Sunday, November 23, 2014

My love/hate relationship with running

Running is a much a mental sport as it is a physical one, just as it is a team sport rather than just an individual one. My experiences while training for the Wineglass Marathon, and race day itself, were reminders of this.

I always credit my success with distance running to the fact that I crave and enjoy time alone. I was quickly reminded though that there is a big difference in the time spent running 8 miles versus 16 miles. This year I battled new emotions, mostly loneliness. The bulk of my runs were alone. While friends were typically out on the trail at the same time and great support, there was more than one occasion where I finished and returned to an empty parking lot. I had a near panic attack once fearing that if something happened to me, no one would realize it.

I began to no longer care. I was determined to get my long runs in since I knew there was no way I could go into a marathon without them, but the rest of my training suffered.

I kept reminding myself that I was going to be alone on race day, so why did it matter that I was alone for these long training runs? Why was I craving company? In the weeks leading up to race day, I did two 20 milers. The first felt like a disaster, in large part to the 100% humidity and 98 degree heat index. The second was a huge confidence boost three weeks before race day. While the weather was significantly better, I also had Megan’s company for about 6.5 of it.

Race day came. I wasn’t nervous, although I didn’t sleep that well the night before either. I was determined moreso than anything else. I had a fabulous first half to the race. Then, for reasons I still don’t truly understand, mentally everything fell apart. The precipitous to this was wind and cold. At mile 15 I picked up a sweatshirt someone had discarded on the side of the course. I took this on and off for the rest of the race, and finished with it tied around my waist.

While the water stops had wonderful volunteers, the rest of the course had no spectators, despite running through several neighborhoods. After awhile, I didn’t see any other racers either. I was cold, miserable, and completely alone. I considered walking up to a medical station and pulling myself from the course more than once. Despite the fact that I no longer cared about the race, I was too stubborn to truly quit. Stubborness can be a runner’s best and worst quality.

As I came into the finish, there was hardly anyone left and a good chunk of the finish line area was cleaned up. Lauren, my partner in crime for race weekend, greeted me with a huge hug. I sobbed. I sobbed the next day while telling my mom about the race. Whenever I’d think back to the race or answer “how was it?”, I fought back tears. Despite finishing 26.2 miles, no matter how ugly it was, I couldn’t savor the accomplishment. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I gave up on myself.

So, what now? I’m taking a much needed break. I haven’t run since race day, October 5th. The only other times I’ve had this long a break were due to injury.

I’m not giving up on running, but am taking a step back. Right now my first race next year may not be until the Frederick ½ in May. This will allow me to ease back into a routine and take the winter off from long distance training. I’ve spent pretty much every winter since 2008/2009 training for a March half marathon. Hopefully taking some time to focus on me rather than running will give me a new prospective.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Double Weekend Part 1: Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon

The Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield, IL had been on my radar for awhile. It was a chance to visit a new state, see some historical sites, and earn a fabulous replica penny medal. A few other friends were also interested and we all finally decided that this would be the year we would fit it into our race schedules. Coincidentally, the race was celebrating it's 50th anniversary.

After planning had begun, I noticed that the Lincoln race was on a Saturday, and a half marathon was taking place in St. Louis on Sunday. Debate remains over how exactly this evolved from "let's all meet in the middle of the country and run a fun, small town race" to "hey, we could run in two states on one trip." What isn't debatable is that there was little resistance to this idea, despite the fact that most of us had never run a "double" before. The most important thing was that we'd have each other to get through it.

The trip started very very early on Friday morning with three of us on an early flight out of BWI to St. Louis. We were the first group of six people total flying in there that morning. We had managed to coordinate flight arrivals from BWI, Orlando, Dallas, and Austin within about a two hour window.

Everyone arrived on time, we hopped into rental cars, and we set off to the expo for Sunday's race. This way we'd have our stuff and wouldn't have to rush back to St. Louis the next day after the race in Springfield. We were also able to pick up bibs for our friends who were traveling directly to Springfield from Michigan, Boston (by way of Chicago), and Memphis. The expo was small, but had a nice variety of vendors. We then had a fabulous lunch and drinks at the nearby Scottish Arms Restaurant before heading out to Springfield. The weekend was already off to a great start!

It's about an hour and a half drive from St. Louis to Springfield. This was my first visit to the Midwest and I was fascinated to see how flat it all was. As we pulled into town, it was easy to spot our hotel, as it was about 24 stories tall with no tall neighboring buildings. This was handy while wandering around town. We didn't need to look at a map to find our way "home."

