Category Archives: recovery

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.

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Race Report: Albany Half-Marathon

Lately, it seems, all I hear is Psalm 23.

I raced a half-marathon on March 4. It went amazingly well. One would think I would have written and posted a race report almost immediately. But I haven’t. The truth is, I’m having a hard time finding words. Finding purpose. Finding a point in writing about a race in the usual amount of detail. You see, in the time since that race, I have attended two funerals, spaced apart from each other by about two weeks. This isn’t the first time I have run a race that was followed by loss. In fact, one of those losses came a couple days prior to this latest race, and it weighed on my mind and heart.

The Thursday before the Albany Half, my husband’s maternal grandfather – his last living grandparent – passed away. He was in his nineties; he had long outlived his wife, as well as one of his children, and he was ready to go. But even when you know that the leaving has let that person have the peace they have long been seeking, the current of loss remains for those left behind. I did not know this man well – though the handful of brief interactions I had with him cemented my belief that this was a lovely human – but I felt the loss deeply, given how much I love my husband, his family, his sweet mother who just lost her father. Given how recently I lost my paternal grandmother, who was similarly in her nineties and long ready to go. Given how, at the end of one visit, when he could not get out of bed to see us off, I was reminded of embracing my own maternal grandfather similarly near the end, feeling his ribs through his thin flesh and clothing.

My sweet mother-in-law asked what was convenient for us for traveling up to Chicago for the funeral given the race, even as I insisted that this did not matter. The race was of little consequence. The funeral was scheduled for the following Tuesday, and thus we continued with our plans to run with whatever we had that day.

In the days leading up to the race, I had no plans to truly taper – I was going to race it, but my training plan did not back off much, so I would still have somewhat tired legs. But on Monday night’s run, I was feeling my right IT band a bit more than I’d like. Tuesday morning, a mile or so into the run, it wasn’t loosening up well enough for my taste. I have battled on-and-off ITBS long enough to know the early signs and how cautious I need to be when it begins to flare. I bagged the run, and scheduled a visit with my massage therapist for the next morning. I booked her for thirty minutes to focus on my legs, and she gave me at least 45 minutes, finding my IT band to be all stuck with my vastus medialis and lateralis. I kept stretching and rolling the rest of the week and was cautious and under coach’s instructions: a few easy miles Thursday, and 3 mile shakeout on Friday. I felt okay. I suppose I ended up tapering in the end.

Shannon and I left work Friday after a half-day of work, and hit the road for Albany, leaving the pets alone for 36 hours with extra food and water. We weren’t going to be gone for very long, though we had never left the rabbit alone for more than 24 hours before (she did fine). Partway through the drive, an Athens runner friend and his wife called to say they were having car trouble and asked if we could help them out. They had a couple check lights come on and wanted to leave their car at a dealership in Albany, and thus needed help getting to and from dinner (we had planned on eating together at IHOP, with some others) and getting to their hotel. We had time to check into our own hotel first (a few miles from the race site) and bumped into Chrissy and James just after their shakeout miles. It worked out fine in the end, meeting up at packet pickup (which was quick and painless) and then taking the car to the dealership, which was literally next door to IHOP. We gorged ourselves on pancakes with friends, and got back to the hotel to get to bed at a semi-reasonable hour. I did plenty of stretches, especially for my hips, before bed. I felt fairly confident I had gotten the issues under control, and had a massage scheduled for fairly early the morning after the race.

The 4:30 alarm jarred me awake, and I recalled a dream similar to the one I had had before Chickamauga (in which I didn’t recall the race at all but dreamt I had run a 3:36. Not quite prescient, but only a couple minutes off). In this dream, I was running a workout back in Athens with 13.1 in the middle at HMP and nailed it, though I remembered none of it. I took this as a good sign.

I got to work with my usual morning routine of making oatmeal with nut butter in the room, texting Chrissy at 4:45 when I went downstairs for coffee. We were out the door before 6:00 am, piling into Chrissy and James’ car, with Dustin and Catherine following behind us. James and Shannon were being huge goofballs, and Shannon got James to peel out at a light, briefly forgetting that Catherine was trying to caravan behind us. Oops.

We got parked and situated, though after we were half a mile from the car I realized I had left my water there – it was fine since they had some at the start. It was freezing. The starting temperature was about 38*, and I was shivering in my throwaway long sleeve, which covered my ARR/Fleet Feet racing team singlet, arm warmers, gloves, as well as throwaway earband, Oiselle bum wrap skirt, and calf sleeves. I’d gone mentally back and forth on my outfit the night before, not wanting to overdress for the hard effort, especially when I knew it would be sunny. I had wanted to get throwaway gloves but never managed to, and figured it was so cold I might want to keep them on. I also knew we’d have support from Athens friends on the course and I could probably toss them my gloves, since this was a good pair I wanted to keep.

We hit the portos immediately and I emptied my bladder one last time. I knew I was well hydrated and with it being so brisk, I wasn’t worried about drying out so I restricted my drinking the last hour so I didn’t have to pee again right before the start (or during the race). With about 20 minutes to go, I headed out on my warmup mile, balling my hands into fists, trying to get them warm.I heard the anthem playing as I rounded a street a quarter mile away. Once I got to the start corral, getting warm was no longer an issue with all those bodies around me.

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Shannon and I exchanged good luck kisses, and I wished my running pals luck and ass-kicking powers. I was particularly psyched for Chrissy, who I knew was ready to totally fuck shit up. She had told me she had thrown the explicit sub-1:30 goal out the window, but I also knew she was 100% capable of going for it. She reminded me not to get sucked in with the pack early on as we lined up pretty close to the front (though I tried not to line up TOO close).

The race announcer counted down, and I tried to take deep, relaxing breaths. With little warning, right at 7:00 on the nose, a start cannon boomed, and we were off.

The race

I told myself to relax early on, knowing the first mile or so was slightly uphill, and tried to ignore the urge to get right on pace (or too fast) early. I knew I had a sub-1:40 in me, a goal I had been trying to reach since getting so close in spring 2014, and my workout paces of late had spelled the possibility of something even faster. Whether it was this pressure on myself, or the mental state I had been in that week from my IT band and the loss just two days earlier, the idea of running hard was quickly putting me in a panic. I breathed. I shook my hands out. I focused on my surroundings, the lovely morning, seeing friends out cheering and taking photos. I forced away the memories of my crash-and-burn marathon here just a year ago. My first mile clicked off fast at 7:32 (goal pace to break 1:40 is 7:37). I swallowed fear.

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The two courses – half and full – split from the start, so for the first few miles it was nice and quiet. I found myself with a small amount of company, and noticeably more men than women. The women I did see, I tried to pace off of and motivate myself with. One man in a neon green shirt proved a steady pacer for the first few miles, though a few times I would glance at my watch and see I was going too fast.

7:32, 7:38, 7:35

I started to recognize sights from the previous year doing the full, and tried not to let this intimidate me. My inner critic was loud and boisterous that morning, and I tried to talk over her. I’m a different runner than I was a year ago. I’m much faster, much stronger, much smarter. I have run a BQ since last year. I have proved myself far, far tougher than I was last year. I’m super fit, more fit than I have ever been. My breathing is completely relaxed. Listen to it. Even through this positive self-talk, I felt my heart palpitate and I swallowed little balls of fear. I would be on the heels of the guy in green, and see my pace dipping below 7:30, and despite my effort feeling relaxed, I pulled back on the reins and my stress level rose. What was going on? My mind was also deep inside my right leg, worrying my IT band would blow up on me any moment. For a few miles, my right leg felt like it was filled with lead. It was dead weight, and I wished I could stop and shake it out. What if I can’t do this today? What if I have to quit? What if I fail?

I got a mental boost around mile 4 when, at a water stop, I saw James and Catherine cheering their hearts out. I smiled big, and peeled off my gloves (the earband had come off during mile 2) and tossed them in their direction.

It was during mile 5 that my race could have gone one of two ways. I found myself in a mental hole that felt familiar – one that I felt in the midst of the Albany full just a year before. I doubted my ability to hold this pace. I doubted my right to be on the course, to be going for my goal. I doubted my legs. I doubted my heart and lungs, even as they stayed steady for me.

7:30, 7:44

Then something happened I have never before experienced. At the bottom of the hole, I found a way out. Somehow, I made it so my slowish mile 5 would be the slowest of the day. Somehow, I picked myself up. I kept fighting. I dug inside my mind and body and heart, and recalled how far I had come. The workouts I had crushed, the doubting voices I had beaten into submission, the fight I knew was in me now and growing every second. I focused on my relaxed breathing, trying to mind my tangents (though more on that later), finding runners to pick off as the front-ish pack I was in was growing thinner and more spread out. By mile 8, I had fully turned my race around. I visualized my inner doubter as a physical being, and I told her to leave. I let her shout her doubting words – you can’t do this; you aren’t strong enough; you aren’t fast enough; you don’t have it in you; your IT band is going to start hurting; this is too hard – to the wind, swept away behind me. I imagined her standing on the curb and watching her words fall to the sidewalk – impotent, ineffectual. Her words couldn’t touch me. I imagined enormous wings spreading out behind me and I took flight. No one could stop me but that voice, and I left her in the dust.

7:39, 7:38, 7:30

As the course wound through neighborhoods on the back half, I took this time, this second chance at these miles to enjoy their beauty. A year before, in these miles, I was in immense pain. But now I could soak in the beauty. The turns were many, and I honestly wasn’t sure at times how to work the tangents. The course was coned off to provide directions. At places, this was because only half the main road we traversed was closed to traffic. But on these side streets, I was unsure if these were merely guiding the direction and turns or if I was meant to stay on a particular side of the cone. This probably contributed to the fact that my Garmin reading was well over the distance. Chrissy expressed confusion with the tangents as well, and since she had a lead bike with her (badass), she didn’t want to accidentally cut a cone and be DQ’d as a result.

At one point, rounding a large turn around a lake, I looked up at the trees that arced over the street and tried to memorize how the light looked as it filtered through, Spanish moss ornamenting the branches. I wished in that moment I could have taken a picture.

I kept racing hard. Everything was clicking, and I kept one foot tapping the break. I didn’t want to kick too soon, but running hard felt absolutely delicious. The dead leg feeling in my right leg had gone, though I had creeping numbness up and down it for most of the race. At one point in the last 5K I touched my right leg to see whether my shorts had crept up at all – they hadn’t, it was just that my leg was that numb (an issue I have had for years that sometimes goes away and sometimes reappears, possibly exacerbated or caused by mild scoliosis that crunches my right side and sometimes sets my hips out of place – my massage therapist always checks their alignment). I ignored it and kept running.

