Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hello, Global Warming. My Name is Toasty.

Wow. Who put warm spring day on his or her holiday wish list? Looks like you weren’t quite as naughty as you should have been this year.

And I totally took advantage of it.

Landon was in town for the holidays and gave me good reason to make it back down to Lock 29 for a run on the Towpath.

The air was perfect—65 degrees with only a few patches of wind and no rain—for the 5ish-miler and the trails, well, they were perfect for getting my shoes dirty. Half mud and half puddle. Good news is that the mud and puddles switched off enough to give my shoes a bath in the final stretch, so everything came out clean in the wash.

My legs felt a little muddy all day on Saturday, though. Running with Landon is always invigorating (I’m like a puppy who gets way too excited when she sees her friends), but I was just plain slow and too sluggish. Perhaps it’s the out-of-whack holiday sleep patterns. Or the eight pounds I’ve gained since Thanksgiving. My legs have been screaming about how carrying this extra weight was totally not in their contract. They might be on strike.

Which is why it was totally appropriate to visit Main Street Cupcakes while we were in the neighborhood…

Even I was surprised at myself, though, when I bought 12 cupcakes (six chocolate lava for Neil, two chai for a friend and four for future use) and didn’t eat any of them before I made it home. Instead I sipped some pomegranate juice and ate rosemary loaf. See? There’s salvation for me yet.

Lucky for me, this mass of holiday celebrations will be coming to a close. (I hope everyone had a happy season.) And putting “stop binging” on my new-year to-do won’t be necessary. Who needs to wait until Jan. 1 to do these things anyway?

Friday morning runs with E*Speed have been a good habit to pick up (thanks, girl!) and sticking to lunchtime treks through the Heights should keep me on track for the Cleveland Marathon in May. I hope to run at least part of that race with Landon.

And here’s crossing my fingers that we get the same weather we had on Saturday, Dec. 27, on Sunday, May 17!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

And Now Back to Food Week…

One of the advantages to my obsessor’s mind is that it’s pretty easy to wrangle myself free of one object when I’ve found a better object over which to obsess. Case in point: the recovery meal.

Did I mention the power of the recovery meal? Well, let me just tell you about the power of the recovery meal.

Lately it’s been some combination of bagels and protein smoothies or Teahouse Noodles’ pad thai with chicken, tofu and fresh veggies. Whatever my recovery meal, it’s light and delicious, chock full of antioxidants, lean protein and carbs. We’ll call it the magic three.

Because eating (actually, I should say enjoying food) has long been a huge motivator, it was only a matter of time before I found a new way to use it in my training. Sure, the dessert goal helped me reach my first 30-mile month and the cupcake bar pushed me to break my first 8:00/mile race. But what could be next?

Now it’s not about reach singular goals. It’s bigger carrot this time. And a tad more advantageous that some of the sweets I’ve craved in the past.

In a previous post I mentioned that I bring a “runner’s lunch” to work on days when I plan to run. And I can only eat the lunch if I am, in fact, a runner that day. There’s no “I’ll run after work” or “I’ll double up tomorrow.” I have to earn my recovery meal with something from which to recover. Like a quality workout.

So far it’s worked every time.

The downside, of course is that it might work too well. My training plan calls for Mondays off, which works perfectly with my schedule because I always have meetings galore on Mondays and feel weeks behind by Monday afternoon. Sad, huh?

But I worked my butt off to get a bunch of work-related things done this weekend and hit Monday feeling just as burned out as they say you should when you over do it.

Two morning meetings later: BOOM! No motivation to do anything at all. Let alone get a day ahead in my training schedule. Shame, too… it was such a perfect day. Sigh.

What did it? Well, it wasn’t the bag of running gear staring me in the face all day or the sunshiney weather. No. It was the normal lunch in the fridge. Where’s the motivation in that?

So, I made it home and took a nap before hitting the bike for 20 lazy minutes. Obsessing over adequate sleep should be my next goal.

Then came Tuesday morning—rainy, dark, miserable Tuesday morning. I couldn’t drag myself out of bed for my morning pilates and laughed as I packed my recovery meal. “As if…” My brain was hardly functioning and, again, motivation to do anything was pretty low.

Then lunchtime crept around. I had an everything bagel in my drawer just waiting to be warmed and enjoyed while a vanilla-almond protein smoothie was chilling in the fridge. And the only thing that stood between me and the goodies: running.

It was a no-brainer! I got up, changed and ran into the rainy day!

But I wasn’t outside for long. I ran to the rec. center track where I covered 4.5 miles at 8:50/mile, followed by various drills including 2x20-second skipping, bounding, high knees and no arms. And I had plenty left at the end of the workout to run an extra mile roundtrip to get a work bud a chai to sweeten her crappy day.

Six miles down, I settled in with my warm bagel and smoothie. Totally worth it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Will Run for Food

One of my favorite parts of the recovery-eating obsession is picking out the healthy foods I’ll eat after a run. Granted, I get consumed in it sometimes during a run, but it works in other ways too.

Runner’s lunches, for instance, have become bigger carrots in my training regimen than the old cupcake trick of 2007.

What’s a runner’s lunch? It’s a delicious but healthy recovery meal (like everything bagels and green antioxidant-rich protein shakes or seduction bread with pomegranate and grilled chicken) that I take to work and can only eat if I run during lunch. Works like a charm.

I’ve worked my new job since early January 2008, and I never ran during lunch until October! While I had been content to train after work or in the mornings, the month off after Akron and the time change really threw me for a loop this year. Because I’ve never run during this time of year, I wasn’t prepared for that shift. Lucky for me, I have the option to make a change.

It took many attempts to get my butt out of the office during the day. Finally, I brought a bagel-and-shake combo, which I could only eat if I ran my workout, to put me over the edge. And it’s worked ever since. It helps that I don’t bring a backup lunch—so it’s either run or starve—and love the stuff I bring to eat. What can I say? I’m all about incentives.

And Thursday’s run was chock full of rewards. Not only did I have a healthy Whole Foods bean burrito and bialy bagel waiting for me, I trucked up Cedar Hill for 2x30-second hill repeats and through the Heights for a 4.5-miler that ended running down Mayfield hill in Little Italy (I intend on remembering the feeling of running down that hill next time I do 6x60-second repeats up that thing!).

Recovery or not, Friday hit me hard. It had much more to do with a stressful month than running, but I crashed hard at the end of the day. I took a much-needed nap and didn’t do much else Friday but crab and eat. But I did celebrate the 21st Amendment anniversary with my brother, Neil and Greg at Willoughby Brewing Company at night. And I was reminded why I don’t drink alcohol anymore.

No quips here about people drinking; it’s just never been for me. I spent a few months in college becoming an Irish whiskey expert, but alcohol has always hit me hard for days no matter how much or little I drank.

Like the ¾ pint of IPA I drank last night. Blah! The beer was fine (as was the bread pudding with turkey butter I ate with it) and didn’t affect me much last night. But I woke up today feeling groggy and way too yuck. My head feels heavy and my body’s so bloated.

It was a struggle to push through my 5-mile Fartlek (which didn’t get started until some time around noon) and I kept damning myself for doing something I knew was bad for me. Even if I was totally responsible about it. I guess the 21st Amendment just isn’t for all of us. Some people should be bound to their own prohibition.

Good news is I welcomed myself back from the run with another burrito-and-bagel recovery, complete with antioxidant-rich tea and a probiotic shake. So, it may be all mental—the alcoholic downside, the recovery-meal upside—but it all works for me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Food

Imagine my surprise almost two years ago when I first started running and a friend said, “now that you have your training started, let’s work on your diet.”

My diet? WTF is wrong with my diet?

Well, if you’ve been around my blog long enough, you probably have a few suggestions. And that friend did too. Plenty of people had plenty to say. I’m better for it now.

Obviously, the first to go were cupcakes (at least they were the first things to go on my should-not-eat list; they didn’t necessarily leave my diet) and all the tarts and tortes that make me smile. In sum: sugar was a problem.

Before I started training (running, in particular) I paid little attention to what I was eating as it related to how I was running or swimming. I was the healthiest eater I knew. Unfortunately, relativity doesn’t count here. Instead, my diet was very backward: I ran or swam or cycled to eat, not the other way around.

That food could actually help me do these things better never crossed my mind.

For years I spiked and dropped on blood sugar, ever skipping breakfast, sweetening up lunch, crashing every afternoon and overstuffing dinner. It was almost impossible to make it through a day without fighting the nappies or needing coffee to think about mounting an elliptical for a shamefully short time.

The more I talked to fit people, though, the more eating right for training made sense. Even if it did take a year and a half to really take hold.

I listened to vitamin stories and checked the magic of nutrition bars. I heard about the “hour after workout” rule and the secrets of Ensure shakes. But it was the training runs after a high-energy meal (antioxidant-rich fruits, lean protein, good carbs) that made it all dawn.

But what really brought it home for me? Recovery meals.

I was reading about the damage we do to our muscle fibers, ligaments and tendons during average and intense workouts. And all the memories of how my vitamin- and protein-deficient body let my leg fracture and my muscles ache from overuse. Sure, I was overtraining for the most part, but I wasn’t giving my body the resources to rebuild and recover at all. Like proper nutrition and rest.

