Saturday, June 30, 2012

My training continues

I'm learning a lot about myself while training for a summer half marathon. Back in 2009, when I trained for the July Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon in sweltering Texas weather conditions I vowed to stick to cooler weather long races. It was so tough for me to keep up my motivation, and it showed during the race when I bonked at Mile 10.

For some reason I felt like this year could be different, and since we would already be in California in late July I decided to sign up for the San Francisco Half Marathon. Let the training begin!

Luckily, because I've been forcing myself to run in warmer conditions (98 degrees on Thursday night!), I'm getting acclimated. Last weekend's 10-miler was pretty awesome and I felt great the whole time, although the weather conditions were milder than normal. But it gave me a confidence boost.

This morning's run wasn't quite so awesome, but I really have no complaints. The plan was for 10 miles again, and with temps higher than last week, a 72 degree dew point (which basically means it feels like a sauna outside), and 85% humidity, I knew it quite possibly could hurt a bit. I headed out at a very slow pace and hit the first mile in 10:03. A good, easy start. Miles 2 and 3 were a lot faster, both at 9:23, and I was definitely warmed up. But I felt sluggish and tired and for some reason Mile 4 just dragged. I wanted to walk so badly, or turn around...anything to just not be running. Totally surprised it came in at 9:03.

I forced myself to run to my turnaround at 5 miles and then cut myself some slack and stopped so I could take my Gu. What a relief to stand in the shade for a few moments and catch my breath. Once I began running again, I started making deals with myself....just run another mile, just one more mile and maybe take a break. Okay, mile 6 is done, but I decided I didn't need a break....I was tougher than that. Right after 7 miles was a water fountain and I knew I'd need a refill so I concentrated on just keeping a steady pace and making it to the fountain. I gave myself a few moments to catch my breath again, but it was just hard to breathe out there. 2.85 miles left in my run...small beans compared to the 7.15 already in the books, right?

There was a girl out on the trail that had passed me on the first 5 at a very respectable pace, and she was about to pass me again right around 8 miles. For some reason that gave me a bit of motivation to not stop until I was done. Only 2 more miles to go...and I felt like I could just suck it up. My heart rate was high, but remained steady. Once I hit 9 miles (my only sub-9 minute mile), I slowed down a bit to make Mile 10 a little easier, more like a cool down mile. I could see the faster girl not far in front of me, running about the same pace. Funny enough, that last mile ended up being my second fastest (at 9:01) although it felt much slower.

Overall, I'm really pleased with my 1:32:35 finishing time for the 10 miles (running time, not counting my two short breaks). Overall a 9:15 pace, only 7 seconds slower per mile than the previous week's 10-miler. Not bad at all. Painful, but done.

I feel like I'm learning something new every time I get out there:

1. Heat training does work...the process just sucks
2. You're tougher than you think you are
3. You can always run one more mile
4. Speedwork benefits will show up in your long runs
5. A stronger core will help with form, and therefore pace
6. Sometimes we just need a rabbit to chase
7. Eating more the day before a long run will help in the later miles...I was getting hungry out there!
8. Hydrate hydrate hydrate!!

3 more long runs until the San Francisco Half Marathon...two here in Texas and one in California. 4 weeks until race day. I'll keep plugging away.

On my long run trail

Friday, June 29, 2012

No justification needed

A friend on Twitter posted this yesterday:

Those you inspire are saying: 
"You're crazy." 
"I wish I could run like that." 
"Maybe I could run that far." 
"If he/she can run, I can run." 
"I'm going to try to run." 
"I can do it!" 

So many people say to me that they "can't run"...for whatever reason. 90% of the time it's not true. Some just need to start slower and easier....but I can guarantee that the vast majority of people have the ability to be a runner, and to be a good one. So I just loved this quote. We aren't capable of finding out what we're made of until we try, until we push past the pain, and find the nirvana. It's there, and it's pretty amazing.

But onto the point I have for this blog post...

The more I read over this quote, the more I got stuck on the words "You're crazy."

