Sunday, May 27, 2018

Run for the Red, Pocono Summit, PA, 5/20/18

Run for the Red - Check-In Race

Early in the start of training, I like to race something hard to check in with myself to see how much work I have to do. Run for the Red was that race for me. 

Despite knowing that I have not actually properly prepared to race a fast marathon, I still felt a little pressure to perform. This is funny because if I don't do the work, I should not expect to see results, but running is funny like that. We still often try anyway. Maybe we hope our hearts can carry us through despite not preparing. I know it is foolish for me to think this way. 

I was entirely too focused on the outcome goal of this race and not really mindful of what was realistic for me along the way. However, I have to admit, I really needed to just not care and to see what I could do if I pushed myself. I did not truly expect great results, but I was not going to assume I would fail either. I just wanted the race to unfold for me naturally.  This also was not a Goal Race and I could take risks because failure would be ok.

The week leading up to this race was a fantastic week for me in terms of training, nutrition, sleep, etc. The problem is I was actually training hard, getting leaner, and as a result feeling beat up. Changing body composition is stressful on the body. If I really wanted a good shot at a good run, I should have been resting. But resting from what? From a 5 hour Strolling Jim where I mostly strolled along? From NOT running any long runs over 12M at a hard effort? From lower (for me) weekly mileage?  

I have plans to aim high for the Fall and Fall is not that far away. I don’t want to start training by tapering from nothing so I made a decision to train right through Run for the Red and to consider it a hard long run, not a "race".

To get myself in a positive frame of mind, starting on Friday, I simply started focusing my attention on every detail I could find that suggested I had a chance to run strong. I ignored all the reasons I should not. For example, based upon my last race (a 15k), I had the potential for a 3:31 (if I had actually done some long runs at something even close to training paces that would support a 3:31, but I did not. I was resting and this is the start of my training so I knew I was going to struggle). I was also lighter and leaner than when I raced that 15K so maybe I still had a short.  Even though Strolling Jim was a slower race for me, it was not easy so I know I was fitter for having done it. I think I had a chance to run a marathon within my goal window. Not a good chance, but a chance nonetheless.

The last time I ran Run for the Red in 2016, I was not very well-trained either (but better trained than this year) and I did run a 3:33 so I knew the fast course could pull me along, especially if the weather cooperated. In 2016, the weather was bizarre, but perfect for fast running.

I need a 3:40 to BQ and since I have not raced many marathons seriously in about 18 months, I definitely need a BQ if I want to return to Boston. I do know that June, July, and August are not the months that I am most likely get that BQ, due to the stifling heat and humidity and also because that is when I am in the middle of marathon training (building up my fast finish long runs from 14-24 miles or using 50k and marathons as long even effort time on my feet fun runs). I rarely race marathons for time in the summer. So if I wanted to snag a BQ to, at least, get my foot in the door, Run for the Red was where to do it.

Accordingly, my Goal Window was 3:31-3:40 or blow up trying.

So the weather… ah, the first really humid race of the year. This is not ideal. But I try to disregard this as it doesn’t matter. I have to go for my window regardless of conditions. The clock doesn’t care what the humidity is.

I start off trying to find a comfortably-hard pace. I sense I am running slightly too fast, but again I have not run anything far and fast in such a long time that I expected the pace to feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. 

I keep checking in with myself to try to determine if I think I can hold this the entire way and the answer really is “No. No you cannot.”  So I made a choice to see how long I could hold it. If I do fade in the hills at the end, I may still end up in my 3:31-3:40 window. If I can't, I can accept that too.

Part of the point of my Check-In race for me is to allow me a “throw away” race that I am free to go out and mess up royally. I need to do everything wrong once in a while, especially early in training, just because it helps remind me about how important it is to do things right. It also shows me that doing everything wrong never turns out as bad as it seems like it should. 

If I could train well, get lean and strong, taper, carb-load (yes, I do this and it works for me), and stick to a realistic pace plan that is task-focused and not outcome-focused… then I know I can negative split and have a great run. But I am not there yet. However, I wanted to know what I could now, today, untrained, undiscplined, and tired. 

Run for the Red was awesome and demoralizing at the same time.

I managed to stay either just ahead of or just behind the 3:30 pace group through 19M. I really did not feel as terrible as I thought I would at that pace, but the humidity and warmth of the day were catching up with me. My body simply was not prepared to handle the intensity.

At about mile 20-21 I started to get a tremendous migraine. I am sure it was from dehydration and working too hard. The top of my head felt like someone hit me with a bat. I was consuming calories and fluids along the way but race day nutrition is never going to make up for lack of preparation. I knew the crash and burn was coming. I wasn’t sure how bad it would be. The 3:30 pace group drifted off as I slowed down to try to get a grip.

At the next aid station, I stopped running for the first time and grabbed three cups of fluid and walked a few strides to just drink. I was so dizzy and nauseated that I was a little concerned. Once I started running again, I knew I had nothing left.

With 4 miles to go, the death march started. I was done. I had enough for the day. My body, my mind, both had completely checked out. The idea of running or run/walking, or just walking in 4 more miles was soul-crushing. I was overheating and my butt was whooped. But truly I did not expect anything less. I am actually surprised I got as far as I did!

My biggest concern was my left hamstring/glute.  Everything was so tight that I feared straining my hamstring if I pushed through.  I knew I had already done some damage and since this is the start of training I cannot afford to take 2-3 weeks of rest to heal. My gait was altered and there was mild pain. So I walked. 

Kim comes flying past me, yelling something about how I need to go with her now because she is still on pace for the 3:40 and we could do it. And I laughed and I laughed. As if I had a choice. Kim did well in training. Probably not as well as she wanted to prep (but who ever feels their prep is perfect), but she got her butt out there for 20+M fast finish long runs on hot days by herself when it mattered the most. That is how to do work!  She rested, tapered, and stuck to her plan. She kicked ass! I waved good-bye as she drifted off in to the distance wondering how the heck I was going to make it another 5k!

I took my time on the way in and ran when I felt I could and walked most of what was left. I didn’t care if it took me another hour to get done. I did not need to pull a hamstring for no reason at all. Not now. 

