Tag Archives: running

Never easy

“I just want one thing to be easy.”

I’ve been saying this a lot lately. In the last several weeks, a lot of Hard Things have piled up. Two deaths in March. Major work deadlines, for both Shannon and myself. Running and training rough patches – I’ve had this strange thing going on with my foot (which seems to be managed, though I fully plan on taking a month off post-marathon to let it get to 100%), and Shannon’s work-life balance has been so heavy on the “work” end that running has been a burden more than a release. And we bought our house, a weeks-long buildup of paperwork and endless emails and calls and panic right up until the very last moment: the lender only gave us the information to wire our downpayment to closing about two hours before our closing appointment. And then we didn’t have enough money for the wiring fee (oops). A co-worker saved me, and multiple Bank of America reps were incredibly kind and patient in the final days as we begged them to move money faster, even though they weren’t even our lender.

In the end, closing on the house was easy and relatively painless: the closing attorney was very kind and funny, and explained things to us first-time homeowners very well. And our realtor got us a cutting board as a gift. And, since we bought the house we’ve been renting the last 2+ years, we didn’t even have to move. We were pretty excited to have the whole process complete, to actually own our house.

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So excited that I didn’t notice until later that I had closing-appointment-chocolate-bowl-chocolate in my teeth for this photo.

The last few weeks of training, especially the taper, so often are rocky and fearful. You begin to second-guess everything you’ve been doing leading up to this point. Wondering if you are ready. Wondering if you are fit enough. Wondering if you could have done more, or should have done less. Wondering if that foot is going to behave, or blow up. Wondering if that missed 20-miler, that missed week of training, is going to be make-or-break. Even when you know, logically, that you’re as fit – more fit – than you’ve ever been.

Having a little extra down-time does not negate all the good work leading up to it, and the work after. Sure, things have felt harder, but that’s okay. The first several weeks of training felt so effortless, uncomplicated. Maybe this would have been detrimental. Maybe it would have had me go into the race with too much confidence and not enough respect. The marathon must always be respected. You have to be confident, but you also have to brace yourself. Prepare yourself for the fight.

I ran the Chick-fil-A half at the beginning of this month as part of a 16-mile day, mostly easy/by-feel, but with pace miles at hte end (either up to 5 miles @ MP or 3 miles @ HMP). It ended up being mostly the latter, primarily because the course is just rough. I did a good job really ignoring my watch, occasionally catching a split when I had a Pavlovian response to the sound of my watch beeping. I was mostly hanging in the 8:30s, slowing a bit later as the hills began to stack up. I saw so many friends volunteering and cheering, and it was fun to run an event without having to really suffer and push the whole time. It’s a hilly course, but it also goes through some of the prettiest parts of Athens.

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Around mile 8, during a very short respite from some of the worst hills, I found Margeaux, who had hoped to break 1:40 at this race, but who was having a rough day – similar to the day I had last AthHalf when I thought I could squeak a 1:40 half four weeks after Erie. We pulled each other along up East Campus and cutting through Five Points, and I tried to refocus her energy and thoughts on the pretty course and the gift of running. But it’s hard to pull yourself out of that dark place once you’re in it. I could hear her breathing beginning to relax when the course flattened on Milledge, and as I neared the 10-mile mark and had to pick it up, she told me to go. Shannon found me a few times, and I gave him a huge smile each time. I finished strong and with a big smile. My foot tightened up post-race but I got it to loosen up once more to run a couple cooldown miles with Chrissy (who beasted the course at marathon pace for a 1:38) and Justin (recently post-BQ-marathon and pacing 1:30).

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Probably the most encouraging moment of the last segment of htis training cycle was my last 18-miler, my last real long run. I ran the first 7ish solo and was hyper-focused on my foot: how it felt, whether it was hurting, whether I was altering my gait, how tight my left side felt overall. I linked up with friends for the next four and began to relax, and by the time we go to the Luv Run for Dustin and Catherine, who had just gotten married the night before, and whose marriage we’d be celebrating that night at their party/reception, I was having fun and feeling good. I just had a couple miles left at the very end of the group run to get to 18, and felt strong to the finish.

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Bride and her #BAMFL sisters! She looked so adorable in the Oiselle runaway bride dress! I love these ladies.
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Just a few of the friendly faces at the reception – we all clean up pretty good!

The weekend of this wedding was a whirlwind, since the very next morning, I was up at 6 am to catch a 10:30 flight home to Ohio for Passover. As it turned out, I woke up to a text message from Delta alerting me my flight had been cancelled in the wake of major service disruption from that Wednesday’s storm system. I rebooked on American, with a hop through Philly, had that flight delayed when I got to the gate, rebooked my Philly connection, and rebooked again when I found an earlier flight to a different airport. I was about 5 hours late to arrive in Cleveland based on my original itinerary, but I made it. I saw both of my parents, my 96-year-old grandfather (who still walks almost every morning – he’s my hero), and got in two runs, including a mile repeat workout on the roads and in the rain. I saw three deer during my warmup; they were maybe 10 feet from me, and when I paused my watch to look at them, they looked at me, regarded me a few seconds, then resumed eating, unafraid.

The marathon is never easy. There is no marathon without fear. But I am not doing something new, not doing anything I have not done before. I know what I am capable of. I am aiming for a BQ, but I am a BQ marathoner. That 3:34 was not a fluke, and it’s not gone and done. I need to improve my time, but I already have that capability inside me. I have to reach in and dig it out once more. I have to be ready to fight. I have to be prepared to walk across hot coals for as long as I think I can stand it–and then do it a little more. When workouts felt hard – a half-marathon pace workout a couple weeks ago that felt like hard work, and not the effortless floating of earlier HMP workouts this cycle – I remembered that I learned more from the experience of a workout that feels hard than one that feels easy. Nothing about that last 10K is going to feel easy. But I am ready for it.

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I’ve been lax overall lately about my “check in” entries in my training journal. Plane rides are a good time to write.

Work stress is still swallowing me whole. The Saturday of the Luv Run, I had a 90-minute appointment with my usual massage therapist (I’ve been getting weekly massages to keep my body happy these final weeks, a worthwhile “indulgence” to stay healthy), and two minutes into starting on my back, she remarked, “You are just a ball of stress.” We have a huge research symposium the Tuesday following the marathon. My race week distraction has to be set aside to get everything done that still has to be completed. I’m choosing to believe that focusing on work is helping me to maintain perspective. And I will have perspective on race weekend as well – set aside the work stuff, because it will be all-but-done at that point, and get in race mindset. We had a hectic, social activity filled Easter weekend, and now we’re spending this week as hermits, coming home from work, making and eating dinner, getting our to-do lists done, and relaxing. Quiet is a priority. Sleep is a priority. Wine and chocolate may be assisting a bit as well.

I streamed the Boston Marathon at work yesterday (very distractedly, since, yeah, very busy) and tracked my friends with the BAA app. I was over-the-moon thrilled for them, but my heart hurt. I was not there. I should be there. But the desire is greater. The fire burns hotter. I will be there.

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These ladies ran ridiculously impressive races. I know I can reach within myself to find some of that badassery and toughness.

I will make no excuses. This training cycle has been hard. Life never lets up – it never will. The marathon never lets up – that’s what makes it great. Racing the hot Erie Marathon branded me with a fire I will never lose. And this training cycle toughened me in still more ways. I have a couple more angels running with me this time.

Glass City Marathon: I’m coming for you.

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The privilege to run

By now, I’m sure most runners have heard about the planned #BlackLivesMatter protest that intends to disrupt the Twin Cities Marathon this weekend. If not, here’s a Runner’s World article about what is happening, and how the various sides are discussing what to do and how to move forward (note that the BLM chapter leader is in close contact with race organizers). Try to read this and absorb the information objectively, and for the love of all things holy, do not read the comments.

