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In Pursuit of the PR: Running My Way Through 2013

I ran 13 races in 2013. This was in no way on purpose, as evidenced by my English major fuzzy math. If you’d asked me how many races I was running last year, I’d have calculated that give or take a few, carry the one, and round up that I was running roughly…uh… A LOT.

13 races equals out to be 1.14 races per month, which doesn’t sound like much, especially since .14th of a race has to be like 2.45 miles, especially considering I’m making all this math up because my fingers don’t do decimal points. But it was the most mile-heavy racing schedule I’ve ever attempted. This schedule included completing 6 half marathon in 9 weeks. Something I never would have done without being under the influence of an incredibly powerful force: Jason.

Our relationship starting by training for the KC Half Marathon in 2011 – 4 weeks before the race. He’s notorious for saying “We’ll be fine!” and doing crazy things. Like a bunch of half marathons in a row. Or marrying me.

I started the racing season off easy with the Westport St. Patrick’s Day 4-mile run on March 9. I like the promise of beer afterwards and seeing other runners’ fun costumes.

I love you, baby, but I'm still going to beat you!

I love you, baby, but I’m still going to beat you!

This year, the goal was to BEAT JASON. A PR (personal record) would be nice, but mostly I had to BEAT JASON. I’d spent weeks tortuously training on the treadmill with sprint workouts and was ready to be reminded why I run them (it’s not for the love of the alliteration, but that does help).  I knew the course and when to use my Secret Weapon.

At mile 2, I saw Jason waaaayyy up ahead of me. “Son of a bitch! How’d he get up there?!” I was on high alert making sure he didn’t pass me. How had he slipped by? He was the only dork in a bright red Hospital Hill shirt in a sea of St Pat’s Day green. “He only trains like once a week!

“Hey, baby!” My head jerked to the side. There was Jason. Wait? How?

“I thought you were way up there,” I pointed to his distant doppelgänger. “I thought you’d passed me.”

“I am now!” And the cheeky bastard took off. But my Secret Weapon was approaching. Almost all of mile 3 is this long gradual uphill. It sucks. But not for the Hill Master! I passed Jason about halfway up. I used my thunder thigh powers to put some more time between us. I eventually did pass Jason’s doppelgänger in the last half mile of the race, but then I was super paranoid because if I saw a red shirt it could either be Jason OR his bearded hipster body double (turns out he just looked the same from behind).

I finished in 30:56 minutes – 7:44 min/mile. I was STOKED. I had beat my previous time by almost 2 minutes and the year before that’s time by like 5 minutes. And I BEAT JASON. But not by much. We celebrated with a beer crawl. This was an AWESOME start to the season. Half marathon PR here I come!

Survived my cold and the cold weather all for this awesome piece of bling!

Survived my cold and the cold weather all for this awesome piece of bling!

The next race was the Dallas Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon on March 24. This race I was nervous and excited about. It was a weekend road trip with 3 of my friends from the Athletic Club where I used to work. Knee problems were flaring up so my training was somewhat behind – my longest run was 9 miles…on the treadmill. Originally Jason and I just had 5 half marathons on the schedule, but the opportunity for a fun girls’ weekend was too cool to pass up.

Nothing like a selfie in the mirror - I also am not advocating socks and flip flops, but it was colder than I packed for.

Nothing like a selfie in the mirror – I also am not advocating socks and flip flops, but it was colder than I packed for.

The Rock N’ Roll series races are not cheap, but they are totally worth it. True to its name, we had lots of music all along the course. We spent half the day at the expo checking out clearance gear, sampling fitness foods, learning about other races, discovering recovery techniques, and taking lots of goofy pictures. We enjoyed the free giveaways and came out excited for the race.

This race taught me to pack one of EVERYTHING no matter where your out of town race is at. When we left Kansas, it was supposed to be 50s/60s in Texas, so I packed shorts and flip flops. That morning it was almost 40 degrees with this freezing cold north wind whipping around. We got lucky and hung out inside the hotel lobby by the starting line, but I was regretting not packing more. Usually as a girl I pack too much, but you’ll never be sorry when it comes to racing.

Tally pretending to eat a crawdad. We had an awesome feast of crawdad, boiled veggies, and beer with Sarrisa's family while in Texas.

Tally pretending to eat a crawdad. We had an awesome feast of crawdad, boiled veggies, and beer with Sarrisa’s family while in Texas.

