Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Race Re-Cap - Nike Women's Half Marathon with Team in Training

Disclaimer: This re-cap is a lot longer than normal because I added my TNT experience too :)

Last December, a rumor floated around on Facebook and among my running club members that the Nike Women's Half Marathon would be on April 28th in Washington, D.C. and the runners medal would be a Tiffany's necklace!  I caught wind of this rumor and started doing some searching to see if it was true.  I'm hooked on runner's bling and what girl wouldn't want a Tiffany's necklace?  The NWH website was not extremely helpful, nor was their Facebook group page (one of my criticisms of the raec). It was pretty different than most race websites I'm used to.  Every time I searched for NWH, I landed on the Team in Training website.  I did a little research and found out that in order to participate in the race with TNT participants needed to raise $1,800 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I didn't see any other way to register for the race at the time so I signed up with TNT.  In the beginning I didn't think it would be very difficult to raise money.  Plus, I've been running on my own for a while and thought it would be good to run for a cause.  I've had many friends effected by cancer in my life and wanted to give back.  I do have to admit that my motivation to run this race was slightly selfish in the beginning because it started with me wanting a Tiffany necklace.  What I was not expecting was how amazing running with TNT would be.

Fundraising and Race Training:
Normally I wouldn't write about my training, but this race was unique and it's worth mentioning.  I originally thought I would have no trouble raising money and got off to a great start with some generous donations from family members.  I also met with Jenny, my TNT contact, and she helped give me some great tips on fundraising.  I feel very awkward asking people for money and have a hard time soliciting people for money.  There were many suggestions for fundraising, but I pretty much stuck with using Facebook and emailing friends and family.  When March hit and we had to sign our re-commitment paperwork with TNT I had raised less than $1,000.  I was getting very anxious because any amount less than the $1,800 minimum that I didn't raise would have to be paid out of my pocket.  Although it's a very worthy cause and I don't mind donating to LLS, I don't have hundreds of dollars at my disposal for charities.  If I had to I would have made it work, but thankfully it didn't end up that way.

Carrie, me and Ingrid...two of my friends from TNT
We had to wear matching shirts for our TNT dinner
After I submitted my re-commitment paperwork I started emailing fervently and asking for fundraising ideas from friends who have experience in fundraising.  I got a great idea from a friend at church to set up a virtual run.  A virtual run is a great way to raise money.  There are many variations, but the basic concept is to set up a day/week/month where people run for your cause.  The person setting up the race sets the race distance and runners can run that distance anywhere in the world, any time of day.  I decided to order race bibs/numbers for my runners as well as race medals for all those that participated.  I also asked my participants to run anytime during the last week of April, which is the same week I was set to run in the Nike Women's Half.  Overall, I had 22 runners participate in my run and raised $625 with that fundraising method.  The best part was receiving pictures from my runners as they wore their bibs and completed their runs.  It was so motivating and helped keep me going on race day.

In terms of training, TNT was fabulous.  They sent participants a half marathon training program with running distances to cover throughout the week and then one weekly long run on Saturdays.  The Saturday runs were group runs where runners could meet and run with other TNT participants and run with the TNT coaches and mentors.  If you are considering running your first half or full marathon working with an organization like TNT would be a really good option.  I had races almost every weekend from the time that our TNT training started until the NWH so I was only able to go to one training session.  The one session I made was definitely worth it.  It happened to also be the same day that we met our honored teammates, who were the patients our DC Area Chapter was running in honor of.  We were able to hear their stories and it was very inspirational.  Some of the patients were even running with us.  I couldn't imagine going through cancer treatment and training for a half marathon.  Their stories were touching and I was honored to be running on their behalf and along side some of them.

This was what I pin on the back of my race jersey
I also had several people that I ran in honor or in memory of.  When I originally signed up for this race I had Dylan in my mind.  Dylan is the son of a co-worker.  I was actually her long-term substitute when Dylan was born.  He was 4 years old when he was diagnosed with Leukemia, and that was 2 years ago.  I wanted to run in his honor.

I also had a friend I grew up with who had a daughter, Kaylee, who was diagnosed with cancer.  She was diagnosed when she was 7 years old in 2011. She fought a long, hard battle and unfortunately the cancer returned.  She is currently fighting, yet always has a smile.  You can read more about her story on her blog, which her mother, my friend, writes.  I am often brought to tears when I read it.  Kaylee is an inspiration to me and I also wanted to run in her honor.

During the fundraising process I emailed many friends and colleagues.  Many of those who supported me have family or friends also battling cancer.  I never realized how many of my friends were affected by cancer.  It was very eye opening. Two of my friends had lost family members to Lymphoma and I asked if I could run in memory of them.  I ran in memory of Joan Murphy and Frances Ricker.

