Category Archives: food

Unfinished (Glass City Marathon Race Report)

I have always found that writing endings is one of the hardest things. How do you wrap it all up? How do you tie up the loose ends without putting too perfect a bow on it? How do you craft that finish that leaves just the right taste and leaves the mind thinking on it for the the next hours, or days?

Races have the ending down pat. Because there is a clear finish line – a clear line of demarcation – yet there is always a desire, a taste for more. There is satisfaction in completion, and the thought of the next goal, the next challenge.

But here I sit, wondering how even to begin to talk about a race that didn’t have a finish? Sure, it had an ending. I can recall laying on the ground, words coming out in wheezing monosyllables, and I at last reached over to hit STOP on my watch. Stop. Done. Over. End. But no finish.

Over the last three-and-a-half years since my first DNF, I have been almost fascinated by how that race report remains one of my most read blog posts – by far. It isn’t really surprising, though, because we have all been there. And if we haven’t, we will be eventually. If you run long enough, you will – almost inevitably – experience a disastrous race. You will stumble into an obstacle so enormous that even the most stubborn runner must pull the plug and call it quits. Sometimes we don’t get to make this decision for ourselves. And even when we do, the tears inevitably come, because that’s the thing with marathons – you train for months on end for one day, one chance. And so many stars must align for you to arrive at that start line healthy and fit, and to get to the finish in one piece. One misalignment can lead to disaster, and while we can strive to control many of the possible elements, there are some X factors we cannot control, sometimes cannot even foresee.

So, what happened at the Glass City Marathon? Something I have never in my life experienced. Vertigo. But let’s back up. Back to the beginning. Back to race week, the final days of the taper.

Pre-race

This spring has been a doozy. Work stress. Family stress. Too much travel. Too many things on my plate. And the exhaustion of marathon training makes all of this that much harder to deal with. So it isn’t surprising that I got sick. I frequently get sick during training, though I noticed since working with my coach, I hadn’t been getting sick so much in the thick of training – before then, I almost always got a head cold either when I was peaking, my body and immune system crushed by miles, or early on in the taper, the sudden decrease of mileage and demand and allowing my body to rest also seemingly allowing it to succumb to one viral plague or another.

The Wednesday before Glass City, I woke up to go to my last physical therapy session for my foot before going to work. It was a rest day, and all I did was a few minutes warmup on the bike and went through my exercises and stretches. Nothing at all strenuous. Just making sure all systems were go. As my PT and I discussed, my foot had been steadily improving. I noticed it less and less on runs, and some runs I had no issues whatsoever. I knew I’d need some full rest post-race to kick out the last bit of inflammation, but I was good to go.

I noticed that morning, though, that I was feeling a little congested. I’m often congested in the mornings first thing after waking, and of course pollen counts are still soaring this time of year, so I tried to write it off to that. Even so, I began pounding more fluids – also a good plan for marathon week – and planned to get to bed early (ditto). Thursday I felt about the same. That hint of congestion that raised a little yellow flag in the back of my mind, but I was determined to hope for the best. If it was a cold, maybe I could kill it early with hydration and sleep.

Friday, I woke up sick. Not horribly, but it was definitely viral cold nasal congestion. I conferred with my coach, who reassured me that I would probably be fine as long as symptoms remained above the neck. I just needed to keep up with rest and fluids. I did my best to focus at work – a mix of last-minute stress of getting ready for a big work event that would take place the Tuesday following the race, hydrating plenty and running to the bathroom frequently, and race week distraction (how many times can I check the forecast in a single day?) plagued me, but I got through. I left work at 3:30, and by about 4 pm we were on the road to the airport in earnest, Google taking us on a strange backwoods route (though it was pretty and cut through many picturesque farms) to get to the interstate and to the airport. I bought some travel tissue packs and Nyquil at the airport, and we arrived in Cleveland without incident (though I noted that my left ear was just EXPLODING during the descent into the Cleveland airport – it didn’t pop until we landed), my dad and stepmom picking us up and driving us to my mom’s house.

We got to bed very late, but I took Nyquil, pounded more fluids, and didn’t set an alarm. I woke up at about 8 the next morning, then rolled over and dozed more, finally getting up at about 9 am on Saturday. I felt pretty stuffed, but I took a very hot shower and steamed out, and I seemed to be draining for the most part, my energy level decent.

After a trip to Panera for lunch (a day-before tradition of mine – a soup and salad at Panera seem to treat me well as last lunch before a race), we got on the road to Toledo. My left ear still seemed to be partially plugged, and I didn’t get it unplugged until halfway through the drive (and even then I wasn’t certain I had fully opened that sinus). I was draining and draining but was feeling like it was productive and I was definitely on the mend and over the worst of the cold. I posited that if I still felt congested in the morning I could steam in a very hot shower to clear my head before the race, if necessary. I kept drinking water, some with Nuun to try to keep my electrolytes balanced.

First stop upon arriving in Toledo: the expo. I felt nervous, detached. I just wanted to get my bib and get on with it. But of course I also needed a quick photo with my bib, and my supportive husband (though I’m dismayed and embarrassed to say I never got a photo with my mom the entire weekend. That is just not okay).

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It was late afternoon by this point, and I had been texting with twitter/Instagram pal Sarah (whom I’d convinced to run that race earlier in the year when she’d been debating possible spring marathons – she lives in Ann Arbor so it was a nice drive in for her) and we planned on meeting for dinner, which gave me just enough time to get settled at the hotel, try to make a race spectating game plan looking at the maps and parking options, and relax for a little bit. I laid out my gear, plugged in various devices to charge, kept hydrating.

Just after 6 pm, we met Sarah, her sweetie, and their darling toddler daughter for dinner at IHOP (another pre-race tradition of mine). We had a lovely time, eating pancakes and talking about running and life in general. It’s always a cool novelty to meet someone in person who you’ve been communicating with online for so long. And Sarah’s little one charmed all three of us to the extreme. I told Sarah my basic race plan and she said she’d be happy to run with me for as long as she could – she’s a much faster marathoner, but her training had been derailed that winter/spring due to the weather, life, and multiple bouts of sickness. We planned to text and find each other before the race – and before each of us gave up our phones to our families when we got in the corrals.

Maybe around 8 pm or a little before, we parted ways to try to get some sleep. I double-checked my gear and decided that I was probably going to be racing in the full singlet the next morning, rather than the crop top. It was predicted to be 39 or 40* at the start. It would get warm decently fast the last hour or two of the race, since the forecast was also calling for it to be very sunny (rain had been predicted earlier in the week but that forecast changed by Thursday). I had throwaway arm warmers (Shannon’s old socks) and a pair of throwaway gloves donated to the cause by my friend Krystina. I flipped through my training log to remind myself of tough workouts conquered, read over a few messages from friends and family, got a few more encouraging wishes from my coach (who was literally on the other side of the world for work), and tucked into some Harry Potter reading before shutting off the light, sleeping fairly well for the night before a race.

Race day

As always, I woke up with my first alarm and shut off the backups. I moved around quietly as Shannon kept snoozing. I made my oatmeal in the hotel microwave (though I noticed hours later as we packed to leave that I never did put nut butter in it. Oops). I made coffee. I sipped on water. I scrolled through various social media feeds, rolled out my hips and glutes and hamstrings. I looked at the weather. It was COLD. A few degrees colder than predicted. I stuck with my plan: singlet, throwaway arm warmers and gloves, bum wrap skirt, calf sleeves. I had nothing for my ears. I had brought a throwaway shirt, but instead wore my aero jacket, and carried sweats in my spike bag to be carried by my crew. It’s always nice to have a crew to carry your spares and backups and layers. I pulled Shannon out of bed for good around 5 am. The coffee and food did their job and got things moving – I had minimal GI disturbance for the race, which was a huge change from my issues at Erie.

At 5:30, we headed down to the lobby to meet my mom. I was so grateful to have her there – and she got up so early on her day off just to watch me run. As we rode the elevator down, I felt adrenaline shooting through my body. I felt as if I were in full-on fight-or-flight mode, a bundle of nerves, waves of nausea roiling in my gut. I hummed to myself to try to settle my gut and distract my mind. I told Shannon I was scared, and he told me it would be okay. I told him this felt like my last chance. He reassured me it wasn’t.

We stepped out into the parking lot and it was freezing. Maybe mid-30s. The car was coated in frost, but as we sat in the car, seat warmer on, waiting for things to thaw and defog so we could go, the shivering I was doing seemed to burn off some of my excess nerves. I felt ever-so-slightly calmer. We drove about 15 minutes to the race site, and took a chance on parking: we bypassed the main lots to try to find parking on a side street to make it easier for Shannon and my mom to drive around the interior of the course to cheer me on in the later miles. It paid off, and we found a parking spot maybe a half-mile from the starting line.

