Marathon Training Movie Reviews – Part 2

In case you missed it, I kicked off a new series on the blog last week called The Jess Runs Happy Marathon Training Movie Reviews. In this series, I review the movies that I watched on the treadmill while I trained for the 2017 NYC Marathon, through the very specific and slightly skewed lens of a marathon runner; i.e. judging based on the number of miles each film helped me run and whether or not I cried while watching it.

Today I’m continuing the series with:

Ex Machina

As a Star Wars fan, this one was a no-brainer: it has General Hux AND Poe Dameron!

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sure, they look a little different, but space does weird things to a body…

In short: Bro-genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has invited schmoopy Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to his underground laaaairrrr to perform the Turing Test on Alicia Vikander plays Ava, a slinky android. And, as is to be expected when you lock two supremely smart men in a labyrinth of underground halls filled with technology and *spoiler alert* evil robots, it takes a pretty hard left.

But not before we get treated to what is possibly the most mesmerizing, oddball, and perfect piece of dance in 21st century cinema:

I mean.

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Come on.

The absurdly deep V-neck. The drunken swagger. The use of the best Oliver Cheatham song ever. Move over, Citizen Kane. Poe mother*ckin Dameron is here and he’s gonna tear up the dancefloor.

Enough about the silly dance scene, you’re probably saying; how did it fare as a marathon training movie?

Distance: Right off the bat, this one gets an A+. With a runtime of 1 hour 50 minutes, I started this one at the beginning of a post-work 8-miler and expected to lose interest or call it at the 60 minute mark when I had to restart the treadmill. But I was so absolutely enthralled by this movie that I not only blew through it, but managed to finish my run just as it ended, all in one night, with only a few walk breaks. Near perfect.

Sob Factor: No tears. But in this case, I’m going to say that means it gets an A.

Inspiration Meter: There’s no real action to speak of, but Alicia Vikander and the rest of the androids are f*cking flawless, and both the male leads each had their own specific appeal. A+ for eye candy alone, #sorrynotsorry.

Overall Score: Let me set the scene for you so you can understand why this movie is getting the rating it is:

It’s near 8:30PM on a Tuesday. It’s dark out, you’re just finishing a 95 minute run in your office gym and there’s no one in the parking lot. You’re entirely alone. The building is very modern, lots of automatic lights and glass and marble – much like the set in the film about murderous robots you just watched. You leave the gym exhausted and sweaty, and walk into the empty hallway to get to the other side of the building where your car is parked. As the gym door closes behind you, a motion-activated light on the far side of the building flicks on, too far to have picked you up. “Hello?” you call. No answer. Slightly spooked, you take a slightly different route down a parallel hallway. You feel your pace quicken slightly as your heart starts to pound. Just as you’re about to get to the exit, a shadow on your left jumps out at you and you scream – before you realize that it’s your own god damn shadow, the god damn glass door is just half open, god dammit. You REALLY shouldn’t be watching scary movies alone.

A+. Have watched again. And again and again.

Ready Player One

Although most of you have probably figured it out by now: Since the NYC Marathon, I’ve been pretty disillusioned with sharing my running journey online.

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*sarcasm* shocking, right?

I guess it comes down to the fact that I started to get tired of playing the game, especially around Instagram.

Looking back, the amount of time I spent on that app is embarrassing. I wracked my brain coming up with a creative Instagram-worthy photo angle for every run. I wasted a half hour after every run selecting, editing, and captioning a picture. I worried about what I wore because I’d already worn black for my past three runs and needed to inject color into my IG feed. I found myself sitting at dinner in a restaurant with my husband, with my nose buried in my phone while I picked out hashtags. I was injured, but I still went on painful runs – sometimes just to “keep the feed fresh”.

And even though I did those things, I still lost followers.

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Then I lost my job and fell into a depression. For those of you who haven’t had the good luck (again with the sarcasm) to experience depression, my idol Carrie Fisher summed up what it feels like with heartbreaking clarity while in the middle of her own manic episode in Bright Lights:

“You know what would be so cool? To get to the end of my personality and just, like, lay in the sun. I’m sick of myself.”

At my lowest point, I was so sick of my self that Instagram seemed like a cruel joke. I hardly felt inspirational. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror, let alone take yet another picture of myself and share it with 16,000 people – the majority of whom I have never and will never meet.

I lost the courage to even try.

Because I dropped out of the game (and yes, it is most certainly 100% a game that Instagram will always win because they control what accounts get exposure), I lost nearly 1,000 followers since November. And I’m losing more every day. I can’t figure out the algorithm no matter how much or little I post or what hashtags I use.

But a funny thing happened since I came out the other side of that whole depression thing: I finally want to run more.

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After nearly 10 months of being disillusioned with running in general and not even thinking about racing, the other day I got an email from the Run Newport folks about running the Newport Half next month and actually got excited.

