Finally a photo where I actually look like I'm running.
Courtesy of Eldon Burkinshaw
"A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity."
- Robert Frost

There is no better introduction to a report on the Boston Prep 16 Miler, a race that would make even the most advanced runners ask themselves, "What the hell am I doing to myself?" yet feel so proud when they're finished.

The Setting

This year's 15th annual Boston Prep 16 Miler took place on a warm winter morning by New Hampshire standards. The third Sunday in January is usually fraught with blustery winds, freezing temperatures and unpredictable storms. This day on January 24, 2010, we enjoyed mild 30 degree temperatures, blue skies, sunshine and clear roads, save the occasional puddle of melting snow.

The race follows the winding streets and rolling hills of Derry, New Hampshire. It begins just 100 yards from West Running Brook, the small stream made famous by Robert Frost. Previous racers use words like "quaint" and "idyllic" to describe the scenes, which include rambling stone walls; solitary country homes surrounded by trees heavy with snow; perfect little mailboxes at the end of each driveway. It is a peaceful place that provides the perfect palate for a poet like Frost: plenty of quiet space to explore the depths of the woods and his mind.

Then there are the deceiving hills that make many a runner want to run far, far away from the seeming serenity of Derry, New Hampshire.

First let me back up a few steps.

Pre Race

I arrived at the Derry Village School, race headquarters, just about 45 minutes after departing from home in Brookline. The volunteers were well organized, cheerful and ready to direct me to a great parking spot. I pulled in beside a narrow walking path then headed inside to check in.

The pint-size tables and chairs in the elementary school's cafeteria were barely big enough to fit even the most petite runners' behinds, yet every seat was taken. The room was bustling with excited runners, stretching, hydrating, tuning out to the music and announcements. Feeling the energy kicked my nerves right into gear.

I looked up my bib number (355) and walked to the check in table to collect my ankle chip timer, pumpkin colored "BP 16 Miler 2010" t-shirt and ill fitted gray winter cap with race logo. Still works as a running cap.

I grabbed a GU and a few race flyers from the center of the room to keep my mind occupied. That lasted about 10 seconds. Then I claimed a square of the linoleum floor to squat and zone out until race time. At this point I had an hour to go.

The Start

Having been to the ladies' room three times, I headed out to my car to drop off my new gear and what was left of the water and PowerBar I'd been working on. I sat in the car to keep warm and call my husband... then ran back inside to use the ladies' room once again.

Hello nerves.

Finally, I returned to the car for the last time, ditched my unnecessary layers and followed the walking path to the start.

"Hey, Are You Robyn?"

Several former coworkers happened to be running the race – a pleasant surprise. I chatted up one of them in the starting corral and managed to keep my mind off of the fact that I was about to run a 16 mile "moderately challenging" course.

The race logo is an exaggerated image of hills that look more like mountains. Beneath the image is the tagline "moderately challenging." I didn't pay much attention to this when I signed up. I had heard this race was difficult more because of the weather than the hills. I had not grasped that the hills really are quite steep and long at times, not at all like you'd normally see in a race. In other words, this race is not for someone who has little to no hill training. If you're thinking of running it in the future, be sure you're prepared.

The race was set to start at 10:00 am. 10 minutes later, we were ready to go. 

The starting line was an unmarked space beside a small white house. That house, a few hundred trees and the race organizer's car complete with boom box set the stage for the start of the 15th annual Boston Prep 16 Miler.


The race was off!

"Take it slow, take it slow," I kept telling myself. I have a bad habit of flying out of the gate only to crash and burn later. I was determined not to let that happen this time. I forced myself to go slow, take it down just one more notch and enjoy the serene setting.

I also reminded myself that I am not prepping for a race like Boston Marathon. I'm training for Providence Marathon, which is fairly flat. My goal was to run this 16 miler hard, but not kill myself completely since hills are not a big concern for me this year. That said, I wish I had run this race when I was training for the Big Sur Marathon. Now those are some hills, and I could have used this workout.

Mile 1: First hill already, but it was too early to care. My favorite sight of the race was also at this very early point: A corral of dark horses off to my right. They were romping and jumping around almost as if they were wild and free, trying to race along with us. It was a beautiful site in the snowy countryside. I took a mental snapshot for when I'd need it later.

Miles 2-4: Mostly down hills at this point, but what goes down must come up! :) These miles were a bit of a blur thanks to "The Breather." I never saw this guy's face, but I always knew he was running right there beside me. First water stop at mile 3 gave me a chance to break away from him a bit.

