ZERO Week (almost over)

The final week before a marathon (or any goal event really) is both an awesome time and stressful time. You’re excited and you’re fit (hopefully), but by resting more than usual you feel not-so-fit. You’re excited to run the marathon, but on the other hand it’s a marathon, it’s so LONG and it gets so darn difficult…and so on and so forth. There are more opportunities for ambivalence than a political convention. For many people yesterday was the peak of these mixed-feelings as it was the 3rd anniversary of 4-15-2013, and the deaths of 3 people (later, 4), with 260 people sustaining injuries, and also the day when many are flooding into Boston to kick-off 4 days of indulgence in running lore.


2014: Synchro-Myofacial-Release

One of the things that draws many to marathon running is its duality. It is an individual sporting competition but also a thing that hints at the very definition of community and teamwork. This duality will be the exact driving force behind my own performance this Marathon Monday. I’m going to be running with Meredith. We’ve never actually done a race side by side before. She’s one of the best friends (and humans, period) I’ve ever known. And yes, we’ve logged many hours running side by side, we’ve composed the Great American Novel’s worth of text messages about running, we’ve coached and counseled each other in running and in life, and we’ve run the same races plenty of times. But never 100% together.


2013: Shakeout run, SoCal Style

After the rough fall season I had with my health, and then totally bonking at the LA Marathon also due to illness, I decided not to go to the Catalina Marathon after all (discussed here). And then, I sort of tanked emotionally and physically (again). Instead of increasing my stress by trying to stick to my training plan for Boston I switched up to a more intuitive style for a couple weeks, and that coincided with racing season kicking off. I love races. Not because I’m particularly competitive really, I just love the feel of races…people are so friendly at them, and I love that while you’re participating in a race from 1 mile to an ultra-marathon that’s all that exists for that period of time: running. It’s good medicine.

Top: "yaaay we're going to run on trails!" Middle: "Yay, we ran on trails" Bottom: muddy happy trail running Bootleggers.

2016: Paleozoic Trail Races Silurian Spring 25k: Top: “yaaay we’re going to run on trails!”
Middle: “Yay, we ran on trails”
Bottom: muddy happy trail running Bootleggers.



Basically my strategy became: run when I wanted to and do whatever type of run I felt would bring me a psychological boost (while maintaining a minimum of marathon readiness), and I would race for the fun of it. This way, even though I’m feeling heavy, slow, and tired (all the time, more or less), I wouldn’t lose sight of how much I love running, and how much it makes the rest of life manageable.

The Good Life Race 5k: Start coral happy place with Lauren. The last 50 meters, and the start of the women's race. (I'm in the front!)

The Good Life Race 5k:
Start coral happy place with Lauren. The last 50 meters, and the start of the women’s race. (I’m in the front!)

Even once I decided to switch to this love-based running strategy I was consumed with kind of wanting to bow out of Boston this year. Which, well, is a bit out of character for me. What really was going on was that I have gained weight and haven’t been getting enough rest – all related to overall stress I think, and that was being channelled into a complete lack of confidence. 0dcae5b0347e3156b1a13392aa9c3825I spent a lot of  time thinking about all the reasons why it would be better NOT to run Boston this year, and although all of these things are true, it’s embarrassing to admit I nearly committed to a DNS because of them: I don’t have the money to spend on the trip, I’ve gained too much weight to feel good when I run, I have no chance for a PR and it’s been so long that another slow marathon will leave me too frustrated to handle, my gut issues (celiac, colitis, diverticulosis – for those who don’t already know everything about my plumbing) have been unpredictable lately and I don’t want to eat out for 4 days, I have too much work to catch up on….and so on…you see how ridiculous this all was at this point.

Whenever I was talking with people about their running during this time, and especially when talking with Meredith or other close friends, I noticed that all those excuses weren’t present in my mind. So I asked Meredith what she thought about running together. Like, TOGETHER – together. Like, you know, teamwork. But we’re focused on her goals and the purpose of my race is to make her race better (hopefully). She was in! Phew! The magic in that is this will make my race better. It will make my race, period. Ever since making that decision, I’ve been enjoying (almost) every run, and have been so excited for marathon weekend.


2016: Post Shamrock Shuffle 8k with some BRC essentials.

That’s the beautiful thing, not just within running, but in life. If you put your focus on others, and strive to lift them up. You end up getting lifted up too. In fact, you ‘re really the one getting the better deal.



Kelly, always saving the world and stuff.

P.S. I’d be inexcusably remiss if I didn’t note also that for the second year in a row I’m staying with my wonderfully generous and thoughtful friends Kelly and Tish, who live in Boston.  Kelly is running the LONDON MARATHON next weekend! Kelly is also fundraising for VICTA a charity providing support for children with visual impairments. As a personal favor to me, please head to her fundraising page and drop a British Pound or two!


Weaknesses, Ambivalence, & a Great 10k

I’m at a week (and a half) in recovery mode: Last week I tried to get a bit more sleep (success), not work a ton of extra hours (moderate success), and ran only 23 total miles. I was feeling a lot more optimistic about the rest of Winter training and going into the Spring racing season. Especially after running the Back On My Feet Mardi Gras 10k on Saturday without falling apart (although it wasn’t without cramping).

The course was .20 short. Whoopsy. Mile 5 was slow because we ran into the 5k..bod and weave isn't in my repertoire.

The course was .20 short. Whoopsy. Mile 5 was slow because we ran into the 5k..bob and weave isn’t in my repertoire.

With honesty I’ve concluded that some of the discomfort and bonkyness I experienced at the LA Marathon wasn’t from having a cold (although that was the biggest contributor and certainly exacerbated things), but also was an illustration of several weak spots in my training and other habits that all reacted at once to the stress of 26.2 miles, on a hilly course, while fighting a lack of rest, a high level of stress, and illness over the past few months while also running at a (for me) high volume.


Screen shot from thumbnail…used without permission…is marathonfoto really never going to decide to charge a reasonable prices for downloading images?

Also, side note, I’m on my second “rest day” in a row (because of logistics and weather), so it’s plausible I’ve entered a reality distortion based panic where I can’t stop eating, feel 20lbs heavier, and am certain I’m out of shape. You know, the usual.

What are these training weaknesses? In no particular order here are the things I’ve pin-pointed, which if given some attention, it’s realistic to expect I would run (and generally feel) much better:

  1. DIET: True, I maintain a diet that more-or-less keeps me  more-or-less feeling good, and out of the hospital. Having faulty guts  means that I eat much “better” than the average person. But there are several areas where my vices rule me: lots of sugar, lots of coffee, lots of wine. If I just halved my consumption of those three things , I might wake up looking like Shalane… or at least, I’d reliably be able to button my slacks instead of trying to make leggings work-suitable. us-olympic-marathon-trials-results-team-amy-cragg-shalane-flanagan
  2. STRENGTH: I’m as total weak-ass. Figuratively and quite literally. I have very little strength and gave up my weight lifting habit once my weekly mileage went over 40. So, that was like 4 years ago, and now I have all kinds of hip, back, and core issues when I run… because those areas are so damn weak! And, as suggested, I think my ass is pretty wimpy too.
  3. SLEEP: Poor Jorge can share hundreds of anecdotes illustrating how much I struggle in the morning. I’ve been like this my entire life. Doesn’t matter how early I get to bed, my brain, mood, and body take FOREVER to wake up in the morning. If I sleep less than 8 hours (and who has time for THAT?!) it’s worse, and for me sleep debt seems to accumulate very fast and I almost always develop a fever, or catch whatever virus/bacteria is going around – this is what happened in Jan/Feb first the flu then the cold. I was logging only 5-6hrs of sleep per night from Thanksgiving until I got back from LA and said….NOooooooo I can’t take this anymore!
  4. STRESS: Productivity and stress have such a weird relationship. High productivity increases overall stress, but also decreases it… but then if overall stress gets too high then productivity slows down – creating more stress! GAAAAH! This is my life.

    This counts as a whole week's worth of ancillary work, right?

    This counts as a whole week’s worth of ancillary work, right? (and to be clear: this is me NOT Shalane.

  5. CLARITY OF GOALS: For the first time, outside of wanting to break 3:10 in the marathon this year, I don’t really know what I want from running in 2016 … which makes it hard to focus, do the supplemental work, drink less wine,  plan training, and choose races. Which brings me to my next point.

