Sunday, April 30, 2017

Training Plan

I've written a lot of marathon training plans, and for the most part I've been pretty happy with them. I think that I was more prepared for this year's Louisiana Marathon than I have been for past races, and it is just really unfortunate that the nasty weather prevented me from pushing myself harder. However, I don't regret adjusting my pace from the start of that race...I didn't bonk, I had some great middle miles, I didn't overheat despite the weather, I finished feeling better than I expected and overall I am pleased with my splits from the race. Do I wish it was 20+ minutes faster? Heck yes. That part will always bug me.

I ran more miles during that training than I ever have, with my two highest mileage months ever leading up to the race. The high mileage worked and I'm sticking with it for my December and January marathons.

I just finished writing my training plan and I'm both excited and slightly terrified of it. It will require constant, unrelenting running (imagine that), consistent strength training, a super strong core, and throughout all this I need to NOT GET INJURED. Hence the consistent strength training and super strong core. I've been running marathons for 8+ years...time to stop beating around the bush and instead throw myself into a training cycle that will seriously push my boundaries.



So how am I approaching this training cycle?

The plan starts in mid-July. The first marathon, Mississippi Gulf Coast, hits at the end of Week 21. Then five weeks later I run the second marathon, Louisiana. I don't necessarily need six months of training, but writing out those early weeks to ensure I get proper base mileage works well for me. When the harder weeks of actual training hit in August and September I will know I am ready.

Because it's peak of summer during those first weeks, there will be crosstraining in the form of cycling and (hopefully) swimming. I say "hopefully" because I am the world's most pathetic triathlete and I haven't even gotten in the pool. I actually got back on my bike this week and mostly enjoyed it, so that needs to continue. Ideally I want to be on my bike two times per week. Not exactly hardcore triathlon training but good for marathon training, and especially good for injury prevention. Somewhere in here a sprint triathlon would be so great.

The plan builds in mileage until I am consistently running 40+ mile weeks. I peak at 50 miles three weeks before Mississippi. At 180 miles, November will be my highest mileage month ever. Between October and November I will run 355 miles. I WILL WEAR OUT A PAIR OF RUNNING SHOES IN ONLY TWO MONTHS (Sorry, husband). In the 15 days leading up to and including my 22 mile run, I will run 117 miles. I'm going to need more tacos.



Faster runners run more than I will be running, but I am not fast (yet). I will be on my feet for hours upon hours every week, so 50 miles in my peak week sounds about right to me. For Louisiana I ran 42 miles peak week, and about 100 in the 15 days or so leading up to and including my 22-miler. I do anticipate being a bit faster for this training cycle (and if everything comes together like I hope, I will be quite a bit faster). We are upping the game this time around. For my last few marathons I've run three 20-22 milers and I will stick to that formula as it's worked very well for me, much better than those early marathons when I ran only one 20-21 miler. Probably going to also need more bacon.



I'm running five days per week. For years I ran 4 days per week, but enough with that nonsense. The back to back running days for Louisiana training did wonders for my mental strength. While the high mileage weeks were hard, they got easier as the training progressed and I got better and better on fatigued legs. I still remember finishing my 22 miler in that training cycle and feeling relief at a job well done. I had pushed through the the hardest part of my plan, and the 22 miler fell on the worst weather day all week, 100% humidity and topping out at 75 degrees when I was finished....which pretty much saved my ass when Louisiana's weather was identical on race day. Not only had I prepared my legs, but my head told me I could do it and that is half the battle on race day.

There is no way I will be able to accomplish this kind of training if I don't continue clean up other parts of my life. I completely changed how I fueled last year and it worked very well. My health improved dramatically. I will continue on that path, and continue to improve it further. Consistent hydration will be key, especially in those earlier summer months. The heat really won't leave the area until October so I'll have plenty of long runs in less-than-ideal temps. I can't screw up my hydration.

I am not overweight at all, but I will need to be leaner. I want to be faster and at my very fastest a few years ago I was quite lean and strong and I plan to get back to that. I felt great and running faster was much more effortless and I seriously miss that. I do need to remind myself that I wasn't even 40 then and I'm 43 now (turning 44 when I run Louisiana). Age might play a factor but I'm going to fight it as best as I can. I've already started the changes I need to make and I'm feeling great about them. I've had some really good gym sessions in the weeks since my March relay, and it's starting to show. My weight has dropped while my strength has increased. Planning ahead will be key but I'm not super consistent with that. Always room for improvement!

Sleep. I need to sleep. So much sleep. Naps are great.



RECOVERY IS SO IMPORTANT. I need to keep repeating that to myself. RECOVERY RECOVERY RECOVERY. Rest days need to remain rest days. Post-run fueling, foam rolling, stretching can't be skipped. I must remain injury free. My imbalances have really pissed me off in recent years but through every training cycle I understand them more and more. I have learned so much on what to apply to my strength and core training to fight these imbalances and keep my body running well. Did I mention there needs to be consistency? I might be a broken record but I have to keep telling myself this.



It's daunting to think of running through the Texas summer and yet trying to get faster. I might not see gains right away or very consistently, but with added lean muscle and (hopefully) fewer pounds on my frame I know those gains will show in spades as the cooler weather comes in the fall.



