Back in the Saddle… I think

Hi Friends –

Until just now, I had not realized that I haven’t written here in over 7 months. I’m shocked and a little disappointed about that. I AM still running – nothing will stop me from that – and I AM still chasing that brass ring of a BQ and I AM still knocking out states on my 50 states quest… (I now have 19) – however, I had to make some changes in my training.

I was tired. So, so, so very tired.

I was having a hard time keeping with training and although I got faster for a while, I was starting to slow down in races (though not in training) and it was something I complained about right after the Tobacco Road marathon last year. I’ve not done a full marathon since – only half marathons (which, by the way, are no small feat, so I’m not at all diminishing them – I just thought that at this point in the year, I’d have a nice shiny BQ, or at least a PR at the 26.2 distance…).

While attempting to train for a spring marathon, I finally broke down and got a FitBit (all my runner friends were getting really fancy runner watches, but none of them had *all* the things I wanted, so I got a FitBit Charge HR to hold me over until the Garmin 235 has been out for a while) and I noticed a trend: my resting heart rate was higher than I expected… Also, my heart rate jumped really fast when I started a run and took foreeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvveeeeeeerrrr to recover. I had lost fitness ūüė¶ How could I have let that happen? I was a Runnah! Running is supposed to make you fitter, thinner, healthier! I ate well (what all the running blogs told me to eat), I followed training plans (which I blabbed about on this very blog for a couple of years), I did speed intervals, hill workouts, and I ran 30, 40, 50 miles a week… and, yet… I was getting unfit… and fat… and slow… and frustrated!!

Apparently, that was too much. I’m over trained (admitting it is half the battle, friends) and probably have been for at least a year, and (like any other injury), I need to take the time to recover. An active recovery (of course), but a recovery all the same.

While attempting the training for that same spring marathon, and complaining about my lack of energy to a friend, she recommended that I read The Big Book of Endurance Training¬†to help me learn a little more about heart rate training. I’ve found, though, it is teaching me a lot more in the process about just being honest with myself about how I feel and how to be healthy and still reach my goals (they can be complimentary).

Although was¬†not completely finished with the book, I immediately started to implement some of the tactics he discussed. My first shock: my resting heart rate was still really high and getting higher. Okay, I thought, maybe it is the FitBit – it can’t be all that accurate¬†–¬†so I bought a chest strap. To my surprise, the FitBit was really all that accurate – they are usually within a couple beats of each other, for what it is worth. It became clear that I needed to change my strategy and try things a different way to see if I can make my goals a reality.

I’ve been following heart rate training¬†for about 3 weeks now and I am starting to feel a little better. I’m starting to have some energy again and I no longer dread run days. For the most part, I’m sleeping better and I have craved sugar a lot less lately. I follow a schedule when I run¬†2 days, take day off, and then run 2 days. I keep my runs to under 45 minutes for now (except for the long that is once a week) and keep my pace so that it is within a range as outlined in the book. My heart rate is still keeping me pretty slow and I can’t say I’m not frustrated about it (especially when I see friends cruising along at 8:00 paces), but I’ve got my eyes on the prize and I really want to get there the right way. I’ve been walking more and actually warming up and cooling down as appropriate, steps I skipped in the past and shouldn’t have. I am getting faster, but I have a long way to go and I need to be patient (to me, friends, that is the toughest part of training…).

I ran my first half marathon last weekend (the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon) with this strategy and came in at 2:00 on the nose – one of my slower half marathons, but the faster end of my target completion time. My heart rate was¬†just a tad over the target rate set by my heart rate monitor (I train at a lower rate) and I didn’t have to refuel or stop once throughout the entire race. I actually felt good throughout and just after – not even sore muscles. I hope to get that post up soon – and of course there are port-a-potty stories involved – haha.

I am running my second Half Marathon since I started heart rate training¬†in NYC next week. My goal is to finish a tad faster than Myrtle Beach (with fewer Potty moments…) Wish me luck ūüôā

Until next time…

Random Marathon Training: week 3

Hi Friends!

Yes… I just finished week 3 of training for a marathon I’m not entirely certain I’m going to do yet. Almost 1/4 of the way through a training plan for it, in fact. I did, however, make a move in that direction this week: I registered for the City of Oaks half marathon. I said that if I did a full, it would be this one. I registered for the half, though, because it tends to fill up and I wanted to secure a spot (and, for a cheaper price) just in case training did NOT work out as planned. I could always do the half and be pretty happy with that. I checked before I registered and I can upgrade to the full if training goes well.

So how has the training gone so far? It’s been ok – not great but not bad. I’ve “missed” only one run but that was a trade in of the first “long” of 8 miles for about 7 hours of back breaking yard work, so I’m calling it even.

I’m following the same training plan I’ve followed for the last two marathons: the 3:30 plan. Not because I can do a 3:30 (clearly – the closest I’ve come is 4:05 and that was my first), but because I want to work my way up to that. I’m using that plan to gain the fitness I’ll need to do a sub-4:00 one day. Since my leg injury last winter, though, it has been tough for me to get back to the speed I had before it on a consistent basis… and this summer, I have had a much tougher time with the heat than in previous summers (in fairness, this summer has been hotter than the more recent summers here – we got lucky with the summer weather the previous three summers in NC… we’re back to normal now).

All that to say: training is going ok so far. I do feel like I’m barely able to squeeze in the runs I get, so I’m a bit dubious about having the ability to carve out time for a full marathon and to train for it the way I know I need to. I don’t want to set up these lofty goals and then feel bad about myself because I can’t manage to reach these goals. I need to be realistic. For now, my goal is to see how close I can get.

