A new personal best

There’s nothing like capping off the 2016 running season on this kind of high.

I shaved a mere seven seconds from my personal best time for the half-marathon — 1:59:47!

This is what a personal best looks like! (Pic by @freshstartmolly)

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This was my third time taking part in Moncton’s Legs for Literacy race, and the second time doing the very fast and flat half-marathon. It’s the biggest race in New Brunswick and so much fun.

Every time I have done this run the weather has been iffy, as the end of October tends to be. This year was no exception. We had all of the weather: cold, wind, clouds, rain, rainbows, sun, warmth, followed by extreme gusts and pelting cold rain at the end. My crazy lime green hat, which I won at the expo, nearly blew away at certain points.

One of the best parts of this race was running alongside my friend, Jenn. (I have two running buddies named Jennifer so try not to get confused.) We instantly fell into the same rhythm and having her nearby made me feel secure about holding a fairly challenging pace around 5:40 min/km.

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Kevin, Jenn and April after a the Moncton Legs for Literacy half-marathon 2016. And my shark child at bottom right.

If it wasn’t for Kevin, I would not have bothered to sign up for this race. Kevin is so rational and convinced me it made complete sense to go for a second half-marathon and aim for a PB, after coming so close at Maritime Race Weekend. Good friends do that for you. He also lured me with free race registration for the Sweet Caroline 10K.

This race was important for me to know I am officially back to pre-baby race shape. It took a long time to get here, but I’m here. And now on reflection, I have gained so much running experience after having a child. I may even call myself a “seasoned” runner, to throw around a cliche. This year alone I have run one full marathon, two half-marathons and a few other runs. All with a toddler! I don’t think I dreamed this could be possible. I think I always had a quiet fear that my running life would peter out after having a child, but instead, it’s better than ever.

 

Of course, support from my hubby is an absolutely essential part of continuing to run, chase goals and just continue to enjoy the sport. He knows it makes me happy and healthy, and so he doesn’t complain (much) when I tell him about early morning long-run plans, which means he doesn’t get to sleep in after an evening shift, or yet another running road trip. In fact, he almost loves these trips as much as I do. I know, I’m really lucky.

So accomplishing this goal is not just about the number, or the sub 2 hours, or anything like that. It’s about knowing that I can continue to find strength to meet my personal goals even as life changes. It’s about carving out time for myself and showing my little boy that running is healthy and fun, too.

Looking forward to seeing what new challenges and adventures 2017 brings.

Run on!

 

Race Recap: Maritime Race Weekend

Rolling hills, scenic vistas, cool sea breezes and pirates: this was the backdrop for my 7th half-marathon and a season’s best performance at Maritime Race Weekend.

This well-organized and spirited event takes place in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, just outside of Dartmouth. The course is one of the most beautiful I have ever run — and I have run through many stunning places in the Maritimes. It starts off at Fisherman’s Wharf and weaves along the coast. The weather was absolutely perfect, around 18 C, but very sunny — I wish I had my sunglasses.

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I went into this run without any particular goal in mind. Life has been moving at a hectic pace and I have managed to get in my training runs but not much more, so I wasn’t expecting a PR. Still, I have felt strong the past few weeks, which really is to be expected at this point in the season, so I knew wouldn’t fall flat on my face.

Mark, Silas and I packed up and left for Dartmouth on Friday morning, making the four+ hour drive. We stayed at the same hotel where race kit pick-up took place, which made everything easier. Silas was immediately impressed with the pirate theme.

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We got to bed early and prepared for a 6 a.m. wake-up on Saturday, race day, which we thought would give us plenty of time to get to the start line in time for the 8 a.m. race.

Sleep was so-so with the two-year-old waking up at about 4 a.m. and tossing and turning next to me for the last couple hours of the night. I’m not blaming him for anything though because I had typical nerves and wasn’t sleeping the greatest anyway.

We woke up and I set straight into my typical race morning routine: chug water, eat English muffin and peanut butter, hotel room coffee, bathroom and get dressed. My watch and iPod were charged and ready to go. My two cheerleaders were moving a little more slowly than me.

I sent them down to the 7 a.m. breakfast buffet to pick out a couple items for the road while I finished up in the hotel room.