Miles 5-7: I managed to lose "The Breather" and picked up "The Talker." I understand it's easy for some people to run 8 minute miles for 16 miles, but it's a challenge for me. Listening to someone talk for several miles about how much he hates the fact that he's an associate engineer who should be paid like a senior engineer is not my idea of fun. To all the talkers out there, please be mindful of other runners who may be beside you. At least he got me to move it along.

Miles 8-9: I knew the big hill was coming on mile 10. We'd already covered a series of rolling hills and I'd picked up my pace from a 9 minute mile at the start to about an 8 minute mile. I needed to store up some time in anticipation of a slow mile 10 and 11. Also grabbed a GU and some Gatorade from a kind volunteer. The volunteers and fueling stations on this course are impressive - on par with the most well organized marathons.

Mile 10: "Why is it downhill? Hmm. I don't see this big hill everyone told me about. I thought it was at mile 10. Was it another mile? Oh wait a minute. There it is. Crap."

That's pretty much all I thought at mile 10, where a nice hill started out good and steep to put my quads to work.

An important note to any potential BP runner: The hills on this course are sneaky. They're not all that hard, but they're long and steep at points, which is enough to burn out your legs before you're even a third of the way up. The most deceiving part, though, is that you often can't see the whole hill. You'll be trotting comfortably along, feeling good, curve around some trees and - whoa - the road spikes from a 20 degree incline to a 50 degree incline right in front of you. I may not have those numbers quite right, but those hills will throw you. It's easy to get psyched out on this course. Don't let it get you.

Mile 11: I was still on the same damn hill. Still climbing to about 600 feet from where I started at around 200 feet what felt like 20 minutes earlier. It did make me think of the Big Sur hills, though not nearly as bad: One 2 mile climb on Highway 1 took me from sea level to 600 feet, only to run me into a wall of 30 mph winds at the top.


I just kept chugging along, slow and steady. I could not leave everything I had out on this one hill. I missed qualifying for Boston at the NYC Marathon because I killed myself during the race and had nothing left at the end. I had to prove to myself that I could finish a hard race strong.

To help me get through it, I switched off between running on my toes with short choppy steps and running in longer strides to get some of the lactate acid moving through my legs. I also counted: One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. One count for every swing of my arms. It helped.

Mile 12: "Woohooo! Downhill!" I couldn't have been much happier after I crested that big hill. Even better, the volunteer at the water stop said "No More Hills!" After 12 miles of constant up and down, up and down, UP and down, it was finally over. I just had to keep a steady strong pace through the end.

Mile 13-15: My pace gradually picked up on the nice flat stretch. I actually passed people. Hooray!

The Finish: Here I should have been going all out, but I was enjoying myself and my quads really did hurt. I was back on Humphrey Road near West Running Brook where we started. I glanced over at the horses that danced for us earlier, ran passed the small house that marked our starting line, turned onto the main road where the spectators awaited, and made one final swing into the school parking lot.

There was the finish line. I heard my friends cheering for me. The race announcer said, "About to cross the finish line is Robyn Lewis of Brookline, Mass!"

I finally sprinted.

Post Race

My friends were there. More of my former coworkers were there. I was so happy to be done and so glad someone saw me do it!

I achieved everything I'd hope to in this race: I started easy, finished strong and walked away from it all within one minute of my goal time. Not bad for a hilly race that I'd admittedly underestimated.

Despite my glory moment, no water or food was available for us non elite runners at the finish line. I quickly made my way to the car for some sustenance. The light jog over there was anything but light, especially along the down hill walkway to the parking lot. Quads. Ouch.

After waiting for a few more people to finish, we headed back to the school cafeteria and collected our soup, pizza, coffee, cookies, bananas, Gatorades, waters and anything else edible they wanted to hand to us. The race organizers treat you very well at the Boston Prep 16 Miler.

Then we went out for pizza.

My Race Results

Pace: 8:12
Time: 2:11:12
Division place: 20/94
Gender place: 50/281
Overall place: 253/707

And I couldn't be happier.

I went into this race on a relative whim. "Sure I'll run a 16 mile race. In the middle of winter. In New Hampshire!" That sounds nuts. Throw in the possibility of blizzard, sleet, black ice or sub zero temperatures and you have the definition of crazy. Throw in those hills to the mix and it's pretty insane.

To all my insane runner friends out there… See you at Boston Prep 16 Miler 2011!

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock

Here it comes. The nervous energy is already beginning to build, and I'm 34 hours from gun time for the Boston Prep 16 Miler.