7:29, 7:33, 7:29

The course curved onto a familiar turn where, last year, I recalled the 3:40 pacer coming up beside me and passing me, and my despair that day exploded into devastation. But today, I was still racing hard. I still had so much to give. I was trying to hold back for the final mile, but keeping myself in check was getting harder. I picked off a few runners who were beginning to struggle, and the enthusiastic volunteers and course cheerers garnered huge grins from me. I brushed my hand across the shoulder where I had attached the memorial pin for Ashley, the local runner who just last fall was taken too soon by a careless, criminally negligent driver. I dedicated that mile to her. In the next mile, I thought of my grandmother who left this earth last July, the day I raced a half-marathon. I thought of my favorite Hebrew School teacher, who passed in December. I thought of my stepfather’s twin brother, who passed a couple weeks before my grandmother. And I thought of my husband’s grandfather, Tom.

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I felt the strength of all these loved ones in my feet and body and heart. I let them drift in and out of my consciousness as I returned focus to the race at hand. I could no longer keep myself reined in. I was letting loose now.

7:20

I passed the last water stop with just a very quick sip and for the first time, dabbed a bit of the water on myself. I had kept extremely cool during the race, and know in retrospect I could have done without armwarmers, but I was reasonably comfortable. The course curved again, and I had a long rolling straightaway that I recalled cursing the year before. I was relishing it now. I crossed over the railroad tracks (carefully marked with bright spray paint) and struggled to navigate the sharp turn onto sidewalk, under a covered pathway for another sharp turn, and finally onto the last pathway. I knew it was going to be fairly close: my watch had been on the mile markers at the start, but the last 10K I was beeping at the marathon markers for a while (so .1 ahead of the real distance) and in the end, I was beeping even ahead of the marathon markers). I gutted it out.

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7:00

I saw the finish banner up ahead and heard friends yelling for me. I sprinted with all I had, a big, stupid grin on my face when I saw that I would not be letting that clock tick past 1:40, and my chip time would be at least a few seconds better. I had it. I cruised across the line with pure joy and elation and pride. When I knew I had it, looking at the clock, crossing the line, I yelled out in victory. Yes!!!

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final sprint (Garmin read .3): 6:14 pace

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Chip time: 1:39:29 (PR)

My friends found me quickly as I wobbled, struggling with medal and water and heat blanket. I cried. I cried like I always do, whether from disappointment or pride, this time from the latter. I knew I had given a great effort and ran a great race. I also knew, deep down, I had even more to give: had this been my A-race, a 1:38 or even 1:37 may have been in the cards. Rather than feeling disappointment in this, I felt confidence, knowing I had that much more to give for my upcoming marathon.

Once Shannon finished (1:48 and change – very proud of him),  I checked on him before letting him recoup in quiet while I struggled through a sore, tired cooldown mile on the nearby greenway with friends. Chrissy had done what I knew she could: an amazing PR and just over 1:30 (given the difficulty of running the tangents, uncertainty as to what they actually were, if it had been clearer, I know she would have run sub-1:30). She also nailed 3rd woman overall. When we came back, results for top 40 were posted, and I saw my name at the very bottom of this list. At first it seemed I was 4th in my age group, but later on it turned out I had managed 3rd! I won a half-zip pullover and a beer cup. The guy in the green shirt also snagged an AG award, and we thanked each other for the pacing push and congratulated one another on the race. We also all grabbed several more Snickers bars from a nearby tent.

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Chrissy and me – double teammates!
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Just a few of the ARR age group award recipients! Dustin, Chrissy, me, and John

We waited for several other friends to finish, including Justin, who came within seconds of breaking 3 hours (though again with the course tangents question, we mentally gave him credit for breaking 3 hours). He ran an extraordinary race and watching him finish and seeing the emotion overtake him was fantastic to witness.

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AMAZING support team of friends: James, George, and Catherine – they all had their significant others racing, and cheered hard and supported ALL of us.

When we started to get too chilled, we hobbled back to the car and headed to the hotel, parting ways to get cleaned up and celebrate with the various food we were craving (Shannon and I wanted pizza from Mellow Mushroom next door; Chrissy wanted fries from Chick-fil-A).

The next 48 hours were filled with driving. We drove back to Athens. We unpacked, repacked. I got a long, much needed post-race massage with my usual person Sunday morning. We got the pets set up for the sitter (I had texted her when I knew this was about to happen, and fortunately she was available even though it was spring break). We hit the road with Shannon’s parents around 4:30 PM and got nearly to the Kentucky border before calling it a night. I ran a sore and slow but decent feeling 5 mile recovery run on a hotel treadmill (it was raining and I didn’t have spare shoes) Monday morning. We drove on into Chicago. Tuesday morning, I ran 8 sweaty miles on that hotel treadmill. And that morning we said goodbye, not for the first time lately, nor the last. During the service, we recited Psalm 23. Just as we had for my grandmother in July. I cracked.

The entire week was about recovery–listening to my body, listening to my heart. I pushed myself through a stressful, short work week (some shit had hit the fan during my absence). When I knew an early Thursday morning 10 miler was impossible that week (we had gotten back to Athens after 11 pm Wednesday night), I leaned on my amazing running girlfriends for 10 great miles in the evening. I managed to survive 20 miles in fairly decent form that Saturday, in no small part thanks to friends like Chrissy.

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Catherine and Chrissy joined me for the first 5 of my Thursday 10-miler, and Maricia stuck with me the whole way! Love these girls.
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Smiling and goofing – just another mile or two to go in our 20-miler at this point.

I was starting to feel okay again. That’s when it always gets you, isn’t it? Monday morning, I had 8 recovery miles to run. And I felt like hot garbage. There is no other way to describe it. Dead, shitty feeling legs. I felt a little pull in the bottom of my left foot, but didn’t think much of it in the wake of the way my whole body and mind felt. I quit at 3 miles, since it felt worthless. I was overdue for a bad run, I figured, especially given how – though I had felt sore and tired, sure – the recovery week post-race had gone amazingly okay. It had been an intense couple of weeks. But it wasn’t over yet.

That evening, Shannon and I spent a quiet evening at home; we had planned to skip the Monday night run, hence running in the morning, to celebrate his birthday peacefully and by ourselves. A text message from my dad shattered the peace. My uncle, one of his elder brothers, was entering hospice. He had been diagnosed with stage 3b gastric cancer just last summer, and his name had been in my prayers constantly, shared at synagogue during the prayer for healing. At my grandmother’s funeral, I was shaken by his noticeably gaunt appearance, but he seemed at peace with this likely fate: he was living life as he always had –with joy, with family, to the fullest.

Tuesday morning I had 10 miles with 10 x quarter mile hill repeats on tap. I made it a couple miles before the tightness in my left foot – in a classic plantar fasciitis position, between ball of foot and heel (though heel itself felt fine, including upon waking) reared up enough to give me pause, I turned back, and walked in the last tenth, feeling the pulling inch towards pain that made me wince. I quickly scheduled an appointment with my massage therapist for the next morning. An hour before, she cancelled; she had fallen and hurt her hand.

That night, my dad called to say his brother would likely pass in the next ten days. The sound of his voice broke my heart.

My foot was in no pain in daily activities, even when first waking up, or standing from being still for a long time, and in contact with my coach, I tried to run on Thursday, opting for treadmill in case I needed to bail out, with a goal of 3-4 easy miles to test things out. A mile and a half in, the tightness returned and pulled towards pain. I tried the elliptical, then the bike. Mark told me to get off the bike and rest. I called the local orthopedic clinic, where I couldn’t get in that week, and they recommended their urgent care clinic for faster service instead. I decided to try that Friday morning, booking a backup appointment at another PT clinic in Athens for the following Monday afternoon. I also found an alternate massage therapist, and booked an appointment for Saturday afternoon.

But plans being what they are – life being what it is, this month being what it was – I cancelled most of this. We had a friend over for dinner Thursday evening – he’s been struggling lately, too, and I wanted to feed him a nice meal and hang out and chat, because there is nothing more healing than being fed (and, honestly, feeding others is healing for me too), or at least so I have always found to be the case (perhaps my Jewish background). While he was over that night, my father texted my brother and me again. My uncle had passed.

I called my dad. His broken heart crackled over the distance of the phone. I would have given anything to be with him in that moment. To bring him to Athens, to feed him, too. His breathing ragged, he told me the plans he knew of – that the funeral would be either Sunday or Monday. Right before I had called him I had received an email from my cousin, the daughter of this uncle, saying it would be Sunday, and I passed along this information. Within minutes, I had booked a hotel, called my brother and his wife to make plans. He would drive up from where he is in training right now in Oklahoma, and his wife would stay there with the boys (it would be too much to cart the little ones all that way). We both were facing about nine hour drives, drives we knew we could do so that we could all be together. “I don’t have anything to wear. I don’t have a suit with me,” my brother lamented. My father-in-law would lend us a tie to bring to him. It would be okay. Our presence was more important. Our family being together – as many of us as could be there – was what mattered.

You give what you can, when you can, as often as you can.

The next morning, Friday, I went to the urgent care clinic and received a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis – caught early. They gave me a script for PT, which I gladly took. I was told not to run through Sunday, and try to run on Monday if doing well. I was given additional stretches and exercises to do. I was told to ice and take ibuprofen twice a day (if I could tolerate it, which fortunately I can), even if my foot didn’t hurt.

Shannon and I traversed familiar interstates – the drive to St. Louis was two-thirds the same as our recent drive to and from Chicago – and arrived at my aunt’s home Saturday evening. So much of our family was there, and the extra strands of our extended support systems buttressed everything leading up to the funeral service, and when shiva began. In-laws of my cousins (the children of my uncle) lifted them up, gave of themselves, helped keep watch of my uncle’s grandchildren.

I felt the loss of running acutely. My ritual, my healing salve, my outlet was unavailable to me. I diligently performed my stretches and exercises. I pushed away the loss of running, and felt the other loss – the real loss – wash over me. I hoped that my foot would heal enough, would be okay enough to allow me to run the marathon in April. If for no other reason, then to run those miles for my uncle. With his spirit in my heart and his strength in my feet. When words fail me, I know running is there – and I honor those whose strength sustains me through it.

As we stood in the chilly wind at the burial service, I could hardly eke out the words. Psalm 23. The wind billowed at points when his wife, his children shared their words. Every time they had to stop, when the words stuck in their throats, I wanted to run to them. But I knew they were not alone as they stood there, struggling to say those words.

I’m climbing back into my mileage. I ran two hours this past Saturday with minimal issue. I ran pain-free on Monday, and had an amazing workout on Tuesday, including 4x mile at 10K pace with minimal foot tightness. I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ll see my PT and a massage therapist once a week through the marathon. I will run with what I have. I will remember where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

I will run for all those I have lost. For the peace they now have. For the loves ones they left behind, whose grace and strength astounds me, exemplifying the souls who left those bodies, now touching each of us.