Instead, I went downstairs to see them seated in the dining room. I started to sweat. We still had a 15-20 minute drive ahead of us (in unknown terrain), plus we needed to find parking and I had to get to the start line. Finally we got into the car even though all Silas had eaten was a quarter piece of toast and a couple of Cheerios. The car was stocked with fruit and other snacks so I knew he would be fine and eat eventually.

As we arrived in Eastern Passage, the two-lane road soon became lined with parked cars. We started looking for a parking spot and ended up having to turn around and drive farther away from the start line. Eventually I got to the right place with less than five minutes to spare. Problem was, I needed to use the port-a-potty one last time (as many runners know this is crucial on race morning!). I figured I would have just enough time, but as I made my way to the crowd, I realized there was still a huge line-up and the crowd was packed. I tried to move up toward the two-hour half-marathon pace group but couldn’t get anywhere near them. I settled for the 2:20 group and figured I would just have to catch up.

As the gun sounded, the crowd didn’t move. It took a good 2-3 minutes before I crossed the starting mat. I tried to take it easy, thinking this conserved energy would help me later but I couldn’t help but feel anxious. I wanted to go, but I was stuck in the crowd. I weaved as best as I could, but there wasn’t a ton of room. I spent most of the first 5 km of the race like this. The up side was I didn’t go out too fast. (First 5K – 28:55)

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The first few water stops had port-a-potties but at least one person was waiting outside and it wasn’t an emergency at this point so I continued to hold out until the 5 km mark. The outhouse was hiding in behind the water station and no one was in it. Score! I paused my Garmin and managed to get in and out within 1 minute.  I hit the course again and caught up to the people I was chasing before in no time.

Around the 8-10 km mark I realized I was making great time, in fact it was the best pace I have been running all season around 5:30 to 5:45 min/km. Part of me worried I would run out of steam but I tried to focus on effort rather than the number on my watch. I enjoyed the scenery and relaxed. I was having so much fun! I took a GU gel at about 8K. (10K – 57:54)

Around this time we hit a few bigger hills. I slowed down but didn’t stop, trying to steady my heart rate. Cresting up a hill always guaranteed a beautiful view. While I was feeling good around the 13-14K mark, something weird was happening in my shoes. The smaller toes on my left foot seemed to be overlapping each other. I’m not sure what caused this, but it really started to hurt. I told myself some weird things like, Who needs baby toes anyway? Focus on the big toe. When I walked, the toes were fine. I can’t explain why this was happening. Hope I haven’t developed some kind of weird gait issue.

Around 15 km I told myself I was going to hold back a bit then boost the pace for the final 5K. I wasn’t sure if this was a goal I could sustain, but I wanted to try. I have always wanted to get negative splits (faster last half than first half) and I thought it might be possible this time given my slow start.

Lucky for me, as I rounded a bend, a person directing traffic yelled out, “Last 4K, all downhill!” and I practically fist-pumped. I got my second wind and really pushed it down a big hill. I saw this photographer and jumped in the air but looks like he just captured my goofy grin after the fact.

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For the final few kilometres I continued to push the effort even though I knew I wasn’t going to break the coveted 2-hour mark. I didn’t really mind because overall, I felt the strongest I have all year, and I knew I would come close. I continued to “go fishing,” reeling in runners ahead of me and picking them off one by one. Did it ever feel good to finish with a bang.

I rounded the final corner and saw 2:06:xx on the clock, but my Garmin (which I paused for the bathroom break) said 2:02. Awesome! I was so happy. Official time was 2:03 on the nose. And I did get the negative split I was looking for — the last half was three minutes faster than the first.

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I crossed the finish line and the first thing out of my mouth was “Where’s the beer?” I was directed to a small building where the after-party was taking place. I drank up rather quickly because I was anxious to find Mark and Silas. After grabbing a banana and an orange and some water, I wandered around for a bit and found my guys. They had spent the past couple of hours enjoying the scenery and throwing rocks in the water, one of Silas’s favourite things to do these days.

