Category Archives: Reviews

Half Marathon Reviews

Review: Fitletic 16oz Hydration Belt

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I’ve gone through many a hydration belt in my time as a runner. I typically follow two paths — either the water belt is awful from the get-go or it seems fine to start, but ends up moving around too much to earn my highest praises after a few runs.

I’ve taken the Fitletic Hydration Belt on enough runs now to declare victory. This belt will be one of two hydration options I use this summer, the other being my Camelbak, as I train for my first marathon.

Why? Because it simply doesn’t move.

No matter how many water belts and bags claim they don’t budge, I’ve never found one that so securely stays in place, until now. The one design feature that makes a difference is the little plastic bumps that line both sides of the belt, keeping it securely in place.

Honestly, I don’t know why no one thought of this before. The bumps add enough friction that it makes it much harder for the belt to move — you’d have to leave it too loose on your waist or in a weird spot in order for it to wiggle at all.

That being said, it can be slightly difficult to remove the bottles mid-run. I found I often needed two hands to remove a single water bottle until I got the handle of everything.

The other major advantage of this belt is that its pouch is big enough to hold my iPhone 6 — a lot of hydration packs have yet to catch up to the newer models. While my iPhone 4S fit in nearly every pouch I used, my iPhone 6 works in few. Plus, an interior pocket within the pouch helps secure and keep any IDs or cash separate from your phone.

The belt also is adaptable to add-on water pouches, so you can end up with 32 ounces of water around your waist. I purchased two extra 8-ounce containers but have yet to use them since it’s not summer yet.

Ultimately, the true test of a hydration pack for me is if I quickly forget I’m even wearing it on the run until I need it. With this pack, I forget it’s even on less than a mile in. Because of that it’s certain to be my best friend as I enter marathon training in a month.

Reviews

Review: Fitbit Alta

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I’ve used a Fitbit One for a few years, but wanted something more.

I thought about an Apple Watch, the FitBit Blaze or one of the new Garmins, but I actually don’t mind keeping my steps and runs separate and the Apple Watch and Blaze are both a bit chunky, plus have more features that I really need at a higher price tag.

I bought a Fitbit Alta instead. I liked the lower cost — $129. And it had the main features I was looking for: step/activity tracking, sleep tracking and text/call notifications.

I normally run with my phone, but I keep it on silent. I don’t want technology to intrude too much into my runs, but I’d also like to receive urgent calls or text messages, especially when I’m on my long runs, which are going to get longer when I start marathon training in the summer. And it’d be nice to see text messages of encouragement from friends and family when I’m running a big race, too!

I fell in love with the Alta pretty much the second I put it on. I ordered it with a navy wristband and it blends in seamlessly with all my outfits. You basically forget it’s there the second you put it on. It needs charging about once every five days, and I get a reminder with plenty of time before the battery completely runs out.

It took me a bit of time to get used to the little wrist flip you need to do to view notifications you receive — whether that’s from a text or just the Alta telling you to go take a walk. And tapping the slim screen can bring about different results — sometimes it shows you the message, other times it skips ahead. Sometimes it doesn’t register at all and shows nothing. Sometimes, I have to flip my wrist twice or a few times to see what’s happening. Maybe I’ll get the hang of it one of these days.

The feature that reminds you to move each hour — you set the daily time frame — is helpful, until it isn’t. I turned it off when I was trying to nap and it went off halfway through my nap. It’s also minorly annoying/kinda funny when it buzzes you to walk 250 steps while you’re in the middle of a flight or a lengthy car ride — sorry, not gonna happen. Still, the reminder to move is nice so I might turn it back on, someday.

Ultimately, I wish the Alta knew that when my phone is on silent or Do Not Disturb, it shouldn’t buzz my wrist with any notifications other than the alarm. Perhaps that technology will work its way into the app in the future.

One thing the Alta doesn’t do that I didn’t realize before the purchase — track floors climbed, aka elevation changes. It doesn’t have an altimeter. But that’s always been an added bonus that’s most interesting when I go on a long run and find out I’ve climbed the equivalent of a gazillion stairs. I can still see my elevation charts through my Garmin watch so I haven’t missed the feature much.

In terms of step accuracy, I find the Alta is mostly spot on. However, one day I was digging out major bushes in front of my parents house, then replanting new ones, and it registered some 10,000-13,000 steps during the course of that lengthy activity. I definitely didn’t take that many steps, though I did very likely burn the number of calories it thought — the work was super hard work.

Overall, I am so happy I upgraded to the Alta. Its sleek design and long battery life is just what I needed. It tracks my sleep without me remembering to tell the app that I’m going to sleep. It even tracks naps that way.

It also knows when I’ve been doing an activity — such as walking or running or biking, and automatically logs it. You can change the logs later if they’re slightly off, and you can adjust the time it takes for the Alta to register you’ve been doing an activity.

There’s also more areas you can set goals and challenge yourself — such as making sure you take 250 steps during set hours of the day and setting the number of workouts you do a week. It’s also easier to log things like yoga, swimming and the elliptical than previously.

Half Marathon Reviews

Race Recap & Review: Loudoun Half

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1:59:08!

I finally did it — a sub-2. It’s been two years since my first half, and back then I wanted to sub-2 at my next one. But I didn’t get there that first spring season, then I psyched myself out in the fall, then I got injured. I spent all last year coming back, and just enjoying the run — including five half marathons.

Sunday’s half was my third this season, and my third in five weeks. I pushed myself at the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon on March 12, hoping to sub-2 there, but the hills were just a bit too much. Still, that race earned me a 50-second PR, and I definitely felt accomplished.

Two weeks ago I ran Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco at a nice, easy pace. It was one of my favorite races.

In between San Francisco and Loudoun, I rested … a lot. It was more than I usually would have, but I listened to my body, especially after two days of hard work removing massive shrubs from my parents’ house and planting new ones. I ended up with five runs in the two weeks, but I made sure they were all quality runs, including a great speedwork session on the treadmill of 3/4-mile intervals at 8:57, 8:27, 8:12.

My final run before Sunday was Thursday. I did 3 miles with a faster 1.5 miles buried in the middle. It felt hard — my lungs felt heavy — but I had forgotten to take my allergy meds the night before.

Flash forward to race day.

IMG_9098When I woke up to my alarm at 5 a.m., I immediately noticed I had some gas cramping going on. Not a good sign. I brushed it off and ate my breakfast — my usual cheerios + bagel. I got dressed and was in my car at 5:35 for the 25-minute drive to Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Va.

I arrived right at 6 as planned, and there was ample parking. I walked, what at the time seemed like a long walk, to get my packet. There weren’t too many folks around yet, so it was a snap, and I picked up my friend and co-worker John’s bib too. He had just texted he had arrived, and we met up in a few minutes.

Next was finding the bathrooms. Everyone seemed to be walking toward the field, so we started down that path, then saw a magical sign about indoor bathrooms. We backtracked a bit and found those. There were zero lines.

