Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews

Review: SPIbelt is the best running pack

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I have been using the SPIbelt since sometime in mid- to late-April and I absolutely love it.

When I run, I always take my phone (for safety), and since I moved out of my parent’s house, my apartment key. I’ve used the belt for races as well, when I’ve had to stash my car key in it (and it’s a rather big car key since I have remote start).

All in all, the pack barely moves. When I have a chunkier key in it, I find it helpful to place the pack at my front instead of back, otherwise there’s a greater risk of the pack flipping up and down (even though the belt itself doesn’t move).

It feels nearly weightless and doesn’t make me sweat more as other, bigger packs have in the past.

The pack expands easily, and can fit additional items, such as gels, credit cards and the like. I could see how it would get a little too chunky and bulky if you put a lot of gels in it, but if you don’t have a ton to carry, then you should be fine.

I upgraded to the iPhone 6 from the 4S, and while it no longer fits comfortably in my hydration pack, it easily fits in the expandable SPIbelt.

I took it out on all my Chicago runs while I was there for ONA and it was essential. It held my phone, room key and credit card so I could buy my breakfast on the way back to my room. Utter perfection.

I’ve even taken it to a spin class so I didn’t have to bring my entire purse with my wallet inside — just some change, my phone and my card to get into the rec center.

Reviews

Review: Navy-Air Force Half Marathon

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Where to start with this one.

Well, let’s be honest. This wasn’t my best race. It was actually my worst half in terms of time — 2:11:41, a 10:04 pace.

But before we go into what the hell happened there, here’s a quick breakdown of the race’s features and the grade I awarded them.

Course: A+

Fantastic course. Mostly shaded. Only had a couple times I was squinting (even with a hat on) because the sun was shining right in my face. There were some rolling hills in Rock Creek, but the scenery more than made up for it and they weren’t too terrible, my mind just wasn’t in the game.

Organization: B-

Bag check was organized by number, so there was a huge line for where my number was, but then I heard someone say you could go to any line. They should make that clearer when you’re trying to drop off your bag and run. Porta-potty lines were about 10 minutes — not too bad. They ran out of chocolate milk by the time I got there after the race — huge letdown — and the water was a bit farther away from the finish than I would have liked. Packet pickup apparently didn’t go well for some. My dad picked mine up and did say there was a line.

Transportation: B

I wish they’d opened Metro a bit earlier. I suspect some people barely made it in time if they were coming in from farther out. If you missed the first train, you were pretty much screwed.

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Now onto my breakdown:

The weather was some of the nicest I’ve had for a run in a long time — that was probably the best part of the race. It was upper-50s to start and maybe low to mid-60s by end time. There was a light breeze through most of the race, which felt amazing. Still, it was the warmest weather I’ve ever run in for a half marathon.

When I first signed up for this race, I told myself I would not set a time goal because the race was taking place in the summer technically, plus I had gotten a late start to training and had some very hot & humid long runs where I had to take walk breaks.

But as I got closer to race day, I found myself thinking more and more about a sub-2-hour half, a goal I am determined to reach. My last couple of long runs had been at a decent pace — 10:07 and 10:10 minute miles, with just two walk breaks each time.

Plus, I knew a week before the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon that the weather wouldn’t be hot, something I had feared, and my 5K PR last month (a 1-minute PR from the previous week, no less) made me wonder if I had improved my speed enough even in warmer weather to complete a half faster.

Most of the week leading up to the race I didn’t sleep well. I tossed and turned a lot. I got anxious about packet pickup because my dad was going for me since I had to work until at least 4 and it would be difficult to schlep all the way to Nats stadium. I somehow convinced myself there was a chance they wouldn’t let him pick it up even though he had the confirmation printed, which was all their site said was needed to pick up a friends’ packet. I also convinced myself even though their FB page responded to me weeks ago that hydration backpacks were allowed, that they would stop me and not let me run with it race day. (On their not allowed list was backpacks). And I was worried about porta-potty lines (because the ones I’d seen but didn’t have to use at the Rock n Roll race were like 30 minutes long!), and bag check, if I needed it. And I didn’t like that the first metro train came at 6:07 at West Falls Church and not any earlier for a race that was supposed to start at 7 (though technically, runners didn’t start until 7:10, so I knew there was a little bit of extra time).

I vented all my anxieties to friend and marathoner Natalie, who upon learning I was nervous tried to calm me down. Don’t worry about your time. Porta potty lines are 10 minutes tops. And metro will get you there with plenty of time to spare.

My dad was able to pick up my packet with few issues, though he said there was a line. And the race guide included in the packet did specifically say camelbacks were allowed. On race day, the metro dropped me off at Smithsonian station at 6:35. Then, bag check (I decided it was chilly enough that I needed to wear capris and a light zip-up) and porta potty went smooth and I made it to the start line with about 10 minutes to spare.

MAJOR lesson learned: Calm down on the worries over things that will be FINE! Worrying all week long definitely got my head in a bad place, and probably contributed to not performing quite as well as I would have liked.

