Final Countdown

To say I’m unprepared for my final race of the year, and the most challenging marathon I’ve attempted to date, would be an understatement.

bison

What it’s really all about: Chicago Marathon 2013 Recap

(Note: I began writing this a few days after the event, but after 5 drafts I haven’t been pleased with the result. So I decided to just be brief -haha, for me- and make my basic point. Please share your stories of what running a marathon is really all about for you in the comments.)

DM CM post

pain joy 2

Marathons and marathon runners often get a bad rap. Some of the negative reputation surrounding marathon’s and endurance athletes is the same as what draws some people to the sport; it is an “individual” as opposed to “team” sport, training is often done in solitude, and to make improvements, sometimes even small ones, hours and hours of training are required, which means training can have a ripple effect on the athlete’s entire life. These things give marathoners a reputation for being selfish, self-centered, and self-interested.

I'm certain I'd individually come in 1st place for anything at a major international sporting event.

I’m certain I’d never individually come in 1st place for anything at a major international sporting event.

Ready to take our first racing singlets for test run!

Ready to take our first racing singlets for test run!

I can actually agree or at least understand, some of the complaints surrounding very large half marathon and marathon events, especially with there being one or more going on it seems every weekend in or near major cities nationwide. Streets are shut down, public parks, paths, and trails get monopolized, there’s sometimes a lot of clean up needed, some are franchise and commercial events so not necessarily giving much back to the community of a charity organization, and so on.

However, if you are reading this and aren’t a runner, or don’t live with one, or if you are a runner and you haven’t thought about what running means to you and your life, let me tell you something, you can’t pour your heart and energy into training for and running marathon’s without help and support from a whole lot of people. My new running friend, and teammate, Declan, who just made his marathon debut (in 3:17!) articulates some of what I mean in a blog post here.

I've never run with someone at a goal race before. Declan was a perfect race buddy, but it's possible we wasted energy with our enthusiasm.

I’ve never run with someone at a goal race before. Declan was a perfect race buddy, but it’s possible we wasted energy with our enthusiasm. Photo credit: Maggie Wolff

Until about a year and a half ago, I trained alone, travelled to races alone, raced alone, and then came home and outside of my parents didn’t really talk about running with anyone. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I started developing friendships with runners, I immediately started to get faster, and fell more in love with running.

On April 15, 2013 and the month that followed many non-runners became familiar with a quote from a marathon legend, Kathrine Switzer, “If you are losing faith in the human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

The 1967 Boston Marathon. Race official Jock Stemple attempts to remove Switzer from the race. Her running companion (and I think boyfriend) Tom Miller, physically defends her. 5 years later women are officially allowed the compete in the marathon.

The 1967 Boston Marathon. Race official Jock Stemple attempts to remove Switzer from the race. Her running companion (and I think boyfriend) Tom Miller, physically defends her. 5 years later women are officially allowed the compete in the marathon.

It’s a phrase that can be taken as a reference to the perseverance and dedication shown by those running toward their individual goals, it can be illustrated by the hours and hours of time, service, and encouragement given by spectators, and it can be seen in acts of friendship, sportsmanship, teamwork, joy and loyalty shown by competitors.

So rather than detail my own race experience, I’d like to share a few examples of what running really means from the Chicago Marathon 2013. It’s easy to find 100 samples of “inspiration porn” within any marathon event. I’m not trying to minimize the efforts of the amazing people who are fundraising for heart-breaking causes, and the people who preserve through physical, emotional, and situational hurdles most of us can barely fathom, but only trying to say that every marathoner who pours their heart into this sport is an inspiration.

Every single mile is meaningful, and every challenge is meaningful.

A marathon is about finding and embracing joy even when things fall apart. Scott Laumann and Evan Rosendahl are fellow Chicagoans who run with The Track and Trough Athletic Union. Following how these guys train and race, and the matter of fact, yet focused way they approach running, totally helps me to stay focused on long-term goals, and I aspire to race with their sportsmanship and class. Both of these men are capable (and have) run marathons firmly in the mid-2 hours range, and when their races fell apart at Chicago they spent the final miles of the race having fun and hanging on to finish with each other.

Evan and Scott

A marathon is about showing someone that you believe in them even when they have stopped believing in themselves. My friend Lynton (as seen above), jumped in just before mile 20 wearing an injured friend’s bib (thanks Ogi!), I was really struggling, and indeed, evidently, not making much sense during that final 10k. But Lynton stayed right with me, pulling me along, and calling me out on my bullshit.

mile 23 whiney fina;

What does running mean to me? It’s something that makes me feel good, but it also make me feel helpless sometimes, I am compelled to do it. Running means relief and solace, when I’m running there is nothing else. For me, it is the very definition of mindfulness. It means perseverance, and it means love. I’ve never had such good friends and known such amazing people, as the runners I know.

*AB

Kittaka and the (never-ending)Trail

I haven’t successfully made the time or had the patience to do a race-recap of the Chicago Marathon yet, it’s pending, and in the meantime I want to share with you a race re-cap from another race and another runner.

Over the past year I have made huge changes to my running, it’s reflected not just my race times, but also in how I think about running, how I race, how I train, and how I think about running in relation to the rest of life. Running doesn’t fill  a distinct compartment in my life, it is just a  part of it that is sort of woven in.

The biggest factor to all this change is that I developed an insatiable curiosity for other runners,  what they are doing, thinking, and feeling when they train and race, and what do they do with the rest of their time? I am most curious when it comes to how runners who are more developed (read: have more experience, are wicked fast) than I am and how they reflect upon and frame their workouts and races, good or bad.

One of these runners is Dan Kittaka, I’ve not had the chance yet to complete a run shoulder to shoulder with Dan, but I’ve been a mile and growing behind him for a couple of group runs, and have with no exaggeration, never heard anyone say anything about him that was less than totally inspiring.

I was happy in early September when Dan decided to test out his hand at a person running blog, kansai kudasai. He already writes for his work blog, and I was following him on Dailymile.

One of his goal races is the legendary Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon  in Japan, which has a  qualifying standard of sub 2:30, and also has strict cutoff times during the race. If you’re not on 2:27:40 pace through 20km you might be pulled off the course. I have no doubt Dan will get there, his current marathon PR is 2:31:42 and he knows how to train smart.

At about the same time Dan began blogging we had what I thought was a hilarious Twitter exchange regarding not being able to navigate, or stay upright, while running a trail race. I immediately asked him to guest blog a race re-cap.

So without further blathering on, and hero worshipping, here you go (take notes, there are some serious wisdom kernels in here!):

Race Recap – SCOTT Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series: #2 – 13/14 Mile  by Dan Kittaka

First of all, hats off to the race organizers, Seattle Running Club and Northwest Trail Runs for putting on a high quality event!

 After getting lost in my first ever trail racing experience during the inaugural Paleozoic Trail Run 25k due to poor course preparation (Rich Heffron recapped on his blog here), I was disappointed, but figured it had to be some sort of freak inaugural event snafu. I had promised myself to study the course map before my next trail race which of course I tried to do, but when the map looks like this it can be hard to remember all of the turns. Particularly if it is in a venue where you’ve never run before!

 Thankfully, the courses (and where they split) were very, very well marked. Turn directions were clearly marked with flags. Flags on the right leading into a turn indicated a right turn and vice-versa. This system was intuitive particularly in the latter stages of the races when brain function was a major challenge. In addition to the turns, long, orange ribbon, “confidence markers” were used on straight or straightforward portions of the course in order to indicate that you were in fact still on course.

Look at how green it is!

photo credit: Seattle Running Club 

While I can’t help but smirk a bit at the name of the park, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park was a fantastic venue for novice trail runners (me) featuring mostly dirt, single track and wider trails and switchback ascents and descents.

 I flew into Seattle the night before the race, joining my sister, Rachel, my dad, and Rachel’s friend, Kian. I was meeting Rachel who had spent the last two weeks driving from Memphis to LA, then up the Pacific coast to Seattle. Rachel and I would continue her road trip, turning east and south ending in Minnesota for our brother, Jonathan’s undergrad commencement a week later.

Upon arrival to the race site, we were greeted by, Seattle Running Club President, Win Van Pelt. Win offered up some pretty helpful advice, the one tip I really remember was this: make sure, particularly on descents that you toe out a bit to help prevent you from rolling your ankles. I would proceed to roll my ankles pretty badly at least 2 or 3 times as I tend to run toed in.