This week, I managed to eek out 35 miles. I say “eek out” because it kind of felt like that. I did complete 5 runs: 5.6, 5.2, 6.1, 7.1 and 11.5 – overall, not a bad week. A couple of these runs were slower than I wanted and the speed interval (the 6 mile run) was really tough toward the end and I couldn’t finish it as planned. For the speed interval, I had planned on a 4/2 interval split with the intervals at 7.6, 7.7 (for 1:30 each) and 7.8 (for 1:00) – I think that might have been a little aggressive. I did manage about 35 minutes of it (with a 2:00 rest at 7.1 and 7.2 respectively), but I couldn’t do much more than that and ended up settling for a 1/1 interval/rest combo for the rest of the run. I plan to do the 4/2 again this week and see if I can make that happen this time.

Target mileage for this upcoming week is around 38 (gulp). It is going to be a pretty busy week, so I’m hoping to stay on track. I set my monthly goal for August for 125. That was my goal for July and I came within 7 of it, only because I had a 13 mile week due to the yard work stuff – so it wasn’t as though I wasn’t working, I just couldn’t count the mileage ūüė¶

On that note… I’m going to get started with the rest of my Sunday so I can try to get ahead of my busy week and make the time for my runs this week… or at least get a decent start with it. Hope you all have a great week!

2015 Race Reports: Novo Nordisk New Jersey Half Marathon – Long Branch, NJ

Race: Novo Nordisk New Jersey Half Marathon

City: Long Branch, NJ  Date: 4/26/2015

Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

Weather: Mid-50s at start; upper 60s at finish

Course:  Mostly flat for a New England coastline race.

Summary:  Not fast, but I loved it and had a great time!!

Prologue

My mother was from New Jersey.

Yes… she was a Jersey Girl… from the Jersey Shore even, before that became a part of the national lexicon because of that reality show. Unfortunately for me, she passed away far too young and too early in my life for me to really know all that much about where she was from. I picked up bits and pieces over the years from things she’d say and some of the items I found that she left behind, and I even saw the town once, but just as we were passing through. I never really got to *see* where my mom was from, and I thought it was important for my kids to understand things about the grandmother they’d never meet that were a factor in how they are being raised today. Because, really, when you are raised by a Jersey Shore girl, there are some parts of Jersey that gets transferred to your kid, even if she’s raised in the south – which explains a *lot* about how I fit in here ūüôā

For that reason, I saved this state so I could visit her family and see where she was from. I timed it so I could bring my kids to meet that side of the family because none have met my kids – and I’ve not met theirs. I looked for a race as close to the town she grew up in (which, at the time I knew only as Red Bank) and tried to get it as close to where my cousins currently live as possible. What I found was so much better than I even imagined – a re-connection with a family I’d lost touch with a long time ago. Plus, along the way, I got to experience things with my boys for the first time: seeing Washington DC, New York City, and Hershey, PA, in addition to meeting and visiting family they’d not known. The icing on the cake was that they were perfect travelers for this trip – very excited, sweet and flexible and had a great time. That meant more to me than the race.

Pre-Race

As I mentioned in the Prologue, I decided to take my boys on this trip. This is something I’ve been trying to do when I have support and someone to care for them while I race because I’d like them to see me complete races that I work so hard for (they see the time spent on the treadmill – I wan them to understand what it is for). I also have my father’s sense of adventure and curiosity about the world around me, so I want to share that with them, hoping to spark their sense of adventure and curiosity about their world one day. On this trip, I had planned to drive to New Jersey, but stop in Washington DC on the way up (the boys had never been there) and then stop in Hershey PA on the way back. ¬†I chose those spots along the way because my older son had read a biography on Milton Hershey (who sounded like a pretty fascinating guy) and, well, DC is our nation’s capital and if you live this close, why not? I took them out of school for a couple of days for the trip, but had very educational things planned.

On the way up, we stopped the first night in Washington DC. In DC, we crammed in as much as we could in less than 24 hours in the city – we walked the Mall, passed the FBI headquarters, walked through the Sculpture¬†Garden at the National Gallery of Art, went to the International Spy Museum, had a (gluten free) pizza at Pi Pizzaria, walked around the Capital (under reconstruction) and finally went to Ford’s Theater just a few days after the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. We left Washington DC around lunch time and headed to New Jersey where we stopped to get my race packet before heading to my cousin’s house… only to discover her house is literally 1.5 miles away. awwwwweeeeeessssssoooooommmmeeee. No need to drive or have anybody get up early to drive me. We had a great dinner and a good time catching up with everyone that night and, to my surprise, my uncle and aunt bought ferry tickets for the boys and me to go into NYC. The boys are big fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so they’ve been excited about the trip and the ferry was just easier.

One of my cousins planned a detailed agenda¬†for us in NYC – and it was awesome (also see where I get that skill now… I always wondered about that). We followed her agenda by getting off the ferry at 34th street, walking a few blocks to get a cab to Central Park – visited the Central Park Zoo, had lunch there, and then walked to Times Square where we went to the M&M and Hershey stores (keeping with the Milton Hershey theme). By then, though, it was about an hour before the 2nd to last ferry went back to NJ and I didn’t want to be out late, so we decided to get a cab to the same Ferry port we arrived. Unfortunately, though, not only was there a big festival keeping us on the west side of the island, we also had a cabbie who must have been new – I had to navigate him to where I wanted to go and even then he had trouble understanding what I wanted. We ended up walking and barely missed the ferry. No worries – we had another port and another ferry – we took another cab to the Pier 11 Ferry port and waited in a Starbucks until it was time for the ferry. We got home and my cousins once again had a dinner ready for us and we had a great time having dinner and catching up on how the day went… but I was beat. I couldn’t believe I had a half marathon the next day.