The six of us from St. Louis arrived at nearly the exact time as the car from Michigan with our Bostonian on board. We checked into our rooms and headed out for some sightseeing, mainly the Lincoln Home. After a great tour we tried to find some dinner. This is where some things kind of fell apart in our plans. It turns out there's not alot of options in downtown Springfield. We ended up a pizza place and all ordered some carryout to take back to the hotel. Sadly, our food took an hour.

The night before the race it was time to lay out race clothes. I really hemmed and hawed on this. I stalked the forecast all week and ended up packing pretty much every possibly combination of running outfits that I could. It looked like it would be in the low 30s with a bit of wind, so I laid out tights and a couple of long sleeve shirts. When we woke up the next morning, the wind was less and it was going to be a bit warmer. I was able to go with a skirt, and a short sleeved shirt with long sleeves over top, along with a pair of gloves. It was perfect!

The race start was right around the corner from our hotel, so the group of us met up in the lobby before heading over and lining up. After some encouraging words from President Lincoln, and the firing of a musket, we were off!

Carrie, Kelly, Patrick, and I started off together doing our 1:1's. We were cruising, but also trying to hold back a bit for tomorrow. The course took us by the state capitol, Lincoln's Home, some beautiful neighborhoods, and some city parks. It was lovely! The highlight was a loop in the cemetery where the President is buried. I was tempted to split off and view the monument closer up, but I had already lost a few minutes to a bathroom stop.

After crossing the finish line we were presented with a giant medal. In honor of the race's 50th anniversary, they deviated from the normal penny design, and instead used a five dollar bill for their inspiration. Everyone agreed it was a great race, and one we'd really like to come back for!

Our group finished and hung out for a few minutes, snacking on some of the post race goodies. We saved our appetites though, as we had a wonderful brunch waiting for us thanks to Megan's parents. We hoped back into the cars and headed back to St. Louis.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New Bedford 1/2 Race Report

Last weekend was my first race of 2014, the New Bedford 1/2 in Massachusetts. I couldn't believe after a winter of training that the race was finally here.

My training went well, despite alot of things thrown at us by Mother Nature. I definitely logged alot more treadmill miles than in previous years, but used them to really work on my consistency and endurance, running intervals for distance rather than time. The high point of my training was a fabulous 12 miler with a 12:30 average pace.

I had set 2:45 as a goal finish time, and that run helped solidify that this was truly possible. I still wasn't convinced though. My wonderful trainer Louise and I talked leading up to race day and she kept repeating to me that I had to "get out of my head." I was overthinking it, a big shock to those who know me, I'm sure. ;) Lauren told me that this was a good PR course, so I hoped this would help.

The race itself doesn't start til 11am, so we were able to sleep in a bit before making the 45 minute or so trip from Lauren's house. They offered race morning packet pick up, a great convenience. The later time did make me worry about pre-race fueling. I had a bagel and some peanut butter at 7:30, and then a protein bar around 9:30. This worked well.

Race morning was in the low 30s with approximately 15mph winds. I had stressed all week about what to pack for fears of being either too hot or too cold. Finally Lauren talked some sense in to me, why stress, just overpack. I was glad I did. I ended up wearing my Under Armour tights under my Sparkle Skirt, with a short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve 1/4 zip. I felt the wind race morning and regretted not have ear warmers, but fortunately that regret didn't last long.

I tried to position myself toward the back, but as with all races, the start was still pretty crowded. Rather than starting my intervals right away, I ran for 3 or so minutes until it started to thin out and I felt that I wouldn't be in anyone's way when I took a walk break. I knew from the elevation chart that there were hills in the first 3 or so miles, so I took it pretty easy on them. My split for the 5K was 37:51, still fairly fast, but I kept with it since it felt good.

The next stretch was pretty uneventful as we made our way toward the waterfront. My favorite people on the course may have been the Halfway Cheer Club. They were a welcome sight. At this point though, the miles were still going by pretty easily. My 10K split was 1:15:53 (38:02 for the 5K), so I was still managing about a 12:16 minute pace. I had a nice cushion to still manage a 2:45.

