Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trying to see the light

Four weeks into official marathon training.

Nine weeks until a half marathon and 17 weeks until my first marathon of the season. My first shot at a Boston Qualifying time.

It's sometimes so hard to see the possibility of doing that right now, in the worst part of summer. On the positive side, I am doing pretty well running in the summer. I never thought I'd be relatively comfortable doing 2 hour runs and 30+ mile weeks in the height of summer in Texas. But despite the whining I do in the last 30 minutes of our long runs, I really actually am doing just fine. My average heart rate is consistently staying under 140 and I'm running negative splits.

But it's just so slow. Intentionally slow, but slow nonetheless. It's right where I should be hitting my long runs when the dew point is well over 70 and the starting temp is pushing 80, but wrapping my head around that is still a bit of a problem for me.



I'm doing just fine with intervals, tempos, and hill repeat pacing. I can see all that improving, I can see my cardiovascular strength improving, and I know I'm making progress. But those 10+ minute long runs....ugh....I think realizing the benefit of long SLOW runs is a tough thing in general for marathoners to deal with. It's hard to see that when you run so much slower than goal pace, you're actually doing something good for yourself.

My goal race pace is 8:58 to hit a Boston Qualifying time. I need to aim for more like 8:52 to have any shot in actually making the cut off for entry into the 2019 race, however. My top goal is just hitting the BQ time of 3:55...making it into the race itself will be extra awesome, but is not my main goal. I know this is still such a lofty goal when I've been a relatively crappy marathoner until now, at least compared to shorter distances. Not many people make that big of an improvement in such a short amount of time.

I know that my biggest strength right now, besides my improvement in cardiovascular strength, is my attitude, and while I am struggling to push a few doubts away, I do really believe in myself. Most of the time, at least. But I'm also human and have anxiety and need to take a few deep breaths now and then to calm myself down. My attitude is a thousand times better than it's been in recent years and I'm trying so damn hard to hold onto that!

I've been using my new Garmin for about six weeks now and it's still totally stroking my ego. Its race predictor has me solidly at 3:31-3:36 for a marathon time, way way WAY under my goal. This goal is only truly attainable if one actually seriously trains and that race day weather is on target for a good finish time. I like the fact that my Garmin loves me so much. I think it's a liar about what it says about my ability, but it's still nice to be loved. I figure even if it's way off, that 3:55 goal sounds completely reasonable.

I signed up for a half marathon in October. It's on a notoriously tough course, but I'm not a stranger to tough courses. It's not any harder (I don't think) than the San Francisco (First) Half course, and I PR'd (at the time) in that race. I want to PR my October half, running under 1:51:36. I figure if I can do that with 900 feet of elevation gain, I can hit a 3:55 marathon on a flat course. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Running a 1:51 or faster on this course will be a bit insane for me. It will NOT be easy. I have nine more weeks to figure it out, to hope the weather is at least a little agreeable, and to try to strategize those hills to even come close to running under 8:30 pace. If I continue to work hard and chip away at my pace, to build my cardiovascular endurance so I can hold a faster pace for longer, and the weather cools, I should be able to do it regardless of the hills. I've been told people just don't PR on that course, but whatever. I haven't ever really been good at listening to people.

When we were on our long run this morning, my teammates and I talked about how it will feel when the weather cools and the humidity cuts us some slack. I have a feeling we are going to be pleasantly surprised at how much faster "easy" pace will be. I'm getting excited about that. I remember last year when I headed to California for a half marathon and the temp and humidity were perfect for race conditions and I felt fantastic. I was comfortable at a much faster pace than I had been running and it was wonderful. I want to feel that again!


Step one in getting better - Find great running partners!

Friday, August 4, 2017

8 years later

Began on Tuesday, August 1:

It's that time of year again. The first week of August. It snuck up on me this year. I had been doing okay lately, keeping my grief episodes from overwhelming me. But yesterday it snuck up on me. My day was not so good, but I can't pinpoint exactly why. I had a sadness and a lack of motivation that was very hard to shake, that I was feeling incredibly guilty about because I didn't get done all the things I wanted to get done. I think it was grief, which comes and goes still eight years later. I can hold it off a lot better than I used to, but because time doesn't really heal all wounds, it's always there in my subconscious.

I spent a bit of time thinking about what my life was on August 4, 2009, and then all the things that have happened since August 5, 2009.

On August 4 I had a sister who was very sick, but who we thought was getting better. I was worried but optimistic. My sister was in good spirits on the phone when we spoke that evening. I was looking forward to another phone call the next day.

I had a 4 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. She had a 9 year old daughter. She was a writer and worked in a law firm. I was a stay-at-home mom who had just started on an athletic journey, having run my first marathon a few months prior. We were young. I was 35 and she was 37, just one month prior to her 38th birthday.

Fast forward 8 years and life is very different. My kids are now 12 and 15, and her daughter is about to start her senior year of high school. Her widower and daughter still live in the Seattle area and we still live in the same house in Round Rock. I am now 43, 6 years older than she was when she passed. She would be turning 46 next month. I've now run 12 marathons and am training for 2 more.