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The thought of a half marathon gave me butterflies.

I got the jimmy legs thinking about the thrill of the starting line.

I started looking at training plans.

While I’m in absolutely no shape to run the Newport Half (because it’s in less than 6 weeks and I haven’t run more than 4 miles in about 10 months), I’m probably not going to be running it (but I WILL have an entry to give away, woohoo, stay tuned!). But I WILL start slow, starting now.

It’s going to take courage to try again, but I’m ready.

I’ve committed to run 2-3x during the week after work and slowly build up my long run mileage on weekends. The plan is to get to 6 or 7 PAIN FREE miles for a few weekends in a row before I even sign up for something.

It’s not a plan, per se, but it’s more than I’ve done in 10 months, so there you have it.

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Once it became more of a plan in my mind over the past few days, I found myself excited to blog about it – and even more excited to share my story on Instagram once more.

I don’t know what race I’ll be doing or even when I’ll run it. Throughout training, I won’t spend a half hour picking out the perfect filters or an extra half mile trying to get the right running selfie after every run. But I WILL be sharing my journey again, and I’m excited to have you along for the ride if you’d like to join me. ❤

How NOT to Train for a Half Marathon

When we last hung out, I mentioned getting ready to buckle down for the NJ Half Marathon in April. At the time, I was a little concerned because life took a hard left and I went right to compensate, and training ended up going out the window. But I had high hopes.

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*how I pictured myself come race day with all the training I was going to do in the coming weeks*

Well, that didn’t happen. Things haven’t gotten much better in terms of fitting my training in, but now it’s for a super great reason: I started a new full time gig last week and am *loving it* in big capital, bold, italic letters.

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that’s my happy dance, in case you didn’t know

But all the learning and growing I’ve been doing from 9-5 has left me with just enough energy (mental AND physical) at the end of the day to crawl into pajamas, help cook and clean the kitchen up, pack my lunch for the next day and repeat the process.

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I don’t even have time for guac or rose 😦

Not to mention we got hit with yet ANOTHER snow storm last week that incapacitated the area for a few days.

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god do I miss summer.

While being burnt out from a rewarding new job that I love is an awesome problem to have, it still has me slightly fearful of what April 29th will bring.

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at the very least, I’m confident that the race course won’t be on FIRE. but I may be carrying pizzas all 13.1 miles.

Once my chances for a fully fleshed out 10-week training program went out the window, my interim plan was simple: run 3x a week M-F then run long on Sunday. But in the last 2 weeks or so, that hasn’t happened either. I didn’t hit my long run goals last weekend, which means that this weekend won’t happen either, and so on and so forth.

So we improvise. Basically, my newest plan is to just wing it, within reason. The last time I ran for about an hour I managed to get 5 miles in and felt like I could have kept going by starting super slow and working my way up, so negative splitting is the plan. This weekend I’m aiming for 6-7 miles (or 90 minutes, whatever comes first), walking as much as I need to get to the time goal. And I’ll continue to do a few additional miles/15-minute increments every weekend until race day.

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crawling, if necessary.

Beyond that? We’ll see what happens. I already know that race day is not going to be about speed or time. Those 13.1 miles will be the final exam after weeks of lessons in how not to train for a half marathon. But sometimes, life takes a turn and you’ve got to roll with it. And while things are 110% on the upswing for me at the moment, 13.1 miles is a tall order in the next 4 weeks. But I DO know I can finish, and that’s all I want to do.

Listen: you know the drill here. I run, I’m [mostly] happy, and I keep it real. Just like I did with my first marathon fail or my struggles with depression and anxiety, I’m not going to ignore or lie about these experiences I’m going through. I think it’s important that someone who may be struggling in a similar way sees that they’re not alone. If you’re in a running slump, remember – it’s not a competition. Running will be there when you’re ready to run again. I’m not worried about running again – things are balancing out more and more every day, and I find myself looking forward to my runs, which is better than nothing.

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Beyond April 29th, I’m looking forward to other races at less taxing distances where I can work my way back into fighting shape and enter the second half of 2018 stronger than I was when I started it. Because the best thing about going back to zero? When you start again, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.

What’s New & What’s Next

I disappeared for a while, and I apologize. My former company underwent some restructuring back in mid-January, which led to me being let go after nearly five years with them. In the interim, blogging took a backseat because I’ve been focused not just on finding a job, but on finding myself.

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this seemed like a zen-ish gif and made me giggle, so there

For the first few weeks, I was miserable and had no motivation to run because I was purely focused on finding a new job. That blah feeling made me even less motivated to run, which fed back into the misery and sapped my motivation even further, and, well… lather, rinse, repeat. So I backed off of social media because… how could I be “Jess Runs Happy” if I wasn’t running and I wasn’t happy?

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It was a confusing time. 