Race Day 

I guess the NYC trip took it out of me because I slept like a rock that night. I got up earlier than I had planned and had plenty of time to get dressed and stretched and just wake up. Once I all my stretching and dressing done, I was ready to head out.

One of many things I absolutely love about New England in general is that Dunkin Donuts is prevalent there – I mean, more so than Starbucks (at least that I noticed) and the coffee is WAY better (in my opinion), and, as my luck has it, there is a Dunkin Donuts on the walk to the start line. I set out just before the sun was up to make my way to the start line and, honestly, it was even closer than I expected. I stopped and got the coffee I planned to get (a small), repacked my water bottle holder, and headed back out toward the start line.

The rest of the walk was calming and peaceful. I love little beach towns, and, though we were a few miles in from the beach where I was, it was close enough that it still smelled and felt beachy. In addition, the sunrise was stunning – a mixture of golden-silvery-pinkish-purplely and constantly changing the entire trip. The photo I captured of it only stayed that way for a few minutes. The start line was at the Monmouth Race Track – I’d never been to a race track before and it had an older 1950s feel to it. It was a bit chilly, so I walked inside to warm up and, you know, while I’m there, I’ll use the restroom with running water. It was nice to have the option and I didn’t mind the wait because of it. After the pit stop, I decided to walk around the building a bit – snapping a few photos and just taking in the sights. There was a one-man band (Mario) entertaining us with covers of late 1980s pop songs – I strolled past him to the back half and looked out to the track and notice four horses practicing. It was awesome – I’d never seen it before but grew up loving horses, so it felt like something I’d known all my life. It was a very cool experience for me.

As it approached start time, I wandered outside (it was still pretty chilly to me) and stood in line for *one* more potty break (if you’ve read any past posts, you know how this goes for me…) Of course, the official photographer wanted to get a photo while I’m in line, so I hold up my bib and, wouldn’t you know, it is the best shot of me for the entire race. haha. figures.

It was time for the race to start, so the announcers gathered all of us to the start line, so, I headed over to my corral and filed in with the rest. It was a crisp morning, and the start corrals were pretty crowded, so I was able to stay warm. I decided that, since I was still technically recovering from the full that I wanted to run with music and monitor my pace this time, so I tried to connect my bluetooth headphones – only to discover that this is nearly impossible in the start corral… something I also had to deal with in the Run to Remember half marathon a few weeks later.

Because the start was at a horse race track, it seemed only fitting that the bugler that started each of the horse races also started us off. We sang the national anthem and then got the typical horse race bugle call start for each wave. It was actually pretty fun. After the first bugle call they started playing “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. In my mind, you cannot have a running race in New Jersey – especially one that starts at a race track – that does not have this song pouring out over you in some capacity. I was in the third or fourth corral (I honestly can’t remember now), so the song was still playing as I passed the speakers and it was so loud (to the chagrin of all the locals in Long Branch…) that I could feel each syllable The Boss spoke vibrate through my entire body as I passed by.

The most notable thing for me for this race was the flatness of it – which surprised me because, generally, this area is not really all that flat. While it *is* a beach town, it is a New England beach town, and well, New England just isn’t flat. Later on that day, I will take my boys to Highlands (to see the twin light tower), which is called that for a reason. This portion, though, around the track and through Oceanport, was pretty flat.

We mostly ran through small neighborhoods and I got to see a lot of the little town my aunt and uncle lived in (almost literally passing their house). I also overheard a conversation between two women who were complaining about how the hill on mile 2 was kicking their butt – I had to laugh because I was curious what she was talking about. Between miles 5 and 6, there was a bridge we crossed (which I thought was nice – I like crossing bridges in races and most of the time take note of them) and that was a nice hill, but otherwise, most of it seemed pretty flat to me.

The first five or so miles were pretty good for me – I was averaging around an 8:10 mile until I got to mile 6 where we crossed the bridge and I was starting to feel the effects of the marathon from 4 weeks before this. My legs were starting to feel heavy and, although I had done a double-digit run before this race, most of the runs I had done were much shorter and I was starting to tell that maybe that was having a negative effect.

Plus: as usual – I had to pee.

I managed to keep myself together until I got to mile 9, but I really had to go by then, and, thankfully, there was a port-a-potty right there – this was my slowest mile, though, and put my overall average over 8:30 for the rest of the race. I had some walking around this time, too, because my legs were toast. I really struggled through from that point on to almost mile 11 when I finally turned on to 2nd Avenue and you could see the beach between the buildings and knew we were really close to the finish.

As we turned off 2nd to the side road that then turned onto Ocean Avenue, I started having deja vu from the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon that turned this hobby of mine into a giant goal that led me to this particular race – that turn and seeing the beach really brought back a lot of memories for me. Although, I knew I had just under a mile left, whenever you turn on to a boardwalk like this and you know you’re close, that mile seems to last for about six. Like Virginia Beach, this was a LOOONNNGGGG mile and I was ready to be done. However, unlike Virginia Beach, it was much cooler and the cross-winds from the shore were nice and cool and refreshing, not hot! I was able to pick up the pace a bit as I got closer to the finish, but nothing close to what I was doing the first half of the race. I ended with a 1:53, which was pretty much on the nose of what I told my cousins I’d do (I told them “about 1:53 or so because I’m not feeling it today”) haha.