But ultimately it wasn’t that bad. I ended up with a 3:53 after running the first 20M at 3:30 pace. And this makes me happy. I have taken a lot of time away from marathon training. Marathon training, for me, is the hardest training I can do. I have not run anything under 4 hours for the marathon in a long time. In fact, I have run a mostly 5 hour marathons just taking my time and enjoying the trails, mountains, and company.

My heart is so happy I was able to gut out a hard 20M LR… too bad the race was 26.2M. :) I am not sad that I did not or could not run a faster time. I did not deserve to. I did not train. I do wish I was in better shape that I am in right now, but when looking back, I know I am exactly where I should be. 

I needed a lot of rest after training so hard in 2016. I am 42 and the work I did at 40 years old was hard on me. I needed to rest my body and soul. The sacrifice, commitment, and intense focus on training that it takes for me to run that hard does detract from my overall quality of life in other aspects. I can’t live life that way year-after-year and expect to feel balanced and happy. Being the fastest marathon runner I can be is not "everything" to me. I am so much more than just a runner.  However, I can give myself 18-20 weeks to try to be my best athlete-self again. And if/when I get the results I seek, I am certain that joy will fill my soul for a long long time.

So Run for the Red was my reality check. I truly feel like I got more than I deserved to get out this race. I am ready to see what I can do from here.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Strolling Jim, The "Marathon", 5/5/18

Four years ago I raced the 40M (41.2M)  and had a fantastic day. I just ran my heart out, powering through the hills until I hit the wall hard and suffered in the heat at the 50K and ran/walked my in to a 6:35. This was a time I was proud of, despite some sloppy execution.

Today I wondered if it might take me 6:35 to run the marathon distance. I was initially registered for the 40M, but last week I took a real hard look at myself and knew I was not prepared for 40M. 

When in shape, the 40M is my favorite distance. It is my best event, that and the 6 hour, which I can cover  40-43+ miles in that time. I want to protect my love for that distance and not destroy my positive experiences by doing something I am woefully under-prepared to do and feeling miserable. I am also still rebuilding my endurance and fitness. 

I always run. I can always "cover" a marathon on foot, maybe not by running every single step but I can get through it. Marathon training is the hardest thing I can do and when done well, I can fly.  But right now I am still in my base-building-just-show-up-and-pin-on-a-bib phase of training.  I enjoy getting my long runs done at races where I can actually relax and be social when I feel like it ... or I can practice race day skills without some important performance goal on the line. 

I took nothing seriously about today's, well except that carloading. I carb-loaded like a champ! That was fun. ;)

The race weather was predicted to be rainy the entire day. I rhetorically asked Alanna if maybe I could just run one marathon soon NOT wearing a poncho ;)

But race day morning turned out to be lovely.  It was much more humid that I am used to but the 60 degrees felt so nice. I wore more than I would have preferred mostly because my skin is not ready to handle long runs in rain and humidity and not get chafed raw. I ended up in bike shorts and a tank top to save my skin.his worked.  

I really do not love racing in a vest. I feel like I am too heavy with a vest on and often the vest makes my back hurt. But the rental car keys were GIGANTIC and two of these monster-sized key fobs were tethered together making it impossible to put them in my small zip pocket. I also decided to carry a bottle since aid stations at this race tend to be gallons of water left under a tree every few miles, with some random real aid station dropped in along the way.  It can be a long way between drinks.

So once weighted down, I knew I wasn’t going for time today. I just wanted the climbing and the long time on my feet. This marathon delivered on all accounts.

Early in the race, I ran next to a guy who looked a little flustered. He explained, worried really, that he was diabetic and his monitor was reading very low.  He was trying to eat something but he was concerned.  I asked if he had enough calories on him and he said “probably not enough. I thought I was good, but this is low so I have to eat now”  We were at maybe mile 4?  He was running 40.

I had two gels on me and gave them to him. He wouldn’t take them but I did insist. I was “only” running the marathon and I could grab soda or something with sugar from the aid stations. I told him I had set a carb-load PR yesterday so I really don’t need them.  I insisted that he take them.

We passed the first aid station and with only a quick glance, I did not see any fast sweet things. Water and SWORD… what the heck is that and where was the coca cola or potatoes or anything I could eat. Oh well. I was ok, and not running fast, so I proceeded on my way. There were slim jims and pork rinds. Pork Rinds. I know I didn’t race ultras last year but are pork rinds at aid stations at thing now?

Oh well, I don’t remember eating much during the Boston Sharknado Marathon so I felt like I would be ok. I would have liked some sports drink. My pace was a blazing 10:30 pace so I felt I could sustain that on water and something palatable from an aid station along the way.

By mile 18 I was still feeling good and with only 8.6 to go (b/c this is Strolling Jim so nothing is what is supposed to be, which is ok with me). The hills crush my soul. Adding few extra tenths is nothing to fret over.  At 18+ we hit a downhill and I wondered if I could push my pace to the finish. So I tried. 

I make it to 20.5M and I hit the wall. Slam right into it. My legs power down like a transformer blew. I have no energy. None. Nothing hurts, but I just can’t “go.”   The humidity was high but I have been in worse and the cooler air helped mitigate that.  I just ran out of glycogen and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had grabbed a few things from the last aid station but didn't eat because I really just wanted to see how far I could go on water only. I like to do tests like this. The sudden crash was clearly due to under-fueling.

 So at 21M I decided to eat the Nature Valley granola protein nut bar because it had a little of everything (carbs, fat, and protein). I walked a lot while trying to wait to see if it helps. As I walk it my legs are made of lead. I have no motivation to power through. I have 5.6M to go and they are feeling like a million miles. I am alone, so alone on the course I start to wonder if I am off course. But keep walking and running and walking.

By M22 I feel about 50% better which is good but not great. At this point I decide that I have done my job for today. I got a good long run in and depleted my glycogen down to 0, nothing hurts, and I feel like I made the smartest choice I could have made when I asked to drop down to the marathon from the 40. There was absolutely no way I was running 19.2 more miles like this. 

The drizzle that started at the end is refreshing. I finally find my way into meditative practice.  I feel a complete sense of acceptance of my pace and with myself as I approach the end. I wonder if I will break 5 hours and then wonder why a number matters at all. What matters most is that I push my body further and harder than I have in many many many months, even if on paper the numbers seem “slow” to others. What others think doesn’t really matter.  I am at peace. I am pleased with myself and my work.  

