drew closer, there was a mix of excitement and fear. Running into the unknown is scary as much as it is a thrill for me. Having said that, my first ultra was an amazing experience! Over the course of the 12 hours, I covered 59.5 miles! I couldn't believe it! If you would like to read about it, check out my race recap blog: Mind the Ducks 12 Hour.

A month after my ultra, I ran in my first trail marathon. The day before the race, I got to meet one of my running idols, Dean Karnazes! The trail marathon was a very humbling experience for me. I had not trained much on trails leading up to the race, but I figured my road marathon conditioning would be sufficient. Boy was I wrong. The course chewed me up and spit me out (luckily near the finish line!). Trail running is a totally different beast and I learned that the hard way. Following my trail marathon, I toned down my training.

During the mid-summer heat of July, for reasons beyond me, I thought it would be "fun" to run in a 6 hour ultra in Annapolis, MD. I have one word for how that race went: disastrous. 3 hours in, I was 5 pounds under my start weight. The concerned looks I was getting from the medics at the aid tent were not very reassuring for me. While I was still within the tolerances of acceptable weight loss, I was on the verge of being pulled out of the race by the officials. Before I let that happen, I went over to the starters table and voluntarily dropped out. It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one.

As summer turned to fall, I began to focus on my goal of PRing at the Marine Corps Marathon in late October. About a month prior to the MCM, I ran in the Woodrow Wilson Half Marathon, resetting my half marathon PR by almost 2 minutes!

The MCM is a great event and I was excited to run in my "home" marathon. I had a race plan going in and stuck to it. 3 hours 49 minutes and 10 seconds later I crossed the finish line, shaving 5 minutes off my previous PR!

After the MCM, it was off to sunny Southern California in November to try my hands, errr feet, at another trail marathon on Catalina Island. In preparation for this race, I did a lot of trail running out in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (I highly recommend checking that area out if you live nearby). On race day, the running gods had other plans. During the overnight hours, a heavy rain storm hit Catalina Island, flooding most of the course. For safety reasons, the race director changed the course which meant this race became about a 60% road - 40% trail race. It was a shame that I didn't get to run the official race course, but better to change the course then to cancel the race completely.

Over Thanksgiving, I traveled to my hometown of Newburgh, IN and ran in a Turkey Trot 5K. Two good friends of mine joined me, both first time 5Kers. Having the company was nice and it was great to see my friends run in their first 5K!

To cap off my 2011 running season, I ran in a 10K put on by my running club. The race went well and I locked up my last PR of the year, running a 43:52. The real highlight for this race was that I finished in the top ten overall and won my age group! It had been years since my last age group win, so I was pumped!

Looking ahead to 2012, my race calendar is filling up fast! I can't wait to get the new year kicked off!

Happy New Year and Happy Running!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Twitter Road Race

If you're like me, you're always trying to find a way to keep running fresh. You run a different route. You hit the trails instead of the road. You run in the morning instead of the evening. You join a running group. The list goes on and on.

I got to thinking about how it would be fun to combine the camaraderie of road racing with the powers of Twitter...a Twitter road race!

Thanks to everyone's amazing feedback on Twitter, the race is on! Those that are interested in participating can register here. The Inaugural Twitter Road Race is going to be held on Saturday, January 21st. Race distance is a 5K.

So, what do you do on race day? Simple, head out the door and run the race distance! Choose which ever route you want. You get to decide how easy or hard the course is.

When you finish, there will be a form similar to the one you used to register where you can record your finishing time. I will post that form as race day nears. To be classified as an "official" finisher, you MUST submit your time by 11:59 PM Hawaiian Time (to accommodate runners in all time zones) on the day of the race. Also, don't forget to tweet about your run using the hashtag #TwitterRoadRace so everyone can read how you did!

I will post the results within 24 hours.

The goal of this race is to create a new and fun way to connect with all the awesome runners on Twitter. It's a way for us all to run together even though we might live on separate sides of the country...or as I've begun to notice, the world!

I welcome any and all comments/suggestions for this race. Please spread the word to all your followers on Twitter! I'm leaning on you guys to help get this race trending! Don't forget to use #TwitterRoadRace when you tweet!

You guys rock! Can't wait for January 21st! Happy running!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Runs for Dad

I often write about how running has given me the ability to connect with my dad in ways I had never been able to before. However, something I don't write about much is how I lost my dad. I don't speak of his death often because it's something that happened a long time ago. On November 27th, 1997, which happened to be Thanksgiving Day that year, my dad died in a car accident. Since that day, life has never been the same for me, my mom, or my two older brothers and older sister.

Being only 12 at the time, I didn't really know how to handle the whole thing. To me, my dad was invincible. Nothing bad could ever happen to him. So, trying to comprehend that he was gone didn't add didn't make sense.

Following his death, I experienced so many different emotions. Sadness led to confusion. Confusion led to anger. Anger led to denial. Denial led to acceptance. I missed my dad terribly, but rather than talk to anyone about it, I bottled up my emotions. I thought I could work it out on my own.

As I progressed through middle school, high school and onto college, my heart was always heavy. I thought of my dad often. Not having him around was hard to get use to. In fact, I don't think I have ever gotten use to it. Rather, I have learned how to live in his absence.

Eventually, I hit my breaking point. My bottled up emotions were like a ticking time bomb.... and 8 years after my dad passed, it finally went off. I remember calling my mom one night and breaking down. Many times before she had suggested I see a therapist, but I was stubborn and would always reject the idea. However, when I spoke to her that night, I told her it was time for me to see someone.