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We also ran into Anna from Piper’s Run! I was so happy to meet a fellow mom/running blogger from the Maritimes, and it totally happened without planning. So great to meet Anna and her husband Saï, who both took part in Maritime Race Weekend. Runners are great people! Go check out her blog. I love her honesty and can truly relate to how difficult it can be to balance chasing running goals with life as a working mom.

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Hard to believe I have now run seven half-marathons. And of course, I can’t wait for the next one. My body is definitely used to this distance and I know I could beat my PR from 2013 of 1:59:54 with better race morning punctuality. I’m tempted to sign up for another one this fall but taking it easy is also appealing.

Thank you Maritime Race Weekend for showing us “Good times in the Maritimes!” We will be back!

7th half marathon in the books in beautiful Eastern Passage, N.S. @maritimeraces

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Fall colours and a near-PB: the PEI half-marathon

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Approaching the finish. (Photo: Kevin Barrett)

The brightest reds, yellows and oranges lit up the trails ahead of me today as I came within 10 seconds of a personal best half-marathon on Prince Edward Island.

This race was sweet. It was flat, cold and clear after the rain clouds parted mere minutes after the gun sounded. But the colours, oh, they were the highlight.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I managed an average pace of 5:43/km for this run, finishing in 2:00:03. This falls just nine seconds short of my best half-marathon time from two years ago in Moncton. Maybe I shouldn’t have high-fived the mascot in the final 300 metres…

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But really, anything under 2:05 seemed like a stretch for me, based on my training runs and my August half-marathon time of 2:10 on the much hillier Saint John course. So I was flying high by this point!

The weekend started on Friday night. My husband, 15-month-old son and I drove from Saint John to Charlottetown right after work, arriving around 8 p.m. It gave us all of Saturday to enjoy Charlottetown, go for a drive to allow Silas a nap, and enjoy some great food.

Silas loves PEI
Silas loves PEI
We checked out part of the route along Victoria Park.
We checked out part of the route along Victoria Park.

We had lunch and pumpkin ale at the Gahan House. I ate lobster sandwich and had a salad. I ate a cookie with a coffee during a drive to view the colours around Brudenell and Montegue. After a quick dip with Silas in the hotel pool (and as I chugged water, realizing I had not drank enough all day), we ventured out for the pasta dinner. But to our disappointment, there was a long line-up by 6 p.m. Not great with a one-year-old. So we tried Piatto Pizzeria and it was awesome. I enjoyed a barbecue chicken pizza and Mark had a calzone.

We fell asleep super early. After putting Silas to bed in his pack ‘n’ play around 8 p.m., we stayed very quiet in the dark waiting for him to fall asleep. But we fell asleep too! So it was pretty easy to wake up when the alarm sounded at 6:30 a.m., giving us plenty of time to eat (I had toast and a banana with a coffee) and get to the start line.

Pre-race pic with my boy
Pre-race pic with my boy

Since it was rainy and cold, Mark and Silas dropped me off so they could do their own thing while I waited for the race to start.

I was dreading being wet and cold for 21.1 kilometres. But luckily, just as the gun sounded, the skies seemed to clear. It made for a beautiful run. It was crisp and the bright sun shone on the fall leaves. It felt like I was running through a picture at some points.

The race started out meandering through Charlottetown neighbourhoods along the harbour and North River before crossing inland toward the Confederation Trail. I kept up a brisk pace through the first half, finishing 10K in less than an hour. I didn’t think I could keep it up and wondered about my strategy for the remainder. Should I keep running as fast as possible or pull back to conserve energy? I decided to plow ahead, and worry about the consequences later. Worst case scenario is I do a lot of walking, I thought.

Around 11 km, the two-hour pace bunny came up behind me. I tried to run ahead, but the bunny kept up with me. So I made my new strategy to join the two-hour pace group. At first, I loved it. I fell into their brisk pace, followed by 1-minute walking breaks every 10 minutes. But then I felt winded, and realized I couldn’t keep it up. I decided to give up on the idea of getting a sub-two-hour time.

I fell into a new rhythm around 16 km and headed downhill toward University Avenue, the long final stretch. Then, I had to dig deep. I was sore, my legs felt wobbly and I wanted to walk. But my pace was still good (well under my goal of 6 min/km), so I pressed on. I did walk on a couple of hills, but I was getting closer to the two-hour pace bunny again.

