Race: TCS Annapolis Half Marathon
City: Annapolis, MD Date: 12/01/2012
Distance: 13.1 mi
Weather: Lower 40s, overcast – perfect half marathon weather!
Course: Surprisingly hilly for a coastal town, but a (mostly) scenic route and somewhat of a challenge in parts
Summary: Great race, quirky – yet lovable – town, PR busted (finally), and I still can’t believe I finished FOUR half marathons this year… and that I’ve finished NINE total.
Before I get started, I need to thank the host cities for the races I attended this year.
I have to admit: I have loved all four of the half marathons I’ve done this year. Not a single complaint from me about any of them. All for different reasons, but all have been great races. Two (this one and Hilton Head) have been small, two (Indianapolis and San Francisco) have been huge. All have been great experiences – and have had great support from the communities – from the bottom of my heart: thank you to all four cities for welcoming and supporting us… for putting up with closed roads, sudden influx of crazy people uttering words like “splits” and “compression” and “PR” and “Garmin”, and jamming up the wait times for your favorite pasta restaurants the night before the race. Yet, not only do you put up with all that, you all come out there to cheer for us in the cold, in the hot, early in the morning, and you stay for hours. You play music for us. You give us more Cowbell. You encourage us. You high-five us. You make signs like “way to go complete stranger” that encourage and entertain us. You congratulate us when we finish, whatever our time happens to be or how we feel about it, even though we’ve never met.
Thank you, Annapolis, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Hilton Head Island, for the wonderful experiences this year.
I’m Irish. I’ll go ahead and admit that. Those who know me personally think I *may* mention that a little too often, but I was raised to be proud of it, so I am (I promise this is going to make sense later, so stick with me here). I mention that now because Annapolis is *famously* Irish. I think that, in the US, the only other town “more Irish” is Boston. Or, at least, the Irish part of my family tends to bring that up in their “when we lived in Maryland” conversations. Another reason this town is significant to me is that my Grandfather served in the Navy and, well, the start and finish was at the Naval Academy.
None of that had anything to do with my registering for this race, however. I registered for it because it was cheap, convenient enough to be a “Ninja Trip” and fit into my schedule. Not only that, but it is a newer race (this is the 2nd year) so I figured it was going to be kind of small and they gave runners a jacket the year before and promised something similar this year. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
I had no major plans for this race. It was to be the kind of race I would attend, make a few humorous remarks about, post some photos, and sigh at the end when I didn’t break my PR. I’d talk – again – about how I needed to refocus. I needed more cross-training, and, now that I had the treadmill, I needed to buckle down with the mileage. That was my expectation for this race. Secretly, I did want to do better than I did in Hilton Head (1:56:00), but I wasn’t sure I would even come close to my PR, so I honestly didn’t have that expectation of it.
However… I while I was busy living my life and following my plan for things, something kind of amazing happened when I wasn’t even paying attention.
I got better at running.
I had been working on speed in the latter half of the year. I had sustained speeds I couldn’t imagine as a 400m interval a year ago, and I had done it for a mile or more in a row. I broke my 10k PR in my favorite race for that distance (City of Oaks/Old Reliable 10k) just a month before this race. I was slow to take credit for any of the improvement – I attributed my “good fortune” from the running gods as just a fluke or energy from race rabbits or running buddies. I had a hard time believing that I could do that because – for the last two years – my training was stagnant.
Leading up to this race, though, I finally got the treadmill I’ve needed (and the attitude adjustment that went along with it). I finally got the long runs I’d been craving. I finally got the speed workouts I’d missed (albeit dreaded). It isn’t as though I took it all for granted: I just had a healthy dose of disbelief in my own ability for no other reason than this was new territory for me… and I do not like to fail. So, I set a goal far enough out that I felt like I could achieve it (February) and I decided that I would continue on the trajectory I was on: for the month of November, I ran 100 miles for the month, the average pace of which was 8:49. I still have some element of disbelief about that pace, even though, I know I was specifically working on that.
Still… I was planning to break my PR at my next half marathon in Alabama in February.
I was excited, as I usually am, for this race. Probably more so this time around because the night before I left, I finally did something I never thought I’d do: log 100 miles in a month. I am super proud of that, and it really put me in a great mood.
