Sunday, February 4, 2018

Race Recap: Rock 'N' Roll Dublin Half Marathon 2017

It was a convenient coincidence that the Affidea Rock 'N' Roll Dublin Half Marathon on Sunday, August 13, 2017 happened to be running through the streets of Dublin on the very week of our planned summer vacation to visit dear friends in Ireland. I'd never run in a Rock 'N' Roll event before, but I'd heard there'd be many live bands throughout the course and I loved the idea of "sightrunning" as a quick way to cover a lot of tourist ground in a new city. Signing up with my husband and BRF, Becca, was a no brainer. Without asking her permission, we then registered our Dublin host, Ciara (who happens to be my OG marathon training partner).

Pre Race
We arrived in Dublin the day before the race. We walked to bib pickup on the historic campus of Trinity College, where Ciara was presently studying to teach science. We explored the school's historical campus and retrieved our race packets from the modest health and fitness expo.

Veganism in Ireland was trickier than I'd predicted. They REALLY do love potatoes. Nutrition leading up to the race was not as controlled as I'm accustomed to, but I did get my peanut butter banana fix on race morning.  On the morning of the race, we walked from Ciara's apartment to the start area in The Docklands. The large start area had trucks where we could drop our gear bags to be transported to the finish line. After a few nervous trips to the port-a-potty, I bid farewell to my companions and squeezed into the massive start corral.

The Course
The half marathon is a point to point course on paved city streets and park trail. It starts in the Dublins Docklands and proceeds along the north side of the Liffey River before crossing Memorial Bridge and looping around Christ Church Cathedral. Eventually, the course enters Phoenix Park, which is one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. The course winds around and ends here in the park, where there is a large post race party with music, fake beer, and shuttles to take runners back to downtown. The course had a few long, grinding hills. It was entirely closed to traffic and well marked.

Race Start
According to the race website, more than 14,000 runners registered for the four events held across the weekend. The half marathon and 10K started simultaneously, so runners of both events were mixed together in the starting corrals. Since amazing bands were promised nearly every mile, I opted to forgo using any personal music device.

Miles 1-3
The start was rather crowded, and as we ran over a few bridges along the north bank of the River Liffey, we squeezed ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder. Things opened up a bit once we turned left to cross the river and passed Ha'penny bridge. At mile 2, we made a sudden left turn on a side street, running uphill to Christchurch Cathedral and then cutting back downhill. I think this little diversion was specifically so the course could include the landmark church. I didn't mind it, the little hill gave me a burst of energy early on. We returned to run west on the quays (that's what Dubliners call the roadways along the north and south banks of the River Liffey). We passed the Guinness Storehouse. I was just settling in here, finding some rhythm.

Miles 4-6
We looped through the campus of the Royal Hospital on a gravel path. I liked this part of the race because it reminded me of Fort Adams at Newport Folk Festival and because where my favorite musician was playing folk music one man band style. We ran through a more residential area, where local supporters cheered, "Good on ye!" Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 we ran past a cover band playing some cringeworthy 90s rock. I liked the community neighborhood feel of this part of the race. I settled in, repeating the mantra, "run with discipline." 10K Runners peeled off toward their finish line finish line while we half marathoners we began a slight downhill drag.

Miles 7-9
Just before Mile 8, we turned left into Phoenix Park. As I passed the mile 8 aid station, I began to wonder why running suddenly felt hard. Seemingly out of nowhere, easy running had become a grind. Later, I learned that we'd run up a slight, steady incline for 2 miles here. Woof. The park itself was beautiful, with grassy paths, trees, monuments, and (allegedly) deer. I kept my eyes peeled for the deer, but I didn't see any.

Miles 10-Finish
At mile 10, we bombed downhill. I regained composure and picked a few women ahead of me to target. I knew this was not going to be a particularly fast race time for me after the hilly slowdown, so I focused on a strong finish. As we hit some rolling hills winding through the park, I worked to keep my form in check. Body straight and strong, drive from the hips. Finishers from the 10K race had walked through the park and were joining other spectators here. I was buoyed by a man encouraging, "All the way through, lads!" I tried to muster a strong last 400 meters, but it was a rather feeble effort on this day.

