First up in our 2016 Vermont City Marathon invited runner preview is Christine Irish. First, some highlights (courtesy of the VCM website):
Town: North Yarmouth, Maine
Originally from: Cumberland, Maine
College & Year: Colby College, 1997
Club Affiliation: Dirigo Running Club
Recent Race Highlights: California International Marathon 2:50:32 December 2015
Beach 2 Beacon 10K August 2015 37:45 3rd master
Trails to Ales 10K September 2015 37:29 1st overall female
Maine Half Marathon October 2015 1:21:09 2nd overall female
Maine Half Marathon October 2014 1:23 1st overall female
Boston Marathon April 2015 2:52:28 6th master
Boston Marathon April 2014 2:52:21
Marathon PR: 2:50:32 in 2015 at California International Marathon
Half Marathon PR: 1:21:09 in 2015 at Maine Half Marathon
Other Racing Highlights: Twilight 5K, 2014 17:35 First overall for the race
Pumpkin 5K, 2015, 17:55 First overall female
Father’s Day Sea Dog’s 5K, June 2014 17:55, first overall female
Sugarloaf 15K, May 2014, 55:39, First overall female
And now we dive in a little deeper with a little Q&A…
How have you been racing so far in 2016?
Pretty well, ran a PR 2:50 at the California International Marathon in December, then Boston was way off that due to the heat (2:57)
First time at VCM? What does it mean to be a part of the invited runner field?
Yes, this is my first VCM. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to compete there and to be part of the elite field. It is a very talented bunch of runners racing this year and I am honored just to be a part of it. I have heard that the city really comes out and supports/encourages the runners, so am looking forward to race day.
What’s your goal this year?
I would love to break 2:50 if the conditions cooperate. If we have another hot day like Boston was this year, it will be really challenging to do so.
What’s your biggest strength as a runner?
Mentally, I seem to manage the challenges of the marathon fairly well. I love taking a phrase that I have heard recently or that has meaning to me and using it as motivation during the race. For instance, in 2014 when I ran my then PR at Boston (2:52), my mantra was “it is an honor and a privilege” with deference to those who were killed or injured in the 2013 bombing. This year at Boston, I kept thinking about my husband’s wedding ring which is made of titanium and how unbreakable that is. Kept me going through the tough spots.
What is your favorite race distance? Which one is your best one? Why?
Favorite race distance is probably the marathon, best race distance is probably the half or full. My endurance is much more of a strength than my speed.
In a race like this, what’s more important, time or place?
Probably place, since time is so dependent on the weather at this time of year (still too early to be completely acclimated to warmer temps, so if we get a hot day, it will take its toll on time) however everyone is competing in the same conditions, so place is still relevant.
Is it enough to just be the top masters runner, or are you disappointed if a few wily open runners get away from you?
I am always looking to place as high as I can, and have to admit that I get a certain satisfaction out of competing with whoever is around me, regardless of their age. I have been known to use my age as an advantage mentally when racing younger runners whose life experiences are different. For instance, if I am racing a young woman who has never had children, I might use that in my mind to tell myself that she hasn’t experienced true pain yet! ?
How do you juggle family, career and training all while competing at such a high level?
I work full time as an emergency physician and am the associate director of emergency medicine at Maine Medical Center – which is the largest emergency department north of Boston. The grind of medical school and residency experiences translated very well and certainly prepared me for the mental challenges of long distance running. After those experiences, everything else sort of pales in comparison. I have five children that keep me on my toes, ages 8-15 and a wonderful husband who also runs and competes in triathlons. Our children all run as well and many of our holidays start with a local 5 or 10K to kick off the day. I have high expectations of myself but always seem to have fun along the way during the training. During the winter months, we spend a lot of time on the treadmill. I have incredibly supportive friends and family and a few close girlfriends that I have been training with for the last 8 years, after we had a random conversation and decided we needed to do something for ourselves that was healthy but also incorporated time to bond and talk. Running was the perfect option. The training has provided me the routine and structure that I had been craving since my schedule as an emergency physician is completely varied and unpredictable (working nights, weekends and holidays are just part of the deal in the ED). I have been working with my coach, John Spinney from QT2 for the past 2 1/2 years and he has guided my training and taken a lot of the mental stress out of it, since I now only need to do as he tells me and complete my workouts!
Your job sounds pretty challenging. Is it safe to say that even in your toughest days running you don’t think ‘I’d rather be at work right now?’
Actually, although my job is very demanding, I thrive on the challenges it brings. I would never chose another profession and have been exceedingly happy with my decision to become an emergency physician. I had wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can recall, and specifically was drawn to emergency medicine because of the fast paced nature of the ED, as well as the need to make critical decisions quickly. I absolutely love taking care of patients who are critically ill as well as enjoy the variety of my specialty and the extremes of ages that I get to care for. It was actually a conversation with an elderly patient that I had one night that motivated me to start running seriously again, and led to my “joining forces” with Jen and Michelle to dedicate ourselves to marathon training. That being said, running remains a steadfast passion that helps me set aside time each day for myself, where I am actively keeping myself healthy and strong, and challenging myself to reach new goals. I really couldn’t imagine my life without work or running. My husband and children are incredibly supportive of both my career and running and that helps me remain focused and consistent.
Now about that “super group” of friends that you started running with… Did any others go on to run competitively like you? It’s pretty amazing that you’re running at this level starting out so casually like that.
I started running with a woman (Jennifer Piesik) that I have been friends with since 6th grade and her younger sister, Michelle Cook. We all ended up moving back to our home town after going and doing other things in our 20s and started spending a lot of time together when our children were young. We have trained for and run many races together and Jen’s marathon PR is 3:18 run at the Smuttynose Marathon in Hampton a few years back. I also train with her sister Michelle Cook who ran a marathon PR of 3:09 at Smuttynose that same year (?2012). We still meet up for many runs together, but most of my training is done on my own now as I am working with a coach and have specific goals that I am trying to reach, making it more difficult to just “wing it” like I used to. When I broke 3 hours for the first time after training myself, it spurred me to hire a coach and get a bit more focused. However, my running friends are amazing individuals, and inspire me to keep working and giving my best every day. We have travelled to many races together and continue to do so combining our love of running with relaxing vacation time and making memories along the way. Our families/children are actually all really close as well, so it is something that we are passing down to the next generation. All of our kids (ages 7-15 now) compete in local 5Ks and participate in the town’s recreation running program which my husband and I coach three days a week.
Do you have a nickname?
Not one that I use anymore but in high school cross country I am sorry to say that my nickname was “Duck” because some people believed that I ran like a duck. I like to think I run like a very efficient duck!
Go-to post marathon meal (celebration mode)?
Pasta. I rarely eat pasta, but absolutely love it following a marathon.