Tag Archives: yoda of running

Getting into Boston 2014: Patience is a Virtue

I’ve never been the most patient person.

When I get something in my head that I know I want, I want it to happen immediately, and I tend to get anxious and restless when I’m forced to wait. This is both a blessing and a curse… although I’m sure some (my family) would argue more toward the curse side of that.

Essentially, I feel like I know what I want the majority of the time, and I don’t like to waste time not going after it.

This is why, when I ran my first marathon in Portland almost exactly two years ago, I started plotting a way to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I may not have been ready, I may not have known the qualifying standards, but I knew I wanted in. Those “BQ” letters were coveted in the running community, and I wanted to earn them for myself.

Post-first marathon mug shot

Post-first marathon mug shot

As long time readers know, it took me a while to get that BQ.

But of course, I was impatient. I absurdly thought it was possible in my second marathon, which resulted in a catastrophic finish and a hard slap of reality. In my third marathon, I was injured and ran only to finish…going for a BQ time would not have been smart.

One of these ankles is not like the other. Do you think I needed a pedicure?

One of these ankles is not like the other. Do you think I needed a pedicure?

And then came Eugene. The race that I so openly expressed as the race. The one where I had a very public goal of qualifying for Boston. My training, my preparation, my nerves…all of it was focused on one number:

3:35

I had all the confidence I could hope for going into Eugene. I even thought that a sub-3:30 was possible, although that was kept under wraps. I knew that unless catastrophe hit, I was well prepared to run a BQ time.

Now, truth be told, I didn’t have a good race in Eugene. I hit the wall harder than I ever have before, and it took another dimension of willpower to drag myself into Hayward Field and across the finish line. But, despite the pain, I’d done it.

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3:32:06

A bonefied, “Females 18-34” Boston Marathon Qualifying time.

Honestly, it took a while for this reality to hit me. Despite the fact that I’d pined and hoped for a BQ time for so long, I don’t think I’d taken the time to internalize exactly what that would mean when it happened.

After the pain of race day subsided, I started to realize that it was the process of earning my BQ that ultimately mattered, perhaps more so than achieving it. I’d become so focused on the outcome that, in a way, I’d neglected the journey. It wasn’t until I looked at it that way, then, that I came to appreciate the patience and diligence it took to get those two little letters.

The closer Boston registration came, the more I began to realize just how badly I wanted that patience and training to pay off; in the form of actually running Boston next year. I know I don’t need to remind everyone that space for 2014 was tight, and even those that had qualified didn’t know how their chances of getting in would be. As those first two weeks of registrations went by, I watched the entries get swept up as expected and wondered if and when the “rest of us” would get a shot.

Patience, patience…

Eventually, the “squeakers” were given the opportunity to register. I have never been so eager and anxious to wish away $175. It didn’t take long, though, for the news to hit that registrations had surpassed the number of remaining spots, and we’d all to have to wait…some more…for the BAA to determining the cut off time. Yes, a process that truly started in February this year was going to need an extra week and two days. So I kept waiting, along with everyone else, speculating if my time would make the cut.

I had high hopes, admittedly. Some easy math would indicate that my 3:32:06 should be within the top 50% of the outstanding entries; although without any definitive numbers, it was still hard to tell. It was like waiting on a college admissions letter in a way…the same type of feeling of either being “in” or “out.”

The day finally arrived for the final announcement to come, and I was refreshing my inbox every 5 minutes in anticipation of the yes or no email. Finally, around 10:30 am, the news broke, via the ever-prompt Runners World:

“Runners whose qualifying time for the 2014 Boston Marathon was at least 1:38 faster than their age and gender qualifying standard will receive notice starting today that they’re officially registered for next year’s race, which will be run on April 21.”

My eyes widened, heart fluttered, and a 26.2-mile wide goofy smile spread across my face. I was in!!!

Yet another look at my inbox would confirm: I was accepted to run the 2014 Boston Marathon.

photo

 

It’s all still a little surreal. I’m euphoric, of course, but I don’t think the reality of the situation has really sunk in. And I’m okay with that…because throughout this process, I’ve learned that there’s beauty in patience. It forces us to focus on the fruit of our daily actions as opposed to constantly looking toward something else. So while it’s my inclination to look at course maps, weekend schedules, previous recaps, and any and all pre-race literature… instead, I’m going to hold off. It was patience that got me to this point, and I want to allow the excitement and anticipation of this dream to unfold in a one-thing-at-a-time manner. I’m intent on keeping the magic of this race alive from now until the finish line, and I think that means letting all the details unfold organically.

So, aside from my initial giddiness, overall I’m feeling incredibly honored. I feel like that’s an overused expression, but that’s the word that first comes to mind when I think about running Boston in 2014. It will be an incredibly important year for the already important race, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to wear one of the 36,000 bibs on race day. I intend to treat the training, the race, and the overall experience with an incredible amount of care and appreciation. This will necessitate staying present both on the run and off, and for the first time…I hoping for the journey to take its sweet, sweet time.

Spring 2014, I’m so excited for you!

A Year Without Injuries

This is potentially the most jinx-filled post I’ll ever write. But since I’m not a huge believer in that type of thing, I’ll just go ahead and write it.

(Knock on wood, knock on wood…)

As of this past weekend (Saturday to be specific) it has been one year since I’ve been injured. One year, you guys!