I’m still waffling like crazy over how to proceed in terms of racing and training. More specifically, I can’t decide whether I should go run the Catalina Marathon on March 19th, or stay home and run the Cary March Madness Half Marathon on the 20th (already registered). I registered for Cary on New Years Eve (it sells out within minutes most years), and then last month, very impulsively I entered a giveaway for an entry into the Catalina Marathon. I was really excited when I won! As it says in my entry post, I ran the Eco Marathon in 2013, and LOVED it. I also managed to finish as the first female, and 7th overall… which was an awesome experience. I wrote about it here.FullSizeRenderWhat I failed to consider in my impulsivity, was that this race is 5 weeks after LA and 4 weeks before Boston, and although it’s a comped race entry, I still need to FLY TO CALIFORNIA, which ain’t free. If the weather and sea conditions cooperate I don’t need accommodations because my bother, SIL, nephew and I will go out to the island on their boat. I usually take 36 or so hours to not be sea-sick, but I mean, who sleeps before a marathon anyway? Not me! The bigger concern is running with “sea legs”, basically then you feel sea-sick, but while you’re on land, running a race that is 26 miles with like 4,000ft of elevation gain. Awesome?

Note: not the actual boat.

Note: not the actual boat.

I honestly feel ambivalent, I can get on board with going and with not going. The biggest appeal is an extra visit with my family . I feel too awkward to ask to defer the entry, because, you know. Contest. But I also feel like a douche if i don’t use it. I need to make a decision so I can figure out how to train…

I can’t decide what to do. 

Thanks for hanging in here with me, now it’s time to CROWD-SOURCE this, yay!

What do you think? Catalina: yes or no?  (follow-up question, am I stuck being a jackass no matter how I handle this?)

Reduce training volume by 20% to make time/energy for supplemental work: yes or no?

Give up candy and wine: just kidding, don’t answer this one.


Which Results Are The Important Ones?

I ran the LA Marathon yesterday, and although what follows may seem to have a dreary tone, I’ve got about a hundred things that when I think about them they make me laugh, so overall I’m in a good place. There was a seemingly unending and hilarious series of small and large calamities leading up to this race, most of which I’ll leave out of this post in the name of talking about some other things. But before I get into it, I have to upfront thank my sister-in-law and mother for journeying to the finish line, Meredith for traveling from San Francisco to spend the weekend with me and my crazy clan, and Erica who was probably the sole reason I made it to the start…because I set my alarm for 4:30pm, not am. Which means if I’d been at my brother’s house, and not a hotel in downtown LA, well, there’s no way I’d have made it on time!

One of the things about running that drew me in and has kept me plugging away is the allure of predictable success. The premise that if you complete x, y, z actions (training details) then you can expect x, y, z results (faster races). The challenge with this concept is that  you have to maintain a sort of aerial view of your training and racing in order for this rule to be supported. There is a constant temptation look at single races and workouts and get sucked into flip-flopping between thinking you’re either the inevitable next member of the olympic team or you should give up running forever, because there’s obviously no hope for improvement.

Another challenge of the a+b=c theory of running is that how we define success, our rate of improvement, the ceiling of our abilities, and how much we can manipulate our daily life to support training is highly fluid. That is, all of these things vary across people, and within each of us across time.

Since my first marathon in 2010, if you’re looking from afar, I have slowly increased the volume and intensity of my training cycles (I’m not going to get into specifics in the name of, trying to be succinct -probably a futile effort). For the most part I’ve seen a positive relationship between these increases and increases in my performance across distances on race days. But, if you take a close up view, this journey is riddled with full-stops, breaks, bonks, DNS’s, and (one) DNF. Admittedly, I’m a little stuck in the myopic view right now, I’m feeling a bit desperate for a breakthrough or at least some unquestionable evidence (i.e. marathon PR) that overall my performance is still improving, or unquestionable evidence that I need to change the way I train.

My current marathon training plan of choice is the Pfitzinger 12 week 70 miles per week training plan. That is, you begin the first week running a total of 55 miles, and at the peak of the cycle you have 4 weeks at 70 miles.pfitz Like most plans out of a book (read: not individualized) this one has weekly elements that target improving lactate threshold (tempo runs), VO2 Max (intervals and goal pace runs), and your glycogen storage and fat utilization (total volume, long runs, medium-long runs). That is to say, each week you spend some time running hard, running at or near goal marathon race pace, running easy, running tired, and put in as many miles as you can without flirting with diminishing returns. Hopefully the outcome is that you end the training cycle with your training and racing paces faster than your previous training cycle, or the start of this one. 

I’ve now “completed” two cycles of this plan.  The quotations are required because in the first cycle, last fall, right as the first taper week began I got very sick with colitis and diverticulitis complications. Then, this cycle for the LA Marathon I had the flu, and had it bad, during the second peak week, then 5 days out from race day developed a cold which began moving from my sinuses to my chest about 36hrs out.

The weather report for racing in LA was not ideal. In Chicago “unseasonably warm” in February means 40 degrees, in SoCal is means 90. But with the early start (6:55am) and running toward the ocean I really never felt hot. In fact, coming down the last couple of miles into Santa Monica, there was a dense fog and I felt rather cold. That said, I also wasn’t running very hard, or fast…Ok…at that point I wasn’t really running at all.

The LA Marathon course is NOT an easy one. People kept telling me it was mostly rolling hills. Those people clearly don’t know what “rolling hills” means. The course alternates between intermittently shoving you off cliffs, and long never-ending moderate inclines. But this could just be my bitterness and resentment talking. Even if you’re feeling at the peak of your game, I suspect it would be challenging to run an even effort or even pace on this course.

Unfortunately, for this race my strategy moved from “target a 3:10 finish and run smart” to “don’t die and/or quit running forever” within the span of a week. The highlight reel of my performance yesterday is as follows (with mile splits for your amusement):

  1. Struggled to slow down for first few miles because options included either blowing out your quads barreling down the hills, or blowing out your knees and hamstrings trying to slow down (do I have that backwards?) — oh and the constant certainty that someone was going to fall.  (7:17, 7:10, 7:18)
  2. Spent 10 miles feeling responsible for some mans BQ because he wasn’t wearing watch and the course clocks SUCKED, and he kept asking me about my pace (note: he was totally nice about it and non annoying). TRANSLATION: my modified race plan to run 7:30-7:45’s and prevent bonking due to chest cold? fail)  (7:19, 7:35, 7:30, 7:15, 7:22, 7:26, 7:15, 7:16, 7:13) *he later took up with the 3:15 pace group as they passed us -phew.
  3. Halfway. Coughing a lot. Shirt full of snot.(7:31, 7:29, 7:08, 7:24)
  4. Mile 17. Chest discomfort. First walk breaks. (7:41, 7:44, 7:37)
  5. Mile 20. Longer walk breaks, chest discomfort spreading. Made friends with a very hungover 2:30-something marathoner. (8:09)
  6. Mile 21 – stopped for a beer with new friend (9:18)
  7. Soon after – abandoned by new friend because he had to pee/saw something shiny – decided to start jogging
  8. Mile 22-25 my diaphragm didn’t seem to be working properly, lots of abdominal muscle spasms and cramps. Lots of stopping to feebly try and stretch them out.(8:53, 8:31, 9:27, 7:57)
  9. Mile 25+ stop to see Meredith, Mom, and Teresa (my SIL) (9:15)
  10. Mile 25.5 to finish – maybe 10 full stops, hard to stay upright for the abdominal cramping. (FOREVER)
  11. Stupid cold. Lame immune system. Running is hard.

For once I perfectly expressed all my emotions: “meh”.

I’ve got two marathons coming up in the next 9 weeks. First, Catalina Island, which isn’t (perhaps obviously) a race at which I’m going to be looking to PR at, I love Catalina and I’m lucky to have a brother who goes there often with his trawler, so to the degree that it’s not insane to do so, I’ll be training around that one. Then, Boston, where I do want to go out looking for a PR. But I’m stuck.

Which data do I look at to decide if my current goal of running 3:10 pace is reasonable and/or if I’m training properly? Do I look at those workouts where I hit the training targets reliably, or do I look at the fact that 3 times now I’ve gone out at 3:10 pace in a marathon and 3 times I’ve bonked. (Boston – hypothermia/med tent/3:19, Bayshore – DNF at mile 20, LA – well…the above).