Ingrid and I at packet pickup
Despite my anxiousness, in the end I was able to make my fundraising goal!!  I really started to doubt if I would meet the minimum in the days before the deadline and still had a good chunk of money to raise.  In fact, the last day to raise money before I had to pay the difference I was $140 short.  I put a comment on Facebook and offered to buy coffee/ice cream for the person whose donation put me over my limit or was the largest donation of the day.  Three of my friends came to the rescue and I reached my goal.  I actually cried when I saw that I reached that goal!  It was so amazing to me.  Not only did I raise money for an incredible cause, but I was overwhelmed by how generous many of my friends, family, colleagues and even strangers were.  In the end I raised $1950 for LLS.

One thing Jenny (the TNT rep) had told me in our meeting was that "people you expect to donate won't and people you don't expect will surprise you."  I can tell you that is absolutely true.  People I haven't seen or spoken to in a while were so supportive and I was very grateful.  All in all, the fundraising experience was a great challenge for me, but I loved it.  It was a good challenge.  It required me to break out of my comfort zone and I think in situations like that we grow the most.  Even though it was hard and sometimes uncomfortable for me, I will definitely do it again.

Now, onto the race re-cap.  I already mentioned that I wasn't too pleased with the race website...
"We Run DC"sign outside the expotique.
I couldn't manage a photo without people in it.
Packet Pickup:
I went to packet pick-up with two friends, Carrie and Ingrid.  Carrie is in my running club (RFRC), but was also participating with TNT and Ingrid was my TNT mentor.  I have been to many races and many packet pick-ups and I was not very happy with the Nike pick up process. The line to pick up bibs was VERY long.  It probably wouldn't have been so bad, but it was hotter than I was expecting so I didn't enjoy waiting in the hot sun.  The bib pick up was in a tent so the line was outside, which was no fun.  Once we made it into the Nike tent the process was pretty quick.  Instead of pre-assigned bibs we were assigned bibs as we arrived.  That part was kind of cool.

Pointing to my name on the wall of runner names
After we got our bibs we had to walk down to another area where the "expotique" was.  It was extremely different than any other race expo I went to.  It was in also in a tent, and also pretty hot int he tent.  There weren't vendors selling running gear like I'm used to.  They had an area where you can try to win a pair of Nike shoes, but I didn't win anything.  They also had an area where you could get your hair done, but I wasn't about to wait in that line.  Plus, I was going to run a half marathon the next morning so there was no point to do anything fancy to my hair.

"We Run DC" created out of all the
runner's names.

The expotique had no clothing merchandise for sale.  If you wanted that you had to walk a couple blocks up to the Nike store in Georgetown to buy gear.  I found it very odd and kind of frustrating that the number pick up, expo and gear purchase were all in separate areas.  I'm a runner and don't mind walking long distances, but I'm used to it all being in one place.  Having to walk from place to place takes up time, which we didn't have.  In my opinion if it's all in one place people will be likely to linger and spend more money.  We didn't end up going into the Nike store because it was packed.  I'm not a huge fan of crowds, plus I have a lot of runner gear already so there was no reason to fight the crowds and tempt myself with things I don't need.  Plus we had a dinner to catch.   Right outside the Nike store was a "We Run DC" (motto of the race)  wall, which was created using the names of all the runners.  It was by far the best part of the packet pick up experience.  I thought it was pretty cool.  We took pictures by our names on the wall and then headed out to our dinner.

TNT Inspiration Dinner:
I was part of the TNT National Capital Area Chapter team, but there were teams from all over the country attending the dinner.  My team alone consisted of over 700 runners and we raised over $1.6 million dollars.  There were over 2,000 TNT participants overall in the half marathon and a lot of money was raised for LLS.  It was so awesome to be part of something that will make a difference.  TNT organized an inspiration dinner at the Washington, DC convention center for the participants to get us motivated and also celebrate.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect since it was my first time with TNT, but I looked forward to it.

When we arrived to the convention center we entered the area where our dinner was.  We had to ride down escalators to get to the massive room that would hold all of us.  It was incredible.  All the coaches were dressed up and cheering as we arrived and walked into the dinner.  I thought it was awesome and was touched.  I knew I was probably going to get emotional at dinner and I did get a little teary eyed as we received such a warm, fun welcome from our coaches.  It made it that much more exciting and I couldn't wait for the race the next morning.

