A solemn walk

Tomorrow, I’ll be doing the Outer Banks Half Marathon in, well, the Outer Banks, NC, with a group of friends. This will be my second time doing this race and my 17th half marathon overall. (Whew!)

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Most of our gang after the OBX race in 2012

Generally I don’t make a habit of returning to races. I’ve only done so for certain reasons: to revisit the site of my first race or to help support other walkers. There are far too many races out there and new places to explore via their courses to want to repeat any.

But this weekend marks my second trip to the OBX race, and it’s in honor of a friend. About a year ago, I wrote about Lana, how her determination helped her tackle a race course and how she motivated so many people.

When our group gathered in NC in 2012 to do the race together the first time, North Carolina native Lana signed up too, doing the 8K. I spent some time with her on the course (the two routes merged at one point). I remember feeling happy to spot her ahead of me and know that I’d be able to cheer her on — and get energy from her as well.

After Lana died late last year, our group decided to return to the race this fall and participate in her honor. That purpose is definitely worth a repeat trip to a race, in my book. We’ll celebrate Lana and remember her with love.

In the past few weeks, though, our mission has grown. Among those planning to join us were our dear friends J and G. To our heartbreak, G has recently and suddenly been diagnosed with a very serious illness, preventing the couple from joining us while they fight this medical battle.

Like Lana, both J and G are incredible sources of inspiration; two people more full of life and light you would be hard-pressed to find. I walked alongside them for most of the course in 2012, in fact (and have shared other race course with them, too).

So we will fondly remember Lana as we walk those 13.1 miles on Sunday. And now, we will send healing wishes and love to G (and J) with each step along the way, emphasizing our good hopes for them in every footfall and our wishes that they’ll be striding alongside us again soon.

It’s all about timing … or is it?

About two weeks ago, I did my 16th half marathon as a walker. My finish time was my second-best ever, which came as a bit of a surprise, and I soon learned why.

The course was in a beach town (Wildwood, NJ), which is my favorite place for a race course, so it was fast and flat with great scenery.

The temperature was about just right, although there were ferocious winds, with gusts up to about 20 mph. Somehow they seemed to be headwinds the majority of the time, which made it tough going.

I didn’t see a mile marker until mile 3, so I wasn’t sure of my pace in the beginning. But as the race went on, I felt steady and strong, and my RunKeeper app gave me a sense of my timing.

Beautiful day for a race! Headed toward Stone Harbor from North Wildwood.

Beautiful day for a race! Headed toward Stone Harbor (and the halfway-point turnaround) from North Wildwood.

At one point, too, I kept a mental count of how many runners I passed … I stopped after 6. I praise anyone who undertakes the goal of doing a race, no matter their pace, but it does give me a thrill to walk faster than some people run.

Feeling strong in mile 12, on the Wildwood boardwalk (photo by Chris M. Junior)!

Feeling strong in mile 12, on the Wildwood boardwalk!

As I neared the home stretch, I realized (based on the updates my app was announcing) that I might break the 3-hour mark. (My PR is 2:54 and change, which occurred in 2012, and I haven’t managed to break 3 hours since. I’ve come within about 30 seconds of it, to no avail.)

The finish line approached and its clock was under 3 hours — which meant that, even factoring in the small amount of time after the race start that I crossed the finish line, I had indeed broken 3 hours.

Soon thereafter I got a text from the race tracking system with my finish time: 2:57:49.

I was surprised! Sure, I had done my mileage work during training. But I’m up several pounds over my normal weight, I haven’t been working out as regularly otherwise as I’d like, and I haven’t been eating the most balanced, healthy diet lately. Plus, factoring in the wind … again, I was surprised. On top of that, my RunKeeper app tally was about 12.7 miles, which was slightly puzzling. But I did feel really good during the race — I felt like my pace was consistent, as was my stride, and so I thought maybe the pieces had come together.

IMG_2641I was really pleased that I had finally broken the 3-hour mark again.

And then … it was negated.

