Monday, May 30, 2016

A Perfect Day for a PR: My Sugarloaf Marathon Race Recap

One of the (very few) downsides of running five marathons in May is that I have managed to get a full 52.4 miles behind on race recaps... yikes!  All running, no writing this month it seems.  As a preview for coming attractions, YES I finished the Vermont City Marathon yesterday, making five marathons for May and six for 2016.  More to follow on that one!  But first, back to the beginning of the month... the Sugarloaf Marathon.

My good friend Hannah lives in Lewiston, Maine, a few hours southeast of Sugarloaf, and agreed to come with me for an adventure and some spectating.  I was psyched to spend some quality time with her and to have some company for the drive up through the winding mountain roads.  Our first stop after arriving in Kingfield was the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort for the expo.  And of course, a spontaneous photo shoot!   

Traditional race number photo - so excited!
If I actually saw a moose on the course, I think I'd pee myself!

I then had the super brilliant idea to go for a short pre-marathon hike... because, why not?!  I had heard there was a waterfall a short way down a trail near the Sugarloaf Golf Resort, and I was determined to find it.  Poor Hannah reflected on how she always seems to get sucked into crazy adventures every time we hang out together, as she made her way down the side of a mountain in her sandals.  Meanwhile I was too enthusiastic for life, enjoying every bit of the beautiful scenery. 

The "I'm going to kill you when I catch up to you" smile!
Although when we got to the bottom of the mountain, it was well worthwhile - there was a small bridge over the waterfall, and a pretty stunning view of the mountains in the distance.  

Loving every wonderful moment of this
Because who doesn't hike in their Oofos before a marathon?!
We were really in the groove with our adventuring, so decided to take a drive to Rangeley, about 45 minutes away, to see Quill Hill - a beautiful mountain vista that we had seen in our guidebook.  We should have known we were in trouble when our phones lost reception about halfway there, ending our only means of navigating and causing us to rely on our memory of the directions and our stellar senses of direction.  Yeah, not so much... We did a LOT of u-turns on bumpy dead-end dirt roads before finally finding the right one.  But we were determined, and our perseverance paid off, because this was the view from the top:

I could have sat at that table gazing at this view forever.

We had a restful night's sleep after an active day of adventuring, and awoke to flashes of lightning closely followed by window-shaking claps of thunder and pounding rain on the street below.  Race day.  Awesome.  I took my sweet time getting ready, trying to put off getting soaked as long as possible, but the waiting was futile.  Time to suck it up!  The incredibly kind owners of our small historic hotel in Kingfield, the Herbert Grand Hotel, had prepared a 4 AM breakfast spread for the runners, complete with hot coffee, hard-boiled eggs and baked goods, which greeted us as we came down the stairs.  Gotta love small-town Maine!  It made the misery of the cold rain just a little bit easier to face.

Layers on my layers pre-race!
The Sugarloaf Marathon is a point-to-point race, starting near a campground in Eustis, traveling through the Carrabassett Valley to the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, and then following Route 27, known as the Maine Scenic Highway, to downtown Kingfield.  Buses to the start left about a half mile from my hotel and took us to Eustis, where we reluctantly disembarked into the downpour.  I have never been so excited to step into a pre-race porta potty than I was that morning, just to find some momentary shelter from the rain.  Luckily, the race director announced that they were keeping several buses at the starting area for runners to reboard and stay dry before the start.  Didn't have to ask me twice - I got a front-row seat!    

So much rain (and my rubber ducky mascot) from the car
I had examined the course's elevation map before the race, knowing that the hills would pose my greatest challenge, so I knew that the first ten miles had some killer "rolling" hills with a net elevation gain, but then after that it was mostly downhill.  My plan was to start conservatively up until mile 10, and then to give it everything I had after that.  Luckily, the rain slowed after the first mile, turning into a light drizzle for the next few miles, and then just a cool, cloudy 55-degree day.  Running perfection.  I took it easy up the "hills" (read, mountains), trying to pace myself and to enjoy the scenery.  And it was seriously beautiful.

