Syracuse Half Marathon

Sometimes it’s just not your day to race. You have to be okay with this, put a smile on your face, and make the most of your experience. When you have the chance to run, you take it.

Waking up Sunday morning to the sound of howling wind and snow plows only added to the reasons I was not ready to race. But racing is what I love so I went through my usual routine before heading out to meet up with some friends and head downtown for the 2nd annual Syracuse Half Marathon. I was prepared for the cold weather that we were experiencing – that was in the forecast. What I wasn’t expecting was the snow shower that quickly covered the roads.

Photo courtesy of Joel Capolongo

Photo courtesy of Joel Capolongo

I realized that this is month 5 of racing in the snow – the weather that rolled in wasn’t something that should throw me off or take me by surprise. So why I would neglect to bring proper footwear further shows that my head was not in the game. It’s Syracuse – I’ve lived there for 8 years – I should know that snow is never out of the question. As much as I love my inov-8 Road-X-Treme 118’s, with the tread of a ballet slipper they were not the shoe for Sunday’s conditions. On dry or even wet roads they are awesome, but throw some snow and/or ice into the mix and you may as well be running on an oiled slip and slide!
slipperyshoes

After a brief attempt at a warm-up I realized that this was going to be an issue and lined up at the start hoping that conditions would rapidly improve, or there would be adequate salt on the road giving me a spot with some traction. When the gun went off I started in a controlled fashion. Yes it was slick and there didn’t seem to be any spots on the road that were not affected. I noticed how tense I was running in anticipation of each step. The power I was attempting to obtain from every stride was being met by instability as my foot slid in random directions. I hit the first mile at 6:17 and was not surprised. The steady climb up James Street felt like twice the effort, but I heard this was the main “climb” on the course so all I had to do was get past it. Once this changed over to a downhill that’s where I really started to struggle. At each slippery footfall I started to feel twinges in my knees, which started a chain reaction up my leg. After a short time my quad became so tight I thought I pulled it.

I had to slow down, which does not come easy to me mentally. I told myself that I couldn’t give up over challenging conditions and discomfort. But then I also told myself that ignoring the kinds of issues I was feeling is exactly how I’ve gotten myself into trouble in the past. This conversation in my head didn’t last much longer. Right around the 5k mark there was another slight downhill – I had another big slip, sending another shooting pain from the inside of my knee up through my hip, and I decided that this race was not worth the chance of a setback. I would finish, but I wouldn’t “race”.

This race wasn’t just for me – it was another Strong Hearts Run Club event – I also had committed teammates tackling the course. I waited along with some spectators cheering for my friends and teammates as they ran by. I decided to finish this race with teammate Kate – what better way to enjoy a 10 mile run than with a friend who has so much passion, energy, and true compassion.
syracusehalf2

Races tend to be lonely for me. I’m in the zone – focusing on the task at hand. And other than thanking volunteers along the way, I rarely interact with anyone. What a pleasure it was to run with Kate! We had wonderful conversations and I didn’t even notice the miles ticking by as I was enjoying the company during one of my favorite activities. I can’t say I remember much about the course after that first 5k – I was in the zone, but a different kind of zone. I was sharing an enjoyable experience with someone I admire and taking in what was happening around me. When the sun came out there were sections along the course that were no longer snow-covered, just wet. I was happy to stay right where I was. Kate and I motivated each other over these 10 miles and crossed the finish line together with smiles on our faces.
bib

When I picked up my bib in the morning I commented to the volunteer that 5 is my lucky number. And although my race didn’t go as planned, I can definitely say that lucky number 5 didn’t let me down – I had an amazing time at the Syracuse Half Marathon! And now it was time to celebrate with my teammates by enjoying the well-earned Strong Hearts post-race meal 🙂

My decision to pull back and run instead of race was the best decision I could’ve made. The drive home was painful but once arriving home I iced my ankle and knee and I was back to normal training the next day. Not only did I save myself from possibly hurting something, but I also ran a wonderful 13.1 miles with someone I am honored to call my friend. It wasn’t my day to race, but although there are plenty of opportunities to race, there aren’t enough opportunities on my calendar to run with my friends!

