New Year, Better Me

I missed the beginning of the new year with an illness and an overwhelming desire to do absolutely nothing. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about setting new goals for yourself when you are coughing up phlegm and sleeping in the middle of the afternoon. But in the past week of trying to recover, I’ve read plenty of articles and seen lots of social media posts from people who are proudly not setting any New Year’s Resolutions. #NewYearSameMe was trending and I found that whole concept to be a bit underwhelming. I’m not saying you need to reinvent yourself, but come on – nobody’s perfect!

So, I started thinking about what my resolutions would be and I was coming up with nothing. As a marathoner, I tend to look at the year in 6 month cycles or training blocks instead of a 12 month year, so I feel like I am often setting new goals for myself anyway. But what did I need to change on the whole? I already eat very well with little room for improvement and no more sacrifices I am willing to make. I’m a good, healthy weight – getting down to my goal race weight without issues and regaining 5-8 pounds between training cycles. My planning and scheduling is all good…my weekly mileage decent. But there had to be something I could do better, I just had to dwell on it.

One thing that I am very bad at is actually doing form drills and strides on a regular basis. I hate them. I just hate them. They are boring, time consuming, and always make me feel awkward and uncoordinated. BUT, I know they are necessary if I want to hit my running goals. So, I am committing myself to form drills before every run and strides at least two (preferably three) times per week. I know this will make me a better, faster, and stronger runner – I just have to do them!

Another thing that I’ve gotten bad at lately has been flexibility. I hate stretching almost as much as I hate drills & strides. With age and injuries I’ve lost a lot of the flexibility I used to have and can no longer touch my toes! I’ve shunned stretching for several years now and I’m beginning to feel the effects of such neglect. So, going forward I am going to commit myself to stretching after every run and finding a beginners yoga program.

The final thing that has slipped in my life is reading for pleasure. I love books and view myself as an avid reader, however, with motherhood, jobs, a house, and so many screens, I’ve stopped reading as much as I’d like. I only finished a handful of books last year and my To Be Read Pile is turning into a To Be Read Mountain. I’m going to commit to reading for an hour a day (at least Monday through Friday) and getting through that stack. Reading makes me a happier, calmer, and more creative person, so it is indeed a must for me. Also, it will be setting a better example for my children and hopefully will get them back into reading and away from their tablets.

I’m not resolving to be anyone different – in fact I’m only resolving to do the things I should have already been doing. Sure, it’s a New Year and sure, I’m the same me, only, 2020 is going to see a slightly better, faster me.

2019 Wrap Up

I wanted to write a year-in-review a few days ago, but I just wasn’t feeling it, which is basically how it’s been the last two months for me – just meh. I’ve finally recognized the pattern of Off Season Depression. Every year, just after my Fall Marathon & right around Thanksgiving, I get a bit blasé when it comes to running. I know I need the time off, but I also know I should be utilizing the down time to work on strength and stability and then base building for the Spring. But it seems that there is a great void of nothingness between Thanksgiving and late-January when I need to gear up for the next training cycle. So, I’ve decided to make this grump factor my focus for next year and make my New Year’s Resolution about staying motivated, engaged, & looking toward the positive.

Despite my enthusiasm petering out at the end of the year, 2019 was actually a pretty decent running year for me. Due to my husband being on the road for work quite a bit, I didn’t race much at all, but what I did run was quality. I also ran the most miles (and the most elevation) in a single year.

  • Hit a half marathon PR at Rockaway Beach while walking away as the First Female and second overall.
  • Found community and friendship in a new running group.
  • Fought through incredible hills, heat, and humidity in the Poconos to snag a 7 minute marathon PR and prize money.
  • Watched my children all run their first 5k races and smash all expectations!
  • Dealt with knee pain off and on, Achilles pain, and hip issues in a smart manner with physical therapy, massage, and lots of strength training.
  • Never missed a meal.
  • Managed to only deal with 2 colds the whole year; a head cold in March and a chest cold in December. No major illnesses or injuries!
  • Wrestled with a giant mental wall in Hartford to drag myself to the finish line and a 9 minute PR in the marathon.
  • Accepted failure as motivation for next time instead of wallowing in defeat.

