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?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My Word for 2017...and beyond

I guess I have a lot to say this year so far! Three blog posts in as many days has got to be a record for me.

The message at my church on New Year's Day was about finding our "word" for the year.

"Picking a word of the year is different than your typical New Year's resolution. It doesn't exist to be a constant reminder of what you 'should be doing.' Instead, it stands as an inspiration of who you really are in Christ and how you want to live. The words invites you to think about who you want to be, who God created you to be. So, will you choose a word of the year that will help you experience this?" (Gateway Austin)
As I was listening to the message, the word that kept popping up in my mind was "Peace." It's something that I've been working on for the past year, and something I'd like to continue to improve upon. The more peace I feel, the happier my family and I are. This road is not easy, and my mental fortitude has been tested over and over the past few years. But I do think I made some headway this past year.

It's the most important "word" I could find to define how I want to live in 2017. And I know it's how God wants me to live.

This got me thinking (because we all know I can never shut my mind off). What else do I need to work on this year? What could be my secondary words? What do those around me need to work on? So I made another list and it has four words on it, so far.

Patience

Grace

Understanding

Trust

I think a few of these can go hand in hand and can complement each other. Progress on one can lead to progress on another.

Patience
I'm all over the map when it comes to patience. It's a very situational thing for me. I've got unlimited patience when it comes to certain things, while other things receive zero patience from me. Being a parent requires more patience than anyone ever thought possible, and exponentially so when you're talking about high needs kids. Self care and medication has improved my reaction to stressful situations, particularly with the changes I've made over the past year. But there is always room for improvement.

Grace
This is where I start to talk about politics. If this bothers you, then please stop reading. I hope you won't, however. This election cycle was nasty beyond measure, and it made me so disappointed in people. I lost a lot of the grace I felt I had worked so hard on embracing. Likewise, I think many people forgot completely what grace means. We all make mistakes, we all have views that might be questionable to someone else, we all say things that make people cringe sometimes. But with grace, it allows us to step away and view things more objectively, to allow people room to be who they are and to atone for things they may have done or said that they regret, and to be a safety net for those who desperately need one. The words that have been used to describe those of us on my side of the political spectrum have been horrendous, profoundly untrue for the vast majority of us, and frankly, downright unfair. It's so easy to throw out labels on those you disagree with and to make blanket statements about the kind of person they must be, simply because of how they voted. We don't fit in boxes, and we don't deserve those labels. Neither side deserves that. I didn't always show grace to those I differed with, and I certainly felt very little in return. Even two months after the election, I'm still seeing this lack of grace. It's pervasive on social media and it hurts deeply. I wish I could unsee some of the posts and comments that I feel are a direct attack on my character. So I'd like to remember this when I disagree with someone. I'd like to show grace towards them and I would hope they could find it in their heart to do the same.

Understanding
This leads right into my third word. I think "grace" and "understanding" go hand in hand in many situations. For the past few months I've tried to make a very big effort to understand the other side of the aisle. It's not necessarily as difficult for me because I spent eight years on that side before reassessing my views and what I felt was important for society. There are a few things that I'm decidedly moderate about. But, mostly because I got tired of hearing "how could you vote for him?," I vowed to try my hardest to not do that, even when my brain was screaming "how could you vote for HER?" At the end of the day, many of our goals are the same, we just disagree with how to get there. But we need to understand WHY each side feels the way that they do, and maybe the nastiness wouldn't be so pervasive. Take a deep breath, bite your tongue, and don't be an ass. You can be passionate about your beliefs while still being understanding towards those who feel the opposite. I want to continue to do my best to be the understanding person I expect others to be. We all deserve that. (One caveat....there are some extreme views and idiocy that I will never understand. Period)

Trust
This is my husband's word for the year. He wants to loosen up on his control issues and allow others the freedom to take control. I like that he's chosen this word, as I think this will help us in our household. On that same token, I'll embrace this word as well. I am not a delegator, which is why I would be a terrible boss. I like to do EVERYTHING, because most of the time I think I do it best. Therefore, it's time to loosen up and trust that others are just as capable. It will take a lot of work, but I'm willing to make the effort. I'd still make a terrible boss, however.

