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