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Erie Turkey Trot 10K recap

Last year, I started the tradition of ending the race season on Thanksgiving Day with a Turkey Trot 10K in Erie at Presque Isle State Park. My dad and I run it together, last year being the first year I convinced him to extend his distance a little farther and challenge him to go above a 5K. He agreed last year and did again this year, though he vows he’s never going farther. (I am holding out hope for the EQT 10-miler next November.)

This year’s theme was “The Hungry Games” and each shirt was a color for a particular “district” – I was in 3 (Wishbone) and my dad was in 6 (Gravy Boat). I chose the hoodie this year, and I chose wisely.

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They even had light up tridents throughout the course that you could pick up and return for a prize, but we were pretty focused on the run and I didn’t even remember you could do that until I saw people coming the other way on our return to the finish holding tridents. I even saw someone dressed up as Effie. Pretty clever – and I love how geeky this race is. (Last year the turkeys on the shirt were dressed as Avengers.)

The weather was perfect – 30s and negligible wind (which is amazing for Presque Isle, being a strip of land between Lake Erie and the bay). Dry roads and big, fat snowflakes. Last year we ran in 20 degree weather on packed snow and ice with bitter wind.

I really came into the race just wanting to have a “fast” 6 miles – which is to say, faster than most 6 mile runs I had during marathon training. This year was about distance in my training and not speed. So I didn’t think I’d hit a PR, which would require me to be under 10 mph for the whole thing. (And my dad’s faster than me, so I didn’t have to worry about where he would be – he would pace me, and if we’re being honest, pull me a bit.)

So let’s backtrack for a second. As a gift for finishing the marathon, Mark made me an amazing personalized medal hanger, painted with red chalkboard paint so that I could mark and erase my personal records. I thought that adding a marathon time would be the only thing I got to change on the hanger all year. Here’s what the 10K section looked like before the Turkey Trot.

Old 10K PR

And after?

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PR! 29 seconds shaved off my time in 2013. Still chasing that elusive 59:59, but I am hopeful that next year will be an opportunity for improvement in my speed, since I won’t be focusing on distance.

Here’s the medal hanger in all its glory. I love it. One of my favorite gifts that he’s given me and definitely one of the best he’s made. (And he gives good gifts, let me tell you.)

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Yeah, that’s a Captain America Mr. Potato Head on my dresser. Jealous?

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the off-season so I can try to keep some run maintenance going through the winter and work toward my 2015 run goals. I’m doing the Runners World holiday Run Streak, so having a PR yesterday was a great way to start that. Let’s see if I can keep it up this year!

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columbus marathon recap

Fair warning. This is long. I have a lot I need to record, so bear with me. And meet me here Thursday if you’d rather talk about vegetables.

On Sunday, October 19, I became a marathoner. 26.2 miles for the first time.

Now I know why people say they have a hard time describing the marathon experience. If you pick one select moment, you think “I was on top of the world” and if you pick another, you think “that was complete and total agony.” So which is it? Both. It felt like everything all at once – joy, pain, despair, happiness, agony, and triumph.

I came in to marathon weekend feeling pretty overwhelmed. I was sick earlier in the week and spent a morning in the ER, nearly in tears because I was terrified they’d tell me I couldn’t run. On Friday, the night before we were supposed to leave for Columbus, Vader got sick and had to go to the emergency vet. Thankfully he was better enough in the morning that we were able to go, and some wonderful friends checked in on him throughout the weekend.

We made it to Columbus for the expo on Saturday, and I had my first overwhelming moment when I saw this sign.

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I was, as Mark would say, verklempt. And also, sort of nauseated, to tell the truth. Everything about the expo was well organized – and they even had a Goodwill section where people could buy “throw-off” clothes to have at the start line to keep warm. I had already made a Goodwill run earlier in the week, but that was a fantastic idea.

Also at the expo, I picked up a couple of presents for myself.

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Yep, that’s a Christmas ornament. Mark and I will often get Christmas ornaments when we travel, to help remember our trips. I figured this was worth memorializing too. The tank is also incredibly comfortable (and ended up being somewhat prophetic, actually).

Saturday night, we met up with our friends who were running the full and half and spectating for carb overload. We had great sushi at a place called Akai Hana, and followed it up with a singular beer and some pizza back at the hotel. I’ve found that the sushi/pizza/one beer combo is best for my carb loading because it doesn’t upset my stomach too heavily. I will probably do that combo for my next longer race, for sure.