The part that really blows my mind is how old our kids are now. I can't wrap my head around the fact that my daughter only has one memory of Aunt Trisha. We had just seen her two weeks prior while in California and my daughter remembers vividly the time she spent with her. But she's 12 now and so many years and so many changes have happened in that time, so many things that I couldn't talk to Trisha about.

Her daughter was going into 4th grade when she lost her mother and now she's one year from starting college. She went though all those years with mother figures surrounding her, but no mother who tucked her into bed each night. So many milestones and life experiences, but thankfully she could share those with her dad.

I've written many blog posts over the years about my grief. My loss doesn't define who I am, but it does guide me on how I want to live my life, on why I do some of the things that I do, on why I'm extra sensitive and introverted during certain times of year. Most of my friends and family understand this.

Ironically enough, I was becoming a bit of a grief expert back in college. Grief was a topic I spent a lot of time on, taking classes, completing my internship at Hospice, and even writing my thesis on the topic. Unknowingly, it was a precursor to more loss than most people experience in young adulthood. The next 12 years were not easy with several difficult losses. Recently, I found a copy of that thesis and decided to convert all 84 hard copy pages into a soft copy. It was a very important research project of mine and one I was quite proud to have written. Reading through the chapter on normal grief and complicated grief was even more meaningful now, 20 years after I wrote it. It made me realize two things: (1) I made it through the normal grief cycle long ago, and (2) it's okay to have grief relapses.

I see the bickering around me in the world, in my community, and among my friends and family and I want to shake them. I want them to stop and to appreciate what is around them. I want them to appreciate who is in their lives. "What if they are gone tomorrow?" I want to say. They always think there is a tomorrow. But we know better, don't we? Stubbornness, narrow-mindedness, anger...these things can be toxic and unfortunately for many, by the time you clear your head of the negativity, it's too late. I'm incredibly sad about this.

*unfinished*

Fast forward to today, August 4:

After I began this blog post earlier this week, a friend died. It was not an unexpected death, but are those really any easier to take? He was only 30 and had been married for six months.

I'm angry. I'm so tired of this. I'm so tired of the suffering and the loss that people are experiencing. the sadness has been all encompassing since I found out on Wednesday. The celebration of life is tomorrow, on the 8th anniversary of my sister's passing. Of course I will be there, but my heart feels like it's in a vice grip. It hurts.

Go give someone a hug, buy a coffee for a friend, pick up the phone and text or call a loved one, smile at a stranger. My late friend wrote on his Facebook page "Just trying to let my light shine as brightly as I can."

Be a light.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Why don't I run trails more often?

Last week the husband got up extra early and drove into Austin to do a few miles at Walnut Creek Regional Park, a pretty cool place with miles and miles of trail. It's popular with runners, mountain bikers, walkers, and dogs and we've been out there for hikes a few times. I've never run it, however, and I didn't go with the husband last week because I had run very hot hill repeats the previous night and just wanted to sleep in. After seeing his photos, though, I regretted staying in bed!

So this week I told him I'd suck it up and, even after running hills last night, I'd get up with him this morning and run a few miles there. I got home after our tough and REALLY FREAKING HOT hill run last night and rehydrated and refueled, foam rolled, and relaxed. When that alarm went off at 5:40, however, I had the thought to just say screw it and go back to sleep.

So glad I didn't! We only ran for about 40 minutes but it was worth the drive into Austin. Getting in some slow recovery miles off the asphalt was good for my legs. I paid no attention to pace and just kept my heart rate down (only averaged 129 and mostly stayed in zone 2). Running right after sunrise was peaceful and such a great way to start my day and since I don't get to see the husband a lot during the week, I was glad to get this extra time with him. He's a pretty good running partner.





I have lots of trails close to my house so I don't know why I don't get out there more often. It's a very peaceful and fun way to get in some recovery miles and to just get a change of scenery and some quiet time.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Intentional Training

Every year I learn a little more about myself, about marathons, and about effective training. For years I merely trained to finish the race, occasionally with a time goal or the goal of a new personal best, even if by only seconds. I knew in my heart that I had more talent than what is shown in my race results. Sometimes weather was the factor, sometimes illness (yes, I have plenty of bad luck on race day), sometimes I ran with friends, and sometimes it really was "for fun" or to finish happy. I was definitely better at coaching other runners than myself.

Last year, after a two year marathon hiatus and some health problems, I got back into the marathon game. Because I had lost speed and fitness, I was not in personal best shape when I set out on my journey to Louisiana. Through hard work and a tough training schedule I turned it around and knew that I could beat my 4:17:53 best time, but probably just barely. While race day weather didn't allow for that, and because I was still in the process of figuring out how best to handle my asthma in humid conditions, I couldn't push myself as hard as I wanted to without it being detrimental to my health. I am still happy with the race, although it was very far off my goal. It allowed me to come into this current training season with more mental strength than I've had in all previous marathons.