Next up is a 10-miler this weekend. I’m hoping that these snowy races are behind me for the year, but you better believe I’ll be bringing a back-up pair of inov-8’s – just in case!

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Rolling the Dice in Vegas – 70.3 World Championship

70.3
My main concern about racing in Vegas was the heat. Given my history with these conditions, and temps that have hovered around 100 over the past few weeks, in my mind I was going to choose racing smart over racing hard. Sure I was there to race and do my best on the world stage, but I also wanted to finish. Arriving in Vegas on Thursday I got a taste of what I would be up against. But over the next few days we watched the temperatures drop and the forecast for Sunday improve. The heat became less of a worry in my mind.

My training and focus for this race were not up to my standards. But this is what I do – this is what I love – and I knew that when the day arrived I would be ready. Normally when I arrive to a race site the first thing I want to do is build my bike. After arriving Thursday I had no desire to tackle that task. I went for a short run, shopped at Whole Foods, and focused on relaxing and hydrating! Friday morning it was time to get my act
together and after a short swim at the hotel pool I got to work building the bike. That’s when I realized that I forgot my bike pump. I’ve never forgotten my bike pump. So I waited until the expo opened and off I went with my wheels to get air and pick up my packet. Later that evening when I was packing my run gear I realized that I also forgot my race belt. Damn Kline – this is so unlike you! Another easy fix – I could buy one at the expo tomorrow when I dropped off my run bag. 

Saturday brought a pleasant change in weather as I parted with my run essentials at T2/the finish line and headed to the race start to bid farewell to my beloved bike. The plan was to have all of my gear in place before noon so I could spend the rest of my day trying to relax at the hotel. The universe wanted to ensure I stuck to this plan, and by the time I arrived back the hotel, (sorry gentlemen) my monthly curse had arrived. Those close to me know that I am 99% useless during the first two days. But this was not the time to let mother nature ruin my plans (although I realized it came this very same weekend last year – how’s that for predictable!) I decided right away that I could overcome the physical effects with mental toughness while I proceeded to curl up on the couch for the remainder of the day and force some dinner into me.

Sunday: alarm goes off at 3:25 and I am pumped to get going! I was feeling pretty good and after having my normal banana and oatmeal I was off to Lake Las Vegas. Stepped outside the hotel and realized it was raining. Even better! I needed any advantage I could get and rain meant less sun and heat. Once I arrived at the race start it was pouring. After prepping my bike for the day I sought shelter with 1000+ athletes where I welcomed the body heat from close quarters and nervous energy. I had 1 1/2 hours to wait before my start. When it finally came time to line up for the start we all stood shivering and laughing at the fact that being cold and wet was the last thing we were expecting this morning. When it was our turn we swam out to the start buoys and that’s when I realized that my “staying calm for the swim start” plan was not falling into place. But once the air horn started I quickly settled in. I was both shocked and confused as I found myself staying with the main pack of my field coming up to the first turn. Was the lack of wet suit helping me, or was I just having a good swim? Sadly, once we hit the first turn buoy I was losing ground, and by the time I made the 2nd turn I lost sight of that pack. Back to my good ol’ swim ways 😉 You couldn’t see a foot in front of you in that water, and at one point I swam up on a rather large male who started in the wave before me. I pulled up, as did he, and after turning around to look at me he gave me nice solid kick to the chest. Thanks dude – it’s a triathlon – sometimes people touch your feet…

70.3 bike

Beautiful bike course

As I exited the water I checked the Garmin and the oh-so-familiar feeling of disappointment hit me. I’ve been here many times before – time to move on and see what I could make up on the bike. I basically sprinted through the endless transition, and the very deep mud that accumulated at this point. It was still pouring which was helpful in keeping me from going into panic/catch-up mode for the first few miles. The bike course was challenging but beautiful, and at times it was hard not to enjoy the views. At around mile 40 the rain had stopped and the sun was making its first appearance for the day. Although I felt that I was doing everything right on the bike, my energy levels were definitely dwindling and I knew I just had to grit it out until the end.