I needed to toss my race shirt in my car, so after the pit stop, we walked — in what didn’t seem like that much of a walk now — back there. At this point, I realized I was still having gas cramps — not enough to not run, but enough that it would hold me back if they kept up. It was 30 minutes to race start.

I knew I would need to hit the bathroom again, so we walked back there. In all, we were probably gone for 10-15 minutes from that area. When we got back, there were a million people and a super long restroom line. I didn’t want to wait, so I went back to the field to try to find these “restrooms at the concession stand” that I’d seen on a sign. I figured they would be porta potties, but I was fine with that.

I stopped to ask a volunteer for directions, mentioning the lines were crazy inside. She wasn’t sure where to go or if the concession stand ones would even be open. Praise the lord, a lovely lady a few feet away chimed in, said they were open and that she’d just been there and there were zero people there. Score!

A short walk later, I found them. They were indoor restrooms, with full plumbing. There was no wait. I did my thing, and noticed I immediately felt better. The gas cramps seemed to be subsiding and going away.

I met back up with John, who hadn’t originally wanted to make the trek to find new restrooms. I told him of the no-line oasis I’d found, and we walked back so he could dash in for a minute. When he came out it was nearly 6:50. We walked back to his car so he could stash his stuff. He did a minute of jogging around the lot, then it was time to get to the start line, which was like 300 feet away. I’m pretty sure we got there at like 6:57, 3 minutes before the start. This is why I love small, local races.

John gave me a hug and we separated. I had a throwaway long-sleeve on and decided I didn’t want to run with it at all, so I tossed it to the side at the start line. It was slightly chilly at the start — around 45 degrees. I warmed up by the first mile.

At the start line, I noticed my gas cramps seemed almost completely gone. Maybe I can do this sub-2 thing after all, I thought.

The National Anthem was sung, and a little after 7 we were off.

I wanted to run my first mile around goal race pace — 9:09s — or slightly faster. I didn’t want to start doing sub-9s early on and risk going out too fast. I hit the first mile at 9:04. Perfect. From the elevation chart, it looked like there was a decent climb into mile 2. I thought it could end up being my slowest of the race. I focused on keeping the same effort, running any declines strong. There didn’t seem to be much uphill in that mile after all. My watch beeped at 9:03. Sweet.

There was a little bit of downhill the next mile, and I wanted to take every opportunity to hit the downhills hard and start adding a little cushion to my time. The next two miles flew by: 8:55, 8:54.

IMG_9097Shortly before mile 4, there’s a slight uphill so you can get on the W&OD. I’d been looking forward to this section of the road the most, knowing it’d be mostly flat or a little downhill overall. It seemed like there was some uphill here from what I was seeing ahead of me, but my elevation gains/losses don’t show it, so it could have been an optical illusion. After two sub-9 miles, I told myself to dial back the pace just a bit. There were still a lot of miles to go. Mile 5 rang in at 9:02.

Up until this point, I’d skipped the previous water stops. I was starting to regret it, knowing there wasn’t another one until before mile 7, when the food station at mile 5 ended up having water. I grabbed a quick gulp and powered on.

I hit the remaining three water stops, but never felt I needed Gatorade or my blocks, so once again, I ran a half only drinking water. If it hadn’t been a goal race or my stomach hadn’t been messing up before, I might have chewed up the blocks, but I just didn’t feel like it.

I felt really good in the next mile and noticed a bit of a downhill slope. I decided I wanted to sub-9 for that bit again and did. Mile 6 ran in at 8:53, my fastest of the race so far. At this point I was about 50 seconds faster than a sub-2 pace. I had my pace band again this race, and was so happy I did.

I didn’t want to burn out, so I just tried to aim for 9-9:09 minute miles. Mile 7 beeped at 9:00 on the dot, and mile 8 at 9:08.

IMG_9096Then there was a hill I wasn’t expecting. It ended up being the worst hill of the race, though thankfully it wasn’t too bad. Still mile 9 was my slowest of the race at 9:22, and my head went “oh, shit.” I could still lose this thing.

I wanted to gain my confidence back, so I set a goal of a sub-9 for the next mile. Luckily, there was a fair bit of downhill, and I hit it at 8:47. I felt back on track.

The last three miles were hard. I kept repeating the mantra on the Momentum wrap I was wearing: you got this. I thought about their “foot notes” I’d put on my shoes, too: Finish Strong.

I knew I would sub-2, but didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself. It only takes a bad few last miles to ruin your pace. I tried to keep as even as a pace that I could, with the hope I could speed up a little bit after mile 11.

Mile 11 chimed in at 9:13, but there was a bit of uphill, the second largest gain of the race for a single mile when I checked later. I worried I was losing it again.

I dug in a bit, aiming to get back close to 9s for when mile 12 chimed in. It came in at 9:04.

At this point, I pretty much knew I had a sub-2 in the bag, and I couldn’t believe it. I was running about 30-45 seconds faster than goal pace. But I was also getting very tired, very quickly.

It seemed like forever, but eventually the school came back into view. My watch beeped again, but I never looked down. Only after I finished did I realize mile 13 was the fastest of the race at 8:43. I’m not sure how I pulled that off.

We turned the corner, and it again felt like forever until we got to the track. John was waiting at the entrance to the track cheering me on. He knew I was going to sub-2. I smiled as much as I could, but I think it looked more like a grimace. I wondered why the finish line was all the way on the other side of the track. That seemed like forever away. At this point, I was breathing hard. In races, I always feel like it comes down to lungs or legs. One or the other feels like it can’t go any faster. This time it was my lungs.

I became one of those breathing-so-hard-I-sound-like-I’m-gonna-die people. I felt sorry for the lady in front of me. At this point I was nearly delirious. I just wanted to cross the finish line. It looked so far away.

Finally, I got there. Someone handed me a medal and John was there, telling me I did it, then asking me if I was OK. I put my hands of my knees and tried to get my breathing under control. I needed water and I needed to sit down. Both happened quickly, but not quickly enough.

John asked how it went, and I said I am never running fast again. He chimed in: let’s start with not running ever again.

Then John figured we were too close to the hustle and bustle of the finish line, and said we should move. Fine, I said, but you need to help me up. What I really meant was and also, can you carry me over there.

But that brief lie down did wonders. My breathing was back to normal, and the walk wasn’t too bad. I collapsed on the ground for a bit in the middle of the field, checked my splits, then we stretched.

IMG_9061John started doing crunches and a plank, and I looked at him like he was crazy. He’s in marathon training, so I get it, but I also don’t get it. We talked about our races a bit. John was saying math things to me about his splits and times, and I couldn’t compute them. He said when that hill came at mile 9, he was thinking, “But Kat said the biggest climb was mile 1-2.” In the end, I figured out he’d had a good race.

We eventually got up to see if we could find an official results table. On the way, I picked up half a bagel — I’m trying to eat more quickly right after my halfs now — and some more water. There was a results table. Even though I had my watch on me, it was like I wouldn’t believe I’d really sub-2’d and done so by a decent margin until I saw the official times.