I first read/heard about this on Monday and mostly kept my feelings to myself, discussing it in the afternoon with my friend Keeley, and over dinner with my husband. We all felt very conflicted and had thoughtful initial talks about it. Yes – I am a marathoner. Yes – I am a white person living in this country. Yes – I am a supporter of BLM. (Yes, I am insanely liberal on social issues – but you may or may not know this depending on how you came to this blog. I generally keep this to running and keep my personal political feelings to myself. Just bear with me for this one post.) I struggled to reconcile all of this.

I posted an article reporting on the news to Facebook, and got a plethora of responses, some more measured and nuanced than others. Some reacted with anger, others with confusion, some with naivete (myself included). Everyone with at least a little bit of privilege, even those who tried very hard to shed it (again – myself included).

After discussing it with many and ruminating over it for a while, and reading so many responses, I knew finally what my feelings were on the subject. I was asked in the thread as a runner if I had no forewarning, what would my reaction be at mile 25 of a marathon, my way being blocked by a protest? I honestly can’t say for sure. Without forewarning (and it bears mention, again, that there is forewarning, that BLM is working with the race organizers, that the police are aware and everyone is looking out for the safety of all involved), it would depend how my race was going. If I was bonking and delirious, or on my way to a PR or BQ. I might be pissed. I might cry. I might just be confused and out of it and unable to react in a concrete way. I don’t think I can assess that fairly.

But as a runner, one who is decidedly not registered for this event (though trying to imagine moving the protest to my November marathon, but again, hypotheticals are tricky), after all this thought I can’t help but be brought back to my own privilege. I am a white person living in this country. I live in a dual-income household. I live in a quaint college town that is extremely affordable. I grew up in a middle class (depending on perspective, and pre- vs. post-parents’ divorce, may be categorized as upper middle class by some) household. I have a (very expensive) college education. I can afford running shoes and gear, I can afford a coach, I can afford race registrations, I can afford to travel to races, I can afford the time off to go to races. I have safe places to run, and a social circle of support and safety when it’s dark and I may be more fearful to run or be alone (because I am also a female runner – thanks dude friends and tough-looking hubby!). This Runner’s World article on the relative whiteness of the recreational running world is very relevant to this particular line of discussion.

I take for granted that I can afford all these things. I take for granted that I have family and friends who support my running passion. I take for granted that I have the time and resources and support and relative safety and security to do what it takes to run marathons.

One argument I have seen a lot of (and one that sprang to my own mind as I was initially considering all this) was this: running is a great unifier, particular the marathon, which can raise people up or bring them to their knees, often both. The marathon is the equalizer. The marathon is the merciless beast. The marathon brings out our humanity – all the darkest and most determined parts of us. The 7-hour marathoner runs in the echoed footsteps of the 2:04 elite. Runners will carry each other across the finish line – whether literally or figuratively. We see these moments all the time in marathons, like in Boston, where an act of violence only served to strengthen the running community (note: I am NOT making that comparison I keep seeing – that this protest interrupting the finish could be likened to what the Boston bombers did. It is not even remotely in the same category.).

But it was pointed out to me and made clear to me that running is open to all…except those who can’t access it. Those who are  working multiple jobs to scrape by. Single parents. People living in neighborhoods torn apart by violence, living in fear of stepping out their front door, let alone in running shoes. Those who can’t afford the time, the investment, the equipment, the coaching; those who don’t have the safe neighborhood to run in, the community of security and support. Those who were never encouraged to take up the sport (or any sport). Running is a privilege.

Repeat that to yourself: running is a privilege. A friend of mine here in Athens today is waiting on the final word on Boston Marathon entries from last week, crossing fingers hard that her hard work paid off, that her -3:02 qualifier will secure her a slot for 2016 (as I was writing this, she got in!!!!!). She wrote a long post on Facebook about the many struggles of her life, how she persevered through them to get where she is today: an accomplished academic and runner (not to mention being an incredibly kind and warm human being). I was eating humble pie and tearing up as I read her words. I was forced to look my own ivory tower square in the face. I am fortunate. I am lucky. I am privileged. I have taken it all for granted far too often.

Running is a privilege. I am blessed with time, I am blessed with resources, I am blessed with great friends and family and support and a coach. I cannot take that for granted. I have a roof over my head, food in my kitchen, a husband who loves me, and a strong body to carry me through. Those are just small pieces of the privileges in my life – running and otherwise.

These athletes have been training for weeks, for months, for years for this race. Whether running for a charity, for a bucket list item, for a PR or BQ or OTQ, in memory of a loved one, or just for the pure fun of it. It is a gift they have worked hard to get. A line of protesters standing in their way a mile before the finish line of that gift? That is understandably frustrating and enraging.

But isn’t that the point? The perfect symbol of doing everything and anything to achieve your goal, and having your way obstructed for reasons that feel entirely arbitrary and unfair?

Many will continue to argue against the protest. Many will say it won’t further the cause, that it’ll just incite anger against BLM. Many will say the venue is inappropriate (think about this, though – saying the words “I support BLM but don’t inconvenience me, go do your protest elsewhere” is a statement that comes from a place of privilege). Many will try to tone police the protest.

I know I won’t really change any minds with this post – I wrote most of this for me, anyhow, like all my writing in general. If no other message gets through, however, please hear this: next time you go for a run, be grateful that you can.

Race Report: Ragnar Trail Relay Atlanta

I KNOW I KNOW this is incredibly belated. And probably will be written over the course of several days. I’ll try to keep it interesting, mmk?

I never did get around to writing a report on Ragnar DC in 2012, but let me just say this: Ragnar Trail >>>>> Ragnar road edition. They’re both stupidly fun events, but man, Trail has a LOT MORE going for it: it’s basically trail running, camping, and tailgating all rolled up into one muddy, sleepless, sweaty, dirty lovefest with your closest friends – new and old. Embrace the dirt and stank. Embrace the slower mile splits. Embrace the rugged beauty of the trails. And try not to trip on a root and fall on your face (no I did not do this – though I had a couple close calls).

This spring was incredibly busy, and as anal and organized and as much of a type A planner as I am about a lot of things, I found myself leaning heavily on my awesome teammates for this one. They really stepped up – in particular Kelly and Ellen – to help plan and organize and get to-do lists and packing lists and buying lists and who-owes-who-what lists. And everyone had a STELLAR attitude in general through changes of plans, massive rainfall, and sometimes extra miles. So major SHOUT OUT to my amazing Ragnar teammates for team Everything Is Awesome (complete with Lego shirts and lots of singing. It was our mantra for the whole weekend, especially in moments when we felt like we and our race may just fall apart.

Pre-race

Packing piles forming.

Friends came from near and far, by plane and by car (yes – that rhymed; deal with it). Ellen and Lara drove ALL THE WA DOWN from Pittsburgh, Tim and Alys, Danimal, and Kelly flew into ATL, and Kelly rented a car, and hauled them all in. This was Thursday night, and we all arrived within an hour of each other at Casa Quinnwitz, which was SO READY for all these runners…some of whom had to sleep on an air mattress, the L-sofa, and the floor. SORRYLOVEYOU. Big house, not enough furniture.

We ate, drank, and were merry, and tried (but mostly failed) to get to bed at a decent hour. But the amount of sleep we got was still going to be better than Friday night’s sleep (approaching zero), so we took it in stride. We’d been stalking the forecast all week, and it foretold rain: thunderstorms intermittently through the afternoon and night. We’ll get wet, we thought. It’ll be muddy, but we’ll be cautious and we’ll have fun and it doesn’t look too bad. Let’s just get there early and set up camp before the rain comes.

Oh, how innocent. How naive.

We did make it to the Georgia International Horse Park an extra hour early and found what we thought was a good spot and swiftly set up camp, checked the team in, and began the eating and merry-making.