I finished the race in 1:35:35, 516th of 6556 finishers and 58th of 3207 women. According to Rock 'N' Roll's official ranking system, this earns me a "Lead Singer" badge. Which is great and all... I get they're trying to tell me I'm fast. But why the band member class system? Does this mean slower runners get ranked "back up vocals on that one track" or "tambourine" or "groupie"?

After being funneled through the finisher shoot, I returned to the course to cheer my loved ones into the finish.

Chris had a fantastic race, setting a PR!

Ciara and Becca, who are far nicer, less selfish humans than I when it comes to running and friendship and supporting each other, finished the race practically arm in arm.

The post race party featured some epic jams by local band The Riptide Movement and one free nonalcoholic beer. We took a tired, happy group photo and boarded the shuttle downtown.

Bottom Line:
Even though I had a hard day on the course, running a half marathon was a truly fun way to see the city of Dublin and the best possible way to spend vacation visiting my running companions. I am all in on racing as sightseeing while traveling. I've even convinced Chris to sign up for a race with me in Portland, Oregon when we travel to the Pacific Northwest this July.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Race Recap: Falmouth Sprint Triathlon 2017

If you read my last post, you know that I am attempting a return to blogging after a lengthy, unplanned hiatus. As part of my return, I'm pumping out some race recaps from 2017. They're out of date, but I'd like to maintain a narrative record of the events I've participated in. I won't be able to recap all of them, but I'm going to cover as many as I can. Starting with the Falmouth Spring Triathlon from July 2017:

When sciatica and IT band injury sidelined me from running this winter, I turned to biking and swimming. The training shift was partly for rehabilitation and cross-training, but mostly to feed my endorphin addiction.

I signed up for swimming lessons at the YMCA. I bought a swim cap and goggles. I learned to love the meditative state brought on by the repetition of paddling back and forth along the twenty yards of the odd basement pool and the rumble of the Red Line trains passing through Central Square underneath me.

photo by Racked Boston

I bought a bike with gears. I took it out for adventures.

And then, I registered for a triathlon. The Falmouth Sprint Triathlon on Cape Cod, July 16, 2017.

Lead up to Race Day
I didn't follow a triathlon training plan, but I tried to work in 2 swims, 2-3 bike rides, and 3-4 runs each week. I put together a few "brick" workouts with back-to-back swimming and biking or biking and running. I completed one dress rehearsal complete with an open water swim in Lake Champlain. There were so many lake weeds wrapping around my ankles. It went very terribly.

As race day approached I developed increasing anxiety the ocean swim. I imagined myself coughing and sputtering and getting kicked in the face and being dragged out of the water by lifeguards.

I drove to the Cape with Duncan on Saturday morning. After a quick shakeout run to soothe my nerves, I headed to the race hub at Surf Drive beach to pick up my bib and get the lay of the land. I opened my envelope and withdrew a fortuitous bib number. Deja Vu. 3:32:33 was my finishing time for my first marathon, and 3:32:32 had been the time I'd needed to get accepted into the Boston Marathon.

I got home and wrote myself a detailed race day timeline. There is a whole bunch of gear to pack for a triathlon.

Race Morning
On the morning of the race, I arrived early. Competitors were asked to park about a mile away from the transition area in town lots. I used the bike ride from my car to the transition area to make sure my bike felt just right. I spied on my neighbors and imitated the way they set up their bikes and personal items in the transition area. I felt like an obvious greenhorn. As I laid out my shoes and carefully arranged my helmet and sunglasses on my handlebars, I watched curiously as the man across from me filled a tupperware box with sea water and set it down next to his towel. He explained that this was to wash the sand off his feet when transitioning from the swim to the bike. Well, that sure would've been a good idea. The race organizers marked my arms and calf with my bib number and I was set to go.

Each athlete was given a colored swim cap to indicate his or her division and swimming wave. I noticed that several of my fit looking neighbors had purple "First Timers" swim caps. I looked down at my own "Female Under 34" swim cap and felt a slight pang of anxiety. As a novice, I had the option of starting with my age group, in the 4th wave of swimmers, or starting with the "First Timers" wave at the very end. I asked a few purple capped folks about how they'd made their decisions, weighed the pros and cons of each option, and opted to swap caps for the "First Timers" division. I could start in Wave 12 or Wave 13. This meant I'd have only other novice triathletes around me and that the lifeguards would be paying closer attention to me, but it also meant I had to wait and watch 11 waves of athletes, each spaced 5 minutes apart, before I could enter the water.