What words should I add?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflection on the Process

With two weeks to go until Marathon Day, I'm spending some time reflecting on my training. I went back and read some of my blog posts early on in training, as I was also preparing for a half marathon in October, and it inspired me to write my thoughts down in a new post. The hardest part of the training is done, and looking back on how I've gotten to today is kind of fun.

Back on August 31, with five weeks until my goal half marathon, I wrote this after reading David Boudia's book (he's an Olympic gold medal diver):

(Quoting David's book) "Be process oriented, not results oriented. Remember the Olympic creed? The important thing is not the triumph, but the fight. So many times in our lives, results are out of our hands and we are dependent on things we can't control for the outcomes we desire. Learning instead to focus on the process, the journey itself, allows us to focus our energies more on the things we can control. That, in turn, leads to greater fulfillment and more enjoyment s we go through life leaving our ultimate path in the Lord's hands (Psalm 37:5)."
Although I do have goals and I like to keep some focus on them as I train, he's totally right that in order to achieve our goal we have to focus on the process. The process in marathon training is months long. Each week serves a purpose, each workout serves a purpose. When the big picture and a focus on everything you still need to do in the months ahead, when you have a million doubts because you're having a tough training spell, you have to step back and focus on the process...what is the purpose and goal of THIS workout, why is it important, what does it mean if it's successful, what does it mean if it's not, what have I learned that I can take into the next workout, the next week, the next month, or even race day? We have complete control of that attitude.

Now, with two weeks to go, having seriously trained since July, I can look back and say with confidence that this is exactly how I approached training. I wrote myself a training plan that would require a lot of dedication, but I knew it would work in long run. I looked at each week separately, and focused on the purpose of each individual run and how it would benefit my training in the long run. I compared my improvement in similar workouts from previous weeks. I had a goal for each workout, and mostly managed to keep my focus on that small individual goal, then move on to the next run or the next week. I knew I had tough weeks ahead, but my successful training up to that point would help me be successful during those weeks as well.

I did have a tough time wrapping my mind around the 22 mile training run planned three weeks out from race day, the last really tough long run before the taper. It weighed on me going into that week and it was a bit tough to focus on the week's earlier workouts. I did what I could to shut my mind off, and juggled a couple of things around that would make me even more ready for that run. It helped that the only goal for that run was to finish it, not to be fast (which was impossible anyway, since it was 70 degrees and 100% humidity that morning), to be consistent from Mile 1 all the way to Mile 22, and to still feel some strength at the end of the run. Speed would never come into play, merely endurance. Despite the nasty weather, I got through the run and felt great for almost all of it, which is a huge win for me.

15 miles into the 22 miler, joined by the husband for the last 7 miles

This past week, I had my longest speed session planned (on Thursday) and again, I had a hard time keeping that out of my head early in the week. It would be a 9 mile run overall, with 10x800 meter repeats and a 400 meter recovery jog between. The goal is to be consistent with each 800 and your average time is a good indicator of a realistic marathon time. This workout would typically be done on the track, but because of schedules I ended up doing this at a nearby trail (mostly dirt and concrete). I figured my repeats would be a bit slower than on the track, but I could still use the workout to gauge whether or not my training had paid off. The importance of the run weighed on me. The wind that day wasn't helping! It ended up being a great run. I figured I'd average 4:05 for the 10 repeats, possibly slowing during the end of the workout (it's a lot of miles!), but I did better than that, even with the 20+mph headwinds in the second half. I averaged 3:58 per 1/2 mile repeat. I don't remember the last time I had that many miles of speed at less than 8:00 pace. The best part was that when I was done I definitely didn't feel like I had just run 9 miles.

With those two workouts done, and successful, it showed me that being so methodical about my training was the right plan...looking at each run as having a purpose, focusing on one run at a time, having a goal for each one, and then completing each one and moving onto the next. Mostly the workouts were successful, some were really tough, but I learned something from each one and could take those lessons into the next week.

So as I sit here, with two weeks to go, with all the "hard" workouts behind me, I can continue to reflect back on the last 5+ months, on my great October half marathon, and see how I can apply all of this to my marathon, both for my mental game and my physical game.

Also, can I just say that I think my training plan was seriously kick ass? I'm kind of proud of that!

Hey 2017, throw me a bone, would ya?

2016 can kiss my ass. What a crappy year.

It's possible it's going out on a couple of high notes, but over all, it was kind of the worst.

STRESS, STRESS, STRESS.