The rest of the dinner was also awesome (with the exception of a lack of vegetarian meal options, but that's not important).  Before the speakers, there was a slide show with all the pictures of the honored teammates that TNT runners were running for or in memory of.  I was able to catch Kaylee, Joan and Frances' picture on the big screen.  I loved that and thought it was a nice touch.  There were also a few speakers.  Joan Benoit was one of the speakers.  She was/is an elite female runner who has been in the Olympics and won several marathons in the 1980s.  It was so cool to hear her speak.  We also heard from a Leukemia survivor who was going to be running with us too.  She was 25 years old and had an inspiring story.  She reminded us several times that she would not be alive without TNT and runners like us raising money for LLS.  It made me feel good to be part of such a great cause that makes a difference in the lives of so many cancer patients.  The dinner was a great way to get that last bit of motivation needed to run the half marathon the next morning.

Ingrid and I before the race.  If you notice I'm wearing a blue
and yellow ribbon in honor of Boston and a pink ribbon in honor
of a co-worker who had surgery for breast cancer the week
before the race. 
Race Day:
On race day I met Ingrid at the East Falls Church metro at 5:45am and we headed downtown.  We had a pre-race meetup with other TNT'ers and coaches at 6:30am.  I am not a morning person, but for some reason on race day I have no issues waking up at 4am or 5am to get to a race.  It's crazy!  We met in a DC hotel, which was really nice.  It was a little chilly outside and the hotel was warm.  Plus, we took over the hotel lobby bathrooms.  Since it was mostly women and so early in the morning we decided to use the men's room too.  Haha, why wait in longer lines if you don't have to?  I love no bathroom lines on race day.  It is a rarity.
Some of the TNT runners before the race

Before headed out to the start line, our coaches gave us one last pep talk.  We also tried to jam in for a photo and then we walked over to the starting area.  I walked with my friend Ingrid, our coach Mike, his wife who was running (and raised over $20,000 on for this race!) and a few other TNT runners.  Just like any other big race, I had to use the restroom again!  It's all the pre-race nerves.  Unfortunately, this time there were no nice hotel bathrooms and the few of us that went had to suffer the racer portapotties.  Luckily, one of our fellow TNT members found a set of portapotties that were farther down from the start line than near the runner corrals so we didn't have to wait in a long line.  If you don't run races you probably think this is an over share or not a big deal, but finding bathrooms with less people before a race is actually a big deal.

This is pre-race

I was in the starting corral for runners who would run at a pace between 10:30-12:00 minutes per mile.  I decided to try to run with my mentor Ingrid.  She had planned to run with Colleen and they planned to run a 5:1 interval (5 minute runs, 1 minute walk).  We had to squish into our corral and by the time we got there the racer volunteers had taken the rope separating the corral groups down so we ended up mixing with the 12:00-13:30 corral.  I didn't think it would be that big of a deal, but it ended up causing some issues when we started our race.

Approaching the start
you can see it was packed!
When it was time to start the race it took about 10-15 minutes for us to get through the start line.  There were approximately 15,000 runners in the Nike Women's Half.  In other large races I've participated in there will be starting waves where each corral is roped off.  When the race starts the first wave gets to go and the 2nd corral has to wait a few minutes for the first group to get out and running before they start.  Each subsequent wave/corral has to wait for the group before them to go.  Nike had assigned corrals, but did not have them roped off when the race started and did not have them wait for the first group to go before starting.  Basically, it was one massive group of runners filing through the start.  It was awful. Not only did you have to shimmy your way through the masses to get across the start line, but once you crossed the start it was very congested.  Starting slow is a good thing in the beginning of a large race because you don't want to start too fast and lose steam in the end so it was not a terrible thing, but once we were warmed up and ready to pick up the pace it was still extremely congested.  In fact, Colleen, Ingrid and I spent a large portion of the first half of the race meandering through and passing slower runners.  I'm sure I could have shaved off a few more minutes of time if I didn't have to do that for the first 7 miles.  If Nike does this race again in DC next year I hope they space out the corrals better and start them at different times so the roads aren't so packed with runners.

I ran into my RFRC buddy, Carrie, before the start
Aside from the congestion it was a great run for the most part.  The weather was great, the scenery was pleasant and the course itself was flat and fast.  The water stops were pretty well stocked and although there was a lot of congestion at the beginning of each one (typical of any race) if you ran farther down there was plenty of water and gatorade available.  I chose to pretty much drink gatorade unless I was fueling with a gel, which I do every 4 miles or so.  Gel and gatorade don't mix well in the stomach so it's always best to avoid that combo.  I also had gatorade in both my water bottles on my fuel belt.  I think I only used 2 gels during the race and will probably need to adjust that to at least 3 on half marathons so I can stay energized.  I definitely noticed a lack of energy toward the end of the race.

My favorite point in a half marathon (besides
the finish) because I know I'm going to finish).
I have no clue who that girl is, but wasn't about
to stop and wait for a clear picture.
One cool thing about this race too was seeing all the TNT coaches throughout the course.  There were at least 100 coaches.  They weren't all with our DC area chapter, but if you had a question or issue you could stop to talk to any of the coaches and they would help you.  It is really nice to know you have people cheering for you and ready to support you on the course, especially if you are a new runner.