Do you have any idea how many times I've been told that? I'll joke around with people and tell them that I'm crazy and that's why I run marathons, but I think it's actually a defense mechanism of mine. I don't know why I say it, because I know I'm not actually crazy for taking on the goals that I take on. I think I'm really quite sane...and smart. I'm not putting myself at any real risk by doing what I do. As a matter of fact, I'm turning into the healthiest version of myself that I can. Not crazy at all.

I know most people mean nothing when they say it...perhaps they're in awe, perhaps a little envious, hopefully inspired and eventually motivated to try it themselves. But every once it awhile, it kind of hurts a little. I don't want people to think I've lost my mind by making bigger fitness goals for myself. 

Then I started thinking...why do I need to justify any of these choices? I DON'T NEED TO JUSTIFY THEM.

I don't.

In my life, I will complete at least 30 marathons.

I will complete ultramarathons.

I will complete triathlons.

I will complete back-to-back races.

I will travel internationally for races.

I will qualify for Boston.

I will break 7-min pace in a 5k.

These are my goals and they are lofty. But I will do them. 

Because I can. 

And to anyone who thinks "I'm crazy" for wanting all this...why don't you try it for yourself? There's plenty of room for all of us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wait...WHAT???? A triathlon????

Where did Steph go?  Does the blog post title actually say "TRIATHLON"???

If you know me, you know that I have always maintained that I will NEVER do a triathlon. Frankly, I just love running too much. I don't know how to properly swim, lakes freak me out, and I hate going fast on a bike. I don't even own a road bike!

So why would I even consider doing a triathlon?

Let's just call it peer pressure.

In February, right after the Austin Marathon, I started running with a triathlon group in Georgetown, although I always made it very clear I was there for the one was getting me in a pool or on a bike. When new folks would join us for runs, I was always referred to as the one who only runs.  But slowly, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that maybe if I just took some swim lessons, my triathlon-phobia would ease up a bit.

This month, the family trekked out to Lake Pflugerville and spectated the sprint triathlon there. I had several friends competing, some in their first tri, and I have to admit that the excitement was sort of contagious. These people were having fun. And it was a sprint, which didn't seem all that daunting. 500 meter swim, 14 mile bike, 3 mile run.

My kids have both taken swim lessons (my littlest one is still doing them) and they are progressing so well in actual swimming ability. I'm kind of jealous. I can swim, but I have no idea how to properly breathe, I fear putting my face in the water, and I'm not all that speedy. I won't drown, but I make it all look ugly. In contrast, my kids look like naturals.

Okay, so I needed to take some lessons. FINE...I'll do that.

Once I made that choice...oops....a triathlon started sounding like a good idea. Dammit.

So I made it known I would do one in all 594 Facebook friends. I officially became a member of Georgetown Triathletes. I have 58 comments on the status update announcing my new goal.

Holy hell, I'M SCREWED.

(But I'll never do an Ironman)

Monday, June 25, 2012


I know this blog is mostly about my fitness journey, but today...right seems right to talk about my sister.

Many of you know I lost my sister nearly 3 years ago. August 5 is the anniversary of her death, and as it approaches I find myself thinking about her more and more. These milestone dates are not really getting easier...every year since her death I have struggled through July to September. July 18, 2009 was the last day I saw her, August 4 the last day I spoke with her, August 5 was the day she died, August 11 was the day we buried her, and September 4 is her birthday.

This morning in my Twitter feed was a link to this article - "Do You Have Any Siblings?" and it got me thinking a little. I get asked this question all the time by people I have just met or are getting to know. I usually have no problem saying I have both a brother in California and a sister who passed away. But it does feel awkward. If they ask I usually tell them how she died, and I have a hard time gauging if they are uncomfortable with the conversation. If they're asking they do want to know, right? There have been times when I haven't mentioned her, and other times I don't mention that she's gone. It's a tricky thing to judge split second how you should respond to that question. But above all, no matter what my answer is, I'm so proud and so blessed to have had her in my life for 35 years.

So how am I doing with my grief journey? I think I'm doing okay. I was in therapy earlier this year and my therapist helped me to let go of a lot of the guilt I feel for not being able to "save" her. But I have my moments, and I always will. There is no neat and tidy way to grieve.