I usually don’t sleep well race night, but it was particularly bad this time. Then, my cat came over to me at 3 a.m. and I realized part of her coat was damp and smelled. I had taken her and her buddy over to my parents’ house in the morning before work since I was planning to sleep there b/c they’re much closer to metro. She managed to lodge herself behind the downstairs fridge, washer and dryer that are lined up against the wall, and there was some kind of gunk back there. I got up, took her into the bathtub and rinsed her off. I tried to leave her in there to dry off, but about 10 minutes later I heard her meowing, so I got up again to let her in. Then I realized my other cat also had gunk all over her paws, but it wasn’t as bad so I decided I’d deal with that later, at 5 a.m.

I was so anxious about the race that morning and on so little sleep that I almost wasn’t able to eat my normal breakfast. I couldn’t even finish all of my bagel, but got most of it down. On the metro ride over, I felt nauseaous from the way the car was moving, and started negatively thinking “Oh no, what if I throw up during the race!”

Once I got off the metro, I started feeling better, especially after bag check and porta potty stop went quickly.

There was no wave start for the race, so it took about a minute and a half to cross the start line. I quickly threw out any notion of a sub-2-hour half because the crowd was so packed I couldn’t even run a 9:15-minute mile until mile 2, and a 9:10-minute mile until mile 3. So with that thought out of my head, I just started to enjoy the run in the lovely weather and tried to go as fast as I could (without overdoing it), aiming for a 2:05 time or at least something under my Nike half time of 2:08:30.

The course started at the Washington Monument, went across Arlington Memorial Bridge and back, then by the Kennedy Center and up through Rock Creek Park. It was so peaceful and quiet out in Rock Creek, but the small incline got to me. I slowed to a 9:35 pace, then to a 9:45 by mile 7/8. I was pleasantly surprised we didn’t have to go all the way up the big hill that was near mile 6 of the Rock n Roll half in March. Still, we went partway up and that last quarter-to-half mile before the turnaround was rough. The turnaround immediately went into a downhill. I heard someone next to me say to their friend, “It feels so nice to be going downhill again.” Amen to that.

Around mile 6, I started feeling hot. I told myself to just make it to mile 7 or 8, when I knew the hills would go away and we’d get to the nice, flat Hains Point, which I’ve slowly become not a fan of because it seems to go on forever — I wish races would put this at the front of the course rather than the end! Around then, I started feeling burning in my outer hips. At that point, I was still hoping to complete one of my secondary goals — to run the whole way, no walk breaks except for gatorade — but that came to an end around 8.5 miles. My outer hips were still burning, and I took my first walk break. I probably took about 4 or 5 more walk breaks after that — all relatively short. And I had to stop completely at one point because my sock went weird in my shoe and I figured I was already not making any sort of good time, I might as well sit down and fix it so I wasn’t uncomfortable the last 2.5 miles.

Around the tip of Hains Point, I passed an amputee who had a prosthetic leg starting at her thigh. She was part of the 5-mile race that started at 7:50 and still had another 2 miles to go. That immediately put everything in perspective for me and made my worries and disappointment in my race time seem so very insignificant.

I was able to text my dad when I took my first walk break, and peaked at my phone during the others, so I knew exactly where to look for them, something I didn’t have at my first race. They were near mile 13 and standing on the right side, so I made sure to shift over that way before I got there. I took one final short walk break around mile 12 and dug in to run the rest of the way, knowing I would get to see my parents soon. When I saw them, I smiled and got excited. My dad had his phone out so I waved a bit, and he snapped some cool photos of me.

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Finishing the race felt so good. Despite my poor time, I felt accomplished. I got some water and went to bag check. (They were out of the promised chocolate milk, a major downer — don’t run out of chocolate milk people!!)

I found my parents and my dad got a quick photo of my in front of the monument (the one at the start of this way-too-long post). It turned out really cool — you can see the moon and how blue the sky was.

I was so excited to get another medal. I love collecting these things. This one, in particular, was really nicely made. It’s now been added to my growing collection on my bib and medal holder.

Today, I was beating myself up again over my time. I sent the longest e-mail ever to my personal trainer and marathoner, Joe, then I chatted with Natalie. She had run a 20-mile race yesterday while I was running my half and did quite well. I asked her how she did it. She said she didn’t know, but her pace was still much slower than when she’d done a race in the spring. She reiterated that even though the weather felt nice Sunday, it was still warmer than spring, and pace suffers because of that.

I guess that’s something I still need to get used to. I am obviously able to do OK with the 5Ks even in the summer, if the conditions are right, but longer races take a lot more out of you. I do not do well in the heat. The GW Parkway 10-miler was a testament to that, and it’s something I’ve got to remember.

My trainer wrote me back a few hours later, and said I should try not to be so hard on myself. He prodded me to think of three things that went well with the race and what the race had taught me. And he reminded me that despite not meeting my time goals and having a rough time leading up to the race that I finished. That’s something that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought possible. Two years ago, I couldn’t even run for two minutes without stopping.

So the three things that went well? I overall enjoyed the run and had fun. The weather was lovely. I put in a good effort, didn’t walk until mile 8.5 and finished strong.