While the brain-training book provided some background on nutrition, one piece of advice really stuck: you must become fanatical about eating in recovery! And if there’s anyone who can become fanatical about eating, well, that would be me.

It helped to understand a) how our bodies are damaged during exercise; b) how our bodies rebuild and improve in recovery; c) how antioxidants, lean proteins and carbs consumed within an optimal one-hour period contribute to that rebuilding effort. Perhaps it’s all a mental game (but I have been brain training!), but that knowledge somehow makes me feel better when I eat and feel lighter when I run.

And there’s so much more to learn. I just picked up a book about running nutrition, and I’m emotionally prepared to learn how bad my diet used to be and how to cope with all the guilt I feel next time I fall for that cupcake.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Well, Now What?

Taking a break in October wasn’t too difficult: my ITB was aching something rough, I was a little fatigued from the crammed training and getting behind in my life. Never have the states of my house, thesis and ironing been so wrecked.

A month off, a pilates obsession and a few hip abductor exercises later, I’m starting my training again. But this time, I’m going to do it right. At least I’ll try.

Today I began training for the Cleveland Marathon on May 17. That gives me a little less than 24 weeks to build, which should work much better than my “three weeks to a new marathon you” gig last summer.

I’ve been reading a new book this fall, called Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald. (Sounds cheesy, doesn't it?) While it’s not a book about easy ways or tricks to training yourself to 26.2, the book helped me in just a few weeks to break down many of the mental barriers I like to build between myself and great times. In fact, I used many of the lessons I learned from the book at the Turkey Trot to achieve a 5-miler PR.

But it’s nothing new. And it’s nothing my running friends haven’t told me all along. It’s nothing my dad never told me growing up. Nothing Melissa hasn’t been reminding me for the past year and a half.

Fitzgerald’s book explains the physiology behind running and fatigue and how your brain responds to those things. And how to get over some of those triggers. Like defeating yourself. For some reason, though, reading about what my muscle fibers are doing and why I feel a certain way… well, that clicks.

And when I start to get tired at mile two, I can tell myself that my legs aren’t dying, that the burning is good, that I can push at this level and beyond.

Best of all is that the training plan for marathon takes a healthy course, building miles slowly over 24 weeks and incorporating some Fartleks, hill repeats and cross-training with the distance runs.

Obviously it’s a healthier route than my last-minute job in August, and I’m already liking it better than most other plans I’ve followed from pubs like Runner’s World. As I mentioned, the mileage builds slowly. So, week one doesn’t have a sudden 15-miler popped in on a Saturday. This week’s long: a 5-miler at base pace on Saturday. Then it ekes up from there.

To kick it off right, I woke up early for 30 minutes of morning pilates today and then ran the Heights for 4 miles at 9:05/mile during lunch. Only 23.5 weeks to go!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkeys Trottin’ All Over This Place!

Have I mentioned (a million times) I was cooking my first Thanksgiving this year?

Last year I cooked the junior varsity version—it was a big meal for an exclusive family group the day after turkey day—but had the big meal for 12 at my house on Thursday.

But the real challenge? Standing all day Wednesday as I prepped for the big day.

By Wednesday night I was whipped—lower back hurting, knees aching, brain throbbing from standing locked while I whipped, chopped, diced, stirred, grated, crumbled, cut, sliced, simmered, blended, folded, whisked and dipped anything in eyeshot—and asked my mom how she managed all this every year. With kids no less? Geez!

First wisdom had it that I shouldn’t, couldn’t race on Thursday morning. I collapsed into bed (visions of fig-and-proscuitto flatbread and sugar plums dancing in my head; check out the full menu), resigned to running a slow personal Turkey Trot near home. No way I could have the time or energy to do the real thing.

Then came Thursday morning. B-E-AUTIFUL! It was a little brisk, but so clear, bright and sunny. It was one of those mornings when you just couldn’t stay in bed or just couldn’t not run a turkey trot.

So, I rolled some dough, cut potatoes and threw on running tights before I flew out the door. I made it downtown pretty quickly, registered and hit Lakeside a minute before the race started.

But who would have thought a few thousand people show up to these things? The start was really crowded and the first mile was chock full of waddling and bottlenecks and the strategic weaving, skipping, squeezing and jumping more commonly associated with trail-running than urban turkey running. But all the strategy did make it seem like we were all running toward something, chasing something. Like a big, fat turkey. Or, in my case, a vat of pumpkin-gingersnap tiramisu.

Despite the slow going at the outset, I ran comfortably through mile 1 to hit the marker at 7:48. Not bad for little miss sore leg, eh? So, I settled into my pace, rode some downhills and easily hit mile two at 15:00 (7:12 split), which really surprised me because the effort didn’t feel that great.

Then I hit the heavenly water stop at 2.5. It may have been cold Thursday morning, but I was incredibly parched. Perhaps it was the dinner nerves or all the standing. I walked the stop to chug as much as possible, continued on my way and (you guessed it) ended up with the world’s worst stitch. I stopped to walk (What? Walk in a 5-miler?) it off and kind of lost my rhythm.

Yet not too bad: I crossed mile 3 around 24:00 (9:00 split) and just tried to run with stitch remnants at a healthy pace, passing the mile-four marker at 31:30 (8:30 split).

Why is it, though, that Cleveland 5-milers seem to end on never-ending uphills? There’s St. Malachi with the dreadful finish and now the trot with the West 3rd climb? Argh! I felt like I was cruising backward on a treadmill trekking up the last hill until I started hearing the race caller announcing the time, the finish, the end. Somewhere (in earshot) I was a quarter mile from the finish.

Now, I set out to just run this race. No real time goals, although I did just want to match my last 5-miler, which was a little under 43:00. And considering the way my back and knees already felt, I was aiming too high. Plus, with the season of pretty slow going, I just wanted to enjoy my turkey morning.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I barreled toward the finish with 40 minutes just crossing the clock. I used whatever I had left to hit a PR at 40:20 (8:04/mile). Sure, that I might have broken 40 had I not walked or chugged or stitched crossed my mind. But there’s always St. Malachi and there was a wonderful dinner to cook.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On Hiatus until Thanksgiving

So, I managed to get my training back on track (short of a few skipped sick days this week) and still plan to run the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, but will be taking an intentional blogger break between now and that Turkey Day race report. Then I'll start marathon training again.

I'll be cooking my first full Thanksgiving-for-14 this year, primping my house and obsessing (in a totally healthy way) about work for the next couple weeks. And then I'm going to put my brain back in my head and start writing, catching up, making sense.

Best of luck to everyone on their late-autumn races (congrats E*Speed on your awesome marathon today, Greg on qualifying for Boston a couple weeks ago) and other big projects like waiting on babies to show, keeping them warm, trimming trees and singing carols.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Early and Often

Lucky for me, getting back on track with running hasn’t been as difficult as getting back into the blogospheric swing of things. Running the Turkey Trot and cooking my first major Thanksgiving dinner are also on my to-do.

Cast your ballot!Last week, though, I took off the day after my first run to let my body relax and respond to this new but very familiar activity. I wasn’t surprised on Thursday then when my lower back was achy as I kicked out to my first lunchtime run since starting my new job.

After a two-mile warm-up around University Circle, I headed to Cedar Hill, a 1/3 mile steady climb from Cleveland to Cleveland Heights, for hill repeats. And isn’t it just so me to do way more than scheduled? The plan called for 1x30-second hill repeat at relaxed sprint pace (it was my first week), which I read and remembered to be “30 hill repeats.” Duh.

I trucked up the hill 30 seconds and jogged back down. Then repeated 3-4 times. Talk about boring! So, I sprinted all the way up the hill and timed myself a little over 2:00. Instead of doing 30x30-second repeats, I figured I’d cheat a little and do 7x2:00 repeats. Obviously not the same effect as the short sprint… but when you’re mistakenly doing 30 times the reps assigned, there’s bound to be some adjusting.

Surprisingly, I made it through a total of 5 full repeats. Every time I hit mid-hill I’d feel some serious burn and fatigue, but pushed past it each time with mental strength and the empty promise that it would be the last. I was really just punishing myself for doing zero hill training to prep for Akron.

Cross-training—from pilates and cycling to yoga and resistance bands—have played a huge role in my “break” training. And I’ve been working to make room for the cross-training and running in my schedule. Soon, I’ll have to find an opening for swimming too.

In fact, I was still on my bike when the kids began trick-or-treating on Friday evening. Neil and I sat outside on our front porch to hand out candy to all kinds of cute kids from the neighborhood. The weather was incredible that evening, which made for perfect conditions for my Saturday morning run at North Chagrin.

My mileage is still relatively low—20 miles last week will become about 21-22 this week—but I haven’t felt the overtraining fatigue and breakdowns I couldn’t shake in September. Thank Hermes!

The lower back that plagued me for a couple days following the over-the-hill repeats, however, was no surprise. Even if it did curb my plan to run on Friday afternoon and almost stop me on Saturday. The slow two-mile warm-up on the trails shook away most of the ouch, and I was able to get 6x30-second relaxed sprints sprinkled into a 4-5 miler.