I still have moments where I go to grab my phone to call her to ask her opinion about something or to tell her something funny about my kids. I have random thoughts about how proud she'd be of the things my kids are doing and I wish in vain that I could turn back time to when she was here. It's hard for me to fathom that at the time of her death I'd run only 1 marathon (I have 6 under my belt now). I want to tell her about all the things I'm planning on doing....and it hurts that I can't. Sometimes she's the ONLY person I want to share things with.

A heartache that won't stop hurting? Damn right it is.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A really really REALLY great run

For weeks now I've been forcing myself to run in the heat. Every single Thursday night I do hill repeats with a triathlon group in Georgetown and for the past few weeks the temps have not been below 90 degrees. The last couple weeks they pushed 95. This past Monday night I ran 3.25 in 95 degree temps as well. I have a half marathon in San Francisco on July 29 so I have no choice but to keep doing long runs. Even early morning temps are rarely below 75, with 80+% humidity...very uncomfortable for a long by forcing myself to run in even worse conditions I hoped I would eventually just get used to it.

Last Saturday (June 16) I attempted 7 miles in warm sticky weather and just felt awful. Of course, I had a hamstring pull from my 20+ mile trail run 6 days prior that was barely healed, and quite frankly was probably still recovering from the sheer distance of that run. But I just really really felt bad. I ended up only running 5.7 miles before my hamstring tightened up and I walked the last 1.6 miles home. It was a little disheartening, although my running pace was 9:28...not bad, but not my usual pace.

My goal in San Francisco is a 1:55, which is 8:50 pace. I was getting slightly worried that if I couldn't run long at close to race pace, I wasn't going to be able to pull it off. But the weather conditions were really getting to me. Even my shorter speedwork days were starting to feel pretty tough.

This morning I woke up to better conditions. At my trail the temps were 72 degrees. I didn't check humidity, but I think it must have been maybe 70%, so not as bad as usual. It felt pretty great outside, actually. Once I started running (the plan was for a 10 miler) I marveled that it didn't really feel warm at all. 3 miles into the run and I still felt like I had just started. I kept my pace relatively conservative for those first 3 miles just in case the wheels started falling off. First mile splits were 9:57, 9:39, and 9:26.

I intentionally sped up after this and tried to get my miles closer to 9-9:15 pace, and then hoped to be able to do the second half at sub-9 pace. At the 5 mile turnaround I fueled up and crossed my fingers that the good feelings would continue.

I didn't even feel that sweaty. I knew the temps had climbed just a bit, but it was still bearable.

Could I pull off a super fabulous run??

Sometimes I do this crazy mental game where I count my strides, so I tried that to take my mind off the distance. There are 1/4 mile markers along the trail so I concentrated on counting how many strides it took to reach each one, with the hopes that I could reduce the time it took over the course of the final miles. Strangely enough, it worked and made the next 3 miles fly by. Once I hit 8 miles I knew I was going to do just fine. My splits from miles 4-8 were 9:10, 9:02, 9:16, 8:56, and 8:57.

I pushed it for Mile 9, figuring maybe I'd use Mile 10 as a cool down and slow down just a bit. Mile 9 was 8:43, but I still felt really good. My legs just wanted to fly so I went with it.

Mile 10 was 8:19. 

When I glanced at my watch and saw I had run 10 miles in 1 hour, 31 minutes in warmer than usual conditions....IN JUNE IN TEXAS....I was elated. The more I thought about it the happier I got. It was third fastest 10 miler ever. The 2 faster runs were in cold conditions.


And best of all, it showed me I absolutely can nail that half marathon in San Francisco.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Trail Race Videos

This is so very cool....Georgetown Trail Runners posted YouTube videos on their group Facebook page of the Rogue Trail Series race at Reveille Peak Ranch last weekend. Scott Rantall used a headcam to videotape Warren Brown in the lead in the 10k race. Warren's entire race is videotaped and you can see just how insanely fast these guys can be, but also how awesomely technical (and non-shaded) the course is.

Because the 10k racers started 30 minutes after the 30k racers, we get passed by Warren near the end of the loop. You can see me at roughly the 8 minute mark...I'm by the shirtless dude with the Camelbak, wearing a black tank and turquoise trimmed shorts. I was 1 hour, 8 minutes into my first loop and this fast guy was only 38 minutes in...craziness.  And I still had 3 1/2 hours of running (and walking) to do....