When I read 1:59:08, I beamed, and then checked it a few more times before believing it. I took a photo in case I doubted myself later before the results posted online. It’s 1 minute, 40 seconds faster than the PR I set at Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. just five weeks ago.

Back to the cars we went, and I headed over to my parents because I needed to dig what I thought was one more hole, but what ended up being two, so my mom could finish her landscaping project. Surprisingly my legs didn’t feel that bad. They felt better than when I’d run Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. — thanks to fewer hills, I guess. I knew they’d feel worse Monday, though.

I dug the holes, then it was time to go home and nap.

I’m so excited and proud that I sub-2’d at this race. I ran a great race and kept up the pace in the last three miles. I’m still shocked that mile 13 was my fastest. And that I ran the last dash to the finish line at an 8:03 pace.

Love this shirt and medal.

Love this shirt and medal.

This was a great race and great course. The total elevation gain per my Garmin was 325, with the total loss 331 (I don’t know exactly why Strava’s data, which is synced from my Garmin, is different.)

The course support was exactly what you need for a half — water and Gatorade stops every 2 miles. Plus that extra stop at mile 5 that handed out gummies, oranges and water. There was GU somewhere on course, but I was too focused to notice it or care.

The race took place on a combination of neighborhood streets, medium-sized roadways where we had one lane to ourselves, and the W&OD. It was a great mix, and I never felt bored. Plus, the course largely avoided running into the sun, which is key for early hour races at this time of year. And especially true when I decide not to wear a hat.

There were spectators on the course, but they were mostly few and far between, with some groupings in certain areas. But it really felt like each spectator was cheering JUST you on because how small the race was. In all there were 671 finishers for the half. There was also an 8K, which took off a half hour after the 13.1 folks started.

The pile-up at the start lasted all of a tenth of a mile or less. I never felt like I needed to weave to get around folks.

One of the things I was expecting from this race because of its size and its use of a single lane most of the way was that I wouldn’t end up running much past 13.1. But my watch measured 13.25, which is about average for a half. This race had a lot of curves and turns, so it’s not too surprising.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun, easy going race for your spring calendar, definitely add the Loudoun Half!

Half Marathon Reviews

Race Recap & Review: San Francisco Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

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After a half marathon I normally head home and, after a well-deserved nap, immediately write up a recap and review. Now, four days after the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco Half Marathon, I’m struggling to put my experience into words because I simply had such a blast.

Going into this race, I didn’t really have any goals. I decided to use it as a training run and the perfect excuse to visit my friend Natalie, who moved out to San Francisco in early December.

In the two days leading up to the race, several people mentioned how difficult a course is because of the hills. I knew this when I signed up, but hearing so many runners — many very experienced — discuss the tough terrain had me re-evaluating my somewhat goal of finishing between 2:10 and 2:20. I started to think more along the lines of 2:30, especially since my legs were tired and sore from all the sightseeing, including an amazing hike on Land’s End on Saturday.

Check out this course tour to see all the hills we climbed:

In the end, I finished with an official time of 2:20:43. My watch time put me at 2:13:34. The difference is because I stopped to take ton of photos and had a fueling mishap after mile 10.

I’ve had a lot of fun at other half marathons, but I’m pretty sure this one takes the cake in terms of having a smile absolutely plastered on my face for the entire route.

RECAP

Natalie and her friend, Michael, were also running the race. We set our alarms for 5 a.m. with the intention of being at the race at some point before the start at 6:30 a.m. None of us was stressed or really cared about making it there super early, even though we snagged VIP bands at the last minute.

SFHalfI ate my normal race day breakfast of Cheerios and a bagel, this time without cream cheese because I had been dealing with annoying stomach issues pretty much since I landed. I think the long flight Thursday left my system all backed up because I was dehydrated, then it tried to catch up. There were issues both Friday and Saturday that forced me to take some 1-2 hour long breaks from touring the city.

Luckily, my race day meal went down without issue and I didn’t develop any of the gas cramps that plagued me the day before. I partially credit my rebound to taking ample Gas-X on Saturday afternoon and evening, as well as making sure to have a super bland but good dinner that night — a chicken and hummus wrap.

We decided to Uber or Lyft to the start line and kept that plan despite Michael mentioning he heard surge pricing could be an issue. We started checking out the apps at 5:40 or so, and sure enough it was true. We ended up taking Uber at a 3.4x surge. It took 8 minutes to arrive, so I got in a last real-bathroom potty break by dashing back to Natalie’s apartment. It was a little before 6 by the time we left.

SF_16_CourseMap

When we got closer to the start line, we asked the driver to turn into Golden Gate Park, hoping we could get closer to the start line from there since the Pacific Highway area would be closed for all the corrals. We didn’t get very far into the park before we needed to ditch the car. I looked at my watch. It was about 6:15. The drive cost a good $35, but split between three it wasn’t too bad.

I had no sense of how far from the start we were, but it ended up we weren’t far at all. We were at the VIP area dropping off our gear bags and hitting the bathrooms one last time around 6:20. We ended up using the outdoor porta potties at the VIP area versus standing in line for the indoor restrooms. The porta potties were cleaner and nicer than your average race day ones so it was perfect — and super quick. Then we stood inside the VIP area for all of a minute or two before heading outside to get into our corral — No. 3.

At 6:33, we were off and running!

SFelevationIt takes all of a quarter mile before you hit the first hill. And it’s a doozy. It goes up, then levels at a cross street, then goes up again. Repeat that several times until you get to somewhere around mile 1.5 or so. I didn’t want to stop to take a photo or walk in the first mile. I snapped a quick pic closer to the crest of the first major mile+ long climb. It looks deceptively small here.

12923260_10110524824728764_6918207674389787330_nAfter the initial hill a quarter of the mile into the race, the second didn’t feel so hard and neither did the third. That being said, I’ve never seen so many people take walk breaks in the first mile of a half marathon, and I definitely don’t blame them.

The first downhill felt amazing. I am not a fan of uphills, but I love love love downhills. This little stretch felt great and while the elevation map seems to indicate the downhill stretch is brief, it wasn’t until much closer to mile 3.5 or so that I really felt the uphill.

That’s when we hit the Presidio. I knew this would be the hilliest part of the race. I had already given myself permission to walk at some point during the course — multiple times if needed. It wasn’t until I hit the steepest part of the Presidio hill that I got to the point where it made more sense to walk and conserve some energy than continue to run.

That mile is marked by the Wear Blue to Remember crew, with images of our soldiers who died in wars. It’s incredibly humbly and inspiring. I walked for a bit — maybe a minute or two — to get past the steepest part, then picked it up back to a run again.

The Wear Blue to Remember mile in the Presidio.

The Wear Blue to Remember mile in the Presidio.

At the top of the hill, which really does seem to go on forever, the Wear Blue to Remember crew held American flags encouraging us on. There also was an incredible view of the Golden Gate. I stopped and exchanged taking photos with some very nice folks, one of whom pointed out an even better view was right down the path.

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After the photo stop, it was pretty much all downhill to the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone will tell you the bridge is not flat. That is true. Also true: It felt a hell of a lot flatter after running all those hills.