Not everything was horrible. I actually got healthier and leaner, I got my medication woes figured out, I've had a good marathon training cycle, I got to race in California, my daughter is getting better (although I'm not sure heading into teenagerhood is a real improvement), I have a pool, and I'm not unhappy about the election results (deal with it, I'm Republican).

But UGH, so much crap happened that I was not at all anticipating and it really floored me. Thank God I've had a pretty decent human being by my side to do this life thing with, because if I was muddling through without a partner it could've been exponentially worse.



But 2017...you're going to have more good than bad, right? RIGHT?!?!

You freaking better.

I'm doing everything within my power to bring good things into my life. I'm a firm believer that if you don't try to take charge when things go south, you're making things a lot harder on yourself than necessary. So many things are still under your control, so you hold onto those things and make them as positive as you possibly can.

That's why you see me busting my tail at marathon training and taking care of my physical self. I am in complete control of that, it's something I can focus on daily, and frankly, it's why I get out of bed some days (if you have mental health issues, you understand this). It's imperative that I have one thing that is totally mine, that is not dependent upon anyone else. It's empowering and puts my mind in the right place. Kind of important for someone with my issues. Not to say it's easy, because it's the last thing I want to do some days. But then I circle back to that whole "taking charge" thing and I get back on target. Besides, it makes me feel really good about myself, and that's priceless to me.

My kids are entering the second half of 6th and 9th grades. It's still a bit of a struggle to get them to understand how important education is, and they fumble here and there. But with maturity it's getting better and I have high hopes that things will continue to go smoother on this front. Now, if only we could do something about those mean middle school girls.



I know I have many things to look forward to in 2017. I'm going to continue to add things to the list, and spend time with good people, and love on my kids, and do my best. Some days will suck, some days I'll feel like an absolute failure, and some days I'm just going to need to feel sorry for myself. But some days will most certainly shine.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Not going to miss you at all, 2016!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reflections on my training cycle

It's getting HARD.

When I wrote my training plan for the Louisiana Marathon, I knew I was going to focus on more volume and longer interval and tempo runs to build up my endurance. I was going to replace my third 20 miler with a 22 miler, a distance I haven't built into a training plan in years (yes, even 2 miles makes a difference). I was going to engage in more 5-run weeks rather than just 4 runs per week. Strength and core training were going to be consistent and key to keeping my body in tip top shape. All of this meant that I was going to be doing some SERIOUS training.

So how's it all panning out?

Actually, pretty well, although I wasn't always so sure about it.

My biggest training months leading up to a marathon in the past were about 120-130 miles in volume. I'm seem to be happiest when I hover around 100 miles per month. But keeping the status quo wasn't going to do me any favors after a 2 year absence from the marathon distance. November is officially my highest volume month in the 9 years I've been running at 150 miles. Next month will be 176 miles of running. Looking at those numbers is staggering to me. But I'm hanging in there so far, and I think I am seeing the rewards of my hard work. Race day is 45 days away.

I'm definitely slower than I have been in the past. For months it really ate away at me to know that I've declined since my last marathon, and I was beating myself up pretty bad about it. But in the last week or so I've gained a sense of peace about where I'm at. The last two years have been incredibly challenging emotionally. The stress level that I've had could knock anyone on their ass, and I've had to realize that it's truly to blame for my decline. Stress absolutely wreaks havoc on your physical well being in addition to your emotional well being. While my stress level is not great right now, it's slowly improved this year. There's a lot more light in my life, although dark days still creep in. It's been a huge battle to try to reverse these detrimental effects on my body and I'm clawing my way back to my previous ability, day by day and run by run.

So while the runs themselves might not be quite as speedy as in the past, I think the volume is paying dividends, even if they are tiny dividends. Sunday was a 14 mile run with 4 miles of it at marathon goal pace. I ended up running the final 8 miles at that pace and while I was tired, it felt really great. Yesterday I had a 7 mile tempo run, with 1 mile at warm up pace, 4 miles at short tempo pace, and 2 miles cool down. My triathlon team leader told me my tempo pace for that run was to be 8:33. The previous week's workout was 5 miles of tempo (7 mile total run) at a 9:03 average, so this run was going to be quite a bit faster, and harder. After a bit of a shaky start, and an annoying uphill during mile two, I ended up nailing the run. The 4 miles of tempo came in at 34:12...exactly 8:33 average. It was NOT easy for me, but looking back on it, it didn't kill me. I felt absolutely fine after the run was finished. As I drove home I realized that by nailing this run it basically proved that my training is working.

