Just signed up for the GW Parkway Classic

As a follow-up to my ‘pre-New Year’s rededication‘ I just signed up for the George Washington Parkway Classic, one of my favorite races in the DC area.

Nothing keeps you focused on training like sunk money, and a return to the site of my PR at the distance doesn’t hurt either!

parkway-classicHeld on April 23, it’s a straight-line 10-miler, starting at the historic Mt. Vernon Estates, home of George Washington, and finishing in Old Town Alexandria.  The route runs right along the shores of the Potomac River, and it’s an early-morning race, so it’s a particularly beautiful route. Continue reading “Just signed up for the GW Parkway Classic”

Race review: Army Ten Miler

Originally posted at http://www.wecanrunaway.com/washington-dc-army-ten-miler/

atm-startThe Army Ten Miler is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.  It’s a huge race (35,000 strong in 2016) hosted by the Association of the United States Army.

How many races feature an artillery blast to signal the start of the race, with a military helicopter hovering overhead?  The quick answer is not many. Continue reading “Race review: Army Ten Miler”

Army Ten Miler (How the hell did *this* happen?)

bib-and-coin-atmSandy and I have run the Army Ten Miler for years.  It’s a local event for us, and it’s pretty much a must-run if you’re a runner who’s in the military.  It’s a much more crowded race than I typically prefer (35K runners, if the race announcer is to be believed).  The ATM marks the end of the running season for us, and is usually characterized by decent running weather.  But with the edges of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Matthew passing through the DC area, we expected rough conditions this year.

Woke up to a horrible day.  Poked my head outside at 5:15, and it was cold and rainy, with gusting winds.  Not good for a rhythm runner!

Oh, well.  Nothing we could do about it but get ready.  I decided to go with a long sleeved tech, and compression tights, which turned out to be a great call.  Sandy went sleeveless with full-length tights.

atm-weatherWe arrived in the starting area around 7:30, in time for the 8:00 start.  We huddled under a bridge to escape the rain and wind, but both of us were still shivering – even in the throwaway sweats.  It was no fun at all when our corral surged forward, and we had to peel off the layers to run.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been dealing with chronic Achilles tendinosis, and haven’t been able to train regularly for the last three years.  In fact, I was only able to get in about 10 runs over the last month leading up to this race.  Only three of the runs even reached five miles (or so I thought – more on that later), and none were faster than 9:00/mile.

Add to that the fact that both my calves had been very sore all week, which has historically been a precursor to another Achilles flareup, and I wasn’t optimistic about this run.  If they didn’t loosen up, I feared I might not be able to finish the race at all.

I figured the best-case scenario had me finishing around 1:33:00, if at all.

So the plan was to run with Sandy, who normally paces out between 9:00 and 9:20/mile.  We’d start slow and build up from there.  Of course, in a race with 35,000 runners, we usually don’t have much of a choice, anyway.  The first two miles are typically slow-moving, with nothing but asses and elbows everywhere.

The good news is that the rain stopped just before the gun (well, in this case, an artillery piece) fired, sending our corral onto the course.

We logged a 9:34 first mile, followed by a 8:54 second, and a 9:03 third.

My left Achilles finally loosened up during the third mile, with my right following suit in the fourth.  Sandy dropped back around the fourth mile marker, urging me to go ahead.

I decided to just focus on form, and treat the run as a workout.  Being  a competitive creature, I had to really work to keep myself from watching the clock as I went.  I felt if I could limit myself to a peek once per half mile or so, I’d keep the race-monster in check.

Then a strange thing happened.  My Garmin lets me know what kind of pace I’m on, but that is less about how quickly I’ve completed the current mile, and more about how fast I’m moving at the moment.

Even though I wasn’t pushing to go faster, the times kept falling.

8:43, 8:35, 8:25.  I started thinking that a 1:30:00 finish might be possible.
Midway through the seventh mile, I was a little gassed, but I knew at that point the Achilles wasn’t going to be an issue.  I felt that if I could just keep my form together, I’d be fine, and would finish below 1:30:00.