Besides my knees, I’d also gotten a cold the week of the race. I probably should have stayed home from work one day, but I figured it was just a cold. So I spent the race paying attention to my knees and blowing my nose a lot – not that the cold wind helped. I finished in 1:52:39 – about 8:30 min/mile. It was again a very good sign. My PR to beat is 1:49:23 from 2008. I was one out of six half marathons down and already just 3 minutes off!

I returned from Dallas with more confidence about this racing season. This was it! My season! Two days later I was at the doctor’s office being diagnosed with Bronchitis. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Two weeks later was Rock the Parkway Half Marathon on April 13. And I still had bronchitis. But I  had the go-ahead to run from my physician. My mother was less than thrilled, but I assured her, “It’s ok, Mom. The doctor says I can.” I didn’t mention that my doctor’s actually a nurse practitioner. But mostly that she’s also a runner. She took a nap in someone’s yard during the Hawaii Marathon. Which she assured me was perfectly fine, as this was the 70s.

Picking up some post-race Dew on the way home and showing off my awesome new boots - I found ones that not only fit my giant calves but were loose!

Picking up some post-race Dew on the way home and showing off my awesome new boots – I found ones that not only fit my giant calves but were loose!

Even though I lost my 1:50 pace group on mile one, went through half a box of Kleenexes during the race, coughed every 3 minutes, and was tired as hell, I ALMOST PRed. I was FOUR SECONDS off my PR. But, I can’t lie to my fans (and by fans, I mean my mother). I was a dirty runner on steroids. Prednisone to be exact. Actually I was on Prednisone and three other prescription drugs.

But, I figured, if I could almost PR while sick with bronchitis, I could for sure pull out a PR next time. I was so close! With injuries! With illness! On Roids!

One week later, April 21, was the Kansas Half Marathon in Lawrence, KS. I had the  home team advantage as I ran up and up and up and sometimes down around the KU campus for years. The huge hill at Mile 8 was my way back to the dorms freshmen year. But…

I’d never really run up that hill AFTER 8 other miles. ONE WEEK after doing another half marathon. The first three miles of this race were promising. I was with the 1:45 group and feeling great. Then I slipped back to the 1:50 group. Then I ran into my friend Sam, and we ran the rest of the way together. If I hadn’t had his encouragement and energy distracting me from my pain and keeping me going, this race would have been more of a disaster than it was.

Making pimps jealous with our finisher medal swag. These things were HUGE. KS Half Marathon on left, Rock the Parkway on right.

Making pimps jealous with our finisher medal swag. These things were HUGE. KS Half Marathon on left, Rock the Parkway on right.

Mile 6 is when I started to feel like, hey, didn’t you just run one of these things? The hill at mile 8 was brutal. Then the hill at mile 11 was EVEN MORE BRUTAL. I was no longer on any meds except an inhaler, but my breathing was definitely not as efficient as it used to be. We finished in 1:55:08, making our goal of under 2 hours.

Disappointed but not defeated, I geared up for the next half marathon that was thankfully two weeks later on May 11, Running with the Cows. This is a small race out in the middle of nowhere Kansas but it’s AMAZING. We got SO MUCH FOOD at the end of this race I’ve almost forgotten how long and hot and horrible it felt running it.

I ran with my best friend Jen, who’d come to town specifically for this race. It’s a long inside joke that we call Jen a cow (she’s tiny!), so she had to run her namesake race. Jason and Jen have a long competitive history, more so than he and I do, so when he passed us mile 1, Jen was a bit on edge. But no big deal. We had 13 miles to out pace him.

But then mile 6 at the turn around point he was STILL ahead of us. Jason said as he passed us on his way back he could “feel the hostility.” We assured him we were happy for him…mostly. Again I got lucky and ran into Sam during the race, so the three of us had fun talking and plotting how to catch Jason. But I was starting to die. As beautiful as it is to run on gorgeous (paved) country roads out in fields and see cows and farms around you, it’s also Allergy Hell. Mix recovering from bronchitis with allergy season, and I was starting to sound like Darth Vader.

Completing the Heartland Series with more big bling.

Completing the Heartland Series with more big bling.

Mile 11 though we caught Jason. He was dying. He’d run very well but maybe had gotten a bit too eager and was now capping out. Jen told me if she couldn’t keep up, to keep going, that at least one of us had to beat Jason. So I dug in and passed him and ran the last two miles on my own. The last two miles were soooo long. You could see everything for miles in the country but never seemed to get any closer to anything.

