Test run

Originally, my only goal for next week’s Army Ten–Miler was to beat last year’s finishing time–reasonable, considering The Winter of My Discontent. But I worked hard all summer and secretly hoped I could shave five minutes off last year’s time to take a shot at a 10-mile PR. Then, after my surprising success at last Sunday’s ’80s 8K, the little voice in the back of my mind urged me to aim higher than that. How about finishing under two hours? Yikes.

But I had no way of knowing if my 57-minute 8K time on a hilly course could translate to sub two-hours for twice the distance on a flatter one. And no real way to test it due to the fact that I’m relying on cooler temperatures in D.C. to help me out. Until this morning, when I woke up to 53 degrees. Much like race day. Hmmmm.

I didn’t want to run the full ten miles a week before the race, so I decided I’d try to run eight miles at the pace I’d need to maintain for a sub two-hour finish. It wouldn’t be a perfect predictor, but at least the results would allow me to ballpark whether this crazy notion is even feasible.


I put on last year’s Army Ten-Miler training shirt and a couple of blinky things, fired up my race day playlist, and headed out into the pre-dawn morning.

The first mile, I almost chucked the whole attempt. My pace was too slow–I couldn’t even do it for one mile. How could I manage eight? Or ten? But I reminded myself of two things: one, the first mile always sucks. And two, at a race I tend to start off too fast, so a slow first mile today doesn’t automatically spell doom. After a water stop, I soldiered on.

The next two miles traveled the same hills from last week’s race. I didn’t look at my watch a whole lot, but I felt like my pace improved. Downhill, uphill, down, up, down. I stopped briefly to cross a busy street with the light, then continued down the sidewalk to the water stop and turnaround point. By the time I got back to the crosswalk, I had finished five miles and felt pretty strong. From here it was mentally easy–right turn, left turn, up the hill, final mile. I can do anything for a mile.

Not only did I finish well below the average pace I need to break two hours (almost 30 seconds per mile faster!) my last 1.27 miles were my fastest–almost a minute per mile faster than mile two and 90 seconds faster than that first mile.

Can I do all that, plus run 1.7ish more miles at that pace? Over the last part of the 14th Street Bridge, up an overpass, through a spectator-light chunk of Crystal City, and around to the finish? Well, it looks a lot more possible than it did a year a week ago.

’80s 8K … which is what makes time travel possible

I’m not one for theme races–the color runs and electric runs and foam runs don’t appeal to me at all–but the ’80s 8K became part of the Austin Distance Challenge a couple of years ago after another race backed out at the last minute, and in doing so became popular with runners in the area. This year a couple of my friends are doing the Distance Challenge (I managed to avoid the peer pressure, instead focusing on redemption from last year) and Rogue is a major sponsor, so I figured that since it’s two weeks (!) before the Army Ten-Miler, it would be a good tune-up race for me. Plus I’ve never run an 8K before, so after a year of disappointing, injury-plagued race times, I was set for an automatic PR. Great Scott!

80s 8k

Good news: after two night games, Texas played an afternoon game Saturday, so I was home by 7:30 and got to bed early-ish.

Bad news: I woke up about 3 A.M., pissed off at the ending of said Texas game, and I couldn’t go back to sleep.

Good news: the race starts at the high school stadium just over a mile away from Rogue, so I’ve run pretty much every street on the race route at one time or another during training.

Bad news: it’s hilly. The devil you know is still the devil.

So, having already been awake for three hours, I headed out. It was still dark, and the full moon glowed faintly orange just above the trees as I drove.

The benefit to starting at a high school football stadium? Lots of parking, and lots of restrooms. I appreciated not having to worry about either one.

Race organizers had built a time machine out of brought in a couple of DeLoreans–I kept hoping one belonged to Ernest Cline and I could be a fangirl, but alas, it was not to be.


I had a lot of time to mill around and catch up with some friends. And flash back to high school thanks to the music. Not that I didn’t have plenty of my own ’80s music on my playlist or anything…

At 7:30, the announcer shouted “Go!” I kind of expected an air horn or a cannon or something. But no. So we made like a tree and got outta there.

I pressed the start button on my Garmin as I crossed the timing mat, and we headed out of the parking lot onto the street. As I made the left turn, my watch beeped… and restarted itself. Agh! I got it going again, but it was off by whatever the distance from the start to that corner.

The first mile went by pretty quickly. Flat, then a slight downhill, then uphill. After Garmin beeped the pace for my the first mile, I chastised myself for starting off too fast. But I felt okay, so I just cranked up my music and kept going. I saw a bunch of friends cheering on the corner as I made the right turn and headed up the big hill. Up, then flat, then slight incline. Left turn, saw another cheering friend, then downhill, uphill, and a long downhill. I think I banked a lot of time going down that one!

Just after the mile three marker, we turned left uphill, then another left and more uphill. Some kids stood in their driveway with cute signs. Even so, this stretch was tough–we were more than halfway through the race, going up a(nother) fairly steep incline, and even though I’d not looked at my watch a whole lot, by now I knew I had a chance to finish under an hour, assuming my rudimentary calculations to adjust what my Garmin said vs. how long I really had to go were correct. I’d brought my own water and had skipped the water stops, so I felt like I was doing well. And I also knew that as soon as I got to the top of this hill, I would be at mile four and could cruise a long downhill to stay ahead of the clock.

