Being Prepared for Anything

Marathon training can be a slog. Most training plans cover a 16 week training plan where you are slowly increasing your weekly mileage with cutback weeks thrown in to help your muscles recover from all those miles you are adding on. One of the many challenging parts of marathon training is that if you are running a spring marathon there’s a good chance that your most of training will be during some of the coldest months of the year and if you are running a fall marathon most of training takes place during the hottest months of the year.

They say that summer marathon training makes you a stronger runner. Man, I sure hope so! Most of my long runs have been on some of the hottest and most humid days of the summer.

Those long runs are the ones where I find that you need to rely on your mental toughness the most. While I enjoy the hot weather it is the humidity that gets to me the most and the one thing I have to try and keep thinking about is my cold beverage for after the run!  There was one recent run where a portion of that run was along a stretch that had zero shade and all I could think about was a nice cold bottle of — Gatorade. Yup, that’s right. A Gatorade. I was thinking about having Gatorade instead of a beer or a Bloody Mary.  Marathon training does weird things to your brain.

Anyhow, I kept thinking about that Gatorade so much that it was the only thing I could think of for the next couple of miles. It is what kept me going. But as soon as I stopped into a store to get that Gatorade it became almost impossible to get my brain back into the running mindset. And that is part of the training you you keep in the memory bank. You have to learn from that because you will most certainly need that when you hit the wall during your marathon. You do have to train your brain as much as your legs and this will certainly help you prepare for that moment when you need it most.

Different types of weather is something that I also like to prepare myself for during training. I always want to have a long run in the rain. You never know when your big day will have a torrential downpour. Personally, I love running in the rain especially in the summer and fall. I really feel like when I have a long run in the rain that I am truly ready for the marathon.

Knowing how your clothes are going to feel as they get waterlogged is a tremendous help as far as I’m concerned. You learn what areas might chafe when your clothes are wet or if your feet are going slide around in your shoes if you your socks get soaked or will you get blisters. These are things you want to know about so that you can focus on running your marathon if it rains.

One of the few things that I ever get to train for is cold weather. I live in New York. We do not get cold weather while training for fall marathons! But this year I got my very first chance to do just that and you will not believe how excited I was. This in itself is pretty amazing because I absolutely detest winter.

A cold, wet, foggy morning in Calgary. (c) Stacey Cooper

I am currently on a business trip in Calgary. When I left New York it 60 degrees and I was wearing shorts and t-shirt. By the time my plane landed in was 32 degrees. My plan called for seven miles so I gleefully put on all of my layers (tights, arm warmers, long sleeve shirt, jacket, beanie, and gloves) and headed out. I guessed at the right amount of layering for me probably a first since I normally get to ease into winter running.

I got in my seven miles and now have the feeling of what it feels like to run in colder temps with a month and half before my marathon. Seriously, I’ve never had that cold weather running opportunity for all of my other marathons.

The other great thing that this run provided me the opportunity for was to run on a flat path for almost the entire way. For the most part the Philadelphia Marathon course is flat and your muscles react differently running on flat surfaces over an extended amount of time than they do on hilly surfaces. So I got that part of the preparation under my belt as well.

I heard in snowed a bit here in Calgary this morning but I haven’t really left the hotel since my long run on Sunday. Snow — now that would have really made me prepared for anything.

BTW — I’m just $50 short of my fundraising goal for AACR. Please consider making a donation. Any amount helps!


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Marathon Training Gets Real

I started my training approximately six weeks after my final breast reconstruction surgery. I say approximately because I may have cheated and ran really slow for a couple of miles before I was really cleared to run. Keep in mind I’m slow to begin with so this run would be slower than slow.

Overall the timing worked well with my training plan in that I was only a couple of weeks behind schedule. One thing I have discovered over the years is that the first couple of weeks are usually a base building part of the training so I wasn’t overly concerned about missing these two weeks and felt comfortable with jumping in with my first long run of six miles.

Since this long run took place a couple of days after landing in London it was a bit hard to tell if I was suffering from a lack of conditioning, jet lag, or both. The 10k I signed up for worked perfectly into the training schedule for not only the distance required but the day of the week. I had already altered the plan based on my travel schedule so I wasn’t looking forward to altering it further. Having the 10k on Sunday meant that I got to start the upcoming training week on schedule.

