Because Texas

A winter storm came through Central Texas early this morning–it doesn’t snow here, but winter weather = ice, which means pretty much everything shuts down.

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All area school districts and many major employers are closed. Overpasses and bridges on major highways are closed. The police chief and TV meteorologists urged people to stay home if they can. So here I am: fireplace, jammies, coffee, book, warm dog.

But because this is Texas, it’s ridiculous to expect the weather to stay the same for more than a day or two at a time.

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And guess what? The 3M Half Marathon is Sunday morning. According to this, temps are going to be quite a bit warmer than I’d like for race day. Fantastic.

Because Texas.

 

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Houston Marathon: a spectator’s view

We drove to Houston on Saturday–not to run, but to support friends who were running the marathon. One was looking for redemption after a wrong turn at his earlier marathon attempt; others had big goals.

First stop: the expo.

The Houston Marathon is huge–about 27,000 runners for the full and the half–and the expo reflected that size.

After wandering around for a while (and buying a few things…. What I can I say? Sweaty Bands were $5 each!) we checked in to the hotel. The Hotel Icon used to be a bank, and it was pretty cool. Not sure it was $250/night cool, but it was close to the start and finish lines. And the shower had so much water pressure I felt like I was washing my hair with a fire hose. But that’s neither here nor there.

A bunch of us decided to go for a shakeout run before dinner. We were close to a trail, but it took us a half-mile or so to figure out how to access it. The area between downtown Houston and Buffalo Bayou is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, but it was clean and lots of people were out enjoying the 50-degree temperatures.

For the three running the marathon, this was an easy 5K shakeout run. For me, it was a speed workout keeping up with them. 😉

After our run, we met some other Rogues in the hotel bar for drinks, then headed out to dinner. It was a 20-minute walk or so to the restaurant, and believe it or not it was cold and windy in downtown Houston!

For S and me, it was a relaxed evening of food and drink. Especially this frozen Lemoncello concoction we especially enjoyed. The others were nervous, which I completely understood. They had big goals.

So dinner was over early, and we headed back to the hotel with plenty of time for them to get organized for the morning. S and I made posters, which was entertaining after the aforementioned Lemoncello concoctions.

The alarm got us up at 5:30; we met everyone in the lobby at 6:30 for the walk to the start. I thought they were cutting it close, especially considering as we passed the entrance to Corral A the race crew was counting down “Fifty-nine seconds until Corral A closes!” People with A bibs were sprinting from all directions–they were serious about closing corrals ahead of the start. But our friends were in Corrals C and D, and pretty soon we realized they still had a long wait.

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The first wave started at 7, but we didn’t hear them because we were several corrals back. I think it was 7:30 before C left, and 7:45 for D. Did I mention it was 34*? I was wearing two shirts and a pullover, and even with gloves my fingers were cold. Perfect running weather; less-perfect spectating weather.

Let’s put it this way: after D moved forward, we walked from Minute Maid Park all the way around (the side streets that were entrances to corrals were still blocked off) and back to the hotel–three blocks over and seven blocks up to Congress and Main Street–and we couldn’t cross Congress to the hotel because Corral D had just crossed the starting line. It was an almost-endless stream of people! We could throw a rock at the hotel from where we stood, but we had to wait for 10 or 15 minutes to cross. It was fun cheering for the runners, though, so we didn’t mind.

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From the hotel we got the car and headed out to the half-full split around mile 7.5. This is where our friend had made a mistake a month ago, so we all planned to be there to make sure he went the right way. This was kind of an unnecessary step, as a half-dozen signs and Race Crew with megaphones supervised the split. Someone who had dropped from the full to the half (but still wore a full marathon bib) was stopped by a crew member for not taking the right turn to stay with the marathoners. They were serious about this thing.

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From here we drove to about mile 14.5, at the Galleria. Which was fortunately next to a Starbucks, because we were in some serious need for caffeine. A bunch of Rogues were already there, so it was great fun watching with them as Rogue Runners came through. S and I had bought giant (obnoxious) cowbells, and the others had big signs. We were hard to miss.