The area around the start was quiet. We passed the elite tent, and saw a couple of port-o-potties sort of sitting by themselves. After a little hesitation (were these just for the elites? Where was everyone?) I went in one since I had the opportunity. I texted Sarah, but she hadn’t left her hotel just yet. Soon enough, the crowd started to gather, though I think a lot of people stayed indoors as long as they could. The air didn’t have a bite to it, but it was quite cold. I wasn’t complaining though – it was pretty much ideal race weather. It was about the same starting temperature as when I ran Chickamauga in November 2015.

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As we stood around and chatted, some movement in the crowd caught my eye. In particular, I saw a tall young woman who looked familiar, but my brain was determined not to believe what I saw: it had to be my friend Caitlin’s exact doppelganger, right?

It wasn’t. It was her. And as I realized this, I also saw Kim and Lori with her. Crying in disbelief, I made my way over to my friends – who had gotten up at 2:30 that morning to drive in from Pittsburgh – and pulled each of them into a grateful hug. Each woman was wearing a different year’s Boston finisher’s jacket.

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Girlfriends are the best.

I bumbled through introducing my friends to my mom, texted with Sarah as we tried to figure out how to find one another in the thickening crowd, and visited the porto one more time. About 6:45, I stripped off my extra layers (so cold!), gave last hugs, and Shannon walked me to my corral. I gave him one last kiss and pushed my way through, lining up around the 3:35 pacer (I couldn’t seem to find the 3:30 pacer to place myself in-between). I chatted with a couple girls around me who were also Oiselle runners, and I strained to see around me to try to find Sarah. I couldn’t find her. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be doing this on my own, which I knew I was prepared to do, but running with a friend is always more fun. I said a few prayers, whispering the Sh’ma to myself, took some deep breaths, tried to loosen up my shoulders and upper body. After the national anthem, after the wheeled start, after a couple extra speeches and pauses, the gun sounded. We were off.

The Race

I was assigned corral B, and while it wasn’t a huge race, it wasn’t miniscule either, and I knew I was in for a bit of a crowded first mile. I was behind the 3:35 grew by a few seconds, but I had figured going into this that I would let the first mile go a bit slowly. I spotted my cheer squad right after the start, and looked to settle into a comfortable rhythm. My toes were frozen and numb. The streets were beaten up and potholed in many places. I was breathing easily and evenly, finding the comfy zone for the early miles.

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In the middle with the white hat and white arm warmer. The woman in the foreground has her hand raised right in front of my shoulder.

I pulled the 3:35 group toward me without really making an outright effort to do so, and soon enough they were in my rearview. Around this time, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked, and it was Sarah! We grinned at each other, happy to find one another. We settled in for the long miles ahead of us.

8:04, 7:59, 7:59

I’m not sure how I’ve managed it in the past, but even my coach has commented on it: my last few marathon race reports have been a little freakish in the level of detail I seem to recall, even in the pain of racing. Maybe it helps that 2 of those 3 in particular were double-loop courses, easily broken into piecemeal, easier to recall particular sections and moments because I traversed them twice. This time, I don’t know what was different (other than being a single loop – but so was Albany 2016), but I don’t recall as many particulars, as many mile-by-mile moments. The only explanation I can come up with is this: focus. I have never been so keyed into a race I think in my life. I could feel fleeting, floating thoughts of doubt and fear trickle in, but I seemed to sweep them away almost as quickly as they emerged. I recalled the Albany Half this year, and how I had left doubt and fear behind me at mile 8 to race hard. I was more ready now than ever. I ignored the doubt of having only run one 20-miler. I ignored the fear around my foot: it felt fine. I shoved aside the doubt of impostor syndrome: I had done this before, and I could do it again. I could do it better.

My crew found me within the first few miles – twice. Sarah commented on the second time that they were professional cheerers. I smiled huge for them both times. It was such an incredible boost to see all of them, screaming and taking pictures. I felt strong and relaxed.

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Sarah, in purple beside me, was a metronome. Also note that we have not only twin shoes, but are perfectly stride-for-stride here.

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7:57, 7:56, 8:03

In talking race plan pre-race with my coach, we decided I could reuse the pacing plan from Erie: I had paces for 3:30, 3:32:30, and 3:35 listed on it, so I could float in those zones and feel good about it, basically striving to run even. This time, I wasn’t afraid to push more towards flat 8:00s, and not fear those splits when they came. 8:06 would be in the 3:32:30 zone. I would be very comfortable with a BQ of that finish time as well, but a 5:00 buffer would be ideal. I locked right in, finding myself flirting with 7:5X quite often, as I had in many of my marathon pace runs. I also tried a more aggressive fueling strategy (borrowed from my friend Krystina): I was racing hard, and I needed to fuel my body. I also have a highly tolerant stomach when it comes to GU. At roughly certain mileage points, I checked my overall time quickly (not dwelling so I wouldn’t panic at how fast I was going, just checking in) and I took a GU at 30 minute intervals , regardless of proximity to a water stop. Sometimes I would be stuck with a sticky-feeling mouth for a mile or so, but the water stops were more frequent than I had expected, and I never went very long without one.

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After the second time I saw my family, I was predicting being able to see them around mile 10, but as we turned onto what was clearer a bike and pedestrian path, I realized that what I had read as a good point to see them (possibly twice) would not be accessible to them. I let this go, and resigned myself to the fact that I would be seeing them sometime after mile 20. Then, I would really need a boost. At one point I saw my watch was reading a 7:45 pace shortly after seeing them, and I forced myself to pull back (though that mile still went a little fast). I checked my overall time when we passed the 10K flag and my watch read about 50:05 or so. Perfect.

7:55, 7:57, 7:53, 8:04

As much of a blur as this race was overall, I do recall that the course was quite beautiful in many places. We wound through some gorgeous neighborhoods with stately homes. Families were out in their yards and on their porches cheering. When the full and half courses split, the full course crossed into a park and we wound through trees and across a field, and I thought of Chickamauga, and the magic of that day – magic I was hoping I was recreating right then. Sarah and I periodically checked in on each other. I wavered a few times, but I reminded myself that this was a long race: if I felt bad, I would feel good again. And I did.

I think my gloves came off around mile 8 or so, and by about mile 11, I worked on pulling off my arm warmers, easily tugging the right one over my Road ID/pace band, and carefully removing my Garmin and holding it while I pulled off the left one (I was afraid to tug it off over my watch for fear I’d hit a button by mistake). Thinking back on how I had almost gone back to the hotel room to get regular arm warmers, I was grateful I had thought better of it. The sun was warming things up quickly. We entered a long stretch of wide road and open sun, though it remained cool. I stayed hyperfocused on the task at hand and not the endless concrete ahead of me. We crossed over the 13.1 point, marked with a flag, and I again checked my overall time on my watch: about 1:45:25ish. Still perfect. Excitement simmered. But I knew things were going to be getting tougher.

8:04, 8:05, 8:00, 8:04

Since I was mostly keeping my watch on my current lap split for easier pacing, I found myself struggling to remember what mile I was on fairly often. Inevitably, I was always one mile sooner than I was thinking. The grind was creeping up on me, but I knew I still had much more to give. We came to a narrow path, and I upped my cadence to cruise down a short, steepish hill, trying to get a little charge to go up the other side. My quads burned on the downhill. We curved around a loop past a big house, and the tiniest bump of a hill slowed me considerably, but I caught back up quickly enough.

Just before the mile 17 mark, I got a nice surprise. We had come around a lake, which I knew was at the upper end of the course, and the last place I expected to see anyone at all, but as we came back down and headed back to the road, approaching another water stop, I saw them. All those Boston jackets that signaled to me that my entire cheer crew was there. Apparently they had CLIMBED A FENCE to get to me at that point. I blew them all a kiss, then focused back on dialing into the correct effort, almost overcorrecting as we came past the water stop and having to adjust as we started a new mile a tiny bit slow.

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Blowing a kiss to my amazing crew

8:00, 8:06, 8:03

I recalled how at Erie, I was struggling mightily and slipping out of the 8:0Xs and into the 8:1Xs and flirting with 8:20 before I had even reached mile 20. I was still strong. We kept rolling. My watch was already way off the markers, but I knew I had some cushion. I was in a much better position than I had been at Erie. I just needed to hang on. I know I checked my watch at the mile 20 flag, and that I was looking for it to read about 2:40-2:41 and change. I don’t remember what it said, but I know it was in that zone.

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As we came around the arcing driveway past the huge house again (this time it was also a relay exchange), Sarah told me to go ahead, that I had this. At mile 21, she let me go, and I pressed on alone.

8:08, 7:58, 8:16, 8:03

Past mile 21 we came past an aid station giving out orange slices. On instinct, I grabbed one and shoved it in my mouth, taking a slurping swallow. I spit out most of it since I knew I didn’t have it in me to chew on anything, but it was still worth it.