The interval that Colleen, Ingrid and I used worked well for the most part.  I was able to stay with them for the majority of the race.  Well, I should say I chased them most of the race.  They were always 5-10 feet ahead of me.  I couldn't quite stay next to them, which was good since it was congested anyway.  I usually do a 3:1 interval so I was happy that I was able to hang with them for the race.  Once we hit mile 11.5 I couldn't quite keep up so I slowed down a little in order to reserve some steam for the end.  I always like to sprint at the end.  Once I slowed down I set up my own interval to 3:1.  I did that until the end of the race.

The last 3/4 mile were difficult for me because I could see the finish line, but it felt like it wasn't getting any closer.  The race was still quite congested, which for me is odd.  I'm usually at the back of the pack and I'm used to it being pretty thin when I get the finish.  I think I was more toward the back of the middle group.  It was nice to be able to feel like I'm not last for a change.  I always have the attitude that even if I am last, who cares.  I'm still out there, which is more than many other people in the world can say.  One of my favorite sayings is, "still faster that sitting on my couch."  One day I might get faster, but for now I'm just happy to be out there and able to run.

Before this race my fastest half marathon time, one month before, was 2:51:53.  I am learning to not be embarrassed by my slower times.  I have really struggled with consistent training and consistency breeds success.  I have been getting better with my training and did step it up for Nike (I still have to step it up though).  For the first time in my racing career I set a time goal for a race.  I wanted to finish in the half in 2 hours and 40 minutes (2:40).  I knew I could do it, but was very nervous.  In fact, I was VERY nervous for this race.  I wanted to meet that time goal because I was racing for a good cause. I was racing for Kaylee and Dylan and in memory of Frances and Joan.  I also wanted to make all my donors and supporters proud.  I had told people what my goal was and didn't want to disappoint them or myself.  I am very happy to report that I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:33:43!! It felt amazing.  I managed to knock 18 minutes off my time and created a new personal record.

I know I could not have done so well if it wasn't for the support of my family and friends.  I also attribute the success to running with Colleen and Ingrid.  Even though I didn't finish with them, they really helped me stick with my goal, and surpass it.  I'm not sure if I could have done it on my own.  It's really easy on long runs to get tire and talk yourself into taking longer walk breaks so hanging with them helped me stay focused.

It was one of the sweetest finishes I've ever had.  I tend to get emotional when I run.  I think I pin up many emotions so they just come out when I am running.  Mostly they are tears of joy that I feel while running.  I usually feel proud of myself and happy that I am overcoming hard things.  I think it's a hard thing for people, I know it is for me, to feel proud of yourself and your accomplishments.  Running has helped me tap into a hidden potential and find things inside myself I never knew I had.  Running is still just as hard for me as when I started, but my ability to overcome and push through it has improved.  There were definitely tears as I crossed that finish line.  I was feeling very grateful and happy.  I was happy I was able to meet my fundraising goal, run for such a good cause and also make my time goal.  I was feeling pretty darn good!

Top left: Colleen and me, Bottom left: One of the men passing
out the Tiffany finisher necklaces, Right: Me so happy to be done
Another sweet moment after crossing the finish line was receiving the finisher medal.  I love race bling, but Nike certainly out did them selves by passing out Tiffany necklaces as their finisher medals!  It was a fabulous reward after running 13.1 miles.  They also passed out technical finisher shirts.  I'm used to getting shirts pre-race, but I like that I have a shirt that says "NWH Finisher."

Team in Training had a post-race tent set up and we had to check in with them.  I went to the tent and looked for Ingrid and Colleen.  I found Colleen and snapped a picture with her, but didn't find Ingrid.  I later found out that she went to the medical tent because she was dehydrated, but is okay now :)

All in all it was an incredible race journey.  I gave my race feedback to Nike about the race congestion and hope in the future they will make adjustments.  When you're starting 15,000 runners you need to space them out a little bit.  The expo wasn't my favorite either, but my Tiffany's necklace makes up for it.  I wear it all the time!  I am so happy I decided to participate with TNT.  Even though my motives to begin were a little selfish, the experience was far more rewarding than I ever expected.  I grew as a person and know I crossed that finish line a better girl than when I started.  I'm not going to be doing a TNT race in the fall, but will definitely raise money and run with them again next year.  It is such a great cause and I was inspired.  How could I not be with so many amazing experiences?  So many people are fighting for their lives and facing bigger issues than I have ever faced.  The least I can do is run in their honor and help raise money and awareness.  I look forward to running with them again.  I also highly recommend running with TNT if you are considering.  It will not disappoint you.

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