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Close to Home

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

I remember receiving all kinds of text messages, phone calls, and facebook messages last year asking if I was in Boston.  Thankfully I was not.  I could not imagine being there during the bombings.  My heart went out to everyone there and continues to go out to everyone it affected, especially those who were physically or emotionally hurt.  I wasn’t there physically, but it still hit close to home.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Yankee as a person from New England.  I am most definitely a Yankee.  I grew up in Monson, Massachusetts (about an hour west of Boston) where I spent the first 22 years of my life.  We had Patriot’s Day (Marathon Monday) off from school and always watched the Boston Marathon on television.  My dream as I became a runner at age 11 was to run it one day.  I have run it five times so far in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2011, and 2014.

After last year’s bombings, I wanted to be part of the 118th running of the Boston Marathon more than ever.  Luckily I had already run a fast enough qualifying time in January 2013 to register and make the cut.  My husband and I decided to make Boston our vacation this year and spent almost a week enjoying the true history of our great nation that can only be found in New England.  Somehow the whole experience, despite it being my fifth time there, seemed more exciting and special than ever before.  Maybe it was the fight, the spirit, and the determination to show that we were one year stronger.  It was literally all around us.

We spent four hours at the expo.  We have never spent so much time at an expo before but there were so many amazing people to meet, including Dick & Rick Hoyt, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher, and one of my favorites “Boston Billy” Bill Rodgers.

Boston Marathon Expo with Deena

 

At the expo with “Boston Billy” Bill Rodgers

 

Team Hoyt

 

The weather was pretty cold for this Yankee who has lived in Florida since 1995, but race day warmed up to a near perfect 60 degrees and sunny.  Everything was pretty much perfect the whole trip.  Even my first half splits were near perfect; sadly, a little too perfect on those down hills.  I did try to hold back and stay relaxed like you need to that first half.  I had a pretty strong emotional moment in the first three or four miles when we ran by a large crowd outside a bar screaming, holding signs, and blaring music.  When I reached half way, I knew my legs were toast and this would not be a good second half.  Despite how annihilated my legs were with 13 miles to go, I never even considered dropping out.  I knew I had to finish and be part of the 36,000 who were there to show that we were one year stronger.  I am a very competitive runner so it was quite the epiphany for me to stop caring about my finish time or mile splits and push through the pain for something so much bigger than myself.

Running down Boylston to the finish

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.  Words cannot adequately describe the feeling you get when you turn left on Boylston and can see the finish line.  You cannot hear your own thoughts.  I almost had tears running that last stretch to the finish.  I am definitely not happy with my finish time, but I was incredibly happy to have finished Boston Strong.  This city, this marathon truly inspired me.

Exhausted in the Public Garden after the finish

A mile or two

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Holding the fence as I squeezed under

Brushing the dirt off each other

Sneakers wet from the morning dew

Stretching, as I listened to you

Explain the morning’s adventure.

A light warm up, a mile or two

Then peel the sweats.

Off I went around the track

At blazing speeds, or so I thought.

Half way ‘round, “speed up!” you’d yell

And sometimes “slow down!”

At workout’s end, you gave results

And always encouraging words

Ending with “a mile or two”

As you walked across the field.

Minutes later we squeezed back under,

Leaving our place until next time

Never thinking that our adventures would end.

If I only knew…

 

1990 WMASS Track One Mile Champion

1990 WMASS Track One Mile Champion

 