I loved running across the Golden Gate. At this point I was nearly half way through the race and while I could tell my legs were still tired and sore, they weren’t hurting too much so I started to run just a touch faster. I am pleasantly surprised by how many sub-10 miles I logged, even if they contained some or a lot of downhill. And I even saw Natalie around the 6-mile point heading the other way.

After you cross the bridge, you go up to Vista Point, where there are incredible views. I stopped again and exchanged photo-taking duties with two other runners.

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Then it was time to run back across the bridge. I thought I might be bored of the bridge at this point — I’d already run about two miles on it — but that didn’t happen. I stopped a couple times to snap some more photos, first of the herd of runners on the bridge, then a quick selfie.

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Heading back over the bridge from Vista Point.

I read somewhere there were supposed to be selfie stations on the bridge, but I never saw them. On the way back however, there was a tiny step-up shoulder you could use to take a photo without impeding other runners. Note to future runners in this race — please use this option. It was hard enough to weave around all the walkers on the 2.5 or so lanes that the city closed for us. Those stopping to take photos made it much worse.

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Golden Gate Bridge selfie

After the middle of the Golden Gate, there was a slow downhill until we stepped off the bridge.

There was a lot of that decline, including one rather steep portion, as we headed to the Embarcadero, which is at sea level. I ran most of this portion of the race on a 5-miler on Friday. Luckily, that run was in the sun, so I really got to see the best views — once in the sun on my Friday run and once on race day in the fog, which settles over the bridge in such a lovely way.

The 1.5 mile flat stretch along the bay ended up being the only part of the race I felt bored. I was even longing for some sort of hill — preferably downhill but at that point I would even take uphill.

I got my wish around mile 11, with the final set of hills. Leading up to them, I wondered how my legs would hold up. There were certainly more sore and tired than when I started. I was pleasantly surprised they did pretty well. I made sure to take the hills at a slower pace and was able to get over them all. I definitely was looking forward to the downhill finish, though.

For about the last three-quarters of a mile, the course turns almost completely downhill. I knew I wanted to hit this stretch hard and finish strong. I pushed to make mile 13 my fastest of the race.

SFsplits

As you can see from my Garmin data, the hills on this course are no joke. A total of 1,312 in elevation gain. That’s more than double the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon I ran three weeks prior. That being said, this race felt totally doable. That could be a reverse effect of so many runners in advance of the race talking about the difficult, hilly course: I anticipated it would be worse than it felt.

12909606_10110531609327374_4797033527966509121_oOverall, I loved this race. I kept remarking after the finish: “Let’s do that again.” I’ve never have felt like I want to run any longer after completing a half marathon, until now.

I am also proud of my watch time. My normal training long runs are between 10 and 10:10 with nowhere near the hills I experienced on race day. Yet, the pace I kept for the course felt easy.

After the race, I met up with Natalie and Michael in the VIP area. It was my second time in the private area Rock ‘n’ Roll provides with unlimited, free food, beer and mimosas. This time, among friends and sitting in the warm sun, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Because I didn’t push the pace, I was able to eat (and drink) right away. Plus, I wasn’t in a rush to take a long trek home to get in a shower and nap. Eventually, we left the VIP area and walked the mile or so back to Natalie’s place.

This race was such an awesome experience that I’ve been on cloud nine ever since.

REVIEW:

Course: A+++

12901036_10110520763886724_8711163308927140566_oYes, there are hills — both up and down. If you hate both, this course might not be for you, but I still implore you to give it a go. There’s so much to see along the way that it wasn’t until mile 9 that I even noticed the race was well more than half over.

VIP area: A+

I liked the D.C. VIP area, but this one was a total blast. I attribute my increased enjoyment at the San Francisco VIP to having a friend, perfect weather and not being in a rush to leave and get home.

Race support: A

The water and Gatorade stops were on point. I took in Glukos gummies at mile 10.3, but it took me like a minute to open the package. Then the gummies were a bit hard, so I only ate three, chewing wildly, before throwing the rest of the pack away. Later, another runner mentioned letting the gummies warm up and sort of melt in your mouth before chewing. The packaging, however, definitely needs improvement — its huge and it’s not in a shape you can easily tuck in the small pockets of your running pants.

Expo: A

I didn’t stick around the expo too long because my stomach wasn’t feeling great, but everything looked great there. I stopped at the We Run Social meetup for a quick photo, and ended up getting a free Run All Day tank — can’t wait to wear that in the summer. I also bought a three-quarter zip, long sleeve running top and fell in love with a T-shirt that had a California bear with running shoes on its feet. I caved and bought that one after the race at the finish line.

Spectators: B

If you really thrive off spectators, this might not be your race. There’s just not a lot of areas they can easily get to and cheer you on. But where they’re able, there were plenty of spectators on the sidelines, most notably the first couple and last couple miles. Because of noise ordinances there are also fewer bands along the course. Honestly, I didn’t mind. I don’t run these races expecting to hear music every single mile. In fact, it was enjoyable to hear the birds chirp coming into and leaving the Presidio.

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Photo credit: Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

Reviews

Review: Why I’m Sold on Sparkly Soul Headbands

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I’d searched so long for a headband that doesn’t move/fall off when I run that I’d basically given up.

But I kept seeing all the pretty headbands over at Sparkly Soul and decided to give them a try. I bought two — one wide, one thin.

They arrived just before Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. — after I’d done my last run before race day.

Then I got a free Run D.C. Sparkly Soul band at the We Run Social meetup at the race’s expo. After three people told me the bands absolutely don’t move, I broke the cardinal rule of trying no new things on race day and wore it.

GUYS.

It.

Didn’t.

Move.

I was sold from that moment on. More than that, I was so excited to wear the two colors I’d bought on my normal training runs. I finally got a chance to do that this week.


I wore the headbands on three different runs this week. I forgot to put one on during run when I really could have used it — my little baby hairs around my hairline were flying in my face that day because of the gusting winds.

The headbands never budged. I forgot I even had them on — and that’s basically the litmus test for anything I wear when I run.

Now I want all the colors.

Beyond the headbands’ easy grip — not tight in any form or sense of the word — the biggest surprise was that the bands don’t contain actual glitter. They’re totally stitched so the sparkle doesn’t disperse itself all over your hair. There’s also no piece of annoying elastic in the back!

Please excuse me while I go raid my piggy bank. #allthecolors

Reviews

Review: FlipBelt, One of Those Rare, Great Running Pouches

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I originally got one of these a couple years ago, but I didn’t properly read the sizing instructions and it sat too high on my hips for my liking.

I finally ordered a new one in the next size up in October. I wore it out of the gate at a 10-miler race — without testing it on a shorter run first and despite the “no new things” on race day rule.

It could have all gone horribly wrong. Instead, I forgot I even had the belt on in the first mile of the race.

Essentially, the FlipBelt, which retails for $28.99 fits like a glove. I wear it low on my hips and it holds anything I might need while I’m on my run — my iPhone, credit cards, ID and keys. As the name suggests, the belt “flips,” which secures your items next to your body or running tights/shorts. There’s really no feasible way your items could slide out.

