Tag Archives: Boston marathon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

*AB

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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.

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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.

*AB

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.
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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?

*AB

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.

Senate

House

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,

*AB

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 Bibrave.com, 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.

coasters

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!
*AB

 

 

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!

*AB

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.

*AB

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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

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