My dad was my high school cross country and track coach.  I wrote this in college when I was away from home for the first time in my life, missing my family, and being coached by someone new for the first time.   While my dad does not coach me anymore or run anymore, I feel that the lessons I learned from him as a runner and coach have helped me become a better runner, coach, and person.  I decided to post this poem as a blog entry for Father’s Day weekend as a way of thanking him and remembering those special moments.  I would also like to thank my mom for being the most amazing, patient, and supportive mom, team mom, and volunteer assistant coach ever.  She was there at every meet no matter how far away or how bad the weather.  She would help injured runners out of the woods, take pictures, and be there at the finish never knowing what to expect.  One of the two most memorable races with my mom was a home cross country meet when I was trying out a new insert in my shoe.  The insert bunched up so badly and caused me so much pain that I literally crossed the finish line, pulled off my shoe, and threw it.  Let’s just say I was a little frustrated and uncomfortable!  I did not throw it at my mom, but she jokes that I did…it may have been in her direction since she was waiting for me past the finish line.  The other was my junior year when I ran the mile in track and my mom took me to the WMASS championship when my dad was out of town.  I ran as an individual since my school did not have a track team.  We arrived at the meet and I was headed to the infield to pick up my packet and competition number when the coach from a neighboring school told me I would be disqualified if I went on the infield.  I was so nervous since I had never been to such a big track meet before.  My mom was not about to let another coach intimidate me so she took charge, went to the infield, picked up my packet, and I ended up winning and qualifying for state.

Once I figured out that I wanted to be a running coach, all I have tried to do is be like my parents and do all the amazing things that they did for me.  They kept it fun, always pushed me to be my best, and were supportive, caring, encouraging, strong, and understanding no matter the outcome of each race.

1988 WMASS XC

1988 WMASS XC

1987 WMASS XC

1987 WMASS XC

 

 

The Darlings of the team

The Darlings of the team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncharted

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Back in March The Tornado Alley 50 Miler race director emailed me back to let me know that I could run the entire distance myself and that I did not need a relay team but I would need to provide my own crew and fuel.  Okay, now how do I train for this thing?!?

Talk about uncharted territory!  26.2 miles is the longest I have ever run in a race or a training run.  So I did some research on how to train for ultras.  I took some of the ideas I found along with what I have learned over the years and created a training plan that looked great on paper.  I kept the 3 month training schedule right next to my desk so I would see it daily and stick to it.

Consistency is key.  That’s probably the most important tip I can offer.  And that does not mean the schedule is set in stone.  Definitely listen to your body, take rest days as needed, and revise the schedule to fit your life.  But be consistent.

In March and April I had quite a few races on my calendar so I used those in place of some of the tempo and speed workouts.  I started doing back to back long runs in order to teach my body to run on tired legs.  This worked great for many weeks in this pattern – rest day, long run, long run, rest day and then the remainder of the week filled in with some easy runs, tempo or speed, and maybe a race.  But as the long runs got longer and longer I found that I sometimes I needed two rest days in a row before or after my longer efforts.  Some weeks when I was putting in 4-5 hour training runs (25-31 miles) I could not handle them back to back.  So I made the schedule fit what my body could handle.  I was training in Florida which featured many hot, sunny, and humid training days.

I trained at various times of day so my body could adapt to running at the different times.  I was ready for any sun, heat, or humidity that race day might bring.  I trained using all of my drinks and fuel options so I would know how my body would react to them all.

Once I reached the start of the taper, about three weeks out from race day, I was a little concerned that my longer runs were single day runs with two rest days around them and I was not able to do as many back to back long runs as I had originally planned.  But I have found that over thinking things is pretty typical for taper weeks – too much time on my hands so I start to question everything.

But I headed into race week healthy, well trained, and rested.  I had some of my best sleep the week before the race.  I have never felt so well prepared before.

First ultra

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

So how did I get here?  My husband will confirm statements that I have made in the past about how I have no interest in doing an ultra, that “those people” are crazy, and why would you want to run all day anyway?  That was my former opinion about ultras.  This opinion was formed really knowing nothing about them or the training required to prepare for them.

I guess the progression to “here” (having just signed up for my first ultra) would begin with doing longer training runs for my last few marathons (Boston–April 2011, Space Coast–November 2011, and 5 Points of Life–February 2012).  I had several long runs over 20 miles including a few of 26.2 miles during the past year.   I enjoyed my training for these races and really enjoyed those long runs over 20 miles, especially the 26.2 mile ones!

