Hidden Gems

I was going to title this post “The Comeback Kid Runs Again,” but then I realized I would have to flashback to 2009 to explain that. To keep a long story short, Running Legend Bill Rodgers (4 time winner of the Boston Marathon AND 4 time winner of the New York Marathon) gave me the nickname of “The Comeback Kid” after hearing the story of how I ran a half marathon in Ottawa  only days after having my casts sawed off when I had broken both arms at the same time.

I overcame many challenges to run that race, and I have done it again. Only 10 months after being hospitalized for stroke, I finished another half marathon. It is my second worst half marathon time ever, but it was the sweetest finish line I’ve had in a long time.

This year I signed up for a small, local race trying to keep it real given the obstacles I have overcome in reaching the start line. All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I can still run distance and cross the finish line. I wasn’t expecting a medal and there was none advertised. But, surprise, surprise, not only was there a medal at the finish line, but friends too, and it was the best feeling!

So my math is all blown to hell. Remember in Going Local, I was gushing over the plan for Philly 2018 to be my 15th medal and blah, blah … well, I got my 15th medal this year. I couldn’t be happier. My math for the 2018 running season is totally screwed and I am completely fine with that. The medal I got for this 2017 race is one of my top 3 medals in terms of what it means to me. I was seriously facing a running career ending health condition last year when I could not drive or run after having my stroke. I cannot begin to describe how much this medal means to me.

When I got that medal in Ottawa, it was shaped like a maple leaf. The medal I got this year is shaped like a maple leaf also. Must be a theme with maple leaf medals when I make an epic comeback.

While I talk extensively about races I have ran, I have never outright endorsed a race. *spoiler alert* I’m going to do so now. Please note I was not asked to do this and am receiving nothing for doing so. I’m just that impressed with this race that I want everyone to know about it. If you’re ever in the Central New York area at the end of September, there is this tiny race called the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon that is put on by the Cortland YMCA in Cortland, NY. It’s amazing in so many ways.

The Leaf Peeper was my 15th race overall. It was also the smallest. It is extremely well planned. Arrive an hour early on race day to pick up your bib and t-shirt. There is plenty of parking, plenty of rest rooms, and super nice people. The race fee is a complete steal, especially for someone like me who is used to the big city races with 30,000+ runners. All the money benefits the local YMCA and is completely worth it. It doesn’t get any better than race for a good cause.

The course is well marked and there is plenty of support. The volunteers at the road crossings are friendly. There is not a lot of traffic on the route. The route is a very gorgeous run through the rolling hills of Central New York. You can, indeed, see the leaves peeping across farm fields and streams. The race is aptly named. The scenery is spectacular in the morning as the fog is burning off at the beginning of the race.

The volunteers at the water and Gatorade stations are so polite. Some aid stations even had real food like m&m’s and bananas. I will take a banana in a race over a gel any day! Leaf Peeper rocks for best volunteers at a half marathon. There was also bicycle support, which I was not expecting for such a small race (very impressed), and each mile was clearly marked!

At the finish line, there was great crowd support. There was plenty of water, Gatorade and snacks at the finish. The race was professionally timed with the timing chips built right into the bibs. This race is a hidden gem, and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s great for a first half marathon. It’s also great for more experienced runners like myself.

I actually made a challenge for myself with this race – I ran without my iPod even though I knew there was minimal crowd support on the rolling country miles. I survived. I went into this race treating it like just another 13.1 mile run, but by the time I finished, I realized this is truly a race, and an excellent one at that. I completely underestimated the Leaf Peeper.

It’s too late for you to run this hidden gem in 2017. Now is the perfect time to put it on your bucket list for 2018. I will definitely be back to run the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. Maybe not next year, as I already have a race planned, and my body is only capable of one long distance race per year, but I will be back for the Leaf Peeper again.

That was another huge plus – I finished the Leaf Peeper uninjured. After the significant injury to my hip in 2015, I was worried when I saw hills in the Leaf Peeper. I listened to my body and navigated them fine. My finish time may have been slower, but I ran a good race and finished uninjured. It was a great experience in my book.

I am officially in my off-season now for running, as my race is complete for the year. I am going to have a short rest. One day off for each mile raced, you know! Then, I’ll be back at it getting ready for 2018. If you are still in the planning stages for your 2018 race season, consider the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. I highly recommend it!

Advertisements

Canadian Style

Since this year’s race is a small, local run with no medal, I’ve decided to play around with my training schedule a bit. I’m throwing it back and going Canadian style. Toronto is the city in which I ran my second marathon and it is hands down my all-time best time. I can no longer call it a PR, as it has been longer than two years since I’ve done Toronto, but it is the best experience.

What made Toronto unique was that I ran with pace bunnies from John Stanton’s Running Room using the 10:1 run/walk method.  Especially in America, many marathoners and spectators think that being able to run the complete marathon without stopping or walking is how to get all the glory. Spectators always cheer with added enthusiasm when you slow down for a walk break in a marathon; the crowd tries to will you to keep moving.

