Minnesota

Heading into the Half Marathon at Grandma’s Marathon, I expected some pretty big things. I knew my fitness was there, and definitely the best it’s ever been for endurance running. I knew the course was relatively flat and quite fast. I knew the weather (because of my OCD checking of it) was going to be pretty ideal for PR racing conditions. But race day can always bring the unexpected… and when the unexpected happens you have some decisions to make.

Heading to the beach!

Heading to the beach!

My husband, son and I headed to Duluth on Thursday. We left Omaha in the morning with a short flight to Minneapolis, knowing we had a bit of a drive after to get to Duluth. The drive was timed well with nap time, something parents know they need to plan out to have a happy kid on the trip!

I wanted to go to the expo and the famous Grandma’s Grill and Saloon restaurant before too many other runners got into town. With the expo opening at four, we went to the beach and park to kill some time because toddlers… Gotta keep them busy! Parker and I may have gotten soaked by this wave! We both laughed it off, but the water felt good!

Waves of Lake Superior… coming in hot!

Waves of Lake Superior… coming in hot!

Bib acquired!

Bib acquired!

We arrived at the expo just after it opened and it was already pretty busy! Parker wasn’t really having it, so we didn’t do much exploring of the vendors. I definitely could have spent some time (and money…) there as there were a ton of vendors! We grabbed a few free samples, my bib and headed to the Saloon and Grill for an early dinner. Turns out we all decided to carb load with some pasta meals, even though I was the only one doing the racing over the weekend!

Found my name.

Found my name.

Parker was into the “saloon and grill” theme.

Parker was into the “saloon and grill” theme.

Friday morning I headed out to a nice trail across the street from our hotel (we stayed in Superior, Wisconsin… just outside of Duluth. Prices were a little bit cheaper and we figured it’s sometimes nice to be a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the race weekend.) I ran out to the end of Barker’s Island and back to our hotel for drills and strides. What a beautiful day for a run!

Shake out run, done!

Shake out run, done!

King of the Bananas at the Children’s Museum!

King of the Bananas at the Children’s Museum!

Post run, shower and breakfast we went to the Duluth Children’s Museum. Our sight seeing on trips has changed a little bit, but it’s so fun to see Parker having fun on vacations as well. Lunch was the usual burger, and a friend recommended trying out 7West. It was yummy! Friday afternoon the McKirdy crew was getting together for a meet and greet, chat and questionnaire. It was so fun to meet other McKirdy Trained athletes, hear about their running histories and goals for the race! James and Heather gave some great racing advice as well! Friday evening we had our usual pre-race pizza dinner and then settled into our hotel for the rest of the evening. Legs up the wall, lay out all the supplies, and SLEEP! It would be an early alarm Saturday!

Race ready! I’ll be sporting my #TeamMartilee tank, Sparkle Athletic Unicorn Shorts, Procompression socks, Spring Energy Gels, Brooks running hat and New Balance 1500s. Let’s go!

Race ready! I’ll be sporting my #TeamMartilee tank, Sparkle Athletic Unicorn Shorts, Procompression socks, Spring Energy Gels, Brooks running hat and New Balance 1500s. Let’s go!

As I said… early alarm! It went off at 3:45… and I jumped right out of bed! I was excited to get up and get going for the day. I had a pretty good feeling that the day would turn out well if I just focused on my goals.

Always got my Race Day Braids going on!

Always got my Race Day Braids going on!

I got dressed, put on my extra layers (thanks for the good prices, Goodwill!) and headed down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. They opened up the breakfast two hours early for all the runners. So thankful for that! I chowed down on some oatmeal, orange juice, and a banana. I took a water bottle and granola bar to eat on the bus to the start line as well, because the race wouldn’t start for another two hours yet!

The shuttle buses were leaving from the hotel across the street, so I headed over to wait. There were a ton of runners waiting around for the 4:30 shuttle to arrive. Next thing we know it’s 4:35… no buses. Then 4:40… still no buses! At 4:42 one of the drivers arrived and told us we were all in the wrong spot, and needed to head across the street to Perkins, where the buses were leaving from. Everything in our newsletters and online (I checked last night!) said we were leaving from the Holiday Inn… so I guess the bus drivers were all wrong? Or the website? Regardless, we were on the buses and on our way to the start line, just a few minutes later than originally planned!