I run what I can, when I can, with everything I have to offer then. And sometimes, a little more than I thought.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters.

He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff – they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou has anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

 

A very human beast

Beast.

It’s a word runners use quite a bit. That was a beast of a workout. Hang on – entering beast mode. I have a beast of a post-workout appetite right now!

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Runner at the annual Cook’s Holiday lunch at UGA? Look out.

Perhaps most frequently, the term is used as a compliment to our fellow runners. Perhaps the highest compliment we can give. Beast!

I’ve got a really wonderful core group of running pals here in Athens. The range of abilities and speeds is great, and the encouragement and camaraderie is unending. We push each other, we buck each other up, we support each other. We fist bump before and after every run. And, frequently, we call each other beasts.

When in the thick of marathon training, trading workout war stories with pals, planning out long runs, seeing who is up for some early weekday morning miles, as the paces increase, as the miles stack, it comes around more. You’re a beast!

In some ways, I’ve felt the beast mode pretty acutely. Workouts have been going amazingly well. I got back to training the week of Christmas, and got through the thick of 10-day travel while not missing a mile. While in Michigan with my Grandmom and mom, I ran 15 miles with 8 of the later miles at race pace. I blanched when I first saw the workout on my schedule – such a tough first long run?! Was my coach nuts?? I did the first six with Shannon, ran inside to change tops and use the bathroom (it was fairly cold out so a full top change was actually pretty clutch and kept me from getting clammy/cold), then headed out on a 9 mile loop I had mapped in the sleepy town, surrounding twin lakes. I got some funny looks from drivers as I stayed safely (and hyper aware) on the shoulder, running against traffic, but I nailed every single split. I stopped my watch only once when I missed a turn by a tenth of a mile and had to cross the road. Otherwise, I found a rhythm – locked in immediately – and stayed right there.

Beast.

The next week, I was in Ohio to see my dad and visit lots of friends from my hometown. I signed up for a 5K on New Year’s Eve – one I ran four years ago, and recalled as hilly and challenging – which was written into my training plan as a 9 mile total day, and racing the 5K all out. It was brisk and frigid, and I braced against the cold wind for 3 miles out and back to get warmed up. I stripped off my top layer and headed to the start, where I raced and gritted hard. I still wasn’t near my peak 5K form from my PR a couple years ago, but bettered my time from the summer, despite a dreaded hill in the last mile.

In the last tenth of a mile, I saw a woman up ahead (looking out of my age group – she was) whom I’d been using as motivation to keep pushing. I had drawn her close but, so I thought, not close enough. Then the announcer called out my placing. “Here comes the 4th place woman, followed closely by the 5th place woman!” Okay, time to go!

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About when I heard the announcer state the placing…
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Turn on the jets!
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There’s always one more gear

I nipped her at the line and finished in a 2015 best of 21:45 for 4th woman and first in my AG.

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Fleece blanket prize!

Beast.

My long run that weekend…well, that felt less than beastly. After a few days in a row of running in frigid temperature I was no longer used to (the south having already thinned my blood), and wanting more time to spend with my mom on our last day, I pushed my Saturday 16-miler to Sunday, when we’d be back in Athens, with slightly warmer temps. I ran 10 with the Rogue Sunday group, and felt like I was struggling, slow, tired. I took it slower when I ran the final 6 solo, out and back on the only flat roads in town, feeling better near the end. But still – tired.

The next week was mileage heavy, but less intense on paces: a midweek longish run with strides, a 9 mile tempo with 4 miles at marathon pace. Completely manageable, pretty strong. But 17 on Saturday once again felt…tired. Slow. I let a friend I was running with pull me too fast in places, but I slowed way down on the final 6, running with my pal Nina who indicated she was also a little wiped out. We trotted along and caught up on our holidays. Even though I insisted I didn’t feel amazing (though I wasn’t bonking or breaking down or anything), her sentiment was still: Beast.

I flipped through my training journal, wondering what wasn’t clicking. The mileage had started high – a 45-mile week was Christmas week. I was already topping 50 miles. It was like I was in the thick of it already, because I was. This cycle is really more of an extension of the last. A fine tuning. A gearing up. No track work, all long tempos (with strides in some runs to keep speed sharp). Mark is getting me ready for the end: for the last 10K; for the lead; for the jelly; for the wall; for the place where I need to dig down deep and find another scoop, and then another.

On that 17-mile day, it dawned on me: I moved the long run last week to Sunday. My body doesn’t know that my training log is Monday to Sunday. My body doesn’t know the difference between one seven day period and another. My body only knew I had just run 67 miles in the last seven. I laughed about this with my running friends in our never ending group text. No wonder! And there it was again. That word, that feeling, that encouragement. Beast.

Then followed another build week. I prayed my legs would rebound a bit after those seven hard days and rest on Sunday. Double run Monday, all easy, totaling 10. 11 miles Tuesday, with 5 at tempo: half-marathon pace to 15K pace. Dominated. Smashed. I felt indestructible. Sharp. Thursday, I ran 10 easy with some strides. Friday I had 5, and I took them easy and relaxed. I listened to my body.

believeiam-12jan16 tempo

Saturday had in store for me The Beast – the one I had stared at, wide eyed, when I first got the plan. 18 miles, with 4 x 3 at marathon pace. I knew I had it in me, but my legs were tired. I had 36 miles on them already. It’s going to hurt, I told myself as I tried to go to sleep, sleeping fitfully, dreaming about the workout. It’s supposed to hurt. This is how you become a  beast.

I made a plan, running it by Mark to be sure it sounded sane and good and helpful. I’d make a 4-mile loop that was flat, to imitate the course, and after the 2-mile warmup (out and back on Prince Ave), I’d run this loop 4 times to complete the workout. I would do it solo to get ready for the lonely miles, and the loop boredom would also be a good mental exercise. He loved the idea. Time to execute.

I had my alarm set for 5:30, but my eyes were open and my mind was busy by 5:08. My cat, sensing this, started to cry. I sighed, shut off my alarm so Shannon could sleep, fed her and the rabbit, and started getting ready. I had my usual pre-race oatmeal and peanut butter (and half a banana when I was still hungry) and topped off fluids to make a good dress rehearsal. I headed to Hendershot’s to start at about 7 am. A few cars were already there for early miles before the 8 am club run, the one I was skipping. I waved at runners up and down Prince, and as my watch hit mile 2, I switched my brain into workout mode and took off.

The first mile of each loop felt rough – raw, dialing in, mentally taxing. Mile 2 was a little downhill overall, and usually a bit too fast as a result. I was applying the brakes, especially for the first two loops. Mile 3 was grit and keep going, and then I got to rest. I saw a few friends at the end of the first loop, and Chrissy shouted “move your ass!” per my instructions, but I laughed and said I was on my recovery mile, and she laughed and grinned at me. The pace felt pretty good this first loop, but it waffled between MP feel and HMP feel. By the second loop, I was flirting far more with HMP feeling. My legs were not fresh. I really had to focus on keeping this pace. I checked my watch often.

I kept passing the same people, getting funny looks and I think at one point a shout from across the street (I couldn’t tell what they were saying though). Coming back on a recovery mile, I saw the group run coming down Milledge the opposite way. I got cheers and a boost from seeing friends. Big smiles. Encouraging words. Beast.

Laps 3 and 4…they got ugly. The pace started flirting with 10K feel, and thoroughly felt that way near the end. I stopped my watch a couple times in those last two, heaving with breath. I was relieved whenever I got caught by the two major lights on the loop, in either direction. A familiar feeling was settling into my legs: where they’re encased in concrete, but filled with jelly. Where sometimes running feels like falling, like a failing battle with gravity. I knew this feeling well – it felt like the end of a marathon. I kept pushing. My splits kept clicking off on pace or a few seconds faster. My first two recovery miles were in the 8:30s, my legs spinning happily and easily, fast twitch firing away; the last two were much, much slower.

I slammed through the final hard mile in 7:49 and slowed down to a barely jog, and within a tenth of a mile, stopped my watch to draw in a few extra deep breaths. I saw Chrissy once more, this time calling out from her car as she was heading home from the run. I gave her a wave and something like a smile. Then I jogged in the rest of that last mile. At my car, I was taking out my phone and putting down my water bottle and taking off my belt and the plastic bag for my phone fell to the ground, and this was the worst thing ever, my legs shaking near collapsing as I crouched down to get it. I ran into two friends as I was about ot go into Hendershot’s for coffee and we gabbed about our runs. They congratulated me on the workout. I was proud, exhausted, intimidated. It was supposed to feel like this. It was supposed to feel like this.

It was supposed to feel like this.

This week was finally a recovery week. I took Monday’s miles as slowly as my legs would seem to go (which wasn’t even that slow, actually). Six miles Tuesday with some strides seemed to shake out some lead. Thursday morning’s marathon pace tempo scared me a little – would it feel so, so hard again? It didn’t. Relief. Five easy this morning on the treadmill to escape more cold rain as the winter storm closes in.

But last night–last night, the beast cracked. Near bedtime, about to go brush my teeth, I sat at the edge of the bed, Shannon sitting down beside me when he could tell I was upset about something. I unloaded about how emotional of a week I had had (non-running things; life things), exhausted tears welling up. In control. Quietly weeping.

But I broke. I told him what had been whispering inside my chest louder and louder over the last couple of weeks, or at least since that beast of a long run. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can handle it. What if I fail? What if I quit? What if I’m in those final miles and I just give up? Is this all going to be worth it? It’s going to hurt so, so much. More than it ever has. Or maybe not – because we never really remember the pain at the end of the marathon. Within a couple days, the memory is dulled. A survival mechanism. How else would we  convince ourselves to do it again?

I sobbed in his shoulder. He listened to my darkest fears, my rational and irrational thoughts. What if I can’t?

Finally, slowly, I calmed down. I had had a breakdown like this two weeks before Chickamauga. That one was almost worse – and perhaps I’ll have a bigger one still as I get closer – and he had to talk me down twice within an hour.

As he hugged me, my breathing calming, Shannon said, “I’m almost relieved to see that you’re still human,” he said, recalling how I’ve been crushing my workouts lately. How I seemed almost invincible. That he hadn’t seen me crack. You’re not inside my head, I replied.

There’s a terror in the marathon. There’s a fear. It’s where our brain begs us, stop, don’t, please, no more – because it wants us to hold in reserve when we know we have so much more to give. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s instinctual. It’s programmed into our brain.

But our inner beast can prevail. We can push farther. I’ve been flirting with the edge; this week, I backed away from it, and my body, my mind, my resolve made repairs.