I have some big, exciting things on deck for 2020. It’s going to be a little scary, but mostly marvelous and I am really looking forward to putting my best self out there. Here’s to more miles, higher hills, and fast finishes!

What I Learned From Streaking

I’m not one for run streaks, but mostly because it seems that I’m always in training for something. Run Streaks (continuous running with no days off) never seemed safe while training for a specific event. I like my rest days – like, really like them.

images2234128811138373881.jpgI find them to be beneficial physically and mentally – kind of like a reset button. However, I do see the benefit of streaking in terms of motivation to get you out the door and moving. Plus, it does seem fun to test the physical boundaries. Since I had recovered so quickly from the marathon, but wasn’t really looking at racing any time soon, I decided to give streaking a try. My idea was to run a Holiday Run Streak from Halloween through New Year’s Day. The reason for this was because holidays can get super hectic & stressful, especially in my house with three kids, plus all the holiday dinners and parties that I end up hosting because I have the bigger house (and all the children to tote around). Plus kids’ concerts, secret Santas, teacher’s gifts, volunteering, and just general winter maintenance – it just all becomes a really big deal around here. Running helps me get through that with some sanity. But without a goal, it can be easy to put running and fitness on a back burner, which was something I really didn’t want to do.

And so I began streaking on Halloween. Mostly I ran easy paced five milers. The idea was to start working on rebuilding the long run again on the weeb98e4a163e2b4ac2d2c54cae038a56ae1037464293687152867.jpgkends and throwing in one tempo run a week. I sort of did that, but with such little structure, I quickly crashed and burned. I ran 16 days straight and 85 miles before my legs blew up on me and I was hobbling down the sidewalk, barely able to stand. I was unable to put any weight on left foot due to the incredible pain in my lower leg/calf/Achilles. My hamstrings and glutes were also a bit displeased with me. I was forced into four days off and a massage to work out the worst case of tight muscles I’d ever dealt with. The muscle cramps were so bad that they were pulling down on my knee cap and up on my Achilles tendon, creating a lot of pain. Good news: not tendonitis or a tear like I had feared. Bad news: streak ended at two weeks. At least I’ve learned to listen to my body!

What happened? Well, for starters I didn’t take a “rest”. I should have had off days of only a mile. Instead I turned nearly every run into a workout and simply ran too much. Obviously my body couldn’t handle that! Another thing I did wrong was just running. I was supposed to head to the weight room twice a week, but I really didn’t. I did some half effort band work here and there. Sometimes I’d stretch. But really, I was just lazy and didn’t do what I needed to do for a month, and I need strength training to keep my knee pain at bay. When the knee starts hurting, a horrible Domino effect runs up and down my body and everything starts hurting. I also skipped out on warm ups. It got super cold the first couple of weeks of November with some mornings in the teens.  download6225729168650503858.jpgBecause I wasn’t yet accustomed to the extreme chill, I just wanted to get it over with and would rush through the run. And this rushing usually meant skipping a warm up. I kinda felt like I didn’t really need it since I was just doing easy runs anyway. Boy was I wrong! My muscles would tighten against the cold and then just stay that way, leading to tons of pain. This was also effecting the rest of my life. Sleeping was almost impossible because I hurt so much. Driving the car was terrifying since hitting the clutch was so painful, which made grocery shopping and picking kids up from school a serious physical chore. And my dog walking business suffered because it’s hard to run and play with the pooches when you can hardly get out of bed.

A few days off, a delightful deep massage, and committing to a proper warm up has kept me pain free in the last two weeks. I’ve also scrapped the run streak idea and have switched to a two day on, one day off schedule for two weeks. And then I’ll go two more weeks with a three day on, one day off schedule for the rest of my Base Build Up until full on Spring Marathon Training starts. I know it’s not nearly as exciting as 90 days of straight running, but it will keep me healthy as we head into winter. The last thing I need before a big marathon cycle is to be dealing with an injury. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am physiologically not cut out for run streaking.  Instead I will be thankful for my health and strength and get in a little extra rest while the rest of the Holiday Streakers are out there squeezing in another mile or two.