The Swim
I took a quick dip in the water and swam a few strokes to loosen up and get acclimated to the ocean and decided to ditch the wetsuit I'd borrowed from a friend. I was wearing a triathlon suit and the water was above 70 degrees. I'd not practiced swimming in the wetsuit and wagered that the benefits of floatation and warmth were outweighed by the potential discomfort of swimming in an unfamiliar costume and the time sure to be lost by attempting to peel it off my body while running out of the water.

As athletes in the more elite waves set off, I watched attentively from the beach in hopes of gaining some insight about how to approach this daunting swim. I felt somewhat comforted by the fact that most of the swimming was done parallel to the shoreline and that the water was quite calm. Even still, my knees literally knocked together on the beach and I thought to myself, "What the f*ck am I doing here?" 

Finally, waves 12 and 13 were called. The race director gave us novices a short speech about how not to panic out there, which mostly just made me feel more panicky. I waded in with the other athletes for the water start and listened to the "Ready. Set." and a long loud BEEP.

Swim, swim, swim. I sloppily thrashed my way forward. I remembered the advice of veteran triathletes and looked up between strokes to sight the buoy. I was on track. In spite of my vision of swimming a steady, classy freestyle, I found myself alternating between strokes so I could just keep moving forward. A little freestyle, a little side stroke, back to freestyle. When I looked around, I felt relieved that many other swimmers had adopted similar sloppy, survival swimming styles. I wasn't panicked, but I found that I didn't care about how I looked or whether I was neat. I just wanted to move forward to the next buoy. The lifeguards yelled out, "everybody okay?" And I was!

I saw the final buoy on my left and made a tight turn in toward the shore. Swim, swim, swim! Suddenly, my fingers grazed sand. I stood up and emerged from the ocean. As I hit the beach, I felt completely elated. I'M NOT DEAD! I HAVEN'T BEEN DISQUALIFIED! It had taken me a pitiful 13:12 to complete the .4 mile swim. I was 415th of 511 competitors. But my body was pumping with adrenaline now.

The Bike
My wobbly legs found their footing underneath me. I sloshed through baby pools which had been placed near the transition area to rinse the sand off my feet. It took a moment for me to find my bike, but once I did, I was all business. Helmet on, buckled. Socks and shoes on. Sunglasses. Sip of water. Let's ride! I ran my bike to the line where a sign read "mount bike here", hopped into the saddle, clipped in my shoes and started to pedal furiously.

As I rode down shore drive, winding toward the Falmouth lighthouse, it occurred to me that I'd never, ever taken my bike for a ride on closed roads. I was literally able to ride as fast as my legs would take me. With excitement pulsing through my whole body, I began passing cyclists. One, two, three, four, five. We passed the Nobska Point Lighthouse. We hit some rolling hills. With a big grin, I bombed downhill as fast as I could.  Sharp right turn, bike tilt. Shifting gears felt surprisingly natural.

This is actual footage of me riding my bike during the race:

When the beach and transition area came into view, I couldn't believe the bike ride was already ending! As I dismounted my bike, I could only think about how I wanted to keep riding. This was fun! At 205th/511athletes in the ride, I was moving up in the world. I racked my bike, pulled off my cycling shoes and laced up my sneakers. Hat on, bib on. Off we go!

The Run
The run was a 5K out and back on Shore Road along the beach. I liked that there was constant activity. Since we had all started in different swim waves, it was hard to know who I was in direct competition with, so I encountered runners of all paces along the out and back course. Athletes were really supportive, offering high fives and "looking strongs!" as we passed one another. I set a comfortable pace, guessing I must be running somewhere just below 8 minutes per mile. My watch beeped the first mile. 6:40? I felt great. I barreled on, picking off runners ahead of me one by one. I had just run a 5K race in Vermont a week and a half prior to this event and had felt terrible the whole time. I was still feeling cautious about my return from injury, so I had low expectations of my pace in this race. I focused on maintaining a "cruisey" feel, but felt surprisingly awesome. I hit the turnaround. Just needed to run back to the beach now. With 800 meters to go, I started to kick it into gear. The finish was on the sand, and I crossed the line feeling full of joy. My run was 21:08, faster than my 5K race in Vermont the week before and good for 21st/511 athletes.

