Coming Back

Some days, months, and years pass quietly, inconspicuously. Others are transformative – marked by feelings of disarray. With increasing responsibilities at work, coupled with a move, the last couple months have been the latter.

January and early February were spent on the track running uncomfortably short indoor races (like this, this and this). Despite feeling decently fit from a solid December, my times were mediocre and I had a constant nagging pain in my lower left leg. Every time I would try and get some turnover in races, my left ankle would get stiff and stop responding. It was also preventing from getting my weekly mileage up to the norm. It was frustrating, to say the least, and I felt as though I was swimming against the current, burning myself out.

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I exhausted valuable time, emotional energy, and money on PT and other treatment in attempt to run healthy, yet stubbornly refused to adjust my schedule or take time off. Eventually, I surrendered – I took few days completely off and shifted my focus away from running. Once I finally chilled out for a beat (and started seeing Jerry routinely to adjust structural imbalances), I recovered relatively quickly.

With weekly adjustments, strength training sessions, and increasing mileage incrementally, I’ve been able to build a sturdy base over the last 6 weeks. I realize that recovery days are a must for me to be at my best (mentally and physically), but by focusing on consistency and getting durable, I’ve seen a lot of progress.

Just as of late, I find myself hungry to run fast and start implementing specific work again. But it takes time to fall in love with running again after a rut; it takes unhurried runs on unruly trails and rediscovering a rhythm. It takes removing myself from it, sometimes, too; removing myself from its wrath.

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While degrees of intensity and “tunnel vision” vary, running is a rare constant – whether I like it or not. Sometimes it feels like a child, requiring perpetual tending to. Sometimes, I would love to just turn it off. It has the ability to shatter me, bring the lowest lows, then leave me hungry for more. When it’s good, though, it’s incomparable.

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Racing in the Streets

Thanksgiving week: 3 races, 6 days.

It was fun to line up (multiple times) and race after some time off. I started the week with the Philadelphia Half Marathon, which had been my goal race for the last few months. I followed with the 106th Run for the Diamonds in Berwick, PA (a Thanksgiving morning tradition). Lastly, on a whim, I hopped in the Green Ridge Mile (another thanksgiving week classic).

  1. Philly Half Marathon
    1:25:54, 43rdMy goals for philly were two-tiered: on a broad level, I simply wanted to run faster than I ran at the Scranton Half in April (first half, 86:06). More specifically, I wanted to run sub-84 minutes. I was confident in my training and knew that I had the fitness to do so.

    I started off on pace and it felt surprisingly comfortable. Not once during the first 10k or so, did I question whether or not I was straining too much or worry that I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace until the end. Around the halfway point or so, the group I was running with got split up at a water stop and we were no longer shielded from the wind by buildings. Around this point, I seemed to fall out of rhythm and struggled to regain it for the rest of the race. Miles 8-12 were not pretty.
    I did some blurry race math around mile 12.5  and realized how close to the wire I was cutting it. I was able to compose myself and squeeze out a faster last mile in order to break 86 minutes and better my personal record.The race weekend was lovely, in general. I was able to catch up with some great people and spend time with a few of my best and oldest friends. I also had the chance to witness  Patrick run the marathon and clinch a well-earned PR.

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  2. Run for the Diamonds
    60:39, 10thDiamonds! This was the most enjoyable run of the trifecta. I woke up on Thanksgiving morning bright and early and made the trek to Berwick and met up with the Scranton Running Company gang.12314067_10154222300005288_1687961650884846145_n

    Diamonds has longstanding rep of being brutally hilly and has definitely kicked my defeated my in the past. Because my legs were still recovering from the half marathon and the course being the mountainous monster that it is, I figured sub-63/top 20 was a realistic benchmark to shoot for. I felt decent on the warm-up and was excited to chase some hills.

    I ran the first mile bit too fast  but then backed off and stayed conservative for the next few miles. After coming through halfway in 31:30, I used the rolling hills on the back end to my advantage and was able to drop my pace and pick up a few spots, finishing 10th.

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  3. Green Ridge Mile
    5:24, 2nd

    I was unsure about running the mile until 15 minutes before the start. My legs felt sore on my shake out the day before, so I figured I’d would make it a game-time decision. I was quickly convinced to run after talking to some SRC co-workers.12321114_10153589599220743_6509886836586669759_nSince it was my first race under a 5k in over 2 years, I was expecting it to feel like a sprint to the finish (and it did). I was happy to come out with a PR and had a blast spending time with runner friends.

It took me a few days to feel like myself again when running, but now I’m feeling 100% recovered and looking forward to getting off the roads and getting muddy at Golden Gate Park on Saturday’s USATF Club Cross Country Championships.