We split up our group to watch the safety briefing video – which was necessary and fun and silly – so that half the group was watching camp and the other half watching the video as mandated (though I don’t think they actually took attendance in any way. *shrug*). We tooled around for a good while longer, but as our team’s 3:30 start time approached, it was game time!

Our team roster and runner order looked like this:

left to right: Alys, Tim, Kelly, Dan, me, Shannon, Lara, Ellen

Alys

Me

Kelly

Tim

Shannon

Ellen

Lara

Danimal

Round 1:

For those not familiar with a standard Ragnar Relay, it goes like this: 12 runners run a total of about 200 miles, each running a range of distance legs; each runner runs three legs. Two vans leapfrog from stop to stop (six runners in each van) for each hand-off. Instead of a baton, you hand off an orange Ragnar slap bracelet. That is pretty fun. It’s a lot of fun, but a whole lot of rushing around and driving and logistics.

Ragnar Trail does it in a pretty nifty way: every runner starts and stops from the exact same exchange tent, and there are three loops that everyone runs (in a different order – I’ll get to that). The green loop is relatively easy; the yellow loop is moderate; the red loop is hard. Inside the exchange tent, volunteers man the tables full of slap bracelets: some red, some yellow, some green; the runner grabs the color they’re about to run. This helps the volunteers know where to direct the runner, and helps the delirious, over-tired runner remember, “what am I running? [checks wrist] OK red. Got it.” As a runner comes in, finishing a leg, they run across a mat that matches the color they just ran, and the teammate they’re “handing off” too is on a mat directly in line with that one, of the color THAT runner is about to run. Easy peasy! Brilliant logistical management. The pattern of the colors always goes green, yellow, red; so the first three runners had those first loops: runner 1 started green, runner 2 yellow, runner 3 red – rinse, repeat for runners 4, 5, 6 and so on. So the order per runner varied, but after the first three runners we could all give each other tips about what the route was actually like.

Alys headed us off on her green loop in thunderous glory! Look at that fierceness.

Alys in blue on the right

Before long, it was time for me to start my first loop! It was a hot, sunny, muggy afternoon, and I figured I would adjust my effort based on the conditions.

Yellow loop was rolling but gorgeous. Some parts were shaded; others were exposed. All were beautiful. I did take a few walk breaks, but my effort was somewhere around 10K-half effort and I managed to stay very evenly in the 10:15s (pace doesn’t matter to me for these – for reference, my 10K pace is low 7s; half is 7:30s-7:40s, so it’s a massive difference. But effort is everything when racing on trails). And I had an absolute blast. Part of the loop joined up with green, so I got a little preview of what I had later. From steep, rocky switchbacks to pine-covered forest floor…just divine.

I handed off to runner 3 – Kelly – who gave me  a big kiss on the cheek and immediately regretted it when she picked up all the sweat from my face! Ha! (loveyousorryaboutthesweatykiss!) She kicked the shit out of the red loop and came back positively giddy. We were all well on our way to being completely trail drunk. Time was up next, and then my hubby, Shannon. We noted with slight trepidation as the sky was growing dark prior to Shannon’s loop.

Maybe 15 minutes after Shannon started his loop, it absolutely opened up.

It POURED. For like, an HOUR. I fought panic and knew Shannon would be smart and adjust pace as needed. I knew he would come back in one of two moods from what was now a slip-and-slide mud run (or growing rapidly so) through driving rain: A.) pissed and annoyed, because EFFING RAIN; or B.) little boy happy because YAY RAIN.

Spoiler alert: it was option B.

Only caveat: as Shannon came roaring in after his run, instead of handing off to Ellen – who was caffeine gel’d up and ready to run up until maybe 30 minutes before, he was handed a card with his entry time on it, at which point he learned what we had just discovered: we were under a one hour lightning delay. An hour from the time on the card, we were to send out not Ellen, but runner #7, Lara – yes, Ellen would be skipped, and Lara would run after an hour delay.

Well, that didn’t quite happen either. It was then extended to two hours, skipping Lara as well, and runner #8 – trusty anchor Danimal – would be running next, two hours from the time on the card.

We were frustrated and distraught. In addition to the two hour delay, throwing off two runners – the rain was still driving and we realized the water level in our little campsite was rising. We noticed we were right on/near a floodplain, and water poured into our area. One corner of our big tent got muddy, though luckily most of our stuff was spared (some of Ellen’s stuff got soaked. UGH).

We quickly tried to mitigate the situation. Our common area was muddy and ankle deep in water. Tim and Ellen engineered the mud to make a dam, separating the flood plain from our site and slowing the water flow a bit. Most/all of us gave up on wearing shoes between our legs, wet wiping and toweling off to get in our tents and changed when needed. (I have to say: after spending like 12 hours barefoot in mud, my running callouses have honestly never looked or felt better. Pro-tip. Save your money on that fancy salon or pumice that looks like a cheese grater. Play in mud! I also had been having issues with literally ripping the callouses at the base of my baby toes, to the point of bleeding, and these also held up and HEALED amazingly well. Not to be TMI about it…but we’re all runners here, right?) I was riding the line between trying to make the best of it and keep on a happy face for the team and fully freaking the fuck out. We were stuck here. In the rain. Two runners skipped. No end in sight. And the trails were going to be an absolute. mess. Also, it was nighttime, and we were going to have to run in said mess in the pitch black darkness.

Round 2:

There’s that point where you cross over the full-on panic point and embrace the shitty and just make the best and have fun. It took me a while, but I got there. We realized runners were allowed to use pacers. Danimal was up next after the rain delay, then Alys was running red – the hardest loop, and the one Ellen had been skipped on – and I was running green just after – the loop Lara had been skipped on. Why not bring the along as pacers? It wasn’t the most ideal way to get their miles in, since it shortened their recovery between their first and second runs, but if they wanted to run it, Alys and I so welcomed the company.

So after Danimal finished his first loop, Alys and Ellen – all gel’d and headlamp’d up – ventured out into the muddy, dark red loop for the longest trek in probably the toughest possible conditions. They finished way quicker than expected, and Lara and I weren’t even ready for them. D’oh! But we rallied and headed out together on the green loop, taking it SUPER easy and calling out obstacles to each other. Mud! Rock! Muddy rock! Root! We bunched up with a few different people a few different times, chatting with them and likewise calling out obstacles. It was great camaraderie and so much fun. We both slipped a bit a few times, but no one bit it. A great success. We came in through the exchange strong, and I handed off to Kelly, who darted into the night.

Round 3

As our runners darted in and out, trading war stories about the extreme mud and slop, how well our dam was holding up, and how much some of the mud pits honestly looked like poop, we took turns fueling and napping. Next time we’ll bring fewer sweets and more salty snacks, since we were devouring those (including stealing a lot of the dill pickle chips our lovely volunteers brought – to share, but still. Hungry runners are scary around all food). We partook in the free dinner (pasta with tomato sauce, veggies, and salad) when we were able, and I had a bagel, peanut butter, and banana towards morning as my last-leg/brunch/whatever it really was fuel.

After some restless but still better than nothing sleep and some fuel, it was time for my last leg- the toughie, the red loop. It was sunny and warm but I was ready to have fun and conquer the wilderness, at whatever pace that meant.

The route started through and around the campground and along the road for a bit before dipping down onto a wide fire road. I knew the first few miles were flat to downhill, so I cooked along at half-marathon effort and alternately had a big dumb grin on my face, or a look of awe and joy. I yo-yo’d with a few runners, trading passes and greetings. At one point, I passed this very large man, and we exchanged pleasantries and commented on the beauty of the trail. A short time later, I came across a section I had heard about from others, which was passable only by grabbing onto a nearby tree and hoisting yourself up. Given the heat, I was carrying my handheld, so I thought fast and clipped the strap of it onto the waist strap of the race number, then grabbed the (small) tree with both hands and yanked myself up. I glanced  back and saw the man was not far behind me, so I waited a moment and offered him a hand. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Of course!” I said, and heave-ho’d and he was up. “You’re like superwoman over here!” he said. And we both laughed and carried on our way.

