team sparkle

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.

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Maryland

This race was going to be my big goal race for the fall. My first true test of speed after having my son a little over a year ago. Going into this race I had a few months of really solid training, thanks to hiring a new running coach back in July. If you’ve read some other race recaps, you’ll know I had a coach to help me get ready for my first marathon in April 2014. It wasn’t a bad experience per say, but it made me hesitant to hire another and it was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a coach myself... to be a better coach and provide a better experience than the one I had. I had a great chat with my current coach leading into this race and she truly believed I was capable of meeting (and maybe beating) all of my goals I had set for myself based on my training.

Bib pick up at the expo! Love the free race photos. Quick in and out, and back to our hotel.

Bib pick up at the expo! Love the free race photos. Quick in and out, and back to our hotel.

When I go into an A race (meaning goal race) I usually try to set multiple goals. For the Baltimore Half Marathon they were:
C: Finish strong and healthy
B: Sub 1:45
A: Sub 1:42
Shoot for the Moon: Sub 1:40

We headed to the race expo on Thursday afternoon, so that Friday we could relax and spend a little time exploring the city. Going into race week my family had been in Nashville as my husband had a work conference. I got some solid runs in there but had spent more time on my feet than I had expected, so I really wanted Thursday and Friday to be about relaxing as much as I could so my legs would feel as fresh as possible.

I knew to hit my goals, this race would have to “hurt” and I had to be willing to make it hurt.

Race morning dawned cool and crisp, but race start time wasn’t until 9:45 am for the half marathon. Truly, I was totally on board with this! I typically head out for my long runs around 9 or 9:30 in the morning, so this felt normal to me! I was able to enjoy a great waffle from the hotel, orange juice and banana before heading out for a 15 minute warm-up jog about an hour before the race start. After the jog, I hit the port-o-potty lines. They weren’t too long yet which was greatly appreciated! My body always seems to know it’s race day… if you know what I mean!

Half marathon course.

Half marathon course.

Elevation chart… they can be so dramatic and somewhat deceiving, don’t you think?!

Elevation chart… they can be so dramatic and somewhat deceiving, don’t you think?!

I finished my warm-up with drills and strides with about 15 minutes before the race started. I felt primed and ready to go, but nervous about finding that uncomfortable zone and hanging on to it as long as I could. After I headed to the start line I took off my long sleeve throw away shirt and waited for the gun to go off.

Thayne and Parker weren’t there yet as start time was close to Parker’s morning nap. They would find me at the finish line though, and that’s what counts!

In my pre-race chat with my coach we came up with a pacing plan and we knew (based on the elevation chart) that it would be challenging, but definitely do-able to hit my goals. She had full belief that 1:42 was more than possible as long as I was willing to work for it. My speed workouts leading up to this race really had been more about building strength as they’ve all been at my threshold pace and steady effort, versus a sprint type of pace. I actually did the math to see what the average incline was going to be from miles 3-6.2ish. With the downhills included, it only came out to be about a 1% incline! That’s not too bad!

Start line of the half marathon. The half started half way through the full marathon course so we would have the same finish line.

Start line of the half marathon. The half started half way through the full marathon course so we would have the same finish line.

I was able to line up pretty close to the front of the start line, and then suddenly the race was off! We had a small incline right away, and I knew that since we were starting near the city and heading straight into the tall buildings that my GPS probably wouldn’t be accurate right from the beginning. I needed to just go off effort and keep my heart rate in check. My coach had said to begin around 7:45-7:50 pace and try to build as the race progressed making the last 3-4 miles really hurt. We also discussed not looking at my watch during the uphill portions because it can kind of mess with your mind if you see your pace slow, but your effort stays the same or is increased. But you can “make up” that time on the downhills if you keep your effort similar.

