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2017 Chicago Marathon – 3:32:28

Chicago Marathon number three and my twelfth marathon overall!

Let me just say off the bat, I have weird mixed feelings about this race. It’s hard to complain about a 3:32 finish and a BQ, but I’m not exactly thrilled with how I got there.

But before I get into the race itself…

Pre-race

Danielle and I got to Chicago in the early afternoon on Thursday and, for the most part, I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet, but Thursday and Friday ended up being bit more walking around than planned.

We went to the expo late morning on Friday after a short three-mile run around Grant Park and the Lakefront Trail (side note: on this run, we passed Matt Centrowitz, Paula Radcliffe, and Noah Droddy). The expo was busy and crowded already, but nothing like what I’m sure it became later on. Expos for big races are always hell for people like us who don’t like crowds…or even other people.

Look, it wasn’t my best finish, okay? 🙃 #ChicagoMarathon

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After getting my bib and shirt, we did a lap around the whole thing, took a couple pictures, met up with my friend Heather, had a sample of Goose Island Old Man Grumpy—which was delicious—and got the heck outta there. Dinner that night was a big messy burger from RJ Grunts with the always wonderful Parker Molloy and Kayla Pekkala. Sadly, I still have not met Meatball.

Hanging with Heather.

Saturday was a really easy and relaxed day. I did a two-mile shakeout run and not much else. Dinner was the standard never-ending bowl of spaghetti at Dolce Italian. Yum!

Typically, in the week before a non-Disney World marathon, I don’t drink any alcohol, but this time around I had a beer Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I mean…whatever. Beer is good. And carbs.

Good can!

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Flat Amy for #ChicagoMarathon tomorrow. For those cheering, there’s a 50/50 chance I toss the tank by mile three

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Race morning

I woke at around 5:15am for the 7:30 start. This gave me plenty of time to get ready and eat something—a crappy bagel from Starbucks and half an apple—without being rushed. Our hotel was in the Central Loop so we were close to the start which made for a nice quick walk over. I think I headed out around 6:15 and was through security by 6:30. Because I was a bit early, I had a short porta potty line. I was in the corral by 7, I think.

Nice sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Once things started filling up, I looked for the 3:30 pacers so I could start with them. I didn’t necessarily plan on staying with them, but I wanted to start with them. Because my goal was a 3:35 for the day, based on my training, I would have preferred to start with that group, but they were in the D corral, one behind me. The 3:30 pacers wanted to try to wait for the D corral’s 3:30 group so they could run together; they set up shop in the very back of the C corral and I figured I’d hang back there with them.

Pretty empty when I got in.

When the race started, however, things got a little busy and I went without them. Off on my own! Considering my best races recently have been run without any time with pacers, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was just afraid of starting out too fast.

The first half

Right from the start, I took off too fast and I knew it. I could feel myself running faster than I should have been, but it was a comfortable rhythm and I just couldn’t get myself out of it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it, but my legs weren’t slowing down. In hindsight, I should have tried harder to slow down. Mistakes were being made and I knew it. My first mile was a 7:52, which was at least 10 seconds faster than I should have been.

Had my training been faster, this is about where I would have wanted to be. 16 weeks ago, my goal was to be able to average a 7:50-7:45, but my training didn’t end up being for that. Miles two and three were 7:52 and 7:51 so I was really locked in at exactly that pace.

Around the second mile marker, I took off my tank top to run in just my sports bra. It wasn’t super warm yet, but I was already sweating a lot and I knew the temperature would be going up into the mid 70s. I also knew I’d be seeing Danielle around the next turn and I wanted to be able to toss my shirt to her without having to hold it until the next time I saw her at 20k.

Around mile four, I heard a voice screaming over all the others in the crowd, but it took me a few seconds to realize it was my name being yelled. Before I even turned my heard, I knew that loud and obnoxious voice was none other than Lauren Bailey.

As the course continued up into Lincoln Park, I was contemplating what my legs might have for the rest of the day. I knew I wasn’t slowing down so I decided to just embrace the race I started and see what happened. I was lapping my watch manually at each mile marker so I knew my exact pace. Though, I somehow missed the 9th marker which meant I had to wait until 11 for an exact split.

My main concern in the first 10k was that I couldn’t get my glutes or hamstrings to activate. I’ve always been a completely quad-dominant runner, but this was something I’ve been working on all year and was a big focus in my physical therapy sessions. I actually had a lot of success in improving this and, honestly, credit learning to activate my glutes and hamstrings for much of my solid racing through spring and summer. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it this day.

My 5k paces through the first half were 7:52, 7:49, 7:51, and 7:51 with a half time of 1:42:50 (7:56 average). How’s that for consistent? Running an even effort is rarely a problem for me in the marathon and with Chicago being so flat that meant even splits as well.