Granted I'm not technically prepping for the Boston Marathon, but I am preparing for a Boston qualifying time - and I'm anxious to run this race. I'm always a ball of nerves on race day. I start to lose my appetite around dinner time the night before. I force myself to eat something the morning of. By the time I step to the line I'm shaking, and not just from the cold. It's all very normal. I'm not trying to win a prize. I'm not trying to beat a competitor. I'm just trying to do my best.

I've been that way since I started running in the 7th grade. I'd get so worked up that I'd be ill the entire school day before a track or cross country meet. But it worked. That energy is just what I needed to reach performance levels I had difficulty attaining in training. It's the same today.

This race seems like it will be particularly interesting thanks to the "moderately challenging" billing, which includes a 2 mile ascent from miles 10-12. Just what you want to see at mile 10. A huge hill.

I never did mind hills though. I'm ready for you Derry! And I am looking forward to the run through Robert Frost's old stomping ground. Maybe I'll be inspired to do something great.

Full race report to follow.

P.S. I'm also volunteering at the MIT Coed Invitational tomorrow, Saturday, January 23. Should be an exciting event for track and field fans!

Today's Run: Just over 4 miles at marathon pace. Loved it. Felt a bit like flying.

"Journalism will never hold you."

One of my college professors said that to me on the last day of class. It was a literature to film class that required me to find unique analogies in filmmakers' interpretations of books and plays. I loved it. I was so deeply absorbed that I became temporarily obsessed with every version of Romeo and Juliet I could get my hands on. I wrote a dozen page paper just on the use of color in the films, detailing how it foreshadowed events, exaggerated character emotions and helped set the the tempo of each scene.

The thing I remember most from that class, though, was not Leonardo DiCaprio running around in Shakespearean tights. It was that one statement: "Journalism will never hold you."

Of course I was a journalism major at the time; almost double major in English. I was fully committed to my path and exceeded my own academic goals as a straight A student. But my professor stopped me in my tracks. I never thought beyond my university universe: Finish top of my class. Get a job right out of college. Become a successful writer and editor in the real world. I chuckled at the idea that I may go further than all that (I was thinking like a 20 year old), but I knew he was serious. I just couldn't fully comprehend his words.

I'm still thinking about it today. Only now I apply it to several aspects of my life. Am I pushing myself to my full potential at work? Am I doing all I can to make my loved ones happy? Can I really qualify for Boston?

Running is one area where I am proud to have broken through my little mold. 5ks didn't hold me. Half marathons didn't hold me. The day I finished a marathon... that was the day I opened a door to a world of possibilities. What began as a way to stay healthy and in shape (a means to an end) has turned into the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and an ongoing motivation.

I intend to think big and continue opening many more doors in the future. I hope others find the inspiration to do the same. Until then, choose your own adventure and trying telling yourself "Fill in the blank will never hold you." It will get you thinking.
Making good use of my new Blackberry. I took this photo yesterday while running on the bike path beneath BU Bridge. The Charles River is beautiful in any temperature.
Today's Run: 14.5 miles at 8:27 pace. Longest run in months and feeling good.

When people ask why I run, I usually tell them that I run for health, I run for personal achievement or I just run for me. I have never run for charity.

That's not to say I don't find charity runners inspiring. Friends and acquaintances who once ran no more than a few miles in their lives pushed themselves to finish 10ks, half marathons and marathons in the name of charity, typically causes with deep meaning to them. They didn't enjoy running, and still don't, but they did it. That takes tremendous dedication and spirit. These caring folks deserve no less praise than the everyday runner who trained just as hard if not harder.

I tell people I'm preparing for my third marathon with the goal of finishing with a Boston Marathon qualifying time. The runner's response to this: "Good for you! That's awesome! How many miles are you running a week? How fast is your pace?" The nonrunner's response: "You know you can just get in the Boston Marathon by running for charity?"

Yes, I know, but then it wouldn't be my run. Right?

I've always shied away from charity running for that reason. As if running for charity negates my own personal achievement. I'm no longer running for me, but for the charity. Does that seem silly or selfish? That's not my intention... I also have a hard time choosing to run for a cause that is not deeply significant to me. Doing that solely to run Boston seems sneaky, though I'm sure the participating charities are happy for the help, no matter the runner's motivation.

In any event, I'm starting to think that charity and running can coexist in my teeny little world. I run a race almost every month. That makes for lots o' fundraising opportunities. I don't intend to turn every race into a plea for cash. The last thing I want is to make anyone feel guilty about donating or not donating. I'm just thinking about how I can help through my running.

If it's not evident why I'm pondering this now, I should have prefaced this post by saying the events in Haiti are a stark reminder of how much help is needed. Not just today, but year round. All across the world and in our own circles of friends and family.