I finished, collected my finisher items and located my cousins who were waiting with my kids at the finish area. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get in to see the finish, but they tried and I’m thankful I got to see them shortly after. We walked around and snapped a few photos and the headed back to one of their houses so I could clean up and we could do a little bit of touring of the town (Red Bank, Little Silver, Oceanport, Monmouth Beach and Highlands) and visit with the rest of the family who were coming over for a barbecue later that afternoon.

Learnings

This was one of those trips that I took that will be a good memory for me for the rest of my life. I am happy that I took the time to spend with family and it was good for me to have the connection to my mom’s town and where she grew up (as well as the people she grew up with as I’ve been somewhat removed from them for most of my life). It gave me the context I’ve needed to understand some things about myself. I am also glad I waited to do this race when I could take my kids. Although they still didn’t get to see me finish, they were there shortly after and were able to see that all the hard work I put in on the treadmill week after week isn’t for naught. I don’t think they fully understand it yet, but I hope they will soon. Unfortunately, after about 25 half marathons and now three full marathons, 10 or so 10k and about 20 5k races, they have yet to actually see me finish a race. I hope to change that soon.

Revving Up

Happy Sunday, my friends!

It is a new week, and it has been around 3 months since I last posted. A lot has happened, so let’s catch up.

  1. My sister is through chemo and will have surgery in two weeks. She’s in high spirits, all things considered, and has seen significant improvement in the size of the tumor. We are crossing our fingers the tumor is dead and the chemo worked like it was supposed to. She had very little trouble with the chemo – other than the expected tiredness and occasionally having a hard time remembering things, but all that seems to be getting better for her. I am so proud of how she dug in deep¬†and used her feisty fighty little Irish attitude. This trait we share has served us well in times of need (and, I must say, kind of a cornerstone for this running habit of mine…), and though I take a lot of heat for it in times outside of need, I’m grateful we both have it in times like this, so I wouldn’t trade it for all the world. I’m so proud of her and she’s my hero in more ways every day.
  2. I finished two more half marathons in two more states, NJ and MA, bringing my total now to half marathons in 16 states (I’ve lost count of how many, but over 20 half marathons total now). I drove to both, which were fun adventures in New England this spring. I absolutely love New England, and I would love to do more half marathons there. The coastal towns, especially: Newport, Monmouth, Boston – all just gorgeous and quaint towns with awesome people. I can’t wait to go back. Although the races this spring were not fast for me, they were both great fun, I loved both towns and the people there, and I will write posts on them shortly.
  3. Because of the great experience I had in the NJ half, I signed up for the NJ full for next year. Unfortunately, though, they moved the date of it, so I’m thinking about switching to the half and just doing a local full instead in the spring. Though… I did like the course for the half, so I’m not sure if I want to change it because it could mean a better experience… we’ll see. Apparently, this race had a positive impact on me!
  4. I’m planning to train for a local fall full, but we’ll see how well the training goes before I totally commit to it. I should start training for it in the next couple of weeks. If I don’t end up doing an official full, I’ll just follow the training plan twice like I did for my first full.
  5. I’m still running and still regimented about it, sorta. I’m at around 30 miles a week this month (except for the first week of June when my schedule was beyond crazy and I only managed 9 miles). A lot, a lot, a lot of treadmill miles still – more than I’d like – but treadmill miles > no miles, so I’ll *try* not to complain too much. I’m still getting one long a week (1:30:00 or more – I did 1:45:00+ yesterday), one speed interval (which are short, 2:00 intervals now, but I’m gradually adding to them) and at least one hearty tempo run (at or below 8:30 or target marathon pace). Any other run in the week will likely be an easy recovery or a second tempo-ish run. When I start my training, though, I’ll have one long, one speed, one tempo and the fourth will be a hill repeat or second tempo, depending on the schedule with the kiddos. The 5th run (if there is one – I might swap this one out for a cross-train activity like spin or swim) will be the easy, lower mileage recovery run.
  6. I’ve changed my goals/perspective on training from mileage-based sessions to duration based sessions, so you’ll see me talk about my training differently going forward. I do still have pace goals in mind and I’m¬†tracking mileage, but considering it takes me over 4 hours to finish a marathon, I decided that I need to get my body acclimated to moving like that for that period of time. I think¬†focusing more on running for periods of time rather just by distance might help me break through mental barriers I have when I hear “22+ miles”. I now have goals of a particular mileage within a duration rather than miles at a particular pace. So, instead of¬†saying “I’d like to run 8:30 for 15 miles” I say¬†“I’d like to run 2:15:00 and have more than 15 miles in that time”. It is a bit mental gymnastics, I know, but these duration goals seem a little more attainable to me. I’ve discovered, (and it took me three full marathons to finally admit it), that¬†being good at the half distance just isn’t enough… I have to gradually step up to the distance, especially if I have time goals, which I do.¬†When new runners ask for advice, I always tell them to start with a duration goal and add to it gradually. Maybe I should start taking my own advice. I have seen improvement in the training – recovery is getting better, but it isn’t good yet at the speeds I want to go, nor is my strength. Now that I’ve identified where I need improvement (core strength and overall endurance/stamina strength), I think the duration goals make a little more sense. Crossing my fingers I’m right this time ūüôā
  7. I have a solid core workout routine established. Now… if I can only make myself do it three times a week. It only takes about 20 minutes, so you’d think I have plenty of time to get it done, but I never manage to get it done because something always comes up so I find myself late for something I thought I was early to. I’m really working on managing my time better at home so I can cut that waste down quite a bit. So far, my record is 2 1/2 times (or… I did it twice and started a third day only to run out of time, which, unfortunately seems to be a theme with me lately…) For this marathon training cycle, my standing goal will be three sessions a week, usually on running days.
  8. I’ve decided that I do need some cross-training – such as swimming and spinning – so I’m trying to work that in every other week so I can keep my running muscles fresh. I’m out of practice with swimming and I’m bummed about it, so I’ll be starting over with swimming. I’m invested, though – I bought new goggles and a second suit, so I’m serious about it now. On the Spinning front, last week I did two spinning sessions and averaged about 19 mph for both sessions combined, which surprised me and made me very happy, especially since it had been a very long time since I went last – probably about 6 months. I’d like to capitalize on that. Also,¬†I’ve discovered hot yoga and I liked it…. it kicked my butt, though. I expected it to be tough, but I wasn’t expecting to be as sore as I was after. I’d really like to add it to my routine, but… Again… it is just a matter of carving out the time to get it all in and still have a life and get house work (and yard work) done.
  9. Speaking of yard work… thanks to my HOA, I’ve been spending a LOT of time on yard work this spring and summer so I have a little less time for writing these days as I’d like. I hope I’m caught up enough now to actually balance this a bit. But… I can honestly say that the yard work has given me extra workouts that have worked parts of my core I probably couldn’t have been able to reach otherwise, but Lordy… that is hard work, especially in the 100 degree heat we’ve had here recently.
  10. I have 2 fall half marathons lined up in 2 states: OH in September (USAF Half) and MO in October (Kansas City half) to bring me up to 18 states. I’m hoping to find a couple¬†in drivable states (at this point, PA, TN, DE, KY) I can ninja trip before the end of the year,¬†but we’ll see. It would be pretty awesome to end this year on a nice round number like 20 states… Nevertheless, I’m targeting the Alaska half next June, so there might not be as much travel in the early part of 2016 due to saving up for that trip.