As I get older, I am starting to appreciate the run/walk method more. The word on the street is that run/walk methods are great for older runners (40+) and those with injuries or who are prone to injury. While I am not yet 40, I am feeling the effects of some injuries wearing me down. I’m not sure how many marathons I still have in me. As the popular saying goes, “there will come a day I can no longer do this. Today is not that day.” Not only has the run/walk method resulted in my most successful race times; I came through with minimal to no injuries in those races.

I researched a few different run/walk training methods. In the United States, the Jeff Galloway method is quite popular. With all due respect, the Galloway method is way too complicated for me, and when trying it, I did not see any of the benefits I see with Canadian style. I love math when I’m standing still, but when I’m running, I just can’t math. You know, that moment when you get “in the zone” and your brain turns off because you’re running on autopilot. If you’re the type that loves doing hard math while you are running, definitely look into the Galloway method. For me, Canadian style goes by 5s and 10s, so the math is a lot easier for me to handle when running.

I’ve always inadvertently incorporated some style of run/walk into my runs. My training runs are primarily on a trail. I typically walk the footbridges (usually people are fishing there, and I don’t want my pounding feet to scatter their dinner), and in races, I walk the water stops. I have ran some races in below freezing weather, and water stops can be quite slippery, not to mention there are potential tripping hazards in water stops such as discarded cups lying about.

This is the first time that I am purposely using the run/walk method to train in a distinctive pattern as well as planning on using it in a race. The hard part is going to be listening to the crowd for those 1-minute increments when I’m walking. In Toronto, we were all using the 10:1 method en masse, so the crowds were used to seeing large groups of runners slow for a 1-minute walk every 10 minutes. Those 1-minute walk breaks help your endurance so you can go the distance as well as recharge your muscles and reduce the chance of injury. I’ve officially been a distance racer for 10 years now, and as I am approaching 40 (but not quite there yet), I am all about preventing injury so that I can be a distance runner and distance racer for as long as humanly possible. Life is the ultimate marathon and I want to be doing this running thing as long as I can.

Incorporating the 10:1 program into my training has been beneficial so far. I have had two 12-mile longs runs now, and they seem easier. I’m not as worn out after the run, and my results show that I’m running each mile an average of 20-30 seconds faster. We will see how those results bare out when I actually run my race on September 23.

I’m going back to the Canadian style of running that I found so helpful in my early races. I’m not sure how I got away from that. I can definitely pinpoint when. Using data from my own races over the past 10 years, there is a definite difference in performance when I was running Canadian style compared to when I started going all out “run the entire thing no matter what” American style. The person who crosses the finish line in a marathon is not the same person who crosses the start line in a marathon. It is everything in between those two lines that makes the type of person and runner you are. The journey defines you.

If my race goes well this month, then I intend on using the 10:1 method from the very beginning when I train for the 2018 running season and for Philly. Historically, I have my own race data to back up the claim that I should be running my races Canadian style. That’s not to say that this method is for everyone, but it looks to be the best choice for me.

It is also important to learn to not get discouraged when spectators are urging walkers to start running again. Hey, I’m running for 10 minutes, and then walking for 1 minute. Nowhere in that equation do I see the word “stop.” I’m a marathoner. Run, walk, crawl, dragged, (or when in Philly, in drag), I cross the finish line. There is no shame in taking walk breaks as long as you cross the finish line. Less than 10% of the American population will ever finish a marathon. I have 14 medals doing this. I’m way ahead of the curve. Just keep moving.

Speaking of moving, my theme song has changed yet again. I’m not sure if it was bad juju or what, but I had changed my running theme song in 2015. For 13 medals, that old Eminem song from 8-mile was my groove. I changed to a different Eminem song in 2015, which is when I had that tear in my hip. That race was bad news. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself again. If this race goes poorly this year with my new theme song, I’ll have to go back to my “Lose Yourself” days. But, I’m hoping this tune is a lucky one. My new theme song is below. Happy running, eh?

 

Going Local

After the disappointment of having to forfeit the entire 2016 running season and having it be the first lost year of my running career, the 2017 running season is on, if with a somewhat quiet whimper. I’m going local this year.

Being that I was hospitalized last year for stroke symptoms, I decided to keep 2017 low-key. I’m running a half marathon in September. It is going to be the first time I have ran a race where there is no medal involved. I’m doing this one not for the competition, but rather for the accomplishment. After surviving a stroke and losing an entire season, I just want to cross the finish line to be able to say, “I did it. I can still run.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Not only will I be running a local race this year, it will be my first time running a distance event that is on a Saturday as opposed to a Sunday. In my geographic area, 5ks are traditionally on Saturdays, while half and full marathons are traditionally on Sundays. Running a half marathon on a Saturday is going to be a new experience. It has totally given me a new training schedule than normal this summer.

I will be running a race where I can sleep in my own bed both the night before the race and then return home within 30 minutes after it ends. The race is a fundraiser for the local YMCA a worthy cause in my own backyard. You know if I’m not running for a medal, I better be running for charity. There is also that whole “for the love of running concept” that was the slogan of the 2013 Philly Marathon as well.