Beautiful morning at the start line as the sun was coming up.

Beautiful morning at the start line as the sun was coming up.

Good morning, Moon.

Good morning, Moon.

The ride was pretty quick and the sunrise was beautiful! Once we arrived, a friend and I headed towards the bag drop. Once close, I took off on my 15 minute warm-up jog. It was slow and crowded and I did a lot of loops back and forth on the road where all the runners were walking up to get to the bag drop and start line. Once I was back, I did my drills as my friend took off on his warmup jog (we watched each others bags during that time). Once done with that, we dropped off our bags, hit the port-o-potties one last time and headed towards the start line. We were in a little bit of a panic mode here… thinking these were the last of the last of the portopotties and it was so crowded! If hindsight were 20/20 we should have kept going a little further. WAY more potties closer to the start line, WAY less people, WAY more room to run and do drills and strides. So… if you’re doing the half at Grandma’s next year… KEEP GOING FORWARD. The grass really is greener on the other side. (Or the port-o-potties really are cleaner…?)

Race Map provided by Grandma’s Marathon website.

Race Map provided by Grandma’s Marathon website.

I found some other Instagram friends near the start line (at the 7 minute pace signs) and it was so great to meet in real life! I took my first Spring Gel (Speednut, which is 250 calories!) with about 10-15 minutes until the start time. They announced 5 minutes to go, so I stripped off my extra layers (but kept the sleeves over my arms from my jacket,) and kept sipping my water. We scooted closer to the start line again (at this point hanging out by the 6 minute pace signs)… there really was way more space than necessary. I’ve never been at a start line where everyone was so spread out. At this point we were probably still 50 yards away, thinking they’d announce with 1 or 2 minutes to go and we’d scoot even closer. But then the gun just went off! There were no extra announcements after 5 minutes left til the start! So many of us were taken by surprise… we thought it was a mistake until we saw those in front of us running! So we jogged to the start and BOOM, started our watches and we were off!

Feeling good and smiling a few miles in! Let’s go!

Feeling good and smiling a few miles in! Let’s go!

My coach gave me some race plans in advance and I felt comfortable with them. She said she’d like me to start the first 5k about 7:05-7:10 pace (my PR half marathon average is 7:06… so right on that!). Two minutes into we passed a few banks with the time of 6:15 am. So maybe we started two minutes early? Also, we had such a clear day that we could see the finish line at this point in time. I remember chatting with my friend… asking if he saw that bridge in the distance, and telling him we get to run right up to it! He was not thrilled with this announcement!

The first few miles ticked by and I was feeling great! They were 7:04, 7:04, 7:04. Whoa! Talk about control. I was surprised by a few small rollers here. My coach had alerted me to them beforehand, saying that while the elevation map does in fact look like it’s flat until about 4 miles to go, that there were a few small rollers. She gave me the advice of not looking at my pace while going up, to stay relaxed and not push. I checked my pace at the crest of every hill to see my pace a few seconds slower than goal (about 7:09-7:10) but by the bottom of each hill I’d be right back on that goal pace, closer to 7:05. Perfect! I grabbed the Powerade whenever I had the chance, so right about mile two in this section.

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My second 5k my coach said to shoot for closer to 7:00-7:05 average. Just slightly quicker, and shooting for that new PR. These miles were 7:03, 7:03, 6:55 (decent descent on the 6th mile). Somewhere in the 4th mile I felt my stomach to start to… gurgle. It felt a little off earlier in the morning but I was hoping it was race day jitters and I’d “get it all out” at the hotel and after my warm-up jog. That’s what usually happens… but I guess not quite today. Nothing to be concerned about yet. More Powerade when the option came up. Around my 5th mile I also took my Spring Energy gel. It went down easy! I love the canaberry (strawberry) flavor and how easily I can take these gels compared to others.

