Monday, November 18, 2013

Central Illinois Tornado Recovery: Please Help

Not so long ago, we lived in Central Illinois. As you may have seen in the news, the area was pummeled by severe weather yesterday. Some family friends and friends of friends suffered huge material losses including homes, but thankfully got through it alive. If you can help, please do. The town of Gifford has a long road to recovery ahead of them. Information can be found here. Thank you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mondays in Love: For the First Time!

When and where was your first time? Mine was in Detroit in October of 2009. Maybe for some of you it was much longer ago. Maybe you're a marathon virgin (of course this is about running! Geez people!). There is nothing else on earth like your first marathon finish line. I really do think it changes a person. Today I am very pleased to bring you into the world of a first time marathoner, to give you a glimpse of the experience or take you back to your first marathon memories.

Let me introduce our first time marathoner, Jessica. Jess and I go way back (1998!!) to West Virginia. We met at Spruce Knob when we were both Scholars in the (now defunct) West Virginia Scholars Academy--an experience as formative and awesome as it is difficult to explain. We spent a month writing 75+ page autobiographical theses and learning about the socioeconomic landscape of WV. This involved a lot of hiking, camping, spelunking, writing and eating amazing food. It was an experience that changed my life, forever, and that holds a special place in both our hearts.
at the 2011 annual reunion at Spruce

Some basic stats: 
  • Jess ran the Columbus Marathon on October 20. Her goal time was: finish, but from her training runs she anticipated something around a 5:15. Actual time: 5:15:40.
  • Previous running resume: the Parkersburg Half in 2011 (2:51:44), 2012 (2:47:23) and 2013 (2:32:45) and the Columbus Half (put on in conjunction with the marathon) in 2011 (2:37:42)
I had originally planned to shorten this post, but I want to let Jessica give her experience fully and in her own words. So much of this interview rang true for me, and it took me right back to that first 26.2 training cycle and race. I honestly got a little choked up reading it. Enjoy!

How did you pick your race? Location, the course itself, date?
I picked the Columbus Marathon because I live here, and thought it would be the easiest to start with - no travel, hotels, etc.  Also, being familiar with the city, made me feel a little more confident, and it was easy to order my family and friends around to be at certain rally points to cheer for me.  Finally, the course is relatively flat, so I thought that would help, and October would be cooler, so I liked that as well.    

How long did you train? 
I started "training" in one way or another at the beginning of the year.  I had wanted to run a marathon last year, but life threw a wrench in that plan and it didn't happen.  So when I decided to do it this year, I knew there were a few things I wanted to do.

First, I wanted to drop about 20 extra pounds or so that I was carrying around.  I figured the extra weight would be hard on my joints.  So from January through June, I watched my calories and lost about 15 of the pounds.  I really wasn't running too often (maybe one or twice a week for a few miles) and was just doing some light indoor exercising (yoga, aerobics-like workout videos, etc.). After June, I stopped monitoring my exact calorie intake, but ended up losing about another 10 pounds from June through October, mostly because of the increased physical activity.

Second, I wanted to incorporate strength training into my routine.  In previous years when I trained, I just followed a beginner or intermediate schedule I found online that just has you running your average pace four times a week and then resting or cross-training the other three days.  Even though it would say to run the short ones at a slightly faster pace and the long runs at a slow, comfortable pace, my goal was always just to get the miles in anyway I could.  And I always used CT days as rest days.  But I really wanted to do as much as I could to make the task easier on my body.  So I hired a personal trainer in July.  I worked out with him about once a week and he gave me "homework" training sessions to do on my other CT days.  I was sore a lot, but I could really tell a difference in how I felt physically by the end.  I really feel like it helped a lot.

What was your training like? 
When I actually started the running training, I found a beginner schedule online.  As with years before, I really wasn't too cognizant of the different recommended paces.  I just tried to get the miles in.  Towards the end, I did try to push myself more on the short runs with the pace, but it wasn't something I focused on.  So I didn't do any speedwork.

I trained mostly alone.  Occasionally I would do a short run with friends or family, but the majority of them ran at a slower pace than I did, so I really felt like I was doing it more for them than for me.  Also, I found that on the few occasions when I was scheduled to do a long run, but someone wanted to accompany me for the first few miles, running at a much slower pace than I wanted to actually hurt my performance for the rest of the long run after my partners would drop off.

I did go running once a few weeks before the marathon with a friend who runs at a faster pace than I do.  What I realized was that I could definitely keep up with her pretty easily and that I probably needed to try to push my own pace in future training years.  I think I'm probably capable of a lot more, but I just haven't figured out how to do that alone.  I might try to find some pace groups or something in future years, but my problem has always been that I have an extremely irregular schedule and it's hard to keep any sort of plan or schedule with other people.