The FlipBelt is made of a stretch-y, almost running shirt-like material. That means it’s flexible and fits probably any phone unless you have something that’s a lot more massive than the iPhone 6 Plus.

One of the features I randomly love is the little clip inserted inside. I always slide my keys on there so I can easily find them when I return to my apartment or car. The clip provides extra piece of mind that my keys won’t go sliding in the belt no matter how much they’re jostled.

That’s especially key (no pun intended) when I’m in a porta potty pre-race trying to take care of business without worrying about anything sliding to where it shouldn’t be.

The best thing about the FlipBelt is that unlike other workout belts, it evenly distributes the weight and bulk of all the items you stash. That means less — or, in fact, no — bouncing. And because of the extra space it provides compared to a single pouch, you can also carry along more things as needed — from gels to extra socks, and now even water.

That’s right, FlipBelt recently launched add-on water bottles that slide into the belt — no need to buy a new belt or anything. And if the flip doesn’t feel secure enough to you, there’s even a zip option.

 

 

Half Marathon Reviews

Race Review & Recap: 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon

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Wow. What a race.

I wanted to see where I was fitness-wise, and I got that and a lot more.

My A goal for this race was to run a sub-2. In retrospect, I should have made that top goal to sub-2 or run a new half marathon PR.

I didn’t get that sub-2 this time around — the hills cut down my pace too much. But I did a get a brand spanking new half marathon PR of 2:00:48. That finally bests my old PR of 02:01:35 on the same course during my first half marathon two years ago — by nearly 50 seconds.

Saturday’s time is also more than 2 minutes faster than my last half at Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly in October and more than 6 minutes faster than my effort at Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. in the pouring rain last year.

More than any of those stats, I gave this race my absolute all. I poured my heart and soul into it, and there was nothing left in my legs by the end. I could feel the muscle fatigue — that little shaking it gives you — when I stopped after crossing the finish line.

StravaData2016RNRDCLook at all those sub-9 minute miles. Absolutely amazing. My fastest mile was at 10.

So let’s break it down.

Miles 1-3: My focus the first mile was simply to not go out too fast. I had to check myself back a bit. I’ve found I do better when I keep that first mile in check, and I did that. The next two miles I focused on picking up the pace a bit and enjoying running over Arlington Memorial Bridge. The weather was absolutely perfect — low to mid-50s — and I started out in a T-shirt, so there was no stripping of layers to deal with.

Miles 4-6: These were key miles. I was heading to the hill at mile 6 and wanted to pace myself well. I threw down a good mile 4, then waited as the rolling hills of Rock Creek slowed me down slightly. I remember a friend telling me to not focus on the watch too much until the halfway point before figuring if I could possibly sub-2 — sound advice. I hit mile 6 right on target for a sub-2 — which I knew thanks to the Pacebands I bought for a 2-hour half marathon — but I still had most of that big hill to climb.

DCRNRfinishMiles 7-9: Mile 7 was the slowest mile of the race — just as I knew it would be. I ended up walking a bit up that steep hill, because it just didn’t make sense to run. After I crested, it still took a couple minutes before my breath returned back to normal, and I focused on trying to get back to my previous pace. The hill cost me a full minute on a sub-2 pace. By mile 9, there was enough downhill that I was able to pick up the pace.

Miles 10-12: Mile 10 was the fastest of this race, which is fantastic. I was hitting the downhills hard to make up for that hill at mile 6 and my effort shows here. By this point, I had reduced that 1-minute off a 2-hour pace down to only 7 seconds. That’s amazing. But the hills got to me by mile 12, even though they were nowhere near as steep. By this point, I knew a sub-2 wasn’t possible, but I could PR significantly — I set my sights on a time under 2:01.

Finish: I focused on picking up the pace back to sub-9s the last mile+, mostly downhill with a slight uphill to the finish line, which was moved this year because the normal lot was still filled with snow and trash. I tried to pick up the pace after I saw the 13 mile marker, but there was little left. Still, I crossed the finish line feeling triumphant at my new PR — 02:00:48 and knowing that a sub-2 is just around the corner. My total mileage per my Garmin was 3.28. On a less hilly and narrower course, I would definitely have hit the sub-2.

Despite the whole no new things on race day, I wore a D.C.-branded Sparkly Soul headband I got at the We Run Social meetup at the expo the day before. I forgot I was wearing it within two seconds and it didn’t move the entire race. So basically I am sold on Sparkly Soul now.

IMG_8529VIP experience

As part of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, I get to pick one race for a VIP pass. I chose D.C. since I knew I wouldn’t be running with anyone else and because I had a long-ish Metro ride. I woke up at 5 a.m. and was out the door by 5:25 to make the 5:43 train from Vienna. That got me to Metro Center — the closest stop to the VIP area by about 6:15.

The VIP package for this race — $89 for pre and post-race and $59 for post race only — includes a parking pass, indoor area pre-start, breakfast, catered lunch, private restrooms (indoors at the Willard — fancy!), private changing rooms, private gear check, massage, VIP bar with unlimited beer, shuttle back to start line and a few additional benefits.

For me, the biggest pluses were having an indoor area — with indoor restrooms — before the start, an additional breakfast to top off the tank and private gear check. There was still quite a long line for the restrooms around 7 a.m., but I’d rather wait in line inside than outdoors for a porta-potty. The continental breakfast helped me top off my tank so I ended up needing no nutrition during the race, and the private gear check was a real plus. I normally avoid gear checks like the plague, but this time I was able to cart along a few extra things for post-race, mainly extra layers to stay warm, plus a place to stash my keys and metro card so I didn’t need to carry them with me. All those things add up to a huge bonus.

The post-race buffet was incredible, but I’m never hungry right after a race, and I wanted to get home since I was getting chilly. I had my chocolate milk and one beer and called it a day.

I can totally see the advantage of VIP if you’re doing it with a group of friends who want to hang around after or for warmer-weather races when you don’t mind sticking around for a few hours, especially after you’re able to hit up the changing tents. I actually meant to change into fresh clothes but stupidly forgot spare underwear and a bra.

IMG_8508Review

There’s little to put here. I’ve reviewed this course and its support twice before. Both are great. Just know there are hills — that huge one at mile 6 and some 540 feet in elevation gain overall, but lots of downhill to make up for it — and plan accordingly. There are bands on course about every mile, and after you get over the huge hill, the crowd support really picks up. The course support is always fantastic — six water stops for the half, with Gatorade every other stop.

Overall

I went into this race totally calm, cool and collected. I typically get a bit nervous/anxious in the days leading up to a big race — especially when I set a time goal — but this time around there was none of that. I took Friday off work to deal with the expo logistics, and that was pretty much the best decision ever. I slept in until 10 on expo morning, which is crazy especially since I had been sleeping well all week.