Loving myself some mountain pictures!
By mile 10 and the last "hill", I was still feeling strong.  The weather was cool, my legs felt strong, my fueling was right on plan, and I was having a blast.  I decided to pick up my pace on the downhill sections of the course, trying to stay conservative and knowing that I still had 16 miles left to go.  Several members of our running club had family members spectating along the course, and seeing the familiar faces brought a smile to my face and made the miles pass by quickly.  I was surprised when, at mile 20, I still felt relatively fresh.  I have never felt so good in a marathon before.  I decided to push my pace another 30 seconds per mile faster, and started passing runners who had slowed down after the quad-crushing hills.  I kept looking at my watch trying to figure out my estimated finish time, but I was struggling with the calculations (math has never been my strong point!).  I was fairly certain that I was on a PR pace, and decided to just enjoy it as long as  I could.

Downtown Kingfield - the Herbert Hotel and Longfellow Restaurant
Before I knew it, I was passing familiar sights as we entered downtown Kingfield, and I could see the final turn into the finish line.  I saw my friend Hannah in the crowd and smiled for her camera before crossing the finish line.  I was completely in shock after looking at the clock and realizing that I had PR'd by 16 minutes!  And even better, I had SO much fun and I felt terrific!

Totally psyched PR smile!
 I can't say enough about how much I loved every moment of the Sugarloaf Marathon.  Staying in downtown Kingfield was the perfection introduction to small-town Maine, with the friendly owners of the Herbert Hotel who were so accommodating to us crazy runners, and hanging with the locals at the Longfellow Restaurant across the street.  The scenery along the course was absolutely stunning - it made the miles pass quickly, because I was so swept up in the beauty of the mountains and rivers surrounding us.  And the course itself was race perfection - some tougher rolling miles early on while my legs were still fresh, and then a fast 16 miles to end the race, which allowed me to pick up the pace and finish strong.  For me, the Sugarloaf Marathon was a dream race, and I can't wait to return! 

Mission complete!
Linking up with Holly from HoHo Runs and Tricia from MissSippiPiddlin for the Weekly Wrap!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Another MILEstone Achieved: Marathon Maniacs!

Last week, I completed four marathons as part of the New England Challenge in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  If you haven't had a chance to read my race recap, start here.  One of the first things I did upon returning home (after a long nap, a large pizza and a hot bath, of course!)  was to submit my application to the Marathon Maniacs.  

If you haven't heard of this incredible group, the introduction on their website says it all:

  • "Are you addicted to running marathons?"
  • "Do your thoughts switch to the next scheduled race immediately after finishing a marathon?"
  • "Are you signed up for more than once race right now?"
  • "Are your closets and dressers filled with marathon t-shirts?"
  • "Do you have so many marathon medals that you've run out of room on the hook they hang on?"
  • "Do you plan all your vacations around a marathon?"
 "Well if you answered yes to any of these questions, you just may be a Marathon Maniac!"

The group has ten levels, based on just how crazy you are.  Level 1, or Bronze, starts with running 2 marathons within 16 days or 3 marathons within 90 days.  Level 10, Titanium, involves completing 52 marathons in 365 days, 30 marathons in 30 different states in 365 days, or 20 countries in 365 days.  Yikes!  Let's just say that Level 10 is never going to happen for this girl!

I was, however, excited to discover that I qualified immediately for Level 5, Ruthenium, based on having run 3 marathons in 3 days, as well as 3 marathons in 3 different states in 10 days, and 4 marathons in 9 days.  After submitting my application and supporting information, I woke up to quite the exciting email the following morning.  It stated, "Welcome to the Marathon Maniacs Asylum!"

Pretty pumped to be able to post this the next day!

I was even more thrilled when the Marathon Maniacs singlet that I ordered arrived in the mail today.  I couldn't wait to try it on and to take it for a test "run" this afternoon.  My legs felt heavy after the past week's adventures, so I went for an easy two miles just to loosen up and work off some of my pent-up energy.  I am somewhere in between recovery from 26.2 x 4 and tapering for one more marathon this weekend, so this will be a LIGHT running week for me.  In the meantime, I will continue to bask in the glow of my excitement from this latest milestone... my new title as a Marathon Maniac!

Matching headband? Check!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Four Marathons... Six Days... One AMAZING Dream

When my rockstar marathoner friend Gail told me that she had signed up to run five marathons in five days, I thought she was crazy.  How is that even possible?!  When she encouraged me to join her, I thought she must be out of her mind.  No way I could do something like that!  I had never even run two marathons in a month, let alone in a row.  But she had me thinking... 