Since this was a Ninja Trip, I didn’t have to pack much. I got all my gear out and put it in my gym bag – packing a few options, just in case. I couldn’t find my sleeves, so I thought I’d do something I had never done in 8 other half marathons: I’d go shopping at the expo. Surely, they had sleeves there. If not, I had enough time to find a running store after I got there, so I wasn’t worried about it. Just in case, though, I brought my running jacket. I packed a few snacks so I didn’t have to stop to eat, and I decided to bring the rest of the hard boiled eggs so I could be sure I would have what I needed to eat the next morning. I packed them, along with some frozen mini-hot dogs (just in case I couldn’t find any beef I wanted) and my chargers. I got the kids ready, dropped off the dog, took the kids through carpool, gassed up, and was on my way.
The drive itself was relatively uneventful: the I-95 drive is boring. I hit a little traffic around DC (when isn’t there traffic in DC??) and had to make a gas/bathroom stop shortly after DC in what I consider to be the nastiest bathroom I’ve seen on the East Coast (there was a nastier one in CA, but I choose not think about that…)
I got to the expo to get my packet around 3:00. The “expo” was actually in a set of heated tents set up just outside the stadium (through this event, we never actually went into the stadium). At first, I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place – it looked like the RD (or someone that appeared to be a RD) was giving directions to people at the last minute and there weren’t any signs. Just a big tent.
There were still a lot of vendors setting stuff up, too. packet pick up started at noon (it was past 3 at this point), so I thought it would be a little more crowded and organized, so I walked around a little to make sure I was in the right place – including taking this shot of the Blue Angels jet parked outside the stadium (I love aviation, but that’s for a different blog).
Once I got past the tents, I realized that the tents were the expo (oooh…) and I went inside to get my packet and my “premium”. I think I might just stop referring to this activity as “getting a packet” because most races don’t really give “packets” any more. In most cases, they hand you a bib and you get a shirt… and not even a bag to put it all in. This was the case here. I got my bib – I tested the chip to make sure it worked, and I collected my “premium”.
I found it interesting that they referred to it as a “premium” – it is nice – for sure. I was kind of hoping for a jacket, like the one they had last year, but this one seemed very nice and I was happy to have it. But, I did notice something odd in that all race personnel referred to it exclusively as “the premium”. In fact, when I heard a few of the other runners refer to it as “the shirt” the volunteers quickly responded “oh, you mean the premium”.
Ok, then… I’d like my premium shirt, please.
I then went shopping at the “expo” – the one running shop (even Fleet Feet didn’t make it down there – it was a local shop) that was there and open – premium and bib in hand (no bag). I found some pretty awesome sleeves in yellow and red (!) that were fleece lined and I thought would be good to alternate with my black cotton ones… if I could ever find them again (I did). And, they were about the same price as the black cotton ones! I also found a couple of short sleeved shirts that were a pretty good deal, so I grabbed those… and, gloves. I left my usual $1 “throw-away” gloves (that I’ve had for a couple of years…) at home, so I needed another pair… and I got a power bar – something I’m not used to eating mid-run, but I had run out of my usual and thought I could find it here. No such luck, so power bar it was. For all this stuff, I did get a bag.
I gathered my stuff and headed to the hotel – O’Callaghan (see? I said it would come up again…) Annapolis Hotel. I didn’t do a whole lot of research on this place before I booked it: it was just cheaper than the other place (Westin) so I booked it. Just before I left, though, I came across some reviews of the place that were… let’s say, less than favorable. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I pulled up to find valet parking only. Fancy. I hate valet parking – just makes me feel snooty – but I didn’t have the choice: it was valet only. I got all my stuff (thank goodness it was only one night and not a lot of stuff) and I headed inside to check in. I got my key and immediately, I was surprised that the key holder had a “noise policy” on it. haha. I have stayed in a fair number of hotels, but I must say this is the first time I’ve seen one that had a noise policy in the key holder.
As interesting, however, as the noise policy was, the thing I saw when the doors first opened on the 4th floor where my room was kind of scared me a little…
I saw hallway bathrooms. Right there. In front of the elevator. As soon as you get off. What?!?!
Immediately my thought was “uh oh… tomorrow is gonna suck…. if nothing else, I’ll have a very interesting story for my blog”.
I meander down the hall and find my room, and to my delight, there is a private bathroom in it (yes!) I drop all my stuff, get out my run gear to check, double check and triple check that I brought everything. Found my black sleeves (didn’t I check there before?) and plugged in my Garmin. I was a little indecisive about going out to eat at this point (it was only 3:45, and how old am I?), but I decided that I was pretty hungry and I wanted to walk around a bit, so I did.