But, as it tends to do, life kept on moving along and I explored interests that I forgot I had.

I spent two solid weeks turning our spare bedroom (previously known as the house dumping ground for the entire 6 years we’ve lived here) into a beautiful home office/Lady Cave, complete with a matching desk, tv stand, and storage unit that I all built with my own two hands.

I hung out with friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I tried daytime classes at the gym. I wrote A LOT, now that I had a fancy shmancy new office to do it in. I cleaned every room from top to bottom. I donated or tossed more than a dozen huge bags of stuff. I tightened loose drawer pulls and hot glued broken things all over the house. I hung out with my mom a lot. I cleaned the oven. I worked on my Rey costume! Generally, I did everything I’ve been meaning to do for the past 5 years but didn’t have the time to do (and couldn’t bring myself to spend my precious weekends doing).

Before I knew it, I had an exciting new opportunity on the horizon, and the knowledge that all of this Me Time will soon come to an end. With this news, I expected my motivation to come screaming back onto the scene, prompting me to RUN ALL THE MILES!

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Alas, no motivation.

But here’s the kicker: I’m not beating myself up about it.

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In running, like in life, you get what you put into it. And not getting 100% from my running would just discourage me even more. My runs have been hit or miss – some days it feels easy and other days it’s a struggle just to get into my running tights. So instead of forcing myself to run when my body hurts and my heart just isn’t in it, I’ve done other things to keep active. And while I have to get serious in the coming weeks to ensure that I can even participate in the New Jersey Half Marathon in April, I’m not stressing.

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What does that mean? In a nutshell, I’m not going to be chasing a PR in West Long Branch at the end of April like I previously planned. Life just works in mysterious ways and I’m not about to push myself to injury just because I made some proclamation on the internet. It’s not that important to me to get a PR in the half distance this soon after taking a hiatus like I have. The PR will be there when I’m ready, and I’m not ready, simple as that. Right now, my focus for the half will be to finish with a smile, and I’m 100% sure I can at least manage that.

What I WILL be doing is looking forward to a handful of other fun races this spring:

  1. After running both the 10K and Half with them, the folks at the Newport 10K have asked me to be a Blog Partner with them once again, and I’m super stoked to do just that on May 5th. What’s more: they’ve been generous enough to give me a free entry for one of you guys! So stay tuned to my Instagram for details on that when I kick that off.
  2. While I didn’t plan on running it again, my fear of race FOMO got the best of me and I signed up for the Spring Lake 5. So I’ll be hitting the beach once more at the end of May for the official summer kickoff race and will hopefully beat last year’s time there.
  3. For the third year in a row, I’ll be running my favorite race of the year, the NYRR/FrontRunners 5M Pride Run, in Central Park during Pride Weekend in June. This race has a special place in my heart and I look forward to returning to NYC for my first run there since the Marathon.

In addition to these races, I’m not about to give up on chasing PRs just yet. I’m aiming for a new 10K PR in the fall, and will definitely consider stretching for a sub-30 5K, too.

So while I’ve taken a short break from running, you can rest assured I haven’t given up on it completely. I never will. It’s in my blood now – on those occasions lately where it felt good, it felt VERY good, reminding me that I could never give it up entirely.

So thanks for sticking around. I look forward to having you along for the ride as I start this new chapter and chase my running goals with a new attitude in 2018 and beyond!

Has Anyone Seen My Motivation?

As a runner, what do you do when running motivation is hard to come by?

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Every year, the holidays naturally become a fallow period for me: time off work and away from the routine coupled with less free time to workout (and more time at parties and celebrating with family) means I get a little break. It also works out for my racing schedule, too: I tend to race in the fall and spring, so I like to give my body a break after my big goal races in the fall to be well rested for spring PRs.

But almost every year, when the calendar clears up again, the junk food has been eaten and the routine is back in effect, I run into the same problem that I’m experiencing at this very moment: I don’t want to do anything. 

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I KNOW I have a spring race in a little more than 3 months. I KNOW I’ll sleep better and feel less bloated if I were to just lace up and put some more work in each day. But [prepare for whiny voice] I’m tiiiiired and I already did stuff today! I worked 8 hours and just want to relaaaax!

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So. This brings us back to my original question: What do you do when running motivation is hard to come by? I’ll start you off by answering my own question with some things that have worked in the past for me (and that I should probably start doing now, but again, I don’t waaaaannna):

  1. New Music – Yes, it’s a simple fix, and this is actually my plan for my lunch break tomorrow: find some new tunes with good running beats to help me move and keep a solid pace.

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    Actual footage of me run dancing.