My coach said once hitting half way, to shoot for 6:55-7:05 range. Still in the PR pace, but slightly bigger range as there’s still some rollers. Time to turn on the engines! Except, that gurgling was increasing some. Nothing to be worried about, yet. I told myself keep running and pushing hard until it becomes an emergency. So I kept running and pushing the pace until my stomach was all I could focus on. Mile 7 was 7:09 average. Nothing to be worried about, because there was a decent amount of climbing after the last mile of descent. But then the 8th mile was right about 7:10 pace too, and the course had flattened out. I could tell that I was losing focus on the race and pushing my pace because I was concerned about my stomach. By 7.5 miles I knew I’d have to stop, or I’d keep slowing down and maybe become the next running meme (and ain’t nobody got time for embarrassing internet pictures being shared because all runners talk about poop.) So I made the decision to pull over at the next potty stop. That happened to be 7.8 miles. Try as I might to have an epic 10 second poop stop like Shalane Flanagan… that’s not how it worked out. I needed to make sure I took care of all of it. I didn’t stop my watch, and I didn’t look at exactly when I got in and out, but I’d guess it took me almost two full minutes. Time goes by REALLY quickly in the bathrooms. Like at warp-speed!

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On my watch, the 8th mile clicked by in 8:58. I had a decision to make. I knew I wouldn’t PR now unless something magical happened. I could just run easy to the finish, enjoy the beautiful course and great weather day the Race Gods gave us… or I could fight for every single second of that two minutes I lost in the bathroom. Recently Gabe Grunewald, a professional runner for Brooks and Minnesotan native passed away. One of her quotes was “It’s okay to struggle. It’s not okay to give up.” I remembered this quote as I exited the bathroom and decided to fight. This was a struggle, and minor one at that, but it won’t beat me. It won’t make me give up. About a quarter mile later a fan was holding a sign with this very quote. I took it as a confirmation of my decision to fight. My ninth mile was back on pace, at 6:58.

I had a chance at something here. Again, probably not a PR. But I had a chance to finish strong. To use my training and current fitness level to do something I’ve never done before. To not give up on myself. To not go into a “dark spot” that so many get into during a race. I zeroed in on my plan and went for it. Mile 10 was 7:00… with a good amount of uphill. Mile 11 7:00 flat, with a good amount of curves and winding roads, trying to keep tight on the tangents. Mile 12, 6:44, even with having to hurdle a poor lost pigeon who doesn’t understand that it needs to get out of the way when runners are coming (yes I did also scream). I was feeling strong. I was a force to be reckoned with into the finish.

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Mile 13 we ran almost directly into the wind we had at our backs for the previous 12 miles. All the sudden it’s slammed into your face as we are shoved into a much smaller road than we had the entire rest of the race. The 13th mile feels long. Here we do a bit of a circle, having already ran past the finish line. We have a lot of turns, and zig-zagging. My 13th mile was another 6:44. I knew I was close to the finish line, that I ran the tangents pretty well. I pushed, with everything I had, fighting for every lost second. My last 200 meters into the finish line was at 6:16 pace. This is the fastest and strongest I’ve ever finished a half marathon.

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I’ve never had my last 5k be the fastest in any race, until today. I’ve never ran so very consistently (minus the poop mile) until today. I’ve never executed a race plan, nutrition plan as well as I did today. No, I didn’t PR. I was 47 seconds shy of my PR, finishing in 1:33:44. But I could have been two full minutes shy of my PR. I fought and pushed hard for that extra 107 seconds that I earned in the last 5 miles. I passed 11 people and was passed by zero in the last mile of the race. I never gave up. There are WAY more positives in this non-PR race than I’ve ever had in any race I’ve set a PR. Of that, I am proud.

Official race stats.

Official race stats.

