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


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.