In terms of what I learned — quit worrying and everything will be fine. Just get to the start line and see where you are when you take off. Let PRs come to you as they can — nearly all my PRs were not ones I was aiming for, with the exception of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler when I race with a pace group and the weather was cooler.

I have to more big races before the end of the year — the Army 10-miler and the Blue-Gray Half Marathon in Gettysburg. Because I broke my goal of 1:30 for a 10-miler at the Cherry Blossom race, I don’t really have a time goal for the Army one. I figure I’ll just run it best I can.

The Gettysburg race is another issue. I still want a sub-2-hour half and believe I can accomplish that, but after my confidence took a hit at this race, I need to re-evaluate and try to be calmer about this next half — just let things come as they come.

There is a better chance of a PR because the weather will be cooler and the field is capped at 1,000, but there still are rolling hills that could push me back. I am going to try to focus mostly on the experience, and the joy of running rather than time — making that a secondary goal should help keep me in a calmer state of mind.

I’ve also booked a hotel room in Gettysburg the night before, so I will be able to relax without thinking about work ahead of the race. And, as a bonus, the race doesn’t start until 9. I know that will sound awful to some people, but I run best when I get a full night’s sleep and can get up refreshed and ready to tackle the day without hurrying around like a crazy person trying to get places.

And I’ll talk with my trainer Wednesday to get a better sense of what tips he has for me these next six weeks and any tweaks I should consider while training for these final two big races.

Onward.

Half Marathon Reviews

Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C. Race Review & Recap

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I ran my second half marathon on Sunday, and the day could not have been more gorgeous.

The temperature was absolutely perfect — in the high 40s for race start at 7 a.m. The course was beautiful — taking you by many of the monuments, through a tunnel and around Hains Point. I wore a T-shirt and capri leggings and felt great in those throughout the race.

Unfortunately, my legs just were not feeling it. I found the 2-hour pace group, but only kept up with them for 3 or 4 miles. They went out a little faster than I liked, and after the tunnel, their GPS watches seemed to be really off since they picked up the pace more. I let them drift away, planning to try and stick closer to a 9:10 pace according to my watch. I felt great through about mile 5 or 6, then my legs really started protesting.

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Ultimately, I think I just ran too many big races in the past two months. I had done three 10-milers, 2 half marathons and an 8K since March 2. My limit seems to have been somewhere around the second 10-miler on April 6, when I PR’d by 4 minutes.

Hains Point was the hardest part for me. By that time, I was taking walk breaks every half mile or so, for about 30 seconds each. My calves, which usually don’t bother me at all, were burning, and I could tell I was really tight in my hamstrings, too.

I crossed the finish line at a little over 2:08, with a 9:49 pace. I haven’t run a race at a pace that slow since my first 5Ks!

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After the finish line, there was the usual water and chocolate milk, both of which I grabbed eagerly. (Note: Every race over 10 miles should have chocolate milk at the finish.) Then, I got my Tiffany necklace!

The design is really unique and eye-catching. And I’m happy they did a round pendant design. Hot men in tuxes handed out the pendants, and I thought about stopping to get a photo-op with one of them, but by that time I was just tired and could only focus on finding my friend and buying a finisher’s shirt.

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They had some really cute sweatshirts, too, but I knew those would be more expensive. I was still tempted to get one, thought, because I was immediately chilled from standing in line for 5 minutes to get the cashier.

I picked the cool watermelon-color T-shirt and went on my way.

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This race really taught me about my limits. I’m still glad I did the race, but ahead of the bigger fall races, I’m going to take into account that my rigorous race schedule this spring might not have been the best idea, and didn’t allow for enough rest.

Reviews

George Washington Parkway 10-Miler Race Review & Recap

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I knew it was going to be much warmer weather than I’d run in for quite a while for the George Washington Parkway 10-Miler race, so I planned accordingly. I wore just shorts and a tank top, and took along my water belt, too, as I usually do for 10-milers. It was about 60 degrees at the start and maybe 68-70 at the finish.

I had decided weeks before that I wanted to run this race at a nice, slow pace. I knew I’d be pushing it at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler the week before (where I ended up with a 4-minute PR), and the GW race was 2 weeks before the Nike Women’s D.C. Half so I didn’t want to risk taking too much out of my legs or getting injured.

My official time was 1:36:47. Taking out the potty break, my watch read 1:34:35, 5 minutes slower than my PR the Sunday before at the Cherry Blossom.

Basically, it boiled down to one factor: It was h-o-t. Sure, running in 60-degree weather is normally fine, but I wasn’t used to it, and the sun was beating down on me. I didn’t wear my running hat because I hadn’t worn it on a run yet, and you know the rule — don’t try anything new on race day. I was worried about overheating, and didn’t want to overdo it, so I took several walk breaks after mile 6. I ran out of water around mile 5, and had to stop at the last 3 or 4 water stations for double cups of water plus nuun to try to replenish my electrolytes.

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My final time was not great, but I know it was better for me to take it easier than go all out. The course itself was lovely, especially the first 3-4 miles where we had plentiful shade and birds chirping. I went out too fast, running the first mile in 8:36, despite the goal to try and run 9:15s. My legs started getting tired after mile 4; I had known this was a possibility since my last run on Thursday had felt terribly hard. My lower legs were burning slightly during that workout, and I couldn’t complete the speed workout my trainer had prescribed (and was kind of happy when I had to stop after 2 miles because of breaking news).

