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