Breaking 1:40: a new half marathon PR

Ever since I ran a 1:40:17 half marathon in December (this was also without doing any race-specific training, other than running a couple tempo runs here and there) I made it my goal to break 1:40 for the half marathon in 2016.

The winter was tough training wise (but when is it ever not tough)--my mileage was still on the higher side due to my coaching, but most of those miles weren't "my" miles--so that left little room for any sort of hill repeats, tempo runs, or a couple double-digit "long" runs.  I did manage to do a 10 mile race and place 4th in my age group in February, which definitely was a surprise (especially since it was 2 degrees outside, but it felt like -13...Fahrenheit!).  In mid-March, I decided to sign up for a women's only half, following the same course that I had done in December.  Even though I again hadn't aggressively training for it, I knew that I could still aim to see how close I could get to 1:40 or under.

On race day, it was already raining before the start.  And I had had a couple nights (including the night before) where I hadn't sleep very well...I blame my teething 16 month old.  I started as close to the front as possible as to not lose time weaving in and out.  Then we were off.  We thinned out almost immediately...some ladies were FAST...clocking sub-7 (and sub 6:30) miles.   For this race, I told myself to try to keep my pace around 7:30-7:35 as long as possible and not have anything under 7:25-7:20, or anything above 7:40.  Usually I tend to run with more "range" in my splits, sometimes with the thought that I could get some "money in the bank"...but since I know my body a little better, I knew that if I started to have a couple miles around 7:25 or under, I fade really quickly (as I learned during the marathon!).  My fitness isn't quite there yet.

With each mile that passed, my splits were like clockwork.  But never once did I tell myself that I had it 'in the bag'  to break 1:40.  It was also a little tough because for the first time...there weren't a lot of people around me that could motivate me to keep going and stick with them!  It was an out and back course, so at one point, one person who I had lapped told me I was #10.  While this was certainly a boost,  I'm glad I didn't get too confident...because at mile 11, I got a bad side stitch and my pace hit 7:50.  Fortunately, I pulled it together, and got myself back on track for the final two miles.  I pushed it hard until the end as I wanted to be as under 1:40 as I could summon the energy for.  When I finished, my time was 1:39:25.  And it turned out, that I actually got my first age group award...#3 for the 30-39 age group!  I don't know what I was more happy with...breaking 1:40, or getting an award!  

A couple days after, my fellow coach Tom congratulated me on my race, and asked me if I thought I could still do better.  I took a minute to respond, as while I definitely pushed myself during the race, and when I crossed the finish line I felt like puking and nearly peed in my pants (I did not)...I never was sore in the days following the race.  And, I didn't train hard for it.  I thought strategy-wise, it was my best race, but I definitely think I could still bring my pace down just a bit.  So yes, I definitely think I have the potential to break 1:39, or even 1:38.  Or maybe someday 1:35.  But who knows...I am just really happy with my current result.  And really proud of how far I've come.  When I ran my first race, at age 28, it was  half marathon--I finished at 1:56.  And now, at age 34, it's 1:39.  At one point, I will "peak" (have I already?) and then just get slower.  That's what happens.  But for now, I'm living in the moment, and like where I am.

The Fitbit

This Fall, I was selected by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to test out a Fitbit (the Fitbit HR). As the head coach for the Moms In Training group, I was one of the lucky few to receive a free device to experience during my coaching sessions.  Free swag--love it!

While I still prefer my basic Garmin Forerunner, I thought the Fitbit was a great basic tool for one that prefers to run shorter distances, or even people who don't consider themselves runners.  If you are on your feet all day--or even for short periods--a little bit adds up.  Its main feature is the step counter, so it's a helpful measure of just how many steps one takes over the course of one day.  Mine also had a built in heart rate monitor (my current Garmin does not), so it's great to have another metric to consider using during my own training sessions.

Here is a little shoutout from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Nationwide Blog.