My family found me at a turn as I was deep in the pain cave, somehow getting onto that pedestrian path. Everything around me and in my own head was cacophonous, but evidently Shannon screamed “LIZARD MOOOOOOOODE!” at that point.

8:16

A couple miles later, as I begged my pace to stay below 8:30, better than 8:23 (my slowest miles at Erie), Shannon, Kim, Caitlin, and Lori caught me again and ran along side me. It was at this point, Caitlin was able to observe, I was starting to weave. This didn’t strike me as strange at first. I was in so much pain and trying to push without overdoing it – I had to leave some for the last mile. I just had to keep hanging on. I thought perhaps I was cramping, or it was my scoliosis contributing to an awkward right side lean.

8:22

My cheerleaders let me go to race to catch me at the finish, and I kept pressing on, backing off pace a tiny bit to try to preserve myself. I had cushion. Not a ton, but I had some. If I could survive miles 23 and 24, I could come in hard for 25, and harder yet for 26 (point 2). The sun was baking me at this point, and I wondered if I should have worn my crop top instead of full singlet after all. But it still wasn’t hot, per se, and I knew I had to push through worse. I had to fight now.

8:28

But something was not right. I kept tilting and tilting and tilting right. I couldn’t keep a straight line, kept veering off the side. I knew I was tired. I knew I was cramping and that my muscles were reaching their breaking point. But this was a particular feeling I had never experienced. Nothing I did helped me to readjust course and keep straight and upright. I really couldn’t tell you how long I tried to keep up like this, swaying right, but at some point, I sensed the situation was unsafe, I slowed to a walk to try to regain my balance, and I tripped over the side of the bath and collapsed to the ground. According to my watch data, I had run about 24.5 miles before my pace dropped off completely in this moment.

So much of what happened next is a blur. I know that, very quickly, a couple of runners stopped to help me up. One of them, a man named Chris, walked with me for at least a quarter of a mile, possibly a half mile or so. I was staggering and completely unable to stand and walk alone. I held his hand tightly and wrapped my arm around his waist when even that wasn’t enough. A race official on a bike came to check on me, and I repeatedly asked if I was going to get DQ’d for relying on someone to help me walk to get to the finish. Even hobbling along, I was determined to cross the finish line, knowing my BQ was slipping through my fingers like fine sand. Knowing it was over. I apologized to Chris for wrecking his race, told him that I didn’t want to hold him back.

Runners offered me their fuel, water, salt. A woman on the sideline offered me pretzels, which she then fed to me because I needed to hold on with both hands. Sarah caught up with me, and told Chris that she had me, insisting to me that she would stay with me and get me to the finish if I wanted to get there, no matter how long it took. I kept trying to walk, but still, I could not hold myself up. It wasn’t late stage marathon cramping and dehydration (at least, it wasn’t completely that). At one point – I don’t remember when – a young woman asked to squeak past us to finish her race. I remember seeing she was dressed modestly in black and white, limbs covered, wearing a hijab. If I had had the wherewithal, I would have called out, “you go, girl.” I had nothing. When the race official asked if I had any health conditions, it started to dawn on me that this could be related to the head cold. I said aloud that I had been sick, that I had sinus congestion I thought I was basically over, but it may have screwed up my equilibrium.

At last, after what Strava reads as a half-mile of slow, gruesome walking, I stopped. The race official had me sit down along the side, and called for the sag wagon and medical assistance. They had me lay down so that my feet were slightly uphill, toward the course/path. Sarah stayed with me. I slowly reached my hand across my body to hit STOP on my watch.

I cried. My breathing was slow and shaking. I kept wondering about my heart rate and blood pressure. We waited for the sag wagon. Sarah repeatedly helped me lift my head and take sips from a water bottle. I held her hand and cried. I thanked her for staying with me, for being an incredible friend to someone who, in reality, she hardly knew. “We’re sisters in sport,” I remember her saying. I asked if someone had a phone, if someone could call my husband. I never lost consciousness, and I wasn’t delirious, but syllables came slowly, one or two at a time. I told Sarah to check my Road ID, thinking I couldn’t get his phone number out any faster than she could read it off my ID. She had to pull back the pace band I had taped over it, but I was grateful I was wearing it at all. I heard her talking on someone’s phone, reassuring him that I was going to be okay and that I would be taken to a med tent. I murmured to myself and tried to focus on breathing. For a few moments, I wondered if it would be scarier or more of a relief just to pass out right then.

A little while later, the sag wagon had come. They helped me slowly sit up, and once I had my bearings a little in the seated position, they helped me stand. A very large man (I recall thinking of him as Hagrid) had me wrap my arms around him so he could help me into a wheelchair and he pushed me to the van. He and another young woman transported me toward the finish area in the van, still in the wheelchair. I examined my legs, my right leg awkwardly cramped inward, and noted several small cuts on my legs and right arm from the fall I had taken. For a few minutes I thought I might not be able to keep down fluids, and the girl handed me a bag just in case. Thankfully I didn’t end up needing it. I also asked her to call my husband again, and she fully ripped off my pace band (though she gave it back to me) to access the information on my Road ID. They would be waiting for me by the med tent.

By the finish area, they moved me from the van to the back of a golf cart, and I hung on as best I could, with a man holding my arm tightly to keep me on and balanced. The driver of the cart kept shouting at the crowd to move aside so we could get through. I almost wanted to yell at them myself, but couldn’t muster the strength.

We rounded through the football stadium, and as we approached the med tent, I saw my cheering section gathered near it. I sobbed in my mother’s arms. I sobbed in my husband’s arms. He scooped me up and carried me into the med tent and lowered me onto a cot. They took my heart rate and blood pressure – both were normal. I was fine. I laid there for a little while longer while they made sure I was okay (and I made sure I was okay), before helping me to stand and walk somewhat on my own.

Wrapped in a space blanket, I hobbled toward Kim, Caitlin, and Lori. These women. These women who drove all the way out to Toledo long before dawn to watch me race. These women who crammed in a car with my mom and husband to chase me around the course and scream and cheer. These women who stood in front of me with tears in their eyes to match mine. I hugged each one, hard, crying into their shoulders, thanking them for being there, for being amazing friends.

We gathered ourselves up for our journey back to the car, and along the way, bumped into Sarah and her family. I gave her a huge hug, asked her if it was weird if I told her that I loved her. We’re connected now – connected forever. Running a marathon with another person is a powerful, intimate experience. And having someone pick you up and carry you, help you move forward, help you find assistance when you need it, hold your hand and give you water when you are literally on the ground, unable to move? We’re sisters now.

I swallowed my tears to say bye-bye to her little girl, who was already well on her way to claiming her momma’s medal. Before we split up, I managed to have the wherewithal to request a picture of all my runner girls.

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Badass women with hearts of gold.

Once we got back to the car, agreeing to meet back at the hotel, where I would get cleaned up before going to lunch with the Pittsburgh ladies, I dug my phone out of my bag to see an explosion of messages. Good luck wishes, cheers along the way, frantic race tracking, texts, tweets, GroupMe messages, RaceJoy app cheers, Facebook posts… Tears rolled down my cheeks once more. The friends who were tracking me lived and died with every update, and when they heard the bad news, they were right there with me.

We managed to get a little extra late checkout time when we told the front desk I had been in the med tent, but we still had to hustle a bit. I was astounded to discover I had hardly chafed at all, but getting around was still difficult. The shower is still the best place to cry. Shannon helped me to dress, including putting compression on, and we threw our things into bags and got out the door, Shannon doing most of the heavy lifting. Deciding on Applebee’s as a simple lunch option, we girl talked through lunch and I picked at my food. I had ordered chicken tenders and fries because it sounded good, but as usual I didn’t want to eat much once it was in front of me. Shannon actually did a little bit of parent-bargaining-with-a-toddler with me, asking me to eat just one more piece of chicken, and couldn’t I eat that one last bite?

We parted ways by early mid-afternoon, with the girls hitting the road for Pittsburgh, looking sleepy, and Shannon, my mom, and I making our way to Cleveland. I took a few minutes to write a Facebook post to explain what had happened. I cried reading every single comment left by friends and loved ones.

I took over driving the second half as I knew my mom was exhausted, and I was shockingly alert. My brother called along the way, as did my dad, and I filled them in (I had talked to my dad briefly walking back to the car post-race as well; he called again on the drive to check in). Once we arrived home, my step-dad had purchased ice cream I had requested. He had suggested pizza, which initially sounded good, but then didn’t. I knew ice cream would sit well, and was calorie-dense, which I needed.

Before long, we were headed to the airport. Final hugs, a quick security line, a short flight, and a 90 minute drive stood between us and home. When we arrived there at long last, so very late and so tired after a 20-hour day, I saw two huge vases of flowers – one from my in-laws, one from my Athens friends – with cards and treats and so, so much love and support.