While it’s true that in each of these cases there were variables that affected performance: wet/cold weather, proximity to the previous ordeal, and moderate illness (in that order), I also don’t feel that I’ve had a very strong half marathon performance in the past two years where I feel like I can confidently say I’m ready for a big jump up in marathon performance.

What say you internet running (experts) friends?


Finding X

Running brings many gifts. Three of my favorites are:

  1. Access and exposure to people you may not otherwise have the grace and good fortune to know.
  2. Running makes you a more informed and enlightened tourist/traveller.
  3. It can bring strengths and weaknesses to the surface, many you may not expect to be related to running, and some that aren’t reality.

Here is one (long) example of this last gift.

As is socially embraced by math-phobics and math-vangelists alike, I often make self-deprecating cracks about my lack of math fluency. One of my most tired lines being, “You figure it out, there’s a reason I decided to be a psychologist, I failed algebra three times”.

If memory serves me right, I actually failed algebra once, in high school, but then I dropped out half-way through re-taking it. By dropped out I mean; simply stopped going to school, got my GED, and moved on with my life (I really, REALLY hated school). Of course, moving on with my life meant having to take “college algebra”, and while I didn’t fail it, I did re-take it to bring up my grade.

This means that I took algebra 3.5 times. (See? I CAN do math!) After which, I should be a freaking Algebra wiz! And you know what. I think I kind of am. Actually, I am more like the Picasso of Algebra.

Seriously. Most specifically I relate to; “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” – Pablo Picasso.

You see, the reason I struggled in school generally. and specifically with math, is perhaps the same reason I ended up in a professional area of expertise that ends with the words “ANALYSIS” and “ANALYST” (NOT as ironic as you may think, stick with me here). I have a hard time doing things in a prescribed order because that order seems to rarely make sense to me. I vividly remember being in math classes, arriving at the “correct answer”, showing my work, and getting marked down (and made to feel foolish) because I didn’t perform the operations and whatever in the right order. That order being, whatever the text book said, or the teacher preferred.

When I really started struggling at school, academically and socially when I was 15, a very unimaginative psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADHD, prescribed TWO meds, and told me I was lucky to have made it that long with becoming hooked on narcotics, getting pregnant, or getting arrested,  I was almost hilariously far from any of those things so I told my parents he was a moron and never went back (I have REALLY GOOD parents).

In graduate school,  while studying Applied Behavior Analysis, the only two classes I struggled with were two that subjected me to the exact same experience (narrowly defined “correctness” not insults and unnecessary psychotropics), except instead of math operations, it was treatment design.

I’ve found in adulthood, and  in my career as a scientist-practitioner these last five years, that we actually have this amazing freedom to do things in WHATEVER ORDER YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE. This drive to do things in an order that seems functional rather than what the book says, helps me to be creative and actually solve problems more efficiently and effectively (and in a way that might maintain) than if I bang my head against the dogmatic protocols.

Wow, that was vague. Cut me some slack, I’m in the middle of some serious self-actualization right now. 

Perhaps the really major flaw in how we teach both algebra and treatment selection, is that we assume only a specific set of tools is available for reaching the conclusion, and that no other tools could ever lead to the same result. When in reality, you could be solving for the same “X” with a wide variety of tools available at different times and in different contexts.

Runners and coaches take hits to their confidence and performance because of this same fallacy. Just because a plan worked before, or this workout meant this or that THEN, doesn’t mean it will work NOW. We treat data that are fairly arbitrary as law (I’ll digress abruptly now, because this is a whole new 1,000 words waiting to happen).

Here’s my point: I was led to believe for 30 plus years that I suck at math. Then, while running the other day, and having to do a bunch of “X” finding to make sure I didn’t run too far or end up late for work, I realized that there are MANY circumstances where I’m actually pretty darn slick with the math skills, here’s a sampling:

  • calculating the tip on a restaurant bill (20%, dudes, 20%)
  • figuring out when to turn around during a run when I’ve altered course multiple times (as above)
  • re-arranging a training plan (where “X” is always shifting, and so are all the other variables)
  • Orienteering with a paper map and a compass (old school!). At least I assume I could still do this…also, this is totally math. Right?
  • Deciding which quantity of a product is cheaper, even though retailers and manufacturers are seemingly HELL BENT on discouraging you from doing so by never using the same unit of measurement for different packagings of the SAME PRODUCT. Sigh. I work in social services. In Illinois, I’ll always be on budget, this is a crucial skill.

The thing about how math (and problem solving) is taught in general education and how we use it in real life, is that the “X”we’re trying to solve for is often a moving target. Moreover, there are often multiple correct answers, potentially high-stakes (positive AND negative), and sometimes the part where you show your work, is truly the only part that matters. NOT because you used the “right” tools, but because you used the tools you had mastery over, you fostered progress, and so, even if you don’t arrive at the “correct” answer for “X”, you win.

What is the terminal outcome for my career, marathon running, and anything else? I’m not sure, and that’s what keeps me trying to solve for X, making the most of what I have, and chasing Unicorns.


New pub-trivia facts about Annabelle, and a 5k you should check out

I can't share a running photo, because I haven't been racing! But this is proof positive for you that all else is still in order.

I can’t share a running photo, because I haven’t been racing! But this is proof positive for you that all else is still in order.

Please forgive me the fact that most of this post is a duplicate of what you’ll find on another blog, one that I hope you’ll have an interest in after reading this. I’ve been on a long slow road to getting my blogger mojo back after a rough 2014 in terms of training, racing, and running culture in general. I’ll begin elaborating on these things, as well as the typical over-indulgent posts you subscribe here for, in the near future. In the meantime here are a few “Annabelle Trivia” bits for you to enjoy:

  1. I rarely untie/retie my shoes. My mother has scolded me for this since the day I learned to tie laces in the first place. My running shoes get re-tied maybe once a month on average, and my non-running sneakers maybe twice in their lifetime, if that. *note: sometimes before a race, if I’m nervous, I’ll tie and retie my laces upwards of 15 times – a life lived in extremes.
  2. I AM running the Boston Marathon this year, my 4th shot at the course. I WILL NOT be anywhere near PR shape.
  3. I am still working on being OK with #2
  4. I really enjoy the boxed wine from Target
  5. My favorite foods, in random order are: apples, lasagna, pie (apple, blueberry), single-malt scotch, pickles, Classic Lays potato chips, Skittles, Goat cheese … you can see why I’ve never seen 10lbs within range of my racing weight.
  6. I recently traded in the 1999 Chevy S10 Pickup that I’ve been commuting over 300 miles a week in for 4 years. My spiffy new ride has lots of bells and whistles, and now I have all kinds of data to illustrate that I spend, on average, 15-20 hours per week in my car…no more mystery about my injuries!
  7. I am a race director (mostly self-appointed and title)! I’ve always wanted to be at the helm of an event, and here we go, I’m feverishly trying to expand my skill-set to ensure success (yes, this is me asking if any of you want to join my planning committee).

Why you should register for the Super Sunny 5k today!

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and I hope your 2015 is off to a great start! For me, a few notable things come to mind when I check in with my personal goals (in no particular order):

  1. I have created some energizing momentum toward my professional
  2. goals in just the first 5 weeks of the year.
  3. I am, thankfully, 7 weeks into training for the Boston Marathon!
  4. I’m struggling with a couple of health related resolutions I made for 2015…time to find a different motivation!
  5. I’ve witnessed more than a dozen breakthrough moments as GCS staff members and people receiving services work toward their goals!
  6. My job is sometimes hard to understand, sometimes challenging, and always important. I think everyone who works at GCS could say the same, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
  7. I’ve developed a deeper understanding of just how much of a turning-point 2015 might be for the work we do at GCS, both as employees and people receiving services.

Let me elaborate on this last points MILLION dollars, 70 of them. SEVENTY MILLION DOLLARS! For me, this is such a large figure, that it doesn’t seem real, yet at the same time, it sort of terrifies me.

For me, this is such a large figure that it doesn’t seem real—but it does seem terrifying. If you are like me and this figure seems too big to touch, let me bring it closer to home. With the end of the tax increase of 2011, your personal paychecks will increase by a few dollars. Multiply that by all the income-earners in Illinois, and you have over a billion dollars! A portion of this tax money is allocated to providing crucial services to adults with developmental disabilities. More of your paycheck in your pocket means tax revenue decreases. When the tax money decreases, the funding thus decreases.