Writing all of this out is helping me to see the big picture. I'm still slightly terrified of the work ahead of me, but strangely excited. It will forever be so weird to me that this girl who never really did any sports growing up (well, I tried and I kind of sucked) is talking about running 800 miles in the second half of the year and tackling two more marathons by the time I hit my next birthday. Pretty damn cool.



Bring on the tacos.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Thoughts on Ironman Texas

This past Saturday I traveled to The Woodlands to spectate and volunteer Ironman Texas. It was my second Ironman to attend, and it didn't disappoint. Emotional, inspiring, exhausting!

Three of my Georgetown Triathletes teammates competed, two of them in their first full Ironman and one competing in his fourth. We speculated beforehand in what order they would finish since they are all similar abilities, but in the end I think we all realized it was a crapshoot...we knew they would all do great. Three talented triathletes with more guts than I could ever imagine.


Kat, Christine and I ready for the day


My volunteer gig was as a Finish Line catcher from about 5pm to 9pm, along with a few other teammates, so in all likelihood we would get the chance to see the three #wonderboys finish, hoping one of us would get to be the one to "catch" them. But first things first....we got to spectate!

We didn't see the swim start or finish, and except for seeing the cyclists on the course as we made our way into The Woodlands, we didn't watch the bike leg. We camped out in a couple spots at T2 and anxiously awaited our teammates' arrivals. Of course the tracker didn't work at that time so we had to just be patient as we waited for them to come through. They all looked great when they entered T2 and were within about 25 minutes of each other (just like we thought!). Once we knew our guys were out on the run, we could breathe a big sigh of relief. The hardest parts were done (arguably) and all they needed to do was keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other (not so easy, of course).

Camping out for a bit on the run course was especially fun. The spectators are just awesome, and it's a 3 loop course along a waterway...lots of opportunities to see your runners. We got to see all three, plus I saw a couple other friends out there kicking butt, and we were getting more and more eager to get to the finish line and wait for the big moments to happen.



Favorite signs... especially "Run like her dad walked in"
Untrustworthy bunch

Being a Finish Line Catcher is a busy and rewarding job. It's not just about greeting each runner as they finish and making sure they are okay, but rather we were their personal assistant through the entire finish chute. Wrapping them in a thermal blanket, giving them water, getting them their medal, shirt, and hat, getting their chip removed, getting them a recovery drink, guiding them to get a photo, and paging medical should they need extra assistance. We didn't take our hand off of them until they exited the finish and could meet their loved ones...and then we went back up the finish line to catch another athlete.



Overall winner

Female winner

Above photos courtesy of teammate Amanda Shannon

I knew I would encounter so many emotional moments and I was pumped to watch the excitement these athletes experienced as they crossed that finish line. I think I maybe underestimated exactly how many times I would be brought to tears.

Jayson was our first athlete to cross the finish line and it was his very first Ironman. He's our young one and I knew he would have a great race. Luckily one of our teammates was right there to catch him, and as soon as Jayson saw him, he burst into tears. I was walking back to the line after letting one of my athletes go, and it was such a glorious sight to see Jayson's face and the emotion he was releasing. As I'm typing this, I'm getting emotional again! I immediately went right up to him to hug him and congratulate him. He was feeing great and had totally owned that Ironman course, right down to his 3:40 marathon and his 11:29 finish. Absolutely brilliant performance!

Photo cred: Amanda

Since Jayson and Drew (our other first timer) were racing almost identical races, we knew it was Drew's turn next and could be at any moment. I was right up at the front with teammate and club leader Christine when we saw him, and she grabbed him as soon as he crossed. I took the next athlete and trailed right behind Drew and Christine while I took care of my athlete until I had the opportunity to congratulate Drew myself, with a great butt slap thrown in because Drew is all about the butt slaps. He, too, had a brilliant race, capping off his 11:41 finish with a 3:53 marathon.


So sweet of me to look like I'm going to kill Drew
Wonderboys and Wonderwives
(photo cred: Amanda)

Our third teammate, Justin, was still out there but on his last few miles of the run, and his wife Kat stayed after her finish line shift to wait for him so she could personally give him his medal and greet him. Once again, we were in the right place at the right time and a teammate, plus Kat, got to catch him and help him through the finish chute. He had another great Ironman, finishing in 12:18.


I think he's done (photo cred: Amanda)

As emotional as watching my teammates finish was, the other athletes I had the privilege of helping will leave a lasting impression on me as well.

