Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boston Marathon Preview with Ali Mohsen

Ali at the 2013 Boston Marathon start
Hearts will be worn on all the runner's sleeves Monday at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. But, this race will also be a day to celebrate our sport and show that terrorism will not scare us away from our passion. For my friend Ali, this is her chance to put the 2013 race behind her. Last year, Ali crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with her two friends 30 minutes before the bombings occurred. What was a joyous occasion quickly turned into a nightmare for her. Ali's Boston story is captured in a recently published book, If Not for a Perfect Stranger. Her story can be viewed here and I highly encourage you to read it before you read my interview with her. To Ali and all the other runners running on Monday, have a great race! I'll be thinking of you all! BOSTON STRONG!

Q: First and foremost, how has your training gone?
Ali Mohsen: Training has gone great!! I was not expecting to be training for this race, and was a little nervous to start training again with everything going on in my life. I got a new job in December, got married in March, and was still in the process of settling into a new home. Out of all of those things, training for Boston has been the easiest. Running is something I know and love. And it is the thing that really kept me sane the last few months while everything else was so crazy! In fact, the morning of my wedding I knew exactly what I needed to chill out – an easy run by myself :) 
Q: You were invited by the Boston Marathon race committee to come back and run in 2014. How did that come about?
AM: As of November 3rd 2013, I had not qualified for the 2014 race. When I did qualify at the NYC Marathon last fall, Boston was already closed to entrants. I was sad I would not be there, but accepted the fact that I would have to watch the race from afar and would be there to run again in 2015.
A couple weeks after NYC, I saw on the Boston Marathon Facebook page that they would be accepting a few entrants based on essays they submitted. The essay had to be based off experiences from the 2013 race and why you should be accepted to run again in 2014. As soon as I read this post, I wrote my essay. I think it took me 10 minutes to write, and within an hour I had submitted it to the BAA. I told myself that if I was accepted, I would not turn it down. I also told myself I would not be upset if my essay wasn't picked. 

The first week of December, I received the email that I was ACCEPTED into the race. I let out a high pitched squeal in Panera Bread and immediately called my husband to tell him the news. He was excited for me, and knew that this is something I really needed to move on from my 2013 experience.

If you want to read the essay, it is posted on this blog post. 

Q: What does it mean to be able to run Boston again this year?

AM: I am so excited to run this race again. And I am honored to be back. I know it will be extremely emotional, but it will be so good for our running community to experience this race together. This race will be dedicated to all of those affected last year, and I will be paying tribute to them with every step I take on that course. 
We will all run as ONE on marathon Monday and we will all heal together. We are stronger than ever before, and on April 21, 2014 we will prove that.

I cannot freaking wait. 

Q: Any goals on race day?

AM: No big goals for this race. I want to have fun and enjoy the experience. My training has been good, but not PR good. I would be absolutely thrilled with anything under 3:40. I will be running alone this year, and plan to focus on the experience and soak it all in. I will also be using my GoPro to capture moments so I can put together a video after the race and give people a feel of how awesome this race really is. 
Q: Do you plan to reunite with the 'Perfect Strangers' you met last year?
AM: As of right now, I do not have plans to reunite. I sent both of them emails today letting them know once again that I appreciated them so much and would be thinking about them when I am back in Boston. I wish nothing but the best for the people that took care of us when we needed it most. They are my Boston heroes!!!

Ali and her friends lay at the Boston Marathon finish line the night before the race

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Race Recap: Trap Pond 50K

One word to describe this race, unexpected. But, unexpected in a good way. I stumbled across this race only a few weeks ago and found out it would mesh well with my 100 mile training. I love to use races as training runs when I can. Makes training more fun, especially when your long runs climb over the marathon distance.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love, LOVE, small race venues. I think they really target the roots of running. I grabbed my bib and was informed by the race director to head towards a pedestrian bridge to find the start line. I jogged over to where I saw a small group of runners. I saw a sheet of paper tacked to a trail post that said "50K Start" so I figured I was in the right place. 