After a few weeks of turning it over in my mind and going through all the "what if's", I decided to see what I was capable of.  I had already registered for the Sugarloaf Marathon in northern Maine the day before the challenge was scheduled to start, so I decided to add two marathons after that.  Before I knew it, I was signed up for Sugarloaf on Sunday; Portland, Maine on Monday; and Nashua, New Hampshire on Tuesday.  Yikes.

Fast forward to this Sunday, where I had the race of my life at Sugarloaf.  Even though I was trying to hold back to conserve energy for the two marathons to follow, I took 16 minutes off my PR and finished feeling stronger than ever.  I also found myself enjoying every minute of the breathtakingly scenic course.  It was a perfect day.  Stayed tuned for my Sugarloaf Marathon race recap later this week!

After finishing at Sugarloaf, I embarked on the 133 mile, 2.5 hour drive down to Portland for marathon #2.  As I would soon find out, the driving time after a marathon was almost as much of an endurance event as the race itself.  My gas pedal leg and lower back were not impressed by this idea at all!  But on the winding mountain roads through some beautiful countryside, this first drive passed relatively quickly.  That evening, I began what became a nightly ritual of hotel hot tub soaks, foam-rolling, laying out race clothes, and getting breakfast ready for the 3 AM wake-up call.  With back-to-back marathons, it was all about staying organized, and I had packed a different duffel bag for each race, in addition to a suitcase for contingency supplies. - rain gear, first aid supplies and blister treatment, cold weather clothes, and much more.

Preparing for these races was no joke!
It was lucky that I had packed extra race-day clothing options, because when we arrived at the Back Cove in Portland for marathon #2, it was 33 degrees with 25 mph winds.  The shorts, singlet and arm warmers I had planned on were clearly not going to cut it.  I decided to start the race with a fleece-lined tech jacket that I could take off once I warmed up.  It was a nice thought at the time, but it quickly became clear that I was not going to warm up.   The cloud cover was thick and the winds were brutally cold.  Even with my jacket on, I just couldn't get warm.
Even my car's rubber ducky mascot was glad to be inside!
For the first few miles of the race, I felt as good as could be expected.  I could feel the muscle fatigue from the previous day's hills in my quads, but I was settling into a good rhythm.  The course's seven 3.6 mile laps on a dirt path around the bay made for a predictable, flat run.  But then there was the wind.  As the morning wore on, the wind only got stronger, to the point where I literally held onto a fence several times because it felt like I would be swept off my tired legs.  Running into the wind felt like I was on a treadmill - expending a ton of energy, but getting nowhere.  And I was cold.  And miserable.  And everything hurt.  
This is my "not having fun" face!
By mile 11, I had all but talked myself into dropping down to the half marathon.  I was mentally and physically exhausted, and being out there for another several hours felt insurmountable.  It was then that I saw my amazing runner friends at mile 14.  They were a lap ahead of me, and although they looked almost as miserable as I felt, seeing them gave me the mental boost that I desperately needed.  Seeing the familiar faces got me out of my own head.  I pushed myself to refocus, and I started to believe that if I wanted to finish, I had it in me.  And if I wanted to quit, I could do that too.  It was my decision.  

I decided to buckle down and try for one more lap to get to mile 18. I pushed myself to focus on the positives. The bay we were running around was beautiful. The other runners were incredibly supportive. I had some amazing people in my life including my crazy runner friends who inspired me and believed I could do it. And I had already come 34.2 miles over two days at that point. As one of my favorite Tom Brady quotes goes, "we haven't come this far just to come this far."  That quote became my race mantra, and it kept me pushing on.

By mile 18, not only had my mindset changed, but I could feel a physical difference in my body as well. Yes, I was still in pain and tired and cold, but I felt strong and capable. I dug as deep as I could, and finished the last 8 miles at a SLOW pace, but with my head held high. With every step, I felt like I was accomplishing something that I hadn't truly believed I could do.  
One last shuffle across the timing mat!

In the end, for me this race taught me a lot about myself, and about the power I have over my own outcomes. It was all about believing I could.  Yes, I had a lot of physical obstacles in this race - the brutally cold conditions, the strong winds, and a lot of muscle fatigue - but none of those were insurmountable.  It was my mind that was giving up, not my body.  But once I locked it into my head that I was NOT going to quit no matter what it took, my body followed.  I learned that I was a lot stronger than I would have let myself believe.

