I’ve been chasing my best half-marathon time for nearly two years. Finally, last weekend I smashed through the barrier.

Let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.

I actually never intended to race the Rochester half marathon last weekend. I has planned to use the course as a 13-mile training run as I prepare to run the NYC Marathon in November.

But I couldn’t find my training partner at the start of Sunday morning’s race. I lost another in the crowd near the toilets. Fortunately, I ran into colleague and friend Ben, who had trained for six months to run his first-ever half marathon.

We agreed to at least to start the course together. I told him I’d drop back if I felt like I was pushing too hard.

That was my plan, anyway. But it never happened!

We set off at a decent clip. Our first mile was around a 9:15 minute pace. I assume our second was the same. I stopped looking at my watch for a few miles and just ran.

Ben and I chatted for much those first 5 miles – about his training, his family, my family, the supportive online running community and racing strategies. When I looked at my watch again, I saw we’d just finished our fifth mile at a 8:50 minute pace. And our sixth, seventh, AND eighth!

The miles were ticking by. We both felt fantastic!

We pushed each other along as we ran. Ben brought a handheld water bottle with him and I grabbed liquid at each water stop, took a swig and sprinted to catch Ben.

I sure didn’t want to let Ben down on his inaugural race, so I matched his pace. My lungs were clear, my legs felt strong. Onward!

Around mile 10, with a 5K to go, I realized that not only was I going to set a personal best time, we were on track to break the two-hour mark. This milestone was a long time coming for me, as I’d aimed for and missed it more than once over the last two years.

My dearest friends have witnessed this – more than once, my bid for a sub-2 half ended closer to the 2:05 or 2:10 mark because I started out too fast.

But not Sunday.

We zipped past runners along the river path. We enjoyed the view of Rochester’s skyline from the University of Rochester’s river campus. We cursed the slight ramp that led us up to the Ford Street bridge.

That last mile flew by. As we ran down South Plymouth Avenue, the wind pushed us backward. I grunted. Ben grinned.

“Let’s finish this thing,” he said to me as we approached Frontier Field. We stepped up our pace and sprinted in to the finish.

As we crossed, I could see the clock had a number that began with a “1.” Success!

km 092213 marathon sptsVic at the finish (photo by colleague Kris Murante)

I finished in 1:58:45 – my personal best half-marathon time by exactly FIVE minutes. That previous PR, set in October 2011 in Toronto, needed to come down.

Hey, if its going to happen…why not go big?

I wholeheartedly believe that Ben and I were meant to run together Sunday morning. We tripped into one another at the start. We fell into a steady pace easily and at times, ran in sync, our feet slapping the pavement in perfect rhythm.

Congratulations to us both! I can’t wait to see what our next race brings.

Everyone loves a PR! Tell me about yours in the comments!

Middle of the pack

Apparently, I’m pretty consistent.

I never would’ve predicted it, but at my last two 5k races I placed fourth in my age group, with an 8:26 pace. Both events were small, local fundraisers in Rochester, NY.

Teenage me would scoff at this pace. But adult me is pretty damn proud.

For years, I couldn’t drop under 27 minutes for a 5K race. I hovered just above, as the elusive 26 taunted me. I’m not a sprinter, but tend to hold my own as a distance runner, swimmer or rower.

So to find myself flirting with the edges of the winner’s circle is a bit exciting, and unexpected, especially for a self-proclaimed middle-of-the-pack runner like me.


My goal at the start of the summer was to beat my best previous 5K PR, 26:56, set last June at an evening 5k race that took us through random and unmarked athletic fields for the last mile. It was hot. And I know from experience that I don’t run my best in heat or humidity.

My best-ever 5K time is in the low 24s. But its been years – 18 years since that day. If my PR was a person, it could vote this fall.

My first summer race was on May 25 and produced perfect running weather. Temps were in the 40s when we set off and my legs felts great. With just 80 people running the course that morning, I finished with a sprint up a hill and smile on my face knowing I did my best.

I finished 26:10, fourth place in my age group. I was freezing, but thrilled. I reached my goal straight out of the gate.

