Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ski season: the second half

Some time after the Bogburn, I took over as the CSU head coach, without a huge amount of warning. After an initial rough patch, we ironed things out and life kept on keeping on, but this put a real damper on my own racing. Didn't stop me, though!

Craftsbury Marathon(s)
I showed up to the Craftsbury double-header marathon weekend, and had a great weekend of hanging out with Jess and Kathy, but the new stress of suddenly having a much fuller plate meant I wasn't very focused on the races.

Saturday's classic 50k was one of those days that just makes you glad to be alive. Perfect tracks, sunny day, hard cold snow and a good group to ski with; what more could I ask for? I ended up choosing my klister skis, feeling like they were gliding a little faster, but ended up going a little *too* light on kick. You'd think I'd have learned this lesson by now. So, the skis were fine, but I had to work for my kick, which can make for a long 50k. Luckily, I was confident in my fitness and the speed of my skis, and despite losing a little bit on the uphills, I felt like I was making it up with the rockets I was riding down the hills.

The race started out easy around Duck Pond, and then it felt too easy, so I put in a small surge heading down to Elinor's, so that I could ski the hill alone, which ended up being a good choice, avoiding a crash. The pack caught back up as we headed up Sam's, and at first I was like, this is great that I'm leading, I can dictate a nice slow pace! But everyone just went around me. Oh. I didn't have a huge amount of oomph, and not much motivation to push hard, so just let the pack of six pull ahead.

Lindley V caught me as we headed up Dante's loop, with much kickier skis, and I let her pull ahead, too, but kept her in sight. My fast skis caught her on the downhill. Did some good hard double poling on Ruthie's coming back to the Center, always keeping my head up for any stragglers from the lead pack. Lindley caught up again going up Sam's, but she didn't pull away quite as fast, and then I caught back up to her climbing Dante's loop. I was finding that I did still have really good energy, able to run up the hills, but my arms were tired.

Down Ruthie's again, and the men were passing me now. So when Sarah Graves caught up, I totally thought she was a man first, because she was moving way faster. I hadn't been dogging it, she was just cruising. Tried to match her pace and really just couldn't, so got ready for a sloggy last lap. But, found a second wind going around duck pond, and finally made contact with her as we headed down to Elinor's. She had skis as fast as mine, but with better kick, and I couldn't hang as we went up Sam's. Still fighting around Dante's loop, but it was taking a lot of concentration to ski well up the hills. I was proud that I was really kicking and gliding, not just shuffling. Down the hill I kept the energy high, and finished feeling like that race was very representative of where my fitness is right now, and it was a good classic race for me. 4th overall, first M1.

Jess in the classic marathon

Craftsbury Marathon, part II
Sunday was the 33k skate, and after a pretty restless night I woke up feeling like I'd been run over by a dump truck. I'm sure skating 33km is going to help, right? The morning brought much warmer and softer snow conditions, after snow all night. My left elbow was in a world of hurt, but I took some ibuprofen, did a little warmup, and lined up reasonably far back.

Off we went, and I quickly discovered that I didn't have much pop in my stride, but I felt ok heading up the hills. Drifted from chase pack to chase-chase pack, and as we climbed up Ruthie's backwards I realized that actually, I felt pretty good, and this was too slow. So, went a little faster, and only Sarah G kept pace. The climb up Dante's was actually pretty skiable. I continued to try and keep the tempo up, and we swapped leads a few times. Got a little too chatty coming down Sam's, and lost some time there I think.

I was scared of Elinor's, but it wasn't that bad, just 2.5 minutes or so, and from the bottom I could see Elissa ahead of me, looking tired. Sarah put a bit of a gap on me up the hill, but I kept plugging, and caught back up to her and Elissa by the stadium. It was really a problem to V2 today, elbow hurt a ton and my arms didn't feel very strong. Alia Johnson caught up to Sarah and me on the Duck Pond loop, and they actually had a small gap on me heading into lap 2. My goals had been revised down to "finish the race" at this point, so I wasn't exactly heartbroken. But, caught them by the bottom of Ruthie's, and then surprised myself by staying right on them up the climb.