Speaking of Philly, my second reason for a toned down 2017 running season is to hopefully be able to gear up for a spectacular 2018. 2018 is going to be a huge year in my running career, quite possibly the biggest one yet.

Here’s what’s in store for 2018: I’ll be 39 and plan to fun the full marathon in Philadelphia. It will be the 10 year anniversary of my first full marathon (which was Philly), it will be my 15th medal overall, it will be the 5th medal I receive from Philly, and it will be the 25 year Anniversary of the Philadelphia Marathon. 2018 is going to be a huge year. A quiet 2017 running season is just what I need to be able to get back in the game and prepare to go full force into a glorious 2018.

I’m hoping to have a positive experience at this local race in September. I have so many races in my backyard, its probably time I have checked some out. I have been hitting the race circuit pretty hard the past decade. It was only a matter of time before I was knocked on my ass.

I’m also toying with the idea of retiring from the full marathon distance. I want to do at least 3 more full marathons before I decide for definite. I’m going to do Philly in 2018, then 2 more yet to be determined. I will still keep running half marathons, but I think I might be near the end for the full marathon distance. The half marathon is actually my best distance competitively, although I love the challenge of full marathons. Full marathons will always be my first love. Depending on how next year goes, I may only have a few more full marathons left in me. We will see what the future holds. My health situation seems to have other ideas.

For 2017, I am staying local running a tiny half marathon that is raising money for a great community organization. Sometimes when you are knocked down, like I was with the stroke last year, you are forced to realize what is all around you instead of continually reaching for something farther away.

Based on my training so far, I’m a little worried that my half marathon next month is going to be slow and not the sub-2:00 times I am used to running normally in the half marathon distance. I’m okay with that. After the year I have had, I just want to be able to say, “I’ve still got it.”  Then I have an entire year to work on preparing for a huge 2018.

What I do know is that whether competitively on the race circuit or locally in my own backyard, I won’t stop running. When I was down with stroke symptoms last year that was what I cried about the most. If I couldn’t run, I at least needed to walk. This has been a long year for me. I may be downgrading by going local with no medals, but the real reward is that I am still able to do what I love doing the most. That’s what matters.

 

 

Don’t Mess with People Who Run 26.2 Miles For Fun

DSCN1670 DSCN1654 DSCN1652 image_6

Above: When I earned my BAA medal in 2010. Out of my 14 medals, my BAA means the most to me.

Friday was One Boston Day, the third anniversary of the heartbreaking bombing of OUR marathon by domestic terrorists. The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the world; it is a race that belongs to everyone. Whether you qualify or not, Boston is the race that shows the truth of the human spirit and the unfailing love that is part of the running community.

While my work schedule is often hectic and beyond my control, I did manage to observe a moment of silence close to the time when the first bomb went off on Friday. I remember that day three years ago, when I felt like someone literally took a sword and pierced my very soul. It was one of the deepest emotional pains I have ever felt in my life. I would have to say that it was one of the three worst moments I have experienced. Even though I was in NYC in 2001, I would have to say that for me, Boston felt more personal.

As horrific as that moment was, every single minute that has come after has shown the strength, resilience, and perseverance of the community of runners. It has been amazing to see how everyone, even people who are not runners, rally around us to help and heal.

The Boston Marathon is OUR marathon. The finish line belongs to everyone. The marathon represents hope to everyone. It represents the challenges and adversity people overcome to be able to toe the start line. It represents sacrifice. Mornings when we got up at 4 am to run when we would much rather push snooze and roll over. Afternoons spent running in the rain just to get the miles in the tank. Most importantly, the Boston Marathon represents LOVE. And it belongs to everyone. You just don’t mess with people who run 26.2 miles for fun.

Today is Marathon Monday. Happy Patriot’s Day, Massachusetts! This is the day when the crowds line the streets to cheer the accomplishments of everyone in the race. It is a day to come together and celebrate and be kind to one another. We have overcome the atrocity of 4.15.13 by showing each other tenderness and mercy in a time of need. As my hero Kathrine Switzer has said, “If you ever doubt the strength of the human spirit, watch a marathon.”

Speaking of heroes, today also marks 50 years of women being allowed to run the marathon. I am thankful for the opportunity to run every single day. At one time, women were not allowed to run more than a mile because it was thought that running more than that would make us unable to bear children. Of course, we all know this is a misconception. Many women have both ran marathons and bore children. However, it should be noted that part of the confusion came from the fact that when we run a marathon, it works the muscle groups directly below those used in natural childbirth. So yes, they are equivocally the same. Running a marathon pretty much does the same thing to our bodies as natural childbirth. However, marathoning does nothing to interfere with our ability to bear children. This was a huge hurdle that had to be overcome in order for women to be able to run marathons.

While Kathrine Switzer is well known for running Boston using only her first initial for registration and surviving an attempt by the race director to throw her off the course screaming “Give me those numbers,” we must remember that, in fact, the first woman to run Boston was Bobbi Gibb. Bobbi is one of the pioneers of women’s running that helped pave the way for the rest of us. 50 years ago women were not allowed to run marathons. Today, we make up about half the field in almost every race.