If you're running for charity, please feel free to share the info here so we can spread the word.
The Olympics are coming! The Olympics are coming!

I love the Olympics. I'm partial to the individual sports - no surprise - but I will watch any event NBC plans to pipe to my living room. From ice hockey to skeleton (whatever that is), it's all good. But why not add running? It is a winter sport for some of us, even if we're not always thought sane for running in sub-zero temperatures. Most people consider Usain Bolt unnatural and he's not even out there in the cold!

It's about time we change up these old school Olympic events and add some variety for those not as coordinated on skates, skis or boards. Here's my proposal:

Dear Winter Olympics Committee,

I understand I may be too late sending this submission for Vancouver, so please add the following events to the agenda for the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

  • Short Track Yak Trax Ice Sprinting
  • Cross Country Snow Shoeing
  • Alpine Downhill Run Tumbling
  • Sleet Speed Slope Climbing
  • Freestyle Snow Striding
  • Run, Slip and Slide Ice Luging
  • Pairs Figure Pacing (must run in figure eights or unique formation)
  • Fetal Position Curling (closing ceremony)
Thank you for your time. I look forward to seeing you all in a few weeks!

Yours truly,
Long time follower and Paul Wiley fan (he should have won gold),
Today's Run: Awful. Ran almost 11 miles in just over 9 minute pace. Was supposed to be a 13 mile run at faster than marathon pace.

I haven't had a bad run in a while, so I guess I was due. Today's run ended with my stomach wrenched in one of those debilitating knots that take great pleasure in bringing you to your knees.

Didn't help that I drove to Vermont and back yesterday - and not for something fun like skiing.

I was expected at my father's house just west of Killington by 11 am Saturday morning. Knowing that I'd be spending the day there, I stayed up till almost 2 am Friday night tackling a random mess of odd jobs around the house. Got most of it all done, but had to wake up four hours later to drive my husband to basketball before I stole our car off to VT alone. (We share one car since I usually never use one.) Either way, I had to get my butt out the door bright and early to get in a full day of quality time with my dad.

Made it to my dad's house by 11:30 (bit delayed by a missed turn and ski traffic), then went promptly to lunch, movie and shopping, then helped him clean his house of pet hair, had a huge slab of pecan pie, then got back in my car and drove home. By then my allergies were screaming. I grew up with pets, but have little tolerance for furry animals nowadays.

Made it home on my fourth cup of coffee of the day. I usually have no more than one. Dad likes coffee, so it's always in front of me, and I needed it to handle both the ride there and back. I also don't think I had more than one glass of water the whole day yesterday. Didn't make it far on that New Year's resolution!

Keeping tally, in one day's time I've had less than 4 hours sleep, almost no water, lots of coffee, heavy foods, two 3-1/2 hour drives, no time to slow down/rest/nap, and an allergic reaction to my dad's eight pets. Did I mention my dad is also going through a divorce? Add some stress to the list.

Surprisingly, I was not looking forward to today's run. I was still exhausted and unsettled from yesterday. I had a few glasses of water today, but not enough to hydrate. Still I forced myself to get out the door and run, knowing I'd feel better once I did. Unfortunately, I got the get-up-and-go less than one hour after having some lunch. Yet another bad idea.

Today's run was supposed to start out semi easy, then gain speed till I was just above marathon pace (8:10-8:15). The total distance planned was 13 miles. I started out just fine, except for some stiffness in my ankles. Nothing unusual for a sub-20 degree run. My ankles warmed up and I warmed up and started getting faster as I approached miles 3 and 4. By mile 5, I had to start using more muscles to kick in the slightly faster pace, and my core, stomach muscles were one of the first recruits. I started getting mild stomach cramps right about then, but nothing I hadn't dealt with before. From there, my run went something like this.

Feeling ok.

Bit faster.

Push the up hill a bit harder.

Cramp. Cramp. Cramp.

Hmm.... Ignore.

Run. Run. Run.

Bit faster still to top of hill.


Ok, it will go away. IGNORE. Downhill now.


After that, it was an interesting dance of run harder (cramp) and run easier (relief). That continued through miles 6-9. By mile 10, no matter how slow or fast I ran, I cramped up. Then the nauseau set in. So what did I do? Run harder! At that point, I just wanted to get home, no matter how much it hurt. It was freezing.... I felt like crap.... I didn't want to call my husband and quit the run.... My body felt otherwise. Mile 10.8, I shut down completely, doubled over in pain and almost became violently ill, right into the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. (I didn't, but it was close.)