  2. New Gear – What some might call materialistic, I call motivating. There’s something about showing up for a workout in some fresh threads that just puts that extra pep in my step.
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  3. Rewards – kind of similar to #2 above, but instead of treating myself pre-run, this is a post-run reward like a pedicure or a stop at Starbucks for a big cup of tea and a cake pop.
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So how about you? How do you put the fire back under your ass when you know you’ve got a goal coming up and still don’t have the *uff* to work towards it? I want to hear your tips in the comments.

Taking Time to Be Grateful

After doing this blogging thing for a few years now, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to me and how it’s changed my life. Which has caused me to get pretty introspective lately – in a good way.

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Back in 2003 I was miserable, but I hid it by being overly confident and brash. Think Samantha Jones from Sex & the City but without all the ridiculous sex stuff.

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but WITH the martini habit

I was in college, but instead of figuring out the balance of how to have a social life while excelling in school, I avoided going out almost entirely and threw myself into professional development instead.

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Taking extra classes, loading up on extra-curriculars, networking, building up my resume and getting an awesome internship with the NJ Devils. I took no prisoners and managed to do some amazing things. But my confidence was SO delicate.


At the end of every day, I was truly miserable. I would either hang out with my friends in their dorm rooms and watch TV and eat and drink to oblivion, or go back to my dorm room and do the same, but alone.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I knew something had to change. I HAD TO CHANGE. To beat the odds now stacked against me, I started to pay attention to what I ate at the dining hall. I watched an hour of Everybody Loves Raymond on the stationary bike in our dorm gym instead of on my bed. And wouldn’t you know it, I started to lose weight – and my confidence started to grow too.

Fast forward a few more years: I graduated, got a big girl job in the real world, and jumped into the dating scene. I reconnected with an old friend from my high school days and we started something serious – and I even convinced him to marry me! My friends started having babies and getting married. Throughout it all, I continued to lose weight and shape my new life along with my new body.

 

Fast forward even further, to when I discovered running. I ran my first race in 2010, started falling into a rhythm, and discovered the world of running bloggers. I would see them talk about all the progress they were making and all the opportunities they had and get all moon-eyed over just how awesome that would be, never expecting to do anything like that. But after realizing that in addition to these blogs there was a whole fitness and running community on places like Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, I decided to jump in too.

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My first race ever: a Pink Ribbon 5K with my papa and cancer-free mama ❤

Instagram was my first foray into the online fitness community. Then I started blogging, and soon Twitter and Facebook followed. When I started this ride I NEVER expected it to be as much of a blessing it has been, and that’s the truth. But I put myself out there in a few different – and scary – ways: offering to share my story, baring it all about my history with depression and anxiety, talking about the impact weight loss and running has had on my personal relationships, etc.

And then one day, those things I used to see the running bloggers talking about – they started happening to me.

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Shape Magazine interviewed me. I was asked to take over the Brooks Running IG feed. I was invited to run the NYRR 5th Avenue Mile. I’ve been selected as an Ambassador for the 2016 RWHalf and Festival next month. And as I get ready for what is shaping up to be an unbelievable few months, I have to take this moment to thank you all for coming along on this adventure with me.

I am TRULY grateful for all of the amazing opportunities that I’ve been given; I’m one of the luckiest people I know. But none of it would be possible without you reading, commenting, liking, following, and being with me on this ride. Whether I know you in real life or have only ever “met” you online – or even if you never say anything! – please know that I appreciate you taking time out of your day and reading and looking at the stuff I put out into the ether.

Thank you for being here – and I look forward to seeing where this road takes us in the future!

Back to Training and Lumo Run Review

I officially kicked off training for the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon (my fall goal race) earlier this month, and I’m following roughly the same plan I used for the NJ Half Marathon where I set my current half PR. The addition of a few more 9+ mile runs during that training cycle (5 or 6 vs my usual 3 or 4) made a huge difference and helped me clinch that 15 minute PR, so I’m hoping to see similar results this time. Well, maybe not another 15 minute PR, but you know what I mean 😉 With 6 weeks to race day I’m already up to 9 mile long runs, and my pace is still pretty on par with where I was back in May, so yay for that.

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Training began uneventfully with 3-4 mile runs twice during the week and a long run on the weekend, and I was super stoked to try out a new training tool: Lumo Run.

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A little sensor you clip onto the back of your waistband, Lumo Run isn’t just a tracker; it’s a tiny trainer that observes five key metrics during your run to help you improve your running form through real time audio feedback via an app on your phone.

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Full disclosure: the folks at Lumo Run sent me this sensor to test it out in exchange for my honest opinion, but I will say that I was interested in a tool like this even before they reached out to me. I don’t have the luxury of being able to work with a personal running coach, so this little tool is the next best thing.

To start, it had me run a 10 minute calibration run to see what my form and mechanics looked like, so I went out for a 5K with a friend on a hot sticky night after work.

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During the first 10 minutes we covered .87 miles while the pleasant trainer voice (Australian?) coached me to keep my posture straight and told me I was doing great. Once the calibration run was done, however, the real work began. And this woman made us WORK.