So good training plus better hydration and fuel during the marathons, yet I still could not break that darn 3:30 barrier.  What is up?  I thought I would rock the 5 Points of Life Marathon because I had figured out I needed Gu and used it in training.  I had done the hill training, the long runs, the GMP runs, tempo, speed, everything!  And I tapered.

That is the beauty and the heartache of the marathon.  You train for months and months and then when the big day arrives you can have a great race or you can walk away disappointed.  I think because it is such a big physical and emotional build up, such a commitment and investment of time and energy that if it does not go perfectly, it can be such a let down.  If you bomb this weekend’s 5K or 10K it’s no big deal.  You can go out and do another one next week or the week after.  But not with the marathon.

So with the disappointment from the last three marathons, I thought maybe I need to get away from the marathon for a while and stop obsessing about breaking 3:30 and do something else.  But what?  Maybe I would try my first ultra this year.  Maybe a nice 50K or something.  Then an opportunity, a race, presented itself and I could not pass it up…

Tornado Alley 50 Miler.

It is a six person relay race (similar to Ragnar or Keys 100) where each person runs three legs of varying distances of 2-6 miles and they pass through relay exchange zones where they find their vans full of teammates and take turns covering the 50 miles.  The course follows the path of the tornado that ripped through Western Massachusettson June 1, 2011.  This event even benefits all the towns affected by the tornado, including my hometown of  Monson, which was hit the hardest.  I had to do this!  But I knew there’s no way I could get five people plus a crew/driver to Massachusetts to do this thing with me.  So I emailed the race director asking if I could run the whole thing myself.

A balmy 46 degrees

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Phil and I were scraping ice off the windshield at 7:45 a.m. so we could leave grandma’s house and head to the 10K in Sturbridge.  I warmed up in a heavy sweatshirt and extra pair of shorts since I forgot to pack sweatpants.  I kept my hands in my pockets for most of it.  I chuckled because I actually considered racing in a tank top today!

On the starting line in my shorts and short sleeve shirt I looked around puzzled at so many “locals” wearing tights, long sleeves, and jackets.  I mean, I’m the one not used to this cold weather.  We are about to start and the race director yelled out instructions since her bullhorn would not work.  She started out saying “it’s a balmy 46 degrees this morning.”  Yikes.  I had a couple flashbacks to the freezing Disney marathon in January.

For the first mile and a half my hands and forearms actually hurt from the cold.  Once I hit two miles I don’t know if they warmed up or went numb, but at least they didn’t hurt anymore.

The 5K and 10K started out together and there was no way to know who was in which race.  The 5K was out and back so once they started turning around I could see who the competition was in the 10K.  There was a pack of four runners, three women and one guy, a little over 100 meters ahead of me.  I thought for sure they would turn around with the 5K runners but they kept going straight ahead for the 10K.  So the competition begins!

I immediately picked up the pace to work towards this pack.  Then they started to spread out a little.  I knew they had gone out too fast.  Within about half to three quarters of a mile, I caught and passed the first two women.  The guy and third female had pulled away a little.  We went up a hilly road which fortunately had some nice big down hills where I was able to make up quite a bit of distance on those two.  By mile three I had passed the female leader and shortly after the guy she had been running with.  Now the field was so spread out I only saw one high school or college aged kid ahead of me so I pressed on to close the gap on him.

I pushed the pace for the last two miles up and down some nice sized hills and caught him with about a half mile to go.  I am fortunate that I am a good down hill runner.  My up hill running is not what it used to be but I still gave it a good effort.  At the top of the last hill, we had a short sprint to the finish line.  I was sprinting all out but unfortunately younger legs prevailed once again.  The young guy was about a step ahead of me at the finish line.  But I was not disappointed since I was the overall female winner and ran sub 43 minutes on a hilly course.  Official time was 42:50.  At the awards ceremony I received an envelope with a $125 gift certificate for a local chiropractor.  I thought that was nice but what am I going to do with that since I am leaving Tuesday.  But I also noticed $40 cash which was sweet so we went into this quaint gift shop across the street where I bought two very cute pairs of earrings and still had enough left for lunch.

