Musings: Sweat Fog and Tears

I skipped my run yesterday.  I was supposed to get up at 5am and do the 3 by 12 minute threshold workout that my plan was calling for.  I turned my alarm off, looked at the rain that was falling outside and rolled back over. I called myself lazy, slacker, and weak. I knew I had to get out there.  If I want to run a fast marathon, then I need to do the work. I knew this.  But the truth is, I just wasn’t feeling it.  I’ve been overwhelmed lately and the idea of getting up and facing a cold rain with a hard workout was just more than my little, damaged psyche could take.

I’ve been on the edge of depression as of late.  My marriage is hard.  My kids are hard.  This whole ‘maybe we’ll move in the next three months’ is hard.  I’ve been spinning my wheels and going nowhere —  just slinging mud.  Sometimes this whole marathon thing is hard.  I have days where I wonder why I can’t just be happy with 5ks and 10ks.  Sometimes the one thing I enjoy just feels like more work.  So I rolled over and slept until 8.  Then I spent the rest of the day feeling moppy and mad at myself.  I knew a day off wouldn’t hurt my training, but who takes a rest day just because they are sad?!

I got up this morning.  I would have loved to have slept in, or at least sat in bed with my coffee and the news. But instead I pulled on my big girl booty shorts and hit the trail.  The fog was so dense you could only see a hundred feet or so ahead on the trail and it clung to my hair and eye lashes.  And it was a chilly 55 degrees.  I actually wore a long sleeve.  It felt amazing to have to wear a long sleeve shirt while running in July, especially after the intense heat wave we endured last week.  I’m not gonna lie; I was slightly emotional.  I was focused on the run and my pace and not really thinking about anything, but subconsciously my brain (and body) were working through a lot of stuff.  Sweat, fog, and tears all look the same streaming down the face, and thankfully no one was out that early to see me anyway.  I ran a solid 10 seconds ahead of pace and felt strong.  I even managed to get in an extra rep.  That should make up for yesterday’s laziness, right?

Thankfully marathon training is long enough, forgiving enough to not take it so personally when you need a day off.  I have time to get it together before the gun goes off.  I have a lot of distance to cover between now and October, and the marathon training is okay with me taking my time.  I’ll be okay because of marathon training.  Life is sometimes hard, but running makes me strong enough to live it.

School’s Out & Mom Needs to Run

Tomorrow is the last day of school. Wednesday begins the 10 long weeks of figuring out how to keep my three kids from killing each other.  I have all the library events marked on my calendar as well as all their various sports and activities.  We have chore charts and behavior charts and Summer reading challenge charts already posted.  Unfortunately this Summer we will not be taking a vacation like we did last year, which was a great help at breaking up the monotony as well as giving us all something to look forward to.  Instead, we will be packing and (hopefully) closing on a house.  *Fingers crossed*  But, until we actually know what is happening with the housing situation & when, we will carry on like we have been for the past year and a half; Hubs living two hours away at work during the week and me holding down the fort alone.  This also means I need to creatively figure out how I’m going to get through the first 8 weeks of my next training cycle with three kids, again.

Last Summer I trained for the Hartford Marathon and was in the same situation.  I ended up cutting my training way back while school was out, and only running a few days a week.  I ran Monday mornings before Hubs left for the week, Wednesday while the kids stayed with some friends, and then both Saturday and Sunday.  Every other week I brought the kids to the track on Tuesdays.  It worked out okay.  But I’m at a point with my marathoning where I need to step up my game if I’m going to get faster.  This means more repeats and longer long runs.  So between highly utilizing the weekends, begging the neighbors and friends to babysit, and dashing off for a quick run around the block while they are engrossed in story time I just might be able to pull it off.