This was a one-way course, which was great in terms of keeping the scenery interesting, but it did create some logistical problems in terms of getting there and getting a ride back. I ended up forgoing the free buses, and instead parked at a friend’s house. He took us to his brother-in-law’s, who drove us to the start of the race. Then my dad picked me up at the end of the race, taking me back to my friend’s house to pick up my car.

This was a Pacers race, and as usually was pretty well-organized. However, they had some issues at the start of the race getting the buses through the runners to get them away from the starting line, and many runners had to hop the short fence barriers to get to the road for the start of the race. I was lucky — we were able to enter at the beginning of the race line and sneak back as the buses tried to make their way through.

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After the race it was hard to figure out where to go. It took me a while to find bag check. Then I met up with my friends and we tried to make our way to the beer tent. The beer tent had the longest line ever (note to self: get in beer line first next time), so we ended up skipping that.

The best thing about taking this race easier was that I was really not that sore afterward. I ended up going downtown in the afternoon, and went down to the Tidal Basin to check out the cherry blossoms while they were in peak bloom.

Bonus: All finishers got a neat medal for the race’s 30th anniversary.

Reviews

Cherry Blossom 10-Miler Recap & Review

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What an amazing day and amazing race at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

The course was great, the weather was absolutely perfect and I found my pace group, which helped me reach a 4-minute PR, and come in under my goal time, with a final finish time of 1:29:37!

I spent most of Saturday night in an anxious state, worried about reaching my goal of coming in under 1:30. I don’t typically set such hard goals, and coming in at exactly 1:30 would have meant a PR of 3:39 from the hilly Reston 10-miler I did on March 2. I knew I could do better this time around — my 10-mile split at my half after all was 1:32:34 — but that was a lot of time to shave off even on a flat course.

(To top it off, I was up a bit later than planned reading the last book in the “Divergent” series. I got to a point near the end where I just could not put it down.)

I had found out I was in a later wave than I wanted to be, and the pace group I wanted to target — 9 min/mile for a finish of 1:30 — was also in the earlier corral. I wasn’t sure how much they’d really be policing the wave starts, so I didn’t know if I’d make it in.

I woke up at 5 a.m. Sunday, and had my normal breakfast before heading to the metro station and getting downtown. There were so many runners. I got on at West Falls Church and expected to see a ton of empty seats on the train. Instead, I ended up walking closer to the front of the train so I didn’t have to stand the whole trip downtown.

I went back and forth on whether or not to do bag check and decided I would get too chilled before and after the race without a sweatshirt. I also knew I’d need to hit up the porta-potty, something I’ve never had to do with this big of a race. Still, I was worried about having enough time. I’d seen the lines at the Rock n Roll race for the porta potties, and they were ridiculously long.

Luckily, the Cherry Blossom race was super well-organized. There were a ton of porta-potties, and I only had to stand in line for about 5-7 minutes. I hit up the bag check next, and was again pleasantly surprised how quickly that went — there was only one person in front of me. I made my way to the start line and immediately saw the pace group signs. I was able to quickly find the 9-minute group, which was standing right near one of the entrances. I checked my watch — 7:22. Eight minutes to start, but I knew the staggered start — we took off around 7:38 — meant I had left plenty of time.

The only hiccup before the race was that one of the ends of my bib tore. I wear a bib holder so I don’t have to deal with safety pins, and I didn’t think to take a few and put them in my water belt pocket. I quickly turned around and asked if anyone had an extra. A nice man gave me one of the four holding his bib to his shirt. (Next time, I will safety pin my bib to my holder just to be on the safe side!)

My pace group was led by Shelby from Gold’s Gym. It was really hard to get a feel for how many people ran with us. I had never done a pace group before, so I stuck to Shelby like glue. I’m glad I did, as a few people in the group caught up with us around miles 3 and 4, saying it’d taken that long to find us.

As the race went on, I got a little better about feeling OK if she got slightly ahead or behind the pacer, but I was so keyed into my time that I didn’t want to stray too far. I think I cut a few people off by accident as a result. The field was crowded and we were constantly weaving around folks.

I ended up not paying as much attention to the sights. The cherry blossoms are barely out in most spots, and there was a few miles of bright sunshine right in my eyes. But mostly, I was distracted by trying to stick with the pace group and checking my watch periodically.

I wore my new Garmin Forerunner 220 for only the second time — and the first race. It is amazing. Shelby was also wearing a Garmin watch and ours seemed to be in sync. The final mileage on my watch was 10.10.

It was in the mid-to-upper 30s to start, and we finished when it was around 45 degrees. I wore a very similar outfit to my half, including my armwarmers, which I peeled off around mile 2.5.

The first 5-6 miles were great. It didn’t really even feel that hard. We were sticking to the 9-minute miles pretty well, with a few coming in closer to 8:55. We realized that we’d have to run slightly longer because of not being exactly on the tangents of the course, so we picked up the pace for the final 4 miles, making sure to do 8:50-minute miles for those last miles.