What really helped the work out was a legitimate cool down! I walked with Salty for 90 minutes around North Chagrin, and I actually took time to check out the natural scenes and animals I’m too afraid to spy when I’m by myself. The walk really relaxed my muscles, and I made it to breakfast with CJ, Daisy, E*Speed, JenC and Salty feeling like I hadn’t run at all. Talk about good therapy!

And even more so about good weather. My Sunday morning 5-miler was easy in the cool morning air. But not as awesome as my Election Day jaunt this morning.

I woke up a little before 5:30 a.m. this morning to don my Obama shirt and run around all the polling locations within a few miles of my house. I wanted to get pumped up with Election Day spirit, spread the Obama love and just see how the day might shape up.

What made my morning, however, was an elderly lady at one polling spot who stopped me as I ran by and said ‘good morning’ to a long line of voters. She said “I’ve been waiting for a sign about who to vote for; I think you’ve made up my mind.” See? Running is good for the world order.

So, one more vote, 70 degrees and a five-miler before 7 a.m.? Not bad for a Tuesday in November.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What I Did on my Running Vacation

Like most marked periods of time, I came up with a list of things I wanted to do on my running vacation:
5. Finish my thesis: I didn’t finish the thing, but I did adjust my topic, do plenty of research, change my topic a bit and start narrowing my focus.

4. Convert Undecideds to vote for Obama: Not only did I score a couple of undecided voters for the Obama camp, I worked hard enough to educate two Nobamas to the good guys. And you can still donate to the campaign, using the link to the right →

3. Gathering my friends to recreate the Feist video: I wish...

2. Heal my ITBS: check!

1. Make decorating strides with my hous: One living room down, a bedroom to go!
The break, which started Sept. 29, the day after my recovery run from the Akron Marathon, was nice and not really a break at all. I rode my trainer-racked bike 5-6 days each week and renewed my religious vows to yoga and even more so to Pilates.

All that keeping up made my return to training this evening pretty swell. I ran four miles at 9:20/mile and felt great the whole run, despite the blustering winds and the chilly temps for which I’m not ready.

Lucky for me: I live by the lake, which makes the air not-so-cold.

That’s speaking very relatively.

I hit some fatigue points along the way—my body’s way of saying “WTF? I thought we gave this up, girl?” But I persisted and pushed past two very premature walls and cruised to the end feeling grateful for my health and ability to get back to it.

(I was also grateful for the Nike running tights I bought on clearance this summer. They totally neutralized the heat in my legs and the ice in the air. Surprisingly, too, they felt better than the Mizuno tights after whom I'd planned to name my firstborn. If only I had found my gloves!)

After last year’s injury and this year’s ITBS, I’ve learned to appreciate the running break. There’s something to taking off a few weeks and resuming your training anew. My leg doesn’t hurt and my body feels rested. It almost makes me want to have a healthy approach to training!

This bout with training, though, is an in-betweener: I’m warming up for the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (I’ll also be cooking my first 14-person dinner that day), after which I’ll take another couple weeks rest before I get in the long haul. I’m going to race in Cleveland this May. And I might just do another marathon.

Speaking of marathons, muchos congratulations to Landon, who ran a stellar 3:58:26 at Columbus a couple weeks ago. I watched him cross checkpoints online, and I was awed at his steady pace and ability to hit negative splits from the 10K on. And as the projected finish time approached, Neil and I sat in the living room, wildly cheering Landon to the end... and then he beat his expected arrival by at least two minutes. Now that’s the way to run a race!

And that was what I did on my running vacation.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Looking Back on a Couple Years of Running

It was about this time in 2006 that I stared at a registration page for the Bowman Cup 5K Race at Kent State. I had tried to start running that summer, but only managed a steady run-a-few/walk-a-few routine that resulted in only a couple straight miles at a time.

Then we vacationed in Boston that August and almost all was lost.

A few weeks from race day, I wimped out on signing up. I was afraid I couldn't run 3.1 miles!

GP crosses the finishTruth is I probably couldn't have run the full 5K in late 2006. I didn't have a clue how to start running or how to get past the point at which I wanted to die. And I really only knew how to run hard and fast without any hope for endurance whatsoever.

I'm not sure what clicked for me in January 2007, but my running life has really looked up since then. So, I thought it was only appropriate to look back on my old self, having run a couple half marathons and my first marathon, less than two years from skipping a 3+ miler.

My running isn't worlds different -- in fact, I'm probably a little slower than I was at the start --
but my training is better. Without the lessons and advice I've received from friends, from the blogosphere, from friends from the blogosphere, I'd probably have either quit running or been forced to stop by multiple injuries beyond my wildest dreams.

Plus, I would have never earned all the cupcakes I've eaten over the past year and a half.

I've told everyone the biggest surprise of my 2008 Akron Marathon was by miles 23 or 24, I was already thinking about my next marathon. I was giddy for most of the race and yelped in celebration as I crossed the finish. Talk about an awesome time.

Never did I doubt I'd cross the finish, which is a long road from the chica who thought she couldn't finish a 5K, then a 5-miler, then a 10-miler, then the Akron half last year. Less than two years ago, I remember driving 26 miles from Stow to Mayfield, Ohio, and telling Neil that I'd never be able to run that far. I hadn't ever run 26+ miles before last Saturday, but now I have. What can't I do?

So, thanks to everyone who has pushed, pulled and patted me along the way. From training advice and warnings to parsing tips and racing strategies, everyone has left their marks on my stride. Here's to many more runs, races and recoveries for us all!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

4:33:00

The starting bloop was sounding as I blasted through the port-o-potty door. Somewhere between trouble parking and waiting in the port-o-potty line, I ran out of time and dashed into the starting corral. And as I crossed the line, I clicked on my watch and figured I’d run 26.2 miles today.

First mile: a quick 8:00 fueled by excitement of making it to my first marathon despite some hurdles (i.e., ITB, Friday night migraine, questionable prep, trouble eating). I slowed that blazing train fast—my goal, after all, was to finish the race, not die trying—and started taking quick walk recoveries, as suggested by Galloway, within the first several miles. They were just 20- to 40-second breaks every 1-2 miles that rested my muscles early and held off fatigue… for a few extra miles.

Vincent, Melissa, GP, Emma, Jeff after the raceBecause I missed a pace group at the start, I kept one eye open for the 4:15/30:00 groups and kept the other off my watch as much as possible. It wasn’t about racing, after all; it was about finishing. Still I bounded between 8:30-10:00 miles from one stretch to the next—I sped when the crowds cheered us and I slowed when I noticed the cruising—taking brief breaks whenever my ITB started to kill.

The first 10K flew, though: I crossed the line at 57:21 (9:13/mile) and started desperately looking for the fluid station, which signs around 5.8 miles advertised. My stomach wasn’t right all morning, so I had subsisted on Powerade and water for the first six.

Then it started growling.

I hit a group handing out GU, sucked the stuff down and never hit a water stand! GU without water? Bleh!

So, I fought chalky mouth for a few miles before I finally hit a water stop (I noticed a few teaser signs in this race, which boasted fluid stations long before they appeared… so not cool). My stomach turned and shot with acid reflux for a few miles before settling. And that was the last time I took GU without water in my hand.

But the city miles went fast and smooth when I wasn’t searching for that swig of water. I hit 15K at 1:27:13 (9:21/mile), floated past the break wither halfers at 11 miles and thanked my lucky stars I didn’t have to run that stupid interstate route that ends the half marathon route.

Unfortunately, what came next wasn’t much better.

Nino, GP, Neil after the race... the boys with their beersWe crossed onto the towpath for several miles of trees, trees, desolation and the sound of shuffling feet. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me that I prefer concrete, cheers, smog and streets to the backwoods, but I’ve never been a fan of running in nature (unless I’m with friends). And for miles 12-18, it was all woods, all the time.

It was dead quiet for most miles, aside from a few relay legs laboring so hard they made me tired, and each mile seemed longer than the next. I was happy, however, when I crossed the halfway point at 2:00:00 (9:09/mile) and encountered the several packs of awesome cheerers—the insane party in the park, the nurses and the lady with the pot and spatula—who lifted my sinking spirits. Sure, I was on pace for four hours, but I could feel fatigue setting in.

My ITB pain, however, had set in long before the woods, so I took things easy and tried hard to keep my mind off the clock: it’s better to not get the time I want, I thought, than never have a time again.

After a brief eternity on the towpath, we entered a great eternity in the park, traversing hills and shaded roads that made me feel a little bit like I was lost and trying desperately to run home. Somewhere between miles 16-17 (that mile was at least six miles long!), the 4:15:00 pace group passed. I tried for a few minutes to stick with the group, but my ITB and lack of hill training slashed 9:43/mile off my can-do list.

Oddly enough, things really started going downhill just when the hills really picked up!

What felt like 16 hours later, we emerged from the woods and took back to the streets of Akron, hitting 30K at 3:02:34 (9:47/mile). I saw Greg around the relay exchange and ran with ITB Chris for miles 18 through almost 20, commiserating about our ITB pain.

I was all but ready to tie my arm-warmer around my leg, thinking I had missed the boat on the ITB compression band. Chris assured me, however, his was purely decorative. And, lucky for me, my whole body hurt by this point, so ITB pain, ankle pain, foot pain: what was the difference anyway?