I do want this. I want Boston so badly I can taste it. I don’t go a single day without thinking about it. In that last hard loop last Saturday, I visualized the finish line. I pictured the clock. I imagined glancing at my watch and knowing I had to dig deeper if  I was going to make it – find that safe(r) margin by which to qualify. To feel safe that I’d have a slot. To push to a place I knew I could find within myself. To run on these legs, with these lungs and heart, that are gifts that I can’t take for granted.

After this cutback week ends, I have four hard weeks to build, to grow, to strengthen, before I taper and reap the benefits and get the rest I need. I’ll keep flirting with the edge. I’ll keep pushing it farther out, because I have more in me. I have so much more to give. Because I’m a very human beast.

 

Need for Speed, and Becoming a Georgia Runner

These two things are both at odds with each other, and work in a lovely kind of harmony…but only in the long game.

Let me explain.

A lot of things happened and have been happening with this move. My whole life and routine and support system and running partner network was uprooted. I started a new job. I had to find a new network. I had to build new routes and new relationships. I had to really learn (AGAIN) how to boss hills. I had to learn how to run through weirdly cold dampness of Georgia winter (still better than up north, so I’m not actually whining – just observing) and endure the slow build up of Georgia summer heat, and then a THREE WEEK DEATHLY HEAT WAVE in June. And now we’re in another in July (but now this one doesn’t feel nearly as bad – acclimatization works!)

It’s been hard. Really hard. At first, a lot of it felt like one step forward, two steps back; some weeks it is still like that. But we’re definitely moving closer to two steps forward territory, with more infrequent steps back. Sometimes those steps backward wallop us. But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep fighting.

Or at least this is what I’m telling myself. This is what I’m putting into words here, right now, for myself, really.

After recovering from Big Sur (we took a full week off, including being sick as dogs for that and beyond. ugh), which didn’t take as long as usual given we didn’t “race” it, we started building our base back at a smart, reasonable rate, and eventually adding in some fun speedwork. I also hoped to run at least two 5Ks prior to the Peachtree Road Race on July 4 – I wound up running 3, actually.

And beyond trying to get my speed back (spoiler alert: speed is there, but endurance is not), what I really was doing – without realizing – was solidifying my place in the local running community.

Running with the Dawgs 5K (Memorial Day)

I considered this my first speed “test”: I knew I wasn’t remotely fit, so I just wanted to see where I landed. This was also the first day of the Runner’s World Summer Run Streak, which we planned to do (though I had no plans to hold it farther than July 4 – and, spoiler alert, I didn’t). Shannon and I warmed up with an easy mile, and did some drills and strides, per usual. My legs felt dead and heavy, with no speed in them. My fast twitch muscle fibers felt asleep.

The race started in downtown Athens, and with the gun, we came down a nice downhill before swinging around a block, heading uphill for a bit, and then heading down a screaming downhill. I let my legs fly on it but stayed in control, jockeying a bit with another girl who kept me honest the first half but whom I lost sight of later. The first mile clicked off in 6:40. The course slid on down College Ave before flinging us onto the Greenway and sending us on some rolling hills. It was still mostly flat at that point so I stayed strong in that mile. Second mile: 6:58.

Then the course went baaaaad. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize until I was out there that they were going to send us where they were: we headed up Willow and took a sharp turn onto Hickory; I think there was a photographer, but I have no idea what came of those photos and I’m not sure I’d want to see them. At this point I was passing a girl I had been keeping an eye on for a while (she was wearing full length tights on a hot day so this was a very distracting thing). She was panting really hard but I tossed her an encouraging word as we climbed. And then the course turned right up Broad Street and I unleashed all the curse words (in my head – mostly) for the short but grueling segment that we climbed (3rd mile: 7:26, ugh) before heading into a parking deck (seriously) and sprinting to the finish (final sprint pace: 6:35). I shook hands with tights girl, who finished a few seconds behind me, and coughed up a lung for a while.

Time: 21:54 (7:04 pace); 4th female, 10th overall, 1st in AG

Overall, a good first effort – well off my PR and more like my 10K PR pace (I’m pretty sure my 10K PR is a unicorn now, but we’ll get to that) but I figured if I did some work I could get back there, or at least closer.

PART_1438901593629_IMG953558 runningwithdawgs AG

LEAD Athens Midnight 5K

I knew I wanted to get another 5K in before Peachtree, but when the opportunity for a bit of a novelty presented itself, I went for it: a Midnight 5K. I’d been hearing about it at group runs and had separately run across it online, so I decided to go for it. Shannon was out of town so it would just be me, but my friend Christine and I arranged to meet up.

I have to tell you though – fueling for a 5K at midnight is a bit bizarre. I got home from work around 5:30, relaxed a bit, and then took a 90 minute catnap. I figured getting a sleep cycle in wouldn’t be the worst thing, especially since I’m an old person who goes to bed at or before 10 pm almost every night. Midnight was late. I then made pancakes for dinner and ate them with peanut butter and banana while watching Netflix. By 10:30, I was heading out. I followed the crowd of running shorts and shirts in the midst of drunken bar-goers, and eventually found Christine, who brought glow sticks, because she’s awesome.

We did a short warmup, and I did some drills and strides on my own before everyone began lining up. Catherine T. (aka “the other Catherine” as I jokingly call her. To myself. Really, I’m the other Cath(ryn) because I’m a newbie not that many people know, especially in comparison) was there and was standing with some other gals on the Fleet Feet Elite Racing Team, and I joked with Christine, “I am not going to chase them. I am not.”

midnight5k starting linemidnight5k start

The race began downhill and curved onto Prince Ave and into some darker streets. I picked off a few people and tried to find that perfect 5K pain place. I opted to race without music – I’ve never done this in a 5K, but it was midnight and the roads were not closed for the race, so I wasn’t taking any chances. As we were heading up Prince, the cop escort took us around a turn and a college girl in a truck (she was behind the wheel and I’m not sure she should have been) shrieked “is this a parade??”

We turned onto some side streets and headed toward a short, nasty climb before zig-zagging down Boulevard, which rolls down for a while before rolling up a bit. I kept pushing and tried to avoid tripping in any potholes (I did get caught up on a speed bump, once each way – didn’t trip or anything, just got caught flat-footed for a second). Surprisingly, I was gaining on Catherine. I stalked off her shoulder for a bit, and pretended everyone cheering for her was also cheering for me. 😉 We traded leads a couple times, but I thought I’d lose contact with her when I fell back a bit coming back. Then as we headed the opposite way on that short but steep hill, I caught her as we rounded the next corner. Without music, I could hear her breathing, and I knew I had her. I just kept on going full tilt, heading past Pulaski on Prince (when it starts to go uphill), wondering whether or not a cop was watching the light (no one was, apparently – I got very lucky at a low-traffic moment).

The course turned once more up College and up the driveway to the bank parking lot where the finish was, all uphill, and I gave my best death face while punching stop on my Garmin.

midnight5k finish

Time: 22:06 (7:01, 6:57, 7:21; 7:00 pace sprint up the hill); 14th overall, 2nd female, 1st in AG

Given the difficulty of the course, the fact that it was my second 5K that week, and that it was at midnight? I was OK with the slower time. And I bagged an AG win!

midnight5k ag

Christine and I headed to The Place for half-priced drinks afterwards and chatted with some folks, including the race organizer, Lindsay, and another Athens Road Runners member, Tino. Both EXTREMELY nice people, who along with Will (whom I’d met separately at a Fleet Feet run) get together a lot of mornings to squeeze in some early miles. I got Lindsay’s phone number later that week, and collected the rest over the next few weeks and we’ve been meeting up pretty frequently.

I mentioned that these last few months helped me find community, and as the last mini-race report shows, I’ve definitely made some friends. But there’s another friend that Athens running lead me to that I feel I need to mention. As I said, Shannon was out of town for the Midnight 5K, but he got back late that evening. We had less than 24 hours together, but since we had a run streak to keep, we dragged our butts out of bed Sunday morning for a quick neighborhood loop. It took us a while to get out there. We tossed and turned and cuddled up and resisted the call of the road. But sometimes, timing like this is everything.

We were about a third of a mile or so into the run when Shannon said, “look, a bunny!” We live on the outskirts of Athens, so wildlife sightings aren’t unusual, and we always point out cute animals to each other. So I instantly looked around for a small, brown, woodland creature.

Instead, I saw a little white rabbit chowing down on clover in someone’s lawn. An elderly man sat on a chair a few feet away. He invited us to say hi to the rabbit, saying it was friendly. After a couple minutes of chatting, it became clear it wasn’t his bunny, but had been someone else’s, who had “released” it. Our guess is that it was an Easter gift that became “too much.” Now, this was a white rabbit. Living in a yard. In a neighborhood with cats, off-leash dogs, hawks, and coyotes. We talked to him some more about the rabbit, how long it had been there (a couple weeks), if he knew whom it had belonged to. Eventually, we had to move along with our run.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Shannon and I talked as I drove him to the airport and agreed that, since we had planned on getting guinea pigs soon anyway (after this trip I was getting him to the airport for, actually – we’d have a break from traveling), I could get the supplies (cage, etc.) that we could re-use later if we ended up getting pigs, and get that bunny out of that yard and out of harm’s way.

So I did. Within a week, we took the bunny to the vet and learned that it’s a girl, unspayed, 3 lb, and had ticks. We treated her topically for the ticks, and after very little soul-searching, knew we just had to keep her.

Sometimes you find a friend in the most unlikely of places.

That week, with Shannon out of town, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in my running life: at Monday’s Fleet Feet run, I ran with Camille for a mile, and after she split off for the 3 mile loop, caught up to Catherine and chatted it up with her. We both ended up pushing each other pretty hard, averaging low 8:XX in the pouring rain, and having a blast. Tuesday night was the monthly brewery run at Creature Comforts, and I found myself running and chatting with Lindsay on that steamy afternoon for the 3 mile loop, before joining her, Nina, and Tino at Little Kings down the street (the brewery was way too packed) for a couple beers and some chatting. We talked running and life and Peachtree (and they got me super-pumped for the race). It was lovely.

We parted ways but not for long, since I was up at 4:45 the next day to join them and the usual crew at the speed workout at Spec Towns Track. I had been meaning to check it out, and it helped that I knew a couple people who would be there. I nailed the 6×800 workout at 5K pace and had a blast while doing it. There was a range of abilities but everyone was encouraging and kind and fun, and it was a nice, relaxed setting.

Friday morning, Christine and I met up at Fleet Feet for a hilly 8.6ish miler on a nice morning, chatting the miles away. My husband may have been out of town, but I was actually starting to feel like I belonged here.