A first timer, age 25, who was completely overcome with emotion about halfway through the chute. He had to stop walking, his face took on all his emotion, he started crying, and he told me he was a St. Jude's baby. We shared a very special hug. I wish I had remembered his name. And I hope he keeps competing.
A middle aged gentleman who told me he had a rough day and wasn't sure he would finish because he's diabetic. He had trouble all day keeping his blood sugar regulated, but he pushed through and was able to still have a brilliant race. I walked him through slowly to be sure he was okay without medical assistance. His strength was astounding to me and I didn't hesitate to tell him how inspiring he was. 
The older gentleman who had just completed his 64th Ironman and wondered when someone would convince him to stop torturing himself. And the older woman that completely owned that finish chute after completing her 22nd Ironman and looked like she could get out there and do it again.
The young foreign gentleman who spoke little English but kept telling me he felt like new and wanted to do it again. I had a hard time walking as fast as him. 
The first timer young woman who could not stop crying and telling me thank you, who saw her husband along the fence and didn't want to let go of him, and probably took the most beautiful finish photo I've ever seen after such a grueling race.
The married couple who had no intention of finishing together, but it worked out that way. They found each other on the run and were each other's rocks to get to that finish line strong.  
And then there was Craig Tippit's family. Craig was a local athlete who was killed by a hit-and-run driver last month while on a training ride. His family was at the Ironman anyway, and his best friend, Bryan Ford, competed in his honor, carrying his bib and Craig's so Craig could still become an Ironman. Thousands of athletes, spectators, and volunteers wore bracelets in his honor. When we saw Craig's wife and family come to the finish line waiting for Bryan, we all had a lot of trouble keeping our tears in check. Bryan crossing that finish line was the most emotional finish I've ever seen. The strength displayed by Craig's loved ones was unmatched. The absolute best moment of the day. Hands down (sorry, #wonderboys). And once again, the tears are welling up just reliving it.



There were moments when I thought there's no way I would ever want to put in the time and effort to compete in something like this, there were moments when I wanted to say "screw it, let's do it," and there were moments when I thought being a volunteer was the coolest job ever. At the end of the day, it just cemented what I already knew.

I have the best team.

I have the best teammates. I love them all beyond measure.

I am so fortunate to know these people, and I am so fortunate to train and compete alongside them, to learn all I can from them, and help them when they need it.

Their successes sometimes come secondary to my own. I soak up so much pride and inspiration watching them chase their dreams, find strength they didn't know they had, slay their demons, and become better people. It's so freaking corny, but it's true.

If you want to experience an infinite amount of positive emotions, go watch an Ironman. Volunteer. Cheer. Whatever. Just go.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Are you ready for a marathon? and OMG I want to go to Boston

The marathon is a pretty phenomenal experience. It's brutally difficult, but the journey leading up to it and the glory you feel as you cross the finish line makes every one of those steps worth it.

But it's not for everyone. Completing a marathon doesn't make you any more of a runner than you already are. It's just one facet of where running can take you.

When I finished my first half marathon, I knew that I wanted to do a marathon. Completing the half six months after my running journey began was incredibly difficult, but I loved it regardless. I wanted even more.

However, there are several runners who just do not like endurance running. And that's okay. Getting your butt out the door and onto the streets or the trails makes you a runner. You can run a total of zero races and you're still a runner. There's no such thing as "just" a 5k or 10k or half marathon. They are all worthy.

Lots of people apologize when they tell you they're only running shorter distances. Stop it! Your three or four miles seems like a marathon to others because let's face it, running can be really freaking hard sometimes. Your three miles are badass. So don't apologize.

Now, onto the point of this blog post. It's something I've talked to so many people about over the years.

Are you ready for a marathon?

Do you look forward to going for a run?

Do new running shoes excite you? Even when you have to buy a new pair every three months?

Do you feel exhilarated after hard workouts, even when you're exhausted?

...if you've answered yes so far, you're on the right track...

Do your runs seems hard every single time?

Do you find yourself complaining about how many miles you need to run that week?

Are you perpetually exhausted from training?

Are you looking for excuses to skip training?

...if you've answered yes to these questions, you have some thinking to do...

Marathon training is never easy, at least for mortals like us. Ignore your insanely crazy friends out there who run 70 miles a week like it's no big deal. They aren't human. For people like the rest of us, it's a huge commitment. Not Ironman-level commitment (holy crap, crazy), but pretty big nonetheless. I have said repeatedly that while you can "fake" some of the shorter distance races, even a half marathon, you can't fake a marathon. If you aren't willing to put in the time, don't bother registering for the race. You are going to harm yourself if you toe that line completely unprepared.

What does marathon training look like?

Everyone is going to have their own opinions, their own preferences, their own needs, but for every person training for 26.2, many things remain the same...

You will be running 3-6 times per week (there are programs out there that have you running only 3 days/week, but please understand that without supplementing with good crosstraining, this could be a recipe for disaster).

Your mileage could top 50 or 60 miles per week.

You need to do strength training. Yes, really, you do.

You will run on fatigued legs.

You need to clean up your nutrition and hydration. Don't argue with me here.

Your weekends will take on a whole new meaning because of early morning training runs.

You need to learn to run in all weather conditions (except ice storms and lightning). Yes, even rain.

Are you still with me? I know this sounds awful.

After nearly 9 years of training for marathons, I've definitely learned a thing or two about commitment.

Committing to my plan is a no-brainer. If I have a long run planned, it doesn't get pre-empted because my friends want to go out and stay out late. You will never hear me say before a marathon that I don't feel prepared because I just didn't get in the proper training. It takes some shuffling of time and plans, but it doesn't necessarily mean not having fun outside of running.

I am serious about my fueling 95% of the time. I have to hydrate. I have to eat well. I can't overindulge on alcohol or sugar or crap. I simply can't.