On race night, I felt tired and went to sleep around 10. I slept pretty well throughout the night — only a little bit of tossing and turning — and was awakened by my alarm at 5 a.m. Typically, I start waking up in anticipation of my alarm up to an hour and a half before — but not this time.

This race shows me what a chill attitude can do to your race day — amazing things. I never once felt stressed or like I had to hit a sub-2, even if I really wanted it. I have three more half marathons this spring — two of which are flatter, narrower courses. I’m hoping to sub-2 at one of those if everything works out right.

I thought the Pacebands on my wrist might discourage me if I realized a sub-2 wasn’t in the books, but instead it helped motivate me to push a bit and helped with runner math the last few miles to know if I pushed just a little I could finish under 2:01.

Part of me wanted to be disappointed I didn’t sub-2 at Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. But I refused. I beat my half marathon PR by a lot, ran a great race in perfect weather and gave it my all. This race shows I am capable of achieving that sub-2 goal — I just need a little more practice or an easier course.

Katharine_Lackey_Finisher_Certificate(1)-1

Check out these other awesome Rock ‘n’ Blog D.C. Half Marathon reviews:

 

 

Reviews

Review: ASICS Gel-Nimbus

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I’ve worn the ASICS Gel-Nimbus 17 for seven months now, and I’m still head-over-heels in love. I think we’re going to take it to the next step: total and utter exclusiveness.

Actually, I may cheat from time to time — but only with other ASICS. In fact, I decided recently I would never buy another brand of shoe.

So onto the review. As I wrote last August, I found out I needed neutral shoes — much to my surprise since I’d been running in stability (also ASICS) from the start. I like to try new things, so I went into the running store with the singular goal of walking out with a pair of shoes from any brand other than ASICS.

I tried on all the brands and all the shoes. The only one I loved was the ASICS Gel-Nimbus 17, which retails for $150. From the moment I put it on it felt heavenly. I went to the nearby treadmill to give it a few test strides. It felt even more incredible.

I ended up buying another pair of the same shoe in a different color later that week. I’ve rotated both pairs the past seven months — along with a pair of Mizuno Engimas I got from a friend. All my long runs, all my half marathons, all my races are with the Gel-Nimbus.

Basically, the shoes fit me like a glove. From the second I put them on at the store to every single run since, my feet immediately go “aaaahhh” when I slide into them. While I routinely need to retie my Mizunos — which are a bit snugger than I’m used to — that’s not the case with my beloved ASICS. It’s always a quick slip on, lace up and go with the Nimbus.

They’re just the right width. Just the right amount of toe space. Just the right amount of heel drop. Honestly, I don’t know how I lived without these shoes before. Oh wait, I do — I was running in other ASICS shoes that provided just as much cushion and comfort, except they were stability and I couldn’t wear them anymore.

The Nimbus feels light on my feet and the cushioning is so incredible, I often feel like I’m flying. The Harry Potter geek in me loves that they’re named after the famed broomstick in the books and movies.

I recently tried on the Gel-Nimbus 18 to see if anything had changed in my beloved style of running shoes. They felt just as incredible — if not a little bit more because they were brand new.

I can’t wait to buy my next pair.

Previous ASICS reviews:

 

Reviews

Race Review & Recap: Across the Bridge 10K

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What a fabulous race.

On Sunday morning, I joined more than 20,000 other runners to race across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Logistically, it was a nightmare. Race-wise, it was beautiful.

My alarm was set for 4:50 a.m. — more than 2.5 hours before I would be running. That’s pretty insane for a D.C.-area 10K. I don’t think I’ve woken up that early even for the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon in March. But Annapolis is a lot farther away than downtown.

I was able to get to sleep relatively early — by about 9:30 — the night before. I had my usual breakfast and set off to pick up buddy Natalie in D.C. around 5:45 so we could make the rest of our way to Annapolis.

I didn’t want to wake up any earlier than I did, but was still a little surprised by how long the line to get to parking at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium was. It added at least 15 minutes to our time, but we weren’t stressing about it.

Waiting in line to get on buses to start line.

Waiting in line to get on buses to start line. Go Navy!

We finally got parked, made our way to the stadium, where there were real restrooms instead of porta-potties (yay!), then went to line up for the buses to the start line. I think we stood in line for only 5-10 minutes before we boarded and then we were on our way.

I was surprised by how long it took to get to the start line once we boarded. I had figured it would be a 5-minute ride, but it took a good 15+ minutes.

Once we arrived at the site, we heard from the announcer that wave 4 was going to be released soon(at 7:30 a.m.), so we booked it to the startline. (My original wave was No. 3.) We were stopped briefly at what could only be described as the pre-race startline, then we were let go to the official start line. I had to stop briefly to retie my shoes — they were too loose — and that little bit meant we were a farther back in the pack instead of at the front, which would have been nice.

This was, by far, the weirdest start to a race I have ever experienced. It was probably less than a quarter mile between where they held us and the actual start line. It wasn’t clear walking there whether we would stop in front of the mats before the “actual” start. We didn’t.

Quick selfie before getting on the buses.

Quick selfie before getting on the buses.

We started running before the mats, then were quickly met with a ton of slower folks and a lot of dodging and weaving that lasted the first mile and a half or so. We eventually settled on running on the left side — we had started on the right — which seemed to be going faster.

10k-run-mapIt didn’t seem like the waves were police-d and I saw a lot of people who shouldn’t have been in our time slot if they’d accurately entered their estimated finish times. It wasn’t until nearly mile 2 that we felt better able to move around. We stopped somewhere around there for a quick selfie (thank you, Natalie, for being the selfie-taking queen. I suck at taking them).

This race was never about running fast or getting near a PR for me, so I wasn’t stressing about the slow start, but it was still annoying to have to do so much dodging and weaving the first half of the race.

Around mile 3, my stomach started to feel off. I ended up stopping at the porta potties around mile 4.5 and immediately felt better afterward.

IMG_7715That stop, the selfie and a brief water stop cost us about 2 minutes on the course for our official time — 57:54 (9:19 pace) vs. 55:45 (9:02) watch time — but I felt good and was pretty surprised at my pace, especially one week off my Philadelphia Half Marathon.

The first two miles we were held back by the crowds, and we were going uphill. Still, we were able to keep a 9:30-9:40 pace with all of that, and I’m sure it would have been a bit faster if we had a more open route. Sadly, Garmin can’t track elevation changes over water, and I had been really curious to see what that would look like for this course.

I had expected the first few miles of this race to feel horrible because we were going uphill (and I hate hills), but the slow, steady climb felt OK. I saw my pace slow a little as we crested the highest point of the bridge, then it was basically all downhill from there. My legs were happy, my breathing was better, and my pace picked up significantly.

This was a cup-less race, so while there were water stops around mile 2 and 4.5, there were no cups to drink the water. For such a short race, and having had a full water bottle before, I didn’t feel I was missing out by skipping the stops.

The course gives you 4.35 miles of bridge and 185 feet of climb in the first 2.5 or so miles. It is also absolutely, positively gorgeous. We could easily see the beautiful scenery to our left, where we were running, as well as right. A big cruise shipped passed under the bridge while we were making our way.