I registered for this race in advance so all I had to do was figure how long it was going to take me to get from my hotel to Regent’s Park to pick up my bib. So of course I arrived extra early and got wait for a long before race time.

The course was three loops of a section of the park that went by the zoo and I could not have asked for a better race, better volunteers, and a great experience. I did better than I thought would and was really encouraged for the start of training.

The Hammersmith Bridge over the Thames River. (c) Stacey Cooper

One of the hardest things to do is to train for a marathon while on a business trip. Since mine involved working at a conference with an 8:30 am start time every morning this meant that I was up and at ‘em early in the morning. My goal was to be able to get outdoors and run along the Thames River and check that item off the list as a yes, I did get run along the Thames on every single run day! One day I ran in one direction and the next day another, and on the third I ran farther than the day before. I saw great views and couldn’t have been more happy.

Then I came home and hit the heat and humidity of NYC and the rolling hills by my home.

I am not dumb and will run on the treadmill when the heat index is just too high as it was when I got back to NYC. So my mid-week runs were all on the treadmill but then came the weekend and no way of avoiding the heat and humidity.

I got out as early as I could and managed to get in some hilly miles by my home and along the beach and smiled most of the time. I consider myself to be very lucky that I live close to a beach and get to run by it whenever I want. I do not ever take this for granted.

When it came time for my long on August 26 that is when marathon training got real. I hit the double digits in long run mileage. In my mind single-digit long runs are the build up to the grueling miles ahead. Yes, they provide that lovely base level of fitness but those double digit long runs make you question why you ever wanted to to train for a marathon in the first place.

It’s been about four years since I last trained for a marathon so I am relearning all my fueling techniques, timing and pacing, and what gear to use on which run. This is also the first marathon that I’m training for since I moved and this has meant finding new running routes.

My previous home really only allowed me to safely run 10 miles before I ran out of sidewalks and safe roads. Now it seems that I can run a lot more and include some of those miles in a wildlife sanctuary and of course by the beach! This absolutely helps in keeping the runs interesting.

Another heat wave has hit the area and I’m thankful that this is also a cutback week where my weekly mileage decreases and I’ll be able to give my muscles a much needed break. I’m also getting a new pair of shoes delivered today and you know what they say — “New shoes make you run faster!”

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Running With a Purpose

Regular readers of my blog will have noticed long gaps between posts and my brief mention of surgeries and other medical issues. For a long time I have kept the news about what has been going on limited to a small group of people but I’m finally at a point where I can share with a broader audience.

Back on August 4, 2017 I heard the words that people never want hear, “it’s cancer.”

This phone call followed my yearly mammogram where something was found and then something else was found on the ultrasound. That of course led to the biopsy and my diagnosis.

It’s hard to put everything that I have been through in the past year into words but I hope to try.

If you are going to be diagnosed with cancer mine may have been one of the better ones to be diagnosed with. It was discovered the way it was supposed to be, during my mammogram. It was found at one of the earliest stages that it could have been found and my prognosis was promising.

My grandmother had breast cancer and with my diagnosis at age 45 my surgeon immediately had me do the genetic testing to see if I had the BRCA genetic mutation. Of course, with the way my luck was going I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.

This left me with some serious decisions to make about my treatment. I could just get a lumpectomy or get a bilateral mastectomy. The lumpectomy would mean frequent check-ups and mammograms and who knows how many biopsies if something else were to be found. Given my age and just not wanting to live in fear I chose to get the bilateral mastectomy. That procedure was performed in late October.

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Running with cancer and knowing I would be having surgery in a few weeks. (c) DY

Before the procedure my doctor allowed me to go to Virginia Beach to run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach 5k, Mile on the Sand, and Half Marathon. I wrote about that whole weekend before but it still was such a wonderful weekend and one of the a happiest times of my life.

The procedure went well and the additional testing on the tumor again came back with the kind of numbers you would want to have in this situation. Perhaps the one surprising thing from surgery was that my surgeon told me that they found a pre-cancerous tumor in the other breast. It wasn’t there in August and who knows at what point we would have found it had I not chosen the route that I did. It really does mean something when your doctor says, “You made the right decision.”