After a short warm-up jog, Rachel, Kian, and I got our bibs on then headed to the combined start area for our instructions. While we arrived early enough to use the 5 or 6 porta-johns that had been dropped for the event, there wasn’t really enough once the bulk of the participants had arrived. In total there were 249 finishers for both events which puts it at just about 41 people per toilet which is not enough 10-20 minutes before a race! This is my only gripe with the overall production of the event. I ran into the forest to “tie my shoe” just before the start. 

After the instructions, we were off. Rachel and Kian were running the 8 Mile while I chose the longer 13 Mile option to get in a nice longer run on the hills of the Northwest (I had also looked at results and figured I’d have a pretty good chance at winning). Both races started together and used a little flat, grassy loop to string out the runners a bit before sending them out onto the trails which was absolutely the right thing to do.

A colorful parade

photo credit: Seattle Running Club

 During the instructions, race organizers had communicated something to the effect of, “The 13 mile course is at least 13 miles long, but we don’t actually know how long it is.” I’m sure this statement would have driven some folks absolutely mad, but given that I had very few expectations other than that I would be running for somewhere around 90 minutes (my best guess) this didn’t really phase me at all. I had a sneaking suspicion that the pedestrian sounding 1:46:41 course record was an indication that this run wouldn’t be a walk in the park. All of this to say I started the race at what I thought was a conservative pace.

 Within the first mile, the front of the pack had strung out significantly with the speedy Joseph Gray (winner of the 8.2 mile race) leading from the gun. I found myself running with 5 or 6 guys who I suspected to be racing the 8 miler for the first 10-15 minutes or so of the race. I was impressed with the agility and speed at which one older runner displayed on the single track (I believe this was 54 year old Michael Smith who finished 4th overall in the 8.2 mile race).

About 10-15 minutes in we started to hit some significant switchback climbs on the single track. I decided that the wisest course of action was to not panic (about losing contact with the other racers) and run by feel (hoping that if they were running the longer course that I would be able to catch them in the later stages of the race). So I focused on running the hills with quick short steps and a high cadence. These climbs were pretty long. I’m not sure exactly how long, but when I would be running the downhill switchbacks, I had plenty of time to feel well recovered so I imagine the downhill sections took 60-90 seconds to run while the uphill sections had to be anywhere from 2-4 minutes of climbing.

At the end of each climb, I made sure to open up my stride and surge in order to shake the legs out of “granny gear” and help keep the pressure on. It can be easy to relax a bit when nearing the end of a steep climb, but I believe it is best to actually surge into the flatter section ahead. This shakes the tension built up in the muscles while running uphill and reminds you to keep running hard. You use different muscles running uphill versus on the flats so while mentally you might feel like the climb took a lot from you, at least some of your running muscles had a break while climbing and should be ready to roll once you’ve hit more flat terrain (at least that’s what I tell myself).

At the first point where the courses split, I was able to verify with race volunteers that the runners I had let go ahead where all running in the 8 mile race. I was in the lead of the 13 miler! I ran more comfortably for a bit until on one of the climbs I spotted a bright blue shirt no more than a minute behind me.


My blue shirted nemesis is just visible in the distance

photo credit: Tim Harris

 It was hard to tell how close this other runner was, but at a few points he probably was no further than 10-20 seconds behind me. For the remainder of the race, I focused solely on making sure I didn’t get caught. I would begin to create a gap on the climbs, but would lose much of that cushion on the descents. I decided the determining factor would be speed on the flat sections of the course. Having just run 1:15:41 at the North Shore Half Marathon back in Illinois, I was pretty confident in my ability to run the flat sections. 

Quite a few places on the course we shared the trail with the 8 milers. This got a little hairy a few times due in part to my total inexperience running on single track. I feel a bit bad about how I got around some of the other participants. This was the only issue I had on the well marked course well that and not knowing how far I had run. 

About an hour and twenty minutes into the race, I figured based on effort and my current fitness that the finish had to be coming up in the next ten minutes or so. I continued to push through the climbs and run the flat sections as hard as I could in order to break the runner behind me. The climbs kept coming. Before each one I would tell myself that this one was probably the last one. After about five or six big climbs this trick sort of stopped working. I was getting tired and this was turning into a pretty long run. 90 minutes came and went. 

I kept running. Each time the course flattened out I would surge hoping there wouldn’t be any more ascents and that the blue shirted runner behind me wouldn’t catch me. Finally, I started to recognize the area we warmed up in around the start/finish area. Bursting into the clearing where we had started the race, I stopped the clock at 1:49:44.8. I had managed to hold off Seattle residents John Berta (2nd in 1:50:27) and Patrick Mcauliffe (3rd in 1:50:35).

I hadn’t taken advantage of the aid stations thinking that this was at most going to be a 90 minute uptempo  run, and I immediately felt the effects of not hydrating or fueling on the course after finishing. I became lightheaded and sat down in the middle of the start/finish area for a few minutes before dragging myself over to where Rachel, Kian, and my dad had camped out with some of the other 8 milers. Soon I was feeling better and after a bit they proceeded with handing out awards to the top finishers, Rachel and Kian placed as the 2nd Female and 3rd Male in their race and received Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series pint glasses while I received a similarly branded Mason jar mug, a nice souvenir!

 I’m still a total noob at trail racing. What is the appropriate way to pass another runner on single track during a race? (Running in the same direction and opposite directions).  (AB here, I appreciated when a man behind me on a single track night race -see my next answer- said “when you’re ready I’ll pass”, I followed his example the rest of the race and successfully didn’t sprain an ankle or shove anyone into a tree…opposite direction? I don’t know, “Zena Warrior Princess” battle cry?)

What are some of your favorite trail races? (AB again, to date my favorite trail race is the El Chupacabre de Noche in San Antonio, I wrote about it here)

Your turn!

Running is hard

Training for the Chicago Marathon (which, FYI, is this Sunday) since completing the No Frills Marathon last month has been a little challenging. Nothing hugely or meaningfully catastrophic has occurred, just lots of hiccups. To put it another way, I haven’t been bitten by a bear, just by lots of fleas, and scratching them is tedious and I’m tired.

I’ll catch you up on my training and some of the multiple flea-bites while also bringing to you a message I’ve wanted to deliver for a long time:

RUNNING IS HARD!

This is what Meredith and I say to each other when one of us “overreacts’ to a bad workout, or when the weather is conspiring against us, or when some ding-dong or another makes some remark that minimizes our efforts. It can be an extremely validating and calming thing for a runner to think about.

DM 10-8

Running.Is.Hard. This is my Daily Mile entry from this morning.

Running is hard for some obvious reasons, such as, it takes a lot of energy to run. I don’t mean that a prerequisite for being a runner is that you’re a crazy-eyed-always-moving-fast-talking-knee-shaking sort of personality, I mean, actual energy must be exerted to move your body overground at a more rapid pace than you’d normally take to say, transport yourself from the car to the grocery store.

When your goals begin to move past running for fitness, or “to eat”, to wanting to get faster and stronger, sometimes workouts can be so challenging (read: HARD) that you don’t realize that they were a breakthrough session until much later. This is my Daily Mile entry from about 2.5 weeks ago, I was totally “meh, typical fair” about it until I got the flu last week and missed my final chance for a goal-pace test run.

Running is so hard, that it becomes impossible to talk about your life without talking about running, or running without talking about your life.

Running is so hard that it becomes impossible to talk about your life without talking about running, or running without talking about your life.

Pet peeve alert: I HATE it when people say “I run so that I can eat/because I love food”, in fact, I call B.S.. Eating is TOO EASY and running is TOO HARD for that to really be the behavioral contingency at play.

Running is also hard for some reasons that you may not think about, and that people actually lie about. Here’s one example, speaking of food, if you want to get better at running, you cannot eat all of the cupcakes, or even any cupcakes, on anything that resembles a regular basis. In this case “cupcake” is equal to the following (not even close to exhaustive) list: donuts, frappachinos, brownies, cookies, pizza, soda, bagels and all the ridiculous toppings, pretty much everything on “Pinterest”, anything Racheal Ray put cheese on recently, mimosas every weekend and beers everyday, bags of candy corn, adult-head-sized cinnabons, or brunch 2-4 times per week. I mean you can, but good luck running that off, and good luck not puking or hating running while you try.

Running is even harder if your diet is crappy.

Last Monday, running was hard.

Last Monday, running was hard.