Have you ever done a run streak? How long or far did you go? If you have any tips for those who would like to try it (or for my future self that may try to have another go at it), please leave some comments below.

Post Race Slow Down

You think taper week gives you the crazies with reduced mileage? Imagine the stress of reduced mileage post race!! I’m still up from the race and ready to GO! But, the race is over and I have learned not to keep going full throttle. I have a weird amount of energy the week after a big race (especially after a big PR). I have months of training under my belt and the confidence of an awesome result. I get excited and ahead of myself, signing up for even more races thinking “I can do this – I feel great!!” And I try to throw in a few good speed sessions to get myself ready for a half or a 10k and in a month I’ve crashed and burned into Injury Town again.

I’ve done this enough times that I vowed not to do that ever again. No matter how great I felt. No matter how antsy I got for a race. No matter how much I itched for speed. I am making a recovery plan and sticking to it. And this is important because I have long term goals that can’t be fulfilled in the moment. Biting off more than I can chew will only cause me to choke – so to go after that Big Scary Goal, I need to stay focused, yes even now, six months out.

This past week, Week One, was as simple as it was boring. Lots of walking – thanks to my dog walking business – and a few slow miles of running. Tuesday I ran 10+ min pace with my social group, Thursday I ran 9:30 pace, and today I ran 8:55 pace, and all I covered was 15 miles for the whole week.  I also did zero strength training. Yes, it was hard not going further or faster, but this is what my body needs right now.

screenshot_20191020-143239_connect194540463432939481.jpg

Despite running a 9 minute PR a week ago and finishing with the worst leg cramps I’ve ever endured, I recovered rather quickly. I was expecting days of pain, but was able to go for an easy stroll the next day and ran as early as three days post race. In the past this kind of recovery would have had me rushing to my calendar to tack on another race. But I’m playing it safe. Week Two will consist of more of the same – daily dog walks, three runs (in the 5 mile range) at about the same pace, though I will reintroduce body weight exercises twice a week. Week Three I will go back to 4-5 runs a week, all at easy pace, zero speed, zero weights.

Recovery is tedious and hard. Mentally I’m ready to go fast again. For my sanity I need to go fast again. But I never want to suffer from the knee pain I dealt with for the past year and a half and I’ll take being a bit cranky with low mileage for a few weeks than attempting something my body just isn’t ready for. 100% healing is mandatory for what I need to do next.

The Disappointment of “Almost”

The Hartford Marathon was on Saturday the 12th and it was going to be THE DAY. I had just completed 15 weeks of training with laser focus on my goal. I cleaned up my diet and eschewed junk food (bye, bye chips!) and alcohol. I had run over 800 miles in preparation for this race with the hopes of walking away with a very big personal record.

There were a few things I wanted to accomplish in Hartford. First, I wanted to prove to myself that I could run an awesome time on a course that wasn’t net downhill (like both Boston & Pocono were). I also wanted to keep my streak of PRs going. I had already made some huge leaps & bounds at the distance, going from 4+ hours down to 3:10 – I knew I had it in me to take another big chunk of time off.  I wanted a top 10 finish. I wanted to break into elite status.

I know that taking minutes off from one marathon to the next isn’t necessarily the norm. I also know that it isn’t a sustainable trend – I’ll hit my peak at some point & slow down. I knew that setting too big of a goal would most likely lead to disappointment. I’ve had a good pattern with training and racing over the last couple of years. I run a marathon, then set my goal for the next one five minutes faster than that with training paces five more minutes faster. I trained for Hartford with sub 3 hour pacing (marathon race paced miles at 6:50 pace) with the goal of a 3:05. This was my reasonable goal. Not necessarily realistic, but reasonable enough. But as we got closer and closer to race day, I really started feeling that 3 hour mark. Maybe I could actually hit it? It would be my goal for the next marathon anyway, so why not go for it now?