Back in April I made the choice that this was my year to be in my best shape ever. After feeling so miserable on our relay at the end of March, I knew it was time to make big changes. I got my medication problems figured out, I got my nutrition figured out, I lost weight and gained muscle, and because of all this work over the last three months, I am a much better runner. I've written about my progress a bit in previous blog posts. My training officially starts on Monday and I am ready for it. I have spent the last few months building my aerobic fitness in the warm summer conditions and slowly building speed through our interval and hill workouts. I got back on my bike and I got back into the gym on a more consistent basis. While our weather has decidedly taken a turn for the worse over the last month, my ability to handle it has increased positively. I am running just as well in the heat as I did in the cold and I'm still gaining speed. It's the first time this has ever happened to me in my decade of running in Texas. I no longer dread our workouts when it's 80 degrees out and the dew point is in the 70s. I know it will be uncomfortable, but I also know that my body can handle it....FINALLY.

You really have no idea how incredible this feeling is, not only physically, but MENTALLY. Knowing that I don't have to necessarily suffer through the summer is huge! Don't get me wrong...it is very uncomfortable running Thursday nights in triple digit heat (even though we do run in the shade), and I'd really prefer not having to try to beat the heat by running my long runs at 6am. But I am definitely more comfortable with the uncomfortable than I have ever been. Please let this feeling last!

I've also become much more intentional and focused with all aspects of my training. I'm better about wearing my heart rate monitor to be sure I'm not overdoing it in the heat, and to see if I'm adapting to the training. I'm analyzing my splits more than I probably ever have to look for improvement, even small improvement. I had to purchase a new multi-sport Garmin and finally upgraded to a Bluetooth capable model, the 920xt (thanks to my dear friend Doug!), and it's changed everything for me! My data analysis is now on a whole new level and I'm not sure why I suffered with the 910xt for as long as I did (okay, I didn't suffer. That watch was fantastic. I just sucked at syncing it to Garmin Connect). Being able to see how the watch can estimate my VO2 max (47!) and laugh at its race predictor (3:31 marathon my ass) is pretty darn cool. I've only worn it for a few runs so far, so I'm still assuming that marathon prediction will increase significantly with more run data, although it keeps getting faster so far. Strange watch.

Training like this has taken so much weight off my shoulders. I'm not stressing about my long run pace at all anymore, whereas I used to be so bummed if I didn't train at a certain pace all the time. By focusing more on my heartrate and cadence I'm able to steadily improve my aerobic fitness. Looking back on runs from years ago, my heart rate was ridiculous. I was burning myself out and not even realizing it. I'm consistently running on average with a heart rate probably 20 beats per minute less than I was back in those early marathon days. By being so specific with my easy/long run training, my body is efficiently feeding its muscles and burning fat as fuel. This is where the bulk of marathon training should fall. Because of the summer heat I can't always keep my heart rate quite this low (my target is keeping it below 140, or at least under that for the average), particularly running up hills, but that's okay. A heart rate a bit higher will help me build my cardiorespiratory capacity and improve my muscle strength and this is the zone I'll probably spend the most time in on race day. Several of my long runs down the road will include portions at race pace in order to simulate the feeling for race day. Then there are the tough runs...intervals and hill sprints. This is where I get into the anaerobic zone, and therefore improve my lactate threshold and performance. Proper recovery from the tougher workouts is vital (yay recovery runs!) to be able to continue to perform well during those particularly hard weeks. I'm just continuing to chant that mantra of "easy pace, easy pace, easy pace" (no matter how much my teammates laugh at how anal I've become). My long slow runs are paying dividends during hard workouts and will (hopefully, oh pretty please) pay off on race day.

Being okay with that pace and with that heat index is a long process

The crazy thing about analyzing the data is being able to quantify how I'm getting more efficient, while still getting faster. Tuesday's interval workout was a beast, but my heartrate never got into the red zone, not even once! My highest heart rate was 163 and the average stayed under 150. I was working very hard and practically threw up a couple times from the effort, but knowing that I technically was not overtaxing my system is a huge bonus (I'm going to chalk the pukey feeling to the Gatorade I drank after the previous night's bike ride....I have very little sugar in my diet but really needed the rehydration after the heat, so Gatorade it was....and it was so delicious). Being able to see this kind of data is helping me during each hard run. Even through the discomfort I know I can do it, even when my brain is trying to tell me I need to give up. I also realize that I can push myself even harder at our next interval workout.

Shit is getting serious starting on Monday. Every week my miles will increase. There are some weeks when I am running 6 days, and I'm not going to like it very much. But there's a Boston Qualifier inside of me and I need to find her and push her and make her do what's she's capable of doing.

Also, please be good to me on December 10, Mississippi weather. Pretty please.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Duathlon? Sounds great!

Every 4th of July, my triathlon team hosts an informal triathlon/duathlon for our members. Two years ago I did the triathlon and last year the duathlon. This year I again tackled the duathlon, and it would be only my second duathlon I've ever done.

