Today is a special day for me. It was six years ago on May 26, 2010 when I started my journey as a runner on the Kokosing Gap Trail in Mount Vernon. I was 35 pounds heavier and was looking for some way to get in better shape.
Fast forward 2,192 days later and that running journey has taken me through 17 states, 11,890 miles, and several dozen pairs of running shoes all the while introducing me to many great new friends and exciting adventures.
I shared a lot of my running history last year in a blog and there is no need to go into all of that again. Over the past 366 days since that blog, there have been ups and downs. I battled plantar fasciatis throughout the summer and eventually suffered a broken left foot on August 13 while on a run. That led to 12 weeks of no running and very limited activity until the end of that recovery process. However, I tried to find other ways to stay involved in running by supporting others and still going to races. I’m not going to lie…it was HARD! But, I realized that I can’t take running for granted. Just like other things in life it can be taken from you in a blink of an eye. Live in the moments and take full advantage of things while you can.
Ironically, despite all that time off due to the injury, I still had one of my best running years yet as I managed to log 2,229 miles. I ran my fastest half marathon time in February as part of my training for the Boston Marathon, and I completed Boston for the second year and bettered my time with a 3:28:48 for my ninth marathon finish in 6 years.
One of the highlights of my running this year has been all the time I spent getting to know Nashville on foot as I have been there for work. It’s a great running town and I’ve made several new running friends there and logged lots of miles. I hope to run a race there at some point.
I’m looking forward to training hard but smart this summer and staying injury-free while preparing for a fall marathon when the weather is a little cooler. Who knows where the journey will take me this year!
May 26 marked the 5-year anniversary of the day that I first started running. On that day back in 2010, I went to the Kokosing Gap Trail, which for the first 20 years of my time in Mount Vernon had gone unused by me. (That itself is a shame since it’s a great 13.3-mile trail!) I weighed 235 pounds and needed to make a change because my life as the sports information director at a small college was taking a toll on me. I worked a lot of late hours, drank a lot of late-night Mountain Dew, and grabbed way too many fast food meals and bad snacks just to take care of my hunger pangs during my busy, over-worked schedule.
I can still remember that first run on that early morning….it seemed like it took forever to get to the one-mile mark to turn around and go back. I didn’t take an iPod and I really had no idea how to set a pace and just took off thinking that it would be no problem. By the time I got to the one-mile mark and was turning around to head back, I was thinking to myself “what in the world have I gotten myself into?” I was able to finish and headed for home, but it definitely wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
The next day, I came back to attempt two miles again. I was fine for the first mile. However, as I approached the half mile mark on the way back, I was ready to just walk the final 800 meters. I passed an older lady who was walking and had been on the trail the previous day and said to her “I think you’ve got the right idea.” She came back with “well, you sure seemed to have a lot more energy yesterday.” Well, that was the kick in the pants that I needed to get back into a jog and finish the two miles without walking.
I only ran a total of three miles over the next two weeks as I debated whether this was something I really wanted to commit to doing or not. During this time, I came up with lots of excuses of why I was too busy or didn’t need to do it. However, every time I voiced one to my good friend, Jay Stancil (a fellow sports information director in Kentucky who had also just started running), he would tell me how busy he was, but that he still put in the time to run even if it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m.
So, after two weeks of coming up with excuses only to have Jay shoot them all down, I headed back to the trail on June 12th with a new frame of mind. I also took my iPod along this time. I went into my run that day planning to do two miles, but kept pushing myself and ended up running to the two-mile mark instead. Before I knew it, I had run two miles out and two miles back and had four miles under my belt in a time that I was pretty pleased with. I went back the next day and ran three more miles. It felt really good to have done seven miles in the span of two days.
From June through August, I stayed pretty regular with several solo runs a week while listening to my iPod. I did all of my runs on the Kokosing Gap Trail so that I would know my mileage since I had not yet invested in a Garmin. Then, in late August, I found out that there was going to be a 4-mile race in town. Several people I knew where going to do it and I thought it would be fun to try something different.
Needless to say, I had a blast and I was hooked!!! I had always been a marginal athlete at best growing up. But when I finished second in my age group and 21st overall in this race, I realized that I had found something that at least on a small local level I was decent at. It fueled my fire to work harder and also to run with other people. I began to train a little more seriously and signed up for inaugural Emerald City Quarter Marathon that was a week later and ended up once again finishing second in my age group and this time 12th overall out of 709 people!!!
