March 29, 2014
Although the name might suggest it, the Just a Short Run, is not just a short run. This well organized race takes place in North Park (just outside of Pittsburgh) and offers distances of 5k, 8.1 miles, 13.1 miles and 18 miles. I like the size of this race as it attracts approximately 2,000 runners. It's not crowded and it's not too lonely either. It's also a nice departure from the runs I usually do in the city, as this course winds through the woods and around a large lake. This was my second year running the race, and once again I was using it as a "test run" to help prepare for the Pittsburgh Marathon.
Many of my fellow Fleet Feet runners participated in this race, and we got together before the start for a photo. Whenever I'm running a race it's always encouraging to see a Fleet Feet shirt next to me. It feels like I'm never alone when I'm running and I spot someone from our group.
I was also excited to have my husband along with me for the race. He was running the 8.1 mile course, as he prepares for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. We would get to run his entire race together and then I would only have an additional five miles to run by myself to complete the half marathon.
The weather was actually ideal for this race. With a start time at 8:30 AM the temperatures were in the high thirties. Normally I would consider this cold, but considering the weather we've had this winter, it felt like a mild heat wave. I was happy to be able to shed a layer, and wear only two shirts and one pair of pants for this race! My only hope was that the rain would hold off for the race.
Here is the race break down mile by mile:
Mile 1: The race begins and there's nervous excitement in the air. I love this feeling at the beginning of the race. We start out at a slow cautious pace as the first mile includes a large hill. Right after the descend from the hill we hit Mile 1. It's nice to get that hill out of the way and not see it again. (11:15 min/mile)
Miles 2-3: We settle into a nice slow pace. It's important that our pace feels "easy" at this point and we don't go out too fast. At mile 3.1 we get to see the finsh line for the 5k and get a boost from the crowd. As we pass the boat house we begin the large loop around the lake. (10:35 min/mile)
Mile 4: We cross the bridge over the lake.
Mile 5: There is a slow gradual uphill climb. It's adding a little difficulty to keeping our pace. (10:40 min/mile)
Mile 6: I decide to take my energy gel at the water stop. In the past I've taken my gels at specific miles. I've recently changed my strategy and now take them based on time instead of miles. For instance, I took this gel one hour into my run. I think this strategy has been working better for me. After taking my chocolate outrage energy gel, Bobby tells me that it's all over my face. I quickly wipe it off with my sleeve. It sure is nice to have him as my running partner!
Mile 7: It's starting to feel tough. We are pushing our pace a bit more and my energy gel is taking it's good old time to settle in my stomach. (10:05 min/mile)
Mile 8: I encourage Bobby as he goes in for the finish. He tells me to keep it up and I'll do fine. It's great to hear encouraging words like that in the middle of a race. I get to watch him cross the finish and then I continue on for one more loop around the lake. After passing the boat house again, I grab a cup of Gatorade (by accident) at the next hydration stop. I hope that it doesn't mess with my stomach too much.
Mile 9: I actually feel pretty good. I decide to pick up my pace and see how it feels. (9:49 min/mile)
Mile 10: I'm still feeling strong. I'm actually surprised at how strong I feel. I pass the 2:20 pacer. Now I just want to see how far under 2:20 I can get. (9:41 min/mile)
Mile 11: I'm starting to hurt and wear down. I'm tired, but I just want to hold on to my pace and finish strong. (9:51 min/mile)
Mile 12: Just one more mile. I keep telling myself that because I hurt and I want to stop. I look at my watch and realize that I can get a personal best for this course, but I have to hurry. (9:11 min/mile)
Mile 13: I make a final push towards the finish and cross at 2:16:49; a personal best for this race.
Overall, I'm really pleased with how I ran this race. I met my goal of beating my time from last year's race. I also did a good job of running this race based on how I felt, rather than some preset plan I had for myself. As I continue to run longer distance races, I'm learning to run the race as it comes to me, rather than try to dictate the race. Racing can be unpredictable at times and it's ok to make adjustments based on how you feel. On this day I felt good and pushed myself to go faster. This is a bit of a departure from previous races where I felt like I had to stick with a certain pace.
After receiving my finishers medal, I felt the first drop of rain and we started to walk back to the car. We celebrated by eating a large meal at Kelly O's Diner and drinking large amounts of coffee. It's always a great feeling to be eating a large meal at 11:30 AM and knowing you already have 13.1 miles in for the day. It was a great way to start Saturday!