In 1980, American Joannie Samuelson won gold in the inaugural women’s marathon in the Olympics. Just a short 36 years ago, we showed the world that not only can women run marathons, but also that we can do so on a competitive international level. The three women: Bobbi, Kathrine, and Joan are the pioneers of women’s running. Today’s Boston Marathon is a celebration of the barriers we have overcome to be able to run this great race.

I am so proud and so blessed to have the ability to run. It is the greatest gift that I have in life. While considered a solitary sport, it is amazing to see what we can do once you get a group of runners together. We run to raise money for charity. We run to bring awareness to causes. We continue to run even when we are hungry and tired. We run through joy, we run through tears. We just keep going, because to stop would be one of the greatest pains to experience.

There is a meme that has gone around the Internet in running circle with a Matrix-like scenario. If you take the red pill, you can continue running at your current level for the rest of your life. If you take the blue pill, you will see significant improvement in your ability to be competitive, but your super running ability will only last for 5 years and then you will not be able to run anymore. I choose the red pill. Every time. I choose the red pill. I cannot imagine my life without running in it.

I will be doing a trail run today in solidarity with Boston. The day I earned my Boston medal in 2010 was one of the best days of my life. Let us never forget 4.15.13. We must honor those that we lost by continuing to run. We must run for those who cannot because we know they would do the same for us. We must show all terrorists everywhere that even if you bomb our race, it will not stop us from toeing the start line and from crossing finish lines again and again. Each step that we take is a step full of love.

You don’t mess with people who run 26.2 miles for fun because we have the ability to be, show, and bring out the best in humanity. Today we celebrate not only women’s running but also the hope and love that the marathon symbolizes. #BostonStrong

IMG_5008 IMG_5384

Pre-Gaming the 2016 Running Season

IMG_8523

Here in the northeast, running season 2016 officially opens in April. The Boston Marathon is the kickoff of the year, as crowds line the streets to cheer and to celebrate the sacrifice and diligence that went into training for such a rigorous course over the hard winter months. Registration for fall races typically opens in April, and runners eagerly plan their training schedules and hope to get that BQ or PR. As I look forward to the opening day of running season with glee, here are the areas that are receiving my attention in the off-season.

Music

One of the small pleasures that I allow myself each season is that I add 5 new songs to my runningpod at the start of the year. I am not big on digital music, as I prefer to have a tangible album that I can admire as a work of art, but I do have a small screenless iPod that has replaced my cassette walkman for running. Adding five new songs each season is one of my small guilty pleasures that helps with the motivation factor in the dull, grey days of winter.

My most significant addition to my thoughtfully curated running list this year is the fact that, after 14 medals, I have a new running theme song  that is now in regular rotation on my runningpod. This song actually came from a CD that I already own, so while I will be adding 5 new songs this season, not all of those songs need to be purchased. Having new music on my runningpod helps me to drag myself to the gym to be tortured by the freakmill (my term of endearment for treadmill) when there is too much ice and snow to run the trails. New music also helps me to push through hard workouts, as I incorporate cross-training and push my body in ways other than endurance during the off-season.

Nutrition

Pre-gaming the 2016 running season is also the time to evaluate nutrition to ascertain that I am receiving the proper fuel to be able to sustain a grueling training program and race season. Fueling both before and after workouts is important, as is what you eat on rest days. We cannot expect to be top producing athletic machines if we put crap into our bodies and do not fuel with good nutrition choices to be top performing athletes. In addition to Gatorade and gels, it is about the choices we make for each meal and snack that aid in muscle recovery and ensure that we are ready and pumped to perform when needed.

This year, I am making changes to my post-run snack list. Juggling multiple food allergies the past few years has been particularly challenging, and it has taken me quite a while to get to the point where I can handle them in stride. I have snacks planned for the 2016 running season that will not only give me the proper carb/protein balance needed for optimal muscle recovery, but hopefully also provide enough variety so that I do not get bored with what I am eating.

When I first started running, I did not have food allergies. All of my food allergies have been adult on-set, so making changes to this area of my life has taken a back burner to the crisis of trying to figure out what to eat on a daily basis. Now that I have had some time and experience with managing my food allergies, I feel I am able to make better choices in my food selections to be sure that not only am I eating food that will not kill me, but I can make choices to ensure that I am properly fueled to be a top performing athlete.

This season, I plan on adding more variety to my diet. I often feel that my food choices are limited given my multiple food allergies. However, now that I am retired, I have discovered that there are so many foods to which I am not allergic with which I can experiment and find creative ways to prepare. My goal is to try at least one new recipe per month to be able to give me a wider variety of foods to eat to be sure I am receiving proper nutrition. I have also recognized that I tend to stick with the same fruits and vegetables routinely. I am hoping to be able to expand the variety of fruits and vegetables that I eat this year and to truly incorporate the entire rainbow of produce.

Cross-Training

Perhaps my most favorite form of cross-training is boxing and martial arts. However, after multiple head injuries combined with a lack of funds for ring fees, I now have to seek alternate options for cross-training. Add to this the fact that I have some specific areas of my body that are in need of strengthening to prevent the type of injury that seriously sidelined me in the 2015 running season.