But I also need to plan to take a deep breath and be patient.  The Fall race isn’t my target.  While I still have goals, the real focus is on Boston next Spring and this Fall race is simply the conditioning to get me that much closer to me real goal down Boylston Street.  I focused very hard and trained even harder last Spring and I came through that cycle on cloud nine.  Perhaps I should take the Summer as an opportunity to train with a little less intensity and just enjoy it.  Or, maybe I’ll break down and invest in a treadmill one of these days…

It’s Not Always A Competition

“It’s not always a competition,” I say to my children on an almost daily basis about something. My two boys race to get their clothes on, slurp down cereal, run to the bus stop.  It is always a competition with them and as a mom it is exhausting trying to keep up with the feelings of the loser.  But at the same time, I totally get where they are coming from. I am a typical type A, highly driven, stress laden, competitive person. I made everything a competition from day one. Grades, friends, boys, sports, heck, I was even the damn Prom Queen. Because. I. Always. Win.  And happens when a highly competitive person doesn’t win?  Emotions happen.  Lots, and lots of emotions.

I had a hard time in college.  I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a mediocre fish in an ocean.  I had to work so much harder at everything and it turned out that I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t have the guts to pull it off.  My grades were decent, my track times were decent, my relationships were lukewarm.  And since I wasn’t a stellar anything anymore, I spiraled into a horrible black hole of depression.  None of it was necessary of course.  Looking back now I see that my GPA (3.7) was completely fine.  I set a lot of great PRs on the track and I learned a lot about running while on the team.  I performed much better than I gave myself credit for.  It wasn’t poor performances that got me down, it was the stress of trying so damn hard.

This temperament makes being social difficult.  I don’t have fellow athletes; I have arch nemeses.  When I see times posted from former teammates, I can’t help but compare myself (especially if they used to be faster than me). Oh, she’s had two kids since college, well I’ve birthed four! Oh, she ran a 3:32, yeah, well, I ran a 3:22!  He runs 35 miles per week, puh-leeze, I run 40!  I know, unhealthy, right?!  But it’s my nature. I am driven to go a little faster, go a little farther than someone, anyone else.  This need to out-perform keeps me going, which I suppose is a good thing, but I do worry that it will lead to either injury or another bout of depression.  Being a competitive person means that I am switched on almost all of the time, and, frankly, it’s exhausting.  It’s also not sending a very good message to my kids.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, to take on a different outlook.  Yes, it’s a race & times matter, but it’s about bettering myself, not being better than someone else.  I’m going to have to stop comparing.  I’m going to have to stop analyzing data and stalking runners on Athlinks.  I’m going to have to start practicing what I preach. I know…I know…  I need to start being a gracious winner inside and out, AND I need to be a gracious loser.  If I won’t stand a tantrum from a six year old who came in 2nd to the bus stop, then I really shouldn’t be tantruming over someone who wanted it more and edged me out.

Post Marathon Blues

I think I dislike marathon recovery more than I dislike marathon tapering. I’m bored, I’m restless, and I just want to GO! But I know that to keep myself healthy I need to stay put. It’s very frustrating. Tapering is hard because you have a big race looming over you and you’ve just spent the better part of 3 months working your butt off to get ready for it, and now all of a sudden you are slowing down, cutting mileage and resting! Agggggh!

Recovery time sucks for a different reason. I am still on a race high. I had a great training cycle (some bumps, but not too bad), a great race, and an awesome finish time. And nothing hurts. And I’m hyper and giddy and ready to go again! But I did just deal with an over-training scare. And I do know what happens to athletes who push too hard. So I am forcing a rest.

But I’m not tired!

I admit it; I’ve got the post-marathon blues. I’m just floating along with no real direction. I miss training. I miss racing. It was only a week and a half ago, but feels like forever. I reminisce. I sorta-kinda feel like I don’t have a purpose. Which of course is ridiculous considering the fact that I have work to do, three kids to schlep all over town, and a growing chicken farm to balance. Oh yeah…and a lot of laundry and dirty dishes.

I am making a point of at least trying to enjoy my down time. I am actually LOOKING at the trees when I go for walks. I LISTEN to the birds. I FEEL the sun and wind. Connecticut is beautiful in the Spring and I’m trying to enjoy it. I know that if I give in to my desires and start training again I’ll just get hurt. And then instead of simply slowing down, I’ll be forced to stop altogether, and that won’t do me any good in future races.

I’ve found little info on what to do AFTER a marathon. The advice is vague if offered at all. So, I’m going to offer my own experiences. I hope they help!