The climb up Dante's hurt, but I didn't get dropped, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Pushed harder down Sam's this time, doing a lot of free skating, and I could tell that transferring all the effort to my legs was starting to have some effects. Elinor's hurt a lot more the second time up, and I got dropped, maybe 10 second gap by the top. I'd been yo-yo-ing the whole lap, so this wasn't surprising, but the string snapped there, and being unable to V2 with any power meant I was really done. Struggled through Duck Pond loop trying to keep fighting, but didn't have much to give, and failed to pass the two fading women ahead of me. Certainly less strong of a result, but I was pretty proud of just getting through the race, given my mental headspace.

Massachusetts Qualifier
The next weekend was the qualification race for my skiers to try out for the U16 and Eastern Highschool Championship teams, to represent Team Massachusetts. The race was out at Prospect Mountain, and Ed and I swapped roles that weekend - Saturday, I was his assistant timing the VT qualifier race, and Sunday, he was my assistant in the wax tent for the CSUers. Saturday was a pretty long day, and Sunday wasn't much shorter, but every one of my skiers skied their way onto either the U16 Team or the EHS Team, which is the goal.

Rikert Eastern Cup
No rest for the weary; we went right into the Rikert EC from the Qualifier. I signed up for Saturday's skate race in the open field, and then did the master's wave for the classic race on Sunday, several hours after the last junior race, so that I wouldn't be conflicted by trying to wax for the kids and also for myself.

Rikert is a super fun course, twisty and technical, and had good skis, if not such good legs. I was sluggish, un-warmed up, and still had my head in coach-mode, but it was fun to pull on a bib and try really hard at something.

Sunday's citizen race was even less of a real effort from me; I got caught talking to some parents after the junior races, and nearly ran out of time to get my own skis waxed. Not only that, we'd run out of the hardwax we'd been putting on the kids skis, so I ended up just slapping on some toko red and heading to the start, shivering and wishing I were still in a warmup jacket. Luckily, it was a mass start, so I had the motivation of passing all the people who'd started ahead of me as I slowly got warmed up. By the second lap, I felt like I was racing, and was having a good time hunting people down. My pace may have been more 50k than 10k pacing, but it was worth it. 

One of *those* days

Bretton Woods camp and final ECs
After my half-hearted efforts at Rikert, I decided that I shouldn't sign up for more races. I managed to escape from work enough to catch three days of our training camp at Bretton Woods, and the vibe there was just great. We did a lot of resting as well as training, but it was a ton of fun skiing with the whole group, doing some norpining at the alpine hill, and just getting in lots and lots of beautiful skiing in a winter wonderland. 

Vibe was great. So many smiles!

We went straight from Bretton Woods to the final weekend of Eastern Cups, with two short skate races on Saturday at Dublin, and a distance classic race on Sunday. The Dublin Double went well, with CSU kids taking all sorts of podiums, on a beautiful sunny day. Can't get much better than that! Ed was timing, and we were stayed at Kathy's house, which just made things fun. Sunday morning we woke up in a snowstorm, and headed to Holderness to do battle in the final Eastern Cup.

Fresh snow and temperatures right around freezing are the hardest conditions to find the right kick wax in, and of course that's what we were facing. We nailed it for the earlier races, but then totally missed the wax for the older boys, when the snow transitioned to rain partway through their race. I can't predict the weather, yet, apparently that's a skill I have to develop. It was interesting to watch them race, and see how much of a difference a fighting attitude made - some of my boys had great races despite really slippy skis, because they just never gave up. In the words of one kid "well, my skis didn't have great kick, but they were wicked fast, so I just double poled really hard!"

This was the final race to determine who qualified for the Junior National's team heading to Anchorage. We sent 2 U16 girls, 4 U18 girls, 2 U18 boys, and 1 U20 boy. A pretty big contingent! 

U16 Championships
I took a weekend at home while Ed timed the Bill Koch Festival, and then it was off to the U16 Championships, in Bethel, ME, with Team Massachusetts. I've never skied at Bethel, so it was fun to explore a new trail system for a great event. CSU sent eight skiers to this championships, and the girls were especially dominant, with one of my gals winning every race she entered. 

A cool barn up in the County. Tough living up there.

We did have a snafu for the classic distance race. Somehow, Team MA had gotten into our heads that the boys race was at 9:30, and the girls race was at 10:30. We distributed information all over the place (including the team meeting, the night before) with this incorrect information, and were thus very surprised when the announcer started calling people to the line a half hour early. We managed to hustle the girls down to the race, but the first three starters all missed their start. We kept calm, and I assured the girls that we'd fix this problem after the fact, because it wasn't their fault, and they went off several minutes later when the Technical Delegate deemed it a good time for them to race. They all three skied very good races, with Clara winning, Francesca taking 3rd, and Mica taking 4th. However, the jury ruled that because it is a skier's responsibility to know their start time, they should all incur a penalty, and assigned a 5min penalty to each girl.