Miles 6.5-8.5 were rough for me. I felt like fading, but I kept pushing to keep up with the pacer, and took it a half mile at a time. Around 8.5, I was able to push through that little wall, and the final mile really flew by.

As warned, there was a slight uphill right near the finish line. I powered up it and got ahead of my pacer around there, crossing the finish line 5 seconds before her.

I was ecstatic. I had thanked Shelby during the last mile, but found her immediately again after the finish to thank her profusely again. Having someone there to keep track of our time, including knowing how much faster we had to run the last 4 miles to reach our goal, was key. She told a few stories along the way, and I talked with her a bit in the first few miles to keep occupied.

The post-race items were a bit spread out. Water was fairly close to the finish, but I never did find the snacks, though I wasn’t really looking for them. It took a bit of time to find out the medal tent was closer to the bag check. I headed there first, and was so happy to get my medal. You had to pay extra for a medal for this race, and I think it would be nice if they included it with the race fee, even if they had to raise it slightly. I heard a couple of people comment they wish they’d ordered medals.

Getting my bag back from the bag check took all of 2 seconds! I made sure I did some stretching. I found Natalie a few minutes later, and we met up for a quick photo. Then I headed off to Metro to catch a ride home. I had to work at 11, and made it in just in time. Luckily, it was a shorter shift, and I was pumped from the race so I didn’t feel too tired.

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Like I said, overall, this was one amazing race, especially coming into it feeling a little anxious. I kept motivating myself even the day before the race, and tried to push all negative thoughts from my head. Being able to get everything done I needed to before the race (porta potty, bag check) with enough time to spare took away much of the nerves. Plus, the first few miles feeling easy was a good boost of confidence.

My allergies kicked in about 2-3 weeks ago, and I started on new medicine just 10 days ago, so I was curious how my symptoms would be race day. Around miles 8, when I was struggling, I did feel a bit of a tickle in my throat, but I coughed some, had some water and it seemed dissipate. Before and after the race, I had to blow my nose, but only a couple times, and it certainly wasn’t bad. I did forget to take a couple puffs of my inhaler, which I usually do before races. I haven’t had an asthma attack since high school, but I had that post-race asthma cough. This time, I luckily only had negligible post-race coughing, and it didn’t feel like my lungs were burning.

I had downloaded the app RaceJoy, where Cherry Blossom had all our data stored. I had been getting alerts on it in the days ahead of the race that were helpful, especially the estimated starting times for each wave and where the pace groups were. When I pulled my phone out post-race, I was happy to see it had sent me push alerts for my finish time, as well as my 5K and 10K times! It was super to see my official time immediately!

In terms of post-race soreness, I could tell I had run hard. I was probably even just a touch more sore than after my half marathon. I also had a decent-sized blister on the one toe on my right foot that always seems to get blisters and on its sister toe on the left foot there was a small one. Later in the afternoon, my hamstring was a little tight, but not too bad. All in all, an OK amount of post-race soreness.

This morning, I’m still on a high from the race and PR. And only a touch sore in my right hamstring. 🙂

On Sunday, I’m running another 10-miler — the GW Parkway one — and I’m looking forward to it. This time, I plan to run at an easier pace, and not set a goal. I want to keep my legs from getting too stressed out before my second half marathon at the end of the month!

Half Marathon Reviews

2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon Recap & Review

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It’s taken me a week, but I’m finally getting around to writing this post. My first half marathon was completed Saturday, March 15, 2014, in 2:01:35.

And it was all awesome.

I had set out my race day outfit a good three days in advance because I was so excited! Thursday was packet pickup day, and it went fine, though I did forget to check in at the pace group table, and I somehow missed all the freebies I saw other bloggers talking about later! I picked up a few T-shirts, including a 13.1 one, and a couple 26.2 stickers for my friends Natalie and John who were running their first full marathons.

In terms of gear, I did end up running with my water belt. After having to stop at several water stations during the Reston 10-miler, I knew it would be way easier to only have to stop at a couple, and have the water in the easier-to-drink bottles. I ended up grabbing one water around mile 8 or 9 and another at the final water stop at mile 11. (It was enough for me, but I will consider getting and using a water backpack that could carry more in the future.)

The water belt also let me carry my cell phone and some fuel (which I didn’t really end up using — I only ate two jelly beans before deciding I didn’t feel like I needed any more).

In addition, I wore arm warmers for the first time. With highs forecast to hit the 60s and a start temperature in the 40s, I knew I’d need to be in a T-shirt after a few miles, but I didn’t want to be cold at the start. I ended up peeling off the arm warmers around mile 2.5, and just tied them to my water belt.

My pants were newer Nike tights that went down to my calves, and I wore a pair of Balega socks along with my more cushion-y shoes that I used on all my long runs. I wore a newer Nike Dri-Fit top that I’d tried out along with the tights a week prior at the St. Patrick’s 8K.

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For Saturday race day, I set three alarms on my iPhone, worried I would accidentally set one for p.m. instead of a.m. (hey, it’s happened!) or somehow sleep through one or more of them. I got a decent night’s sleep after checking my alarms 50,000 times.