The first thing she suggested I work on is cadence, meaning the number of times my foot strikes the ground in a minute. My steps per minute were around 156 during my calibration run, so Lumo had me work on getting up to 163 SPM. To help us stay on track I played a song with a beat of about 168 BMP and the Lumo Run trainer immediately saw that we were hitting our goal. A happy little chime sounded, with the voice explaining that I’d hear the chime when I was successful. In addition to checking my cadence, the trainer also offered reminders to keep my posture straight, and announced my pace and time at the half mile and mile marks. You can change the settings on how often you hear feedback, which is a nice feature.

Once the song ended, we almost immediately slowed down without realizing it and were treated to a sad trombone “womp womp” and the instructor telling us that we weren’t meeting our cadence goal. After 2 miles of chugging along at this new rhythm, we were shredded – but ultimately we hit our goal. To help me improve my cadence after the run, it offered some post-run exercises, complete with explanations and videos too. Very helpful.

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One of the exercises to help me work on “Bounce”

After that run, I wanted to run again to keep improving. So I took it out a few days later and quickly learned just how hard this thing was going to make me work.

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Hello, little Lumo Run!

At the beginning of the run, the trainer announced my new goal was now 172 SPM. But, I turned on some music with a faster beat and set out from my house up the crazy hills of my neighborhood. And there was my first mistake. Up a small hill: Womp-womp. Flat: Ding ding! Yay! Up another larger hill: Womp-womp. Dammit! Finally after a mile of struggling to avoid the sad trombone of failure, I stopped at a red light and discovered the one minor thing I don’t like about Lumo (and can’t figure out if it’s a setting I haven’t discovered or what): even though I “paused” my run on the app, it automatically ended my run after about a minute of waiting! It was frustrating: now that the run was “over”, it marked me as not meeting my goal even though I wanted to keep working towards it, and even if I restarted, my distance and other stats would restart at 0. Overall not a dealbreaker, but kind of irritating.

Because I was now obsessed with nailing a full workout at 172 SPM the whole time, I had to take it out for another run last night – and while it was a struggle, I did it!

Even though I stacked the deck by running on an almost entirely flat course, it was still hard as anything to maintain that cadence without hearing the womp womp. A few times I even cursed out loud at the sound because I was so sure I’d been nailing the goal but wasn’t!

In short, Lumo Run is a ridiculously good motivator. I’ve only run with it a handful of times and worked on ONE metric with it, so I’ve still got a ways to go. But with a tool that’s so clear and immediate with its feedback, for the first time I’m actually looking forward to putting in the work because I know it’ll pay off. It’s like having a tiny trainer in my ear at every step, and the results are right there in my run.

And in addition to having this really cool tool, Lumo is also currently hosting the #ThisIsMyCoach Instagram contest: simply submit a photo or video of your coach using the hashtag #ThisIsMyCoach explaining why they are an inspiration, and you could win a grand prize VIP trip for two to the Kona Ironman Championships! For more info, visit their site and be sure to enter by 5pm PST on September 1 for your chance to win. 

Have you ever used a training tool like this before? What do you think? What’s your current cadence (and if it’s over 172, HOW??)

My New Celebrity Fitspiration

So, I’m a big Star Wars fan now. I’m guessing you knew that already though.

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While I love the whole fictional universe, I also dig the new stars in the franchise. They’re a talented, eclectic bunch of people with different personalities and styles, and I’m loving all of them. Especially Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey.

I liked her in the movie, but when I discovered her Instagram a few weeks after seeing the movie back in January, I was instantly hooked. She’s adorable,  you guys.

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Also, with posts like this, let’s face it: she’s kind of my spirit animal. 

In a sea of vapid, cookie cutter “celebrities”, her feed stands out. You can really get a sense of her voice and what she’s passionate about – she’s not afraid to speak up and be goofy – AND she loves posting videos of her insane Star Wars workouts. These aren’t little “yay for bicep curls!” videos though. This chick is putting in some serious WORK. So what did I do? Take notes on her workouts and adapted them for myself, of course!

What does the Daisy Workout consist of? Here’s a sampling from a few of her recent videos (note: technical terms are NOT my strong suit. I just call them as I see them):

  • Walking lunges with overhead weight
  • High Knee jumps
  • Pull ups with elevated legs
  • Kneeling bicep band pulldowns
  • Pilates 100’s
  • Jump Squats
  • Jump squats with overhead bar & press
  • Lateral Jumps
  • Lunges with band twist
  • Suspension cable pull ups
  • Kneeling jumps
  • Medicine ball tosses
  • Kettle bell squat lifts (5x arm)
  • One legged box jump
  • Squat jumps with bar
  • Straight overhead Leg lifts
  • Straight leg situps

Now, this is by no means meant to be an official workout, please don’t try all of these and sue for damages when you can’t lift your head off the pillow the next day. I am NOT a professional – I was just looking for a good strength training workout and these moves clearly helped our girl Daisy so why can’t I give them a shot?