The next 5K is where things got interesting. We made it to the water and actually got to enjoy a tailwind for a bit. I even saw Team Hoyt for a bit. After hearing about Dick and Rick for some time, it was inspirational to share a course with them. I was feeling good and just kept pushing along. As a result, 2 of my 3 miles in the next 5K were under an 11:30 minute pace! I was stunned. I kept muttering "Oh, shit." under my breath when I saw the splits pop up on my watch. My 15K split was 1:51:41 an average 11:33 for that 5K.

This is when it hit me, not only was I going to finish in 2:45, I was actually getting close to my personal best, 2:37:04. This was confirmed when I hit mile 10 at under 2 hours. I knew when I ran that in March 2011 that I ran a consistent 12 minute mile. If I could keep at or near that pace for the remaining miles (just under 4 to be exact), I could actually PR.

I began to fight both a wall and the wind. I knew there was a hill waiting at mile 12 and that I needed a cushion before I got to it. I was still under pace when I got to mile 11, but was definitely wearing down. Once I got to the hill at mile 12 I knew I had to downshift. It was ok if this wasn't a PR. I certainly hadn't expected to be even remotely close to one. The goal was to finish strong and healthy, not overdo it on the first race of the year. The cold and wind had done me in. My lungs were on fire.

At about 12.5 we passed a band playing in a yard. They were belting out The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army. Coincidentally, this song popped up on my iPod at the same time. Any Baltimore sports fan knows the significance of this as a rally cry for the Ravens and O's. I kept hitting it on repeat as I grunted my way toward the finish.

I knew from Lauren that once I made the final turn I'd be in the home stretch. I kept focusing on getting there and holding it together til I crossed the line. I kept close eye on my watch. I knew I wouldn't break my PR, but could I possibly match it?

I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and looked down....2:37:37. Wow. I was speechless. I felt like I just ran the race of my life.

I was greeted with celebratory hugs before we made our way to the local YMCA where the pre and post race festivities were taking place. Waiting for us were fish sandwiches and clam chowder. They were perfect to warm up with, and a great end to a fun race. Needless to say, I may have to repeat this one next year and formally chase a new PR.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring 2014 Race Preview

I jumped the gun a bit by mentioning my Fall marathon plans before really getting into what other races I'm doing this year. While the Summer and Fall are still a bit up in the air due to the desire and need to devote time to training for the Wineglass Marathon, my Spring plans are now set.

My first race of the season is the New Bedford 1/2 on March 16th. My dear friend Lauren has invited me up to Massachusetts for run this race for a couple of years and I was finally able to make it work, thanks in part to her wonderful hospitality and some frequent flyer points. It sounds like a great race in a lovely seaside town, and I'm really looking forward to it. I've really been focused on my training for this, too. I had a GREAT 12 mile training run this past weekend, and am hoping it means it'll be a strong race for me. Now just to start stalking forecasts and hoping that the weather will cooperate as well. It's definitely been a tough winter here and in New England.

I then have a couple of weeks off before the real fun begins, my first double weekend. I'm going to fly out to St. Louis and run the Lincoln Presidential 1/2 Marathon on April 5th and the Go! St. Louis 1/2 Marathon on April 6th. I've wanted to do the Lincoln race for some time, and didn't know when travel plans were being made that there was a race scheduled in St. Louis that weekend as well. While it may take me 20 years to qualify for the Fifty States Half Marathon Club, the possibility of knocking out races in two states over one trip was too appealing not to do so. I currently have 9 states plus the District of Columbia.

I'll then wrap up the Spring with one of my favorite races, the Frederick 1/2. If all goes well between now and May I may really try and push my time on that one, but it's obviously far too early to predict that right now.

So, what didn't make the cut? For starters, the Run for the Dream in Williamsburg. This was a tough one to cut, as this is the 4th year for the race and I've done all of them up to this point. Plus, it is one of my favorite places to visit. The decision simply came down to a matter of timing and money. While it would have fit into my race calendar since I have nothing planned for late May/early June, it's just simply been too warm most years I've done it to really enjoy the experience.

Also out is one of my favorite local halfs, the B&A trail. It was in mid-March last year and I was hoping it would move back to its traditional first weekend of March. Instead, it moved to the last weekend of the month, and therefore right before my double in the Midwest.

I'm really excited to travel around this Spring and looking forward to new race experiences!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The next journey

A new journey is beginning. On Friday I registered for the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, NY on October 5th. No, this is not my first marathon. In 2010 I ran both the Disney Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. If you’ve read my blog for awhile then you know that this is my first full marathon since I was unable to run the 2011 Marine Corps Marathondue to a three month bout of planter fasciitis.