The course, a 4.5 mile loop in Trap Pond State Park in lower Delaware, was mostly a crushed rock/sand surface. To complete the 50K, we would circle the loop 7 times. With only 13 runners (including myself), this was the smallest race I've ever participated in. There was also a marathon and half marathon going on concurrently, so the trails weren't too empty during the run. 

A simple countdown from three and we were on our way. One runner (and eventual winner) bolted off ahead the rest of us. I settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the scenery around me. The majority of the loop weaved around tall, beautiful pines. When I looked off the trail in any direction, my eyes got lost in the maze of pine trunks. Pine needles covered the forest floor and trail. With the sun just rising, it made for some awesome nature eye candy.

Sunrise at the start
After the first and second loops, I was in 5th place. However, I knew that the 4th and 3rd place runners weren't too far ahead as I would see them from time to time on the longer straights of the trail. Seeing them made me run a little harder then I had planned to, but I the idea of being able to run 3rd in a race was too enticing. So what if it was only a field of 13 runners? I had never run in 3rd place, let alone finish a race in 3rd, and I wanted it!

Goose chillin' on the side of the course
By the middle of the third lap (mile 12 or so), I caught up to the 3rd place runner. A quick thought crossed my mind to just settle in behind him and run his pace for awhile. But, I wanted 3rd, so I took it. Once I passed him I put in some harder miles to create a gap between the two of us. I quickly found myself in a position I'm not use to. I was 3rd in a race! It was a pretty cool feeling!

Loops four and five went pretty well for me. I was able to hold my pace, but my stomach was starting to bug me. For early April, it was pretty warm and I was sucking down extra fluids. Unfortunately, I think I over compensated on the fluids and as a result, was having hard time eating solid foods.

When I headed out for loop six, I was starting to feel pretty nauseous. The only calories I was able to take in for the remainder of the race was the Gatorade and soda at the aid stations. I was still able to maintain a pretty decent pace, but I was starting to suffer. When I set out on my last loop, I was running painfully slow. I was still in 3rd, but certain I was gonna get caught soon. Sure enough, 2.5 miles from the finish, the 4th place runner blew past me and all I could do was watch. I had nothing left in me to fight back.

The last two miles were pretty rough. The hard pace I had run earlier, the heat, and the lack calories all caught up to me. Needless to say, I was very happy when I reached the finish line. While I was disappointed that I missed out on finishing 3rd, a new PR helped cheer me up! 4:40:52! I had left everything I had on the course, so in the end, I was happy. My thanks to the race team that set up this event. Even though it was tiny, the support was great. I had a lot of fun!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bad Training Run?

For every five good training runs, I have one bad one. What do I quantify as a bad training run, you ask? One where as soon as I head out the door, I feel flat. One where as soon as I start, I wanna stop. One where I question how the heck I'm going to achieve my goals when a 5 mile run feels like a 20 miler. One where I bitch and moan the whole time in my head (or out loud) and want to chuck my running shoes in the trash when I get home. Basically, what I'm saying is that we all have bad training runs from time to time.

However, there is good news. There is a way to turn a bad training run into a positive experience. There is a way to harness that bad feeling and use it to your advantage. How? I think we can all agree that we've run a race that hasn't gone quite to plan. We hit a wall. Our legs get heavy. We get a wicked side stitch. The list goes on and on....

When you're in the midst of training run that isn't going so well, use it as practice to understand what it feels like to run when you aren't at your optimum. In essence, train your brain (and body) how to run when you aren't feeling your best. As we all know, the mental aspects of running far outweigh the physical side. If we DNF a race or cut a training run short, it's likely because we allowed our brains to win the battle. However, if you rewire your brain during a bad training run and prove to that powerful mass of mush up there that YOU CAN run through the lows, you might just surprise yourself. And, proving the mind wrong has a very powerful impact.

It is only after we prove to our minds that we can overcome all the reasons why it is telling us to STOP that we discover what we are capable of. I believe that proving our minds wrong is the only way we excel as runners. When we first started running, we thought running a mile was far. But, once we realized we could run a mile, we began to wonder if we could go further? So, we tried for two, then three, four, and before we knew it, we were crossing the finish line of our first marathon. How the heck were we able to do that? Simple, we proved all the doubts in our mind wrong.