The sun was out, the temperature was perfect (mid-40s to start I think) — I had to take my pullover off before mile 2 — and the scenery couldn’t be beat.

I expected to slow significantly after we finished the downhill part of the bridge, but was able to keep a sub-9 pace the last mile and a half. My watch pace put me directly on target for my 10K PR — 9:02, and its 55:45 would have been a PR if that had been my official time.

My watch technically came in at 6.17 miles, and it seemed the marker for mile 6 was way too close to the finish line. However, my watch hadn’t locked onto its GPS signal before we started, so it’s not certain the course was short.

IMG_7718After the race, we got our medals, T-shirts, water bottles and there was some food I didn’t take. Natalie and I tried to find another friend and colleague, but then my phone died (only to later be resuscitated on the bus at 40% power — this happens every now and then, what gives?!

I eventually made it back home and laid down for a nap, which ended up being nearly 4 hours long — I don’t usually sleep for quite that long, but clearly I was tired.

Overall, this was a great race, but the logistics of getting to the start line and back were a bit much. When we got on the bus on the way back, our driver asked us where we were going — that’s a bad sign when your bus driver doesn’t know what location you’re trying to get to.

He obviously didn’t know his way around the detours and we probably lost 15 minutes getting back on route.

It was super cool, though, seeing the last waves of runners going across the east span of the bay bridge as we traveled west back toward the stadium.

I would definitely recommend this race to those in the area!

Half Marathon Reviews

Review & Recap: Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

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Where to start with this race?

In three words: It was awesome.

In four words: It was freaking awesome.

I’m splitting up this post into a recap of my personal experience and a review with grades for the different aspects of the race.

RECAP

IMG_7526

My grandma and me at the finish line.

This race was amazing for me on so many levels. I hit my A goal and ran my fastest half marathon since I set my PR in March 2014 at my very first half.

Last week, I wrote that my goal pace would be to come in between 9:15 and 9:30 based on what my watch said (that’s how I measure my performance when I’m not trying to PR). I had originally written my top goal was to come in between 9:15 and 9:20 pace (again, based on my watch) but felt that was too narrow.

I ended up coming in at 2:03:01, an official 9:23 race pace, and 9:12 on my watch. That’s about a minute and half off my PR of 2:01:35. And I have done just about zero speedwork in training.

It was also amazing because I had been feeling a bit stressed in the lead-up to the race, particularly the couple of days beforehand when PMS kicked in (full force) on top of dealing with some craziness in my life and at work. I found myself getting more anxious and hyper as a result, especially when anything didn’t go exactly as planned. The last time this happened, I had a poor race experience. This time, I was able to calm myself down, ease any pressure I’d placed on myself and had an amazing race day experience as a result.

So what is an example of something that got me hyper? Well, when we got to the restaurant I had picked out for race night dinner (after scouring menus of a half-dozen places), it was closed for a private event. On a Friday night. On Halloween weekend.

I had to explain to my mom and grandma who were with me (and later cheered me on near the finish line) why we couldn’t just hop into whatever other random place was nearby — I can’t eat just anything on race night. I knew I needed a hearty chicken sandwich or wrap, or pizza as a last resort.

I had a secondary restaurant picked out, so we headed there and had to wait 20 minutes to be seated. I had picked out City Tap House in Logan Square as my backup because they had pizza and local brews on tap (I always have 1-2 beers the night before a race). Still, I’d never actually eaten pizza the night before a big race — I have eaten it before a long run or two, though, so I figured it wouldn’t be disastrous.

A great shot at the Rocky statue with my mom and grandma the evening before the race.

A great shot at the Rocky statue with my mom and grandma the evening before the race.

We had walked a lot that day and my feet were tired, so I was also getting worried about how they’d hold up in the morning. I had walked to the bank, then the convention center (stopping on the way to see city hall and LOVE park), then decided to walk the 1.5 miles to the Philadelphia Museum of Art instead of Ubering. Fitbit steps for the day: Nearly 17,000.

I finally started to relax as my race night meal wrapped up. I ate the entire pizza, which I hadn’t intended or expected to do but I was hungry. They also brought out two plates of bread. We got back to the hotel around 9 and I could tell I was already getting tired. I took some Advil PM, and we were turning off the lights around 10. I actually slept reasonably well. I woke up a few times to check the clock (as always happens on race eve), but fell back asleep easily each time. My alarm was set for 6, but I found myself awake a few minutes before.

Because we drove to Philly, I had an easier time than the Chicago half in preparing my normal breakfast for race day morning. I packed a single Cheerios cup, a bagel, a banana, some milk and cream cheese and got a fridge at the hotel to hold it all. At my last half in September, I felt I had over-eaten and over-hydrated before the race by having a granola bar, more water and some Gatorade. At the Army Ten-Miler, I felt I drank too much water before. So this time, I had a single water bottle with my cheerios and bagel and I added in a banana for good measure. It worked well — I didn’t feel hungry during the race, maybe just a touch peckish the last half mile.

I left around 6:45 to walk to the race site — about a mile away — for the 7:30 start. There were a ton of people out doing the same thing. On the way, I saw the worst porta potty lines I’ve ever seen because the potties were spaced out way too much. There would be a line of 20+ people waiting for a single porta potty — or two if they were lucky — every 30-50 feet. I found a set of porta potties that still had a long line because runners didn’t realize the row of porta potties had been split into multiple lines. I got in a shorter line and waited 10-15 minutes or so. Not bad, but I shudder at all the folks who were still in line when the race started.

Random bonuses: I got to see Mars and Venus in the sky shortly before sunrise. My mom had mentioned they were supposed to be visible and I looked up while in the line for the potty and there they were! Also, there were a ton of people wearing costumes because it was Halloween, and it was great seeing all the different ones during the course.

My race day outfit.

My race day outfit.

For the first time, I wore a throw-away sweatshirt to the start. Best decision ever. It was 38 when I left my hotel and the weather app said it felt like 34. Perfect weather for a run, but cold for standing around in running clothes. I ended up adding arm-warmers under my long-sleeve T-shirt because of that. I still got a little cold at the start line even though I waited to toss the sweatshirt until a few minutes before my wave started around 7:45. For the first mile, my legs felt like lead because they were chilled. My fingers were cold, too.

I jumped from corral 13 to 9. I had meant to only jump to corral 10 but as we started moving up I somehow ended up near the end of corral 9. I know a lot of runners hate people who corral jump, but I knew I would be able to keep up with this group and didn’t feel like standing in the cold for an extra 8-10 minutes. There were some 25 or so corrals. The last one didn’t leave until we hit the 3-mile mark (which was to the right of the start line). Insane.

The start line. That's city hall in the distance.

The start line. That’s city hall in the distance.

Unlike other big races, it didn’t feel crowded at all in the first mile, or really any other mile for that matter. There was no dodging and running around people. There weren’t a ton of people passing me and I wasn’t passing a ton of people either. It felt like I had totally picked the right place to start.