My time was good enough for 3rd of all novice women, an accomplishment for which I was rewarded with a commemorative...bath tile?

Triathlon was such a scary and fun adventure, and the Falmouth Triathlon was well organized, on a great course, and super friendly for a first timer. My first love is still running, but I hope to find a way to get more triathlon in my life in 2018.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017 Reflection.

At the close of 2016, I resolved to write more. I promised I would submit at least one piece of writing for publication. Instead of doing either of those things, I stopped writing for pleasure all together. I've written plenty of occupational therapy evaluation reports, IEPs and progress notes. I've written research papers for class, grocery lists and workout plans and a grant proposal. But midway through the year, just as I began to move beyond my self pity cycle of injury and feel physically like my strong self again, without ever making a conscious decision, I simply abandoned my blog.
So why did I stop writing? Looking back, I recognize that I developed doubts about the identity and purpose of my blog. I lacked clarity about who I was writing for and what I hoped to gain from writing. Big, pressing, weighty issues in our country and world made me start to feel like my writing was trivial and self centered. I wasn't using my blog to make a difference. I wasn't sharing expertise or developing my professional network. I didn't have a product to market or incentive to monetize. I didn't feel like what I had to say was all that important these days. So what was the point?

Last week I was out on a cold, windy run along the Charles River when unexpected feelings started working their way up to my throat and then tumbling over in my mind. I thought about my defunct blog. I asked myself whether I missed writing and what, if anything, I had gotten or wanted to get out of the creative process. I felt strongly that this was an endeavor I wish to continue.

It's really difficult to pick things back up after a hiatus. There's an undeniable gap in the narrative documentary of this space that isn't easy to go back and fill in. And so, in the spirit of reflection that permeates the close of a calendar year, I am looking back on 2017 with the intent of moving forward into 2018.

Here's a glimpse at life in 2017:

At the beginning of the year, I struggled with a herniated disc, sciatic nerve pain and a blown out IT band. 

I moved through recovery and learned lessons from my experience with physical injury, like how to shift my passion to support others and how to persistently advocate for myself to get the help I needed to heal.

I took my first ever summer away from my occupational therapy career and picked up a gig hauling produce, recycling and compost by bike. Spoiler alert: I sucked at it.

I bought a new bike, signed up for swimming lessons, and completed my first triathlon in July. 

I traveled to Copenhagen, London, and Ireland with my loved ones.

I made my debut as a race organizer with the inaugural Parlor Sports Classic, raising funds for the Quell Foundation through the Falmouth Road Race.

I committed to a vegan lifestyle, eventually even giving up dairy ice cream. Thank goodness for FoMu

I joined the Heartbreakers Running Club and fell deeply in love with coached track workouts.

I started a new school year and invested my professional efforts into supporting social emotional learning for my students and developing my cultural competency as an educator.

I ran 5 half marathons in 3 different states (VT, MA, NH) and 1 foreign country (Ireland).

I was officially accepted into the Boston Marathon (!!)

I set new PRs in the Half Marathon and 5K.

And now, as 2017 comes to a close and I set my focus on the year ahead, I can genuinely admit:

I am documenting and reflecting on a part of my life that I value and that brings me joy. I am putting it in public space, which is kind of a weird idea, but the process is for me. It doesn't have to be big and important and world changing. 

I am writing this blog for myself. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Race Recap: Covered Bridges Half Marathon 2017

The 26th Annual Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Vermont was as picturesque and community focused as races come. It was a well organized event on a perfect June day.

The Covered Bridges Half Marathon is always held on the first Sunday of June. Registration for 2017 took place online in early December 2016. To maintain the community atmosphere of the event, the race is first-come, first-served and capped at 2,300 runners. As is typical for CBHM, this year's race sold out in under fourteen minutes. I got in because I was waiting for the event to go live with my finger hovering over the trackpad of my laptop.

