4th Quarter Update & Marathon Taper Review

It’s Wednesday – Hump Day of Taper Week.  This is always the worst day for me.  I’m so close to race day, in fact, I’m so close there is no turning back now.  Yet, at the same time it feels like an eternity is looming between me and the starting line.  T-minus 3 days!!

My taper week has been shaping up rather nicely & thankfully we’ve finally had some cooler weather so I can actually enjoy my morning runs!  I’ve gotten through the first few days of light running without too much of a freak out & I look forward to taking a relaxed approach to running for the next couple of days.
Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 10 min warm up, 4 by 5 mins at threshold (7:00 min/mile pace) with 60 second recoveries, followed by 10 min cool down.
Wednesday: Easy (8:45/mile) 30 mins, drills, strides, stretches.
Thursday: Easy 5 miles, drills, strides, stretches.
Friday: Rest
Saturday: Easy 20-30 mins (3ish miles) with strides & stretching.
Sunday: RACE

wp-image--163949751One step closer to being awesome.

To be honest, I am handling my taper much better than I have in the past.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve finally gotten my anxiety under control; if I don’t care anymore since I’ve already achieved my BQ; or if I’ve simply matured as a marathoner.  Of course, it is probably a bit of everything.  After my wonderful run in Toronto, I’ve let go a bit & accepted that I really do know how to do this.  I don’t have to be afraid – I GOT THIS!  I’ve also learned how to make better use of my pre-race jitters.  Instead of compulsively checking the weather, I’m focusing on things I can control, like my race strategy.wp-image-1165946964                                                     My color coordinated race notes.

I’ve committed the course map to memory & have decided which aid stations I’ll utilize, when I’ll take my gels, and just how conservative of a start I’ll aim for.  I’ve broken my race down into 5Ks, but of course we all know that will go out the window once the gun goes off.  My main goal will be to keep the mile splits between 7:25 (too fast) and 7:38 (conservative) with a half time under 1:39.  Because the elevation profile is pancake flat, I don’t have any hills to work off of.  Hills are my forte, so we’ll find out if this course will help or hinder me.

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I use FindMyMarathon to find races, but also because they have an awesome tool that calculates course specific split times based on a goal finish.  This has worked very well for me in the past in terms of getting to know a foreign course to prepare for hills, splits, aid stations, etc.

In the final quarter of training I sat back a little.  I still had some pretty aggressive workouts, but the mileage began to taper off as I approached the final week of training.  I’ve had several quality speed sessions, including some great hill work, as well as a five mile race thrown in.  I’m primed & tuned & ready to run!
So, here’s a look at the weekly breakdown:
Week 13: 46.4 miles – longest run was an 18 miler with 8 of those at marathon pace.
Week 14: 40.09 miles – including 5 mile road race, and an 11 miler with 6 at m-pace.
Week 15: 37.37 miles – 2 threshold workouts & an easy 10 miler.
Week 16: an anticipated 20ish miles, plus the marathon on Sunday.

So, all in all, I’d have to say that I’m feeling conservatively optimistic about this one.  I’ve put in a lot of hard work & there is just nothing left to be done.  In the past 15 weeks I’ve improved my fitness, increased my weekly mileage, and gotten faster.  In a few more days we’ll put it all to the test.

wp-image-640377122I got this.

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When It Gets Ugly

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I love all the memes and stock images of runners and racing. They are so lovely and inspirational. Beautiful toned bodies, effortlessly floating through the air; arms outspread, breaking through a finishing tape; a solitary trail, scenic overlooks, rolling hills and a runner meditating on a long run. Who doesn’t want a piece of that?

stock-photo-man-trail-running-for-fitness-on-stony-path-in-high-mountains-with-peak-view-and-blue-sky-459868003And sometimes we do get a run where everything comes together nicely and we get that floating on air feeling. It’s effortless; we are strong, powerful, fast. It is beautiful.

But not all runs are picture perfect. In fact, some runs are down right ugly. We can’t hit our paces right or a nagging pain plagues us. Or for whatever reason we bit off more than we could chew & are forced to decide to spit or choke. It happens to everyone, but what you do about the ugly run can define you as a runner.

I decided to run, rather last minute, the 1st Andover Lake 5 Mile Race last weekend. Unlike my town’s 5k/10k which is practically all flat on the rail trail, this race was mostly pavement and quite hilly. I know the lake loop like the back of my hand. It is one of my favorite training courses – but I wasn’t sure how a 5 mile race would pan out for me two weeks before my marathon. After lots of nudging, I conceded. It was local, it was familiar, and it would benefit my town – why not!