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, I was forced to cut short a 20 mile Chicago Marathon training run because my ankle blew up to the point of not being able to walk. It was heart-breaking, and although I ultimately was able to run the race and had a great time doing so, the injury was still a wake-up call of sorts.

And since then, I haven’t had to take a day off of running for anything other than basic aches, pains, and soreness. Kind of hard to believe! And if any of you are thinking, “It’s just a year Robyn, what’s the big deal?” let me recap some things for you:

In 2012 I was hurt three separate times, all of which were the result of improper (too much) training and general bodily negligence.

– In April, I got horrible knee bursitis which completely threw off my Tacoma Marathon training. It took a cortisone shot and a lot of Aleve to weasel my way out of that one in time for the race.

-In May/June, the evil IT Band Syndrome got me good, and I was limping with knee pain for nearly two months. No running whatsoever.

-In September (as previously mentioned) my ankle tendonitis nearly eliminated my chance to run the Chicago Marathon. It was a little miraculous that I actually made it to and finished the race, and it wasn’t without a lot of luck and prescription anti-inflammatories.

I was actually very fortunate in my year of injuries. While they definitely were the result of over-training, none of them were very permanent and could mostly be quick-fixed with rest and drugs. I definitely consider myself lucky in that regard, but I still knew that my luck wouldn’t hold up if I didn’t make some changes.

It’s one of those “Fool me once, fool me twice…” scenarios. But in this case, I was certainly the one to be shamed, and I knew that these running injuries were going to keep happening if my habits stayed the same.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, and it was time for me to change.

And here I am…a year later, and (okay fine, lots of knocking on wood) I’m healthy and running happily. I will be the first to admit that a lot of this is luck; running and injuries sometimes just go hand-in-hand, no matter how careful you are. For some reason, I’ve been able to avoid the inevitable injuries that can knock us out.

However, I have definitely made changes that I’m certain have played a role in eliminating overuse injuries. Here’s a few things that I think have made the biggest difference:

1 rest day per week. No matter what. I used to take a rest day once every 2 (sometimes 3) weeks, and now I don’t know how that was even possible. I start to crave my rest days, which I also think means that I’m working harder during the other days.

Foot strike. I know this is a debated topic, but between last year and this year, I have fully transitioned to a more minimal shoe and have completely changed from a heavy heel-striker to a mid-foot striker. It could be a coincidence, but I’m guessing that this has a lot to do with the lessened impact.

Added walking. I walk every day between the water taxi and my office building (~.7 miles each way) and often times this is right after I’ve run and showered. I could be wrong, but I think the prolonged striding and extra “shake out” that walking provides has helped my legs recover more from my running.

Strength. This is potentially number one. Up until last August or so, I never did any kind of leg strength training. I always wanted my legs to be fresh for running, so I never bothered with squats or lunges or anything like that. I kind of cringe to think about this now, given that I’ve done a 180 in that regard. Currently, about twice a week, I do all kinds of strengthening, flexibility, and balance (<–super helpful!) work thanks to the lifting class I found. Not only do we work the big running muscles (hammies, quads, and glutes) but also the smaller, less obvious muscles that ultimately make a big impact on both performance and injury-proneness (not really a word, but I think you understand). In a nutshell, I think I had it wrong before; cross-training for running should actually be more about strength and less about other types of cardio. This might not be the same for everyone, but I’m convinced that adding strength training and dropping spinning has been perhaps the number one injury prevention technique.

Here’s the kicker to all this: I’m actually running more days per week and more miles than I was last year when I kept getting hurt. I have built up to this in a totally safe way, no doubt, but I think it’s interesting to look at how I’ve actually been able to do more since I’ve made the above changes.

And let it be known: more running wasn’t even the intention when I decided I needed to reevaluate my habits; in fact, it was actually more the opposite of that. But along the way, I think I found that with the added balance and the added rest, running was granted to me more freely. Some weeks are better than others, and some weeks require more rest and less miles. Ultimately, though, I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on the balancing act of the sport. Much like any relationship, it’s very give and take; the more you nurture your running with things like rest days, stretching, rolling, and nutrition, the more it will give back—in the form of more pain-free and happy miles.

I’m constantly reminded of how much like life running is, and how much it can teach us about other aspects of our lives. This past year has really solidified my belief that nothing changes if nothing changes, but also that we are in control. I think for all of last year, I felt as if running owned me; like it was an abusive relationship, and running had all the power. Of course this was wrong, but it was hard to see things otherwise when the sport I loved so very much kept disappointing me.

Now, I realize I had the power all along, and in fact I was the one who was abusing it. Today, I feel infinitely more control over my training and my running, which is an incredibly empowering and comforting feeling. As a result, I feel like I’ve become both stronger and faster—and perhaps most importantly, more conscious of both my limitations and potential within the sport. So long as I continue to give and take, I have a feeling that that potential will continue to turn into results.

As evidenced also by this past year of three different PRs, it’s safe to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit safer.

Take care of your bodies everyone. We all love to run as much as we can, but sometimes our running, just like us, needs extra TLC.

And if you are hurt right now…here’s one of the most wonderful things I discovered last year after sitting on multiple sidelines: running isn’t going anywhere. It will be right there to take off with you whenever you’re ready again.

Ragnar Ultra Relay- The good, the bad, and the ugly

Such an original title, no?