My longest scheduled runs were 14, 16, 18, and 20 miles.  I substituted a half marathon for the 14 mile run.  The goal was to finish that half in under 2:30.  The two weeks before the race, I had extended family members visiting and had been traveling a lot, which meant my running, eating, and sleeping suffered.  I didn't make that goal, and I was upset about it, because it was totally possible, but I just couldn't pull it off that day.  Then the 16 and 18 mile runs did not go well at all.  I ran the first few miles of the 16 mile run with someone else, and I felt more tired than normal and ended up walking a lot.  I also hadn't planned well for hydration and found myself looking for water off my course.  Plus I wasn't in a good place in my head that day due to some stress at work.  So that was also a set back.  The 18 mile run I tried to do a day earlier than originally planned and it also went pretty horribly.  Around mile 12 I started having severe stomach and intestinal distress.  I gave up at mile 16 after walking probably three of the last four miles.  Again, pretty disappointing and it made me fear I wouldn't be able to do it.

So the 20 mile run felt like a make-or-break moment to me.  I tried not to put too much pressure on myself, but it was important to me to do well.  I was doing well and around mile 11.5, I realized that if I pushed my pace for mile 12, I could finish 13.1 in under 2:30.  I had a bit of an internal debate about whether that was a good idea - what if I ran out of steam at the end because of doing a big push in the middle?  I decided to do it, and I think it helped with my confidence a bit.  The last seven miles went pretty well.  My legs cramped up a bit, but I finished in under four hours, which was my goal.  I also didn't feel totally wiped out at the end, so that was good.  I was happy with that run and felt like I would be fine for the marathon.

What were your thoughts in the days before the race?
I was really trying to focus on myself and what I thought was best for me physically and mentally.  I know in theory that that is something to strive for all the time, but I frequently ignore my needs for others, as many women do.  I was very concerned about my stomach.  I didn't want to eat something that would make me sick or upset my body, so I only ate where I wanted, when I wanted, etc.  I told my family and others that I couldn't do things they wanted me to.  It was a little intimidating to think that I was going to run 6 more miles on the day of the marathon than I had ever run at once in my life.  My 20 mile run had gone well, so that helped, but I was worried about the unknown that might come up in the last 6 miles.  Also, as with most runners, I was obsessed with checking the weather.  While I really hate running in high heat and humidity, I am also not a fan of running in really cold weather.  It looked like it would be in the mid-30s when the race started, and end up maybe getting to 50 degrees.  I was worried about being cold.  Plus, my nose always runs when I run in the cold and then I can't breathe through my nose and I just struggle a bit more.

Also, I was worried about psyching myself out of doing well.  One thing running has helped me with is to keep my over-thinking tendencies in check.  But that doesn't mean I don't still obsess about things too much sometimes.  Unfortunately for me, my family, who wanted to come and cheer me on, actually is somewhat detrimental to my mental health at times.  I was worried about whether they would distract me or take something away from the experience.  But I had some friends who really believed in me and I just kept in mind that I was really prepared for it and I would be fine.

How did you feel at the start line? 
The start line was a little crazy.  There were 20,000 runners registered and many thousands more spectators.  I decided not to have any of my family or supporters come to the start line to cheer me on.  I figured that I was sufficiently motivated to get myself across the start line.  :)  So, that meant I had to drive myself downtown and park and get to the start area.  The parking area was about a mile from the start line, but unlike the previous time I ran in Columbus in 2011, traffic was absolutely insane this time.  The race was supposed to start at 7:30am, but they said the corrals were only open from 6-7.  I figured that was their scare tactic to get people there early, but I was afraid they may not let me in if I was late with all the increased security this year.  I didn't get parked until 7:15, so I ran the mile to the start line, which actually ended up being a nice warm-up, but it was stressful.  I couldn't really get in my corral and just ended up in the very back of the 20,000 runner pack.  All of the rushing around and the time-crunch meant that I didn't have time to get nervous or really over-think things too much.  

Tell me about the 26.2 miles. What were the highlights and lowlights? What went well? What went wrong? 
I didn't get across the start line until about 25 minutes after the first gun.  So I was a little worried about my scheduled rally point meet-ups with my family and friends because my ETA for those places was going to be way off.  After the first two miles of dodging people and random clothing strewn about the course, I settled in.  The first 6 miles were really congested and I would sometimes get bumped or have to maneuver around others, so that was commanding most of my attention rather than my run or my pace.