I came into this year feeling much better about working hard in the heat, so I felt like I could do a decent job "racing." I wasn't so concerned with racing my teammates so much as racing my time from last year. I wanted to see that my fitness had improved and with the weather this year being so similar to last year, it would be a good gauge of improvement.

Armed with my lovely new multisport watch, I was ready to go race morning. We had a big turnout, way more than usual. Nineteen members total raced so it was going to be a very fun morning. Lake Georgetown looked beautiful at 7:30 in the morning and I was almost a bit envious at those who were doing the triathlon. The lake was calm and looked so refreshing. Perhaps it's time I got my butt back into the water?



The first run of the duathlon was about 1.1 miles just around the picnic area at the lake. We shortened the first run this year so it better coincided with when the swimmers would be coming out of the water and we'd all be on the bike course about the same time. For this first run, I wanted to be "comfortably uncomfortable" with my pace, so I figured right around 9 min or just under would be great and then hopefully I'd be able to push it harder on the second run. I was feeling pretty decent and got down to about 8:30 pace within the first few minutes. I kept that up and finished the that loop at 8:33 pace.

A quick transition and I was on my bike. The course for the bike is actually not all that easy. It's short...9.55 miles...but it starts out uphill. My heartrate spiked right away, hitting 160 within 3 minutes of ride time. But I stayed with it, knowing I'd get a good downhill in a couple miles. Every opportunity I got on a downhill I shifted into a tougher gear and tried to make up some time speed lost on the uphills. I want to be better with shifting, so this was good practice. By the time we got to about 7 miles I knew I was riding much better than last year. I felt a lot more comfortable and my heartrate was staying more in control overall. I ended up riding 1.1 mph faster than last year, coming in at 16.7 mph. A win in my book. It probably helped that at the turnaround on the dam at about 8 miles into the ride, I saw my friend Esther right on my butt, probably only about 30 seconds behind me. Although I didn't want to view this as competition, seeing her that close to me definitely got me moving my butt a little bit faster.

Another quick transition (where I thoroughly messed up the lapping on my watch and accidentally hit the button too many times. I had to look back on the data to estimate my transition time versus my actual run time, but I think I got it figured out based on the elapsed time of the workout. Both my transitions came in at about 40-45 seconds. Not bad for being so out of practice!

I knew I could get the second run done in under 15 minutes if I pushed myself and remembered it was a very short distance, only about 1.7 miles. I glanced at my watch to see that it was right at 44 minutes total for the workout. I remembered last year's time was 1:11:xx so even with a shortened Run 1, I was definitely doing better this year. I just felt so much stronger! I kept thinking Esther was going to blow by me right before the finish so I sped up to about 8 min pace for the last half mile. It got hard but I knew it was almost over. I ended up coming in at about 14:48 (if I estimated correctly from my watch mishap).

I finished in about 59:50 total for the 2.8 miles of running and 9.55 miles of cycling. Last year I ran 3.4 miles and cycled 9.45 miles in 1:11:33, so it was a definite improvement. I had so much fun! My entire team did a really great job out there, with speedy times for everyone. They're all very worthy competitors and they keep me on my toes day in and day out.

Informal team races like this are a great way to get into that competitive spirit, gauge where you're at in training and fitness, without the expense or nerves from an actual organized race. Teammate Amanda even made up medals for the fastest of us out there so that's a very fun keepsake.

Looking forward to the next one!

Team pre-race

The medal winners, although every single person out there killed it!



Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer has arrived

It's amazing what a difference a week can make in the weather around here. Last Saturday (the 10th), I finished my 10 mile long run as the temp hit 73. Not exactly comfortable with the sun out, but it didn't feel unbearable at all. I had a pretty good negative split on my out-and-back route and my heartrate averaged 138. I was pleased with the effort. This week when I finished my 10.4 mile run, it had hit 83 degrees, and yet still kept my heartrate at 137 average with a negative split. But it was decidedly warmer out, that's for sure. The summer arrived!

Yay for patient running partners and metal dinosaurs
Not sad about my run or the fact that I cool down in my pool.
Sad about the weather!

What's weird for me right now is throwing pace out the window on these long, slow runs. For so many years I was obsessed with my pace and felt that I needed to be hitting certain long run paces while marathon training to convince myself I could finish a marathon and not embarrass myself. With the exception of one training cycle back in 2012, I never had a lofty time goal in a marathon. That marathon didn't go as planned, but that had to do with the 80 degree temps and not my fitness. Had it been 40 degrees out I actually do think I would have broken 4 hours like I had trained to do. My other time goals over the years have been much more conservative. Basically I was in it more for fun (yes, I called marathons fun). There's not really anything wrong with that, and many people enjoy the journey and don't give a crap about the time on the clock. This attitude usually translated to running my long runs faster than my marathons. By the time I got to the start line, I was in great shape, but held back time and time again. In some cases I think I had trained too hard and just wasn't ready for the 26.2 mile distance. I could overanalyze it to death if I wanted.