To my surprise, I found my therapy sessions to be very helpful. I was certainly feeling a lot better, but I could tell something inside still didn't feel right. I still was missing that connection to my dad. Some people say they see signs and swear that it is the deceased speaking to them. I, on the other hand, had never experienced anything like that.

In the spring of 2007, I started running. I didn't start running because I thought it would help me connect with my dad. Instead, I started running because I was horribly out of shape. Once I started running, it didn't take long for me to sign up for my first 5K and after finishing that 5K, I was hooked! I started signing up for every race I could find. 5Ks led to 15Ks, and 15Ks led to my first half marathon.

My first half marathon in the fall of 2007 is a race I will never forget because it's when I had my first "encounter" with my dad. I had just crossed the 6 mile mark and was running under a beautiful canopy of trees. Between the tree branches, I could see the brilliant blue sky. I was taken away by the beauty and in that moment, I truely felt my dad's presence with me. After 10 long years, we were finally reunited and to say the least, it was an awesome feeling. I looked skyward again, smiled, and said, "Hey Dad."

So, here I am now, 4 years later, still running and having the time of my life. I've lost count of the times I've run into my dad (no pun intended) while I'm out running. It doesn't even have to be in race. Sometimes during a training run I feel him running right next to me. Perhaps he's training with me as we prepare for our next race?

My encounters with him usually don't last very long. Most times, only for a couple of minutes. But, during that moment in time, it's an incredible feeling. I never know when he is going to show up, but when he does, he certainly lets me know!

It's hard to express in words how grateful I am to have my dad with me when I'm running. He provides me the strength and courage I need to achieve my goals. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to do something for him to say thank you. Since running is my connection to him, it only made sense to do some special runs for him. I knew I was going to be in my hometown of Newburgh, Indiana for Thanksgiving. So, I decided the first of my two planned "Runs for Dad" would happen then. My second planned run would be on his birthday, December 8th.

Before I speak about my Thanksgiving run, I need to backtrack to November 2010 and the last 365 yards of the New York City Marathon. I was lucky to get into the NYC Marathon on my 2nd attempt using their lottery system. As excited as I was to be running in the NYC Marathon, I did not have a good day on the course. I started out too fast and was bonking by mile 18. Not good. The last 8 miles were extremely slow and painful. As the finish line came into view, I was overcome with the sensation of my dad's presence. It was almost as if he was behind me, pushing me in the back to make sure I got over that finish line.

I'm not quite sure why my encounter with him at the NYC Marathon has stuck with me the most. Perhaps it's because my dad grew up not too far from NYC on Long Island? Whatever the reason, that race holds a special place in my heart.

So, for my run in Indiana, I decided I wanted to run from downtown Newburgh to my dad's headstone in Evansville, IN, a distance of about 17 miles - My route. My starting point in Newburgh was the head of a nature trail that my dad use to take me, my mom and my brothers and sister for nature walks. I remember during one of our nature walks, my dad carved our names into a tree. While I couldn't find that tree, I started as close to where I thought it was. I chose to finish at my dad's headstone because I wanted to give him something, my New York City Marathon finisher's medal. 

It was a great feeling to be able to finally present my dad with this special medal. This medal represents more than crossing the finish line in Central Park. It represents the special bond I have with my dad each time I run. I'm glad it finally has a home.

Upon returning to Washington, I began to look forward to my second run. December 8th, 2011 would of been my dad's 58th birthday. To honor him, I decided I would run 58 kilometers, or 36 miles. As December 8th approached, the weather had me a bit worried. The 7th was a miserably cold and rainy day. Certainly not great running weather. When I went to bed that night, I could still hear the rain falling. However, when I awoke on the 8th, the clouds had parted and all I could see were blue skies.

I rarely use the word perfect, mostly because I think everyone has their own definition of what perfection is. However, December 8th was a perfect day. I headed out the door and began what would be the 2nd longest run of my life.

For this run, I wanted to show my dad some of my favorite places in DC. Our first stop was in historic Old Town Alexandria. Running past all the docked boats in Old Town's waterfront reminded me of the early mornings my dad use to take me to Newburgh's boat landing to watch people launch their boats. I would beg him to buy me a boat each time we went.

My second stop along the way was Reagan National Airport. My dad knew how much I loved planes. Each time he would return home from a business trip, he would give me the peanuts he got on the plane. It would make my day! One Christmas, Dad, errr Santa, got me an international airport playset. We have a family video of me opening it and you should have seen the excitement in my eyes as well as my dad's.

From the airport, we continued up to one of my favorite parts of Washington, Georgetown. Dad and I ran along the towpath of the C&O Canal. From Georgetown, we ran past the historic Watergate complex and the beautiful Kennedy Center.

Next, we ran around Hains Point and then over to Washington's Waterfront. From the Waterfront, we cut over to Pennsylvania Avenue and then up East Capitol Street. Once we reached the Capitol, we had a little over 4 miles to go.

At this point, my leg were pretty shot, but there were a few more places I wanted to show Dad. From the Capitol, we headed down Madison Drive and cut over to Constitution Avenue. There was a certain point along Constitution where we could see the White House on our right and The Monument on our left.

From Constitution Ave, we ran around the backside of the Lincoln Memorial. From the Lincoln Memorial, we headed back towards The Monument and the National Mall. By this time, the sun was low in the west and was casting an amazing array of colors on The Monument and the Capitol's dome. It was an incredible sight!

Running along the gravel path on the National Mall, Dad and I hit the 58K mark. While our journey had ended for the day, our bond will last forever.

Love you Dad.

Our run

One of my favorite pictures of Dad and I