Monday, November 28, 2011

Well, THAT was a good week...

First off, I just have to say it's been a REALLY LONG TIME since I had a great race. Like 2 1/2 years. Either I felt bad, the weather sucked, I was sick, my head wasn't in it, I was helping a friend, I had an asthma attack, I went out too name it, it happened to me. And it's been eating away at me for a very long time. I'll have phenomenal training runs and come race day, just completely fall apart. I NEEDED A GOOD RACE.

When Greg and I decided to take his parents up on their offer to fly us to Southern California for Thanksgiving, I immediately looked up the Thanksgiving Day race that we ran 3 years ago. I got a 5k PR at that race and to this day that time still stands as my fastest 5K - 24:40. I loved the quick, easy course and the fact that it was on Thanksgiving - what a perfect way to start off a day of gluttony. Surprisingly I discovered that the race had grown in the past three years, from about 300 people that inaugural year in 2008 to over 1500 participants. They also had added a 10K distance, which totally thrilled me and Greg. We both prefer the 10K distance leaps and bounds over the 5K distance and the more calories we burned Thanksgiving morning the better! I immediately signed us both up and let our parents know about it in case any of them wanted to sign up. Greg's dad did the 5K with us in 2008 and decided to do it again this year.

I've been having some pretty great training runs lately and was feeling confident. My last couple long runs have been challenging because of humidity and warmer temps but I managed to push through discomfort in both and finish well. I knew that I could wrap my head around any discomfort in a race and battle through it. Would it be enough for a PR? My fastest 10K time was 53:45, which I accomplished in 2009 at the Capitol 10K in Austin. Could I break an 8:39 pace? I thought it was certainly possible. The weather forecast was calling for high 40s, no wind, overcast skies. Race start was 7:30am. It's an out and back route, which I love for short races. There really was no reason why I couldn't try for that PR.

At the beginning of the race my goal was simply to break 55 minutes. Anything better than that would be a bonus and if I was feeling great and on pace at 4 miles I would push for a PR. But I wasn't going to force myself to try to accomplish something beyond that day's abilities. I knew I could do 55 minutes, though.

My goal was to run the first mile in 9:20 and then move to 9 minute pace for another 1.5 miles, then dropping to 8:40 for another 1.5 miles, and then just seeing what was in me for the remaining 2.2 miles. My first mile ended up being 9:07 but it honestly felt more like 9:30. This was GREAT. I tried not to increase my speed for the next mile but managed an 8:53. I didn't feel that fast at all. It was during this second mile that I noticed that this course was a bit different than the flat 5K course - at the turn off for the 5K racers there was a hill. It ended up being about 1.5 miles of slightly rolling hills. Not too bad, but it still required some strategy. I'm a pretty good hill runner, so I made sure I maintained my pace as best as possible without overexerting myself on the uphills, and took advantage a bit on the downhills. I noticed that at the point we would be turning off the road and onto the trail (at 4.5 miles) to the finish would be a pretty good downhill and I kept this information in the back of my mind. For the third mile I just maintained my pace without looking at my watch. I really wanted to run this race on feel and not know what pace I was actually running. Mile 3 was 8:42 and I was feeling really good despite a side stitch that was mild but annoying (and ended up sticking around for 2.5 miles). I hit the turnaround at 27:35. I quickly calculated that I would need a 26:09 to break my PR by a mere 1 second. That was quite a bit faster than my first half and I wasn't sure if I could do it. With only 3 miles left, however, I figured I had nothing to lose and would increase my speed just a bit.

The second half of the race was a combination of feeling great, pushing myself, hurting badly, and being so excited I could burst. My fourth mile was an awesome 8:29 and I knew at this point I didn't need to slow down and could maintain for the last 2.2 miles. If I at least maintained I would be well under 55 minutes. If I could push I had a shot at the PR. When we went down that hill and onto the trail at 4.5 miles I decided I had nothing to lose and would just go for it. Mile 5 was 8:30 but I actually didn't even look at my watch to see that split. I caught sight of my time with a mile left and saw I was under 46 minutes. With a good surge for that last mile I could do it.

I thought that last mile was never going to end. My legs were okay, but I was breathing hard. I knew I would likely puke when I was done. I ran as fast as I could without bonking, tried to go faster, but got into a decent rhythm. I saw my mom on the sidelines with about a tenth of a mile left but couldn't even summon a wave. I glanced quickly at my watch and knew I was going to break my PR. I was so excited but so ready to cross that finish line!