  1. If you’re not injured, then set a time frame.  I haven’t been injured from a marathon yet, but I have walked away very unhappy. The recovery time from a marathon can feel like hell when all you want is redemption from a bad race. It can also feel like a mean taunt when you’ve done well and are excited to go again. But rest is key to fast times, so go ahead and do just that. But mark it on your calendar so you don’t drive yourself crazy wondering when it’s over.
  2. Create a Recovery Plan. You planned your workouts. You planned your meals. You may have even planned your pit stops, and now you are suddenly drifting just because you are post race. There are a few post-marathon recovery plans out there, but you don’t need anything formal. But I have found that simply writing it down helps me feel focused. I’m a planner. I like to know what’s happening next. I like things to be in order. I hate free for alls. Even though my Recovery Schedule isn’t anything fancy, I still like to plan it out, write it down.
  3. Go EASY! I know several people who run marathons back to back. And guess what – they are always in pain! Go easy. Go so much easier than you think is necessary. The day after a marathon, do nothing. Take the day off from work. Skip chores. Watch a lot of TV. The first week post-marathon shouldn’t include any running at all. I do go for walks every other day. And I do what I can to avoid stairs. Weeks 2 & 3 after a marathon I run super easy pace (I’m talking at least 3 minutes per mile slower than your race pace) for 30-40 mins every other day. I won’t add any weight training or faster runs back until Week 4.
  4. Do something else. Now is a great time to jump in the swimming pool for a few laps or hop on a bike for a ride. Make plans for your next training cycle. Scope out new races. Look into new recipes. Plan a non-running related activity.
  5. Enjoy the down time. It’s tough to work so hard and then suddenly not. But rest assured, you are not being a slacker and you are not losing fitness. Enjoy yourself and those around you. I know my family is pleased that I’ve finally stopped talking about running. And, in a way, I kind of am too.

    I never get to take pictures while running!

Learning from my Marathon Mistakes

Just like babies must first crawl before they walk, fall many times before mastering the skill, and eventually take off running into toddlerhood, so it is with marathon running. I’m still a newbie to marathoning. Toronto will be #4 for me, so yes, I’m still new, but I have learned a thing or two. Maybe I could consider myself an adolescent marathon runner. I have learned something very important in all three of my previous races. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe my races as “mistakes”, I certainly made a few, and while some of them were dumb beginner’s mistakes, I was at least smart enough to learn from the experiences.

My first marathon was in 2013 in Hartford, CT. I had always wanted to run a marathon, but was secretly afraid of the distance. I wanted to run it before I was 30, because I figured after that I’d never do it. Then again, I always figured IF I even had kids, it would be after 30, and after the marathon. Instead, I ran the day after my 30th birthday and a year after my third child. I followed a beginners plan and struggled with pacing, with water intake, with fueling. Every long run left me exhausted and cramped. My hydration system jostled, hurt, and caused numbness in my lower back. Every brand of gel I tried caused GI issues. I always ran too fast. My longest long run was 18 miles. I was a little concerned that it wasn’t long enough, but I faithfully followed The Plan. I figured that because most of my training runs were at or near 8:00 miles I would have no problem pulling off a 3:30 marathon. I went into the race very cocky, very naïve.  I had given up on fueling and my hydration system. I was confident that I could pull it off on water stops and Gatorade alone. Of course, this didn’t work out so well. I went out too fast. I got hot, tired, crampy. I hit a wall at mile 18 and walked. I gave in & took a gel, which lead to intense GI issues. I deliriously stumbled through the finish line at 3 hours and 45 minutes. I was in pain for a week and didn’t get back to running for almost a month. It was disappointing to say the least. I ended up consumed by the “failure”. I had days where I was determined to try again, to do better, followed by weeks of never wanting to run another marathon again.