There was a fall festival going on in the area so layered up in pants, two long sleeve shirts, and a sweatshirt with hood on, Phil and I checked out the scarecrow judging contest, live music, and beautiful foliage then had some delicious treats and hot chocolate from the local bakery.  We have lots of interesting photos from the race, the fun festivities, and this cute New England town.  And that was just this morning!

Talk about being humbled!

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I hope I do this race and this course justice in my description because I do feel humbled by the whole experience.

When I first found this race online I was so excited about a race at Northfield Mountain.  This is the place where many of my high school cross country races were held.  A place where I experienced great joy and success and also great frustration.  A place where more friends and family than I can count all gathered to watch me run my senior year when I placed second at State.  It is a ski area in the winter and there’s a reservoir with tons of trails for hiking, walking, running, orienteering, and mountain biking during the spring, summer, and fall.

To say it is hilly would be like saying the ocean is a little bit salty.  It is not called Northfield Mountain for nothing.  This race was billed as the USA Track & Field New England Trail/Mountain Championship.  Originally it was to be a 10.3K race but due to the draining of a reservoir and all the truck traffic along that route, the course had to be changed at the last minute (yesterday) to a 5.3 Mile race.  THANK GOODNESS!!!!

Here’s a quick overview of my splits for each mile:  8:36, 10:26, 11:26, 6:36, and 6:25.  That should give you a glimpse of what I am about to tell you.

We started on a hill we ran on in our high school races.  I was conservative, but didn’t want to start out too easy – it was a race after all.  But instead of using any of the trails that flatten out from the high school course, they had us go UP.  We kept going up and up and up.  My legs and lungs were burning and a bunch of people passed me so I glanced down at my Garmin to see only 0.91 miles.  Are you kidding me?  My legs and lungs were burning this badly and we had not even reached the first mile marker.

We were blessed with a couple of short declines and flat sections here and there but mainly the first 2.7 miles were uphill after uphill.  Not just up hills or inclines, mind you.  These hills were so steep that even the speedier runners ahead of me walked up them.  Yes, that’s right; I had to walk at least three times up these steep, tortuous hills.  We were told that there was an unmanned water stop about half way.  I was SO looking forward to water.  But that meant stopping, grabbing a cup, pouring the water, then getting to drink it.  I didn’t want to stop; I just wanted this to be over.  So I skipped the water because I figured it was only 5 miles plus I could see where the down hills started.  I had to get to the downhill! 

Walking up those steep hills almost made me laugh the first time because I thought about all the “hill” training I did the past six weeks on the Green Bridge and Ringling Bridge at home to get ready for this race.  Ha!  Who was I kidding?  Well if I hadn’t run those bridge workouts at all, maybe this race would have been even more punishing for me.  So it was better than nothing I suppose.

So we are more than halfway into the race and have finished the 785 feet of “climb” that the race director emailed us about the day before.  I leaned forward a little and just let gravity take me down the hills.  The last two miles were almost entirely downhill.  And not just a gentle sloping decline.  These were steep trails with rocks, roots, grass, and dried leaves.  They twisted and turned us back towards the finish.  I tried to let go and run them with reckless abandon.  Now I felt like I was back in high school!  No fear.  I was passing quite a few people who passed me on the uphill section.  I was flying by runners who were older and I suppose wiser since they did not want to chance falling or twisting an ankle.  I didn’t catch the whole thing, but one guy I flew by on the downhill said something like “I used to run suicide down hills like that when I was younger.”  For an instant, I thought, “Am I crazy to run them this fast?”  I guess I could have fallen.  Oh well.

