Ready, Set, TAPER!

I know it’s a bit early for me to be tapering.  I still have two weeks until the gun goes off. But man, last week was rough. I was practically bed ridden which, at first, I thought was a case of extreme over training or fatigue. I was achy and sore after every run. I was so desperately tired all the time. I had absolutely no appetite and was quickly losing weight. I was getting the chills.  I started to panic. Could I get myself ready in less than three weeks to run a marathon?! Then the fever set in and I was restricted to the bathroom with what ended up being a stomach flu.

I’ve limped back to recovery, but am now taking my tapering very seriously.  I’m still quite tired, so I am all for taking it easy before I crash again.  I still have a handful of workouts left before race day, but am running no faster than my marathon race pace on intervals and threshold runs, keeping my easy pace actually easy, and going for an every other day approach.

Psychologically, tapering can be so hard.  It’s getting close to the big day, yet the training needs to take a slow down, which gives you more time to wrestle with the nerves.  After working so hard for 15 weeks, taking it easy can be almost impossible.  Perhaps catching a virus has been a good thing for me. It forced me to take a bit of a break, to focus on hydrating, and to just sleep.  We’ll see how it all plays out in two weeks!

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.

Chicken Run: A Hen Trophy For Kim

This past weekend my family headed over to the Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT for their 4th Annual Chicken Run. It was a small, local event with just under 200 finishers for the 5K. I’ve been attempting to get in all the nearby races, but this one has slipped by me for the past 3 years for one lousy reason or another. So, I made sure to register early–and by doing so, I got a discount! A quarter mile kids’ race was also available, so I signed up all 3 of my kiddos. I think they were more excited than I was.

 

We had lovely weather for race day; sunny, no wind, and a cool 40 degrees. The kids’ race went off at 8:30am. It wasn’t the promised quarter mile, though. Judging by my children’s times (all in under a minute), I’d say it wasn’t even an eighth of a mile. Ah well, at least the kids had fun!

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The 5K went off at 9:00am. This gave me a decent amount of time to warm up, change clothes, and walk over to the start line, which was oddly nowhere near the registration tables. The majority of the race course took place on sidewalks through residential areas, with about a mile on a bike path. I figured it would be over fields and well, the farm, but it didn’t even start on the farm property.  There were a few nearly 90 degree right turns that were less than ideal on the knees and a surprise hill on mile 3 that didn’t do well for my pacing. I hung back from the lead pack in fourth and gave up my placing to only one other runner half way up the final hill. I managed to pull off an even 20:00.3. While I didn’t do my best, I did run well and finished in 5th place overall and as the first female.

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I was awarded a cute hen trophy for winning the women’s division, which now happily sits on my shelf next to my train whistle from the Ghost Run. My husband didn’t make it to the finish line in time to snap a picture of me finishing, so I took to the Strong Family Farm’s Facebook page to see what they had posted. There weren’t any pictures of me coming across the finish line, but there was a shot of me receiving my award. That’s great and all, but it is captioned with “A hen trophy for Kim..19:50.” Umm…wait. Who’s Kim?! Now, I really don’t want to be a poor sport here, but I ran well. I ran really well. In fact, I now have the race record (yes, I checked the results for the past three years), which went unnoticed, by the way. So, I am sorry, but I’m a bit sore about this part. The image of the top male finisher is correctly captioned with his first name, last name, and time. Meanwhile, I am captioned as “Kim”, no last name, and an incorrect time. Not cool.

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Kristyan Pawlowski was the THIRD place finisher and a MALE. 19:50 is his time. And, I don’t know who Kim is… I’m sure I’m going a little overboard in thinking there’s some type of sexism here, but come on!! Why is the girl getting snubbed here? And, honestly, I see no reason for the mistake since results from The Last Mile Racing were LIVE. Sure, I can agree that mistakes happen, pictures get mislabeled, etc. But man, everything about this is wrong. I am happy with my performance, but (and I do hate to admit it) I’d love the recognition.

I had a decent race, the kids had a great time, and all in all the day, and all the day was a success. Yet, I still have a slight bitter taste in my mouth.

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.

Slowing Down for a Fast Marathon

I have a bad habit of going too fast. I know, running fast sure doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but trust me — when training for a marathon running fast can be a very bad thing! Because I am focusing on TWENTY SIX POINT TWO miles (that’s a lotta miles, folks!), I’m not worried about speed. I need to train for strength and endurance. Speed work, running fast, and pushing the pace can lead to burn out and injury — and those will certainly slow you down!