Flukes and Other Things

Last weekend, I finished out my summer racing at the pier house 5k in Long Branch, NJ. This was the 5th and final race of the Jersey Shore Grand Prix.

Since I had been feeling pretty fatigued running-wise and struggling to string together consistent training over the last few weeks, I was unsure about how this race was going to go. I didn’t have a time goal in mind, but I was aiming to place in the top five.

I found myself in the lead within the first couple hundred meters. I managed to stay in first place by a thin margin for the entirety of the race. It was an out-and-back along the hot and windy boardwalk. Luckily, there was a pack of about five of us to work together and chase fast times. I crossed in 18:03, just four seconds ahead of 2nd place. 3rd and 4th places ran 18:11 and 18:19, respectively. The fact that competition was strong made for an exciting race, for sure.

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I was happy to come away with the win, but even happier to run an encouraging time. My fastest 5k prior to Monday was an 18:26 that I ran en route to a 6k during cross country almost 2 years ago.  I’ve struggled to “own” this pr; it was a fluke, in my mind.

For one, it wasn’t “official” and additionally, I’ve been stuck in the 18:50-19:20 range since then.

I’m still having trouble accepting this time. I don’t feel as though I’m in 18:03 shape; so this, too, must be a fluke. However, the thing about running is that results are difficult to argue with – they are simply the time in which a certain distance was covered; hardly room for dispute.

In a way, refusing to accept ownership of my time(s) absolves me of responsibility. If I don’t acknowledge that I’m an 18 flat runner, I have the room to be less accountable in my training. In addition, it diminishes the inevitable fear that accompanies running personal bests – knowing that I’m going to have to train to run even faster. This is not the mindset that I’d like to be in. With that said, I’m owning the 18:03 and training to see 17:xx on the clock.

USA Mountain Championships

There is something refreshing about being new to a certain endeavor. While I felt inexperienced and under prepared when I toed the line at USA mountain champs on Saturday, the vulnerability and anonymity of it was wildly freeing.

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I spent years in high school and college training for specific events, measuring myself against easily quantifiable standards –I ran a certain time or I didn’t, I qualified or I missed, I won or I lost. I’ve realized that the only way for this lifelong commitment to running to be sustainable and fulfilling is by chasing new adventures and pursuing variability. So, I’ve been taking chances in uncomfortable territory and allowing myself to attempt without expectations.

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As I approached the base of the Mt. Bachelor, which was looking mighty intimidating. I wondered, again, what I was getting myself into. Luckily, the atmosphere around the start was rad; filled with runners who seemed to master the “chill, but focused” demeanor. I quickly shook off the nerves and readied myself to warm up.

I lined up at the start, surrounded by some of the world’s best mountain racers, staring at the aggressive 15% grade that I would soon meet. The cowbell rang and the front runners took off like a stampede. I approached the hill, getting comfortable with the climb, finding the beauty in the suffering. The race was a double 4k loop, starting with a ~800ft. ascent followed by a descent to the same degree.

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The uphills were ruthless and inflicted excruciating pain with each measly step forward. The downhills were exhilarating. With limbs flailing and vision blurry from dust, I was forced to throw inhibitions out the window and accept the fact that I would probably wipe out at any second. The most challenging point was switching gears to start back up after the 1st loop, knowing exactly what I was ahead of me for the next 4,000 meters.

I finished in 30th place, which satisfies me, but also makes me hungry. I respect this learning experience and I’m confident that I will be among the ranks of the top runners at some point, but I’ve got work to do and miles to run.

Additionally, I had an awesome time with some really great people this weekend and can’t wait for another!

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results

A Tale of Three Races

Hello from Portland!

Did you know that Portland was almost named Boston, Oregon? The name was decided by a coin flip between two settlers who each wanted it to be named after their hometown (Portland, ME and Boston, MA).

I’m out here to race USA mountain champs tomorrow and have found myself with some downtime to write on summer racing.

Two weekends ago, things got a tad farcical. I raced 3 times, in 4 days, in 3 states. Excessive? Yes. The urban streets of NYC, the beaches of jersey, and the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania served to be a crazy trinity.

Here’s the skinny on each:

Orchard Street Runners Women’s 10k
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hursday, July 9th
results

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I was thrilled to finish in 3rd place (39:32) of an intimate field of 12 fast ladies. In true OSR fashion, this race was open and unsanctioned through the busy streets of nyc rush hour. Starting and finishing at Lost Weekend on the lower east side, we headed over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn and followed the bike path to the Manhattan Bridge, where we crossed to reach the finish. The course was smooth and the bike crew did a great job of managing intersections and traffic.