I turned left then right, and then I let gravity do its thing down the hill. My pace was ridiculous, my stride too long, but I felt strong so I just rode it out. At the bottom, I saw some more friends (yay!) and then … the dreaded Last Hill.

Over the last three years, I’ve run this hill more times than I can count. Sara wouldn’t let me get away with walking it this summer at the end of double-digit runs when it was eleventy billion degrees and I was tired, and as I tackled it this morning, a couple of Rogues yelled, “You’ve done this a million times–you got this hill!” And I did. Thanks for not letting me slack, y’all. You see what happens to slackers, McFly?

I made it to the top and turned the corner. Almost there. I could see the driveway to the stadium and finish line just ahead. I managed to speed up, and as I turned that final corner toward the finish, I felt myself sprinting. Sprinting. At the end of a race!

Then I saw the first number on the race timer. Remember, it’s based on gun time (or “Go!” time) and I was probably thirty seconds back at the start.


Chip time results? 57:02.

I don’t talk about my race times a whole lot–I’m slow and I know it. But I averaged about 11:30/mile. I haven’t come anywhere near that pace since a 5K in the spring of 2014, pre-injury. I can’t do that for ten miles two weeks from now, but running that for five miles today gave me a shot of confidence. This morning was in the high 60s and sunny, and the course was very hilly. So… cooler and more flat, but twice the distance? If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit this could be interesting!

Suddenly, the future’s looking a whole lot better.


This week I’m asking my seventh-graders to think back over the first month of school and answer some self-reflection questions. What strategies have you used to keep up with your work? How many books have you read? What are you most proud of? What could you improve to help you achieve your goals?

Guess what? Many of these questions apply to me and my running as well.

Since school got out for the summer, I’ve been working hard to improve my fitness and lose a few pounds so I could attack my race goals this fall. Core class, Fit-to-Run class, Fitness Blender workouts, double-digit long runs, often two of those in one day. I tracked calories in My Fitness Pal, then added a Garmin Vivofit to count steps.

Results? I have introductory arm muscles. I can do push-ups on my toes. Burpees don’t kill me. I can wear my non-stretchy jeans without creating a muffin top. I lost 15 pounds.

This is what 15 pounds looks like.

This is what 15 pounds looks like.

Then last week, for-real half-marathon training started up, throwing a Tuesday speed workout into the mix. My interval paces looked pretty good for hot-weather running, but I haven’t really been able to gauge my true fitness. Running ten miles in the morning when the overnight low didn’t drop below 80 feels awful and slow, but it won’t tell me how that will translate to the 45-degree start temps at the Army Ten-Miler next month. Historically, the cooler D.C. weather has helped me run a minute or two per mile faster on race day, but since it won’t get that cool here until November, I won’t know for sure until I show up October 11. Temps at my 8K race this weekend will barely drop into the high 60s, so no help there.

But even with the looming race-pace question mark, I’m pleased with my efforts and my progress over the last four months. If nothing else, I’m miles (literally) ahead of last year.

Oh, and since June, I’ve read 15 books. The new Jack Reacher just came out, though, so that number will reach 16 by next week.


Earlier this week, I walked into the girls’ restroom nearest my classroom, and I saw three bright yellow sticky notes stuck on the mirrors. Considering some of the things I’ve seen written in middle school bathrooms, I took a closer look.

Someone had written positive messages on each one.


Last year my classes created a social justice project with the goal of building a more positive campus climate, and while I have no idea who was responsible or whether it was related to our project, I loved that someone posted these notes. Girls building each other up? YES!

And every time I start my coffee machine, I see a message that to most people just indicates coffee strength. But after I get home from a long morning of double-digit miles, it’s also a visual pick-me-up as well.


Who knew that inspiration would come from a a bathroom mirror and a coffee machine?

10 : 90 :: miles : humidity

This morning was dark and humid. Then light and humid. Then hilly and humid. Then hot and humid. Sense a theme?


But I finished ten miles, my last double-digit run before October 11’s Army Ten-Miler.

I had grand intentions of running my (projected) ATM race pace for a couple of miles, either in the middle or at the end of my run. But the humidity and the hilly route put the brakes on that. So when I got to the loooong hill (most of mile 8) I knew I needed to push through it because the ATM has a long incline up and over the bridge at about the same point. It sucked, but I ran up the damn thing.

Nothing like getting 25,000+ steps before 10am.

Rainbow Connection

A new school year means a new training season too, so Tuesday night I rejoined Rogue’s half-marathon group.

I’d been running and cross-training all summer, so it wasn’t a shocking reentry, especially compared to last year. But the half-marathon group actually started up last week (I had to miss because of Parent Night at work) and for the first time in about two years, I’ve got a new coach. I didn’t know her group’s routine or too many of the runners, so except for catching up with a few friends, I mostly kept to myself.