I finished in 1:51:57 with Jen and Sam close behind and Jason not far behind that. We celebrated by getting not just a finisher medal but TWO finisher medals. The past 3 half marathons were part of the Heartland Series – the first year you complete all three races you get a medal. Next year, we get a giant belt buckle. Serious swag. We also found the cafeteria full of food – both homemade and catered. The best was I got an ENTIRE Chik-fil-a sandwich. I went over to the booth, they held out a sandwich, I looked at them in post-race bewilderment, took it with two hands and held it like a squirrel with a coveted nut, mumbled thank you, and stumbled off. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. And tasted.

Jason and I have our first year finisher medals for the Heartland Series. Sam, on the far right, is holding the Belt Buckle you get for completing it 2 years.

Jason and I have our first year finisher medals for the Heartland Series. Sam, on the far right, is holding the Belt Buckle you get for completing it 2 years.

One week later on May 19 was the notorious Leavenworth Five Trails Half Marathon (now renamed the Buffalo Bell Stampede because we can’t impress upon you enough that this is Kansas!). People complain about Hospital Hill being hilly. NO. This half marathon has it beat. The goal for this race was to just finish because it’s so hard, and it was our last race in the Leavenworth Race Series. I ran 10 miles of it the year before as a long training run since Jason was signed up for it. But last year had gone really well. The weather was cloudy, I was having a great running day, and all those hills were so much fun!

This year, I couldn’t breathe still, and it got hot and humid. And suddenly there seemed to be like 10 times more hills than I’d remembered. Mile 11 I was still going up a long ass hill on the side of the road with the sun beating down on me. The girl I’d been following the whole race started talking to me.

“Great job. Keep it up.”

“Thanks…you…too.”

“Is this your first time?”

“I’ve run…some of the…course. But not…this far.”

“It’s a tough one.”

“Yeah..Is this your…first time?”

“No. My aunt’s one of the race directors. We have to run it every year.”

“That’s cool… Hey, when do…the hills stop?”

And that’s when she stopped responding. And that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to get any better. And it really didn’t. The last half mile you run around the high school until you finish by doing a lap on the track, which was kind of cool. Like how they finish in the Olympics. Except this wasn’t the Olympics.

On the left, our finisher medal for completing the Leavenworth Race Series that started in Aug 2012. The wine was for 3rd place in my age group. And then the colorful finisher medal for the half marathon on the right.

On the left, our finisher medal for completing the Leavenworth Race Series that started in Aug 2012. The wine was for 3rd place in my age group. And then the colorful finisher medal for the half marathon on the right.

I finished just under 2 hours – 1:59:15. I also beat that girl. I’d been stalking her the whole race and used her as motivation to keep my pace up. Ironically, she got first place for women in her age group. I was only ONE year older than her age group. And I got 4th place in mine. But then I got bumped up to 3rd place because the overall women’s winner was in my age group. So I was awarded a bottle of wine, and the younger girl just got a medal. Winning!

June 1 – Two weeks later was Hospital Hill Half Marathon – this was The Race. This is my favorite KC race, usually one of my strongest races because of the hills, and where I really really want to get my PR. Jason knew how much it meant to me and got us a room at the race hotel, the Sheraton at Crown Center. We relaxed that evening, knowing we could wake up and just pop on down the elevator to the starting line. No leaving home 2 hours early to play the stupid parking game.

Our view of The Hospital Hill from our room in the Sheraton. Sleeping on hills is what gives me my Hill Master powers.

Our view of The Hospital Hill from our room in the Sheraton. Sleeping on hills is what gives me my Hill Master powers.

I also was a blogger for this race. Several of us wrote entries about running to help people prepare for Hospital Hill – whether you did the 5K, 10K, or half. I met a lot of these people both in person and through their blogs, and it was really cool to get more involved in the running community. To hear stories of what inspired them to run. To hear stories what inspires them to keep running. It made the race even more special and personal.

The finisher medals from the past 3 years for the Hospital Hill Half Marathon fit together like a puzzle. 2013's medal was the final piece.

The finisher medals from the past 3 years for the Hospital Hill Half Marathon fit together like a puzzle. 2013’s medal was the final piece.