I turn the last corner and see the finish and the clock is ticking down 4:5x…. I cross in 4:54. I feel so grateful to have been able to do what I just did today. Someday I will not be able to run hilly marathons. Someday I will not be run flat marathons. Someday I will not be able to hike or walk marathons. Today is not that day. Today I did my job and it felt realy good to be present and to do work.

I sat under the tent eating a gigantic grilled chicken thigh when the sky opened up and thunder cracked… and my heart broke a little for Alanna, who was and still is out there on the course tacking the 41.2M distance as I type this race report. I am very proud of her.  I know it stinks to run in a deluge. I did give her one of my ponchos. I bought them in bulk. :)

If I hurry now, I may be able to get back to the race to pick her up. I think I will be a good friend and bring her a warm tea as her prize for persevering thought this rough patches. 
Maybe if I am lucky I might get a poncho photo for this report. :) 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Clinton Country Run 15k, Clinton NJ, 4/28/18

Photo by Karl Leitz. Clinton Country Run. 15K
So last week’s half did not go as planned. The week before was Boston which was also pretty rough (understatement of the year ;) ). The week prior to that I ran a hilly 8:24 paced 20k. Today was a 15k on a course with some rolling hills. Based upon my real life recent performances, I set a goal for 8:15 (+/- 10 sec) for myself. However that was an estimated prediction, but not what I actually planned to aim for mile by mile. 

Instead, I wanted to practice two important skills today at this race. First, I wanted to pay attention to my pre-race routine and sharpen up what I do before every race so that I can setting myself up for success. Next I wanted to use the mindfulness meditation practice I have been working on daily in a race setting. I wasn’t going monitor my pace. Instead I was going run by feel, with my job being to negative split this race.  I wanted to be mindful about my pacing, focus on how I felt it the moment and ask myself whether I had another gear for the final 4 miles, where all the hills are. I did not want race people. I did not want to race the clock. I wanted to race as fast as I could race without getting ahead of my own ability too early.

I met Kim early and we ran 6M of warm up. I was trying to pay attention to timing to see how long I really need to do all the things I know I should do before I race. I am tired of scrambling around at the start of races, missing my change to get my body warmed up and my mind prepared to tackle the work I will do.  If I know exactly how much time I need and exactly what my pre-race routine will be, I will have a greater ability to do what I need when it becomes much more important to me to have my pre-race warm up routine sharp. 

So first we ran a long warm up. We ran the course backwards in part, paying attention to the terrain, becoming aware of where the last mile began. Then we did dynamic stretching. We changed shoes and did some pick ups rather than strides. 20 steps slow 20 steps fast. We talked about music that we could include next time. I still know I need to work on my pre-race game more. I need to protec that time from unnecessary distractions on those days I plan to do my best. For now I am learning. 

The gun goes off. I was not trying to push to hard. But the start is fast. I did not want to know my splits, but that was impossible because the wonderful volunteers were calling them out at each mile. Of course most people want this information to make sure they are on track.

[For the first time since I started racing, I finally had no shin pain!  This is fantastic. I had spent time cleaning up nutrition, sleeping better, and training better. I could feel the impact of healthy decisions. I watch my heart rate drop over the week as my body and mind felt better!]

Mile 1 was a fast downhill mile and the volunteer called out 7:20, 7:21, 7:22…  as I passed.  Now I know the course would roll little and that 7:20 was merely the result of the descent that we would climb at the end. 

I settled down and did not pay attention to the watch.  Runners flew past me and I passed a few but the most important tasks I had to do were only two things: (1) Negative split, and (2) Focus on the Mile I was in…  Time did not matter, place did not matter, racing others did not matter. Not today. 

I spent the first 4 miles really focused on how I felt in the moment. The rest of the world around me felt like a blur. Nothing outside was touching me and I felt content.  

At mile 4 a woman runs right between me and another runner who was wearing gigantic head phones and she exuberantly exclaims! “So what’s the plan today!” 

Now this was not what I expected. I was in my flow, doing my job, being mindful about how I felt and what I was doing and then suddenly there was this very sudden and somewhat abrasive intrusion into my headspace. 

I contemplated what to do. I did nothing at first. I did not want to disrupt my peaceful exisitance in my race. This is going to be an interesting challenge, to practice mindfulness while racing with people who have no idea what I am doing, who just want to be social. If I really want to practice this skill, I am going to need to figure out how to not get distracted while also appearing rude to friendly people. I am not sure how to reconcile this yet. 

So I think that just maybe if I say nothing the other runners on her left would engage her.  But I am no longer doing one of my two jobs.  I am not focused on running the mile I am in. I am fully distracted by others. This is interesting from a mindfulness perspective. I don't intend to be mindful at all costs, but I do want to first see if she will use someone else as her diversion.  

I glanced over and saw the giant headphones and knew there was no chance of that happening. She had a buffer. This was a USATF-NJ championship race. Headphones are illegal. They are considered to be an aid. I can see how they really can help. 

The woman then says So what you are trying to do today!  Maybe we can help each other out today!”   Normally, friendly supportive conversation is nice, but often this happens when two people want to chat. It was clear she didn't care if I was interested in chatting or not.

I wanted so badly to say, “I see you want to work together but I don’t actually need help right now.”… but that really wasn’t necessary to say that.  I did have some empathy, recognizing a sense of insecurity she must have been feeling about her ability.  I remember how that was me when I first started running and racing.  I remember wanted to run with people because I thought maybe I could do better feeding off someone else energy, not really trusting that I had what I needed inside myself. I felt that my best on my own wasn’t the best I could do but maybe I could latch on to someone else’s pace and their energy will pull me. Or maybe their presence will ignite some competitive edge in me that I would discover was relentless. Somehow I felt I needed help. I just don't feel that way any more. I feel like that only person who can help me is me. 

But in 2016, when I learned how to listen to my body and master my own pacing, I found out that I can negative split everything I do if I am open and accepting of my ability and I set goals that match my strengths. When I run my own race there is no better outcome.  My best races are not a result of anyone else doing anything. They are all me. 

So again she says, “Do you have a plan?

While focused with my attention straight ahead, I think about my plan to just run the mile I am in... I say “Just Run”. 