Coming off the bike is when it really hit me – my legs felt like they were tied together as I ran through transition to grab my run gear bag. I got into the tent and sat down in a chair as I dumped my bag out at my feet. I quickly swapped my gear, handed off my bag, and off I went. All it took was that brief pause in the tent and I was feeling good. And with a downhill start on the run I was able to clock my first mile at 6:39. I was excited about the run course being 3 loops as I thought it would be a good way to break down the run into segments. What I didn’t think of was how hard it would be to pass that finishing chute not once, but twice, to tackle those hills again… But the great thing about the run course was that you were never alone, and there wasn’t a section that was not lined with spectators. The energy was great – and with plentiful aid stations I was able to grab multiple cups of ice and water just about every mile.

The other awesome part about the run was seeing amazing friend and fellow 110% teammate Corrie Kristick out on the course. Seeing a familiar face gutting it out with me was just the boost I needed. As an added bonus, another amazing competitor Kendra Goffredo was along the run course showing me love and support. Unable to run due to an injury, she still showed up to swim, bike and be her bad-a$$ self. She is an inspiration both on and off the race course (check her out at http://chitoandkgo.com/). And she snapped this pic of me as I trudged through that last loop of the run.
70.3 run

After the halfway point of the bike I knew my race was not going as planned. I felt flat and just plain drained. My goal changed to finishing the race while putting out the best effort I could muster. And I did just that. We can’t always have the perfect day, but just being there among the best in the world and racing on an amazing course was all I needed for my trip to be a success. I am honored to have such amazing family and friends who support me every step of the way, along with some of the greatest sponsors I could imagine. My inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150’s carried me through that run feeling strong. Gretna Bikes got my bike ready to tackle that course. 110% Play Harder provides me the awesome gear that allows me to train my hardest day in and day out. And of course I must thank Saucony Creek Brewing, KPS, RMK Solar, Reading Air, and Lupine Lighting Systems for their support. Last but not least there is Mike Walters who provided the body work to get me to the start line feeling great!

The 70.3 World Championship was the conclusion of my multisport season. It is now time to focus on running, and I have some great trail races to look forward to in the next few weeks. New adventures await!

Swim – 41:55
T1 – 3:26
Bike – 2:47:51
T2 – 1:38
Run – 1:36:22

Trails and Ales

When a race is described as “An unusual challenge for road or trail runners“, that sounds like my kind of race! The Mount Cuckoo 30k caught my eye for a few reasons. First it is an Uber Endurance Sports race, and they have a reputation for hosting some lively and fun events in the area. According to the web site this race hasn’t caught on, so this year was going to be the Mount Cuckoo Farewell Party. I couldn’t miss out on my chance to race this course! Second, it was 2 weeks out from Vegas, so it would be a perfect way to get in one last long run effort. Third, it combines my two loves – I’ve had a long and loving relationship with road racing, and am also enjoying a dirty love affair with trail racing. Being able to spend time with both of them in the same race was a great way to celebrate this love triangle 🙂 And last but not least, it conveniently took place right across the street from Stoudt’s Brewing Company, where Microfest was being held after the race. What a perfect way to “recover” and celebrate another wonderful day of racing.
stoudts

We had perfect race weather as we set out onto the roads to begin the first loop. After my poor pacing during my first 30k, I really tried to control myself during this first loop. I was happy to have a familiar face with me for a while – Mark Stoltzfus, who I had just met and run with 2 days prior – was right up there as we turned off into the trails. The terrain was great – the roads were smooth and the trails were not overly technical – what a great mix! The miles were ticking by quickly and before long we were at “the longest and steepest driveway in Berks County” where we were greeted by an accordion player and “Heidi” serving beers at the summit. I politely declined as we turned around to descend the monster driveway. About halfway down I saw the next female on her way up, and realized that I better start picking up the pace. As we hit the trails again Mark pulled ahead and that was the last I saw him during my race (other than the out-and-back sections).