I pulled my sleeve over the watch to keep me from looking at it, and resolved only to check after each mile.


mile-8The eighth mile is fairly tough, with the last half of it being a long, straight uphill along I-395 that eventually gives way to an off-ramp.  Today, this portion was into the face of 15-20 mph wind gusts, adding to the challenge.

For whatever reason, this spot always ends up being a bottleneck, as gassed runners cruise slowly down the single-lane ramp and make the sharp left turn.  The pace almost always slows to a near-walk right before the 8-mile marker, before the course opens up again.

Anticipating this, I did my best to attack the hill.  That paid off as I looked at the split at the marker.


The short time in Pentagon City is flat and wide, so race congestion isn’t an issue.  At this point, I was feeling fairly strong, but didn’t want to risk a full-on surge.  Part of me didn’t want to run out of gas with a half mile to go, and the other part worried about the Achilles, which, over the past 2-3 years, has flared up every time I’ve gone to the track to do speed work.

So, nothing aggressive – just keep chugging along, and maintain good form.  Midway through this mile, my flexors started to burn a bit.  Nothing unmanageable, but highly unusual for me.


As I passed the 9-mile marker, I still didn’t feel I could really open up for an entire mile.  So I decided to keep doing what I was doing, and try to surge over the last third of a mile.  Once we made the turn, and passed back under I-395, I stepped it up a bit, resisting going into a full kick at the end.  Nearing the finish line, I slid over to the left side of the road (which, for some reason, was not very crowded) so I could at least see the video and finish pic later.


The extra weaving over the course of the race cost me about 100m, which is to be expected.  That’s about as small a variance as one can expect in a race this crowded.

Final time:  1:26:24.  That’s a time I can live with.  Of course, it’s nowhere near a PR, but given where I am in terms of training miles logged (nowhere near enough), I’m very happy with it, and I think I learned something today.

I’ve never been one to focus on negative splits.  I’ve always taken the approach of targeting a pace, and sticking with it for as long as I can.  This marks the first time I’ve ever deliberately taken it easy over the first portion of a race, and slowly built from there, dropping time with each split.  I couldn’t believe I felt as strong as I did at the end.

This might be my new approach toward anything longer than a 10K.

Post-race, but pre-Starbucks

Sandy finished a few minutes after I did.  She crossed the line in 1:31:55, and she said she was pretty happy with how the run went.  She had trained a lot more than I did, but still not as much as she would have liked.  Still, the results weren’t bad for a less-than-ideal day.

Only a frigid walk from the finish line to the Pentagon City Mall stood between us and the post-race reward:  Starbucks and a warm ride home.

But what about the time drop?

So – how the hell did this happen?  With limited opportunities to run over the last few months, there was no way I should have been able to end up with that kind of time.  I had developed a hypothesis by the time I got home.  My training routes had to be longer than I thought they were.

The routes were the same ones I used years ago, but have had to avoid over the last three years because my doctors told me to stay off hills.  But over time, I had apparently forgotten the exact distances.  For example, I thought the longest route I had run leading up to the ATM was 5 miles.  I had been typically fairly gassed after covering it in between 47 and 48 minutes.  I was disappointed at the 9:20-ish pace, but attributed it to a lack of fitness, and accepted it (for now).

Turns out, that route is actually 6 miles, putting me just under an 8:00 pace.  A YUGE difference that made today’s performance make a lot more sense.

Now I’m debating whether I should remeasure all my other routes, or just enjoy the occasional surprise!

Nurses uplift the homeless, recovering addicts through running

She crossed the finish line.  Still breathing heavily, she grinned as a volunteer handed her the medal.  As she walked along, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was one of the guys who used to sell her drugs.  She raised her medal.  As he flashed a salute to her, she smiled, saying to herself “I’m an athlete, I’m healthy, and I’m going to keep getting better.”

It’s amazing what happens when people learn there is more to them than they ever knew, and when that realization lifts their lives.

Patti Bright, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (commonly known as a CRNA) from Virginia Beach, Va., has seen many stories like this since she started working with the homeless and recovering addicts, providing many of them the life skills common to most runners, and helping to turn their lives around.

While the difficulties these people face vary wildly, Bright sees a common thread in those who reach to her group for help.