We got so lucky that the weather wasn’t scorching hot – it started out in the 60s and wasn’t the humid mess Kansas can be that time of year. I paced the race really well. I ran by myself – I never found Sam, and Jason knew he wasn’t going to keep up on this one. No music or anything. Just me and my thoughts. I was mostly worried about Broadway Hill at mile 10. The year before I let it break me and lost a lot of time slowly climbing up it.

This year the last three miles was a lot of looking at my Garmin and doing math in my head. Which is a pretty big deal for me since I can’t do math hardly standing still and here I was trying to figure out how many minutes per mile I needed to get my PR while wheezing uphill. There were definitely several times during the race when I had to slow down a bit and try to breath. Even with taking my inhaler beforehand, it wasn’t the same. Ever since getting bronchitis, my sprint workouts had suffered and just a nine-minute mile felt like I was pushing it. But I wanted my PR so bad!!! Just suffer through now and enjoy the victory forever!

We found Sam and Emily at the post-race party and got a pic. These guys are awesome runners, and I always enjoy seeing them at races.

We found Sam and Emily at the post-race party and got a pic. These guys are awesome runners, and I always enjoy seeing them at races.

I finished in 1:50:56 which was NOT a half marathon PR but it WAS my Hospital Hill PR. So I tried to be happy with that, but thoughts of Next Year I’m Gonna were already popping up. I still celebrated with food and beer. The next race was months off, and it was time to recover!

Just kidding! In our usual crazy runner style, Jason and I found another race that we just had to run one week later. But this was a fun run – Martini Mile. It’s a relay race for teams of four people; each person runs a mile. We had Jason, myself, a co-worker and his former cross country star buddy. We almost got 3rd place for the mixed gender teams! We’re ready for next year now we know there’s two decent sized hills in the mile and ways to make handing off the baton faster (we used an empty bottle of Mountain Dew, which I may or may not have finished drinking that morning before the race at 1pm).

This is my Martini Mile shirt. The kid is my adorable cousin Quintin. I love his shirt too!

This is my Martini Mile shirt. The kid is my adorable cousin Quintin. I love his shirt too!

Later in June, we got the cool opportunity to meet a running legend – Billy Mills. The only American to gold medal in the 10,000-meter run. We went to his birthday dinner hosted by the KC Track Club and heard him speak. I definitely am blogging more about this. We met him there, and he was also there as part of the Double Road Race. Bob Anderson, Kansas high school alumni and founder of Runner’s World, was starting a new race. You run a 10K and then an hour later run a 5K. Your overall score is the two races combined. It definitely involves a lot of strategy and figuring out how to pace both races and recover in between without your muscles getting stiff.

The day of the race was June 30, and it was gorgeous! It was high 70s and no humidity – Bob got really lucky because he obviously did NOT remember his summer days in Kansas, or he would have NEVER scheduled that thing in late June. But it was not an A game day for me – still suffering from what my doctor now called either adult asthma or allergy-induced asthma, my breathing was killing me. Looking back, my race times are still pretty good, but I guarantee you that I did not feel good pulling those off. And I had a lot of disappointing training runs. I just wanted to breathe again!!!

Getting to meet Billy Mills was such an honor. He's a very inspiring runner!!!

Getting to meet Billy Mills was such an honor. He’s a very inspiring runner!!!

The 10K went ok – my main motivation was to beat this 10-year-old. Seriously, he was 10. He was ahead of me most the time but that last mile I passed him. It’s hard for someone that young to understand how to keep an even pace. But he beat me (by not by much my pride must add) in the following 5k. It was a boring race that went around Corporate Woods through parking lots and business streets – the 10K was 2 loops and the 5K was one loop. So we saw the same lack of scenery three times. But the shade was nice. I remember sprinting hard at the end of the 10K, finishing strong like I always do, and looking up to suddenly see Billy Mills there. He won his race by sprinting hard at the end, so he said something about my strong finish and congratulated me, shaking my hand. I was so out of it. I think I said thanks. It was surreal.

Our next race wasn’t for months. Finally. We had the Portland Marathon on October 6. Before that, I convinced Jason to sign up for the North Shore Trail Half Marathon with the Trail Nerds on Sept 7th. It would be a good way to get a long training run in with all the fun perks of a race. Or would it?

Ha ha. This race really was HELL. I don’t ever want to repeat it, but I’m certainly thankful for how much stronger it made me. I have a full entry coming soon about this race so I won’t say too much. This race started out at 9am in the 80-degree, 90% humidity of Kansas in the woods by the lake in Lawrence. Also trail running is A LOT harder and slower than regular road running. I knew this going into the race from doing the nighttime trail 10K the year before, but I’d never tackled 13.1 miles.