The sun was rapidly drying things – in fact, there was some clean-up happening at the campsite at that moment as they moved the whole thing several feet away from the flood plain mud pit, and took a few tarps down to dry – but I still had a couple of extremely steep downhills to navigate, and I took these very slow to avoid wiping out. Then came the toughest section: half a mile of granite slab, totally exposed, slick in places, rocky in others, and almost missed a sign and went the wrong way (I righted myself very quickly). I was starting to get tired as I passed the golf course, but knew I was close to finishing, and also didn’t want to wish away these last moments on the trails. I came out of a section and…there was the timing mat! (that’s the other thing – we cross a timing mat with .2 to go on any leg, and the team flashes on a screen so you know to get your ass into the exchange tent!) I hauled ass into the finish with a grin, handing off to Kelly one last time.

Our runners clicked off their last runs, laughing and smiling; upon finishing, everyone really scarfed down the food (they also served a paid lunch in the main tent; it was decent) and continued cleaning up the area and packing things. Everyone was in great spirits, even as the day was winding down and the fun was drawing to a close.

Let me talk about Danimal for a second, though. Danimal is a champ. Danimal is the king of jokes and goofballs, and I have never seen him without a smile on his face for more than, like, two seconds. Danimal is ultra-training – specifically, in May, he had a weekend of back-to-back marathons. So he was used to some major miles on weekends. We were all totaling about 15 miles of trails for Ragnar. But Danimal? Well, he went a little extra. Lara had her red (tough) leg still in the dark, and she’s a (relatively) newer runner and fairly new to trails. This was also her first Ragnar. Danimal – champ that he is – ran that leg with her, and then headed right out onto his next leg. He was also our anchor runner, and his last leg was that same red leg, and he cruised in with a grin and a triumphant fist pump and his stuffed penguin Dr. Gregory still pinned to his shorts. We rewarded his amazing attitude and sportsmanship and team player-ness by giving him the race bib. He earned it!

We crossed together while singing “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME” though there was little pomp and circumstance from the race directors and volunteers. Our late start time meant that a lot of people had already left! Oh well. We enjoyed our finish antics.

We got our (seriously dangerous) bling and took a finish photo together, grinning like fools.

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Post-race

So much celebrating! Tim and Alys headed out to see Alys’ parents in Atlanta that night, and the rest of us – after packing up the cars and driving back to our house in Athens, partied until we were just too pooped to party anymore (spoiler alert: we all crashed early). It was a nice evening and we sat outside, drinking beer, eating pizza (Kelly is a master of ordering delicious pizza – seriously), and taking turns showering off the mud, sweat, and grime. We were elated, exhausted, delirious, giddy, and trail-drunk.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. In fact, we’ve been spitballing ideas since…the moment we finished, or even before we were totally done, to be honest, on when and where and how we’ll do the next one. Maybe even West Virginia in June 2016! We shall see… It remains an expensive endeavor, but I would say a LOT less so that the traditional, 12-person team with team vans to rent and possible hotel stays Ragnar. If you like dirt, mud, trails, beer, camping, not sleeping, tailgating, possibly getting rained out, getting sunburned, you should definitely do this. You’ll love those smelly people forever.

MCM Training Week 3: Packing is cross-training, right?

I’m barely squeezing this entry in, and I should really be packing or winding down and going to sleep early or something, but I just need to do a little something for me, so here it is. This week was a big epic fail when it came to structured cross-training, but packing and carting boxes and making a zillion trips up and down the stairs lugging garbage bags and Goodwill donations totally counts, right? But here’s the breakdown:

Monday: cross-train (packing)

Tuesday: scheduled for 3 miles easy – actual: 3.6 mile sanity run

Wednesday: cross-train (packing)

Thursday: 7 mile tempo run

Friday: cross-train (packing)

Saturday: 14 mile long run; cross-train (packing)

Sunday: cross-train (packing)

I know, my week is thrilling.

As if moving isn’t stressful enough, I had a really big case at work so I completely skipped going to the gym on Monday (and the rest of the week, but whatever) so I could be at the office from 6:15 am to 5 pm. I bolted out of there right at 5 and got right to packing.

For my easy run on Tuesday, I adapted a fairly scenic 4-mile loop I did the other week and didn’t actually measure it beforehand. It was a complete sanity run: I wound up bringing both my watch and my iPod, but it still relaxed me quite a bit, especially since I was just starting packing, at that stage when all you’re doing is pulling stuff out of closets and drawers and cabinets and making a huge freaking mess. I’m kind of a messy person, but big messes like that still bother me and stress me out. I’m a puzzle.

Thursday’s tempo was kind of a crash and burn. NF and I had both had partner runs scheduled, but they both fell through, so he came over to my place (he’s staying at a friend’s just a couple blocks away) and we ran the warm up together. He’s more stressed than I am – he’s proposing his thesis, um, tomorrow – but had a kickass run. I, on the other hand, succumbed to burning-the-candle-at-both-ends and sort of crashed and burned. I made it through, and I hit my splits, but I quit on nearly every tempo mile, stopping my watch and heaving and cursing and getting pissed off at myself. The only exception was the second tempo mile, which is all downhill.

It was all mental, though I know around tempo mile 4 I started feeling kind of woozy. I slowed a little and it passed, so I’m not sure what that was about. It wasn’t bad enough for me to just bag it, but I think my stress level had a lot to do with it. NF and I downloaded about the run after I finished, a few minutes after him, stretching and cooling down, and I had a little meltdown, crying into his shoulder. Then I felt a little better.

This weekend my mom came into town to help me pack, and while she slept in (or tried to, you’ll see why in a moment), NF and I had a 14 miler to get done. I realized quickly upon waking that I had no clue where either of my 22-oz handhelds were. Crap. I remembered one being in my backpack and some point, and yet it was gone. Were they buried under stuff? Did they get boxed up? Or, worse, accidentally thrown out? I woke my mom up to see if they were boxed, and I don’t think she got back to sleep. Worst daughter.

So I did my best – I carried my 12 oz and a 16 oz regular plastic bottle. It was a pain and I was starting the run in a frustrated pace. But I managed to run without listening to tunes for the first 8ish miles, draining the plastic bottle and pitching it around mile 7.5.

Foggy lens Gu break by the Monongahela

NF wasn’t up to the planned last-3-at-half-marathon pace but we managed to push a bit at the end and he helped me finish at my HM pace. The last mile was brutal – we got stuck at every single light and just wanted to be done.

Boy were we glad when it was over.

The move is almost over – at least the packing part is, but it’s funny how long the last 10 to 15 percent of packing can take – and thank goodness this is a cutback week. I’ve broken up my easy runs a bit already so I can squeeze in a few early morning miles to start my day off right: alone and in the zone. Tomorrow morning will be my last run from this apartment, my first Pittsburgh apartment, where I have lived for the last three years.

And Wednesday? We have the moving truck from 12 to 6 pm, and though we got movers for the big stuff, it’ll still be a major cross-training day. Here’s to it.

For Boston

The Boston Marathon is huge. Iconic. Legendary. If you qualified to run it, you’re lauded as a Real Runner – fast, dedicated, and maybe a little bit crazy (well, all of us marathoners are a little crazy, aren’t we). It’s the holy grail – this fierce, fragile thing just outside the average mid-packer’s (like myself) grasp. We dream of it. We hunger for it. We’re not sure we’ll ever get there – on those runs where we break down in tears, bonk so hard we’re not sure we can move another step, fail to make our goal time by a smidgen.  We want it so badly.