I will say that I did get my half marathon training right way more often than my marathon training. I could toe the line at a half marathon and hit my goals and run very well, and usually faster than my long runs were ever ran (this is the way it's supposed to be done).

Well, I don't want that kind of crap anymore. It's time to run a marathon like I can run a half marathon.

So last week my long run was at 10:08 pace average. I used to rarely run my long runs over 10 minute pace (and yet only two of my marathons have been run at under 10 min pace). That was pretty dumb. There's absolutely nothing wrong with running this pace when your Boston-qualifying marathon pace goal is 8:58. It's actually perfectly fine, especially since I kept my heartrate exactly where I needed it to be. As I get closer to my goal race in December, and the weather cools off, my long runs will speed up naturally. I'll be fitter, the weather will be more conducive to what is comfortable to me, and I can inch closer to a 9:30 pace without overtaxing my body. Right now? I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

This week I ran 10:15 pace in 10.4 miles. It's not much slower than last week considering it was 10 degrees warmer. My heartrate tells the tale....I didn't push myself harder despite the heat, but I didn't lose too much pace. So just like with last week's long run, this week's makes me very pleased. But again, I can't lie when I say it's weird for me to be running over 10 minute pace on these long runs.

There's a time and place for race pace and faster runs. Long run weekend is not one of those, especially in this part of my training cycle and in the summer. I'm building up my base so my body is ready for more mileage. I added a fourth day to my running last week, and I have 4 weeks until the difficult training technically starts. As I get deep into training, some of my long runs will incorporate race pace miles, but usually no more than 30% of the run, and the rest of the miles will be at long run pace. Speed will happen during interval runs, tempo runs, races, track nights, and runs like those, but in order to properly prepare oneself for the rigors of the volume of marathon training, you have to allow yourself the luxury of recovery miles and long, slow miles. If I ran 8:58 pace day in and day out, at 40 or 50+ miles per week, I would be depleted on race day.

I have to be deliberate, I have to monitor my heart rate so I can track my effort and adjust as necessary, I have to respect the weather, and I have to take care of myself. I want this goal so badly and there's just no reason why I can't hit it (for the love of God, don't let it be hot on race day!).

I follow a lot of runners on Instagram (and check out a few popular ones) to see how they train. To be honest, so many of them make me CRINGE. Day in, day out they are running goal pace for every run, including long runs, and getting praised for being "so fast, so inspirational, so amazing." They complain about every run being "SO HARD." And then for many of them, they blow up on race day or (like me) their marathon times don't match up to their training. I know "slow" runs don't make you look as badass and that you want as many "likes" as you can get, but it's not worth it. If every run is done at race pace, and every run is hard, and there are no recovery miles in there, of course your body will blow up. Then I find the super fast runners who sometimes run their long runs at MY pace, yet hit super fast times in their marathons and I soak it all in. That's what I want. I want to be SMART about my training, I want to be done with my long runs and feel GREAT. I want to arrive at the start line in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and feel like I can fly because I threw down 50 mile running weeks exactly like I needed to to be successful.

That means that I'll see 10+ min pace on my watch and I can't bitch about it.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Progress

It's getting warmer out, folks. Summer in Texas is just around the corner. Oh, boy.

Tuesday morning interval workouts have been warm, but not unbearable. The humidity has been sky high (yesterday it was 98% at 5:30am), but I can't complain too much when the temp is hovering at 70 degrees instead of the usual summer 80 degree morning temp.

Can I just say the last two weeks' interval workouts have been FANTASTIC?! Neither have been easy...not at all in the least, no freaking way. But overall, I feel like I nailed the workouts and am seeing improvements.

Last week our workout was 6x5 minute intervals at mid-to-short progressive tempo pace with 1 minute recovery (oh that goes by so fast), with warm up and cool down of about 25 minutes total. With the exception of the uphill interval (I loathe that section of our trail), I ran each interval very strong and was faster than my goal pace. It got a bit warm but I never felt like my lungs were compromised during the intervals. My heartrate was getting pretty high, up to 169, and it didn't really go much below 150 during the short 1 minute recoveries, so it was an effort run for all 35 minutes of the intervals/rests.

This week we ran 3x9 minute intervals (progressive from long tempo to short tempo) with 3 minute recovery at easy pace, with about 25 minutes total of warm up and cool down. Again, I felt great during each interval and nailed my paces. Even the last interval didn't feel exceptionally difficult, and it was my fastest of the three.

Our coach Christine reminded us after the workout yesterday that if we are hitting our tempo/interval paces in these warmer, humid runs then we are definitely seeing fitness improvements. Normally we slow down a bit during the summer months, but I haven't slowed down yet. It's probably time for me to do another 5K time trial (although that's pretty painful during the summer).