“Most of these people have had something happen in their lives that makes them feel they can’t do it,” she explains.  “Especially the women.  Many of them have never had anyone in their lives to trust.”

Bright is part of an effort to better the lives of some of her area’s most disadvantaged groups.  She has helped homeless people and recovering drug addicts learn life skills common to most runners, and helped them turn their lives around in the process.

How it all started

It all started ten years ago at a leadership retreat.  Bright was one of many nurse anesthetists trying to find ways to promote their profession.  To that point, the group had aimed its messaging at mainly state legislators, but felt more could be done.  During a brainstorming session, Bright recalled a lecture on public relations she had attended some time before, and how creating a newsworthy message would bring interest.

But how do you make a group of nurse anesthetists newsworthy?

The group eventually decided to form a team of CRNA runners to run the Virginia Beach Half Marathon.  The event had recently been named the top half marathon in the country, and it would be a good opportunity to get the group involved.  But the question remained:  How could they make generate interest in the group?

The answer was getting the surrounding community involved.  Their organization decided to raise funds for a local charity that provides meals, clothing and medical care to the poor and homeless.  The effort didn’t end there.  The CRNAs wanted to include the people they’d be helping in the event – but how?

They settled on fielding a team of CRNA runners, as well as manning a running one of the race’s water stops with CRNAs and the homeless people they were helping.  In doing so, they guaranteed the kind of coverage they sought – a higher profile for their career field, driven by the interest created by their making a difference in their community.

The first three years of the event went well.  Local media covered the event, and the amount of support they received grew.  The water stop manned with the area’s homeless became a well-known feature of the race.  But the direction of the program would change drastically when a girl from a recovery group asked to be trained to run.

Running as a life-changer


When Melissa approached Bright about training for the race, she was in recovery for drug addiction.  She was doing well in recovery, but she still smoked, was overweight, and although she had a steady job, she was struggling to find meaningful work.  Bright saw someone who needed guidance and self-discipline to help build her self-esteem.

Bright says that many of the individuals she meets while working with the homeless and addicted have had something happen in their lives that destroyed their feeling of self-worth.  Sometimes, just the act of caring and offering help can be enough to get them started on the road to recovery.

She says “it’s just about believing in someone and being a mentor to them.”

The first order of helping is holding them accountable for training, and demanding their commitment to the training necessary to get through 13.1 miles.  She tells her runners that training happens early in the morning (usually before dawn), and unless there’s lightning or hail, the run is on.

The pre-dawn runs weren’t just to instill discipline.  Bright’s work schedule includes long hours, making the early hours the only time available for her to hit the trails.  The early runs are her way to get ready for her shift, and to her, they’re not negotiable.

“If I know I have a long shift,” Bright explained, “a long run helps me prepare for my day.  [My patients] need all of me.  It’s up to me to pay close attention.”

Melissa stuck with the training, and over that summer, she lost weight, quit smoking, and completed the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  But bigger things were on the way.

Since that race, Melissa returned to school.  Bright, who attended her college graduation, says Melissa is now working as a medical assistant in an orthopedist’s office, and is currently enrolled in a registered nurse program.

Since her turnaround, Melissa has addressed state legislators at the event’s pre-race dinner, sharing her story and offering hope to those struggling as she did.  Bright marvels at the change.

“She is just a different person – the way she carries herself,” Bright says, adding that the training rebuilt her self-esteem.  “Now, she’s confident and goal-oriented.”


When Tammy approached Bright to train to run a race, she was recovering from drug addiction, and hoping to go to school to better herself.  But at 42 years old, she couldn’t do basic math.  Reaching higher education would be a struggle.

Bright told her what she tells each of what she calls her ‘special runners’ – “If you embrace [the training], you can get addicted to the sense of well-being.”

As with Melissa and other runners Bright has trained, those that persevere learn that running helps them face challenges, and gives them the confidence they need to overcome their weaknesses and succeed.  During those early-morning sessions, Bright says she and Tammy talked about more than just running.

“We had some very frank conversations during those runs,”  Bright said.  “We talked about saving money, how to budget, how to present yourself in interviews.”

In short, they talked about the kinds of life skills Tammy needed to succeed.  Tammy persevered, and finished the race – in style.