Over the next few weeks, I found a real groove: I got my mileage base where I wanted it (30-35 mpw), went to the track on Wednesdays, and dabbled in some shorter Monday tempo runs to try to get more speed back. Wasn’t quite where I wanted, but it was something. Even better, I was finding friends – running with Christine, Lindsay, Will, Tino, and others, commiserating bad running conditions, celebrating consistent splits, and just generally having a great time.

I also managed to snag myself a Garmin 220 from a friend – new watch, and just in time, too…

new garmin

Then was tune-up 5K #3!

Let’s Move 5K

I found this one online when I searched for later tune-up races. It was tiny, local, and in a park in nearby Watkinsville. Getting there, it looked reasonably flat, though I had no clue was the course was like, since I was unfamiliar with the layout of the park. We did our usual warmup – 1 mile easy followed by drills and striders. Unfortunately, it was already 77*, wickedly humid, and the sun was baking us, just in time for the 8 am start. Oof.

I shot out of the gate way too freakin’ fast and spent the first mile slamming on the brakes. I opted out of music again, and decided to suffer in silence. There was one very brief out-and-back section that was shaded, but the rest was baking in the sun, and it was just rolling enough of a course to be noticeable. I clawed my way past a few competitors and tried to hold a good tempo without dying too early. The first mile clicked off in 6:45 and I choked out a 7:12 second mile. In the midst of the third, I found myself once again near the woman in tights from the Memorial Day 5K. She was decently up ahead but I reeled her in.

We hit a turnaround and a tiny girl – I think she as 9 or 10 – was COOKIN’ (turns out she was leading); as we passed each other, I gave her a smile (it was all I could muster) and she said “good job” and I was in awe. We headed back past a water station I once again skipped, and given that the out traffic was heading my way and tights girl was right in front of me, I made a snap decision to surge and pass her before getting caught up.

Then, there was a large gap – and Shannon up ahead. I kept up my surge pace, maybe slowing the barest bit. I came up beside him and he told me to go ahead. I choked out that I was dying. But I gapped him a little, glancing down as my watch buzzed well ahead of the 3 mile marker (new watch means figuring out how far off it tends to measure – multiple sharp turnarounds never help with GPS measurement, to be fair). 6:48. I sprinted as hard as I could and flew through the line, gasping for oxygen. Final sprint: 6:24 pace.

I finished 2nd female. The little badass girl had won!

getting AG let's movegetting AG let's move 2

Time: 21:49 (official/gun); 1st in AG, 2nd female, 7th OA

A few more workouts, and it was go-time: I managed a solid, controlled, strong-feeling Rowland Tempo, an 8×400 track workout (full workout was 10 reps but the in-town coach encouraged us to only do what we felt truly ready for, so I stepped out of two reps. It was the right call. I managed the full workout a couple weeks later!), an attempted 12-miler than ended up being 9 and change because the humidity and lack of wind destroyed my soul, a merciful break in the heat (88* at a Monday night run felt downright blissful), and a race week sharpener of 3×800 at 10K pace that felt sublime, like I was just grazing a well of untapped potential. Maybe I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I knew I also wanted to enjoy my first Peachtree experience as much as I could. I didn’t have a PR (44:02) in me, but I figured I could manage a 45:30ish, or at least break 46 at my current fitness level.

Peachtree Road Race

Shannon and I headed into ATL Friday morning for a full day – I had gotten in my 1-mile minimum streak run (in the pouring rain) and we packed up and hit the road to get to the expo nice and early…to meet team USA, including Shalane Flanagan!

peachtree packingrainy run shalane

The whole group was super nice. I’m a really awkward person in general, and especially around people of celebrity status, so I decided to just ask them questions I would ask any runner: Is this your first Peachtree? What’s your favorite part of the course? Any tips? What are you most excited for? And of course, they are normal runners. Just super-humanly fast.

Best moment, though, had to be this: we’d been waiting in line for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and were nearly to the front (we couldn’t really see the team while waiting, not until we were basically at the front). A woman behind us suddenly asked us, “Excuse me…this is the line to meet Team USA for soccer…right?” (recall that the World Cup was going on at this point)

Shannon and I exchanged quick looks. “This is Team USA for the Peachtree Cup,” I said, trying to keep a straight face. For tomorrow’s race.”

There was a half-second of excruciating silence, and then they both tried to laugh it off. And then they left the line.

Alrighty then.

We got our signatures, got our shop on for a bit, and then wound our way back to the car and headed up to our hotel. We grabbed dinner at IHOP and tried to crash as early as we could for the early alarm.

Well, we happened to way overbudget on time – but better than underbudgeting, right? We got right up, ate some oatmeal that I heated up in the lobby microwave (Hampton Inn 4evar), lubed up, got in race clothes, pinned on bib, tripled-checked everything, obsessed over the forecast, got in the car, drove to the MARTA station, and took MARTA to the start. (btw, for anyone wondering – no, MARTA is not horrible. It’s the same as any other public transportation, only not funded by the state, so it doesn’t go many places.

Since we got there so mega-early, I got to use the portos twice (and the beautiful and clean restroom inside the Ritz Carlton once) and the MarathonFoto people were like a friggin’ paparazzi.

prerace3 prerace2 prerace1

We also got to watch the volunteers raise the enormous American flag over A corral, and in dramatic fashion, “Free Bird” was ramping up to its climax as the flag went up.

huge flag

It started to rain early on, though after hiding under the overhang at the Ritz for a while, it lightened up and seemed to vanish, only to return during the race. Oh well. We were garbage bag’d up to keep dry for the start.

corral volunteers

Around 20 minutes to go time, we did some drills and warmed up with a jog around a nearby parking deck and street, not managing a full mile, but knowing we were running short on time to get into the crowded A corral. After the National Anthem and a prayer, it was go time!

I knew the first mile was flat and maybe a touch uphill, followed by almost two full downhill miles, before the ups started. I tried to find my happy pace for that first mile, and realized that even with the wave system, it was still really, really crowded out there. First mile went in 7:33, slower than desired. The rain was coming a little harder, and I welcomed it on the muggy morning as the hills started pulling us down. I let them carry me and tried not to destroy my quads: miles two and three went in 7:11 and 7:01, making up for the first slow mile. We passed a group of proselytizers, waving their bibles and signs that said “ARE YOU READY?” On the flip side, a cheery pastor outside an Episcopal church unassumingly threw holy water at us with a big grin on his face, and a few feet later was a water cooling station.

midrace midrace2

Then came Cardiac Hill. Oh, Cardiac Hill. I had been warned. Then repeatedly comforted that training in Athens would have me ready for anything. Then warned again. Shannon didn’t remember Cardiac hill – didn’t remember any particularly gnarly hills on the course. I think his brain blocked it out. Because that hill. would not. end. Halfway up, we passed the spinal patients, in wheelchairs, many of whom would probably never walk again. I told myself, They can’t walk. I can run. Let’s MOVE IT. It gave me a push for a little while, but the hill continued to destroy my mental capacity. Mile 4 went by in 7:55, and mile 5 wasn’t much better – it flattened and rolled a bit, and I tried to recover, but I had zero fight on the uphills. 7:45. In that mile I came across Tino and we traded encouragement and groaned about the hills. Soon after, I passed him and kept pushing.

We came into midtown and I found myself astride with a young boy who was getting ample cheers from the crowd. We paced off each other for a bit and gave each other silent encouragement. Up ahead, finally, the turn onto 10th. Mile 6 clicked in 7:05, and I cranked hard.

finish

 

Seconds before the finish line, I realized I saw Shannon up ahead. I was on pace to shoot past him, and made a snap decision to just run with it. But he felt me go by and found one more gear on a rough day, and we finished practically stride for stride.

Time: 46:19

postrace2

We briefly got separated but in the end met up by the R with the rest of the Athens Road Runners, who huddled under a tree to try to get out of the driving rain, which was beginning to chill us all to the bone. So many of my friends got PRs, and it was so wonderful to hear their victorious tales.

The rest of the day was spent with family and friends, eating and drinking and being merry.

 

In the end, no I wasn’t thrilled with my performance – I felt I was fit enough for a faster day, but the conditions and the toughness of the course – and my current lack of mental toughness – got me in the end. But I gained so much in the two months leading up to the race, learning where I need to go from here, and building the support system and group to help me along the way.

And now, of course: It’s marathon season.

 

Air Force Marathon training: weeks 1-5

We’re already five weeks, two tempos, two track workouts, and five long runs (including a cutback) in.

Things that are hard:

-opening your handheld water bottle for a water fountain refill mid-long run with sweaty fingers

-melty summer long runs

 

Things that are awesome:

-Eating ALL the things!

I want a burger with EVERYTHING

-the beauty that is running in Pittsburgh

-pwning the #RWRunStreak (plus bonus days), completed officially on July 4th, despite Florida heat and humidity (we purposely scheduled our first cutback week – after four weeks of build – for this vacation week for obvious reasons. But damn was that a tough buildup. File that tidbit under “things that are hard,” I guess.)

-racing for fun and speedwork, and scoring some age group bling!

-logging a whole bunch of miles with friends: in addition to the hubs, I’ve been maintaining my weekly runs with Danielle, and Kim and I have also been meeting up when our schedules mesh to log some miles together, helping each other dial into marathon goal pace and chatting up a storm while doing it.

The breakdown

Week 1: few easy runs + 1 track workout (3×1600, totally nailed it despite not having done a mile repeat workout in AGES, which was freaking me out) + 5 miles @ MGP with Kim  (not scheduled, but I could not resist) + 12 mile long run with last 3 @ marathon goal pace.

Week 2: easy runs + 14 mile long run (all easy) + dead legs Man Up 10K (mini-race report below), spectated by my dad!

Week 3: easy runs + track workout (6×800, made all my paces despite wanting to quit so badly around the 4th repeat) + 15 mile long run (about half of which were on delicious trails) w/ last 3 @ MGP

Long run fuel/water/river re-group

Week 4: easy runs + 7 mi tempo (1-5-1, and made it semi-progressive as my legs tried to re-learn how to tempo) + 16 mile long run with middle 4 @ MGP. Majorly struggled the last few miles of the run due to full sun, heat, and humidity, and took quite a few walk breaks, but got it done.

Week 5: all easy runs, including a 4:20 am 3.3 miler before hopping a plane to go on vacation, and then super-sweaty runs Tuesday through Saturday, not once breaking the streak. 10 miles on Sunday, including Sweet Spring 3K (see below)

Race Reports! (yes, TWO)

Man Up 10-K

We’ve run this race the last few years, and like last year, my dad got up SUPER early to drive in from Cleveland to spectate. After our warmup (1 mile easy, then drills and striders), we met him near the starting line for pre-race hugs and well wishes. We both felt pretty shitty, having a rough week and 14 miles on our legs from the day before. But having my dad there made me want to still try to punch it. At the very least, I wanted a solid tempo effort. My legs couldn’t deliver a PR, but despite wanting to quit around halfway in, I never did, and walked away with 2nd in my AG and a time not too far off my PR of 44:02, finishing in 44:27. The girl who got first crushed me by like 5+ minutes, but I’ll take it. I gassed it at the end and was in tears, barely pulling myself together before my dad walked over to give me a hug.