This seemed wildly unfair to us, and not just because we wanted to see the girls on top of the podium - no matter where they'd finished, it wasn't their fault that they'd missed the start - it was the fault of their coaches and team leaders! We ended up going over the heads of the race organizers, and appealing to NENSA itself, which decided after much debate to reinstate the racers. Phew. 

CSU contingent at U16s

Eastern Highschool Championships
With that excitement over, it was time for the Eastern Highschool Championships, in Fort Kent, ME. The last time I went to Fort Kent in a bus, it took rather a long time to get home. We were praying for better weather this time, and we got it. The bus didn't get stuck even once, and we had a grand old time with a big group of nice kids. The CSU kids knocked it out of the park again, with Linden winning the classic race and the overall, and Devin 2nd in the overall and top 10 in all the races. Mica continued to impress, and what I loved most was watching every athlete on the team lift up the people around them. 

This is my waxing face, apparently.

Those are my CSUers leading the race

Positive vibes on team MA

The MA EHS team

Meanwhile, the kids at JNs in Anchorage were kicking butt, and are coming home with four all-Americans and one podium, for the 7th place girls' team in the country. 

Quebec City World Cup Finals
The final hurrah was simply for spectating. Kathy and I headed to Quebec, to watch the World Cup finals. Alex Harvey was racing the final World Cups of his career, and experiencing the roar of 30,000 Harvey fans was a physical experience. It felt very special to be there watching him win the last race of his career, on home turf. Of course we snuck in a little skiing of our own, too, and a lot of pastry-eating, and the weekend ended up being a ton of fun. 

Great view of the women's pursuit race. Go USA!

Now Ed is off to Supertour Finals in Presque Isle, and I'm going to do some laundry. 'Twas quite the winter! 

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Bogburn: two perspectives

Version 1:
The indoor track workout got moved to Friday night, and I can't miss those because I paid perfectly good money to go run in teeny tiny circles. After the workout, I bribed Ed to pick me up by going out to dinner at one of our favorite brew pubs, and had too much beer and not enough water. We got home super late, so I put off all my ski prep until the next morning, when I groggily rolled out of bed and got to work on that, questioning whether this ski race was even a good idea. Mystery time happened, and somehow I had to leave before even making coffee and definitely before breakfast.

Picked up Ari, and we zoomed up north, where it was very pretty after the last snowstorm. Lots of people at the race, and we had to park way down the road. Conditions were soft and tricky, and on one corner the course was basically down to dirt. I didn't even use the test skis I'd set up, because Rob was already testing wax on the "chick sticks" which are flexed for me and Kathy, so I got sort of grumpy about having done extra work this morning. Skied a lap with Kathy and spent the whole time complaining about how terrible my life was, and how my problems are so much harder than everyone else's problems. Got back to the start area, and realized that I didn't have time to run up to my car to grab a thinner pair of gloves and a thinner hat, so had to race in wet mittens and a fleecy hat.

Figured I'd pop into race mode once I started going, but that never happened, and I sort of waddled around slowly instead of racing, feeling really stiff and sore after the track workout. I couldn't catch up to my 15-second girl, Jess M, and I knew I was faster than her, so why wasn't I catching her? God if you weren't such a fat slug you'd be skiing better. Fell on my ass on the corner with the dirt trying to avoid the rocks, now you'll never catch Jess. Look out for that gal who started behind you, she'll be tracking you any second. Slogged around the rest of the course and Jamie was taking photos on the longest hill, ugh, why am I so slow? Walked up one of the herringbone hills, and then on the second lap started passing some slower skiers, and that's the only reason I caught up to Jess, because she wasn't as good at passing. Thought I was doing awesome to hold her off, but turns out she fell in a river. Go figure, the only way to beat my competition is if they fall into a river. Finally trudged across the finish line, nearly six minutes slower than Kathy's time. Thank god that's over.