I figure it’d take me 2 1/2 hours to complete this race. I’d be slower but not bad. Nope. I walked every so often. I NEVER walk. But sometimes you wasted more energy trying to run and struggle up a rock-studded hill than just walk up it. My legs tired of dodging things all the time. And with a marathon coming up I didn’t want to twist anything. And it got so hot.

Like I said, these medals were LEGENDARY. I had to suck it Buttercup and finish it!

Like I said, these medals were LEGENDARY. I had to suck it Buttercup and finish it!

Jason dropped down and did the 10K, which actually turned into 7 miles. My 13.1 miles ended up being 14 miles. The state park had gotten the race date mixed up, so we were running on a different trail loop, which was 7 miles. I remember finishing the first 7 miles in almost 2 hours and thinking there was NO WAY I wanted to run those 7 miles AGAIN. But I had to. Because the finisher medal was epic. Legendary! And I’d never not finished a race. As long as I could still move, I was doing this. It was 3 1/2 hours later that I emerged from the trail melting, delusional, and so thankful I didn’t die alone in the woods. I didn’t want to be on that show 1000 Ways to Die – #451 Death by Raccoon.

Having a three and half hour race in the heat of Kansas though made the Portland Marathon feel that much nicer. It was beautiful fall weather the day of the race. Jen, Jason and I had a great time running it. This time breathing didn’t matter so much because our average pace was 10:45-11:30 minute miles. It was about the experience and finishing the greatest race of I’ve run to date – The Course is Strong With this One: My First Marathon Saga.

After running 6 half marathons in 9 weeks, running a new kind of road race, meeting one of my running heroes, surviving a trail run in a heat advisory, and completing my first marathon, you’d think I’d be pretty satisfied with myself and call it a year.

Marathon complete! Time for beer!

Marathon complete! Time for beer!

Ha ha.

I had one more race to do – aka one more way to worry my mother. We ran the Kansas City Half Marathon just two weeks after the full marathon. It wasn’t a completely off the wall idea – I researched first. Most running experts tell you to take a whole week off of running and some recommended a half marathon a few weeks after. It was kind of pushing it though.

I did take it easy with the running. I returned to Cross Fit less than a week after the full marathon because my muscles never got sore – just my joints had bothered me during and after the race. But I was still kind of dying. My coach kept telling me to get my strength from my hips, and I kinda wanted to tell him to try using his hips after running for five hours straight. For once my little T-Rex arms looked good.

But since this race started Jason and I’s relationship, and we were getting married the next month in November, it seemed appropriate to run it. Also, the past two times I’ve run the half I haven’t had a lot of training in. This year we were over prepared.

Oddly enough, this medal was bigger than our full marathon finisher medal.

Oddly enough, this medal was bigger than our full marathon finisher medal.

The race went well for being two weeks after our first full – I finished in 2:02. I was aiming for under two hours, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to happen. My legs were still tired from the full, and the KC Half is deceptively hard. It doesn’t seem like a lot of hills like Hospital Hill, but it’s got a lot of gradual uphill.

Then, finally, we had just one more race. This race we ran with Jason’s family and my friend Bridget. The Monster Dash 5K. It was a great way to end racing season because I finally did a race without caring about my time. In fact, for the first time ever, I wore a costume. While running. Bridget was Cat Woman (she wore her running shoes not the stiletto boots during the race) and I was Bat Girl. We quickly discovered Halloween costumes don’t breathe. So, if any sports companies out there want to make the next new thing, I recommend sweat-wicking workout costumes. Seriously, they’d be a HUGE hit in the running community. We’re a goofy group who’s easily amused.

We also got a pretty big finisher medal for doing a 5K. I didn't a get a medal the for the first half marathon I ran in 2003! It's the new running thing - awesome bling.

We also got a pretty big finisher medal for doing a 5K. I didn’t a get a medal the for the first half marathon I ran in 2003! It’s the new running thing – awesome bling.

I had several other fall races I would have liked to run in November and December, but with the wedding that wasn’t going to happen. We’d already put off enough wedding planning by running half marathons then spending the rest of the weekend sleeping and eating and drinking beer. It was time to recover and focus on the next race – the rest of our lives together.

And time to sign up for next year’s races. 🙂

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