But it was at mile 20 that I hit “the wall” about which everyone had warned me. While I had previously run 21 training miles with some ups and downs, I had never run myself to a true breaking point. Twenty miles hurt.

I walked through the aid station, sucking down GU and drinking enough Powerade and water to make my stomach slosh, before picking up pace again. And it was just in time: I passed Jeff, Vincent, Melissa, Ryan and Emma right after the 20-mile marker, and they couldn’t have been better placed.

The final stretch! My mom took this photo from right around mile 26 markerMy head was pretty loopy and it took me a moment to process that my awesome friends had come out to cheer me. I wasn’t moving fast at all by miles 20-21, but seeing them really kept me moving. Thanks Melissa, Ryan, Emma, Vincent and Jeff!

And the rest of the race? Cake. I just ran from one awesome anchor to the next!

I hit Stan Hywett, where my dad was cheering on his bike. After a loop through the estate, I crossed my dad again, and he rode on the sidewalk and roadside with me, chatting about training and how I was feeling, for miles 22-25. He also told me Neil and Nino were waiting at the stadium and that my mom was cheering somewhere too. That was a rush!

I shuffled one ITB break and walked the aid stations, but really took to my dad as a pacer for these final miles. It wasn’t a fast pace (let’s just say I wasn’t in a hurry), but steady.

And it just got better. Tricia was cheering from a corner around mile 24 and I saw 3:50 pacer extraordinaire E*Speed running up one of the final downhills. My dad took off at 25 to make it to the stadium in time for my finish just as I caught sight of my mom about a mile down the street at mile 26. So, I just kept running toward her.

Point two miles to go!

I had a wobbly moment (Dehydration? Exhaustion? Elation?) right before I turned down the road to Canal Park, so I slowed down, steadied and started to smile. No way I wasn’t finishing now.

My dad was waiting at the gate to the park, cheered me to go, and I sprinted to the end to the cheers of thousands, including Nino and Neil whooting at the finish line. Four hours, thirty-three minutes flat. I finished! Yeah!

While I was only half coherent for the next half hour, I did see Salty as I walked the finishing chute (she anchored the incredible Speed Bumps who finished 26.2 miles 3:57:42—congrats mamas!) and managed to find my top 10 reasons for finishing the race. I downed a sub sandwich and, with Melissa’s helpful reminders, drank enough water to start clearing my head.

Everyone was kind enough to hang around the park, sitting with me and my stink, as I recovered a bit and made them listen to my marathon stories. My ITB was in no condition to step on a clutch, so Nino drove my car (after we found it!) and headed straight to the cupcake shop!

I ate all of these cupcakes. In one bite.I walked into Main Street Cupcakes to a big cheer and joined the gang for some celebratory treats (one warm apple spice and one cassata cupcake, which was Amazing with a capital A).

My head wasn’t really with me until… this morning, so I don’t think I expressed to everyone how much their support meant to me. Just seeing everyone out on the routes, cheering, smiling, clapping was… wow, the reason I made it. And Landon’s congratulatory call this morning was like a call from the president (just not the current president).

Many thanks to everyone who cheered, supported me, gave me advice or just a pat on the back!

Despite the ITB pain, Neil took me for a nice, slow recovery run this morning. I couldn’t actually lift my knees for the first block, but could shuffle a bit toward the end. At least now I can give these legs, these injuries some rest.

But not too much: I bought a cycling trainer as a marathon-finishing gift to myself and I can’t wait to get pedaling.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Today's the Day

Thanks to everyone for the great advice and the inspiration. Now, I think I'll go run a marathon!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Break it down now...

How do you count your miles? When I swim I break distances into sets of 100, 200, 250... whatever enables me to focus on swimming and not oh god, how far do I still have to go? It doesn't make me a better swimmer or help with technique, but it gets me to what's next.

And what's next right now: the marathon.

marathon quote of the day:

Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.

- Oprah Winfrey

For weeks I've twiddled in my head ideas about how to parse the miles in this race.

I'm not looking at race strategy in my first marathon, just brain games.

While I could just run, following the course until, well, it ends, there's something reassuring to me about breaking down 26.2 miles into something... less than 1.5 days' worth of round-trip commuting for me. (See how well I can deflate myself?)

Running to five miles 5.5 times, for instance, might be easier to conquer than 4+ hours of run, run, run. Or 2.5 sets of 10-milers. Or four sets of 6.5 miles.

Do you have an approach to marathon miles? Whether it's a race look, walk-and-run method or just a miles-counting game, what do you do to run the 26.2 mental miles?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Taper Bites the Dust

I was really good about preparing for tests throughout elementary, middle, high school, but my first two years of college I was queen of cram. It was likely the product of subject apathy (I switched from chemistry to biology to psychology to philosophy to computer science by the end of my sophomore year) and probably didn't yield the best results.

But those first two years did teach me precisely what not to do, which yielded great results the final three years of school and eventually grad school.

Ilitibial bandLet's hope the same goes for running.

For the second year in a row, I'm all but laid up for my taper leading into Akron. Some serious Iliotibial band ouches (which, in my opinion, is the much better IBS to have) slowed down my miles for the past several distance weeks and stopped me in my tracks on Saturday.

I ran four fast miles on Wednesday (I gave myself a couple days rest once the non-running pain really began) and rested Thursday and Friday. By Saturday morning, my body felt kind of stiff and rusty, so even getting started on what should have been a 10-miler was rough.

So, I took to a barely running pace down the street, where I heard and then saw E*Speed. I was so not with it, swearing to myself about why I do these things to myself, that it took me forever to realize who was saying hi and from where!

It's always a boost, though, to see people you know on the run, and I was pleasantly distracted for at least the next half mile.

Stiffer than usual or not, it almost always takes me 20 minutes to loosen and warm up. After 25 minutes on this run, however, I still felt like crap. I stopped to stretch again and rub-warm my legs to no avail. In fact, I felt tighter with each passing stride. And as my muscles, joint, tendons, thoughts grew tighter, my i-band felt worse and worse. Then the knee pain kicked in. Blah!

Another 10 minute push to see if it would warm away just made it worse. And bad enough that it even hurt to walk the rest of the way home.

Good news is that after some stretching and some rest, nothing hurts in non-running mode. So, I'll stick with my non-running routines, resting and walking between now and Thursday. Then I'll take my last jog and hope for the best on Saturday.

I'll also be plotting out how to make it to Akron next year without missing my taper. Because I miss my taper. But another one's gone...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It’s Official

I’m running the Akron Marathon.

“What?” you say. “You’ve been talking about this bleepin’ race all winter, spring and summer long!”

Yes, yes, but I didn’t register until six minutes ago. And now it’s all settling in.

It took me weeks to register because I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out – like four short weeks ago when I was just breaking into some real distance runs. While, like any math test I took through college, I’m not remotely as ready as I’d like to be, I know I can run 26.2 miles. Rain or shine.

Although I am hoping for shine. My shoes finally dried from Saturday’s run in the rain!

So, how did I spend my taper week so far? Well, I rested Monday and Tuesday (my quad and knee really appreciated the vacation) and ran about four miles this evening, three around 7:45-8:00/mile pace in sets of 1000 m.

The middle 1000m was probably the fastest: one of my neighborhood streets lost power to its street lights, which made the whole stretch pitch black. I run for my own knees’ safety on the street when it’s dark – think those sidewalks jump up and bite me in daylight? – but this was more than dark. I couldn’t have seen a pothole, uneven concrete, human being or skunk if I tried.

None of it felt very fast, however. Granted, 8:00/mile for short distance isn’t too speedy for me anyway. And while I wasn’t really laboring, I just didn’t have it in me to push much faster or farther. At least I’m getting all of my “another one of those days” out of the way before the race.

I suppose it’s also a perk of not running for a solid goal on marathon day. Crossing the finish line? That’s golden to me.

But what excites me most about the next week and a half is the food factor. Obviously I won’t be loading up on cupcakes and treats (that’s post-race food), but I will be testing my race week foods and crafting precisely what will make me feel awesome Saturday morning.

Will it be sweet potatoes? Or will it be pasta? A bowl of gnocchi? Or a big old baked spud? Only eating will tell.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Run, Cupcake, Run!

Saturday’s 14 out of 26-mile run wasn’t all for naught: I ran the remaining miles in Hudson on Sunday on the first annual cupcake run.

Run Cupcake RunWe had a perfect turnout and tour of the town, which started at Heinen’s, winded through some newer McMansion neighborhoods, skidded through traffic where sidewalks ended, climbed some hills and dashed through Western Reserve Academy before landing at Main Street Cupcakes, where I think we all picked up at least a dozen cupcakes a piece.

Boy, did we deserve it!

The weather was worlds better than Saturday’s 2.5 hours in the rain (my armband and shoes are still soaked), even if it was a little warm. You’ll be pleased to know I finally took my own advice, toting water for the run, unlike the 20+ routes that failed before it.

It was the first time I lead the way on fairly unfamiliar territory (I used to run around Hudson when I lived in Stow, but not enough to have a real sense of where on earth I was at any given time), and I’m glad no one expressed too much displeasure at always ending up at Aurora Rd or crossing streets like the bad jaywalker I am.