And yet.

Thousands of others are there for other reasons, innumerable charities for which runners spent hours and sent dozens of emails and phone calls and Facebook posts and blog posts and tweets scraping together as many pennies as possible for a worthy cause. They line up at the later waves, sometimes running in the heat of the day, sometimes for hours longer than the wave 1 qualifiers, smiles on their faces and joy and passion in their hearts and footsteps.

Boston Day is often a day made for heartbreak. Newton Hills crushing down on the fatigued legs of Ana Dulce Felix, looking back in dismay to see the chase pack of women reeling her in, finding another, unimaginably fast gear. The heartbreak of Heartbreak Hill. Shalane Flanagan’s eyes welling up when she crossed the line, the podium having slipped away, even as she laid out her heart in those last 385 yards, plain for everyone to see.

But the last heartbreak I expected on Marathon Monday was the one I found when the friend whom I’d been excitedly chatting about the race with – and plotting out her own first marathon training plan; is there anything more inspiring than watching Boston? – pointed me to twitter, telling me something had happened at the finish line.

I shed a few tears, lapsed between sadness, and rage, and despondency, and hope from watching all those who were leaping into the fray to help. I felt numb when I went to the grocery store after work, as I forced myself to eat some dinner, as I went to a coffee shop to read – just to get out of my apartment. As NF and I sat across from each other and mulled it all over.

Yesterday morning we had a track workout scheduled, and a brutal one: 9 miles total, with 5 by 1 mile repeats done at 5K pace. It’s one I have done once before, so I knew I could, but it remains scary and intimidating. Hours before my feet hit the track, I knew who I’d be doing my miles for.

The morning was dark and cool and crisp. We walked from my car to the track, peeled off layers and left our things in lockers, sucked down some Gu and headed back outside, turning on our watches and sliding into an easy warm up. There weren’t too many runners out there – there was another couple present during our warm up, booking along at a fast clip. A guy doing 400 meter intervals later on, and a very fast faculty member getting his miles in towards the end.

I celebrated each perfect split, the evenness of my stride, the strength in my legs, heart, and lungs. By the end of the fourth repeat, I was gassed, but knew I could not give up – not today. Four out of five was not enough today. Lap one ticked off in perfect time, but by lap two I felt myself slow, felt the lead begin to set in. Boston. I picked it back up and corrected my pace and was right back where I needed to be – even a few seconds ahead. The agony of lap three – when you’re halfway done, but still feel like you have forever to go – loomed before me, but I thought of those runners pushing to the end, then plunging back into the fray. The onlookers caught up in the blast. The family and friends and even perfect strangers who came to cheer them on – a day of celebration ending in devastation.

Thinking of Shalane – her first Boston forever colored by heartbreak, her beloved hometown devastated – I threw down the hammer on the final lap, ignoring my watch and pushing as hard as I could, my legs and lungs on fire. When I punched stop across the final line, I fell to my knees and cried.

Boston has always been a far off dream for me. I’m not fast, have never claimed to be, even as my speed has been improving. I got so many messages and calls that day and the day after – from friends, from family – wondering if there was an off-chance that I’d been there, or thinking correctly that I knew people there (all of whom are safe, thank goodness). My mother apologetically admitted she was relieved I hadn’t yet qualified (I don’t think I even told her it was a secret, fleeting hope)

In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be toeing the line at the Pittsburgh half. There will be heightened security, to be sure, and I wonder how Monday’s events will affect spectator turn out. But I know what the feeling at that start line will be like, or at least have an inkling of the sensation of standing shoulder to shoulder again with my running family, many of whom I’m sure will be donning Boston blue and yellow: filled with love, hope, determination, grief, joy, passion, and the desire to leave it all out on the road. I have an aggressive goal, and I may fall short, but every time I want to slow down because my mind fears my legs will give out, I will think only of Boston.

Offseason antics

It’s been three weeks since the marathon – which I can hardly believe. My next big race isn’t until early May, so training doesn’t start until mid- to late-February. And I am blissfully happy about being in the off-season. It’s been a very long year. 

So what have I been up to? Well, over Thanksgiving, it was pretty much a whole lot of nothing besides eating, lounging, visiting with my future in-laws, eating, going on an occasional walk with their dogs, and did I mention eating? We tried a run on Thanksgiving morning as sort of a must-run-on-Turkey-Day tradition, but NB was congested (I called it marathon flu. He was actually running a fever at one point) and I just… wasn’t feeling it.

The next week, I headed back to the gym: I hopped on the elliptical, I jumped back into my spin class, and of course pilates – my absolute favorite. After a week and a half of pretty much no running, I went for an “easy” run on Thursday. Too fast. Then I ran a couple more miles on Friday, also too fast.

And on Sunday, we went to a race. There was a 5K and 10K with the option to do it as 15K. Well, both courses were short (apparently a volunteer misplaced the turnaround cone for the 5K, and the 10K – well it was probably six miles on the nose, and it just wasn’t an officially measured course. Which is fine, whatever). I ran the 10K, and NB – after having pushed hard in the short 5K – paced me for the first 4.5 miles before dropping back, and helped me get some pretty rockin’ splits. My age group (they did decade AGs since it was such a small race, though I’ve recently aged up to the 25-29 group otherwise, which probably means no AG awards until I get CONSIDERABLY faster) was all bunched up so I got 5th, but it was still pretty sweet. And I won a raffle prize – Asics arm warmers. And I had just been complaining about having lost one of my arm warmers I bought last year!

Saturday, we went to the Jingle Bell 5K, which was a fun event but very poorly run. It was cute: everyone was dressed very festively, a lot of green and red, some people wearing elf or Santa or  Christmas tree (yes, people dressed as trees) costumes, and everyone had jingle bells tied to their shoes. We weren’t planning to race it, just run 8:00-8:30 pace, have some fun. It was supposed to be a certified course, but according to Elite Runners & Walkers’ facebook page, after the turnaround cone was set, the cops moved it (why???) and the lead cop (on a bike, I assume) turned onto the trail too soon. What DOESN’T make sense about that explanation are the mile markers. Mile 1 was right on the money, mile 2 was at 1.8, and there was no third mile marker. If it wasn’t screwed up from the start, what was up with the mile markers??

Another thing: we were done with the race and after some dilly-dallying talking to runners about the length of the course, we went to the food tent about 25-30 minutes after the gun went off… and the food was already pretty much gone. Bagel crumbles. Green bananas. Not much water. What the hell?

So while the race itself was charming, everything else about it was fairly terrible.

Today I tried my first body pump class. I’d been meaning to try it for a couple weeks now, but laziness and scheduling stuff put it off until now. The class started at 6:15 and I got there nice and early so I could get assistance. I asked a woman in the class what I needed, and she helped me pick out weights and get my mat and step set up. Then I made a point of walking up to the instructor and explaining I was brand new and if there was anything I should know. He checked my weights and said it was a good place to start, and to take it easy and just follow his cues. 

Well, I knew this class would kick my ass, even taking it easy, being the first one, and the fact that I haven’t been lifting that often in the last six months or so. But damn. I’m going to be in a WORLD of hurt tomorrow. Body pump is basically a group weight lifting class with high repetitions. We started with light weight and a variety of lifts to warm up. Then during each song, we’d focus on a muscle group: legs, chest, legs, triceps, more legs, biceps, even more legs, back and shoulders, some more legs, and abs. You’d get a slight respite between each song, and sometimes we’d set the weights down and shake ourselves out for a couple seconds but otherwise it was go-go-go. Near the end we were doing pushups, which I’m bad at anyway, but I was seriously almost cursing as I prayed that my completely depleted arms wouldn’t give out entirely.