Look at my good form! Yay! I'm not slouching and my arms aren't crossing in front of me
A couple seconds after crossing I stopped my watch, moved over to the side, and just tried to calm down. I had stopped my watch at 53:35, a good 10 seconds better than my PR. I had run the last 1.22 miles in 9:52. I didn't end up puking but I couldn't really function either. I knew I had given everything out on the course and couldn't possibly have gone any faster. I was right about my training - it had enabled me to have the confidence to not give up and to believe in my ability. It probably took a good 10 minutes for my breathing to get under control. Greg, my mom, and his mom all were worried about how hard I was breathing!

(Side note: see those turkeys running behind me in the photo above? They passed me during the first mile and they were right in front of me for the entire race. During that last mile I decided there was no way a couple of turkeys were going to beat me. You can see I did pass them.)


My official time ended up being 53:33. The first thing I thought of was my buddy Jeff, whose 10K PR was 53:33 as well. We stuck around for the awards since I thought I remembered that the third place finisher in my age group last year had been in the 53 minute range. It was possible I had placed, so I knew it was worth it to see. Unfortunately they weren't posting the placings before the announcements so we had to wait about 15 minutes for them to get to my age group. I didn't end up placing, but I was still pretty happy.

We checked our times later and discovered that I was actually 8th out of 49 in my age group - that was a FAST group of women! I placed 50 out of 279 women and 152 out of 500 10K racers. I beat more men than beat me. Win! Greg placed 6th in his age group, as did Ed.

Speaking of Greg, he also got a PR. He forgot to charge his Garmin the night before and it died about a half mile into the race. He had to run blind, not knowing how fast he was going, having no idea what his time would be at the finish (there wasn't a finish clock). He ended up posting a 45:58, which beat his old PR by 1:09. I told him before the race when he saw his Garmin battery was low that he would be fine. He knew what the right pace felt like and he would be just fine. He needed to trust his body. I think he probably got a better time without the watch that if it hadn't died on him. Part of the reason why I'm trying to train without looking at pace this year is to allow my body to push itself without freaking me out. I was so proud of Greg for such a fantastic race. He ran it so fast he thought I had crashed since it seemingly took forever for me to cross the finish line. I guess 7.5 minutes can feel like forever when you're waiting for someone!

He looks awesome!
Ed also did very well, running a 27:37 in the 5K and breaking 9 minute pace, a similar time that he ran 3 years ago. I'm shocked he only placed 6th in his age group, however. There are a lot of fast 60-somethings out there!

You know what else was really great? My mom was there to cheer me on!

I was on a high the rest of the day, bugging everyone around me with "Guess what? I GOT A PR!" every five minutes.

The awesome running week didn't stop there. I had 8 miles on my schedule for Saturday, a nice step down from the usual double digit long runs and the last single digit one before the marathon in January. I still planned on running the 8 miles even though it was only 2 days after the race. My legs were a bit fatigued but not bad at all. An easy 8 miles, maybe at about 9:20-9:30 pace would be fine. Greg planned on running with me, too.

My friend Karen texted me right before we started our run to say she had run a 1:13. I really wasn't planning on running faster than a 1:15, but of course now I had in my mind that I better not be any slower than 1:13. Damn Karen.

It was a very nice morning, around 50 degrees and clear, although the marine layer creates humidity. The run started very well, if a bit fast. Our first two miles were in about 18:37. I figured we'd just maintain that pace for most of the run. I was feeling pretty great, though. At five miles I thought of slowing for just a little bit, maybe running about 9:40 and then pushing it for the last 2 miles. But I got a second wind and didn't slow down. Mile 6 was in 9:00, mile 7 in 8:38, and then I had in my head that I could actually get a 1:12. I figured I could push for that last mile. Greg had the same idea and thought he was covertly speeding up to see if I could keep up. He didn't realize I was intentionally speeding up as well. The result was that our last mile was in 8:01 and I actually broke 1:12, posting a final time of 1:11:51. That was my fastest 8 mile run I'd ever done. I had never broken 9 minute pace, and I had run 8:58. ANOTHER PR!

Clearly, Orange, California is a great place for me to run fast. I ran 14.22 miles while there this week and averaged 8:49 per mile.

Needless to say, I ran really slow this morning.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quick Training Update

I'm trying to be better about updating my blog, so here you go! I figure a quick training update would be good since we're now 8 weeks from the Houston Marathon.