Analysis

There’s nothing I could have done to prepare for this. Maybe if I had hydrated even better? Maybe if I had gone ahead and taken that pre-race shower to clear my sinuses more? Maybe if I had taken Sudafed (yeah, probably not a great plan)? My ears were exploding again on the flight home Sunday night post-race, and my sinuses drained for a few more days, even though I felt fine, not sick in the least. There really is no telling what can happen in a marathon, especially when you line up not at 100% health.

The truth is, there is nothing I could have done short of being clairvoyant. All visible signs pointed to giving the race my very best shot. I gave everything I had until I literally could not give anymore. I ran a perfect race for 24 miles. I was suffering, but already imagining digging in at mile 25 and finding those last, deep reserves – the ones that are always there, the ones I have found within myself in the last year more than ever before. I had visualized that finish line so many times. It was just a clock, really, in my imaginings. Now, I can’t see it. The finish never comes.

So how do you finish? You keep going. You thank and love on your supporters and feel completely unworthy of all of their belief and hope and kindness. You remember the feeling of being picked up off the ground by total strangers who were not going to just leave you there. You think of how the woman who ran 21 miles with you and took care of you at mile 25, dedicated her last mile to you.

Marathons are about so much more than finish lines. Each time we go out there, we learn something: about ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our spirits; about our support system; about other runners around us. We’re all in this together. We are never alone out there, even when we feel most alone.

I am not finished. I am resting now – recovering in body, mind, and spirit – but I will return. Running and I are in this for the long-term. I have many, many miles left in these legs and in my soul. And my friends are waiting for me.

all smiles

MCM Training Week 11: Air Force Half-Marathon (race report)

Back when I was talking about figuring out how I wanted to set my goal(s) for MCM, I also mentioned my half-marathon goal for Air Force. In reality, the idea of trying to get 1:45-1:47 (8:00-8:15ish) scared the shit out of me. Lots of doubts crept in over the weeks, especially with a lot of crummy tempos (and despite faster paces on easy and long runs, and the fact that I was crushing my track workouts) – what if I never break 1:45? What if my 1:49 at Pittsburgh in May was a fluke? What if I completely implode? I have to run 20 the week prior to Air Force – what if I’m racing on totally dead legs?

usaf2013finishtime

So, that happened.

But first, let’s blast through the week prior:

Monday: easy 9 – did this one solo after all-night rain, so the visibility was pretty iffy. Also, WTF cyclist on the sidewalk on Forbes, where there was a totally free, completely usable bike lane? Okay. In the evening I stocked up on healthy, carb-y, taper week food for me and the boy. Tons of kale, pasta, tomatoes, and other deliciousness. And Greek yogurt up the wazoo – I’ve been going through that like it’s going out of style.

Tuesday: legs workout, heavy on the squats. Several days before race day so I figured I would be fine… right? (spoiler alert: I was. But it took until Friday morning’s shakeout run to completely get rid of the ache)

Wednesday: easy 7 with Tess – and we really did keep it pretty easy! Though as soon as I stood up to go take a shower after finishing the run and uploading my data, BOY were my quads crying! Laundry + pre-packing in the evening. (I made my packing list on Tuesday, no joke)

Thursday: rest! Final packing, Keeley and Rose’s arrivals, and not enough sleep that night.

Friday: very easy shakeout 3+ miles with Keeley and Rose (see below)

After lots and lots of travel hassles, Keeley arrived in my waiting arms around 5:30 pm on Thursday. We immediately started chatting, eating the popcorn she brought along, then she kept me company while I made a really basic, carb-loading meal of spaghetti and red sauce and a spinach salad, and she made some kale chips (which were DELICIOUS mixed in with the spaghetti, WOW). My man came home in the midst of this and we all chatted and stuffed our faces with pasta. He headed to bed at a decent hour while we sat outside on the balcony talking about life and running and relationships and everything, waiting to hear from Rose (who was slated to arrive via Megabus at about midnight – oof). We headed downtown a little before midnight to come get her, and then all crashed pretty hard in advance of our 7 a.m. wakeup on Friday.

After a little chatting and dilly-dallying, we headed out into the warmish, muggy morning for an easy 3+ (my Bayard loop is like 3.27 but I don’t even care). We took is nice and easy and chatted. I hauled it up the one hill to avoid angering my IT band, but otherwise it felt great, and definitely shook out the last bit of squat soreness. Then it was time to shower up, check the packing list one more time, load up the car, gas up, grab bagels (and coffee for me) and hit the road!

We were traveling in somewhat of a group – it had been 11 but had since dwindled to 6: my boy and me, Keeley, Rose, Devin, and Danimal. All former Ragnarians from our DC team last year! The girl car was heading out at 10:30 (sharp! we rock) to pick up Danimal from the airport in Dayton,  and Devin and NF were heading out as soon as Devin got out of class shortly thereafter. We were just getting on the road when Keeley answered a call for me from Dan – he had slept through his alarms and missed his flight, and was driving to Dayton from STL. *facepalm* Oh, Danimal.

So we had a little time on our hands. We took a potty/lunch stop around 1:30 pm at  Panera just off the freeway, chatting and taking our time long enough for the boys to overtake us by a good bit. But we arrived probably 30ish minutes after them at the expo, and Danimal arrived there as we were just about heading out, so it worked out okay.

Of course we got our picture taken with the giant shoe. She was really nice, actually.

We grabbed our bibs and packets, did a little shopping around, then hit the road to the grocery store (Kroger!), where we stocked up on supplies.

Pre-race supplies on the left. Post-race on the right.

Then it was off to the house. In the past we stayed in hotel rooms when it was just three or four of us – since we initially had a group of 11, though now six was still pretty sizeable (and those who dropped out last minute had already paid their portion), we stayed in a SUPER swank house we found on VRBO that belonged to a family. We had never used VRBO before, and this family was using it for the first time as well. They left an INCREDIBLY sweet note for us, wishing us luck in our race and letting us know where to find stuff, as well as reminders about what we needed to do to clean up before we left. If you’re traveling for a race with a big group, I highly recommend VRBO. Way cheaper than hotel rooms, and you get to stay in a real house, with real beds, and a real kitchen.

Danimal created a shrine to the running gods, complete with Brooks Launch and a pirate flag (duh).
On the side of the fridge at the house – we chose the right people! They so get us!

After ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the house and staking claims on rooms, the ladies – mostly Rose – got to work cooking. Rose made sugar-free pancakes using fruit instead, and egg whites to make them fluffy. We added some cinnamon and topped them with Greek yogurt, granola, and of course maple syrup for delicious, filling, carbo-loading goodness. So tasty! The boys cleaned up, we all discussed logistics, and headed to bed for our 5:30 a.m. wake-up.

All set up for race morning

Pre-Race

Per usual, I slept like garbage and was wide awake probably a good 20 minutes before my alarm, so when it went off I popped right out of bed to start getting ready (first stop: bathroom. Always). The house was pretty quiet for a bit but Devin was apparently also wide awake pretty early as I crept downstairs to cook my oatmeal on the stove (no microwave). Soon the house was buzzing with pre-race rituals and excitement. I had told everyone we’d leave at 6:30 so that we’d actually leave at 6:45 (getting 6 people organized is hard enough – wonder how we would have done with 11). We got to the base pretty quickly and after making one last left turn towards the base, were waved on pretty quickly – the line is always huge but the police and airmen are extremely organized and efficient in getting everyone into parking. It’s a few minute walk the start, and we donned the garbage bags I had packed as we made our way in.

Did I mention it was raining? A huge storm had unleashed the previous night just as we left the expo (and cancelled the 5K that evening) and it then proceeded to rain all night. It looked like it cold pour all during the race, and while like running in the rain, running with rain-coated glasses is NOT fun. I was hoping for no more than pleasantly cooling drizzle. It rained lightly on the drive but slowed to a stop as we got to the start. We lucked out! Still, I donned a hat just in case.

The empty finishing chute. Nothing more adrenaline-kicking than sprinting underneath the wing of a jet.

We had about 45 minutes to the start and we spent that time taking turns at the portos, checking our bags, talking race strategy, and wondering what the hell we were doing.

Enthusiasm? Fear? Excitement? Naivete? WE LOVE RUNNING, GUYS.

Fifteen minutes to start, we took our pre-race fuel and headed over to the start line. Keeley and her mom hung back to do their own thing (it was her mom’s first half so it was all about fun!), Devin hung near 2:10, and Rose, Dan, my man and I huddled up a few feet behind the 1:45 pacer. Adrenaline surged through my veins – flyover or no flyover (still bummed – seriously, complain to your congressmen about the stupid sequester). At 8:30 sharp, the airhorn sounded and the race was on!