Monica and I dreamed up the idea (amidst a conversation, I believe, about earning our delicious treats) a few months ago, and I’m glad we were finally able to be a couple of running cupcakes. Our friends came from as far as Rochester and Columbus to celebrate the deliciousness. And I picked up enough treats to freeze and enjoy until I find my way south again for another sugary adventure.

Perhaps after Akron?

Speaking of Akron, I talked marathon with Landon, who has always been my great source of knowledge. My goal for the marathon, as I mentioned, is pretty much any time with a “4” in front of it. Finishing is really key. But I thought that since E*Speed is pacing the 3:50 group, I might try to keep pace with her. Until I died off.

What I realized today, though: above all else I don’t want to just die off. I want to run a strong, consistent pace. I want to enjoy the marathon experience. And I don’t want to sputter out as the halfers split from the rest of us (or have to convince myself not to take that turn!).

Extra 20-miler or not, I’m done with distance training and will start my taper this week. I can’t explain how much I’ve looked forward to the next two weeks, particularly after missing my taper with an injury last year. While I have a quad/thigh/knee to heal in the next 13 days, I’m still running A-OK on it.

Although I might be finding my way to a masseuse soon. But that’s just a treat for myself. Now that I’ve checked cupcakes off my list.

(Congrats to Sarah from Main Street Cupcakes, by the way, who raced her first triathlon a couple weekends ago. She rocked the Akron Women's Tri, which I hope she'll revisit next when I make my way back.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

WANTED: Marathon Training Intern

Help WantedResponsibilities include, but are not limited to: assessing maps of my Saturday distance runs (which have been curbed midway for the past two weeks by dehydration and subsequent swelling); establishing water stops at hydrationally advantageous locations along the routes; knowing when I need nutrition or a splash of electrolytes; charging my iPod Shuffle before I leave for a projected 4-hour run; reminding me to stop for fluids even when I think oh, I’m just fine; cheering me along the way when I start looking rough; massaging the stiff out of my knee; stretching the stiff out of my quads; kneading the sore from my feet; yelling inspirational phrases as I cross 20 miles; drying my shoes after 2.5 hours in the rain; and making me quality recovery meals upon returning home.

Internship starts four weeks ago; incumbent must provide own transportation, enthusiasm and water bottles. Self-starters OK. Previous experience with desperate novice runner a plus; patience and mind-reading ability a must. Position is unpaid, but intern will receive partial credit for my success. Apply within.

Friday, September 12, 2008

And the Beat, the Training, the Route and the Video Go On...

If you've ever been around me for more than five minutes, you've probably heard me exclaim, "I love the Internet!" What's the latest thing tickling my Web fancy? The Akron Marathon... video.

It's a fast-forwarded video from the 2005 race just a few minutes ahead of the lead runners. I just watched it and reveled in still-fresh memories of last year's half marathon. Between the familiar streets and rocked-out music, how could I not be pumped for this year?

But then the video just kept going.

And going.

When the video hit the University of Akron campus, I remembered feeling my leg crack at that point and convincing myself there was no way I wasn't crossing the finish line. Cracked leg or not. And that's not even halfway for me this year.

On one hand, I feel like I'm running like a big girl this year; on the other hand, it scares the bejesus out of me.

It really shouldn't. It's only running, after all, and I have done it before. I'm not out to win any awards and my real goal is any time with a "4" in front of it. Like anything else, however, in the land of unknown, it's going to be a challenge to get over the anxiety and fears before getting to the meat of my goal. To run these 26.2 miles: (Check out the video at http://media.discoverneo.com/movies/marathon06.wmv).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prophesy This

Do you know my secret ultimate super power? I am the queen of self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, I'm so good at it they should have made a Disney movie out of me (well, the producers did come knocking).

While I don't know if I'd wear a cape, corseted leotard or a mask, I think I could hold a candle to Superman... if and only if our objective were to defeat one common enemy: me.

No, no, no, nothing bad has happened. But my right quad has been increasingly achy for the past couple weeks. I know: it's the consequence of upping my miles faster than recommended and not allowing enough recovery time. I'm on a tight schedule for Sept. 27 here, people!

My fault entirely.

Anyhow, the quad has been tight and a little nagging all year. Yoga and targeted stretching, rest and massage have worked their magic for months. Until now (bum, bum, bum... may the movie-voice guy rest in peace).

I ran 7 miles on Tuesday and returned home to some tightness, which I didn't really stretch until the next morning. Several times I reminded myself that by this time last year I was training in tears from injuries, but that didn't rush me to my yoga mat. Just to bed.

Then came Wednesday's 6 miles. The quad felt subtly tight and not problematic at all. About 1.5 miles into the run, however, it really started aching. First I tried to run through it, then I stopped to stretch, to massage, to shake, to grimace.

So, I took a slight jogging pace to keep it warm (walking just made it worse) and headed home. The quad hurt for the first 5 minutes, but then warmed up and felt only a little yuck. Was it really achy? Did I merely convince myself it hurt? I salvaged what was left of my run (it was supposed to be a 13-miler, but we all know how some things shake out) and spent the rest of the night stretching.

For the past week I've been waking up to some serious stiffness in my quads and calves. In fact, I'm not looking forward at all to older age now or arthritis -- not that arthritis was high on my to-do anyway. Walking right out of bed was getting tough; stepping on my clutch not so good; stairs have been impossible. I'm that person who makes "ahh" and "ooh" and "ouch" sounds with each step.

This morning, however, I felt about 85 percent better. I could feel the hint of stiffness and a touch of nagging, but no pain whatsoever. The lesson here, my friends: if you have a recovery method like stretching, yoga, sleeping, eating, gambling, walking or massaging, do it! And, umm, if you can avoid convincing yourself that injury is nigh, do that too.

While this week marks the last distance week before Akron (oh, how I live to taper!), I'll probably take off today and see how the quad feels on Friday before my long day on Saturday. Sure, I won't meet my distance goal for the week, but I'd much rather run the marathon, not run in tears and run my taper weeks than sit them out. Like I missed taper last year.

Which wouldn't be very superhero of me at all...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

First 50 Miles and One Failed Run

Just think: three weeks from now I should be crossing “complete Akron marathon” off my to-do list. But first, some training.

I recovered well enough from last Saturday’s 21-miler to by new shoes from Second Sole, hit a baby shower and get hit with water balloons at a birthday party only after running five miles on Sunday with tired legs and well-equipped feet.

Last week’s total distance: 46 miles. That’s a personal week long, as well as a few miles short of swimming to Wheatley, Ontario. Woo hoo!

So, I recovered Monday with more stretching than a taffy factory and sheer admiration for my new Mizuno Wave Riders (I used to be an Inspire girl, but Second Sole suggested Rider; so far I agree). They’re the right fit, right size, right shape. I have faith that they’ve be A-OK for Akron, but that didn’t stop me from obsessing over the shoes all week long.

Seven miles on Tuesday, ten on Wednesday and four on Thursday (it was supposed to be a 15-miler, but 91 degrees melted my will) set me up well for a 50-mile week. All I had to do: finish the planned 25-miler on Saturday and cool down on Sunday.

It was not to be. The 25-miler, that is.

I woke up early and optimistic on Saturday to cloudy skies and rain, rain, rain. While I’ve never been a fan of rain-running, I wasn’t going to let it stop me from running now. Besides, I’d like to be prepared for whatever condition Mama Nature throws my way Sept. 27. I dressed as normal, found a baseball cap, reconfigured my routes (in case the rain, chills or chafing got too bad, I didn’t want to be too far from home) and flew out the door.

It wasn’t bad heading west into Cleveland for a bit with the rain and wind to my back. Running the remaining 15+ miles into the rain, however, just wasn’t as fun.

I made a water/bathroom stop at home around six miles, when I picked up a mini bottle of Aquaphor to combat the massive chafing exaggerated by the rain-soaked clothes. Because of the damp air, I didn’t feel very thirsty, so I just swigged some water and rushed back out to finish my next segment due east.

When I hit my end point several miles east of home, I kept running until the sidewalk ended, turned and looped around just as the air was drying and the sun playing the tease. I was crossing 12-13 miles when I really started regretting the small water swig and no GU decision at my first stop. I was wholly dehydrated and totally drained. Oh, and about six miles out.

It was a terrific exercise in mind control as I spent about an hour convincing myself to keep running, though I had nothing at all left in the tank. “What would you do if this were the marathon, girl?” Well, I’d probably start walking, self. “I highly doubt that, competitive freak.” OK, watch me, self.

But I didn’t.

I made it home at mile 18, chugged electrolyte Vitamin Water, several glasses of water and ate a bar of something. My legs started tightening super fast and my whole body just didn’t feel right. At first I thought I should rush to get back on the road when I realized it wasn’t a happy run and my body obviously wasn’t digging any of it.

And I turned in. Seven miles short. I showered, ate four bowls of cereal, dressed for a wedding and then ate my guilt away with coconut shrimp and chocolate-covered strawberries. Sigh.

A big difference between this week and last, though, was the feeling in my legs. When I finished yesterday, I stretched through and through, massaged and had Neil rub out some horrible pain plaguing my back and alignment. So, I felt pretty awesome Sunday morning.