Last weekend was our 25K training run (my program throws odd distances into the mix rather than even miles every few we get 20k, 25k, 30k, 35k).  Because I'm training with a group on a plan for the Austin Marathon, which is 5 weeks after Houston, those of us also doing Houston have to alter that training to fit with Houston's timetable.  So my buddy Karen and I occasionally have to get in a few extra miles before the group starts. It's working well so far and we're enjoying a little break between our "extra" miles and when the group starts.  Makes finishing strong a bit easier.

So anyway, last weekend we had 25k scheduled but the group was only doing 10 miles, so we set out about an hour early to get an additional 5.5 miles in. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I miscalculated the distance and we ended up at 6.2 miles before we met back up with the group. Not a big deal at all. Extra miles never hurt anyone and it made us feel a little more hardcore.

It was a pretty humid morning and a bit warmer than we had hoped for, but not really much to complain about. We took the 6.2 miles pretty conservative and finished in 1:01, so a nice easy pace for us. I was hoping for about a 1:35 on the additional 10 miles to finish at a decent pace.  The first several miles were pretty uneventful and I felt okay. I had to dial it back a couple times when I could feel myself speed up the pace too much, but otherwise we were running pretty well.  The turnaround point comes with about 3.5 or so miles left and I could definitely feel the fatigue setting in at that point. There was a water stop at about 13.5 miles and Karen and I took that opportunity to stop, refill our bottles, and take a 2 minute walk break. After that we pushed through the final 2.5 miles and finished very well.  I wasn't expecting any sub-9 minute final miles like what I typically have on shorter runs, but that was okay. I couldn't really chat at all in the last mile or so, and I was certainly ready to be done, but I'm very pleased with our final pace. We finished the 16.2 miles in 2 hours, 37 minutes for about a 9:42 average. The fact that about 75% of the run is on dirt trails that can sometimes be sluggish, I'd call that success.

Today we joined the group for their 20k run. We only technically had 10 miles on our modified scheduled, but I don't like to do fewer miles than the group so 20K it was going to be. Unfortunately, Friday's beautiful 40 degree morning was long gone and we were faced with 68 degrees and 90% humidity on this morning. Yuck. Add to it the fact that I started the week off with strep, and had run the last 3 days (the last 2 pretty hard), I was a bit fatigued to begin with. It was evident within the first 3 miles that this was going to be a bit of a tough run.

I decided that walking while taking Gu and after refilling my water bottle would be good strategy for keeping my body from getting too overexerted. It felt hot out there and I was sweating quite a bit. The strategy ended up working pretty well. I managed to maintain close to a 9:45 average for the run, even with about 5 minutes total of walking. When I was running I was actually running very well. There were several middle miles in the 9:15-9:20 range and yet it felt like I was running much slower than that, so I call that a big fat positive. To feel less than stellar and still be able to maintain comfort at a 9:15 pace is huge for me this year. I really thought I was running more like 9:45. I finished the 12.3 mile run (just short of 20k) a few seconds under 2 hours. I was thrilled I managed to get that run in at less than 10 minute pace considering everything else going against me.

So overall I feel pretty good with the last two runs. I was faced with less than favorable conditions, two pretty tough distances, and I pushed through to finish well. I really do think I could be on my way to a 4:15 marathon.

The next 7 weeks of long runs look like this:

11/26: 8 miles (a BREAK!)
12/3: 18.6 miles (30k)
12/10: 13 miles
12/17: 21.5 miles (~35k)
12/24: 10 miles
12/31: 13 miles
1/7: 6 miles


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's okay to say 'NO'

If we don't take care of ourselves, how can we take care of others?  You've heard that lots of times before, right? But do you actually apply it to your own life?

A few months ago I was under a great deal of stress. I could slowly feel myself getting into a state of depression. I am susceptible to depression, having experienced it clinically at least 3 times in my life. It's a terrible ordeal and so very lonely. But I could feel it grabbing onto me and I had to do something to change it.  So I made a few hard decisions and what a difference it has made. Check out a previous blog post here to see what I did back in July to help put my life back in focus.

One of the hardest things for us to do is to say "NO." Why is that? Are we afraid of disappointing others, are we scared we're missing out on something, do we have an unhealthy need to please and help others?


The past couple of years have made me analyze what is most important to me in my life and what I can put on the backburner. My family is NUMBER ONE. My kids, my husband, my parents. I love my friends, but they do have to come after my family. It may sound harsh, but my kids and my husband (AND MYSELF) are my life. They are who I am living for, they are who I "serve" (along with God, of course). I have dedicated my life to them. I do not have a job outside my home because of my family, because I want nothing else to get in the way of being able to serve them properly. I plan my day around school hours so I can be here when my kids are here the vast majority of the time.