The Race

After a brief bottleneck just before the mats, we quickly wove through traffic while also trying not to get sucked into the fast pack and go out too hard. I quickly lost track of Rose but was very near Dan and NF from the start. I tried not to stare at my watch, but was also trying to dial in to goal pace, maybe a little bit slower to ease in. I front-loaded my playlist with calming rhythm setters – slower beats but very even. Nothing that would kickstart my competitive drive or need to surge. A little Death Cab and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”? perfect. I hit high 7:50s and told myself to hold it right there, go no faster. The 1:45 group was maybe 10 seconds ahead, but I figured we’d catch them eventually; they seemed to be going a hair fast, at least for this early. We hit the first mile right on pace at 8:00 (1:45 is about 8:01, so I needed flat 8’s to break it).

I soaked up the course, the crowds, the experience – the one I had had two years before but had missed last year due to rolling my ankle near the start of a tempo run during race week (I wisely cut the run short when that happened and skipped the race to save Ragnar, even though it wasn’t a bad sprain and I may have been fine). We slowly reeled in the pace group and I tried not to freak out at my splits as they ticked off at an astounding rate – this race was already flying by!

7:40, 7:54, 8:05, 7:45

We caught the pace team not too long into the race, and would alternately come close to the front of the pack and trail off to its tail, depending on the pacer’s speed and the crowd. I noted the m-dot (Ironman) tattoo on the pacer’s calf and marveled at his relaxation at a pace that was just 15-25 seconds slower than my tempo pace. Then I thought about how relaxed I felt, as well. I knew it was early, but this pace felt amazing. I was really relaxed and felt strong.

midrace2 midrace1 midrace3 midrace4

The crowds were great – it’s not a big city marathon/half, but the volunteers were enthusiastic and helpful, and the spectators who came out were there with funny signs, big smiles, loud cowbells, and tons of enthusiasm and encouragement. I waved and grinned and smiled at all of them, especially the little kids cheering their hearts out. Between the magic of running on the biggest Air Force base in the country, how the run felt, and those spectators, I spent a lot of this race running with a big dumb grin on my face.

We passed through a quiet section lined with fields and I really locked into a rhythm, tucked right behind the pacer. I had Florence + the Machine singing my ears (Heartlines and No Light, No Light are AMAZING running songs – try them out!). Whenever I started getting in my head – you’re going too fast, no way can you hold 8:00s, and some of these are 7:xx’s, you’re going to blow up – I shut off my brain and just stared at the gray stripe on the back of the pacer’s singlet. He was also great. He went a little quick at times but overall pretty steady, and always encouraged us up the little hills, warned us about turns, which side water was on, etc. Awesome. It also helped that every time I thought the pace was getting a little harder – maybe I couldn’t hold this? – I realized we were on a little hill, and as soon as it leveled off or went back down (this course is very flat but hey, a hill is a hill, especially at race pace) I immediately recovered and felt great again

7:45, 8:03, 8:03, 8:00

Just as we passed the 8 mile marker, the one significant hill came into view. I remembered two years ago I had to stop to try to figure out a blister situation, and between that and severe GI distress, the race kind of imploded for me from there. Now, I felt great. We slowed a bit up the overpass but once we crested it, we let the hill carry us. Dan and I chatted about how we felt – that it was hard but manageable, and we were trying to make sure we saved some for the end, and we were glad that hill was over. So we kept on trucking.

8:12

We approached Wright State to a slew of crowds on either side, cheering and hollering and cowbell’ing. I had Lady Gaga singing “Applause” in my ears, and got extra pumped for the crowds. I took my second gel at this point – I had taken one at about 5 and wanted to wait until 9ish (with a close-by water stop – I had decided to forgo my handheld, which I worried about when the rain stopped but ended up being just fine) for the second. I had packed three but thought I had lost one. Turned out it was buried in my race belt so I didn’t need to be so stingy, but I ended up no needing more than two mid-race Gus anyway!

midrace6 midrace8 midrace9 midrace10 midrace11

Around 10 miles, I could feel the urge to speed up, but told myself to exercise patience. Around this time, too, I realized NF had fallen off the pack. He’s been dealing with some training hiccups that we’re still trying to hash out – you can read his race report here.

Patience, I told myself. Patience.

The pack was dwindling, and there was only one other woman in it – whom I chatted briefly with – as we headed onto the rollers of the last couple miles. I alternated water and Gatorade a bit at the aid stations but still felt strong and comfortable, fuel and temperature-wise. My legs wanted to push, but I kept reining it in, forcing myself to stick right with the pacer as the pack grew smaller (though I’m not sure how much of the pack surged ahead vs. dropped off. Wasn’t really paying attention).

8:06, 8:02

The last couple miles of the course get pretty damn fast. I knew we were getting close and while I told myself to be patient, my body started to surge. There was also a not insignificant downhill pretty much all the way to the finish. I still stuck to the pacer like glue, trying to think calm thoughts, focusing on my breathing, keeping my arms relaxed, and being as patient as possible.

7:42

I talked to the pacer briefly, thanking him for his awesome pacing that was pretty much guaranteeing me a PR. As we headed into the final mile – and I knew this from two years prior – you can see the entire rest of the race, including the loooooong finishing chute. The set-up is pretty cool, but the last 1.1 being completely in sight is also a tad cruel. We headed toward the chute, which has a long turnaround to the final chute with the jets all lined up, and I started to kick. I glanced at my overall pace for the first time since about 10K (confirming that I was comfortably sub-50 at that point and therefore on pace – something that had scared me pre-race. It took me a lot of work to break 50 minutes the first time in a 10K, and now I was going to try to do it in the middle of a half??) and said, “Holy shit.” Another guy in the pace group asked, “PR?” And I told him my PR was 1:49 so I was about to crush it. He told me to go get it.

And I did. I started giving it everything I had, easing into a surge, my legs turning over faster and faster beneath me, while trying to stay in control for the long chute. I plunged around the corner and soaked up the roar of the crowds as the pain began to set in. I missed my watch beeping just before the 13-mile mark and just kept sprinting, begging the finish line to come closer a little faster.

7:17, 6:07 pace to the end

I saw the clock in the low 1:40s and grinned all the way across the finish line, before my emotions overcame me and I burst into tears (much to the distress of several volunteers who asked if I needed help before realizing I was just overwhelmed with joy).

finishline1 finishline2 finishline3 finishline4 finishline5 finishline6 finishline7 finishline8 finishline9 finishline10 finishline11

I stumbled along, my hands over my mouth, trying not to weep, and tearfully thanked the volunteer who put a medal around my neck (didn’t get an officer – bummer), then got wrapped in a space blanket, walking slowly until I heard Dan’s name being called as he crossed the finish a little over 1:45. We got our food and waited near the tent for the rest of our party, delirious and happy.

Post-race

After some noshing, I headed to the results tent to get my timing printout. I had wanted sub-1:45, but my Garmin had me so close to 1:44, clocking 1:44:04, and since I had started my watch early and stopped it late, I had hope for going a full minute faster than my heart-of-hearts goal. And then I saw my timing printout.

Chip time: 1:43:56 (7:56 avg) – New PR***

Almost fell over trying to manage this goofy pose – serious dead legs!
Our whole crew post-race

The rest of the day was spent celebrating. We got our free beers and limped back to the cars, sore, tired, and victorious. Despite numerous training setbacks, Devin finished his first half around 2:20. Keeley and her mom rocked it at about 2:22. Dan came in about 1:45:30ish. And Rose had an amazing virgin 13.1 time of 1:50!

Keeley had to head back to Cleveland for family time and her flight the next day, but the rest of us partied it up. We showered, then went to a local bar to stuff ourselves with beer, burgers, wings, and fries, napped for ages, watched Anchorman, ordered pizza, and drank some more while playing Drunk Jenga (yes, really) and Nertz before crashing.

Gimme.
True recovery: compression socks, up on the couch, laying on the floor.

The next morning it was breakfast, pack, clean, and head to the museum before we parted ways after an amazing, adventure-filled weekend!

Now what?

Well, I’ll deal with questions about my next half-marathon goal at another time. For now, we’re in the final weeks of marathon training! We’re halfway through our second to last hard week before the taper. I know the fatigue is accumulating in my legs, but I’ve been eating well (and a TON), doing great on my runs, and have managed a lot of miles this week already (but I’ll recap that after this week is over). I’m going to need to really sit down and figure out my MCM race plan, but for now I think sub-4:00 is still the goal I should set my sights on. I would hate to get greedy…

MCM Training Week 10: The Big 2-0 (part one)

The miles are really piling up now – and as is the rest of my life. In fact, I have a race this week, and a million billion things to do, so let’s make this short and sweet!