After the class, the instructor gave me a generic “good work” and asked, “So was it easy?” I replied, “No, but I wasn’t expecting it to be.” He seemed to be surprised by this. An older woman in the class seemed dubious it was my first class. Apparently I look like a pro. But I”ll be walking around tomorrow like I’m crippled, so we’ll see about that. I spent a lot of time stretching and foam rolling (and almost yelping out loud in pain) to try to get a jump on it, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing I can do.

So that’s been the first few weeks of my off-season. I’m still not feeling a strong desire to jump back into running – it’s more like a guilty feeling. “You should be running.” I think by next week, I’ll be chomping at the bit ,and I’ll ease back into a running routine, include lots of easy runs, some longer weekend runs, and some fun tempo runs and speedwork. My plan is to not skip any pilates or spin classes (unless I get stuck at work for the former and miss it) and go to body pump at least once a week (his class is M-W-F, but Wednesday conflicts with spin). If I get two more months or so off from real training, I’m going to enjoy it: work on my strength, mental toughness, and just play. 

Race Report: Terrifying 10K

This year, I did my very first, costumed, Halloween run. And MAN was it fun. I’m sad it took me so long to do something like that. NB and I had long been giddy over the idea of dressing as Sam Flynn and Quorra from TRON Legacy. I managed to find an awesome Asics tank that had a blue pattern similar to Quorra’s, and NB bought a clearance black technical shirt and painted it with blue flourescent puffy paint to look like Sam’s top. And it came out GREAT. Unfortunately, there were very few 10K finish line pictures (one of a few complaints I had with the race organization, but I’ll get to that),  so I have no photos for this post, but I promise a picture of our costumes at the end, if I may ask for your patience.

Since it was a 9:30 start, we woke at a leisurely 7 a.m., eating our pre-race oatmeal at a relaxed pace and getting into our costumes. I’d been watching the forecast obsessively all week, and was devastated when the worst turned out to be true: it dawned in the mid-thirties, and it was snowing – huge, fat, wet flakes. I don’t recall a Halloween snow since I was little, and I was dressed as Lamb Chop so I was plenty warm. Fortunately the night before I’d gone out to Dick’s to get a black cold gear Underarmour shirt to layer beneath my costume. I put on my tank and warm warmers (with some white striping for added effect) over the shirt on top and tights on the bottom, donning my Brooks Ghost 4s (wishing for once that I had the blue ones for the color scheme, but I love my green shoes). NB also layered black cold gear under his costume shirt and warm running pants with white stripes running down the side. I skipped my wig because of the snow, instead wearing a black ear band and gloves, since it was going to be a chilly one.

A little after 8, our friends Cas (dressed as a bunny) and Rob (dressed as Zombie Steve Jobs… or maybe just a zombie, haha) picked us up and we headed out. Complaint number one: we’d raced in this park before, twice, actually, but the race organizer for those was a local running store that is INCREDIBLY organized. This one was hosted by the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon group, and shockingly, they weren’t that helpful. They didn’t give an address to plug into GPS but luckily they were able to use the address from the other races in this park and we made it there okay.

We had to park pretty far away and slog through the cold and snow. We were all shivering, and Cas was in pain especially since the ground was so soggy and wet from the snow that her Vibrams were soaked through. Not the ideal Halloween run weather.

Complaint number two: there was only race day packet pickup. It wasn’t too bad – there wasn’t a huge line – but it’s still a pain when that’s the only option. Rob kindly ran our packets back to the car as we pinned our bibs on, tied our timing chips to our laces and prepared ourselves. We went iPod-less because of the weather, carrying only our Toys R Us identity discs.

Before we knew it, it was minutes to the start, and the organizers were telling everyone to head out to the start line. It was freezing. We moved to the back, figuring we could avoid the congestion for the chip start (WRONG. It was a gun start. Complaint number 3). We saw FANTASTIC costumes: there were lots of Mario and Luigis (including two idiot girls in overall shorts and t-shirts. Seriously, ever hear of layering? It’s like those girls that insist on dressing like whores. LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME I look like a moron), Tetris pieces, a limo with a “celebrity” in the back, even Mario Kart cars! We saw one frozen looking guy stuffed into a little bo peep dress with several (girl) sheep around him, shivering his butt off.

The start was apparently delayed by cars driving on the closed course and a fallen tree in the 5K route, but 15 minutes late, we were off! We wanted to take it easy, just have fun and see the sights, but were hoping to run about 55 minutes, which would give us a sub-9 pace overall.

The two courses split immediately, and we were never able to determine the exact start given the lack of timing mats (we thought maybe they had some other contraption but were of course wrong). We both started our Garmins several seconds late as a result, but no biggie. The 5K course split right, and the 10K course split left… right up an enormous hill. Oooh that hill. It was the same hill that caused me to wheeze, just getting over a nose cold, at the very end of the Frigid Five Miler in January. We trucked up it, trying to focus on the costumes and staying relaxed, arms low. One by one we saw people start walking, some sooner than others, but we kept on as the path wound and wound and wound up the hill, until we finally saw the senior center that had warmed us before and after that Five Miler, and we knew we’d made it. A little while later our watches beeped the first mile: 10:17. Slow, but not nearly as bad as it could have been, given that gnarly, 2/3 mile hill.

The snow continued to pelt us. Oddly, it was behind my glasses that seemed to cause more issues, and I kept wiping and wiping and wiping. It was difficult to see, and I knew the road was slicked. It was all making me a litlte grumpy, but I tried to ignore it.

A couple miles in (mile 2 came in the low 9s, closer to our desired pace), we passed a Mario and Luigi, with the Mario theme playing (on a cell phone maybe?). NB and I of course cracked a couple jokes (f***ing Goombas! How did that hhappen? I was inside of the tyube!) as the course rolled on. It really was pretty, even with all the snow, with all those yellow trees lined with white.

The miles began to tick by in 8:30s, and we ignored all the aid stations (I think NB may have taken something at one. I couldn’t stomach the idea of cold water in that weather). We reminisced about the Frigid Five as we followed a similar track, remembering the moments where we cruised, and where we suffered. Some of the hills carried us a bit fast, and others we had to slam on the brakes so we didn’t go careening down and wind up hurting ourselves.

As we went, I felt like I was slowing, but our pace remained fairly even in the 8:30s. Since our distances were a little off (not by a huge amount, given the mile markers, but when we finished it was a fair amount) we were a little unsure of how much further we had to go. We rounded a bend and could see the arch of the sign, and heard Rob (who finished in absurd sub-40 time that I don’t recall and at the moment am too lazy to look up) cheering for us. We looked at each other, discs in hand, and knew: time to kick. We flew across the line, and I was gasping for breath: 55:49

We jogged it out a few steps before walking loopily over to Rob and watched as Cas flew in under 60 minutes, feet soaked.

After the race the real party began, complete with cheap, terrible beer, food from Spaghetti Warehouse, and other typical fare (bagels, bananas). I just had some Doritos and Cheetos and a beer, which I only drank half of since it was pretty bad. We hung out a bit before heading out, freezing our buns off on the walk back to the car and grateful for the heater.

So what was our actual finishing time? Well, our guntime was like 56 something, and apparently it was good enough for 9th in my age group. I wondered to myself how I’d have done if I wasn’t in costume (though that didn’t make much difference), it wasn’t snowing and I’d actually been “racing” it. But I was still glad we didn’t.

 

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – taken at the party we went to that night (I was drunk):

The strap across my chest is from a Rock Band guitar
Trying to remember what the movie poster looked like. Backwards. Also - I was quite drunk here, and losing my wig.

Probably our last race for a while, but never fear! I’ve been running a ton, enjoying the fall, and this week we travel to Vancouver, aka running Mecca! Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

CycleOps and an Air Force captain – how a bike trainer made my day

I’m four weeks into my current training cycle, and haven’t blogged – I could make a bunch of excuses about work and life in general being insane (which is true), but I am TOO EXCITED to go into all that.