The event is organized by a completely volunteer staff under the non-profit CBHM, Inc. Each year, the race donates more than $50,000 do local non-profit groups focused on youth activities and youth sports in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Lead up to Race Day
At two weeks out from the race, I wasn't certain I'd be capable of running it. Recovery from injury was still very much a work in progress. I had gradually built myself up to an 8 mile long run, then a 10 mile long run. I squirmed in the physical therapist's office as I nervously asked the question I feared the answer to: Can I participate in the race? 

Kim said yes. She said yes? She said yes! Well, she did say yes, but with a warning of caution and a list of pre-race and post-race musts including stretching, proper warm up, and a heavy dose of ego check. Absolutely no racing allowed. Walk if necessary. Goal of this race was finishing without risking reinjury.

As race day loomed closer, I compulsively checked the weather forecast. The chilly evening temperatures and threat of storms had me feeling nonplussed about the Quechee State Park campground reservation I'd made. I stared at the pile of camping gear in my living room with my arms crossed.

I kind of hate camping. For years, I've been pretending to like it. Based on my demographic and social background, I totally should like it. The truth is, I don't think it's fun to unpack and repack a grimy, damp tent. I don't like tossing and turning and shivering on the hard floor. I don't like waking up to giant spiders in my hair or reeking of campfire.

In a quick fury, I opened my laptop and booked an AirBNB reservation in Norwich, Vermont in a farmhouse with a proper bed and a shower and flushing toilets and a kitchen. I triumphantly shoved all the camping gear back into the crawl space under the stairs.

The Day Before the Race
I borrowed a car from a friend and whisked Becca away for the two and a half hour drive north. We stopped along the way at a lovely farmer's market and ate soup and salads for lunch at King Arthur Flour in Norwich.

After navigating some backwoods roads, we arrived at the farm and met our hosts. Other guests at the house included several dogs, ducks, a rooster, and a runner named Sue who had completed the Covered Bridges Half Marathon many times. Sue went on to win the women's 55-59 age group in the race with a terrifyingly impressive 1:35:44. #GOALS.

Becca and I were pleased to learn that the farmhouse was sitting on the Appalachian Trail. We set off for a quick loop hike, which grew longer than planned when we took a few "maybe we shoulda brought a map" detours.

After our hike, we drove over to visit our braver friend Kelsey and her companions at the Quechee State Park campground I'd chickened out of camping at. We enjoyed good company and the fruits of someone else's campfire labor, then retreated to our comfy house when the bugs came out.

We took long hot showers, baked pizza, and drank five cups of tea. With a microwaved S'more in hand, I crawled into bed to watch the New England Revolution soccer match on my laptop while Becca read a book. We were tucked in by 10 pm.

Race Morning
At dawn, our kind hosts had coffee waiting. We ate breakfast, used the bathroom about twenty times each, and set off by car for Quechee Gorge Village. The parking area was ate the village in a big open field. We double checked our gear bags and made one more portapotty stop before joining the line for shuttle buses to Woodstock, where the race would start. We chatted nervously with those waiting with us and saw a barefoot man who is reportedly a running legend at the Covered Bridges Half marathon.

The bus ride took us the thirteen miles to Suicide Six ski area. There was "day of" bib pickup only for this race. For the neurotic runner who likes to go to the expo and get everything set ahead of time, this might be anxiety provoking. But rest assured, these folks have the logistics down to a science. Before I knew it, my bag was checked, bib pinned on, and Becca was applying a temporary Pride Day tattoo to my shoulder. We bumped into some fellow Slumbrew Happy Soles and my friend Kate.

The Course
CBHM is a point-to-point course, running west to east from Woodstock to Quechee. It loops through downtown Woodstock, crosses through a covered bridge, and ambles along the Ottauquechee river to end in Quechee village. The roads are totally closed to cars and a fair amount of the race was on packed dirt roads. Although this race takes place in the mountains, there is an overall net loss of 200 feet in elevation over the 13.1 miles and a gentle downgrade much of the time. There are two notable hills, a very small gradual hill at mile 5 and a short, steep hill at mile 8. It was beautifully scenic and well supported by aid stations every two miles and crowds from the local community.