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I knew where the hills were, so I knew better than anyone how to pace myself for them. But I also knew what I could push on this particular course, so push I did. And let me tell you, it was not pretty.

There was grunting, a little barking, lots of huffing, and even a minor whimper near the end. I ran a lot of the race stride in stride with a young man, urging him along. He had the potential to do well – he just needed to run faster! I was dropping mile times nearly 30 seconds faster than intended. But I kept pushing it. The last half mile was going to be a serious up hill, with 95 feet of elevation gain. I had only ever run all the way up the hill a handful of times, and none of them at 5k race pace. This was going to be a brutal test.

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Fast mile splits made for an ugly finish.

We chugged on to the hill bravely, knowing our fate but trying to pretend it wasn’t real. At the base of the hill my new running buddy deflated a little. “Oh shit,” he murmured between gulps of air. “It’s okay. We got this,” I huffed back and we charged on. I took the hill slightly ahead and did what I could to keep my form steady, my breathing under control, and ignore my pace. That’s when things got real ugly.

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I died here.

I ran out of steam half way up. I didn’t want to run any further. And this was torture because I could hear the crowd gathered at the finish line just at the top. I knew how close we were. I just didn’t care anymore. The young man began to pass me and urged me to keep going with him. “No, I can’t.” But he insisted. “Don’t say that! You’ve got this!” As we shuffled over the crest of the hill I urged him to make the dash to the finish chute.

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No. I can’t. No uglier words have been said in a race. I knew better than to say it out loud, but I honestly wasn’t even thinking them – at least not consciously. My pace was shot, I was now in third place, and my confidence busted. My form was all over the place and my chin was covered in drool & sweat. It was ugly. But what did I have to loose?

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I couldn’t hold my pace in the last quarter mile of the race, but I could push through the nastiness that hard races put before us. I dug deep and found a sprint (not a fast one, but still) and pushed it out. I wasn’t going to take my place back, but I really was okay with it. That kid put in a lot of work and deserved that 2nd place finish. It was a hard race, harder than even I had anticipated, but it felt rewarding to look it in the eye and beat it down. When you put everything out on the course and run your heart out you feel beautiful, no matter how ugly it may have gotten out there. And you never dwell on those ugly parts. You just move on, happy to have finished, happy to be strong. Happy to be done.

When the course gets ugly, you get ugly right back. This sport isn’t about being pretty; it’s about being powerful.

Out with the Old, In with the New

New shoes are just so freakin’ awesome, am I right?!

I finally got my shoes today – the shoes I’ll be racing the Atlantic City Marathon in in just 17 days! I know I cut it close, maybe too close. I should have ordered them several weeks ago to allow enough break in time, but with money being a wee bit tight, they had to wait. But now my babies are here!

I was at the New Balance Store in East Windsor CT before they even opened. And because they were ordered and already paid for all I had to do was grab & go. Whew!

I decided to go with the same NB Vazee Pace sneaks that I ran Toronto in. They were a fantastic pair of shoes that carried me through the marathon without any calf cramping, blisters, or bloody toes. And, why mess with what I know works?

Until a couple of weeks ago I thought I could pull off a second marathon in the shoes. I’ve been trying to stretch dollars since we are planning to buy a house and figured if I took care of them I could get another 26.2 out of them.

It was going to work, but my regular trainers (NB Gobis) aren’t ideal for long runs, so I still had to train in the Paces. And the miles wracked up. But I’m small, so I didn’t think I was doing too much damage to the shoes. Then I started noticing some niggles. My quads would be sore after long runs. My shins started aching. I’d get cramps in the arches of my feet mid-run. It was clear that these shoes weren’t going with me to Atlantic City.

Using my store credit, I ordered the exact same make, model, size, and color. Ad then they took ten days to be shipped. Ten days. TEN FREAKIN DAYS! (Clearly I am very pampered by Amazon Prime’s 2 day shipping and have a hard time adjusting.) I suffered through and put one last 18 miler on the old shoes last weekend.

The new shoes, though the same, were amazingly shiny and springy. Wow! I had gotten so used to my older pair that I didn’t even know what I was missing. When I got them home I set them up next to the old pair for comparison. While the old pair is fairly dirty and dingy, I do think they are in pretty good shape for having gone 500 miles.

But, the closer I looked at the shoes, the more I realised the impact of those miles. The foam had obvious cracks and wrinkles and the sole had quite a wear pattern. (Apparently I’m a mid-foot striker with a little bit of a right heel drag.)