Now what I meant to say was ‘My plan is to just run… to focus on the moment I am in and just run”  But as I said "Just Run" it came out sounding more like a command... I am sure that I actually meant it both ways. I really did want my space back. I was in my flow and here was someone who doesn’t yet know how to run on her own race trying to make me join her to help her. I wasn’t interested in being someone else’s diversion.
I wan’t interested in being her reluctant pacer. Sometimes it is really fun to be the distraction that helps others shine, but I do think it is better to help people figure out that they are enough. 

But I wasn't coaching her. I wasn't coaching anyone. I was there as an athlete. I just wanted to focus on my skills. I immediately tempered what sounded too harsh with more of what she needed to hear. I added quickly, “My plan is to Just Run. I want to just run and not feel badly. I want to not work too hard too soon and I want to run faster as I go along and feel good as I do it.” That was enough for her. 

Then I went back into my zone. 

She sat on my shoulder for at least a half mile, but we had not even hit the hills yet. I was waiting for the hills. I wanted to have the strength to push and I knew that I could. I had done good work in the first half of the race.

As soon as the hills started, I pulled away. I was able to push my pace faster as we rolled and I was going my job. I could hear the music starting in my head. When I race well there is always music. 

I was digging and pushing and then we hit M8-9, with the super steep ending.  I was pushing, but I felt a part of me contemplating reducing the pace. I did not feel bad about this. I feel like I am learning. I am finding my line and recognizing just where my body and mind are at this time. I need to do a lot more work.

But even with a hard final mile, I managed to negative split the race.  My last mile was not my fastest mile but it was still a good one.  I did my jobs today!

When I looked at my final time, I was in shock. I had felt 8:15 pace was realistic but I managed a 7:41 pace overall instead. I can’t even begin to explain how thrilled I am with this run! 

I ran 3M miles to c/d with Kim. I went home with 18M run, feeling like I am moving in the right direction.

Blue Ridge Marathon and Half Marathon, Roanoke, VA, 4/21/18

I can’t say enough about how much I loved this experience, even with some struggles that should have simply ruined my day.  

The week leading up to this race in Roanoke VA was a tough work week for me. I missed a full day of work because I was at the Boston Marathon on Monday. I would miss two more work days (most of Friday for travel, and Saturday for racing and traveling back). As a primarily self-employed person, there are no days off, no personal time, no one to cover the work. As a graduate student the same rules apply. I found myself challenged to do the same amount of work in 3.5 days that I would normally need 6 days to complete.  This was not going to be easy!  

I have been protecting my sleep lately as I find that everything else goes better for me when I am well rested. My teaching job concluded so I have more time back to train, race and sleep! However, there really wasn’t much I could do this week to make sure I got my 8 hours each night. I just needed to steal from sleep time this week to get myself to the start.

On paper, the trip should have been 6:45 of driving. In real life it was 8+ hours. I can’t even begin to share how much I really missed long road trips by myself. I registered for audible and used my credits to get two wonderful audiobooks.  My journey to Roanoke Virginia was filled with stories about how smart birds are ("The Genius of Birds").  Just as I neared my destination, I reached the end of the book where the author shared some stories about the birds of the Blue Ridge Mountain. That was just perfect!

Normally, I try to arrive earlier enough the night before a race to have dinner 12 hours or more before the gun time. Gun time was 7:35 am. I arrived at 9:00 am.  My dinner consisted of gas station snacks on the drive down, which included a gigantic chocolate chip cookie and some terrible coffee. Thank goodness I wasn’t actually racing seriously or I would have been a little concerned. Unbeknownst to me I would have welcomed an upset tummy over what I had to deal with race day morning.
I check into my hotel, organized my race day gear, asked for a 5 am wake up call and begane to unwind for the night. I had just run Boston in 4:19 and expected tomorrow’s marathon to take me at least 5 hours or more to get through it. The elevation is tremendous and I was very much looking forward to the climbs!  Nothing get me in shape faster than climbing!

I was up before my alarm and took 5 minutes only to practice mediation while my coffee brewed. So far nothing was wrong.  But once I attempted to contort myself in to my sports bra, I managed to strain something so badly in my back that I was afraid I slipped a disc!  

Currently, I am not fit, I am still too heavy for my best racing, and I do a lot of sitting. My back hurts often when I am not on top of my game.  Once I gain a few pounds and stop doing my regular strength training, I quickly end up not even fit enough to handle basic activities of daily living, like putting on a sports bra!  Unless I am training, my life is atrociously sedentary.  

I couldn’t stand up without pain and decided to lay on the disgusting hotel floor hoping that if I stayed really still and really flat my spine would stop acting out and get back on track. But once down on the groun, I discovered I could not actually get back up.  Any twisting motion was painful. If I turned to put my weight one one hand to push up from the ground, the pain was debilitating only because I refused to test the limited. I could have powered through but I was afraid I would make things worse. I laid on the floor for 20 minutes wondering if I would end up being discovered by housekeeping. I wondered how I would get home. I had an 6:45-8 hour drive back to NJ after the race.

Time was ticking and I was already 15 minutes later than I wanted to leave for the start. After 20 minutes on the ground I could feel my back muscles loosening up a little. There was some hope! 

I was able to get up only by rolling forward, essentially crunching up and somehow getting up on my feet. I had to leave if I wanted to get to the race. Once upright, I was able to walk and I could jog slowly.

I drove to the race and was able find a parking in a free garage so easily. I walked out of my car and realized that even with me getting to the at 6:45 I was able to find a spot across the street from the finish line.  This was wonderful!

I got my bib in minutes and had time use the port-o-potty, go back to my car to change into something more comfortable. It was so painful to bend or twist. Fortunately running doesn’t ask for bending and twist! I stilled believe I would have a chance to run. 

I lined up at the start. Gun goes off and off we go. I start running and so far everything is "ok". My back is not ok, but I can move… then we start to climb up hill.  The strain on my back while going up was already causing me some pain. But even worse, just like at Boston, my shins were on fire. I start walking because running is just making things worse. I stop at the side of the course. I try to do some dynamic stretching to loose up the tightness. Just ankle rolls and that helped.  

As soon as the 5:30 pace group blew past me and I was not even at mile 2 I knew I was not running a marathon today. 

A guy next to me mentioned he was in the half and said that if I want to drop down I need to decide soon. I stopped to enjoy the view of the mountains, called Sidney to tell him I would be home a lot earlier than expected and I continued on hiking up the hill. I took a photo at the star and found that I was feeling better. I know I made a good choice.