Why am I so excited, do you ask? Because people’s AMAZING generosity just astounds me, every day.

So here’s the back story: I’ve been a reader of Frayed Laces‘ blog since I discovered it last summer; she’s a very talented amateur triathlete with a very devoted readership. She has several sponsors that allow her to offer semi-regular product giveaways. A few weeks ago, she had the biggest giveaway to date: a CycleOps trainer that retails for $399.99.

Now, I’m not a cyclist. I don’t even have my bike here in Pittsburgh, though I plan on bringing one here eventually, and usually just ride a bit on the stationary bike at my gym for cross-training. My big brother, on the other hand, is a HUGE cyclist.

Really, though, we’re a pretty big biking family. We did a lot of family rides, and my brother (let’s call him Captain Cyclist, or CC for short) very quickly started dominating these rides. He’d fly down hills, cruise way ahead of us, and loop back to us, only to vanish again. We grew up on mountain bikes, but when he was big enough, he started buying my mom’s bike (my dad’s didn’t have dropped handlebars), eventually buying a bike at a garage sale and revamping it a little. About halfway through his college career, he had saved enough money to buy himself a nice road bike (what brand, you ask? I have no idea, I tell you. Because I am not a cyclist. Rest assured, I will take note next time I see him) and started churning out longer rides. It was mostly cross-training throughout college, since he did crew, but since he graduated it’s his main form of cardio.

As most of you probably know (the whole two or three people who read this blog), he’s also in the Air Force. He was commissioned in December 2005 and has served several short tours, first as a KC-135 pilot (a tanker that refuels other jets, about two and a half to three month deployments) and most recently piloting the MC-12 (a six month deployment). During the most recent deployment, he logged over 1,000 miles on an indoor bike.

For the last three years, he has lived in Spokane on his current assignment, and later this year will be moving to Las Vegas for his next assignment: flying drones. Pros? More infrequent deployments (though longer). Much cheaper to visit him (Traveling to Spokane from the east side of the country is $500 plus on a good day, and is always 2 or more stops). Cheap real estate (apparently he and my sister-in-law put an offer down on a townhouse!) Cons: Las Vegas heat. Sure, it’s a desert, but the summer nights are still BLAZING, which means a lot of his summer rides he’ll be confined indoors.

I leapt into action when I saw the giveaway, knowing that FL tends to use random number generators to select the winner (really the only fair way) but told my story (much briefer, of course) anyway about how I really wanted to give my brother a top notch trainer for his indoor rides. I mean, someone might be reading them for content, so why not try?

Fast forward several days later: the blog says I lost. It’s okay. I never win anything. I know everyone says that, including when they win, but it’s true. I was really more disappointed about this one because it wasn’t just a big box of Gu (which, I mean, would be awesome), but a TRAINER for my one and only brother (who is impossible to buy gifts for, btw, as all guys are).

This morning, I’m taking a little break from work and check my email. I have a comment on this blog awaiting approval – from Frayed Laces! She’d been trying to get in touch with me and told me to email her. I started to get really psyched, but tried not to expect too much. It might be something completely unrelated. What, I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I email her, and a little while later hear back. CycleOps had seen my comment, and wanted to send CC a trainer!

“Good news.  I found a trainer in our storage that I would love to send to runsforcookies for her brother.  It’s not brand new and has a few bumps and bruises on the frame, but that’s from being shipped around and showed at events and shows.  It would still be treated like/have a warranty, so hopefully that would be ok.  If you wouldn’t mind reaching out to the blogger and getting her/her brother’s contact info I can get the trainer on the way.   I thought it’d be good karma to send him a trainer.”

Me: HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT. (silently. I was at work, after all, and sit about fifteen feet from Boss man)

What was REALLY funny was I had emailed CC about twenty minutes early with the coupon code for 15 percent of CycleOps stuff that FL had just posted on twitter. After I got this email, I wrote to him again: “…Umm, nevermind. I just won you a free trainer!”

Naturally, I freaked out on twitter – favorite response came from my twitter pal @Amy Bushatz: Big thanks to @CycleOpsPower for going above and beyond to just do something nice for an Airman! #SOT !

Of course when I heard from CC (he called in response to my email, what a guy) he had his usual unruffled tone on. Seriously, I could get him a power meter for over a grand and he’d be like, “Cool.”

But despite a brotherly underwhelming response (trust me, it’s typical), Frayed Laces: seriously, thank you. Thank you for being an amazing blogger, for attracting awesome sponsors, and for getting in touch with me to help make this happen! And CycleOps? Seriously. I’m beyond thrilled. I may not be a cyclist now, but if I turn into a cyclist and/or triathlete, I guarantee you, I will be a very loyal customer of yours.

The things folks will do for our troops: truly amazing!

 

Well, okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (ha!), where was I? Okay, I’m four weeks into training for the Air Force Half-marathon (Saturday, Sept. 17). Instead of giving a full blow-by-blow, here are the highlights.

Week one happened to coincide with awful GI distress, meaning a skipped tempo run. Which blew, but it was okay! Because I listened to my body. It also coincided with the aforementioned brother visiting, as well as, of course, my sister-in-law. So on my tempo run day, I did a short easy run… then went for a leisurely bike ride with CC and his wife. Friday I didn’t run at all, instead going for a walk in Frick Park with my visitors. It was a really nice visit, and I honestly don’t have any regrets about missed runs. Well, at least not anymore.

Week two went much more according to schedule. I actually did pretty well on the first speedwork – I mentally copped out a couple tops but manage to nail my splits anyway. The long run was, unfortunately, a bonk fest, which involved walk breaks, thogh some of these were due to NB’s recovering ankles (downhill impact was painful, so we walked the steeper ones).

Week three I had a very successful tempo run, even in the gnarly heat and humidity, and each split was faster than the first. My long run (10 miles) felt good for a while, until random knee pain after a long uphill, and then random ankle hill at the top of another hill which forced me to walk down my favorite downhill. Then I just ran out of gas in the last quarter mile. I think the heat/humidity has been killing me. Need to come up with new strategies.

Week four (aka last week) was… interesting. NB and I had to run out of town early in the week, and did our easy three miler in unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately my Garmin refused to lock on satellites (I gave up after about five minutes) and then the route I mapped wasn’t the route we took, so we HOPE it was three miles. when we got back, I slept in (we got home at 1:30 a.m/ the previous night) so I decided to enjoy the randomly gorgeous weather by going for a random 4.5 mile trail run in Frick. I run-walked some portions to save it for the next day, especially since I was zonked from our trip, but the single track section was gloriou s- still my absolute favorite. Sunday’s 10 miler ended up being solo, as NB’s new shoes (unfortunately Brooks Addiction aren’t as cushiony as Asics Gel-Evolution for his big frame and very flat feet) and he walked home while I ran the last 8 miles. I didn’t have that great of a run, but did a couple pretty solid miles in the middle, including a sub-goal pace split. At the very end I was running interval pace, in absolute agony, but dying to get it over with and just cruising along.

This week is a recovery week – at last! I’m going to try to use it as an opportunity not just to regroup but to gain some mental confidence. I’m definitely doing hill repeats this week, likely tomorrow. I’m trying to hydrate like crazy in anticipation, as it’s supposed to be 75 by 5 a.m., and well over 90 percent humidity. Joy.

And now, to call CC and hear about his Vegas plans, and try to see how excited he REALLY is (maybe get a “sweeeet” out of him. That’s always a good one).