I also (because I’m weird and curious) weighed both the old and new shoes. The old shoes are over an ounce each. That’s how much dirt, grime, and foot yuck has built up in the shoes – and I wash them! Gross.

Looking at these old shoes next to their brand new counterpart tells me that I would not have had a successful marathon in them and only reinforces the need to replace them. 500 miles is quite a beating! But these old Vazees have served me well and I am thrilled to be heading into Atlantic City with some fresh Fresh Foam on my feet.

Push Through

I had a track work out to do today. It was the last real hard workout before my taper begins. Since school has started for the kids, I’ve been doing all of my repeats on the trail. I like the packed dirt, I like the solitude, and I like the constant shade. But today I decided to run on the track for a reason. I did it because track workouts are hard. Track workouts, while the distance and paces are the same, are everything the trail is not. There are fewer variables on the track (so fewer excuses – no hills, fallen branches, etc!). There are always people (I know they probably aren’t watching, but I always feel like I’m being critiqued). The track is always hot. Even on cooler days, the direct sun and lack of breeze always makes the track feel ten degrees hotter.

It was a threshold workout with three excruciating parts; Set One consisted of 3 reps of 1000 meters below 6:00 min pace with 200 meters recovery (walk/jog) followed by 400 meters rest. Set Two was a step up with 3 reps of 200 meter speed bursts and 100 meters of recovery, also followed by a 400 meter rest. Set Three (the hard part) was another set of 3 by 1000 meters. I’ll admit it. I went out a little too hot on my first set and was a bit ahead of pace (we’ll also not talk about how I actually ran longer repeats – which was frustrating until I realized they were not 1000 meters!) I also crushed those 200s.

But the cloud cover that had shielded me for the first half of my workout dissipated, leaving me exposed to the sun. It became incredibly hot very quickly. By the time I started my third set my legs were feeling like tree trunks filled with lead. I just couldn’t pick them up. I was shuffling along. I had decided to cut the workout short. There was no point in pushing myself, dehydrating myself, potentially injuring myself if I wasn’t even going to be making the splits. I had already put in some good, quality work, so perhaps I should cut my losses and ditch the last rep.

As I came through the finish of my 5th 1000 meter repeat (which was slow, but faster than the one before it), I reminded myself that I came to the track for a challenge. I wouldn’t be able to just drop out of the marathon at the last mile simply because it was hot or because I was tired. I was here to work, damn it! I needed to work on my psychological toughness as much as my physical toughness and here was the test: 1000 meters of hot track, daring me to run it. Lane 5 taunted me. My legs may have been begging me to quit, but my head and my heart (those insane, annoying little cheerleaders of mine) told me to do it.

I know the point of the workout was to do the work while tired and depleted, which is why there was minimal rest between each rep. But I also knew I had to compromise somewhere. I wasn’t going to have any hope of actually completing the final rep on time if I stayed to protocol. And ditching it altogether wasn’t an option. So I walked the entire 200 meter recovery, taking double the time to rest, then went for my last run. I pushed through the lead legs & the sweat dripping in my eyes and did what I could to maintain goal pace. I pushed through the mental barrier that told me to give up.

A lot of people would have quit. A lot of people would have told me to quit. In many ways it may have been beneficial to do so, but I know I gained a lot by going just one more time. I walked away feeling accomplished, strong, powerful, and fast. I walked away with my fastest 1000 meter split as well. And I saw the workout all the way through. Sometimes you have to push through to the end and give it all up to know just what you’re made of. Mental toughness is being able to go around the track one more glorious time.

Atlantic City Marathon Training: 3rd Quarter Update

The 3rd quarter of my training cycle wrapped up this morning with an incredibly sweaty 16 miler.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever worked as hard as I have these past four weeks! Whew – I am really looking forward to getting this marathon thing over and done with.

With school in session, I’ve been able to ramp up the miles by adding doubles.  I take off on my workout as soon as the bus pulls away in the morning, and then do whatever strength training, physical therapy exercises, plyometric drills, stretching, and an easy 3 mile jog about 45 minutes before the bus drops them back at home.  Having two workouts planned has also kept me organized and focused during the day to get all of my other work done – work before play!  I’ve had a lot more energy, stamina, and strength in the last few weeks which has helped in my non-running life as well as on the road.

While the miles weren’t too crazy, the weekly totals did look more impressive. This was my weekly break down:
Week 9 –   54.61 miles
Week 10 – 48.63 miles
Week 11 – 57.44 miles
Week 12 – 54.64 miles

During this segment of the training cycle I began working on Marathon Pace by running sections of my Long Runs at predicted race pace near the end of my runs.  I also got in a half marathon time trial during a 16 mile long run (Week 10, 1:34.37 – a PR by 10 seconds!) and my longest long run of 22 miles (Week 11, 3:05.08) which included 6 miles at marathon pace.