I know this means that all the work I'm putting in with regards to my nutrition and consistency and effort is paying off. My head is telling me I can do it and my body is responding. Huge boost for my mental game, that's for sure. Knowing my body is stronger and my lungs are working better than usual tells me that no matter what crazy workout Christine gives us, I can do it. This also means she's probably getting wise to me and will make me run faster.

I'm going to need to add a fourth running day into my schedule soon. My marathon training technically starts mid-July and I want to build up more of a base. I'm only running about 20 miles per week right now and I need to increase that very soon. Before long I'll be running 45-50 miles per week and I need to be completely prepared for that nonsense!

I'm still the world's worst triathlete and haven't even given much thought to when I'll do another one, but I'm just having so much fun with this running thing and enjoying seeing my body transform into something I can truly be proud of.

Oh...and yes, I'm still doing an Ironman.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gratitude

I often complain about the weather during the summer months here in Texas. It is pretty unbearable to train in, with high temps and high humidity pretty much every morning. Throw in asthma and it is a struggle to maintain decent fitness.

I need to work on my gratitude that I can even do what I do.

I have a friend who just got a double lung transplant after spending 103 days in the hospital because she had gotten too ill to leave without the transplant. She had interstitial lung disease, and to put it simply, she just could not breathe on her own anymore. The amount of oxygen it required to move at all was unbelievable and we were all very scared for her.

Thank God there was a selfless person out there who was a donor, and a family willing to honor that request. My friend got her lungs and life is full of optimism again.

She couldn't walk down the hallway without a massive amount of oxygen, and here I am complaining about the humidity while on a 2-hour training run. Perspective, right?

Since she received her lungs, my friend has been so positive about the little things in life. Her first time outside again, taking deep breaths without the aid of oxygen, hearing the silence around her instead of the constant hum of her oxygen tanks. Things you and I never had to worry about because we could live unencumbered without disease.

She would have given anything to just be able to run one mile. And soon, she will be able to do whatever she wants.

I want to be thankful for everything I'm able to do. It might hurt to do hill repeats in 93 degree weather (hello, last night's workout), but I can do it, week after week. I might have to slow down on my long runs because it's 97% humidity out at 6am, but I can still do it all summer long.



Every time I breathe in and my lungs have been taxed to capacity, I want to think of my friend and remember that I am so lucky to be healthy, even with the bouts of asthma I encounter. And I want her to be over the moon every time she breathes in with those wonderful, incredible, amazing new lungs.

Speaking of gratitude, have you made an effort to express your gratitude for the little (and sometimes big) things that your friends and family have done for you? There is so much negativity in our world, and people are so quick to complain about such insignificant things, that it's easy to forget the little things that make our lives better. I am really trying to make every effort I can to tell people thank you and to be positive and to be sure they know how much I appreciate them. I do hope it makes them smile and feel good about themselves. I know that when someone tells me thank you, I feel like I'm on top of the world.

Kindness goes a long way!




Monday, May 22, 2017

Tests+Trust+Time

So it's been a few days...

My mind is still blown that I would so drastically change my mind about Ironman. I'm still weirded out by it. I lost count how many times the words "NEVER" came out of my mouth....for years...and I meant it.

In my last blog post, I went into some detail about where I thought this change of mind came from. My reasoning seems to be becoming clearer, especially after our church sermon on Sunday.

The new sermon series is called "Oh the Places You'll Go" based on Dr. Seuss, and the topic of Pastor John's sermon this week was "Tests + Trust + Time = Friendship with God." To be completely honest with you, my faith has been tested dramatically in the last few years. I have dealt with so much adversity and have questioned the Christian faith so many times. I have struggled to understand my relationship with God. But I've stuck with it, I've prayed, and I have continued to have faith.

But it's not enough. My relationship with God needs a big fat tune-up. The message behind the sermon centers around three tests we go through in order to have a friendship with God (or to rediscover and strengthen our friendship).

Test #1: Comfort Test - Will I step outside of my comfort zone?
Test #2: Patience Test - Will I wait on God's timing?
Test #3: Allegiance Test - Will I let go?

As is true for so many of the sermons, this spoke right to me. It brought tears to my eyes. It was guiding me to my next journey.

Okay, so you're thinking, what in the world does Ironman have to do with God?

For those of us with faith, we know that we can't do anything without God. Physical endurance goals are one of those things. If I take on this enormous challenge, it will require that I seek God's guidance, strength, and unending love. I will have hours of time to speak with God.

Could this be how I find my friendship with God? As I analyze the three tests, I can see myself being guided to this huge endeavour. First of all, the Comfort Test is clearly in play. I will be so far outside my comfort zone, I won't even be able to see it in the distance. The Patience Test is requiring me to wait nearly two years to embark on this journey. I could so easily just sign up for the race next year, but I know in my heart it is not the right timing. I have to believe that this delay is exactly what is supposed to happen. The Allegiance Test will require me trusting in the process and turning to God to allow Him guide me, and to believe that I can do it.

I have no regret for changing my mind about this race. It still feels right to me. But I'm going to further explore the lessons I learned on Sunday. There are a few circumstances outside of racing that these tests apply to as well, and I'm also seeking understanding in those. So much to think about.