My watch ticked off the first mile at a 7:07 (oops… too fast!) but I passed the first mile marker around 7:28 in total time (closer, but still too fast!) Mile 2 flattened out, but I was still a little fast at 7:20. I didn’t feel like it was forced or I was running “out of control” so I decided to go with it. Mile 3 had a big downhill and ticked by at 6:54 pace. I knew the next few miles would be climbing though and considered this to be somewhat banked time. I decided to not look at my watch until I heard each mile beeps and go solely on effort and feel.

Now, I am definitely not an advocate on starting out fast and trying to bank time in a race. I really think it’s better to start a bit more conservatively and build as you go. But sometimes you just feel good and have to roll with the punches you’re given on that day! So, roll with it I did.

Not all race photos are fabulous! At least they’re free!

Not all race photos are fabulous! At least they’re free!

The “oof, I’m getting tired but am so close to my goal so I better keep pushing!” face. Ha!

The “oof, I’m getting tired but am so close to my goal so I better keep pushing!” face. Ha!

Miles 3-6 were 7:16, 7:00, 7:33. Mile 6 was the steepest climb in the first half of the race, so I expected this mile to be slower anyway. I was happily surprised I was still in the mid 7s! I knew we’d have about 2 flat miles as we circled a lake near the city. I found a good group of other strong ladies to run with and tried to tuck behind other runners when we headed into a bit of wind. Both miles 7 and 8 were 7:16 pace. Not too bad!

Once we hit mile 9 I knew all the climbing was over except for one more hill close to the finish. I’d worry about that when I got there… but for now decided to keep cruising and pushing the pace. I was on pace for that sub 1:40 shoot for the moon goal! Mile 9 was 7:31 and 10 was 7:30. I still felt good but could feel the fatigue coming on. Only a 5k left! The real race has started.

Mile 11 had a good flat stretch into a slight downhill and brought a bit faster pace at 7:08. I knew that last hill was coming and when I started to climb it I started to have the first negative thoughts enter my mind of the entire race. Usually, this hits closer to mile 8 or 9 so I was thrilled to be this close to the finish before these thoughts crept in. I just kept telling myself that I was strong and capable and was almost (thank goodness) there. My 12th mile was 7:19. Only one to go, and downhill from here to the finish line with one left hand turn!

Sweet, sweet finish lines!

Sweet, sweet finish lines!

This smile is REAL!

This smile is REAL!

My last full mile was back to 7:09 and I pushed with all I had to the finish line from there. Thayne yelled at me from somewhere in that last push and I saw him and Parker just before I sprinted (well, it at least really felt like sprinting) past them. It was great to see some familiar faces. My watch says my last push was 5:38 pace (HA… I doubt it) but also had me at 13.27 miles overall. From the first mile my watch was already .08 off in distance, and stayed that way until about mile 12, where it picked up a bit more added distance as we came back into the downtown high rise buildings area. So while I’d love to think my final sprint the finish was in the 5’s I know it wasn’t.

Not too shabby!!! Official race results.

Not too shabby!!! Official race results.

I was THRILLED with this race and the end result. My current half marathon PR is from Louisiana in 2016 where I ran a 1:34:58. That course was fairly flat and 2016 was the year I felt unbeatable, PR’ing every race distance I ran that year. So to finish this challenging, hilly race feeling good and within 60 seconds of my PR at only 13 months postpartum… to say I was ecstatic is an understatement! Officially I ran 1:35:51 for 7:19 pace overall.

I texted my coach and she was SO exciting, asking me to call when I had time. It’s such a great feeling to have someone else feel confident in your goals and dreams (my husband very much so believes in me too, by the way!) and to help you feel like they are achievable as well. I know that in 2019 I will break my half marathon PR and I can’t wait to see what comes up next!

Also… this race was my birthday gift to myself. I’ve never ran a race ON my birthday, and I couldn’t be happier with the result and choosing this race as a way to celebrate myself.

Sitting down felt amazing! Plus the medal is pretty cool. The crab opens up to show a skyline of Baltimore.

Sitting down felt amazing! Plus the medal is pretty cool. The crab opens up to show a skyline of Baltimore.

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