As I reached the final two kilometres, I saw the bunny stop and start to cheer people on. He even turned back to help some runners behind me. I looked at my watch and realized a two-hour run was within reach. I never thought it would be possible, but I was on pace.

The final kilometre felt long and I struggled to keep up a good pace. Taking out my earbuds, I could hear the cheers by the finish line, at Province House. I high-fived the mascot and waved at my friends, Kevin and Kathy (thanks for the pics!) I pushed to the finish and started to cry a little. I did it!

At that point I thought it was possible I had a new personal best. But according to Atlantic Chip, my final time was 2:00:03. I thought it might be a little faster because of my chip time, but from what I understand, only gun time was measured.

Now back home, I can’t help but feel how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to run in all three Maritime provinces this year, with my husband and son there to cheer me on. I never had faith that I could get back into running so seamlessly after becoming a mother.

I saw a sign near the finish line that said, “Warning, Sense of Accomplishment Ahead.”

I get that. I’m kind of addicted to it.

Holy hills: Marathon by the Sea Race Re-cap

The course was stunning. The hills were horrific.

This year’s half-marathon at Marathon By the Sea was challenging. At times, I hated it. At times, I was enthralled by Saint John’s beauty. At times, I questioned my sanity.

But I did it, and I’m glad I did.

It was my first half-marathon since having my son 13.5 months ago, and I’m pretty proud of that fact. My body has been around the bend and back since then, and I finished in 2:09:57, within a minute of my MBTS half-marathon in 2013 – when I was in the best shape of my life, and when the course was notably easier (but still hilly and hard!).

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The weather was ideal, starting in the high teens with clouds and a light breeze. After creeping away from my quiet house (Silas slept through the night – bonus!!!), I met up with my friends Jen and Vanessa, and we walked to the starting line together. We all agreed, the new start/finish on the waterfront was both convenient, spacious and pretty.

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At about 8 a.m., the gun went off, and we started out jogging together toward Harbour Passage. It wasn’t long before I parted ways from the other girls. We were pacing around 5:40 mins/km and I wanted to slow it up a bit and conserve energy for the many hills I knew lay ahead.

First big hill: Reversing Falls to the bridge. This is a classic, and since it was near the beginning, it was easy to tackle. The terrain continues upward until you reach Manawagonish Road, which is close to my house. Since I know and run this route often, I felt comfortable and actually started picking up my pace again. As runners near the front of the pack started passing by on the out-and-back portion, I felt motivated and cheered for people I knew. I glanced at my watch and was surprised at my pace.

After looping back to Lancaster Avenue, the route hit a prolonged, gradual downhill stretch. I let gravity do the work and rode the hill as easily as I could. I enjoyed this part, running along Riverview Avenue and its colourful wood shingled-homes, some a little worse for wear.

At the end of the street, we continued down an old, paved path that loops under an overpass and links to the Harbour Bridge. The path provided a unique view of the harbour and the port.

At this point, we were about 10 km into the run, and as I hit the Fundy Fog Chasers water station, I ate half of a gel. I didn’t want to chance eating the whole thing at once, but in hindsight I wish I did. I tossed the rest and started the second half of the course — which was nearly all uphill.

I was pumped to cross the Harbour Bridge. Part of the highway system, the bridge is not typically open to pedestrians, so this was a unique opportunity. My pace slowed significantly as I began the ascent. Once I crested the hump of the bridge, I threw my arms in the air in triumph. But there was so much more work ahead.

The next challenge was getting through the Chesley Drive exit, which includes another steep incline before dropping down to Chesley Drive, then another steep part until Main Street. This was tough, but I kept at it without walking.

I always hate the next part, past Lansdowne Plaza and up toward Mount Pleasant Avenue. I’m not sure why. It smells like dumpsters or something, likely from the mall and string of fast food joints. But to my delight, I passed a water station manned by members of Saint John city council – people I interview multiple times a week. This provided a motivational jolt – just what I needed.

The next tough part was climbing Parks Street followed by Mount Pleasant Avenue. More gradual hills. But it’s lovely along these tree-lined street filled with beautiful old homes. I walked a bit on Mount Pleasant, and my feet were feeling it by this point. But there were about 7 km to go, and I could feel the end was near.