A lot has happened since my debut "postpartum marathon" addition to a couple intensive projects as an Event Producer, I decided to get a RRCA certification as a running coach.  And...ever since I ran a 3:45 marathon...I decided to make it a goal of qualifying for Boston.  If I could run a 3:45 marathon on the most minimal marathon training schedule ever (or in my experience), I thought knocking off 10 minutes was certainly possible.  Difficult, but not impossible.

After 3 months of solid training, I knew I was ready.  My training had consisted with the typical speed workouts, tempo runs, and hill repeats, plus long runs that is in most marathon plans...but some of this was actually new territory for me (up until this point, I had actually never incorporated speed or hill repeat sessions in my marathon training....oops.)  But it seemed to really work for me this time.  I also had run 2 x 20 mile runs (again, all other times I trained for a marathon, I only had done 1 x 20 miler, not two), and my last one was super solid--a 2:42:44, or 8:08 per mile--that's FAST for me.  I knew that even if I ran this pace (or certainly faster), I could totally BQ.  In fact, my reach goal was actually a sub 3:30 (3:25 ideally).  Regardless, I was ready.

Race day arrived.  I did my usual "postpartum race day routine" (wakeup super early, breastfeed/pump, eat, bathroom, gear check, dress, eat again)...then was bussed to the start.  Then we were off.  I chose to run with the 3:20 pacer...I figured I'd start a little fast, then scale back as needed.  This wasn't necessarily a "mistake"...but I should not have run with this specific pacer (of course I could not have known this).  Around mile 10, I started to feel more tired than I should have been this early on.  Up until that point, I hadn't really looked at my watch much.  But when I did...I knew I was in for trouble.  I had run a few miles at a 7:20-7:25 pace.  That's way to fast for me.  My sweet spot should be been more in the 7:40-7:50 range for the marathon...nothing under 7:30.  When the pacer made a comment that "he was running by feel"...that was a huge red flag.  (Pacers are supposed to run consistently even splits, and this guy was definitely not.)  I started to fade back, and told myself to run your own race.

The middle portion was tough...unusual for a's usually the last few miles for me!  It was partly due to my confusion about pacing...and my early fatigue.  By miles 16-17, I got my pacing back on track and kept repeating "BOSTON" in my head.  But around mile 21...I really hit the wall.  Hard.  Mentally and physically.  Maybe it was the guy puking his guts out in front of me that did it, or another guy who looked crazy fit but was just walking by then...or the fact that my fueling strategy that worked for me in my training runs was just not working anymore.  Or the fact that I started to feel really tired 13 miles in.  I felt so sick to my stomach...and my legs felt like lead.  And I felt like it was a death march.  This specific marathon (the Mohawk Hudson) may have been true to how it was listed (flat, fast), but there were NO CROWDS.  We were on a bike path near a highway and there was no one to cheer us on.  So I had to dig deep, and fight the urge to walk.

I kept going.  Those last 5+ miles were probably the toughest I've ever run.  But I pushed on.  When I entered into the finish area, and crossed the finish line, I wasn't even smiling. I looked at my watch...a BQ.  I still had managed to qualify by over 4 minutes.  But instead of elation...I was just happy to be done.  It was only after I managed to get properly hydrated, where it really stared to sink in.  I had DONE IT.  I set out to achieve something and I did it.  10 months postpartum.  While my racing strategy and mental game was not what I had planned for...and while I didn't get a sub 3:30 which was my reach goal, I still qualified for Boston, which was my primary goal from the start.  That's all that mattered.

Marathon PR...4.5 months postpartum?

I’ve been an avid runner for 6 years, ever since I signed up for my first race--a half marathon.  Since then, I’ve run over 16 half marathons and 4 full marathons...and then recently, I had the toughest race of all--delivering a eight and half pound baby boy.  Less than 5 months later, I ran another marathon and surprised everyone--including myself--when I PR’d at 3:45.  