This year, I am focusing more on strength training and plyometrics. Plyometrics should address the specific body areas that contributed to last year’s injury. Strength training is crucial for all runners. As I get older, I am discovering more and more how beneficial strength training is for my life. Most weight equipment was designed to accommodate a 150-pound male. Given that I am an approximate 100-pound female, I intend on focusing on free weights instead of machines for my strength training. Not only can I do this at home, but also it saves me from trying to fit into weight machines that were not designed for someone of my size.

Balance and flexibility are usually lacking in runners and often contribute to injury. In addition to all the surfing I plan to do this summer, which helps with balance, I am also incorporating some yoga and pilates into my routine to help with balance and flexibility. The goal for the 2016 running season is to run well and to remain injury-free. Now that I have more free time than ever before, I am hoping to incorporate more play into my day and to be active in different, fun ways that use a variety of muscle groups.

Clothing/Run Wear

On one of my recent minimalist sprees, I was quite surprised to find that I had three storage bins full of running wear and running related paraphernalia. I literally had at least one, if not multiple, shirts from pretty much every race I have ran. Some of them were t-shirts and some of them were technical, wicking shirts. I decided that my medals are much more a reflection of my accomplishments and meaningful to me than any t-shirt could ever be.

I went through all three bins and got rid of all but my most favorite shirts. I also went through all of my running gear currently in use and realized how ratty some of my technicals have become after being constantly drenched in sweat, even after having been washed in sports wash and air dried. I took this purging as the opportunity to replace the well-worn technicals with some of my race technicals that have pretty much just been hanging out in a storage bin. What is the point of having a bunch of race technicals if I am not going to wear them?

Now, every time I go for a training run, I can celebrate my accomplishments by wearing one of my race technicals. Plus, it serves as a reminder of the reward that is waiting at the end of a long and hard training season. It makes me feel like I have an entirely new running wardrobe when all I did was to start using what I already had in storage. What is the point of storing something unless you are going to use it? Now my goal is to put all new race technicals immediately into rotation and to remove any items that are smelly or ratty. No matter if you always use sport wash and air dry your running clothes, there comes a point when they are just smelly and nothing will remove the stench of sweat from well-used workout clothes.

I no longer have three storage bins of run wear. All of my running clothes are currently out and in current rotation. While I have updated other aspects of my running gear, like rotating shoes every 300-500 miles, I had neglected to update running shorts and running shirts. I am pretty sure that some of that old smelly ratty run wear that went to the rag pile are from almost 10 years ago when I first started running. It was definitely time to start using what I already have available.

Conclusion

Now that I have been retired for a few months and have taken the opportunity to relish in my newfound free time, I realize that the beauty of rewinding real slow is that I now have the time to focus on the things that are most important to me. I have time in my life to be able to focus on running and cross-training so that I can get through a running season uninjured. I have both the time and the energy to put into making 2016 the best running season yet. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Back in the Saddle

shoe pic

Look who is off the injury list with a 2-mile trail run! It was a balmy 39 degrees as I laced up my second pair of Mizuno Wave Rider limited edition model 15s today. I was very fortunate that in my first run back after my last marathon in which I tore muscles in my right hip that I was able to run comfortably without pain today.

I was very fortunate in this injury in that I received stellar medical care and was able to have the luxury of listening to my body completely in regards to what it needed to heal. My massage therapist introduced me to Thai massage to help with this injury, and I highly recommend Thai massage not only for injuries but also for routine maintenance. While I have traditionally received Swedish massage, now that I have experienced Thai, I do not want anything else. Apparently, if you go to the hospital with an illness or injury in Thailand, hospitals provide this type of massage as medical care. After having 4 sessions to aid in the recovery of a torn muscle, I completely understand why this is medical care.

Now that I am off the injury list, I am officially in the off-season. Off-season is the time for cross training and for building strength for the upcoming 2016 running season. I have spent my time on the injury list fully evaluating my injury from all angles, and have determined the best ways to prepare for the next running season. I have figured out which muscle groups need to be worked and how in order to avoid a repeat of the injury I received this year.

Runners are not made on race day. Runners are made in the days and months of training preceding the race. While I am not currently actively training for the 2016 running season, I am working on cross training and strength that will provide the base I need in order to train in 2016. While I am running this winter, my mileage does not often go more than 5 or 6 miles in the off-season. My running is supplemented with swimming, strength training, plyometrics, and various stretching, lengthening and flexibility routines.

While I was ecstatic to be back running in my Mizunos today, I know I have a long road ahead to be sure that I can build a better base for 2016 that will be impervious to the injury that plagued me in 2015. The off-season is not the time to be soft. The off-season is the time to work all muscle groups that do not always get worked once the high mileage of full marathon training kicks into gear. I anticipate that I will not need to start training for my 2016 race until about June or so. I have about 6 months to work my muscles to make sure they are injury-proof for the next race.