I'm so doing the whole series next year. Yes, I'm that dumb.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Alleged 30k

I'm not really known for making the best decisions ever...particularly when it comes to testing my grit. Back in April I must have been in quite a mood, because I signed up for my first ever trail race. But I didn't start small. I decided 30k sounded just fine.

In June.

In Texas.

Really? As soon as I hit "submit" I freaked out. I was going to run 18.6 miles on a real trail, when I'd never even set foot on anything harder than a dirt trail with a few rocks here and there. IN JUNE? IN TEXAS???

Yes, I was going to do just that.

I did two trail runs on what has been called the most technical trail out here, Good Water Trail around Lake Georgetown. I loved it. I was still doing long runs, so the 30k distance wasn't horribly daunting to me. I really, honestly, was now most worried about the heat.

When I picked up my packet at Rogue Running Saturday morning there were a couple of other ladies there, one doing her first trail race as well, and they were every bit as nervous as me. But we knew that we wouldn't be last and that's all that matters....right? Oh, please don't let me be last. I didn't really care much about the time it would take me to complete this mission, but I just didn't want to be last across the finish line.

Getting my stuff ready the night before

There were a couple other friends doing the race as well, and one of them, Red, was so sweet to call me about a week before to calm my nerves and give me some tips. She made me feel so much better prepared, and to know I'd see her face that morning and get the chance to run some miles with her took a lot of the pressure off.  I was going to this race alone, without the family, so anything familiar to me would be a bonus.

4am wakeup on Sunday, June 10, hitting the road by 4:45am, coffee in hand, music blaring, car packed with too much crap...and I'm off. It took me about an hour to arrive at Reveille Peak Ranch, by Burnet, Texas, and it was still dark when I got there. My little MINI got to do a little off-roading to park (I'm glad she was already dirty) and I was probably one of the first people there. Just how I like it. I hauled my stuff down to the start/finish area, set everything up (chair, cooler, backpack), wandered around, got my chip, and sat my butt down to decompress. I saw another friendly face, my buddy Todd from Round Rock Fit, so that put a smile on my face. He's been doing all sorts of trail races and didn't seem too scared, so I tried to take comfort in that.

Quarry Lake at Reveille Peak Ranch

Hanging out, stuff ready to go

Right before the start...Red, Emily, me, and a badass Masters chick who looked how I felt

I lined up with Red and her friend Emily at the start and before I knew it, we were running...or jogging....or going a little faster than walking...and what the heck, the start was uphill. How nice. I got my heart rate up fairly quickly from that, but soon enough we had leveled off and were running on dirt mostly for the first mile or so. A nice warm up to the hard stuff.

The course was 3 loops of 10k each, so my plan (as if I really expected to stick to any "plan") was to scout the course the first loop, but try not to run too fast on the easier sections, try to suck it up a little more on the second loop since I'd be familiar, and let my body do whatever it wanted on the third loop (read: walk as much as I wanted). As I'm chugging along with Red and Emily through the first three miles I'm realizing there isn't a lot of tree coverage on this course. We didn't have an issue with that in the first loop since we started at 7 and the sun was still behind the trees. But I knew some of these open spaces were going to hurt by 10am. I tried to put that out of my mind during this first loop. I also looked for some spots I might want to snap a few pictures in the second or third loops, because the area was really quite beautiful....I noticed this when I wasn't staring at my feet and the ground, trying not to trip and die.

This was definitely a technical course, but filled with mostly granite rock domes versus and lot of little rocks, plus there were a few dirt paths that gave our legs a break from the hard rocks. We crossed a few streams, the last of which I actually stumbled in a bit and soaked my foot to above my ankle (that was a weird feeling). We climbed a lot it seemed in the first 4 miles of the loop, so the last 2+ miles were kind of refreshing and a bit easier. I put this in the back of my mind to remember at the end of the race. Once we hit about 6 miles I expected that I'd be able to see the aid station and chip mat that would mark completion of loop 1, but it was nowhere in sight. I glanced at my watch, saw 6.38 miles and knew that even with a GPS being off a bit, we were definitely looking at a much longer loop than just 10k. 18.6 miles was turning into well over 19 now. Fun times.