After two years of doing this race, I think it's becoming one of my favorites. It's always nice to be able to sleep in your own bed before a race, and not have to drive too far afterwards. And although the race is small compared to the big city races, it offers a lot of the amenities of larger races including running shorts, finishers medals (for half marathon and 30K) , post race snacks (bagels, bananas, oranges, pretzels and chips) a disc-jockey, bag check, plenty of water stops, pacing groups and shuttles to and from the surrounding parking lots. It also doesn't have the hassle of larger races like parking issues/public transit, start corrals, and shoulder to shoulder running. Just A Short Run strikes a good balance. It has a lot to offer runners, but it won't overwhelm them either.
March 16, 2014
For Week 9 of training we met at LA Fitness in the South Side. Runners were outfitted with a bit more green today, as St. Patricks Day was the following day. Today we would tackle 18 miles and hopefully luck would be on our side. Fortunately it was; as the weather was quite pleasant. The sun was shining and there was no form of precipitation in the sky. It was a great day for running!
Our run included South Side, North Shore, Lawrenceville, The Strip District, Downtown and Uptown. In other words, you can visit a lot of neighborhoods when you run 18 miles! Around mile 14, I started having a mental battle with myself. My feet hurt, my body ached but I still had 4 miles to go. One of the hardest parts about long distance running is telling that voice inside your head, "No, I'm not going to stop." Sometimes it only asks you once, but sometimes, like today, it lingers with you for a mile or two.
"I'm not stopping. I'm not stopping."
18 miles is a long. In fact, I think I forgot just how long it was. During these long runs, I have to remind myself why I am doing the marathon. The simple answer is that it's for me. It's to stay healthy, keep my weight down, keep my knees working and accomplish my goals. But something interesting happens when you take on such a large challenge: you start to impact others. It was apparent as our group ran through the city.
Once we reached LA Fitness I had 18 miles under my feet. I couldn't help but feel proud. No, this wasn't the marathon, but it was starting to feel like it. With a distance of 18 miles, you experience the ups and downs, the happiness and the pain, the doubt and uncertainty, and finally the excitement and thrill of knowing you've completed your journey. And with all our hard work and maybe just a little bit of a luck, a completed journey of 26.2 miles is waiting for us.
When Week 3 of the Crossfit Open was announced, I felt happy and confident. Finally! Two simple movements that humans have been doing for years: picking something up and stepping up on something. Finally, a workout that I could do with little to no thought: deadlifts and box jumps. My excitement was squandered though when I read the format of the workout. The weight and reps of the deadlifts would increase with each round. You would have eight minutes to complete as many reps as possible. It went something like this:
10 deadlifts at 95 pounds
15 box jumps
15 deadlifts at 135 pounds
15 box jumps
20 deadlifts at 155 pounds
15 box jumps
And that's basically when I stopped examining the workout because, well, I had never lifted anything over 110 pounds in my life. Doubt started to set in. Could I actually lift 155 pounds, or even 135 pounds? I wasn't sure, but I thought it was possible.
I also knew that I needed a strategy. This wasn't a workout that you could rush through. It was going to get harder and heavier the further you went. This meant you had to hold back in the beginning and manage your energy. Also, the box jumps could be completed as step ups. This seemed like a good option. The deadlifts would require maximum effort and I didn't want to waste that effort on box jumps. We also had to load the barbell with weights on our own. I was a little worried about this too, because I usually loose the ability to do simple math during a workout.
The nerves started on Friday night, March 14, as I waited to start my workout. My barbell was loaded with ninety five pounds and I was ready to go. I quickly went through the ten reps with ease. Next, I moved on to the box jumps. I went with the step up option and used these reps to ease my breathing.
Once I completed the box jumps, I loaded the bar for 135 pounds. This was a little heavier. After three reps, I decided to break the reps into 3 sets of five. Breaking the set into smaller sets worked. I quickly went through the 15 reps and back to the box jumps. Now came the true test.
I lifted the 155 pounds and pumped out three deadlifts. Wow, this was heavy. I had to drop the weight and regroup. I picked it up again, and hoped to get three in a row. I only got two. I was hitting the wall.
"There's not way I'm going to complete these reps."
I looked at the clock. There was nearly four minutes left.
"Crap. I can't just stand here. I have to try."
So that's what I did. I could only manage one at a time. It was ugly. It was painful. It was brutal. I cringed, grimaced and even screamed my way through each rep. After 14 reps I glanced again at the clock. There was enough time.
"I can finish this."
I finished 20 reps and I made it back to the box jumps. With seconds to go, I pushed out as many step ups as I could, hoping to complete the round. When the clock hit eight minutes I had completed thirteen box jumps. It was just two shy of completing three rounds.