After all the Rogues came through, we warmed up in the Starbucks for a while, then did some planning. Here’s something cool–the Houston Marathon app allowed us to not only track our friends, but live track them–we could sit in the warmth of Starbucks and watch their little dots move along the course. We might be able to catch our friends who had started in the earlier corrals somewhere around Mile 22, but if we waited there for our Corral D friend, we might miss the others at the finish. So here, we split up. My group headed to the finish.

We found a parking space, then hoofed it around the convention center until we found a good spot. We could see a few blocks to the right, and watch the runners curve toward the finish on our left. Because we were live-tracking our friends, we knew exactly when they would appear. And because we had the world’s most obnoxious cowbells, they heard us when we yelled for them.

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It was really exciting, watching all of these runners make that turn toward the finish line. Even more exciting when we knew our friends not only achieved their goal, but beat it my almost two minutes. By then we also knew that one of our coaches had BQ’d with a big cushion and another teammate had finished her first marathon. Lots of Rogue pride out there!

The finishers’ chute funneled them into the convention center, so it took some doing for us to find them all. But eventually we did, and it was an emotional little celebration–much like many others happening all around us.

We decided to go back out to the bleachers where we’d sat before and wait for J. We knew, thanks to live tracking, that he was a couple of miles out. So four of us got some coffee and settled on the bleachers while S and C ran the course backwards to find him. They ran with him a while, then raced back to watch him finish. He had some ups and downs throughout the race, but this time he finished 26.2.

We went through the same search in the convention center, but it was more efficient as the others had told him where to meet us. Then it was back to the hotel, check out, and find lunch. The first Mexican place had a 45-minute wait, which was unacceptable for starving marathoners. But next door–no wait. It was a great celebration, and I’m excited I got to share it with them.

Spectating is all kinds of fun. I sort of wish I could do it again next weekend instead of running the 3M Half Marathon. 😉

Cold as ice

What a week.

I returned to work Tuesday to an ice-cold classroom–the heater had been off for almost two weeks, and when I flipped the switch to warm things up, nothing happened.

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Yeah, it was not quite 40* in my classroom the first day back.

It had been in the 20s overnight and didn’t make it above freezing during the day. I had a ton of work to do to get ready for the new semester (plus I found out at the last minute I was co-presenting at a training session the next day) but working in my classrom was impossible–my hands were so cold I couldn’t type, with or without gloves. I spent most of the day in an office in the main building, since they had heat.

It started drizzling on my way home–which immediately froze on my windshield and on the streets. Even driving with my car’s heated seats on high, I didn’t completely thaw out before bundling up to run with my group. They were meeting at a middle school 1.1 miles from my house, so instead of driving (on roads that were rapidly becoming treacherous) I ran over there, getting my “warmup” out of the way. But when I arrived my coach said that the track was frozen and the workout was canceled. I ran back home and called 2.2 miles good.

IMG_9146[1]Wednesday got a little warmer, but overnight it dropped into the teens. By the time the kids came back Thursday morning, the indoor temp had risen just above 40*. I found out a few things–only the fourteen classrooms in my wing were affected when something broke over winter break. I was told they were waiting on a part and we could be without heat “for some time.”

Y’all, this is Texas. We are not used to temperatures that don’t climb above freezing during the day, and most of us don’t have heavy-duty winter coats. Hell, some kids don’t even have long pants. I actually own a big parka, but it was impossible to move around, between desks and rows of kids, while wearing it. So we were all cold, all day.

After my track workout Thursday night (Yasso 800s, modified to 400s for half-marathoners–with the warmup and cooldown I ran a total of five miles) I again couldn’t get warm on the way home, even with heated seats. I took a hot shower and huddled under my covers with a heating pad.

Fortunately most of my kids only have one class in this wing of the school, but 8th-graders had at least three. Still, word got out to parents and they started calling. Magically, a contractor appeared with promises to fix it or provide space heaters. Friday morning, neither had happened, but after lunch an enormous climate control system appeared in all fourteen classrooms in this building.