So, the next time you're having a bad training run, turn it into a positive experience. Learn from it. The result? The next time you're feeling bad you can tell yourself, "I've been here before. I've felt this way before. I know I can get through this."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Race Recap: Cherry Blossom 10 Mile

I must first start this post by thanking the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile race committee for selecting me as one of their social media runners. I had a lot of fun over these last few months and it was a tremendous honor to represent this event. To see and learn the amount of time, effort and logistics that go in to making this race possible was very eye opening. So, to everyone on the CUCB race committee, thank you for all you do. It is much appreciated!

The race weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon when the expo opened. I headed over after I got off of work and met up with Molly, who manages all of the CUCB social media accounts. We walked around the expo floor and chatted with some of the exhibitors. The expo was held at the National Building Museum and out of all the race expos I've attended, it is definitely the most unique venue.

Saturday, I spent of most of my day at the expo again, but the real highlight was attending the pre race VIP dinner. Many of the elite athletes were in attendance. Dinner was preceded by an open bar reception. I have no qualms about consuming adult beverages the night before a race and helped myself to a couple delicious beers.

During dinner, a short video played that showed clips from previous Cherry Blossom runs. Following the video, Phil Stewart (the race director) delivered a short speech. Also, a check was presented to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals in the amount of $487,000! Over the course of the Children's Miracle Network Hospital's involvement with CUCB, 6 million dollars has been raised. Amazing! The evening wrapped up around 8:30 as the many athletes and race committee members in attendance needed to grab some much needed shuteye before the big day. I guess I needed to go to bed, too.

Pre Race Dinner
Social Media Team with US Elite Runner Tyler McCandless
After the horrible weather we had the weekend prior, the weather gods were on our side on race day. There was not a cloud in the sky as the sun rose over the start of the 42nd running of the CUCB 10 Mile. A friend and I took advantage of the free bike valet service provided by Two Wheel Valet and rode our bikes to the start. After catching up with Molly and some of my friends, I checked my bag and headed to my corral.

Hanging with friends before the start
My race goal was to PR. My previous 10 mile PR was set in 2012 at CUCB where I ran a 1:17:14. As a secondary goal, I was hoping to run a sub-1:15. I knew that if I could maintain a 7:30 pace, it was possible. My tempo runs leading up to race made me confident that I'd be able to run that pace. The race started without a hitch, but as with any race where you have thousands of runners around you, it was hard to find a clear running path the first couple of miles.

I tried not to stress too much about my pace and clicked off my first mile in 7:42. Once we reached the Memorial Bridge, I took advantage of the clear sidewalks to avoid the larger crowd of runners on the road. I was able to extend my stride and settle into a nice rhythm. I ended up running mile 2 in 7:16. Thinking that was a little too ambitious of a pace that early on, I tried to slow it back down, but my legs weren't having any of it.

By mile 4, the congestion on the course had improved greatly and my pace snuck down to around 7:10. In the back on my head I was wondering when I was gonna bonk. I knew I was going faster than I needed to, but this was the pace my legs wanted, so I didn't fight it.

Miles 6 through 9 is a part of the course many runners don't like, but I don't mind it. I think the loop around Hains Point is gorgeous and it's something I run (and bike) quite frequently while training. After rounding the tip of Hains Point, I decided to empty out whatever I had left in me and really push it to the finish. I ran mile 9 in 7:02. One mile to go!

Mile 10 was a blast as the crowd lining the streets started to pick up. For sure, their cheers helped turn my legs faster. Once the finish line came into view, I was in an all out sprint! Crossing the line I looked down at my watch and to my surprise I had beat my previous PR by almost 5 minutes! 1:12:35. I had also run my last mile in 6:48! I was beyond thrilled.

Finish Line
The entire CUCB race weekend was a total blast. To cap it off with a new PR was icing on the cake. Thanks again to the CUCB race committee for everything. This race is something I won't forget for a long time!

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