Blurry Amelia at 20k.

I was taking water at about two-thirds of the water stops and only had one of my gels. I’ve been taking fewer gels during marathons recently than I used to and it seems to work out for me so I just took this one around mile six.

The second half

As we came around Willis Tower and crossed the halfway point, I was still feeling okay physically, but I could tell my body was going to be fatiguing faster than I hoped. Over the next few miles, I passed a few people cheering who yelled my name, but I couldn’t catch who they were. I later found out one of them was my coworker Malicia who was out there to support her fiancé.

By 15 or 16, some fatigue was starting to set in, but I hadn’t slowed yet. I wasn’t feeling a lack of energy, just my legs starting to tire. I popped my second gel and started with the mental tricks to try to preemptively keep myself strong. I focused on getting to Cowbell Corner at mile 17 and then the 30k mark.

30k was right on the money at 7:51 average, again. I was actually impressed with myself that I was running this consistent.

Unfortunately, that’s when the wheels started to fall off. I wasn’t surprised it happened, but I thought I’d have until at least 20 miles before I started falling apart. When it happens at 18.5 miles, it’s a long way to go until that finish line. I’ve done enough marathons now to know how to fight through to the finish, but I also knew to kiss that three-minute PR I was on track for goodbye.

I haven’t really mentioned much about the weather yet, but it was a warm day—low of 57, high in the mid-70s—and sunny with a ~10mph breeze. The breeze felt great in those temps. I’d like to blame the heat for my bonking, but I can’t. It was a non-issue for me. I was taking water and staying hydrated and, for someone who runs about my time, you can find a lot of shade on the course. I spent very little time having to run in the sun. I was worried about the temperature before the race, but it just wasn’t a problem for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was the case for a lot of other runners.

My 35k split was an average of 8:20. I had slowed a lot. By mile 20, I was walking through water stops. And once I start having to take walk breaks, I’m screwed. I never recover from that.

I started making deals with myself, “okay, no more walk breaks until the next mile” and things like that. I was struggling. My quads where shot. I still hadn’t been able to activate my glutes or hamstrings and I was paying for it now. At 40k, my splits had slowed to a 9:21 average. I was taking a lot of walk breaks.

It sucked. But I still had a smile on my face. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. I think having races that are tough makes me love it even more.

Knowing the course, I knew what was left and just kept focusing on getting to the finish line. For the last 2.2k, I was able to do fewer walk breaks and pick my pace up a bit from where it was the previous few miles, but I was really ready to be done.

I looked out for the 800m to go sign and felt a little relief when I knew I was in the last half mile. As I climbed that stupid hill just as you’re hitting mile 26, I was so thankful the finish line was around the next turn.

I crossed with a 3:32:28 and was thrilled to be done and ready for my post-race beers.

Salt Face Amy.

Thoughts

While I was nearly four minutes from my PR, I ran a little faster overall than expected. I’m happy with my time—you really can’t complain about a 3:32 and a BQ. But I’m not happy with how I got there. Mistakes were made from the start and I paid for them. I knew I was making them and I’m disappointed in myself for making them anyway. I haven’t made this mistake in a marathon in a long time. I know better than this. And, to be honest, it was only my quads that bonked. My lungs, energy level, hydration, GI, and the rest of my legs were all fine.

Not only did the second half of this race suck, but it breaks a streak of five straight marathon negative splits. That’s probably one of my proudest things about my running, is having negative split five marathons in a row…until this race. But…it happens. I knew I had a decent streak of good marathons and was due for a rough one. They can’t all be winners.

26.2 miles, 2 beers, and nothing but smiles. #ChicagoMarathon

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Despite not being happy with my execution, I wasn’t really the least bit disappointed after the race. I love the marathon and I love this city and Chicago Marathon and I still had a good time (both in terms of finish time and having fun!). I had a smile on my face at the finish and all day after.

Races like this remind me how much I love the marathon.

I got beaned. #ChicagoMarathon

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Beeeeeer.

The obligatory post-race Beaning.

1

2017 Newport Liberty Half Marathon – 1:48:45

This post probably should have gone up two weeks ago, rather than today, but I’ve fallen a bit behind.

I love the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. Not really because it’s a particularly amazing race, in fact, large chunks of the the course are on roads and paths that aren’t in the best of conditions. But the race is in my home of Jersey City and parts of the course are along my daily running routes in Liberty State Park and the Jersey City Waterfront. I can walk or run to the start from my house. And I get to enjoy some of my favorite views of Manhattan during the race.

An unfortunate part of the race is it being in mid-September means it can still be hot and humid, as was the case this year. The temperature was warm and the humidity was high.

Being in mid-September also means it’s three weeks before the Chicago Marathon. Last year, I made the mistake of going out hard and PRing and then not respecting my body’s need to recover in the week following. That week was, of course, my peak week for training. This messed me up going into Chicago last year and I felt like I was flirting a little too closely to injury.