Downtown Annapolis is an interesting place. I found it to be quite eclectic – a strange mix of ultra wealthy next to ultra poor and the artsy in between. The buildings seem to be clustered by decade and it appears they only get one new one every 30 years or so: there was a mix of pre-20th century landmarks next to early 20th-century government owned row houses next to late 1970s stone facade architecture next to brand new stuff built about 10 years ago. There were a lot of art shops, book stores, and Irish pubs (see? I said it would come up again…) The sidewalks were all brick, and some of the bigger intersections were also brick. Being so close to the ocean, though, I could still smell the salty air and feel the humidity. I loved it!
The other strange thing I noticed about this town is the sheer number of smokers here. I’m from North Carolina – they don’t call us “tobacco road” for no reason. Smoking used to be something that was no big deal here until about 10 years ago when we started to ban it in public places. You still see people smoking in NC, but not nearly as many as there used to be. I swear, almost every person I saw in Annapolis, though, had a cigarette in their hand or hanging out of their mouth. It was kind of surreal to me.
It was such a beautiful day, I found myself walking around for about an hour – snapping photos and stopping at windows of art galleries and book stores – before I finally decided to eat. I was getting light headed and my stomach was growling. I passed a few places that sounded good – a steak house, a Mexican place… a few Irish pubs. But, one place, Fado, had a sign that said “on a day like today, you should have the Shepard’s Pie”.
So, again, the Irish thing comes up. I am Irish, but I *hate* Irish food. I’m also southern and *hate* southern food, so at least I’m consistently annoyed by food I’m supposed to love. The one exception I may ever make to the Irish food thing is Shepherd’s pie.
You never know what you’re going to get with Shepherd’s pie: it might be just meat and potatoes. There might be all kinds of veggies you love. You might have all kinds of stuff that you cannot recognize. It is a toss up. However, usually, the potato topping will mask some of the crazy stuff in it and you don’t even taste it. This, friends, is why I (generally speaking) will eat Shepherd’s Pie. I left the placard at Fado thinking about the Shepherd’s pie. I visited a few other places, but kept thinking about the Shepherd’s pie. Think of the Homer Simpson voice saying “mmmm…. Shepherd’s Pie” here – because that was completely what was going on in my mind at the time.
Finally, I stopped debating it and went back to Fado. Boy… am I glad I did. The Shepherd’s pie was, indeed, tasty. It was just meat and potatoes – and it was salty – just the way I like it. The orange stuff was…. well… more of an acquired taste. There were carrots. There were other unidentifiable veggies. I think beets were involved. I wasn’t a fan of it at first, but I ate all of it because I was super hungry.
The most remarkable thing about Fado to me, though, wasn’t even the food. It was the atmosphere. I swear the main barkeep was yanked right out of Ireland, only he had a southern US accent. He totally looked the part. There were middle-aged business men who were getting an early start on their happy hour yelling stories about how they keep their daughters out of “hockey parties” because they themselves played hockey and, well, they know what goes on there… there were five (not joking) different soccer games on. There were Shepherd’s pie specific condiments that I have never seen nor used (nor did I need them). And, the cherry on the pie of this experience: the music was a record (yes, vinyl for all you hipsters out there) of mid-1980s Christmas music. How do I know it was a record? Southern US Irish Barkeep actually scratched it when he was changing the song. haha. I got a great giggle from that.
I paid my bill, and decided to walk around a little more. I went to a coffee shop to get some coffee and a dessert (I never eat desserts, but I really wanted one this evening) and I saw the BEST little sign there – no strong arming into tips??
With a full belly and tired legs, I was ready to go back to my room. It was getting dark and cold, anyway, so I didn’t need too much convincing. I went back to my room, set all the alarms, talked to my boys and was out like a light by 9 PM.
I set my first alarm – on my Garmin, which chirps – for 4 AM. I’m not sure why, but I did. I guess I just didn’t want to be late. When it first went off, I didn’t even know where I was. I was confused. I had slept so deeply that I didn’t realize I wasn’t at home for a few seconds and that I was running a race in a couple of hours. It took me a good minute to get reoriented…. and then I was grateful for the incredible sleep because I never usually sleep well in hotels (I seem to be breaking that trend lately, though).
I took a few minutes to wake up, and then I got out of bed and got dressed and then started my stretching routine. I spent a good 45 minutes on it – I took my time. I pinned my bib, and then I ate my breakfast. I had been offered a breakfast by the hotel – and taken them up on it, but it didn’t start until 6 am and I didn’t want to wait that long. I pulled out the last of the hard cooked eggs I brought with me (I usually eat them scrambled but I didn’t have a way to do that, so I went with Hard Cooked). I ate three – which is all I thought I could stomach at the time – and downed some water.