From there, running just continued to take off. I did the Columbus Half Marathon that fall and finished 2010 with 559 total miles. I was excited to continue my running journey and see what I could do in a full year. I also saw my health and fitness improving. My weight was dropping and I was doing a better job of getting to sleep earlier at night since I was getting up to run predawn most mornings. I was eating a little healthier and had cut soda out while drinking a lot of water.
2011 proved to be a full year of racing with two half marathons (Cap City and Earth Day) in the spring, the Erie Half Marathon in the fall, and then my first full marathon in October when I ran the Columbus Marathon in 3:52:04 even with walking most of the final 6 miles. I knew that day even before I got home that I would do another full because I had so much room for improvement. I finished 2011 with 1,818 miles and set my sights on going for 2,000 miles the next year.
And then they hit….INJURIES!!! 2012 started off well with my second marathon (Earth Day) as I improved to 3:41:39 and only walked about three miles. I also did the Cap City Quarter Marathon with my oldest daughter who was 10 at the time and then the Pittsburgh Half Marathon the next day. However, after that, I started to battle shin splints. Then, they turned into full blown stress fractures. I walked two races and then was only able to do the first of my three scheduled legs at the Hood to Coast Relay. I ended up taking about three months off from running and finished the year with 1,505 miles. However, by late fall and after supporting friends at the Columbus Marathon including some unplanned running, I knew that I was on the mend and I was ready to start fresh in the new year!!!
2013 started off with a bang for me as I set a new PR in the First on the First 5K at 19:52. Then, in February, I posted what is to date my only race win as I captured the title at the Granville Winter Run 7.5-Mile race. That gave me the confidence that I would need to go after my first Boston Qualifier (BQ) just a week later at the Last Chance for Boston Marathon in Dublin, Ohio. That day on the one-mile loop course I dropped 28 minutes off my marathon PR and finished in 3:13:33!!! (Unfortunately, I would later find out when registering for Boston that due to increased interest in the race after the bombing that I was still 11 seconds too slow to get in for 2014.)
I did three more half marathons in that spring (Xenia, Earth Day, and Pittsburgh) and also my second relay event (Relay Around Columbus) and then set my sights on the Erie Marathon in the fall. I was a little too energetic at Erie, though, and ended up running what would have been a new PR 1:30 first half to that race and then struggled the second half with some walking at the end as my fourth marathon finished in 3:21:47. I was bummed because I knew by then that my chances of getting into Boston in 2014 were slim and now I would need to work hard again to get another BQ for the following year.
So, I did what a lot of crazy runners do….I quickly signed up for the Columbus Marathon that was less than a month later. I knew that I was well-trained and that if I could just pace myself better that I had a shot at another sub 3:15. When race day came, I followed my plan perfectly. I just kept plugging away and ended up knocking 8 more seconds off my PR with a 3:13:25 to secure another BQ. I finished 2013 with 2,214 miles.
In 2014, I put together my most consistent and healthiest year yet as I credit taking up biking and swimming as some of the key factors to this success. I was able to pace two marathons (Myrtle Beach and Monumental) as well as set a new half marathon PR at Cap City with a 1:32:04. After a 1:32:29 Emerald City Half Marathon in August, I again returned to Erie to try to lower my marathon PR. Running my smartest race so far, I managed to knock three minutes off my PR and finished in 3:10:25 and knew that it looked good for me to get into the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2015. I went on to finish 2014 with 2,489 miles and felt great!
2015 got off to a great start as I averaged 250 miles for the first three months, but all of the miles began to slowly catch up to me especially after attempting to PR at the Last Chance for Boston Marathon in February on a snow-covered course. However, I have managed to run through them as best I can and really enjoyed the opportunity to run and finish the Boston Marathon in April. Then, less than a month later, I tacked on my first ultra marathon experience by taking part and completing the Playin’ Possum 50K. It was a tremendous new experience and will make me a better runner because of it.
As I finish up this recap of my first five years, it is amazing to think that I’ve amassed 9,661 miles during that span or an average of 1,932 per year. That’s nearly 5.3 miles per day for the past 1,826 days and there have definitely been a lot of non-running days in there…especially when I was injured.
However, more importantly than all the miles or any awards or medals that I have received from running are the friendships that I have gained. The running community is an amazing group filled with inspiring people who each have their own story to tell. I have really enjoyed getting to know so many great people on this journey.
Here are just a few facts and figures from the past five years:
Total States Run In – 16 (Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.)