When I signed up to run my first post-partum marathon, I was 7 months pregnant and still felt strong and confident that I would be able to do it.  It seemed like a challenge but somewhat possible--and a great way to get back into shape.  I had run up to my 6th month of being pregnant, and had a very healthy and active pregnancy.  But when I went into labor, equating “labor” with “running a marathon” was poorly aligned.  It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.  And 28 hours later, with a badly bruised tailbone, I delivered a big (healthy) baby boy.  And I could barely walk for a week I was so sore.  I also had to wait at least 6 weeks to do any sort of exercise--as I tore a lot.  My idea of being about to run 2-3 weeks postpartum was totally unrealistic.  And on top of nursing around the clock, trying to get some sleep,  learning how to be a mother to this wonderful little person was certainly the only priority I was thinking about.

After the first month, I started to contemplate what it would be like to take a short jog.  Six weeks postpartum, during a walk, I tried taking a few jogging steps to see what it would feel like.  It felt good, but I felt like I was learning how to run all over again. So I kept going--for about 25 minutes of the most slowest jogging I had ever done before.  I was exhausted when I got back home, and a little sore, but exhilarated.  For the next few weeks, I made it my goal to try to go running 2-3 times a week, slowly adding miles and intensity.  At first, the marathon I had signed up for, seemed far away.  But about 12 weeks prior to the race, I decided I was ready to start my training.  Having established not only “base” weekly mileage, but more importantly as a new mother, attained a better grasp of how running would fit in with taking care of my newborn.  

Fast forward 12 weeks--each week taking it run by run, assessing how my body felt before and afterwards--it was marathon day. My game day “routine” was much different than prior races...since I was still breastfeeding, so I had to factor in nursing my son, and pumping afterwards to make sure I armed my husband with enough milk!  I took the subway to the race start, and then I was off.  I reminded myself that I was there to have fun--and focus on enjoying the course, my fellow runners, and not go out too fast.  I saw my husband and my son at mile 4, which gave me a boost, then again at mile 17.  By then, instead of dreading the inevitable “hitting the wall”...I felt strong and had lots of energy left, and was starting to calculate that based on my pace, I had a good chance at finishing close to my old PR.  Once I reached miles 20 and 21, I was starting to tire but didn’t feel like I was even close to “hitting the wall.”  By mile 24, I knew I was going to beat my PR by a few minutes.  Then, the last mile approached...then half a mile..then just a few hundred meters...I saw the finish.  As I sprinted to the finish, I started to repeat my son’s name in my head to the rapid beating of my heart...then I crossed the finish line: 3:45:41.  I couldn’t believe it.  Did I really FINISH a marathon AND PR...just over 4 months postpartum?!  And while I was certainly tired, my feet hurt from running on cobble stones (this was the Paris marathon, after all!), I didn’t feel nearly as exhausted as I have felt in prior marathons.  Leading up to the race, while I felt ready and confident in my training, I didn’t feel as “fit” as I had remembered to be since my last marathon, 4 months before I got pregnant.  Did this really happen?  My mind was still racing, wondering how I was able to do so well.  

When saw my husband and son after the finish, I teared up as my husband hugged me, and my son wiggled his hello.  It was only then when it really hit me--I DID IT.  Motherhood has taught me a lot of thing about myself, as has running, but being a mother AND a runner made me realize just how strong emotionally and physically I can be.  And how amazing the human body is.  We postpartum women have already been through the most grueling physical experience ever--giving birth--so in retrospect, running a marathon didn’t seem as hard.  Sure, my marathon training took dedication and perseverance, but in learning how to be a mother, I also learned I had to accept the unexpected.  My body didn’t just “bounce back” immediately to where it was.  There were some days that I was just too tired to run, because my son wanted to nurse multiple times during the night.  I had to figure out the nursing/pumping schedule.  But through it all, it made me a better runner AND mother.  More than ever before, my time running is my “recharging time” where it’s only myself and no one else--something that is hard to get when one is a parent.  And as a postpartum athlete, listening to one’s body is so critical.  Certainly it’s difficult to balance any non-baby activity with all the other needs in one’s life is challenging, but if you are doing something what you love, it makes for a fuller life.