I was able to run when my shins loosened up and found that by Mile 5, the course finally dropped and the descent felt fantastic. My shins were pain free. My back was not getting worse. Again, no twisting or bending but I could run and/or hike and it was glorious! 

The only trouble was I was clearly the first marathon bib spectators were seeing and everyone was so excited to see a woman crushing the countries toughest marathon!  Yet them seemed to miss how I was in no rush. I even called Kim at one point because I needed some conversation and while hiking and talking, some spectators yelled out “Oh wow, she is winning and she is having a conversation on her phone!” 

“No. I am definitely not winning.” 

“But you have a red bib! You are in the marathon!”

“Oh I am definitely not in the marathon. I am running the half. This bib was a mistake ;)”

I started to feel good enough to run some of the hills and start pushing myself to get some  work out of this experience.  A cyclist is climbing next to me, passes me, stops, turns around. I can see he has a camera.  He says, “Are you winning?”… I say “Oh no… I am not winning. I turned with the half marathoners b/c I threw my back out this morning”… he says “I was killing myself trying chase you up this hill!”  He was taking race photos. I apologized profusely and decided I needed to fold over my bib so people would not think I was in the lead. But then I was afraid people would think I was banditing. I have to admit, it felt nice to be up front again ;)

I ended up finishing the half in 2:37. I walked to my car and drove straight home.

I am sure this is a personal worst time but it was not a personal worst experience. My back was killing me, but for the duration of the half, with those glorious hills and the wonderful weather, I was in heaven.  

I feel like I am on my home.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Boston 2018

Boston 2018…. what a day!

Yeah, there was a lot rain. It was cold. And the wind! Holy cow. I loved how it got stronger as we ran further along. That was fantastic! ;)  
So, it was definitely not great running weather, at least not for those hoping to race their best race ever. Fortunately, for me I was not one of those people.  

I could write about the stress Boston causes me. But I would rather not. That is personal to me. For context, I can share at least that I was there in 2013. I have recurring stress each year that impacts my ability to function and is triggered by this race and everything related to it. I would like to not think about it, but as a marathon coach, it is hard to get away from being tagged, emailed, messaged, texted etc from people who don't know me well enough to know to please not message me, tag me, text me, email me asking me about my plans and whether I am racing.  The reality is each year I am battling to get there and I just don't know if I will win. 

But that is all I need to say. There is no reason to take a great experience and turn into something else. 

I am a streak runner. I am always running. I haven't missed a day of running since 2011, BUT that is not the same training to race a marathon. Marathon training is hard.

About 4 weeks ago, I started racing again (with a 5k) just for fun while I work on getting back in the flow of training. At this stage, all I am doing is showing up and pinning on a bib while I work on building my endurance again. I can still cover distance, but just not like I used to. I am heavier than I would like to be when racing.

I almost didn’t go. In fact, I was sure I wasn't going. I told everyone who I tell my personal business to (my #Top5) that I was definitely, absolutely not going. I canceled plans with Elizabeth who was going to come with me and told her to not come b/c I wasn't going.

I believed that f I just decided to NOT go, then maybe I could sleep. Maybe I could relax. Maybe the stress would disappate... but there was this little voice in the back of my mind, maybe it was coming more from deep within my heart, that whispered over and over to me "..but you know you want to be there.."  (and besides I do this every single year and decide I am NOT going, then go... except for last year when I strained my achilles). 

... and then leading up to the race this little girl, Sheena, who lives in Boston right along the course, asked if she could use my FB profile picture to make a collage about runners for a class project to show during her school's visit from Katherine Switzer.  When this little girl thinks of a runner, she thinks of me. Omg, how could I not go to Boston now! 

The only disappointing part of Boston for me was that due to the weather being brutal, I missed my chance give Sheena a hug along the way but that was my fault. I missed my start.

I had a fantastic bib. I worked so hard for that bib. I had a 2:55 qualifier. But I am not in that type of shape. Rather than start in Wave 1, Corral 3, my plan was to dress warm an dry, drop to the back of my corral, run 10:00 miles the whole way, and have a great time  I had shared that info with Michele before I headed off to the race.

My wave was to take off at 10:00 am, but for some reason ;)  Kim and I had a little trouble motivating ourselves to get out of my warm car and onto the bus to the start to hang around in the rain. We ended up arriving outside the Village at 9:40 am. By the time we got close to actually using a portopotty it was already 9:55. I was not planning to rush to get in my Wave, just to watch them all run off into the distance as I chased behind them calling "hey guys! wait for me!"... so I let it go and I dropped back to the middle of wave 2, which was still too fast for me, but a little more reasonable.  I didn't get trampled.

With the hard rain falling, my phone wrapped in two ziplock bags, my hands wrapped in two layers of mittens, I was not able to text Michele to let her know my plans had changed. I hoped she would figure it out from the tracking.

The emotions of the day were strong. I feel like this caused me some pain. Maybe I am just that out of shape or maybe my this was some odd defense mechanism at play... just my mind trying to convince me to just get off the course. "Just stop running. You should not be here!"  Before I even get to mile 1 at 8:15 pace my shins were cramping badly. I just ran a very very hilly 20k at 8:24 pace, finishing that race in sub-8 pace, no shin pain. Here at M1, I am in plain? Mile One! There is no reason why I can't run downhill at 8:15 pace for a little while…. but I simply could not and my shins were on fire. 

All I could think was "OMG, this is M1! I bought way too many Boston 2018 things! I never buy things! I need to finish this race even if I walk!"  By M2, everything felt terrible and by M3 I was walking.  Then I stopped to try to do some dynamic stretching to loosen up my shins. I knew nothing was wrong physically, but I needed to convince myself that this IS happening. I am here. I am running this, well... “running (used loosely)” ... no matter how long it takes.

After walking a little, my left shin started to unsieze and I felt hopeful. Soon the right was loosened as well.  Finally I was able to start running again. I wan’t looking at my watch because time did not matter. I just needed to perserve at whatever pace I felt I wanted to run.

I wished I had seen Rory's (Sheena's brother) sign because he captured my feeling exactly! 
"Run like You Want To!"  I was definitely doing that!

Being in no rush, I stopped at a portpotty to try to adjust my gear. I had my phone in my capri pocket wrapped in two bags and I was worried it was getting wet.  It took more time than I expected to get myself organized.