I can't overdo my workouts. If I am supposed to run 5 miles easy, then that's what I'm going to run. If I feel good I'm not adding 2 miles onto the workout or dropping my pace by 45 seconds, especially if I'm supposed to run 20 miles the next day. You have to look at the big picture of your training plan. Every run has a purpose and it's written the way it's written for a very big reason. Trust your plan.

If I'm sick, I don't freak out. I let my body heal, I adjust the plan where I need to, and I get back to it.

Okay, I freak out a little.

How's it sounding now? Still with me? If you are, and you aren't feeling complete and total dread at the thought of all of this, then you're probably ready for a marathon.

As for me...

Well, I'm signed up for my 13th and 14th marathons, and possibly looking for a 15th so I can qualify for Marathon Maniacs (not sure yet). Number 13 is still 8 months off so I've got plenty of time, which is a good thing because as of right now I'm not running so much or very well at all. The relay did a pretty big number on me physically and mentally. Actually, the culmination of all my training over the last year, plus all the personal stress I've been under has done a number on me. Mostly the personal stress, which frankly, I'm super sick of.

So I'm taking it easy. I'm trying different things to be active and get stronger, but I'm giving my body and mind a break for now. I'll get back into it in a few weeks and feel better overall about myself. When real marathon training starts over the summer, I'll be ready for it and excited about the journey. Actually, what's kind of awesome is that writing this blog post lit a little spark in me again. 

Really, that's the only way to view a marathon journey...ready for it and excited. It's an experience like no other when you're willing to put in the time, commitment, and attitude adjustment.

Last night, my husband and I went to see the Boston: The Documentary. The filmmaker did a phenomenal job of showing us the history of the Boston Marathon, showcased several of the winners over the years, and went through it's evolution to becoming the premier marathon in the United States. It was an emotional film, as much of the footage of the 2013 bombings was shown, and the entire theater was in tears. However, the main focus became the 2014 race and just how important that race became to the future of the Boston Marathon and all that it stands for. I can't say enough great things about this film and this race.

I want to go to Boston. I want to qualify. My new age group qualification window opens up in September, and it gives me another 10 minute cushion for qualifying. But I still need to run a 3:55, and because of the demand of the race even that time will not be enough to gain entry. I will need to shoot for a 3:52. This is nearly a minute per mile faster than my fastest marathon. I have run a 1:51 half, when I was in fantastic shape, so I know the speed is there for me. I just need to tap into it and have a really great BQ race day.

I WANT TO GO TO BOSTON.

I'm laying the groundwork now for making this possible. I want this. I'm ready for this.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

200 miles.....and Confusion

Not really sure where to start.

So I ran my 8th Texas Independence Relay this weekend. I committed to four legs for over 19 miles, plus the 1.15 mile prologue.

It was probably a poor choice to commit to that many miles, but we had several runners that were not 100% and I felt like I didn't have any nagging issues that could prevent me from being a workhorse over the course of the relay.

Well....

I blew up. I did all the miles I said I was going to do, and I averaged 9:31 pace over my four legs. But it should have been much faster and much easier for me. My last two legs were the two slowest legs I have ever run in all eight years of this relay, at 9:49 and 10:20 pace. I'm so disappointed in myself and so confused as to what went wrong.

Two days later, my legs feel pretty good. Although I had a bit of IT band tightness in the late hours of the relay, and my quads were unusually sore going into my fourth leg, I have recovered well and my IT band is giving me zero issues right now. I am, however, very sick with a cold that started coming on Sunday night. I don't want to make the excuse that I was coming down with something and that's why I suddenly couldn't run well anymore. I suppose it's possible, but it still frustrates me.

I ate well. I hydrated very well. I rested better than I expected during our break overnight. I don't think I was particularly tired or cranky.

I just totally blew up.

I ran 8:53 pace and 9:06 pace for my first two legs, and while it wasn't particularly easy to hold those paces, I was steady and determined and not overtaxed despite the warm weather. I had high hopes for the my third leg, which was at 1:00am in much cooler weather. Usually my overnight leg is my strongest and with it being only 4.13 miles I thought I might be able to run about 8:45 pace. But as soon as I started running it felt hard. I thought I was running around 9-9:15 pace but when my first mile came through it was an even 10:00. I tried speeding up in the second mile and it came in at 9:38. No way should this leg have been feeling this difficult, but I simply could not run any faster without it being a huge struggle. My van mates cheered me on when they checked on me, and all I could think of to say was "I'm running 10 minute miles and I don't know why!" They thought that was hilarious....but no. No it was not.

I wasn't the only one to struggle overnight. The humidity was getting very bad as the night progressed, although I didn't really notice it so much on my leg. The other van was feeling the effects of the weather and the miles and a couple of them needed to drop their fourth leg. I really had no choice but to suck it up for my 5 miler into downtown Houston. My legs were getting so stiff and I was honestly worried about being able to finish strong. We needed absolutely every strong mile we could get in those last legs of the relay. I wanted to do well for my team.

It was pretty ugly. I started off as conservative as I could to loosen up, but even a slow pace was hard. As the other van passed me to check on me, I told them I was running 10:30 pace and wasn't sure I could make my legs go any faster. They cared less than I did and just cheered me on.