Word of warning: after doing half of those exercises up there for a full 40 minutes Tuesday, I’m STILL sore 48 hours later. So please, workout at your own risk.

But while these moves are HARD and have me grunting and swearing and unable to get into my car without screaming the next day, I do know this: I feel pretty badass when I’m done!

How about you: Who’s your current celebrity fitspiration? Have any famous-people workouts to share? Gimme gimme!

 

UAE Healthy Kidney 10K Race Recap

Alternate Title: You Can’t Get the Post-Race Blues If You Don’t Stop Racing!

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At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

After running a 15 minute PR at the New Jersey Half Marathon earlier this month, I didn’t have much time to let the post-race blues settle in: I ran the NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K just two weeks later. I had registered months earlier to keep the momentum going after the big race and while it was kind of a drag to “have to” keep training, it turned out to be the perfect setup for a new 10K PR!

On race morning we woke up nice and early, then headed into the city on the usual 5:37AM train. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day: mid 70’s, sunny, and clear. My previous 10K PR (1:16:22, 12:17/mile) was set at the Trenton 10K in November, and I’d just blown that pace out of the water at the NJ Half (11:51/mile) two weeks earlier. My daily runs post-half were in the 10’s and 11’s, so it was entirely possible to PR. I decided to bear with the heat, push as hard as I could (within reason) and leave it all on those Central Park Hills.

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Before the race we hung out at the party sponsored by the United Arab Emirates and the Healthy Kidney Foundation – an odd combo, but where else are you going to get to hang out with sheikhs and Sidney the Kidney? I met up with my sis-in-law Mere who was running that day too, and we couldn’t resist having some fun with Sidney and his photo booth props:

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After some good luck hugs, we squeezed into the corrals just as the national anthems wrapped up. And right before we started moving towards the start, fellow Mermaid Club gal Lizzie texted me – she was right outside the corral! Luckily we managed to connect, I got another good luck hug, she took off for the second half of her training run (hooray for her not being injured anymore!), and we crossed the starting line with cheers and fist pumping.

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I kept a good 11:30 pace through the first two miles, sipping from the bottle of Cocogo I carried with me when I needed and powering over the rolling hills. The only downside to it finally being a gorgeous day: it was HOT. I’m talking stifling. When you’ve only run in cooler temps, rain, and snow for 6 months, 72 degrees is like running through soup. But I motored along and clocked in the 5K at just under 36 minutes. Not my best, but considering I was only halfway done, I still had plenty in the tank, so woohoo.

Fun fact: The day before, the internet was abuzz with news of the cast of the next Star Wars film landing in Ireland for some intense filming that weekend. So instead of getting lost in my usual “what is life” thoughts, I entertained myself as I ran by imagining what they were doing at that exact moment. Hey, it’s my brain, I can daydream about what I want!

The loop we ran took us in the opposite direction I’d enjoyed during the past few Central Park races I’ve run, so that kept it interesting at least. But at around mile 4, I started to flag – the heat was really intense when we moved into a full-sun area. It was funny watching the crowd of runners slowly shift from one side of the path to the other to stay in the shade. I was grateful I’d decided to bring my bottle with me at the last minute – once I finished the Cocogo, I stopped at every water station and filled the bottle back up with 2 cups of water and left with a cup to sip on as I re-charged with some walking.

I wasn’t too concerned with my pace at that point – my watch had me at about 11:51/mile by mile 5, and I figured I could push through the final 1.2 even a tiny bit slower without missing the PR. For the second time in two weeks I was running relaxed, knowing I had a good PR in the bag. After working for 3 years to get faster, it’s a strange feeling, let me tell you!

At about 5.3, we came up a hill and I spotted a familiar sight pinned to the back of a fellow runner: The Skirt Sports Ambassador logo!

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I took out an earbud, came up alongside her, and said, “Skirt Sports Ambassador?” She smiled, “Yes!!” I was so excited – “Me too!!” I shouted. As it turns out, my “new” friend Jillian was a fellow Skirt Sports ambassador who lived in the area and decided to laminate our logo to help folks identify her on the course! I love that idea by the way, nice one Jillian 🙂 We kept each other company for the next half mile or so, chatting about how we got connected with Skirt Sports and where our running journeys had taken us recently. When she heard I was so close to a PR, she told me to go ahead at around mile 5.8, so I wished her luck and tore off for the finish.

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I glanced down at my watch – this would definitely be a PR, I was so stoked! Two PRs in two weeks, I never thought it was possible. As I spotted the finish line, gave Mike a wave as he snapped my picture, and crossed the line officially at 1:13:30, 11:50/mile.