Currently, GCS sees an annual gap of $300,000 for day-program services alone. That is to say, after financial support from the state and federal departments is exhausted, we need to raise $300K in order to continue to provide quality, progressive, and inclusive support.

Overwhelming, isn’t it? I sure think so! Take a deep breath, because you can make a real impact very easily! Here are two ways to help:

1.)  Contact your legislative leaders! They are the play-makers, and they can’t know what is important to us if we don’t tell them! Use the links below to advocate for those we support, and for that which we believe in, and strive for.



2.)  REGISTER TODAY for the Super Sunny 5k. Your $25 registration fee goes right into filling these funding gaps, and you’ll also have to opportunity to help us raise additional funds in the registration process. Click here to go to our registration page.

With hope and aspiration,


Book Review: 80/20 Running – Matt Fitzgerald


This book will be released on September 2, 2014 and is available for pre-order on Amazon (Kindle or Paperback), or via Penguin books.

Read it:

  • You’ve gotten injured, perhaps more than once, when you were otherwise fit and still want to keep running (and improving).
  • You have been running 5k’s up to maybe a half marathon and want to train for a marathon (although the book caters to 5k – marathon distances).
  • You enjoy reading literature reviews and find it entertaining (and helpful) to know what current research is suggesting.
  • You’ve read some of Matt Fitzgerald’s other books (I think it’s fair to say he’s a prolific writer at this point) and enjoyed them.
  • You are a solely motivated by how many miles you log per week, and how much faster you logged them than last week.
  • You like reading books that dispel myths.
  • You’re a fan of the McMillan or Daniels training tools and templates (this book is totally compatible with them).

*I’d like to point out, as an aside, that this book goes very well with Fitzgerald’s “RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel”. My opinion is such that if you read both, and have been running for more than 6 months to a year, you can probably then self-coach with reasonable success.

Skip it:

  • You have a training program that works for you and you haven’t experienced; symptoms of over-training, injury, a performance plateau, a sense of malaise or apathy toward training.
  • You’ve been under the tutelage of a well informed coach, you’re injury fee and happy with the progress you’re making.
  • You don’t like hearing about what “science” says. (yes, I know you are real, and it’s ok)
  • You want to just be given a plan and told what to do, not react to how your training goes or have to spend time planning your runs. You aren’t interested in the why’s and how’s, just the do’s and don’ts.
  • You can only/are willing only to train 3 times per week (<4hrs, but still expect to improve. (ok, so the book doesn’t say this, but I formulate that this training philosophy requires increases over time to training volume)


Several points that might bias me slightly toward liking this book: If you’ve read my rant page on the state of product reviews on the internet, then please allow me a teaspoon of hypocrisy. I did not pay for this book. I asked Matt if I might be sent an advanced copy, and to my surprise he (and his publisher) obliged. Next, as a rather large part of my professional life I spend a lot of time trying to synthesize lots of research results into, basically, getting small or large groups of people to buy-in to some different way of approaching problems and other things, and so I appreciate how difficult this is to do, I appreciate that this is the approach this books embraces. Finally, I like reading about running, and about different training strategies even if I don’t agree with them (in this case I do, however).

That all said, I had a bias to dis-like this book as well. As you may be aware the 80/20 principle (know by several names) is a popular one in business, managing, and with various work/life evangelists. It’s frequently misapplied, misunderstood, or over-generalized (simplified?), and I think more recently has been boiled down to the really annoying “work smarter – not harder” mantra. In order to be able to skillfully select the 20% of any causes that will generate the desired results takes a heck of a lot of hard work…I digress.

My Summative Experience:

Given that I was set-up to love this book, (“Run”, and “Diet Cults” are books I’ve pressured probably 50 people into reading, my interns have all been made to read the latter), I was actually a little disappointed. Of course, I should temper that by saying it’s exactly the same kind of disappointment I felt when I read “Hansons Marathon Method”. Both books are marketed as an approach to marathon training (ahem ,– running) that are “revolutionary”. So of course, you’re expecting some sort of magic bullet. The thought of which, even if you (like me) are in love with the process of training, will still find alluring. But this book is not “revolutionary”, I’d say rather that it addresses a cornerstone of successful training that is a MUST for all runners who want to run better (faster, healthier, happier etc), but one that runner’s typically fall into (the 80/20 formula) as part of their evolution as runners. That is, they get injured, get burnt-out, and so on, and over time settle into this more natural, and happily, more successful ratio.

I am definitely one of these people. I haven’t used a heart-rate monitor while running in years, but in the spirit of the full experience I wore one over the week and a half I was reading this book (it’s actually a quick read – I just had life-ish things getting in the way). Even though I’m still a bit out of shape (week 3 of an 18 week training cycle) I found that once I calculated my training zones I am well within the 80/20 rule. And in fact, when I looked back to my two most successful training cycles in the past, they were too. What’s of great interest to me is that had I followed the plans as set-up at the time, I would not have been. I would have, as defined in this book, been working way too much above the ventilatory threshold, but because I have always been a big proponent of listening to your body, I was “skipping” a lot of the workouts.

What was wholly not disappointing about this book is that I think I could go back twice and find additional interesting component topics to look into. Fitzgerald just does a plain old great job weaving in heaps of research notes.

Also, let’s just go ahead and acknowledge two things: first, the use of the term “revolutionary” is clearly a publishers’ favorite buzz word, and second, that sense of disappointment I had after reading the Hanson’s book? Well, I then used their training templates for 3 PR races, sooo…kettle, meet black.

Target Audience:

This is actually a little tricky to address. Normally I excel at pairing specific content with specific audiences (again, this is an element of my professional gig), but this book has left me a little stuck in the “der, well, everyone who is running should read this”. Let me explain: I hinted at this above, we all have to learn about what our bodies respond best to, and how they respond in general, to training. There is some trial and error to that. The thing is, we actually DON’T have to do the whole trial-and-error fumbling around in frustration thing because it’s been done for us, by other runners over many decades. If you read the books, and spend some time assessing and strategizing, then you can in large part avoid the misery of trial and error training. Reading about running, and the science of running, is a great component to that. I say reading, rather than talking with other runners, intentionally. Often runners get defensive, rather than grateful, when you start to pick apart their chosen training method.

I’ve learned this the hard way. So now, instead, I (try to) make only references to how I’ve contacted success in training, and then I recommend books. My rate of impassioned debates regarding marathon training has greatly decreased. But my recommendation library has grown. This book is perfect for it.

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

  • It is not as simple as arbitrarily delegating 80% of your training volume to easy running, and the remaining 20% to hard running.
  • There isn’t one most efficient way to run (stride, cadence etc), moreover your most efficient run is different given different workouts and other conditions.
  • There are people researching training loads and components of training, and slowly the populations they draw from are broadening (I’m being optimistic here).
  • To get better results over time in racing, you need to increase your training load/volume over time (i.e. run more).
  • Currently training models aren’t ousting old ones: they are building upon them.
  • Cross-training is supportive training (my words) – and has some positive effects beyond potentially injury prevention (I won’t give away the punch line!)
  • The point of diminishing returns in building fitness and skill is a real thing, so is genetic potential (for running fast).

Warnings and potential mis-use:

Within the book Fitzgerald makes the assumption (he might take exception to my use of this term, but I have a word limit here) that most people are running harder than they need to for optimal returns on fitness, I disagree, just a bit. I think within the running population there are people definitely people who fit that bill: I think these people tend to be beginners, or/and fairly competitive age-grouper types (this is where I fall, for a reference point) who tend to get stuck in a work-horse mentality and don’t realize they’re working in the realm of diminishing returns because the metrics like weekly mileage and individual workout stats are so damn reinforcing. Additionally, I think there is a population of runners (many perhaps falling into the 4:45 – 6:30 marathon finish, training 30-45mi/wk) who underestimate their rate of exertion, and aim too low in how hard they should train. It would be another 3,000 words for me to fairly elaborate this point, but I mention it here because I think there will be people who read this book and actually lose fitness gains by over-correcting.