Now, I was getting nervous. I made my final pit stop, and then I gathered my things and headed out to the race.
Part of the reason I chose the O’Callagahan hotel was the proximity to the start line: .8 mile. A warm up. And, even though it was a bit chilly, it wasn’t a bad walk. I ended up walking in with another runner and we chatted for a bit – we wished each other luck, I went to the bathroom again, and I found my way to bag check.
Bag check was interesting – they gave us plastic bags and asked us to write our numbers on the bags in huge markers and then put the tags inside the bags – I thought it was a bit of a strange system, but I did it anyway. It was just a run jacket and, while I would miss it if it got lost, I didn’t bring my favorite so I was OK with it. Some people, though, put pretty much everything but the kitchen sink in their bags. A lot of people wanted to drop some things off now, and then come back later to do it again. There was only one volunteer working at that time (it was a little after 6 AM) and he pleaded with people to do it all at once. I couldn’t believe some folks actually argued with him about it.
After I checked my bag, I went into the tent (same as the day before) to thaw out a little, and then started playing my music to warm up. I got a few recommendations from one of my friends, and decided that Organ Donor by Zomboy was probably the best bet for getting me ready, so I played it on repeat and ventured out of the tent to take some photos before we got started.
As I was shooting, though, I felt the urge to go again, so I went back to the port-a-johns to get in line. For such a small race, though, the lines were sooooo long. I waited for about 10 minutes until I heard the national anthem – and then I decided “I’ll just go later” and left the line – if you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know it is impossible for me to have a Half Marathon story that does not involve a bathroom visit at some point. I’m happy to report: this story does not disappoint.
Because this was a pretty small race, there were no formal corrals – it was the honor system. Well… since I was in line at the bathroom, I was toward the back of the start line. Oh well. I wasn’t expecting this to be a big deal, so I was OK with it. I started my Garmin and got satellites. I started my app. I started my music. I was ready.
I didn’t hear a gun… all of the sudden people started walking, so, I went with the flow… then we were jogging, so I went with the flow. Then we passed the first set of sensors. Then the second. then the third. And we were on our way… and then I realized: my phone app didn’t start.
I fiddled with my phone app for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably only about a minute or so, but I lost about .2o of a mile). I finally got it running and settled in to the run, slightly annoyed. I was annoyed about my app. I was annoyed about the fact that there were so many people in front of me going slow. I was annoyed about the fact that the roads were narrow. I just wanted to get around people. As with any race, I spent the first 1.5 mile or so just passing people that shouldn’t have lined up in front of me in the first place. As I went through that mile, though, I heard my app tell me I was at a sub 8:30 pace. That couldn’t be right. I needed to slow down.
I swear I felt like I was running at a snails pace. I was still in a pretty thick crowd, though, we were starting to thin out a little and I could actually start to enjoy the run. I have my phone app set to give me my pace every 5 minutes, and although it was about .25 mile short, I kept it on so I could hear the pace throughout and keep a sense of how I was doing. About 20 minutes after I started the app, I was still averaging about an 8:30 pace. I thought: “either this can’t be right, or I need to sloooooowwwww down.” I thought I slowed, so I just tried to enjoy the town a little more.
Around mile 3 or so, we were going through the downtown portion of town which was just adorable. I was a little freaked out about the brick road, though – scared to death I was going to trip on a loose brick or something because I was too busy looking at the buildings (I did get distracted there for a bit). Once we got through the downtown area, we went through a marina-like area and, by this time, I really had to go. I tried to hold it, but I was about to explode, so when I saw a sign for the bathroom, I went for it… wait… what do I see?? REAL Bathrooms!! With toilets that flush! And water to wash your hands. Yes please! I literally ran into the bathroom, then into the stall – did what I needed to do, washed my hands, and ran out. I was in there a sum total of maybe 90 seconds. That is probably the fastest bathroom visit I have ever had. I didn’t even stop the Garmin or the app.
And, yes, I still had a pace slightly over 8:30 after this visit.
Once I was done with the bathroom, I really started to enjoy the run more. It was less crowded where I was at this point and I was comfortable so I could just enjoy the views of the town… until we started crossing the bridges – it was overcast in town, but downright foggy over the water. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything. And we crossed about 4 bridges throughout the run. Ah, well. At one point, a guy ran with me and we chatted for a while – really nice guy, and it didn’t hurt he was attractive – asked for advice on running and we chatted about the scenery (or the fog really) and he called me crazy for the 50-states thing – haha. He had to stop to stretch out his joints and we wished each other luck.