My feet had felt tired before the start and given I had been hyper the night before, I had told myself to set a slower pace for the first mile. I was aiming for 9:40-9:45. I was determined to enjoy the race even though I had been anxious and had done a lot of walking — there was no need to pressure myself.

At some point the evening before and during the walk to the start, I realized that my watch was going to be off for the first 5 or so miles of the race. While the buildings in Philly aren’t as tall as Chicago, I knew the GPS would be bouncing off them not knowing where I was. I had about a half mile or so before that kicked in, so I just tried to stay at a pace that felt good.

IMPORTANT: First 4-5 miles are very inaccurate for splits because GPS watch was bouncing off buildings.

IMPORTANT: First 4-5 miles are very inaccurate for splits because GPS watch was bouncing off buildings. I was likely running around 9:20 pace in those miles.

Then, the GPS started going wonky and I no longer knew what pace I was running as I glanced down at my watch, so I started focusing on looking at it when I crossed the mile markers and just trying to keep the same effort going.

I was surprised when I cross the first mile marker at an official 9:30 pace. Then, I did that again and again as I tried to do runner math in my head for the first 5 miles. I realized I was starting to hit the markers a little ahead of a 9:30 pace.

I started to get hot around mile 3, but waited a bit longer to take off my arm warmers (in retrospect, I could have left them at home and just been a bit colder in the first two miles). They came off around mile 4, then I ended up shedding my long sleeve around mile 5. I was happy to take it off moreso because it gave me somewhere to tie my arm warmers rather than carrying them in my hand the whole way.

I was actually a little cold here and there from miles 5-10 because we were running in the shade along Fairmount Park. Around mile 11, the sun broke out and I was happy to not be wearing sleeves anymore.

When I finally could rely on my watch again after mile 6, I noticed I was keeping a steady 9:17-9:20 pace. I was so happy to see that. I miscalculated at mile 7 that I wouldn’t come in under 2:05 at that pace (again, runner math is hard), but then realized somewhere in the next mile that I was actually on pace to come in close to that or even below — which made me supremely happy. Somewhere after the first 5 miles, I’d set a target of 2:05 when I realized I was hitting the 9:30 pace pretty well and was feeling good.

The course was mostly flat the whole way with a couple little hills and enough variation along the Fairmount Park road that you didn’t feel you were on totally flat ground, which can get a little boring. The final “hill,” if you will, was when we got to a bridge after mile 9. I could tell there was a decent incline because my pace immediately dropped to 9:45-10:00, but after the bridge, it really felt like it was mostly downhill (with another smaller bridge the last quarter mile or so).

I was feeling strong after the bridge and when I hit mile 10 I told myself to just stick with the pace I was at or go just a smidge faster — but I didn’t want to go all out and risk blowing on in the last 5K of the race. I almost skipped the last water stop because I didn’t want to lose anytime, but I told myself it was silly to do that — in all I only stopped at 3 or 4 of the water stops and because I was more focused on pace this time around, I was walking through them much more quickly than previous races.

Around mile 11, my legs started to feel heavy. It wasn’t too much, but I didn’t think I had enough left in them to speed up, and I actually would have thought I was slowing down had I not been able to glance at my watch.

Still, I was immensely surprised when my watch told me I’d hit 9:11 for mile 12 and pretty flabbergasted when it buzzed me in at 9:04 for mile 13 — my fastest mile of the race. I actually chuckled a little out loud at that point — you’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. How am I pulling this off?!? There were no more buildings for my GPS to bounce off. I was simply running much faster than my tired body thought I was.

IMG_7511As I came up on the marker for mile 13, I started to look for my mom and grandma. They were going to try to get near the finish line, after the last small bridge and would be on the right hand side. I shifted over and began looking at all the people. Finally, I saw them, gave them high fives, then sped off to the finish line. That last effort put me at a 8:44 pace — faster, but I certainly didn’t have much left in my tank.

I crossed the finish line feeling glorious, knowing I’d come in somewhere around 2:03 — much faster than anticipated. I had sped up enough in the last 3 miles to get myself from a 9:30 official pace to a 9:23 official pace. My watch pace was 9:12, and it said I ran 13.36 miles — I think these are both off a bit because of the GPS bouncing. I’m guessing my watch pace would have been around 9:16 if it wasn’t for that, and my distance around 13.15-13.2.

As I said in the beginning, this was an amazing race day for me. This is my last half marathon until March or April, and I wanted it to be a good one. So many things came together — the course, the weather and my attitude. It gives me so much confidence to run faster and train to target a sub-2 hour half marathon in the spring.

Katharine_Lackey_Finisher_Certificate-1 Katharine_Lackey_Finisher_Certificate-2

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REVIEW

Course: A+

PHI_15_CourseMap_CEThe course for this race was amazing. You start near the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where the Rocky Steps are), then run toward the center part of downtown, weaving around some main streets and going around city hall, before going back near the race start, up and down another major street, then wrapping up the last 7 miles along the gorgeous Fairmount Park, which runs along the river. It gets quieter along that last part, with fewer spectators, but that’s OK — there’s still a few bands and a ton of fan support waiting for you the last half mile. Then you end right at the Rocky Steps. Water stops were plentiful — 8 in all. Lots of bands — I never went more than a mile or so without hearing some sort of music. Lots of spectators along the downtown streets and near finish line.

Expo: A

I am not a big expo person — I’m usually too busy to stop at the booths, so this was another quick in and out as fast I can expedition. The expo was held in the Philadelphia Convention Center, a huge building. I had to walk to more blocks to get to the right entrance, but then I was in and out in all of 10 minutes, including picking up a few extra goodies at the Brooks store after I got my bib.

Porta-potties: D

The porta potty lines were ridiculous. I saw lines of 20-30 people long for a single porta potty as I was making my way to the start line. And I saw that multiple times — a single, lone porta potty spaced out every 20 feet. I eventually found a set of porta potties and a smaller line, but it was still a 15-minute wait, and because of the way the lines were some people would have felt I had cut in line (there was a longer line wrapping around to the right hand side of this line of porta potties that folks probably thought were for the entire row of potties not just 3 of them). I think they spaced out the porta potties too much instead of lumping them all together in a single location or two locations on each side of the street. I’m sure there were a lot of people who didn’t make it to the start line in time.

Finish line: B+

Once I crossed the finish line, I was quickly handed some water. Then there was a bottle neck getting our medals before we could make our way to the rest of the goodies — the main reason I didn’t rate this section higher. There was chocolate milk — always necessary in my opinion for races 10 miles or longer — as well as chips, bananas and a few other items. There was a beer garden somewhere, but I never found it and didn’t look too hard. I got cold quickly after the race because of the temperatures. I can’t comment on gear check since I did not use it.

Hotel: A+

I stayed at the Sheraton Downtown Philly hotel. It was about a mile from the start and less than a mile to the expo, so it was in an ideal spot for the race. In addition, it was a short walk to see some of the Philadelphia sites — LOVE park, City Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as other museums. It was only about 1.5 miles from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, too. And there were tons of places to eat.