Version 2: 
Rather than cancel the indoor track workout when our usual Thursday became unavailable, the powers that be managed to get us access to the track on Friday night. I love indoor track, I love the group I run with, this is well worth the money I paid to be a part of it. This would serve nicely as some opener intervals for the race tomorrow! Ed kindly picked me up, and we got to have a really nice dinner out together at one of our favorite brew pubs, where I enjoyed myself, though I should have had more water. Luckily, the race on Saturday had a late start time, so I knew I'd have time to re-hydrate in the morning. Thanks to the late start time, I could put off my ski prep until the morning, and even though it took me longer than I expected, I made some really good skis. I didn't have time to make breakfast at home, but Ari, my traveling companion, didn't mind stopping in Lebanon for me to pick up breakfast and a coffee.

The course was absolutely beautiful, fresh snow coating everything and making the whole world a winter wonderland. This also meant that the course was soft, but I'd rather have fresh snow and a soft course than ice and rocks! Rob was testing skis when I arrived, which was great, because it simplified my pre-race prep, and allowed me to go for a nice pre-race tour of the course with Kathy, where she was a great sounding board for my troubles and made me feel a lot better about life. I was probably still thinking about our conversation when we started, because I didn't feel very race-ready, but I was happy to be out there giving it a hard effort.

Jamie was taking photos, and it was so great to see him out there again, after a medically-induced hiatus from ski racing. It took me a whole lap to catch up to Jess, who had started 15s ahead of me, but I was able to put some of the lapped skiers we'd just passed between us, and then I was on my own for the rest of the race. I may not have had the tiger's eye, but I really enjoy that course, and all the BKL kids were out cheering, and in the end, I won my age category, and a sweet buff. What a way to spend a day! I'm so thankful that Bob continues to host this race, it's really special.

Vermont post-snowstorm is the most beautiful time to be in Vermont.

The story
I recently read this article by Sabrina Little. It's worth the read. In the article, she talks about how changing the message of your story can affect your life, and while it's the same story, you have the power to change the message. This same story, the tale of my experience at the Bogburn, reads very differently from version 1 to version 2. I still want and need to acknowledge the things that don't go according to plan, but I have my friends around to help me overcome the challenges. Even if I don't reach my goal, I had a good day.

The hard part, sometimes, is how to change your story while you're living it.

Great two days of gravity skiing with the folks. Gorgeous views, if cold and icy conditions at Stowe.

The part of the story I suppose I left out, is that it's been a great winter so far. I raced in the Craftsbury sprint weekend in early December, placing 9th in the qualifier and advancing through to the semi-finals, where I was faced with the hard truth that I was NOT ski fit enough to handle that many races in one day. But I knew the fitness was coming, and that doing a strength workout the day before the race, while not great race prep, was going to serve me well down the road. It did - I raced again the following weekend at the Craftsbury Eastern Cup, qualifying in 34th in the sprint (just missing the open rounds), but that put me into the masters' heat, in which I was the only master who deigned to show up. That was disappointing and a little embarrassing (not to mention, we could have saved prepping my skis a second time!), but it did mean I won the race. The 5k skate race the next day went really well - I was classified in the masters wave again, but my time would have put me around 39th in the open race, ahead of all my CSUers. They should go faster. It's nice to have good races, where you feel fit and rested and you're riding a really fast pair of skis.

From the Eastern Cup, I put in a great two week block of training, at Mont Sainte Anne and then back at Craftsbury coaching for Senior Nationals. That was a great week, not without its up and downs, but the ups were real high points. We had a big crew racing, and I thought they all comported themselves very professionally, and skied very well against the deepest field in the country. It was such a luxury to be waxing in a trailer - I'm not sure I'm up to waxing outside again, like we will for the rest of the season.

Now that we've had a couple weeks of good training under our drink belts, the race season is kicking off in earnest. Exciting stuff!

Mont Sainte Anne with a gaggle of gigglers in front of one of the many trailside cabins

The appropriate way to do MSA is to stop by the Boulangerie on your way home from skiing, before lunch. Those croissants are to die for.

I like taking selfies with my team in the background

Ed and John, discussing where to put the big green bus for the announcers. Or something like that.

The Nationals crew, enjoying one of Christina's delicious dinners. So nice to have a big house and somebody cooking for us. I got home and had forgotten how to take care of myself.

CSU wax trailer, where you use a heat gun to get the windows open

Kathy coaching

Bullitt Timing's slogan: We bring buses full of cables, and zip tie them to everything.

Goofing off in coach-mode

Todd Eastman gave me a hat. I'd say it's a good fit! 