In fact, I had the most amazing team of doctors who supported each decision I made about my treatment and made sure that I was always in the best position possible to make those decisions, to proceed with those decisions, and to recover from the procedures.  

Of course, one of my first questions to all of my doctors was how soon I would be able to run after the surgery. For the first few weeks I was only cleared to walk so walk I did. It became my daily routine and my lifeline to feeling healthy in some sort of way. I was finally cleared to run the weekend before Thanksgiving and yes, I signed up for all of the turkey trots that I could. I did one virtual 5k and one 5k near my apartment. I had to stop myself several times from not bursting into tears the whole time. Being able to run again felt so freeing and like I was meant to do this.

My post-surgery recovery and treatment was even more promising. Again, all of my numbers were on the low end which is where you want to be if you have breast cancer. My Oncotype number was in the range where I did not need to have chemotherapy so yay on that front. However, the type of studies that have been completed on tumors and chemo have not been completed in the area tumors and radiation treatment.

That meant that given my age and that my type of cancer was invasive I decided to go through with the radiation therapy. Five days a week for six weeks I had my treatment. The good thing about this is that my doctor’s offices are located a little over a mile from my home so I was able to walk to and from the appointment every day. The downside, besides it being that I was going to radiation everyday, was that this was all happening during January and February — in New York. We had a lot of snow this winter so I would walk to and from my appointments in snow boots. It wasn’t always comfortable but that was the one thing I could guarantee that would get me active for 30 minutes a day.

I ran and rode my bike (on the indoor trainer) when I could. Between work and going to my treatments this wasn’t always easy to squeeze in. It was probably a month in to the treatments when my skin began to really start feeling the effects of the treatment and it was just uncomfortable to do any activity where my skin would be sore from the activity. So I kept walking and crossing off the days until my treatment ended. I was so excited to get this treatment done that I started planning for my future running endeavors and goals that I signed up for the Philly Broad Street 10 Mile Run and, sticking with the Philly theme, the Philadelphia Marathon. I was so anxious to start training for these events!

With these goal races in mind I started to plot my training schedule into my calendar and then wham, my radiation treatments got put on hold with only five treatments left. My skin just became too red and sore to continue. This process delayed me by a couple of weeks until I could complete those treatments and really start looking forward again.

My first runs after the treatment took place in Houston while I was on a business trip. I had one good day of running outdoors and hitting the treadmill. My conditioning took a hit during the time off but I wasn’t at all discouraged. I was able to do something that others couldn’t. I was cancer free and doing everything I could do to remain that way.

I poured my heart and soul into training for the Broad Street Run. I was determined to not only get a course PR but to get a PR in the 10 mile distance. I felt so healthy and grateful for every step I was able to take. My conditioning was improving every week and I felt so strong as the race neared, something I never really felt the previous two times that I ran this race.

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In the starting corral for BSR. (c) Stacey Cooper

On race day, almost everything worked according to plan. I ran solid and consistent for most of the race but started to feel tired the last mile and half. I did hit my first goal of getting a course PR but did miss my second goal of an overall PR by three minutes. I was ecstatic.

My running would be put on hold once again as I planned my final breast reconstruction surgery. I tried to time this as best I could between Broad Street and starting my training for the Philadelphia Marathon. By now, all of my doctors are used to me scheduling all of these procedures around my running and race schedule so they did not bat an eye and we got to work scheduling the surgery.

The surgery went well and my recovery went well. In fact the day after the surgery I went for a four mile walk and would continue to walk on most of my recovery days. This kept me sane and also allowed me to start planning my training.

I got cleared to run while only missing a week of training. It couldn’t have worked out

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First long run completed for the Philadelphia Marathon! (c) Stacey Cooper

better! The only challenge I would have was to schedule my training while I was on a business trip to London. My first long run was supposed to be six miles and yay, I found a 10k race on my long run day and I was close enough to do my other training runs along the Thames River. That was the perfect way to kick off my marathon training.