DSC00045

I was crazy nervous all during my taper, fighting back waves of anxiety. But, by race day morning I was actually past it all and at peace with myself. I had found a place of calm during my warm up around Bushnell Park and was confident in my ability to go after something big.

The weather was what most would consider ideal; low 50s, overcast, dry, and low wind. Sure, I do best in torrential rain and snow, but I would just have to make do. I had decided in this race to carry two Cliff Shot gels with me, something I hadn’t done in a race since I ran Atlantic City in 2017 (and that didn’t work out so well for me). I had used the gels in a few long runs and was confident that I’d finally found a brand of gel that wouldn’t destroy me. I tried to carry them in the back zipper pocket, but on the warm up discovered that my shorts no longer fit and the weight of the gel bounced too much and dragged the shorts down, showing much more Mazy than I had intended! This is one of the horrible side effects of reaching your racing weight – clothes stop fitting the way they did when you bought them! I would just have to use my hands.

I got to start in corral A, right up there next to the elites. It was exciting to shake hands, chit chat, and stand shoulder to shoulder with such fast people. I was inspired to run fast enough to get my name printed on a bib for next year.

Hartford2019_5
Waving at the crowds.

I had plans for this race. I had a whole strategy worked out. I was going to run the first two miles super easy, maybe 10 or 20 seconds slower than pace and slide into race pace by mile 3. I was going to cruise between 6:50 and 7:00 until mile 14, where there is a long 8 mile out and back section. That’s where I intended to maintain a solid 6:50 pace, and then hammer the final 10k home. I had done this on long runs and had been successful. I could do this. But my first two miles weren’t easy. They were wicked fast at 6:20 and 6:32!! The first four miles of the race are deceptive. They seem flat, but are actually all down hill. It’s very hard to wrangle in the pace. I gasped at every mile marker. I was consuming the miles too quickly. I would check myself and back off on the pace only to glance at my watch and see that I was actually running faster than the last time I had glanced at my watch! Some miles were in the 6:20s and 6:30s, but I decided that if I couldn’t slow down to 6:50 or slower, then I’d probably be okay if I could at least maintain mid 6:40s. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t sustainable. I knew this wasn’t a smart approach. I was being greedy. I started thinking about not just a sub 3, but a sub 2:55. I was getting much too confident for my own good, but my heart refused to listen to my head.

I was still calm, however. I was focused, but I was happy. I smiled and waved each time I passed my family. I laughed out loud at spectators with funny signs (my favorite was the “Worst Parade Ever” sign). I thanked residents for coming out, volunteers for handing me fluids, and police officers at every intersection. I was truly having a blast. I alternated taking in water and Nuun electrolyte fluids at nearly every aid station. And I took my gel at mile 17, as planned. I fumbled with my fuel, dropped one, and struggled to get the second one open, fearing that I’d drop it too. I also miscalculated and took it too soon before an aid station, which meant it had to go down without water. This resulted in my slowest mile split so far at 7:01. But I had passed the half way ahead of schedule at 1:27, so I (stupidly) felt that I had some time in the bank, and didn’t worry. I was on a roll.

Screenshot (68)
Coming through the half a bit too hot.

The out and back is a long slow hill through a residential neighborhood (cheering for the elites as they dash past because they are that far ahead). The turn around is a dash around a barrel, and then back down the hill (waving and cheering for those coming up the hill behind you). I gained speed (back under 6:40) and placement. I hit Main Street still on pace. In the past mile 18 was my nemesis. But today I sailed through 18, 19, and 20 like a real champ. I was on my way back into the city. I had about a 10k left to go – the final third of the marathon – the nitty gritty part. I was going to do it.