My second marathon came in Spring of 2016. While the 1st was a bucket list item, this one was simply to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken, that I wasn’t done yet. I ran Burlington, VT five months after having a fourth child (surrogacy) and dealing with eclampsia and a minor stroke.  I had spent too much time being bed-ridden and feeling sorry for myself when my friend egged me on to sign up for the race. I worked on finding a fueling system that wouldn’t destroy my gut (fruit snacks did the trick!), but I still thought I could go without hydration. It was cumbersome, it chaffed, and I figured all the aid stations would be enough. My training went well and again I went in very optimistic. I’d stay with a pace group. I’d eat my fruit snacks every 30 minutes. I’d grab water at every aid station. I’d do well…maybe even nab a BQ.  I wasn’t prepared for the heat. The RDs weren’t prepared for the heat and some of the aid stations were running out of water. I wasn’t prepared for the midrace panic attack either. Again, I went too fast and tanked.  The second half of the race was a mental feat to keep myself together, alternating walking and running, trying desperately not to cry or pass out, and to simply get through it. Severely dehydrated, starving, and slightly hypothermic, I fell through the finish line at four hours.  The four hour drive home was spent scheming my next marathon — my redemption.

The third race, revisiting Hartford in Fall 2016, was approached with much more humility. By now I had accepted that I would indeed need to hydrate. That I would need to fuel on the run. And that I would have to train long but slow.  I gave up on pace groups since I would be running in between. I was very much attached to my Garmin, though I did keep the 3:30 pace group in sight ahead of me. Beating 3:45 and running a smart, paced out race were my only goals.  There was no winging it this time. I had planned out everything; when I would take a sip, when I would take fuel, when I would speed up or slow down.  Mile 18 was again, a wall, but it didn’t stop me this time. I did slow down, and I did walk in a few parts due to a nagging hamstring, but I didn’t fall apart. I pressed on, allowing 20 second walk breaks when it got tough. But I got caught up in the second half of the race and forgot to take my electrolytes a few times. Then I skipped out on fuel. I got confused as to how much I’d had, how much was left. I began to feel insanely hungry and the sugar and water didn’t touch it. I made it through the finish line slightly crampy in 3 hours and 41 minutes.

So, now with two weeks until I run Toronto, I am approaching my fourth marathon with a few thousand training miles and 11 hours and 26 minutes worth of marathoning and perhaps just as many “mistakes” to carry me through.  I have learned that a long run needs to actually be long.  I know I hit my wall at 18, so I need to train well beyond it so that in the race, when I get there, I can hurdle past it and get through the last 8 or so miles. I have learned the importance of pacing and that running slow is good for you! Training runs too close to race pace won’t make you faster, they will just wear you down, wear you out, and deceive you for race day. Easy runs need to actually be easy.  The most important thing I believe I have learned from my past three marathons is that they are hard but I am harder.  A marathon takes a lot more grit than I had at first anticipated, but I was so happy to discover that I had it in me.  It’s strength of body and mind that completes a marathon, and it’s the ability to adapt and learn that carries you through your next one.

In my fairly new marathon career I’ve managed to learn a thing or two about the race, about myself, and about how to be a better runner. However, I’m very excited to see what I will learn in two weeks when I go after my fourth race. I know I still have a lot to learn and a lot more room for improvement.  I’m excited to see what I can pull off in Toronto– another 26.2 miles to learning something new and to being a better Mazy.

The Mile That Broke Me

When I was in middle school we had to do the Physical Fitness Test for P.E. Some kids moaned and groaned about it, but I actually liked it. I was good at it. I was awkward with over sized glasses and scraggly hair, but I was also very competitive and this was my chance to show off. I couldn’t be popular, but I could do this. It was an easy A. Sit ups, pull ups, sit & reach — done, done, and done! But my favorite part was the one mile run. I was fast. I knew it wasn’t a competition, but I was the best and it was the one thing I could be so proud of.

It was Spring of my eighth grade year and my gym class lined up for the mile run. The goal was to run two and a half laps around the baseball/softball/soccer fields while our teacher, Mr. Arch, timed us. I don’t even remember what the passing time was since I already knew I’d beat it. I was running for more than just a passing grade, for more than a Presidential patch. I was running to impress my teacher and classmates and possibly hit a PR. Mr. Arch sounded his whistle and away we went, plodding through the damp grass. I moved quickly and effortlessly. Being on the track and cross country teams meant that I knew where every wobble and divet in the fields were, so I could easily avoid them. As usual, I headed a small pack of athletic boys. Some were on the track team with me. Some played other sports like baseball or soccer. They breathed heavily behind me and I felt self conscious, as many fourteen year olds do. I didn’t like being in close proximity to boys because they unnerved me and sometimes they gave me good reason to feel unnerved.