I had a decent night’s sleep for the night before my first marathon, but when my hydration alarm went off at early o’clock, I couldn’t fall back to sleep after I drank all my tea. (I drink a lightly caffeinated green tea before long runs. Works for me somehow.) So I laid in bed and tried to visualize having a really good day, but the fear was creeping in. I have long been plagued by visits from a voice that tells me I’m not good enough, particularly as a runner. Once the final alarm went off, I forced myself up and at em, and silenced the voice in favor of getting all of my gear on without forgetting anything.

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Let’s take a moment to talk about gear. I love how people always say that running is the best because all you need are shoes. Well, not me. I needed Body Glide and Kinesio tape, electrolyte chews and my heart monitor, my hydration pack, my shoes, you name it. I wore Walmart capris, my Beat the Blerch race t-shirt, and some arm warmers that turned out to be amazing by Oiselle. I basically wear Walmart and Target running gear, unless I wear a race shirt. I can’t afford LuLu pants or Athleta jackets. But the arm warmers were a last minute Amazon Prime purchase when I realized I would need covered arms, but didn’t want the heat of a second layer. And now I know why people like Oiselle stuff. They were amazing.

That brings us to the start line. Mark and our other friend A were biking the spectator route, so they left a bit later. The four of us that were running, took a brisk morning shuffle through downtown Columbus to get to North Bank Park and our corrals. The only really hard part about that was the full court press of the crowds as the corrals were closing, it still being basically dark outside. Oh and the fact that I was really nervous. I really tried to just think about it as another race and to not be thinking about mile 26 so early.

From our view in D corral, we could see the fireworks during the national anthem and the gun start for wheelchair athletes. Pretty amazing, actually. I was super impressed at the fireworks, but only got a good photo of the smoke afterwards. They did it all again as the elites took off, and then for the “regular people”. Sadly, by the time D corral moved into place, the fireworks were over, but the DJ was still blasting music.

I threw off my Goodwill hoodie, and we were off. The journey of 26.2 miles really does start with one step. If there had been a camera at the start line, I know it would have captured a smile on my face.

As with all races, it was crowded at the beginning, but our group did a good job of sticking together. The first few miles just flew by. I mean, FLEW. I can barely remember running them. I was mostly taking in all the stimuli and the big crowds of spectators, scanning the crowd for helmets, bikes and hoodies, looking for Mark and A. Around mile 3, the course ran parallel to itself, with faster runners already at mile 7 on the other side of the road from us. Man, that was actually pretty inspiring. I was scanning that crowd too, looking for B corral runners that I follow through blogs online, in case I could yell out a cheer. But pretty soon I realized I was going to have to make the first bathroom stop of the race, and I’d have to stand in a line. Ugh. We made a pit stop and went as quickly as possible. (I stopped my GPS at bathroom stops, to at least keep an accurate time of how long it took to run, as opposed to how long we were on the course.)

We knew Mark and A were aiming to be somewhere around mile 8, so we enjoyed just tooling along, checking in on our pace every so often to make sure we weren’t pushing it too fast, too soon, due to being so excited and amped. This race is sponsored by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, and each mile has a patient champion. They had a cheer station with their families for each mile, plus signs along the way with their photos and fun facts. Those were not only a great distraction, but a great reminder of how privileged we were to be running the race in the first place. My favorite was a little girl who wanted to be a number of things when she grew up, including a wheelchair dancer.

I don’t remember much specifically about those early miles, because I was just having a great time, looking at signs and hearing the spectators, checking out the lovely Columbus neighborhoods we ran through. When we got to 8.5 and saw Mark and A, we freaked out and ran over. Mark had made these surprise signs that he laminated and attached to the front of his bike at each stop, so he could use his hands to take photos but still have a sign up. He had three during the race, and they were all Star Trek themed.

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Personally, I think they were the most creative signs I saw all race, but I could be biased. (The polka ladies were a close second.)

Anyhow, the enjoyable miles just kept ticking by. By the time we got to the split, where the half marathoners went to the left to finish and we continued forward, we were talking with each other about how exciting it was to continue instead of turning to finish.  As we ran along downtown, we remarked at how well it was all going and realized that we were actually having fun. After a marathon training season that was very much not fun and for me, a meh racing season, this section of the race through the Short North was amazing.