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ridiculously Huge Goals

I have a new list of goals. There was something about the last six weeks that has made me see my world in a completely different light.

In the beginning of April, I was in a very dark place. Certain circumstances in my personal life that I really couldn't process beat me down. I retreated, cried everyday, reassessed, got stronger, and took a good hard look at where I was vs. where I wanted to be.

Then I watched the Boston Marathon Documentary...

And then I went to Ironman Texas...

And then it just all came together.

I'm ready to talk about it.

I confided in a couple people what I had been thinking about, and because these people are freaking awesome, they were excited for me and ready to support me in whatever final decision I made. (Side note: everyone needs people like this in their life)

I've already made it very well known that I want to qualify for Boston. But here's the thing...I'm pretty far from that ability, although it's definitely not out of the realm of possibility. I would love to run this race in 2019 and I have my first shot at qualifying at Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon. I don't want to sell myself short, but I also want to have realistic expectations. I need to run a 3:55, which is more in line with my half marathon pace. It's a stretch for me to improve to this ability by December 10...but it's still possible. 

However....we all know that merely qualifying is never enough to actually gain entry. In reality I need to shoot for a 3:52. That doesn't seem like a lot, but when you're already talking about a big drop in time, it seems like an overwhelming difference. I'm very pleased with the progress I've made in getting my body stronger and leaner so I can continue to get faster. I am going to continue to focus on all the things I can control...my nutrition, my sleep, my workouts, my mental strength. The improvement will happen as long as I keep my eye on all these factors. It just remains to be seen how much improvement it will entail.

If for some crazy reason I actually pull off this feat of crazy, I'll run Boston in 2019.

HOWEVER....and here's where my next goal comes in.

I have another idea for April of 2019. If Boston has to wait, I am most likely (I had to put in a little "maybe") going to sign up for a different kind of race.

I am going to do Ironman Texas.

2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run

An Ironman. You know, that thing I said I'd never do. Up until April 21, I absolutely positively was never going to do an Ironman. NEVER.

Something changed in the few days after volunteering at this year's race.

I honestly was totally shocked the thought even entered my mind. SHOCKED. I have never had any desire whatsoever to do this kind of race. A ridiculous entry fee, the travel costs, the training commitment....THE FREAKING TRAINING COMMITMENT OHMYGOD.

Yet, it suddenly made sense.

I was terrified of telling Greg how I felt, but after his initial "Oh F&*K" reaction, he was supportive. If I really wanted to do it, I could do it. I was so scared of telling him that I told him over text.

I've had a few weeks to process why I suddenly had this desire. Like I said, the last six weeks were bad. Things are still bad, but I think my mind is processing it all very differently. I had been feeling like a huge failure as a parent. My daughter is especially struggling and I feel like it's partly my fault, that if I had just been able to be a better parent to her she'd be so much healthier.

In the last few weeks, that mindset has started to change. I feel stronger. I feel like I really am doing everything I can for her, everything in my power to make her better, and that I'm a damn good mom.

Do you have any idea how empowering this feeling is?



I've taken stock of just how destructive my mind was being, how I wasn't giving myself the respect I deserved, and how I was letting all this bullshit eat away at my self-worth. I was letting external bullshit cloud my judgement and rob me of the positivity I desperately needed.

Screw that crap.

I'm damn worthy of this goal.

If it weren't for the incredible team I am a part of, this goal wouldn't be feasible. But I know that everyday I'm out there training, I will have phenomenal people pushing me to be better, making sure I know that I can do it.

So there you have it. Will wonders never cease?







Tuesday, May 16, 2017

26.2 reasons for running a marathon

I saw a post recently on Facebook about our 26.2 reasons for running a marathon, and I thought "heck yeah, I need to list those out!"

So here we go....

Steph's 26.2 Reasons for Running a Marathon

1. My mental health
2. My heart is happy
3. For the challenge
4. To experience the outdoors
5. And get some much needed Vitamin D
6. Explore a city in a unique way...including exploring new places in your own city
7. The Runner's High is addictive
8. To honor my sister
9. Remind myself of my strength
10. Be a good example for my kids
11. Maintain a healthy weight for life
12. To defy my age
13. Stress relief for those extra tough times
14. Something to focus on
15. Spend time with like-minded friends
16. An excuse to travel
17. Those leg muscles
18. Forces me to treat my body like a temple
19. To be surrounded by inspirational people
20. For a good cry when I finish
21. To earn that post-race cheeseburger
22. Keep people guessing on the level of my sanity
23. It's a celebration of LIFE
24. To bring awareness to a cause
25. Good excuse to nap regularly
26. Because I can...
26.2 ...12 times and counting...




Thursday, May 11, 2017

What's your legacy?

There's nothing like attending a funeral to put your life in perspective.

My husband and I attended our good friend's father's funeral Tuesday morning. It was a wonderful remembrance of his life, and brought about some emotional self-reflection, as funerals often do. 