 

A deer, an unleashed dog, and a sprained ankle

Sunday: 5.24 mile trail run

Monday: 6 mile easy run

Tuesday: slept in, just went to afternoon pilates class

Wednesday: 5 mile tempo run – 1 mi warmup,  3 @ tempo, 1 mi cooldown

Thursday: 10 min erg warmup, then arms and core workout

Friday: 2 miles easy

Saturday: off

Sunday: 8 mile long run

Last week was … well, the last week where I decided all my workouts. That’s right: training started yesterday. But I’ll get to that next week. I included Sunday to Sunday since that trail run was… epic. I was really feeling  trail run, and busting out the Brooks Cascadias again, so I asked NB if we could hit up Frick Park and explore the trails a bit. We started in the usual spot, parking near the lot by the baseball fields and tennis courts on Braddock and cut down a path that ended up slicing off about 3/4 of a mile (oops). We did an out and back on Tranquil Trail (which is gorgeous, but all uphill one way) before heading up this one killer hill that ALWAYS kills me. This time I nearly made it to the top without stopping, and walked only the last few feet and took a little break while we decided where to go. We usually headed right, but to the left there was a right and left fork to try. We decided to go on the right fork, thinking – though there was an uphill – it couldn’t be much more. But HOLY DAMN there was still a lot of steep uphill. I had to walk. I HAD to. It finally leveled off and started coasting down a bit, narrowing down to some decently technical single track.

Then our concern was: was this going all the way back down, so we’d have to come all the way back up again? I just tried to ignore my I-hate-hills demons and enjoy the single track. It was GORGEOUS. At times I felt like I was flying. I shut my music off and just enjoyed finding my foot holds and dodging branches. The path seemed to loop around, and I was getting a good feeling: it seemed like ti was looping back to that left fork path. A little later, I stuck my hand out and said quietly to NB: Wait.

Ahead of us, on a little bridge, was a doe, who was munching and then stood up and looked around, pricking her ears. About five seconds later there was a harsh whistle (an actual whistle, not just someone whistling) as a guy with his unleashed dog tried to call him back as ran toward the deer, who of course bolted. I HATE unleashed dogs. There are HUGE SIGNS in the park saying to leash your dogs or face a fine (and my cousin’s dog got attacked in this very park by an unleashed dog, so this isn’t just people safety I’m talking about. I love animals.). But I was glad for the sight of the deer, brief as it was.

I pretty much rode a high the rest of the run and as we finished and stretched back at the parking lot, joyfully dirty and tired, it started to drip rain a bit. It was glorious.

The rest of  the week, I wanted to push. On Monday I slept in and NB and I went on a post-work run, a six mile loop that is pretty much uphill for the first couple miles, including the ever-gnarly Negley climb within the first mile of the run. I made it without walking a step, even if I was totally dying. We even talked most of the time, which was really nice. On Wednesday, I scheduled myself a tempo run and ripped it up. The only downside was some intermittent GI discomfort that caused me to stop and walk a few steps a couple times (out of necessity, not laziness, I swear) but I hit my splits and was very happy about how I did.

Sunday’s long run was… questionable. It was wicked humid and NB and I were suffering. I had to take a walk break a few miles in, but after that felt significantly better (especially since the worst hills were over, and I took a gel), but NB was bonking. He asked to walk and we did, and just as he was trying to push through the last two or so miles, we stepped off a curb onto a street that had been scraped recently and he rolled his ankle… badly. So badly he yelled out loud in pain and immediately stopped to walk. He tried to walk it off a few blocks but the pain didn’t subside. So I hightailed it home (doing the last two miles somewhere between tempo pace and HM goal pace) and brought some shot blocks, ice, ace bandage and water. He’s got a lovely-colored bruise on his foot and has been wearing a brace. No running this week (at least)! It really sucks, but if you’re going to get injured, I suppose its’ better to be at the beginning of training, and not the middle or end.

So today is the first day of summer, and the first run of the new training cycle. I’m again using a Runners World Smart Coach plan, and we’re doing it a lot tougher: mileage is starting higher; there are a lot more double-digit long runs; we’re starting at four runs a week and getting up to five, rather than starting at three and getting up to four; and instead of three weeks of building followed by a recovery week, it’s four weeks of building.

Can you feel it? Feels like a recipe for a PR. And I am so READY.

Is this recovery or full-on panic?

Long-ish time, no post. What have I been up to? Well, partly, recovery. But my working and social life have been outright insane. But let’s back up

So after the race I took four full days off: no workouts whatsoever, with the exception of my usual Tuesday pilates class (which kicked my ass, as usual). The Friday after the race, I went on my first run: an easy two miler – no music, no Garmin. It felt… harder than it probably should have, but running after for total days off kind of sucks.

Other than that, I’ve been squeezing in runs and workouts when I can. I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping in: between attending and throwing multiple bachelorette parties and bridal showers, and a ton of deadlines at work, I was constantly exhausted. But, of course, the days I forced myself out the door I felt worlds better. A few miles out on the road (or at the gym) make a world of difference for mood. Shocker, I know.

A couple highlights, though, to my downtime thus far (which isn’t over yet. i have about another week and a half to two weeks before training kicks in again):

Last Saturday I had an awesome trail run. I was in Cleveland, throwing a shower for a friend, and hit up the local Metroparks, tackling one of the tougher trails. I brought my Garmin just to track the distance, and did my best to ignore pace. It was even harder than I remembered: last time I ran it with a buddy, and we just sort of looked at each other in agony as we trudged up the RIDICULOUS hills (seriously, NB – some of the are as steep as Negley). This time, alone, I’ll admit it: I walked some. I even had to walk down parts of a couple because they were so steep. But I DID get to try out my new Brooks Cascadia 6, and they did awesome. I had to leap over two creeks, and on the second one there was no way to make it over going back without getting my foot wet, and it was fine. My favorite part of the trail is the very start where it’s single track, right before hitting the bridal path. I need to find more of that, with the low-hanging branches, the creek alongside, and I was just cruising along.

The other high point was this morning. It got miserably hot and humid this week: on Monday and Tuesday it topped 90 degrees, and yesterday, at 6:30 a.m. it was already 75 degrees and humid enough for it to feel like we’d stepped into a pool. But last night, it got cool: today the heat broke, at least for a bit, and it was actually pretty dry. I stepped outside, ready to rock a tempo run (with music and Garmin back in my arsenal) and felt an actual breeze.

It hurt. Bad. I suffered. But you know what? It was worth it. I thought about giving up, about cutting it short (I planned to do a warm up mile, then three miles at tempo pace, then one mile cool down), but by the third mile I was chasing down another running who was about 20-30 seconds per mile faster than me. You’re almost there, I told myself. Just keep pushing.

And each mile was faster than the previous. I hit 8:19 for the first mile, 8:07 for the second and 8 minutes flat for the final tempo mile.

Now I’m really, super motivated to push hard. I’m going to work on getting my mileage back up to where it was and start cross training more intensely. I’m in a wedding this weekend, so after that’s over a lot of stress will be out of my daily life. After that, I can focus on a few things:

1. I really want to work on hills. I’m really weak – mentally – when it comes to overcoming hills, so hill repeats are going to have to become a part of my weekly repetoire, or at least every other week.

2. I want to get back into strength training. I’ve been slacking on it for a good couple months now, both upper and lower body, and I know I feel a lot stronger and faster when I’ve been strength training hard.

3. Speed. I’m going to try to do longer tempo runs, and really rock them. I missed two whole track workouts last training cycle, and I know that hurt me, at least confidence-wise. I know there are things that are out of my control, but I’d like to really push it on the track every time I get out there.

So, what will I be training for next? So glad you asked:

 

I’ll be running the Air Force half-marathon on September 17. I feel like I need at least another half under my belt (maybe more) and WAY more weekly mileage before attempting a full. So for now, I’ll take it one half-marathon at a time. I plan on running some 5ks and 10ks this summer, so stay tuned for those reports, and of course, updates on my training. 🙂