Laura in the Nationals heats

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Blue Hills Traverse and Thanksgiving Camp

This year's Blue Hills Traverse went to new parts of the Blue Hills, starting on Ponkapoag and transitioning to BH West. It was a nice course, with legit features (though 17 was annoying), friendly running with not too much green or pointy stuff or steep hills.

My plan for the race was to start reasonably fast, cruising on some of my marathon fitness when on trails and roads. I knew I hadn't been in the woods much, but was hoping the residual strength would carry me through, as long as I didn't do anything too stupid. That was all going swimming well for the first five minutes, and I was near some faster guys and feeling relatively comfortable. Five minutes isn't very long. Leaving #1, I was still debating a left/right route choice as I cruised down the hill, tripped over something crossing the trail, and rolled my ankle pretty bad. Youch. Had to stand there for a while, trying not to say bad words, to let the pain fade and determine if I could run. Eventually I decided I may as well start walking down the trail, and soon I could run again, if gingerly. The rest of the race, off-trail and and wobbly rocks were bad news.

By #2, I'd caught to the tail end of a group containing Aaron, Bo, Neil, and importantly, Rachel. I don't care about the boys, but I really want to beat any women, and Rachel has some serious orienteering chops. She also has two young children, which can put a dent in your training volume and quality, so I thought that given the mass start nature of the course, I could probably out-kick her. But you never know, and now that my ankle was iffy, my confidence was shaken.

We were basically together the rest of that side of I-93, with occasional placement changes as we all took different micro-routes. I had fallen a bit off the end as we emerged from the woods and onto the overpass to cross the highway, and used the stretch of pavement to catch back up and move to the front of the group. Gotta play to your strengths, so I also used that time to scout some other paved or trail running routes for later in the course.

After the butterfly loop, I chose the right-hand road route to 15, dropping Rachel, and was behind Jimmy and Ernst climbing the hill toward the trail to 16, where they solidly dropped me, despite lots of huffing and puffing on my part. I wasn't alone for long, as Aaron caught up around there, and helped me blow less time on 17 than I would have done alone, wandering on the hillside trying to find a little boulder.

We went left to 18, but the trail was rocky, and my ankle was bad, and then I got confused by the cliffs in the circle, going to the unmapped one first. D'oh. From there, Aaron went up to the road, and I went straight, and stopped early, not quite making sense of things. By the time I actually got to 19 I could see Rachel approaching. Dang! She caught me at 20, and we ran together for a bit before hitting a road, where I knew I had one more shot. I was clearly faster on roads, so I just had to make the break stick this time. Took trails up toward 21, and I was thinking about running fast, more than my navigation, which is never a good plan. My brain, deprived of both oxygen and common sense, thought I was on a different trail than I was, and I ended up running all the way to the junction south of the control before realizing it, and had to hook way back to get the control. Luckily didn't waste time on it once I realized my mistake, but I knew Rachel wouldn't be far behind.

I had to be cautious running through the woods toward 22, and as I crossed the trail and started climbing, I saw Rachel pop out of the woods just south of me. I had maybe a 10-second lead, and I wanted to push that to 20-30 seconds so that I was out of sight. Ok, this really is your last shot now. I pushed HARD up the climb to 22, catching and dropping Aaron and Jimmy, then blasted away before anyone could latch on, following the index contour (it's the big obvious one on the ground) toward 23, gasping and stumbling and yelping the whole way. Basically running scared. I chanced a glance behind me at 23, didn't see Rachel, but didn't let up down the hill. The effort paid off, and I ended up with a nice 1.5min lead, and the winner's gingerbread man! To be fair, I don't think Rachel was going quite as all-out as I was, but a win is a win, and it was a lot of fun to have to fight so hard to defend my title at this race.

A blue-lipped smile

Thanksgiving Camp
After a nice Thanksgiving celebration at Ed's aunt and uncle's place (only 27 folks at dinner, a small gathering this year for them), I left Ed at home and headed up to Craftsbury for our three-day mini camp with the juniors. Craftsbury had gotten a couple sweet dumps of snow over the last week, so we had some really excellent early-season conditions. Race skis all weekend! We got in some excellent distance skiing, and then topped it off with either a time trial or some hard uphill skate intervals on the new 5k south course. Good times.
Forced family fun includes Thanksgiving walks at 15 degrees F

It wasn't all just blissful skiing, though. One afternoon, we had nearly the entire group together, doing a speed workout as we made our way around the 5k course. This is a thing we do all the time, all teams do it, it's great practice to race down the hills with your buddies and learn how to ski aggressively.