The last few weeks have been pretty terrible in terms of workouts. I’ve felt awful, my legs have been tight, my hips have been locking up, and I’ve struggled to finish my repeats. I was so beat in my last track workout that I ended up missing a lap on my last repeat as well as cut the workout down from 5 to 3 repeats. I was beginning to dread lacing up my shoes and sorta, kinda hated the idea of running. At first I thought I was coming down with something (a cold, the flu, depression, boredom). Then I blamed it on the snow (can’t run on the trail away from traffic where I feel safe) and the never ending snow days (seriously, my kids will still be in school in July!). Then I figured it was probably my period, since hormones just suck. But yesterday I went back over some of my Garmin data.

I had been running well. At least the numbers said so. I was fast! All of my repeats were blistering and my distance was decent. So, why was I feeling so crappy if I kept setting PRs? Because I was running too fast for marathon training! Setting personal bests in the 400m, 800m, 1000m, and mile distances in workouts was a tip off. While I’m pretty damn ecstatic that I can do some of these things, that I’m faster now than I was in college (over 10 years ago!!), I know that these are not paces that will help get me through a  l  o  n  g distance race. I need to build endurance through long runs and the strength to run them with repeats at or **slightly** below race pace.

Today I switched things up. Instead of running my 1000 meter repeats at “hard pace” (to me that’s been “a bit more effort than 5k pace” which is generally about 6:00-6:30 or so, depending on length) I ran them at a conservative 10k pace. 7 minutes and 15 seconds per mile pace. I would have to adjust and readjust in the first 30 to 45 seconds to find the pace. I was always going too fast. It felt oddly slow…oddly rhythmic. I followed up 5 by 1000m with 10 minutes at marathon pace (so, about 2000m at a hair below 8:00 pace since a lot of it was down hill). I felt great! I felt like I could run the whole workout again. But at the same time I did feel like I had put in good effort — just not enough to make my body hurt or make my mind want to quit.

For the next (almost) six weeks I’m focusing strictly on PACE. That means I’m going to have to slow myself down. I’ll probably have to refrain from running on the track since I tend to move a lot quicker there than on the road. I’ll have to actually LOOK at my watch and SLOW DOWN when I’m going too fast. Repeats and strength work will consist of conservative 10k paces and half marathon paces only; not a step will be faster than 7:00, I swear!!  I am pretty confident that a month and a half of running slow will get me to a fast marathon. At the very least I’ll be fresh and injury free!

Not Too Cold at Colchester

I had been hemming and hawing for a few weeks as to whether or not I’d run the Colchester Half Marathon. I knew it would fall in line with my training plan in terms of a long run and during a “down week”, but I was also hesitant to go for a race while I was weaning off of Paxil. I hadn’t been feeling great, so committing to something seemed like a bad idea. But, the withdrawal symptoms didn’t last nearly as long as I had feared they might and I was off of it completely with no repercussions just in time. And I needed the long run. And I needed the hill work. And I needed to do better than last year’s attempt.

So, in typical Mazy-fashion, I registered about 20 minutes before the gun and trotted up to the starting line. There were some familiar (read intimidating) faces as well as the general sea of runners bouncing, stretching, striding out before the event. Colchester may be a small Connecticut town, but this race draws a fairly sizable crowd. This year’s race boasted 691 registrants, with 614 finishers. That’s not too shabby! Now, part of the challenge of the Colchester Half Marathon is the fact that it takes place on the last Saturday of February. That typically means that there is ice, slush, yuck, and sub-freezing temperatures. But…it is New England, which means you can’t predict anything! We had a surprisingly warm day on Saturday with 60 degrees at the start of the race and nearly 70 degrees by noon. Thankfully the rain held off. I must say, the course was considerably easier to navigate without the ice and snow.

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The race starts at Bacon Academy High School with just a tease of an up hill, enough to give you a little bit of confidence. But, for every strenuous up hill there is an equally painful down hill. Most are excited for down hills or “free energy”, but I feel like I pay dearly for them. They mess with my pace, they mess with my head, and they destroy my quads. I would almost always rather go up than down in a race!

Most of Colchester’s race is paved, but there are about three miles worth of hill that are on dirt roads. These miles can be tricky, especially in the snow, since they aren’t plowed well, have a lot of divets, tire treads, and lose stones. There are quite a few intersections to get through, but the support staff is excellent so there is a minimal risk of dealing with traffic. My experience was pleasant with the few cars I did encounter giving the runners a wide berth while traveling at extremely reduced speeds. There is also ample signage alerting drivers of the race, mile markers, and upcoming turns. You really can’t get lost!

Colchester has a gorgeous, scenic course. Through woods, by farms — over hill and dale. This half marathon really does show off the beautiful side of rural Connecticut. Residents come out of their homes to cheer on the athletes and one family had a candy booth set up, handing out Starbursts and Twizzlers to those that needed a sugary pick-me-up. I also got the privileged to high-five a toddler sized Elsa as I dashed along.