On Sunday, I ran the 5K to Cure ALS, which started and ended at Frontier Field, home to Rochester’s minor league baseball team, The Rochester Red Wings.

als2Zipping by at mile 2

I wrote a detailed race recap on my work blog – But my race highlights included running my first mile under 8 minutes and rounding the bases on the baseball field before crossing the finish line, right behind home plate.

That’s me in the bright green skirt, about to round the last turn into the finish at Sunday’s 5k. (I passed the dude in the blue shirt, by the way!)

Of 650 runners, I again finished fourth in my age group, with a time of 26:11. This was extra special since the race was one day after I ran a 6-mile loop through suburban Rochester with the local women’s group, Rochester Moms in Motion.

I actually learned my place I went to check my time on the race website Monday morning. I had hoped to get my chip time, but one wasn’t listed. Instead I got a better surprise!

I’ve got one more 5K race planned for the summer before I move into marathon training mode. So who wants to guess how I’ll fare at my next 5k race on July 4? Will it be a hat trick?

Who else plans to run a race on July 4? Have your ever surprised yourself by running faster than expected at a race? Tell me in the comments!

13.1 miles through the Flower City

The sun was shining, the skies were clear. It was a sign. We couldn’t have asked for a better morning to run 13.1 miles through the City of Rochester.

I arrived downtown about an hour before the 7:30 a.m. start. I parked in my usual daily spot, headed into my office and dropped my gear at my desk before meeting up with several colleagues also running the half.


Heading to the start

After months of training for many Rochester-area runners, Sunday was the fourth annual Flower City Half Marathon. It marked my third time running the course, and was by far my favorite trek.

There’s really nothing like running a race in your hometown. You run alongside literally dozens of friends and pass cheering neighbors as you round nearly every bend. Thank you, Rochester.


Just before the start: me, Traci, Jessica and Megan

All four of us ran our own race. And we were each happy with how our respective runs went. Jessica and Megan ran together and Traci and I agreed to run separately (but not far apart!) before we headed to the starting line.

Runners started to gather on the Broad Street bridge shortly after 7 a.m., about 30 minutes before the race was scheduled to begin. In the moments leading up to the start, I still had not located my race partners — Jen and Mark. It looked like I was going to run solo.

I lined up with Traci, who planned to take it easy, and we waited to begin. We paused for a moment of silence – to reflect on the Boston Marathon bombings. The start line also paid tribute to the tragic day, with 4-15-13, the date of the marathon, listed on the time clock featured at the start. A Boston flag was proudly displayed, opposite the American flag.

bildeBoston strong at the start. Photo by Kate Melton

Many in the crowd also joined in singing the National Anthem. It was tough to hear mid-crowd as a speaker near me wasn’t working quite right. So to hear everyone sing was moving. And then, we were off!

About a quarter-mile into the race, I heard someone shout my name. I turned and saw Jen and Mark waving at me. I weaved through the crowd to join my race partners.  (Thanks, eagle eye Mark!)

My original plan was to aim for a sub-2-hour half, but because my legs were still not healed from two hilly races in a row several weeks earlier, I decided to just enjoy the course.

Around mile 1, we passed Susan B. Anthony’s house on Madison Street. As always, Anthony and several other historical actors were cheering as runners zipped by. It always makes me smile!

We rounded the corner and headed past a city fire house and toward Frontier Field and Eastman Kodak.


Running toward Kodak tower near Frontier Field

We had sped up to a 9-minute-mile pace. Fine by me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it through the mid-course hills.

fc6Turning onto Main Street downtown. Photo by Kate Melton

We veered off Main, down East Avenue where we saw several cheering colleagues and friends. We headed through the Park Avenue neighborhood and felt strong through mile six, when we reached the South Wedge.

This is always the spot where I slow down.  I’d love to give a spectacular reason, but in reality, I know it’s because I’m not the strongest on hills. And the mid-section of the Flower City course has PLENTY of hills, starting with an incline on South Goodman Street followed by another hill into Highland Park.

Jen zipped ahead and we waved her on. She was running strong and Mark was fine with slowing down to accommodate my aching legs. (Jen stayed on pace and came in under two hours at 1:59:31.)