Oh well…it is very appropriate in describing how this post details what went well and what did not go so well this past weekend.

Something that went well: tattoo application.

Something that went well: tattoo application.

Overall, I would give the race and my experience two big thumbs up. The memories I know will stick are all the happy ones, and that’s really what’s important in the grand scheme.

However, there were certain dark points this past weekend, some of which could have been avoided, some of which were inevitable. At any rate, I thought I’d give you a look at the behind-the-scenes footage, besides elevation charts and mileage.

And a fair warning, there’s a lot of honestly coming up, some of which might be an over-share. But, my hope is that perhaps some of my experience can help others in their own relay experiences, and sometimes that requires getting a little bit nitty-gritty. And let’s be real…modesty doesn’t really exist in a running relay, especially in an ultra. So, sorry I’m not sorry I guess.

The Good

The thing that surprised me the most on this adventure was that the running actually was—dare I say—the easiest part? Well, not necessarily that it was easy, because it certainly took a lot out of us. But much to my surprise…I felt the best all weekend when I was out on my runs.

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I attribute this to a few things:

1) Fresh air—after sitting in the van for hours, it felt really good to spend time outside.

2) Moving! I would get restless sitting for so long. And, as runners, I think we both consciously and subconsciously get jealous when we’re witnessing others running. Basically, it really just felt good to do what we came for—to run.

3) Endorphins, runner’s high, etc.—when you’re desperate for energy, even these physiologically-created sources do wonders for a person in a depleted state. I felt much more awake after my runs than I did while chilling in the van.

For example, after my 5:30 am hilly 15.5 miler, I got in the van, exclaimed I felt “so great!” and everyone in the van said that positivity wasn’t allowed because they were all grumpy (okay, it was mostly a joke). But, just goes to show that while I was definitely as exhausted as all of them, running really helped offer a boost.

The Bad

Don't I look like I'm having  fun?

Don’t I look like I’m having fun?

In my opinion, the hardest part of Ragnar/an ultra relay is the lack of sleep. I’m a runner who really loves her sleep; I try and get as much as I can, and I can almost always attribute a bad run to being sleep deprived. That said, I knew running 35 miles on “van sleeping” would be interesting.

I think I underestimated just how little sleep there would be…and by little, I mean “none.” I was definitely warned about this, but I figured a half hour nap here and there was bound to happen.

Nope, nada. The best we could all hope for was a few minutes of eyes closed and feet up. I did manage to do this for a little while around 3 am, and it was definitely helpful, but obviously it didn’t make up for a full night without sleep.

To make matters worse, on Thursday night before Ragnar, I think I slept 5 hours or so as prep and race excitement got the better of my normal in-bed-by-9 schedule.

The most zombie-esque point of the race was between 11 pm- 4 am or so. I felt foggy, cranky, and my head hurt from being awake for so long. Luckily, as stated above, my early morning run woke me up and gave me enough energy to crank through the rest of the day. It’s weird how that works; it’s like your body forgets you haven’t slept and somehow generates enough energy to keep going.

Of course, this would end immediately after crossing the finish line. We were all zonked on the drive back to Seattle, and while it’s a petty thing to be upset about…I feel like the fatigue takes away a little bit from the glory of finishing. It took until the next day for me to really internalize just how awesome the race was, and I’m certain it was because I was too tired to process it beforehand. I guess this is the same thing that happens after a marathon, and it’s kind of like wanting your cake and eating it too. But, you know, it would be nice to actually feel up for a beer with your team after the race, right? I don’t think that’s too whiny.

But, of course, the fatigue is all part of the experience and makes the craziness of running 200 miles all the more crazy. I have a feeling 50 and 100 ultrarunners would be laughing in my face right now.

The Ugly

So those stomach issues I’ve been mentioning over the last couple of months? Yea, so, turns out…digestive diseases really, really, really don’t like straight-through-the-night relay races. And in fact, they will punish you cruelly for thinking that you can take them on one.

Basically, from about 9 pm through 5 am, I couldn’t stop using the bathroom. Thank goodness there were so many port-a-potties everywhere, because at every stop we came to I would need to beeline for those life-saving Honey Buckets. And once I’d be done, more often than not, I’d have to turn around and go right back in.

It sucked. And while stomach issues seemed to be a theme for our van, I think that my colitis just had a raging fit and amplified to uncontrollable levels. I think it also didn’t help that I was so hydrated (something that tends to fuel my issues). It was a catch-22; I needed to stay hydrated because of all the running and all the “going,” but it was one of the causes of all my ailments. I also really wanted to try and drink more coffee for the aforementioned fatigue, but I couldn’t handle anything that would be a diuretic.

Fortunately, things seemed to calm down after my second run (and thankfully nothing went wrong during the run), but this was definitely the worst part of Ragnar for me. I’m going to try and figure out exactly what fueled it (besides the off-hours and the excess water) before Spokane to Sandpoint so I can try to avoid these issues a little bit.

But ultimately? The good parts far outweighed any of the less-than-stellar parts. I’d do again in a heartbeat (and obviously I will be doing it again…:) ) and I think that some experiences need to have a little grit and grime in them to really bring to light the awesome parts. Running down that finishing chute probably wouldn’t have felt as good if I didn’t suffer a little bit to get there.