I don’t know if I can fully explain how fast I was running down these hills.  I really felt like I was flying.  I did hit one soft spot where my left ankle turned a bit and I thought for sure my legs were going to give out and I was going to eat dirt, hard.  Thankfully I caught myself and was able to keep going.  That would have hurt big time.  I continued on, flying down the hills, maybe a tad slower than earlier once I felt my legs almost give out.  There were two smaller up hill sections towards the end where I was able to use the momentum of the down hills to power about halfway up and then try to maintain to the top.

A quick turn, steep downhill, sharp right, then probably the only real straightaway of the race, led us to the finish line.  I could not sprint to the finish line, I was just happy to be finishing in an upright position at that point.  I exited the finish chute then kind of half smiled at how unbelievably wobbly my legs felt.  I was exhausted but so happy to have finished and not fallen.  I was greeted by my husband and Grandma.  What a great day.  The weather was absolutely perfect too.  Warm in the sun yet cool in the shade.  Very little humidity, if any.  None that I noticed anyway.  We stayed for the awards ceremony because I wanted to applaud those hardcore runners who finished ahead of me.  I was not expecting anything today, especially with the hills and those veteran trail/mountain racers, plus they only went one deep in ten year age groups.

I tried to do a cool down jog but after about 200 meters, I could not jog anymore.  I had to walk the rest.  I honestly could not remember my legs ever feeling as wobbly and spent as they did today.  This has to be the toughest race I have ever run in my life.  And I have run a lot of races.

As I said before, I did some “hill” training back home to get ready for this race so I thought I would be somewhat ready to tackle the mountain.  I clearly had no idea what 785 feet of climb on paper would mean on my legs.  So to say that this race humbled me is an understatement.  I have never felt beaten by a course before.  I have never run a trail/mountain race before.  I guess they have a whole crazy mountain series or something.  I couldn’t imagine. 

Well maybe I could.  If I lived near this type of terrain and could train on it regularly, that would be a different story.  When I lived in New England, I loved hills – training on them and annihilating the competition on them.  But now that I am a flatlander from Florida, I humbly bow to the mountain at Northfield.  You trail/mountain racers are on a whole different level.  And I respect that.

Finishing at Northfield Mountain

 

Northfield Mountain

Age 36 course record or “How to pick your races!”

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Holyoke Elks Reservoir Run

When I first planned this trip back home I only intended to race the USATF New England Trail/Mountain Championship race on Saturday but once I looked at the website for the local running club and saw that I had a shot at the female age 36 course record for their Thursday night cross country races at the reservoir, I had to do it!

I grew up running these 5K cross country races during the summer as part of my summer training.  They were held every Thursday night from late spring to early fall.  My parents and I would go to a few each summer.  The cool thing about these races is how low key they are.  You show up, pay your $4 (yes, that is correct, only four dollars), pin on your laminated number, and head down to the reservoir for the race.  No frills.  Just a weekly race in a beautiful place, no cars or exhaust, no road closures or cones, no goody bags or shirts, no mile markers or split callers, just run on a cinder path around a reservoir, enjoy the beauty and see who you can beat this week or try to beat your time from the last time (since it is the same basic course each week).

Since I was racing on Saturday, my only goal going in was to run fast enough to set the female age 36 course record.  They have a course record for each age male and female.  I turn 37 next month so this was my only chance at it.  Once I started the race, I saw two women ahead of me – one “youngster” who was probably a high school runner or possibly college age way ahead and a woman who was probably over age 40.  I stayed comfortable for the first mile, knowing I was running only what I needed to for the record.  We passed the girl who “won” the first mile shortly after my Garmin buzzed letting me know we reached that first mile.  I closed in on the over 40 woman and just stayed behind her since I was running the pace I needed to.  But once we reached half way, I felt like I was maintaining my pace and she started to slow so I went by her.  Then when I felt the 2 mile buzz on my wrist, I picked it up since I felt good.  So I ended up racing a couple of guys in that last mile.  I looked at the Garmin again and saw we had about a half mile to go.  I leaned into the downhill and took off.