The best part of the off-season is the flexibility and creativity that is involved in this portion of the training process. Think of Rocky in Philly chasing chickens or pounding cattle ribs. This is the time of year when training does not have to be orthodox, as long as muscle groups are being worked and prepped to be able to handle the intensity of marathon training that is yet to come.

So, I am back in the saddle again. It may only be 2 miles, but I have a lot of work ahead of me. While I am technically off the injury list, the injury is never far from my mind, as I now must work to be sure that it does not happen again. It’s good to be back.

 

 

Beauty in the Breakdown

14

In 14 races, I ran my worst marathon this past week. It was wicked hard, but it was also an amazing learning experience. They say you can’t enjoy the good runs unless you know what it is like to have a bad run. Well, now I can appreciate the good runs more.

In this race, I learned what I like and don’t like in a race. I learned how to push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I learned to rely on my training. If I had not been adequately trained and prepared for the challenges I faced, then the outcome would have been a lot worse that what occurred.

As far as the race itself, this is what it taught me: I do not like small races. With only 3,000 runners, this was my smallest marathon ever. I usually do the large city races with 30,000-40,000 runners. In such a small race as the one I just did, there is not a lot of crowd support, and medical care is so stretched out that it’s scary. I am used to the big cities where thousands of people line the streets screaming each and every mile unless I’m running on a bridge. I am used to having a medical professional within eyesight for the entire 26.2 miles. The positives in running a small race and learning this, is that I was able to prove to myself that I can make it without those amenities. I was able to push through and finish the race without an iPod, without cheering crowds lining the streets, and without the constant presence of medical support. I can run a marathon without those amenities. Do I want to run a marathon without those amenities? No, I don’t.

I sustained an injury to the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle in my hip somewhere between miles 18-22. If I had been on a course in a much larger city, medical professionals would have noticed the injury sooner and pulled me off the course. I would have been a DNF (did not finish). Instead, I pushed on to make the finish line. First, I did not understand exactly what was wrong or was happening, and second, I am one of those stubborn runners who push on just to get the medal.

I am fortunate in that I was adequately trained to be able to handle this injury in such a way that it will eventually heal and I am expected to make a full recovery. However, sustaining the injury has led me to a second reason why this was my worst race ever.

The course description was not accurate. Most course descriptions are not accurate. I have run marathons described as flat that were in fact gently rolling hills. I have run marathons described as gently rolling hills that were in fact downhill. While most race descriptions are not entirely accurate, they are usually pretty close to truth. This particular course was described as downhill, so I trained for a downhill race. What it was, in fact, was a hilly race. They were not gently rolling hills. They were not rolling hills. These were hills. There was a huge discrepancy in the description and elevation maps compared to reality. Sure, there were many course changes prior to the event, that required re-certification and new measurement, but there was a gross discrepancy in what was described and how I spent 5 months training.

After my injury, the medical personnel confirmed that the injury would have been much worse if I did not have the muscle tone that I have. I trained for a downhill course, and that was what I was prepared to run. A course that was extremely hilly put more pressure on my body that it could handle; I was not prepared for hills. HILLS. They were not rolling, nor were they gentle. I have run hill races before. I have done fine on hills courses, when that is what I have trained to run.

This race also taught me that the 2015 training season was my best training season ever. I was very well prepared to run a marathon. At my 18 mile split, prior to injury, I was on track to set a PR and within minutes of a potential BQ. At the end, it all fell apart due to injury and ended up being my slowest marathon time by over an hour. The important part was that I was able to finish and was not a DNF.

I have learned to do better research when looking into races to run. I usually try to choose established races so that kinks like this have already been worked out. This marathon was the 20th anniversary – I figure 5+ years to be my barometer for “established.” However, due to the drastic course changes that occurred in the weeks right before the race, the course I experienced was way different than the one for which I trained.

I will definitely be making changes and improvements to my training for 2016 to be able to strengthen the muscle currently injured. Right now, I am thankful that the surrounding muscles are strong enough to be able to support the one that literally took one for the team.

I am so thankful for every single day that I get to run. I can’t wait to heal and to come off the injury list to be able to run again. This race and this injury have taught me that I am so blessed to have been able to participate in 14 races so far. While I am looking forward to many more, I need to be able to continue to run smart.

I can’t believe that it took me 14 races to learn that I do not like small town venues. You grow through pain. You also learn so much about yourself once you go beyond your comfort zone. While this was my most challenging race in 14, I feel like I have learned so much about myself that is only going to improve my race decisions, training, and preparation for the future.

There is beauty in the breakdown. Without this experience, I would not have learned what I was capable of doing, or how adequate my training is, or what I don’t like. Sometimes knowing what you don’t like in life is as valuable as knowing what you do like.

I have been very fortunate in my running career thus far in that my good runs and races have way outnumbered my bad runs and races. This is pretty much only the second time in 14 races that I am saying, “I will never run that one again.” For the record, the other race I have said that about is due to logistics of the host city surrounding the race, not the course or race itself. This is the first time in which I loved the host city, but loathe the race.

I have learned so much through this negative experience than I have through my positive ones. The beauty in the breakdown is being able to take this knowledge to ensure that my race schedule for 2016 is amazing.