Different Shoes – Asics Gel Kanbarra (3 pair), Asics Nimbus (12 pair), Adidas Boost (2 pair), Puma Ignite, New Balance 980
Where do I even begin to try to start with a race that has been several years in the making? After qualifying for the 2014 Boston Marathon in 2013 at Last Chance for Boston with a 3:13:33 after battling back from stress fractures in both legs, I missed getting into it by 11 seconds since they lowered the qualifying times due to increase interest after the bombings. I worked hard to get even faster so that this year’s race could be a reality by running a 3:10:25 at the 2014 Erie Marathon. However, the dream to even get to Boston started right after running my first marathon when I made a solid attempt to BQ (Boston Qualify) in my second marathon and realized that if I worked harder I might just be able to do it. With eight marathons under my belt that included three BQs (each sub 3:15) and two marathons pacing, the Boston Marathon was set to be my ninth marathon in less than five years of running.
The trip to Boston started on Saturday with a 5:30 a.m. flight and then a trip to the Expo as soon as I got to Boston. More sightseeing followed and then continued on Sunday. It was great to run into some of my central Ohio running friends and also very cool to watch Shalane Flanagan get in her warmup on Sunday morning and then snag a pic with her. I also managed to get in a shakeout run around the Boston Commons on Sunday afternoon before heading to the pre-race pasta dinner.
Marathon Monday finally arrived and with it 40-degree temps, rain, and 20 mph winds. I took the bus to Hopkinton with my running partner Cindy Warner and we arrived with only about 35-40 minutes to kill before we headed to the starting corrals…just enough time to make it through the port-a-pottie line. Once in the corral, we were soon marching what seemed to be almost a mile (the guy on the PA said it was .70 of a mile if we wanted to tack it on to our mileage for the day. ha ha). As we all took off our throwaway clothes and rain ponchos that had kept us warm and dry, the rain started. Then, the gun sounded and we were off!!!
The first mile was super crowded as we all tried to find whatever space we could. I clocked a 7:54, but I was fine with that because I went into the race not knowing what my legs could do since I had been battling a sartorius muscle issue in my right leg for a couple of weeks. However, I quickly settled in and knocked out the first 10 miles with pretty consistent splits – 7:25, 7:21, 7:26, 7:38, 7:29, 7:26, 7:29, 7:26, 7:32.
The rolling hills started to take their toll on my right knee over the next three miles as my splits slipped to 7:40, 7:36, 7:44 and I hit the halfway point at 1:39:37 for a 7:35 pace that I was really pleased with. One of the highlights of the entire race was running through Wellesley College. You could hear the Scream Tunnel almost a mile before you got to it as girls lined the right side of the road for hours in the cold and rain with some of the best signs on the entire course as they tried to get runners to stop for kisses. It was definitely fun going through Wellesley as I slapped hands with all the girls along the line (no kisses although one girl grabbed my hand and nearly succeeded in pulling me in! LOL). However, it was a real letdown emotionally for the half mile or so after Wellesley as that was probably the one lull in the spectators.
The second half of the race became a struggle for me as by mile 15 I was having trouble extending my right leg due to the sartorius issue. I got through miles 14-16 with splits of 7:57, 8:13, and 8:07 and then I hit the true hilly section. I got through the first four miles of it pretty well considering how my leg felt with splits of 8:38, 8:46, 8:38, and 9:07. Then, as I crested Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, I decided to make a quick detour into the medical tent because I knew that I needed something to perk me up. I ended up with a handful of potato chips and then some amazing broth that I took with me in a cup (guess this is practice for an ultra). That mile ended up my slowest at 12:23 with the 3-minute pit stop that also included a quick trip to the dirtiest port-a-pottie I’ve ever been in. Just glad I wasn’t planning on sitting down is all I’m saying.
From there, the last five-plus miles were sheer willpower as I was determined to finish and to not walk at all in this one even if slowed to a shuffle (which I did). I did manage to eat a pretty good meal thanks to the spectators as I grabbed orange slices, pineapple chunks, a popsicle, two pieces of licorice, and a Milky Way bar to help me get the rest of the way (again, ultra training). My splits were 9:43, 9:57, 10:26, 10:03, and 10:31.
Turning on Boylston Street was so emotional! My calves were both cramping by this point so there was no sprint left in me, but the crowd was so loud!!! I managed to get the pace back down to a 9:48 for the final .20 and crossed the finish line with my arms held high. I had done it!!! I had run the Boston Marathon!!! (Big thanks to Alex Connell for his great screen capture work on the video feed to catch me running under the clock to cross the finish line!)