Next, unlike the plans that typically appeal to beginners, where the whole 16-24 weeks of training is all pre-planned, you need to calibrate your training. This book includes great training plan templates and other key element run templates (tempo runs and the like), but you do need to first establish what your training zones are (i.e. easy, moderate, hard – the book will break them down into sub-sections for you), and then you’ll need to calibrate them over the course of training as your body adapts and becomes more fit. That is, as you improve. Call me a negative Nancy, but I can absolutely see people skipping the assessment work, assuming where their paces fall, and then blaming the system (er – Matt Fitzgerald) when they don’t improve.

Overall, this book is a great addition to your training resource library, and I look forward to digging into some of the finer points even more.

Let me know if you read it!


All The Unicorns

I don’t think about “work/life balance” much. But I do think each day about what is a priority that day. Some days, like last Monday, working out in the parking lot after work was a priority, as what not sitting in traffic for two hours (motivation comes in many forms).

Parking Lot Workout 1

Other days working late, or getting home early to have time to hang out with Jorge take priority. Now, to say I’m not a big proponent of the concept of work/life balance is not the same as saying I don’t practice a rigorous level of goal setting, because I do. I like to identify Unicorns (capital “U”), and then figure out the benchmarks. For me the Unicorns I chase are a small pack and they are broad, more like long distance targets or even guiding principles than they are items that can be ticked off a list. Here’s a limited sample of them, (those I feel comfortable sharing on the internet) in no particular order:

  • Legacy Unicorn: By the time I “retire” (I know, hilarious notion, isn’t it?) I will have contributed and seen a paradigm shift wherein it is generally accepted that the way people with I/DD and other disabilities are treated today is horrifying. This has many, many facets to it, one being that the “able” population will no longer find it acceptable to objectify disabled people for their own benefit (don’t know what I mean? watch this TED talk by Stella Young), and it will be generally accepted that people don’t have disabilities, rather they are in a disabling environment and technology is failing them.
  • Family Unicorn: I’d like to shape up a handful of wicked awesome humans. Contributors to society and such.
  • Running Unicorn: Two words – sub-three.

Sometimes we make great strides in our chase of Unicorns, other times, well, other times this happens:

unicorn is pissed

This year’s running has not gone much as I’d planned it out back in December. At the start of 2014 I had no fewer than 27 races penciled in. I had a “perfectly reasonable” rationale for each and every one, but I won’t submit you to reading about that. Only a few weeks after the Boston Marathon in April, I was on the verge of some potentially serious injury, and also, I just was not enjoying running, at all. Not enjoying the training process is the worst possible running injury.

Being goal driven can sometimes produce some hard-headed behavior. So I kept plugging away and had a couple decent experiences.

1) I bagged at 10mile PR at the Soldier Field 10mile.

soldier field

Ken, Toddy, AB (me), and John. Post SF10 finish, pre beer(s).

2) I was brought on (excitedly) as a brand ambassador for, and then was fired during my back-off period from running. Just further proof of how much I dislike how the industry around amateur running has evolved. To further my annoyance they publicly posted (Facebook) the separation as if it were my choice. Nope, fired. Moral of the story, don’t expect any ads for ANY product on this blog in the near future. I think it was my complete and utter disdain for “Twitter Chats” that did me in (even if I was at work during their weekly one).

At least I got a cool photo in the jersey....

At least I got a cool photo in the jersey….

That said, I’ll definitely still write reviews for their website, because it’s a great idea, and I generally like people who pursue careers involving their passions. But I won’t be faking it for a bunch of totally unnecessary products along the way.


Yup, it’s true. I used Pinterest to make something, exactly once.

Then in the first week of June, I couldn’t do it anymore, everything hurt, and I was starting to hate running. So I stopped, well, I still ran about 15miles a week, but it was always impulsive. In 9 weeks of taking it easy I was able to re-focus at work, and at home. I also made coasters and gained 9 pounds.

Exhibit A on the left is my currently, +5% of my body weight back in 9 short weeks, on the right is me before taking the time off from marathon training.

Exhibit A on the left is my currently, +5% of my body weight back in 9 short weeks, on the right is me before taking the time off from marathon training.

As often happens, motivation to start prioritizing some running kicked back up once I ran out of time to procrastinate. I registered to the RnR San Antonio marathon last Christmas (actually, it was a gift), and it is now only 16 weeks away!

Now that I’ve started a proper training cycle again, I feel like it’s a new year, not August, very strange. I’d like to be running 60-70 miles a week average with peak training weeks closer to the 80 mile mark for Boston 2015, and also have a good routine of ancillary/supplemental work going. I am very far from there now, but it’s possible that, with smart training this cycle, I can be there for the Boston 2015 training cycle this winter.

I usually design my own training plans, using a few favorites (Hansons, Daniels etc) as general templates. But this time around, I don’t have the capacity to spend so much time each day planning workouts, which I guess is to say: I don’t want to. This why I mentioned work/life balance – in my case when training for a goal marathon, training becomes a series of very intrusive and distracting thoughts that interrupts everything else I do. Right now I want to keep the momentum I’ve got going at work and on a few other projects (reading list, more sleep, more cooking etc) so I am using the Pfitzinger 18/55 plan. It’s both a relief and a source of stress to relinquish control to following a plan from a book (can’t afford a coach…wuhwuhwah). I am adding extra easy miles here and there as I want to, but otherwise I’m choosing to let the balance fall toward running is a priority while I’m running, work is a priority when I’m working, and so on.

Two weeks down, 16 to go til’ San Antone.

Chase those Unicorns my friends!



Boston Marathon 2014 Recap

done 1This was my third time running the Boston marathon, in preparation for the first time (2012) I watched, read, and studied every course description or tour I could find. I am an almost obsessive “visualizer”, mainly because I am easily distracted and typically do things too fast, so there is less chance of breaking something, forgetting something, or hurting myself if I first visualize what I am going to do. I’m not referring to running or even sports exclusively here, I mean everything. Although it is a skill I learned by participating in sports as a child/adolescent/college student, I use it to get through everyday tasks like grocery shopping and answering work emails. I’ll admit that sometimes visualizing the mundane can get you in trouble because it’s easy to think you’ve already completed the things you really only visualized. It can also save your ass when you are alerted to things that you missed or forgot to do.

I bring up this characteristic of mine because I was in a complete panic in the weeks leading up to Boston because I just couldn’t visualize my race. I’ve spent a silly amount of time deconstructing this and will spare you the self-aggrandizement, it suffices to say; I didn’t need to visualize, I needed a guiding principle.

I think I’ve waxed poetic before that one of the best things about the Boston Marathon is that there really is a specific formula to running well on that course. A strategy that isn’t dissimilar from running any marathon but that does have its own special features. To be more specific would a separate long post, so I give you its essence as delivered by Dan Daly:

Credit: Dan Daly 2014

Credit: Dan Daly 2014

So, riding on the guiding principle of being the turtle (that is: run smoothly) so you can chase the unicorn, here’s a break down of how my race went.

Pre-Race: At the risk of sounding dramatic, but in an effort to be honest: I really, truly, felt like crap. My training was weird, “intuitive” is the nice, buzz-wordy, way I’ve been describing my plan, but really, it was weird, often desperate, and largely inadequate for my goal of running a PR at 3:10 or under. I had random pains in my guts, my general energy level was low-ish, and my hip girdle, back, and hamstrings have been tight and achey since running Catalina way back in November 2013. I was excited to be in the first corral of wave 2, however, and got up there with the perfect amount of time to spare, just enough to wiggle around a little and chit-chat, but not so much you get nervous or need to pee, again.

My basic plan was to run within myself, that is, to focus on even 7:15 splits if they felt manageable, and not get sucked into the fanfare. I heard someone say to Dan just as I was leaving to walk to the start “I’m going to do what you said and start slow” he immediately correct her saying “no! not slow, SMOOTH!” I let that repeat in my head like an annoying Katy Perry song for the first hour of the race.

From the start through Wellesley (roughly to mile 14): Roughly 2 minutes before our start, I was bending over, doing a makeshift hamstring stretch while trying to avoid getting kicked in the head by other makeshift stretchers, when I heard my name. I looked up, and saw Angie, a fellow Fleet Feet Boston365 participant. It’s always calming to see a familiar face right before the start, and you know, that’s ideally how you want to be recognized, by your ass, right up there in the air. Joking around in those final minutes was a great way to calm down, and prepare to run smoothly, my gage there was that if I was passing people in the first 2.5 miles, then I was going too fast. I think this is a good rule for anyone to follow at Boston. The corrals are seeded with precision, and you’re basically being pushed off a cliff, so I figure, if I am passing people then I am both going too fast, and wasting energy with all the bobbing and weaving.