All I had to tackle was Rockwood Park. It’s only another series of hills, some on uneven trails. Hah!

This was my low point. I walked a lot. My legs were throbbing. My feet too. My face twisted in exertion. I could feel sweat and salt sticking to my skin. Where was the next water station? Why was I doing this again? I told myself I just had to get back out of the park, then I would hit the big downhill of Crown Street, and the finish line would be around the corner.

Hah!

Crown Street, and its wicked steep descent, ruined me. My knees hurt. My child-bearing hips hurt. At the bottom, I felt as though my feet were done. Just done. I had 2 km to go. At this point, I was close to 2:00. I told myself, if you have to walk to the finish, it’s OK. But I kept on.

More hills. Three more. They were hard. Still ran. Ran slow.

I wanted to cry, but I took out and earbud and I could hear the crowd. I started scanning the sidewalks for my husband and Silas, as well as some friends who had come to cheer me on. Knowing the would be there kept me in tact.

Then I saw them, and as they cheered for me, I picked up the pace, I ran as hard as I could. I saw Silas, and waved, and recognition registered on his precious face. He gave me that glowing, toothy smile, and I pressed across the finish line, arms overhead.

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When I saw 2:11:04 on the clock, I felt a little disappointed at first. Far from my personal best of 1:59, and slower than my last Marathon By the Sea time of 2:09:09. But when I put it in perspective, and remembered to check my chip time, which was a minute or two faster, I accepted my victory.

Hills and all.

Marathon By the Sea half-marathon 2015: 2:09:57. 6:12 mins/km. 29/51 in my age category (F 30-39). 205/335 overall.

Training for Half Marathon No. 5

The last couple of months have been a bit of a blur. I returned to working full-time, my baby turned one and somewhere in there, I trained for my fifth half-marathon.

Today I ran a nice, slow and hot 10K, for my taper long run. I ran from the west side to uptown and back. It was beautiful along Harbour Passage. It was toasty but manageable. Next weekend it’s 21.1 km – my first half-marathon post-baby – at Marathon By the Sea in Saint John.

Although I’ve managed to consistently get my weekend long runs in, the rest of the week has been lacking. Not much cross training, and only a couple other short runs.

Since my husband and I work opposite shifts, we haven’t needed to put our little guy in daycare. However, this means when I’m home, I’m on my own, which makes it hard to get those runs in. Jogging stroller to the rescue. Even if those runs are ultra-slow, and during the hot late-afternoon hours, at least it’s something.

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As a new mom, I’ve realized that while running is still important to me, it’s certainly not my top priority. This has changed the way I’ve looked at training for this half-marathon.

While I started with the best intentions of following a training plan with speed work, tempo runs and the like, it just didn’t happen. I just ran short runs when I could, and long runs on the weekend. That’s it.

For previous half-marathons, I meticulously tracked my pace, my workouts, my diet and my outfits. My selfie ratios were off the charts. Now, my phone is filled with baby pics. Who wants to look at my sweaty face when there’s a much cuter one next to me?

After last weekend’s long run of 18.5 km, I came home utterly exhausted and slightly nauseated to find that my husband had been struggling getting our little guy down for a nap. And Silas had just fallen asleep when I walked in the door. That meant not only did I not see him all during the work week, but also during a two-hour training run, followed by a two-hour nap. And for what? To feel sore and cruddy for the rest of the day? Sometimes, it all feels like a #momfail.

All this to say that I don’t think I’ve fallen out of love with running. It’s still important to me. It’s a simple and efficient way to keep relatively fit. And I still crave the endorphins. And I love to race. But, like most things in my life, the priority has shifted. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Next weekend, though, will be awesome. I’ve taken part in Marathon By the Sea every year since I started running in 2011 (except last year, when I had a newborn). This year’s half-marathon course is different, and, rumour has it, more challenging. I love running across bridges, and this one includes both the Reversing Falls Bridge and the Harbour Bridge.

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let those sea breezes blow.

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The Saint John Harbour Bridge

Icing on the cake

SAMSUNGThere’s still a chill in my bones after running the Legs for Literacy half-marathon in Moncton today. But there’s also a skip in my step – I beat my personal record.