Running is hard because even though running marathons, indeed running any race distance, has become a wildly popular, there is still a lot of discouragement that you’ll face based on a misunderstanding of how the human body best operates. “You’re tired? Oh you shouldn’t run”, “You’re stressed? You should stop running so much.”, “Oh, XYZ hurts? You definitely need to stop running”. There are probably 100 comments that could be added to this list, and the fact is, that running helps make nearly all of the BETTER, not WORSE.

A thing that makes running hard is that you learn how to decide when you run even though something hurts, because the running actually helps it heal.

Two weeks after the No Frills Marathon: A thing that makes running hard is that you learn how to decide when to run even though something hurts, because the running actually helps it heal.

Running is hard because as you start achieving your goals, and start getting faster, people make assumptions. It minimizes a runner’s hard work when you attribute their successes to a god-given talent, saying, “oh, they’re fast”, the same way you’d say “oh, they have brown eyes”. When I was in high school and college, in New Hampshire, I had this one 5 mile loop that I ran hundreds of times, and no matter how hard I tried, I never could finish it in under 48 minutes. That’s how frustrating it was, I remember that it wasn’t 45 minutes, or 5o, but 48 that I got stuck on. The last time I ran that loop was about 10 years ago.

The other side of the counter-intuitive decision making to train through some injuries and illnesses, is that other required backing off. The flu, and colitis flare-ups for example, which means this was actually was my last solid workoutbefore Sunday's race. Running is at its hardest when it's unpredictable. But  I do know, that after this workout, next time I go to NH, I breaking that 48min barrier!

The other side of the counter-intuitive decision to train through particular injuries and illnesses, is that others require backing off. The flu, and colitis flare-ups for example, which means this was actually was my last solid workout before Sunday’s race. Running is at its hardest when it’s unpredictable. But I do know, that after this workout, next time I go to NH, I breaking that 48min barrier!

My first 10k, where I felt like I was running like the wind, my pace was over 9 minutes per mile, it has taken me almost 15 years (of on and off effort) to get my 10k PR pace down from 9:16 to 6:39, and a whole hell of a lot of runners are faster than that.

Like this one:

Hearing what the pro's have to say should be a required element to training.

Hearing what the pro’s have to say should be a required element to training.

Running is hard, and to master it (whatever that means to you) takes a lot of practice, strategy (I don’t just mean for the workouts, I mean to manage it with all the other parts of life too), and patience. There is a cultural oddity in this now HUGE population of runners, where, even though a runner is training hard, and making improvements they should be (and perhaps really are) very proud of, they will look at another runners bad workout and say “oh, man, you’re shitty run is still faster than my best mile!”. I know that the intent of comments like that is very positive. But I always cringe, because running is just too hard for people to self-deprecate like this.

Running is hard because contrary to what MANY people will tell you, you can tell very little about a person's running by how many mile they log each week.

Running is hard because contrary to what MANY people will tell you, you can tell very little about a person’s running by how many mile they log each week.

Comments like that minimize the efforts of both runners, the faster one and the slower one. Because at an equal effort, runner A might run a 5 minute mile, and runner B might run a 12 minute mile. It’s still EQUAL EFFORT. What I’m saying is that it is OK for someone who usually runs a 7 minute pace to come back from bad run that had a pace of 8:45 and call it a bad run. And it’s ok for a runner who usually runs an 8:45 pace to come back from a run that had a pace of 8:30 and call it the most amazing run ever. And neither runner should feel at all shy about either statement. Because running is hard enough! One of the hardest things for new runners to understand is that above all else running and training (especially for the marathon) is all relative.

So whether you run a 14 minute mile, or a 4 minute mile, you better own that ability, or I am going to internet slap you silly!

Running is so hard that even if it’s their favorite way to pass 20 minutes or  several hours, and even if they are relentlessly pursuing a goal they are passionate about, nearly every runner really REALLY looks forward to a day with no running now and then!

See? Haaaard.

See? Haaaard.

*AB

Minocqua No Frills Marathon 2013: re-cap

Note email subscribers, you might prefer to read this post via the web -just click here– because there are a lot of pictures. I actually restrained myself from posting posting many more, but your inbox may not appreciate loading the ones that did make the cut.

This post is more or less two re-caps for the price of one, so it’s feature-length. If you’re not in it for the long haul, I have a much shorter version on my Daily Mile page, click here to go directly to that post.  I won’t be offended. However, if you do read the whole account here, please do leave a comment so I can thank you!

the iced

The iced

I’ll be honest. I wanted to win this race. I wanted to take first place so much that I considered not running at all, and using the upcoming Chicago Marathon (targeted all year as my “goal” race) as my excuse. Yes, that would be poor sportsmanship (had I acted upon such leanings), but this is the psychological journey I think we all take when we work hard for something, and when failure and success are both equally possible outcomes. Especially with an event like the marathon, where any one of a hundred variables could cause you to completely fall apart, and the right combination of another dozen needs to
occur for success. I was worried if I didn’t finish top 3, or had to DNF (did
not finish), especially after hurting my knee a couple of weeks ago, that I wouldn’t be able to move on, that maybe I would lose my joy of running, and my
dedication to it. I’ve never worked so hard at anything, or with as much patience, as I have at running over the last few years, and I’m only now realizing that. An epiphany like that makes you feel very vulnerable.

Spoiler: I did it.

Spoiler: I did it. (also, This post is too long for me to gush much about this race, but it is a CLASS ACT. Amazing volunteers, great course, and a race director that runs the whole race and then hangs out (and hands you an amazing trophy).

There was also a second goal: run a 3:15. A few days after I ran my first marathon (Portland, Oregon 2010), and earned my first BQ (Boston Qualifier 3:37 –former standards), my father asked me what my goal would be for my next marathon. I said a 3:30, and he said, “Why not a 3:15?”. I think I actually laughed, and explained (this was via text message) that to take 15 minutes off my time was preposterous. BQ’ing on my first try was also preposterous, but I’d done that, so the seed was planted and over the next 18 months (I was basically sidelined by injured for all  2011), I made 3:15 my goal. I made the mistake of sharing this with many veteran marathoners while training for Boston 2012 and without fail, every single one (actually, there were a few sub-elite/elite men who encouraged me, they know who they are), made that tooth sucking sound that means “ooooh, you silly thing”, and then said some variation of “that’s a really big PR” (personal record) or “that seems unlikely given you’ve done only one marathon and it was a 3:37.” Veteran runners, specifically those who’ve held BQ’s for a long time, tend to be brutally honest and opinionated. It’s actually rather endearing, I promise. Anyway, my point is that I knew, and my biggest fan knew, that I had a 3:15 in my future, I just had to learn to not get discouraged by other people’s comments about my goal or opinions on my training style, put my head down, and chip away at it.

2002: My father walking me to the start of my first triathlon (Lobsterman, Olympic Distance).  - sorry, picture of a picture.

2002: My father walking me to the start of my first triathlon (Lobsterman, Olympic Distance). – sorry, picture of a picture.

For the last month leading to race day I had a weird conflict when
I visualized the race. When visualizing things going as planned, that is,
running a 3:15, and winning, every time I got very uncomfortable and couldn’t
get past mile 16 in my mind. The only person who knew I really wanted to go for
it at No Frills was Meredith, my training partner this cycle (more accurate
term “person with whom I obsessively text about every workout or plan
adjustment, everyday”). Joking (but not really) about us finishing 1-2, or
winning together, holding hands while crossing the finish line, or grabbing
each other’s pony-tails in an effort to take first, helped to resolve the inner
conflict. It also confirmed that given the data available, last year’s race,
the course, weather, my training and so on, my first marathon win and a PR were
plausible. But given that I have two additional marathons to run this fall, conventional wisdom would be to run only part of the race (20miles or so) then drop out or walk, and I got tired of hearing people say that, so I sort of blurred my goals when talking about it.

Meredith registered the day before the race, when I insisted we go get our bibs. She wanted to wait until race morning because she's a rebel and likes to live on the edge. I do not.

Meredith registered the day before the race, when I insisted we go get our bibs. She wanted to wait until race morning because she’s a rebel and likes to live on the edge. I do not.

I finally registered two weeks before the race. I had just committed to dedicating my marathons this fall to GCS and raising $5,000. Instead of increasing the performance pressure, this commitment actually made me relax and focus. I found myself feeling excited again because I knew those supporting my efforts would not hate me, or regret supporting my cause if I had to DNF because of an injury, or if I didn’t run fast, or heck, if I didn’t win. It’s the cause that’s important, and the better I performed, the more people would contact the cause.