What I sometimes find so weird and also fascinating about running (any competition really) is that even when you are feeling sub-par, in this case, things feeling heavy and tight, you might still be able to pull off, for a while at least, the performance you want. In this case, what was happening all the way until the other side of the scream tunnel, was that I felt like I had a level of discomfort that I could tolerate for 3 hours and 10 minutes, but that if I pushed it even the tiniest bit too hard, it would all fall apart. The problem was judging what “a tiny bit too hard” was, because I kept dipping perilously close to a 7 minute/mi pace, then reminded myself that I had to run smooth like a Turtle and then in the last miles I could chase the Unicorn.

This guy.

This guy.

Getting through the Newton Hills (mile 14 – 21): There is a really important aspect of the Boston Marathon course that tends to get glossed over. There are not ONLY hills between miles 16 and 21. The course sort of rolls and ungulates the entire 26.2 miles. I was tired of hills by mile 4. I even indulged in the thought of “hmm, I swear the course is more hilly this year…” (NOT a good sign) Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t very big hills, but the level of tension in my back and hips was such that every incline and decline sent me into a panic of anxiety that something was going to cramp, or worse actually snap. My family was planning to be just after the turn at the Firehouse, so immediately after Wellesley I started focusing on that. Repeating in my mind over and over “turn right, stay to the right, high-five time”.  Just after Wellesley was also the point where my guiding principle shifted from the “turtle” phase, to the “shark phase”, I wasn’t focused any longer on running smooth and controlled, well, controlled yes, but I started passing people intentionally, and targeting people to slowly chip away at passing. I also started to find it harder and harder to stay at or below my goal 7:15 pace. Each hill seriously threatened to end my race.

One of the Newton hills, trying to stay focused. You can tell I was in pain, no?

One of the Newton hills, trying to stay focused. You can tell I was in pain, no?

Some Bootleg Runner’s who travelled from Chicago, and some teammates family members were stationed for spectating somewhere in the mile 18-19 range, and my family was right after them, my memory is a little foggy here but about a half mile or so before I saw my friends someone had a sign that read “MED WON!”. As I said, I was starting to struggle, trying as I was to “be the shark”, I got so overjoyed when I saw that sign that I unleashed the Kraken a bit too early, and way too intensely. I covered the next tear-jerking 3/4ths of a mile at faster than my 10k PR pace (that is to say, sub 6:30). For a fleeting moment, once I gathered myself and slowed down, this was hugely encouraging, maybe I could still run a sub 3:10 today! But no, about 5 steps later I had crippling side pain. I get these, in my right side, often, they’re not exactly side stitches, but rather come from my back and psoas, and are more cramp-like. Anyway, I worked through it.

When I saw my friends I screamed at them “MEB WON!” and they cheered back. Another brief boost. Then the last hill before Heartbreak, where my family was standing about halfway up. I tried to look tough, and got the high fives. Then cried, of course. It’s impossible to really illustrate to non-runners how much that 2 seconds of interaction with those you love most mid-race means. (So, Mom, Dad, Jorge. Thanks for being there!)

Heartbreak hill seemed like no problem in 2012 (the heat was more of a concern that time) and 2013. But this year, holy shit, I thought it was never going to end. But it did, and it was time to see if the ol’ Kraken felt like helping a Unicorn chaser out.

Right on Hereford

Right on Hereford: No Kraken, more like an antelope trying to survive.

That last 5 miles: It turns out that the Kraken went back to sleep, or something. In 2012 and 2013 I remember the last 5 miles to be totally intoxicating because the intensity and size of the crowds grew and you just got lifted up. This year, there was so much extra support along every mile (which, don’t get me wrong, was amazing and heart warming), that I was sort of numb to it by the time I got to Boston College. I knew there was no way I was running at 3:10 and, as a runner will do, I focused on squeaking in a PR. Every  quarter-mile I tried to surge to freshen my legs, and when that inevitably failed, I took inventory head to toe to see what I could relax, or fix. But that Kraken, he just wasn’t playing, I felt more fear of failing than inspiration or drive for succeeding, loathe as I am to admit it.

Left on Boylston: staring down the sweet relief of the finish line.

Left on Boylston: staring down the sweet relief of the finish line.

Finally, I was under the CITGO sign, and I put huge effort into no longer thinking, fixing, or planning , and thought, “ok just run, now, 1 mile, run fast, you sprinted when you heard about Meb’s victory, so clearly you love to do this, and can give it more, so just fucking go faster!” Yah, nope. Nothing. No fight left in me. Eventually those beloved last two turns came, I was able to pick it up a little by glaring like freaking Cyclops at the finish line. The most thrill I felt at this point was when I heard my named called by the announcer a few hundred feet from finishing.

I managed a 59 seconds PR. 3:12:45

I’m not exactly disappointed, but I am dissatisfied. I can tell, and I bet those who know me well can tell too, looking at the race photos, how uncomfortable I was physically, and mentally, and that is something that is wrong with my training right now, and I need to figure it out. That said, one of the best parts of my marathoning journey so far has been the friendships, and the celebrations, and I am totally satisfied with that!

Pickle-backs in Boston with the BRC and "Coach" Dan (on the right with me).

Pickle-backs in Boston with the BRC and “Coach” Dan (on the right with me).

We are now at the almost exact halfway point between the Boston Marathon, and Grandma’s Marathon on June 21st. Oh, right, I forgot to tell you, I am running the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth next month thanks to Bib Rave! (so please check them out here!)

Cheers everyone!


Boston Will Be

The 118th Boston Marathon is in 10 days. Everyone is waiting. We know nothing is going to happen. That is, collectively, the running community, the Boston community, and the country know that another bomb will not go off in Boston on Patriot’s Day. Any yet, there was just another shooting at Fort Hood. So let’s be honest. Anything could happen. That is why we run the marathon.

Left on Boylston

Left on Boylston

I don’t mean the Boston Marathon 2014 specifically. I mean, that is why we, repeat marathoners, run the marathon. Whether you have run the distance once or a hundred times, each and every time, anything can happen. You could run like you’ve taken flight and not feel any pain, or you can start falling apart only a quarter of the way in. Both scenarios can be equally unpredictable.

We were reminded at 2:49pm on April 15, 2013 that anything can happen, at any time, and in any context. I’ve had a few minor instances of panic since then while running, when in a crowded space, or when something, usually something arbitrary (read: unpredictable) reminds me of how vulnerable we are, how exposed. This has been my response, and I was not in the blast zone. In fact, I am quite certain I was in a bathroom at the Marriot Copley hotel being post-PR-marathon-effort sick when the first bomb went off. Yet it stays with me, that now prescient feeling, that someone can hurt you, or someone you love, at any time and in any place.

For those running, with 10 days to go, we wait with everyone else, we’re all waiting for the evidence that nothing will happen, it’s evidence that will only come with the absence of tragedy on April 21st. While we wait, we also obsess the way we do before any marathon. We check the weather forecast every few hours. We calculate different versions of our race, we go to great and socially ostracizing lengths to avoid getting sick. We wish we for a protective bubble of protection against clumsiness, like twisted ankles while taking the laundry downstairs. We fight the temptation to cram in last minute hard workouts, which will only wear the body down at this point. All of this is comforting because it’s what we do. It’s not special things that we do before the first anniversary event of a terrorist act, it’s just what we do.

What we do.

What we do.

I (and I believe the vast majority of those running in 10 days) didn’t train hard for Boston 2014 because we want to prove anything about terrorism. Yes, a great many runners are running for people injured from the blasts, and many of us have been compulsively donating to the various funds, and/or fundraising, but that’s not WHY we trained hard, it’s only a part of it, a recent addition.