It was also during this time that I got an email from AACR (American Association for Cancer Research), the primary sponsor for the Philadelphia Marathon. The email was asking for those people who had already registered to consider running for their team. I’ve run for other charity groups before that always felt personal but this one hit me harder.

I’m cancer free and the only way I got to this point was because of organizations like AACR. I signed up without hesitation.

This is where I come to you. Help me run for a purpose. Help me raise money for AACR so that we can find a cure for cancer and in that time fund research that will help us find better treatments. We can do this! Please consider making a donation to my AACR page.

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Nine Miles

Last week when I was doing my scheduled speed work I actually had a thought about how great it feels to be healthy again. If that is something you think about while doing speed work then I guess you aren’t working hard enough. To be honest, it was during a threshold run while I was on the “run very easy for three minutes” portion of the workout. But yeah, it really is nice to feel like I am fully healthy again and that was a thought I had during my nine mile long run on Sunday.

The 10 mile race distance isn’t really that popular. Here on the East Coast, and these are just the ones that I know of which means I’m missing others, we have the Bronx 10 miles race, the Cherry Tree 10 miler in DC, and Philly Broad Street. I’ve done Cherry Tree once, and am training for my third Broad Street Run. The Bronx 10 mile race was always included in my marathon training. The other one I have done haven’t involved a whole lot of training. The thought was there but it just never really happened.

This time around I wanted to make sure I was good and ready. Even better is that I have been able to stick to most of the schedule. There a few Sundays when it was just too cold for me to run outside and I just couldn’t get to a treadmill to complete the runs. Even with the missed runs I had one nine mile run that I had completed and one that was scheduled for this past Sunday. That is plenty for me to get a good feel for what I can expect performance-wise on race day.

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I always try to incorporate this into my long runs. It always gives me a boost to run by here. (c) Stacey Cooper

When I did my first nine mile long run I felt pretty good and confident that I could possibly match my PR for the distance but really wanted to wait and see how I felt after this final nine mile run.

We finally had weather cooperated nicely compared to the previous weekend when I was freezing my way around Yankee Stadium. So I hit the road in short sleeves and shorts (feels good to say that) and headed out on my usual route. I should mention that my route has hills, a lot of hills, and some really steep hills. Philly is flat and has slight downhill elevation.

I kept these elevation facts in my head as I climbed each and every hill. When you look at my mile splits for this run you can clearly tell that most of the hills were on the back half of this run but I never felt exhausted or spent as I was making my up those hills.

I’ve also been using UCAN for my nutrition for these long runs and really like it. Form me I find that it provides more energy for a lot longer than Gu and it is hasn’t caused funky tummy feelings on some of the longer runs that Gu would sometimes give me. I think this along with the proper iron level in my system has made this training experience a much better one than in recent years.

I finished the long run feeling pretty good and faster than my previous nine mile long run. My calculations put at roughly the same time as my PR. But no matter what happens I’ll be happy with how I trained for this race. It certainly has me in the right direction as I start planning out my training for the Philadelphia Marathon in November.

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Damn Yankees

Damn, it was cold this past Sunday morning when I headed up to da Bronx to run the Damon Runyon 5k at Yankee Stadium.

Friday we had temps in the 70s. Saturday we had temps in the mid-60s. Sunday we it was 40 degrees with a feels like of 31. That was outside the stadium. When we go into our starting are in side the stadium one really learned about wind tunnels and I swear the feels like was more in the 20s.

I was never more thankful for the beanie and arm warmers that I brought along as a just in case it felt really cold. Putting those arm warmers on really saved the day and my race and for once my need to feel over prepared and over pack came in handy.

So that was the pre-race stuff but once the starting gun went off I was able to get into a nice rhythm (side note: that no matter how many times I try to spell the word rhythm I always spell it wrong.) and I don’t think I ever thought about being cold. That is how you know you are in the zone.

Knowing this course as well as I do was also a huge help in getting into a steady pace a settling in for a fun race. I let all the over-excited sprinters go ahead and mostly avoided all the walkers who often stopped to take pictures. No complaints, it is Yankee Stadium and you get to see it from a unique standpoint.