The mile 22 marker sign was right next to another aid station. I approached with confidence. I made eye contact with the young volunteer who was enthusiastically cheering me forward. Her arm was outstretched with the electrolytes I needed. I slowed, slightly, to take it from her and stumbled a step. That felt weird. I grabbed the cup and gulped down what I hadn’t spilled. But my feet kept stumbling. I thought I was going to fall on my face and struggled for balance while still going forward. I couldn’t pick up my feet and the continued to trip over themselves. My hamstrings burned with lactic acid and I threw my hands back and grabbed my legs. It was as if my muscles were sculpted out of granite. I couldn’t press into them at all. I contemplated stopping and trying to stretch, but I was terrified that if I stopped now, I might not get started again. My pace slowed, but I tried to push it anyway. Mile 22 – 7:08.

I jogged, awkwardly shaking my legs with each step trying to loosen up the muscles. Nothing was working. I was now paying for my gung-ho stupidity two hours ago. Mile 23 – 7:27. Ugg.

I kept doing math in my head, reassuring myself that as long as I kept moving forward, kept trying to get back on pace, I’d make it. I felt okay, I wasn’t tired. I just couldn’t get my feet high enough off the pavement to keep myself from shuffling. Mile 24 – 7:32. Damn it!!

I was so close to the end. I could hear the city. I had the bridge to get up and over, a short jaunt down Pearl Street, then the straight away to the Arch. I could get this done. I passed the mile 25 marker and the photographers – 7:31. Forward, Mazy! Move forward! As I reached the peak of the bridge the most awful thing happened. I stopped moving. I was frozen in place with the worst pain in my legs and I crumbled. I could no longer stay focused or positive. I was crushed. 2:54.12 and a thousand meters left to go. It took thirty seconds for me to regain control of myself. I was about to cry. I was about to give up. Pain is real folks, and I wasn’t able to get through this, no matter how close I was. But finally my head was in the game and yelling loud. Maybe my heart had given up, but my brain, which had trained so hard for so long, was not ready to quit. “Oh hell no!” I shouted from the middle of the Connecticut River. “Mazy, get your ass moving.” Yes, I commanded that out loud. But it worked. I moved forward. I was walking. Since my legs weren’t going to work for me, I focused on my arm swing. I drove my elbows back, knowing my legs would be forced to follow. I was jogging.

Screenshot (23)
Daughter cheering on her momma who can barely make it to the end.

I made it down and off the bridge and past the mile 26 marker – 8:09. But now I was actually running again. Tears stung my eyes, but I wasn’t going to cry, not yet. I saw my family as I came through the city. They were holding signs encouraging my sub 3 run. I wanted to stop and tell them I had messed it up. “Mom!!” my eldest screamed, “You still have 15 seconds!! GOOOOO!” I didn’t have much left in me, but I managed, somehow, to use up the sludge down in the bottom of my reservoir. I even hit a 6:38 pace in the final stretch. I knew my form was shit. I knew spit was dribbling from my mouth. I knew it wasn’t a pretty photo-op. But, damn, I was done and that was awesome. I saw the clock as I dashed under it.

I was elated.

I was crushed.

How could I be both at the same time? I stopped my watch. It buzzed over and over as it listed off all my new PRs and achievements. How could I have done so well and failed at the same time?

I didn’t have enough energy to be confused or emotionally deal with it. I was cold. I was tired. My feet hurt. My legs were stiff and walking was painful. I staggered through the chute where they wrapped me in foil, draped a medal around my neck, stuffed Gu and water bottles into my hands. I met my family at the end – joyous. I was handed cookies. My shoes were stripped off. Pants were pulled on. I was dealt with like a toddler.

Screenshot (69)
The MF end of the hardest thing I’d ever done.

3:01.1

It didn’t hit me until the ride home. I was so close. I had an amazing run – a fantastic 22 miles. I had never been so fast and so happy, let alone at the same time. I had bested my personal record by over 9 minutes. That’s kind of a big deal. I had beat some of the elites. That’s kind of a big deal. I came in second in my age group, 12th female, 76th overall. I was in the top 5%. That’s kind of a big deal.