I’ll be on the injury list for the rest of the 2015 season, but I’m looking forward to the 2016 running season as being stronger, faster, and better. That’s the beauty of the breakdown.

Running Down A Dream

DSCN1670

Boston. It’s the Holy Grail of running. Every runner strives to earn a Boston Athletic Association medal. We throw around acronyms like BQ, PR, maxO2, and Gu. Ok, so Gu is a food group, but you know what I mean. Most likely when you meet a non-runner who finds out you run marathons, one of the first questions they ask is, “have you done Boston?” If you are in the Midwest, they probably ask, “how many Grandmas have you done?” referring to Grandmas Marathon, not your beloved senior citizen relative.

Everyone knows about Boston. Boston is the oldest, most prestigious, and has the strictest qualifying guidelines of any race outside of the Olympics. Qualifying standards for Boston are like Victorian chastity belts with a lock and key. Each year we look to see if the standards have changed, and pray for more birthdays so that we can change age groups to perhaps a less competitive one, or simply to get that extra 5 minutes to qualify. Many non-runners do not even know or understand that you have to qualify for Boston. You have to be invited. It’s like waiting for the fancy invite in gold calligraphy to be delivered to you by a guy in tuxedo tails wearing white gloves on a red carpet. You do not just “sign up for Boston.” It’s an elite club that not everyone can join. It’s kind of like a country club, except this one has lots of sweat and trail mix involved.

It is every runner’s dream to cross the finish line in Boston. It is truly the people’s Olympics. The finish line in Boston is the physical manifestation of everyone’s hopes and dreams as they sweat, train and run to achieve what less than 1% of the world population does – run a marathon. The magic of Boston is that in addition to all the professional runners who have 7 hours a day to train with professional trainers and chefs, it is also the housewife who rolls out of bed at 4am to get 15 miles in before the kids are awake and works in a supermarket that can qualify for Boston. You rip a training plan out of a magazine, and say, “I’m going to run a marathon.” Maybe your sister just got a cancer diagnosis, and you’re going to raise money and work with Team in Training (lymphoma and leukemia research). Maybe your mom just passed away from breast cancer, and you are going to run 26.2 with Donna (the marathon in Florida where all the proceeds go to breast cancer research). Maybe you ran a 5k with your kid and remembered how fun and free it feels to run and just “caught the bug” to run a marathon. Maybe you want to lose 40 or 60 or even 100 pounds, and start out just by walking around the block.

Whatever your story, wherever we come from, we are runners. We all have the same dream. The beauty of Boston is that the dream is attainable by any of us. Boston is not just for the people who have the privilege of making Olympic Dream Teams. Boston is the dream that many of us everyday people who have mortgages and kids and work 40 or more hours a week can make true.

Personally, I do not run fast enough to qualify for Boston. Maybe in a few years, once I reach the Masters category, and some minutes are tacked on to my qualifying standard, I will, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I would have to shave at least 40 seconds off of each and every mile to qualify for Boston. The full marathon is not my fastest distance. It is my most favorite distance, but it is not my fastest. Something happens between miles 22 and 26 where, even if I have been on track to earn my BQ, I completely lose my mind and blow it.

My best distance is the half marathon. I have qualified for and ran the Boston Half Marathon, which is how I earned my Boston Athletic Association medal. I don’t mind running half marathons. I do like to change up my race distances every now and again. The half marathon is not my favorite distance. The full marathon may be my most challenging, but is also my favorite.

As I have gotten older, and am approaching the Masters category in a few years, I still have a dream of Boston and getting my BQ. I am not going to kill myself for it. Yes, I can sit there and crunch the numbers and amp up my training, but what is more important to me at this point in my life than achieving my BQ is ensuring my health and safety to be able to run as long as possible throughout my life. Getting a BQ is not going to mean anything if I push it so hard that I sustain an injury that ends my running career. I have already overcome so much to be able to run marathons: a total of 10 broken bones, which includes breaking my spine in three places and spending time in a wheelchair, to 5 concussions, to a patella tear that almost did end my running career.

I am part of this magical community called runners in which we wave at each other as we pass on the trail, we help each other when we are struggling, and we line the streets to cheer for random strangers as they participate in their distance event and run pass. Yes, I am screaming for you, Random Citizen! You are not almost there, but you do look amazing, even if you are grimacing like a monkey humping a football because you are living your dream of running a marathon! That makes you look beautiful.

It doesn’t matter if you get a BQ or not. It does not matter if you come in first, middle or last. It doesn’t matter how many people have crossed that finish line before you, as long as you cross it. Many of us will never get our “15 minutes of fame.” But, you will get 1 second. That one second that your foot hits that finish line and clocks your time for completion, that one moment that you finish your marathon, whether it is your 1st, your 15th, or your 20th, that one moment YOU are the greatest athlete on the planet. That one-second is yours to own. You can say, “I did this.” “I ran a marathon.” Less than 1% of the world’s population can say that, folks.