This year, with me running Chicago again, I didn’t want to make the same mistake. Additionally, my IT band on my right leg has been bothering me a bit recently. The pain I’m having is fairly common for me late in a training cycle, but I’ve been bad about dealing with it. Typically, as long as I’m on top of it, it’s a non-issue.

So this year, Danielle and I decided to run the race together and take it nice and easy. Between the heat, legs not being in ideal shape, and a marathon coming up, there was nothing to gain by pushing it.

I had 21 miles on the calendar for the day, but because of my IT band, I wanted to ease it up on my body for the weekend and decided to scrap most of my pre-race miles. We ran just over a mile to the start of the race and left it at that.

We met up with friends Dori and Theodora before the race and chatted a bit. When walked over to the start, we saw Mayor Fulop getting ready to run. Danielle and I lined up between the 8:00/mile and 9:00/mile signs and waited for the start.

Once we got going, we did a pretty decent job of keeping ourselves held back and under control. Things were crowded, but runnable. We clocked in at around an 8:40 for our first mile, right where we had wanted to be.

Approaching the second mile, things started spreading out a bit and we grabbed water. Our second mile was around an 8:20.

We continued through Newport and towards Paulus Hook while keeping steady and having fun. Eventually, by mile four and a half, we were passing Liberty Science Center and entering into Liberty State Park. Here, Danielle started to leave me behind a bit. The path narrows for much of the park so it was hard to me to weave through other runners to catch up with her.

Just after getting into to the park, I saw our friend Allison—one of our dedicated cat feeders when we travel—sneak onto the path and start running next to Danielle. Allison wasn’t running the race and was hoping to just do a training run in the park. Bad idea. After minute or so, I was able to catch up and join the conversation before the race turned right down Freedom Way and Allison continued straight.

Danielle and I were running together again as we followed the path along Freedom Way to the south side of the park and around by the Statue of Liberty and the seventh mile marker.

Our splits were reasonably steady in the 8:10-8:25 range, but it was hot and steamy out. A major yuck situation.

Most of the park was fairly uneventful as we did a couple loops through the middle of the before heading along the marina and past the 10th mile marker. By mile 10.5, as we were exiting the park, I lost Danielle behind me. I tried to slow down to let her catch up, but I didn’t know where she was. A quarter mile up, I turned back to look for her as we came around a turn and she threw her arm up to let me know where she was. She was back far enough that it didn’t seem like she’d catch up, so I decided to run my own race for the last couple of miles.

My twelfth and thirteenth miles, along the waterfront, clocked in at 7:40 and 6:40. I didn’t feel like I was running that fast at all, I mostly just felt good. I passed a bunch of other runners, but it wasn’t something I was thinking about.

As I neared the finish, I didn’t kick for it. I just kept the quick pace from mile 13 all the way in.

I downed a few cups of water and then waited for Danielle to cross so we could go grab our shirts and bagels before heading off to brunch.

All-in-all, it was another fun Newport Half. Last year was a PR race, this year was a more leisurely fun race. I’ll take ‘em both.

4

2017 Reykjavik Half Marathon – 1:40:01

I’m still working on a series of blog posts about my recent trip to Europe, but I wanted to do a separate race recap for the Reykjavik half marathon, soooooo here we go!

This race entered my world when I was planning my Europe trip and it fell within the dates I was traveling. I knew I wanted to do a half marathon while abroad, but wasn’t sure which city I’d end up doing it in. In the end, it came down to Reykjavik or Berlin. Since I hope to eventually get into the Berlin Marathon lottery, I figured I should opt for a city with fewer chances for me to race in.

Somehow, this was also my first ever international race which added a nice extra bit of excitement.

Pre-race

The race started Saturday morning at 8:40am and I landed in Iceland at nearly midnight on Thursday night. By the time I got to my Airbnb and to bed, it was just about 2am. This was on top of having been traveling for a week and a half at this point and logging between 15-25 miles on my feet every day between running and sightseeing. My legs were going to be exhausted and there wasn’t anything I could do about it, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I registered for the race.

After doing a couple of stops on my sightseeing list for Reykjavik city on Friday, I made my way over to the race expo. The expo was like pretty much any other race expo; a lot of people and a bunch of brands giving out the same kind of stuff as any other expo. The only difference was it was mostly different brands than I’m used to.

I got my bib and timing chip (yes, a separate timing chip to tie on your shoe), grabbed my shirt, and then did a lap around. I took a bunch of the beverage samples and then made my way for the exit. I’m not a big race expo person. I like to do a lap and see what’s there, but I don’t typically buy things or like to stay long.