When I first wrote up my training plan I had in my head that I really would try for a PR at the Louisiana Marathon. I'm basing my workout paces off of this goal. I'm not quite sure I have it in me to achieve this goal, but I'm keeping it in the back of my head regardless. December is going to be a crazy training month. I have to be diligent about staying healthy. But I think if I start seeing the hard work paying off even more then I will absolutely shoot for that PR.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Tale of Two Races, 2016 Edition

It's done! My two half marathons this month, 7 days apart, are DONE.

They were SO DIFFERENT it's really quite laughable. Now, I knew I was only pushing myself for one of them, the City to the Sea on October 9, and I was going to hold back on the second run, Nutrabolt Oktoberfest on October 16, and finish it about 5 minutes slower. That was the plan, anyhow.

For City to the Sea, the weather was perfect! It had been unusually dry leading up to the race, with morning temps in the 50s. I was thrilled because I knew the only thing that would hold back my pace was my own legs and not my lungs. It all worked out perfectly, as I finished in 2:02:39. Not the ultimate stretch goal of under 2 hours, but I am very happy with how I strategized and executed and I'll take a 2:02!

For Oktoberfest, the weather could not have been more miserable. Practically 100% humidity, with an atrocious 75 dew point, and temps in the 70s. Your basic Texas summer morning....only it's the middle of October now. In the back of my head I knew even trying to run my marathon pace of 9:40-9:45 was NOT going to be "holding back" for me, but rather my new ultimate stretch goal for this race. At about mile 6 I knew there was no way I was going to see anything even remotely close to it, although I did manage to hit the pace for the first half of the race, but that was HARD. Anyway, long story short, I finished in my second slowest road half time of 2:16:30. Truly atrocious morning.

But let's go back to the awesomeness of the City to the Sea Half Marathon. Can I just say how much I absolutely love to race in my hometown of San Luis Obispo? I was (mostly) all smiles before the race, hanging out in downtown, totally excited (and nervous) about running through town, through the canyon, and then to the beach. It's a great little college town and a beautiful place to run.

My nerves were off and on. I REALLY wanted a good race. I knew breaking two hours would be tough, but I also knew that if I kept my head in the game I could possibly do it. I was also worried about the hills in the second half. The first half of the race is a gradual decline, with pretty much all the 500 feet of elevation gain coming in the second half. I was hoping to capitalize on the good downhills in the second half if the uphills slowed me down too much. I figured I had nothing to lose, however, and my strategy was to run as well as I could for as long as I could, and when and if I couldn't any longer, I'd suck it up as best as I could.


The start line on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo

I started off the race at my usual half marathon racing pace, and moved into the 9:00-9:10 pace within the first three miles. It wasn't particularly easy, but it actually wasn't very difficult either. I wore my heart rate monitor and checked my heart rate occasionally, which told me I was doing just fine. One of the great things about this race is that we ran on the same road for the first five miles. No turns, therefore no need to try to run tight tangents. I wasn't picking up any extra mileage like one normally would on a race course with lots of turns. The miles were clicking off nicely and I was through the first half in about an hour. If I could maintain that pace and pick it up in that last mile, I'd squeak in under one hour. At worst, I'd be a minute or two over. Can you say THRILLED?!?! My race was going great and I felt great.

BUT I knew about those hills coming up...and sure enough, as soon as we turned onto San Luis Bay Drive halfway through the race, the first hill taunted us. It was a doozy.

San Luis Bay Drive, mile 7

Surprisingly, however, I ran mile 7 in 9:17. Not bad, but off pace. I sped up on the downhills in the next mile, and Mile 8 came in at 9:14 and Mile 9 back down under 9:10. I was at 9:12 pace overall through 9 miles. The canyon miles were no joke, and now I needed to be faster to break 2 hours, as I had picked up about 15 second of extra distance in the last few miles, in addition to the extra time I picked up in those two slower miles. I knew I was getting tired at this point. I could run the pace, but the hills were taking their toll on my legs. Needing to run sub-9 from here on out was going to definitely start to hurt.