Last week called for a LOT of shuffling. Here was the original schedule:

Monday: cross-train

Tuesday: 7 miles easy

Wednesday: cross-train

Thursday: 9 miles speedwork

Friday: 4 miles easy

Saturday: rest

Sunday: 20 miles

But there was one MAJOR kink – Yom Kippur, a Jewish fast holiday, began Friday evening and lasted through Saturday night. So here’s how it all went down.

Monday

The boy and I went on a really beautiful, super-early 7-miler since he had an early morning commitment. We could definitely feel Saturday’s 18-miler in our legs, but it was a pretty great run: uphill first half, cruising downhill second half. I brought music along, but never turned it on, just enjoying early morning quiet and the great company.

Tuesday

We hit the track for a grueling mile repeat workout – 5×1600. And of course these were the days summer decided to rear its ugly head. It was in the low 70s and brutally humid, to the point that when I stopped after the third repeat to down a gel and get a few sips of water, I did want I detest (because it makes me self-conscious, I know people have strong feelings about this) – I stripped off my singlet and ran just in a sports bra. So worth it – cooled me a good couple degrees. I completely nailed this workout though, despite the conditions. My first for repeats all hovered around 7:13, and just a shade under 7 minutes for the fifth one. It felt really hard, but also manageable. The planned gel/water break after the third repeat helped me mentally break it up so I never quit.

After work I had my 5:30 Pilates class – with only three of us regulars there, so she took us through an advanced class. Obliques: shredded.

Wednesday

NF and I both headed to my gym – he lifted while I was at spin, and I later joined him and did a squat series and a few more leg exercises. We wrapped it up with a core workout and a quick coffee date before we started our work days.

And then I got to work and realized I had forgot my packed lunch and breakfast at home (but remembered to make sure the boy had his lunch). So I ran to the Starbucks at Target next door to the office and got a pumpkin cream cheese muffin. NECESSARY.

Thursday

Two days in a row of cross-training? Okay! I got a late start but got in almost an hour of lifting – all arms, and a little core, and ended on some stretching and foam rolling to try to loosen up my sore legs.

Friday

I had taken the day off of work for the long run. We woke up at 5, ate our oatmeal, and I ran around the apartment like a chicken with my had cut off, not sure where my armband was (found it hours later), or my handheld (found it), or my brain/sanity (still at-large).

Dark start, but the sky lightened up quickly when we got going.

We got started a little late, but drove out to Montour and were running by about 6:40 or so. It was cool but humid, and we were guzzling water pretty quickly. We did a 10 mile out-and-back that was about 8 miles of a long, slow climb, a little dip, and then turn around and do all that in reverse. We refilled our bottles twice, and NF went dry the last couple miles. He was struggling a bit – we think he may have something metabolic going on, possibly an iron deficiency – but we got through, and even made it the full 20 miles in under 3 hours! Not that you need time goals on long runs, but very encouraging for my sub-4 marathon goal.

We hurried home and got cleaned up, and then it was Mission: Eat All The Food, especially since I was staring down the barrel of a full day fast. I wasn’t dumb enough to think I could really manage it (a Jewish fast is hardcore – no eating or drinking, not even water, but I planned on drinking water and not being a moron about the fact that I just ran 20). Lucky for me, my appetite showed up right away! This NEVER HAPPENS with these high double-digit runs. Like a good Jew, I gobbled up a lox-and-bagel sandwich. And sweet potato fries, because reasons.

NF went off to start his day while I did laundry and packed and then made the drive to Cleveland to spend the holiday with my dad. I stopped at a service plaza and tried out a Panera “supersmoothie” (not bad) and for our last meal, we had steak, baked potatoes, grilled veggies, and salad. And a glass of wine (probably not the wisest).

Now, I do NOT recommend running 20 miles and trying to fast the next day. That being said, I was VERY hydrated – I drank a ton of fluids on Friday before, during, and after the run, and had no hydration issues early in the day. I downed 16 oz of water when I woke up Saturday morning. By 3 pm when we got home from 6 hours in services, I had a protein bar to try to relieve my splitting headache, and some more water. Then I napped for 2 hours. By 5:30 lights hurt my eyes and I just wanted food NOW. I probably should have eaten more, but it was manageable. We had classic breakfast foods (bagels and lox again!) for the break fast meal at a relative’s house, and I made sure to have a clif bar as well as a gel before I ran on Sunday – for easy miles that felt fine but I really just wanted to be done with.

Oh, um, and you know how I said I did laundry Friday before I left? I hang dry my running gear, so none of it was ready. So I was left with this outfit:

Bright yellow Pittsburgh half shirt, violet melange rogas, and purple ProCompression socks – COORDINATION.

Week 10 complete.

Now – cutback! It’s also a mini-taper, since the USAF Half is on Saturday! I have lots of plans for this week, but mostly it’s about 1.) eating clean, 2.) carbo-loading, 3.) sleeping a LOT, and 4.) stretching and foam rolling every night before bed.

And I have a buddy helping me out with the last one. 🙂

 

MCM Training Week 9: Monster Month Commence

This week was the start of the really high mileage. As if my legs hadn’t already been feeling it. Fortunately for me, my Seattle high seems to have bled into this week. I already talked about my run on Monday – technically part of this training week – but  we can skip ahead. I got back from Seattle late Tuesday night, and optimistically set my alarm for 5:30.

Hit snooze until 6 a.m. Reset it for 7:30 and curled back up with my man. Then after a couple more snoozes, awoke with start at 8:13. Oops. Had to leave for work in 17 minutes! Here comes the wash-face-throw-hair-in-French-braid-lots-of-deodorant runner bath comes in. Oh well! But when I got home from work, I decided to take advantage of the 75* and sunny weather and run wherever I felt like. In a shirt that may or may not have actually been clean. Whatever – Oiselle fly style never stinks! So far.

I ended up running up to Highland Park and zig-zagging back for a quite random 4.75 mile run (on the nose, too), which left me with 2.75 easy miles to tack on later on the week. No biggie! My main concern was the fact that I had a tempo run the next day – 8 miles with 6 at tempo pace – and the run to Highland had been a little speedy at points for an easy run (though still felt easy).

And then I rewarded myself with a little post-run treat that was leftover from NF’s bachelor party. Chocolate chip bacon muffin/cupcake-thing? YES PLEASE.

My runger never judges me for my post-run cravings.

NF has been dealing with some feelings of burnout, I think mostly related to his stress outside of running, so he decided to stick with me on the tempo. My goal paces this season have been 7:30-7:45, but my overly competitive self has been demanding the faster end of things, even when I try to ignore the watch, so I told him that I was going to aim for 7:40s and ignore the watch as much as possible, and just try to enjoy it.

Then this happened:

mcm-week-9-tempo

NF’s Garmin clocked faster splits – probably due to both our watches going Haywire in Oakland with all the buildings. Mine usually clocks fast around there, like his, but this time it clocked slow, so we were pretty far off each other near the end. No big, just interesting. Either way, I nailed this. I felt really relaxed and in control throughout most of the run. I didn’t even want to hit lights, which I usually do when I’m suffering – the only exception was in Bloomfield after climbing Millvale, cause it gets a little gnarly, but other than that I just wanted to keep on cruising. NF was starting to flag near the end, but punched it back up to the point that I was struggling to keep up with him in the last 1/3 of a mile or so of tempo. I think it was a little mental break he needed, and having him there to pace me and distract me was a huge help in getting me a successful, confidence-boosting tempo run: one without any quitting.

Friday I did a little out-and-back to wrap up my easy miles for the week. We had a new problem, too: I was about to run four days in a row. Not a huge deal, but not something my body always responds well to. The travel had messed with my schedule, and on Saturday it turned out we had two sets of plans: a wine tasting in Saxonburg in the early afternoon, and a friend’s birthday party in the evening – all with plenty of alcohol and junk food. So we moved the long run to Saturday morning, treating ourselves to a Friday night sushi date night (our other pre-long run favorite. The light fish and rice seem to serve us well).

We got up at 5:30 and had our oatmeal and last minute fluids and then took forever to get out the door – it was probably 6:50 when we were finally ready to run and outside (had been aiming for 6:30). Oh well.

Can we talk about the fact that it was an absolutely perfect morning?

Hello, autumn!

I had to stop and take a few shots from the 40th Street Bridge – with the fog rolling in and the regatta stating their morning early as well. Wonder why anyone would get up so darn early to run? Look no further.

The first six miles flew by – we ran on North Side and crossed at Roberto Clemente, passing through Point State Park for a water fill-up (though we hadn’t been drinking a ton since it was so darn cool out). Then across Fort Pitt to Southside. Things got a little bleh for a while – it’s that point where you feel just how many more miles you have to go. And while still pleasantly cool, we were running into the sun for several miles. Soon enough, we were near REI where we picked up Devin and slowed down to get him through a 7.3ish mile long run. I spent the whole run chatting with the guys, and didn’t turn on my music until the last mile.