I talk with my hands, so here I could saying something about running, working, or just hello. Or maybe I've very actively listening. I sure love to know what Meredith was thinking (right). This is at the GCS Garden Gallery "First Friday" open-house where I talked to some folks about my fundraiser.

I talk with my hands, so here I could saying something about running, working, or just hello. Or maybe I’ve very actively listening. I sure would love to know what Meredith was thinking (right). This is 5 days post-race, at the GCS Garden Gallery “First Friday” open-house where I talked to some folks about my fundraiser.

You can read about race-eve activities here. I spent the week before the race trying to speed up the healing process for my right knee, which I fell on, hard, the Friday before the race. I shared plenty of my woe’s on that front via Daily Mile.

The race itself I’m going to share with quotes from Meredith’s race re-cap that she wrote for her training journal. We’ve relied on each other so much over the past year that our performances in Wisconsin were really intertwined, which we were hilariously in denial about until after the race. What I mean is that we both have been practicing mindfulness and focusing on “running your own race” in a variety of aspects. But then as we reflected on the race, we realized that our performances had become rather co-dependent.

Exhibit A:

yup.

yup.

Although we were awake and together for 2hrs before the race start we didn’t talk much about the race. We did however exchange lots of denial statements about the weather. Which was 65 (degrees, at 5am), 93% humidity, and included thunderstorm (translation: NOT ideal for running a marathon as fast as you can). We both knew our goals, and each others. And we wanted it all. It was entertaining, however, trying to explain to Meredith’s parents why we didn’t care as much about the possibility of rain as we did about the dew point, downright hilarious, actually.

Meredith was playing Candy-Crush, I was scrolling my Twitter feed, and we were both watching the lightning. We probably should have been getting dressed and ready to go since it was a 30min drive to the start.

Meredith was playing Candy-Crush, I was scrolling my Twitter feed, and we were both watching the lightning. We probably should have been getting dressed and ready to go since it was a 30min drive to the start.

Pre-race downpour:

Meredith : Waiting for the women’s bathroom , ” I gave myself a little smile, knowing that it really didn’t matter if my tennis shoes and this particular pair of socks got wet, because I had dry socks along with my race shoes in the car. I just enjoyed the moment and the feeling of being super prepared!”

Me: I was huddled under the bathroom building overhang waiting for the unisex porta-potty with 5 men. 4 of home were friendly, one of who would annoyingly not stop fidgeting and was wearing ear-buds (so was clueless). We chit-chatted about the course, and other race, and with eat bolt of lightning and shimmy to get outs feet out of the rainfall, pondered aloud if perhaps they’d delay our start a tad.

Answer: nope. 7:00am on the dot.

Meredith’s line went a lot faster than mine (gender stereotypes do not apply to marathoners), so she made it back to dry land (aka her father’s car) before me. Here’s what she had to say: “And then I realized. It was raining. I needed body glide for my feet. ‘Geez, I hope Annabelle has some Body Glide,’ I said as I turned around and saw it sitting there on the seat. I knew she wouldn’t care. She wanted me to run a PR and get my BQ almost just as badly as I did! So, I grabbed the glide, and like the good friend I like to think of myself as, used my fingers to put the glide on my feet. Seconds later, when Annabelle got back from the bathroom, she told me to go ahead and just glide up! Friends…I tell you…are PRICELESS!”

Requisit pre-race photo.

requisite pre-race photo.

At the start:

Meredith: “Don’t be shy,” Annabelle said, as we made our way to the front of the pack at the start. The winning woman from last year ran a 3:24, so we were expecting to be among the top finishers and I especially wanted to be sure I got a good start with my goal of BQ’ing in mind. As usual, we were mainly surrounded by men, some of whom were talking about running a 3:25. Annabelle and I exchanged looks when we heard this, and normally I would have moved to the other side of the group thinking these men would chat the whole race, but I decided, “Why not embrace this moment?” as the rain was falling around us. It was almost hilarious, really, so I smiled and yelled back that I’d look for them because I was also shooting for that time (Did I believe it at that moment? Not sure!). One guy then thought I was talking to him and announced he would be “going much faster than that,” as he pushed his way in front of me.

Me: An acquaintance from Chicago with whom I’d done a few workouts last winter during Boston training was also running, as was his girlfriend (her first marathon!), so I was chatting with them. Until he stepped on my foot as he dove into a quasi-track start position, then I focused on not losing my focus. My toes are in really bad shape, and the piggies on my right foot hurt until mile 3 after that. Also, for those of you who aren’t marathoners, a “running pose” start isn’t necessary, it’s show-boating.

Legs are the start! That's me with the white compression sleeves and blue Saucony's. This is about 30 seconds (I'm guessing) before the "gun", you can see those black sleeve-clad legs ready to practically track start.

Legs at the start! That’s me with the white compression sleeves and blue Saucony’s. This is about 30 seconds (I’m guessing) before the “gun”, you can see those black sleeve-clad legs ready to practically track start.

Sadly, these subtle shows of misogyny (or just arrogance) are rather common at races, but at No Frills, after these two less than excellent displays of etiquette, there were none to be had. I passed none or 10 men after mile 8, and they were all extremely encouraging. I even got two low-side-5’s.

The first third (miles 1-8):

I spent the first 1.5mi running off and on (our paces really didn’t match) with the Chicago acquaintance, then he fell back and I didn’t see him again. The first 8 miles of the No Frills course are a combination of neighborhood streets, a major route (rt. 51), fire roads, and what feel like little spur trails but I don’t think they are. These many changes in terrain make this first part of the race leading up to the Bearskin Trail go by really fast, and it can be hard to remain patient, because you want to really start racing, meaning, you want to start trying to pass people and pick up your pace, but it’s too early, and too much can happen over the rest of the race (newsflash: marathons are long).

As I said, there's a variety of terrain and scenery in the first 8 miles. I don't know the people or exact mile in this photo. But I love it.

As I said, there’s a variety of terrain and scenery in the first 8 miles. I don’t know the people or exact mile in this photo. But I love it.

Meredith: I knew my dad was coming up when we came out of the woods and crossed a road on the way to the Bearskin, because I could see him off in the distance, and that was just so wonderful! I also knew that he had decided to come check on me at that spot, since we were all worried about my feet and how they would hold up in the rain, so I did a little bit of a check. My feet were fine, and I could do this. I waved and yelled at my dad, he told me Annabelle was in first, and I ran with a little pep in my step onto the Bearskin Trail. I was on pace for a 3:25 and she was nowhere around me, which meant it was completely plausible that she was on pace for her 3:15 goal. We were going to do this!

Me: There were two women ahead of me for the first 4 miles. I knew I could overtake the first girl when she ate a gel at mile 2.5. I’m not trying to be funny or disrespectful, it was just that between that, and a few other things about how she was running led me to put on my Sherlock hat and deduce that she’d gone out too fast. The other girl leap-frogged with me until I think mid-mile 5 or 6. She, I thought, might be a problem, because when we hit the first water two stops she was very cheery, and had a support crew (a CUTE soft-haired Wheaton Terrier, and a strapping young fella) handing her nutrition, which I guessed meant she was either a first timer or going for a time goal. After I passed her I started worrying about Meredith on the trail and fire-road portions of the roads. I thrive on trails and hills (even if I do fall a lot), I love them, and so does she, but she has foot issues, so I was worried she’d be too cautious and lose time. I got a huge rush seeing her father at the main trail head. He gave me a heartfelt confirmation that I was in the lead and asked if I needed anything.

I mean, COME ON! As if the volunteers weren't awesome enough. This is the first or second water stop I think. We actually petted/met this dog after the race, he's somehow related to the folks running the whole shebang, but I can't remember how exactly.

I mean, COME ON! As if the volunteers weren’t awesome enough. This is the second or third water stop I think. We actually petted/met this dog after the race, I’m fairly certain his feet have never actually touched the ground. He’s somehow related to the folks running the whole shebang, but I can’t remember how exactly.

The middle third (mile 8-16ish): I like the juxtaposition of what Meredith and I were each experiencing here and how those experiences mirror each other in our physical discomfort, doubts, calculations, and also observing how others are doing.