After a big breakfast, a nap and some football, I took a run around Neil’s parents’ neighborhood and a local track for 12 miles. Sure, I ran three miles short of last week’s 21, but I recovered much faster. And instead of doing several mid-range runs and one uber run, I completed three pretty good distance days.

While I beat myself up Saturday for not running my 25, I felt better Sunday for the week’s training. My first 50-mile week felt great. And I totally deserved all eight of the chocolate-covered strawberries (and two hulking pieces of wedding cake) I downed last night.

Who knows what the follow week has in store? But what I do know: it’s my last week before the taper. And I live for taper… and dessert.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Today I Joined the 20+ Mile Club and Here’s What I Learned

  1. . Yes! I can run 21 miles, which bodes well for my imminent marathon in less than a month. Just tack on five more, right?

  2. It’s a mental game, I think, more than a physical effort. For the first time in a year, I listened to music when I ran, to block out all the mental crazies that convince me I have GI jostles, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, side stitches, thigh cramps. Somehow singing to Kanye West cures that.

  3. Twenty-one miles isn’t as long a distance as I had imagined. And while I ran for close to 3.5 hours, it didn’t feel much longer than the 18-miler I ran last month. Good sign? I think so.

  4. I still have plenty of work to do. The last 5-6 miles I swayed between energized running and desperate jog-slogging. Then there were the final two. So close to home, I flipped between “well, I’ve gone far enough; I can walk now” and “I’ve come this far; I can’t possibly walk now.” See? Total mental case… I mean, game.

  5. It hurts! But in a totally good way. I think. And now I must take a nap...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Don’t let it rub you the wrong way

We all have our personal stories about it. The blood. The pain. The agony. But when did you discover the reality of chafing?

Landon was the first person to tell me about bloody nipples. And like most people, I giggled. I didn’t get the chafe, however, until my first summertime ten-miler last year. In fact, I still have scars. My sports bra left a ring around my chest. My ill-chosen t-shirt left chafe seams all over my arms. Don’t even get me started on the tag at the back of my shorts.

Excuse me while I cringe.

You can imagine these things are weighing heavily in my mind as I prepare for the Akron Marathon on Sept. 28. It’s a little over a month away, and all I can think about is where I can buy Aquaphor and Body Glide in bulk. Maybe I can put it in a camelback for the run.

Who would have thought wardrobe would be such a big deal on race day?

Well, the bigger deal right now is building my mileage. After putting swim/cycle on hold until October, I finally broke my 10-miles-a-week pattern last week. I was raring toward 30-40 miles when I had another incident with the sidewalk that dorked up my left knee. Again. (Yes, please call my Iron Clutz from now on.)

I didn’t let it slow me too much (I missed the Bellefaire JCB Biathlon last weekend because I couldn’t bend my sticky scabbed knee enough to ride my bike, but went to cheer on JG who debuted his new roadie with a PR), even if I was stiff for the first couple days.

I hit the trails with Salty last week—managing not to fall despite staring almost exclusively at the rooty ground—and ran an 11-miler up, up and up the Heights on that 95-degree Thursday. I’m pretty positive about being able to build my distance in time for Akron, but I’ve arrived at one major problem: shoes.

Yes, another wardrobe malfunction.

See, I have two relevant pairs of running shoes. My first pair of Mizuno I bought about a year ago; my second pair of Mizuno I bought in February.

The first pair is obviously pretty shot. They have about six miles in them before soreness sets in.

The second has what I can the 13-mile ouchies. They feel great until about 13 miles when I can feel running’s impact in my ankles and arches, which moves up to my knees closer to 16-17 miles, which I imagine only gets better from there.

So, I’ve been training in the old shoes, “preserving” the second pair for Akron. Silly, isn’t it? Perhaps I’ll wear them both at the marathon—one pair for the first six, the other for 13 and barefoot that glorious last leg.

It was halfway through last week’s hilly 11-miler that I realized my tweener state of shoes. A month out I thought I could buy a new pair, but my last shoes took more than four months to break in. And my first marathon isn’t the place to try it.

Oh, lord, imagine the chafeage! Maybe it's just time to invest in Body Glide: I'll need plenty of it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Quiz: Food or Money?

Put all of your good qualities, outward caring and inhibitions aside, and tell me: would you rather have Bill Gates' money or Michael Phelps' 12,000-calorie daily requirement?

And be honest.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Greater Cleveland Tri... Duathlon

Lezak begins his ascent over BernardOK, first things first: how awesome was the men’s relay last night? I think that if they had swum Saturday night, we would have stormed the water at the Greater Cleveland Triathlon despite the swim being canceled (rough waters).

You can imagine that while I was wholly undertrained for the swim, I was pretty bummed about my best leg being cut from the race. But I did get some duathlon experience in its place. A little notice (or time to practice, a few months to brick back and forth) might have helped, but what’s a race organizer to do?

So, in lieu of 0.75-mile swim, the Olympic “tri” began with 1.25-mile run out and back above the beachfront. I sucked down some Roctane, Gu’s new endurance snot, when I was warming up and my heart was racing before I even hit the start. Watch that stuff!

First leg, wearing the parachuteStanding still at the start, I had some nerves, but the excess caffeine and stuff kicked up my HR to 199! The ill effects dorked up my breathing and actually made me feel a little fatigued before I took my first step. It didn’t really subside until about three miles into the bike. So much for that stuff!

I’m happy to report, however, that my opening run was A-OK. Lucky for me, I found Jen before the start, and she knew our first-run distance. (Jen’s not only a great athlete; she knows everything! And man was she flying when she passed me on the bike!) Otherwise, I was just going to follow the pack until I happened upon my bike in transition.

Because I’d never done a duathlon, I didn’t really know how to take the run. It was only 1.25 miles, so could I run it fast? Should I?

A little over a mile? I can hoof that! So, for the first half I did: 4:00 at halfway point (6:24/mile). It was pretty windy and my sweatshirt ballooned and dragged like a parachute. Lovely. Then it dawned on me that I, umm, still had to ride my bike farther than I’ve ever ridden and then run again! Ahh, duathlon.

I put it on cruise for the second half and finished in 8:11 (6:32/mile).

Surprisingly, I felt all right after the run (it was only 1.25 miles) and only a little weird hopping on the bike. Maybe the first 6+ miles were all settling into bricking this way? But it took about the first ten miles for me to stop convincing myself that, OK, that feels like a flat tire or, no, that feels like my tires are low. (Don’t you love paranoia?)

In case you’re unfamiliar with the GCT Olympic bike route, it looks something like this:
Greater Cleveland Tri bike route elevation
Don’t let it fool you, though. That (insert expletive) is uphill both ways!

Nevertheless, the ride gave me plenty of hill-training I haven’t done since the new-bike era, and by mile 12 I was still on pace to meet my 93:00 goal.

Enter the bump in the road.

On the way plus side, I took my first aid station on the bike (I’m not comfortable yet riding without both white-knuckled hands on the bars) and sprayed Gatorade like a geyser so high the whole station cheered my spectacle.

Returning from cycling leg with Gu stuck in my shirt. Like the classy girl I am.The not-so-good side: a girl crashed on her bike and totally destroyed her bike chain right in front of me. I stopped to make sure she was OK, and even tried to apply my bicycle naivete to her chain. Poor gal: I think we were somewhere between miles 12 and 14.

Once she started back for the last aid station, I turned around to, you guessed it, one big mama hill. The Kirtland Hills hill that climbs like 500 feet in a quarter mile. And I was at a dead stop. I mounted my bike and tried to push off, but only rolled back. Looking around me, every single person had dismounted and walked to the top. So, I succumbed.

Now I was a 5-6 minutes back and tried to pedal hard to catch up to my goal self. I played passing games with several people and totally wimped out on the major downhill speed opportunities on the road back (I admit it, I brake until my bike squeals going down big hills!).

Crazy lakefrontThe wind managed to be in my face the whole ride, but my favorite moment came as I sped down the final stretch. Last year, I remembered passing the “Your Speed Is” radar machine on Heisley Road. I was proudly rolling at 20 mph; a guy on a tri bike flew by over 45 mph.

I knew it was coming about a half-mile out, so I started pedaling hard in whatever my highest gear and hit the downhill at a considerable clip. The two people before me passed the machine. 35 mph, 38 mph. And when I passed? 42 mph. What a difference a bike makes.

Somewhere I picked up a couple minutes and finished in 1:30:52 (15.75 mph). Not bad for my longest ride, complete with stop, help and walk! Oh yeah, and the freakin’ mega hills too.

Let it not be a secret I was pretty tired at T2, and just not happy that I had to run. Again! Didn't I already cross that off my to-do list?

It was pretty slow going at first: my legs were pretty tight for mile one, which I finished around 10:00. And I was just getting warm before mile two when my GI tract got a little unhappy. I walked a few minutes to settle that down, and I was really warmed by how many people ran by and cheered me on to just keep going. Oh, little did they know... hee hee.

It took about 15:00 to complete mile two, but as I crossed into the second half of the race at 37:00, I was feeling all right with no ill effects on my digestive system. I stopped paying attention to time, but can deduce that it took me 37:00 for the first 5K (11:54/mile) and 25:00 for the second (8:02/mile) for a final run time of 1:02:03. At least I finished strong.

