Race Recap–Two Rivers Marathon Festival

Got some coffee? Get some coffee. Or tea. Or whatever you like to drink. Settle in. It’s story time…

So ultra training means multiple 20+ mile runs. Coach told me early in the year that if I wanted to work in some races for my longer runs to make it more interesting, let her know. So, loving the bling as I do, I went in search of spring marathons–and found the Two Rivers Marathon Festival, which offers 4 distances (5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon) on both Saturday and Sunday. Medals offered for all distances. I can get a medal for my recovery run too? Sold. Signed up for the marathon on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.

In addition to offering all four distances on both days, the race has nice shirts, offers jackets for people who complete races (any combination of distances) both days, jackets for people who complete two marathons or two half marathons over the course of the weekend, there are special shirts for those who BQ on the course (lots of downhill to flat…high percentage of BQs). And the medals are huge! There is an animal “mascot”/logo each year and participants are polled for what animal they would like to see, and then the winner is incorporated into the medal and shirt/jacket logos for the year. Amazing swag. Really love it.

Race Swag–shirt, medal, jacket for doing two events.

So I sign up, and then realizing I’m going away for the entire weekend, ask if anyone in my circle wants to come with and run a couple of races. Naomi took the bait (hahaha)–she was looking for a half marathon anyway, and hey she also needed recovery miles on Sunday. Half marathon and 10k it is. We started planning our trip–found a hotel that met our criteria (fridge/microwave in room and hot tub) about an hours drive from the race and booked it. The race director sent multiple emails over the month or so before the race to update on details–shirts and jackets are in! Medals are in! Weather for race weekend looks great!–it was neat to have that kind of genuine and excited communication from the RD. We packed up our stuff, and headed out on Friday for packet pickup. Little did we realize (though perhaps we should have) that we were headed for Deliverance.

Two Rivers takes place across the state, in a little town called Lackawaxen, PA. Upon arrival we learned there is no cell reception there (thank goodness the GPS lasted long enough to get us there, and we remembered enough to get out). We parked at a scary looking general store (complete with “Deplorables Welcome” and “cashier is armed” signs on the door) and walked across the street to the park to get our bibs and swag for the weekend. Packet pickup was unremarkable if slightly disorganized, but hey, it’s a small low-key race, there were two people there (one doing bibs, one handling the rest of the shirts/jackets) and it’s not like there was a mob of people picking up. We helped the guy find our jackets and moved on with our lives.

Got to the hotel, checked-in, unloaded and found food, which was easy–we were staying about an hour away from the race itself. While I didn’t love having an extra hour of driving on either side of the race, given the area the race was in, I’m glad we opted to stay further out. It was worth it to have the luxuries of civilization–multiple restaurants around the hotel which made eating easier, Walmart and Target for items you might have forgotten, gas nearby for refueling, cell phone reception, etc. The extra drive was well worth having needs easily met. We came back and prepared for the Saturday events.

So Saturday morning, we’re up and at ’em early. Chilly to start, but predicted to be in the 60s by the time I’m done, so I roll sleeveless (with arm warmers) and capris. We drive the hour to the finish, and get on a bus to the start. The first half of the course (well, the first 11 miles) is beautiful rolling hills through a wooded setting along the rivers. It was really pretty. Saturday’s event is larger, so there are pacers for the full marathon (and therefore for the first 11ish miles of the half). Aid stations every two miles–they only offer water and gatorade, but on Saturday they will put anything you want at any of the aid stations for you. I kept my nutrition with me so I could be sure to have it when I needed it. The course was pretty straightforward, but well marked with consistent reliable mile markers and the few turns were called out with signs and markings on the ground. The second half of the course is out and back along the river, but much more flat, which anyone who knows me knows I struggle with. It’s totally a mental thing–I love the challenge of hills, I’m a solid hill runner, and a good downhill runner. I know how to use them to my advantage. Flats feel endless to me. I really struggled with the back half of the course. It got a little lonely since it’s a small field, though the other runners and aid station volunteers were encouraging. I still felt great physically, but mentally I struggled on the flats and it was difficult to keep myself from walking too much. That said…I stayed ahead of the 5:30 pacer until around mile 20. And I managed to pull myself together to eek out an almost 5 minute PR for my marathon time. Official time was 5:38:59.

Pre-race on Saturday

Due to having a significant amount of elevation loss and the flat finish this course is touted for having a high percentage of Boston Qualifiers. I wasn’t last, but I was towards the back of the pack. Everything was still up for me. Some aid stations were running out of cups, but race officials did everything they could to rectify that as quickly as possible once they learned of the issue. The finish line area didn’t have much in the way of refreshments, but had a food truck that runners could get a free item from. The other notable thing about the course is that it is not closed–you are out there with cars. Most were very respectful of the runners, so I didn’t have a huge issue with this. The series also touts generous time limits–none. They’ll wait for the last runner to come in. I was really impressed with this little race series. We didn’t stick around long after on Saturday, I was ready to go shower and get food, so we headed back to the hotel and did just that. Got pizza, and enjoyed relaxing in the hot tub for a bit. Then prepped for Sunday’s fun.