Meredith: The second half of a marathon is hard. I don’t care who you are, what kind of time you run, what kind of shape you are in…it’s hard. This is the allure of the sport, though: running the second half of a marathon as fast as you can…I passed another Chicago runner at 15. I didn’t know him well, but he didn’t look good and I didn’t want to waste my mental energy trying to make him feel better, so I ran on by… I don’t know where I took the Pepto or the Excedrin, but I do know my left side started to hurt so I took Pepto somewhere between 13-20 and my foot started to hurt so I took Excedrin somewhere in there as well… At sixteen miles, I took another salt, and I do know I passed mile 17 still on pace. At this point, I started calculating…if I ran the last 9 miles at a 10:00/mile pace, I would have a PR! “Don’t get too excited. Spotlight on NOW.” I kept running to 20.

Me:  It’s hard to explain with credibility, but seeing people who you know truly are rooting for you really does give you wings. My next half mile after seeing Meredith’s father was too fast, and my knee got very painful for about 10 minutes.

I was terrified until about mile 12, after two waves of pain, that I might have to drop out at some point. I focused on my pacing plan, and my breathing (3 steps to inhale, 3 to exhale) whenever I got anxious. Anxiety attacks are my biggest race killer. Last year at Chicago I totally melted down in Chinatown (I know, it should be a band name). I thought I was having a heart attack, I mean, I REALLY thought that.

(Chicago Marathon 2012)Of course this is the time they'd take a picture.

(Chicago Marathon 2012)Of course this is the time they’d take a picture.

I also tried NOT to think about winning, too much pressure. So instead I thought about Meredith, and how I didn’t want to go to Boston next April without her. When the bombing occurred this year and she couldn’t get a hold of us (meaning, our teammates and I) for hours, it was awful for her. She was at work in Chicago and no one understood the gravity of the situation. I’ve said it before and will say it again, it was worse NOT being there. We knew we were safe, but our loved-ones were in the dark.

Outside of the intermittent knee pain, I felt pretty good at a 7:20-7:25 pace. I did begin to fret over maintaining it, so I focused on my nutrition plan, which was to take about half a Power-Gel every 40-45 mins (a full one ALWAYS results in major reflux), and at least 2 ounces of water at each water station. I also started to take in the environment. With only occasional other runners around me, I could hear the comforting sounds of their running rhythm on the path from about a tenth of a mile away (maybe more). And the woods! I love the woods. I expected the humidity to start slowing me down at mile 16 so I mentally prepared to accept a 30 second slow down on my pace, which would still have me finish at 3:15. I passed three or four more runners I’d started with through this stretch a people were starting to feel the consequences of not respecting the weather, and the excitement of a small race.

There were several "Marathon Maniac" runners/walkers whom I passed along the course, I'm not counting them as passes in this re-cap because they started an hour prior to the official race start. This photo is where Meredith's father was, the official start of the Bearskin.

There were several “Marathon Maniac” runners/walkers whom I passed along the course, I’m not counting them as passes in this re-cap because they started an hour prior to the official race start. This photo is where Meredith’s father was, the official start of the Bearskin.

The final third (16ish-26.2):

Meredith: At mile 23…I saw my dad cross the trail up ahead…he was going to hand me my handheld water bottle that I could carry for the last three miles of the race, but something was wrong. He was running across the trail and would be on my left side! I carry my bottle in my right hand! “Daddy, get on the RIGHT!” I yelled, and then, just in case, slower, “On…the…RIIIIIIGHT!” I saw him scramble across the path and assumed my mom was laughing, but I was too focused to really laugh myself (even though it was absolutely hilarious).

She swears she was happy here. And actually, Dan and Susan (Meredith's folks) gushed later about how strong she looked.

She swears she was happy here. And actually, Dan and Susan (Meredith’s folks) gushed later about how strong she looked.

After 23 miles, my pace sped up. My dad had told me I was in fourth and Annabelle was in first, so my thought at that point became to catch the third place woman. I had visions of great marathon wins go through my head…of a sprint down the home stretch, and I wanted to find this girl! And then I started imagining where Annabelle was on the course, how HAPPY she must be to run her PR, hoping that she had run UNDER 3:15, and started to get excited about celebrating a successful day together. My brain wasn’t working well enough to calculate my finish time, but I knew it was good.

I passed the third place woman and then saw the bridge that means the finish is coming. I KICKED! I actually KICKED at the end of a marathon! My pace sped up from a 7:35 last mile to a 7:01 pace in the last 0.2! I heard my dad yelling at me to kick hard, I heard Annabelle say, “You’re going to BOSSSSSTON!!!!!!” heard my mom’s cheers (which are the best things EVER!), imagined her jumping up and down (which I know she was doing!), and saw that clock reading 3:23:14….oh…my…gosh!!!! I ran soooo hard across that line, leaving absolutely everything on the course, and smiled up at the photographer before bending over at the waist and preparing to puke. I’ve never had THAT happen before! It was just dry heaving, but I still couldn’t catch my breath or focus on what I had done. Which, by the way, amazed the HELL out of me…

I ran a 13.5 minute PR, I qualified for the second wave of Boston registration with a BQ-11.5, I broke 3:30, I ran a 3:23, I ran my 16th marathon….

I didn't let her regain the ability to walk, talk, or wipe the sunblock off her face before I was suffocating Meredith with how proud I was of her, and my excitement that we were going to Boston together again. (We actually met in the athletes village- well Fleet Feet bus) - in 2011)

I didn’t let her regain the ability to walk, talk, or wipe the sunblock off her face before I was suffocating Meredith with how proud I was of her, and my excitement that we were going to Boston together again. (We actually met in the athlete’s village- well, on the Fleet Feet bus – in 2011)

Me: I had a few more waves of knee pain, but now I knew that they were probably related to some combination of grade (uphill or downhill) and pace, so I focused on staying calm and not changing my gait (form) when they came.

Outside of a of couple lung-busters the hills really aren't bad, if it weren't for my knee I wouldn't have even noticed them.

Outside of a of couple lung-busters the hills really aren’t bad, if it weren’t for my knee I wouldn’t have even noticed them.

Each time, they passed, though, and by mile 20 I had resolved that a DNF was not an option, but if the pain worsened or I was forced to change my gait, then I would walk. Not winning was better than not finishing.

My pace slowed several times as fatigue set in. One of my goals this race was that when I got tired I would SURGE, I would speed up and then aim to settle back into my pace. Typically the inclination is to allow yourself to slow down for a little while in an effort to recover. I’ve been reading a lot about the physiology of running lately and if you SPEED UP rather than SLOW DOWN you’ll actually tap into the ability to maintain your effort (that’s it in a nutshell anyway). This was wicked hard to execute. I found I was actually negotiating with myself, trying to justify slowing down, then reminding myself that in all likelihood if I slowed down intentionally to “rest” then I would not get a 3:15, I would surely be caught by one or more female runners, and so my chance at WINNING a marathon would be gone, I wouldn’t be able to speed up again, and I would have to walk away knowing that I didn’t fight and give it all I could.

I vividly remember, starting at mile 22, until the finish I looked behind me every few minutes hoping to see Meredith, because then she could push/pull me to the finish. This was always coupled with a fear I’d see some woman OTHER THAN Meredith, which was terrifying. I wanted to win, and I wanted Meredith to break 3:25, and I couldn’t fathom anything else.

I can’t express how much I was looking forward to seeing Meredith parents at mile 23. They were AMAZING! Dan handed me my hand-held water bottle (with 2 gels in the pocket), and from the left side of the road (Meredith’s mom had noted that I’m left handed, they are saints). You might notice this means I probably messed up Mere’s hand off! Dan and Susan were yelling happily that I was holding first, and all I had to say was “Can you take this….please….it’s sticky.” I HATE it when people throw their trash on the ground outside of water stops and trash bins at races. It’s entitled, arrogant, and disrespectful, especially if it’s a trail race, so I’d been holding a half empty gel packet for like 2 miles.

Dan later confirmed. It was indeed rather sticky.

Dan later confirmed. It was indeed rather sticky.

The last four miles were rough, and I didn’t have anyone in sight except for creeping up on and passing two men in mile 23. I connected a sweet side five with one of them while noticing he was wearing a Boston Strong bracelet. My chest hurt instantly and I started to cry. I shook it off by visualizing winning, and calling my father, who I knew would absolutely freak out.