You can easily see where I had my stop…

You can easily see where I had my stop…

I finished in 1:33:44, as the 70th female out of 4,613 and 301st out of 7,480 runners overall. My 21st state and 26th half marathon are over. Grandma’s race weekend was magical. I’d truly suggest you run in Duluth and feel the magic of this race. This is a beautifully scenic course, in a very hospitable city. Even though I didn’t get a shiny new PR, it’s definitely one of my favorite races I’ve completed to date. Not sure what’s next, besides New York City Marathon this fall… Hopefully another half marathon before the big apple, but nothing as of right now!

Finish line smiles!

Finish line smiles!

To get back to race archives, click here.

Arizona

My build up to Arizona hasn’t been perfect. It’s had some great highlights with a 10k PR in crazy snowy conditions last month, nailed workouts, and the purchase of a new treadmill to make winter running easier. But it’s also had some blowouts… workouts not perfectly executed, workouts cut short, illnesses that caused missed runs. And this week. The week leading up to the PHX-Mesa half Marathon in Arizona was filled with some major GI issues (I’ll spare you the details…). I barely ate anything from dinner Monday night til race morning. My pre-race dinner was pretzels, a banana and Pedialyte for goodness sake!

Bib acquired!

Bib acquired!

Not sure what happened, but even as late as the expo Friday I was considering calling my coach and telling her I was going to defer to next year. That there was NO WAY I could run because I can’t even make it through my 20 minute shake out run without feeling sick.

Instead I got my bib, saw a few friends at the expo and just hoped that everything would pan out. I’d at least show up race morning and see what happened, hoping to not become the next running meme.

I had my race gear set out the night before the race, as well as some extra layers for warmup and post race. I decided to wear my new tank from the Omaha running store where I work: Peak Performance! I also had to wear my favorite Sparkle Athletic running shorts. They have some serious magical powers. This would also be my first race where I haven’t worn my normal shoes I run in. Instead, I ordered some racers after talking with my coach Lauren. They are extremely light weight! This would also be my first race using Spring Nutrition as my energy source. I’ve been using it now for a few months, and I really love the flavors, texture and energy I feel while using them. (Not sponsored…just love these products!)

Race outfit… we ready to tackle PHX!

Race outfit… we ready to tackle PHX!

Race morning I woke up about 4:15, knowing we had to leave our hotel by 4:45 to hop onto the bus that would take us to the start. I quickly changed, put on my extra layers, grabbed more Pedialyte, a bowl of instant oatmeal and a banana. I could easily eat in the car/ bus on the way since the race didn’t start til 6:30. I knew I had some time!

Hi Stephanie!!!

Hi Stephanie!!!

We found the bus and I hopped on with my friend Tom, who was also racing. I used to work with Tom in Milwaukee, and he flew in for the race. The bus ride took about 15 minutes to get to the start line. Not too bad considering it’s a city I don’t know and I didn’t want to try to find my way around at 5 am in the dark. Once at the start area we walked around a bit, hit the potties and I started my warmup. I ran two, very easy, very dark miles around the area before starting a few of my drills. I was sweating! I knew that was a good sign that the race temperature really was perfect (44 degrees.. yes!)

As we were heading to the bag check, I got to meet one of my athletes! I had three at the race, but before the race start it only worked out to find one. Stephanie I loved meeting you!

Closer to mile 9 or 10, but no race photos from about the first 8 miles due to running in the dark.

Closer to mile 9 or 10, but no race photos from about the first 8 miles due to running in the dark.

Once we dropped off our extra gear at bag check, we headed to the start line to wait for the last few minutes before the 6:30 am start where I took my first Spring Gel (plum). There aren’t many half marathons I’ve started in the dark, but it was kind of nice having close to an hour of the race finished before the sun came up! Anyway, we started off and my coach gave me a speed limit of about 7:15 pace for the first 5k. I really felt very good which was so surprising for me given how sick I felt all week. But I kept trying to pull back a little bit into my speed limit range. The cool crisp air felt so amazing. First three miles: 7:13, 7:11, 7:07… oops. But I did feel very controlled, and knew I could keep pushing in the low 7’s for quite awhile longer.

Right after the third mile I even took off my gloves, and unhooked my thumb holes. Really.. 44 degrees is my perfect racing weather you guys!