Crossing the finish line on Saturday.

Sunday morning was a repeat of Saturday, except we also had to be completely out of the hotel when we left in the AM. Scrambled a little getting out, but still got to the finish to catch my bus. Naomi’s race started near the finish on Sunday so I was flying solo. I could tell that I raced on Saturday–I was sore. Which actually really made me happy. I know I could’ve pushed harder on the flat stretch, but the ache told me that I did push and I could be satisfied with that. I got to run the “fun” part of the course again for day 2. Much, much smaller field than Saturday, but still good. It was cooler on Sunday, it rained most of the race (at least for me). Despite racing a marathon the day before, I was cruising on the hills again, but I let myself walk some when I needed it–this was my “recovery” run, after all. Aid stations same as Saturday, though there were not necessarily volunteers at each. There were cups and liquids though, which was all I needed. Mile markers and course markings same as Saturday. Talked to some people out on the course that I’d been leap-frogging with for most of the race. It was a really pleasant experience, and I came in with a respectable time–2:37:23.

When I finished on Saturday I said I wouldn’t come back to double. The flat stretch got to me too much, but that the flat stretch was the only thing I didn’t like. I’ve since come to decide that I just need to work on my mental game so I’m not psyched out by flats. Probably won’t go back next year, but I will most likely go back and get a double marathon at some point, because I really enjoyed this little race series in the middle of nowhere, PA. The RD is in contact frequently. There are free race photos that will be available later this week. He was personally at the race and hands on talking to people all weekend, and is really open to suggestions on how they can improve the experience for runners. I highly recommend this little race festival–beautiful scenic course, great swag, and they are really great to the runners.

More soon, friends.

Marathon Training: Week 5

This week was interesting. I was traveling for work, so I was out of my routine–which is both good and bad. I didn’t stick to my training plan, I didn’t run or work out nearly as much as I should’ve. I had a really good solid 5k on the treadmill one day, and I stepped out of my comfort zone and met up with someone from the local running club in Milwaukee for a morning run while I was out there. Again, a nice solid run, I’m proud of it for a million reasons. But that said, returning to reality has been rough. I’ve been tired and trying to get everything together for my return to my real job. Being lax with my training and eating–not just for the past week, but really over the past month–has caught up to me, though and it’s time to buckle down and get serious if I want to reach my goals for this fall marathon.

I’ve debated this long and hard, but I’ve finally decided I’m going to do a modified round of Insanity for at least the next month until our vacation, which will mean twice a day workouts most days (1 day completely off in any given week) but the first part of the program the workouts are all 30-40 minutes essentially so that’s easy enough to work into my days. If I find it interferes with running too much, I’ll re-work my schedule and cut days out and what not, but I feel like I need to at least give this a try.

I also need to reign in my food. I’ve read Matt Fitzgerald’s The Endurance Diet and I like the focus on quality over calories–if you’re eating consciously to fuel your activity and choosing high quality foods you can be less beholden to hard and fast macro or calorie counts. I like this concept, it makes sense to me, though I’m also skeptical–but I got the Diet Quality Score app and we’re gonna give this a go. I’ve prepped a bunch of food for this week to keep myself on the straight and narrow. Now I just need to stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize.

Happy Monday, friends.

Marathon Training: Week 4

This was a week, let me tell you. Slightly less stressful but HOT. Rested on Monday since I raced on Sunday. Tuesday I blew off my cross-training workout in favor of an impromptu date night with my husband. Wednesday I did my now usual group run with the SCRR East Enders, though only 2 of us showed up and I cut it short because it was HOT and I was completely drained. Thursday was the second SCRR Flash 5k (though it was my first) and I didn’t get the time that I wanted, but it was a great event and I had a fantastic time. A Flash 5k is kind of like Flash Mob for runners–date and time are publicized ahead, but location isn’t released until that day. You show up, you run. No charge, no frills, just a mass of people running a 5k. And this particular one had a couple of local food trucks, so I snagged some dinner before I headed home. Shout out to The Coop Pgh for the AMAZING Chicken & Waffles…seriously hit the spot and they were incredible. Friday was cross training and a warm up mile at Pittsburgh Kettlebell and Performance. Great class, decent mile. Got it done. Saturday I needed to log 10 miles for my long run, so I headed out to Annie’s Run–a local 6 hour trail event fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation put on by a member of my running club. Didn’t do the full 6 hours, just the 10 miles I needed to get in. Another great no frills event, with excellent food at the aid station. I’m not a trail girl, but I’d do it again.

Sunday I spent recovering and preparing for my work trip this week. I’m on a plane for Milwaukee at the butt crack of dawn on Monday morning and not coming back until Friday evening. Did some finagling to figure out runs while I’m out there, and hopefully I can hook up with their local running club for a run or two-we’ll see. More later.

Happy Monday, Friends.