I finished loop 1 feeling great, and although I didn’t know whether or not the next female was doing 2 loops or 1, I figured I better I better keep up the pace on loop 2. To pick my goal for this race, I looked at last year’s results. The winning female ran a 2:40, so I simply wanted to run sub-2:40 🙂 Finishing loop 1 in 1:11, I was in good shape. Heading out on the roads for loop 2 I saw the 2nd female coming in, and it appeared I put a bit more of a gap on her in the 2nd half of loop 1. Once we hit the first trail section, that’s when the fun began. At this point a majority of the runners were finishing the 15k loop, and because we were on singletrack trails, there was a lot of pulling off to the side and stopping to let others pass. I welcomed this interruption – it was a chance to finally interact with some people, and it was giving me some breaks running up the hill! One woman called me a “stud” – wasn’t sure if that was a compliment – it must be the hair… Another woman told me I was her hero. Runners are awesome. Period.

I was happy to make it to the driveway again, as I would have a chance to see where the next female was on my descent. Oh the relief I felt when I made it back to the bottom without another runner in sight! I could relax a little, but not too much. I decided to run with a hydration pack. I didn’t want to worry about the aid stations being too far apart and it was worth the extra weight to me. I’m glad I made that decision – with less than 3 miles to go I was close to empty, which also meant my body’s bladder was full. Feeling confident in my lead, I pulled off onto another trail briefly for a nature break before heading to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 2:26:51 – well below my goal. I was first female overall and 3rd finisher overall. I was pleased with my result, and also with how I raced. I collected the best finisher “medal” ever (this alone makes the race totally worth it. Yes, it’s a whistle!)
whistle
But what I was really shooting for was the overall finisher award – an authentic cuckoo clock!
cuckoo

Thank you Stephan Weiss for an awesome, memorable event. And of course the most unique “trophy” that hangs on my wall and provides some background “music” while I work. I sure hope this race sticks around for at least one more year, and if it does, you definitely don’t want to miss it! (the age group awards are equally awesome)

Now it was time to head across the street and celebrate at Microfest. Of course I went straight to Saucony Creek Brewing Company where they were serving 2 of their best beers – Stonefly IPA, and my favorite, Captain Pumpkin’s Maple Mistress!
microfest

I also sampled some of the beers from other great breweries like Evil Genius, Victory, Monocacy, Susquehanna, and of course Stoudt’s! (sorry, Saucony Creek is still the best – I’m not biased or anything) Stoudt’s hosted a great event with awesome live music, food, and plenty of lively people who share a love for beer. Recovery at it’s finest 🙂

Cheers!

Who you calling a Half-Wit?

half-wit logo
Ron Horn of Pretzel City Sports claims you must be a Half-Wit in order to run this race. I say you’re a Half-Wit if you don’t! Sure it’s tough and I definitely did my share of cursing and questioning my sanity a few times during those 13 miles, but I will definitely be back next year! The fact that I chose to do this race 4 weeks out from 70.3 Worlds…now that calls into question my level of intelligence. Yes, this is the time of year where trail running and racing is equivalent to a crazy night out on the town for me. I really want to do it, but I know the possible setbacks that may occur from my actions 🙂 This year has been slightly different. Although I’m not hitting the trails quite as often as I would like to, the lure of doing some amazing trail races that Southern PA has to offer is just too strong to ignore. The good news – I made it through the trails no worse for the wear!

I decided to stay in Oley the night before the race so that I could ride my bike to and from the race for a good warm-up and cool-down. It was a great idea – I left the house with sunny skies and 63 degree temps and made my way to the Liederkranz. It is mostly an uphill ride, but I had time to take it slow and enjoy the morning. The last climb up to the race start was the only time I questioned my decision to take an “easy” ride to the site. 5 minutes out of the saddle and I could feel the love from the 4 days of intense training I inflicted on my body during my mini “vacation”. But I figured this was perfect training – tire out some sore legs and then tack on a 1/2 marathon.

One of many things I love about trail racing is that I rarely feel nervous. I always believe I am out of my league since trail running is not my main sport, so I don’t put too much pressure on myself. That’s such a nice way to go into a race! At the start line we were asked to repeat the Moronic Oath in true Pretzel City Sports fashion, then we were off! Utilizing my less-than-brilliant racing strategy, it was time to go out hard to get a good gap, then try like hell to hold on for dear life. Will I ever learn?