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The thing sounds like a jet engine and could provide the backdrop for a photo shoot that requires a model to appear windblown. And I’m not sure it actually raised the temperature in the room–big classes and warmer outdoor temps had already helped improve things–but the good news is that it also has an air conditioner, which we might need next week. Because Texas.

Friday night I was so tired I’m pretty sure I fell asleep by 9:00. Which was fine because I had to be up at 6:30 to make a second attempt at 12 miles, after last week’s debacle.

It was overcast and about 40 as we set off. I was running with my BRFs–one has the Houston Marathon next weekend, and the other two will be running 3M with ahead of me in two weeks. I tried to stick with them, but after two miles or so, I had fallen behind. My legs still felt fatigued from Thursday night’s workout, so I was slow and had to take some walk breaks.

It’s funny. My overall pace wasn’t significantly better than last Saturday–about a minute per mile faster–but the whole thing certainly sucked less. While my legs were tired before the halfway point, my overall physical state (and my mental outlook, for that matter) felt better. But I was slow slow slow. I pushed myself to run mile 12 about ten seconds faster than HMGP for 3M. And I did it, but I am not overcome with confidence or anything. I know race day is different, and I won’t do a track workout two days before the race, but yikes–it’s gonna have to be a lot different for me to get anywhere near the finishing time I’m hoping for.

At any rate, I think this week has disproven my earlier statement that it can’t be too cold for me to run well. I mean, my paces were okay and I enjoyed not overheating, but yes, there’s such a thing as too cold for comfort, especially after being cold all day too. And that line cearly is the freezing mark. Especially when that’s the indoor temperature.

 

Happy New Year!

Four of us had grand plans to drive downtown for the Black-Eyed Pea run this morning. But yesterday’s drizzle, which was supposed to stop around noon, hung around long after the sun went down and temps dropped below freezing. My deck was icy–the dog slid across it like Tom Cruise in Risky Business–and we even saw a few snowflakes.

None of us live in the city proper, and it’s always colder out here. S lives furthest out, and this morning when she got in her car to meet at my house, she encountered icy roads. So at 6am, she texted that she was out. C had made the same call last night, so it was down to two of us.

It was 22* (with a wind chill of 11*) and that wind assaulted me when I let the dog out. I hedged in my response–sure, I’ll go, but I’m just as happy going back to bed. With S the Taskmaster already out, it was easy for J to make the same call–which I left to him since he was driving. So the dog and I crawled under the covers and went back to sleep.

At about 8:30, I got up for real and weighed my options.

Yeah, nothing really had changed except that it was no longer dark. The odds of it getting much warmer as the day progressed looked … not in my favor. So I bundled up: two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, a fleece top under a pullover, ear band, gloves, and a windbreaker.

I took the dog around the short block to warm up (he started jumping around when he saw me putting my shoes on, so I couldn’t disappoint him) and then headed out for real. First mile went okay, but I slowed down the second and third miles–my legs were COLD and I couldn’t really settle in to a comfortable rhythym.

But I was better off than whoever left these sprinklers on at the car dealer. And by “left them on” I mean that they were currently running, spraying landscaping and cars.

Overall, I felt improved from Saturday’s run, but let’s be honest–that bar was low. The biggest difference was my mental state–even though I was freezing, I felt much more positive. Go figure.

I ended up with 4.25 miles, done before 10am. Which means the rest of my day involves hot coffee, fire in the fireplace, dog next to me on the couch, the Rose Parade and then football on my TV.

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This dog has not left my side throughout winter break–he’s going to be in for a shock when I go back to work tomorrow. For that matter, so am I. 😉

Happy New Year, y’all!

Everything hurts and I’m dying

Please remind me again that it’s normal to have an awful long run a few weeks before a half marathon? Because that’s really the only thing that will make me feel better about this disaster of a 12- 10-miler this morning.

If my run were a symbol, it’d be this one. Which I encountered at mile 2.5 (and again on the way back) which, in hindsight, was kind of a bad omen.