The kind volunteers helped me get a poncho on because I was freezing and put the medal around my neck. I slowly made my way a couple of blocks to the corner where I was going to wait for Cindy when she finished. I had only come to a stop for about 30 seconds when she appeared with a big smile on her face. The emotion of the race and all the training that had been done as well as all the ups and downs of my running journey hit me hard at that point and I broke into tears as I stumbled towards her and gave her a hug with what little strength I had left.
While a 3:44:27 is my second slowest marathon aside from ones that I have paced, I could not be more proud of my effort in this one. I was worried going into it that I might not finish or that I would finish and it would take me over four hours with a lot of walking. However, I made it! It was also great to see how well my friends did! Cindy, John and Carrie Jarvis, Dan Bosch, Ken Varian, Bryan Stansberry, Ron Hayes, Keith Exel and a bunch of other running friends I’ve connected with through the internet all had great races and I’m so proud of them!!!
What makes the Boston Marathon so special is definitely the volunteers and the amazing crowd of spectators. They stood out in horrible conditions and willed each and every one of us to the finish line like it was their own personal responsibility to make sure that we crossed it. I said thank you to as many volunteers as I could and I gave out more high fives along the route than in all my previous races combined. I may not have had what some would say is a good race based on my finishing time and my qualifying time to get there, but I definitely enjoyed the experience despite the discomfort in my leg. I was also proud of the way that I didn’t let the conditions get to me and just embraced them.
I would love the privilege to do this race again and with healthy legs. To be continued, Boston….. 🙂
As a runner, one of the toughest times of the year to stay motivated and get your running done especially in the Midwest is December-February. The daylight span is shorter, the temperatures drop, and snow and ice can make outside routes treacherous at times. However, I’ve actually found that with the right frame of mind, appropriate planning, and the help of a good running partner and other running friends you can actually have some of your most productive running. In fact, I experienced that in January when I logged 275 miles (mostly outdoors) – my highest monthly total ever!
I am predominately a pre-dawn runner. With nearly an hour commute to work each way, I have found that the best way for me to ensure that I get my workout in is to do it before work. Yes, this means I can’t stay up very late and most days I’m hearing my alarm at 4:45 a.m. However, I also beat most of the rush-hour commute as I get most of my drive done and then run routes close to where I work. One of the big keys for me was joining a gym just a block from work so I can shower after my run and also have a treadmill on the days when outdoor running just doesn’t happen due to the weather or road conditions.
Since most of my runs during the winter months are done in the dark, safety is my first priority. This means wearing appropriate gear so that you are visible to oncoming traffic if you run in the road like I do the majority of the time. I highly recommend the NoxGear Tracer360 as a very lightweight and extremely visible way to make people aware of your presence on the road. I’ve had several people tell me that they really appreciate me being so visible. And honestly, I forget that I have it on because it’s so easy to wear.
One of the best ways to guarantee that you’ll stick to your running plans especially in the winter is to find a great running partner who shares the same passion for running that you have and possibly even some of the same goals. This doesn’t mean you will always run every single mile with them because you might not run the same pace, but on days you don’t run together you can still push each other virtually with the workouts you do on your own. Knowing that you are meeting up with someone helps hold you accountable to not hit the snooze button or to wimp out because it’s cold outside. And sometimes having a running partner helps you make the good decision to forego the outdoor run because the conditions are unsafe and a better workout awaits inside.
Speaking of conditions, it really is possible to run in cold weather. You just have to dress appropriately. However, more than the temperature, I take into consideration the traction I can get on the routes that I plan to run. If I’m just doing an easy run, I’ll run in almost anything except ice. However, if my plan for the day calls for tempo or speed work, then as much as I despise the treadmill I will use it to help me accomplish my goals for the run. While it’s fun to post pictures of ice beards or -22 degree temps on your car thermometer, there is also no shame in nailing your run in a warm, climate-controlled environment.
Another way to break up the monotony of winter training is to invite a bunch of friends you don’t normally run with to join you for a long run on a weekend. Thanks to dailymile.com and Facebook, I have a group of friends scattered about the Central Ohio area which I follow and keep daily tabs on their running exploits. A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to a bunch of them to see if they wanted to join me for a 20-mile run. We ended up with a great group and the run seemed to take no time at all as I got to introduce a lot of them to the area for the first time. And it didn’t hurt that there were donuts at the end.
One final thing that will help you stick to your running is to sign up for a race. Whether it’s training for a spring marathon or a local 5K, putting some of your hard-earned cash on the line will help you get out there and log the miles necessary to meet your race goals.
So, grab some cold weather gear, reach out to a running friend, and hit that pavement to log some miles. Before you know it, the days will be longer and you’ll be rooting for cooler temperatures. Oh, and it’s only 40 days until spring!