Saw the clock at the finish line in the high 20s and thought how cool it would be to drop that old 22:36 record down to below 21:00.  But my slower pace earlier set me back a little and I didn’t want to kill myself trying (Saturday’s race in the back of my mind).  I did sprint to the finish where I outkicked and out leaned a gentleman at the finish line.  Official time was 21:02 but this was an age graded race so my age graded time was 20:46.  I don’t know how that works, but I will stick with my 21:02 new age 36 female course record.  Oh, and I was the overall female winner.  That was a nice bonus.     :)

Sometimes the best thing you can do is “pick your races” and find a small race, low key race, and who knows what might happen.  I overheard the race director say how tonight’s race was their biggest weekly race ever with around 134 runners.  Very cool.

First run home

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

My husband and I headed back to my hometown to visit family.  Slept in a little today after a very late night of travel.  But a late morning run is no problem when there is no hot sun or humidity!  I knew it would be cooler in New England but this first run was a bit of a shock.  It was a cold, rainy 52 degrees!  I ran 5 miles and don’t think I ever broke a sweat.  [To my fellow Floridians…] Can you believe it???

The first run on a trip home always results in a rush of memories and emotions.  Running by the places I drove or ran by as a teenager, wondering who lives in those familiar houses now, wondering if I will see anyone I know or if anyone will recognize me running down the road.

I only wanted to run 5 miles because I am racing a 5K cross country race tomorrow night plus a 10K mountain race on Saturday.  It was difficult to run by all the familiar streets I ran on during high school and not go explore them.  The most tempting was the Thompson Street hill.  I looked up the hill and the memories rushed back of my cross country team and I running repeats up the long, steep hill with my dad (who was our coach) standing at the top.  Those were some of my favorite workouts.  They were certainly the toughest too!  I can almost remember the sensation of legs and lungs burning when nearing the top.

Thompson Street Hill

I wanted to run through downtown on Main Street, up to the old high school cross country course, up to the cemetery to visit Bepa’s grave, and even way up Brimfield Road (the side of a mountain really) to East Hill Road to run by our old house and Westview Farms Creamery (my first job!).  But I stuck to my easy 5 mile run with the rush of memories and despite the chilly rain it was very satisfying physically.

Emotionally I definitely needed a longer run to process it all.  When running “back home” it’s hard not to think about loved ones who are no longer with us, former teammates, schoolmates, teachers, coaches, and just all the people who knew me as I would run down the street.  When I ran in high school, I felt pretty famous running through our small town because it seemed everybody knew me or knew my parents and knew they had this crazy running daughter.  Even after we moved away, I would come back to town to visit family and run through downtown and still people knew me, waved and honked.  As the years went on, this happened less and less.

On this run I mostly thought about Bepa who passed away last summer on my birthday and how strange it is being back here again and not seeing him.  Each time I go back to my grandparents’ house whether from a run or other outing, part of me expects to see him when I walk in the door.  Man that is hard to get used to.

Also fresh on my mind on this first run home was Michael J. Kane.  He passed away recently from Cancer too.  He was the most amazing man.  When I first met him, Mr. Kane was the Principal of our junior-senior high school.  I thought about all the positive ways he influenced my life and the impact he has had on so many lives since my days here.  I read his obituary online and it is simply inspiring to read about all that he has done for student-athletes in Massachusetts.  One day I hope to leave a fraction of the impact he has on young peoples’ lives.  I think it is the strong, positive influence of people like Michael Kane that have made me want to be the best coach I can be to the high school students I coach.  I know how important that can be during those critical high school years and I think that is why I stick with coaching high school; it is where I feel I can do the most good.

Anyway, running back in my hometown is never just a run anymore.  There’s too much history.  I can’t just run.  It just doesn’t work that way.  But I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way either.  The whole reason we go back home is to reconnect with family and be with the ones we love whether that be physically or emotionally.  And on the run, my mind goes where it needs to go.


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