We headed across Hot Metal after an out-and-back to get the right distance, and got more water at the trailhead for Eliza Furnace, and crossed the tracks. This time I DIDN’T fall on my ass. VICTORY.

We slogged up the hill and I decided to stick with them until the very last mile. We had originally planned to do the last two at half-marathon goal pace, but since NF was still recovering (and doing awesome) and this was my first 18 of the cycle after the stubbed toe incident, I decided to hold out a bit longer. Just as we were heading down Morewood, I kicked in and played a couple power songs, clicking off a 7:39 mile that felt – not easy – but cruising until maybe the last quarter mile (the downhill at the beginning of it may have helped just a tad).

And what did I come home to after the long run? A delivery from Brooks Running! An awesome Hanson singlet signed by Desiree Davila!

Thanks, Brooks!

A great end to a great training week! And the fun is just beginning. Last week was the definitive start of Monster Month – which is both revered and feared by marathoners for its weeks of high mileage, long tempos and speedwork sessions, and near constant fatigue. So far I feel pretty good – my recovery run today felt decent, even if I could feel the 18-miler in my legs. This week we run our first 20 miler, then it’s a cutback week/mini-taper before our tune-up, the Air Force Half-marathon. Then two more weeks of build (and oh, how gnarly those two weeks are…) and then the taper hits! It’s flying by, but I know in a couple weeks my legs will be begging for mercy.

Until then, bring on the high mileage!

MCM Training Week 8(+): Hello, Seattle!

Last week was a recovery week, and it was a very good thing it was, since I was hardly at home at all. I did some run-juggling, and got some bonus miles in, and had a solid overall training week! The only thing missing was pretty much any cross-training. At all, whatsoever – womp womp. Win some, lose some.

As you may recall from last week’s post, I managed to slam my toe against the bed the evening before an 18-miler, and had to bag said 18-miler less than a mile in. Well, I made the right choice, and bounced back fast. Early last week, I was in my hometown in Cleveland, Ohio, so I could catch my brother, sister-in-law, and cute-as-a-button four-month-old nephew, who were passing through town after a wedding. I arrived Sunday evenign in advance of their Monday arrival. The 5 a.m. alarm was a bit cruel, but I knew I wanted to get started working as early as possible (I couldn’t afford the time off so I worked remotely) and get in as many hours as I could before their arrival. And 5:30 a.m. run start means one thing – visibility!

Be seen!

Yeah, I tend to wear it over a hat regardless, which – yeah – causes a shadow, but prevents annoying headlamp bouncing. I have another, better headlamp but have yet to find it since the move (it’s…somewhere. I swear it is). I was still a bit wary of my toe – which was still taped, and by Sunday night was visibly black and blue, but it felt fine to walk on and I figured I’d cancel the run a the first sign of trouble. Ran an old standby 3-mile route in my mom’s neighborhood, and had no issues! The dark had the added effect of slowing me down, since night vision always seems to make you go faster than you think you are, and I kept trying to slow down. Perfect for a recovery week.

Being in Ohio led to other temptations though, like craving my hometown(ish) pizza. Which I caved to. No picture – I wolfed it down. Worth it.

Tuesday morning I decided to squeeze in my 5 miler, a little less in the dark but still pretty dark – 5:30 wake-up. I ran past my old high school on a familiar route (gotta love being home and remembering your old loops) which was pretty quiet since it was maybe like 6:20ish when I passed it. Had a cop look at me funny as I ran past the front office on the sidewalk, but otherwise it was uneventful, and still at a perfect recovery pace.

Wednesday I thought about getting in another quick run, but sleep won out after two days of too much work, not enough sleep, and being wiped out from hanging with family (not complaining. I mean – THIS FACE). I headed back to the ‘Burgh that night, sleeping in the next morning but heading out for a 6 mile easy run on Friday on a really pretty morning. NF was rocking his 12 miler head of his bachelor weekend, so we got the first mile together before splitting off. I pretty much kicked this run’s ass, despite being all uphill the first half, and aided by the downhill second half. It was a good way to start my last real Friday of summer, working a half day before heading to the airport to journey to SEATTLE!!

Brooks and Oiselle – you guys are going to your homeland!

I wanted to pack light, so opted for just my Brooks Launch, which are still – far and away – my favorite shoe, especially for speedier stuff, but holding up great over distance, including 26.2 I got a long weekend’s worth of stuff – including 3 full running outfits – into an overnight case and a backpack. BAM.

Fuel for the weekend! Clif bars for snacking, Nuun for hydrating, Gu for pre- and mid-run fuel.

After my two-hop journey, I landed in Seattle around 11:30 and was picked up by my college bestie and run buddy, Abby, whom I had not seen since graduation (because I am the Worst Ever). We were instantly psyched to see each other but also pretty exhausted, so we crashed pretty hard that night, and were woken by the sun around 8ish. First item on the agenda – fun run! We did a 4ish mile loop of hers – nice and easy – through an arboretum near her Capital Hill digs. She’s bouncing back from a hip stress fracture and tendinitis, and these were bonus miles for me, so we were quite content to enjoy the sights and each other’s company and not give an ounce about our pace. It was an exquisite morning – sunny, breezy, and I think in the low 60s. Pretty typical Seattle summer weather, evidently. Zero complaints here!

Post-run selfie in Oiselle Winona tank and roga shorts!

We then walked our feet off all over Seattle to the point where I had to don compression sleeves to ease my cramping shins.  Phew! I unfortunately didn’t document all the legit post-run fueling we did (read: total food bombs) but we did have an awesome brunch at Skillet Diner – scarfed down the most amazing Breakfast sammies ever. And how cute is this joint?

I was generally impressed with this city’s ability to cater to restaurant patrons’ food needs. I’m sure it’s mostly catering the veg/vegan/gluten-free-diet-plzkthx folks, but Abby can’t eat lactose (gives her migraines) and not only were they thorough in making sure she didn’t have any, including swapping out the brioche on her sandwich, but gave stellar suggestions of good replacements. Two thumbs up.

We also got some ginger beer. Overly sweet so we should have shared, but still pretty great.

Sunday morning was long run day – I had a 12-mile run scheduled with 4 miles at half-marathon goal pace (8:00-8:15). Since Abby’s still ramping back up, we figured we’d run the start together, she would walk or hang out during my race pace miles, and we’d run back together (doing an out and back path, natch). I figured I’d bring my iPod for the race pace miles and just keep my headphones in my pocket til I needed them. Then I tried to turn my iPod on – “please connect to power.” D’OH. No music motivation. I was a little nervous at this point, but figured I’d get in the miles and have fun, regardless of whether I could nail race pace.

First off, Abby lives on a massive hill, so both our runs from her place started off running down this monster:

After that, we had a short but steep climb, followed by a long downhill along Madrona with a stunning view. I didn’t take any shots from up there, unfortunately, but trust me – it was gorgeous.

We did I think the first 3.6ish miles together before her hip started barking at her and she wisely backed off to a walk. We’d been going pretty easy and enjoying the views that I wondered at my ability to pick it up, especially without the aid of music. I figured I’d give it a shot, at least pick up the pace a tad, and just enjoy myself. I hit 4 miles and just eased into it. What happened next shocked me.

Talk about a Rave Run

I began the first race pace mile in the low 8:30s – not great, but not bad. I figured I’d just roll with it and enjoy myself. But as the views whizzed by, and other runners and walkers and cyclists passed by with waves and smiles, things started to click. I got through the first two miles in 8:13 and 8:11, respectively – it felt hard, but doable. I stopped at the turnaround to snap some photos and soak up the scenery, then eased back in… and threw down the hammer.

Just had to stop during one of the last race pace miles to get this shot.

I wrapped up the race pace miles in 7:57 and 7:54 and felt on top of the world. I waited for Abby at that point, but she told me to go ahead and I hopped back into easy pace, ending VERY easy getting up those gnarly hills. Here’s the elevation chart for an idea of what I was contending with. I kind of loved it though.

seattle LR elevation

Foam roll love – my IT bands were especially hankering for it!

Abby and I scarfed down a quick breakfast – peanut butter toast for both of us, bananas, apple slices, and Greek yogurt with honey between the two of us – showered up, and headed to the Honey Hole to pick up sandwiches and hang out at Green Lake for a picnic and a walk. My legs were getting some serious love! We also stopped by Super Jock ‘n Jill – where I drooled over some pretty new Oiselle threads, but resisted buying (for now).

Lots of SUP action on Green Lake

We also found some time later in the day – between exploring and taking in some gorgeous views – to refuel with some ice cream at Molly Moon’s.

Monday morning we headed to Seward Park, which I had fallen maybe like a half mile short at the long run turnaround. And MAN what views! It’s hard to tell where the clouds end and where Mt. Rainier begins!