"Run like you want to!"
I knew I was able to run non-stop the entire way. The last marathon I ran was Jan and then my training stopped short.  The longest non-stop hard run I have run was the 20k last weekend and that really isn’t much help. I had no business expecting to run 26.2M, so rather than run as far as I could and crash and burn in the hills, I took the opposite approach. I used the first 8-10 miles as my warm up and once ready to go, I ran the rest of the way in non-stop, with the point being to NOT walk through the newton, and heartbreak, hills.

It fell so amazing to run those those rollers and get stronger and stronger as the race proceeded on. I see runners who were clearly underdressed getting carted off to the med tent or walking with mylar wraps. I did feel bad for those who trained their hearts out and had a weather-related meltdown.

Once over Heartbreak Hill, I felt victorious. I knew I would be able to run the rest of the way in. I negative split Boston by 12 minutes. My body felt good. I was warm, but comfortable. I was moving well through the finish and feeling grateful that I did not let anyone or anything stop me from attending this race.

At 2:49 pm, just as my foot hit the finish line in 4:19, just under 10:00 pace, the announcer stated that at that exact time 5 years ago, several lives were lost due to the bombing attacks and a moment of silence was called for. It was amazing to hit the finish line just in time to pay respects and to honor the lives lost. And then there was a moment where I realized someone was in my exact place 5 years earlier, crossing the line at this exact time and that is just a very emotional thought.  I walk through the finishers area in tears. Everything felt surreal.

I collected my medal, snack, and mylar cape. I took the bus back to my car that was parked in Hopkinton. I change clothes in my car and drove 4.5 hour straight home to NJ. 

I am so grateful that I went. I left knowing that I have to come back. I left knowing it will be just as challenging for me as it always is each and every year. It doesn't get better. It seems to feel harder each year, not easier.  If I can return, I would like to. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Racing in the Moment - Indian Trails 20K, Leonardo, NJ, 4/8/18

Indian Trails 20k is the first team race of the year. This is funny to me because it is also the longest, hardest course of the year too. But people are trained up for Spring Marathons so it does work well when timing is works. This year, timing was tough. 

If I wanted race with my club again, so this means I need to show when my schedule allows and do my best, whatever that looks like. After racing the 5K last weekend, I asked Alanna if she wanted a 20K of hills ;).  We need hills and I need to see more finish lines. I miss the social aspect of club racing too. 

Saturday, the day before the race (this speaks to how serious we were about "racing") Alanna and I run 10.5 miles.  My back is flaring up badly. It was my worst day of back pain in a long time. My back has been hurting again on and off for the last few months, because I am tad too heavy for my spine right now. It does not take much extra weight for me to hurt. I have two destroyed discs. I have had degenerative disc disease since at least 2012. It was bad in 2015, but completely managed and mitigated in 2016.

On Sunday, driving to the race was bad for my back too. This is a hilly course and back pain could force me to walk. Normally, I would not mind. I have walked a lot when my back hurts. There is no choice. But today I have my team to think about. This does not mean I am going to somehow suddently be able to will myself to run through pain. Again, there is no choice when my back is non-functional. I email my captain and tell her to please know I am in pain and may be walking. If I run 9:00 pace or 9:30 pace that might be a great day today. I ask her to put me where she thinks she can use me, but to know I am hurting.
The funny thing about my back pain is that is comes and goes. Sometime on hills I feel good because of the varied grade. Often a flat course is worse due to the repetition of the same posture. Sometimes downhills are excruciating. Sometimes when I am running faster I feel much better than when I am running slower. Maybe there is something about my form being better when I am trying to move quickly. It is a mystery I am no longer interested in solving.

During our 5.2 mile warm-up, I could feel my back spasming and I was getting concerned.

I could never figure out what triggers the pain, but I know training well, getting lean, doing my single leg squats and core work all make the pain a non-issue. 

I have been doing none of that. 

But I have been doing a lot of meditation and I thought about that a lot as soon as I started to run.

The only time I have been really mindful about my breathing lately has been when meditating. At about 2 minutes into this race I started noticing my breath. I started noticing that I was taking deep full breaths like when I meditate and this triggered me to consider applying what I practice each morning to this situation.

Each morning I practice two skills, (1) the first is being aware of what I am experiencing and how it is shaping my emotional tone and (2) the second is letting go of any concerns that are related to past and future in order stay in the present moment.
So I am listening to my breathing and I determine that I feel comfortable, really comfortable despite working hard and this is good. 

Then I start to look around me and I ask “Do the people around me look more or less comfortable than I think I feel right now?” I notice heavy breathers. I notice people driving their arms hard. I notice a few who look fluid and smooth. I notice that there are MANY more people in my immediate area who appear to be working a lot harder than I feel I am working and I think “Good.This tells me that I am in the right place. I don’t want to be the one working harder than the other right now.”

This is a meaningful insight for me as a races. I used to use my perception of the others around me to gauge whether or not I felt they were working too hard, whether they would likely fade, whether I could beat them by the end. But I never consciously used my perception of my own comfort level, in comparison to those around, to me assess whether I was pacing myself smartly. Maybe I did this subconsciously. Maybe this is just semantics. 

For this race, I was not using my watch to track my pace. It was on, but I did not care to look at it. The data was just to be tracked. The pace I raced had to be paced by feel because I have no idea what I could do today in these conditions. So to help me gauge how I felt, I reflected off of others and determined that if I could run with a group of people who were all working just a little harder than I was working, then I was probably pacing myself well enough to pass them all in the second half, when I hope to be able to have some speed left in me (after all this is race so placement will eventually mattter).

This is the longest race I have run in a long time. This is probably the longest run I have run in a long time non-stop, probably since January when I ran a marathon. In training, I always stop at the bathroom by 2 miles in. In training we may stop briefly for any random numbers of reasons, to refill a bottle, because someone needs to do something. I am also certain I have not run this fast for this far in a long long time. I ran the 5k at 7:24 pace last weekend but that was just 3M of hard running. This is 12.4 of hills. 

Based on my 5k time, I initially told our captain that I expected to run 8:15 +/- 10 second per mile. (I am really pleased that I achieved this by then end). This pace range felt realistic for a flat course similar to the course I just raced for 3 miles. Last year I ran this course in 7:19 pace, so I hoped over a minute per mile slower was possible. (It takes training to run fast.)