Good grief

And then there was Mile 10. The entire mile is uphill. I wouldn't say that I threw in the towel right here, but this is when I decided that trying to push myself harder just wasn't going to happen. It was also right about here that we could finally see the ocean. So that's when I said, 'okay, I've proved my point. I can run a good pace again, and I have more sub-2's in my future.' It was time to enjoy myself, so I backed way off going up this hill. It was so much slower, that I ran it in 9:55. I sped up in those last few rolling miles, running between 9:20 and 9:35. Seeing that ocean was totally worth giving up a couple minutes on my race time. You couldn't wipe that smile off my face if you tried.

I crossed the finish line in 2:02:39. I had kept pace for about 9 miles, and had it not been for the hills, I would have probably broken 2 hours. This is so huge for me right now. I felt like I had broken through a physical and mental barrier. My IT band was achy for most of the run, but I never felt real pain from it. Perhaps it would have been more painful had I pushed it on those hills, so I'm glad I held back. My average heart rate average for the race was only 153, lower than I expected, and that's a very good sign of things to come.



Why yes, I did grow up here

So...onto the following weekend. The Nutrabolt Oktoberfest Half Marathon in College Station, my "marathon race pace" half marathon. Except that the weather was probably the worst that I've raced in for an endurance event. Coupled with racing just seven days before and a travel week, and I knew in the back of my head, this wasn't going to go so well, but I could still give it a shot.

I decided to run as even paced of a race as I could. Of course my Garmin lost it's signal in the first mile and I actually have no idea how fast I ran that mile. But based off the mile markers on the course, I think within the first three miles I was at 9:35 pace overall. Too fast, but at that point I thought maybe I could hold it for most of the race. I intentionally backed off after mile 3 and then the wheels pretty much started to fall off.

Mile 6 felt harder than the previous miles, even though it barely came in at under 10 minute pace. At this point I looked at my heart rate and it registered a 165. That's WAY too high for an "easy" pace for me, especially considering how in control I was in the previous week's race. I was struggling to keep my lungs working and my heart rate down, and my legs were feeling like lead.

This wasn't worth it. I crossed the timing mat at the 10K in 1:00:15, a 9:40 pace, and at the halfway mark, I walked. My heart rate needed to come down or I'd throw myself into a massive asthma attack.

So for the next 6.5 miles, I ran 5-7 minutes (I couldn't get the running under 10 minute pace) and walked a minute or two. Did I mention they found every single hill in College Station for this route? They felt like mountains (they weren't really bad). The sun came out. Everyone was walking portions of the race. Nobody was really very happy. All the happy people were done at this point. The rest of us wanted to be put out of our misery.

This weather was REALLY REALLY bad. This race was REALLY REALLY ugly.

About 11 miles in, I was so frustrated that I thought of bailing on the whole thing. But then I remembered that we got to finish in Kyle Field and that I'd get a beer stein and a medal with a beer opener on it. Time to suck it up and finish, no matter how ugly.

After what felt like a day and a half, we could see Kyle Field in the distance and I sped up to a blazing 10:15 pace (for real, this was the fastest I think I could run at this point).

That stupid clock said 2:16:30 when I crossed the finish line. I hate that clock.

With Tony and Barb, my badass GTT teammates 


Officially this was my second slowest road half marathon out of 17. I ran one trail half that was slower, and one road half that was slower. And 15 that were faster. Damn.

However, considering how great it felt the week before, I'm not letting it get me down. Especially since on Monday I came down with a doozy of an illness. It's entirely possible I was actually sick during this race, which would mean that of course I felt as horrible as I did....I had pretty much everything going against me.

Did I mention my friend Tony ran this race 19 minutes faster and he's 14 years older than me? Butthead.

The bright spot....I realized 11 miles in that I hadn't felt my IT band AT ALL during this race. I had actually forgotten all together that I was even injured. That's a pretty big win right there. Rehab is the bomb.

Two half marathons in 7 days are done. I have 12 weeks until the Louisiana Marathon and despite, the mediocrity of the Oktoberfest Half, I'm feeling pretty great going into the hardest part of marathon training. I have a great training plan laid out, I have some pretty kickass training buddies (side note: my friend Jeff ran 10 miles with me this past Saturday, just 6 days after the half and coming off an icky sick week, and I ran 9:35 pace overall. Guess what? The weather was great...imagine that), and I'm being a good girl with my physical therapy.



Baton Rouge better be ready for me.