I think that about does it for now. I’m going to start my week with a core workout and an easier run on the treadmill to get closer to ensuring that 30+ mile week this week, and my goal is to get the NJ Half Marathon write up done!

Until then…

Post Marathon Blues

Good morning, My Friends –

Despite the title of this post, I’m not in a particularly low mood today, specifically, but my mind has been heavy the last few weeks, more so than the previous two marathons. I tend to be a Pollyanna more than a lot of people, but when I get low, I don’t really hide it well. Since this blog is cathartic for me, I thought it made sense to talk about it all here.

First: the marathon itself. I had similar feelings that I had postpartum: feelings of overwhelming joy about the event that finally took place that took me¬†months to prepare and I knew it was going to change me… but now I¬†miss the preparation portion of it and physically, I’m feeling slow and lumbering. The joy of my children as babies (and now as the incredible young men they are becoming) far outweighs the feeling after the marathon, but that is the closest feeling I can relate to for the first couple of weeks after each event. No offense or inconsideration intended – just trying to explain it using another experience that makes the most sense and of which I have the clearest memory. I have felt this way after all three marathons, but it seems to hit me harder this time, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

Second: I’m less patient about recovery. The other recoveries have been slower and it took me longer to get back into the habit.¬†Physically, I’m actually farther along than I was the other two times, but I am less patient this time than the other times because I know I can do better and I want to prove it to myself and get back in there and just do it already. I’m also suffering a bit from some marathon training burn out – mentally, especially toward the end of the training, I was emotionally burned out and I had a tough time making the runs happen and/or enjoyable. That does not seem to have disappeared yet, especially since I have had to walk run the first few runs. I hate having to walk/run, even though my runner maturity tells me I have to so I obey. Reluctantly. I am annoyed about it and almost indigently begin to take off like I want to… but, I physically can’t go as fast at this point in the recovery and I’m getting very frustrated by it. I am really having a hard time with that this time around.

Third: effing cancer. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer two months ago, and as it has in the past, my emotional state is affecting my physical performance. She’s in good spirits and, so far, is kicking cancer’s ass, but it is early in the process and there is still a long road ahead. So far, it has been positive news (I refrain from using “good news” at this point because the only good news is that she is in remission), so I’m encouraged. Still… as her older sister and designated protector, I feel very helpless and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to fix this. I support her and buy her healthy foods (which is something she asks for, is grateful for, and graciously accepts), so I’m helping in the little ways I can. However… now that it is a first degree family member with the diagnosis, I’m at a higher risk, which means I have my own health to worry about now. I got my mammogram yesterday and am hopeful that there is nothing on it so I’m strong enough to help her through her battle without having to battle on my own – or alone. I have friends that would help, but I’m not sure how much help I’d get in the areas that mean the most to me.

Fourth: indescribable… I witnessed a horrific accident this week that has changed me in ways I cannot explain well in words yet. I’ve always valued life and have been immeasurably grateful for my own, but it completely changed¬†my perspective having to witness someone else’s ending. I really can’t stop thinking about the impact they likely had on their families and friends and how much they would be missed. I never met that person, but right now, I miss him quite a bit and am sorry to have to had witnessed this – he will forever be in my thoughts and prayers, as will his family, friends, and anyone who was close to him. As a result, I have held people closer to me than ever before… much more than I have probably demonstrated because I’m still processing everything. In fact, it may seem as though I’m pushing people away, but that is not how I feel – I am just not good at stuff like this. I have always “run away” (not to be punny on this subject) from big traumatic events at first, and then gone back and dealt with it after I’ve had time to let it settle. I might need a little more time on this one, though. I’m very hopeful that my friends and family will understand and be there for me when I am ready to deal with it appropriately.

So… until then… I’m going to continue to recover…. and run when I can. I’ll likely use the treadmill to help me recover the right way from the marathon …and contribute to the emotional recovery for the other two.