I would train hard and run this race anyway. Even so, I’ve found myself incapable of visualizing my race. I always visualize my races, especially when I am hoping for a personal best. I heard someone on the radio recently describe something (I’ve forgotten what) as like trying to see a black hole. That when you look for a black hole you cannot see the thing itself, only the edges of it. That’s what the actual running of the Boston Marathon this year is to me: a black hole. The harder I try to visualize, to see, my race, the more blank my mind goes. I feel only grief in my chest, tears in my eyes, and I can see the edges. That is, I can visualize everything that happens before the race, and everything that happens after, but the race itself? Trying to see myself, and everyone else running the actual Boston Marathon is a complete void. I can remember every mile of last year, and most of the year before, but I can’t pretend to see this impending one. What no one will say, is that acts of terror are aptly labeled. They work. They change us, they change our behavior, and how we perceive things. They create terror.

I wish we could quietly continue with our training and racing, continue to revel in the allure of the Boston Marathon in its entirety, of all road races, and the pleasure of gathering in the streets with coolers full of snacks and drinks, without suspicion or anxiety. I want us all to be gracefully unaffected by what happened last year. However, I recognize it’s the American way to be over the top in our effort to show that “you can’t stop us” and “you can’t scare us”. We have to, rather than carry-on as we were before, persevere with extra celebration, and more gusto, more everything. We like to say that the best revenge is a life well lived. My problem is that I don’t want revenge. In fact, the feelings after last year’s events that I’ve had the most difficulty with, are feelings of empathy, not anger, not even fear or sadness, but empathy. Insufferable empathy for those killed, those hurt, and for those who did the killing and the hurting. I don’t think I have to spell out here how very complicated that is, and how very uncomfortable.

Our love for the Boston Marathon is not new, and we'll never take it for granted.

Our love for the Boston Marathon is not new, and we’ll never take it for granted.

I think the way to really show that an effort was futile is to actually behave in a way that is unaffected. Unchanged. I want the other Boston marathon back, the one I dreamed about for almost two decades, and then got to be a part of twice. Or more accurately, one and a half times (because, really, the post race celebrating is half the experience). The old Boston Marathon experience was an emotional, exhilarating, and life affirming one. I’m worried not that those elements will still be there, but that now those elements will be so exaggerated as to be intolerable.

I could go on, I could talk about how unsettling the constant talk of heightened security measures is, and about how much I wish people would stop calling it “the marathon bombing”, but really, the important thing is that in 10 days the Boston Marathon will be. No matter what happened, and no matter what happens. It will be, and I will be there with over 100,000 other runners and spectators, racers and partiers. With laughter and with tears: We will be.






Catalina Eco Marathon Re-cap

Although I had a record setting amount of nerves on race morning, we found the time to ride a fish.

Although I had a record setting amount of nerves on race morning, we found the time to ride a fish.

The Catalina Eco Marathon on November 9th was my last race for the year. Not my last marathon, my last RACE. No impulsive 5ks, no Turkey Trots, nothing, I am done for 2013. Stay tuned, because I suspect 2014 will be very stocked. Although it is 95% self-applied pressure, I still need a break from the pressure, and the structure of training. You know, things like having a panic attack if I can’t “use the bathroom” at exactly the right moment each day, and zoning out at work, or during a conversation with a friend because I’m trying to re-arrange appointments, meals, and social engagements in order to get key workouts done within the appropriate time-frames.To be honest, I was ready for a break before this training taper began. I guess what I’m trying to articulate is when I finished this race, which meant also finishing two very long training cycles this year, I felt hugely relieved.

I registered for this event at some point between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve 2012. I was at my folks place in San Antonio along with my brother and his family. My then 5 year old Nephew very innocently asked me, “Aunt Annabelle, when are you going to run a race in California?” I did a marathon guide search for fall marathons in southern California (spring was out as I wanted to PR at Boston). I presented Beck with a few options and he said Catalina was the way to go. Actually, I’m sure he said something much cuter, and probably more clever, I just can’t remember what it was.

Aboard the Catalina Express on marathon eve-day.

Aboard the Catalina Express on marathon eve-day.

I waited too long to write this recap, so I won’t be able to give a proper mile-by-mile, that’s boring anyway, so we’ll play the fun game of trying to provide some of the more interesting, useful or entertaining details. I’m sure there will be lots of words, I am rarely hard up for things to say, but forgive me if I don’t reveal any life-altering beatitudes.

Marathon-Eve (also, my birthday): Meredith said she’d go to Catalina and do the 10k I think way back in January, so the poor woman got to spend a weekend trapped on an island with a solid contingent of the Winters clan, and all my race-finale anxiety, a true test of friendship/run-bud-ship. We got up Friday morning and went with my sister-in-law to drop Beck as school followed by a shakeout run in the Aliso-Woods Canyon.


After the shakeout we gathered necessary supplies before heading to Dana Point and the Catalina Express.


We took the ferry over to Catalina in the early afternoon, (FYI passage is FREE on your birthday!) between my nephew’s food restrictions and my own, we opted to bring all our own food for the weekend, with 6 people to feed we definitely hit the luggage quota, and accidentally donated a lemon, or squash (I’m still confused about its identity) to the Pacific.

We trekked up a massive hill to our hotel, then back down it for bib pick-up and a course talk. During the talk as people asked the same anxiety ridden questions about toilets and water that people freak out over at every race, upon which my nervousness reached a nearly unbearable level. In the end, even though the course talk referred to many landmarks I’d never heard of before, I was really glad I went because somehow the landmarks made sense once I was out on the course, and I was able to anticipate some of the terrain changes.

Course talk: landmark, landmark, landmark, don't litter, landmark, BUFFALO AND THEIR BABIES = DANGER, landmark, landmark.

Course talk: landmark, landmark, landmark, don’t litter, landmark, BUFFALO AND THEIR BABIES = DANGER, landmark, landmark, RATTLESNAKES, landmark.

From wake-up until the big reveal after the course talk, Beck was working hard not to tell me what the birthday surprise was they had planned.

But, and I quote “wasn’t it crazy?! That the surprise was brownies and not a cake!” I hadn’t had brownies in over a year. So yes, it was totally crazy, and totally awesome to eat some gluten free (homemade) brownies before bed on my final marathon eve of the year.

The question everyone is dying to ask: Any close encounters with buffalo? Sadly, or happily, no. However, I learned from talking with some people on the ferry back to Dana Point on Sunday afternoon, that a small group of guys just ahead of me had a near miss as a couple of buffalo ran across the trail. My assumption is that they were not charging the runners, but rather, just trying to get the hell away from the humans. By the descriptions from other runners, it’s fairly likely that I didn’t see any of the gigantic wildlife only because I was so focused on the ground beneath and immediately ahead of my feet.

Which paid off because guess what? I didn’t fall. Not even once.

See? No blood, no dirt, no joint damage.

See? No blood, no dirt, no joint damage.

Overall and some key points for those who run this marathon:

Speaking of toilets (sorry, I that was a while ago, but segues are kind of killing me lately), there aren’t many readily available at the start. I was prepared for that to some degree from the course talk, but did expect to find a few on the way to the start. There are two public bathrooms at a children’s park/playground less than a quarter mile from the (nondescript) start line, I think there was a SNAFU with the town and the race because only one was open, and there was very little toilet paper. Fortunately, I travel just about everywhere with wet-wipes so I shared. My family informed me post-race that, evidently, I’d gained a reputation from handing out TP…ah well, we can’t choose our fame.

This course was just about as hard as I expected, but not as difficult and treacherous as some of what you find on the internet will have you believe. Of course, as I came to learn very quickly, much of the potential treachery is in the event of operator error (read: running downhill on trails in flippin’ HARD).

My overall impression is that doing well in this race is less about doing a ton of training on hills, and more about general running fitness, and a stubborn temperament. Of course, I did basically ZILCH hill training, so this may be me reaching for justification…

This is the elevation data from my Garmin, basically looks exactly the same as that on the race website.

This is the elevation data from my Garmin, basically looks exactly the same as that on the race website.

It’s also important to point out that we had absolutely perfect weather conditions. There are some spectacular views while running the ridgeline (well, there are great views as you ascend and descend as well but you’re less likely/able to take them in), with the clear weather we were able to see endlessly out to the Pacific west, as well as the California coastline and San Clemente Island. That said, the rest of the scenery is your typical SoCal fare, which, let’s be honest, can leave a little to be desired, I’ll take the Maine woods over the desert/chaparral hybrid any day.