It was too easy to get preoccupied about my recent Minimalist Approach to training or to drift ahead to the miles before me. But every single time I caught myself thinking about past or future, I would stop myself and say “Stay in this moment! How do you feel right now? Are you ok right now? Are you trying your best right now?  Are you running too fast right now? Can you run faster right now and still hold it together? ... This is the only moment you can control and if you make sure every "right now" moment is an honest best effort but never overreaching from your current ability, then this race will go really well! Race the Moment You are In!"  

By “ok” I don’t mean “not trying” or “sandbagging” or “taking it easy on myself.” By “ok” I  mean, “Running as fast as I can run without feeling like my wheels are about to come off.” When I raced by best races in the past I was very very in tune with how my legs felt. I could feel that line where I was over-shooting my pace and throwing away any additional gears I might have in reserve for the end when I could really use it to drop time. I would slow to not overshoot my pace. I didn’t care what anyone did around me. I ran by the way my body felt. It works.

Today, I was doing this again, except every step was about staying in the present. There was no mental math about what I could finish in if I just kept up this pace. I wan’t even looking at my watch. I knew with 100% certainity that I was giving my best effort in each moment and therefore the data meant nothing to me. It could change nothing.
The hills were brutal and I love them so much. I listened to my body, found a pace I could sustain, crested eat hill feeling really good, and cruised down the decent.

I remember thinking about how strong my heart felt, which is surprising since I haven’t trained it yet to be strong in a race. I started thinking about how strong my legs felt and how nothing hurt at all. I started thinking about how comfortable my lungs felt and how breathing wasn’t even a problem over these hills. Don’t get me wrong, the hills impacted my breathing significantly, but not to the point that could not recovery from a climb quickly and that is when I realized my lungs are strong. My only issue right now is body mass. I am very much within my healthy weight range. I am just heavier than I was in the past and I can feel it when I run. If I can spend some time burning off a few %s of body fat, and working to make my lean muscle stronger, I feel like I have a lot of potential to return to fast racing again. It will just take some work. A lot of work. But fun work. Work that makes you proud of yourself. Work that surprises you as your ability unfolds. I look forward to this work!
As we ran toward the turn around, we kept going down down down. As soon as my mind drifted to thoughts about how hard the climb would feel, I stopped and asked myself “How do you feel right now!?” Omg I feel fantastic. I feel fast and strong and like I am flying (after all it was a downhill). “Can you do anything different to make this moment better?” “No.”. Ok then, proceed with the running. And just like that any concerns about the up hill was gone and I almost missed out on enjoying the glorious descent I was running in that moment because I was letting my mind worry about the turn around and the climb back up.

As soon as we hit the turn around and started to climb I recognized that I feel really strong! This hill is big but I can run it all. Nothing hurts. The run is hard but "Hard" and "Hurt" are both four letter words that start with the letter H but that is all there is that makes them the same. Hurt may be just on the other side of Hard, but I am staying in my happy place for this race. I can’t do anything when I am in what I identify as pain. I enjoy doing Hard things so I just keep pushing.

I know I paced myself well because up the hill and even on the down I am passing runners who started much faster than me. We are climbing the steepest hill of he course, the last big climb, up a dirt road and it feels awesome. I keep checking in with myself “How do you feel? I feel good!” as I run past those who look like they could not answer that question the same way. The hills is really hard. My pace is slowed but I ran it.

A younger runner comes up on my shoulder and he says “Do you know that of all the people I could see, you and I were the only two who did not walk on that hill!” I responded “That means we must know how to pace ourselves!” He smiles and I do too b/c I feel like this race is going very well and I know that last mile is fast!

As soon as we hit the descent I decide it is now time to use up whatever I got left in my tank. For the fiirst time in this entire race I felt like I was getting some lift, like when I am in my zone and running as fast as I can. I miss being lighter because lift doesn’t come easier to me then.

I dig deep and hope that maybe if I can push really hard, I can negative split this thing. I give 100%.  My last mile was by far my fastest. The long downhill helped a lot. I did manage a negative split and this makes me proud! 

I cross the line in 1:44:50 and I can’t believe how good I feel. I do a 2.4M c/d and call it day at 20M. 

I don't win anything but I feel like I won the day.  Later I check team results and I see that my women's Open team, in our case made up of all women over 40 years old, placed 3rd OA and my 40's Women's team won.  This is a good start to the season and I am glad I was able to contribute to help the team in both categories! 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Trying to Start Over - Run to Cure Blood Cancer 5k, Winding River Park, Toms River 3/31/18

Photo stolen from Alanna's page ;)
It has been quite some time since I blogged about racing. I have been busy. I have a lot of projects on my plate and recently I have been working a lot (3 different jobs) and going to grad school as well. I am spread really thin so something had to give and it was training to race. The reality is racing doesn't pay the bills but work does and when you have student loans out the whazoo, you have to work work work to get those manageable.

I have really been enjoying the work I do at the hospital, changing my scheduled so that I create a more meaningful series of treatment group each week. I have been feeling productive and purposeful there. I work at the hospital as a therapist over 20+ hours per week, not including the commuting which is about 45 minutes each way.  I also have my coaching roster of clients. I build plans for, review logs weekly, ask about whole person wellness weekly, reply to questions, revise plans. Plus I need to maintain and update my websites, do my billing and accouting, create and update forms, and I creating an online academy where I can offer supplemental material, like my nutrition course.  I also field questions from potential clients or friends who just want to ask me "quick training questions" but don't actually want to hire me to train them  etc... (By the way when someone ask a "quick question", that just means they are hoping for a quick answer, not that the question won't take any time). As a result, coaching for me is my full time job, which takes up more time (and pays much less) than any other work I have even done. But my coaching business is my baby. I give all I can to do a good job for my runners. And then I have my Kinesiology grad school classes. This work takes up my nights and weekends and equal about 15-20+ hours of my time. I used to train 10-20 hours per week but something had to give once I was offered the chance to also teach at the graduate level at NYU on top of everything else. There are only 168 hours per week. I have been very tired.