I have never had the urge to walk on a relay leg more than I did right then, but I pushed through and forced my legs to keep running. As I crossed the pedestrian bridges over the bayou and could glimpse the skyscrapers of downtown it felt like they were so far away, even though it was less than three miles. This leg was taking so long to get through! For the first four miles I averaged about 10:15 pace but my fifth mile I slowed down considerably to 10:45 pace. I couldn't really pick it up very much when I turned the corner for the last minute of the run down Smith Street to the exchange.

The best way to describe my last leg was that it was every bit as hard as the last five miles in a difficult marathon, and the way I felt after I finished that last leg was exactly like how I feel coming down the finish chute after a marathon. I was completely spent, totally sore, unable to breathe, and miserable.

Thinking back on it now, two days later, and I'm still pretty perplexed as to what happened. Is it obvious I'm totally disappointed in myself?

I need to shake this disappointment and move on. My team did pretty well for having so many people struggling with injury and training problems, with it being in the mid-80s and sunny during the afternoon runs, and with having to shuffle some of the legs around. We finished earlier than expected (barely!) and nobody was really hurt (at least not anymore than when we started!), and we had a great time. But I always want to be a workhorse (even if I'm the slowest workhorse).

Good God, I need to shut up.

However, at the end of the day, the Texas Independence Relay is still the best race of the year, even if it's the most exasperating. Lots of great moments. Lots of crazy moments. Lots of moments that fall under the category of "what happens on the relay stays on the relay."













Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Fun in the South

I've had my eye on a few different fall/winter marathons to aim for in 2017/2018. There's certainly no shortage of great races. For months I assumed I would want to run Revel Canyon City in Southern California, but after suffering through the heat of the summer in 2016 it reminded me how much I hate training like that, and this race is in November. I'm just not ready to commit to a marathon any earlier than December. Summer here SUCKS.

I fell in love with Louisiana after racing in Baton Rouge in January. I knew committing to that race again was a strong possibility. The race directors also offer a marathon in Mississippi in December. If you do both race weekends they award you a special Beach to Bayou medal. That definitely piqued my interest for training for two marathons. It's been 3 years since I ran more than one marathon in a year, and five years since I've run two that close together, and I have been itching to be healthy enough to attempt it again.

My health has improved dramatically in the last year and I do think I can make more gains this year. A December and January marathon race schedule seems perfect to me.

So I pulled the trigger today. Not only did I register for both marathons, but I also registered for races the day before each marathon, a 5K in Biloxi, and the Quarter Marathon in Baton Rouge. I can't travel all that way without taking full advantage of the awesome race weekends! The more gumbo the better!

My "A" race will be Mississippi Gulf Coast. It starts in Pass Christian and the entire course is right along the Gulf. Finish is in Biloxi...heck, the host hotel is a casino. Needless to say, I might be staying Sunday night after the race! Provided the weather cooperates, I think the point to point format could be ideal for a personal record. I am totally itching for a faster marathon.


Five weeks later, I'll toe the line again in Baton Rouge. What is it about my birthday weekend that requires a race? Since 2012 I have raced every single birthday weekend in mid-January, twice on my actual birthday. I'll do it again for Birthday #44. (on a side note.....44?!?!)

The day before the Louisiana Marathon I'm going to run the Quarter Marathon, and since it's the first time I will have raced that distance (if you don't count my Quarter Ironman, because the run leg of that race was miserable), it's an automatic PR. Louisiana will be my "B" race, so the pressure is off a bit for a spectacular marathon time. I just want to have GOOD time! More gumbo for me, please!

The more I think about all this, the more excited I become. Marathons #13 and #14 are on my calendar.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why I Run

Life can be stupid hard sometimes. I often wonder if my parents felt the stress that today's parents feel. Is it tougher to raise kids in the era of electronics and social media, where distractions and bullying have taken on a whole new meaning? Where it's so much easier to compare your parenting and your children's success (and failure) to others?

I've been struggling with this part of parenting this week. My kids are going through a rough patch, one that I know we can get through, but it's a rough one regardless. All the while seeing other parents post all their kids' victories (which is completely awesome for them, don't get me wrong). When you don't have a lot of positives to post, it can be lonely and frustrating, and it makes you question your ability to be a good parent. Shouldn't my kids be happier and more successful if I was actually doing a good job at being their mom? Sounds ridiculous as I type, but the feelings are pretty valid.

It's also got me thinking about my sometimes-crazy hobby....endurance running and triathlons (I say triathlons loosely since I haven't even done one in 16 months). Why am I really spending all this time and energy on this sport?

I am a stay-at-home mother who quit her short-lived second career 30 months ago in light of some pretty serious child issues. I don't regret stepping away from it, even if it kind of blindsided me. But it also set me up to once again "just" be a mom as my adult role. I know, I know....don't say it's "just a mom" because that in itself is a very difficult job. However, my brain doesn't sit still very easily, and while I enjoy the freedom of time that I get most days, my brain needs stimulation. I was one of the smart kids growing up and I'm a critical thinker. Never in my life did I think I wouldn't be putting that mind to use in a career. Kind of crazy how things turn out nothing like what we had imagined (not such a bad thing).

So I need a focus. I need something to be laid out for me week after week that I follow, analyze, tweak, and about which I feel accomplished.

Enter marathons. 