My university fired its athletic director Tuesday morning (live by the sword, die by the sword I say), so my ESPN podcast kept me occupied on the run up to the football stadium where the faster runners waited. As we performed some dynamic warmup drills before the workout, some light drizzle fell, and a rainbow appeared.

It was my second rainbow of the day, so I figured that had to be a good omen for my run, and maybe my football team and race season as well. After disaster on both fronts last year, a girl can dream, right?

Once we finished the drills, we ran fartleks around the stadium parking lot. This time it was 30 seconds fast with a two-minute recovery.  I think I ran six laps, although that could have been more than six intervals. I kind of lost count and just followed what everyone else was doing. I also think I only took 1:30 recovery because it made the math easier by my watch.

After the speedwork, we had a couple of options. A lot of the new people headed straight back to the store; others who have been training all summer for fall marathons ran four more miles. I opted for the three-mile return route. Yeah I’m in the group technically training for a race in January, but I’ve been running all summer to prepare for the Army Ten-Miler next month. My usual Tuesday runs are 4.25 miles, so this was a totally doable midweek distance.

I switched podcasts (Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’s guest was Frank Oz! Miss Piggy! Fozzie Bear!) and headed down the hill. I’ve run this loop dozens of times, and it always seems shorter in my head than in practice. A mile down the road, I really questioned my decision to take on the longer distance. I mean, I ran a half-marathon on Saturday, did a Fitness Blender upper body workout on Sunday, went to core class on Monday, and ran three miles after class. That’s sixteen miles and two core workouts in three days. But by this point I was committed–turning back would be no shorter than completing the loop. So I slogged on.

I made it back before the lightning round of WWDTM, and just before my headphones died. More good omens from the rainbow connection?

The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

Beat the Blerch virtual 13.1

This morning, six of us from Austin’s Moms Run This Town group started at mile marker 0.0 of the Brushy Creek Regional Trail–four planned to run 10K, but two weeks ago, Sara and I ran eleven miles, so it seemed within the realm of possibility we could attempt a very Blerchy 13.1.

Aside from the distance, I considered this run an important test of my real-food fueling plan. I packed Fig Newtons, pretzels, and raisins along with a Sport Beans and a water bottle. The trail has water fountains all along its 6.75-mile length, but it will be another month or so before I feel comfortable running, well, any distance without my own water as well.

A cool front came in last night, dropping temps into the low 70s. Yes, in Texas that qualifies as a cool front. Anyway, it was comfortable (and dark) when we took off, and the first couple of miles went by quickly. Before I knew it, we were at the damn dam, and our four compatriots turned back. We decided to carry on.

From the dam, the trail turns to gravel and winds somewhat steeply downhill for half a mile before leveling out. All I could think of was how badly that was gonna suck on the way back. Sara was Pollyanna Sunshine, trying to negate my pessimism, but my hips were already sore–I knew the truth.

As we crossed an intersection for the last outbound leg, the car closest to us stopped way back from the crosswalk, giving us space. We waved. But while we were still in front of that car, an SUV blew through the crosswalk in the other lane, ran the stop sign, and kept going. Let’s just say our “wave” was not a cordial one.

We passed the 6.25 marker. While I hadn’t looked at my watch much up to that point, I was irrationally glued to it the next quarter-mile, not wanting to take one more step after we reached 6.55 miles.

We stopped at mile 6.55--the trail ends just down there at 6.75.

We stopped at mile 6.55–the trail ends just down there at 6.75.

The return trip was indeed more difficult. The sun was out, but a cool-ish breeze hit us now and then. Traffic had increased–more walkers, cyclists, and runners made passing (yes, we passed people now and then) more challenging as well. My legs were tired from running on the gravel and dodging places that had been washed out whenever it rained last. We stopped to fill up our water bottles one last time with 3.1 to go–no other excuses to take a break until the finish!

I got slower and slower. Sara is a pace robot–she maintains a steady speed no matter what–but after 11 miles I was dragging. With a mile or so left, I got a text from one of the 10Kers making sure we were all right. I walked a bit while I texted her back, and I didn’t want to run anymore but I managed to start up again. I walked up the last hill but forced myself to run the final quarter-mile. Sara had finished and met me partway, then ran with me until my watch said 13.1. Compared to the mile markers, it had been off by a few tenths most of the morning, so I had to run a bit past the 0.0 marker to reach the half-marathon distance.

We walked back to the pavilion to meet the other MRTTers for coffee and goodies. I grabbed some cold water (and my Blerchy medal!) out of my car and sat down at one of the picnic tables.

Blerchy half-marathon finisher

Blerchy half-marathon finisher

I didn’t want to get up from the picnic table, but I couldn’t stay there all day. Walking to the car sucked. Pushing in the clutch to drive home sucked. Dragging my ass into the shower sucked. But I put on my compression socks, made coffee and lunch, and I feel pretty good. And I had 33,630 steps by 10am.

Over the course of 13.1 miles, I ate three Fig Newtons, a handful of pretzels and raisins, and a couple of lemon-lime Sport Beans. No post-run queasiness. No dehydration dizziness. So I’m declaring the this real-food experiment a success! And we Beat the Blerch!