But we were suddenly very alone, the larger groups of runners we were with all turning to finish the half. I think it was somewhere around miles 15 and 16 that I realized that when you’re a back of the packer doing a marathon, your field isn’t huge. And as your field decreases, spectators do too. So I will be eternally grateful to the spectators that stuck it out to keep cheering. Because this is around when my legs really started to feel what they were doing. My left leg started to bother me, which is odd, since I usually have problems with my right. It started to get stiff and sore, but we pressed on through the OSU campus on our way to the stadium.

And right before we got to the stadium, my left calf twisted and cramped, bringing me to a halt. I stretched it out and walked for a bit and made it into the stadium, which was a really cool experience, especially for someone who doesn’t care about football. We heard marching band music playing and kind of wished the OSU band was waiting on the field, but it was a recording. Just as soon as we got to the stadium, we were back out again and headed for mile 17.

Somewhere in here, we found an aid station with food, and I grabbed two orange wedges like they were manna from heaven and shoved them in my face like a ravenous wolf. The juice was running all over, and I recall someone saying it would make a good photo.

I was really happy to get to Mark and A again just before mile 18, and so appreciative that they made it, since this was the farthest point on the course for them to get to. I can’t understate how much seeing Mark every so often helped me. Strangers cheering is awesome, but having someone there for you who knows you just amplifies that support.

I started to really struggle with leg pain for the next 2 miles, and as I started to panic about my legs being crampy and tight and the voice inside wondered how I would get another 10K, my heart rate started to go up. Which as an asthmatic isn’t the best – it makes my chest clamp and tighten. My friend T turned around and told me not to panic – she knows it’s my tendency – so I put both my earbuds in and tried to focus.

But the voices. Those negative voices. At mile 21, I started to really let them get the best of me and began walking more, escalating the leg pain and foot pain as everything started to seize and stiffen. I could barely hear my music, the voices were so loud. Deafening. You are so slow. You are too heavy to run marathons. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re walking. You didn’t train well enough. You don’t belong out here. Everyone else is already done. You’re holding your friends back. If it weren’t for you, they would be having a better experience.

My friends T and R essentially began mentally towing me at this point. I was running behind them, but they didn’t leave me behind. And this is where I tell you that you couldn’t ask for better friends than T and R. It’s a fact that they could have finished faster if they weren’t making sure we all finished together. But they were there for me silently and verbally coaching me forward when I had given up on myself. I don’t know how I could have finished without them, and that’s not hyperbole, either. Even though both of them would probably roll their eyes at this, I am blessed to have both of them in my life.

If I have one regret about this race, it’s that I mentally gave up and let those voices shove me headlong into a wall and keep me there. Yes, there was great physical pain that was no joke, and the entire experience had me verklempt in the way that you get when you’re trying to accomplish the impossible. But miles 21 through 25 were the ugliest part about running for me, and I am disappointed that I let that attitude take the wheel. (I also should have structured my playlist to anticipate that I’d need my best songs towards the end, but I didn’t have that kind of foresight.)

We saw Mark and A in between 24 and 25, and I cried when I saw him and tried to kiss him quickly and move on. He knew I was hurting and struggling and he whispered encouragement in my ear and said he’d see me at the finish. Somehow 6 minutes at a time, 3 minutes at a time, 2 minutes at a time, we got to 26.

And at 26, knowing there was just one more bend and two tenths of a mile left, we pressed on. Mark and A were in the spectator stands waiting for us and taking photos. We heard the announcer calling out names and I heard “Joanna Stone, Carnegie, Pennsylvania!” and threw my arms up in the air and ran across the finish line.

And there was joy.

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Hat tip to A for taking this photo. And that’s T, an angel with a hydration pack instead of wings.

After the finish line (where I recall shriek screaming, though I have no idea why), we were given our medal and space blankets by smiling volunteers. The volunteer who gave me my blanket and taped it shut for me congratulated me and I told her she made me feel like a queen, slinging that foil around my shoulders. We moved over to the side of the chute to immediately stretch because our legs were all in pretty rough shape. That’s what happens when you run for 5:52. My chip time was 5:56:24, so I’m counting that as my time, but that included 3 toilet breaks, so we were actually a wee bit faster.