I finally crossed the chip mat at 6.85 miles. Really....6.85 miles? That's not even close to 10k. My 30k trail race just turned into over 20 miles of torture. I mentally started preparing for that and sucked it up. What's another couple miles when I was already going to be out there for over 4 hours anyway? One positive was that I completed loop one in about 1 hour, 23 minutes, which was about 12:15 pace. I was really pleased with this, but I also hoped I hadn't gotten too carried away with my pace. I didn't feel like I was pushing myself too much. I felt pretty damn great, actually. Heat training was doing its job.

Me and Todd during Loop can tell it's still early because I'm still smiling

But then again, the sun wasn't on me yet.

About halfway through the second loop, fatigue started setting in, and the heat was more noticeable. I had slowed down for this loop purposefully, but still kept a decent pace, with a few walk breaks up the steeper rock domes and hills. There is one ascent about 3/4 of the way through the loop that is pretty brutal, especially on tired legs, and I made a mental note to try not to die right there when I hit it again 18 miles into the race. I was chugging the water, refilling more frequently than I expected, but I was very thirsty. I didn't bring enough Nuun tabs with me, so I had to switch to the Gatorade at the aid stations, but luckily they had made it diluted, so it wasn't difficult to make the transition. Speaking of the aid stations, I was so impressed with the spread they had at them. Chips, PB&J, Oreos, Clif shot blox, pretzels, potatoes...a little bit of everything. The Gu I brought with me wasn't nearly enough, so I made sure to refuel at the aid stations as well. The only thing that didn't sit well was the Coke I ingested about 12 miles in....but hey, it sounded good at the time!

On Loop 2

Back on the first loop I had gone ahead of Red and Emily, but I totally expected them to overtake me at some point. When I saw Red finishing up Loop 2 while I was heading out on Loop 3 I calculated I was probably just under a mile ahead of her at this point. Although the thought of beating an incredible athlete like Red was appealing, that just didn't seem right and I hoped she would find a way to catch up to me.

Heading out onto Loop 3

So now I'm on Loop 3....oh, this part sucked.

By now we're well into the 80s temperature wise, and my body is just TIRED. I tried running for a couple minutes at a time, but unfortunately my heart rate was spiking very quickly and it made me feel a bit light-headed, so I'd have to walk again. I tried walking quickly, but that was even hard on this terrain. My pace was definitely starting to suffer, although I was still very happy with how my overall time looked. I hit the third loop a few minutes under 3 hours, which was exactly where I wanted to be. I could feel the blisters forming on my feet so every step was getting painful. My back was sore from the pounding, so I had to concentrate on keeping my core strong, which was starting to make my abs sore. I knew I could finish, I just didn't know how ugly it was going to be.

I kept thinking about just making it to aid stations, and that would give me a boost. I knew getting water dumped over my head and refilling my handheld plus getting more salty foods would help. My fingers were so puffy at this point as well.  Really, I was quite unattractive. But I persevered and made it to the first aid station. Only 5 miles to go at the this point. An hour 20 minutes hopefully (I was at 3:20 at this point), even with mostly walking. The next aid station was a little over 3 miles away. I fully planned to take pics, but even that didn't appeal to me anymore, so I didn't even bother. Kind of makes me sad now...because this was a beautiful place.

I really, honestly, couldn't believe how much the sun was on me during this loop. It was relentless and so very hot on all those rock domes. I tried running on as many flat sections that I could, but with my heart rate going up so quickly I just couldn't keep it up. I needed to be smart or I'd have some serious heat-related issues and be unable to finish. The good thing was that there were a couple guys I was leap-frogging during a lot of this leg (who, by the way, were AWESOME, because they kept telling me how great I was doing and that I was tearing up the course). To have someone in my sights was a comforting thing. I had spent a lot of the second leg alone, so this was much better. My next goal was making it to the last aid station, knowing that I'd only have 2 miles left after that.

Remember that steep rock dome I mentioned earlier? Yep, that sucked going up 18 miles into the race. SUCKED.