Just like running in day-to-day life, it’s the bad runs that make the good ones that much better, and I think it’s the tough parts of Ragnar that make the whole experience so memorable. And hey…if you can’t bond with people while having uncontrollable bathroom issues, when can you, right?

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What do you think are the BEST and WORST parts about relay races?

Attempting to Get My Groove Back

I’m alive! Hello!

Once again, I’ve found myself without much to say…therefore I just don’t say anything at all.

The truth is, running hasn’t been too great. It’s actually been pretty hard. Until yesterday, I hadn’t really had what I would call a “good run” since before Eugene. Not that they were all bad, some were just fine, but for whatever reason recently I have just felt out of my groove.

At first it was lingering marathon soreness, then it was a week of just feeling sluggish, then there was a week of intentionally really slow runs. And now? I don’t know. I’m caught in this weird place of really wanting to run but wanting the runs to feel good and to have that magical endorphin feeling connected to them, which hasn’t been happening.

I was getting impatient. Here I am, pretending/attempting to “train” for this crazy relay business and it just doesn’t seem to be working. The miles are there, but the satisfaction isn’t, if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s a little burnout, but I don’t really think so. I think my legs just went through the grinder during Eugene, and I was too anxious to return to normalcy. Marathons are tough man.

There’s also the issue of my way-too-tight right calf, which has also been annoying. My achilles/foot/calf have just been generally tight, and it’s taken a lot of extra rolling and stretching. I think it’s actually my shoes, which is weird since I’ve never felt that my Pure Connects didn’t have enough support, but maybe it’s time for a new pair. (That sentence sounds awful, sorry, but hopefully you understand). They don’t have a ton of miles on them (compared to others I’ve run in) but I don’t know…they just feel worn out. Have you ever had a faulty pair?

Anyway, this is all kind of leading somewhere.

Saturday was a great example of the whole “not-so-great running” scenario I’ve been facing. My plan was to do a double run day. 12 in the morning, 6 in the afternoon, to help simulate some relay running. The 12 in the morning were fine, but not awesome. Par for the course recently. I finished feeling fine, and looking forward to the slow-and-easy run in the afternoon.

Wrong. wrong . wrong.

Those 6 miles felt like complete garbage. I was wearing compression socks for the first time ever, and both my calves felt like rocks the entire time. Read: so far, NOT a fan of the compression trend. My AM run ended around 11, and my PM run started around 4, so maybe there wasn’t enough time between the two?? I don’t know. Either way, I know for a fact that double-days have worked for me in the past and this one was pure poop. I took my frustration out on a Red Robin burger and that helped, per usual.

I’m being dramatic. But it’s just not fun when running is hard. NEWS FLASH ROBYN, RUNNING IS HARD. I’m such a whiner, sorry.

But I was determined to get back in my groove. So after some yoga-action on Sunday (two weeks in a row, I don’t even recognize myself), I tried my best to orchestrate a good run for Memorial Day.

I picked my favorite 10 mile route, decided on no watch, and pre-determined the brunch spot for afterward. If running wasn’t going to be fun, then damnit…I was going to make it fun.

I opened the front door on a mission to make my lemons into lemonade, and…womp, womp, womp: RAIN. Seattle has really been showing off its aversion to summer recently. And for someone who is typically a forecast expert, this wetness came as a surprise.

I considered the treadmill for about .6 seconds, and finally decided to get over myself and giddy-up.

And wouldn’t you know it…despite the miniscule caveat, I FINALLY had a great run. It felt smooth, it felt fresh, and the rain only helped set the stage for the peaceful running stage.

I finished feeling much more restored than I have in a while. Sometimes going through the motions of running just doesn’t cut it, and when that happens I really need the synchronization of body and mind to remind me of the magic of the sport.

I really hate complaining about when running is “hard.” Every single day I try and be thankful for just the ability to run, as there are many who can’t. It feels so petty, then, to complain about something that most of the time I consider to be a huge gift. But sometimes you gotta let it out. Everything in life ebbs and flows, and running is no different. Per usual, sometimes we need the bad to appreciate the good…and for me, the bad runs also really help me to focus on the other important factors like stretching, hydrating, fueling, etc. All of which should never fall to the wayside, but oftentimes do when we aren’t forced to consider them.

So I guess you can say I’m (hopefully) getting my groove back. I’m going to resist the selfish urge to complain when the going gets tough, and when it does I’ll try to remember that no one is forcing me to do it. And really, running is hard. It just is sometimes, and it’s one of the many reasons why it’s so great.

How was YOUR weekend?

Post-Marathon Thoughts

My brain always goes back and forth between two different things once I finish a big goal race:

“OH MY GOSH, MUST DO SOMETHING ELSE NOW! Half-marathon PR? Ultra? Another 26.2 in two weeks? Gimme something BIG!”

and

“I don’t want to anything! I’ve earned it! Let’s take 6 rest days a week and on the other day run slow for 2 miles! Summer vacation! Hooray!”

I’m sure you can guess which of these is more prevalent than the other…but for the most part, these are the two extremes I’m vacillating between.

It always happens, and I’ve finally figured out why.

I am currently both: a) directionless, and b) burnt out.

I’ve been focusing on one singular goal for 4-5 months. It’s been getting me up in the morning when I wanted to sleep, it’s given me intention and purpose in my gut-busting workouts, and it’s kept me excited to put all my hard work to the test. Frankly, I love having a big race/goal on the horizon, which is why more often than not I have a BIG goal on the drawing board.