“Before and during the race, we believed our course measurement of 13.11 miles was correct,” explained an email from the race organizers a few days later. “However, from the information we have since gathered, we realize the published course was in fact short by approximately .15 to .20 of a mile….” Add in some discrepancy with the course turnaround point (which I believe was corrected before I reached it, based on the description), and “this would have resulted in approximately .2 to .3 of a mile less distance on top of the already .15/.20 of a mile shortage.”

So … I didn’t have my second best time ever. And I didn’t break the 3-hour mark again, yet. My minor disappointment faded as I realized a few things about the race:

Happy finisher!

Happy finisher!

  • I felt strong through the race, with a consistent pace and good form
  • I didn’t hit a wall
  • I powered through the crazy wind
  • I finished strong
  • I am proud of myself!

Which tells me that although a brag-worthy finish time is great and all, accomplishing the goal in the first place is just as worthy of crowing about. Keep it in perspective and don’t let numbers get you down.

Happy walking!

Thanks, Lana

LanaIn 10 years of doing half marathons and marathons, I’ve met countless people and made many friends. Lana L. was one of them.

I got to know her when Team Prevention went to a race in Dallas in late 2008. I’m afraid I don’t remember if I met her before the event, but I definitely remember interacting with her during the race, when I was along the sidelines midway to cheer for our team. I walked a few blocks with her, making sure she was OK, and she was. I saw her again at the finish line — boy, was she glad to finish! — and helped her celebrate.

We saw each other again a few months later when she did a half marathon with our team in Myrtle Beach, SC. She improved her finish time by about 15 minutes!

And then she was among the group for our final event, in Las Vegas in late 2009. I remember sitting at dinner with her and catching up. Her finish time in that race was 55 minutes BETTER than her race in Dallas a year earlier.

Lana (left) and Pam at a 5K in 2013

Lana (left) and Pam at a 5K in 2013

I didn’t see her again until fall 2012, when a group of friends got together in the Outer Banks for a race and a visit. I was so pumped to see her along the joint half marathon-8K course. It put a spring in my step to share some of the distance with her.

As a race team coordinator and participant, I’ve seen half and full marathoners of every shape and size and ability. To look at Lana, it would be easy to assume that she could not complete even 1 mile, let alone 13.1 — and improve her finish time from 4:40 to 3:45, to boot.

But they didn’t know Lana. Determination was her middle name. That’s not to say she didn’t do some lighthearted whining when the race was done, about her sore feet or other body parts. But damn if she didn’t have her mind set on completing what she set out to do and cross that finish line.

Her determination was so motivating and inspiring. She was full of spirit and energy, and she brightened up any gathering. She had such presence and shared her spirit and energy with those she encountered.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to say that Lana lost her battle with some medical issues this week. I can only hope that she’ll hear her walking friends call on her when they hit a wall in a race and that she’ll send a burst of energy our way to make it the final stretch to the finish line. One could find no better source of inspiration.

 

Number 15

This morning, I’m embarking on my 15th half marathon as a walker. (Wish me dry weather!)

And for the second time, I’ll be serving as a pacer for walkers in the race. I’m participating in the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon, which unlike most races is particularly welcoming of walkers, even offering awards for the top finishers among walkers, broken down by gender and age divisions.

I’ll be pacing a 3:15 finish, which works out to about a 4.1-mile-per-hour pace. I look forward to helping guide some first-timers to their inaugural finish line!

Wishes for a great race day also go out to those doing the NYC Marathon today, among them good friend and walking coach Lee S.

Happy walking!

A great day in Pittsburgh

Hitting the expo!

Hitting the expo!

Actually, make that a great weekend!

On Sunday, I walked my 14th half marathon, at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and Half Marathon. It wasn’t my best finish ever but was far from my worst. I kept a steady pace throughout and finished in 3:05:04. That translates to miles done in the 14-minute range. I would have liked to have come in under 3 hours, but that would have been more likely had I trained a bit longer (and dropped the last few winter pounds first)!

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Post-5K (her, not me!)

The weekend served as a race-buddy reunion with seven friends. Some of them have done this race before, and it made for a good centrally located event for us all.

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in such a large race — the entrant field topped 30,000. There are pros and cons to races no matter their size, but I’d recommend this event for sure. Here’s why:

  • Outstanding signage throughout the weekend — at the expo, throughout downtown Pittsburgh directing racers to their start corrals, along the course (the mile markers were impossible to miss!) and in the finish area, too.