My therapy.

Until next week…

2015 Race Reports – Tobacco Road Marathon Full Report

Race: Tobacco Road Marathon (full)

City: Cary, NC  Date: 03/15/2015

Distance: Marathon (26.2 miles)

Weather: upper-40s at start; low 60s at finish; Sunny for the first half, mercifully overcast for the second.

Course:  American Tobacco Trail for the vast majority which is a wide, groomed trail. Some hills, but long and lower rise; half paved, 1/4 packed sand, 1/4 gravel and mud

Summary:  Another awesome, well organized and well done race!!

Prologue

I’m on a quest: I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I have been offered opportunities to run the marathon to benefit charity – which I may do one day – but the first time, I want to earn the right to be there because it is for me. That may be selfish, but I’m very selfless in many, many other aspects of my life, so want this one thing just for me. It is a daunting task – which I understand – and I have my work cut out for me, but I also think that I’m close enough to get there with the appropriate training.

I can feel it.

The “with appropriate training” part, however, is the difficulty that I have with this process. I am a divorced mom that co-parents with the kids’ dad. I have a full-time job that I love and it is flexible, but I don’t always get 2-1/2 hour chunks of time to knock out a 15-miler in the middle of the week without a lot of planning, finagling, and juggling, sometimes so tightly, a tiny 5-minute variance has a much bigger impact than it should. I have other things going on, too – life in general with housekeeping and friends and family in addition to my kids. It is a lot to manage outside of running an average of 7-10¬†hours a week. I rearrange and move things around to make it all work, but sometimes, things outside of running and training take priority and I’m not sorry for that.

But… I still think I can do it. I’m a sub-1:50 half marathoner, so I should be able to, at the very least, get a sub-4:00 marathon.¬†I have a treadmill and a gym membership. I have a supportive network that check in on me, encourage me (even though they rightfully call me crazy), and can help me with the kiddos when I really need it, so I’m pretty lucky and very, very grateful.

However… stuff just comes up and you have to manage priority. As much as I would love to have focused on training a lot more this round, I had other things that were a bigger priority and training had to take a bit of a back seat. I did not get the kind of cross-training I know I needed. I didn’t make as many runs as I did last cycle. I had an injury that, well, slowed me down considerably.

So as I approached race day, I became honest about my ability. Some people looked at it as insecurity – it is not. It is an amalgam of intellectual honesty comprised of a dash of clear head, and a pinch of feet firmly planted and a big ole helping of clear understanding of my strengths and where I need help. Because of the mental, emotional and scheduling challenges during this training cycle, my toes on the start line was more of an accomplishment than I care to admit.

…but I not only got there, I finished. I’m proud of that.

Next Marathon, hopefully, I can work on things I couldn’t this time. Even if I can’t, I am contributing to my much, much larger goal of staying active and continuing to run as long as my body lets me which is a way bigger goal than any specific finishing time or qualifications or lottery entries to any other races, and though I may talk about these race times and qualifying for races, my pride is not inextricably linked to it and I am happy and grateful I woke up another day and had the opportunity to run at all.

Yes. I have goals to do well and be faster and better than I am now. Yes. I’d like to finish higher in not only my age group, but overall. Yes. I’d really like to qualify for and experience the Boston Marathon. But, at the end of the day, I really want to run to clear my mind of the cobwebs and expel all the stress and anxiety from my body to reset and make myself ready for the next day.

As the kids say: that’s how I roll.

Pre-Race

As I admitted in the prologue, my training cycle did not go as planned. There were several days where I woke up and thought to myself “why the hell did I sign up for *another* marathon? Was I really ready?” The answer would always be no until I got about half way through the training run and realized it was “ehh.. yeah… it’s ok…. I’ll be ok”. Of course, there were the “damn! that was awesome!” days mixed in with the “Gah… that sucked” days, as there always are in training cycles, but this is the first time of the four training cycles and three marathons I actually questioned whether or not I should have even registered for a marathon.

So, needless to say, when I had to take a realistic look at how I felt and what I was doing with this training cycle, I understood fully that I was not going to qualify. I did not have it in me. A sub-4 hour marathon was now a stretch goal and, beating my PR would have been nice, but ultimately, I thought I should land somewhere between the 4:12 of Portland and the 4:05 of Raleigh. Unlike the City of Oaks half¬†where I was convinced I was doing the full at the expo, I walked into this expo somehow thinking I was doing the half and having to remind myself “no… no… you’re doing the full”. However, unlike Portland, after the race started, I didn’t wish I had registered for the half… I was grateful I had registered for (and completed) the full.

I picked up my race bib the Friday before and, I admit, I got a little more excited about it by picking it up early, so I think that was the right decision for me. I brought my kids because I always want to show them what this experience is like, and then we went home and had gluten-free pasta (my youngest loves pasta) and relaxed. The next day was much of the same until I dropped them off with their dad. Thankfully, I was able to sleep really well the two nights before and I spent most of the days leading up to the marathon focused on hydration and making sure I DO NOT make my previous hydration and fueling mistakes.

I was in bed by 7:30 and likely asleep by 7:58. I did not take long to pass out, probably because I knew I was getting up early and I was kind of tired from the weeks before.

Race Day 

I woke¬†up at 3:45 – about 10 minutes before my alarm went off – because I had to pee. That was, as far as I was concerned, a very good sign. Ironically, I felt really well rested and I wasn’t as nervous as I usually am before a race. I deliberated about what I needed more: a couple of more minutes of rest, or to just get up and get started with things. Getting up and getting started eventually won that battle and I started on my usual race day routine: quick shower, coffee, cereal, mixing UCAN, and checking to make sure I had everything, but not the ‘billion times’ OCD-like check that I usually put into it – I was eerily relaxed.