This was the first race I remember where I felt like there were tons of spectators along the first part of the course.  Also, they put your name on your bib, and people would yell out your name as they cheered for you.  At first I was confused until I realized my name was on the bib, and then I just thought it was absolutely awesome.  So much support from total strangers was really amazing and I think I fed off of it.  I usually listen to music when I run, but I couldn't even hear it over all the cheering!

The overwhelming support was one factor that contributed to the most surprising and unexpected part of the race for me - I was super-emotional most of the race!  I frequently got choked up and wanted to cry.  I think it was partly because of the awesome support, which was very touching, especially given that I didn't always get that kind of support from others.  Another part of it was because of the sponsors of the race.  It was sponsored by Nationwide Children's hospital.  Every mile had a "patient champion," and in the race packet had been a description of the kids and what illness/condition the hospital had helped to treat.  Some of these children were amazingly brave and had been through so much in their short lives.  Many of them were there at their mile marker to cheer us on.  One of them had passed away a few weeks before the race, so they had a memorial at his mile-marker.  The last reason for my emotional state was because I was so proud of myself and it was the culmination of almost 10 months of hard work.   But I hadn't been prepared for the emotions that welled-up during the run.

Mile 11 my family showed up, and I was feeling pretty good.  It had been a little chilly, but not as cold as I had feared, so I was ok.  I finished the first 13.1 in 2:24 and briefly entertained the idea of possibly finishing ahead of my estimated 5:15 time.  But, the crowd (both spectators and runners), thinned drastically after passing the half and suddenly, I felt alone for the first time in the race.  According to my Garmin, I walked a lot of mile 15, which I don't really remember doing, but I remember drinking more than I should have and feeling more tired than I wanted to feel.  There was a stretch of a few miles that went right past my alma mater (OSU) and actually through the Horseshoe (football stadium), and it was the section of the race with the fewest spectators. I'm not sure if I was spending too much time remembering good and bad things about every part of campus or what, but I was a little unfocused for those miles, plus the energy from the crowd that previously fed me was gone, so I just floundered a bit.

As I approached mile 20, which was the second rally point for my family, I was doing better.  After getting a bit of a morale boost from the family, I embarked on the unknown part of the run - miles 21-26.2!  The number of spectators picked back up and my fellow runners at that point were super friendly and collegial.  As I passed people or they passed me, we would encourage each other or joke about things.  I was tired, but still doing ok.  Until mile 23.  It was mostly downhill, but then there was a steep one block hill.  A friend of mine who lived near mile 23 had said he would try to be out to cheer for me, but I wasn't sure he would show, especially given that my start time had been so delayed and I was arriving at mile 23 right at the end of the window that I had given him.  He wasn't there and I was somewhat disappointed because I was starting to hurt physically.  My knees and hips were hurting, but my joints had never really given me too many problems before, so it was uncomfortable.  As I walked up that little hill, I thought I might have to walk the last three miles because I was in pain.  I sucked it up though, thinking that I could crawl the last three if I really had to.

As I got to mile 25, I felt better anticipating the end and maybe it was just the adrenaline, but my pain subsided a bit.  As I hit mile 26 and rounded the corner to the finish line, I wanted to cry, but I told myself I could cry when it was over.  I finished relatively strongly, and I was happy.  I didn't cry like I thought I had wanted to, but I was very proud of myself.  

My joints were still achy, but overall, I didn't feel too horrible.  I could walk normally.  I went out to eat with my family later and wore my finishers medal.  There were other runners there (not sure if they ran the half or the full), and they were walking very gingerly and looked wiped out.  I was pretty pleased that I had been well-prepared enough to not have the physical problems they were experiencing.  I was a little sore on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday I was 100% back to normal.  

What did you learn about yourself in this process? 
I learned that I am stronger and more capable than I had previously thought.  I learned that I can set a goal, work hard, and achieve it in a more organized/methodical way than I had ever done before.  I learned that it's ok to do things for yourself and take care of yourself, and that that doesn't make you selfish.  I learned that I actually really like weight training because it makes me feel stronger both physically and emotionally.  I learned that people saw me as an inspiration and a role-model.  I had friends, co-workers, acquaintances tell me that they were so impressed with my accomplishment that they had signed up for a Pilates class, or a 5K, or a half-marathon and that felt wonderful.  I don't think I had ever been called an inspiration before.  I learned that I can get support from other places when I can't get it from where I want or expect to get it.  I learned that I was part of a larger community of runners and that I belonged, even if I am a slow runner.  I had sort of learned that before with halfs, but now I feel it more strongly than before.   