Questioning our intelligence - photo courtesy of Helene Horn

Questioning our intelligence – photo courtesy of Helene Horn

The first 3 miles I can say I wasn’t really enjoying myself. My heart rate was high and my legs felt heavy. But right on cue, Magic Mile #3 hit and I suddenly felt settled and in my groove. It also helped that soon after was a long descent. I actually said out loud “I’m having the best time ever!” I often talk to myself when I think there is no one close enough to hear me… I decided to wear my inov-8 Mudclaw 265’s. This shoe is a beast, and is built for rough terrain. I never raced in them, but thought this course would be the perfect test to see how they would treat me. I definitely made the right choice!

inov-8 Mudclaw 250 - ready to conquer all terrain

inov-8 Mudclaw 250 – ready to conquer all terrain

The Mudclaws have the perfect amount of cushion to them and superior protection. But best of all was the support and grip. I was able to fly down the long descents and even close some gaps on men in front of me where I would normally take the more cautious approach. I truly love the line-up that inov-8 provides – they have a shoe for every course condition.

Soon after mile 6 it was time to climb the “128 Steps from Hell”. I actually enjoyed these beat-up, overgrown hunks of rock heading straight up the mountain. But once I got to the top, I was questioning what happened to the feeling I had at mile 3… Every climb from that point on felt tougher and tougher. On the steeper ascents, I had every urge to hike and give my legs a break. Then I would remind myself that there are women behind me that actually know how to pace a trail race and are probably closing in on me. After having the lead from the start, I didn’t want to give it up without a fight. I was happy to come across the alternate beverage aid station, knowing that I was getting closer to the finish. As I approached they asked if I wanted water or beer. Call me a lightweight, but I wanted to finish that race with my stomach contents intact. With 2 miles to go, I started to feel strong again and picked up the pace as I made my way to the finish. I didn’t beat the course record (yes of course, I checked that out before-hand) but I was able to take the overall with only 9 men finishing ahead of me. It was one of my most pathetic finishes ever – I’m sure to the crowd it appeared as if I had powered my way to the finish with some alternate beverages as I stumbled in.

Photo courtesy of Derek Schultz

Photo courtesy of Derek Schultz

Thank you to inov-8 for providing me with the best trail running shoes on the market! And a special thank you to Derek Schultz for cheering me on at various points throughout the race. Thank you to the Liederkranz for an excellent job hosting a great after-party. Great job as always by Pretzel City Sports in hosting the most memorable races around! See you at the next one!

Stubmling my way through French Creek State Park

doubletrouble30k
I have been slowly letting people in on a dirty little secret. I have a new temptation. Are you sitting down? Good. I have been considering running an ultra in the next year. There I said it – I put it out there for all to see. So now I can be held accountable 😉 I love running on trails. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and it takes me back to my childhood days of running through the woods behind my house on Skyline Drive. No worries, no stress, just you and mother nature. I don’t have to worry about cars, pace, or mile splits. It’s truly relaxing. Once my season starts I put trail running on the back burner. I don’t always fit it into my schedule, and quite frankly I just worry about hurting myself on rugged terrain. But isn’t this time of the year the best time to hit the trails?

French Creek State Park

French Creek State Park

This new desire prompted me to run the Double Trouble 30k this past weekend at French Creek State Park. Yes 30k is far from an “ultra” distance, but it is the longest trail race I’ve done. And I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. Pacing is not exactly my strong suit. Do I know how to pace? Yes. Do I always use my head and practice pacing during a race? That’s a big fat NO. And with the Double Trouble race having both a 15k and 30k (1 or 2 loop) option, I feared that I would get caught up in the pacing of the 15k runners and pay for it dearly on the 2nd loop.

Although I was planning to run this race for the training, the experience, and most importantly – the fun, I checked last year’s results to get an idea of what kind of pace I should be aiming for. Can’t take the roadie out of me! I had a plan in place, and I had a goal of 2:50 for my finishing time. It’s great lining up at a start and not being nervous. I knew it was going to be a rough day but this race was not one of those “take off from the gun” type of races and it was nice to feel relaxed. There were 2 start lines – 1 for the 15k runners and the other for the 30k. After some back and forth taunting facilitated by Pretzel City Sports’ always-entertaining Ron Horn, we were off! The 15k and 30k runners merged onto the trail and I immediately felt the need to get up to the front of both packs prior to reaching the single track.