After our finish photos, we grabbed our food bags and hobbled out to meet S, our friend who ran the half, and the boys. I recall hugging Mark so tightly and trying not to cry again. I shoved some disgusting potato chips in my face and a bottle of water and slumped at a table. One advantage of taking so long to finish is that the festival is pretty well cleared out by the time you’re done, so there’s lot of seating and no problems finding your family.

This left the PR gong ready for me to give it a whack.

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And then we hobbled as far as we could before we couldn’t walk anymore, and the boys returned on their bikes to the hotel to get a vehicle to pick us up. And it was over.

I can sit here now that it’s over and we’re home and be proud of myself – for the commitment I made to training, even when I really hated it. For pushing myself to the limits of what my body could handle – my body with all of its imperfections that still made it over 26.2 miles. I can also be fine with a race that showed the whole spectrum of what running can be – from the highest high to the lowest low.


The #roadtocolumbus took 6 months to travel. At the end of that road, I can call myself a marathoner.



triumph, indeed

Last week was, well, insanity. It was marathon week and everything seemed to be coming at me at once. Busy at work, a trip to the ER for a kidney stone and serious GI problems (for me), a trip to the ER vet with a sick cat (Vader) and a trip to Columbus. So busy that I missed writing about our CSA for the first time all season (I’ll catch up on two shares next week!).

I have lots to say, but for the moment, as I’m still in Columbus? There’s just this.

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Triumph, indeed.


wine glass half marathon recap

This weekend, I traveled with four other ladies to the southern Finger Lakes for the Wine Glass race weekend in Corning, New York. After some not so great race experiences this summer and the ups and downs of marathon training, I was really ready for a nice, solid race. And the Wine Glass Half delivered!

The weather was frigid when we started – in the low 30s. I didn’t bring my running gloves or any warmer gear than capris and a long sleeve tech tee, so standing out at the start line was pretty cold. As a point to point course, the half marathon people started halfway down the marathon course, basically next to a giant corn field in the middle of nowhere, but with a lovely view. With the arrival of fall, the leaves were all turning and pretty much the entire weekend we all kept repeating “wow, look at this view” everywhere we went.

Once the gun went off, like any race, the start was pretty crowded. There were no corrals or separations based on estimated time beyond the pacers, so it was a free for all. I started off a little too fast, though it also warmed me up enough that I was comfortable pretty soon. I settled into the pace I wanted to run the whole race – not fast enough to PR, but a solid time for the type of training I’ve been doing this summer.

I tried to be really present in the moment of the race, take in the scenery and be especially grateful for legs to run and how far I’ve come in training that I am able to casually run a half marathon with no nervous stomach or anxiety. I passed some beautiful horses, some pastures of cows (how much of a country girl at heart am I that I loved that I smelled cows TWICE during a road race?) and several farms. The course also went through some residential areas and a park, and was mostly flat. It was an interesting combination of rural race and road race.

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Around mile 8, my phone decided to reboot itself, losing my music and my GPS that was giving me my paces. So instead of “pulling over” and fussing with my phone, I just turned the music back on and finished the rest of the race without the GPS. Which in a way was quite freeing – just running by feel. But on the other hand, it made me lose time in those last 5 miles, because I finished with a lower average pace than I was carrying for those first 8.

For a rural area, I was surprised at the number of spectators and signs along the course, which I’m sure was especially nice for the marathoners. I love a good “No Time for Walken” sign with Christopher Walken’s face on it.

Like I said before, I was really ready for a good race. I was looking for that feeling I had when I raced last year – the excitement you get in the pit of your stomach when you round a final bend and see the finish, or when you realize right in the middle of the run how happy you are. This year’s running has mostly been challenge, with a distinct lack of actual fun. But coming across the final bridge in this half marathon, seeing the spectators increase and knowing the finish line was close, I finally got that feeling – the high that people talk about. For me it’s not a feeling of invincibility, but just a swell of happiness and pride in myself. A man who had finished the race was walking back along the course and looked at me and shouted “YOU LOOK SO STRONG! GO GET IT!” and I could have high-fived the guy.

I bolted for the finish in the last half mile – just all-out emptied the gas tank. I shouted something unintelligible at my friends who were spectating and just drove forward. I saw the time on the clock, knowing it was solid for where I’m at right now and was really pleased. It’s a great feeling to run across a finish line to cheers, knowing you gave yourself a solid performance.