At the same time, however, our bodies and brains can only handle so much focus. The thought of jumping into any kind of training anytime soon sounds incredibly unappealing. It makes me shudder a little bit to think of abiding by the governing powers of a training schedule at the very least for another month.

So as you can see, there is a bit of a conflict of interest between my two mindsets right now. I want to respect the fact that I’ve given a lot to training during these past few months and give myself a break. The marathon distance, as well, beats you to a pulp, and I know that while I may feel completely recovered—I’m far from it.

So there’s that. But there’s also the case of “post marathon blues” that some of you may have heard of or experienced yourself. I am certainly susceptible to these feelings, and I already can feel them taking form. Essentially, post-marathon blues are what’s leftover once the glitz and glamour of the race are over. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely done reveling in my BQ state—but I definitely feel a little loss now that my training’s over.

I really enjoy the journey of a big goal. I love the prospect of trying to make my far-fetched dreams into a reality, and it makes the process of running day after day so much more enjoyable to know that there’s this sparkly potential for greatness out there.

So while training can get overwhelming and mundane at some points, I am almost always a little sad to have my training come to an end, even when the final race result is satisfactory.

If I’m being honest, I think part of this feeling is that the Eugene end wasn’t 100% satisfactory. I know I have more in me, I know there’s more potential out there. And while I definitely don’t have the energy nor the desire the jump into anything for a while, the fire is definitely there.

So where does that leave me? Well, somewhere in the middle of the previously mentioned extremes, I suppose.

I do love knowing that running offers so many options. Running fast, slow, long, short, trail, road, inside, etc…there’s plenty to choose from. And while I don’t feel ready mentally or physically to make my next choice just yet, I’m excited at the prospect of something new being out there.

In a lot of ways, I still feel very new to this sport, and I love that. I know I’ll figure out someday what my limitations are, but for now…I’m choosing to believe/hope that there are a lot more glass ceilings to break through.

Do you experience the same type of post-marathon blues, or do you kick up your feet and lounge for a while?

Eugene Marathon Race Recap

Something funny happens when you finally experience something that you’ve been thinking about and dreaming about for a long time: it doesn’t feel real.

That’s how I feel today about Sunday’s race. Because although I definitely felt the build-up, the pain, and the joy of it at the time, I’m still having a hard time internalizing that it happened. 

And it did happen…that moment that I’ve been focusing on and training toward for months and months; it’s actually a reality.

Spoiler alert:

CaptureSo while it might not have totally sunk in yet, I’m so happy that today I can announce that I did indeed qualify for Boston!

This race had the quintessential makings of a marathon experience: the adrenaline-filled, blissful first half, the scary and lonely middle miles, a head first slam into the wall, and a finish line that felt like the best place in the world.

Let’s go back to the beginning:

I was really confident in my training going into this race. I felt as if I had done everything I could, and I knew that unless disaster struck, I would have a pretty good shot at my goals.

BF and I did a little shake out 4-miler on Saturday, and we headed to the expo which helped crank up my excitement.

There was a little caveat though in terms of my race prep that had me worried. On Thursday night, I slept really poorly, as I did again on Friday night thanks to a late night of driving down to Oregon. Now, I think we all know that the golden rule of marathoning is that you want to get a lot of sleep the night before race eve, as a restless sleep is pretty much a given on the night before any race. So, on Saturday I was already worn out from the two nights before, and couldn’t stop thinking about how important it was that I sleep well that night.

And guess what? When you think about sleep, particularly on a night before you attempt a huge running goal, there is no possible way you can fall asleep. And that’s exactly what happened to me. Despite my fatigue, I spent hours awake attempting every trick in the book to wind down and shut off my brain. When my 5:30 alarm went off, I knew there was no way I had slept more than 3 hours…all of which was in 20 minute increments. Not exactly comforting.

But, I couldn’t do anything about it. And despite feeling exhausted, the race day hype kicked in like clockwork, and I was excited to get going.

I got to the start line in plenty of time for a porta-potty stop and good corral placement. I even managed to see Lora at the start! I was really impressed with the set-up and general energy of the starting area, especially that it was right outside of Hayward field where we would eventually end up.

After the National Anthem was sung and a moment of silence was held for Boston (so beautiful and powerful), it was only a matter of minutes before they let our corral cross the start line. And off we went!

Despite a gradual uphill start, I was filled with energy from the crowds and the general atmosphere. I really internalized that I was in track town, running a marathon, and striving for a goal that felt unattainable just a year ago. Needless to say, I clocked in a wee bit too fast:

Mile 1: 7:36

I knew I needed to buckle in, get it together, and run the race I planned out. I didn’t want to regret going too fast, so I spent a good amount of time in the first few miles getting to an 8 minute pace. I don’t like looking at my watch so often, but in races, I’ve found that a lot of my pacing instincts are thrown off.

Mile 2: 7:55

Mile 3: 8:01

I ran into Sarah just before mile 4, who stood out immediately in her bridal running outfit. She was running the half and gave me some good words of encouragement. Thanks Sarah!

Mile 4: 8:03

Mile 5: 7:49

The “hill” that was promised at mile 4 was barely anything to worry about, and there was a very nice downhill for a while afterward. I try to use downhills to my advantage as much as possible, so I forgave the quicker paces that were showing up.