I’ve been a lot more diligent about actually doing my P.T. exercises & drills and have noticed a considerable difference in my hip. Duh! My laziness was a literal pain in the butt!  I also spent a good chunk of time each week to focus on strength training; something I’ve been telling myself to get started on, but just using one excuse after another to avoid it.  This too has caused an overall improvement.  I am excited to forge on as a strong, agile, kick-ass marathoner!!

I have a few more weeks of hard work before my taper begins.  While I’m looking forward to seeing this through & racing this marathon, I’m also really looking forward to the finish line. Work, house, family, etc is starting to spread me a little thin and I’m excited to celebrate the holidays and just slow down a little.  We have a lot of good things brewing though and the rewards are going to be great!

I hope your training is going well!

Boston Registration Frenzy

This past May I finally hit a BQ. I was ecstatic. Not only did I qualify for the Boston Marathon, but I had a 12 minute cushion! I knew that sometimes simply hitting the mark wouldn’t be enough and that those that just made it could get turned down if the field filled up fast enough. It’s not just a race to the finish, but also a race to qualify! But, I didn’t need to worry about the cut off times because I was “safe”.

I’ve been waiting since May 9th to register. I’ve tried to not think about it, I’ve tried to not train for it, but you know what; I totally did. As the days ticked by and registration day got nearer and nearer, I started to worry. What if there was a surge of really fast women this year? What if I do something wrong? What if there wasn’t enough funds on my credit card? One what if after another…

Finally the time for me to register arrived. The BAA has set up a rolling registration process so that the fastest qualifying times get to register first. Being more than 10 minutes ahead, but less than 20 meant that I got to go on the second wave. September 13th was my day! And oh what a royal pain in the ass it was.

I don’t currently have Internet or Cable. We dumped the service over the summer to save money. I use my phone’s browser for most things, or turn my phone into a wifi hotspot when I need to use the computer or want to watch Netflix or Amazon. It’s a system that works – sort of. One of the downsides to this set up is that sometimes I run into a site that doesn’t work on a mobile device or the Internet lags considerably when using my laptop. This was the case when trying to use the BAA site while registering. It started with the fact that I couldn’t enter my phone number on the mobile site, thus not allowing me to go to the next stage in the registration process. I started to get a little frantic. No matter how I typed the number – with dashes, without dashes, with or without parenthesis – it told me it was wrong! So I ditched the phone and went for my lap top. But the site wouldn’t load at all. I figured it probably had to do with large amounts of traffic on the site of other registrants, but man it was making me nervous.

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After a bit of yelling, lots of nail biting, and a few choice words, technology decided to work with me. I was in! My phone number worked! But when I got to the part where I had to put in my qualifying time I didn’t see my race. The drop down menu had a GoodLife Toronto Marathon 2016, but not 2017. There was also simply a Toronto Marathon option. I didn’t know what to do. I picked the vague “Toronto Marathon” option & hit enter. I then got a very confusing prompt after that. I was told that my qualifying time and/or race could not be auto-verified. I was not in the race. But I did get a registration confirmation!

And so I waited. The 3rd wave of registration opened up for those 5 minutes ahead if their qualifying times. Then it opened up for all qualifies. I was still pending. A whole week went by. Still nothing. Had I messed up by selecting the wrong race? The hold came off my credit card. Still nothing.

I knew I shouldn’t get discouraged. The BAA needed the time to manually verify thousands of registrations. The folks that were behind the Marathon’s Facebook page were very quick with warm, reassuring responses. I was still in the queue. They would get to me. I just had to be patient.

Well, today, Day 10 of trying, but failing to be patient, I got the E-mail. I’m in!! (By the way, experiencing both relief and at excitement simultaneously kinda tickles.) In fact, I was so excited that I just flew through my workout today.

With the frantic scramble to register followed by the excruciating wait out of the way, I now get to deal with the frantic scramble for cash. Between travel expenses, hotels, food, and of course a marathon jacket, this is going to cost a pretty penny! So, I’ve stashed away what I had in my wallet (not much) and am looking forward to getting myself physically and financially prepared to go to Boston!