So the question is, why this and why now? Simply, it’s time.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have some unfinished business after 2011. Before I had to stop my training, I was on pace to run about a 5:45 at MCM. If this happened, it would have been about a 20 minute PR for me.  I had actually declared to some friends early in 2013 that I was going to run the Baltimore Marathon that year, but when it came time to register I went with the half. 

As I said to my trainer last month, I’ve wanted to do another full for some time but it wasn’t fair to my body to do it in the shape I was in. If I was going to devote the summer to training, I want to do better than the last. 2012 was a year of getting back on my feet and staying injury free. 2013 was to continue that streak, and begin finding some of the speed I’d lost, and I ended the year with very good races. Two months into 2014 and I’m already down about 8 pounds and have had very solid training over the winter. The time is right.

I’ve also entered the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October. Yes, I could potentially be running two marathons in the same month. Honestly, I would be surprised if I get picked. If I do, then there will be some decisions to be made. It is possible that I will defer to 2015, but it is far too early to tell for sure.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Weighty Issues

I've often mentioned that I'm not the stereotypical runner since I carry extra weight. I've always bought into the myth that I was fit but fat. Surely if I can run 30+ half marathons I don't have anything to worry about except a few extra pounds? I've been forced to face reality over the last 6 months.

Over the summer I had to do undergo an endoscopy due to a re-occurrence of GERD issues, due likely in part to my weight. During the course of this it became apparent that I was dealing with hypertension as well, and suddenly I found myself on two new prescriptions and doctors suggesting that I need to find a way to drop pounds. To say this helped send me into a funk was a minor understatement. I was already not handling a recent birthday well.

I went on vacation in September, and the pictures didn't lie, I was back at my highest weight as an adult. I had successfully dropped 20 or so pounds in 2010 while running two full marathons and nine halfs that year, and they came back with a vengeance since then.

As if I needed any further evidence that I need to focus on my weight, in January I went through a Bod Pod body composition test. I knew things weren't great, but I needed to know exactly what I was dealing with. I figured my body fat percentage would be over 40%, maybe 42%. Results showed it is 48%. Yes, nearly HALF of my body is fat. That's a sobering thought, especially when you consider that 30% and above is considered obese.

So, what am I doing? I'm NOT dieting. Yes, you read that right, I need to lose weight, but I'm not dieting. I'm not following any kind of restrictive fad, instead I'm focusing on lifestyle changes as a way to lose weight and keep it off for good. And guess what, I'm losing weight, I'm not starving myself, and I FEEL GOOD.

I'm focusing on home cooked food with little processed ingredients and heavy on veggies. If I want a snack, I grab fruit. I focus on protein and limit my carbs to some extent. But you know what, if I want something I'm not going to deny myself, but I will adjust for it later. It's all about finding balance and avoiding extremes. I've also been taking vitamin D and fish oil, at my doctor's suggestion.

These changes also coincided with the start of training for my first race of the year, the New Bedford Half Marathon on March 16th. I'm doing the most intensive training I've probably ever done, at least 4 days of running and 1 day of cross training. This has certainly helped, too. And, it's become something I want to do, not something I feel like I have to do. I feel stronger and faster with each work out, and the confidence is starting to come back, too.

I'm six or so weeks into this and down several pounds and have likely said goodbye to a few inches as well. This will be a long road, but I'm motivated to get healthy and not have to go down it again.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Gear I Love

Over the last couple of years several friends who were interested in starting a running or walking program have come to me and asked "What do I need?" With the New Year upon us, and perhaps some of you looking for the same info, or maybe you're just interested in exploring new options, I thought I'd share the things I love and some tips along the way.

A lot of people say "Oh, running is a cheap sport, all you need is a pair of shoes." An experienced runner will laugh, knowing how false this really is. Yes, your most important piece of gear is a pair of shoes. Don't go to a big box store and just find a pair there based on price, style, or color though. If you're going to invest the time into taking this on, then spend the money on the right pair of shoes. To do this, you should visit a specialty running store and go through a fit process. A pair of running shoes will cost you about $110-$140. Good running stores will have an excellent return policy as well, so be sure to ask about it. If you run in a pair of shoes for a couple of weeks and discover that they are wearing weird, causing your problems, etc., they will take them back and help you find another pair. I have done this on more than one occasion.