I heard Red call my name right behind me as I was heading to the aid station, and I was so glad to hear her voice!  We chatted for a minute or two while I got my bottle refilled with just enough water for the last 2 miles. She said she'd been busting her ass that last loop trying to catch me, and it didn't make her feel any better knowing I'd been walking almost the whole thing. I couldn't believe she had enough in her to be running most of it (did I mention she's a total BADASS??). She scolded me for saying I was glad I wasn't going to beat her (I guess no one ever says that), but seriously, it would have been Armageddon if I ever beat Red (although, looking back, I did beat her in this year's Austin Marathon...but she was it doesn't really count...right??).

Having her near me as we exited the aid station was a little boost and I tried running for a few minutes, and felt okay. It wasn't fast or pretty, but at least it wasn't walking. She went ahead of me for good at about 18.7 miles.

It felt like the last couple miles were taking forever. 19.5 miles....okay, just one more to go.....19.8 miles...less than 3/4 of a mile....

And then BAM! I tripped, landed hard on my left thumb, and jacked up my right leg because my stupid knee locked up. My first thought was, holy crap, please don't let me have broken something! I shook it off, took a couple steps, didn't feel massive pain, and breathed a sigh of relief. I looked at my thumb and it was bleeding all around the nail, so I figured I probably detached part of it on the rock it hit. My right leg and glut were achy, but nothing was broken or torn, and I only had about a half mile to go. And I was bleeding! That made me happy in a sick, twisted kind of way.

I'm pretty certain that was the longest final half mile in a race I have ever experienced. (Actually, considering I was running about 12-13 pace, then yes, it technically was the longest final half mile in a race for me ever).

Crossing that finish line was the biggest relief, bigger than all my marathons. That was a harder race than my toughest marathon....and considering how the Austin Marathon felt in 2011 that's saying A LOT.

So freaking happy to be done

20.57 miles. 4 hours, 45 minutes. 13:54 minute overall pace.

Official time was 4:45:49

I was EXHAUSTED. And possibly totally dehydrated, despite the 100 ounces I probably consumed during the ordeal. I told a lot of people this was my poorest choice yet.

Red was there at the finish (she was done in 4:43) and she told me we were going to go get in the lake for a few minutes. I did as I was told, after getting my shoes off and grabbing some water. Oh, that lake water was fantastic, but I was slightly paranoid about getting fish-hooked by the girls casting their lines all around me, so I didn't stay in for very long. I also may have peed in the lake. Because you wanted to know that.

Sitting down in my chair was blissful. My heart rate was still massively high, and remained that way for a good 20 minutes. I had really hit my limit. As a matter of fact, I decided my physical limit was at 19.5 miles. How I got through the last mile is anyone's guess.

I spent the next hour and a half hanging out, eating a burger, getting rehydrated (and maybe dehydrated again with some alcohol...shhhh), and chatting with Todd and his friend. According to some of the other runners, this race was harder than the previous two in the series, and it took Todd over an hour longer to finish this one than the first one back in April. That made me feel better...I got a lot of kudos on how I did and that was so nice to hear. But damn, I was so spent. I really could've just taken a nap right then and there, but I had an hour to drive back home.

I made it home, in pain, feeling crappy, but in one piece, with nothing broken, nothing bloody, and only a couple freakishly long splinters stuck in my legs that took me 3 hours to notice. I keep telling people I'll never do that in June again....but this is me we're talking about. I never stick to my promises.

Dirty (but not too bad), nasty toe blister, and a huge splinter in my calf that I didn't notice for 3 hours

Despite the misery of the last 2 hours, this race was pretty spectacular, and I can totally see myself doing this distance again. Trail running is great...really really great...and I'm going to enjoy it more now. I really think I'd be happier in colder temps, however. (ya think??) Oh, and I wasn't last. As a matter of fact, out of 92 people (26 women, 66 men), I was 65th overall and the 12th woman. Better than I expected! Red was 2nd very proud of her for that loop 3 push!

Check out her awesome 2nd place Masters award

Lastly, the San Francisco Half Marathon next month should feel like a piece of cake now! Please don't let there be a heat wave.

(note: Kudos to AzulOx Photography for their awesome photos during the race....and they were free to download!)