Boston is every runner’s dream and it is always out there. For me, what is most important is not that I cross the finish line in Boston, but that I continue to keep crossing finish lines anywhere. We are all part of the same community. Boston is the oldest, most prestigious, and most beloved race. Even if you never achieve your BQ, that finish line belongs to all of us. It is the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams. If you never qualify for the bib, you can go spectate. You can still be part of the dream. Whether you are on the race course or part of the crowd, the magic that is Boston will course through your veins. A popular saying has been attributed to many, so it’s origin is uncertain states: “If you ever lose faith in humanity, go watch a marathon.” It’s true. Even if you never get your BQ, the magic of Boston can be experienced just by being there. Boston is every man’s dream.

As I approach medal # 14 this weekend, Boston is still my dream. Always was, always has been, and always will be. I chose one of the top ten fastest race courses in the country with a net elevation drop of 800 feet for my 14th race in an effort to qualify. Will I get my BQ? Probably not. But I will cross the finish line, and I will be able to train next year to cross a finish line somewhere else again. I will cross the start line. I will cross the finish line. I will run a good race.

Every April, whether we have achieved a BQ or not, the world watches with love and hope as people run the Boston Marathon. We are all running down a dream.

The Insanity of Taper Mode

IMG_9734

The last three weeks of every marathoners training plan are not only challenging, but also crucial. Taper mode is that point at which your body is fully trained and prepared to go the distance of 26.2 miles long on race day, but your brain does not agree. To complicate this process, your training plan now says that you are supposed to decrease your mileage, rest, eat, and hydrate well in preparation for race day.

This seems to make total sense until you actually reach the point in the training plan where you enter Taper Mode and your brain screams: “Nooooooo. Noooooo. We’re not ready! We can’t do this! We must run more! I am not ready for the start line!”

To which your body responds: “Chill. We got this. We ready. We trained. Now is time to rest and gather our stores of glycogen and other nutrients to be able to perform.”

Yes, you are, in fact ready to race.

Your brain is not going to hear that. Your brain is not going to believe. Taper mode is called “the insanity of taper mode” because this is the point at which even the most psychologically robust completely loses their mind.

You develop OCD. You tell everyone you live in a bubble and to not touch you.

You’re like the llama in the Emperor’s New Groove telling everyone to not touch you.

The last few weeks before a marathon, you are also at your most vulnerable, immune wise. You sanitize everything like an air lock on a spaceship. Then you sanitize it again. You sanitize so much you should buy stock in soap and baby wipes.

Your training plan for Taper Mode says 6 miles. You cheat. You run 8 miles instead.

You panic. You pray. You make deals with both God and the Devil and anyone else who seems like they may be able to help you in any way. Your brain is on full-out psychotic freak out mode because it just realized you are about to run a MARATHON and that is 26.2 miles long. It’s way different from those Netflix marathons you’ve been doing to try to cope with Taper Mode.

All you need to do is make it to the start line healthy and strong. If you can make it to the start line, your body will do the rest. The start line is just as important as the finish line. In order to complete a marathon, you must cross both.

You start reading inspirational quotes, books, blogs, magazines, and watching inspirational movies to try to get yourself over the hump. You start imagining worst-case scenarios. You mentally prepare for this race better than some cult about to eat the pudding before the Hale Bopp comet. Run, walk, crawl, drag, or if in Philly, IN DRAG, you will cross the finish line. You imagine every single possible way and scenario to finish 26.2 miles because your brain does not think you are ready. You break it up into chunks: it’s a 5k with a 23 mile warm up, it’s a 10k with a 20 mile warm up, and any other chunk you can break down.

Meanwhile, your body is relaxed. Your body knows. Every fiber of every muscle in your body has been trained. The imprint of the 500+ miles you have run in the 5 months it took to prepare for the race are ingrained in your muscles. Your body knows what to do.

Your brain needs to get it together.

Calm down, man.

It doesn’t matter if it is your first time, your 20th, or your 50th, Taper Mode always feels this way. For me, I am going for medal # 14. Taper Mode is always the same. Your body is ready, and your brain is completely freaked out. You have followed the training plan, and the training plan has worked 13 times before. You will be fine.

But honestly, the insanity of taper mode makes the marathon that much more beautiful. When you lace up on race day, cross the start line, and get into the rhythm of the race, you will find that moment where your brain finally agrees with your body and calms down: “We got this.” That moment, when everything clicks into place, you just fly like you are on cruise control, and enjoy the moment for which you have spent a significant amount of your year preparing to do. That is the moment of marathon magic.

So while the insanity of taper mode is sure to be annoying and drive everyone crazy, in some ways it is necessary. Being able to appreciate how far you have come and everything you have OVERcome to get to this point is part of the marathon magic. The miracle is that you had the strength, the discipline, and the fortitude to train for those 5 months. This is for the Sunday morning long runs when you would have much rather stayed in bed and listened to the radio, this is for all the times when you ran in the pouring rain because you had to get the miles in, and a treadmill would have been worse punishment than anything mother nature can muster.

To run a marathon, you have to go a little crazy.

“But I’m not ready,” says brain.

“Yes, we are,” says body.

“We will start and we will finish,” says heart.