I got up at 4:50 a.m., had my regular breakfast (bowl of Cheerios and a bagel), then headed to John’s house so we could cab to Natalie’s D.C. apartment. (Read Natalie’s awesome marathon recap here). We arrived at 6:15, and I played with Natalie’s totally adorable cat as they went over their marathon fueling plan. Then we all hopped in a short cab ride closer to the race site.

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We walked around a bit before splitting up into our corrals. John was in corral 6, Natalie in 9. I was in corral 11, and it took 15 minutes after the 7:30 race start for me to cross the start line, but I got to start to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” so it was a great way to get pumped up for and start the race.

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From the time I woke up, I was in a good, content and chill mode. Just a few nervous butterflies in the stomach. My frame of mind was “Let’s do this!” I had trained hard over several months, and I was ready.

I had gone back and forth on setting a goal for this race. There was a really big part of me that wanted to come in at 2 hours or less, but I knew there was a big bad hill at mile 6, and I had an inkling it would be hard to weave through the crowd of runners, despite giving my predicted finish time as 2 hours when I signed up.

After texting back and forth with Natalie the night before, who quickly talked me out of trying to do 8:30 splits for the first 5 miles (“You’ll burn out!” she said), I started focusing on just enjoying the race.

All through the pre-race preparations early Saturday, I told myself I just needed to enjoy the run and be fine with anything between 2 hours and 2:05. I did try to find the two hour half marathon pace group in the corrals, but to no avail.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the crowded field was definitely keeping me at a slower pace, especially the first mile. In a way, it was good, because it helped keep me from going out too fast, and I quickly decided I needed to trash any idea of finishing under 2 hours and just enjoy the ride.

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I tried to soak in the sights and crowds, and hammed it up for the cameras at the beginning of the race. A lot of the time, though, I found myself lost in my own thoughts and pumping myself up mentally. As much as I hated the hill at mile 6, I knew it was coming and it became my split for the race. I told myself I just had to make it to that hill and once I was over it, the race was already halfway done.

The hill was both as bad as and not as bad as I’d heard. It was extremely steep, but only for about one-tenth to two-tenths of a mile. There was another quarter mile slow climb until you got to the really steep part, but that wasn’t too bad. The steep part, on the other hand was as bad as it’s cracked up to be. I was running so slow I figured I may as well take a few 10-15 second walk breaks to conserve energy.

Cresting the hill and getting back onto flat ground felt great. I knew there was another shorter hill at mile 8 and another even shorter climb around mile 12. I focused on getting to those marks, and making sure I had enough water to drink.

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The second half of the race was probably my favorite. It was great to start near the Washington Monument and run over Arlington Memorial Bridge, and I love running through the Rock Creek Park area, but after that hill the number of spectators increased and we got to run through neighborhoods. Around Howard, I felt like I was running through frat row with all the folks sitting out on their porches, grilling and drinking beer and cheering us on. I saw a few in costume — including Iron Man and the Gingerbread Man from Shrek.

For miles 9 through 10.5 we were running toward the Capitol, and suddenly there were just 2.6 miles left!

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The race pretty much flew by. There was a point somewhere around mile 10 or 11 that I felt a bit fatigued, but after the water stop, I felt better and ready to complete the final two miles. The bands located near each mile also helped keep me pumped throughout the race. I knew when I heard a band that I was closing in on a mile marker.

As I got closer to the finish line, I started looking for my parents, who had Metroed downtown to see me finish. We almost missed each other (“You should have told me what you were wearing, ” my mom would later proclaim.), but I heard “Go Kat!” just in time to turn my head and see them standing not too far from the finish line.

Crossing the finish line felt so good! My time of 2:01:35 (9:17 per mile pace) made me very happy!

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Official splits:

  • 5K: 28:25
  • 10K: 57:29
  • 10 miles: 1:32:34 (one minute faster than Reston 10-miler)

I quickly checked out my splits on RunKeeper (which said I logged 13.53 miles, probably because I ran on the outside quite a bit), and was pleased.

  • Mile 1: 9:08
  • Mile 2: 8:59
  • Mile 3: 8:52
  • Mile 4: 8:37
  • Mile 5: 8:47
  • Mile 6: 8:54
  • Mile 7: 10:00
  • Mile 8: 9:03
  • Mile 9: 8:47
  • Mile 10: 9:22
  • Mile 11: 8:55
  • Mile 12: 9:01
  • Mile 13: 9:13
  • Mile 14 (RunKeeper logged 13.53): 8:53

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I quickly got my medal, water bottle and chocolate milk (yum!), and picked up some other goodies as I walked down the line.

I got my finisher’s photo taken, and went off to find my parents, who were only a short walk away and not too hard to find.

They took another photo of me after I’d put on some more layers. The weather was perfect, but I started to get chilled 5 minutes after finishing.

Walking to the Metro, I saw a lot of folks struggling to walk properly and some even had ice bags tied around their knees … I, on the other hand, felt great. I could tell I would be a little sore, but nothing too significant.