Miles four through six I still felt great. The pace felt fairly effortless and the miles were ticking by. I took my first Spring Gel during the race around 32 minutes (4.5ish miles) into the race. My favorite is the strawberry, and that’s what I took here.

Miles four, five and six were: 7:04, 7:02, 7:04. The sun was just starting to creep up, and the race crowds were peering out of their houses. The aid stations all screamed loudly as we passed which was so nice. It was around the 6th mile I think where we had our one and only up”hill” of the race. I looked back and we literally gained 10 feet the entire run… This small hill was just really two steps up to get over a railroad track and then right back down. This course is a slight downhill the entire way, losing about 165 feet. Just enough to speed you up a little, but not enough to notice while running (or driving) the course. Perfection, truly.

Miles seven, eight and 9 still felt mostly effortless. I started to take my last gel about 65 minutes in (mango, which has caffeine), but I just couldn’t get it all down. Not because I felt sick or anything, but the fatigue was setting in. More so mentally than physically. Nevertheless, these three miles were 7:05, 6:55, 6:55. I think about 9-9.5 miles was where I could tell my glycogen stores were running low, which is about 1-1.5 miles sooner than usual for me. I’m sure it can be attributed to not eating well this week with whatever stomach bug I had.

So serious.

So serious.

Oh, hey pain face.

Oh, hey pain face.

I knew these next few miles could be a little more challenging. But I was already about 65 minutes through the race and knew I just had 30ish left to go. I could that. Have you ever started counting down that way? Just 4 miles.. just 3.75. Only 3.5 to go. Okay… just a 5k left! Yeah, me too. That started right about 9.5 miles in. The slow countdown. The “stop looking at your watch” and “press into the pain” and “you are strong. you are strong. you feel good. you are brave. keep pushing.” type of talk. Over and over and over again. I knew I had slowed down a little but as long as I didn’t stop… I’d PR. Just. keep. running. Miles 10-12 were not my best of the race. They hurt… I had to physically and mentally fight for what I wanted. I saw 1:32 flat slip a little further away. I knew I was already about 20-25 seconds over that overall time and was doing whatever I could to not lose more time from it. My friend Tom was feeling good, so he left me around 11.5 miles. You’re welcome for the pacing!! Miles 10, 11 and 12 were: 7:11, 7:13, 7:14. Not what I wanted, but not totally a crash and burn. I was still running faster paces than any other half marathon average in my life.

Heather and I finishing!

Heather and I finishing!

Then something amazing happened. I recognized Heather McKirdy about 12.25 miles into the race. As she passed me, looking stunningly fresh like a spring daisy, I asked if she was Heather. She turned and said “Oh my gosh, Kristen!! Hi!”

First off… “hey!” Just fan-girling over here. Don’t mind me. Just wanted to say hi… you keep going! I told her not to let me hold her back. She replied she was just running easy (what… Someday this will be my running easy half marathon pace. I promise.) Then she said “You just got yourself an annoying coach for the last mile. Let’s go. Stop looking at your watch. Push it. Tuck into my shoulder. Come on!” And that’s what I did. I stuck as close to Heather’s shoulder as I could and pushed into the pain you feel 12.5 miles into a PR race.

She really, truly helped me speed up that last mile of my race. Mile 13 was 6:55, and my final push was 6:06 into the finish line.

I officially finished the Mesa-PHX half marathon with a PR of 2 minutes and 2 seconds. My time was 1:32:56. I could not be more thrilled with this finish and my race time, all things considered. I’m elated that my stomach recovered race morning and that my body allowed me to push it to a new extreme. I’m thankful for my coach, guiding my workouts and telling me to trust my body this week and that it will know what to do on race day. I’m thankful for my husband chasing me around the country as I chase my dreams. I’m thankful for friends to run with through easy and hard miles.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Finish line smiles!

Finish line smiles!

PR bell!

PR bell!