Worth it.

Best fan ever 🙂

 

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Sweet Sprint 3K

We ran this last year, too, and this year it came on the heels of our cutback week. We’d arrived home from our Florida vacation late Saturday night, getting to sleep a little after 1 a.m. (ugh) and getting right up at 7 a.m. for a quick breakfast and drive down to the finish/packet pickup area. We met up with our friends Mark and Shannon, and ran easy to the start. Then, after some drills and striders, and various delays, we entered the pain cave for the race. What hurts more than a 5K? Oh, buddy…

Stretching out my hips and waiting for the start
Stretching out my hips and waiting for the start
And.... go!!
And…. go!!
Moving so fast we're blurry! Mark in the foreground here.
Moving so fast we’re blurry! Mark in the foreground here.

blur start2

I started off at a sprint then reined it in…slightly. I found myself pacing with Keri, whom I’d met while running to the start with Shannon (girl Shannon – hee), and we were cooking along in the low 6’s, gradually easing back to around 6:30s. At the one mile mark, we went under the overpass and satellites went briefly haywire. I’d taken note of a sign that said “almost there!” on the way up, and noted it was about 2/3 mile from the finish, which was  a nice check point to have. I dropped Keri slowly and was reeling in a younger girl who I wasn’t sure whether she was in third or fourth perhaps. In the last half mile, as she faded, I passed her and tried to gas it hard to the finish, catching sight of Kim (who was meeting us for the rest of our 10 miles, having already done 8 of her planned 14), who snapped a couple shots of me (including this top one here – other one was taken by the organizers)

photo 1

me finish3I crossed the finish in 12:12 by my watch – 12:09 official. BIG improvement from last year’s 12:57. While it still hurt like the dickens, I thing I was more mentally prepared for it, not to mention was already in training and had a few speed sessions under my belt. We figured we nabbed some bling, but didn’t want to make Kim wait, nor postpone our last 10K of our long run as it was already getting pretty darn hot. We joined Kim for 6+ miles around the downtown area, crossing a couple bridges and seeing some of the “furries” from the annual convention.

Hubs’ shot from Fort Pitt

Turns out, my husband got 1st in his AG and I got 2nd woman overall! (it bears mention that this race only had like 75ish finishers). Mark grabbed our bling for us in our absence, having gotten 1st in his AG as well.

Now the real work begins: from here on out, we have two-week build cycles followed by cutbacks, so hopefully we can really push on the builds and then rest “aggressively” in between to reap the most benefits. I’m still treating the training plan like an overall guideline: any sign of trouble and it’s subject to change. But after the first couple weeks, first feeling strong and then feeling dead, we could feel that our bodies were already responding to the higher training load and adjusting to it. It can be demoralizing how rough the first couple weeks of marathon training are, but I always remind myself that those first weeks are roughly equivalent to peak half-marathon training. We will adjust, but it won’t be instantaneously.

 

 

We’re goin’ streaking!!!

It’s been about four weeks since my DNF. Four weeks and a half weeks since the ankle sprain that started it all. Am I back 100%? Well, yes and no. My ankle is at that 90 to 95% back-to-normal place. The swelling is minimal to nonexistent (I can’t tell anymore if I”m seeing things, even staring back and forth between my uninjured right and ankle and the healing left one). There is zero pain – when bearing weight, making strides, both walking and running. The flexibility isn’t all the way back, but seems to get incrementally better every day. It’s a slow, grueling process, but I’m going to keep on keeping on.

So what have I been up to?

First two weeks

For two weeks, I didn’t run a step. I knew I would take at least a week off and try to evaluate from there, but keeping a close eye on things, I decided two full weeks off were what I needed.  In fact, for the first five days or so, I did basically nothing. NF took me through some ankle exercises using a resistance band, but I did zero cardio, zero strength, zero Pilates/yoga. I was pretty much an emo kid, whiling away my time working and mulling over the DNF and injuring, fielding question after question about the marathon: “How did it go?” “Did your race go well?” “Oh, that’s too bad… how’s the ankle now?” “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a week – how was your marathon?”

And on, and on.

By week two, I was back in action. Not running of course, but working out most days. I made it back to Pilates. I rode the bike, took it easy in spin class, even managed the elliptical (easy effort, and very carefully). In addition to the resistance band exercises, I added in calf raises, body weight only: two sets with both feet, then two more sets going up on both feet, then lowering slowly on one. After that, I’d do running strides to land on one leg: do a little ply jump to land on a single leg, hold a couple seconds, then return. 30 repetitions on each side. To wrap up, I did 60-second balances on the bosu ball on one leg. These were HARD, and worked every part of my leg. I”m getting better the more I do them, but am still noticeably better on the right side than the left. I think these exercises are ones that should always be in my strength arsenal. They not only keep my ankle strong, but work my calves, quads, glutes, and hips.

I still needed my outdoor fix, though, so I took care of that with hiking. The first weekend, NF, my friend Ellen and I went on a short hike/walk in Frick Park on a beautifully sunny but chilly day. The colors were peaking – it was magnificent.

The following weekend, NF and I headed up to McConnell Mills and managed a 6.5ish mile hike on the beautiful, technical trails. I was highly aware of my ankle, and wondered about my plan to start running again a couple days after.  It felt sore, but didn’t hurt except for a couple missteps I took, though that pain dissipated quickly. We turned around early than I had hoped on our out-and-back hike, but I didn’t want to play games with it. It was a slow, leisurely hike, so I was still on my feet a good three-and-a-half hours, so it was still a really good workout and test for my ankle.

Weeks 3 to 4: return to running!

By Monday, I was itching to run, but knew I had to be smart. I walked to the gym that morning, did a 10 minute walking warm-up on the treadmill, then a super easy 2 mile jog, mostly at 10:00 mile pace, 2% grade to reduce impact. Normally I hate the treadmill, and running at a constant pace and incline drives me particularly batty, but I was so happy to be running again, it barely mattered. I was giddy the rest of the day.

I like to think my Brooks Ghost and Oiselle roga shorts were happy, too.

The next day, I did almost the same, with a bit more speed at the end, for just over 2 miles of running. Both days, I did my full ankle regimen to make sure I was keeping my up strength and working on getting that mobility back.

On Thursday, after nixing a morning run by being a whiney brat about the cold – especially since the evening forecast was MUCH better – I went for a post-work 4ish miler, staying very close to home for my first outdoor run since the DNF. I also wanted to try out some new Oiselle duds I’d gotten for my birthday – which I had refused to even open or look at until I was able to run again. Worth the wait! In love with the Flyte long sleeve and Lesley knickers (though the latter won’t see many workouts for a few more months as it appears winter is here to stay).

And since then? Well, I’ve been slowly building my mileage back. On my birthday, I went for a 5.6ish mile run in Schenley Park with my friend Kelly, while NF and our friend Mark crushed it up ahead. We stayed back and let the boys duke it out while we chatted up a storm. We started and ended the run at Bagel Factory, getting coffee and bagels after and continuing to run-geek like crazy. I was in a terrific mood the rest of the day, high off a great run with friends.

On Tuesday, I went for a 6-mile run in the early darkness with Danielle, whom I met through the local racing scene, and who has pushed me to more than one PR already, before we even “officially” met.” We had a great time, and I probably pushed a bit, but felt great after. Ankle seemed a tad swollen that evening, but was fine by the next morning and I haven’t seen that happen since. I kept Thursday and Fridays runs short, and NF and I went out for 7 on Saturday (WHOOPS ran three days in a row).

Week 5 – almost time to streak!

I finally feel like I’m really back in action. Sure, still not 100% flexible, but zero pain, and my runs have felt great. I’m also cross-training a ton: keeping up with Pilates (mostly – ignore the fact that I skipped class tonight and am instead blogging. WHOOPS), and especially getting back into a weights routine. I ran an easy 6 miler in the falling snow this morning – it was quiet and perfect. I overtook a couple of women running together at one point, and as they let me pass, one of them said, “Let’s let this *real* runner go past us.” I countered, “*You guys* are real runners. You’re out here in this, too!” I saw way fewer runners than usual for the 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. crowd, but the ones I saw made me smile. As did the folks I saw actually putting salt on their driveways and sidewalks. Thank you!

Tomorrow I”m taking a full rest day – MAYBE doing yoga – since it’ll be my last day off until January 2. Yes, I’m going to give the Runner’s World Holiday Run Streak the ol’ college try. Maybe this is dumb coming off an ankle sprain, but I don’t plan on being stupid about it. If I need to change it to a be-active-every-day-from Thanksgiving-til-New-Year’s-Day because by body is saying NO!!! to all the running, I absolutely will do so. But I have a good feeling, especially if I do a lot of one-mile days, and especially if I take it easy and do it on the treadmill, which makes getting my cross-training and weights in those days a lot easier. I hope to blog semi-frequently during the streak, but the holidays may keep my posts either short or infrequent (or both). I will do my best?

Anyone else doing the RW Run Streak? First timers? Seasoned veterans – have any tips?

MCM: Anatomy of a DNF

DNF – runner-speak for Did Not Finish.  It’s a hard pill to swallow, but at one point or another, every runner experiences it, at least once. Ever since my ankle twist on Friday, I knew it was a possibility – it was also possible I would DNS (did not start). But I was walking fine, had good strength and mobility, and wanted to give it a shot.

I don’t think I have it in me to write too much about all the excitement and build-up, because usually i do that to emphasize how great the race was – especially this year, which until this weekend was an absolutely stellar one (and still is, really, this race being the only blemish). But I want to be as frank as possible because if even one other injured runner who had to pull out of a race reads this, I want him/her to know that he/she isn’t alone – it’s a hard decision, and no one else can make it but you. Only you know what’s going on in your own body and mind. So here are my most raw and honest thoughts.

The expo and weekend

This was our biggest race expo ever. The packet pick-up was in a separate tent, run by super-friendly Marines who had me grinning from ear-to-ear (they were all awesome, and so, so inspiring).

And the expo itself? Doesn’t even fit in an instagram photo

I got myself a couple bondi bands, which I’d been meaning to buy as an in-between to keep my ears covered when I don’t need a full, super-warm earband.