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Actually I knew long before I saw the pitchfork that today wasn’t going to be my day. I didn’t feel well when I woke up–that’s common, as I don’t like getting up early–but I wasn’t able to shake it in the early miles like I usually can. I also had some bra-chafing going on, my left ankle hurt a little (ack!), my quads were SO tired, and a couple of times I just wanted to sit down on the curb and cry. I kept thinking how unprepared I felt for 3M and how badly it will suck if I feel like this.

Today’s route was supposed to have a speed workout in the middle–a 2.6-mile loop at HMGP and a one-mile loop at 5K pace, repeated twice–but I could barely get it done once. And not at either of those paces. Whereas Monday’s run went so well I added a mile, today’s was so awful I dropped the second repeat and headed back. Slowly, with quite a bit of walking. 😦

I guess I should have seen this coming. All week I’ve been pushing my pace and feeling strong, so it is not unexpected that I face a little setback. There’s no progress without struggle, right? So next weekend I’ll try 12 again.

Having said all that, there were some good things about today. I love my new Apple Air Pods–I’ve been worried they might fall out easily, but surprisingly, they stay in my ears. They required no setup–I just had to open the case near my phone and everything synced up. For fun, I open it periodically so it can tell me the battery status. I’ve set the left one to track forward and the right one to pause/play, but the only way to control the volume is either with Siri or via the phone itself, which I can do easily using the buttons while it’s in my belt. I used them for about 2.5 hours today and I think they still had 85-90% battery when I got back. And after recharging them (which it does automatically when you put them away) the case is still at 85%.

Another positive is that I tried a new energy gel. Nothing wrong with my Sport Beans, but running nutrition has been a moving target for me over the years and it’s good to find more than one thing I can tolerate. I’m so weird with flavors and textures–viscous gels are not for me; I don’t even like Nuun unless it’s the lemon-lime flavor mixed with carbonated lime water to disguise the taste. So today I tried Skratch Labs’ orange fruit drops, and I liked them. They are small gummies with a mild, almost nonexistent (orange) taste which is good for me, especially later in a distance race when I’m trying to choke down something to get me to the finish line. I’ll have to try them again next week–hopefully when I’m not having such a shitty run–to make sure before I buy a larger quantity, but at least my first attempt with them proved they’re something I can work with.

Okay, now that my pity party is over, I need to focus on resting and trying to feel better. Rest will be made easier because Austin (along with most of the U.S. it appears) is predicted to get hit with a blast of arctic air, I think sometime tomorrow afternoon, so my future includes the couch, college football, my fireplace, and a warm dog. Monday we’re going to attempt the Black-Eyed Pea run downtown (temps are supposed to be in the 20s!) but there’s a possibility of precipitation and ice overnight, so we’ll have to wait until it gets closer to decide for sure. There’s no way these Texas folks are driving on ice.

But seriously, remind me again having a terrible run before a race just means I’m getting it out of the way rather than telling me I’m unprepared? Please?

Cold weather is my (running) jam

This time last year I was battling a hamstring injury that didn’t really feel 100% until the end of January. I was able to run on it a little, but I missed a lot of Austin’s best running weather.

This year, I’m healthy and LOVING the colder temperatures. Yeah, it was 39 and windy when I left for my 12-miler last Saturday. And a bunch of people bailed on last night’s workout because of the weather–40 and drizzling–but I didn’t even wear a jacket. This time of year I usually wear capris and one top layer, plus gloves. I’ve only busted out full-length tights twice this year–that run in the snow a few weeks ago, and last night. For someone who hates being cold in regular life (it’s 68* in my house right now and I’ve got fleece jammies, a blanket, coffee, and a warm dog) I relish the cold when it’s time to run.

Case in point: this week.

I didn’t run on Sunday–road trip to my mom’s house, then a stop at the Zilker Tree–but we had a quiet Christmas at home on Monday, so mid-afternoon (in itself a luxury I don’t have when it’s hot) I decided I needed to offset the cookies. I also wanted to play with my new Apple Air Pods! My usual Monday run is a three-miler, so that was the plan in the back of my mind when I started. I didn’t look at my watch–I just ran, improvising the route as I went along. It was maybe 50* and overcast, and I was comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt.