Car keys in hand... get me the heck outta here!
All too quickly after a much-needed hot shower, a 105 mile drive, and a lot of celebratory pizza with my runner friends, my alarm was going off at 3 AM the next morning.  Marathon #3 was at Mine Falls Park in Nashua, New Hampshire, through some beautiful dirt trails along the Nashua River.  It was a scenic course, and the 50-degree, sunny weather made for ideal conditions.  I was ready for redemption!  

What a difference a day makes!
Unfortunately, although I was mentally in much better shape than the previous day, my body was starting to feel the effects of having run 52 miles in the prior two days.  For the first half of the race, my GI system decided to revolt against yet another marathon, and I threw up every cup of water or gel that I tried to get down.  My legs were equally unhappy with this crazy plan, and I stopped several times to stretch a tight left hamstring and an aching right Achilles.  Three marathons in three days is no joke, let me tell you!

By somewhere around mile 12 though, my body had worked out its issues and realized that yes, we were doing this again... whether it liked it or not!  My legs started loosening up, and my stomach settled down, and I actually started feeling pretty good.  I was amazed that with each passing mile, my body felt stronger and stronger.  I was doing it.  I was accomplishing something that several months earlier (and even the day before) had seemed totally impossible.  I felt on top of the world!

My last two laps of the 5-mile looped course averaged a 9-minute pace - almost a half marathon PR for me, which after three days of marathoning, felt pretty darn good!  For that last half of the race, I ran with a huge grin on my face, knowing that I was reaching my dream with each passing step.  My body was capable of some pretty impressive things.   Who would've thought I had this in me?!

Cheesy grin all day long... check!
It was shortly after finishing that I started wishing that I could keep going.  Dumb, I know.  But I felt SO good.  The feeling of accomplishment and pride was incomparable.  I was having the time of my life with my runner friends, and we were living our dreams together.  It was a perfect day and a near-perfect race, and I felt like I had another one in me.  I had to head home for work the next day, but I decided that I would attempt a fourth marathon two days later on Friday.  It was my runner friends' final marathon of the 5 in 5 challenge, and I was thrilled to not only be there to support them, but to finish my own challenge as well.

So two days later, there I was driving to western Massachusetts for one last overnight stay before the Old Colony Marathon in Westfield.  With newly packed duffel bags and freshly laundered running clothes, I settled into what had become a familiar routine of hot tub, foam-rolling and race-day preparations.  And once again, 3 AM came all too quickly!  But this last morning felt different... gone were the pre-race nerves of the previous three marathons.  Today, I had no expectations for myself.  I was out to have a good time.  We were running our victory lap.

Good-looking Colonials in our matching tanks!
And what a perfect day it was!  This course consisted of 1.8-mile loops around Stanley Park, a beautiful privately-owned garden and arboretum, complete with its own Carillon tower with bells that tolled each hour, a small Japanese garden and teahouse, and even a covered bridge.  The weather was 70-degrees and sunny, and the course was almost entirely flat.  Talk about a dream run!

I started off feeling stronger than I had for any of the previous three races.  Both my legs and my mind knew what was coming, and I was ready.  Positive mindset, locked and loaded!  One of my incredible runner friends was on the course supporting us, and we passed him a total of 16 times as we ran loops around the park.  The power of that kind of encouragement was unbelievable - seeing him each time put a smile on my face and kept me focused on my goal.  The shorter laps also meant that I caught several glimpses of my rockstar runner friend on her 5th race in 5 days.  She looked SO strong, and I knew we were doing it!  

Seeing the bell tower meant I was close to the timing mat and my runner friend!
While Marathon #2 for me was all about mental strength and learning that I had the power over my own outcomes, Marathon #3 was more of a physical challenge - of overcoming the pain and full-body fatigue of 78 miles of running, and proving to myself that my body is capable of hard things.  In turn, Marathon #4 for me was less about what I had inside of me, and more about the incredible people I have around me.  