I went to the floor and laid on my back. I stared at the ceiling, and tried to catch my breath. 155 pounds. I had never lifted anything that heavy in my life. I don't weigh 155 pounds. But somehow, I had just managed to lift that exact weight twenty times.
When I stood up, I couldn't help but smile. There were a lot of smiles surrounding me too. Quite a few of us had just completed our heaviest deadlift ever. Before tonight we had questioned ourselves, and doubted if we could complete such a feat. Now we had our answer. We just never knew that we had the strength within us, until now.
March 2nd: Week 7
Hills, hills, hills. For Week 7 we ventured through the South Hills neighborhoods of Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon, Dormont, Beechview and Brookline. We met at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center to begin our run. I knew this was going to be a challenging course, but I also hoped that the impending winter storm would wait till we were done running. It didn't.
One of the first major hills we encountered was East Shady that runs along the trolley line. Fortunately a strategically placed water stop gave us a place to rest midway up the hill.
After passing through Mt. Lebanon we passed through Dormont, Brookline and Beechview, then back to Dormont. Once I reached the Trolley Station in Dormont I realized we were in a full fledged snow storm. It was so quiet and deserted.
By the time we returned to Mt. Lebanon the snow was really coming down. For safety reasons we decided to cut the run short and head back to the Recreation Center. It's always disappointing to end a run early, but in this case it was the right call. Unfortunately, the weather has been interfering with training a lot this year. Even though you want to stick to your plan, you still have to respect the conditions. My motto for training this year has been "Do the best you can, and then call it a day."
After running many miles of hills in the snow we returned to the recreation center. At the end of the run, I took a moment to look at the Mt. Lebanon War Memorial. It looked peaceful and serene. A stark contrast to the battles fought by the soldiers the wall memorializes.
March 16th: Week 8
Finally! No snow, no rain, no large chunks of ice, no ice pellets, sleet or freezing rain. Ok, so there was a dusting of snow on the ground and a few pesky patches of ice, but otherwise it was a beautiful March morning. It couldn't have come at a better time since our mileage was ramping up to a 16 miles. For this long run we returned to downtown Pittsburgh, with our starting point in the Shadyside neighborhood. With a mix of trails, bridges and sidewalks we ran through the city with ease. I felt reunited with my long lost love known as running. It was fun again!
Finally, I could focus on my running and not direct all my concentration on each step that might be into snow or ice. My thoughts could wander. My mind was free.
"I can't believe there will be a baseball game at PNC Park this month."
"Why are there so many seagulls in Pittsburgh?"
"This might be the best Sunday we've had all year."
One of the highlights of the run was reaching the West End Bridge. It's part of the marathon course and offers a stunning view.
And when I'm here I can't help but feel blessed. I'm blessed to run and to enjoy this beautiful scene on a Sunday morning. To me, this is what running is all about: that moment in time when we are at peace with ourselves and our surroundings.
On Thursday, March 6th, I anxiously awaited to hear the format of the second open workout. When the workout was released I saw two moves I have struggled immensely with: overhead squats and chest to bar pull ups. Each movement must be completed ten times for two rounds. If you completed two rounds in three minutes you could move on to the next round.
The bar got heavy. I had to set it down, step away and pick it up again.
Perhaps you've seen the Crossfit Games on EPSN. It's an intense, challenging competition showcasing the world's best athletes completing grueling workouts. What you don't see is the lead up to the games, which is called the OPEN. As it states in the name, it's an open competition to everyone in the world. It lasts five weeks, with a new workout released each week. And even though I had only been doing crossfit for two months, I decided to sign up. It would be a good measuring tool for years to come.
When we stepped inside it was quite a scene. People of all abilities were completing the workout. The cheering was loud and increased as the seconds ticked down the allotted ten minutes. The pace picked up as athletes attempted to squeeze in more reps. When the clock hit ten minutes almost everyone went to their knees in exhaustion. Loud clapping echoed throughout the gym. It didn't seem to matter if you were logging a top score or a bottom score; someone was cheering for you.
I was still nervous but feeling better. After warming up, I watched Bobby complete his workout. About three minutes into the workout I knew he was going to exceed his expectations. I was so happy for him. Since I was in the group after Bobby's, he was able to be my judge. This subdued a lot of my anxiety.
I stood nervously, with my back to the clock. I didn't want the ticking clock to add to my panic level. My hands were shaking while holding the jump rope.
My first attempt at the double unders and my feet got tangled in the rope. Second attempt: same thing. I took a deep breath and looked at Bobby. "It's ok," he said. He was right.
Single, single, double, single, single, double.