You just can't fake a marathon. It takes discipline and commitment, and forcing myself to do the training week after week, month after month, gives me an outlet for my energy and intellect....in an unconventional way. It gives me time away from the daily struggles of parenthood and time with other like-minded people.

Many people think it's just a way for a mom to run away from her problems.

To those I say ZIP IT.

Don't knock it before you try it. 

But WHY MARATHONS??? Couldn't half marathons be good enough? Why put your body through torture?

Oh, some runs, some weeks, some training blocks are freaking torture, I won't lie. I get tired and irritable and whiny. But on the same token, I absolutely love it. It's a way to hone my discipline, it's a reason to get up everyday, it forces me to make mindful choices every time I open that refrigerator because you can't train on crap fuel. All those things are GREAT THINGS. The marathon is a big enough goal that you can't allow yourself to slide. You HAVE TO put in the work.

Besides, at 43 years old, this makes me feel really good about myself. I'm proud that I can do this in middle age, and sometimes I do it well.

I fear that if I didn't have this, I would sit around all day letting my depression and anxiety completely take over my mind. The thought of that scares the crap out of me.

I had a brief thought to run another marathon in a few weeks, but I decided not to. I have a 200 mile team relay coming up in two months and then I'll put a few sprint triathlons on my calendar. My next marathon will be in the fall or winter and I'll tackle that beast the same way I did this past year and it will be fantastic.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Louisiana!!

Marathon #12 is DONE! After a two year marathon hiatus, I committed to getting a healthy body to the start line in Baton Rouge on January 15, and I succeeded!

It's been a long two years and I missed the marathon distance. As tough and demanding it is, there's just something incredibly intoxicating about toeing the line at a marathon. My body has had other ideas over the past two years and after downgrading two previous marathon registrations to the half marathon distance, I was ready to do whatever I could to return to the full distance.

The Louisiana Marathon fell on my birthday for 2017, and I felt like I needed something different to commit to, so before I talked myself out of it, I registered for the Deja Vu. I'd be running the 5k on Saturday, and the marathon on Sunday.

I wrote and rewrote, and rewrote again, a 6 month training plan. From July to October my focus was on building my base miles up, with interval training to try to regain some of the speed I've lost. I ran two half marathons in October, one that I actually raced and one that was pretty awful because of weather. The first one, in California, was spectacular and showed me that whatever I was doing was working and I was regaining strength, both physically and mentally. From October until January's race day, I increased my volume and the length of my interval and speed training sessions until I was consistently running 35-40+ mile weeks, 4-5 days per week, with very few runs under 6 miles. I spent a little time getting my IT band worked on, did countless rehab exercises, and plugged away week after week. The training plan was exactly what I needed.

My marathon PR is 4:17:53, not spectacular by any means, especially compared to my fastest half marathon of 1:51:36. I have run several good marathon races, but always felt like I kept holding myself back for fear of dying towards the end of the race. I love the accomplishment of completing the marathon, but I'm admittedly not a great marathon runner. For Louisiana I really wanted to run a 4:15. If I was honest with myself, I know I can actually run faster than that, but after two years and battling injuries and stress, I thought a 4:15 was totally reasonable and would quite honestly still not be very easy.

Of course race day weather was not bound to cooperate with my plans. My medical woes (asthma) make it tough for me to push too hard for too long in warm, humid weather. I run the risk of ending up in the medical tent, and I have to respect this. It's frustrating, but it is what it is. While temperatures in the 60s wouldn't be awful (40s to 50s are ideal), the fact that the humidity would be at 100% would seriously compromise my lungs. When I ran my first October race, the air was dry and the effect it had on my breathing was dramatic. I had absolutely zero issues racing in 20-30% humidity and it was glorious. It's the opposite when the humidity creeps over 70% (that's what happened in my second October half and it was ugly). The forecast wasn't budging as we approached the race. It was going to be warm and humid, and the humidity was not going to burn off.

But first things first...Baton Rouge is awesome. As soon as we arrived in town, I knew it would be a fun weekend. The downtown area was so pretty, and clean, and vibrant, with lots of great restaurants and services. Once parked at the hotel, everything was in walking distance. My room had a view of the Mississippi, so can't really beat that.

The expo was full of energy. Lots of good vendors and friendly people, with race merchandise that could appeal to everyone. Wandering through the expo was fun and it got my excitement going for the upcoming races. I bought myself a logo tank, mug, visor, and car sticker.

The FOOD. Oh my gosh, the food in Louisiana was wonderful. I was going to be eating well the entire time. Saturday night's meal was so enjoyable, with a glass of wine thrown in to mellow me out for the next morning.




I couldn't control the weather, but there were countless other things I could control. I shook off the disappointment (mostly) and took stock of how I could make the race day great regardless of the weather gods being assholes.
  • I adjusted my race goal to 4:30 (although after running the 5K on Saturday and trying to breathe in that crap, I pushed that to 4:35). Out of 12 marathons, that time would be my 7th fastest...okay by me!
  • I rested as much as I could
  • I hydrated like I've never hydrated before. At least a gallon of water daily for the week before the race, including electrolytes every day.
  • I cut out alcohol.
  • I fueled with good food that would make my body happy.
  • I purchased a tank made of the lightest possible fabric I could find, in white in case the sun came out (it did).
  • I made a new race day game plan (more details below) that took into account this crappy development.
  • I reminded myself that I had done the hard work, and had been successful at it, and the race was merely the final bow, and one that I needed to enjoy.
So how was I going to execute the race itself so I could continue to breathe the entire 26.2 miles without suffering an asthma attack, while still crossing the finish line in a respectable 4:35? It was going to be all about how I handled the aid stations.