Do you plan to go 26.2 again? What would you do differently next time?
I do plan on doing a marathon again.  I'm not sure if I will do one next year or take a year off, just due to the sheer time commitment involved in a full training as opposed to a half.  I will definitely keep doing half-marathons - my hometown half is a definite one, with maybe one or two others next year if I decide not to do a marathon.  I would like to do a whole half without taking walking breaks as well, so that will be the goal for next year's half in Parkersburg.  Next time I also plan on trying to push myself more during training.  I will try a different, more advanced training schedule.  I will probably pay more attention to my pace during training runs.  I can't say that I will make bettering my pace during all runs my main goal with running, because it's also about running being a relaxing outlet for me, so lots of pressure wouldn't necessarily make it fun.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Raleigh City of Oaks Race Recap

I am back home after a wonderful weekend with Meg in North Carolina, where we ran the Raleigh City of Oaks Half-Marathon on Sunday. Welcome to the race recap!

On Friday afternoon I flew out of SLC and into Raleigh, where Meg was waiting to pick me up. We started things off right with custard (dinner of champions!) and some down time. Saturday was lovely and lazy, starting with brunch at The Irregardless with my friend LW, then packet pick-up, driving the course, doing some shopping, and carb loading at Biaggi's. We were so glad we drove the course. We'd thought the course was fairly flat, but realized right away that we had a lot of rolling hills in our near future.

So happy I got to unexpectedly meet up with L!!

After dinner we organized all our gear for morning, then hung out for a while before turning in. A little after 5am I forced myself to eat part of a bagel, and we were out of her house just before 6. Parking was easy at Cameron Village. We sat in the warm car for a few minutes, not wanting to break into the cold morning. Finally, we forced ourselves to get out of the car and head toward the start line. 

The start area wasn't crowded, but right away I was worried that it would be. The mile pace signs to help people pick a spot to line up at were very close together, and I was worried that it would be a super crowded start area. We'd also noticed on our drive-thru that an early part of the course was a fairly narrow street. Fortunately these concerns turned out to be unrealized, and crowding never was a real problem. The crowd filled in quickly as start time approached, and before we knew it we were off!

We settled in after 2 miles or so and the early miles ticked by. The foliage was gorgeous and the weather was perfect--not as cold as we were afraid it might be. However, those rolling hills were feeling less rolling and more like just plain hills. By mile 6, the hills were staying with me. I was more tired than I wanted to be. This is exactly the scenario where pace bands come in handy. It would have been easy to ease up here and there, assuming we'd recoup the time later. The pace band kept us on target and kept us moving. 

By mile marker 11 I'm pretty sure Meg was rethinking her decision to take up running, and I was busy doing mental math about our pace and trying to distract myself from my decreasing energy. Why the mental math? I was confused about mile markers. I could hear other Garmins beeping about mile splits before my Garmin's beep, and yet, my Garmin chirped about mile marker 12 almost a quarter mile before we passed the physical sign. A quarter mile?? That's too much for Garmin error, especially when mine was chirping later than many on the course. I assumed the physical mile marker was mis-placed. The fifth marker had been way off (I was certain), so I assumed this was too. Fortunately, Meg knew the area pretty well, and figured out quickly that we the physical mile marker must have been closer to right.

I knew she was tired, but Meg dropped the hammer on pace in the last mile. She dropped it so far, and when I knew how tired she was, that only then did I realize that we were in trouble for hitting our goal time of 1:59:59. The Garmin/mile marker discrepancy had thrown us off. We covered our last full mile in 8:31, a full 40 seconds faster than my pace band recommended. With two and a half minutes left before breaking the 2 hour mark, we spotted the finish. Our last 0.3 miles was at a 7:30 pace. Down that straight away, I counted down the blocks, 3, 2, 1, until we crossed the finish. 

Just a step or two over the finish line I reached over and stopped my Garmin: 1:59:37. We'd done it. Six plus years after our first race, we'd finally gone sub-2. 

We got through the medals & pictures finishers' area and made our way toward the post-race party for long enough to grab some water. We strolled around Cameron Village to cool down before heading back to Meg's place to clean up and find some brunch. After brunch and some shopping, it was sadly time to pack up and start the long voyage home. 

Official race results were finally posted this morning, and put us at 1:59:35, placing 36 and 37 out of 186 in our age group, about the top 20%. Mission accomplished, with 25 seconds to spare! 

I enjoyed this weekend so, so much. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated a lazy Saturday and the chance to catch up with Meg. Beating that 2 hour race clock was only icing on the cake. As for the race itself, it was well organized (even the tech shirt is nice!) and held at the perfect time of year. It isn't a flat course though, and if you're game for some just-harsh-of-rolling hills, it's a really pretty course. 

Thank you all for the words of encouragement last week!! I'm taking this week off from running and will hopefully get caught up on reading your race recaps from this past weekend!