I don't think anyone was doing anything wrong; the boys were sort of jostling coming down a hill,  and probably somebody miscalculated or misjudged or misstepped or something, but really I think it was just bad luck. One of my boys hit a tree at full speed, and things got real pretty quick. He was out cold, and it really freaked out all of his teammates. Luckily, CSU has a lot of doctors, level-headed kids, and wilderness response experience, and we were all there. So, Maile took most of the kids off on a race to get the medics on site, the doctors stabilized him, checking vitals and clearing the scene, someone else blocked the trail with some skis, and we got some jackets on him. Within about 20min the snowmobiles had arrived and gotten him to an ambulance, with at least one CSU doctor in tow.

While he's going to be fine, and is making a speedy comeback already, it was a really scary situation. Things could have been really different. The kids were understandably really freaked out, but I was really impressed with how well they acted in the moment. Thanks to the juniors reacting maturely, having half our coaching staff be medical professionals, and having the accident at one of the most on-top-of-it ski areas meant that this sort of situation couldn't have gone better. But I hope it never happens again on my watch.

Now we're solidly into the shoulder season, hunting for snow and stoically weathering the cold rain. T-12 days to the first race!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Loco Marathon

I got the idea in my head a few years back that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. I mean, I'm a runner, I live in Boston, it only makes sense that I should do this race. But you've gotta qualify for the thing, and that means running a fast-enough road marathon before you can even sign up. And of course, I wanted to run reasonably fast, so that when people ask the inevitable "oh, you're a runner? have you run a marathon?" you can be like "yeah, and a fast one too."

I'm known for my humility.

After watching the 2017 race, there were so many people in it that I knew and they were all inspiring and I was all like "omg I wanna run this race!" But, it takes a while to get ready for a marathon, you have to do lots of long runs and do them on pavement and pay attention to pace, and all this stuff that is actually kind of new to me, because I run for time rather than distance, seeking hills and forest and rocks and things, and while I do regular track workouts, I have no idea how fast to run when it's just on a boring old road. So, I downloaded a training plan from the internet, tweaked it to fit all my other various athletic obligations, and signed up for the Quebec City marathon, pretty much the latest race I could run and still sign up for Boston to run the 2018 race. Enter the Great Smashed Kneecap of Summer 2017, an ill-advised 24-hour couch-to-marathon plan after 9 weeks off, and definitely no BQ.

That's ok, we all have setbacks. My kneecap recovered just fine, and I signed up for a spring race, convincing my friend Sharon to join me at Sugarloaf. Enter the 2018 World Cup course setting and subsequent knee injury (of the other knee) brought on through too much skiing, too little sleep, and far too much stress. That one took two months of patiently waiting for my body to fix itself, again without really being able to bend my knee during the recovery time. A little gun shy that mere stress could trigger actual physical ailments, I was careful returning to training, and hesitant to drop yet another $100 on a race entry if I didn't think I could race it. Thanks to time and the tireless work by the folks at Beantown Physio, I finally declared myself healed and ready to rock this July, and started to put in some miles again.

But I still didn't sign up for a race. When you're coming back from zero, it takes a long time to get to the point where you're putting in adequate mileage to start to contemplate long races, and I wasn't willing to let myself latch onto a race, yet. Mentally and emotionally, I couldn't handle it if something happened and I wouldn't be able to run. And yet the miles ticked by, one at a time, until I was finally reaching that strange point in marathon training where 10 miles no longer feels like a big deal. And, with a little prodding from Sharon, I signed up for a race on October 28th - the Loco Marathon.

The race
B goal: BQ (3:35, though technically 3:30 because the race fills up)
A goal: Faster than that

Sharon was running the half marathon, while I got to do a second lap, but we could start together. I really had no idea how fast I'd be running - you're supposed to know these things, but I didn't have much to go on in terms of half marathons or 10ks. I figured I'd do what I do best, run by feel, and listen to my body. I have something like 700 race starts over the last decade to draw experience from, so even though the race course surface may be different, I'm still piloting the same beat up body.