A local running shop is also a great resource to learn about group runs, training programs, and other activities in your community. Sign up for their email list and/or follow them on facebook or twitter. There are often fun runs, training programs, shoe demos, and other informational sessions. This is also a great way to learn about sales. I'm fortunate to have five very active running stores within 10 miles from my home, and, between all of them, there are activities almost every day of the week.

To go with your shoes, you need a pair of socks. The old adage is "cotton is rotten." Cotton will absorb moisture and hold onto it. This can lead to a whole range of problems, including blisters. You will find that there are a variety of styles of socks for running. A basic pair will set you back about $10. As you increase mileage you may find that your needs will change. For example, the socks that worked for me as a new runner no longer do. I've discovered that the longer I'm on my feet, the more a couple of my toes rub together and cause pain and blisters. If I could have stopped partway through the 2012 Army Ten Miler and cut off my little toe, I would have been more than happy. Since then I have started running in Injinji toe socks, and have not had any more problems. I'll even wear them if I know I'm going to spend the majority of the day on my feet, like walking around the parks at Disney World. They look a little weird, and can be hard to put on, but they don't feel awkward at all. You'll also get fun comments from TSA agents if you were them while traveling. This is a change I've definitely been happy with.

Ladies (sorry to any guys reading this), your other most important piece of gear is a good supportive bra. I've been rather blessed in this area so to speak, so a cheap, basic bra I can just pull over my head won't work for me. Some women say they need to wear two of these just to stop the bounce. If you wear a well fit, properly size bra, this should never be an issue. There have been more times than I can count that I've been in a race or just a training run and winced when someone has run by in an obviously ill fitting bra. It looks painful and I can only imagine how it feels for the woman wearing it.

The first step is to be properly measured. Sure, you may think you know what size you are, but studies continually show that most women are wearing the wrong size. You should do this yearly, more frequently as you lose weight. Don't rely on Victoria's Secret. A woman in an online running group I belong to mentioned a few months back how much different her size was when she was measured at a specialty store vs. what they told her not long before at VS. I pointed out that it was because the larger band size she was fit in isn't sold by VS, and they certainly won't going to lose a sale. So, go to a specialty lingerie store that has a wide variety of styles and sizes. Call ahead in case they require an appointment for a fitting. Here in the Annapolis area, I love the staff at A la Mode. And, be prepared, a good sports bra can cost anywhere from at least $40-$70. My favorite right now is the Anita wireless maximum support.

Shirts are one thing I generally don't spend alot of money on. Admittedly, most of my tops these days come from races. As with socks though, you should be looking for quick drying technical fabrics. Some of my favorite ones are from the C9 collection at Target. Keep your eyes out for sales and coupons, too. More importantly, these fit larger ladies like myself very well. This time of year, too, it is important to layer well. I went for a run the other day in 40 degree temps. I wore two long sleeve shirts and was very comfortable. The general rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer out, since you will obviously quickly warm up once you start moving.

If you discover that you have problems with friction and chaffing, there are several products on the market. The one you are most likely to find in your local running shop is Body Glide. It looks like a stick of deodorant, and you just apply it to wherever you are having a problem - bra line, feet, etc. My favorite product though is Mission's 5 hour Anti-Chafe cream. It comes in a stick version, too. I stock up when Mission offers a sale, but it can be found in some big box sports stores, too. Check Mission's website for more information. And, I don't just use this for runs, it's great for when I wear skirts, dresses, or shorts, too!

Finally, you need some bottoms. Again this is a personal thing of finding what works for you. There are tons and tons of options, especially for women. Due to my thighs, I need something with good coverage that doesn't move. My favorites for a long time now have been Moving Comfort's 7.5" compression shorts. I have mostly stopped wearing these for runs, but still rely on them for gym workouts. It took a long time to convert me, but for my runs now I pretty much solely wear Sparkle Skirts.

Friends have sworn by skirts in general for a long time, but I never found one that was comfortable and with shorts that stayed in place until I was introduced to these. I have never had a problem with the shorts, but the thing that really sold me on them were the pockets. There is a large zipper pocket in the waistband, and a small one on each leg. When I head out on a run I can put pepper spray in a leg pocket, and my phone and keys in the zipper pocket, and not have to worry about carrying anything in my hands other than a bottle of water. I'm so in love with the pockets, that I've started wearing these over my winter tights now that colder temps have arrived in Maryland.

I listed things I've learned over the years and some of my favorite gear. What's yours?

Note: I was in no way shape or form compensated for any of the products and gear I've mentioned here.