In the chute after the finish line, we got our glass medals (Corning is known for its amazing glass) and headed to the most amazing post-race food line I’ve ever seen. Not only were we given a bag to collect our goodies, but we got water and chocolate milk, apples, cheese sticks, cookies, bagels, bananas and the kicker – hot chicken noodle soup and fresh pizza. That they were making right there! In the finish chute! I eagerly stowed the snack stuff in the bag an grabbed the soup and pizza and wolfed them down, sitting on the side of the road shivering on a spaceman blanket (the foil wraps they give you post-race when it’s cold). I thought I took a picture of them, but apparently I was too delirious with the delicious salt food in front of me.

All in all, it was a great race. The swag bags were solid too – we got a bag, a long-sleeve tech tee, plus a wine glass and mini bottle of champagne. All of the volunteers were very friendly and helpful. I feel like they treated the runners like royalty – and so did the town. The people we encountered in the shops and restaurants were all friendly and welcoming to runners – many of them having special displays or discounts for runners and spectators. Some of the restaurants opened at 5 a.m. to accommodate spectators, which was pretty nice considering the frigid cold outside.

I’d definitely come back to the area again – both to race and to visit. A good choice for a race during the taper, because it finally has me feeling something about Columbus – both excitement and nerves – the combination that I hope will propel me the last 6 miles over the finish in less than two weeks!

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columbus marathon training update: time to taper

When I started this whole marathon training thing, I think I secretly believed there was only a 50% chance I’d make it to the taper – the last couple weeks before the marathon when you begin to reduce your mileage and rest your legs in preparation for the big day. After all, I was coming off physical therapy for my IT band syndrome and some knee problems. I hadn’t even registered for the race when I started.

The trusty Camelbak. Which right now stinks of sweat.

The trusty Camelbak. Which right now stinks of sweat.

But here we are, less than 3 weeks out and I’m still doing this.

Saturday was my third 20-miler, and it was finally a successful one. The first one was a hot mess. The second one was going great until mile 17 when my right knee just gave out and I had to Oprah speed walk the last 3 miles. But Saturday was pain free as far as the knee goes. And the breathing was fine, too. Especially considering we ran UP BATES.

Yes, UP Bates, Pittsburghers. It’s not the steepest hill in the city, but it’s pretty significant when you’re on foot, launching you from the South Side riverfront up to Oakland. We had typically run in the opposite direction, getting up to the East End by a slow crawl up Penn Avenue. This time we did the 20 miles backwards, so we had to go up some stairs and run UP Bates. Plus we had to tack on climbing a bunch of stairs up to a bridge because of some trail construction. So the fact that my breathing held out during hills, in the sun, for 20 miles? I’ll take it.

I’ve officially run over 500 miles this year, which is a huge jump in mileage from previous years. I’ll fit in another 42 before the marathon. I have a half marathon race next weekend and it reduces from there. I’m hoping the half marathon is what I need to get pumped up about the Columbus race and start the adrenaline high that will push me those extra 6.2 miles over the finish line. Right now I’m mostly just tired.

So I’m trying to get excited about the little things. At the expo, I can buy a 26.2 sticker for my car. (Yep, I’m one of those people. I’m in it for the sticker.) And maybe get a real hanger for my medals, which remind me that I can do hard things. Mark will be there cheering in person, and lots of people will be cheering me on from home. I hear there’s a gong you can ring if you get a PR or finish your first marathon.

One more thing. I still need a few more songs to flesh out my playlist. It’s still repeating a bit at the end and I can’t have that. So give me your best songs that get you pumped up. Leave them in the comments or tweet me @nextgenhouse!

Beat the Blerch: running a virtual 10K

2013 was the year of the many races for me. I did a bunch of 5 and 10Ks, leading up to my first half marathon last September. This year has been different due to marathon training taking all of my physical and mental energy when it comes to running. Plus, I’m not as fast as I was last year.

So far in 2014 I’ve done three half marathons: Boston Trail, Pittsburgh and Montour Trail. (Montour Trail was such a horrible race it didn’t even deserve a recap.) I’ve done two 5Ks: Carnegie VFD and ElectroDash. (ElectroDash also being so horrible it didn’t deserve a recap!)

And this weekend, I did a 10K – a virtual one. Beat the Blerch!