She crossed the finish line.  Still breathing heavily, she grinned as a volunteer handed her the medal.  As she walked along, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was one of the guys who used to sell her drugs.  She raised her medal.  As he flashed a salute to her, she smiled, saying to herself “I’m an athlete, I’m healthy, and I’m going to keep getting better.”

Since then, Tammy has gotten better.  Once unable to handle basic multiplication, she is now going to community college, and has a new outlook on life.

Bright still marvels at the power people have to change, and that running has the power to help them do it.

“I love my job.  I love what I do.  I love to give back to the community,” she says.  “I’m still amazed at how people can change the course of their lives.  When they run their race and win their medal, they really do feel they can accomplish anything.”

What’s next

The CRNA efforts continue, and grow stronger each year.  Bright has enlisted some of her success stories to help mentor others.  She’s still training runners, trying to give them the tools they need to turn their lives around.  And she’s still promoting wellness in her community.

She tells her colleagues that giving to others helps make them more whole.

“When you use your passions, when you look beyond yourself, it can be amazing!”

Like her team’s running jerseys read, CRNAs Rock!

Rock on, Patti.  Rock on!

Run in remembrance of Nebraska Guardsmen killed in the 1944 liberation of St. Lo

I don’t often advocate for people to run specific races.  In fact, this will be the first one I actively encourage people to run, and it’s because I’m a military history buff.  So, here’s the pitch….

If you will be anywhere near Seward, Nebraska on Saturday, June 11, consider running the Run to St. Lo Memorial 5K.

The run is a living memorial to the 43 Nebraska natives that died in the push to liberate the French town of St. Lo in July of 1944.  They were members of the 134th Infantry Regiment, which suffered heavily during the attack.  One in three soldiers were wounded or killed during the assault.

The race starts and finishes at the Nebraska National Guard Museum.  Along the route, runners will see memorials to each soldier and have an opportunity to meet veterans and family members of the regiment.

Entry fee is $20.  Pre-registered runners get a t-shirt.  Race day entries are $25 (no t-shirts included).

Pre-registration deadline is June 4.

For more information, visit http://nengm.org/run-to-st-lo.

"From Cornrow to Hedgerow" - The 134th Infantry at St. Lo
Normandy, France, July, 1944 – On 5 July, one month after D-Day, the regiment landed at Omaha Beach and moved swiftly inland with the rest of the 35th Division. The 134th waited in reserve as the U.S. V and XIX Corps struggled to liberate the vital town of St. Lo.  Tangles of rock, earth, and trees called “hedgerows” had been reinforced by the Germans.  Their capture of the vital hill 122 opened the way for the liberation of St. Lo itself on 18 July.  The 134th had lived up to its Spanish-American War battle cry, “All Hell Can’t Stop Us.”  The cost of the assault was high – the regiment suffered 35 percent casualties in two days, including 102 men killed, 589 wounded, and 102 missing.


Just registered for the Army Ten Miler


Yep – went ahead and registered.  Injuries and all.

Call it habit.  Call it optimism.  Call it bull-headed determination.  Call it denial.

Call it what you will…I don’t care.  I’m going to do it, and get through it.  It may not result in the kind of time I’d like to see, but it’s getting done.

I’m still rehabbing (again), and the setbacks are starting to mount.  Fortunately, I’ve got an appointment with the doc in a couple of weeks, and we’ll chart a way forward.

Either way, I’ll be hitting the capitol’s streets October 9.  Hopefully, it’ll be running.


Working on a summer/fall race schedule

Things are starting to look up.  The Achilles is finally showing signs of improvement – so much so that I’m tentatively starting to schedule some events for the summer and the fall.  Hopefully, a doctor’s approval will help cement that, both officially and in my head. Continue reading “Working on a summer/fall race schedule”

What to do with unwanted down time?

So I can’t run right now.  Since it’s early in the year, I feel like I should be developing my annual plan, but I have no idea when I’ll be back on the road.  I don’t think the last treatment on the Achilles (PRP injection) went well enough to be optimistic, so I suspect more is in store on that front.  More treatments, more down time.

So, now what? Continue reading “What to do with unwanted down time?”