Overall, I was the 207th finisher, 61st woman and 11th in my age group. Some speedy people come to Arizona every February, and I totally understand why. This course is amazing. The spectators, aid stations, weather…. it’s an amazing venue to have a great day. Thank you, Phoenix for providing me with just that!

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Post race, I met up with two of my three athletes for breakfast. Finally… I was hungry and could eat! Happy to say my stomach felt fine! It was great to meet and chat with both Stephanie and Sylvia over some good food. The amazing news… all three of us PR’d today, as well as my friend Tom! I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach and friend! Definitely a successful weekend in Arizona!

I can’t wait to see you two ladies again! Loved meeting you.

I can’t wait to see you two ladies again! Loved meeting you.

So Arizona was a great overall weekend. I now have 20 states completed, and 25 half marathons under my belt. I’m hoping the next one will bring another PR… so that I can auto qualify for the NYC marathon. For that, I need sub 1:32. Now that I’m 56 seconds away, I know it’s more possible than ever. Let’s see if the half marathon at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota can help me punch my ticket.

To get back to race archives, click here.

The best running shoes for you

What shoes should you run in? Honestly… I have no idea! The ONLY person who can help you make that decision is the person working at your local running store. Not someone fast on Instagram, not your neighbor who has ran for 25 years, and not that lady with the flashy kicks in the super market.

Other than being a running coach, and a personal trainer for the last 6 years, I also recently started working at a local running store. It’s been quite the change in career, but I’ve absolutely loved it. I've learned more about shoes and other parts of running that I never really thought twice about before. So now I 100% tell all my athletes to go to a local running store and get checked out to find the right shoes for them.

Every foot is different, every runner is different, and every athlete’s needs are different. A good running store will do a gait analysis and ask multiple questions to help find the correct shoe for you. What does a gait analysis involve?

  • Checking your arch height

  • Seeing where your lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) line up over your ankle

  • Watching how your knee tracks over your foot as you bend your knee forward

  • Watching how you walk/ run to check for pronation or supination

  • Sizing both your feet (because they may be different sizes!)

  • Checking out the bottom tread and collars of some of your most recent pairs of running shoes to look at the wear patterns

All of these mini tests take less than 5 minutes total, but can save you a lot of time (and pain) in the long run. Most runners buy shoes that are a size too small… which can cause cramping, blisters, calluses and black toenails. A good rule of thumb is to go up 1 full shoe size from what you are measured on the Brannock foot measuring system… which your local running store employee should do for you automatically!

Types of shoes and the individual who wears them:

  • Neutral- Typically someone with a high arch, does not need stability, may supinate (ankles roll out)

  • Stability- Could still have a decent arch height, but tends to pronate (ankles roll in) causing the arch to collapse a bit each step.

  • Motion Control- Very low arch or flat footed and pronates excessively.

  • Trainers- Come in all the above categories. Worn for most runs. Typically last 300-500 running miles.

  • Racers- Typically very light weight, but also have extremely limited miles to them. Worn usually during speed sessions and during races. They are mostly neutral, but a few brands do sell light stability. Be sure to check if they are for shorter (mile, 5 or 10k) or can handle longer (half marathon, marathon) races.

  • Trail- Usually come in neutral, but some brands also make them with light stability. Will have more traction on the bottom to help grip dirt, rock, forest trails. Some brands will also make trail shoes in waterproof material (gortex).

Brand of shoe vs Model of shoe:

There are so many shoes on the market… and I’ve often heard “I run in Brooks (or insert any brand here… Nike, Saucony, New Balance, Hoka… just to name a few!). But truly, that’s not super helpful. The MODEL of the shoe is more important. Brooks Levitate vs Brooks Transcend are extremely different shoes. New Balance 860s vs 880s… very different. Knowing the model of the shoe you’ve been running in can be extremely helpful to the running store employee.

Money Saving Options:

  • Check the clearance wall. A lot of shoe stores will have last year’s color on sale.

  • Ask if they take any discounts… military, student, running club.

  • Join the “frequent buyer program” if the store has one.

Whatever you do… don’t just go off the looks or color of the shoe. Buy the shoes the employee suggests because they know their stuff!