 

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Oh, just that time a few years ago when I was having brunch in the same place a Desi Linden. (C) Stacey Cooper

As usual, I had permagrin when I got onto the warning track. I swear, as a lifelong Yankee fan this is the coolest thing ever. As I was going around the field I kept thinking to myself , “this is where Aaron Hicks stands, this is where Brett Gardner hangs out, and this is where Aaron Judge owns right field.” You also notice that the stadium crew needs to do some dusting along the walls by the dugouts and bullpens. Minor detail.

On the running front for this race the key is to remember that the race is for charity, there will be walkers and sprinters who suddenly stop. You will end up weaving back and forth a lot so they key is not to get frustrated. Suck it up and enjoy it. It’s a charity race at Yankee Stadium!

But with all that I was still able to run non-stop, get up the stairs (OMG, the stairs never seem to end.), and make up any time while running down the ramps. I seriously should have earned an award for running the tangents on those ramps! The two miles that consisted of the stairs and ramps were pretty consistent pace-wise so I was very happy. I was even happier when I earned a new course PR for the day.

I cannot tell you how great it feels to be able to run like this again and just feel at peace when I run these days.

My next race is the Bronx Zoo Run for the Wild 5k on April 28 and then the Rye Derby 5 Miler on April 29. I’m adding on two miles for my final long run before the Broadstreet Run in Philly on May 6. Right now I’m feeling very good about that race and feeling the more prepared than the first two times I ran it. (knock on wood!)

I’ll feel even better when we can get some consistent sunshine and spring-like temps!

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Getting Ready for Broad Street

Yup, it’s been a while since I last posted. I can’t even begin to try and explain what has been going on so let’s just say that I started on a nice upswing in mid-February and have been on a nice forward path since. I promise I will fill you all in on what has been going on in the near future. In short, I was officially cleared to resume all running related activities in mid-February and have been on a bit of a tear since.

This has meant that I went on a bit of a race registration blitz. One of those registrations included entering the lottery for the Philadelphia Broad Street Run 10 mile race in May. I’ve done this one a couple of times before but always enjoy this one and a quick trip to Philly makes this easy to get to. Plus Philly Cheesesteaks from Geno’s! My training officially started at the time I was cleared to run so the timing couldn’t have been better.

In March I completed the NYC St. Paddy’s Day 5k on Roosevelt Island. This was the first race since my training began and a good test to see how well my training was going. Winter has been long and drawn out this year in New York and due to everything I have been going through I am not conditioned to do too much outdoor running in these cold temps which left me with a lot of treadmill training.

I was feeling pretty good the week leading up to the race and certainly noticed that my conditioning and overall fitness levels were improving. But I just wasn’t sure about how this was going to translate out on the road so this race was going to be good measure on where I was with my training. Because I suck at writing race reports I’ll just say that race went well and was my 5k time in a few years. So yay to training and good iron levels!

This weekend I’ve got the Damon Runyon 5k at Yankee Stadium. It’s also been a couple of years since I have done this one as well. It also figures that we’ll have temps in the 70s on Friday and Saturday but will dip back into the 50s on race day. This is my life.

In a couple of weeks I’ve got back to back races on a Saturday and Sunday. The first will be the WCS Run for the Wild 5k at the Bronx Zoo and the next day the Rye Derby 5 mile race benefiting the Rye YMCA. I’ll be adding two miles onto the five mile race for my final long run before Broad Street.

You can tell that I’m obviously feeling good about my running again.

One of the the things that has helped has been a new training plan for Broad Street. The race organizers teamed up with the runcoach app and provided all participants access to free training plans through the app. You enter into a recent race time and your goal race and it prepares a training plan for you based on this and some other data. One of the cool things is that the training plan will adjust based on your training. Feel its too easy or that you missed some training runs? Simply have the plan adjust itself to match. It syncs with a lot of other apps on your phone and works pretty well with my Apple watch. The app also provides instructional videos and cross training workouts.

My one problem that I have is that it never accepts my times for my speed work day. I’ll follow the plan  and yet the app always treats my speed word as an easy run. You can edit the logged info, which I do, to specifically state that it was a speed workout and it will save it, mark it as completed but the next time you go into the app it has changed back to an easy run. One, I guess my speed workouts aren’t fast enough for their liking and two, they don’t like their interpretations of your workout to be edited. I’ve contacted them to look into this and will keep you posted.