The pastor challenged each of us to look at our own lives and to think about what we thought might be remembered about ourselves at our own funerals. I didn't view this in any morbid way, but actually a very real need to do some reflecting inward. It's never a bad thing to step back and look with more objectivity at our lives, and the contributions we are making to society.

Hopefully it will be many decades before my own passing, but then again tomorrow is never promised. We do not know when it will be our last day in our earthly bodies. We can only hope for a long and healthy life.

How do I want to be remembered?

Because I chose to raise a family, they are of utmost importance to me above all other things. The very first thing I want my children to feel when they think about me is that I loved them, unconditionally and without fail, that I loved them no matter what, with grace and forgiveness. If that is what stands out to them, then I have succeeded as a parent. No matter the mistakes they might make in life, I always want them to know I am there for them, arms open. I should be their refuge when they are struggling, their support system, their guide through troubled times. They are at very difficult ages, but I do hope they feel this way right now. I have so many bad parenting moments, particularly in very stressful times. I need to check myself when I feel overwhelmed.

I want people to feel that I've made a positive impact on their lives. The non-tangible things that make up a person's life are so much more important than anything material. Love, compassion, grace, humility, fairness...so much more important than the size of your home or the price of your car. I am a woman with pretty strong convictions, as anyone close to me knows, and that's important to me as well, but I also like to view things with fairness. I don't always get it right, and I'm working on that. I would hope that the first things people would think when remembering me are positive things.

As I'm writing this, I'm finding it's really hard to articulate my thoughts. This is a tough subject to reflect upon. It's making me feel a little like I've failed up to this point in my life, and that I need to work harder on my relationships, both within my family and outside. Being a genuinely good person is not exactly easy, and the "genuine" part is, frankly, especially difficult nowadays. There are a lot of negatives thrown at us daily, a lot of stress we need to wade through, and it's difficult to come out on top with a positive and joyful attitude. Our good attributes can be buried under this negativity and stress, and I often allow this to happen (well, it's not always within my control...my brain doesn't exactly work in a normal way all the time). But overall, I will continue to do my best, in any circumstance, to reflect positively upon people's lives.

If today were my last day, I'm hopeful I've done enough for the legacy I wish to achieve.

How about you?

Monday, May 1, 2017

It's working

I mentioned in yesterday's blog post that I intend on getting leaner. I'm not talking about a bunch of weight...10 pounds or so. Just enough to look "lean" and aid in my endurance running. In all my years of running I rarely discuss weight loss. But this time around I think it's so important for me to focus more on gaining lean muscle while dropping unnecessary weight. As a former trainer I do, however, realize that by gaining more lean muscle I may in fact stay at close to the same weight while dropping fat and inches from my body...and that's okay, too. I rammed that into the heads of my clients enough to know what the ultimate goal should be. As long as I help myself to become a better endurance runner, I'm good!

I actually got up the nerve to get on the scale today after months of not weighing myself. I paid attention to my weight a bit after the Louisiana Marathon and getting the flu because it had dropped, but it hasn't been a priority since then.

I stepped on the scale more than once because I couldn't believe the number it showed (and no, I'm not telling unless you ask nicely).

I've lost 7 pounds. (Don't laugh...that's a really big number to me!)





Just a few weeks of very intentional eating and more focus on strength training and my body is responding so positively. I am thrilled. I am motivated. 

This is SO SO SO GREAT. 

Caveat...I hate the idea of focusing on my weight. I've mostly just used how I look and how my clothes fit as my guide over the years because I think there is way too much focus on the scale number in our society and not nearly enough focus on body composition. Weight is secondary to our lean muscle to fat ratio, and we can in fact weigh more than it appears when we have a higher percentage of lean muscle. I do not want the number of the scale to become obsession.

However, I'll take this little win right now. It shows that I'm doing the right things for my body and it's responding in a positive way. It's the first step in meeting my next round of goals and the more I see results like this, the closer I come to those goals.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Training Plan

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

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

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



So how am I approaching this training cycle?

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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



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



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



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



Bring on the tacos.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Thoughts on Ironman Texas

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

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


Kat, Christine and I ready for the day


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

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

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



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

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



Overall winner

Female winner

Above photos courtesy of teammate Amanda Shannon

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

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

Photo cred: Amanda

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


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

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


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

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

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



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

I have the best team.

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

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

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

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


Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for a marathon?

Do you look forward to going for a run?

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

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

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

Do your runs seems hard every single time?

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

Are you perpetually exhausted from training?

Are you looking for excuses to skip training?

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

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

What does marathon training look like?

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

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

Your mileage could top 50 or 60 miles per week.

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

You will run on fatigued legs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, I freak out a little.

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

As for me...

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

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

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

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

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

I WANT TO GO TO BOSTON.

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


Thursday, March 30, 2017

200 miles.....and Confusion

Not really sure where to start.

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

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

Well....

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

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

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

I just totally blew up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good God, I need to shut up.

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