We had an awesome sushi dinner out with our lovely hosts, Emmarie and Chris. They took awesome care of us, especially considering they had had a crazy week as well as a busy weekend. Emmarie, for the record, makes a FANTASTIC bourbon Manhattan (pictured in my previous post). Between that and continuing to RICE my ankle, I figured I could be in good shape in no time (despite that by that evening when I removed the ace bandage, I saw how swollen and black-and-blue the ankle was. Eek. But still walking fine!)

Saturday we spent a little time touring around after attended the charity luncheon I was invited to as a runner on the ZERO Cancer team. We spent a bit too much time on our feet for being the day before a marathon, but my ankle still felt fine, and was less swollen that day.

Oh hey, the White House!
Basically a photobomb.

That night, we made our usual pre-race grub: granola and cinnamon pancakes, with tons of syrup, eaten in front of an episode of Stargate SG-1.

Baby pancake!

We got to bed late, and I was pretty wired, and slept like absolute garbage, pure usual pre-race. But the pre-race nerves in my chest were not the usual: Will I make my goal? Will I hit the wall? Will I quit or will I push? Will I have an amazing, magical, stars-falling-into-line kind of day?

The knot in my stomach told me one thing: I wasn’t even sure my left foot would allow me to finish the race. The bruising and swelling was way down, sure. I had done ankle exercises with a resistance band to check mobility and loosen it a bit, and done some careful calf raises, and everything felt pretty good (I couldn’t quite get my left foot to the very top of the calf raise, but that was no biggie, and it mostly just felt tight). I set aside my soft brace with the rest of my race morning gear in case I decided to wear it – I knew I would for sure be wearing compression socks.

Race day

The alarm blared at 4:30 a.m. and I’m pretty sure I was already wide awake. I snuck out of bed to get the oatmeal going and discover that I wasn’t quite as adequately hydrated as I would have liked (ahem) so I chugged 16 ounces of water (trust me, this matter later. Hydration strategy fail). I got the perfect consistency for both bowls, so hoped that this was a good omen for both of us. After much waffling in the days prior, I settled on a long-sleeve tech tee, charity singlet layered over, Oiselle bum wrap, purple ProCompression socks, gloves, bondi band, and of course of my trusty Brooks Launch.

Our LOVELY WONDERFUL KIND SWEET AMAZING HOSTS got up at like 5:20 to drive us to one of the parking shuttle pick-up points, since the bus we would have needed wasn’t running that early, even on race morning. We said our goodbyes, knowing we wouldn’t see Emmarie again and not expecting to see Chris, and jumped to the back of the line, which was HUGE but pretty fast moving, before climbing onto the super-swank charter buses with the super-cheesy but motivational information video playing as we drove to the starting area.

HUGE BUS
HUGE (GOOFY) SMILE

We immediately headed for the porto-potties before squatting in one of the tents to get all our gear arranged – we were running without water, so had to jam all our gels in our spibelts, plus our cell phones which we decided to run with (I’m glad I did – I could notify people ASAP who were tracking me that, no, I wasn’t dead).

Cutie 🙂

Before long, it was time to walk over to the self-sorting corrals, marked by estimated finish time (seriously, run-walkers – I adore all of you, you seriously rock, but please, for the love of all things holy, line up where you should), listen to the National Anthem as sung by a fabulous a cappella group, watch at least half a dozen parachuters float down, some carrying huge American flags, and wait for the howitzer to fire.

The Race

This was our biggest race ever, so even the previous crowded starts weren’t really a match for this. It was truly a sea of humanity. The start is on a split highway with a median strip, and we happened to be on the left, which within the first mile went a totally different way than the right side for like a tenth of a mile and completely flipped me out. I mean, it was fine – they merged back up again and I’m guessing there is zero (or minimal) distance difference, but man was that weird. Our first few splits were slow – very slow – especially the second mile which probably has the only hill of consequence in the entire race, and it really wasn’t a joke. I had kind of written it off, but it was already hard to find a solid pace in the thick of so many runners, let alone when clawing through going uphill. Won’t underestimate it again should I run this race in the future (hopefully).

It stayed pretty crowded through mile five, but we were able to lock in by mile 4 and hovered between 8:3x’s and 9:0x’s. I kept my watch to overall time for a while, though I eventually switched to lap estimate, but generally tried to ignore it and soak things up. It’s a really beautiful course. At one point we were on rolling hills bordered by a thick grove of trees, then we were running along the Potomac. It was spectacular. We saw WAY more public urination than ever before (we’d been warned of this) and saw at least one runner totally bite it on the ground (yeeowch! Like I said – crowded), but most of the sights were very positive.

I had had that “nervous pee” feeling at the start line, but as the miles ticked off toward 10K, I realized it wasn’t going away. It wasn’t just nerves – I had to go. I passed up a porto opportunity and begged the feeling to subside, but my gut was very uncomfortable, and during mile 9, I apologized to my guy and told him I needed a potty break, and that I’d see him at the finish. We exchanged “I love you’s” and “good luck” wishes and parted ways. I lost probably 60 to 90 seconds to the stop, but it was totally worth it. That was a first for me – must figure out how not to let that happen again (like not chugging 16 ounces of water when I woke up, without allowing for a secondary pre-race potty stop?).

After that, I was locking into 8:30s and 8:40s and feeling pretty darn good. I got a great boost a couple miles later when I saw Bart Yasso and yelled out “Bart!” (because we’re friends, obviously) and got a high five. I saw him again a few miles later and got similarly amped.

Around the halfway point, I saw I was coming in around 2:01.30ish – slower than I had wanted, but it was basically all the bathroom break, and I was still clocking sub-9s, so I knew I could make up the time and could still nab a sub-4:00, or close to it. I ran astride with another woman holding a similar pace for a while, and I think we kind of silently paced off each other.

Then there was the blue mile. Oh, the blue mile. It’s silent, and lined with photographs and flags – photos of fallen Marines, each one with his name, his age, and when they were killed in action. I tried to force myself to look – to dwell on the memory of these brave men and women, to feel the way I know that mile is supposed to make you feel: humble, grateful, saddened, yet filled with patriotic hope. But I had to spend a lot of time looking away and focusing on my pace and my rhythm, or else I’d have been struggling all the more to breathe as I choked back the tears that continually threatened.

Past the halfway point, I felt myself getting into my own head, but my pace was still right on. I had known for a while that my distance was pretty thrown off – when I was still with NF, we ran under a long overpass, and satellites went haywire, clocking us at 10:00+ min/mile pace, when we weren’t slowing down at all. The pace corrected, but we lost a good quarter mile, so I knew I’d have a little more time to make up, and of course the mile markers came in very strangely compared to the course.

Mile 16 was my decision point. I had decided, somewhat last minute, to go ahead and wear the soft ankle brace. I had brought it with, attached it to my fuel belt, and slipped it on over my compression sock as we were getting situated pre-race. Now it was noticeably digging into my foot and getting uncomfortable. I took a minute to pull off to the side and remove it, and then jogged off, sliding it onto my fuel belt so it would be secure and out of the way.

But the damage was done. I’ll never know if it was just the brace pinching/bruising/cramping my foot, if it was the ankle, if my gait was ever so slightly altered those first 16 miles, but I was very suddenly in a lot of pain. The outside of my left foot felt like it was being stabbed. I tried to walk it out, tried to figure out if it was just a cramp, but nothing seemed to be working. I broke it a jog, and almost immediately had to stop again.

So many people saw the agony on my face, the limp in my walk. Onlookers tried to encourage me to keep going, telling me I could do it. Runners who passed me tried to buck me up, one even patting me on the shoulder and trying to press me onwards. But I could barely walk, let alone run.

I stupidly passed up a med station just before my absolute breaking point, and as I searched for another one – or for a Marine, or a volunteer, or anyone who could help, I saw a PIttsburgh legend – the shirtless guy (yes, he has a name, but so many of us know him as the shirtless guy). He is at EVERY Pittsburgh race, and he’s always – yes, running shirtless – kicking ass, and when he finishes, high-fiving everyone coming in. I said hello and told him I recognized him from the local race scene. We asked each other how our races were going, and I admitted I was injured and about to drop out. He said he wanted to just make it to mile 18 and consider it a good training run (he was walking, too). We parted ways after a water stop, and soon after I saw a couple Marines and stepped to the side.

“I need to drop out,” I said, tears choking my words as I finally was saying it out loud. I hit stop on my watch. “Where’s the next med tent?” I stepped to the side as a woman tried to hand me a bottle of water, and fell to a crouch and burst into tears. It was over. Sixteen weeks of preparation – of blood, sweat, and tears. Of long tempos and endless mile repeats and shattered PRs at the half-marathon and 10K and early mornings and sacrifices to my social life and sleep and sometimes even almost my sanity. It was over, and had probably been over the moment I took that misstep Friday morning and rolled my ankle during an easy three-miler.

The Marine directed me across the grass to the next med tent, around mile 19. My watch read 18.13 when I quit but it was closer to 17.75 on the course because of GPS screw-ups. I hobbled over, starting to get cold, and had to jog across to the other side when there was the slightest break in runners.

The Marines in the med tent were amazing. They sat me down and examined my foot, had me fill out an intake form, and then took me inside, helping me ice my foot and wrapping me in wool blankets. I spent the next ninety-minutes contacting family and friends who were tracking me, and chatting with another injured runner – a 43-time marathoner who had to drop out around the same time as me with a gnarly IT band injury. She comforted me when I cried once more and we bitched about our frustrations and we heard each other’s war stories.

After a lot of waiting, the sweeper bus came by a little before 1:30, and I was stuck on it (despite it being full) for the next two hours. I’ve never been on a sweeper before, so I don’t know the usual system, but there were runners who were on there for three hours. There must be a better way. Everyone was pretty nice, though, and there was lots of clapping for those who didn’t quite “beat the bridge” and got pulled for not making it to mile 20 by 1:30 p.m. for road re-openings. And the ladies sitting around me were very sweet as they saw me limp on (not to mention the Marine I had to send back to the med tent when I left my phone on the cot like a dumbass. Thank you, sir!).

It was about 3:45 when I finally reunited with my guy, and at that point I wasn’t teary-eyed, just relieved to see him (you can read his race report here).  We hobbled through the Metro and made our way back to the apartment, where Chris was there to greet us (since it took so friggin’ long to get back). We had zero time to relax – it was shower, pack, hit the road immediately, though we took a leisurely dinner stop at Buffalo Wild Wings (which we haven’t had since JUNE), before making the rest of the drive, getting home after 11 p.m.

My handsome guy with his medal 🙂

So… what now?

Well, now it’s time for me to heal. At this point, my ankle is still a little swollen but fine to walk on (though I’ll continue to drive to work until the swelling is totally gone, so I don’t overtax it). I’ve been finding a heating pad feels better on the foot and ankle than ice at this point. I’m taking a week off from running, bare minimum, but possibly two depending on how this injury heals.