I had no choice but to listen to my body at that point. I was still too stubborn to get a lift home from my husband, but I did walk/jog the rest of the way - about 2.5 miles. I was an ice cube when I finally got there, but I got there. Hugged my husband, had a big glass of water, jumped in a too-hot shower and almost burned off my freezing skin, but I was home! YAY!

If you made it to the end of this long entry, thanks for humoring me.

If you've had a similar experience, I'm sorry to hear it. Every once in a while guess we just have to remember our bodies have as much say in our training schedules as our minds do. Now I need to go to sleep.
Today's Run: Relaxed 9.6 miles at ~ 9:00 pace. One of my longest runs ever on a work day! Hard to get up out of the nice, cozy bed on a cold, dark winter morning.

Is it too early to start planing my summer vacation?

We are! And we're heading west. Look out Griswolds, the Lewises are hitting the road. Well, not entirely. We're flying part of the way and driving the rest, but it's the closest thing to a cross country adventure we've taken.

This July we'll be off on a western adventure through Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. Yellowstone National Park, Stanley white water and Rockies baseball are all on the agenda! I'm already getting excited and it's still six months off.

My husband and I have been very lucky to travel quite a bit. We've seen Vienna, Paris, Munich, Florence, Siena, Rome, Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Lhasa, Shanghai and many other cities - just counting the trips we've taken together. This year we're staying closer to home to explore some of our own country for a change.

I'm also not-so-secretly hoping to get in a rave run or two along some mountain range or around one of the parks. Running Big Sur last year left me wanting more. If you've ever spent any time running out west, your suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Today's Run: ~ 8 miles including 12x100m striders ~ 8:34 pace. Nice run in the 20 degree temps, though it felt long. Did 30 min core workout tonight on Bosu. Fun. :)

The February 2010 issue of Runner's World features a story about controlling your competitive nature when passing or being passed by other runners ("On Your Left," page 46). I thought this article was amusing because I'm guilty of feeling a small sense of accomplishment as the passer... and a small sense of disappointment as the passee. However, I don't get quite as worked up as the author of the article - a man who says men are most bothered when passed by another runner. Is that true? I have a story below that may suggest otherwise...

First I admit I am somewhat competitive. As a teenager I ran several years of track with my closest friend, who finished every race :01 behind me. In my 20s I met my now close friends and loved ones who introduced me to long distance running, and tried to outrun me in every race. Now the only competition I have is myself, yet I still feel a twinge of glory when I go out for a great run and pass everyone on the street along the way. (Of course they may have all been having a slow day.)

I also get a little frustrated with myself when I'm passed. I realize that should be no measure of my own success, but it happens. At those times I'll think any of the following things:
  • "I'll be faster next month."
  • "Nothing I can do about it now."
  • "Why do I care, I don't even know that person."
  • "Maybe he/she runs more than me. I should run more."
  • "Maybe he/she is on the last mile! I would be that fast on that mile, too."
  • "He/she does have a great pace going."
  • "He/she looks like a serious runner."
  • "He/she was so nice for waving." (Rare.)
  • "Wish I had that jacket!" :)
All that said, I don't pass people just to say I passed them. I also hope people don't pass me for the same reason, which brings me to my little story.

I once came across a 20-something female runner who, turns out, hated being passed. She was jogging up a very steep hill (Summit Ave's Corey Hill) about 1/10 mile ahead of me. I love hills, so I maintained my usual pace and eventually overcame her. I moved from the sidewalk to the street so as not to go directly passed her. (I feel bad passing other people, so I try to do it as nicely as possible.) The second I came into her peripheral vision, she sped up to my pace, then she moved ahead. I let her go - figured I caught her at a time when she intended to speed up. It couldn't be just me, right?

On to the next few loops around the hill.

We ended up crossing each others' paths a second time. I approached her from behind, again. I gradually caught up, again. She then took off, again. This time I picked it up, too. I just could not believe she'd run faster just because of me. Before you know it, we'd both gone from 8:00-10:00 paces to an all out sprint down this huge hill. I almost laughed out loud, but could tell she was dead serious. She was buckled in. No eye contact. No look of amusement. Just wanted to beat me. To avoid being potentially tripped or snarled at, I turned off the hill at the first side street and ran away. I wasn't looking for that kind of run.

I realize there are some seriously competitive people out there. I understand why and how that happens as a runner - sometimes it's all we have for motivation. But it reminds me of a quote by George Sheehan:

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.."

Couldn't have said it any better.

Although, if I ever happen across that same runner, I may have to run away again - this time right passed her. ;)