In our church service this past Sunday, our Pastor hit the nail on the head when he spoke about saying "no." Just like pretty much everyone else, he and his wife had gotten caught up in saying YES to just about anything that came their way, but it was beginning to be detrimental to their family life. He also brought up saying NO to the kids in order to be a better parent. We must nurture our spousal relationship in order to be a better parent to our children. It's okay to put your husband or wife first, in order to then properly nurture your child.

Greg and I have not made a lot of plans outside our regular activities lately, and this is great with us. We enjoy each other's company, we enjoy our kids, we are comfortable at home. When we overburden ourselves, we tend to get pretty cranky. I am right in the middle of my peak marathon training right now, which makes Saturday mornings busy. Greg then spends Saturday afternoons with the church band practicing for worship Sunday morning. That means we typically set aside Sundays for nothing but church and family time. It's pretty rare we'll do other things. We need our togetherness. With Greg traveling more and more lately, it's that much more important we keep each other close when we can.  We have not taken on extra volunteer duties, and although we do sometimes feel guilt about that, I know that right now I need to just say "no."

It all comes back to taking care of myself so I can then take care of my family. It's taken me awhile to learn that a calendar with very few commitments on it actually makes me happiest. I've learned to say "NO" when it isn't what would be best for me. If I'm not going to enjoy something to the fullest, I do not want to take those precious hours away from my family. Then the things I do say YES to are that much more exciting to me. I do have a busy winter ahead of me, but I'm okay with that. I've prioritized and I'm excited about what's ahead.

I'm taking care of ME.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

So Proud

Since I wrote and posted this blog last week, the response has been absolutely amazing. I'm sure I pissed off a few people who simply kept their mouth shut and I did have one friend who told me that perhaps I needed to walk in their shoes. But the overwhelming response has been so positive.

I was scared to post it. I knew that it would probably hurt a few, incite some massive guilt that could have a negative effect, and that I could come across as out of touch since I have not struggled with my weight. But I truly believe in what I said, and I'm glad I posted it. I want everyone to experience what I have in the last four years.

The comments that people made on the blog and on Facebook were beautiful, profound, touching, and just warmed my heart. So many people out there are taking their health seriously and are making honest efforts to improve their quality of life. They know they may have a long road but are committed. They can see that the benefits far outweigh the struggles in the journey.

I'm so proud of each and every one of you.

And if you need help, just ask. Help in out there. ANYONE can make these changes and make them stick.

Keep up the good work!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Limitations? Screw the limitations

We all have a responsibility to ourselves and to our loved ones to do whatever we can to take care of ourselves...our minds, our bodies, our souls, our overall well-being. So why are there so many limiting factors to accomplishing that? Why don't we make ourselves a priority more often than we do? Why is society slowly killing itself through unhealthy lifestyle choices?


How do we change this?

When I became a runner, it started a slow transformation to putting general fitness first. I had always been conscious of my weight and health, but wasn't a totally consistent exerciser. When I signed up for my first race, a half marathon, it forced me to schedule my workouts and make training a priority.  It's been over 4 years since I did that. As I look back at these past few years I can see the transformation unfold and it makes me very happy.

I'm not perfect. I splurge on cheeseburgers. I like chocolate. I sometimes prefer my fish to be fried. I drank Coke at dinner last night. One thing that doesn't change? Exercise. I never take a real break from it. In over 4 years the longest I've ever gone without running is 15 days and that was only because I was very sick. I was more angry about not being able to work out than about being sick. It had become so ingrained in me that exercising was a necessity that my body physically craved it and was going through withdrawals without it. Just like our bodies need food, they NEED exercise.

The nutrition aspects of my fitter lifestyle have taken a bit more time. I've always tried to be balanced in my choices and I've never been an overeater, but there are a few things here and there that I've slowly improved over the years. I add in new things when I can, try out new recipes, eat fresh ingredients more often, have almost entirely cut out fast food (it actually completely grosses me out 99% of the time now), and turn to water 95% of the time for fluids. Surprisingly, it really hasn't been a particularly difficult thing to do. Since I'm an endurance athlete I have to pay attention to how I'm fueling. I'm forced to make better choices so I can perform as well as possible in training. This just naturally spills over into my general food choices throughout the week and not just when I'm fueling for a particular run.