Mile 6: 7:53

Mile 7: 7:58

Still, I needed to focus on the “slower start” I had promised myself I’d stick to. I knew another hill was coming up in mile 8, which would obviously help.

I saw my cheer squad for the first time also around 7.5, which is where I took my first few Honey Stingers as well. I loved seeing them, and I knew seeing them later on during the race was going to be really helpful. It certainly added that they were wearing these shirts:

My family surprised me with Run Birdie Run shirts!

Surprise! Run Birdie Run shirts!

Mile 8: 7:56

Mile 9: 8:04

Side note: The “hills” in this race aren’t anything to worry about. If you train with hills even a little bit, you wouldn’t bat an eye at this course.

By this point, we were leaving the cute Eugene neighborhoods and heading toward the river. We passed by Hayward and I caught a glimpse of the enormous sign that read: “Believe in the Power of the Run.”

Track town, you cut me right to the core.

I knew we would be splitting from the half-ers around mile 10, and I mentally prepared myself to get into the marathon zone. It’s those middle miles that can feel scary and daunting, so I tried to psych myself up for them.

Mile 10: 7:57

Mile 11: 8:02

Mile 12: 7:55

I was leap-frogging back and forth with a few runners, but it felt like we were pulling each other along instead of competing. Around this point, a shirtless dude with the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen starting matching me stride-for-stride, and it was obvious he wanted to share a pace. Alrighty sir, let’s do it.

Mile 13: 8:00

I LOVE reaching the halfway point in marathons. Mentally, I start to count down instead of up, and I was feeling pretty good at this point as well, which was encouraging. I had clocked just under a 1:44 half, which made me think that a sub 3:30 might be possible.

Miles 13-17 were probably the least memorable for me. They were in a lonely, residential area that was a little boring. I remembered getting to mile 17 and thinking, “Less than 10 to go!” which helped. I was definitely starting to feel tired at this point, and by tired I mean literally…I could have curled up on the side of the road and fallen asleep.

Mile 14: 7:53

Mile 15: 7:55

Mile 16: 7:49

Mile 17: 7:55

My legs were feeling pretty good, although my right leg was doing a strange thing that it had done on a few training runs where my glute, hamstring, calf, and even foot all got tight. Not painful, just tight. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t run through, but it definitely reminded me that I was running a marathon. We were on a beautiful path along the river at this point, which helped mix up the race and kept things interesting.

Mile 18: 8:00

Mile 19: 8:00

I saw my family again during mile 18, which provided another boost. More Honey Stingers, and my mom ran with me a few paces to check in. I admitted to her that I felt tired, and she reminded me to slow down if I needed to. No worries Ma, I had been thinking that same thing.

It was comforting to know that I’d gained a lot of time in terms of running under 3:35. While I always love the idea of negative splitting, sometimes in the marathon you need to go with the flow and let your body do the talking, so I gave in and let myself slow down a little bit. And much to my dismay, at mile 20, that horrible iPod Shuffle voice came on and said, “Battery low,” which elicited more than a few four-letter words. Probably the worst timing. So I shut it off, saving the final dregs of battery for the end.

Mile 20: 8:02

Mile 21: 8:10

I could feel the pain creeping in, and while it didn’t feel all-consuming yet, I knew it was going to be a long final 5 miles.

“But it’s only 5 more miles! You almost always run further than that on average days.”

Those were the kind of thoughts I kept trying to get in my head, but unfortunately there were other voices shouting a bit louder.

Just before mile 22, the familiar dark feeling from Tacoma last year started the veer its ugly head. I had a hard time telling if it was actually the same type of pain as last year or just the bad memories that got me so unnerved, but either way, I did everything I could to remind myself to be smart. I allowed myself a 5 second walk break to get my bearings, and then pressed on.

Mile 22: 8:24

At this point, my legs were toasted. My feet felt hot, and it didn’t help that the temperature was rising. I stuck to the shady parts of the path as much as I could and dumped water under my hat at the water stations. Most of the fatigue was in my head, which I instinctively knew was from having not slept the night before. I saw my family again at 22, which certainly helped, but I didn’t like the idea of them seeing me in such a bad space.

Apparently though, I hid it well. BF started running with me for a bit and said I looked great, which was nearly impossible for me to believe- but I took it as a sign that my body was doing better than my head.

Mile 23: 8:28

Admittedly, it was comforting to know that I could run up to 10 minute miles and still come in under 3:35. I had already resolved that I would have a huge positive split, and that was okay. As much pain as I was in, it kind of humored me to think, “Oh, this is why the marathon is so hard. This is what the wall feels like, huh? I get it now.”

But, I knew that with such a big goal, a goal that was far below my current PR, this race was going to take a fight. So I fought. The miles felt so incredibly slow. The 8:30 pace I was holding felt like a 7 minute pace, and I could feel every single incline and decline in the road.

Around this point, I spotted Lauren up ahead, who I’d already seen twice earlier cheering like a champ. She started running alongside me and asked how I felt, which I fully admitted to feeling horrible. She gave a lot of words of encouragement,  including offering to continue running with me. While I was incapable of expressing it or realizing it at the time, this was a huge save for me. She distracted me and kept me going when all I wanted to do was stop. I took another short walk break, and as slow as they were…the miles kept going.