Marathon Training: Week 2

Didn’t post on Friday but man do I have a lot to talk about today…

Wednesday I did a group run with the SCRR East End group (unofficial) and it was great and EXACTLY what I needed to get me out of the slump I’d been in. I ran 4 straight miles at a decent pace–slower than I’d like, but  considering the temps and time of day I was happy with it. Hung out with the group to BS and have a beer after and it was a much needed release. After that run my perspective started to shift.

My confidence had been lacking for the better part of June. I’d been feeling really good about myself since our vacation in April, but suddenly the magic started to wear off out of nowhere. Runs were lacking and just started feeling lousy about myself. There is a direct correlation in my life between how I feel about my training and athletic abilities and how I feel about my aesthetics–when I feel like my body won’t or can’t do what I want I get hyper critical of the way it looks. Looking ahead at marathon training was also intimidating me, and honestly kind of bumming me out because of all the races I’m turning down for the sake of building mileage. But after Wednesday, when I (admittedly) forced myself through that run, and proved that I CAN do it (which I had started to question) I felt a lot better about myself and I started viewing myself differently–I *felt* like an athlete again.  I can do hard things and I can persevere when I want to give up. I felt renewed confidence in my body and it’s abilities.

So Saturday I set out for my “long” run–8 miles. My knee had acted up for my 6-mile long run the previous week so I was a little nervous going in, but I was going to do what I needed to and hopefully make it through the full 8 on my training plan. It was super humid when I set out at 6 AM, so I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular, I just wanted to get through the mileage. The first half of the run went pretty well. Had to walk a little bit, but forced my own hand and ran up all of the major uphill stretches instead of folding and walking like I normally would (side note: there is NO shame in walking, or in walking hills, I just know that I personally am capable of more so if I walk these particular hills I’m selling myself and my training short). The back half of the run was a different story. I took my gel too late, I ran out of water, I ended up walking more because I was depleted (though I still made myself run the uphill portions on principle). But my knee held up and I finished the run. Which also boosted my confidence–it was hard, it sucked, it didn’t go quite as planned, but I DID it.

I’m struggling with my training plan and may need to make some adjustments. That Wednesday night run was really good for me–and it’s a smaller group than the Saturday runs so its less intimidating and awkward for me. I haven’t been able to do the speedwork group yet as they’ve been on hiatus. A part of me wants to suck it up and do some speedwork on my own so I can stick with the Wednesday night run group. I know that I NEED to do speedwork to get the edge I want and need for my fall marathon goal, but I really like this particular group and I think they’ll push me in a different way. And this is why my training plan is in pencil and I ink it 2 weeks at a time when I get that far…I want to be flexible and open and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Except for races, because they will interfere with my long runs. I WISH I could still race most every weekend. I LOVE racing, I love racing back to back days, and we’re in the prime season for me to do that. BUT…goals. I HAVE to get my mileage back up in order to run this fall marathon. I’ve carefully scheduled and balanced 2-3 races per month up to the marathon, but oh, man, is it hard for me to cut back so much. Another part of me REALLY wants to do another round of Insanity!…but I know that it will interfere with my running. I might see if I can sneak a couple of days a week into my schedule as 2-a-day workouts just sound super tempting right now, but I also know that I need my rest. So we’ll see. I’ll play with my schedule a bit and see what I can do. This week will be a shift anyway since I’m racing on Tuesday.

Happy Monday, friends.

Weekend recap…

So…Saturday…I played support crew for my buddy who was making an attempt at 50 miles. He’s a road runner like I am (and a damn good one) venturing into the land of trail running because he had a free entry. I’ve done a little more trail than he has, and KNEW he needed someone there (friends and family were to come see him finish, but not for the whole 14+ hour day) so I offered to come crew for him and (if needed and desired) pace him for the last few laps. It was a lap race (unlike my husband’s trail races which are usually point to point) so I was going to be kind of useful and get to see him every lap without driving all over creation–and in between I could read my book completely guilt-free. Long story short, largely because it’s not my story to tell and from my vantage point there’s not much story anyway, the day didn’t go as we’d hoped for a number of reasons, and he ended up dropping out about halfway through–he felt good enough to have continued, but he knew he wasn’t going to make the time cut off and was starting to get in the way of the faster trail runners, so he made the respectable decision to exit with grace. Overall, I am so proud of him for attempting it. He confirmed what he already thought–he does NOT like trail running–and is in overall good spirits about the DNF (it took him 6 years and 50 races to get a DNF, I think that’s a pretty awesome record).

Since I didn’t run Saturday, I was going to do my scheduled 6-mile “long” run on Sunday. It was a perfect day for running, and I set out to do it before I ran some errands, but my left knee was twinging like crazy in that way it does when my IT band is irritated. So I called it–there is no point in forcing 6 miles this early in marathon training when I’ve been running half marathons with fair regularity. I’m already ‘ahead’ of where I should be, so it was better to scratch the run and try again later. I’m gonna go out for the scheduled 3ish today after work, so we’ll see what happens.

More to come. Happy Monday, friends.