The past few days I've been thinking a lot about how society in general views fitness. We all know how important it is - that is being rammed into our heads more and more - but unfortunately very few people put forth enough effort to actually BE FIT. We have cars for transportation, we have fast food restaurants with easy drive-thrus, we can pick up the phone and get greasy delivery, we work over 40 exhausting hours a week, we overschedule our children and therefore ourselves, and we do all this without thinking twice about how a good workout is going to fit into it. The result?

AMERICA IS FAT AND UNHEALTHY. Yeah, I said it. Look around. It's true. And it makes me so very, very sad because it doesn't have to be that way for ANYONE. Do you ever watch Jay Leno and hear him say "this is why America is fat" during his monologue? He hits the nail on the head every time.

I don't care if you're 65 years old, if you have arthritis, if you think you "can't run", if you don't know how to cook, if you work too much, or if you have 6 children. YOU STILL MUST MAKE TIME TO BE FIT. No excuse is acceptable to me. I don't expect you to be 120 pounds and rail thin, but YOU STILL MUST TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH.

Yes, it's easier for me to make time than a lot of other people. I don't work outside the home, I "only" have 2 children, I have the resources available to me to make it a priority, and I have a supportive family. But I still have to DO THE WORK. I can still easily give in to exhaustion, laziness, or depression and decide not to do that 4 mile run.


One thing that frustrates me beyond measure and forces me to sometimes bite my tongue is when I hear friends (of all ages, but particularly middle aged or older, or those who have had children) laugh off their lack of fitness or their overweight reality as not a big deal...because they aren't young anymore it's expected that they would become out of shape or become overweight. When did becoming overweight as we age or have children become acceptable? I don't get that mentality at all. We should never accept a lack of fitness or an overweight body to become the expected reality for us just because we're AGING. Who cares if we're aging?

I'm nearly 38 years old and although I do miss my flatter stomach of 20 years ago I can still run laps around my 18 year old self BECAUSE I CHOOSE TO MAKE THAT MY NEW REALITY. Age is completely irrelevant to me. I do not expect to get slower as I age...I'm making myself get faster. I do not expect to run fewer marathons as I age. I'm signing up for MORE.

I hear friends talk about their medications and it makes me sad that they do not have any idea that if they just started a fitness routine and tweaked their diet the vast majority of their health problems would be gone. GONE. It took me only a few months to take 35 points off my cholesterol...because I bought a pair of running shoes and used them. My mom lost 50 pounds, reduced her meds signficantly and her fitness level is a complete 180 from where she was 2 years ago...because she joined a gym and did the work and continues to make that a priority. She's 65 years old and is in better shape than when she was 35. My 52 year-old brother-in-law has done something very similar and is a totally different man than 2 years ago, while passing on these important healthy habits to my 11 year old niece. And he does this as a single parent. My friend Tricia, who blogs at Endurance Isn't Only Physical, is another perfect example of someone who said NO MORE and changed her life, losing 128 pounds in a year....and she runs marathons! There is a 72 year old man in my running group who has run 60 marathons. He ran his first one when he was 58 YEARS OLD.

A friend of mine, Gene from the blog Accountability, posted this yesterday and told him I had to steal it. Forgive the F-bombs, but it gets my point across perfectly.

So don't tell me you can't. Don't tell me you don't have time. Don't tell me you're too old. Don't tell me you have too many health problems. Don't tell me you're too tired. I don't want to hear it.

As many of you know, I lost my 37 year old sister over 2 years ago. She was morbidly obese and was taking over a dozen different medications because of various ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, etc. The majority of her health problems would probably have ceased to exist had she adopted a healthier lifestyle. To say that I feel an incredible amount of guilt for failing in motivating her to change her habits is a huge understatement. I had so many opportunities to help her, but I didn't. I had opportunities to talk to her, to do research for her, to be a better supporter, but I didn't. Would it have saved her? I don't one knows...but I'll never know for sure. Maybe it could have. Yes, I have a lot of guilt which fuels my anger and frustration at others for letting themselves become unhealthy.

I don't want to lose anyone else to preventable health problems. EVER.

So next time you catch yourself saying "I've just been so busy so I've put on 20 pounds," or "The last thing I want to do at night is exercise", or "My kids keep me so busy"....JUST STOP. Stop sabotaging yourself. 

Schedule your workouts.

Research healthy recipes.

Buy fresh ingredients.

Stop eating fast food.