Mile 24: 8:39

Mile 25: 8:49

It was excruciating at this point. I felt like my head was crushed into tunnel vision, and it took everything I had to keep the BQ goal in sight. Seeing Hayward come into view was helpful, and while I was still battling the ghost of Tacoma Marathon past, I knew I was stronger this time around. Lauren was a game-changer, and I cannot begin to thank her enough for pulling me through those final miles.

She dropped me right before the entrance to Hayward, where I was greeted with a huge Oiselle cheer group of familiar faces which helped get me excited.

Mile 26: 9:03

Coming into Hayward was surreal. It was something that I’d been envisioning for so long it didn’t even feel real. I was in so much pain, but so happy to be done. It’s actually a little hard for me to remember since I was so foggy and tired at the time, but when I heard my name on the loud speaker and saw the 3:32 on my watch, all those dreadful and slow miles melted away.

Photo courtesy of BF.

Photo courtesy of BF.

I’d done it. I held my hand over my heart and raised my hand in the air. Boston, that was for you.

It was so relieving to be done. I was a little off kilter once I crossed the finish line, so a volunteer helped support me a little bit. I got my medal, got my bearings, and headed toward the finisher’s chute. I immediately felt nauseated and steered clear of the food they were offering. I wanted so badly to sit down, actually to lay down, but I knew I needed to keep walking. I have never felt so sick after a race, which was annoying considering all I wanted to do was celebrate, and I knew I needed to find my people.

BF was on the hunt for me, and we spotted each other pretty quickly. Not too long after, I joined up with the rest of my crew, and after a few minutes of my hands on my knees and some deep breathing, I started to feel a bit better and the accomplishment started to register.

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The whole crew!

The whole crew!

It’s funny how pain can mask other emotions so much. Of course all I wanted to do at the finish line was cry tears of joy and relish the feeling that I’d accomplished my goal, so it’s a little disheartening that hitting the wall so hard took away a bit from that.

However, my wonderful support crew helped draw me back into the light. We visited the foam rollers they had available in a tent (quite convenient), hung out on the turf, and eventually made our way out.

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Granddad and me...perhaps my new favorite picture.

Granddad and me…perhaps my new favorite picture.

After a heavenly shower and a change into flip lops and stretch pants, I started to feel like myself again. My appetite was no where to be found, my legs were completely shot, and my arm was chafed to the point of a scar, but I knew that it was all worth it. There’s something incredible that happens at the end of a marathon. You are stripped of every last defense and ounce of strength inside of you, and yet you still manage to do what your body and brain are both fighting against. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to hurt. It’s the fight against the pain that makes the marathon so mighty.

And in the end, I don’t care that I had a 4 minute positive split. I don’t care that I can’t walk down stairs today, and I certainly don’t care that I lost so much sleep over this race. I did exactly what I came to Eugene to do, and the reality that I nabbed my BQ is settling in more and more every minute.

And truth be told, something as great and as honorable as running the Boston marathon, especially next year, shouldn’t be easy. It supposed to be earned, to be fought for, and it took a good kick in the butt Sunday for me to truly realize what that honor is all about.

Another new favorite.

Another new favorite.

I cannot begin to thank everyone enough for your words of support and encouragement. This community is filled with an unbelievable kinship, and on Sunday I was reminded once again of how proud I am to call myself a runner. A big congratulations to everyone who raced this weekend! I hope you all celebrated well and are resting properly.

If you need me, I’ll be with my chocolate and my pillow. Probably wearing my medal.

Thanks Eugene! You proved your legacy ten-fold. And here’s hoping that next year’s spring race takes place in another legendary place, on a different coast 🙂

What’s Worked: Reflections on Marathon Training

As I approach these last few weeks of marathon prep— namely, the taper stage— I’ve been reflecting a bit on how this bout of training has fared compared to others.

There were a lot of different strategies I incorporated this time around which made for a lot of new experiences. And while it’s still 17 days ‘til race day (*shudder*), I think it’s pretty safe to say that these strategies have worked.

As of right now, I feel healthy, strong, and mentally prepared to make Eugene an “A” race. Since I’ve had more than a few marathon-training mishaps in the past, I thought I’d write a bit about the things I’ve implemented this time that seemed to have made the biggest difference.

Following an actual training schedule.

I know, right? NUTS.

But honestly, other than roughly sketching my first marathon training around a Hal Higdon program, I’ve never really followed a “schedule.” Before, I would just try to gradually increase my mileage and my long-run distances. And somehow I kept winding up with injuries that forced me to take weeks off at a time. I didn’t go into my last two marathons 100% healthy. In fact, I was more concerned with my injuries flaring in those races than the actual running. Luckily, I was able to complete both races—but they didn’t have that climactic, “I gave it everything I have” feel that 26.2 is supposed to have.

So I changed my method. I bought the Advanced Marathoning book by Pete Pfitzinger and decided to let him take the reins. I made a few tweaks to the prescribed programs (long runs on Saturday instead of Sunday), but otherwise—it was all up to Pete. The schedule wasn’t too much more demanding in terms of mileage, but if definitely offered components that I’d never used before.

Suddenly, all of my runs had intention behind them.  There were paces I never, ever trained at—both fast and slow—and workouts I’d never done before. I liked it though. This new approach was refreshing and interesting—and it added some color to the “10 miles at an average pace” runs that had become too frequent in my schedule.