But I was also 1 minute and 10 seconds too stupid. I can’t say too slow, because I’m not, and I wasn’t. I was dumb. I ran a dumb race and I blew up when it mattered most. I paid for my mistakes in a very real & painful way. I walked away disappointed because I was almost there. I swear I would have felt better if I had had an even slower time. Being so close just makes it sting so much.

Of course I am very happy with my achievements. I am elated. And I’m excited to go again. But I am just a little mad at myself. But, probably best of all, I am humbled. This was a great experience to teach my heart a lesson about “realistic goals” and “passion goals” and why my head and my heart need to work together to get a task done. With this experience behind me, I can go into my spring race and do something phenomenal.

I am proud of my body for being so strong, even when it hurt.
I am proud of my head for staying in the game and pulling me through.
I am so proud of my heart for going after a big scary goal, even if I was disappointingly almost there.

DSC00079
I can. I will. I did.

Mesocycle 4 – Taper

T- 10 days…

I am smack dab in the middle of my taper, which feels like it is lasting forever. I am following the Pfitzinger & Douglas plan, which has a three week taper (including race week), which is considerably longer than what I’m used to. I usually do a 10 day taper. At this point I’m not sure how I feel about it or if I’ll follow this part of the plan in the future; we’ll see how race day goes!

The mileage has cut down drastically, which feels weird, but I am maintaining the same intensity and paces. If anything, it is actually a little hard keeping the paces, since I want to go faster! There are also more rest days sprinkled into the week, which leaves me wandering around the house not knowing what to do with myself.

The first week of the taper was gradual: Speed session at the track, but they were shorter reps (4×600, 4×400, and 4×200), a 6 mile tempo run at half marathon pace, and a long run of 16 miles with 10 miles at marathon race pace. I still had my social group double days on Tuesday and Thursday, giving me 57 miles for the week – almost 10 miles fewer than the weeks before. I also had two heavy lifting days and two days of core & stability work.

I am currently in the second week of the taper, and it is more obvious: I had a short speed session of 3×1600 meters at 5k pace (a hair faster because I was feeling great!), lots of recovery miles (plus my two doubles days), and a medium long run of 12 miles on deck for the weekend. I should end the week around 43-45 miles and be very well rested. I will continue with my lifting, though only one day of heavy weights and one day of body weight, plus my core & stability work.

Next week is the final week – Race Day is swiftly approaching! I will back off on doubles next week as well as my lifting sessions and do maybe one body weight only session early in the week. The only “work” next week will be an easy 7 miler with the last two miles at marathon race pace. Aside from the race, it will be somewhere around 22 miles for the week, a huge cut back in miles for me.

This taper is long, but this cycle seemed like it just flew by. I am really looking forward to this race. My training has gone exceptionally well. I’ve had few, if any, set backs, and feel that I am the strongest I’ve ever been. I am ready to test this body out!

Mesocycle 3 – Race Prep

The last four weeks of training have been surprisingly good weeks for me, both physically and mentally. There have been a lot of miles – a lot of very fast miles.  Each week my track sessions got a wee bit longer, my tempos a wee bit faster, and my MRP long runs a wee bit stronger.

My three key speed workouts went well. The first was 5×1000 meters with the first 800m at 5:45 pace and the last 200m of each rep at 5:35 or faster pace. This was great at teaching my body to dig deep when it was tired.  The second was 10×600 meters to get some leg speed, the third was 6×1200 meters to work on endurance.  I also had two 10k tempo runs, both the day before a long run. On alternating weeks I ran long runs with marathon paced miles.

My times have been going down and my V02 Max has been going up! It’s all been a very good confidence booster.  I feel strong, pumped, and ready to tackle this race.  But there’s one thing… with all the extra miles, pavement, and hills, my Achilles tendon has flared up a bit. It’s not awful and not going to keep me from running, but it is just enough to remind me that I’m human and it’s time to take the taper seriously and back off a bit.

I have two and a half weeks until Race Day, which means one more long run, a tempo, and a speed session left. I’m going to keep lifting and doing my core/stability work until Race Week as well as my double sessions. At this point I can’t really get any faster or stronger, but the goal is to maintain while resting up for the big day.