Yum: Corbo's cookies!Swim or no swim, it was a fun day at the races. I finished in 2:44:30, ate a hot dog and feasted on raspberry-filled cookies from Corbo’s after I showered and changed at home. Not only was I pleased to finish the unexpected race, but I was amazed that I could smell just as bad running-biking-running as I did when I swam in the lake too!

Having the swim cancelled was a lot like have your flight canceled for weather. You realize it’s unsafe to go and that the people making that decision know much better than your own meathead, but you’re still a little disappointed and wish there were something you could do. But there’s not.

Hanging out with Jen before the race.So why not have a swell time of it? Not only did I get to spy Jen at least once each leg of the race, I crossed Papa Louie during the 10K and caught scores of other athletes I’ve known within and outside the blogosphere. Congrats to TriGuyJT and all the chicas who ran the half, and big high fives to all!

Particularly to my mom and Neil, who were kind enough to wake up before dawn to cheer me on, keep me going, and still love me when I smelled that bad. I'll have to share a photo of how cute Neil looks in my GCT tech tee. It fits him perfectly.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Up and At 'Em!

So, it's finally race day. I stayed up a little late last night to watch Michael Phelps win the gold in 400 IM, but had to sleep while Katie Hoff and Dara Torres did whatever they pulled (don't tell me! I'm going to watch when I get home!).

But all the lying-in-bed-and-wondering I did last night, led me to the following goal for today:

Swim (~1320 yards/1200 meters): 30:00
Bike (~24 miles): 15.5 mph or 93:00
Run (10K): 9:20/mile or 58:00
Transitions: <4:00

Overall first-Olympic goal: 3:05:00

I'll just be happy, though, with a good attitude and a little bit of grace (I've lacked that in my recent races). And, you know, some good food at the finish.

Now, if it could just warm up a bit outside, that would be great!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

All in Good Fun

One of my favorite things about race day is actually the day before race day. OK, maybe the two days before race day. Sure, I try to get in some really light workouts and plenty hours of rest, but it’s the food that always wins me over.

Gnocchi, multigrain pilaf, brown rice, linguine, sweet potatoes, buckwheat pancakes, everything that’s just plain carbolicious! All carbs are welcome here. The carbier the better!

While the food gives me real energy for race day, I think it does me a good mental trick too. So, about halfway through tomorrow’s running leg, when I’m ready to call it a day, I’ll remind myself that I’ve eaten a week’s worth of spaghetti in the past 72 hours. How could I possibly not have the oomph to kick it on home with that in my tank? That burrito from the other day? That will makes miles 20-24 on the bike cake. And, well, the cake I’ll pick up at Corbo’s or Presti’s after the race tomorrow… that will just make it all worthwhile.

Everything that goes into race-day prep, though, seems worthwhile. Like my bike ride on Friday morning that ended fast with a flat tire! It was planned as a short ride—one last brick before Sunday—so I didn’t bring a patch kit or air pump.

Lucky for me, I was only three miles from home when my smooth ride felt bumpy. A nail popped the back tire and left me looking pretty awesome, running down some big streets in full cycling attire (it only took me about one mile to take off my helmet). I’m thinking I should start the bike-running phenomenon now!

I popped my bike in the trunk and took her to Eddy’s for a quick change. It feels pretty secure right now; if only my paranoia were in check. You know I’ll be wondering whether my tires are flat or if the road is just bumpy for 24 whole miles!

When I visited Mentor Headlands this afternoon for packet pick-up, I tried to ease my paranoia on another front: open water swimming. I’ve hit the open water as a triathlete a total of three times. And while I try to practice open-water techniques at the pool, I’m really going to hit the lake hard next year t\o get my head out of the worrying clouds.

To ease what’s been ailing my head since my disastrous Huntington showing, I thought I’d hit the beach today and just get cozy with my lake.

Erie, however, had other plans.

The waves were just plan crazy! My plan was to just run straight into the water, swim for 5-10 minutes and go home (where we’re still unpacking, nesting, moving) to chill. I made it about thigh-deep before the waves almost took me out. While I had a blast wave-diving when I was a kid, I wasn’t going to pick up any confidence points this way.

So, I just reminded myself that last year’s dip went well; this year would just be twice as long. I just hope the Coast Guard doesn’t have to yell at me again for swimming off course too far! Besides, Olympic swimming finals start tonight. And if that doesn’t give me a rise, I don’t know what will. Maybe this goody-bag Carb-boom! will do….

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Calling All Olympians!

Remember when it used to be bright and sunny at 6 a.m.? It was so easy all summer to fly out of bed and hit the street before work. What’s with all this early morning dark?

Fall, my friend, is upon us. But not before we squeeze in a few triathlons.

And having run about ten miles each week since being sick, not biked at all and merely dipped in the pool six (count ‘em: 1-2-3-4-5-6!) times this year, I’d say it’s high time for my first Olympic triathlon, eh? Ahh, nothing like cramming.

It’s not all for naught: I have some serious garden action going on (butternut squash, orange sun peppers, two tomato varieties and herbs o’plenty) and a landscaped front yard to show for the summer. I wonder how building a retaining wall will fuel my run at the Greater Cleveland Triathlon (join us: late registration on Saturday) on Sunday…

Two weeks ago I was all about feeling sorry for the sad state of my training. I even considered skipping this race or just downgrading to sprint. But I don’t doubt I can finish an Oly tri. Sure, I’ve never ridden my bike for 24 straight miles, and I’ve only bricked twice this summer, and, yeah, that whole not swimming much at all point.

My solution: have a good time. I’ve gotten away this year from digging race day. You know: you under-train, you’re unprepared and you can’t expect your best performance. No pain, no gain, right? Race after race, though, it just wears on you.

Dara Torres has a swell timeAt least I have my garden.

And what better weekend to race my first Olympic triathlon? If you haven’t heard, I’m a total Olympic junkie. The mere THOUGHT of Dara Torres gives me chills; the SIGHT of Michael Phelps makes me giddy. Let the fun/games begin!

So, why not do an Olympic tri this weekend? Good weather, good health, good spirits. All I need is to have one good time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's Been How Long?

Good news first: my Web site launched, I think we’re beginning to get a clue about owning a house and I finally, finally, finally tested my bike in a race.

Not so good news: I’ve had the worst two racing weekends of my life; I have a quarter of a black eye; and I have dropped five pounds in three days.

But what good is being competitive if you don’t face adversity? I mean, where would ESPN be if we didn’t have anything to overcome? So, it’s all in good fun, right?

A Walk in the Park
Well, it all started last weekend when I drove to Akron for the Muddy Paws Trail Race, a race that benefited the Greater Akron Humane Society, in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which happened to be about two miles from where we used to live. Too bad we just moved 40 miles away!

It was an incredible event: dogs everywhere! And two of those pooches were Lucy and Harley, accompanied by none other than my mom.

The day offered a two-mile dog run, a 5-miler and a 10-miler on the trails. I was really impressed with my mom for running the two-miler with the dogs—it was a very hilly and “technical” route, and she was no doubt being dragged by puppies more energetic, fit and competitive than most you’ll meet—and without a day of training on her own. Way to run it, mom!

If you haven’t attended the event, I highly recommend it for next year. Especially if you like dogs. I think the overwhelming sentiment at the start of the two-miler was “Doh! Why didn’t I bring my camera?” Over 100 dogs and their owners ready to tear it up on the trails? It doesn’t get much sweeter. (See some photos.)

My 10-miler could have been sweeter, but I let Competitive G get in the way. Long story short: I headed out with a group; we never took a race pace; there was a lot of waiting; I should have just used it as a romp in the park, not a race. Nevertheless, I did get to experience a trail run and might make my way back soon.

Finally, a Swim or Three
I also made my way back to the pool a total of three times in the past week and a half (2,500 yards the first time; an interrupted 2,400 the second visit; and 3,000 yards on the third, including a fast mid-workout 1-miler followed by several 100-yard sprints), which would get me only slightly on track to do all right Aug. 10 at the Greater Cleveland Triathlon, right?

Well, how about a snap decision to do the Huntington Sprint Tri this past weekend? Oh yeah, the morning after the Winking Lizard Shot in the Dark.

Shooting in the Dark
Last year’s Shot in the Dark 4-Miler was sweltering. I will always think of that race fondly as the moment that I realized how good life is outside that race. It’s at a horrible time of the day (5 p.m.) during a horrible time of year (late July) in a truly great place (Cleveland). I wish it were in the dark. It’s hot. It’s muggy. It’s painful. And that’s why I go back: it’s a challenge.

Shot in the DarkIt was also the one-year anniversary of JG’s first race. I remember how nervous and uncertain he was last year (especially when he tried to hit the bathroom two minutes before the start), and how well he finished despite the conditions.

He was back at the starting line this year, and even brought company: Cathie and Tim from Kent State, who both represented very well in their first road races, the two-miler. Neil joined us downtown as well to watch the race and, I think, felt a little tempted to run the two-miler (more to come on his recent running). Maybe next year.

Saturday was a strange day: having to wait around all day for the race, do new-house work and prep my body for the next morning’s race was a bit weird. And my stomach didn’t feel too happy about it. I carbed up around 3 p.m. in anticipation of Sunday’s race, but felt wrong about it from first bite (but it was a really good proscuitto and grilled chicken with farfalle, so how could I resist?).

