Sunday, June 5, 2016

Who Would've Thought... Looking Back & Looking Forward

After an incredible month, I am still waiting for someone to pinch me and to realize this was all just a wonderful dream.  Over the past four weeks, I have managed to accomplish goals that I never would have imagined would be possible for me a year ago... or even a month ago.  I've always loved running, starting with cross-country in junior high and completing my first marathon at 18.  But I've always been a mid-to-back of the pack runner and never really had a ton of confidence in my ability to surpass that.  

Then four weeks ago today, I broke my marathon PR by over 16 minutes at the Sugarloaf Marathon, finishing in 4:25:14.  I felt SO strong from the moment I started until I crossed the finish line.  I have never felt more confident in my abilities as a runner, and more importantly, have never had so much fun running 26.2.  

Cheesy grin?  Check!
Beginning with Sugarloaf, I had set a goal to complete three marathons in three days, including two New England Challenge races - the Pine Tree Marathon in Portland, and the Granite State Marathon in Nashua, New Hampshire.  I was slightly terrified about this trio - never having even run two marathons in the same month, let alone three in the same week!   But you know what?  I had the time of my life.  So much so that I added a fourth later that week in western Massachusetts, and then ran the Vermont City Marathon the following week.  

On top of the world after 26.2 x 3!
Looking back, this week of marathons across New England feels somewhat like a dream.  I'm not sure where the endurance, the strength and the determination came from that week, but somehow it all came together.  I crossed the finish line each day with tears in my eyes, feeling like I was capable of anything in that moment, and ready to take on the world.  

Then, flash forward a week after Vermont City.  Based on some overly-optimistic planning, I had registered for two races this weekend - a hilly 10K for my running club's Grand Prix series on Saturday and a local 5K on Sunday.  Once again, I was nervous about running on tired legs on tough courses with some really talented runners.  I resigned myself to taking it easy and just getting it done.

First, Saturday came with the Middleboro YMCA Tispaquin Run.  It was crazy hot and humid, and I could feel the fatigue from Vermont in my legs throughout the hilly course.  I was nervous about the 10K distance, having never quite mastered pacing in between a 5K race pace and the half marathon distance.  So when I finished and realized that I had PR'd my 10K by 8 minutes, finishing in 56:23, I was nothing short of ecstatic. 

And then to cap off these totally unreal 4 weeks, I achieved my third PR today at the McGuiggan's Pub 5K in Whitman.  My finish time was 24:52, for a 7:56/mile pace.  Now, if you had told me a few months ago that I would EVER be running sub-8's, I would have thought you were crazy.  Honestly, even prior to today, looking back at my paces, I wouldn't have thought it was possible.  So when I realized that I had won first in my age group, I was pretty much over the moon.  
Matching trophies with my running buddy - so proud!
Needless to say, the past four weeks have been nothing short of incredible.  This month taught me that I am a heck of a lot tougher and stronger than I would have ever thought.  I have learned that my body is capable of persevering through seemingly impossible challenges, and of continuing to get stronger and faster with each passing week.  I have found that when I put the effort in and start to believe in myself, the results truly follow.

But even more, I am completely overwhelmed with gratitude for my running club.  The Colonial Road Runners has become so much more than a club to me - they have become my support system, my running family, and some of the most amazing friends I could ever ask for.  My running friends inspire me every day to continue pushing forward and setting new, seemingly impossible goals for myself.  I continue to learn every day from the wealth of expertise that this group of incredibly accomplished and experienced runners provides.  I am constantly challenged to push myself to keep up with some seriously fast folks.  And just as importantly, they make running SO much fun.  I have never smiled so much and felt as good as I do when I'm surrounded by these amazing runners.  They have taught me to change my default from "there's no way I could ever do that," to "I'd really like to try that."  They have me setting goals for myself that I am starting to believe I can really accomplish.

Colonials represent at the Middleboro YMCA Tispaquin 10K!
So after these four weeks of living in a running dream-world, I am ready to focus and get back to training again.  I have a challenging race schedule ahead of me this fall, and I am determined to push for another marathon PR in September.  And with the support of some incredible people around me and a bit of new-found confidence in myself, I believe I can do it.  So here goes nothing! 

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!