Pre-race vibe
 The first ten miles were a total breeze. The weather was cool and misty, I had dressed perfectly for it, I had a happy song in my head, and there were plenty of people around me. I started out behind the 7:35 pace group, knowing that I just had to tick off every 5-mi lap in 40 minutes or less to hit my Boston Qualification (BQ) time. I figured that I should slowly let the 7:35 guy get out of sight, but I'd rather fall into a pace early and hang on to it as things got rough, than try to summon the extreme mental oomph required to negative split anything. Never been my forte, negative splitting. So, I cruised through those first five miles quite happily, chatting a little first with Sharon and then with another two ladies that I was near. The course was gorgeous, rural and pretty flat, through farms and fields on quiet roads. I think most of the traffic was from spectators who were trying to get to good cheering locations.

The second five miles were equally fun. I was relaxing up the hills, rolling down them, remembering to eat my special running gummies (gotta love a sport where you're not only allowed, but SUPPOSED TO eat gummy bears as you do it!), and smiling about how much fun it is to run. Each of the first two five-mile laps I'd earned about 2 minutes of cushion against my BQ, which I was sure I'd dig into later. The last three miles of each Loco loop were on a dirt rail trail, and I was expecting something a little more finished, maybe cinder. It was a bit of a surprise to thus find myself splashing through mud puddles on an uneven trail - hey, this is the good stuff! I wasn't expecting to actually have fun!

The course got much quieter after lapping through the half - seemed most people were just doing one lap. I started to pick off runners, seemed like a lot of people were starting to fade on lap 2. At the 15mi mark, I reminded myself that at Pisgah, I was only halfway done. This seemed to help with the almost-there syndrome that you otherwise get in long races. Stay focused, you've got a lot of running left to do.

We call this the staring-at-your-feet-face

The next five miles got tough. Some of it was being on a second loop of what you've already done, and some of it was just the accumulated repetitive motion starting to wear on me. I may be able to do 50ks and Pemi loops and whatever else, but those have so many different motions for your legs - this marathon business was the same damn thing, over and over and over. By my calculations, that's 18,180 strides that I took on Sunday, each one almost identical to the last. And, I was doing them considerably faster than all those training strides (maybe 720,000 strides, give or take a few thousand), because I didn't really know how fast I was supposed to be going in training. This wasn't nearly as easy as the first time through this loop.

Running was taking much more concentration, now, and I was more focused now, a little less smiley. My quads were doing their best to shit the bed, sharp pain with each step, and there's nothing to do about that except put it out of your mind and keep ticking off miles. I was very slowly reeling in a guy ahead of me when two guys that I'd dropped on the rail trail caught back up to me. This was excellent timing, because I was entering a pretty low point, wondering if I'd still hit a BQ if I walked the rest of the course. I got into their draft, back up to speed at 7:35 miles, and it was a lot of work, but I could keep my legs going through strength of will. Our little group of four continued to pick off miles, not much chatter now, and we finally got to the little hill before the rail trail and I knew I'd make it. I can force myself through three miles of anything!

Laughing at Sharon's sign. Chuck Norris never ran a marathon. It was really funny at the time. 

Sharon was at the top of the hill with some funny signs, and that totally bolstered my spirits. I was looking forward to the mud, too, if only because I wanted to use different muscles, and as I churned my way up the rail trail I caught a glimpse of a woman way ahead of me. Target: acquired. I started pace counting, just to stay focused and take my mind off my quads and keep moving, and though it felt like it took forever, I eventually caught up to her. Two miles left. You can count to 1440, just keep counting paces. The last 5-mi lap dinged, and I was still banking time against the BQ. Go me! One more mile. Half a mile. Two tenths. Started to see more spectators. Into the final muddy field. Oh man I can see the finish! Crossed that line, and I have never been so happy to stop running.

Still running, not jogging. splish splash!

HR and pace both slowly dropping as my legs crashed

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how the race went. I hit my goal, and even though I was exploring the pain cave for much of the last eight miles, I was able to push through without losing too much time. For having no idea how fast I ought to have been training, I discovered that the answer was "much faster than I did." It would have been nice to maintain my 1:39 half split, but I think without the faster road training, it just wasn't going to happen. A part of me wants to tackle this challenge again, because I'm fairly sure sub-3:20 is within reach, maybe even sub-3:15. But a much larger part of me is very happy to just sign up for and run the 2020 Boston Marathon and call it good (we all know a fast Boston Marathon is out of the question because of ski season).

The best part? Both knee injuries are just history. For the meantime, I have put that injury-demon to rest.