The brain child of Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal and of this epic webcomic about running, the Beat the Blerch races sold out so quickly that they added a second day, which also sold out immediately. So then they came up with the genius idea to create a virtual race so that anyone across the country who wanted to could play.

So a group of us signed up for the virtual race and headed out to our usual route to run a virtual 10K, complete with race bibs.

Just look at this swag bag we received. Hands down the greatest swag bag in the history of running. (The Pittsburgh Marathon has been dethroned.) (Also, the eggs did not come in the swag bag, obvs.)

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The shirt also has a birthday cake on the sleeve. The races in Washington state also had cake to eat – we got it on the shirt and in the lip balm. We got a Blerch stress squeezing toy, a bunch of bumper stickers and a magnet, some gummy bears and the cupcake lip balm, plus an awesome medal.

Doing a virtual race was more fun than I thought it would be, especially since we had Pamela’s afterward. It was fun to do a shorter distance and to get all the race stuff without the pressure and the crowds. I definitely wouldn’t want to do a virtual race for much more than a 10K though, since the crowds and the hype are part of what I enjoy about the big city races. And at this point I know I’m going to need some hype and some adrenaline to get me through Columbus.

But this was way better than traveling to Washington state – I got to Blerch with my friends at home!

With less than 4 weeks to the Columbus Marathon, just one more 20 mile run next weekend, followed by the Wine Glass Half Marathon and the taper!




columbus marathon training update – 20 miles and an ugly cry

As of today, there are 55 days left until the Columbus Marathon. I am in week 17 of my extended 24 week training plan, I believe. To be honest, these are the dog days of training, and it’s only because of my type A, meticulous spreadsheet habit that I even have any idea what’s going on right now.

Last weekend was a big one for fitness at Next Gen House. Not only did Mark become a triathlete, but I had my first 20 mile run. The illusive 20 miles that everyone says is where the “wall” resides. I had always thought I’d run into walls running before, and I had somehow managed to Kool-Aid man through them and push. 

But I think those previous walls were only piles of rocks to step over, because for the first time this weekend, I ran straight into a concrete wall that knocked me over and made me ugly cry for the first time in the two years I’ve considered myself a runner. 

So that’s what a wall feels like.

I actually considered waiting to write my next training update until after I completed another 20(+) miler, you know, to make it seem easier than it actually is. But that’s not real. It doesn’t let you know how hard this is. Sometimes I like to think that if something is possible, it’s not really hard. I am admitting to myself that this marathon is an Everest for me. 

The run was from the North Side to the Waterfront and back. It was just a dream last year – it seemed like the impossible journey – so many miles. But we did it. First 10 miles were great. Miles 10-12 sucked all available energy out of me, and from that point on it was, well, awful. I was fighting tears for 12-14, desperately trying to talk myself out of a panic that would make my asthmatic lungs clench up. At 15, I asked my friend to please talk to me, if she had any available breath, because I couldn’t pull my mind out of its self-destruct sequence. (And to her eternal credit she did.) The voice that says “I can’t breathe, I can’t do this, I have come so far and am about to fail, 26.2 is impossible, I am a joke.”

For the last few successful long runs, I’ve been doing a 60 second walk break at each 2 mile increment. It’s done wonders for my heart rate. On this run, by mile 16 I had to go down to one-mile increments, and I finished 18 and 19 by walking at half-mile increments. 

When my GPS read 20, I slowed to a staggering walk and started weeping. Not just a few tears, but that ugly cry with noises that you didn’t know you could make. I don’t even really know why I was crying in particular. It was a huge release, probably of tension I had been holding in for, literally, hours. Probably days. Probably this whole training cycle.

I read a lot of articles and essays about bad runs – like the ones that make you physically drained or pukey. But I rarely hear about people who just weep when they are done with a bad run.

But after a few days have passed, I am ready to rise up and get those shoes back on and hit the miles this week. I actually have two step-back weeks in a row, each 13 miles, one with the Montour Half Marathon, which was my first half marathon ever last year. I have two more 20(+) milers to get that confidence back that I was flying on after a really good 18 miler. 

After all, one does not simply stroll up Everest (or Mordor). I’ve finally realized that it’s okay that this is really hard for me – the hardest thing physically I’ve ever done, and probably with the exception of grieving, the hardest mentally as well. While I watch a lot of really inspirational runners chasing their 8:30 or 9:30 averages for the Columbus Marathon, I’m chasing a 13:00 average. Yes, a lot slower, but it also means that I’m giving the run the best I can do for 4+ hours. I’ll be happy to finish Columbus in 6 hours – to finish at all. And that’s okay. 