    Up and over the Rachel Carson Bridge, approaching mile 4

    Up and over the Rachel Carson Bridge, approaching mile 4

  • A race program jam-packed with info and maps
  • A race app that helped dig up needed info in short order
  • Five bridges crossing all three of the city’s rivers
  • A weekend full of activities for anyone and everyone: a 5K (with a special extra medal if you did that race plus the half or full, as one of my friends did), a relay, a Kids Marathon (a little over 1 mile) that had a HUGE number of participants, the half and full, and even a pet walk
  • A really nice race shirt (in fact, it was the first time I wore the event shirt in a race)
  • Good spectator support and fun spectator signs (to be shared in a “part two” of this post)
  • A manageable time limit for walkers
  • An expo and start and finish lines centrally located to many hotels
  • An entrant field of 30,000+, which makes for constant company on the course as a walker. In smaller races, walkers tend to be a bit lonely as the rest of the pack pulls away. In this race, I never felt like a straggler and kept pace with several run-walkers along the way.

    The start line is up ahead ... somewhere!

    The start line is up ahead … somewhere!

All in all, I don’t have any complaints about the event and would recommend it. (Well … I have one complaint, but it’s not the race organizers’ fault. My FitBit seems to be poorly calibrated and said I only did 10.24 miles for the day. What?! Add up 13.1, plus the to-the-start walk and from-the-finish walk, and my total should have been closer to 15. Cheated by technology!)

Happy walking!

What’s your sign?

When you do a half marathon or full marathon, any motivation along the way is welcome. One form of motivation that I always look forward to is the signs held by spectators along the course.

Some are simple: “Go, Joelle!”

Others are inspirational: “You are a rock star!”

Then there are the funny ones — and they are the ones that give me the biggest boost. In fact, I vividly remember a sign I spotted in my very first race, back in 2005. A young woman held it high, and it read: “Hurry up, Rob — the game’s on at 1!”

Here are other memorable ones I’ve seen:

  • Look alive — there’s a funeral home in the next block!
  • Run like there’s a hot guy in front of you and a creepy one behind you
  • Worst parade ever
  • Pain is temporary. Race results are forever!
  • Run like you stole something
  • Run like [insert dreamy celebrity of choice] is waiting at the finish line
  • 13.1 miles — you’re only half crazy!
  • Your feet hurt because you’re kicking butt
  • Run, Forrest, Run!
  • This seemed like a good idea 3 months ago!

And here are two I spotted at a race in Atlantic City a few years ago:

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Share your favorite examples in the comments!

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Today’s walk

The need to do some higher mileage as I train for a half marathon, plus sunshine and nonfreezing temperatures, finally got me walking outside today.

If you read my last post, it might help shed some light on why it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve gone to the gym but hadn’t been able to bring myself to brave the cold outdoors for longer than house to car/car to gym.

About 2.5 miles into an 8-mile walk, just me and my shadow.

About 2.5 miles into an 8-mile walk, just me and my shadow.

As a half marathon on May 3 looms, though, thankfully the weather coincided with my need to do about 8 miles of walking. I’ve done that distance on the treadmill before (and did 6.5 on it a few weeks ago, thanks to the theater room at my gym — watching a movie makes the miles zoom by), but knew I really needed to get in some outdoor mileage.

After several months on the treadmill, it’s important to get re-conditioned and ready for a race without the assistance the machine gives me, on the unyielding surface of pavement. And to be sure, my speed was noticeably slower outdoors than in.

But that’s OK — I know it won’t take long to get back up to true speed.

I did an almost-8-mile loop from my town into the next and back. I love walking early in the morning, when traffic is light and most of the world is still waking up. I left the earbuds at home so I could enjoy the sound of birds — just that and my thoughts for almost 2 hours.

One thing I forgot about taking a walk outdoors: The near heart attack you get when a dog comes out of nowhere, charging up full bark on the other side of a fence you’re walking alongside. (What’s even scarier is when it’s one of those invisible fences, and you’re not sure until the last second if there’s any barrier between you and dog!)