As part of Colonial Road Runners, my running club in Southeastern Massachusetts, I have been blessed to meet so many incredible runners and friends.  They have pushed me and made me into a faster and stronger runner, and have taught me so much from their years of experience.  But even more, they have welcomed me into their amazing circle and supported me through some tough challenges.  All throughout the week, my close friends and fellow Colonials had sent us their support through text messages and Facebook posts, and reading their words of encouragement and celebration was just the spiritual fuel I needed to keep at it.  That, combined with my runner friend alongside me, and her incredible husband supporting us out on the course, made me feel like I could accomplish anything.  

Literally smiling for 26.2 miles... my face was sore!
Running Marathon #4 for me was not about what I could do alone - it was what I was capable of doing because so many incredible people were there to support me through it.  I realized that without my runner friends' encouragement and belief in my ability to do this long before I believed it myself, I would have never crossed the first starting line.  And without their support throughout the journey, I wouldn't have had the mental and physical strength to persevere.  After 104.8 miles, I came to truly understand that when our bodies and our minds have nothing left to give, it is then that we draw strength from those around us.  That strength is built upon the support and love of those closest to us, who believe in us when we have trouble doing it ourselves.  It's what keeps us going through the tough times, and what makes celebrating the victories all the more special. 
So.  Much.  Love.
A day later and after 104.8 miles, I am left with an infinitely deeper belief in my own abilities to surpass difficult obstacles and to conquer seemingly unreachable goals.  This week allowed me to realize that I am capable of doing some really tough things, and that I am stronger than I ever would have thought.  But even more so, I am left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the love and support of the incredible people I have in my life.  I can't thank my incredible runner friends enough... your passion for this wonderful sport convinced me to embark on this seemingly impossible journey, and your unceasing encouragement saw me through the last finish line with a smile on my face.  We are only as strong as the people we surround ourselves with, and I am truly blessed to be inspired by the very best.  From the bottom of my heart... thank you.

Linking up with Holly from HoHo Runs and Tricia from MissSippiPiddlin for the Weekly Wrap!


Sunday, May 1, 2016

April Showers & Snowstorms... It's a Wrap!

What a dramatic April we have had in New England... 
I started the month running the hilliest 15k I have ever encountered in the pouring rain.  If it wasn't for my running club and being too competitive for my own good, it is doubtful I would have toughed this one out.  But I'm glad I did... one of my fastest runs this season at the Frank Nealon Boston Tuneup.
Just looking at this again makes me cold!

The following day, because my legs weren't quite dead enough, we had a freak snowstorm in the Boston area, and I ran one of the most miserable 5Ks of my life in about 4 inches of snow and windblown hail.  Check out my race recap of this doozy here... The Shovel Town 5K in Easton, MA was a fun, well-run local race, but I would love it if we could avoid the snow next year... 
April in New England.. why oh why...

A few weeks ago, I did another local race - the Raynham Knights of Columbus 5-Miler.  This was a familiar course for me, with a few rolling hills - and luckily it was a beautiful, sun-shiny day.  I ran in a tank top and shorts... what a contrast to the earlier part of the month.  Best part of this race?  The pancake breakfast at the end, duh! 

What a difference a week makes!

And then last weekend, I took a road trip across the mid-Atlantic, from Philadelphia, to Washington DC, to Virginia, to western Maryland, to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, and then back to Philly again... all in a whirlwind three days!  I checked off my 9th state last weekend running the Coastal Delaware Marathon - one of my all-time new favorite marathons.  I had a wonderfully relaxing weekend on the beach, exploring the boardwalk shops and eating my way around Rehoboth Beach.  Check out my race recap here.
Delaware, blue skies and beaches - I miss you!

So what's in store for May?  Four marathons, that's what!  Starting with the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine on May 15th, followed the next day by a marathon in Portland, and the day after by a marathon in New Hampshire.  A few months ago, a good running friend convinced me in a moment of weakness to sign up for the New England Challenge - a week of five consecutive marathons across New England.  Yikes!  And then several friends from my running club were registering for the Vermont City Marathon, which I've always wanted to do... and I haven't run a Vermont marathon yet... so suddenly I was running four May marathons!  

I have no idea what to expect, but I am excited for a month of testing my limits, exploring New England and having a blast with good friends.  No doubt I will finish the month stronger - both mentally and physically - and with some memories to last a lifetime.  Can't wait to see what's in store!

I'm linking up with Holly from Hoho Runs and Tricia from MissSippiPiddlin for the Weekly Wrap.