This summer, I’ve run farther than I’ve ever run before, all over my beautiful, wonderful city. I’m wearing out shoes and burning through rolls of K-tape. I’m pushing my body and my mind and I know it will be worth it if I stick with it. The hard things always are.


a triathlete lives at Next Gen House

The better half of Next Gen House is now a triathlete. You know I’m not talking about me.

Saturday morning, earlier than the crack of dawn, we headed up to Erie for Mark to participate in his first triathlon – the Presque Isle Triathlon at Presque Isle State Park.

It’s a sprint tri – you swim 0.35 miles, bike 13 miles and run 3.5 miles. This particular tri draws everyone from elite Ironman competitors to first time triathletes, and from what we gathered it was very well organized and ran like a well-oiled machine.

You know who else was a well-oiled machine? This guy.

He did awesome, and beat the time he was aiming for by more than 15 minutes. That’s just crazy.

I enjoyed cheering so much, particularly because I’m usually competing in most of the events I’ve ever gone to like this. So it was great to look people in the eye, especially during the run portion where they weren’t going by in a blur and were tired, and cheer and clap and encourage. 

I spotted this sign, the best one of the day. I bet it made whoever John is smile.

The weather held out and it wasn’t more than two hours after the tri was over that the sun came out and started baking everyone, so thankfully he didn’t have to do this in full sun. The conditions were ideal, except for maybe a stronger current than anticipated in the bay where they were swimming. 

All in all, it was a great event to spectate at and so fun to watch people give it their all. 

I was so proud of Mark, my heart almost burst out of my chest. I know how it feels to be dedicated to a training regimen and to be in the dog days of it toward the end where you’re not sure the event will ever come and you’re just plain tired. He stuck with it through the humidity this summer, in the rain and the heat and just completely knocked it out of the park this weekend. 

columbus marathon training update

I’m now less than 90 days out from the Columbus Marathon, so I thought I’d write a bit about my progress. 

I’m in my 12th week of training out of 24 weeks, which is a long training regimen for most people with a marathon. I stretched my training out for a variety of reasons. First, I came into the training with a recurring injury (IT band syndrome and poppy knee caps) and spent the first four weeks of my training also going to physical therapy. I decided to do a three-day a week running plan instead of running 4 days a week, because I thought it was more sustainable for me over the long haul. The longer training schedule also gives more time for pull-back weeks, where you rest your legs with less mileage in order to push upward in distance.

The last two weekends were 15 and 16 mile runs respectively – my longest runs to date. I will end up going to 20 miles and doing that three times before the taper and actual marathon. Yes, it’s mentally intimidating to think that I won’t ever run 26.2 until the day I get a medal around my neck for it, but I’m trusting in the wisdom of the Hal Higdon plans. Truly, if you’re going to train for any running event – from a 5K to a marathon – go with Hal. He got me to my first half marathon and I’m getting increasingly confident that he’ll get me to that finish line at Columbus.

Right now, I’m up to about 25 miles a week, with one hill day, one shorter, flat run and one long run. On Wednesday, I will cross 300 miles run this year so far, and more than 150 since training began. I really need to think about getting that map with push pins to show myself really how far those miles are. 

Physically, it’s been challenging for me, especially as we get in to the later summer, in this humid, soupy climate. For the first time since I started running in 2012, I’ve been slammed with the realization that I’m an asthmatic runner. Now, the asthma’s no surprise. I’ve had it all my life, and it’s amazingly well under control. But it’s because of that great control that I often forget that my lungs are asthmatic and they just don’t work like the lungs of someone without asthma. 

I came into this training 15 pounds heavier than when I trained for a half marathon last year, which also has something to do with it. But I am watching my heart rate closely on every run now, to avoid crashing. For me, once my heart rate approaches a certain level, there’s nothing I can do to get it back down long term except for stopping altogether. So I work really hard to keep the gradual increase of the heart rate over 3+ hours of running under control instead of letting it spike up.  