As my walk progressed, I was waiting for the rewarding vibration of my FitBit, notifying me I’d reached my 10,000 step goal. Nada.

When I got home, I logged in and saw that it had just 8,500-and-change steps listed. Seems low for nearly 8 miles! But what was worse was my “active minutes” — just 11? Seriously? Sometimes I think that only something like jumping-jacks or burpees counts as “active minutes” where FitBit is concerned.

In my book? 2 hours of walking counts!

Wind-blown … and proud!

Pacer ID

Pacer ID (disregard the Penske truck!).

Half marathon #13 is in the books for me, as is my first bout as a pacer.

It can be challenging to keep a pace different from your usual and sustain it over such a distance, especially when contending with 20 mph winds along the race course. (But at least it wasn’t raining!) The plus is that it gave me the opportunity to talk with some first-time half marathoners along the way, which is always wonderful.

And I’m so very proud of Walk With Joelle client Michele K. Today was her first half marathon as a walker, and she rocked! She finished strong and fast — and earned an award for her efforts!

The race, the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon, featured a walker division and awards for the top finishers among the walkers. Michele K. finished 2nd in her age group, 5th among women and 10th overall! I’ll just have to warn her not to get used to it, that walkers don’t usually earn awards in half and full marathons because so few races recognize us as a category. (Let’s hope that continues to change, and thanks to walking coach Michele Stanten for making it happen in this race!)

Volunteer Louie -- greeting walker Alicia at mile 8 -- was a terrific part of the day, biking along the course and putting in time at mile markers. His spirit was contagious!

Volunteer Louie — greeting walker Alicia at mile 8 — was a terrific part of the day, biking along the course and putting in time at mile markers. His spirit was contagious!

The other great thing about this race was that several of my friends also participated, both as pacers and walkers. It’s fitting because marathoning brought us all together in the first place. Nearly 10 years ago, in my days at Prevention magazine, I was involved in its program to train readers to walk half and full marathons. Some of our readers became intimately involved with the program and were integral to its success — and the success of so many fellow race participants! And along the way we spent a lot of fun times together at races across the country. That grew to doing races “off-duty,” so to speak. And although the magazine’s program ended, the deep friendships did not.

So I’m always especially happy to spend a race weekend with friends — friends who know the time invested in training, who know the frustration when a race doesn’t go as planned, who are inspiring and motivating, and who know the joyous emotion of completing a race, whether your first or 10th or 40th (and cheer for you just as loudly from race to race). Thanks for another great weekend, ladies … even though it was too short and not a complete group reunion! And congratulations to all the walkers today too!

A huge number of miles has been walked by these seven pairs of feet!

Race friends: Countless miles have been walked by these seven pairs of feet over the past nearly 10 years!

Keeping pace

Tomorrow I’ll be doing my 13th half marathon as a walker.

This one will be a little different, though — I’m doing the race as a pacer.

It’s common in half and full marathons to have pacers for the runners. A pacer leads a group of runners to a specified finish time. Say you want to complete a full marathon in 3 hours. You’d align yourself with the 3-hour pace runner, who runs at a speed to fulfill that finish time.

It’s virtually unheard of to have pace groups for walkers. But the race I’m doing tomorrow — the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon Run/Walk — is pulling out all the stops to attract and support walkers. Registration categories asked if you would be running or walking, awards will be given to top walking finishers, and pace groups will be on the course for walkers specifically.

So I’ll be leading the 4-hour-finish time pace group, which translates to about an 18-minute mile. This might seem incredibly slow to some experienced half/full marathon runners and even walkers. But it’s accessible for beginners, and we all have to start somewhere and tackle our first race experience. It will be a bit of a challenge for me to pace myself at that speed — it can be difficult to walk slower than normal, and do so steadily. (My average race pace is between 13- and 14-minute miles.) It’s important to me, though, to help participants meet their goals and have a rewarding experience.

As I posted the other day, a 15-minute mile is just as far as a 7-minute mile. Ditto for an 18-minute mile. Walkers in races train just as much as runners do, and it’s no less an accomplishment to participate as a walker. We all cross the same finish line.

Happy walking!