The timing chip was one of the plastic reusable ones you tie onto you shoe like we used to use in the US before B-tags became the standard.

I threw my stuff in my backpack and then continued with my sightseeing. I also had booked a beer tasting for that night. 🙃 I wanted to do it after the race, rather than the night before, but the scheduling didn’t really work out with some of the other things I wanted to do. So, yeah, I did a 🍺 tasting the night before.

The tasting was at Ölgerðin Egils Skallagrímsson, Iceland’s oldest brewery. I expected it to be like normal tastings where you get little samples of a few beers and that’s it. No, this was different. As soon as you walk in, they hand you a pint and that glass is never empty, they just keep refilling it every time you get to the bottom. And then you get to try a ton of their other beers. This was the most beer I’ve ever had on a “beer tasting” / “brewery tour” before. It was good, but not ideal the night before a half marathon

After the tasting, I got a couple of Iceland’s famous hot dogs from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsu and hit the bed. I didn’t even set anything out before going to bed. I just crashed.

In the morning, I woke up, threw on my running clothes and made for the door as quickly as possible. I didn’t have to worry about not setting out my clothes the night before because I really didn’t have a lot of options with me.

I had 17 miles on my schedule for the day so I did an easy 4-mile warmup along the water and part of the course and then ended right at the start.

The race

The race started right on time and without a lot of fanfare. The 10k, half marathon, and marathon all started at the same time which made for some crowding, but it wasn’t too bad. There were people standing on the corrals holding up pace signs, but they were in minutes/kilometers and none of the Americans knew how to translate that. Luckily, I have an app on my phone that does all kinds of pace related calculations so it was easy for me to find where to be.

There was no national anthem before the race which made the start all the more unassuming for those of us used to it. They frequently gave warnings for how much time was left, but when the start gun went off, there was no immediate countdown or anything. Not that it matters for anyone not right in the front.

I had lined up to run around a 1:50 finish. I knew I had tired legs and I’d be doing a glacier hike the next day so I didn’t want to push myself. The start was crowded, but I stayed with the pacers for about a mile.

Then, I got antsy.

My legs wanted to gooooooooooo. I started weaving my way up through the crowd. My first mile was an 8:25, but it was my only one over 8 minutes. I was surprised how much my legs were wanting to go, I was feeling good.

Through the first few miles, I just tried not to get too ahead of myself and to enjoy the scenery of such a beautiful city. For the most part, each mile was quicker than the last, but still comfortable.

The weather was cool, about 47º, and sunny with a light breeze, great running weather. I was sweating, but not dripping. I know my body well enough to know I didn’t need to take any water during the race under those conditions. So, I didn’t bother with any of the stops.

The course was pretty flat until the final third of the race. By this point, I had let my body go with whatever pace felt right and I started dropping into the 7:30s for the middle third. By the last third, I was even faster. I was surprised I had it in me, but I went with it.

The hills in the last third were of no concern for my legs. If anything, I sped up on them. Mile 11 was a 7:15 and then 12 and 13 dropped into the 6:50s. I hadn’t run miles that fast in…I don’t even know. That’s nearly PR 5k for me these days, but these miles felt great on my legs. I wasn’t even breathing hard until the final 2/3 of a mile.

From my run the day before and my warm up, I had a pretty good idea of the course in second half so I was able to mentally keep my game on for them and know what was coming up.

As we got to the final few turns, I was finally feeling it. I knew 6:50s weren’t really a sustainable pace for me late in a half marathon, but I did know my legs would just about be able to outlast the course so decided to hang on instead of easing back off a little.

Finally, I came around the final turn and saw the finish. I out-kicked a woman on my left and then a man just in front of her saw me coming and kicked much harder than I had left in me. I cruised across the finish line at 1:40:01. Very happy with my time, but annoyed I didn’t sneak in under 1:40. Still, this was only 21 seconds slower than my PR and it was sort of…easy? I can’t complain!

Post race

I grabbed my medal and smiled at my first international medal. It was a small and unassuming medal, which I actually like. I don’t need big giant medals. I grabbed some Powerade and water and then looked for food and heat sheets. There were neither. This was a bit surprising to me. By now, the temperature was still only 54º so heat sheets were necessary, but there were non. Boo! There was also no food to be had which seemed to be not a good idea considering there was also a marathon running as well. But, the finish is down a main street in downtown Reykjavik so it was easy to pop into a place and get some food.

I love this little medal for the Reykjavik Half Marathon! I'm a fan of smaller medals.

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My fresh danish was probably better than anything they would have given out anyway.

I didn’t hang around long because I needed to go shower, rent a car, and get on with my day. I had booked time at the Secret Lagoon, one of Iceland’s hot springs. It was just the thing for after 17 total miles of running!

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this race! It was fun and the city is beautiful. I’m hoping to go back for the marathon some time in the next few years.