I decided to be a bit of a cheapskate and not pay for a parking pass, so I left my house at 4:45 to park at Netapp and take the shuttle to the start line. I got there just as the buses were filling up, so I was able to take the 2nd bus almost immediately.

Because the weather was cool in the morning and there didn’t seem to be a line at the bag drop, I decided to walk around with my fleece on for a little while – since I had about 90 minutes to kill before start. I made my way over to the port-a-potties and then just walked around for a while. It was a beautiful morning, though, it was foggy. I wondered into the baseball park and noticed this weird cloud just hanging over the baseball field – it was very cool. I took a few photos and then I noticed that there were bathrooms… and they were unlocked. Holy yay! So, of course, I decided to get in line, although I had already used the port-a-potties just about 30 minutes before. It felt nice to wash my hands in real water! I left the complex and wondered around for a bit and decided to go to the bathroom *one* more time before start so I got back in line, which was much longer this time.

By the time I finished the last bathroom trip, I was ready to drop off my bag. I then shuffled over to the start line to see if I could place myself in a section that made sense. As I wondered down the chute, the pace group leaders – which had congregated together for a while – had started to fan out and take shape. I placed myself squarely between the 4:00 and the 3:55 pace groups. I thought to myself: if I can just keep up with these folks, I’ll be doing alright.

The music got louder and the emcee got more excited as we approached the 7 AM start time. His excitement was infectious because I was even getting excited at this point. He was calling out to people – “who is from Canada?”, “Who is from NY? – nawww… this is an NC race!” a comment that garnered a lot of cheering. Finally, though, it was time for the national anthem, so we all bunched in closer together – shoulder to shoulder – to listen to the anthem together. The anthem was over and we got a “you’re starting!” type of announcement from our bubbly emcee, so we all shuffled toward the starting mat, focused on our measurement devices. I turned on my bluetooth headphones, started my “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast, and was on my way.

The marathon route is very simple – you run out of the park, make a couple of turns, and then, after 2.5 miles, you are at the American Tobacco Trail¬†(for a little history on the trail – which is part of the rails to trails project, see my post on the half marathon from last year…). Marathoners turn right, half marathoners turn left. My plan was, for the part before getting to the American Tobacco Trail, I would just go slow.

Thankfully, that was my mentality because I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I was going to go slow whether I wanted to or not. It was a bit crowded at the beginning – as all races are at the start. I found a few folks who appeared to be going a pace I wanted to go and I focused on staying close to them. My first two miles were over a 9 minute/mile average – for me, pretty slow.

Then we turned onto the American Tobacco Trail going north toward Durham. On this part of the trail, it is either half paved or fully paved, depending on where you are on it. I found it easier to run on the paved portions, so I stayed on that side. Looking back, I think that choice might have been a better option for me, as I typically do street running.

Along this part of the route, though, I did not expect to see many supporters. To my delight and surprise, however, there were many! Many along parts of the route where there wasn’t easy access, too. It was so heart warming to see these folks lining the sides of the trail and cheering for us! Along this part of the route, too, I began to take notice of one of the bike route monitors. His job was to ride back and forth along the route to make sure we were all OK. I saw him several times throughout the morning, but this is my first notice of him and I made sure to say hello and to thank him for volunteering. This might be why I saw him several more times later.

The turn around point on the north side was just after 11 miles – I got incrementally faster along this side until I noticed that my average pace for this portion of the race was all the way down to 8:35. Exactly where I wanted to be at the end of the race, but I thought a tad fast (and too quickly) for this point in the race. I made a mental note and tried to slow things down a bit as I went back toward what I referred to as “the middle”.

My fueling strategy for this race was simple, since the complex strategies of the past apparently did not work: I would eat a normal breakfast (cereal, coffee and orange juice) and then a banana before the race starts. During the race, I would use a concentrated version of UCAN – just a couple of squirts – every 45 minutes (instead of 50-60). I would also walk through all of the water stops, taking at least 2 cups each time. By the time I got to the middle, I had refueled once and gone through a few water stops where it had not really affected my time. I was feeling very confident and good about my time, my pace, my strength – everything. Crossing over “the middle” was around mile 14 and I was on target for a sub-9 marathon with some wiggle room.

However, the terrain changed for the south side. First of all, my pavement was gone. It stopped abruptly after I crossed the road and I did not get it back for another 8-9 miles. Secondly, it had rained the day before – a lot. The sandy part was softer now and the gravely part was now muddy. Thirdly, the half marathoners had gone through there and, well, there were way more of them than there were of us. So… the second part was met with some challenges. This is when I really started to listen to my podcast to make sure I was not thinking about how awful I felt. I listened to the history of the Hope Diamond (in two parts) and the suspicious story of the lighthouse keepers in Scotland who disappeared (and one theory at the time is that aliens or a giant bird took them – this is the kind of humor I needed at that moment).

It was all I could do to stay running until I got 3:15, when I could take my next walk break. After 3:15, though, that was all she wrote. I had a tough time up to that point – I managed to make it to 20 without totally losing it, but my GPS was off and I was starting to get a little loopy and I was getting irritated that the mile markers were so damn far apart. I was convinced they’d made a mistake.