When it’s hot, I give myself a few breaks to cool down at various intervals. I have mental waypoints on my routes–an intersection, park, parking lot, whatever, and I can convince myself just to make it to the next one. This can be four or five times on a four-mile run, depending on conditions. But this day, I stopped at two different parks for water and that was it. Not only was the rest of my run continuous, my pace was way faster than I was expecting. Yeah, I knew I was working hard, but I felt strong. My three-mile run turned into four miles, and my last mile was my fastest.

Tuesday night’s workout looked tough before factoring the weather–a 1.5 mile warmup, 1.5 miles of fartlek, 1.5 miles at half-marathon goal pace, and 1.5-mile cooldown. All of it was over some pretty tough hills in the cold drizzle.

With the holiday and the weather, turnout was on the low side. A few folks from the morning group joined us (can’t say I blame them for not wanting to do the 5:30am thing the morning after Christmas) but even then I think we numbered fewer than 10.

The purpose of the workout is to tire your muscles with the (hilly) fartleks, then run HMGP on fatigued legs, much like the way it will feel at the end of a half-marathon. I don’t know that I quite held HMGP the whole way back, but Strava gave me PR badges for SIX segments (which usually only happens when I run a new route–not somewhere I’ve been running for five years) so I think I did okay.

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I wore my long tights (the lighter pair, not the fleece-lined ones), a long-sleeved shirt, plus an ear-covering headband and gloves. For a moment I second-guessed myself on the jacket when I walked outside into the drizzle. But I left it, which was the right call–I didn’t need it.

I say that cold weather is my running jam and it can’t be too cold for me to enjoy running in it, but what I really mean is Austin-cold. That typically means 40s-50s, although I ran my best half-marathon when it was right around 32*. Austin doesn’t usually drop below freezing for very long, and certainly the 20s are rare. But the New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Pea Run will challenge my “it can’t be too cold for me” declaration: currently the forecasted overnight low is 26* and Monday’s weather icon includes a snowflake.

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That’s almost 25* colder than last night–something tells me I’m gonna need the jacket this time. Plus the fleece-lined tights, maybe an extra shirt, more than one pair of socks, and some kind of wrap to cover my face. I don’t think I’ve run in subfreezing temps more than a handful of times, but now that I’m healthy (and 3M will be here before I know it) I’m not going to miss an opportunity just because it’s cold.

Which is a hilarious sentence coming from the girl who wore a windbreaker on a London “summer” day and who thinks anything below 70* is cold.

Unless I’m running.

2017 in Review

And I thought 2016 was an up-and-down year. Turns out, 2017 followed in its footsteps!

For the first time in many years, I didn’t race in January. But my hamstring was recovering and I was attempting to bounce back to run the Austin Half in February, so when it was 17* one Saturday morning, I didn’t hesitate to head out for a few miles. My sweat froze, but I didn’t care because I was running again, sort of.

 

Also in January I ran what has now become a winter tradition–what we’ve named the Asscrack of Dawn 5K in Washington, D.C.. This one was a little different from years past–my NJHS crew traveled to Washington for the Inauguration rather than in February, and our hotel was waaaaay out in suburban Virginia. But J made the drive one morning and we found a great running path nearby. My hamstring was still recovering, so we were slower than usual, but as always it was a great time with one of my favorite people.

 

Because the NJHS trip was the same weekend as the 3M Half Marathon, I missed 3M. So my first race of 2017 was the Austin Half Marathon. K and her recently-dislocated elbow made the trip to Austin and we ran the race together. It was a challenge–both of us were undertrained due to our respective injuries, and someone ran into her elbow not once but twice during the race. But we finished and that’s all that mattered.

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After that, I didn’t race again until April, which gave me some time to train properly. I slogged through Vern’s No Frills 5K as part of my long run, and a week later the Austin 10/20 (its last) went pretty well–I mean, it was humid and warm and I suffered, but I came in under two hours and I was happy with that. And the next week we ran the Cap 10K–another too-warm, unpleasant effort. I don’t understand why this race has migrated to April–it used to be a month earlier, when cooler temps were possible, but the 2017 version was April 23. The 2018 race will be earlier in April, but I’d still like to see it move back to March.