So much for not getting caught up in the pace of the 15k runners! Before we hit the single track I got myself into the 3rd position and decided this was a great place to settle in. At 2.5 miles I moved into 2nd place, and at mile 3 I passed the 1st female and decided this is where I needed to stay. I just can’t help myself sometimes… But I was feeling great – I felt strong, smooth and full of energy. I was ahead of my goal pace and before I knew it I was coming back into the park. I finished my first loop under 1:20 and was ready to tackle the 2nd loop.

French Creek State Park - a sample of the terrain

French Creek State Park – a sample of the terrain

I didn’t get far into loop 2 before I felt the fatigue. The miles that were ticking away so easily during the first loop were now feeling so far away – a clear reminder that I was not prepared for this race. I have not run that distance, and definitely not that length of time, since my pre-injury days. I was also alone the entire time. During the first loop I had a guy running with me for the first 8 miles. This always helps to push me. Since he knew how to pace, he took off on the 2nd loop never to be seen by me again. I was looking at my mile splits and was very disappointed in how much slower they were. Every time I slowed down I reminded myself that there were likely much smarter women behind me who paced properly, and they would likely catch me if I let up. I focused on meeting my time goal, and achieved that crossing the finish line at 2:49:00 on the dot. I was the 1st overall female for the day and 5th overall. I managed to stay upright although there were a few close calls… Today my foot is still feeling the pain that my repeated poor footing inflicted upon it. Luckily I wore my inov-8 Trailroc 150’s for great traction and a lightweight feel as I maneuvered across the rocks and roots. It was a great race on beautiful trails and I’m definitely ready to tackle the next distance – with a little more preparation of course 😉

inov-8 trailroc 150

inov-8 trailroc 150

Running Shoe Rivalry

I have recently been placed in a very tough spot. One that I didn’t expect to ever encounter. I’m in love with 2 different running shoes. Last year I was lucky enough to discover my favorite running shoe – the Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150’s. There are many reasons I fell in love with this shoe: SUPER-light, compact, one-piece upper, slim fit…but best of all is the lacing system, which makes them the perfect transition shoe for multisport events. They’re so easy to slip on – right out of the box. No need to buy triathlon-specific laces. They feel great, they look great, and they perform great – what’s not to love? Our love affair blossomed as these shoes led me to victory in France. I hadn’t worn them all winter, and then broke them out in March for the Cary Classic Duathlon. Slipping them on before the race reminded me how much I love these shoes – when I wear them I just want to run – FAST!
4

Recently I acquired a pair of Inov-8 Road-X-Treme 118’s. When I opened the box it was love at first sight. The style and colors are enough to catch your eye, but the slim profile, light weight, and super-breathable upper made them even more appealing. Then I noticed the tongue design – it is integrated on one side and open on the other. Brilliant! I slipped them on and they felt even better than I imagined. That glove-like feel is just one of many things I love about the Inov-8 line. This shoe felt like it was made specifically for me 😉 What I love best about the tongue design is how I can cinch the laces nice and tight – snug around my foot. But there is no bunching of the tongue or shifting of the tongue like I’ve encountered in other racing shoes. Laces flapping around drive me absolutely bananas, so I love that the open side of the tongue is the perfect place to stash them. I couldn’t wait to put these bad boys to the test!

And that’s what I did last weekend. Track workout Saturday followed by the Valley Forge Revolutionary 5 mile race on Sunday. Just as I expected – the shoes were built for speed! They felt so natural – almost like wearing nothing! I placed 4th overall and ran a PR against a tough field of talented and decorated women. A Serbian middle-distance runner who qualified for the 2012 Olympics in the 1500, a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meter at the 2012 British Olympic Trials, and Keystone Track Club’s Katie O’Regan who just ran sub-3:00 at Boston less than a week prior to this race. Fierce!

Turns out there is room in my heart for two loves – there’s no reason for a rivalry. Both shoes have a place in my racing toolbox. The Bare X-Lite 150’s will continue to be my multisport shoe, and the Road-X-Treme 118’s will serve me well for track workouts and running races.

rivalry

Bare-X Lite 150 vs. Road-X-Treme 118