I picked up my pace to pull away from them as I rounded the first chain-link backstop. I could feel the presence of someone on my left shoulder. Andy drafted off of me as he puffed along. “You keep running like that and I’m going to break your legs, Mary-Alex.” I was startled and turned to see him with a snarly grin right above my shoulder. He threw out a sturdy elbow that caught me in the rib and threw off my balance. I ping-ponged between the backstop fencing and Andy until I had regained control of myself. Once in the open again I tried to veer away from him, but Andy kept close, grunting threats of bodily harm and demanding I slow down.

Andy was one of the best boy athletes in our grade. He played soccer, basketball, and baseball, was popular, was a bit of a trouble maker, and was someone I feared. He was competitive also, but rough, which made him dangerous. And I was often one of his targets for bullying.

We passed by Mr. Arch on the first lap, and he barely looked up. This was no longer just a physical fitness test. This was so much more than a time trial. This was a race. This was boy vs girl, good vs evil. We ran stride for stride around the perimeter of the playing fields while he called me names, promised me rape, and told me I was a dyke. I had been told that boys did these kinds of things, said mean things to girls because they liked them, because they had crushes on them. But I didn’t feel liked. Andy didn’t have a crush on me. Andy had an ego trip and a need for power and dominance. He would have liked to crush me. We were out of earshot of the teacher when he practically growled at me. “I’m going to fuck you, then I’m going to kill you.” He punctuated this decree with a sharp kick to the back of my knee. My left leg wobbled and buckled beneath me. Andy trotted on while I pulled myself up off the grass and attempted to walk it off. He pulled away from me and there was no hope for regaining my position. But Andy wasn’t my target; the clock was and I had to get moving to try and salvage my run.

There was maybe a quarter of a mile left, two more back stops and a finish line. I ran awkwardly and the rest of the lead pack of boys dashed past me. I let them go; there was no point in trying anymore. Andy was too far ahead. I stumbled, half jogging, half limping to where Mr. Arch stood with his clipboard and stop watch. “Great job, Zicky! Six and a quarter…” I tried to tell him that I had gotten hurt, but was told to come back when he wasn’t writing down times for the rest of the class. But the bell rang before I got a chance and everyone else just moved on. Andy didn’t make eye contact as we shuffled out into the hall. I was a better runner, but I didn’t get a PR and I didn’t come in first.

I didn’t pursue the issue. I didn’t even tell my parents. I had passed and I wasn’t significantly injured, so there wasn’t really anything to complain about. I figured I’d just be told again how boys can be be boys. And what did it matter if I was first? 6:25 was a decent time. I knew how fast and strong I was, did I have to beat some boy to prove it, or couldn’t I let him have the win and be happy while staying safe? I spent the next ten years being safe, staying out of the way of some aggressive guy. I kept a step behind, giving away the win out of fear that I’d be cut off at the knees again. And for ten years, anger festered. I was angry at myself for not fighting back, for not being loud about it, maybe for not hitting first. I was mad at myself for being so stereotypically weak. I just didn’t know how to get up and fight back, and I had been down so long I didn’t see the point in trying.

And then I had a daughter. A spunky, headstrong, fierce little girl who loves monster trucks and dinosaurs and doesn’t care at all if her two older brothers are bigger than her; she’ll take ’em on any day! If I won’t get up for myself, I must get up for her to show her to be strong, to be fierce, to not be ashamed of being in front. She needs to be taught to stand up for herself, and to fight back if need be. She’ll be targeted one day. A pimply teenager or insecure college guy will make a move on her, will try to degrade her, to take out her knees. I know this because, unfortunately, some boys will be like this, because I don’t believe that bullying or date rape or domestic abuse or sexual harassment or gender inequalities will ever truly cease to be. But she will be prepared to get back up and take back what is her’s.

I’m not slowing down or giving up anymore. I’m never going to take a step back for someone else’s pride. I now run for my daughter. I run for all daughters. I run in the name of Girl Power and Feminism and Equality. I am going to always run, I am going to always be fast.