I can't say that I have been sad to race less. Part of me has missed it. But I was offered the opportunity to teach at NYU and this was something I have wanted to do for a long time. This is a dream job for me. I feel so grateful for what is ON my plate, not sad for what is not. I didn't actually apply for this job. NYU contacted me and that makes this feel so very sweet. Years ago, I reached out to the director of the program I graduated from and asked her to please keep me in mind for teaching. It had to be maybe a decade later and I got that call :) Today, I have a glorious ID in my wallet that says NYU Adjunct/Staff and this makes my heart so very happy. To find the time to create the syllabus, prepare the lecture material, review the research and reading material I would assign, travel into the city, teach the class, communicate with students and co-faculty, etc... while stilling working at the hospital, while coaching, while going to school, I just had to let training hard go. I trained less, ate more as I slept less, and just lost my fitness as a runner. But my heart has been full. <3

I finished teaching my last class of the semester last week, so I get to start over.  Although I am starting a new 10-Week Fitness Nutrition group (which I created and I will teach that starting on Monday 4/2),  this group work should be a little less demanding than NYU since I have taught this course several times already.

Now that I am getting some time back in my life, I need a check in race! 

Alanna agreed to meet me at a 5k in Toms River. But Alanna and I don't meet for 3M runs. We are not going to travel an hour each just for a 5k. So we ran 8M as a warm up, raced the 5k which was really a 3 Miler and then ran 3 miles after to cool down.

I am happy to say I finished 3rd Female, but this was year #1 and the race was small and not part of any race series. There was no real competitiveness here.  It was fundraiser for blood cancer.

I was beat by a 9 year old girl. That made me smile.

I was also beat by a Taco. I am not sure how I feel about that. ;)

I got to revisit how much nervous energy I get at races. I got to remember why I tend to race alone.  I like to run around the starting area and listen for annoucements, while the little voice in my head goes "Ahhhhh! omg, omg, omg you have to pee again for the third time in 10 mins!!!" This need to stay right around the start is probably ingrained in me from my track running days, when the start of your race was not at a certain exact time but rather you had to listen for annoucements for first call and second call with details about how much time until your event would starts. So now I just like to hover around the start. Straying too far from the staging area will make me more anxious than I need to be as gun time approaches.

I wish I could say that I just ran this race "as a workout" and report that my pace was not reflective of my best work. But that would be lie. I ran my butt off.  That was all I had in me.  I tried my best.  

I started up front and decided to not mind my watch. I have no idea what I would do, but I told Alanna that if I was under 7:30 pace for this thing I would be thrilled.  That was a random guess.  I know I was not fit. I know I have gained weight.  I knew I would not be in the 6:xx's.

As I ran along, I picked a pace that I felt I could hold but also one I felt I could speed up from as the race progressed.  I felt like I was running forever and was wondering where the heck M1 was???  Finally I glance at my watch and I see it is .75M only and the pace is 7:20

... and then the Taco passes me.  Excellent.  

First woman passes me as well, but I am not racing anyone but me.  I let her go. This really was not actually my choice. :)  I do plan to push the pace a little to see if I can get at least 5 second faster in M2. The race is flat except for some little bridge. The weather is 48 degrees and no wind. It is a beautiful day for a race. The course is very very windy, as in "lots of turns" windy... not lots of wind. (Winding River Park). The path is a little torn up. Those issues did  not slow me down at all.

In Mile 2, I am passed by the 9 year old... she is making ground on the Taco.... M2 7:16.

Ok, at least I got a little faster, but man this is hard. We are heading back to the start now. Miles ago I was confident that I would have a kick at the end of this thing. But that dream was long gone. I wasn't running so hard that I felt I was suffering completely, but I didn't have another gear.  I am 10 lbs heavier than my ideal racing weight, which I was close to the last 5k I raced in December which as a 6:29 pace race and one I was very happy with. I had realistic expectations today.

Photo posted on OCR's FB page
I was holding my 7:17 pace for most of the first half of the last mile but could feel my body running out of oomph. Every part of me felt out of shape. The runners around me were pettering out and I couldn't shift gear. But I had not practiced shifting gears in many months.

The Taco was fading and I was making some ground. But my lungs felt terrible and my asthma was problematic. My lungs are just not used to working that hard. I had a hacking cough the rest of the day from this race.

Nothing about me has worked that hard in a long time. I faded in last mile in 7:24 pace. I am ok with this.

I finish the 3M run in 22:01, which was just about what I expected. I head back to run in with Alanna for her last .2M. I joke with her about whether she is ok with having an illegal pacer on a short course, non-USATF sanctioned, fundraiser and she says she will be ok with a DQ if that happens. ;)

She asks how I did. I tell her "I just wanted to race something and I did! My heart is happy! But my lungs... not so much." 

Photo posted on OCR's FB page
At the awards ceremony I was announced as 3rd Female OA and gifted a gift card of unknown value to a resturant that is actually near my parents' house. The race raised money for LLS, which is where I met Alanna as we both were coaching Team in Training back then. This was a good day!

I now have my baseline check in race.  It is very far from where I used to be, but I am ok with that too. I need to use my time, the time I got back from teaching, to now get back to training.  

I have a performance test to chip away from now. I need to feel better. I need to get fitter. I need to run faster again. 

I don't think I am done with racing hard just yet. 

When I am in shape, people will try to distinguish me from the average person by telling me they think I am "not normal." They have no idea how normal I am.  The claim that I am just gifted with some natural ability to just run 6 minute miles whenever I feel like it. There is nothing I can say to explain that this is not true. But I know those comments are not about me, but rather about the speaker making the comments.  What I do know is when I am not in shape, I am just like everyone else who is also not in race shape. Without training to race, I am not trained to race. I don't have some innate natural ability to do great things. I have a leaky heart valve. I have asthma. I have a carb-craving that keeps me heavier than I need to be unless I run off what I eat. I am normal and to race well it takes work. Hard work. Everything I have ever earned as a runner I had to work for. I had to train hard and smart.  I had to be consistent, make good (often boring) choices, and take care of myself as a runner. I had to become a student of the sport and read/study/learn.  I know how to do all that work. I also know how much time it takes to do it right. I need to have the room in my life to do it again. I want to do it again.

When I have the time, I know I can do good work.  Here is to hoping I can find the time to nurture my runner-self, while also nuturing all the other sides of myself that I need to nuture to feel balanced, content, and purposed.

Distance 3M
Time 22:01
Place 3rd Female