I ran my third half-marathon of the season in 1:59:54, under that sought-after two-hour barrier by the skin of my teeth. Damn, the victory is sweet.

The weather was absolute dirt. It was the kind of yucky late-fall day that makes you shudder just to look out the window. Bitter cold, hovering above zero. Wind and spitting rain.

But, somehow, it all added up to a great race for me, from beginning to end.

The flat terrain of Moncton made for smooth sailing the entire time. I wanted to rip from the beginning (to warm-up, really) but held back my pace between 5:30 mins/km and 5:45. My goal pace was 5:55 but it felt way too slow.

The route involved three segments of the riverside trail, in an out-and-back format.

Coming from Saint John, where you couldn’t avoid a hill if you tried, I can’t even express how delightful it felt to keep up a brisk pace on flat terrain. Yes, it was wet and cold, but it didn’t seem to matter. Once my body warmed up, I was OK. My hat kept the water off my face and my clothes were moisture-wicking.

More than once I hung in runners’ tail winds, tagging on to their paces, then when I felt like they were slowing down, I zipped on by.

When I got to the 15 km mark, I started rejoicing. I knew I was feeling good and that six more kilometres would not slow my pace. I kept it going as best as I could.

Before long, the two-hour pace bunny was at my rear. I ran with the group until they stopped for a walk break, and I kept on going, managing to just keep ahead of them the rest of the way.

The final couple of kilometres were more challenging, but I just kept pushing, knowing I had a new PR (beating 2:01:40). Getting in under two hours would be icing on the cake.

For the last leg, runners leave the trail and run about a block to Main Street, where the crowds are waiting. For some reason, that last piece before the turn is so hard (I remember that from last year’s 10 km).

But rounding the corner, I emptied the tank. I picked up speed, and passed other runners on the home stretch. I saw the timer at 2:00:10 and was filled with glee. I knew my chip time would get me under the two-hour mark.

As I crossed the finish line and was directed to pick up my medal, my heavy breathing turned to sobs. I was just so happy.

By this point, it was no longer spitting, but raining. And my thin shirt was no barrier to the cold. I started shivering and looking for Mark – who ran his own killer 5 km race today – but he was nowhere to be found. I was wandering aimlessly for about 10 or 15 minutes, which felt like forever, before I found him. I was kind of panicky and still emotional, but it was nothing a hot shower couldn’t fix.

I have no good pictures of the best race of my life, because the shoddy weather did not make us feel like sticking around for glamour shots.

Post-race at the hotel. You can see my photographer in the mirror.
Post-race at the hotel. You can see my photographer in the mirror.
Check out this bling. All I can think about is eating in this pic.
Check out this bling. All I can think about is my lunch.

But here is what is stamped on my memory forever: 2013 has been an epic running year. Three half-marathons, a 10-miler, a 10 km, a 5-miler, and a couple fun runs. Each one better than the last. I am so grateful to have discovered and enjoyed this sport that has introduced me to so many great people and has enriched my life in so many ways.

There is no feeling out there quite like it: pushing your legs and heart are hard as you can. It hurts but it also feels good, makes you feel like you can take on anything. Do anything, be anything.

I hope it never ends.

In summary: Legs for Literacy half-marathon in Moncton, N.B.

Gun time: 2:00:11

Chip time: 1:59:54

Place for women 30-39: 65/216

Avg pace: 5:43 mins/km

Breakfast: Two pieces of thin toast with jam, half a banana

Fuel: One chocolate gel, Gatorade and water

Weather: Showers and 6-7 C

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It’s a double race weekend!
Goblins, zombie nuns, giant Lego blocks and lots of cats scampered through the streets of Fundy Heights this morning during the Creepy Crawly 5K.
It was my first time taking part in the event, and what a blast. Yes, it was a bone-chilling 4 C, but the costumes and spirit were fantastic.
It was a great way to get my legs moving for tomorrow: my last big run of the season, the Legs for Literacy half-marathon in Moncton.
Time to beat is a swift 2:01:40.
This will be my third half this year, and my fourth ever.
I’m feeling relaxed, full of carbs and ready for whatever tomorrow brings. Just please, no snow.

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