I gabbed up everyone at the starting line about watching people puke at finish lines as part of a you’ll-be-fine-during-your-first-race routine, but kind of felt a little queasy myself. Butterflies? It had to be.

Despite the heat, I wanted to have a good race and wanted to take some racing advice Salty gave me during our last time out. In very, very short: umm, run fast and keep running faster!

I’ve mentioned that I’ve never really pushed my tempo beyond “comfortable and sustainable” in a race, so I thought this oppressively hot July afternoon in a muggy urban area on a day when my body felt way off would be a perfect opportunity!

Off we went.

It seems that every race in Cleveland starts up the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, which happens to be my least favorite climb in all the city. Mostly because it always reminds me that I should have warmed up for a race, but probably spent my time talking about puking instead.

Because I’ve done most of my recent running in the early morning or later at night, I wasn’t even close to acclimated to mid-day smog and the breathing trouble it brings to the asthmatic. And so began the uphill battle of beating myself up over things I could do nothing about in the middle of a race. Oh, how the negative energy began to fly!

Surprisingly, though, the first mile wasn’t bad. Sure, I was uncomfortable and wheezing, but I was keeping a decent pace heading up an incline. JG caught up to me shortly before mile 1, and we were both pumped to hear it: 7:10. And somehow it felt sustainable, particularly as we crossed the marker and headed down the bridge!

But how short lived the glory would be. It wasn’t a few moments after crossing West 25th that I knew I had to stop. I told JG to go on without me, and I quickly found a garbage can to, umm, store the delicious farfalle I ate earlier that day. I took exactly five minutes to ralph and feel sorry for myself before shaking it off and running out the remaining 2.5+ miles.

Truth be known: I really don’t remember most of the race. While I knew I felt lighter and probably didn’t have anything else to throw up, I just wanted to finish and go home. That’s what I did. In 34:03 (8:31/mile). We joked that if I could nix the five-minute vomit break, I would have finished really well, but alas…

Oh, Why Do I Even Tri?
So, I shook off the stomach problems as nerves and heat, scarfed a bunch of post-race food and went to bed early for Sunday’s triathlon in Bay Village.

I’ve been fighting with myself over whether to go sprint or Olympic at this year’s Greater Cleveland Tri. While I want to up my distance each year, I have the new bike and wondered if I should try another year sprinting. Or at least get in one sprint.

Conveniently, I found a nearby race. It sounded like a great idea when I signed up on Friday afternoon. Sunday morning, though, I was really questioning my decision-making abilities.

Huntington BeachIt was hardly 12 hours since my last race when I hit the beach for this tri, and I don’t think I’ve ever stood on a beach and wanted to go swimming less. Plus, I was all by myself, so I had no one to remind me that I was defeating myself before the race had a chance to kick my butt.

As the age waves ran into the water, I felt what I thought were more butterflies in my stomach and tried to calm them down. It was swimming, I thought; it’s the one thing I can do.

Ha. Ha.

THE SWIM
First, the cool water/muggy air combo triggered some serious asthma (I really should have warmed up), which was only worsened when I got a swift heel-kick to the face that blasted off my goggles and gave me the lovely black eye I’ve been sporting. Then the nausea came back. And it was only when I watched two people get saved from the water that I started to panic.

I’m not going to lie: I wanted to quit it all right there. I was just going to swim straight back to shore and leave triathlons behind me. For good. I was so bitter and unhappy. Unfortunately for the G in the water on Sunday, I just don’t quit and I can’t. So, I didn’t.

Besides, I was in this race for the cycling leg, and it was next. I treaded water a minute while I contorted and unzipped a bit the back of my tri suit for some breathing room (high-neck tri-suits aren’t good for panicking) and slowly breaststroked the rest of the ¼-mile swim.

It took 15:20 (some perspective: I swam 17:30 for the half last summer), but felt like an eternity. But it was actually the trek back to the transition area that took forever!

As I passed a garbage can by the beachside bathroom, I threw up all the race-prep food I ate the night before and walked the 4-5 minutes uphill back to transition. Yet somehow I was still convinced there was nothing wrong with me. I hopped on my bike and headed out through the western burbs for my first race on the bike.

Oh, what a difference a bike makes!

THE BIKE
On the upside, I was pretty far back (between the poor swim and what looks like the worst T1 in the field!) and could only move up if I was able. My expectations for the cycling portion weren’t high—not only were my previous races on a hybrid, I haven’t trained much at all this year on the bike—but I wanted to see how this baby would ride.

Sure, I felt plenty of empathy as I cruised past the hybrid and mountain bike riders at the beginning of the 12-miler, but I felt at least a little cool as I pedaled past folks on racing bikes. Could I be decent at this biking thing?

I’m still wholly uncomfortable with going too fast on my bike (it was pretty scary when I saw a three-person crash around a tight turn before mile six), but I was pretty cozy with my pace as I was only passed by one person the whole stretch. It was a good ride that didn’t really tax my energy and only dented my spirit a bit at the end when I had to get some assistance when my shoelace got caught in my gears at dismount.

My time for 12-mile bike: 40:00 (~15 mph).

That’s a 15-minute improvement over my GCT time from last summer with just the switch of a bike. Wow.

SIDE NOTE: My cycling time comes from my honest watch. The official results, while they state otherwise, appear to include my T2 time in the cycling portion instead of running (overall time is still accurate). It was a quick turnover, which wasn’t hampered by all the bitterness I dragged through T1!

THE RUN
Pleased with my cycling, I hopped off my bike and used the run as a bit of a cool down. I wasn't winning anything that day! It was a strange course that had a serious downhill at the outset that I was surprised didn’t leave piles of old, broken knees on the sidelines.

I used the 29:30 to convince myself that I enjoyed doing these races, even when they went bad and that I could enjoy being a triathlete whether I was world-class or just happy to cross the finish.

And I was happy to cross the finish. I had pretty much raced the whole thing on a half bottle of calorie-free iced tea and a few swigs of Gatorade. I hit the food table hard, downing about half the watermelon they offered and topping it off with nothing less than a Hostess cupcake.

And Then There Was The Flu
As luck would have it, that cupcake was the last thing I’d eat for a few days (I told you those things were good for you; even if it was Hostess, it was the only thing to stay down!). Once I came home, I finally admitted to myself that I was sick. I plopped on the couch and was pretty much down for three days (barring a silly attempt at going to work on Monday morning) with stomach flu. Bleh.

Five pounds later, I’m finally up and I tried to get outside this afternoon. Being sick really takes it out of you! I walked about three blocks to get some fresh air and felt totally whipped. All this sleep and no energy? Come on!

At least a cupcake survivedI have a race on the schedule for Saturday and would like to re-try this whole actually racing during a race thing. If that whole pukey thing didn't get in the way on Saturday... who knows what could have happened?

Maybe I’ll just watch the race and regain these pounds with some race food. I mean, it is near the cupcake shop… and I know what could happen there.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What Ever Happened to the Good Ol’ Foregone Conclusion?

Finally: part of a day I can have to myself. Between the current load at work, the new house and, well, the new bike, I just haven’t found a moment for some important things. Like blogging.

Nadal and FedererToday I thought I’d take an hour or two after morning yoga to watch Wimbledon and then get things like more work-work and housework done. But here I am, 4-5 hours later, still waiting for Roger and Rafael to work this thing out.

On the plus side of being occupied these past couple weeks, I neared 40 miles last week (I ran 36 miles between Tuesday and Saturday, but then biked nearly 40 miles with JG around Cleveland on Sunday… it rained shortly after we finished riding, so I never made it to those final four) and was scheduled to close out 40 this week with a weekend 20-miler, but, alas, calf soreness and Wimbledon. They get me every time.

This road bike phenomenon is phenomenal. I rode the bike-without-a-name 40 miles last Sunday, and it felt like nothing. In fact, it was almost easier than driving. And when I pedaled to work last week, the only real obstacle was the straight-into-the-sky hill out of Little Italy that posed a challenge (I would surely had to stop and walk on my hybrid), but mostly because the Corbo’s cookies and Presti’s napoleons were at the bottom. Shucks!

What’s more is that the 25 miles I rode that day weren’t enough! I hopped off my bike, already dressed for the road, and added five miles to my week’s low total.

Although last Saturday, before the long ride I ran my first 18-miler around Euclid on what started out as a gloomy morning and blossomed into a sunny day. It took me about three hours to run the miles, not including a bathroom and water pit stop at home at mile 10, and add another set of stripes to my summer runner’s tan.

Following the personal long, I was optimistic about this week’s hope for 40. But alas: six on Tuesday, five on Wednesday and then nine on Saturday… all that Fourth of July food must have tackled me too far down! I was happy on Saturday, though, that suddenly nine miles just isn’t a great distance to me anymore.

Sure, I didn’t hit 40 miles, but I felt a great sense of progress in my running life. Nine miles isn’t my distance day? Awesome. Maybe next week I’ll pull the big 20. But for now I want to go play. Roger has bowed down to Raf, and now I have only a few hours before Dara Torres tears it up (again) in the pool. Perhaps that will be enough to get me into one. Now, where’s my tennis racquet?