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Top 5 Women

Belmar 5 Mile
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aturday, July 11th
results

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5th place/31:09.

My goal prior to this race was simply to run faster than I had at Spring Lake in May (31:31).  I started in about 15th place or so with a pretty relaxed first mile. I moved up a few spots during the next two miles and then hung on for 5th through miles 4-5.

The heat was worse than expected and the wind was rough around mile 3. Overall, I was really happy with my performance. Not necessarily because of the time/place, but more so because it was the smartest races I’ve run in a while. I was conservative at times, but also committed to some brave moves when necessary.

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Speedy 4th place finisher, Patrick Casterline
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Top 4 men, Top 5 women

Iron horse 8k, Black Diamond Running Series
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unday, July 11th
results

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I headed home to Scranton, PA to wake up my trail legs. Since I won the first race of the series last month, I was looking to score enough points to stay in the series lead, despite having heavy legs. The course was brutal from the start and I knew within the first 25 seconds that it would be a death march to the finish. Although I didn’t feel great, I had fun fighting the hills and getting muddy. I had enough in the tank to finish 1st in a time of 43:28.

Before leaving, a few of us made the trek back up the mountain one more time to hit the zipline.

All in all, I fared pretty well recovery-wise. I was a tad sore the next two days, but took it easy for the rest of the week anyway in preparation for tomorrow’s race.

Mt. Washington

“It’s just one hill,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Running Mt. Washington was like jumping into the deep waters of the ocean and realizing once I hit the surface that I didn’t actually know how to swim.  It probably would have been better to run a less intimidating mountain race as my first – you know, get my feet wet and wade in the shallow end for a bit. Hindsight is 20/20.

On Friday, the Scranton Running Co. crew journeyed 7 hours north to Gorham, NH  and headed straight to the base of the beast for an introduction to the mountain. We did an easy 30 minutes run and checked out the first quarter mile of the course, this was precisely when I figured out I was in way over my head.

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We picked-up our bibs, ate dinner, and headed to bed early – our heads filled with pre-race thoughts. 7am came quickly and I performed the typical race day shenanigans: obsessively checking my bag to ensure I’ve packed all the essentials, changing my shorts four different times, forcing myself to eat something for breakfast; the usual . We headed to the mountain, woke our legs up with a warm-up, and readied ourselves for suffering.

I was unsure as to where to position myself at the start, so I shuffled in around the middle of the pack and waiting for the gun to sound.

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I became aware from the first few strides that the next 100 minutes or so were about to humble me: climbing to the 16,288 ft. summit at an average grade of 12% and an altitude gain of 4,650, while battling the famously severe winds and, well, the sheer force of gravity.

I found miles 2 and 3 to be the toughest – mentally and physically. Not only were some of the steeper parts of the race around this point, but the enormity of what lay ahead was haunting.

I finally found a rhythm around mile 5 and tried to lock into it. By this point, it was simply about arriving at the finish line.

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What made Mt. Washington different from other races I’ve run was that the scars of suffering weren’t erased or outweighed by the feelings of finishing. When it was over, i spent 10 minutes in a state of shock over what had just occurred.

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Soon, I was greeted by friends and introduced to some of the top finishers.

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However, we spent a little too much time reveling at the top and missed our van to the base. We began the trek back down the road on foot and made it about a mile before a kind driver offered us a lift.

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Back at the bottom, we enjoyed the post-race turkey dinner and hung around for the award ceremony. Despite a not so strong performance, I placed 3rd in my age group.

The remainder of the day was spent recovering and scheming for next year.

Finding My Legs

This past fall marked the end of my collegiate cross country campaign and, all of the sudden, I found myself thrust into the abyss without a structured training regimen that I had grown familiar and gotten comfortable with since high school.

My collegiate career had its peaks and valleys, but the cyclical aspect of training remained a constant. I took most for granted the luxury of having a mindless routine. I had very few decisions to make on my own – practice was at 4:30 and a prescribed run waiting for me with a coach and teammates to keep me accountable. I didn’t have to fight the daily mental battle of should I run/where to run/how fast to run/how far to run. However, I walked away from my last season feeling burnt out and in need of a hiatus from the training cycle.

I’ve been spending the last few months re-establishing my relationship with running. Like a foal getting used to her new awkward legs, I’ve been curiously trying to find my new rhythm. While my college experience was good, I know there’s untapped potential in these legs.

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As of late, I’ve been running fast when I feel like it, chasing hills, and running whatever races tickle my fancy. Despite this informal approach, I could feel my fitness and motivation growing again.

I’m sure that I’ll soon be itching to reintroduce structured training in order to reach some ambitious goals that I have on my mind, but just not quite yet.