But first on the weekend agenda besides eating all the fabulous food and buying all the fabulous merchandise...I ran a 5K on Saturday. When you run both days on marathon weekend, you earn a crawfish platter. I can't pass up on extra bling, and I've done the 5K the day before a big race a couple other times, so why not? The air Saturday morning was of course thick with fog, but a couple degrees cooler than what Sunday morning would be. I had no plans to go all out in the first mile of the race, but would just try to run a nice negative split without overtaxing myself too much. It would be a fun way to shake out the legs and fire them up a bit before the marathon.

Can you see the Capitol? Neither could anyone else.

The race was a blast! I ran a conservative 9:00 first mile, then kicked it up slowly before building up more speed after the halfway turnaround. I ran the first half in about 13:40 so right on target to where I expected to be. I felt so great during the second mile (which came in at 8:21) that I continued to speed up a bit for the final 1.1 miles. I was right at 26 minutes when I crossed the finish line. Great for a shake out run, without pushing myself too hard and compromising my race the next day.

Surprisingly enough, that time unofficially got me 6/125 in my age group, 50/958 for females (say what??), and 178/1614 overall. So maybe I'm a decent 5k runner. Definitely better than I am at marathons!

Just a bit humid

But the air was no doubt pretty awful. Not bad to push through for 3 miles, but a 4+ hour slog in it would be a different story if I wasn't smart. After spending lots of time at the Finish Festival eating all the yummy samples from the vendors and enjoying some great live music, we finally headed out to eat a real brunch. By that time the sun had come out. The air felt pretty crappy and it would probably be the same the next day.

The sun came out!

So here's how it all went down on Sunday....

Pre race jitters with a smile

When we were walking to the start line, the air was so thick it felt like it was drizzling on us. You couldn't see the Louisiana Capitol Building at all. It didn't feel too warm, about 60 degrees. Waiting in the starting chute, however, felt really warm and I was eager to just get going and spread out a bit. I kept telling myself that I'd be done before lunchtime and it would all be worth it.

My plan was to run as even half splits as possible. The last thing I wanted was to go out too fast and then crash at the end. If I could just maintain what I was doing, stay mentally tough at the end, and stay as cool and hydrated as possible, I'd consider it a success. So I started really really slow. First mile was 10:45 and I just wanted to get used to the air. I wasn't breathing too hard those first few miles and felt absolutely fine. I guess that's not too hard to do when the average pace is well over ability..ha!

Running alongside my friend Kalynn helped tremendously. She was running the half marathon but since the split wasn't until Mile 11 I got to spend a lot of time talking to her and it made those first miles go by very quickly. She's a Boston Qualified marathoner, so for her to slow down as much as she did for me was a huge sacrifice on her part and I'm so grateful for that!

The course is just great. I got to run through LSU's campus (did you know they have an actual live tiger living in the middle of campus? Although, sadly, the latest mascot recently died), which meant lots of college boys at aid stations. I wasn't complaining. After leaving campus, the course meandered along Lakeshore Drive for several miles. What a beautiful and peaceful area of the city. Each house was unique and most were really spectacular. The race was actually going to by quickly and before I knew it we were already 10 miles in.

After this point, I was running alone. Kalynn was off to finish the half and start enjoying the festival. My other friend, Tony, who was running the full was probably far ahead of me at this point. But the spectators made it feel anything but lonely. The spectators!! Seriously, the only place that has spectators as awesome as Baton Rouge is maybe Houston, but even so I think Baton Rouge may have them beat. They're aren't as many of them, but they make up for their numbers with their enthusiasm and willingness to help out all the runners as much as possible. It seemed like for every official aid station there were one or two spectator pseudo-aid stations set up outside of residences. They were handing out anything from champagne and beer to Swedish Fish and pretzels.

I also think I made a great choice by putting "Birthday Girl" as my bib name. It made me pretty popular with the spectators and they made sure everyone around knew I was running on my birthday. I had so many smiles while running that it almost made me forget how atrocious the air was.

Almost. I never sped up too much during this race. I hated running slowly, but my strategy was working. I felt okay through at least the first 18 or so miles. There were aid stations every single mile, which was a life saver. I could refill my water bottle or dump water on my head, or grab the ice cups they had after Mile 11. It saved my butt, that's for sure. When the sun came out about 3 hours into the race, the aid stations became even more important. If I couldn't control the weather, at least I could be smart about my hydration. I was being really great about drinking water often and using my Base salts every few miles. I stuck to my nutrition fueling strategy of every 5 miles, and grabbed a couple extra things along the course, like Swedish fish and orange slices. I was a soaking mess towards the end of the race with how much water I had dumped over my head, but it kept me from overheating.

So serious!

Clearly I've been dumping a lot of water on myself

This is late in the race but I'm still smiling!