I now have a pretty good idea of how my 5k pace, half-marathon pace, and goal marathon pace all feel according to effort as opposed to solely by my watch. I feel more in tune with my exertion levels and when to push and when to hold back. I also have a much better gauge of my strengths and my weaknesses—which feels good both going into race day and future training. For instance, to work on: hills, tempos, and workouts in the middle of long runs. To capitalize on: race day brain/competitive nature, speed work, and finishing strong.

I love that this new schedule has given me new favorite workouts, too. Somehow I’ve developed an infatuation for 800 repeats as well as half-marathon pace shorter runs—both of which require hard, fast rap…which I also kind of love right now.

Rest Days

I think there has been one week this entire training cycle that I didn’t take a rest day. Otherwise, they have been as integral to each week as the long run. I’ve gone from avoiding and hating any rest days at all to welcoming them with open arms whenever they come.

I am certain that this change has made a critical difference in my body’s health, but perhaps more so—I’m convinced that they’ve done wonders for my brain. While I definitely still get a little restless on rest days—it’s the temporary holding back that gets me excited to get back out there the next day. My workouts or runs the day after rest days always feel so fresh and strong, and I’m having a hard time remembering back to the time when I disliked rest days.

Through this, I bluntly have to state that, IMO, any runner who doesn’t take at least one day OFF a week is fooling themselves. There is everything to be lost, and nothing to be gained, by not letting our bodies recover. I’ve learned this the hard way too many times, and it took me too long to realize that this habit was actually the thing holding me back.

In our sport, sometimes the greatest strength of all can come from when we go against our instincts to keep pushing. It’s a strange concept in a country riddled with laziness and lack of motivation— but something I’ve come to realize is that there can always be too much of a good thing.

Running-specific strength training

On a similar self-preservation topic, I think a key component of this training cycle has been the strengthening I’ve incorporated.

I’ve always been a regular “lifter”—but mostly in an arms-and-core-only kind of way. Part of it was that I didn’t like straying from routine, and the other part was that I never wanted my legs to be too sore to run.

Overuse injuries that were all stemming from muscular weaknesses kind of forced me to change my habits. I started going to the total-body strength class that I always talk about, and all of a sudden—the aches that always plagued me weren’t there anymore.

The class toasts every single muscle group—including my glutes, hammies, and quads, and it also incorporates a lot of plyometric work that improves balance and ankle strength. All of it is so very good for runners, and while I don’t love the weekly DOMs screaming in the back of my legs, I have also seen my recovery time and speed increase.

And fine, maybe—MAYBE—PSJJ has helped too. I still hate it. Day 101 today, woof.

What’s interesting to me about this whole strength-training concept is that I’ve actually decreased the amount of other cardio-cross training during this cycle. I spin or swim maybe once a week, and otherwise it’s just running and strength classes. I used to be a big believer in a more-is-better approach to cross-training, but I’m starting to think that for me—my body can handle running better than I previously thought, so long as I’m diligent about strength. Which is encouraging, because if there’s a choice of activities…I think you can guess that run > everything else.

Food

I love food. I’m very non-discriminatory when it comes to the food I love. As in, I love a big bowl of vegetables and quinoa as much as I love a piece of chocolate pie.

Really though, I’m all about diversification and all-encompassing love when it comes to my food choices. It’s part of what helps me feel balanced, and I like to think that it helps me become not too obsessed with what I put in my body.

However, the fact of the matter is, I have a digestive system that really does not appreciate being deprived of the things it really needs, therefore ample portions of fruits, vegetables, fats, and protein are essential to ensuring I’m not keeled over in abdominal pain every night.

And not to mention running. I’ve done a bit of experimenting this training cycle to see exactly what types of fuel (food) are best on my stomach for both comfort and performance. Instead of focusing on, “Okay, I know I need a lot of water and a lot of pasta before my long run…then I can have whatever the f I want afterwards,” I’ve started focusing more on the before-and-after fueling of every run. Through this, I’ve discovered that food is really magical. Good, whole, nutrient-dense food can make such a monumental difference in how we perform and how we recover, and it’s this special attention I’ve given to figuring out what works for me that’s yielded a greater understanding of what’s best.

A list of my current staples: sweet potatoes, kale, peanut butter, avocados, eggs, oatmeal, almond milk, apples, bananas, spinach, berries, quinoa, almonds, rice cakes, pasta, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, chicken sausage, squash, Picky Bars, and black beans.

Of course, I stray from these staples often—there’s lots of chocolate and cookies to be found too—but around my long runs and around key workouts, these are what I’ll go for. A lot of it has to do with my bad digestion, admittedly, but I suppose it’s a blessing in disguise because it’s forced me to think about fueling as opposed to rewarding.

….

Along with all these things, I think that being keenly focused on a tangible, quantitative goal has really helped me through this training. Whenever I get the urge to fall back into an over-training or haphazard habit, I remind myself of the truth that nothing changes if nothing changes.

Do I want to get in an extra couple of miles, or do I want to qualify for Boston?

Whenever I put things in this perspective…the answer’s always the same.

I’m ready to see if the changes I’vee made, and the habits I’ve broken, will yield something great—something I’ve wanted for a long time.

More than anything, I’m happy to have had a solid training cycle that has helped me improve as a runner and has helped me rediscover so many new and wonderful things about the sport I love so much.

 

What works for you in marathon training? What doesn’t work? What changes have you made that make the biggest difference in your training?