Mark and I powered through Highland Park and Mt. Hope Cemetery, about three straight miles of hills with a cobblestone road (a hill, of course) thrown in. Despite how much I struggle here, I love running through the park and cemetery as both are so unique and beautiful. Besides, where else will you run past such historical icons as Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and Nathaniel Rochester?

mt hopeRunners in Mt. Hope Cemetery. File photo from 2012 race by Annette Lein

After we left the cemetery, we ran past Strong Memorial Hospital and along the river trail past the University of Rochester. We passed a few people here and settled in for our last two miles. Mark grabbed a beer from a generous spectator.

“Hey,” he shrugged. “Does it really matter with about a mile to go?”

Not at all. BRILLIANT!

Moments later, we’d reached the Ford Street bridge. One mile to go!

We hauled up a hill (ugh) and spotted a cheering colleague (Thanks Mikey!) and headed across the bridge. We turned onto Plymouth where we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the skyline.


Running down Plymouth Avenue

Mark and I cheered for other runners as we ran this final stretch. We were particularly excited for a woman who had run with Mark as he trained for his first marathon. She finished strong, just ahead of us.


Mark and me at the finish. Photo by my colleague Shawn Dowd.

Shawn took many photos at the race, as did freelance photographer Kate Melton. (Click the bold to see their galleries.)


Kate also snapped this great shot of Mark and I after we finished.

Thanks for the run, Mark! We finished in 2:06. Decent considering how much we slowed down on the hills.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Have you run a race course past historic monuments? What are your spring fitness plans? Tell me us in the comments below.

Hail and color everywhere!

You never know what sort of weather to expect in upstate New York.

Friday was a spring day, with a high of 74 as the sun was shining. But by Saturday morning, we felt the chill as temps dropped to the upper 30s and hail pelted us between falling flakes.

We knew what we were getting into living in Rochester, so we headed to the Color Vibe 5K race bright and early, prepared not to let the wintry weather chill our day.

Our group, like many, donned the official race shirt for the mid-morning run. It was white and well, when else were we going to wear it? We lined up about 30 minutes before race time, huddling for warmth. Many in the corral grew bored, ripped open their color packets and started a color war.

I was technicolor before we even started moving.  What fun!


Carnage of some impatient runners

Soon enough, the race was underway. Our group of seven split in half and I ran along with Charlotte, Lindsay and Deb. Less than a half-mile into the run, hail started pelting us as we ran. The whole crowd groaned.

But alas, a color station was ahead. Once we were coated in green, everything seemed more springlike!


Volunteers throw green corn starch powder on passing runners

Our race was on the local community college campus. Parking lots were aplenty, so we spent much of the run winding through lots and campus roads as we chatted. We were also pleased to see so many people out, despite the weather. We saw many kids running, some racers in costume (Batman and Superman passed us by) and several color infused strollers.


Lindsay, Deb and Charlotte

Since no mile markers were posted and most of my group skipped wearing watches for the untimed 3.1-mile race, Deb kept track of our mileage. She also shared that info with other runners who were itching to know how much further to the finish.

As we ran, high winds carried the color powder high into the air. It was quite the sight.

Then the snow returned, followed by the hail. (Ouch)


Snow. sigh.

After we were doused in yellow and blue, we rounded the last turn to the finish.

Because many people stopped at the finish to toss their remaining color powder packets, we had to stop and walk about 50 or so yards into the finish line. That was a bit disappointing, as my favorite part of any race is a feeling of accomplishment as you finish.

But that said, we pummeled each other with color powder at the finish!


Here, the girls douse me in color!


From left: Sara, Charlotte, Deb, me, Lindsay, Amanda and Thea

Amanda, one brilliant runner in our group, offered up an idea to protect her iPhone from the color powder. She put her phone inside a plastic ziploc bag. Genius! Unlike my phone, which was a technicolor horror and lost 2 months off it’s life, hers was well protected through the madness.

We also loved that Color Vibe partners with a local charity for the event. In Rochester, it raised awareness for the YMCA of Greater Rochester.

Entry into the Color Vibe included a white T-shirt, one color packet, sunglasses and of course our races bibs. We were also given Boston bracelets, a thoughtful gesture by race organizers as we ran several days after Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.


Have you ever taken part in an non-traditional race? Do you like untimed events? Please share your experiences  in the comments.