I was still around an 8:30 pace. In fact… I had 7 miles in under an hour according to my Garmin. That was officially the second time I had done that and, truth be told, I didn’t feel like it was a tough effort. It wasn’t an easy run, but I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up.
Around mile 8, I stopped for my power bar. I usually make it my goal to only stop about 1 minute or so to eat. I was stopped more than 2 I think because this powerbar was just impossible to eat. In fact, the guy I chatted with earlier passed me and said “now, don’t stop too long!” I ate what I could (about 1/2 of it) and started back to the run again. The hills were starting to get to me at this point, but my phone app still had me averaging around an 8:30 or just over pace. What?!?! I thought to myself: ok – you’ve banked enough that, at this point, you should easily be able to get to 1:56:00, maybe even better.
I was still around an 8:30 pace – just over it. Woo hoo!
I kept going. One interesting thing, though – at least, interesting enough that it kept me from thinking about the rolling hills is that the route had a couple of points where runners were on the wrong side. That happened a few times. It is an out and back course, so there were a few places where we were on our way back from a turn around point and had to cross paths with runners coming in. Being that this is a new race, I know there are some kinks to work out, but this is a USATF course, so I was surprised about that. Most of the time, there were no volunteers directing us – thankfully, most of the runners were pretty experienced and patient with each other and we all looked out for each other.
I was still at around an 8:30 pace – just under it. woo hoo! And… wow, really?!?!
About mile 11, I was starting to burn out. I could feel that the power from the bar was diminishing (damn… should have eaten the whole thing) and my toe on my right foot was really starting to hurt (I had a tendon that has been getting inflamed lately). I was also very tired of holding the half-eaten powerbar, but I knew I’d probably want it later, so I didn’t want to chuck it. I had also removed my gloves by this time and was proud of myself for hanging on to them for so long – as sweaty and nasty as my hands had become by this point. But… as soon as I thought it, I dropped one of my gloves. Not interested in messing up my splits, I let it go. For some odd reason, I held on to the other one for half a mile and thought “why am I keeping this – what the hell am I going to do with one glove?” so I chucked it, too. This, I reminded myself, is why they call them “throw away gloves”. It was hard to do, but I did it.
I was just over 8:30. Wow.
Mile 12 – I was ready to be done. I was tired. I was wiped out. I saw my friend that chatted with me pass me – and I wanted to catch him. I knew he was much younger than me, but I wanted to finish close to him since we traded leads a few times, so I sped up. He was my rabbit! We finally made it back into the parking lot of the stadium and wound through the path until we turned the corner and I could see the finish line – and the clock. 1:53-something. Whoah! My previous PR was almost 2 minutes more than that – I was going effing PR this race. I pushed it in a little harder and finished, emotional, but elated. I stopped my watch: 1:51:19. WTF? I was also missing .15 mile from the distance, but my watch had been fussy for a while so I figured that since it was a USATF certified course, I was going to count it.
I got my water and chugged it. I got my mylar blanket and did my best to wrap it around me. I ate the rest of that powerbar, and was grateful I kept it once I saw the oysters they had available (shudder). I reported my time to friends and family, and honestly, it took me a few minutes to fully realize what I had just done. I not only broke my previous PR, I broke it by almost 4 minutes. I still have a hard time believing that. I then was getting cold, so I wrapped my mylar blanket around me, retrieved my jacket from bag check and put it on over the mylar blanket (and I was given kudos for my creativity for that…)
I had no interest in the party – there was a band playing, and they were good, but I was freezing and alone and I was ready for a long hot shower. I waited long enough for my preliminary results to be reported on the kisok, and then I went back to the hotel to take a hot shower, pack up my stuff, and head back home. Happy, and still in disbelief.
Even today, I am still in disbelief about that time. I know I trained for this. I know I worked hard for it… but I still can’t believe I did that. I am sore today for the first time in the last few half marathons. I am sore in places I’ve never been sore before after a half – my shoulders and back and my upper abs. I was hungry after the race for the first time in ages, and, yes, I passed out like a champ last night, sleeping for about 10 hours straight and disoriented again when I woke up. This race, however, has given me incentive to keep training. It is starting to pay off and giving me the things I’ve wanted for a long, long time. I have to be careful and thoughtful about it so I don’t hurt myself and I stay healthy – something I do not take for granted – but I am starting to understand what I’ve done wrong in the past and how I need to do it going forward.
And… now that I set the bar even higher, I have a lot of work left to do.