We walked a loop of the park – a little shy of 2.5 miles – before I decided my legs felt good enough for a run, and I really wanted to cruise along and see the sights that way. It’s funny how different things can seem walking versus running, and it’s great to see it both ways.

Abby snuck this shot of me as I took off on my run loop 🙂
What did I say about those views? Mid-run shot.

Still in our semi-sweaty clothes, we caught some scrambles at Both Ways Cafe – a great, quirky little hole-in-the-wall type place, before we decided to crash for the afternoon and do things like laundry and pack before cooking a delectable and super-clean dinner. With, um, beer. Duh.

Baked yams, sauteed onions, red bell peppers, and garlic, quinoa, mixed greens, and harvest tomatoes (feta sprinkled on for me) – and Deschutes Twilight summer ale

So, yeah, this definitely bled into week 9, but it was necessary! My love affair with running got a major boost this weekend, and I fell completely head-over-heels in run-love (and everything else-love) for Seattle. May have to move there someday… just maybe…

Bye-bye Seattle – beautiful, rainy day departure. I’ll try not to stay away long.

MCM Training Week 6: Return of the Hunger Beast

Can you hear it? That little rumble?

It’s the hunger beast, and it’s growling for food. It doesn’t matter that you fed it five minutes ago. It doesn’t matter if you ran five miles or fifteen miles. It wants food – right now. And if you don’t feed it, there will be consequences.

Mileage is still on the moderate side, but is edging up fairly rapidly, and we’re still in the first half of the training cycle, so it’ll only get worse from here. My only ally? Snacks. Healthy, filling, delicious snacks. And lots of them.

I’m doing my best to jump back onto the cross-training wagon, with just a few obstacles in the way. I did an arms and core workout on Monday, an easy 3(ish) miler with the boy on Tuesday, but Pilates was cancelled (read: she told us she would be absent but put in for a sub, and the gym management had no idea what was going on), so that was a real bummer. Wednesday I made my triumphant return to spin – the day before I decided I wanted to try again, and this time I was actually looking forward to it. And it paid off! I didn’t exactly bound out of bed at the 5 a.m. alarm, but I wasn’t feeling a knot of dread at the impending hour of sweat and possible boredom, so I think my time off from it may have been just enough. It was a decently full class, and while the bike I was on was kind of crappy (really had to crank it to get any kind of resistance – all those bikes have issues, though), I got in a solid workout and a great sweat.

Thursday was track day, and we had 4×1600 on tap. I was gunning for between 7:00-7:15 and was mostly in a blissful state of mental denial as we got up well before dawn and headed to the track. I was looking forward to the fact that Tess was going to be able to make it this time. Tess is really fast at short and mid-distance, though her hip won’t allow her to go farther than 6 or 7 miles usually (a feeling I am well familiar with), and has a similar competitive side to mine, so I knew it would be fun and interesting, and a very good distraction to have her there. We warmed up with five easy laps around the track before we took off.

Tess stuck behind me like a shadow for the whole of the first two repeats. Any time I thought I had lost her I’d give a quick glance  back and she was still tailing me, which kept me on pace more than I could ever believe. This was her first taste of mile repeats, so we modified the workout a bit into a ladder. After my second repeat, she did a bit of an extra jog rest period as I gunned into my third, and brought me in for the last 800 of repeat #3, which is usually when things get a little gnarly. The perfect motivation.

Repeat 4 I really wanted to crank it, and was finally starting to feel the pain – having Tess there so took my mind off of the effort that at times I was truly on a runner’s high and it felt more like tempo pace than speed, but nothing stays that way forever. Tess ducked out until the last 400, and while I had been at 7:00 pace for the final leg, she pushed me the last lap and I wrapped up a 6:46 1600. Awesome!

Friday I was a lazy butt getting out of bed – my sweetie was in Illinois visiting family so I didn’t have anyone there to motivate me to get my ass to the gym. But I made up for it with my walk commute plus a 40ish minute body weight strength workout while watching some West Wing after work.

Sunday morning, my 5:30 a.m. awoke me in the dark, alone, for my 17-mile long run. I had loaded up on my usual granola pancakes for dinner the night before, and I made a very small bowl of quick oats for breakfast (1/3 cup oats with some brown sugar cooked in water – generally avoid dairy pre-run).  I had a few moments of panic trying to find a handheld, then jammed a bunch of extra gels in there. I pocketed my iPod for later (still missing my armband) and cell phone in a fuel belt, slapped on my Road ID and Garmin, and was out the door just after 6:30.

Half a mile out the door I realized I had applied lube only to my feet and nowhere else. Too lazy to head back, I just crossed my fingers and kept going. Fortunately it was an absolutely perfect morning – mid-60s and overcast, and breezy at times. There were occasional rain drops but it never really rained.

View from the 40th Street bridge – no Pittsburgh long run is complete without bridge crossings

Pittsburgh really is runner’s paradise – there are so many trails that are well-maintained and trafficked, and you can almost never get bored. I came across lots of bikers, walkers, and other runners, mostly friendly and returning my waves and smiles and “good morning’s.” One guy near where I started on the North Side was clearly waiting for satellites to lock in, but caught up with me later and we chatted briefly. Mostly “how many miles today?” before we wished each other well and he took off.

Maybe a half mile from the Andy Warhol Bridge, which I was dying to see, another runner started to overtake me with a wave, when I asked him how many miles. He said he was also going 17, and when I said that was my mileage, he slowed down and we ran together for the next little bit. He’s training for Columbus, his sixth marathon, and was hoping for maybe a 3:15-3:20 (PR of 3:30) but wasn’t sure. We chatted about the trails, getting in these long miles alone and so early (I mentioned my running buddy was out of town so I’d been dreading it a little but it was going well so far). I was probably going to tell him to go ahead at his pace eventually but soon enough I came to my bridge and told him to enjoy his run, heading on up the stairs.

I designed this course specifically to see the result of the Knit the Bridge project, which you can read more about here. It’s an amazing project, and the studio wasn’t far from where I live so I often passed by and saw the massive squares these folks were working on to yarn bomb the bridge. I unabashedly stopped my watch for photo ops of the sight:


I hopped off the bridge into downtown, traveling all the way around the Point to see more of the finished fountain, taking five minutes to chat with a park worker about the city and my upcoming marathon.

Then it was on to Fort Pitt (bridge #3) and up to South Side where I made my way back across on Hot Metal, forgoing an out-and-back in favor of wandering around flat-ish Oakland to make up the last two miles.

Fearless bunny I encountered on South Side.
View of downtown from Hot Metal

I was starting to feel all those miles as I headed toward the Eliza Furnace trail head, with about 4 or 5 miles to go. As I neared the parking lot, I debated going all the way around or just cutting across the tracks to get to where the path picked back up. I ended up doing the former, but somehow overshot the little rocky path that heads down across the tracks, and wound up walking down a slightly steeper portion of it. A split second before it happened, I had a premonition of the rocks starting to tumble and me falling, and then it happened – luckily my ass broke my fall? I landed solidly on a rock with my tailbone and waited for a few moments to see how I felt. I knew it would be bruised and sore, and my right leg was now covered in dirt, but I didn’t seem to have done any real damage. Other than ruining my streak of not falling this year.

The last few miles went reasonably well, and I was able to kick it home the last two at goal half-marathon pace, finishing on a side street a couple blocks from my apartment for lack of a perfectly measured route. I quickly got showered and cleaned up, and began icing my rear – yesterday it looked like a thumb print, not it’s a pretty ugly purple and blue bruise, but it’s mostly okay, just a little sore when I sit or lay on it a certain way. No Pilates for me tomorrow.

The rest of the day I spent looking for and then feeding the Hunger Beast. Some of these super-long runs sap my appetite, so I pushed through a bagel and cream cheese and some eggs over easy, later sipping on a green smoothie (bunch of kale, two gorgeous peaches from a friend’s CSA, and some milk to add some more liquid). Around 3:30 I thought I should eat again, and had a 4 p.m. “lunch” of shrimp pad Thai – the Hunger Beast approved of the decision. I picked up my guy at the airport at around 7:30, and by 8:30 we were having a late dinner of ravioli with homemade pesto (CSA basil!), sun dried tomatoes, and spinach.

Now, I don’t plan on posting a food diary, pretty much ever, but it has been eye-opening to be using MyFitnessPal pretty religiously this training cycle, mostly to see just how much I need to eat after a long run, usually crammed into the late afternoon and evening when my real appetite returns.

It helps, though, that it’s still summer and there is amazingly fresh, beautiful, wonderful produce out there – not to mention that we got to take a couple of friends’ CSA last Wednesday when they were out of town. Free veggies!

Now I’m nearly wrapped with another week of training – having been working on a draft of this post for too many days during a very busy week. So I think I’ll leave you with a montage of food pictures. Because, I mean, what else is there really, in the thick of marathon training?