By mile 24 I was able to surge and hold onto a 7:35ish pace and I was so thirsty! I limited myself to sips from the handheld so I wouldn’t throw up. I fought like hell until mile 25.75ish where I realized how close I was to the finish, I dug in, stopped thinking, and stopped looking behind me. If I was going to win, I wanted to look confident while doing it.

That's a look of a confident winner right? Right?

That’s a look of a confident winner right? Right?

I’ve never been happier than as I ran across the Minocqua Trestle bridge to the finish line. Meredith’s parents were yelling “number one!” and the 50 or so people (it could have been less, I have no idea) cheering may as well have been a dang Olympic stadium full of people for how special they made me feel.

The first overall male was waiting for me to finish, and I was extrememly confused when he asked me a few questions (he thought I was someone he'd spoken to pre-race we finally figured out). I hadn't even caught my breath when this photo was taken.

The first overall male was waiting for me to finish, and I was extremely confused when he asked me a few questions (he thought I was someone he’d spoken to pre-race we finally figured out). I hadn’t even caught my breath when this photo was taken.

Aftermath:

I was so anxious and excited to see how Meredith was doing that as soon as I had my medal, I walked back to the edge of the bridge (50ft from the finish?) to join Dan and Susan and watch Meredith finish. When they told me how good she seemed at mile 23, and that she’d been in 4th place, I didn’t feel tired at all anymore, and I totally forgot that I just hit a major goal. And HOLY CRAP, she looked so strong when she hit the Trestle and we could see her! All three of us screamed at her, in a good way. Once she’d regained her composure the phone calls began and we headed once again to the finish to wait for the other two Chicago runners to finish.

Aren't we pretty?

Aren’t we pretty? We actually missed them finishing (at the 4:14 mark) because My knee really needed some ice, and I hadn’t yet sat down.

For those who like the numbers:

Split
Hours:Minutes:Seconds
Time
Miles
Distance
Minutes per Mile
Avg Pace
Summary 3:15:23.9 26.24 7:27
1 7:31.4 1.00 7:31
2 7:20.1 1.00 7:20
3 7:23.5 1.00 7:24
4 7:20.1 1.00 7:20
5 7:20.6 1.00 7:21
6 7:17.4 1.00 7:17
7 7:24.5 1.00 7:25
8 7:24.5 1.00 7:25
9 7:28.1 1.00 7:28
10 7:25.6 1.00 7:26
11 7:18.0 1.00 7:18
12 7:22.9 1.00 7:23
13 7:29.9 1.00 7:30
14 7:26.8 1.00 7:27
15 7:31.6 1.00 7:32
16 7:33.4 1.00 7:33
17 7:17.9 1.00 7:18
18 7:21.7 1.00 7:22
19 7:36.2 1.00 7:36
20 7:28.9 1.00 7:29
21 7:20.5 1.00 7:21
22 7:33.6 1.00 7:34
23 7:34.7 1.00 7:35
24 7:39.4 1.00 7:39
25 7:41.3 1.00 7:41
26 7:33.1 1.00 7:33
27 1:38.3 0.24 6:55

Also, I got to eat cake, stomach-ache free. So the day really was amazing!

This cake was so delicious, and so NORMAL tasting, that it nearly surpassed winning a marathon as the highlight of my weekend. Almost.

This cake was so delicious, and so NORMAL tasting, that it nearly surpassed winning a marathon as the highlight of my weekend. Almost.

*AB

First Marathon Win, Recap Teaser

There are a lot of reasons I like this marathon, including that the final stretch of the course is just very cool. You run across a bridge, over a beautiful lake, and then immediate cross the finish line. It makes every finisher feel like they are in first place because each and every spectator is giving you their undivided attention. It’s possible there were fewer than 75 people in the finishing area at the end of the bridge, but it might as well  be a thousand with how special they make you feel.

That's the home stretch behind me!

That’s the home stretch behind me!

A race recap for Sunday’s marathon will probably take me until the weekend. There were so many wonderful elements and my partner-in-running-infamy and I both reached several new milestones in our marathon running.

The most recent being this “Marathon Guide” siting for me and my BQ running buddy!

Marathon Guide siting for me and my BQ running buddy!

Now you know what my pre-sunrise activities are. Perhaps I could have cropped this screen-shot.

More to come, if you haven’t had enough via other social media portals here’s yet another picture from Sunday:

New PR and the best trophy in the universe.

New PR and the best trophy in the universe.

*AB

No Frills Eve in Minocqua

Tomorrow, this will the the 22 mile mark of the No Frills Marathon!

Tomorrow, this will be the 22 mile mark of the No Frills Marathon!

Yesterday, run-buddy Meredith and I drove from Chicago to Minocqua, Wisconsin. Not getting lost was a hugely good omen for tomorrow’s race. We’re fairly certain that the same trip last year took us twice as long.

The scenery was OK. Just, ok.

The scenery was OK. Just, ok.

We arrived at about 4pm and spent a while catching up with Meredith’s folks, then hit some golf balls (they live on a golf course, which tomorrow’s marathon course runs through). We had a great time, and have already started to strategize how we can incorporate golf, or the Diversey driving range into our lakefront training runs. I think my chiropractor and yoga instructor will both approve, as they agree I have serious deficits when it comes to spinal mobility (hopefully they also won’t mind my liberal simplification of the issue).

We went for a late dinner:

martys north

At dinner, I had an experience that has been played out so many times I don’t understand why people don’t talk about it more. I’ve been more symptomatic over the past couple of months and am planning to commit to really getting the last questionable elements out of my diet when I get home from this trip, to see if I feel better.

Anyway, the restaurant last night had several items on the menu marked as “Gluten Free”. But really all they did was replace wheat pasta with gluten free pasta, the sauces and other elements still had gluten or in the case where I asked, the chef was using wheat flour…so, the meals marked as “gluten free” were absolutely not free of gluten! Had I eaten them, even with the pasta substitution, I would have gotten very sick.

Because I know you’re curious: I had broiled haddock and a baked potato. It was delicious!

In other food news, Meredith’s mother is an absolute angel! I had a big bowl of cereal for dessert when we got back to the house. Before the Boston Marathon this year, I had a terrible time getting enough carbohydrates in the 72hrs before the race, and ended up eating a whole box of gluten free cereal, in a panic I should add, the night before. So I laughed (with joy) when, without any suggestion, she had this waiting for me when we arrived.

So good!

So good!

Back to the marathon!

I’m having a hard time accepting that tomorrow kicks off my 3 marathons in 3 months project! Meredith and I are psychologically prepping ourselves for a really hard race; it’s going to be very humid tomorrow, potentially stormy, and warmer than we’d like. BUT, 20 miles of the race are on a beautiful trail that runs through a pine forest…so my complaints are at a minimum.

6:50am Fog over the 7th hole. 24hrs (and 10 minutes) until the start of No Frill 2013!

6:50am Fog over the 7th hole. 24hrs (and 10 minutes) until the start of No Frills 2013!

When we start running tomorrow I will only have run 23 miles since last Friday. My training plan had called for closer to 55 in that time. But my body needed a lot of recovery time after I fell last Friday. And although I know that I made the right adjustments, and my fitness shouldn’t be at all affected, the drastic change in my routine, and my plan, has really shaken my confidence.

What’s counter-balancing this hiccup however, is that my fundraising effort is off to an amazing start! Check it out here.

WOW!!!

WOW!!!

I am so incredibly inspired by how many people have stepped up to support Garden Center Services, and I’m comically (as in: Poor Meredith is forced to listen to me talk and talk and talk about it) excited to continue this through to November 9th when I’ll climb those massive hills on Catalina Island for marathon number 3!

*AB

Sunday: A Runner off her Routine, and Purpose.

I hope you’re having a great weekend. Every day I read something and think “Wow, I wish I’d written this!” Yesterday my friend/running idol/Shoe Fairy, Marron, shared a Rose-Runner blog post with me,  it had me laughing and saying “Amen, sister!” so here, add this to your Sunday musings.

Another great read is this Huffington Post article about the work of Melissa Carroll. I was on a swim team (Go Raiders!) with Melissa for many years as a kid. I haven’t seen her in at least 12 years, if memory serves me right, but I’ve spent hours in emotional chaos and 100% enraptured by her artwork and other posts via social media as she has lived with recurring bone cancer. She had a show the other night, and from my internet stalking it appears to have been a wild success. Salman Rushdie was there! This woman, well, I don’t know where to start, so visit her blog here.

There is so much symbolism here that I cried, then laughed, then cried and laughed.