I couldn't get the double unders in succession, but I could get a few singles and then a double. It was slow and tedious, but I used this approach to get my 30 double unders. Next, I moved on to the 55 pound snatches. I knew during those 15 snatches I was going to exceed my original goal of one completed round.
During the course of my workout, I heard some of the loudest cheers I had heard all night. I turned my head to see my friend, Christina, completing her first snatch, with the bar overhead. At 55 pounds it was a personal best for her. It was the only time I smiled during the workout.
At the end of ten minutes, I dropped to my knees, trying to catch my breath. Bobby leaned over and showed me my score sheet.
When I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2012, I decided to register for the half marathon. I was just coming off a stint in physical therapy for my knee and wasn't sure how it would hold up in a long distance race. Fortunately, I was reacquainted with Christina who I had met years earlier through a mutual friend. We were reunited as bridesmaids in our friend's wedding. We found out that we were both running the half marathon and only lived a little over a mile away from each other. We quickly became running buddies to train for the half marathon.
Running with Christina pushed me far beyond my comfort zone. When I ran on my own I tended to run loops around my house so I could bail out if I wanted to. The first time I ran with Christina we ran so far from home we had no choice but to run back. And forget about those hills! While she bounded up them with endless energy I slowly dragged myself wondering if I would ever make it to the top. I did eventually make it to the top. In fact, when we were finished we had ran through three suburbs of Pittsburgh and covered eight miles. I had no idea I could run such challenging terrain. It changed my outlook on running.
Last year after much coaxing, Christina convinced me to try Crossfit. Once again I was thrust out of my comfort zone. Now I'm doing Olympic lifts, handstands and so many other things I never knew I was capable of. We attend the same gym so we get to work out together and encourage each other.
Christina has always encouraged me, especially when I've doubted myself. In addition, she has always pushed me, even when I didn't want to be pushed. I'll forever be grateful for that push, because she's convinced me to do things I would have never done on my own. I know for a fact that without Christina's influence I wouldn't be nearly the athlete I am today.
Since Christina has had such a big impact on me over the past two years, I asked her a few questions about running and Crossfit.
When I moved to Pittsburgh in 2012 I hadn’t run hills in five years. What’s your approach to running up a hill? I personally love hills! It's a great place to pass people during a race while they are walking. My approach to running up hills is to keep on running, never walk and continuing running even if its snail pace.
What was your first race? My first race not related to competing in school would be Race for the Cure.
I know you love your shoes. What is your favorite pair of running shoes? I love pretty, bright, flashy shoes, but they have not always been my best friend for my flat feet. For fashion, my favorite pretty shoes are Brooks Pure Cadence. For function, my favorite pair of running shoes now are Mizuno Wave Inspires. They fit my feet perfectly but are not so pretty.
What is your favorite race? My favorite race was probably my first Pittsburgh Half Marathon. There was so much energy in the crowd. Cheering that I had never experienced before. The race sucked though, because it was so freaking hot!
What’s your favorite post-race meal? Anything and everything and the greasier the better. But I have to have a banana. The Casino Buffet - they have a variety of food and drinks!
You’ve encouraged me to run half marathons and marathons, but you’ve also encouraged me to try crossfit for the first time. What do you enjoy the most about crossfit? I enjoy crossfit because I am always surprising myself of what I am capable of doing and it constantly challenges me. I love the feeling I get when I am done with a WOD (workout of the day), especially one that I do not think I am capable of finishing. Also in that ten minutes, or however long the WOD is, you get to clear you head with your only focus being you and your workout.
What is your favorite skill in crossfit? My favorite skill would be deadlifts.
How do you think the group atmosphere of Crossfit compares to group running? I think they are both very similar. Runners and Crossfitters are very enthusiastic about their sport. Both are individual sports so how you perform depends on you. What I love most in both is always having someone encouraging and pushing me to finish strong and work harder. Especially when I am physically exhausted and think I have nothing left in me but I manage to finish strong and find energy from within to get the last few reps in, or kicking in the last few strides to finish a run/race.
What Crossfit move do you wish you were better at? I wish I could be better in everything! The snatch movement! Skills that I do not have are kipping, hand stands, double unders and rope climb. Hopefully one day, I can do one of the above skills.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to try Crossfit? I believe anyone can do Crossfit. I think I am a great example. I am petite size and a baby about everything! If I can handle crossfit, I think anyone can. It doesn't matter what size or age you are. It's all about scaling down to something that fits you at your level and size. Also, you can't compare yourself to other people at the box since everyone is at a different level. If you finish a WOD, you should be proud of yourself for even attempting.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.