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It ended up taking forever to get home, partially because we got to the Metro stop and I had to walk back to the stadium to use the restroom, which had a line. We didn’t end up getting home until 11:45, two hours after I crossed the finish line. I had to sneakily eat pretzels on the Metro ride because I was starting to feel faint.

Once I got home, I ate a bagel, had another bottle of water and got cleaned up and ready to go out to lunch with Natalie and John back downtown. It was great to catch up and hear their marathon story even though they were hurting quite a bit!

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I got back home around 4:30, just in time to finish packing for my early a.m. flight to Puerto Rico on Sunday, and beat out the snowstorm that was heading to D.C.

I was a little sore later Saturday afternoon with some IT band pain around my knees (something I tend to get when I run a new longer distance or run a long distance hard), but that pain was gone by Sunday morning. On Sunday, I had a light soreness all over my legs, pretty much distributed equally, but it didn’t impact my gait. By Monday, it was almost all gone. Happy, happy camper!

Overall, I had a great experience at this race. The crowds cheering us all on were amazing. The water stops were well organized. Despite the large crowd, it was only the first mile or so that I really struggled to break through. After that, it was still thick, but I felt I could wiggle around — perhaps I just got used to it!

I do wish I had started in an earlier corral. I’m not sure I would have been able to break through the crowd any quicker, but it would have been nice to start earlier instead of standing around for 15 minutes.

The only part of the race that didn’t seem as well organized was the pre-race. It was hard to find the port-a-potties (luckily I didn’t need them or I would have had to stand in line for 20-30 minutes). There was even a line at the first port-a-potty after the first mile, likely because those folks weren’t able to get in at the start. I didn’t really need the gear check, so I wasn’t looking for it, but I was surprised I didn’t see any clear signs for it. I saw a couple folks running with their gear bags — not sure if they were late or the lines were too long or what.

The medal was really cool, and I ended up wearing it the rest of the day. I was surprised how many people stopped to ask me, as well as Natalie and John, what race we’d run and how far we’d gone. All these strangers being so supportive was really cool.

I was in Puerto Rico from Sunday – late Wednesday, so the first post-half marathon run I got in was Thursday. My legs felt heavy for the first three-quarters of a mile, but I think that was just the post-travel tiredness. My run today, in lovely 70-degree weather no less, was great, and my legs felt incredibly light.

Looking ahead, I can’t wait for my next races — I have two 10 milers and then the Nike Women’s D.C. Half Marathon in April. I’m hoping I can get closer to a 1:30 time at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler and come in under 2 hours for the Nike Half.

Reviews

Race Review: St. Patrick’s Day 8K

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I had a great time at this race yesterday. The weather was good — it was a little cold and windy standing around waiting for the start to happen, but once we got going, the sun was out and it was beautiful.

As with all Pacers racers, this one was well organized. Water bottles right after you crossed the finish line, mile markers clearly visible along the course, and great volunteers. My only complaint was that the race started at 9:10 instead of 9. The loudspeaker said something about it being to keep us warm, but it was a bit cold just standing around! I’m guessing folks were still waiting in line at the bag check and port-a-potties.

I thought I had dressed *perfectly* for this event. It was about 40 degrees, sunny, but also windy, with gusts up to 20mph. I wore long capri pants, and a T-shirt with my lighter jacket over it. I figured there was no way I would be able to run in just a T-shirt. I was wrong. About half-way through I had to peel off my jacket and run in just a T-shirt. About 5 minutes after I crossed the finish line, I had to throw the jacket back on.

My personal trainer had suggested I aim for 8:30 splits. I was extremely tired, though, from two nights of not sleeping well and a busy Saturday at work because of the Malaysian flight that was missing, so I almost didn’t go to the race. Somehow, though, despite the tiredness, I managed to pull off a time of 42:22, at a pace of 8:31. That’s three minutes faster than when I ran the same course for the Jingle All the Way 8K three months ago.

This race was a great boost a little less than week out from my first half — which is rapidly approaching on Saturday. I specifically wore new gear that I wanted to try out ahead of the half, minus some arm warmers I plan to tack on for half marathon race day.

Reviews

Race Review: Reston 10-Miler

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I finished my first 10-miler race this past weekend, just 13 days before my first half marathon.

Overall, it was a good race, and I felt decent after it — a little sore, but not too much. My hip flexor pain resurfaced in the afternoon, but only slightly — probably at about 1/3 of the level it hit me with 5-6 weeks ago. After a good night’s rest, it was gone, and I just felt light soreness in my legs and back.

Back to the race itself. The course was H-I-L-L-Y. I had kind of known this going in after seeing the elevation map, but I told myself that maybe it looked worse than it was. The hilliness is probably what increased the little bit of soreness I had, including the hip flexor pain.

The worst hill was a long, slow climb from a little after the 6 miler point to around mile 7.75.

I had kind of been hoping I could come in around 1:30, but the hills really set me back. Plus, I made sure to stop at all three of the water stations, and I had to stop to take off my jacket between miles 2 and 3.