Then, around mile 22, I was approached by a couple of men who recommended that I stop at the next aid station and use some of the Vasoline because “that’s going to hurt”, pointing at my lower leg. I looked down, and to my shock, I had some chaffed spots that were bleeding! I never felt it and that has NEVER happened to me in any race. My form must have been reeeeaaaaallllly bad. I thanked them and agreed that I should fix that, and luckily, the next aid station was able to help me out with that. I applied the Vasoline, took THREE cups of water, and continued.

Remember the bike monitor from the first half? I saw him a few times on the way toward the south-side turn around, but he stuck with me for a while on the second half, and I was so happy to see him. We chatted for a while – he asked me if this was my first marathon, and in as much energy as I had, I tried to be eloquent in my descriptions of my endurance races resume, but it likely sounded more like “yeah (pause to breathe) no, (pause to breathe), uh, (pause to breathe), this is my third (pause), my, my, my third full. I’ve done more half marathons (pause to breathe)…” He was very sweet about it, though and was patient with me and tried his best to distract me. Luckily, I got a chance to thank him later.

Throughout the race, all of the water stations were fully staffed with happy and enthusiastic people who were excited to be there. At every stop, I thanked them all for all the entertainment, cheering and, most of all, for just being there. It meant a lot more to me as the race progressed. I spent the last 2 miles of the trail portion splitting my time between walking and running.

I finally got finished with the trail and had to make my way back up to the park – going back those couple of turns in 2.5 miles back UP to the park. I turned off the trail and looked up and I swear that hill looked long and steep. It probably wasn’t, but in my condition, it felt like it. It felt like I had twisted my ankle. My chaffed calves were now covered in sweaty, bloody vasoline that was running into my socks. My lower quads on my right leg were simply on fire. I even said “I’m so effing done with this race right now” out loud. I still had my ear buds in and, at this point, had forgotten which episode of history I was learning about because I was singularly focused on finishing this race and drinking some coffee (which I never did).

I turned the last corner and was now finally *inside* the park. They were starting to open roads back up and the crowd of satisfied half marathoners had really thinned out by now. I did not care. I wanted to be back home and in my shower more than words would allow me, but I could not articulate it to save my life. I huffed and puffed and I pushed and I finally rounded the corner to see the finish line. I my eyes filled with tears – I couldn’t believe I was almost there! I had done it.

Just don’t trip like you did in Portland.

I didn’t trip. I trotted across the finish line and, to my surprise, was greeted by the race director,¬†Kazem Yahyapour, smiling ear to ear, arms extended and with familiarity as though we had been close friends our whole lives and he was welcoming me home. He held out his hand to me, pat me on the back, congratulated and thanked me at the same time. Even though I didn’t get to ring that PR or BQ bell, that gesture went a long way to make my 4:13 still feel pretty special. After I collected my medal, I saw the bike monitor again who also shook my hand and congratulated me. I thanked him for all his help keeping me motivated and we chatted a little. Another gesture that went a long way with making me feel special!

I collected myself, got my bag from bag check, and changed my clothes. I walked around a little, but, ironically did not feel like having a coffee, so I went back to the shuttle and to my car. I picked up my kids, took a shower, and then, for the first time in about a year, took a nap.

Learnings

So, ok – I did not get my goal, but I mostly enjoyed the race – as much as anyone can truly enjoy pain for almost an hour. On the plus side, I think I lasted longer this time than in previous races, so I’m taking that as progress. As I said in the prologue, I will likely try again and likely try to get back on track with my training. Until then, I’m going to work on strength and trying to keep what I have going.

2015 Race Reports – Tobacco Road Preview

Hi Friends!

I wanted to get a short preview of this race out there so I didn’t forget or get sidetracked, so this isn’t going to be the full report quite yet. There are a few things I wanted to note while they were still fresh!

First and most importantly: I absolutely loved this race! You may recall my affinity for the half marathon distance I did last year, but now having done it twice, I have a new affection for it. It is such a well organized and well executed event and ranks very high as a recommended event when my runner friends ask ‘what is a good marathon to do in Raleigh?’. I’ve not heard or seen anyone who has said anything to the contrary so far, 5 days later. They put the same heart and effort into it both years and it shows how much they love doing it. More on that in a moment.

Second: on a personal note, this was my slowest yet. No hot weather or any other factor to point to other than my training, which I expressed concern about in the weeks leading up to the event. Admittedly, I had a lot of distractions that pulled me away from my plan, as usually happens in life. I’m not upset about my performance – rather, I’m proud of myself for finishing a third full marathon, a sentence that a year ago, I never thought I’d write. I plan to try again, hopefully in November. I’ll make that decision in a couple of weeks. I am still planning on trying to BQ. I look at this race as a step in that direction as I am getting incrementally stronger… Just in much smaller increments than I expected and hoped.

Third: there is a sister race to this one that I love equally – The City of Oaks. I’ve done the 10k several times and the half once (currently my half marathon PR). Both races are directed by the same man: Kazem Yahyapour. I had seen him at many events – packet pick ups and running clubs – and he is a warm, affable person that seems to always have a smile on his face and appears to derive immense joy from working packet pick up and greeting runners to wish them luck. For the first time in almost 50 races, I was greeted at the finish line by the race director who congratulated me for finishing and thanked me – and seemed to be as happy and excited as I was that I finished. That was a very happy feeling I won’t ever forget.

I will write more this weekend, I hope, to talk about more of the details of the race – like my bleeding chafing, my bicycle course monitor cheerleader, way more specators than I expected, really awesome volunteers, and my very rapid unraveling at the cusp of mile 20 after a very strong showing for the first three hours. Oh. And Sean Astin was there! I wish I had seen him to get a photo because my younger son is a huge fan of both “Lord of the Rings” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”!

For now, I’m focusing on recovery ūüôā