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All smiles, I accepted my medal, found Mike, found Jillian in the finisher’s chute and snapped some pictures with her, and after saying goodbye to Jillian we all made our way back to the pre-race party area for the finisher’s festival (and to get my snazzy green tech shirt).

When we got there, I re-connected with Lizzie who had finished her training run and joined us for our new post-race tradition of coffee and pastries at the Columbus Circle Starbucks!

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Medium Roast & Raspberry Swirl Loaf: to die for

After we all said our goodbyes, we couldn’t pass up a gorgeous day in the city. So I changed out of my sweaty gear and we headed back downtown to check out the new ThinkGeek store on 33rd & Broadway, had some celebratory pub grub at the Cock & Bull, then made our way back to the train station 10 miles later where I sat down and refused to get up until the train arrived. 16 total miles for the day is no joke, ya’ll!

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Thanks for the edit, Carlos the Runner!

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It was a LONG day, but ultimately I ended it knowing that I’d run another PR just a few weeks after nailing my best half ever. Even with the heat and hills! I’m excited as ever to see what else I’m capable of next, and can’t wait to have you along with me for the ride!

NJ Half Marathon Recap: A 15 Minute PR!

Spoiler Alert: I ran the NJ Half Marathon on Sunday, and I PR’d by 15 minutes!!It was honestly the best half I’ve ever run, even in pouring rain and chilly temperatures. Let’s jump right in!

The weekend of the race was crazy busy: my dad’s birthday Friday, my friend Tina’s bridal shower Saturday, and race day Sunday. To keep myself sane, I took off on Friday and headed down to the expo to get my bib (and Tina’s bib too, she was racing despite having her shower the day before!).

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I’m used to expos being insanity, but at 2PM on a Friday, it was perfect. The process was a little disjointed: walk to a table for your bib, then another table for shirts, and another table for pre-paid parking tickets. But because it was so empty I can’t really complain, I didn’t wait more than 5 minutes at each area, and was able to relax, meet the pace team, and talk shop with other runners with no pressure.

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The following day I went to Tina’s shower, came home, cooked myself my new pre-race go-to dinner of grilled chicken and pasta in light tomato sauce. After laying out my outfit & relaxing with some coloring and a Melissa McCarthy movie, I headed to bed at 9PM.

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My eyes opened up at 3:27 entirely on their own before my 3:30 alarm, and I was ready to go. One cup of coffee, one banana, and two pieces of bread with a bit of peanut butter later, we headed out at 4:45. The race morning weather reports didn’t look promising: much like the Atlantic City April Fool’s 11K, the forecast called for rain, the only question being how much. After picking up Tina and heading to the start at Monmouth Racetrack, I was grateful we had a warm building to hang out in (even if they closed all bathrooms but one, leaving a HUGE line). There we met up with Meredith who had decided to race as well, and the runner girls hung out while the guys hung back and caught up on their own 🙂

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We waited on line for the bathroom to kill time, but by the time we got to the door a half hour later we had to go again! This worked out great though – we got out at 7:20, leaving us just enough time to head out into the cold mist and into the corrals where I almost let my nerves get the best of me. I had talked up this race to anyone who would listen to me, and I set a big goal for myself by publicly aiming for a new PR. The cold and the rain made me start to doubt myself, even with all the extra training I’d done.

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You are looking into the eyes of a woman who wants to run.” Run back to the car where it’s warm and dry and she doesn’t have to run 13 miles.

It’s funny how karma works though, because right before getting behind the gate and being left along with my frayed nerves, my local running friend Tracy spotted me and gave me the best good luck hug ever! She was such a trooper coming out in the pouring rain to cheer us on – it meant a lot to see her, especially just when I was getting so nervous!

Back in Corral J (as usual, near the end), I spotted pacers for a 12:45 half marathon and a 12:24 full marathon. Initially I’d planned on going with the 12:45 pacer for the first 10 miles and saving myself for a final 5K kick, but having never run with a pacer before I was afraid that if I lost them at a water stop or fuel break, I’d never catch back up. So I decided at the last minute instead to run by feel at around 12:00-12:30 just like I’d done in training, and if I had to pick up the 12:45 pacer towards the end, they’d be there.

After a quick selfie, a good luck hug and kiss from Mike, and 17 minutes of waiting while the faster corrals took off, Corral J hit the start and we were off! The mist turned into a light rain as we rounded the parking lot and went up a slight hill to enter the little towns we’d be running most of the course through.

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Miles 1-4ish felt good – a little warm, a little fast at 11:24-11:45, but good. At mile 3 I actually told myself, “Too fast!” after checking my watch. I’d done one 10 miler at 11:39 per mile ONCE, but could I pull it off again on race day? I got my answer at mile 5 when I felt my watch beep and thought it was only mile 4.