There is so much symbolism here that I cried, then laughed, then cried and laughed. (Also, I swiped this picture from Facebook, sadly, I’m in Chicago, not NYC, or I’d have been at that show!)

There isn’t a lot of variation in how my weekends go, I am either traveling to a race or they look like this:

Saturday: Up at 6ish to meet up with some run-buddies, either at the lake front or to drive out to the suburbs for a long run. By the time that’s done, and I’ve daily-miled, showered, eaten and so on, it’s usually close to noon, and the rush for serial Netflix-ing, dog snuggling, dished doing, laundering (clothes, duh), blog reading, run-studying, and usually an hour or two of work-related activities begins.

Sunday: Looks exactly like saturday, except the long run is replaced by 6-10 easy miles, and I try to go to yoga at 3:30pm (I succeed about every 3rd week).

On Thursday evening this week, although I was having a hard time keeping awake while navigating the Dan Ryan traffic on the way home from work, I had a great run:

Thursday 8/22/13 Daily Mile entry.

Thursday 8/22/13 Daily Mile entry.

Then, on Friday morning I went out for my planned 8 mile recovery run and ended up posting this:

“So there I was, a half mile into my recovery run, feeling tired but good, and thinking about how I hadn’t fallen down in over 3 weeks, and woohoo! And then, BAM! I was body surfing the sidewalk on Wellington Ave. Again, I was wearing the Flow 2’s (I’ve actually lost count of my falls at this point). I’m done with them until a new edition comes out, or I’ll size down…why are they so long?!

Both knee’s and one hand were short some skin and looking bloody, and it hurt just enough that I sat down for a couple minutes. Then carried on.

At mile 2.5 the discomfort wasn’t shaking off so I turned back, things disintegrated from there, I did a lot of walking. After each bout of walking my right knee hurt more, until in the last .25 I couldn’t run at all.

I’m trying not to catastrophize, hopefully it’s just a temporary response to the insult…but we’ll see won’t we?”

I’ve been looking forward to this week’s long run for ages! A challenging 16-mile progression run with one of my training partners who’s paces a near-perfectly matched with my own. (As it happens, I owe him one, he encouraged me to turn back when my gait changed to accommodate the knee discomfort, ok fine, pain).

So my training week ended like this:

stupid knee

And so my Saturday looked a lot like me and the Shi-Tzu’s laying on the bed, watching an entire season of a Netflix series, and several episode’s of Dr. Who…yup, totally a productive use of my time.

I have noticed a pattern in my falls however, so that explains why my right knee is so inflamed.

In my hours of trying not to panic, I've tallied 6 falls that probably looked like this, since May 1st.

In my hours of trying not to panic, I’ve tallied 6 falls that probably looked like this, since May 1st.

Here we are, Sunday in full swing, I’m in my PJ’s still, no running because my right knee is stiff, which is exactly how it felt before my run attempt yesterday.

I am running my first of 3 marathons in 3 months in exactly ONE WEEK. I’m sure my knee will be 100% fine by then,  I’m basically just getting an extreme taper that I wasn’t planning on.

This week has been exhausting because a lot of great things have developed, and then that momentum came to an abrupt halt when I hit the ground on Friday morning. Sounds silly, I know, but, that’s the nature of such self-indulgent pursuits like marathon running and training. I’ve wallowed for nearly 48hrs and now it’s time to remember that something else happened this week: I’ve received over $800 in donations for Garden Center Services!

My training and racing this fall is in dedication to the people I work to support. Please visit my Go Fund Me page to learn a bit more. This may not sound like the most politically correct message, but part of what drives me professionally is that when I was in graduate school, it seemed like everyone wanted to work with children with autism, and do parent training and in-home therapy. While all this is a good and needed service, those cute kids are going to grow up into adults who still need a lot of support.

The challenge I see, is that children’s programs pull at heart-strings, and get lots of fundraising, awareness, and research attention. But when they grow up, and the disabilities and other challenges are still there, they join the ranks of an under-funded, often neglected, vulnerable,  and largely silent population, and that has to stop.

Thank you!

*AB

Book Review: YOU (only faster) – Greg McMillan 2013

The quick reference review

 Read it:

  • If you want a step-by-step guide that will walk you through the process of building your own custom training plan either by adapting a pre-designed one, or piecing a “custom” one together via training phase modules (provided in the book).
  • If you want to know what elements of your training to track and assess in order to build or adapt a marathon training plan.
  • If you are a runners who would like to coach other runners. Specifically, if you don’t have a lot of background in the sport beyond perhaps a handful of marathons or half marathons, and you haven’t built your own training or read much of the seminal research papers or books on the sport.
  • If you want to know what the seminal concepts of developing a competitive runner are, but don’t have time to read the books and research,  or peruse the countless online articles, this book will provide you with a basic understanding of what all those slightly more enmeshed runners are babbling about.

Skip it:

  • If you’re looking for a training plan or training style to follow for your first marathon (this book will likely totally overwhelm you, and you won’t know a lot of the crucial things about how your body adapts to training required to use this book as a resource).
  • Same as above, except you completed more than one marathon but haven’t kept a detailed training log. (I’ve done 6 marathons, and still couldn’t confidently answer two of the key questions)
  • Competitive age-group runners, who have been studying the sport, and designing and adapting (i.e. self-coaching) your own training plans for a while and are making progress, there likely isn’t anything in this book you don’t already know.
  • If you have read books and articles written by Daniels,  Lydiard, Noakes, Avery, Johnson, Pfitzinger, Fitzgerald (etc.) or any combination of these contemporary leaders, legendary and groundbreaking coach/scholars of the sport, then this book is basically cliff’s notes for what you already know.

The long form review

Context: This is 100% from my point of view,  I’m not trying very hard at all to be objective, because I’m not sure that’s necessary considering the product. I am coming at this from the perspective of half marathon and marathon training. I’ve read many, but certainly not all of the books on how to develop as a runner, and I read online content about the science of running and training at least a few times a week, I am currently “self-coaching” myself and seem to be making slow but steady progress. I have the capacity to read anything and everything about running (specifically marathon running), even the most detailed race-report of someone I don’t know whatsoever, and derive utter enjoyment from it, and so, any review of  a book about running is likely to have a slight positive leaning bias.

My summative experience: Until I got about a third through this book, I was disappointed, I wasn’t sure what service this book was offering. Mostly, I think I was hoping for something that would revolutionize my training, much in the way the McMillan (yes, same guy) calculator and Daniels’ charts have. I know, that was silly. Then, I thought about what it was I was expecting, accepted that this book differed significantly from that, shifted my perspective, and really enjoyed reading the rest of it.

As you can see I found plenty of things to tag for future reference. No, YOU'RE a nerd.

As you can see I found plenty of things to tag for future reference. No, YOU’RE a nerd.

Another early impression was that McMillan was annoyingly and frequently name-dropping. Mostly referencing his experiences with some of the preeminent scholars of running as legendary coaches. But again, once I was about a third of the way through the book, I appreciated the vignettes as they provided insight into how and why McMillan subscribes to the concepts he’s writing about. Also, one could really put together a reading wish-list from them.

For me, someone who builds their own training plans from scratch and it constantly adapting them for myriad reasons, a lot of the content of this book was a great source of reassurance that I am in fact training intelligently (most of the time). It also very succinctly explained some of the common arguments I have with newer (or less observant) runners.

This book is a good compliment to the McMillan calculator. In fact, based on the marketing for the book, it seems like the book is an advertisement for the calculator and the calculator and advertisement for the book.

This app has been worth the $4.99 pricetag for me. I've won many an argument, and recieved several crucial confidence boosts over the year or so I've had it on my phone.

This app has been worth the $4.99 pricetag for me. I’ve won many an argument, and received several crucial confidence boosts over the year or so I’ve had it on my phone.

Target audience:

I think this book is a useful reference tool for a fairly narrow population of readers (see the quick review up top).