Be A Runner

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I was making my way down the trail the other day during a short, comfortable recovery run. Nothing too fancy, and certainly nothing too fast. My main goal was to get the blood flowing & head off any soreness from the previous day’s 17-miler. I passed a woman who was walking & recognized her as the mother to one of my daughter’s classmates. I said hello. “I sure wish I could be doing what you’re doing,” she said as I made my way past. I wanted to say “So start running!” but I didn’t. Instead I smiled and said as encouragingly as I could, “Baby steps. You’ll get there!”

This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. “Wish I had the knees for that,” or “I used to do that before kids,” or “Must be nice to have time.” I’ve heard excuses about work, or family, or buying a house, or illness, or injury. There are so, so many reasons why people don’t run or have stopped running. And let me tell you, once you stop it can be very hard to get going again. But for every excuse I hear, I also hear a longing in people’s voices. A longing to be active, healthy, fit. A longing to revisit their prime.

Above: Running for scholarship money in college & 6 months pregnant with #2

I’ve been a runner since I joined the cross country team in middle school. But, as with a lot of things in life, my enthusiasm waxed and waned for the sport over the years. At first I ran because I was good at it. Then in college I ran because it was my job. But after a fairly serious car accident, I was forced to take a bit of time off, which quickly turned into a lot of time off. For the next two years I hardly ran at all. And then came family. I ran through my first two pregnancies off & on, though I was slow & unfocused. I ran just to keep moving. I ran out of boredom. But then came pregnancy number 3 – the Big Doozy. I fell during a five mile jaunt around the reservoir and tore a ligament in my pelvis. I had to stop running. In fact, I had to stop moving at all. The last 3 months of that pregnancy were spent in absolute pain. After my daughter was born I felt compelled to run again. I felt that I was losing my identity in the shuffle of motherhood; nursing, diapers, potty training toddlers, homeschooling, laundry (so much laundry). I was craving exercise and felt that running was a part of who I was. I felt compelled to try and be me again, so I hit the road.

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I set out slow. Very slow.  I tried to stay optimistic.  My post-partum body had lost the weight, but also the drive. I just couldn’t get my body moving. I was feeling frustrated. This was the one thing that was ME and I just couldn’t do it. Each week that I failed to meet my goal felt like a huge step back, instead of the baby step forward that it really was. I gave up that Fall. I discovered, suddenly, that I was a Has Been. My running prime had come & gone, so I sought out other avenues for exercise. I spent the Winter with a Bowflex, free weights, and Jillian Michaels videos. And just like that, I had quit.

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Getting frustrated.  Couldn’t even clear 10 miles in a week.

I watched other runners with envy. I simply assumed that because I was hurt and a mom and busy that I was just done with it. I was too young and dumb to know that my body needed time to repair it’s self. My pelvis was injured, but that didn’t mean it would be forever. Bodies heal. I was trying to do too much too soon and I became overwhelmed by it. I had stopped believing I could do it. But time off was necessary for some introspection. I needed to think long and hard about why I wanted to run and what it meant for me to be a runner. I also realized that all of these things were excuses for me to stop trying. The only way for me to be a runner again was to suck it up and run!

SAMSUNG

That Spring a magical thing happened. Somehow all the stars lined up and I WON a pair of Mizuno WaveRiders!! It was fantastic!! A fierce pair of yellow-gold shoes arrived and I just knew that they would be my good luck charm. Besides, I needed to put them to good use. I decided, once again, that I would be a Runner, nay, a Marathoner! I knew it was going to be a long way, and that it would hurt like hell, but I was committed. I was going to run a whole marathon in less than six months. In May of 2013 I began by walking one mile. When I could handle that, I ran it. I upped it by half a mile each week. In June I could run 3 whole miles and by July I had begun training for my first marathon, which I ran in October of the same year.

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I did it — my 1st marathon!

I wanted to be more than a Has Been. I didn’t want to be someone who used to do something. And I certainly didn’t want the fact that I was a mom, or had an injury, or a job, or a house, or any number of responsibilities to take away this one very important defining characteristic. I am a runner because I am strong, determined, focused, and confident. I am a runner because I want to be one.

I have put thousands of miles behind me since then, yet it’s still amazes me to think that only 5 years ago I was struggling to complete 10 miles a week. Now I run twice a day and consider a 10-miler a “mid-distance”. I am not a runner because I wished it, I am one because I laced up my shoes and did it. But I had to start at zero and go slow. I had to admit my limits, step away from the sport for a bit, and reassess myself. If you haven’t run in awhile, or even if you’ve never run before, know that the only thing stopping you is you. Start with baby steps, but do start. Go that first mile. When you get to the end of it, do another. Before you know it, you’ll be flying.

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