For the majority of the race I took in the crowds of runners around me and got all the high fives I could from the spectators. Seriously – every other house had some kind of race action going on. My friend Dan (above)  was cheering on his girlfriend Michelle and gave me the strongest high five EVER at around mile 5.5! Other folks brought out their lawn furniture and umbrellas to sit and cheer, while others set up tables filled with water bottles or orange slices.

Even though they had official aid stations every 1.5 miles or so (which I grabbed water from without stopping every time), my rain-proof layer had me overheating and I felt paste-mouth creeping up after my mile 5 gel. As if on cue, we passed a house who had left a case of 36 water bottles on their front lawn. The best! I grabbed a bottle and it became my good luck charm until mile 12.

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I’m glad I got a picture with my lucky bottle 🙂

At the halfway point, I still felt good but had a brief flash of anxiety: “I have to repeat what I’ve already done? There’s no way I’m going to feel this good much longer. Impossible.” And again – as if on cue – we passed a stretch of spectators who’d set up posters with inspirational quotes. One from the Matrix was just what I needed to see at that stretch:

“What are you waiting for? You’re faster than this. Don’t think you are, know you are.” – Morpheus

As I passed that sign I read it out loud to myself. I repeated it twice: You’re faster than this, Jess. Don’t think it. KNOW IT. And just like that, my legs felt fresher and I attacked the second half of the race with renewed energy… just as the skies opened up and it began to POUR!

Seriously, those last 7 miles were in basically a downpour. But we motored on! I grabbed an orange slice at one house, thanking the woman and her daughter who were standing in the pouring rain cutting oranges and cheering us on. At what I thought was mile 8 I told myself “5 more miles, not bad!” – then I brushed the rain off my watch and realized it said Mile 9, and I laughed again: I seriously didn’t notice another mile go by!

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No one deserves to be this happy at mile 12 of a half marathon in the rain.

I took my second gel, and for the next 3 miles we wound through downtown Long Branch past some shops and headed for the boardwalk. At this point I was deliriously happy. No, really: at mile 11 Shake, Senora came on my iPod and I started singing and run-dancing, getting some WEIRD looks from the folks I passed. #sorrynotsorry I’m feeling better than you, sir!

By the time we got to the boardwalk at mile 12 I was practically bursting – my watch’s average pace of 11:45 meant I was well on my way to beat 2:50. With about a half mile to go, Formation came on my iPod and I floored it. I felt like I’d just started Mile 1, weaving around people left and right, the finish line in sight.

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PRs aren’t pretty.

I passed Mere, Damian, and Mike all standing at the sideline in the pouring rain, screaming my name, and waved with a deranged smile as I glanced at my watch just before the finish: I was going to cross at 2:35!

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And that’s exactly what I did, throwing my arms up in the air and completely breaking down in tears. Final Time: 2:35:13, avg. pace of 11:51/mile.

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The best part: I ran the second half FASTER than the first!

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According to my Garmin the course was long, so my watch time is much better too. But either way, I ran a 15 minute PR in the pouring rain, and I felt like a million bucks.

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I met up with everyone past the finish line, crying my eyes out, and had the best hugs and celebration I can ever remember having! Meredith was especially excited; as a fellow runner, she knew just what it meant to crush my time by 15 minutes and jumped in the air squealing with me over it!

After some thought, I think this race felt so easy for a handful of reasons:

  1. It was a new (to me) course so I was seeing everything for the first time, which took my mind off the fact that I was running 13 miles in the pouring rain.
  2. It was a bigger race AND I was running 1:00+ faster per mile so I was surrounded by more people, making me feel less isolated than I usually do at the back of the pack.
  3. I created an entirely new running playlist with music I hadn’t run with before.
  4. Lastly – and most importantly – I put in a LOT of hard work! I didn’t take any time off after my last half and kept up my endurance with shorter distance races throughout the winter (the Joe K 10K in January, the Gridiron 4 Miler in February). Because I was already running 6+ miles when my “official” training started, I was able to work up to double digit runs faster and run more of them too. 5 long runs of 2+ hours (instead of the usual 2) massively improved my confidence in being able to cover the distance without bonking.

I won’t lie: four days later I’m still flying high on this one. And it didn’t stop on race day: I came in to work Monday to find a tiny little PR cake that my friend had customized with my shiny new finish time in icing!

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It’s safe to say this is my new favorite race, and barring any conflicts I will definitely be running this one again next year (hopefully in better conditions)! To everyone who cheered me on virtually here or even out on the course, THANK YOU! Your support has been a huge motivation for me, and I can’t thank you all enough. Even though most of us have never met in real life, knowing that you’re out there rooting for me fuels me to push harder in my training and leave it all on the pavement, and this race was no exception. Cheers to an amazing race – and all the great things I have yet to accomplish thanks to running!