That aside, the training plan has been great and I really like it. I feel that I have made steady improvements to my time and feel really ready for this race. I would recommend it even with the logging of my speed workouts issue. If I can still use it for free for other distances I would seriously consider using this for future races.

I hope all of you are having the most perfect weather for your running and I can’t wait to experience our warmer temps here in New York!

 

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Rockin’ the Weekend

There’s so much to say about this past weekend’s races, some I can fully explain and some that I’m still processing and keeping to myself. But the feeling of fully enjoying and being in the moment for the three races in Virginia Beach, the 5k, Mile on the Sand, and the Half marathon, is really one that I want to hang on to for a very long time.

While my training did not go quite as planned, it was up until my iron deficiency diagnosis, consistent. I was completing every workout from the day-to-day running, crossing training, and long runs. Knowing about the iron issues now really makes me wonder what I could have accomplished if I had healthy levels for the entire training period. But I’m not looking back in a negative way. In fact, it has provided me with a positive outlook on the upcoming goals I have.

Now, about the weekend!

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My two bibs and medals from the Saturday races. (c) Stacey Cooper

For the Saturday 5k and Mile on the Sand the temps were nice and cool which hid the 93 percent humidity. I was so excited to be running and really wanted to see what I could do with the improved iron levels and speed but I really focused on staying within a certain pace keeping Sunday’s half in mind but also knowing I had about 45 minutes between the 5k and Mile on the Sand.

With that in mind I ended up cutting 5 minutes off of my current 5k time. I’m now 7 minutes off of my 5k PR from a few years ago and that now seems in reach. I haven’t felt that optimistic about working towards a PR in a long time.

One of the hard parts for me was to keep my muscles warm in between the two races. A lot of people I met were talking about just walking the mile so I still wasn’t quite sure what my plan was for this. Ultimately, I figured I start out running and see how I felt. If the sand was too difficult to run through I would walk it. When I have been running on the beach in Miami there is a section closer to the boardwalk where the sand is packed and easier to run on while in Virginia Beach the sand is very loose. It had also rained heavily the night before which made more divots in the sand and more challenging.

I started my run and took it slow to warm up my muscles again. I never felt like I was pushing myself or struggling to keep going so I ran the whole thing and smiled most of the time. It was a really great experience to have a race on the beach that I just wanted to enjoy it. So consider that goal met!

I took it easy for the rest of the day in order to save my legs for the half on Sunday where the heat and humidity would be in full force for us. The night before consisted of alight dinner and my UCAN prep for the race. Just a quick tangent here. I started using UCAN during my training and really liked the slow release of carbs while running. The unfortunate thing for me is that I started using before my diagnosis and treatment and never got a long run with it before the race. So I made my drink to have 30 minutes before the race and also made a gel version for about six or seven mile mark of the half as a just in case. They really worked well and now I’m a UCAN convert.

Now back to the race. My one and only goal was to just really enjoy this and I did just that!

Of course, once it got going I still wanted to accomplish certain things. I wanted to keep my pace pretty even and fell strong all the way. At the start my left leg was really tight and hurting to the point that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I just kept talking to my leg and begged it to feel better. It actually listened!

I was able to keep my pace in a certain range for most of the race until I got onto Camp Pendleton State where the roads haven’t been paved in decades. I took my UCAN gel when I entered the base but my leg started to really hurt as we were nearing the exit for the base but as soon as we got onto less choppy pavement it felt fine the rest of the way. My quads were a bit sore but nothing I haven’t experienced before and thing if I had one more long run before this that would not have been an issue.

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A rare picture of me on my blog! Also, a rare picture of me being happy at the end of a race. (c) DY

Getting onto the boardwalk was a great feeling because I knew I would be able to run it our and stay within my goal pace range. I was also able to to pass runners on the one major hill and along the boardwalk. That is always a good feeling.

An even better feeling is shaving 30 minutes off of your current half marathon pace and just 20 minutes off of my half PR, another goal to work towards.

It has been such a long time that I have been able to really thoroughly enjoy a race weekend like this!

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