Race Start
I jogged over to the start line for a quick warm up. It was cool and bright. There were pacers holding signs with expected finish times in five minute increments in the open, self seeded corral. I met a woman wearing a large baby blue pair of children's headphones with a cartoon image of Elsa from the movie "Frozen". I laughed when she explained that she'd forgotten her earbuds and her friend's daughter offered these as a replacement. There was no fanfare or announcement before the race, and the sound of the gun at 8:14 (a minute early!) jolted me forward.

Miles 1-3
I started the race on the fringe of the 1:35 pace group to settle into a steady rhythm. The group was quite large and runners jockeyed for position. Miles 1 and 2 passed uneventfully, but a little on the fast side. I began to worry that I was getting caught up in the nervous energy of the group. I knew it was unwise to get carried away by letting someone else dictate the pace, so I peeled to the side around mile 3 and allowed the pace group to drift. I was feeling rather uneasy and noticed my breathing had grown a little ragged. I had been so focused on the group, I really hadn't looked around me. It felt like forever since I'd run in a race! I jammed my headphones into my ears and took a deep breath. Tom Petty's "American Girl" soothed my nerves.

Miles 4-6
We looped around downtown Woodstock, where there was more crowd support and we were able to pass by other runners on either end of the loop. Just before mile 5, we ran through a covered bridge. I focused on running with control. I had been told there was a hill at mile 5, but it was so gentle I barely noticed it. I was feeling much more at ease and holding my promise not to look at my watch.


Miles 7-9
After leaving Woodstock, the course followed along the Ottuaquechee River. There was good shade on this part of the course. At mile 8, there was a short, steep hill. Volunteers handed out ice and cheered runners up the hill. I noticed a photographer waiting just after the crest of the hill. I was still trying to get my breathing back under control as I grimaced at him.


Miles 10-13.1
The backdrop of river and mountains over these miles was wonderful. As we pounded downhill, my hip and IT band began to send me polite reminders of their existence. I listened to what they had to say and slowed my pace. I found the middle of the road, running right down the yellow lines to prevent any lopsidedness from sneaking into my gait as I fatigued. I focused my mind on an even stride and light footfalls, calm and restrained running. The road changed over to packed gravel, which my recovering hip and IT band were grateful for. We reached the village of Quechee and approached the finish in Dewey Field. With about 400 meters to go, my field of vision began to tunnel. Oh boy. I breathed through my nose and reset my shoulders. Smiling and upright, I crossed the finish line and finally looked up at the clock and down at my watch. 1:35:15. Not bad for a restrained "I'm not racing" effort. Although, who am I kidding. I can't run a race and REALLY take it easy. I collected my medal and finisher tee shirt.

After collecting my wits, I heard my name being called and recognized Kelsey's husband, Luke, who still smelled delightfully of last night's campfire. We walked back along the finish chute to watch for our beloved. Becca came next, strong and graceful as ever.

Becca had spent much of the race running alongside a man who was a little older than her parents. She said the miles passed quickly as they shared easy conversation about his life growing up in Canada and his wife, who had run the race with him for many years, but had recently undergone treatment for cancer and was spending this year on the sideline. They stayed together through mile 12, when he insisted that she run ahead for a strong finish. 

Ever the obedient patient, I stretched my groaning IT band and hip on the side of the road.

We yelled and cheered as friends crossed the finish line. 

We walked over to the finish line party, which had live music, lots of food, an ice cream truck, and a beer tent sponsored by Harpoon. There were 3 quintessentially Vermont prizes in each age group: handmade pottery, maple syrup, and local cheese. Bag pickup was a cinch, with our bags waiting in alphabetical order on a hillside next to the after party. Friendly EMTs gave me an ice pack for my leg, which was feeling pretty angry. We snapped a photo with our amazing fellow Slumbrew Happy Soles before trotting back to our car. 

Becca and I crouched next to the car to flash passersby as we changed our clothes. A quick Wet Ones spongebath and a few swigs of a surprise grapefruit seltzer from the bottom of my cooler helped recharge our batteries. 

Bottom line: Covered Bridges Half Marathon was impeccably organized with a fast and beautiful course and strong community support. I can see why it sells out so quickly each year! June weather in Vermont can be quite unpredictable, but we really lucked out in 2017. I can't wait to run this race again at full strength!

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