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

  • There are more than just the 3 training phases (speed, strength, endurance) typically familiar to the recreational and maybe even more competitive age-group runner. McMillan describe 9 phases of fitness, and I was giddy with agreement reading about them.
  • Training for training! This is a concept that I think is crucial for beginning runners to grasp, that in order to reap the maximum benefits from your training, you need to be able to perform the training accurately, which means you may need to build some certain skills before diving into some types of quality work…in a nutshell, anyway. It’s kind of like thinking you can become a maestro by staring at a piano 6 hours a day: PERFECT practice makes perfect.
  • Subtle differentiation between things that are dogma and things that are science: for example, McMillan briefly discusses that the “hullabaloo” (his word) surrounding foot plant and running form (that is: the mid-foot strike controversy) is far less indicative of good running economy than overall posture (that is, foot strike pattern is a product (result), not a cause).
  • Tapering versus Peaking: personally, taper-banter annoys me, but I could talk and read about the art and science of peaking all day. So this chapter was a blast to read.
  • Predictor workouts: several workouts are described that aim to predict various race performances. I plan to use them all, a workout performance is much more comfortable to put your trust into than an iPhone app. (wink)
  • There is more than one way to perform a long run. I think that pretty much sums it up.

** these last two points do not differ significantly from other coaches such as Jack Daniels and Jay Johnson.

Warnings and potential mis-use:

PLEASE! As with all running books, DO NOT just piece together your marathon training plan from the modules in the book without first reading the entire book! I guarantee someone has already done this. And they may have a decent training cycle, especially if they’ve previously followed a training plan designed for mass consumption (e.g. pulled one off of a website, out of a magazine, or from a book such as Hal Higdon’s marathon training – all things that are acceptable for a first-timer). Or, they are going to totally crash and burn, or give up, or get injured, and then they’ll blog or post comments on forums that are totally misrepresenting the text.

That’s what I refer to as the “Hanson’s method syndrome”.

*AB

El Chupacabra de San Antonio Night-timeTrail 10k


El Chupacabra de San Antonio is a trail 10k/5k race that begins at 9pm, and so is run entirely in the dark. I’d been looking forward to this it all year! I was last Friday night 7/26/13.

The race is held at McAllister Park in San Antonio which hosts something like 15 miles of trails. There are paved paths, single track style dirt trails, and also wider trails. The terrain of the trails can get pretty technical because it really only has a couple hundred feet of path that go in a configuration that in any way resembles straight. Some sections are very rocky, others are hard-packed (though, not surprisingly, very dry) dirt. The park has just enough density of tree growth that during the sunnier, hotter hours of the day the temperature is very noticeably cooler (less hot would be a more accurate description) than outside the park.

McAllister park
This was the hardest 10k, perhaps one of the hardest races, I’ve ever done. But it was also a bit exhilarating, as I find all trail adventures to be. In a nutshell; take a fairly technical series of trails, then race on them, then do so at night…also make it 90 degrees with high humidity.

I ran a 10k race last summer, Jalapeno Del Sol, put on by the same group (Run In Texas), and the course, I think, was nearly identical, except for being run during daylight hours. Even so, based on my tendency to not have great command over my body’s general trajectory (read: I’m comically clumsy), and the fact that I got lost or off-course in no less than 4 (FOUR!!!) races last year (one of which was an even tougher 10k trail race in San Antonio, and is my only DNF. Read a bit on it here), my father suggested that perhaps I should go attempt to navigate the course on a practice run the day before the race. I did so, and managed to get pretty close to the race route on my 8mi run.

Chupa course map
I was also reminded how running on trails is so very different from the pencil straight, pancake flat lakefront trail in Chicago. Specifically, I was reminded when I wiped out in the last mile of the run. I came close to falling on many other occasions, so I was far more fatigued when I finished than I normally would be after a moderate effort 8 miler.

Yes, those are inmates walking puppies. I'm showing the dirt in my teeth and you are correct I have exactly zero abdominal muscles and very pale skin. But my shirt weight about 50lbs by the end of my warm-up so it had to go.

Yes, those are inmates walking puppies. I’m showing the dirt in my teeth and you are correct, I have exactly zero abdominal muscles and very pale skin. But my shirt weighed about 50lbs by the end of my warm-up so it had to go.

I was in San Antonio for 5 days to help my folks move, so it wasn’t exactly a leisure trip.

It wasn't a very well organized operation.

It wasn’t a very well-organized operation.

But I did make a new friend, I let him borrow my super excellent new pair of running shorts.

My great-grandfather's Winchester rifle wasn't the only skeleton in the closet I found.

My great-grandfather’s Winchester rifle wasn’t the only skeleton in the closet I found.

Anyway, between looking forward to the new type of race experience, and being ready for a break from the activities associated with moving, I was all dressed up with no place to go hours before the race start.

Ready to hunt.

Ready to hunt.

My father picked up my race packet for me the day before because his office is basically next door to the sponsoring running store, and I was surprised when he said there were over 600 people registered. Which partially explains why there was such a great race shirt.

You escared, mang?

Hey mang, you escared?

I’d assumed, because it was made pretty clear that this was a “no prizes awarded fun run” that there would be a very small turnout. But 600 people trampling through that park is a lot! Based on the results posted, I think there were just over 500 finishers between the 5 and 10k events.

The finish line.

The finish line.

As I mentioned, I have a serious deficit when it comes to navigating race courses, especially if I am leading or find myself alone. Therefore, I was really nervous about getting lost during this race. As it turns out, this was perhaps the best marked course I’ve ever run. There were chalk X’s to indicate “don’t go that way”, orange tape on trees, and glow sticks visible from probably 30 meters hanging from tree limbs to indicate “go this way!”. There were also mile markers with blinky lights, and volunteers at the trickier turns (there are several full-on U-turns and such things that could be hazardous when you don’t know it’s coming, you know, because it was PITCH DARK). These course Marshals were excellent, they communicated clearly and simply (when racing I have an IQ of about .4), and they also gave encouragement that wasn’t annoying (no one said “you’re almost done!” for example). I really can’t say enough positive things about how this race was executed. There was a SNAFU with the timing and results, because people downgraded from 10k to 5k without reporting it. But the race director and timing company were super polite and responsive and sorted it out.

So tired.

So tired.

Figuring out how to run this race, I mean, how to actually perform the act of running at a high intensity, took the first mile and a half. I tucked in behind a man who seemed pretty stable on his feet and just watched what he did as best I could without wiping out. I quickly realized that running on trails in the dark is a lot like driving a motorcycle (a hobby of mine I don’t think I’ve ever talked about here). When you’re on a bike, if you feel ANYTHING that isn’t normal, you lose traction, you corner improperly, or you shift wrong, your immediate reaction is to pull in the clutch to maintain control (well in some circumstances you actually accelerate, it’s complicated, and I’m just trying to make a metaphor here so go with it). When nighttime trail running if you feel anything out of the ordinary, like your foot lands wrong or catches on something, your knee elevation is like the clutch. So every time I landed weird, or felt off-balance my reaction was “high knees! high knees!” , and it seemed pretty effective. Just before mile 2 I vocalized that I was ready to pass and my unwitting coach let me slip past, but not without saying “I wish you were taller so you could catch the branches instead of me”.

There were several pretty elaborately costumed runners.

There were several pretty elaborately costumed runners.

I know I already gushed about the course support, but the other runners were great too, everyone had spot-on etiquette and a great sense of humor, I didn’t witness a single act of jackassary, a totally unknown phenomenon to me!

Waiting to start. I'm in there somewhere. People were friendly here too.

Waiting to start. I’m in there somewhere. People were friendly here too, and even self-seeded appropriately!

It really wasn’t possible to look at my Garmin during the race, because doing so meant losing my sight and taking a definite stumble if not fall. Because of all the hazards to run over/under/around, the constant twists of the trail, the tunnel vision caused by the headlamp, and the really hard effort level, if I hadn’t seen the finish line clock I would have told you I’d just run a 38 min 10k (which would be a 2min road PR for me). I think I said to my father that I couldn’t feel my face, or something equally as weird, after I finished. It took me a full 3 to 5 minutes for my breathing to return to normal, so bizarre, normally it takes under a minute.

Not only did I not get lost, I also didn’t fall!!! In the last mile (which merged with the 5k course), I stopped to help 2 different runners who fell hard, paying it forward because I was feeling sore from my own tumble the day before.

Chupa sign

In the end, I didn’t get the trail massive 10k PR I was hoping for, but I ran my heart (and legs) out, had a lot of fun, and really hope I can do this race again next year!

1st Overall Female  48:44

1st Overall Female 48:44

I’m not shy about the fact that I dislike gimic races such as The Color Run, the Pretty Muddy Series, and the Glo Run or whatever new attempt at cashing in on the running boom has cropped up this month. But, a night-time trounce through the woods with a mythical beast theme? I’m all over that!

*AB