As I’ve mentioned before one of the things about running being so popular that can be problematic is that at most big races now you might have unpleasant encounters with other people’s ego’s and anxieties. This includes but is not limited to: throwing elbows and shoving at aid stations, swearing loudly, wearing headphones, making sexist remarks…those are just my “favorites”. Well, at this event those things were blissfully absent. Everyone was friendly, supportive and generally there was no jackassery to be found.

Only one dude had headphones, and I can tell you most of what he was listening to because it was audible from a few hundred feet away and we leap-frogged a bit. I’m not shy about my serious disdain for wearing headphones during races, but I can’t even fathom how you justify needing them (or wanting them, for that matter) when you are running an event like this that is 1) very challenging, 2) chock full of friendly people, 3) beautiful, and 4) DANGEROUS YOU IDIOT!

True, this was only mile 6, but my

True, this was only mile 6, but my “clinically depressed middle miles” didn’t occur at this race. Trails and very few humans for the win!

The aid stations were awesome. I can’t think of a better way to articulate it. They were just perfect. They always seemed to appear right when I needed them, the volunteers (assumption) were super proactive, taking my water bottle and filling it, offering to answer questions, and complementing my super-hero outfit. This race has (another assumption as I’ve not done one) the feel of a “traditional” ultra event, small field, basically zero spectators (unless you count the Rangers out there keeping a head count), and wicked stocked aid stations. There was candy, salt, pretzels, WATERMELON (I gave myself side stitches from eating too much of it. TOTALLY WORTH IT), coke (again, indulged, want it at every race now), some kind of energy chew, water, Powerade (or Gatorade, I can’t remember, I never touch the stuff), and I’m sure lots of other stuff.

I guess my nerves were clearly written on my face.

I guess my nerves were clearly written on my face.

My personal performance experience:

I like to call my father before the start of each marathon. We don’t usually say much, but it helps me get my head on straight. I’d already checked to make sure he’d be available 20 minutes before the start for a quick chat (he’d planned to come to Catalina, but caught a wicked virus and had to stay home), but I was so incredibly worked up and nervous that I couldn’t make the call. I was afraid I’d cry, and crying does not pair well with physical exertion, or anxiety, or trying to save face.

Anyway, Meredith, my sister-in-law, and my mother all stayed with me until the gun went off, then went to get Meredith ready for the 10k race which started 30mins later. My brother and Beck went snorkeling while I ran, don’t worry they were at the finish.

Miraculously, all that nervous energy went right into running tunnel-vision once it was time to start moving.

I started this race the way I started the Mount Washington Road Race (recap here) in June: with no pacing strategy, and highly flexible expectations. Six months ago I thought I would go for a podium female finish, but after terminating all my hill and strength training when my right knee went kablooey after falling many times on it, I hesitantly adjusted my goals down to a top 10 overall finish. Then I really came to my senses in the week before the race, adjusted again and decided to go for a top 25 overall, top 10 females finish.

Spoiler: Meredith and I both took first female in our events.

Spoiler: Meredith and I both took first female in our events.

Making goals and setting expectations for this race was actually a pretty murky process which translated to me spending several hours looking up various stats and races online. Because of the exposed terrain of this course, there have been several years where the course is re-routed because of weather, also individual performances are highly impacted (like at any marathon, but more so) by the temperature, humidity (or lack thereof), and wind. And not just the weather on race day, but the weather over the summer/early fall season.

Also like the MWRR I started with the plan to run until I had to walk. That is, I did not plan ahead when I would walk. As it happens, I took my first walk break in mile 16, when a fellow runner (hi ROB!) said “don’t be afraid to walk”, he was either presenting an olive branch because he saw me wavering, or it was a natural reaction to the approximately 17 questions I had just asked him. He’d been chatting off and on with a group of 3 men that I leap-frogged with 3 or 4 times. By mile 19 this “gang” of 5 was spread out enough that I didn’t see any of them until the finish area.

Speaking of mile 19, I walked the “Catalina Crush” hill. The damn thing has stone steps build into it. I took one look and decided to walk in lieu of taking a break at the top.

I didn't take a break, but this photo is of my actual first running steps after

I didn’t take a break, but I’m certain this photo is of my actual first running steps after “summiting”.

My new friend Rob, told me that he never worries about the last five miles of this race (I don’t know how many times he’s done it, but he seemed really familiar with both it, and also the Conservancy marathon that is held in the spring). I’m sure he provided some justification, but I can’t remember what else he said. I knew the course started to double back on the trails we came in on somewhere near mile 22, and I was really looking forward to it.

At mile 22 I knew I was in 12 or 13th position overall, and I’d been the lead female from the start. I also knew that I was getting increasingly clumsy going downhill, and increasingly shuffely on the uphills, so I told myself I’d do my best to pull into the top 10 overall, and if that meant 1, 2, or hell 5, female, that’d be OK.

I’d been smart the whole race, running by feel, maintaining an even breathing effort (challenged, but even), drinking a lot of water (90+ ounces by the end), taking salt, and taking gels. And, most importantly, I remembered to look around me and enjoy the views, oh, and to take deep breaths and smell the dirt (I LOVE the smell of dirt).

My reward to myself at mile 22 was to not get anxious, to embrace that any finish was an amazing finish, and to smile at my family when I got there.

Yah, that all sounds great, doesn’t it?

This is me, dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, I felt like we needed a picture, things were getting serious. You're welcome.

This is me, dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, I felt like we needed a picture, things were getting serious. You’re welcome.

Now do you want to know what really happened?

Well, I did all that hippy-shit for a while, but then I got to about mile 23.5, where things are decidedly downhill for the rest of the race, I become utterly convinced there was a women right on my heels. And I went totally crazy. I ran as hard as I could, which was really stupid, and I really don’t understand how I didn’t wipe-out, unless of course I did, and I am now operating in some really perverse parallel existence. The last nearly 2 miles (I think?) of trails is a pretty steep downhill grade, lots of long switchbacks, and lots unsure footing. But I let go and felt like I was sprinting because I was CONVINCED she was right there, I swear I could HEAR her.

I’d been in the first female position for 23.5 miles and there is no way I’d be all honkey-dory-I-did-my-best-oh-well if I was passed now. The trail sort of hurls you out into some weird campground and then onto the road (still very much downhill) with less than a mile to go. I thought the finish was at the same spot as the start was so I absolutely ran as hard as I could.

I was extremely excited to learn I got free shoes (La Sportiva mountain runners), elated even.

I was extremely excited to learn I got free shoes (La Sportiva mountain runners), elated even.

Then I ran right through where the start line had been, and there was no finish line in sight. It occurred to me after a few seconds of panic that it made a lot of sense if the finish for the marathon and 10k were in the same place, and that was about another half mile, or a bit more, down the road, at the bottom of the hill (I then remembered being told this at the course talk. Face-palm).

My all-out pace began to slow and the finish line was apparently never going to appear, I kept looking behind my, nearly falling every time, still absolutely sure there was a woman RIGHT THERE, it never registered that I couldn’t see a single runner behind me, not one. Just one invisible woman.

Finally, I heard the voices of Meredith and my family, and little Beck ran out from the sidewalk, I tried to get him to finish with me, but A) I was having a hard time steering my ship (FYI the ship = my body) and B) as he later told me “he didn’t want to get in the way of other runners” … I guess we shared the same hallucination.

Shortly after finishing I went into the water. Meredith had read online that this was a tradition, and she must be right because we weren’t the only ones. It felt awesome!

Better than an ice bath. WAY better.

Better than an ice bath. WAY better.

I swam around for a while, (after taking off my medal and sunglasses), then we trekked, once again, up the giant hill to our hotel to have some beer, food, and a shower before the awards.

In the end, I had 7 minutes between myself and the next woman. I finished my first trail marathon in 4hrs 7minutes, 1st female, and 10th overall. I met a blog reader (HELLO AL!!!) at the awards, and a blogger on the ferry on Friday (HELLO BRANDEI!), for both of them this was their first marathon. I am so impressed that I’ve spent all this time writing also trying to come up with something clever and meaningful to shout out to them, but all I have it “WOW, so freaking cool!” And finally, my brother, sister-in-law, mother, nephew, and friend were at the finish, and that really made it unforgettable.

I think  I could go on more and more, but here’s a few more photos to finish things off.

Sunset dorky photo shoot.

Sunset dorky photo shoot.

Beck :)


Catalina 10k Champ, Meredith.

Catalina 10k Champ, Meredith.