Marathon training is as much a mental endeavor as a physical one. I knew going into this that my pace was going to be that of the tortoise – slow and steady. I was not in peak physical condition when I started, and I’m not now, even in the middle of it. So I fight the mental pressure to be faster – especially when I see running blogs or magazines talking about sustaining paces of 8:30 as if it’s just normal. Which for some people, it is. But I am 4’11”, overweight and asthmatic. So really, the fact that I’m out there each week doing it is good enough for me right now. For a girl who spent time in an oxygen tent when I was little, running a marathon is like scaling Everest, no matter the pace.

Other positives of training? One of my friends that I’m training with makes some fantastic routes. For instance, last week we ran through the following neighborhoods: Millvale, Strip District, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Shadyside, Oakland, Greenfield, South Side (Works, flats and Station Square), West End, the Point/Downtown, North Shore and North Side. That’s straight up crazy. It’s kind of cool to visit places on a run you’ve never been even in a car. After living here for almost 9 years, it’s hard to find places I’ve never seen, so this is a good opportunity for exploration. 

It’s been nice to take a slight break from a lot of races. I’ve only done three so far this year (a 5K and 2 half marathons). During the training I will do one more 5K (Electrodash), a 10K virtual race (Beat the Blerch) and one, possibly two, half marathons (Wine Glass Half and maybe Montour Trail). 

It’s also hard to not get excited about the race itself, and I try to focus on that during the training. This is all for a reason – for that moment I see the finish line appear in the distance and know I’m yards away from probably the biggest accomplishment of my life. (Not because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but because it is the most impossible thing I’ve ever attempted.) I even named my Spotify playlist “Road to Columbus” to remind myself what this is all for. Each mile is just another mile down that road. (You can search for my playlist under that name on Spotify, but it’s uniquely me, thus probably not universally exciting for most people. Oh, you don’t listen to Starship during your long runs?)

You can follow my progress more closely on Instagram (@nextgenhouse) under the hashtags #yearofthemarathon and #roadtocolumbus. Let the countdown begin!


saving the rail trails

There’s a group based out of D.C. called the Rails to Trails Conservancy. They work on converting old rail lines to trails across the country, and also help to maintain those trails and raise interest in their use and protection.

Here in the Pittsburgh area, we’re blessed with an abundance of these type of trails – Montour, Panhandle, and Three Rivers Heritage just to name a few. The Heritage trail (left) is used as a commuting route for many people. I run on that trail at least twice a week and have done so for over a year now. Mark uses the Panhandle frequently, and we both have used the Montour before. I even had my first half marathon there. Those are just three that are within the metro area. Go out a little further and they are everywhere.

Which makes it even more ironic that recently, it was Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who proposed an amendment to the Preserving America’s Transit and Highways Act that would eliminate funding for the Transit Alternatives Program (TAP). TAP is the largest dedicated funding source for walking and biking infrastructure, and it would seriously jeopardize the trail system in this country that many rely on for recreation and fitness.

Thankfully, the Rails to Trails Conservancy rallied ordinary citizens as well as civic groups in PA to lobby the senator to withdraw his amendment. And he did. TAP funding is safe – for now.

This is yet another example that community activism and calling your representatives can work. (I wish I would have known about this before he withdrew the amendment or I would have added it to my list of letters to write this year!) I’d venture to guess as a Pennsylvanian, he’s probably been on a converted rail trail before, for one thing or another. Many races and community events are tied to the trails – there are too few parks in the city to accommodate them and the trails help to do that. 

These trails are really important, especially in a city center like ours where there wouldn’t be many places to run, walk and bike outside of traffic. While we do often mix up our routes with combinations of trails and city on the weekends, it’s nice to have dedicated places to go where no matter what’s going on traffic-wise, you can just GO. It encourages people to walk, run and bike when they know they can do it safely. 

And while any scenery gets boring when you’re running 16 miles, our trails are quite lovely, too. Not a lot of areas of the country where you can mix city scapes, riverfronts and forested areas. The trails conserve and expose people to nature, as well, serving as an oasis from the urban sprawl.

To find rails to trails near you, visit Trail Link, a service of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. It’s also a handy tool if you’re on vacation or camping and need to find a place to fit that run in! But if you live in Pittsburgh and haven’t made use of the trails, do it. Start with the riverfront near the stadiums and you’ll get hooked on the view. (And if you see a short brunette huffing and puffing by you in the early morning, that’s me. Say hi and offer me water. :)

Photos from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Panhandle Trail in Pittsburgh and the W&OD Trail in Virginia.