I brought a packet of maple syrup with me in my shorts’ pocket, but didn’t feel the need to use it on the race course since there were three aid stations with water and Gatorade. There were also crates of sliced oranges and bananas at the finish line. The final two miles of the race are up hill and feels like one of the slowest, longest, most torturous climbs to any finish line. However, streams of people run along the side cheering everyone along. And, the race does eventually come to an end! The final right turn takes you back into the high school parking lot and through the finish line. No matter what your time is, you feel better for having run this race. You know that you are a bad-ass just because you did it.

Once through the shoot I met up with my family, gasping and recoiling at the effort I just put forth. “Why can’t I like knitting or board games or some other less stressful activity?” I asked my husband as he helped me get into my sweats. We made our way across the school parking lot and headed for the building to find the facilities. Some wonderful folks from Phoenix Therapeutic Massage were set up in the gymnasium offering massages and stretching out the finishers. The cafeteria was busting with a wonderful after party. A buffet line snaked around the perimeter offering corn chowder, chili, ziti, pizza, brownies, and salads.

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This was my second year running the Colchester Half Marathon and I did do what I set out to do, though, I’m not completely impressed with my run. I did beat my previous year’s time by six minutes, which was my number one goal. I did break an hour and forty, which was my second goal. While I had a third goal of placing in the top ten, I was far less concerned with placement than time. I wanted to maintain a 7:35-7:45 pace, and I sort of achieved that for most of the race. I did fall into the course’s trap and went out way too fast before settling in. I was much too cocky and took the first couple of hills much too hard. But, all in all it was a good effort and I am glad I did it.

I am aware that I need to spend more time on pacing — and getting less excited at the beginning — and probably focus on hill work a bit more. I also need to focus on pulling through when I’m fatigued. But, I can’t get too hard on myself since the stats for this race are pretty decent.

Overall time: 1:39.33 (average 7:37 pace)
Place: 86/614
Female Pace: 18/309
30-39F Div Place: 10/277

Official results can be found here, supplied by The Last Mile Racing, LLC.

A Rest Day

I’ve always been one to follow the rules, do what I’m told, and generally be a “good girl”. When I was in high school and my cross country coach told us to run for 45 mins, I didn’t quit at 43. I ran the full 45. Yes, I was sure that those two minutes *really* mattered. Cutting corners has always been a major no-no in my book.  I was one of the best because I never slacked.

I’ve been able to push through all sorts of pain and anguish to complete a run or a race. I’ve advanced my place and my standing through sweat, tears, and perseverance. However, I also fell. Crashing down from a proverbial pedestal is actually quite painful! And, in the years picking myself back up I’ve had to reassess what it means to fail, to slack off, and what real strength is.

I am half way through week 3 of weaning off Paxil. In a few more days I should be done with it. It was a rocky start, but withdrawal symptoms have leveled out. Despite some of the crazy dizziness, cramping, crying, and overall crummy feeling I was able to push on with my training. In fact, I feel like I may not have survived the weaning if I hadn’t been running through it! We’ve also had snow storm after snow storm just dumping feet of icy, cold yuck and frigid temps making breathing a special chore. Nonetheless, I got through the training. No excuses! No slacking! That marathon isn’t going to run itself!

I’m proud of the work I’ve put in so far. I’ve done well and I am getting stronger. To be honest though — I’m exhausted! I’ve overslept twice this week (completely missing the bus to school yesterday!)  and my muscles have not be recovering like they usually do. I woke up this morning absolutely dreading the workout that lay ahead of me. I got the kids packed up for school, out the door, and onto the bus. As I ate some breakfast I went over the details of my workout. Warm up…10 mins at threshold pace…5x3mins at threshold pace…another 10 mins at pace….I just didn’t wanna! I tried to talk myself into it…just do it Mazy! My legs still ached from the two mile repeats from a few days ago. Yesterday’s recovery run didn’t recover my body. And I’m just.so.damned.tired.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized I really needed a rest day.

I’ve given myself the day off! I will do the workout tomorrow (my scheduled day off) and bask in the gloriousness of NOT RUNNING TODAY. Am I slacking? My high school self would say yes, but guess what —  she was stupid! Recovering my body will do more good for me than pushing through a run while fighting to hit (and probably miss) the pace. Being a fighter and pushing the limits is admirable, but so is being smart. My muscles need a chance to repair themselves. My mind needs a chance to recoup. I know I could hit the road, bust out some semi-descent repeats and be done with it, but I also know I’d be setting myself up for more exhaustion tomorrow, more soreness, and possibly degrading my immune system even further. So, I raise my mug of Yogi Muscle Recovery Tea and give a hearty three cheers for Rest Day!