And my psyche? Well, it took a hit. As you can see from my data, I was totally fine… until I wasn’t (first three miles were the crowds, mile 9 was the potty break). Part of me wants redemption, right-friggin’-now. But another part of me wants a big ol’ break, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I had just hoped it would feel like a great reward to cap off a very successful season.

But here’s the thing – it still was a very successful season. I lowered my half-marathon PR three times this year: as of the very beginning of this year, my PR had been 1:59:03. It is now 1:43:56. I’ve also lowered my 10K best three times, and my 5K PR twice. If that’s not an incredibly successful year, I don’t know what is.

Yes, I’m probably going to cry some more over this DNF. Yes, I’ve cursed and I’ve yelled and I’ve gotten irrationally angry. But I made the right choice. I didn’t quit – I stopped when I knew it was wise to do so. When I knew I would be doing more damage, setting myself back more than just pushing past a little marathon pain.

And now, I have a score to settle. Next year, it’ll be mine. Next year, I’ll get that sub-4 hour marathon… and who knows what else?

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 4: Cutback and get movin’

I had been thinking that I was wishing week 3 was a cutback week: between all of the packing and a grueling work week (including a couple 10+ hour days), my runs clearly suffered. Why did I have to push through a 7-mile tempo and a 14-mile long run during such a rough week?

Well, because moving week is no picnic either.

All I had were easy runs (5 scheduled for Tuesday and 7 for Friday) on the docket, so I milked them for all they were worth, running every weekday run sans music, and partially sans Garmin as well (after the move I needed to measure the distance for new routes!).  I started every day except for moving day (Wednesday) with some beautiful miles.

Just me, my running shoes, and my Road ID for a quick two mile loop

Tuesday morning I went on an old standby 3-mile loop, no Garmin, no music – but brought my phone to document my last run from my old apartment. It feels a little silly, since I moved all of a half a mile away, but still worth noting where I spent the last three years of my running life, right? Not to mention the first place I started actually training and competing.

A Cheshire Cat moon kept me company

 

A busy street, so quiet at dawn

 

Favorite church. And hello again, moon!

 

Stop and smell the flowers

 

Morning is just around the corner

Wednesday was a full day of cross-training: I was up at 7 a.m. to eat breakfast and try to put together all the odds-and-end that are always left to the last minute during a move. Then the rest was running up and down stairs, moving boxes and furniture, supervising the movers I hired, and after all that was done, finishing deep-cleaning t he apartment. Also known as: on my feet – all day. Needless to say, my IT band was pretty unhappy about this arrangement.  But it had to be done.

Legs up the wall before the last car load

It’s all worth it, though. Skipping ahead a bit, NF’s parents came into town this past weekend to help us with unpacking and moving errands, including buying a couple more furniture items. And we got this awesome shoe rack for our front hall – of course it’s already filled with running shoes (note that I have to stack mine while my new roommate hogs four cubbies):

Yes, all of my shoes are Brooks. One pair Ghost 5s, two pair Launch, one pair Pure Flows (first edition)

Thursday, as we woke up to our first morning in the new place, we both kind of had an inkling that a 7-mile run probably wasn’t in the books. So we headed out toward Oakland on a particularly pretty street to try to just enjoy ourselves.Task accomplished – I almost brought my phone to take some pictures, but it’s better I didn’t since it started raining pretty hard in the last mile or so. We wrapped it up the next day with another run into Oakland on a flat-ish track, enjoying some of the greener side streets and the stillness of the morning after a very long week.

Sunday wrapped up with an 8-mile cutback long run, adapting a route I used from my old place (we didn’t get internet until yesterday so we couldn’t gmap anything) that wound up being exactly 8 miles. We powered up Forbes hill into Squirrel Hill and I was feeling absolutely phenomenal, hitting a rhythm I hadn’t hit in quite a while. Only minor issue was when the band-aid on my fourth toe from where I’d stubbed my toe to the point of bleeding under the nail (hazard of boxes everywhere) started chafing my baby toe. Owie. But it was a phenomenal run and I was really happy with how I had charged up Forbes without quitting, cuing into a power song to go up and over. Bodes very well for the tough moments in the marathon.

This week we’re back in action. With the structure of our cycle and other races, this is – I think – our only other three-week build cycle. We’re training aggressively , but also resting aggressively. This week I get a second crack at a 7-mile tempo, though now I’ll need a new route. And on Sunday? Well, we’re funneling our scheduled 16-miler into the Run for Gold 26.2K in Frostburg, Md.! Expect lots of stories, and hopefully pictures, next week!

Kitty reminds you about the importance of getting your yoga in.

Off-season highs and lows

But I don’t want to go for a run

(stolen from this post)

The thing about the off-season is finding a balance between taking the appropriate time off from running and making sure not to lose all fitness, passion, and routine. It’s something I’m still working on – and something that involves a lot of listening to my body, and my mind.

I’m still running unplugged a lot, or at least not concerning myself with pace, but a few exceptions came up recently. And the results were mixed.

Last Friday was our first “summer Friday” at work, where if we bank enough time earlier in the week, and deadlines allowing, we can head out at 1 pm. Since we had a nice cold front rolling through – it was breezy, mid-50s, and overcast – I headed for the trails in Frick Park. It started out great: within the first mile and a half, I saw a beautiful doe maybe 10 or 15 feet off the trail. I paused my Garmin (brought only to track distance since I wasn’t sure what route I’d take) and we watched each other for a couple of minutes, her ears swiveling like satellite dishes, honing in on every noise. She seemed unbothered by me, even moving a little closer at a point, nostrils flaring. I noticed her abdomen looked pretty swollen for such a lean beast – probably time for babies soon! A few moments later, she leaped gracefully and silently away into the brush.

She was pretty much this close. And I wish I’d had a camera with me!

After that, as the path turned uphill, my mood went downhill. I struggled on some climbs, taking unapologetic walk breaks (well, mostly. Even if the off-season it’s hard not to beat myself up for what I may perceive as giving up). But my tummy felt off, and the work week had built up on me (lots of deadlines). I was relieved when I got back to my car, and disappointed that I had had such a lousy run. It could have been anything, but I’m sure at least part of it was residual work stress, not to mention the previous day’s brutal track workout.

On Sunday, with NF in town for the holiday weekend (he was moving out of his apartment and put stuff in storage. Another good workout: packing and moving boxes), we planned a weekend run with friends and Ragnar teammates from last year, Tim and Alys. I got to do part of a long run with them in the fall when NF was recovering from a mild ankle sprain during marathon training, but this was the first time we got a real double-date run in.

Problem was, I still had the rotten taste of Friday’s run in my mouth, and we were heading out to run at Frick again – Tim and Alys live very near the park. It took a lot of arm-twisting and convincing on NF’s part to pry me out of bed, telling me pace didn’t matter, that we’d have fun, that there was zero pressure, that I would feel better once we were out there. It was also mid-50s, full sun, and beautiful. I had to get out there.

From the very first step, I felt fantastic. We stayed clustered together for a while, my Garmin on my wrist ignored, just tracking the total distance and beeping its splits to itself. We did a lot of chatting, and eventually paired off girls and guys (girls leading, natch). We got onto Nine Mile Run for a bit, with a little time on Duck Hollow before we turned back in, planning a six-mile-ish out-and-back. At this point, Tim was feeling pretty tired (PhD. is ass-kicking and he hadn’t had very much time to run lately) and NF was being cautious about his healing IT band, so they headed back on a shorter route, taking a walk break first, and Alys and I kept running, with me following her on an unfamiliar trail that started flat, then led to a massive climb that left us wheezing, but feeling alive.

Alys is super fast, but other than that, we’re honestly a really good match. We both love running, and really gutting it out, and running together, I could feel that we were quietly raising each other’s competitive hackles. I’m bad at hills, but every hard climb we came up against, she just leaned into, and I matched her stride for stride, easing my arm carriage and relaxing into it. It worked! Until the last climb, it felt great! And the last climb probably still felt better than it would have had I been alone. But even with each of us pushing – her mostly pushing me – I didn’t even need to tell her when I needed to slow up. I would go silent, unable to respond in conversation, and just slightly pull up on the pace, and she fell right in step with me once more. A perfect running partner.

Okay, so we’re not exactly like Kara and Shalane. I mean, she’s blonde and I’m brunette, but that’s mostly where it ends. 😉

We emerged from the park onto sidewalk and I was briefly disoriented, then realized we were back on Braddock. We snuck up on the boys,who had just begun to worry, wrapping up at about 6.4 miles.

Tuesday I got a surprise run: I had a long work day and figured I’d miss pilates, but was relieved when I got out right at 5 (I’d started at 7, so no morning run). Then of course pilates was cancelled, so I went on a pretty hot, but short, easy run: two miles on a familiar route, no Garmin, in 85*. I was bathed in sweat after, but it was pleasantly breezy and doable, especially for a run so short.

Thursday was another story. I had planned on a fun, tune-up tempo run to remind my legs how to maintain speed for this weekend’s 5K. Dressed in my clearly-laundry-day-saving-cutest-run-outfits-for-the-weekend mismatched best, I headed outside a little after 6. It was warm – high 60s already – and very humid – high 90s. And the air had that…smell. That dank, smoky smell of a day that is going to be absolutely brutal. It was a very familiar scent, but for some reason I disregarded this warning sign – and the fact that this went hand-in-hand with it being an air quality alert day.

Ninety seconds into the run, I stopped: on the side of the road was a tabby cat, splayed out, having bit hit by a car. I burst into tears. Being a cat owner myself, it was not the best way to start my day. I pulled myself together and kept on with my warm up, trying to recreate my previous excitement about running hard.

But comfortably hard never settled in – it just felt hard. Not a half mile in, I stopped to wheeze. I got caught at a lot of lights (sometimes because I wanted to), and quit more than once. My splits were good, but I honestly didn’t earn them. I walked part of my cooldown and began to resign myself to the fact that this tempo was a horrible idea: I felt dehydrated and slightly underfueled, but the weather was mostly to blame. Pro-tip: check the alerts when checking the weather; don’t try your first tempo in a month on a bad air quality day.

Tomorrow is the 5K – I’m waiting for NF to get back from work now and we’ll head to packet pickup – and it looks tiny, maybe 100 people. The course looks flat and fast, and is right along the river, which is something I love. There’s something magical about running right next to water, especially a river. I’m looking forward to a fun, relaxed, but speedy race experience. Sunday we’ll do a long-ish (maybe 6 miles) run on one of NF’s favorite paths.

And next week? Well, I may go back to Garmin-less for another couple weeks. Or just wait for my body to acclimate. The heat is just starting, and marathon training is a month or so away. Bring it on.