I'm honestly surprised I never felt really hot during the race, even with the sun. I expect it not only had to do with staying cool with the water, but also with all the shade on the course. Many of the Baton Rouge neighborhoods have tree canopies across their roads, providing an incredible amount of shade for the runners. This is one of the reasons (out of many!) I chose this race. Shade is imperative if the sun is out. And I know I also felt okay because instead of running my 9:45 goal pace I was running 10:15-10:30.

My splits came through as I had planned them, 1:05 at the 10k, 2:15 at the half, 3:16 at 19 miles. I was slowly improving my pace over the miles and it looked like I was likely to cross the line in about 4:31 or 4:32 if I kept up the current pace.

At about 21 miles I got tired. It was taking it's toll on me. I also realized that this was the first time in a very, very long time I had run a non-stop 21+ miles. Every step I had taken on this course so far had been running. I could still see the 4:30 pacer in front of me, and he was my motivation for several of the previous miles. I battled with my head for about the next mile or so about whether I would let myself take a little walk break. I HATE walking during a race, even if it's just for a minute or two. I would prefer slowing down to walking. I guess this wasn't necessarily an ordinary race. If the air was drier I'd be at least another mile ahead at this point and probably wouldn't feel the need to walk, but after over 3 1/2 hours I was definitely getting tired.

I decided to be really regimented about walk breaks for the remainder of the race. I ran until I got to 22.2 miles, so with four miles to go until the finish I walked 1/10th of a mile, then ran another 9/10. It was pushing my pace over 11:00 but I was still in range for a 4:35 if I finished the race like this. I was okay with that. I stuck to that plan for the last four miles.

At Mile 25 Kalynn found me and she ran the rest of the way with me. That last mile was a bit of a blur, because at this point I was definitely ready to be done. It had been a long morning! I usually can pick up the pace that last mile, but last time I did that in humidity like this I ended up in medical. I would never hear the end of it if I had to visit the medical tent again after a race, so speed up I did NOT. As a matter of fact, that last mile (all of which was "running"!) was just as slow as Mile 1. So I guess I really was tired.

Not smiling yet...but close...

Finish line smile!

Happy Girl!

I heard the announcer call my name a couple of times as I was closing in on the finish line and that was really cool. I love races that announce all the finishers as they come in. As soon as I was done (4:35:42!) and could stop running, everything started hurting.



Daaaaamn, walking through the finish chute was hard. My body was seriously yelling at me and all I could think about was that it was time to retire from marathons. I never really hit the wall in this race but those last miles were pretty rough...at least that's what my foggy and tired mind was telling me.

I made it to Kalynn's husband, Cary, and the chairs they had set up and they sweetly took care of me and made sure I was okay. My friend Tony (who trained with MY training plan) PR'd by over 5 minutes. A freaking PR!! On my coaching! A part of me was so proud and so happy and felt so vindicated that the plan I poured over really was awesome, but then I also kind of wanted to hit him a little for running it 32 minutes faster than me. He's a lucky guy to not get affected by the humidity like I do.

Thank you Kalynn and Cary for the chair to sit in!


That is a gumbo pot and the fantastic Cajun chefs

The Finish Festival was just as great the second day and I got my fill of Louisiana food and music for the next hour or so. Then spent about another hour walking the half mile to the hotel (not really, it just felt like it). Luckily I didn't have too much trouble stepping off of curbs this time around (not the case a couple years ago post-Houston Marathon when I stared at a curb for a good minute before attempting to step off it backwards).

A 20 minute shower, a rum and coke while IN the shower, birthday cookies made by my friend Shelley of Sharp Cookie, and the promise of all the fried seafood I could get my hands on got me through the afternoon.



I always learn something from every marathon I complete. I trained very well for this race. It was an ambitious training plan, particularly with needing a little rehab on my IT band, but I powered through it successfully. I was TRAINED. It was a great feeling knowing I toed the line ready to complete that 26.2 miles. I couldn't help that the weather was exactly what I DIDN'T need, but I readjusted my goals and my race day plan and was determined to still be successful. At first glance, a 4:35 (which falls at 7th place for fastest marathon out of the 12 I've done) doesn't seem too great when my original goal was 4:15. However, I ran smart, I pushed through, I stuck to the new race plan, I didn't overheat, my lungs held up, and my half splits were pretty good for a bad weather marathon at 2:15:50 and 2:19:52. It could easily have been really ugly those last few miles had I hit the wall. On a side note, when I checked the results I noticed that even with my slowdown at the end of the race, I moved from 40th in my age group at the 10k split up to 24th at the finish...that might be my favorite statistic.

Two medals and a crawfish platter

My recovery, despite being horribly sick right now 4 days post-race (the FLU!!), has been better than normal. I actually am not having too much trouble with sore muscles or weird pains. Absolutely no IT band pain, which is a bit of a miracle. After my last marathon two years ago, I struggled that next week and never really recovered like I should have, causing me to downgrade another marathon three months later. That's not the case this time around. My legs feel good, if not still a bit sore and tired, but good overall and ready to get back to regular exercise soon.

I'm definitely wondering if I want to sign up for another marathon this winter or early spring. Should I give it another shot?