 

At this point I was training for a double race in May–the Cleveland Challenge Series–so I was working on endurance more than speed. I followed my Saturday long runs with 3-5 miles on Sunday to train myself for back-to-back distances. The week before Cleveland, I ran the Tri Doc 5K rather than a long run, though. And of course it was too warm in Cleveland, which seems to be a theme for me these days. The weather for the 8K was actually pretty nice, but it got warmer overnight and the air was thick for the half-marathon. Yuck. But considering I’d run an 8K the day before, I am not displeased with my second race. And the medal haul was impressive.

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From there I kicked my training up a notch. We were traveling to Ireland in June, and I’d found a half-marathon I wanted to run while we were there. Ireland’s climate is typically cool and they advertised the race as “flat and fast” so I thought maybe I could PR this one. Ha! Of course Ireland had a heat wave the first week we were there, so my race plan didn’t quite work out. The first half, I was on pace; but then the sun came out and I couldn’t hold on. It was still a great way to see the Irish countryside and experience a non-touristy local adventure, though.

 

And running aside, we were so active during our two weeks in Ireland, I didn’t feel bad that I didn’t run as much as I had planned–once in Dublin, three times in Kinsale (to Charles Fort, the Scilly Walk, and James Fort) , and once in Kerry. My favorite day was visiting Skellig Michael (AKA Ahch-To from The Last Jedi) and climbing its 600 steps to the eighth-century monastery at the top, but walking along the top of the Cliffs of Moher was fantastic too.

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The rest of the summer was pretty quiet. And then in early August it got even quieter when my left leg started giving me trouble again. I felt some annoying twinges when I ran the Galveston Sand Crab 5K on the beach, and it wasn’t really any better at the Vern’s 100th 5K a week later.

But on the other hand we adopted a dog and took him to the Sand Crab, so that was fun.

 

Then school started, and everything went to hell.

Between the demands of the first weeks of school and my increasingly painful leg (which I am pretty sure was a shin splint situation) I hardly ran at all in September. All sorts of things went wrong–in the space of a couple of weeks I dealt with a hurricane, car trouble, illness, my stupid leg. And then my fluffy cat Rascal died. It all just sucked.

But things started looking up in October. For the first time in four years I wasn’t running the Army Ten-Miler (which turned out to be less disappointing than I expected, considering their weather was disgusting) but some friends and I ran the ’80s 8K. I am pretty sure it was cooler in Austin than D.C., and we had a fantastic time. For the first time in a long time, I felt good and had fun. It was just what I needed.

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So then I started working my way back.

We got some cooler weather as October progressed, and that made a huge difference. I started rebuilding my mileage–wow my endurance was shot–and I finally began to see improvement both physically and mentally. It wasn’t without some setbacks, but overall my leg was almost recovered and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I had a decent race at the Shiner 5K but a disappointing one a few days later at the Austin turkey trot. While I like that race, I haven’t had a successful turkey trot in a long time. So I think next year I’m doing the Georgetown version where my coach is the race director.

 

December has brought me more improvement. I’ve run 10-12 miles a couple of times, I ran in the snow, and I hit 1000 miles for the year. Not bad considering I lost most of January and September to separate injuries. I also ran Vern’s again (plus three miles afterward and another six on Sunday) and a 12-miler in the windy cold to wrap up December.

 

One of my favorite events this year was one I didn’t even run. Some Rogues and I were spectators at our BRFs’ first marathon! It was great fun and I’m so glad I got to be a part of their memorable day.

 

I’ve got four weeks until 3M–as usual, my goal race. My training paces are the same ones I was trying to hit back in June when I thought I could PR the Kildare race. Since then a lot has happened and I don’t know that the same goal is realistic. But it’s not totally unreasonable (or un-achievable) either, so what the hell.

It’s been an interesting year. Here’s to success in 2018!