Final time: 1:33:39

Splits:

  • Mile 1: 8:27
  • Mile 2: 8:28
  • Mile 3: 8:59
  • Mile 4: 9:38
  • Mile 5: 8:39
  • Mile 6: 9:00
  • Mile 7: 10:10 Holy hill
  • Mile 8: 9:45
  • Mile 9: 9:29
  • Mile 10: 9:13
  • Mile 11: 8:19 (total mileage per RunKeeper was 10.26)

As I mentioned earlier, I had to take my jacket off, so I obviously overdressed yet again. I should have just worn the long-sleeve shirt. It’s something I will definitely keep in mind for my half. I don’t want to have to strip off layers during that race.

This race was also good practice for the water stops. I’d only ever stopped at one before and quickly discovered I couldn’t run and drink the water from the cup. I’m now considering taking my hydration pack on the run during the half, to make it easier to drink water and only need to make one stop at a water station.

Another thing I finally tried was fueling mid-race. I brought along a gel someone had given me to try. It was only the second time I’d ever tried a gel, and I’m sorry to say I just do not think the gels are for me. I’m a picky eater by nature, and I just didn’t like the sticky texture of it. So, for my half, I’ll stick to sport beans, or maybe try something else that’s chewy like a Clif Shot Blok. I also have a couple Gatorade pouches that should help.

The race also made me realize just how much hills slow me down. On a positive note, though, the hills didn’t feel as “hard” physically and I didn’t feel like I was going to lose a lung or my legs halfway up. It was just slow-going is all.

Organization-wise, this wasn’t the most well-planned race. The starting line was on a main road, so we had to stand off across the street for a while. There wasn’t any banner or loud speaker either at the start line (probably because it was on the aforementioned main road), and no horn was blown that we could hear, but it was obviously race time. At the finish line, water and food wasn’t available without walking across the field or halfway around the track, and there was a long line. Luckily, Natalie finished 10 minutes before me and was kind enough to greet me at the finish line with my choice of gatorade or water.

Best part of the race was getting my first finisher’s medal!

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Reviews

Review: Apera Performance Duffle Bag is amazing

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After seeing my friend Natalie’s Apera Performance Duffle Bag, I had to get one. I’ve been doing more pre-work gym workouts recently and my small gym bag didn’t have quite enough room for my work clothes and a change of shoes. Plus, it’s never had enough pockets — things would get lost at the bottom of it.

This Apera bag is amazing. It has tons of pockets and a small, washable bag for your wet, sweaty clothes after a workout. (Or for your swimsuit if you’re a swimmer).

It has two (TWO!) shoe pockets, one on either side, that are nice and big — it’s super easy to get in my pair of running shoes since there’s plenty of room. And the second one fits whatever work shoe I’ve brought for the day. So now my shoes are never near my clean clothes!

Outside pockets include two that are ideal for holding water bottles, plus flat ones on each side, where you can stash those things you need to reach quickly — like the key to your gym locker, your headphones and your hair tie.

To top it all off, this bag uses anti-microbial fabric inside and outside to protect against odor. And that extra washable bag for your sweaty leftovers helps to make sure this gym bag doesn’t start to smell like a ratty old pair of gym shoes.

The bag’s shoulder strap is perfect. I just sling it over my work bag (also a shoulder bag, but higher up) and I’m good to go.

This bag is b-i-g. It’s perfect when I need to change into work clothes, and after my work out, it even fits the fleece pants and jacket I have to put over my shorts or capris and T-shirt to get to the work gym without freezing.

But it is almost too big on days when I don’t have a full set of work clothes in it, just my exercise clothes for changing in to. However, the size will make it super ideal for a weekend, getaway bag. I cannot wait to use it on my trip to Puerto Rico, and later in the year when I go to the beach and, later, Chicago for my cousin’s wedding this summer.

You could probably even use this as a work bag, if you were so inclined and didn’t mind the sportier look. There’s plenty of room for a laptop, cellphone, iPad, etc., as well as your other work things.

I’m also hoping I can use it on race day for my half to store a change of clothes, including shoes, so that I can stay at the finish line to see Natalie and John cross for their first full marathon.

The price of this bag is a bit steep at $124, but all blue bags were 40% off when I ordered, so I got it for $74 and shipping was free.

Reviews

Review: Athleta Headwinds Jacket has great breathability, is perfect for damp runs

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My other winter running jacket this season has been Athleta’s Headwinds Jacket, and it’s likely to last into spring.

This jacket is a little lighter than my Pearl Izumi one, which makes it great for slightly warmer runs in the mid 30s to about 50 degrees (basically, anything colder than T-shirt weather).

A few reviewers have complained the reflective piping design has come off when washing, but I haven’t come across that yet, and I’ve probably washed this jacket 3-4 times.

I also got a chance to test out the jacket’s waterproof features, and it definitely passed. I wore it on a night run with a consistent drizzle and persistent fog. When I got back indoors, my legs felt a little wet, but not my upper body — it was still warm and dry, even though it was in the mid 30s.

The jacket scores high in breathability because of its great lining and venting strips in the back and front. It has thumb holes and two side pockets that are great for stashing anything from your phone and fuel to gloves and more.

At $98, this jacket is fairly priced, and the quality seems good. Another jacket that’s likely to last for years to come.